the whole Scene:
I picked up his right hand and transferred it to my own knee. He let it lie there, warm, heavy and inert, and didn’t object as I felt each finger, pulling gently to stretch the tendons and twisting to see the range of motion in the joints.
“My first orthopedic surgery, that was,” I said wryly.
“Have ye done a great many things like that since?” he asked curiously, looking down at me.
“Yes, a few. I’m a surgeon—but it doesn’t mean then what it means now,” I added hastily. “Surgeons in my time don’t pull teeth and let blood. They’re more like what’s meant now by the word ‘physician’—a doctor with training in all the fields of medicine, but with a specialty.”
“Special, are ye? Well, ye’ve always been that,” he said, grinning. The crippled fingers slid into my palm and his thumb stroked my knuckles. “What is it a surgeon does that’s special, then?”
I frowned, trying to think of the right phrasing. “Well, as best I can put it—a surgeon tries to effect healing…by means of a knife.”
His long mouth curled upward at the notion.
“A nice contradiction, that; but it suits ye, Sassenach.”
“It does?” I said, startled.
He nodded, never taking his eyes off my face. I could see him studying me closely, and wondered self-consciously what I must look like, flushed from lovemaking, with my hair in wild disorder.
“Ye havena been lovelier, Sassenach,” he said, smile growing wider as I reached up to smooth my hair. He caught my hand, and kissed it gently. “Leave your curls be.
“No,” he said, holding my hands trapped while he looked me over, “no, a knife is verra much what you are, now I think of it. A clever-worked scabbard, and most gorgeous to see, Sassenach”—he traced the line of my lips with a finger, provoking a smile—“but tempered steel for a core…and a wicked sharp edge, I do think.”
“Wicked?” I said, surprised.“Not heartless, I don’t mean,” he assured me. His eyes rested on my face, intent and curious. A smile touched his lips. “No, never that. But you can be ruthless strong, Sassenach, when the need is on ye.”
I smiled, a little wryly. “I can,” I said.
“I have seen that in ye before, aye?” His voice grew softer and his grasp on my hand tightened. “But now I think ye have it much more than when ye were younger. You’ll have needed it often since, no?”
I realized quite suddenly why he saw so clearly what Frank had never seen at all.
“You have it too,” I said. “And you’ve needed it. Often.” Unconsciously, my fingers touched the jagged scar that crossed his middle finger, twisting the distal joints.
“I have wondered,” he said, so low I could scarcely hear him. “Wondered often, if I could call that edge to my service, and sheathe it safe again. For I have seen a great many men grow hard in that calling, and their steel decay to dull iron. And I have wondered often, was I master in my soul, or did I become the slave of my own blade?
“I have thought again and again,” he went on, looking down at our linked hands…“that I had drawn my blade too often, and spent so long in the service of strife that I wasna fit any longer for human intercourse.”
My lips twitched with the urge to make a remark, but I bit them instead. He saw it, and smiled, a little wryly.
“I didna think I should ever laugh again in a woman’s bed, Sassenach,” he said. “Or even come to a woman, save as a brute, blind with need.” A note of bitterness came into his voice.I lifted his hand, and kissed the small scar on the back of it.
“I can’t see you as a brute,” I said. I meant it lightly, but his face softened as he looked at me, and he answered seriously.
“I know that, Sassenach. And it is that ye canna see me so that gives me hope. For I am—and know it—and yet perhaps…” He trailed off, watching me intently.
“You have that—the strength. Ye have it, and your soul as well. So perhaps my own may be saved.”