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June flew by like the landscape out a train window, leaving just flashes of scenery in Jamie’s mind. Every day was a whirlwind of calls, emails, messages, and even a few visitors dropping by to try to snag a last-minute room. The attention from the article had surpassed even Jenny’s wildest expectations, and Jamie had to ask her to help sort through inquiries from Glasgow for the first couple weeks.

But now, things were finally starting to calm down. The money from booking the cottage had allowed them to hire out all the remaining work in Claire’s bathroom, which would be finished in the next two days, before July. And with the backlog of messages cleared, the coming weeks actually looked somewhat tranquil, especially compared to the ones that preceded.

Jamie was looking forward to the opportunity to put more focus on his relationship with Claire for a bit. Mrs. Fitz had asked a few days before if they might hire her niece who was home from university for the summer as a maid, so turnovers in the barn would be taken care of. That left only budget tracking, arrangements for any extra activities or services that guests requested, and planning out the next round of renovations—tasks that, while important, generally didn’t take up the full day for either of them. Now that it was high summer, Jamie thought they might even be able to get a few days away together, maybe to the Isle of Skye.

For now, though, there were a few last things to attend to as the first bathroom renovation wrapped up.

“Would ye consider movin’ yer things to a different room, Sassenach?” Jamie asked as they inspected the newly completed shower. “We can set up the one next to mine for ye so we can get this one ready to list.”

Claire gave him an amused look. “What, you can’t make space in your drawers for me?” she teased.

“Well, I only meant…” Jamie felt himself flushing. “I thought ye’d like to keep yer own space.”

She laughed as they stepped back out of the bathroom. “I haven’t slept in this bed in three weeks,” she reminded him. “And if you piss me off again, I can always banish you to the couch.”

He snorted and leaned in to kiss her lightly. “There’s some motivation for me to be good,” he said wryly, slinging an arm around her shoulder and leading her to the staircase.

“When will the crew start on the next bathroom?” Claire asked as they made their way to the kitchen, where a homemade pizza was baking. She started busily putting together a salad with the abundant greens from the garden.

“I wanted to talk to ye about that, actually,” Jamie said, sitting at the table. Claire turned towards him, leaning against the countertop. “I wondered if we shouldna try movin’ a bit faster on the rest. If we have the money, I’d like tae try to do a few of them at once. Hire a couple more crews, like.”

Claire tilted her head to the side, considering. “How many are left?” she asked absently, more to herself than to him. “Six?”

“Seven,” Jamie corrected. “Six on the first an’ second floor, plus fixing up the one on the top floor by the Laird’s Room.” He hesitated for a moment. “I thought…well, I thought we could move up there once it's finished. For a little more, ah—”

“Privacy?” Claire finished, raising a brow suggestively.

“Aye,” Jamie rumbled, feeling blood rush out of his head at her expression. The walls of Lallybroch were thick stone and generally soundproof, but having some separation from guests seemed prudent. “At least until we can turn the servants’ quarters into an apartment.”

“We’d have to wait to put my room up online, then,” she said. “It'd be too much construction noise to have guests there if we're working on three bathrooms at a time.”

Jamie hadn’t thought of that. “Aye, I see what ye mean.”

She nodded resolutely, having gleaned all the information she needed. “Let me run some projections. If that contract with the film production goes through in the next couple weeks, I think it could work. And we’d get to full capacity sooner.”

With that, she turned back to the salad, intent on her task.

The next morning, they woke at roughly the same time—an uncommon occurrence, given Jamie’s penchant for early rising and Claire’s abhorrence of being awake before the coffee was made. Jamie kissed her sleepily, and she batted him away.

“My breath smells horrid,” she whined, and Jamie laughed.

“So does mine,” he pointed out. Claire just made a face at him, and then stretched languidly, her bare breasts popping out over the covers.

“There’s a good mornin’ for ye,” Jamie murmured, leaning down to bite the swell of one playfully.

Claire yelped in surprise and pulled back, giggling. “Let me brush my teeth first,” she said, and flipped the covers off her nude body.

As she sat up, though, her face froze in panic, and she hastily pulled the blanket over her lap.

“What’s the matter, Sassenach?” Jamie asked lazily.

