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An Outlander Affair to Remember

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One- Afghanistan 2006


“Stay still, soldier.”


Jamie stopped struggling, acquiescing to the air of command coming from her disembodied voice. Her British accent, unmistakable. Did that mean he was back on home ground? Had he been extracted or was she only a decoy and he’d been captured?


“An IED. You have injuries in your hand and leg. The shrapnel also hit your eyes. They need to stay bandaged tight and you mustn’t move your head too much.”


The ease accompanying the recitation of these facts told him it wasn’t the first time she’d given him this information. He put his uninjured hand up and met nothing but air. Ifrinn , he hated not  being able to see! He held back the sigh when she clasped her fingers in his. The touch, he noticed, was familiar, as well.  


The feel of her palm soothed him and helped his mind snap back to life. Months of training in the Military Intelligence Corps automatically took over and he felt a semblance of control.  


“H-how long?” He responded automatically in the language spoken by her,  though he heard the hesitation in his tone as his mind took extra seconds to flip the Arabic of his thoughts over to enable him to speak the same words aloud in English.  


“Three days.”


He freed his hand from hers and tentatively touched his face, trying to get a feel for the extent of the damage. Every bone in his body hurt. His lungs felt scorched and his face was on fire. The temptation to rip the bandages off and get cool air on his skin almost overwhelming. Yet above all of these impulses, Jamie’s body had one urgent need foremost in his mind.


He had been trained to ignore fear and withstand pain in order to complete his mission. He could push both aside, but not this---this essential life requirement. He tried to form the words -- English springing to his tongue now with ease-- but found his throat too dry. He tried to wet his lips but he had no lubrication and it didn’t help.


“Open your mouth a little wider, I have ice.”  


Claire watched her patient’s chapped lips part and his hand ball into a fist. She placed small slivers on his extended tongue while he made inarticulate sounds of relief. Iron will prevented him from blindly reaching out, hoping for a lucky strike so he could drain the cup.  


“I know you want more. Keep this down and you’ll have it.”


She saved his life that afternoon, one wee spoonful at a time. An angel of mercy, surely.


When it was finally time for her to go, she squeezed his fingers once again  in reassurance and was surprised by how firmly he gripped hers in return.


Claire sighed in relief knowing that he was on the road to recovery. She’d spent hours sitting beside him this week, her strong, capable hands caring for him. Trying to heal him by touch as much as medicine.


When Jamie next surfaced to awareness, he was conscious only of the pounding in his head. Crushing, crippling, he could not even think. His jaw clenched tight in an effort to squelch the small whimpering noises that occasionally slipped out from his lips. His whole world narrowed to the rhythmic pulse  of his throbbing head, hand and heart.


“Focus on breathing, Captain Malcolm.” That voice again. Ah dhia! “Your convoy was hit. You are being treated at the 22 Field Hospital. All will be well.”


He was back under the provisional command of the British Army, he understood that much; but his CO had yet to repatriate him or terminate his mission. Her use of that name reminded him he was still under operational orders to maintain his cover as Alexander Malcolm.  As he lay helpless trying to take his mind away from the pain, Jamie realized that he’d begun thinking in English once more.


“I know it feels like you are dying but the pain is a good sign; it means you are healing. You’ll feel a little pinch. That’s it in and out, steady on. It’s all you need to do for now.”


Jamie felt her hand on his chest. He concentrated all his energy on the splayed palm over his heart, her finger tapping in time to his rhythm. Thump thump.Thump thump. By focusing on her touch, he was was able, second by agonizing second, to shift his awareness away from his own body to her fingertips and his pain eased.


Jamie placed his hand over hers, keeping it in place.


“Thank you kindly, lass. Do ye ken anything about the men of the battle group? The 51st Squadron?” (shoutout to @phoenixflames12 An Endless Night)


“You came in with a dozen others. Most have been released----”


“Nurse Randall, is he awake?” Came an interruption from the doorway. Jamie would know that voice anywhere.


“Ah, Major MacKenzie, perfect timing.”


The hand under Jamie’s wriggled free and he heard the scraping of chair legs moving over the floor.


“I’ll be back in an hour or so to change the bandages on your hand, Captain.”


Dougal sat heavily on the chair next to Jamie’s bedside. His forearm resting near the lad’s shoulder. He looked him over carefully but, wrapped up like a mummy, it was hard to tell whether his nephew looked better than he had yesterday.  


