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2

I stood watching him for a moment, filled with an unutterable tenderness. Moving as quietly as I could, I lay down beside him on the narrow settle and nestled close. He turned to me in sleep as he so often did, gathering me spoon-fashion against his chest and resting his cheek against my hair. Half-conscious, he reached to smooth my hair away from his nose; I felt the sudden jerk as he came awake to realize that I was there, and then we overbalanced and crashed together onto the floor, Jamie on top of me. 

I didn’t have the slightest doubt that he was solid flesh. I pushed a knee into his abdomen, grunting. 

“Get off! I can’t breathe!” 

Instead, he aggravated my breathless condition by kissing me thoroughly. I ignored the lack of oxygen temporarily in order to concentrate on more important things. 

We held each other for a long time without speaking. At last he murmured “Why?”— his mouth muffled in my hair.

I kissed his cheek, damp and salty. I could feel his heart beating against my ribs, and wanted nothing more than to stay there forever, not moving, not making love, just breathing the same air

“I had to,” I said. I laughed, a little shakily. “You don’t know how close it was. The hot baths nearly won.” And I wept then, and shook a little, because the choice was so freshly made, and because my joy for the man I held in my arms was mingled with a tearing grief for the man I would never see again.

Jamie held me tightly, pressing me down with his weight, as though to protect me, to save me from being swept away by the roaring pull of the stone circle. At length my tears were spent, and I lay exhausted, head against his comforting chest. It had grown altogether dark by this time, but still he held me, murmuring softly as though I were a child afraid of the night. We clung to each other, unwilling to let go even long enough to start a fire or light a candle. 

At length Jamie rose, and picking me up, carried me to the settle, where he sat with me cradled on his lap. The door of the cottage still hung open, and we could see the stars beginning to burn over the valley below.

“Do you know,” I said drowsily, “that it takes thousands and thousands of years for the light of those stars to reach us? In fact, some of the stars we see may be dead by now, but we won’t know it, because we still see the light.” 

“Is that so?” he answered, stroking my back. “I didna know that.” 

I must have fallen asleep, head on his shoulder, but roused briefly when he laid me gently on the floor, on a makeshift bed of blankets from the horse’s saddleroll. He lay down beside me, and drew me close again. 

Lay your head, lass,” he whispered. “In the morning, I’ll take ye home.”

1.11 The Devil’s Mark