Claire turned beet red and wouldn’t meet his eye. “Oh God, Jamie, I’m so embarrassed,” she said, and the tone of her voice made him sit up and put a concerned hand on her shoulder.

“What?” he said, but before she could answer, it clicked. “Oh, is it yer period?”

She nodded, still blushing. “I’m so sorry, I don’t usually have one with the IUD, but every now and again I get…y’know, some surprise spotting,” she apologized. “If you…just get up and go make coffee, I’ll get the sheets—”

Jamie waved her off. “Och, dinna be daft,” he said, kissing her temple. “I’ll get ye a pair o’ knickers. Do ye have tampons or anything?” She shook her head and he patted her arm. “Nay bother. I can run to the store, if ye tell me what ye prefer.”

Claire’s eyes welled up with tears, and his stomach lurched. “It’s truly all right, Sassenach,” he said gently, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. “I grew up wi’ an older sister, don’t forget. A wee bit o’ blood doesna bother me. And these sheets’re scaffy, anyway.”

She laughed wetly. “It’s just…you’re being so kind,” she sniffled.

“All right, that’s it,” he said, letting her go with a final pat and swinging his legs around to the floor. “I declare this a lay-about day. Tea, chocolate, an’ some Netflix til ye stop complimenting me and get back to normal.”

With the current cottage occupants off on a tour of Loch Ness, their only responsibility for the day was to start emptying the spare bedrooms, and that could wait.

Claire watched his naked back as he crossed to the dresser and rummaged in the drawer that held her intimates. “Is it a big granny pants day, then?” he asked.

She giggled. “Yes, please.”

He found a black pair that looked like they fit the bill—a little pilled and ragged around the edges—and threw them at her, then grabbed a pair of his own sweatpants that he knew she liked to lounge in now and again, despite how long they were on her. He pulled on his own pair of trackie bottoms and a t-shirt, the first things his hands came into contact with.

“You get yerself comfortable,” he said. “I’ll put the kettle on for ye then run down to the service station. What do ye need?”

Claire’s blush was back, though less intense than before. “Some of the thinnest sanitary towels they have. And maybe a box of regular tampons, just in case it gets worse?”

Jamie sent her an ironic salute, and then set off to his task.

Jamie could feel his phone buzzing in his pocket, but he was in the middle of throwing his spoils into a bag. Sanitary towels, tampons (two boxes—one with applicators and one without, since Claire hadn’t specified), a selection of Cadbury delights, cheesy popcorn, seltzer, and paracetamol—that ought to get her through the day at least, he thought smugly.

With the provisions purchased, he made his way to the truck, and then pulled out his phone. Two missed calls from Claire.

“Shite,” he murmured. She must have thought of something else she wanted.

He rung her back and she picked up almost immediately. “Jamie.” Her voice was high and tight, almost panicked.

“Is everything all right?” he asked, suddenly tense.

“Jamie, I don’t know what’s happening,” she said, sounding faint. “I—there’s a lot of blood—” She whimpered in pain. “I think I need to go to the hospital.”

Jamie was already peeling out of the parking lot. “I’ll be there quick as I can, mo chridhe,” he promised.

“Shouldn’t I call for an ambulance?”

“No. It’ll take longer. Just hold on.”

It was true—the nearest hospital with ambulance service was Raigmore in Inverness. It would take near two hours for one to get to Lallybroch and back.

She was sitting on the front steps holding a dark hand towel when he slid into the courtyard, looking pale and frightened. He threw on the parking brake and ran up the stairs to help her down; she was shaking.

“I think I ruined your sweats,” she said numbly. “I tried to use some toilet roll, but—”

“Dinna fash about that,” Jamie responded, wrapping one arm around her shoulder to hold her up as much as comfort her. He opened the passenger door for her and she put the hand towel down on the seat before she climbed in. The sight sent ice straight through his heart—just how much was she bleeding, if she felt that necessary?

He ran around to the driver’s side and turned the key, desperate to get to Raigmore as quickly as possible.

“Are ye in pain, Claire?” he asked, unable to stop himself from looking at her every few seconds. She was grimacing, her whole body curled around her abdomen. “There’s a bottle of paracetamol in the bag here.” He groped for the opening in the center console.