“How do ye feel?”


“Like shit.” Jamie answered truthfully.


Dougal chuckled a bit. “If it’s any consolation ye look like shit, too.”


“What happened?”


“The information you provided was accurate. The 101st Airborne rescued all but one of the hostages— Reza wasn’t with the others. Your assessment of him being the insider and betraying the rest of the team is likely correct. The lads met you at the rendezvous point. Just as we slipped you back into our ranks, the convoy was stripped of its’ tactical support. IEDs. They got lucky or we got unlucky.” Dougal placed a comforting hand on his upper arm. “Rest yer heart Ja--Alex, going back as ye did, ye saved Ian’s life, though he was med-evaced out. His leg was crushed.”




“Likely he’ll lose it, below the knee.”   


“Tell me the rest.” Jamie mentally braced himself.


“The rest can bide, lad.”


“Who didna make it?” An anguished whisper as his heart plunged into his feet. His uncle made a mmphm sound.


“Rupert. He didna suffer. I ken it’s small consolation. Ye pulled Elias and Gavin out of danger, everyone but Rupert got to medical in time. They’ll recover. Ye need to preserve your strength, you have a long road ahead of yourself, too. I’ve called Jenny. She’s already on her way to London to be with Ian. I brought you your duffle, there’s not much in it but enough to see you through.”


Jamie’s good hand unconsciously floated near the bandages around his eyes.


“That’s good, then. Am I…?” He couldn’t form the words, give voice to his major worry. Jamie felt his uncle touch his shoulder in a comforting gesture.


“High command will release you as soon as we confirm the second infiltration unit is in place. Your tests and medical chart have already been reviewed by the Hunter Clinic, ye ken they’re the best. They said they couldn’t start treatment until the swelling goes down so the delay won’t compromise your care. Dinna fash, Shakespeare, you’ll get your sight back, God willing.”


“Ye Tien Cho, no’ Shakespeare.” Jamie corrected.


It was a familiar rib between himself and his family. He had a keen mind and an uncanny feel for analyzing written languages including Chinese, Arabic and French. He’d been recruited straight out of university even before he graduated when his talents became obvious. Fluent in half a dozen languages, Jamie had become a highly valued field operative.


Yet from the time he was in grade school, Jamie could always be found with his nose buried in a book of poetry. He had the heart of a romantic and no amount of espionage training would eradicate that.  Poems fed the most private place he had inside of himself.


After his mother and brothers died, when he returned from difficult missions, following his father’s fatal stroke, at the most painful and challenging moments in his life, he could always return to the written page, to the poets whose words gave him perspective on his own grief, offered him hope, helped him rebuild the fortress that sheltered his soul one verse at a time. Reminding him what it was that made him himself and no one else and he had withstood no small amount of chaff about it for from his family. Over time, his love of poetry had become as much a part of his identity as his piercing blue eyes.


When not on duty, Jamie had spent much of his spare time in the last few years compiling the complete works of Yi Tien Cho, an obscure 18th century Chinese immigrant who rose to fame in the Qianlong Emperor’s court. Rather than surrender his manhood to remain a royal scholar, Yi Tien Cho fled his homeland landing first in Scotland.


Jamie loved the man’s story. Part mystery, part adventure and all underpinned by amazing poems inked in the hands of an artist whose elegant brushstrokes were as recognizable to Jamie as his own penmanship. Jamie had traced his journey from Edinburgh to the West Indies then ultimately to Canada, tracking down and attributing dozens of formerly anonymous writings to him in the process and translating each newly discovered treasure. Jamie’s private collection contained two score of original scrolls, each poem etched in beautiful calligraphy. He was hoping to publish a special book of the art and poems when it was complete and give the famed fung-wong (bird of fire) the recognition he so richly deserved.


“Aye, well ye also went through an Alasdair mac Mhaighistir and Harry Quarry phase as I recall.” Dougal teased, naming two of the UK’s most profane 18th century laureats.


“I was sixteen!” Jamie protested.


“I’ll keep ye in my prayers, Shakey. You’ll be back to finishing yer wee tome soon enough. Just follow doctor’s orders so you can start to heal.”


“Thank you, uncle. Please tell Angus….”


“Nah, lad you’ll tell him yourself when you see him.” Dougal clasped his outstretched hand in farewell.