AN: I'll still be updating my drabble/one-shot collection (especially when I haven't got time for a full chapter in this story), but I'm also starting on this new, multi-chapter fic. There may be times when updates come a bit slower, because this story requires a certain amount of medical research as I go. Also, while I have a general idea where I'm going, I don't have a full outline yet (I am an outline person!), so I may be thrashing around a bit behind the scenes. I considered getting the full story written before I released it, but I decided I didn't want to do that, because I really value input from reviewers about things they think should happen or might happen. (I've been known to add or alter future scenes in other fics based on stuff you all have told me, so please don't be shy with your comments and suggestions!)
As a side note for all of you literature buffs, the title comes from a Hemingway quote, "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places."
And now, without further ado, let's get rolling!
What Cora would remember most was the crack—the awful cracking sound that she heard, more than felt, throughout her body in the split second before her head hit the ground and the world went dark. Perhaps it had become louder in her memory after she learned of its significance, but when she recalled the incident, the noise, as quick as it was, always felt comparable in volume to a freight train passing inches from her head. For it was this crack that had so neatly split her life into two halves, the before and the after, or, as she would come to think in the weeks and months to follow, her real life and this hellish waiting room for death.
But for Robert, what was most seared in his brain was not Cora's landing, it was her fall, the moment she had flown through the air, thrown from the back of her horse as it missed the jump over the fence. For a second that had lingered like an hour, she had seemed almost weightless, suspended in midair, and in his dreams he would kick his horse, pressing it to gallop towards her, as he stretched his arms out, desperate to reach her in time. He never did, of course—every dream ended as the reality had, with Cora falling to the ground while he was still yards away from catching her. But it was the image of her in midair—the last time she'd been truly free—that stayed with him.
It was a warm summer day, and the household had only recently returned from the season in London, an occasion which, now that Robert and Cora were each settled, they both found to be far more fun than they had remembered. They had been married a little less than five months, and while they were not quite at ease together yet, they had grown easier, comfortable enough to enjoy each other's company. Cora had begun to feel her marriage was not the lonely, hopeless affair it had seemed on their wedding night, and she was growing more and more confident that Robert's affection and regard for her would eventually turn into a love that might match hers for him. Perhaps there would even be a baby soon.
The warmth and the sun had led Robert to suggest they go out for a ride over the estate—a decision he would endlessly curse himself for. But Cora had readily agreed, and they'd taken to their horses and headed out over the fields.
Cora had become rather good at riding since their marriage. She'd had lessons before she left America in anticipation of a life spent in the English countryside, and she and Robert had ridden out quite frequently. He'd embraced her enthusiasm, having expected an American wife from New York to be suited for nothing wilder than the house in London, and so he'd encouraged her, teaching her to gallop and to jump and to race against him. It would all give him no end of guilty, sleepless nights later.
They were riding hard that day, their horses running and panting, and Robert wondered briefly if the fence ahead of them were a bit too high to take at their current speed, and a bit too high for Cora's abilities at the moment, regardless. Yet it had barely had time to become a fully formed thought when her horse was leaping—a second too soon, he realized as his heart climbed into his throat—and then it was crashing down on the barrier, its hind portion not quite making it over. And then Cora was in the air.
She screamed, and her name tore from his own throat, as though his voice might somehow catch her before she hit the ground, and then he heard the thud as she landed on the other side of the fence. He would marvel later at the speed with which it had all happened—three seconds, or perhaps even less.
He had been far enough behind her to pull his horse to a stop a couple yards from the fence, and he swung himself down immediately, calling her name.
"Cora! Cora! Are you all right? Cora?" When she did not answer, his panic increased, and he scurried over the fence.
She was lying on her back, her eyes closed, tossed aside like a doll, and for a moment he thought…but no, she was breathing. He knelt next to her, hesitant as he tried to imagine her injuries.
There was nothing obviously wrong with her—no limbs at odd angles, and of course she could not tell him where she hurt. She'd clearly hit her head hard enough to knock herself out, but perhaps that was the extent of it? Perhaps she'd wake later with an egg and a roaring headache, but nothing more.
Yet he was frightened to move her on his own, without some indication of any other injuries. It was a fear he would be endlessly thankful for later, even as he scoffed at the innocence of his imaginings at the time. He'd worried that she might have a broken arm or leg that ought to be splinted first, or a sore back that he would aggravate by moving her improperly.
In a few short hours, he would not know whether to laugh or cry at such simple suggestions.
But he determined that he would go back for help, back for the doctor for her and the groom for her horse, which had sunk to the ground as well and which was whinnying softly. He pressed Cora's arm in a silent promise to return immediately, patted the head of the suffering horse, and climbed back on his own animal.