Life is very long…but also very short. Days turn into months and then into years and in the blink of an eye Claire’s skin was graced with wrinkles, her hair had turned completely grey and her body became weaker. She had watched her children grow up, becoming parents in turn. And then, there was Jamie – still broad and tall, but he hunched over more than he used to, and his fiery hair had turned a pale shade of auburn with grey on the side.
Claire had stopped working ten years ago – when her hands could no longer hold a scalpel without shaking uncontrollably. Her disease had progressed slowly at first but now she needed Jamie’s help even for the easiest tasks. It wasn’t just the shaking, it was the anxiety that crept up on her when she least expected and the sleepless nights when her mind wouldn’t give her peace.
For better and for worse, in sickness and in health. Those words had been spoken sincerely almost fifty years prior in a little church in the Highlands and they had never meant more than they did now. Claire used to miss her job – the thrill of saving lives – but she learnt to love spending her time at home with Jamie, their children and their grandchildren.
They had just had their entire family over for lunch, celebrating one of the grandkids birthdays. There were 8 so far and Claire and Jamie loved every one of them. After the house was restored to order with help from Heather, a daughter after Claire’s own heart, Jamie had taken Claire to a small park for the late afternoon.
“Our bench,” Claire said softly, clutching her shaky hands in her lap.
“Aye, I always love bringin’ ye here, the very same from the first night we met,” Jamie smiled, sliding his arm around her shoulder.
Claire rested her head on Jamie, savouring the quiet all around them. “I’ll never… forget when I woke up in your arms the next morning,” she sighed.
“I thought I woke up in heaven, holding ye so, Sassenach.” Jamie placed a gentle kiss to her temple, “And I’ll never forget the morning of our wedding.”
“We really need to get up, Jamie.” Claire placed a kiss on his stomach, squeezing his sides. “The guests will already be arriving.”
“How do ye expect me to get out of bed when yer sweet fat bum is staring at me, Sassenach?” Jamie laughed and gave her arse a good smack, making her squirm. “Tis our weddin’ and they can wait.”
“We were not even supposed to be in the same room if you recall and your mother is probably going to kill us before we even have a chance to be married,” Claire tried to roll away, but Jamie pulled her close.
“Tis’ no the 18th century, I already shared yer bed before last night,” Jamie grinned, wiggling his eyebrows. “And I plan to do it again verra soon!” Jamie laughed and rolled on top of Claire, pinning her underneath him.
“You big scot!” She pushed up against him, but it only made her aroused and even more unwilling to leave the bed. “You let me go… I need to get my dress on.”
“I prefer ye without any clothes, Claire. Ye ken that,” Jamie kissed her and then pressed his face in the hollow of her neck. “Besides… we’re makin’ memories. Late to our own weddin’ because we couldna get out of bed.”
“I never want to be without you, Jamie,” Claire sighed, kissing the spot just under his ear. “Never.”
“Ye will never have to be, sassenach. Today’s the first day of the rest of our lives.”
A few weeks later, Claire was feeling at her worst, so instead of trying to do something semi-productive with her day, she stayed in bed, trying to shut out the pain. She was tired of fighting and the sensation of losing complete control of her body drove her mad. If it wasn’t for Jamie, she didn’t know how she would be coping. Once full of life and happiness, Claire was more and more becoming a shell of herself – much to Jamie’s heartbreak.
Over the past 35 years since her diagnostic, Jamie had watched Claire’s health decrease. For her, he was strong, never showing her how much it truly hurt him to see her this way. She was so full of life and vibrancy when they first met. And their first couple years of marriage had certainly been an adventure, trying to figure out how to balance their differences as well as manage Jamie’s addiction.
When Claire wasn’t around, or sleeping off the pain… that’s when Jamie caved into himself. The fear of losing her was overwhelming and some nights it strangled him, and he woke up having a panic attack only to look over and see her sleeping soundly beside her. Claire was Jamie’s heart, and once she was gone then his own heart would surely stop beating.
Jamie walked into their room, holding a warm cup of tea and Claire’s favourite book Wuthering Heights. She was surrounded by pillows, propped up and her head was lying to the side, grey curls spread out.
“Do ye want me to read to ye for a bit?”
“Sure,” she smiled weakly and Jamie set the cup of tea beside the bed and climbed in beside her.
“Ye want some tea first?” He asked and she nodded. Claire couldn’t hold much of anything on her own without it spilling. Jamie held up the cup to her lips, tipping it slightly for her to drink.
“Thank you, Jamie.” She smiled at him, sliding her hand slowly to cover his best she could. “For taking care of me.”
Jamie smiled, “Och, ye’ve taken care of me long enough, Sassenach, Tis my turn now.”
“I’m sorry you have to see me like this,” Claire said softly.
