Escape: the residency years
Warning: This isn’t the happiest of chapters.
Special thanks to @joannclelia for her help. And to anon for the ending advice.
“What have ye for lunch then?”
She turned the phone around to show him her tray. Pasta, of course. An orange. Spinach salad. Good. Bottle of water. Then, just on the edge of her tray…
“Claire. What was that?”
She flipped the phone back to her face. “What was what, darling? You can see I have a very healthy lunch, and I’m sitting down, relaxing while I eat. With Louise,” she turned the phone towards her companion, a pretty nurse with long brown hair.
“Right there! Is that a brownie?” He could hear her giggle, and say shhhh.
Her face was barely straight as she looked him. “No. That’s Louise’s, not mine.”
“Non, ce n’est pas le mien!” Jamie heard the indignant voice out of view.
“Sassenach, I ken ye like the French pastries, but come on. Ye had a pain au chocolat at breakfast, now this. Last night, some cake. How about ye not give birth to a diabetic, eh?”
Claire smiled, and blew him a kiss. “No pudding at dinner tonight. Promise.”
Jamie nodded, pursed his lips, and blew a kiss back. “Enjoy yer lunch. I’ll speak wi’ ye later. Take it easy, okay?”
“I will.” Claire said, as she waved at her screen.
“I love you, mo neighean donn. Give the bairn a kiss from his Da.”
“You mean her.” Claire kissed her fingers and pressed them on her bump. “Love you, too, Jamie,” she said, and disconnected.
When it was time to go back, Claire gathered up her tray, and stood.
She looked at her chair in confusion. There was a large mark on her seat. What had she spilled?
It wasn’t until she heard Louise’s gasp that she realized something was wrong.
She felt the sticky wetness on her scrubs, but couldn’t really see past her belly.
A moment later she felt the rush of something between her legs. She could smell the blood.
Her tray dropped to the floor, bouncing off the end of the table on its way down, shattering everything.
Far away someone was screaming.
It was her.
“I just talked to her. I just talked to her at lunch. She was fine. I just saw her.” Jamie kept repeating the same thing. He sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk, tears in his eyes, bewildered, confused.
Jenny catapulted into action. She snapped a finger at her assistant, pointing. The woman already had the phone receiver in her hand. “I need Ian, here, right now. For Jamie. Alec needs to bring the car around right away. And get a private plane ready to leave for Paris immediately. Charge the company.”
“You,” she pointed at Willie, “come with me.” Willie, who had shown up with Jamie, was pale and panicked. He stepped into line with her as she strode down the hall. “We need Jamie’s passport, and -”
“Oh! I have it. All of Jamie’s travel documents are in his office.” Willie was glad he had that, at least.
“Good. Now, gather all that up and, listen carefully, ye need to get his art supplies.” Jenny stopped, and put a hand on Willie’s arm. “He draws when he’s stressed. He’ll need the distraction. Get it all together and give it to Ian.” She pushed him forward, “Now go!”
Willie streaked off to do her bidding.
Jenny had Alec drive at break neck speed to Jamie and Claire’s flat. She threw what she could into a bag, jeans, tee shirts, a few socks, trainers, jacket. She threw some things in for Claire as well. Soft sleep pants and a softer sweater. Toiletries. Where the hell was his underwear!?! She opened a top drawer and rummaged around.
The small gold object caught her eye. She hadn’t seen it in years. Instinctively, she grabbed it, and slamming the drawer shut, turned to go. She was in and out of the flat in 15 minutes.
Ian and Jamie were waiting inside the small terminal when she got there. Her brother was turning his phone over and over in his large hands. She put the bag next to his feet in silence.
When the flight was ready, Jenny walked Jamie to the steps. Ian handed the steward the bag.
“Shhhh, brother.” She grabbed Jamie around his shoulders and hugged him tight. His arms gripped her as he buried his face in her neck. God, he was burrowing in like Wee Jamie after he’s fallen off his bike. She had no words for him. She would not lie and tell him it would be all right. Lord only knew what was happening in France. “Give Claire a hug for me, and tell her I love her.” Jamie nodded against her neck. She turned quickly and gave him a kiss on his temple.
