Fanfiction - A Lifetime of Her (Part IX)
You can find every previous part here.
Part IX – “I’m walking after you”
Coming the following Christmas, I knew what gift I’d hope for. What I’d wish for, with all my heart, as I stepped ahead with my right foot, crossing the threshold as my ancestors did countless times before, Hogmanay blooming in the mantle clock and in the sparkling of champagne.
I wanted to walk inside her dreams.
Because her dreams took her away from me. Every night she went a little more, a little further – until I have started to fear I’d lose her altogether, to that strange land where past becomes present, where every outcome is again possible.
In her dreams Claire was shot every night – again, again, again. She cried out and I held her against me, as powerless awake as she was sleeping. Doomed to pay witness to the woman I loved being hurt by her own mind, replaying the events of that fatidic day, trapped inside it like a mouse in a deadly trap. Sometimes I wondered if the phantom bullet would go straight through her heart, if she would bleed out through those invisible wounds, robbing her of all rest and peace of mind.
Once the ghosts vanished with the rising sun, ebbing away in waves of darkness, she blatantly refused to talk about it – as if her fears were successfully compartmentalized, existing only in the wee hours between sundown and sunrise, never to be spoken about in broad daylight. Every attempt on my part to start a conversation on the subject, would end with her leaving hurriedly to an appointment with Denzel or to check the mail in her own apartment. Defeated, I would spare my strength, and resignedly prepared to the night-time hostilities.
Under my careful supervision, her body had healed – but I suspected her mind had not. Once the relentless war to reconstruct skin, muscle and organ was well on its way, something inside her had found the space to be properly broken.
“Talk about it?” I brushed a curl away from her face, slightly damp with sweat – God, please, let it not be from tears.
“It was only a dream.” Claire whispered on the other side of the bed, her voice so cracked I had a hard time understanding her. “Let’s go back to sleep.”
I didn’t mention how she had woken me with her screams. How I had to restrain her inside my arms, when she tried to blindly fight me off, clawing and screeching – her nightmares didn’t seem to recognize that she loved me.
We stayed awake that night, both pretending to be asleep, grasping each other – to keep the rising tide, threatening to cast us away, at bay for one more night.
I taught my classes and supervised a test feeling as if I was still roaming on the waves, the roar of wind somewhere in the distance. I was a coward – the worst kind, a coward in love. Claire had been lost to me more than once and I refused to believe I could be losing her, while she dwelled in my own bed.
Denzel Hunter had told her that she needed to gain weight, to reacquire some muscle, before he could even consider deeming her fit to work again. But despite my best efforts – researching recipes which I thought might appeal to her and even calling Jenny to ask for some cooking tips -, she had barely gained an ounce. When I caressed her body, my hands still found the spaces between her ribs, the too-deep hollows in her hips. I longed to trap her in those moments of liberation, of dissolution, when she would be entirely free for a multitude of heartbeats after our joining.
I entered my apartment rushing, slightly shaking my drenched umbrella, after being caught by an afternoon shower.
“Sassenach!” I called out, undressing my overcoat. I had called Denzel earlier and he finally had allowed Claire to drink a glass of wine, so I was intent on serving her one of Lallybroch’s finest vintages in order to work her appetite for some fragrant mushroom risotto.
As I entered the living room, I immediately saw her, sitting on the couch like a marble statue. Her eyes were glazed, her hands shaking; a fine tremor that sent a chill down my spine, as if a powerful draft had suddenly hit the both of us.
“What happened?” I swiftly knelt in front of her, grabbing her hands – so cold. “Mo nighean donn?” I added more softly, as she didn’t seem to have noticed me. I touched her cheek, my eyes coming within inches of hers, blocking everything else from her sight. “Claire?”
“There has been a robbery.” She blurted and from the corner of my eye I noticed the television, the colours of the news channel shining bright and alarming. “Another jewellery store. They – they killed a woman.” Her voice wavered. I squeezed her fingers, until I could almost feel the blood pumping in her small vessels. Alive, still. Thank God, alive.
