Fanfiction - Stealing Tomorrow (Chapter 7)
Just one more chapter to go! <3
Chapter 7 – Find Me
Edinburgh, Present day
Claire placidly munched her cereals – a bit soggy for her taste – as she inspected the cover of The Scottish Sun, frowning in concentration. The evocative headline occupied almost half of the front page, with a photo illustrating their cover story – “Murrayfield Hero ready to go home!”. The image – certainly captured by one of the first reporters at the scene – showed Jamie wearing his full firefighter gear, walking out of what seemed like the dooryard from Hell, carrying one of his men – probably unconscious - on the shoulder. The article promised more details and juicy revelations on page four (“From Broch Mordha to Edinburgh’s hottest”), page five (“Other legends on the Fire Department”) and page six (“The heartbreaking testimonies of Fraser’s braveness”).
“One would think that almost turning into crisped bacon was the fastest route to stardom.” She snorted to herself, taking a sip of rich and dark coffee. “I bet they are scavenging the Highlands for gossips about Edinburgh’s new sweetheart.”
The last couple of weeks had seen an increasing interest on Jamie’s persona by the media – the well-liked Station Officer with an irreprehensible career, respected both by men under him and by the ones in charge behind a desk; the lone wolf, by all reports divorced years ago, that refused all approaches from desirable women and seemed to wear an irremovable chastity belt; the loving son, who accompanied his crippled father until his death two years ago; the hunk, spotted working out without his shirt on, delighting all women in the headquarters’ neighbourhood.
Claire tried to avoid every conversation that contained even the slightest mention of Jamie – a considerable feat, since even the nurses continuously buzzed about how handsome and well-mannered he was.
After his shattering revelations – which had thrown Claire into a new spell of insomnia, which she used to get her charts up to speed – their conversations had consisted mainly of monosyllables and medical exchanges. She would check his drains; he would ask about a prevision to start physical therapy on his hand. She looked for signs of infection on his surgical wounds; he told her his pain was a four on a scale of one to ten. She compressed her lips, trying to avoid screaming at him; he said nothing, accepting her radioactive silence with the hopeless patience of a convict sentenced to imprisonment for the rest of his days.
Claire knew he was trying to give her time to process their conversation, before touching the subject again. His Fraser stubbornness, usually despairing, was serving him well in that instance.
Knowing his reasons had changed the starting point of their fallout – but not the outcome. He had tried to protect her and give her the life she was meant to live – and in that harrowing attempt, had failed to comprehend that, without him, every achievement felt void of its meaning. Jamie had used lies as a gift – and the unwrapping had broken both their hearts. Where once stood sadness and incomprehension, now rested anger and betrayal, pumping from her with every heartbeat, crushing her vessels with their intensity.
But the most unbearable pain, the one that kept her awake at night, was the undeniable desire to forget it all – to take him in her arms and cradle him against her repairing heart. To kiss him and feel him melting against her – to bite his lip and taste his blood, knowing it pulsed with her name. To hear him whisper his secrets and the truth in them.
“Bloody man.” She whispered, her fingers reluctantly caressing his picture. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Thank ye for taking me.” He repeated for what was probably the tenth time. “The lads were supposed to get me but they’re shorthanded as it is in the department.”
“No problem.” She replied shortly, driving through Edinburgh’s streets, immersed in the evanescent light of dusk. Claire had offered to take him home after his discharge from the hospital, using the employee entrance to avoid the questions and flashes of journalists. “At least this way I know you won’t do anything stupid with your hand, until you’re actually inside the house.”
“Hm.” He snorted with mirth, looking at his still- bandaged hand. “I’m just glad I’ll be sleeping in my own bed, without anyone waking me to ask if my bowels moved already or spooked by the beeping sounds of the wee machines.”
“Which way now?” Claire asked, softly tapping the steering wheel with her fingers, as they achieved a deserted crossroad.
“Left.” Jamie gave her a renitent half-smile. “Ye’ll keen the way from here, I suppose.”
“Yes.” Claire breathed out, a tight knot forming inside her throat. “I believe I do.”
The building of their old apartment was visible down the street, looking exactly as she remembered it – the earthy tones of the façade vivid, that used to remind her of the soil of her flowers, fertile and homely. Propelled by the sight, memories came rushing back, as if they had been expecting to be summoned just in the corners of her conscience, brutal as needles in the back of her eyes.
“I received half of the money when the apartment was sold.” She blurted incredulous, blinking furiously in the half-light. “The man who bought it was someone named Angus MacKenzie.”
“He is a friend.” Jamie said softly. “He sold it back to me as soon as the deal was done.”
“Why would you want to live in this place?” Claire asked nervously, brushing back some of her curls, which had been falling over her face. “After everything that happened?”