She nodded mutely and reached in to find the bottle.

“That’s a good lass,” he said soothingly as he floored the gas pedal. “Ye’ll be all right.”

“Respectfully, Jamie,” she gritted out, “shut the fuck up.”

Despite his fear, he chuckled. If she was still in a mood to curse him out, surely it couldn’t be that bad.

Forty minutes later, he was pulling up to the A&E entrance, and Claire was markedly worse. She’d begun making a low moaning sound as they crossed into the outskirts of Inverness, and her lips were looking blue.

“Oi! I need your help RIGHT NOW!” he roared as he parked in a fire lane, waving down a man in scrubs pushing an empty wheelchair towards the doors.

The man jumped into action, and Jamie gently lifted Claire out of the truck and into the wheelchair.

“Jesus,” he whispered hoarsely, when he saw the state of the seat. She’d bled through the towel, leaving a large dark stain on the cloth.

The man—who turned out to be a nurse—was asking questions and Claire, at least, was answering faintly.

“Is there a possibility you might be pregnant?”

“Yes,” she murmured, eyes shut tight. “It’s possible.”

The bottom of Jamie's stomach dropped out—pregnant? Was she having a miscarriage, then? Her hand groped in the empty space at her side, and Jamie surged forward to take it.

“When was your last menstrual period?”

“I don’t…I have an IUD,” she answered. “I don’t have one, normally.”

The nurse nodded as he pushed her through the automatic doors towards the intake desk. “How long have you been bleeding like this?”

“Started last night,” Claire breathed. “Light, and then…”

“It got heavy a little over an hour ago,” Jamie finished when she trailed off. The nurse looked at him.

“Are you her husband?”

“Yes,” Claire said, voice suddenly much firmer. Jamie squeezed her hand, his throat too tight to speak.

They bypassed the check in, and went straight back to the treatment area.

“Vaginal bleeding, suspected ectopic,” the nurse barked at the intake desk. “Page Dr. Abernathy, we need to run urine beta-hCG and do an ultrasound right away.”

He turned to Jamie as the hallway erupted with activity. “Sir, ye’ll need to move yer car,” he said, taking him gently by the shoulder to move him out of the way as a flurry of healthcare workers surrounded the wheelchair. “Ye’ll be towed if ye leave it there.”

Jamie felt frantic at being removed from Claire’s side. “Fuck the car,” he growled, trying to get close enough to see her face.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Claire said, sounding exhausted. “I’ll be perfectly all right til you get back.”

The team was transferring her onto a gurney, and a kindly older woman patted her hand as she settled back. “We’ll get ye back to the exam room,” she said.

“Tell the lads out at the front desk yer wife’s in here when ye get back an’ they’ll tell ye where she is,” the nurse who’d wheeled Claire in said. And then they were away down the hall, and Jamie was left alone.

He moved the truck as quickly as he could, but it still took him a good fifteen minutes to find an open spot and sprint back to the entrance.

“My—er, my wife,” he panted at the check-in desk. “Claire Beauchamp.”

The beefy looking man nodded and typed a few things into the computer.

“They’re prepping her for surgery,” he said, giving Jamie a sympathetic smile. “Bed 10, through there. They’ll let ye talk to her before, but ye won’t be able to go in wi’ her.”

Jamie was whirling down the hallway before the man finished his sentence. He saw the numbers above the curtained-off sections of the hall, and skidded to a halt as he saw the one he was looking for.

“Claire?” he said frantically, hand already closing on the curtain to rip it open.

“Yes,” her soft voice came through.

She was lying in the gurney, looking impossibly fragile with her milk-white skin and dark hair fanned about her. She’d already been put into a hospital gown, and someone had started an IV line in her hand.

“So I'm guessing you're the husband, then?”

Jamie looked up, startled by the American accent. A Black man in a white coat had come up to the gap in the curtain behind him, clipboard in hand. Jamie might have guessed he was in his mid-30s if it weren’t for the grey hairs sprinkled at his temples. He was shorter than Jamie but broad, and he had a warm, friendly air about him that made him feel instantly trustworthy.

