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Fanfiction - Stealing Tomorrow (Chapter 6)

Chapter 6 – Sins of a Lover

Boston, 10 years and 9 months ago

Claire sat in the wide bench at the hospital’s locker room, her ears filled with a high bleeping sound, the voices around her as distant and foreign as creatures of the bottom of the deepest ocean. Her eyes were fixed on her silver ring – the flesh underneath it raw and reddened after hours of nervously twisting it on her finger, akin to a prisoner fighting a shackle turned life raft.    

“What happened to you?” A shadow extended next to her and she blankly stared above, watching as one of her colleagues, Joe Abernathy, frowned as he looked at her.

“Nothing.” She croaked, her tongue feeling ridiculously dry and furred after hours of screams and sobs in the seclusion of her apartment, followed by a prolonged silence.

“Hmpf.” He vocalized in a doubtful tone. “Ye look more like everything happened, than nothing. Do you want to grab a cup of coffee, Fraser? Or a bucket?”

“Don’t call me that!” She hissed, tears stinging her eyes – Claire tried to keep them forcefully opened, to avoid overflowing. “Claire. Just Claire.”

“Alright.” He said more softly, sitting next to her. His dark skin deeply contrasted with her own, made even more marble white than usual by fatigue and heartbreak.

Joe wasn’t exactly a friend – but he was one of the few colleagues who had shown her compassion and camaraderie, never taking a chance to shine that implied to throw another resident under the proverbial bus. He was always nice and they exchanged pleasantries every time the occasion called for words between them – but Claire had been too busy daydreaming about Jamie for the past few months, to really dedicate herself to the task of establishing a fulfilling friendship. I don’t want you anymore. Claire mechanically pressed the ring against her raw finger, welcoming the pain that kept her grounded to the present.

“You know what?” Joe slapped his big hands against his knees, covered with blue scrubs. “I think I have just the thing you need. A nasty Whipple procedure in OR two in twenty minutes. What do you say?”

“I can’t take your surgery, Joe. You earned that with your hard work assisting Doctor Raymond on that hemorrhoidectomy.” Claire shook her head, crumpling her surgical cap.

“You need to cut, Lady Jane.” He smiled with kindness. “People can say whatever they want, but I know a surgeon when I see one – and you’re it. Once you have the blade in your hand, you’ll be able to forget – or at least to push to the outskirts of your mind – whatever is bothering you so much. On the off-chance that doesn’t work, you can always pretend you’re cutting the face of whoever hurt you.”

Claire breathed deeply – the smell of deodorant and foot powder a soothing presence, reassuring her that some things were still the same. She had come to the hospital almost in the middle of the night for it – trying to leave the wreckage of her life behind the closed door of her apartment - only to discover that the destruction had found a cranny whereby it could enter her body, taking hold of her like a parasite with an innocent host.

If only she could shed her entire body with its memories, like a blessed snake, perhaps she could morph into something else. Freedom. Forgetfulness. Painless breathing again. But she was only allowed blue scrubs, with matching cap and mask – they would have to serve that purpose.

“If you’re sure.” She said hesitantly. “I’ll try not to disturb you too much.”

“Nonsense.” He clapped, ecstatic. You’ll do just fine. Don’t overthink it.”

“Alright.” Claire raised from the bench to tie her black sneakers. Make a loop. Tie it harder. Breathe. As she prepared to walk beside him, she wrinkled her nose in confusion in his direction. “Who the hell is Lady Jane?”

****

Edinburgh, Present day

“You’re awake.” Claire greeted, entering his room and seeing him half-sited, reclined against a pile of pillows, doing exercises with his hand. “It’s late, but I was quite busy today – a couple of patients from the fire needed to be re-interventioned for some complications.”

“That’s alright.” Jamie gave her a shy smile. “I dinna expect ye to come at all, so it’s a nice surprise.”

“I hear they are offering you a medal for your brave conduct while on duty.” She said in an attempt of conversational tone, sitting on a chair by his bed. “Just saw two grown men sobbing their eyes out while coming here, talking about how Chief Fraser is a goddam hero and saved their lives.”

“Well,” He replied, slightly shrugging his shoulders in a blatant sign of discomfort. “I don’t feel like a hero. More like a fool.”

“Hm.” She snorted in outspoken agreement. “Can’t really challenge that. How is your hand?”

“Rigid. Tender.” Jamie grimaced, showing her the bandaged hand with just the tip of the fingers visible. “But hopefully, in time, I’ll be able to wipe my own arse with it.”

The corners of her mouth almost formed a smile, but she hurriedly commanded them to stop. Almost. He used to make her smile all the time, effortlessly - and it seemed like the wheels and screws of her body still remembered that easy mechanism.

“Claire…” He started in a pleading tone.

“Why do you still wear your wedding ring, Jamie?” Claire anticipated in a low voice. “We have been divorced for almost ten years – and you took away its meaning even before that.”