“I’m here.” I said foolishly. I had been there on that day and had prevented nothing – we were both heartbreakingly aware of our frailty, of how quickly blood could run away, how a smile – and all promise of laughter to come – could die in a second.
“They were caught. The getaway car hit a truck on the crossroad.” Claire stared at me, her eyes darkened to well-aged brandy, just the colour of the last Autumn leaves. “The detective in charge of my case called me just before you arrived. They want me to go in and do an identity parade.”
“Alright.” I started to get up, prepared to get her coat and shoes from the bedroom. “It’s close enough, do ye want to walk there?”
“What do you mean?” She looked at me, surprised, as if I had just suggested a roadtrip to the moon for the weekend. “I’m not going!”
“What?” I stared at her, dumbfounded. Her eyebrows were furrowed, her lips pursed – her face was a mask of barely supressed anger and I should tread lightly for both our sakes – but I had tried gentleness and had seemingly achieved nothing.
“You heard me.” Claire repeated heatedly, crossing her arms. “I won’t go. I – I have nothing to say.” She got up from the couch and nervously walked to the window. “He was wearing a ski mask, so I never saw him. I have nothing else to tell the police.”
I strived for patience and empathy, even if somewhere within me an irrational anger – fear – was building up. “I ken ye’re afraid, but I –“
“I’m not afraid!” She hissed, almost biting her lip in fury. “I just don’t see the point of going there to tell them I know nothing. And don’t you dare pretending you have the smallest clue of what I feel.”
“Dare?” I snarled, blood thrumming in my ears like demons possessing me, whispering profanities in my head. “Dare? Must I remind ye that the first time we saw each other as adults, I had been laying in a hospital for weeks after being blown up in my own bed?” I tried to breathe and calm myself, reaching to touch her arms, but she stepped away from me. “I ken fine how it is to feel so vulnerable, so afraid that ye could weep just from thinking of it, every memory as raw as the scars on yer body, ready to bleed again at the smallest probing.”
“Those were your feelings and experiences – not mine.” I could hear the echo of tears in her voice, as coming rain forming on grey and heavy clouds. “I have been fine, I just don’t want to –“
“Ye are not fine!” I pointed an accusing finger at her. “Ye might pretend during the day, but yer dreams ken the truth of it. I share a bed every night with ye, Claire, and there ye canna lie to me.” There was a clear plea in my voice, but the look she gave me revealed how cornered – terrorized – she felt, that we were finally addressing the subject.
“I won’t be ordered around – not again.” I immediately knew she was mentioning Frank and his inability to accept her as she was. The mere comparison between us made me pale in dismay. “If you don’t enjoy sharing a bed with me, perhaps I should sleep elsewhere.”
“I dinna say that!” I brushed my knuckles against my eyes, exhausted and defeated. “Ye won’t talk to me, Claire, and you’re not healing properly. Perhaps ye should see someone – a therapist or a support group - “
“That is ridiculous!” Her hair was escaping her bun and she looked lost, frazzled, burdened. “I think it’s best if I go back to my apartment tomorrow – I can take care of myself now, so you can have your rest.” She tried to soften the blow, but I felt it in my gut, a dagger only she could yield to wound me as deeply. “I’m tired. I’m going to bed now.”
“Fine.” I replied mechanically, turning my back on her.
She didn’t kiss me goodnight and I didn’t go into the room to speak to her. I improvised a bed on the couch and wallowed in misery, always a welcoming companion.
I stared at the shadows on the wall and waited for her dreams to come.
I was already on my feet when I heard her sobs, the soft wailing that made her sound like a scared girl, the curly and lovely creature she had been in the graveyard, when love had found me never to leave again.
I padded softly, feeling the coldness of the tiles on my naked feet, trying not to frighten her. She was trashing against the sheets, her body contorting in a physical fight against unseen things, her mouth slightly open to breathe heavily.
I crawled to a position next to her and touched her forehead. “Claire.”
Claire opened her eyelids, her eyes rolling, following distant images. I repeated her name and grabbed her hands, avoiding her masterful attempts to hit me. She seemed to finally awoke, her eyes still glassy, restless.