“We're not really married,” Claire admitted. “But I wanted…”

The doctor tapped a conspiratorial finger to the side of his nose.

“Say no more,” he said, holding out a hand to Claire. “I’m Dr. Abernathy. I’ll be the one taking care of you.”

“Claire Beauchamp,” she replied, squeezing his fingers.

He smiled down gently at her. “Now, Claire, I’ve got some tough news for you. You had an ectopic pregnancy, and your fallopian tube has ruptured. That means—”

“I know what it means,” she interrupted. Jamie, however, was lost. So Claire really was pregnant? But something had obviously gone horribly wrong—the word “ruptured” echoed in his mind. “Do you have the tools for laparoscopic surgery here, or will you open me up?”

If Dr. Abernathy was surprised by her knowledge, he didn’t show it. “Yes, it’ll be laparoscopic. I’ve done a number of these in my day, so I promise you’re in good hands.”

Claire smiled faintly. “I’m sure,” she said. “Just…one thing, Dr. Abernathy. If you can…will you repair it?”

The doctor took Claire’s small hand in his broad palm again and squeezed. “I’ll do my best,” he said. “But I’ll tell ya, based on what I saw on the ultrasound, I think it’s pretty likely that I’ll have to remove it.”

Claire closed her eyes briefly, but nodded. “Of course.”

“Now, you’re still losing blood,” Dr. Abernathy continued as a nurse came in with a syringe. “So we’ll need to move fast. You’re young and healthy, though, so I think we’ll be able to get by with recovering your blood from the internal hemorrhage and maybe some volume fillers rather than a transfusion. But just in case, do you know your blood type?”

“I’m Type A,” she said quietly.

Dr. Abernathy nodded. “I’ve ordered a confirmation test and we’ll have blood components ready, just to be sure. Either way, your prognosis is good, ok? There are risks to any surgery, but you got here just in time. Do you have any questions for me before we get moving?”

Claire shook her head. “No, thank you, Dr. Abernathy.

The doctor smiled at her and patted her hand. “The operating room should be just about ready. We’re going to give you a sedative here and put you all the way under when we get to the OR, all right?”

Claire nodded mutely, and the nurse stepped forward to put the sedative in her IV catheter. Suddenly Jamie’s heart was in his throat—she was going to go under before he could talk to her, before he could really understand anything that was going on. He leapt forward involuntarily, startling both the nurse and Dr. Abernathy, who held up a hand to stop him from accidentally interfering.

“It won’t put her under all the way,” Abernathy said soothingly. “I’ll give you a moment while it takes effect. But just a minute, ok?”

He stepped out of the way and the nurse followed. Jamie lunged to the bedside, gripping Claire’s hand—the one without the IV.

“Claire, I have to say it, before…” He felt frantic; if she didn’t wake, if he missed his chance... “I love ye, I really do. More than I know how to tell ye. More than anything.” He kissed her fingers, grasped between his two hands.

She already looked sleepy, the pained lines between her eyebrows smoothing as the sedative took effect.

“I know,” she said dreamily. “It’s going to be all right, I promise.” Her words were slightly slurred.

“There’s so much I want to say,” he choked.

“Jamie, don’t get hysterical.”

He laughed, a pained sound. Tears were gathering at his eyes, and he leaned down to kiss her gently. “I’ll see ye when ye wake up.”

She patted his hands with her free one, and made a soothing sound, but didn’t speak.

The older woman who’d wheeled her in pulled back the curtain suddenly. “All right then, lassie,” she said. “Time to get you movin’.”

Dr. Abernathy was with her, and he patted Jamie on the shoulder. “You can walk to the OR with us,” he said quietly. “There’s a nice place for you to wait. It should be a fairly short procedure.”

Another nurse appeared at the curtain entrance, and they started adjusting Claire’s gurney for movement. Claire answered their friendly chat with drunken half-answers, her hand waving as she tried to grasp the words she wanted. Jamie reluctantly stepped out of the way, inadvertently pushing himself up against Dr. Abernathy, who put a steadying hand on his bicep.