He brushed his finger lightly against her cheek, “Mo ghraidh… ye’ve seen me at my worst. I promised to love ye forever and last I checked, tis always forever wi’ ye.”
“Forever goes way too fast. Yesterday I was drunk in a bar, kissing a red-haired stranger and now I’ve got eight grandchildren and the said stranger is helping me drink my tea.”
“Aye it does go fast but ye and I, in another time, in another year, we’re still together. I’m sure it’s a loop.”
“A loop, huh?” Claire’s mouth curled up into an amused grin, “You’re such a romantic, Jamie.”
“I sure am, tis’ why ye fell in love wi’ me, did ye no?” Jamie leaned down and sealed their lips.
“Oh yes,” she smiled against him.
“Claire…When the day shall come that we do part,“ he said softly, and turned to look at me, "if my last words are not ‘I love you’-ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.”
“You don’t have to say it, Jamie. For where all love is, the speaking is unnecessary darling. It’s in the little things – the way you look at me, the way you take care of me, or when you think I’m asleep and I hear you whispering in Gaelic…It’s all these things.”
“Well I love ye, and I’ll tell ye every day until the rest of our lives.”
“I love you too, Jamie.” Claire rested her forehead against his and then settled back into the pillows as Jamie opened the book to the last spot they had read from. He read the words slowly, trying his best to use funny accents to make Claire laugh, always one of the pleasures he had. A few pages in, however, Claire had drifted off to sleep so Jamie laid the book aside and cradled his wife to his body, smelling her hair, and chased her into her dreams.
“Jamie,” Claire said softly, pushing her shaky fingers against his forehead. “Jamie,” she repeated.
He opened his eyes slowly – he wasn’t sure to be really awake, and then smiled at the sight of her, “What, Sassenach?”
She felt it. A sense of great peace and the air around her stirred, like wind rushing through feathers.
Claire moved her hand to cup his cheek, her hand no longer shook. “I just wanted to take another look at you is all.”
Jamie gripped her hand in his tightly, willing her to hold on if only for a moment longer. “I’ll find ye, Sassenach. I love you.” He looked at her eyelids flutter, the smile on her face fade, and his heart stopped beating.
He was silent for a moment, unsure of what to do. Should he hold her or weep for her? Jamie felt tears spill down his cheeks and gathered his still wife into his arms. They had made a life together, she was all he knew. Without her… he was lost.
“Oh God,” he sobbed into her hair. “Sassenach, I canna bear it.” Jamie wept, his soul crying out for hers. After he had no more tears, he pulled back to look at her, her soft cheeks – it looked like she was only sleeping.
“I’m none so brave as I was before, ken?” he said very softly. “Not brave enough to live without ye anymore.” Jamie leaned in and placed one final kiss to Claire’s lips, and curled himself beside her. Jamie’s heart had been weak for years now and as he felt the life leave Claire’s body, he also felt his organs fail slowly and slowly – until his eyes closed and his heart finally stopped. He had once told Claire she was his heart and one couldn’t live without a heart.
Claire stirred slowly, stretching her arms high above her head as she always did in the mornings and then she realized that she wasn’t alone. She turned her head to the side to find Jamie, the red-headed scot she had met last night staring at her with a grin on his face.
“Morning, Sassenach, did ye sleep well?”
Claire blushed, suddenly remembering what they had done the night before. “Um, yes, She said softly, “I did.” Rolling onto her side, she pulled up the sheet to cover herself, self-conscious. “What about you… Fraser, was it?”
“Aye, Fraser. I slept verra well, thank ye, Beauchamp.” Jamie smirked and then tentatively slid his hand over the swell of her hip and when she didn’t push him away he leaned down to kiss her. Meeting Claire at the pub had been the most incredible thing that had happened to him, and now lying next to her in bed… he thought he’d died and gone to heaven.
“I..Uh, should get ready for work,” Claire pulled away from his lips reluctantly.
“Och, aye,” Jamie brushed a curl behind her ear and smiled, noticing her crazy hair, “Ye look beautiful in the morning.”
“Well, thank you,” Claire blushed some more and got up, still holding the cover around her body, “There’s tea or coffee in the kitchen and whatever you want to eat. Help yourself, I’ll just take a quick shower.”
Nodding, Jamie ran his fingers through his hair and smiled again, “Okay, thank ye.”
Claire didn’t respond and simply smiled before turning around to go to the bathroom. She had only taken a few steps that Jamie stopped her, “Sassenach, wait.”
“Yes?” Claire looked at him, her eyebrows raised.
“I just want to take another look at you,” He tilted his head and smiled shyly.
Claire smiled and picked up his t-shirt before throwing it at him, making him laugh, his head falling back on the pillows.