I sat still, wondering what I should do. As I watched, his eyes opened suddenly once again. Heavy and drowsy with fever, they sought my face.
“It willna be long, Sassenach,” he said, as though reassuring me. One corner of his mouth twitched in an attempt at a smile. “Not long. Then I shall touch ye once more. I do long to touch you.”
“Oh, Jamie,” I said. Moved by tenderness, I reached out and laid my hand along his burning cheek.
His eyes snapped wide with shock, and he jerked bolt upright in bed, letting out a bloodcurdling yell of anguish as the movement jarred his wounded arm.
“Oh God, oh Christ, oh Jesus Lord God Almighty!” he said, bent half-breathless and clutching at his left arm. “You’re real! Bloody stinking filthy pig-swiving hell! Oh, Christ!”
“Are you all right?” I said, rather inanely. I could hear startled exclamations from the floor above, muffled by the thick planks, and the thump of feet as one after another of Lallybroch’s inhabitants leapt from their beds to investigate the uproar.
Jenny’s head, eyes even wider than before, poked through the parlor door. Jamie saw her, and somehow found sufficient breath to roar “Get out!” before doubling up again with an agonized groan.
“Je-sus,” he said between clenched teeth. “What in God’s holy name are ye doing here, Sassenach?”
“What do you mean, what am I doing here?” I said. “You sent for me. And what do you mean, I’m real?”
He unclenched his jaw and tentatively loosened his grip on his left arm. The resultant sensation proving unsatisfactory, he promptly grabbed it again and said several things in French involving the reproductive organs of assorted saints and animals.
“For God’s sake, lie down!” I said. I took him by the shoulders and eased him back onto the pillows, noting with some alarm how close his bones were to the surface of his heated skin.
“I thought ye were a fever dream, ’til you touched me,” he said, gasping. “What the hell d’ye mean, popping up by my bed and scarin’ me to death?” He grimaced in pain. “Christ, it feels like my damn arm’s come off at the shoulder. Och, bugger it!” he exclaimed, as I firmly detached the fingers of his right hand from his left arm.
“Didn’t you send Young Ian to tell me you were dying?” I said, deftly rolling back the sleeve of his nightshirt. The arm was wound in a huge bandage above the elbow, and I groped for the end of the linen strip.
“Me? No! Ow, that hurts!”
“It’ll hurt worse before I’m through with you,” I said, carefully unwrapping. “You mean the little bastard came after me on his own? You didn’t want me to come back?”
“Want ye back? No! Want ye to come back to me for nothing but pity, the same as ye might show for a dog in a ditch? Bloody hell! No! I forbade the little bugger to go after ye!” He scowled furiously at me, ruddy brows knitting together.
“I’m a doctor,” I said coldly, “not a veterinarian. And if you didn’t want me back, what was all that you were saying before you realized I was real, hm? Bite the blanket or something; the end’s stuck, and I’m going to pull it loose.”
He bit his lip instead, and made no noise but a swift intake of air through his nose. It was impossible to judge his color in the firelight, but his eyes closed briefly, and small beads of sweat popped out on his forehead.
I turned away for a moment, groping in the drawer of Jenny’s desk where the extra candles were kept. I needed more light before I did anything.
“I suppose Young Ian told me you were dying just to get me back here. He must have thought I wouldn’t come otherwise.” The candles were there; fine beeswax, from the Lallybroch hives.
“For what it’s worth, I am dying.” His voice came from behind me, dry and blunt, despite his breathlessness.
I turned back to him in some surprise. His eyes rested on my face quite calmly, now that the pain in his arm had lessened a bit, but his breath was still coming unevenly, and his eyes were heavy and bright with fever. I didn’t respond at once, but lit the candles I had found, placing them in the big candelabra that usually decorated the sideboard, unused save for great occasions. The flames of five additional candles brightened the room as though in preparation for a party. I bent over the bed, noncommital.
“Let’s have a look at it.”
The wound itself was a ragged dark hole, scabbed at the edges and faintly blue-tinged. I pressed the flesh on either side of the wound; it was red and angry-looking, and there was a considerable seepage of pus. Jamie stirred uneasily as I drew my fingertips gently but firmly down the length of the muscle.
“You have the makings of a very fine little infection there, my lad,” I said. “Young Ian said it went into your side; a second shot, or did it go through your arm?”
“It went through. Jenny dug the ball out of my side. That wasna so bad, though. Just an inch or so in.” He spoke in brief spurts, lips tightening involuntarily between sentences.
“Let me see where it went through.”
Moving very slowly, he turned his hand to the outside, letting the arm fall away from his side. I could see that even that small movement was intensely painful. The exit wound was just above the elbow joint, on the inside of the upper arm. Not directly opposite the entrance wound, though; the ball had been deflected in its passage.
“Hit the bone,” I said, trying not to imagine what that must have felt like. “Do you know if the bone’s broken? I don’t want to poke you more than I need to.”