Grabbing his hand, she pressed the small oval piece into his palm. “I found this. Take it. Let it give ye strength.”
Jamie looked at it, eyes wide.
“Go on,” Jenny said. “Call me as soon as you know something.”
Jamie let go, wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and nodded, looking at the tarmac the whole time.
He turned towards the plane, but found himself in a hard embrace. Ian gripped his brother-in-law, and friend tightly. No words were exchanged. Whatever one needed, the other would give. They had been through too much together, their bond understood. Ian was the one person who knew exactly what Jamie was thinking and feeling.
How life could change in the blink of an eye.
How you could be whole, and happy, feeling right with the world, and then have your heart and mind shattered like the cracks in a windshield after a crash, spreading out in front of you until you can’t see anything of the world at all. Just fragments. Fractures. Shattered pieces. Or worse yet, missing.
Jamie sat alone on the plane looking out of the window as Scotland disappeared below him. He still had the token from Jenny in his hand. He closed his fist around it, hard, and looked out at the clouds surrounding him. He raised his eyes higher, heavenward. Lord that she may be safe. She and the child.
It was all over when he arrived.
He was ushered to a waiting room, and made to sit by himself. Finally, a small toad-like man entered, and introduced himself as Dr. Raymond. His first thought was, Claire said ye looked like a frog. She wasna wrong. Jamie’s mouth lifted in half a smile as he stood to extend his hand to the doctor.
Raymond explained that Claire was currently receiving some units of blood to replace what she’d lost. Once assured Claire would be fine, Jamie had asked about his child.
The wee man barely came up to the centre of Jamie’s chest, yet his words had the power to knock him backwards, stumbling into a chair.
His child was mort-nè.
Jamie felt fragile, paper thin, like velum, that if he moved too fast or spoke to loudly he would tear in half.
“Your wife suffered a placental abruption. This is when the placental lining separates from the uterus. Sometimes the mother does not feel anything, and sometimes she feels, maybe, some pain in the back. Unfortunately, the infant was not receiving enough oxygen in utero, so….” The doctor paused, then said in his heavy French accent, “I am sorry for your loss, Monsieur.”
Jamie nodded, and swallowed. His emotions were so raw, he found himself unable to speak. His thoughts were a tangle, like a net cast out to sea and caught on a rocky shore. Fear wrapped itself around his gut, making him wonder if this was, somehow, his fault.
“Can I ask ye a question?” Jamie said.
Dr. Raymond blinked slowly, and nodded once.
“Is this my fault? Should I – “ Jamie stopped. It was difficult to talk of personal things, private things.
He thought back to the night before she left, how he drove into his wife, hard and fast, angry that she was leaving, desperate to have her knowing he would miss her, with fear in his veins over their impending separation. More like making a point, than making love. He would rather die than to have been the one to cause the tear.
He gathered his courage, began again. “The last time, when I had, well, sex with my wife…should I have been gentler? Maybe….maybe been more considerate of her…of her….condition?”
The physician simply shook his head, and said quite bluntly, “No, Monsieur. That is not the cause. You are a fine husband. It is not possible.”
Absolved of his sin, Jamie sat back in the chair and exhaled.
But that didn’t absolve Claire. Jamie took a deep breath, then said what was on his mind next, a thought that was eating at him like a corrosive.
“I never wanted her to come, ye see. She…Claire…she doesna do things in half measure, ye ken. I worried she’d overdo. So.” He looked Dr. Raymond straight in the eye, and asked, “Did she? Did she do too much? On her feet all hours? Not stopping, or getting proper rest?”
Jamie rubbed his hands together, trying to warm them. He felt ice cold to the marrow of his bones. “Tell me she rested. Tell me she took care, that this wasna her fault, either,” he whispered, ashamed, “because I don’t…I don’t want to hate my wife.”
Dr. Raymond looked at this red man. The aura around him. He would fight to the death for the things he loved. Raymond understood he was fighting now. Fighting for the love that was being consumed by his fear.
