My husband was lying in a pool of black-red blood, the firedrake lying breathless beside him. His father's ancient claymore had been plunged between the scales of the beast's long columned throat that glinted with the iridescence of a dying star in the faltering daylight.
I laid my hand on his mottled face, brushed his long sunfired curls from his split brow. Watched as strenuous breath passed through his lips, cracked like his leathered armor, clawed down from his heaving breast to his gullet and the hard muscles of his thigh.
How wretchedly beautiful he looked even half-dead.
"Am I dead?" Jamie rasped, throat rough and parched from the cries of battle. I would need to get him water. Though he'd demand that only a river of whiskey could quench his thirst.
"You tell me," I said, tracing the bold lines of his face with my mouth, tasting hot iron, and thanking God I could feel his heart and breath rising against me again. "Do you wish to die here beneath the burnt trees and sky or back home in our bed?"
The corner of his wide mouth twitched then broke slowly into a winsome smile as he licked his lips. I kissed those too, with a near violent passion for the torture he had put me through, letting him steal the air from my lungs.
"In your arms," he murmured much later, with eyes more brilliant than even the mighty seven seas, struggling to stay open. "At a very advanced age mind ye."
He then tried to raise his arm, plated with leather and iron, that promptly fell back with a PLOP to the ruined earth beneath us, and cursed himself with a throaty hiss. I took his big, battered hand instead, entwined our fingers tightly together, and tucked them between my breasts where my heart throbbed brutally with love beneath.
He sighed dreamily.
"Sae bonny they are, smooth like pearls and white as stars yer breests are." He then cocked a brow. "But it was yer arse I was reaching for, Sassenach. I'm in terrible need of that great fat rump to fill the ache in my hand."
Laughter softly trembled from me. If he had time to joke and insult me he'd be alright. He'd be mine to take home. Back to Lallybroch and elsewhere no more.
I kissed his bruised knuckles with utmost tenderness.
"Get up then," said I. "Where you can take a proper hold of them."
I began to rise but Jamie refused to budge with barely the strength to shake his head. "I dinna think I can, Claire."
"You can and you will, James Fraser. Just try for me, please."
"I said I can't." His voice cracked with a sob caught between his ribs that shook and rattled. "I'm dying, mo ghràdh, can't ye see?"
I caressed his face with my hand, coaxing him to meet my eyes.
"No, you're not," I said, blinking back tears. "You may have slain the beast, you bloody hero, but I was the one that cut out it's heart. Tore it to pieces. Fed you it's flesh bit by bit to keep you alive. Now get on your feet so we can leave this miserable mountain or I'll drag you by your curls to do so!"
He stared at me with a half-frightened and awed expression as if he were facing God (or Lucifer as I was nearly as bloody as him now) and squeezed my hand, swallowing hard.
"My sister always said ye were a witch."
"And a great deal more, I know. She told me to my face. Made me vow to bring you home or she'd burn me to stake."
He hummed a chuckle knowing his sister meant every last word.
"Sounds like Jenny. It shoulda been her up here not me. The wee Valkyrie."
Then with all my strength, I helped Jamie to his feet. He swayed and nearly fell a dozen times, both of us sweating and panting in the end, but he managed an arm around my waist and a hard, lusty grasp of my arse to steady himself
And oh, how I loved him so
"I still feel like shite, ye ken," he groaned into the crook of my neck, breathing deep, the scent of me.
I in turn sighed gratefully, stroking the back of his crown and wrapped my fingers around his thick tangled curls knowing mine were no better and maybe even worse.
"That's a rather small price to pay for bringing you back from the dead."
"Was I?" He asked, lifting his head to knit our brows together.
"Very nearly, my darling."
And then I cried in great gasping rivulets that I couldn't stop as I clung to the heart and soul and bones of the only man I would ever love.
Jamie hushed me lovingly in gàidhlig, thanking me for his life, and cradled my face between the strength of his big hands and kissed away every teardrop until our lips met desperately once more.
"Mo bheannachd," Jamie then whispered, reverently against my swollen mouth, as sparks of embers floated in the air around us, glittering like flecks of gold. "Take me home to your bed and never will I leave thee."
I dug my nails into the exposed flesh above my husband's sainted heart, the man I knew without doubt would be the very death of me.
And I welcomed it
But not until we were both very old and terribly gray, at each other's side
Jamie didn't flinch even as I broke tender skin, only held me closer in the violet-blue shadows of the night darkening the mountain sky, and sealed his vow with a blistering kiss as our hearts beat as one.
Always and forever and not a day less.