Brianna was exhausted. A persistent ache had taken residence in her muscles and an uneasiness had settled on her stomach, making her want to crawl out of her skin. The previous night had been far too long. Her heart had shrunk while the hours dragged away, becoming smaller and tighter in her chest until her mother had finally arrived. The tension had subsided just a little then, washed away by a wave of relief.
But a brief look towards her was all it took to stir chaos inside Brianna anew. Her mother was covered in bruises, spread widely across her skin, covering that pale canvas in horrific hues. Though it was the small details, the constant shifting of the eyes and the barely perceptible flinch at each touch that had spoken volumes of what happened during her absence. The sight of her ever-fearless mother, broken and abused, brought old memories to the surface of her mind, the only ones she tried to forget.
The reaction was involuntary, triggered by the knowledge of that pain. It took a long time before that particular pain assumed a baseline position below other emotions and more demanding aspects of daily life, and it would always remain dormant until a touch, a sound or even a scent ignited an oppressed memory and it came back like a sudden punch in the stomach, unexpected and as vivid as before. And she saw, even now, how it would twist her mother’s mind and body into something new as well. The notion that her own mother might experience the same settled uncomfortably on her chest, and Brianna had to fight the threat of tears while remaining practical for both their sakes.
With a heavy heart, Brianna had hesitantly left her mother to the care of her father when she could do nothing but feel helpless against the brave façade her mother wore.
She had returned home to a quiet Roger hidden in the shadows, half covered in blood and dirt already dried on his clothes as a silent tale of a night too brutal to materialize into words just yet. They spoke briefly, tense and on the verge of an argument, both eager to find refuge in small tasks, which felt oddly mundane in contrast with the heaviness of reality.
Brianna sat on the bed while her fingers brushed the dark waves of his hair and steadily picked out the last remnants of wilderness as he kneeled before her with his head heavily resting on her lap. He held onto her by the side of her tights and she noticed how the skin of his hands was red from scrubbing away the gory evidence of his deeds.
Every so often she looked towards the sleeping form of Jemmy in the small bed by the corner, oblivious to the harshness of the world outside the bubble of safety his parents provided. Her son was young and still innocent, but perhaps one day he too would find himself with the heavy burden his father carried now. That sudden knowledge, and the inability to prevent it, fell like a heavy drop on her already overflowing heart.
While she brushed his hair, Roger was quiet in that manner when went through his emotions, picking them apart and attempting to craft them back into words. Well acquainted with his moods by now, and even better with his silences, Brianna knew better than to probe for answers, giving him time instead.
“You don’t have to tell me anything.” She said finally.
There was a small part of her that dreaded the knowledge laying beyond the plain fact that it had been a bloody affair, and in spite of that she was ready to forgive him even before he spoke. Still, she could tell that the fear of judgement was almost as strong as the impulse to talk.
“Yes, I do.” He said softly. “Put out the candle, aye?”
Brianna did as he asked, bent forward slightly and blew the candle on the bedside table. It went out at once with a spiral of lingering smoke, leaving the room suddenly covered in near darkness, with the only light coming from the embers on the hearth.
“I killed a man last night.” He said, as for the first time in his life he confessed on his knees.
Even though she expected it, the words sent shockwaves through the air, twisted around her heart and squeezed until it became nearly unbearable to breathe. Her hand remained motionless on his head, waiting patiently.
Last night the rhythmic thunder of his bodhrán and the shrieks echoing in the dark had triggered a primitive response within him, one lurking in the dark pits of his soul unbeknownst to him. He vaguely remembered the immediate crack of bone, a sound that vibrated throughout the blade of the axe and upwards along the bones of his arms, followed by the softness of matter being cut with surprising ease. Splatters of blood had covered his vision, coloring the world in an angry shade of red as he went on with deadly accuracy.
Roger recalled that Jamie had been consumed with blind rage as well in the urge to find Claire. It had soaked through the rest of the men by his side, himself included, igniting their own primeval desires of revenge. At the cusp of dawn three words had been spoken. Kill them all. Jamie had said. His low, emotionless voice, was not a suggestion but as a command that no one had dared to question. And soon after, they left behind the spoils of the night spread across the clearing, lifeless and unburied.
“I wanted to kill them, Bree, so badly. I might have been able to stop, but chose not to, just aimed the axe at one and saw no more.” His voice was thick with tears and cracked under the will to form the words on his scarred throat. “I barely felt remorse in the end, and now it’s all I can feel…”
Roger’s voice caught in his throat, as much from the strain as from accumulated guilt. His whole body started to tremble at once and his hands dug onto the fabric of her nightgown for support. The weight of his actions seemed heavier on his shoulders now that he had released the words strangled within, so he bent further down, burrowing his face deeper on her lap as if ready to dissolve into her. At that point he could no longer contain the pain inside and tears started to pour uncontrollably. They fell freely, soaking through the white fabric under his face.
Roger felt Brianna bend forward over him and her long red hair fell around like a curtain, shielding him.
"I love you, Roger." She whispered in his ear. "I love you, I love you".
