the whole Passage from ABSOA — Chapter 29- PERFECTLY FINE
It hadn’t troubled Fraser. But then, Fraser had ceased even to think of the bandits, directly they were dead; all his thought had been for Claire, and that was surely understandable.
He’d led her through the morning light in that clearing, a blood-soaked Adam, a battered Eve, looking upon the knowledge of good and evil. And then he had wrapped her in his plaid, picked her up, and walked away to his horse.
The men had followed, silent, leading the bandits’ horses behind their own. An hour later, with the sun warm on their backs, Fraser had turned his horse’s head downhill, and led them to a stream. He had dismounted, helped Claire down, then vanished with her through the trees.
The men had exchanged puzzled looks, though no one spoke. Then old Arch Bug had swung down from his mule, saying matter-of-factly, “Well, she’ll want to wash then, no?”
A sigh of comprehension went over the group, and the tension lessened at once, dissolving into the small homely businesses of dismounting, hobbling, girth-checking, spitting, having a piss. Slowly, they sought each other, looking for something to say, searching for relief in commonplace.
He caught Ian’s eye, but they were yet too stiff with each other for this; Ian turned, clapped a hand round Fergus’s shoulder, and hugged him, then pushed him away with a small rude joke about his stink. The Frenchman gave him a tiny smile and lifted the darkened hook in salute.
Kenny Lindsay and old Arch Bug were sharing out tobacco, stuffing their pipes in apparent tranquillity. Tom Christie wandered over to them, pale as a ghost, but pipe in hand. Not for the first time, Roger realized the valuable social aspects of smoking.
Arch had seen him, though, standing aimless near his horse, and come to talk to him, the old man’s voice calm and steadying. He had no real idea what Arch said, let alone what he replied; the simple act of conversation seemed to let him breathe again and still the tremors that ran over him like breaking waves.
Suddenly, the old man broke off what he was saying, and nodded over Roger’s shoulder.
“Go on, lad. He needs ye.”
Roger had turned to see Jamie standing at the far side of the clearing, half-turned away and leaning on a tree, his head bowed in thought. Had he made some sign to Arch? Then Jamie glanced round, and met Roger’s eye. Yes, he wanted him, and Roger found himself standing beside Fraser, with no clear memory of having crossed the ground between them.
Jamie reached out and squeezed his hand, hard, and he held on, squeezing back.
“A word, a cliamhuinn,” Jamie said, and let go. “I wouldna speak so now, but there may be no good time later, and there’s little time to bide.” He sounded calm, too, but not like Arch. There were broken things in his voice; Roger felt the hairy bite of the rope, hearing it, and cleared his own throat.
Jamie took a deep breath, and shrugged a bit, as though his shirt were too tight.
“The bairn. It’s no right to ask ye, but I must. Would ye feel the same for him, and ye kent for sure he wasna your own?”
“What?” Roger simply blinked, making no sense whatever of this. “Bai—ye mean Jem?”
Jamie nodded, eyes intent on Roger’s.
“Well, I … I dinna ken, quite,” Roger said, baffled as to what this was about. Why? And why now, of all times?
He was thinking, wondering what the hell? Evidently this thought showed, for Fraser ducked his head in acknowledgment of the need to explain himself further.
“I ken … it’s no likely, aye? But it’s possible. She might be wi’ child by the night’s work, d’ye see?”
He did see, with a blow like a fist under the breastbone. Before he could get breath to speak, Fraser went on.
“There’s a day or two, perhaps, when I might—” He glanced away, and a dull flush showed through the streaks of soot with which he had painted his face. “There could be doubt, aye? As there is for you. But …” He swallowed, that “but” hanging eloquent.
Jamie glanced away, involuntarily, and Roger’s eyes followed the direction of his gaze. Beyond a screen of bush and red-tinged creeper, there was an eddy pool, and Claire knelt on the far side, naked, studying her reflection. The blood thundered in Roger’s ears, and he jerked his eyes away, but the image was seared on his mind.
She did not look human, was the first thing he thought. Her body mottled black with bruises, her face unrecognizable, she looked like something strange and primal, an exotic creature of the forest pool. Beyond appearance, though, it was her attitude that struck him. She was remote, somehow, and still, in the way that a tree is still, even as the air stirs its leaves.
He glanced back, unable not to. She bent over the water, studying her face. Her hair hung wet and tangled down her back, and she skimmed it back with the palm of a hand, holding it out of the way as she surveyed her battered features with dispassionate intentness.
She prodded gently here and there, opening and closing her jaw as her fingertips explored the contours of her face. Testing, he supposed, for loose teeth and broken bones. She closed her eyes and traced the lines of brow and nose, jaw and lip, hand as sure and delicate as a painter’s. Then she seized the end of her nose with determination and pulled hard.
Roger cringed in reflex, as blood and tears poured down her face, but she made no sound. His stomach was already knotted into a small, painful ball; it rose up into his throat, pressing against the rope scar.
She sat back on her heels, breathing deeply, eyes closed, hands cupped over the center of her face.
He became suddenly aware that she was naked, and he was still staring. He jerked away, blood hot in his face, and glanced surreptitiously toward Jamie in hopes that Fraser had not noticed. He hadn’t—he was no longer there.
All rights for the Picture from Outlander go to the rightful owner Starz/Sony
Quote and Excerpt by Diana Gabaldon from “A BREATH of SNOW and ASHES”
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