“Fight back.” I whispered against her ear. “Fight me.”
“What?” She babbled, shaking her arms to try to free herself from my hands, like vines around hers.
“The gun is pointed at you. You can see his eyes in that ski mask. He is going to kill you.” I continued in a dangerous tone, applying more pressure to keep her in place. “Are you going to let him?”
“Get off me!” She trashed like a wild beast, her knee coming ever closer to my groin. I escaped with a faint groan of relief.
“You won’t fight.” I accused her, as she hissed in my face. “You’re afraid, and rightfully so - but he is coming and ye’ll just pretend to be dead?”
“I lost!” She sobbed in earnest, tears now streaming down her face, glistening in the silver light of the witching hour - the hour when I had come to evoke her demons, a modern warlock, so she could begin to fight them. “I don’t want to fight anymore!”
“You’re alive!” I said between teeth, having trouble keeping her underneath me – she was remarkably strong for such a scrawny thing and I didn’t intend to hurt her. “Fight back! Tell me you’re afraid and then fight me!”
“I’m afraid!” She roared and, as her eyes seem to blaze with renewed fire, she rolled and managed to get on top of me, trapping me with her thighs. “Damn you, James Fraser! Damn you!”
“Fight, Claire!” I urged her, feeling the pressure of her nails on my wrists. “Tell me what you see!”
“I’m bleeding.” She looked up as if she was struggling to breathe, tendons and muscles on her neck taut to the point of breaking. “Your hands are on me. They are warm, I can feel you shaking. I don’t want to let go of you. I just found you.”
“Good.” I lightly pushed her and my arms locked around her, so she was straddling me like a spider. “Keep going. Fight.”
“I – I’m cold.” Claire swallowed hard. “I hear sirens, people screaming. You’re saying my name and I know you love me just from the way you say it.”
“Yes, I do.” I breathed out, slightly brushing her back as I hugged her tightly. “What else?”
“He laughed.” She whimpered, trying to get away from the memory, but I held her there, forcing her to see. “His eyes – they were green. But there’s something strange about them.” Claire grimaced and I pressed my forehead against hers, steadying her. “His right eye – has a brown spot on its iris. It must be there since he was a child.”
“Ye did good. So good, mo ghraidh.” I soothed her, as her body was wrecked by urgent sobs, that broke my heart while hers started to mend. “Ye’re so brave. You fought. You fought, Claire.”
I lost all sense of time, as our entwined bodies – our battle positions turned into comfort – sought refuge in each other. Eventually she was calm, spent, almost peaceful and I laid her down beside me.
“I’ll go to the police tomorrow.” She said in a hoarse voice, her fingers tracing the line of my jaw. “I’m still afraid – but now I know that I can identify him.”
“Aye, ye can.” I kissed her temple, afraid that if I stopped touching her something we had conquered, so fragile and breakable, would slip away through our fingers. “Do ye want me to go with ye?” I asked cautiously.
“Yes.” Claire played with the curls on my nape. “Thank you for fighting for me, too.”
“It’s the only battle my heart truly kens.” I held her face between my hands. “I’ve known fear and loss and despair – but I’ve known love, too, through you. It will always bring me back when I need it. I hope mine can do the same for ye.”
“One day, I hope to tell our child our story.” She said softly, tenderness in her eyes.
“Including this?” I kissed her lips, savouring their moistness, the words she had just told me. A child. Our child, one day.
“Including this.” Claire nodded. “I think I hoped you would come, when we fought earlier.”
“You found me”. She had told me once. “I think I had been calling out for you”. Had I heard it again? Those silent calls her heart seemed to send into mine, luring me to her, a beacon guiding me home to her harbour?
“I’ll always follow you, wherever ye need to go, mo nighean donn. I’ll always walk after you, no matter the risk or the cost.”
“And when you’re not following me?” Claire asked with a small smile, her hand sliding on my chest to push me against the mattress. “Where will you be?”
“By your side – always.” I said in a husky voice. “Or inside ye, whenever ye want me.”
End of Section 2