“Monsieur Fraser, I can tell you that many times the cause is unknown. Sometimes the placenta does not attach in a place that provides adequate support, and it may not develop appropriately, or it may separate as it grows.” The little man leaned forward in an effort to reassure Jamie, “I can tell you that Dr. Fraser was not reckless or foolish. Anyone could see that the child in her womb came first.”
The door opened then, and the young nurse he’d seen from Claire’s video called for the doctor. He couldn’t follow all of her rapid French, but when Dr. Raymond jumped up, Jamie instinctively followed.
He stepped inside the room. Claire’s room. A Dhia, she looked so pale. She was as stark a white as the hospital linens, the dark of her hair like an ink blot on the pillow. Her arm thin, slack, even though the deep red liquid flowing through the tube in her arm was promising life.
He understood a few words. Fever. Infection.
Jamie watched in shock as the little man laid his hands on Claire. Her shoulders, her arms. Murmuring in French the entire time. He sent the nurse for another drip, and she scurried out of the room hardly sparing Jamie a glance. He flinched as the doctor ran his hands over Claire’s breasts, and down her torso, lightly but touching her all the same. The healer then placed his hands over his wife’s womb, and Claire writhed in pain.
More blood. Jesus, God, how could there be so much blood.
And then, his name.
Ripped from Claire. In pain. In desperation. Like a magnet, it drew him. It was strange, how his name dragged from her remaining strength reverberated in his soul. He took a step towards her before he’d realized he’d moved, and found himself stopped with a vise grip on his arm. He turned to find a large woman, Hildegard according to the name tag, telling him, “Vous devez partir, Monsieur.”
When she woke up she was a bit disoriented. Memory surfaced. Grief washed over her like a tidal wave. For a moment she could not breathe.
Turning her head she saw her 6’4” husband folded into a tiny chair beside her bed. She had no memory of his arrival.
He was sketching. He looked tired, wan, pale. His eyes darting over his drawing as his big hand moved in strong sure strokes.
“Do you hate me for it, Jamie?” she whispered, wanting to know. Her biggest fear, that Jamie would blame her. What was more pain? Better to roll it all into one great big ball of grief, and deal with it.
He jumped. “Didna realize ye were awake, Sassenach.” Jamie set down his computer.
Claire relaxed at the use of her nickname.
“Jamie, I’m so sorry. So very, very sorry. I put myself before our family. This is all my fault.”
“Shhh, mo neighean donn. Yer a doctor, ye ken well it’s no’ yer fault.” Jamie moved his chair closer to her bed, and took one small, weak, long-fingered hand in his two large ones. Tears slipped from her eyes at his gentleness.
Jamie didn’t have any words. There was nothing to say. He couldn’t fix what happened. He couldn’t change the loss. He could just share it.
They sat like that for some time. Glancing at each other. Letting their hands speak for them, thumbs stroking, fingers squeezing, softly rubbing. Jamie’s thumb touched her ring from time to time.
Finally, Claire spoke. “I want to see her.”
“My wife,” Jamie stopped. Cleared his throat. “My wife wants to see our child.” He stood in front of the nurses’ station, hands clenched into balls at his side, standing as tall as he could.
“Ce n’est pas possible, Monsieur,” said Nurse Hildegarde. It wasn’t the answer Jamie wanted. He had been powerless to this point. This, however, he would control.
“I didna ask yer permission. I didna say can she, I said she wants to. So she doesna have to imagine.” He willed himself not to raise his voice, to keep his anger in check.
The young nurse, Louise, looked up at him. She looked at her superior. Stand-offs like this were rare. Usually no one questioned Nurse Hildegard. Everyone stopped to look at the large, grieving, red haired man. Nurse Hildegarde opened her mouth to speak again, but caught sight of the little practitioner behind Monsieur Fraser.
“Soeur Hildegard. Presénter l’enfant à Dr. et M. Fraser. Vous avez ma permission.”
Claire was sitting up in bed when he entered the room. The bundle in his arms was so tiny. A pink blanket. As he came nearer she could see the tiny face peeking through. Sleeping. No, Claire remembered, not sleeping.
