Dawning in Dust: Part X
Thanks to all of you readers who have sent asks and shown this story love. Special thanks to @lenny9987 for the beta ❤️
Breakfast was a quiet affair. Jamie and Ian were out with the tenants completing the never ending winter prep list. Young Jamie had woken Jenny up a few hours earlier, which meant that the latter was already halfway through today’s do list by the time Claire came downstairs to eat. Mrs. Crook, the housekeeper and main cook, came and cleared away the remaining breakfast dishes, firmly insisting that Claire not lift a finger to help as she was a guest. Not wanting to cause waves, Claire bundled up and prepared to go outside.
She emerged from the warmth of the Lallybroch manor house, breath stolen by the wind and freezing rain coming down outside. On mainland Europe, rain would have been met with shelter lock downs and chemical tests due to the toxin contamination in the food and water supplies. Not for the first time, she was grateful for a full belly and more than adequate shelter to return to each night.
She made her way toward the barn to meet Jamie, shrugging to keep the knit scarf Jenny had given her as high as possible. Shivering with cold and a slight case of nerves, she trudged through the mud as fast as she could without slipping. The barn’s large sliding door was half way open and she could see the horses champing on their breakfasts or pacing in their stalls. With the dark clouds and rain outside, it only took a few blinks for Claire’s eyes to adjust to the dimness inside.
There was something about the scents of the hay, manure, and animals that stopped Claire. She stood, eyes closed, breathing in slowly and listening to the shuffling of hoofed feet and the patter of rain on the roof. Maybe it reminded her of her world travels with Uncle Lamb. Maybe it was the thought of caring for other living things; each inhabitant of this estate coexisting for survival. Maybe it was feeling close to the earth; dirt and plants and life remaining despite the explosive destruction of civilization.
“Morning Sassenach,” a quiet voice said beside her.
The corners of her mouth turned up, but she didn’t open her eyes yet. She could feel him, his large presence standing so close that his natural heat radiated into her own flesh. Her heart thumped, blood surging strong and sure through her veins as the moment of peace passed over her. Jamie didn’t move or say anything; he just was along with her and time and the moment. Sighing contentedly, Claire opened her eyes and looked up at him.
“Did ye sleep well?” he asked, looking her over carefully.
“Yes, eventually. You?”
They smiled at each other for a moment before Jamie coughed and turned slightly toward the exit.
“Are ye ready to see yer surprise?”
Claire eyed him dubiously and he laughed.
Dinna fash. Come, it’s this way.“
He held out his hand and she took it, feeling nervous. In truth, Claire tossed and turned after Jamie left her room last night. Deep sleep was interrupted by flashes of dreams and memories; her mother singing; Claire and Frank on their wedding day; the last letter she’d ever received from him; Claire running, unable to find whatever it was she was looking for; Jamie, down the hallway sleeping.
She twined her fingers with his as they headed back outside, walking fast to keep up with his long stride. He wore his tartan coat today, the curls of his auburn hair escaping the grey beanie on his head.
"Are you keeping your bandages dry?” she asked, eying the crimson fabric that was darkening at the shoulders from the rain. She saw his cheek curl and thought he must be smiling.
“Aye. There’s a waterproof liner inside my coat. Besides,” he looked down at her, moving her hand and tucking it into the curve of his elbow, “I dinna want to get my arse skelped for going against doctor’s orders now do I?”
Claire gave him a look and nudged him gently with her shoulder. While he was up and about every day, she noticed the stiffness in the way he still carried himself.
“I’m not a doctor, but I’m glad you know who’s in charge.”
Jamie made a Scottish noise of amusement and led her to a small outbuilding. It was no more than a large shed, but she could tell that the two windows on either side of the door had recently been washed. The door was open, the smell of lemon wafting out into the cold air.
“In there,” he said, releasing her so she could go inside first.
The room had been freshly scrubbed down. Claire briefly took in the many shelves and storage boxes along the walls before her eyes caught the object on the table. Her fingers were touching it before she even had a thought, the smooth worn wood of the old medicine chest like velvet against her fingers. She looked up at Jamie, questioning, and saw his look of nervous anticipation.
“Open it,” he encouraged.
Claire pulled the latch open and lifted the lid.
“Jamie!” she said, a delighted grin spreading over her face.
She touched the contents of the chest, sterile medicaments, herbs in old fashioned glass bottles, and simple surgical instruments, most of them hospital grade.
“Here, there’s more,” Jamie said, encouraged by her enthusiasm. He opened the front, revealing tiny drawers filled with pre packaged sutures and needles.
“The hospital in Broch Morda was in disuse,” he explained, watching her as she started making a mental inventory of the new supplies. “The local tenants divided the remaining medicinals. I’d have grabbed the more advanced instruments but I didna think we’d have anyone who would ken how to use them properly, even if we could fix their coding.”
”This was in the Medical Director’s office,” he went on, nodding at the chest. “I couldna bear to leave a piece of history behind so I took it. Now, I’m especially glad I did.”
Claire met his eyes, a happy flush to her cheeks and eyes clouding over slightly with moisture.
"Do ye like it?” he asked, searching her face.
“Yes, it’s wonderful!” she replied, with feeling.
“It suits ye, Sassenach,” he said, the corners of his mouth turning up. “I hope this space will be sufficient for your doctoring.”
She blinked, then looked around the room.
“You… you mean this is for me to use?”
“Ye’ll need privacy to do some of the things that need done, aye? I thought this would be a nice spot for it. Close to the house but out of the way. It’ll be warm. I asked Ross to make sure it was well insulated. There’s a solar panel up top to give ye light whenever ye need it.”
Claire stared at him. Jamie’s ruddy brows drew together.
“Will it not work Claire? Perhaps another space would-”
“No!” she exclaimed, placing a protective hand on the surface that would become the examination table. “No Jamie, it’s perfect. Truly.”
Jamie’s shoulders relaxed at this.
“It…” Claire paused, looking up at him. “I don’t know how to thank you. You.. everyone.. has been so kind.”
Jamie nodded, moving closer as she processed what she was going to say. She felt exposed and vulnerable… and yet, perfectly safe with him. Jamie Fraser knew her on a level no one else had ever had and she knew he would give her all the time she needed. The thought sped up her heart, her pulse racing strong and sure through her body as he leaned closer. He put a hand over hers and squeezed lightly, causing her to look up at him from under her eye lashes.
Blue, slanted eyes gazed back at her, fathomless and open as she’d ever seen them. She could feel his own pulse in her hand, racing along with hers as he chose whatever words he was about to say. He stood tall in front of her and took a shaky breath. Claire met his eyes and, for the first time in a long while, was ready and willing to be a part of whatever it was he was about to offer.
“Claire..” he started.
Claire jumped, pulling her hand out from under Jamie’s as a young boy flew into the room. He had bright blue eyes and wild, curly hair. He was also drenched from the rain and slipping on the freshly washed floor in his haste.
“Fergus, calmez-vous lad,” Jamie admonished as he grabbed the young man by the shoulders to steady him.
“Kincaid and I have just returned from Leoch,” Fergus reported in a heavy French accent.
Claire saw that he was breathing fast, muscles taut like a bow string. Jamie noticed too and started to tense himself.
“What’s amiss then?” he asked.
“It’s your uncle, Milord. He’s coming.”