“You were still here.” He whispered in a hoarse voice. “In a sense. The mattress of our bed had the shape of your body carved. There was the wee spot on the kitchen’s wall, were tomato sauce spilled, because we were too busy making love on the floor. The curtains ye chose, because ye never had such a house before, and a true home needed proper curtains.” Jamie looked at her, his eyes soft. “This house is everything I had left of ye, Claire. I couldna leave it.”
“You should have burnt it.” Claire hissed, fighting back the surge of emotions that made her vulnerable to his words.
I don’t want you anymore.
I loved you well.
She parked the car in silence and helped him getting out, prescinding of the assertive tenderness she usually applied to every wounded creature. They slowly climbed up the stairs – the elevator being broken again – until the third floor, the former residence of a happy newlywed couple.
Jamie opened the door with his keys – he still used the same keychain, Claire noticed, of a leaping stag shaped in silver. She had offered it to him, on their first Christmas together.
“I need to use the bathroom.” He smiled shyly. “I’ll be right back, aye?” And without waiting for her agreement, he rapidly strode out of her sight, as if to avoid that she used the opportunity to say her final goodbyes.
The living room was almost precisely the same – photographs taken more than ten years apart would only show small changes, like a different elegant cream-coloured rug and a new lamp by the corner. Everything else seemed to have been caught in the webs of time, as an insect amid flight trapped by a predatory spider.
Claire’s eyes travelled across the tomes on the bookcase – where some new volumes had been added to Jamie’s impressive collection, sleeping next to their photographs – and her eyes were attracted by a drawer’s open crack. Feeling ashamed, but somewhat entitled, she slid it open until the full compartment was exposed.
With her hands shaking, she grabbed the magazine on top of the pile – an old issue of The American Journal of Medicine. She recognized it instantly – she also had a copy of that same issue, stored in one of her boxes since the move. Abandoning any attempt at discretion, she surveyed the contents of the drawer.
Jamie seemed to have found every publication where her name came up – from obscure magazines where her name had been cited after another dozen; to the most reputed surgical journals, with her articles and findings front and centre. It must have been a constant and tiresome job, keeping up with her career, for someone not even in the medical field.
How many hours had he laid there, only their ghosts for company, the consolation of her success a bittersweet drug to numb the pain?
All those days between what they had been and what they were now, forever lost – no regret or anger would win them the right of a replay. But perhaps they still had the chance of stealing tomorrow; of reclaiming the piece of themselves left behind, placing their stones and pillars to build a new sacred place, a new life.
“In my darkest moments, it helped.” She listened his deep voice say from where he stood by the door, his eyes secluded. “Knowing that what I did had some meaning. I celebrated each one of yer victories from afar, as I couldna be kissing ye as I wished.”
“It was your choice.” Claire replied, forcibly closing the drawer.
“Aye.” Jamie said, his shoulders slumped in defeat. “I told ye – I dinna regret what I did. But I do regret every tear you shed and every unhappiness I may have caused ye. That I regret…most terribly.”
“If I hadn’t come back and found you by accident…” She said, her arms hugging her body in defence. “Would you ever tell me the truth?”
He tilted his head, his auburn hair coming alive with the slight reflection of the white glow outside. Jamie walked until he was closer to her - able to touch her in an instant, if it wasn’t for the barrier they had both fought so hard to erect.
“There was a time when I thought it a blessing to know what ye were thinking at all times.” He licked his lips and closed his eyes, his long lashes shielding bottomless blue. “My glass faced lass. Now I only see yer pain and yer hate - and it kills me. I’d rather be dead than to see ye so. No – I wouldna say a thing. I wished to let ye live yer life and, hopefully, forget me.”
“How could I forget you?” She whispered. “And how can I forgive you?”
“I’m prepared to wait as long as it takes, Claire.” Jamie swallowed hard. “And if it canna be in this life, I shall pray for a chance to meet ye again in the next - and find yer forgiveness there.”
“I don’t know how to start.” Claire brushed her forehead with her fingers, breathing fast. “I don’t know what to say to you.”
“Tell me how I’ve hurt ye.” Jamie slowly touched her hand. “Speak to me about what has been broken. I am still the man ye loved – and what ye dinna ken about me now, you can learn in time.”
“And if I don’t want to?” She said slowly, tilting her chin to avoid his scorching gaze.
“Then know I shall love ye forever.” Jamie brushed her knuckles with the fingers of his sane hand. “Ye are my home, mo nighean donn.”
“This home is lost, Jamie.” She sobbed, the pressure of his fingers making her flesh tingle. How many times had they stood there, him whispering his love, her believing it with all her heart?
They were bathed almost in complete darkness – night had fallen outside and the scarce light that came from the lamppost by the window dipped them in shadows. Jamie swished, as if he was about to fall on his knees – but his hand came up then and he touched her cheek, insecure and tentative.
“But it can be found again.” He softly kissed her forehead, real against the absence of light surrounding them. “Find me, Claire. Find us.”