No, I chided silently, staring around the pitiful shack, blank. I had left with a heart: I’d left with Bree, the love of my second life, and that little heart had kept me tethered to life until I’d found myself again.
….but the heart with which I’d entered? That was no more.
They were still here, watching me from the
damp, dark corners of the cottage: the fragments. I could feel them. Aching.
Yes, this is where you left us. You made it out, but we
remained. Here we shall remain, now that…
My body was a no-man’s land. On the one side, grief: staggering in detail…unending…ripping me to shreds with every breath; on the other, utter nothingness: numbed oblivion…the absence of anything human. One force would rise up to charge, emboldened, and then be summarily routed, annihilated. The process would reverse and repeat over and over, leaving nothing but a throbbing, bleeding stalemate between. Mutually-Assured Destruction.
I closed my eyes and swayed, my arms limp at my sides, a finger searching for the mark at the base of my thumb.
‘I want to take away your touch with me.’
A past me had said that, here within these walls.
‘…to have something of you that will stay with me always.’
Only, nothing was ‘always.’ Not even that.
True, I could see it, still, the faintest of white lines forming the letter J; but any palpable scar had vanished into the smooth landscape of the skin.
Strange: I had never once allowed myself to acknowledge that fact. Doing so now—It plunged me into a cold, chill darkness, where only my terror was heard. Over the years, as I felt it fade, and fade, and fade, I had let myself cling to the fantasy of ‘always’; had permitted myself to never actually touch the spot, nor look at it—only to tell myself it was there, to cling to the safety and comfort of this one, tiny delusion. Yet, the cruel reality was that Jamie’s last touch was now no more than a photograph: a single moment in time, captured in the record, visible, but with no dimension. An image. A hint at a memory.
Jesus H, Christ, but it’s the *memory* that matters, Beauchamp, so stop being foolish. You’re a physician, damn you: you should know better than anyone that scars are *supposed* to heal. It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change the memory.
Yes, the body, so perfectly adapted to regenerate and prolong us, will do everything in its power to erase the imperfections life inflicts upon it. The platelets will descend; the threads of fibrin will lash and bind; the white blood cells will attack infection at the breach, keeping the small hurt from becoming fatal. It is how we—physically, fundamentally—go on.
The body cannot comprehend that its healing power, that very erasure, is a wound in and of itself; that our hurts and imperfections might be nothing less than our deepest desire; that even pain—
‘…I don’t care if it hurts; nothing could hurt more than leaving you.’
“Wrong again, Beauchamp,” I whispered, my voice catching. This could hurt more. Leaving him again, half our lives gone; facing the remaining half alone….and that, after rising from loneliness up to a great peak of hope—only to—
But you know he’s alive, this time, Beauchamp. You know he’s happy! You know he’s going to live to be an old man, perhaps to see his grandchildren. For Pete’s sake, you maudlin creature, surely you can agree that that fact makes this day far better than the eve of Culloden.
….but I didn’t expect to endure anything of the like again.
But now you *shall* endure it, Beauchamp. Now, you move on.
‘Move on?’ How?…. I can’t even move from this spot.
I blinked hard up at the ceiling, fists and teeth clenched, tears falling. “Damn you, Jamie, how did you bloody do this?”
He’d been so brave—so fucking brave in those final hours under this roof. He’d known that he must send me away, must do so because it was the best chance for me, for our child. He’d touched me; roused me; smiled for me; reassured me; joked and laughed, even, as best he could. He had been strong and HIMSELF, to the end.
And here I was
twenty-odd years later, leaving by the very same route for his sake, for his chance for a good and happy existence, just as genuinely assured in my conviction as he—falling apart.
How had he remained in one piece? How the bloody hell had he managed to say goodbye without even shedding a tear, damn him?
‘I would sleep once more this way—holding you, holding the babe.’
Because he had known for a fact that he would die the next morning. He wouldn’t have to live with that emptiness, with a broken heart, or so he had supposed; and so he’d kept his tears at bay because he knew I would. I had to go on, and so he’d rallied for my sake, presented himself to me as a man calm and at peace, so as not to make my task—my grief, the reality that I would have to be the one to walk away forever—any more excruciating than it already was.
So brave. Strong.
I would do the same for you, Jamie, if it fell to me. I hope I could be strong for you.
But if there were any grace that had been granted to me, in this final, broken chapter of our story, it was that I was spared having to look my love in the eye as I gave him up to a better life;
that I, at least, could let my tears fall freely.
A sudden draft stirred my flimsy skirt, bringing me sharply to awareness. I shivered against the frigid air, mindful through my disorientation of how sharply my knees ached. The light outside had shifted since I entered the cottage. The sun had long since disappeared behind the horizon, leaving only the dim grey-pink of November twilight.
Time, Beauchamp. Walk out the door. Only a quick walk up the hill, and it’s over. No sense in prolonging it any further.
It was time; and I found myself moving with purpose, though not toward the door.
There, at the back wall, in that opening where the boards had long since fallen away, I stood, silent and still. Snowflakes—scattered, sporadic— brushed my cheeks, but I paid them no heed.
The very last place I’d seen him; felt his touch; felt him within me.
The damp, rotten wood felt so soft and smooth under my bare palm. Warm. Living.
‘Name him Brian…for my father.’
“Come find me, will you?” I whispered to the wind, forcing a smile. “When we’re both gone into what comes after, c—”
My throat closed.
I pictured seeing the outline of a tall, etherial figure, in that after-place…and seeing his arm circle around the waist of a small woman; the both of them stretching their arms out toward two little girls, running to them.
Would he even see me?
‘I will find you….
“I shall hold you to it, Jamie Fraser.” I rubbed my thumb once over the plank. “Til then, my love.”
It was a much more strenuous climb than I remembered. The icy, twilight air stung my lungs as I gulped it down, the burning in my muscles only heightening the sensations of grief, of panic, of regret, and loss. I wanted to let myself fall, there on the slope, and weep, just sleep until I vanished into nothing.
But the thought of Bree’s face kept me going up that hill, step after aching step.
You’ll see her, soon.
Only a hundred yards more.
You’d prepared yourself to never see her again, and now you’ll have years and years