“Doctor…” he began, feeling the panic rising again. “I’m sorry, I dinna understand what’s happening.” He looked at the man pleadingly. “Claire’s got a medical degree, ye ken, but I’m in the dark. Please, just…she’s pregnant?”

The man sighed. “Well…yes,” he said. “But it’s not viable. It implanted in her fallopian tube—do you know what that is?”

Jamie nodded. “The bit that connects the ovary to the uterus?”

“Exactly,” Abernathy confirmed. The nurses were ready to wheel Claire out now; seeing them, he pulled Jamie out into the hall to give them room to maneuver. “Listen, when we get to the OR, I’ll have a few minutes while the anesthesiologist works. I’ll give you the high level stuff then. For now, just know that we’ve beaten the worst of the danger. She’s getting the care she needs, and I’m confident the chances of further complications are very low, ok?”

Jamie blinked back tears and cleared his throat, trying to dispel the tightness. “Aye, thank ye,” he said, and took his place at Claire’s side. He held her limp hand as the nurses pushed her through the hall—her eyes were closed now, and he could see them move under the thin skin of her lids.

“She’s still awake, laddie,” the older woman said. “Ye can talk to her, if ye like.”

Jamie shrugged self-consciously. “Claire, I’m comin’ with ye as far as I can, all right?” he said, voice low. “I cannae come in the room, but I’ll be just outside.”

She opened her eyes then. “You love me,” she said with an air of wonder, making both the nurses laugh.

Jamie flushed red, but smiled. “Aye, I do, ye wicked wee vixen,” he said, trying to keep it light. “And I’d ha’ said it sooner, were ye not so damn stubborn.”

Claire closed her eyes again, her lips curving up in a satisfied smile.

“Dinna fash, lad,” the other nurse—a younger woman with mousy brown hair. “We’ll take good care of her.”

Jamie sent both women a grateful smile, and the older nurse winked.

The effort of speaking to him seemed to have drained the last of Claire's energy, because she spoke no more. But she had wrapped her hand more securely in his own, and he could feel the life in her there, reassuringly warm and persistent.

When they reached the doors to the operating room, the two nurses paused, giving him a moment. Jamie had said what mattered most already, but he bent down and kissed her unnervingly white temple.

“I do love ye, Claire,” he whispered into her ear, needing to say the words again. “Come back to me.”

“Jamie,” she mumbled, but made no other sound.

Though it wrenched him, he forced himself to step back, and the nurses wheeled her into the antechamber of the operating room.

“Come with me,” Dr. Abernathy said from behind him, and Jamie started. He’d been staring at the gap between the automatic doors as they closed, not wanting to miss his last glimpse of her, and he’d forgotten the doctor was still there

Dr. Abernathy steered him into an empty waiting room and sat him down, taking the chair next to him.

“All right—Jamie, was it?”

Jamie nodded mutely.

“Claire authorized us to give you all her medical details, so I’m gonna do my best in the next—” Dr. Abernathy glanced at the clock on the wall “–three minutes before I have to scrub in.” He straightened in his chair, but didn’t wait for Jamie to respond. “So. It’s an ectopic pregnancy, meaning it implanted somewhere besides the uterine wall. All ectopic pregnancies are non-viable—meaning no matter what, it wouldn’t have progressed to term. Hard to say how far along, but very early, maybe six to eight weeks.”

“That makes sense,” Jamie said quietly. They’d first slept together May 7, and it was the end of June now. God, could it have happened that night?

“Claire said she has an IUD. While that doesn’t increase the overall chances of an ectopic pregnancy, when a pregnancy does occur with one in place, a greater share are ectopic,” Abernathy continued. “And, I have to stress this because I see that look on your face, it’s nobody’s fault. Just a really unlucky thing, ok?”

It was kind of the doctor to try to absolve him, but Jamie was only too aware of his role in Claire’s current situation. If he’d just insisted on condoms—

“So the embryo grew in a space that was too small. At some point today, the fallopian tube ruptured—burst open, y’know—and that’s what’s causing the bleeding. I’m going to go in through small incisions with a couple little tools so I don’t have to cut open her abdomen all the way, and try to either cauterize and repair the tear, or remove it altogether.”

Jamie bit his lip, suddenly remembering what Claire had asked of Dr. Abernathy in the examination room. “And if ye remove it…will she still be able to have bairns in the future?”