She repeated the words, on and on, in a soothing cadence. Her arms circled his shoulders and held him closer, riding together the tremors that seized his whole body. As she went on, the rhythm of her words faded into the distant echoes of drums in his mind, or perhaps it was just his heart, the beating rushing through his bloodstream along with the ghosts of a near past.
Her face was pressed so close to his that what he immediately thought were his own tears were in fact hers, falling from her eyes, mingling with his and seemingly absolving him of sin.
“How can I help you?” He heard her ask after a while.
He shook his head unable to form the words. The guilt had subsided, if only in a small amount, but it gave way to another kind of emotion, a desire that was slowly burning within and he could no longer ignore.
“What do you need?” Brianna insisted.
“I need you.”
Her hands, with its able fingers, gently pulled his face towards her. Roger looked at her reluctantly, torn between the desire to have her and the shame before her, before God and the memory of the father who raised him to be a worthy man.
“Then have me.” Her voice was sure, her eyes intensely clear with no hint of judgement. There was only love in them and beyond that, strangely enough, there was a gleam of pride.
He shook his head again, this time forcefully. His eyes were still blurred with the small leftovers of tears that clung to his long dark lashes, though he saw her leaning in and covering his lips with hers. Roger exhaled in surprise, his body suddenly aflame with temptation.
“No Brianna, I can’t.” He tore his lips from hers abruptly, as if they had scorched him. Roger rose to his feet with incredible dexterity and took a few steps away from her.
He started pacing around, mumbling under his breath with a restless energy coursing through his veins. He was usually a calm collected man, the most powerful emotions boiled slowly and steadily but when they blew up it was all consuming, and he was fast approaching the point of no return. All he wanted was to scream loudly until his voice was sore and punch the walls until his knuckles cracked. He wanted to lose himself completely in her until he no longer remembered who he was or what he did, being reduced to the most animalistic human state.
“It’s not right.” He added under his breath.
Roger was so tangled in the battle between his mind and body, that he didn’t see Brianna crossing the short distance to reach him.
“Right?” She asked incredulously. “There is nothing right about this whole situation!”
He was well acquainted with a Fraser on the verge of eruption and the sudden flush on her cheeks was no surprise. But the flare of anger was short lived. She stepped closer and held his face firmly between her hands.
“You brought my mother back, how can I judge you for what you had to do? But I know you are hurting, Roger. Let me ease your pain, please.”
He was in pain indeed, and only she could make him feel whole again before he completely lost the grip on his mind. And she too had clung to him more than once before in that sense, in a desperate attempt to feel the rush of adrenaline through her veins as a reminder that she was still loved.
So, he took the offering without further thought. His hands pulled her towards him greedily, with fingers digging so deep into the skin of her hips it was sure to leave a mark, and yet, neither cared because as soon as his lips descended on her with the hunger of a man starved for love, there was no turning back. Clothes were discarded in haste and he gave no second thought to the sounds of ripping fabric as long as it allowed him to reach her skin faster. Soon they were naked before each other. Roger felt her hands travelling over the expanse of his stomach and towards his chest, laying there flat above the strong beat of his heart. He picked her off the floor with an easiness acquired by the years together and she wrapped herself around him while he walked towards the bed, their lips never parting. The bed groaned under their combined weight when they landed ungracefully on the mattress, with him safely between her open legs and the outline of her body molding perfectly to his.
Roger slid into her at once in one deep thrust that made her gasp. He moved with abandon then, driven by the desire to lose himself until there was nothing left of him, and rapidly their bodies became slick with a thin layer of sweat. Her hands went low on his back, on a trail lead by her nails, and held onto his bottom, pushing him deeper inside. Groaning loudly and embolden, Roger let go of the last fragments of conscience altogether, his body alone took over and his thrusts gained momentum. Brianna sought his lips in reply, turning them red and sore with her own yearning, while his hands scratched and groped over the softness of her skin, making her whimper in a blend of pain and pleasure underneath him.
With one of his hands he held hard to her hip and drove their bodies together, again and again, until he buried his face on her neck and shuddered loudly, blissfully emptying his mind and body into her. Roger was at once reduced to incoherent gasps, but his name was still on her lips, breathless and urgent. He went on though, unable to stop and blind to anything else except her, until he felt heat spreading over her body and her back rising from the bed. She was pulsating around him like a warm heartbeat, while her teeth sunk into the flesh of his shoulder preventing her from moaning too loud.
She breathed out a long sigh at last and he collapsed on top of her completely spent, with labored breath fanning across her breasts. As Brianna held his motionless body against her, he was faintly aware of long fingers caressing the back of his neck, sending shivers down his spine along with the remaining muscle spasms.
Beneath her own heavy breathing he heard the scattered words of a prayer and he wondered briefly if she was praying for his soul to be saved, or if that would be ever enough.
The outcome of last night had been an inevitable consequence of his life choices, and though he would never choose to kill deliberately, the intention had been there nonetheless, somewhere as his arms rose to deliver what he thought was deserved justice. In the process, Roger had uncovered an unknown side buried underneath the layers that composed him, the son, the scholar, the father, the husband, among so many others. But what would this act make of him? He wondered. Was he becoming an unrecognizable version of himself or rather his own true self, the one he was meant to be all along, flawed but more real than ever before?