“Her hair,” Jamie said, smiling sadly, “she’s got my hair.”
Claire raised her arms for the baby, and Jamie gently handed her their child as if handling fragile glass. There was that awkward bobble of a new dad not sure what he’s doing to a new mom too eager to hold her baby. They both chuckled at that. Jamie sat on the edge of the bed, his arm around his wife, the other under her arms that held the baby. They stayed like that, silently, as Claire unwrapped parts of their bairn, counting ten fingers, and ten toes. Stroking the luminescent skin. She chuckled at the tiny ears, which stuck out a bit, like Jamie’s. He nudged her in understanding, chuffed. So beautiful.
And then Claire began to sing.
When Nurse Louise came in an hour later she was moved by the tableau before her. Her friend, Claire, rocking slowly, humming. Jamie, her husband, sitting stoic beside her. Neither taking their eyes from their child.
She approached the bed.
“Ma Chere, Claire. Il est temps.”
When Louise left the room closing the door behind her, Claire thoroughly and completely went to pieces.
Jamie held his wife across his lap.
And did the same.
Sitting on the private plane to go home Claire looked out the window at the terminal traffic. Everyone so busy, oblivious to the people they were shuttling on to planes, the bags they were loading, the lives they were moving along. Jamie sat beside her, holding her hand. They spoke little. She still couldn’t believe they were alone on this plane. Jamie insisted. He said he’d had enough of strangers.
“I don’t want to forget her face,” Claire whispered, head back, curls pressed against the head rest. “I’m afraid I’ll forget her face.”
Jamie let go of her hand. “I ken it may be strange. I’m sorry if it bothers ye. But I had to,” he said, quietly, apologetically. He fumbled in his pocket. “For Jenny. For my sister. She would want to see, ye ken. She’s all I’ve got for family, other than you, Claire.”
There, on his phone screen, looking as if she was sleeping peacefully, was Faith Elizabeth Fraser.
One year later
They walked slowly through the cemetery. Jamie’s hands deep in his pockets, as he did when he was nervous. Claire’s arms were crossed in front of her, as she did when she was nervous, a bouquet of tulips gripped in her hand. They walked as if they really didn’t want to arrive at their destination, lost in their own thoughts, steps hesitant.
It was the first time they would visit her grave. One year to the day when she passed.
“She should be over here.” Jamie hung back and let Claire step up first.
Claire’s gasp was audible from where he stood. She dropped to her knees, and laid a hand reverently on the stone. A stone. She hadn’t expected a stone. They hadn’t ordered one. She expected a simple marker, not this beautiful, pale pink granite slab.
Jamie crouched beside her. He cleared his throat. “A Da can only give what he can to his bairn. I’m an artist. So. I gave her a resting place, wit’ her name and our names, and placed her in the care of her grandparents. Yers and mine.” He brushed a leaf off the corner of the stone. “And I left a bit of Scotland wi’ her.”
She traced the tiny gold medal imbeded in the stone under Faith’s name. “What is this?”
“It’s St. Andrew,” Jamie said. “My father used to carry the medal around in his pocket. It would remind him to pray, to ask for intercession when he needed it. It became mine. Jenny gave it to me when I left for France. When I ordered the stone I gave it to them, along with the design.”
They stayed for a long time, holding hands, lost in their own thoughts.
Jamie stood, and pulled his wife to her feet. Wrapping his arms around her shoulders he buried his face in her sweet smelling curls. The sun shone warm on their faces, as Jamie swayed from side to side.
“So. Now would be a good time to tell me something, Claire Fraser,” he said, next to her ear. “Anything ye like.”
Claire butted backwards and hit her husband in the crotch. He let out a soft “oof” and laughed.
“I have nothing to say, James Fraser,” she said, in her haughtiest tone.
“Hmpf,” Jamie made a Scottish noise, and turned Claire around to face him. “Yer sure, then?”
Claire stood on tiptoes and kissed her husband full on the lips. “Five days is not a long time, you know that.”
“Aye, but yer never late.” He grinned at her. “It’s fine, Sassenach. I’ll wait. Besides,” he said softly, “I have you. And faith.”