Roger froze at the door, quite involuntarily. Her question fell upon him like a rush of cold water, immobilizing his muscles and making it difficult to breathe, let alone for his heart to keep beating.
“To the stones, I mean.” Brianna elaborated further.
Even with his back turned to her, he could detect the faint pang of regret in her voice, and he wondered briefly if she had meant to ask if he would go through the stones with her. Blood started to flow in his body again, encouraged by the quickening of his heart.
Throughout the whole ordeal, from discovering the stones had otherworldly, time traveling properties, to learning Claire’s story, finding Jamie alive, and then realizing he too had the ability to go back in time, Roger had thought of the possibilities. He entertained the idea of running as fast as he could towards the tallest stone on Craigh na Dun, hoping not to slam against the hard surface, but to be transported to a reality he only knew from his studies. And in the first second after her question had floated unanswered in the space between them, he contemplated again leaving his life behind, the stuffy rooms and old books, and seeing history with his own eyes. There was a part of him that resisted the passive life of a professor. Being an observer of events instead of an active player had been the path of least resistance. There was nothing holding him here, in this time, and this life. He had no living kin and only a handful of friends to miss him. Besides, how could a historian deny the chance to see the past when it was only a touch on a stone away?
He turned around finally, and his eyes landed on her, sitting on the bed. Her face was stripped of the layers she always crafted so masterfully to conceal her thoughts. Her features were now soft, giving her a childlike air. Her vulnerability lay bare with no pretense whatsoever, trusting him wholeheartedly, and fear floated on the bottomless pool of her blue eyes, inviting him to dive in.
She looked small in her dark blue pajamas, despite the imposing six feet of height. Strands of red hair were loose from the long braid she wore over her shoulder, and he wanted nothing more than to brush them aside and allow the tips of his fingers to linger on the skin of her cheek.
“Will you see me off, at least?” she pressed, the gentle tone of her voice summoning him back to reality.
“Ye really are going through with it, aren’t you?”
She nodded. “It wouldn’t be forever. I just have to find Jamie, and then I’ll come back.”
If only it were that simple. But life had taught him, quite early and unexpectedly, that the most carefully laid plans had a way of going astray very fast, and often with severe consequences. Perhaps it was a byproduct of her young age, but naïveté was shining through the cracks of what she clearly thought was a reasonable plan.
“It’s not like going on a vacation to the other side of the Atlantic, Bree.” Again, he felt the irresistible gravitation towards her, an invisible energy that seemed to magnetically control his body, and he moved to sit on the bed in front of her again.
“No, it’s not. But I’m a very capable woman, Roger. If Mama doesn’t go, I have to.”
He smiled at her confidence and strength, incredibly vivid in each word.
“I have no doubt in my mind that you can, but we’re talking about a time that was not kind to women, particularly those that travel alone. And God knows what those stones can do to a person.”
A single ruddy eyebrow suddenly lifted. “Has any time been kind to women?”
She said the words in jest, but they held a truth known, and shared, by every woman, one he could not deny. “Ach, no. But still, I can’t let ye go…”
“Roger,” she said, with finality in her voice that gave no space for further argument.
He could sit there all night, list all the possible dangers she might face, and even then, he knew Brianna would not budge; her decision had been made. To an extent, he admired that side of her, impulsive and stubborn to a fault, but determined nonetheless. Roger already knew she would always carry out her will, one way or another, and that it would, more often than not, be useless to oppose her. With an aching heart, he silenced all his arguments, and resigned himself to her choice.
His hand covered hers on top of the blanket, and he gently laced their fingers together. “I’ll take ye to the stones, if that’s what ye decide to do. The least I can do is to be there beside ye if you go.”
“Thank you.” She leaned forward and placed a kiss on his cheek, brief and sweet, catching him by surprise.
“Claire will leave early in the morning,” he said as an afterthought.
Her eyes opened wide, and a sudden flash of hurt crossed through dark blue, as she realized that her mother would leave earlier than expected, to avoid the hurtful goodbye that neither mother, nor daughter, were truly ready for.
Brianna pulled her hand away from his, crossed the bed on hands and knees to the other side, and leaned over to retrieve something from under the bed. Her arse was suddenly pointing slightly upwards, round and incredibly tempting. He clutched his fingers together in his lap, least an errant hand took on a life of its own and he made a fool of himself.
Once she came back up again, her hands were holding what appeared to be a dress in 18thcentury fashion, of the most horrific green lime color he had ever seen. It even had stones, shining disturbingly all over the front, and far too unnatural for today’s standards, let alone for Georgian era fashion.
She had a guilty look on her face, and he immediately realized she had been planning it for a while, without telling either him or her mother. Her premeditation disconcerted him slightly. Roger stared at the dress, briefly imagining Brianna, too tall even for today’s standards, and attracting both curious and unwanted attention in the past.
As selfish as it was, he hoped he could count on Claire going through the stones herself so Brianna would not have to. Roger did not feel ashamed by the thought, for it was only a natural yearning, growing stronger by the day, to want to protect her, to take care of her.
He sighed and rose from the bed. At a loss for words, he simply leaned down, and this time, it was he who placed a lingering kiss upon her forehead. “We better be ready before sunrise. If anything, at least ye’ll have a proper farewell.”
Brianna felt a sort of nervous energy coursing through her veins as her feet moved, quite reluctantly, up the hill. The laces on the bodice she wore were pulled tightly, noticing it too late, and her breaths became increasingly shallow, while her heart beat strongly to be free of such a tight cage. Roger was beside her, a constant reassuring presence ever since they had met, and her hand found his easily, as if he were already expecting it. They reached the circle of stones together, and were immediately hit by the echoes of the past, present, and future, blending together in an incomprehensible, haunting call from within.
She took one step forward, and then another, Roger following her stride, until they reached the central stone and stopped. The buzzing was overwhelming, and even with the nauseating feeling rising in her stomach, she still had the presence of mind to hold onto both his hands with a strength that forced him to stand his ground. His face had gone pale, and she knew he was fighting the same impulse. Brianna stood there for a brief moment, wondering if she just moved forward and crossed the cleft in the middle of the stone, would she be able to let go of his hand, or would she pull him to the past with her?
Footsteps caught her attention and she turned towards the sound. Her mother was coming up the hill, already speechless and astonished to see her there. And Brianna knew with certainty that before the sun completely rose above the horizon, one of two things would happen: either she’d lose her mother to the past forever, or she’d make the leap herself. Roger suddenly tightened his grip, sensing her on the cusp of a decision. Their eyes locked and she nodded. Not yet, she thought. There was still a little time.