“Don’t ye know?” He replied in a soft tone, as his fingers dutifully played with the small exercise rubber ball.

“How would I know?” She said, anger bringing an edge to her words. “You told me you didn’t want me anymore. That you had someone else you wanted to be with – I expected to find you remarried with a proper Scottish wife, a handful of children around your bed. And yet there’s no wife around to fluff your pillows and put jelly in the mouth of her valiant husband.”

He tilted his head, as if he was embarrassed by her words. “I had my reasons to say that.”

“Let’s hear them, then.” She crossed her arms and looked impatiently at him. “I believe you owe me at least the curtsy of the truth, Jamie.”

Jamie nodded and for a moment his eyes seemed lost in contemplation of something invisible, pages of their story turning backwards until he could find the appropriate chapter and the words to tell it. When he talked again, his voice was quick and low, slightly ragged.

“Ye were failing.” He looked at her as if urging her to understand. “Ye told me that yourself. Everything ye had worked so hard to accomplish was turning into smoke.” Jamie clenched his jaw. “I knew it was because of me – my fault. When ye met me, I changed the course of yer life. Ye were torn – distracted. I had to do something.”

“What?” Claire whispered, the world slightly tilting around her like a bizarre attraction in an amusement park. “Tell me, Jamie – What did you do?”

“How does a man wilfully rip his heart out of his chest? What madness can drive ye to do such a thing?” He whispered, as if to himself, before he glanced at her. “Not madness – love. I found I could do it, as long as I knew ye safe and well.”

“I don’t understand.” She babbled - but realization was slowly dawning on her, brutal and consuming as wildfire, leaving her shaking like a burnt leaf on the wind.

“I already knew what I needed to do.” Jamie nodded, immersed on his tale – finally able to share his terrible truth, a numbing dart to the poisonous beast that sat on his chest. “I made the decision the night we spoke on the phone – promised to myself I’d do it when I went to visit ye. But I couldn’t!” He closed his healthy hand on a fist, his body trembling from strong emotion. “I was weak. I couldna stop myself from loving ye again and again – knowing I couldna lie to yer body; swearing every time I touched ye would be the last. One last day of happiness – one last memory I could hold on to.”

Claire was openly crying by then, tears silently falling across her cheeks, witnesses of two broken hearts bleeding together into the world.

“I went to see Doctor Raymond one afternoon.” Jamie gulped. “I was hoping there might be another way. But he confirmed what I already knew – he told me ye were a natural healer, a potential brilliant surgeon, if ye were allowed to focus solely on that. He promised he would take care of you.” He finished softly.

“You told me you didn’t want me!” Claire repeated, lips quivering, her amber eyes open in shock.

“I thought I’d die from saying it. But ultimately I would say that and much worse, Claire.” He affirmed, his blue eyes moist but defiant. “I would deny God himself and Jesus on the cross for yer sake. I would disown my own heart and lungs. There’s no limit for what I’d do for ye to have peace, mo nighean donn.”

“It was not your choice to make!” She sobbed, slightly rocking herself on the chair. “My life, James Fraser. My fucking life. Our life…”

“Aye.” He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. “It is that. But I canna say I regret it, Claire. Joe told me how many people you saved just today – how every young surgeon looks up to you now. It seems to me I made the right choice.”

“You don’t know a thing…” Claire hissed. “About what I went through. I barely made it…I was barely sane.” Her voice sounded like a woman drowning even to her own ears. “You wouldn’t even see me to sign the divorce papers, you sent Ned Gowan in your place…”

“I never said I wasna a coward.” Jamie admitted, slightly tilting his head. “I dinna trust myself not to fall on my knees and beg yer forgiveness. To tell ye right there and then of my wicked ways. To kiss ye and never let go. I hoped…” His voice broke. “You’d never have to see me again.”

“I thought you were in love with someone else.” Claire sobbed, closing her eyes to block the sight of his face, grimacing in pain. “I couldn’t close my eyes without seeing you laying with a faceless woman, whom you’d say everything you once said to me. Listening all your promises turning into lies.”

“There was never another woman.” He whispered, tears falling down his lashes. “There could never be another woman, Claire. I still wore yer wedding ring because – papers or no – I will forever be married to ye. I will always love ye, mo ghraidh.”

“I could never forgive you for this…” Claire entwined her hands, like a silent prayer for the ability to retrieve what had been lost between them. “You took away my choice. You traded our love for something I never wanted. You decided for us both.”

“Aye.” He swallowed hard – his voice hoarse and broken beyond repair. “But can ye honestly say I was wrong in thinking that this is the woman ye were meant to become? That by letting ye go I wasna in fact loving ye more than I ever could be keeping ye?” Jamie closed his eyes, whispering. “Mine are the sins of a lover. Ye were given to me, Claire – and I loved ye well.”

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