The doctor smiled gently. “It can affect fertility if there are pre-existing issues with the remaining fallopian tube,” he said. “But otherwise the rate of conception is pretty much the same.”

Another memory rose to the surface. Claire, sitting on his bed beside him months ago, talking about how hard she and Frank had tried to conceive.

Jamie always assumed he’d have children—in that distant, hazy way—but Claire had clearly wanted to be a mother, at least at one time. It was too early, far too early in their relationship to talk about it now, but circumstances had forced the thought to the forefront.

“One other thing,” Jamie said, gripping the arms of the chair. He stared at his own fingers, unable to look the doctor in the eye. “If…if I’d gotten her here sooner, maybe when she first started bleeding, would she…could we have…?”

Dr. Abernathy wrapped his hand around Jamie’s forearm with surprising strength. Jamie looked up, startled. The man looked him in the face very seriously.

“Trust me, you can't play that game,” he said firmly. “I have no idea when the rupture actually occurred, but the fact of the matter is you got her here in time for me to help her. That’s the important thing.”

Jamie couldn’t hold the eye contact. He dropped his head, ashamed.

“Now, prognosis,” Abernathy said, releasing his grip. “Rupture can be fatal if the hemorrhage isn’t controlled, but you got her here quickly, and the surgery itself is pretty low-risk. I feel confident I can get the internal bleeding stopped and she’ll be ready to go home in a day or two.”

He looked up at the clock again. “Ok, I really do have to go,” he said. “I promise, I’ll be in the second we’re finished with an update. An hour, hour and a half tops, ok? Sit tight, try not to panic.”

Jamie stared at his lap long after the doctor had disappeared. And then, without even thinking about it, he slipped from the chair onto his knees, the cold linoleum comfortingly painful where it pressed against his bones. He turned around to rest his elbows against the seat, and for the first time since his father died, began to pray.

Jamie had gone through every prayer to the Virgin Mary he could think of, first in English, then in French. The circumstances of his and Claire’s situation were unorthodox—he couldn’t think of loving her as a sin, no matter what the Jesuit priests had taught him at the lycée in Paris—but he rather thought the Holy Mother would understand. After all, she knew better than most the shock of an unexpected pregnancy, he reasoned, and he trusted in her mercy.

He had been trying to remember the Salve Regina in Latin when the sound of the door opening made him jump to his feet.

But an hour on the hard floor had turned his lower legs to pins and needles, and he wobbled alarmingly.

“Easy there,” Dr. Abernathy said, grabbing him by the shoulder to steady him.

“Claire,” Jamie breathed, not caring about his numb feet. “Is she…?”

“She did wonderful,” the doctor said, smiling. “No transfusion, vitals look damn good. We did give her saline as a volume expander—” He paused, seeing Jamie’s look of confusion. “Sort of an alternative to a blood transfusion,” he explained. “The point is, your girl’s in good shape.”

Jamie sagged in relief, sitting heavily in the chair. He sent a quick prayer of thanks to the Blessed Virgin, then turned his attention back to Dr. Abernathy.

“When can I see her?” he asked fervently.

“I came to take you to the recovery room right now,” the doctor said. “She’s just coming out of anesthesia so she’ll be a bit out of it, but I figured you’d want to be there.”

Jamie rose to his feet again, this time more steady as the blood had returned to his legs.

“Lead the way,” he said, voice firm.

Claire was still not quite awake when Jamie sat down in the chair beside her bed, but her eyelids were twitching, as were her elegant fingers, pale against the scratchy sheets. He covered her hand with his to still it.

“Yer all right, mo chridhe,” he murmured, leaning forward to press his lips to her cheek, just under the sweep of her dark lashes.

He heard a sigh behind him, but didn’t turn to look. The genial older nurse from before came into the corner of his vision. “Yer just so sweet with her,” she said as she approached the other side of Claire’s bed to adjust the bed and the pillows. “An’ I hope ye dinna mind me sayin’ so.”

“That’s all right.” Jamie sent her a brief smile. “Thank ye for taking care of her.”