“Thanks for small mercies,” he said, with an attempt at a smile. The muscles of his face trembled, though, and went slack with exhaustion.
“No, I think it’s not broken,” he said. “I’ve broken my collarbone and my hand before, and it’s not like that, though it hurts a bit.”
“I expect it does.” I felt my way carefully up the swell of his biceps, testing for tenderness. “How far up does the pain go?”
He glanced at his wounded arm, almost casually. “Feels like I’ve a hot poker in my arm, not a bone. But it’s no just the arm pains me now; my whole side’s gone stiff and sore.” He swallowed, licking his lips again. “Will ye give me a taste of the brandy?” he asked. “It hurts to feel my heart beating,” he added apologetically.
Without comment, I poured a cup of water from the flask on the table, and held it to his lips. He raised one brow, but drank thirstily, then let his head fall back against the pillow. He breathed deeply for a moment, eyes closed, then opened them and looked directly at me.
“I’ve had two fevers in my life that near killed me,” he said. “I think this one likely will. I wouldna send for ye, but…I’m glad you’re here.” He swallowed once, then went on. “I…wanted to say to ye that I’m sorry. And to bid ye a proper farewell. I wouldna ask ye to stay ’til the end, but…would ye…would ye stay wi’ me—just for a bit?”
His right hand was pressed flat against the mattress, steadying him. I could see that he was fighting hard to keep any note of pleading from his voice or eyes, to make it a simple request, one that could be refused.
I sat down on the bed beside him, careful not to jar him. The firelight glowed on one side of his face, sparking the red-gold stubble of his beard, picking up the small flickers of silver here and there, leaving the other side masked in shadow. He met my eyes, not blinking. I hoped the yearning that showed in his face was not quite so apparent on my own.
I reached out and ran a hand gently down the side of his face, feeling the soft scratchiness of beard stubble.
“I’ll stay for a bit,” I said. “But you’re not going to die.”
He raised one eyebrow. “You brought me through one bad fever, using what I still think was witchcraft. And Jenny got me through the next, wi’ naught but plain stubbornness. I suppose wi’ the both of ye here, ye might just manage it, but I’m no at all sure I want to go through such an ordeal again. I think I’d rather just die and ha’ done with it, if it’s all the same to you.”
“Ingrate,” I said. “Coward.” Torn between exasperation and tenderness, I patted his cheek and stood up, groping in the deep pocket of my skirt. There was one item I had carried on my person at all times, not trusting it to the vagaries of travel.
I laid the small, flat case on the table and flipped the latch. “I’m not going to let you die this time either,” I informed him, “greatly as I may be tempted.” I carefully extracted the roll of gray flannel and laid it on the table with a soft clinking noise. I unrolled the flannel, displaying the gleaming row of syringes, and rummaged in the box for the small bottle of penicillin tablets.
“What in God’s name are those?” Jamie asked, eyeing the syringes with interest. “They look wicked sharp.”
I didn’t answer, occupied in dissolving the penicillin tablets in the vial of sterile water. I selected a glass barrel, fitted a needle, and pressed the tip through the rubber covering the mouth of the bottle. Holding it up to the light, I pulled back slowly on the plunger, watching the thick white liquid fill the barrel, checking for bubbles. Then pulling the needle free, I depressed the plunger slightly until a drop of liquid pearled from the point and rolled slowly down the length of the spike.
“Roll onto your good side,” I said, turning to Jamie, “and pull up your shirt.”
He eyed the needle in my hand with keen suspicion, but reluctantly obeyed. I surveyed the terrain with approval.
“Your bottom hasn’t changed a bit in twenty years,” I remarked, admiring the muscular curves.
“Neither has yours,” he replied courteously, “but I’m no insisting you expose it. Are ye suffering a sudden attack of lustfulness?”
“Not just at present,” I said evenly, swabbing a patch of skin with a cloth soaked in brandy.
“That’s a verra nice make of brandy,” he said, peering back over his shoulder, “but I’m more accustomed to apply it at the other end.”
“It’s also the best source of alcohol available. Hold still now, and relax.” I jabbed deftly and pressed the plunger slowly in.
“Ouch!” Jamie rubbed his posterior resentfully.
“It’ll stop stinging in a minute.” I poured an inch of brandy into the cup. “Now you can have a bit to drink—a very little bit.”
He drained the cup without comment, watching me roll up the collection of syringes. Finally he said, “I thought ye stuck pins in ill-wish dolls when ye meant to witch someone; not in the people themselves.”
“It’s not a pin, it’s a hypodermic syringe.”
“I dinna care what ye call it; it felt like a bloody horseshoe nail. Would ye care to tell me why jabbing pins in my arse is going to help my arm?”
I took a deep breath. “Well, do you remember my once telling you about germs?”
He looked quite blank.
“Little beasts too small to see,” I elaborated. “They can get into your body through bad food or water, or through open wounds, and if they do, they can make you ill.”