The woman pinked slightly, pleased. “She’s a braw wee thing, yer lass,” she said, smoothing Claire’s hair on the pillow. “She’ll be wakin’ soon. Will ye press the call button, when she does? Dr. Abernathy would like to speak wi’ ye both when she’s alert.”

Jamie nodded, and the nurse smiled. “Take a breath, laddie. The worst is over. Now ye just get to dote on her while she recovers.”

He turned his full attention to the woman he loved as the nurse left them alone. She was stirring again, her mouth tightening and head lolling a bit on the pillow.

He would have liked to have said the words for the first time under almost any other circumstances. After his misguided first try, however, he’d taken her panic to heart, and had opted to wait it out. He thought maybe it would be better to let her say it first; he felt the way she held back with him sometimes. Never physically—she was generous with her body, and not only sexually. It was a true intimacy between them that went far beyond lustful desire.

But in her emotions, he could feel her guard come up at seemingly random intervals. And really, knowing what he did about Frank, it wasn’t surprising. So he had decided to give her space, let her learn to trust him fully.

In that moment though, knowing she would spend an unspecified amount of time on another plane of consciousness, detached from him—he simply had no choice. He had to send her into oblivion with that knowledge, those words ringing in her mind. It felt like the only way to tether her to him.

Claire let out a quiet groan, lashes starting to flutter.

“I’m here, Sassenach,” he said, scooting the chair closer so he would be in her field of vision as her eyes opened fully.

“Jamie,” she croaked, and he almost laughed in his relief at hearing her voice.

“Aye, it’s me,” he murmured, lifting his free hand to sweep a stray curl off her brow. She started to struggle to sit up straighter, and he made soothing noises. “Stay still, mo ghraidh, yer still coming out of it.”

She made a small noise of protest, but stilled.

“Are ye hurtin’?” he asked. Dr. Abernathy had said she should be fairly numb from the pain medication when she woke up, when he walked Jamie to the recovery unit.

“No,” she replied. “Thirsty.”

“Aye, I’ll call the nurse,” he said, and reached up for the call button.

The same nurse arrived quickly—she must have been right outside the curtain, Jamie thought. “Ah, yer waking up,” she said brightly. “How are ye feeling, Claire?”

“She said she was thirsty,” Jamie jumped in, seeing Claire struggling to wet her lips to respond. “I wasn’t sure if she was allowed…”

“Oh aye, we can do summat about that, can’t we?” She popped to the other side of the curtain and Jamie could hear water running. She returned with a small paper cup and crossed over Claire’s bedside.

“Can ye hold it yerself?” she asked, offering it to Claire. She reached for it, grasping, but seemed to have trouble keeping her hand steady.

“Och, that’s normal,” the nurse said soothingly, and touched the bottom of the cup to help Claire aim it to her lips. “Sip slow, now.”

Claire drank gratefully, allowing the nurse to lower the cup away from her lips at brief intervals.

“Now, it’ll be a bit before ye feel normal,” the nurse said as Claire sipped the last of the liquid. “Ye’ll be tired and a bit fuzzy for a few hours. But if yer feeling up to it, Dr. Abernathy wants to come have a chat and see how yer doing, ok?”

Claire nodded. “Yes, I feel ok.”

She sounded better after the water, though her words were a bit slurred still, as if her tongue was too big in her mouth. Her eyes were brighter too, despite the blown pupils.

The nurse nodded approvingly. “I’ll go get him,” she said. “And lad, if she wants more water, she can have it,” she added to Jamie as she crossed to the curtain. “Just small sips, mind, so she doesna aspirate.”

Jamie nodded, and took up Claire’s hand again. She looked at him, gaze still unsteady. Her eyes were filling with tears.

“Jamie…” she started. “Jamie, I’m so sorry.”

His eyebrows snapped together, and he pulled her hand closer. “Whatever for?” he said, shocked. “Ye’ve nothin’ to apologize for, Sassenach.”

The tears were falling now. “That I…that I let myself get pregnant,” she mumbled. “I can’t…I didn’t…”

Jamie was kissing her face now, anywhere he could reach. The salty damp tears stained his lips, and he wished he could take it all from her.

“Shh, mo ghraidh, mo leannan,” he whispered. “It isna yer fault. It’s me that should be sorry—that ye had to go through all this.”

She was hiccupping now, throat thick.

A tactful throat clearing on the other side of the curtain pulled Jamie’s attention from his ministrations. Without waiting for an answer, Dr. Abernathy walked in. Seeing Claire’s distress, his brows raised in concern.

“Uh oh,” he said, stepping forward. “Physical pain or emotional?” he asked, glancing back and forth between Claire and Jamie.

“Ah…emotional,” Jamie answered, squeezing Claire’s hand.

“Yeah, that can happen,” Abernathy said sympathetically as he reached Claire’s bedside. “Coming out of anesthesia makes some people weepy. But Claire, I gotta tell ya, you did really great, ok?” He patted Claire’s arm as she sniffled. “You’re gonna feel out of sorts for just a bit, but you’ll be back to normal in no time.”

Dr. Abernathy looked up at Jamie. “Nurse Graham said she had a little water,” he said, and Jamie nodded. “Good. Now, Claire.”

Claire had stopped crying now and she looked a little surprised at being addressed, as though she’d just come out of a dream.

“Oh,” she said, taking her hand from Jamie and starting to brush at her wet cheeks. “I do apologize, I’m not sure…”

The doctor fought back a smile. “You’re all right,” he said. “Do you remember what happened?”

Claire nodded slowly. “I was bleeding, and Jamie brought me to the hospital.”

Abernathy nodded encouragingly. “That’s right. Your right fallopian tube ruptured, remember?”

“Yes,” she said. “And you performed a salping…?” She looked at Abernathy pleadingly. “Ectomy or otomy? Did you take it?”

Dr. Abernathy’s mouth tightened slightly, though his eyes remained warm. “A salpingectomy, yes,” he said gently. “I had to remove it.”

Claire closed her eyes, breathing deeply.

“Listen to me,” Abernathy said firmly. “Unilateral salpingectomy usually has very little effect on fertility. And removing the damaged tube means you’ll be less likely to have another ectopic pregnancy there down the road.”

Claire nodded, eyes still closed, and Abernathy let out a sigh.

“All right. We’ll leave that for now. You tell me if you have any more questions about it later, when you're more alert. I do need to talk to you both about recovery.”

He looked up at Jamie, but continued talking to Claire. “You’ll stay here for an hour or two, just to make sure you recover from the anesthesia well. And then you’ll be transferred to your room. I’m going to keep you for a couple nights, to monitor your recovery. And then you’ll be able to go home.”

Claire opened her eyes again. She seemed sharper every passing minute. She cleared her throat and shifted, then winced.

Abernathy looked at her critically. “Starting to hurt, are you?”

Her mouth a grim line, Claire shrugged. “A little,” she replied.

“I’ll ask Nurse Graham to give you a bit more of the pain med on her next round, ok? We wanna stay ahead of that.”

Dr. Abernathy looked back up at Jamie. “And you,” he said. “Are you gonna give the nurses grief if they ask you to leave her?”

Jamie felt the corner of his mouth twitch. “Honestly?” he asked. “Aye, I imagine I would.”

Abernathy rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. “Damn Scots,” he muttered. “Fine. I’ll tell them to leave you alone. But if you get in the way or keep her from resting, I’ll come throw you out myself. Deal?”

“Deal,” Jamie replied, holding out a hand. Dr. Abernathy chuckled, but took it and shook it firmly.

“All right,” he said, stepping back. “Nurse Graham will be in every twenty minutes or so to check on you. But if you need anything, you press that call button, ok? I’ll be by your inpatient room tomorrow to see how you’re recovering and talk post-op care at home.”

Dr. Abernathy gave Jamie a clap on the shoulder as he walked past, and then he was gone, leaving them alone.

When the doctor's footsteps had faded down the hall, Claire let out a huge sigh. “Jamie, I’m so tired,” she whispered quietly.

Jamie kissed her temple. “Then sleep,” he said. “I’ll be here when ye wake.”

She smiled tremulously, then reached for his hand. He took it, and she closed her eyes. She was out in mere moments, breath slow and steady. Jamie shifted in his seat, and settled into his watch.