Chapter 1: A Call For Help
As a child, Jamie loathed Fridays.
It signalled the weekend, being forced to stay at home and do chores instead of messing around with his friends at school. Saturdays meant helping out on the farm from sunrise to sunset, and Sundays were spent at church and visiting his extended family. While he eventually grew to appreciate the value of hard work and caring for crops and animals, to this day he dreads seeing his grandfather Simon.
As an adult, he loves knowing that the end of the week is approaching.
He works every second weekend, but on the weeks he doesn’t, he finishes up with his paperwork early enough to pick Fergus up from school and spend time doing an activity with him, whether it be kicking around a football outside or teaching him how to play chess. It’s also the day they do their shopping for the week, though living on the outskirts of a farm, they’re fortunate enough to have most of their produce essentials sorted. The leafy greens in the salad he’s prepared as a side for tonight’s dinner had been pulled straight from the grounds of Lallybroch earlier in the morning, and they’re never left wanting for eggs or milk, with plenty of animals raised to supply both.
On other weeknights, he generally picks up something on the way home from work for dinner, or they stay and eat at Jenny’s.
Today, they’d gone on a short walk through the woods that bordered their lands. Despite it being the middle of winter, the past few days had been relatively warm, to the point where they could go outside without being bundled up in half a dozen layers. Upon returning home he’d sent Fergus off to take a shower and get changed before the two of them made a start on dinner together.
“Fergus laddie, can ye please get some potatoes from the cellar?”
While Jamie himself had still been pondering the best way to go about correcting some of the lad's misconceptions about gender stereotypes, wee Marsali MacKimmie saved him months of difficult conversations when she socked Fergus in the jaw after a schoolyard disagreement. She and her sister had been under his care at the time, and he’d been forced to separate them for two days before they apologised to one another.
He does not miss those times.
Together, they prepare an easy but hearty dinner comprised of steak, perfectly cooked with diamond grill lines on either side, creamy mashed potatoes and a salad of crisp greens and colourful vegetables.
When they've both eaten their fill, Fergus clears the table, leaving the dishes in the sink to soak, and then they move into Jamie's study. He looks through case-related notes he’d taken earlier in the day while Fergus does his homework. Every time the lad stops to ask him a question, Jamie can't help but feel a great sense of pride in being able to help. He keeps an eye on the clock and once it reaches nine, he sends Fergus upstairs to do some quiet reading before bed.
He spends another half-hour looking through his notes, debating whether or not to pour himself a dram the entire time.
For some unknown reason, he decides against it in the end, heading back to the kitchen to do the washing up instead.
He's finishing up with the last of the dishes when his phone begins ringing on the countertop. Turning helplessly between the device and his hands, still covered in soap and suds, he has an internal debate about asking Fergus to run out and answer for him, before quickly rinsing off one hand. He hastily dries it against the leg of his pants; his fingers are still damp as he reaches for his phone, clumsily swiping at the screen twice before the call is answered. Without glancing at the caller ID, he wedges it between his head and shoulders.
“James Fraser speaking.”
The voice that responds is very much familiar to him and has him inhaling and exhaling very purposefully in order to keep his heart rate steady. He begins rinsing off the last plate as he listens.
“Jamie, it’s Geillis. Sorry fer callin’ so late, but we have a special case that came in and I was wonderin’ if ye would be up fer the task.”
“When have ye e’er known me tae say no to ye?”
“I do recall inviting a certain ginger laddie back tae my room one night-”
His bark of laughter cuts her off mid-sentence, and he can hear her snickering in response as he sets the last bit of washing up into the drying rack.
“Ye also invited my uncle Dougal and half the people at the bar,” he retorts, turning off the tap and wiping his hands on the dark green towelette hanging between the sink and the oven.
“Aye, and what fun ye missed out on! But back tae the matter at hand, we have a wee lassie that needs emergency fostering. I’d gi’ ye details, but I dinna ken much more myself, and what I do know probably shouldna be said o'er the phone.”
For a few years now, Jamie had been taking in children of various ages from many different backgrounds and circumstances. Some stayed with him no more than a day or two, some for months at a time, and some like Marsali and Joan were frequent guests at Casa de Fraser. In all that time he had never received a call as strange as this one, where Geillis or whichever social services representative happened to be on the case had so little information to provide him with.
“I see. I’ll have tae drop Fergus off wi’ my sister first and then I'll head on o'er to ye. Should I bring anything fer the lass?”
“If ye could bring her a toy or a blanket, something she could hang on tae when she goes home wi’ ye, that would be grand.”
He begins sifting through his mental catalogue of items that he has sitting in the playroom, most of which Fergus had long grown out of playing with. There are special toys he has set aside for the kids that inevitably pay him a visit once every few months, whenever the situation at home is deemed unsafe for them. Whatever he chooses he'll let the lass keep when she moves on from his care, as a memento of their time together, no matter how short or long that may be.
“How old is she? I’ll have tae put a car seat in for her so I’ll need tae ken which one tae use.”
He heads out of the kitchen, creating a checklist of things in his mind, tasks he needs to accomplish before leaving the house.
“We dinna ken. I think she’s three or four, but I’m just makin’ a guess, and don’t head tae my office. We’re down at yer station.”
Those last five words have him freezing in place, standing in the middle of the dimly lit hallway separating the main living area and the spare rooms on the first floor. He doesn’t quite know how to react, his mind a jumbled mess of horrific scenarios that would lead a child to be in police custody. Whatever had happened to her, she needs someone now that she can depend on, and Geillis had decided he was the right fit.
“I’ll see ye soon.”
They exchange no more pleasantries after that and he hangs up, slipping his phone into his back pocket and taking a moment to mentally prepare himself for the chaos that inevitably accompanies the task of bringing another child home. The last kid under his care had been Rabbie McNab after his mother had landed in the hospital following his father’s drunken tirade one night. The lad got along well with Fergus and had been reluctant to leave when his mother returned for him after two weeks of recuperation — until he learned that his father would no longer pose a risk to them. That had only been two months ago, and Jamie realises now how much he’s missed having more bairns running around underfoot. Jenny has five of her own, and there’s never a dull moment when he and Fergus visit, but it’s not the same.
He has a routine in place whenever he’s lucky enough to be called up to foster a child, and while he usually has several days at the very least to prepare himself, tonight, he knows he needs to get things done as soon as possible. That, coupled with the fact that he knows next to nothing about his new charge, makes for a little panic, but nothing he can’t handle. He needs to prepare a room for the lass, gather some clothes and other essentials, anything to make her feel welcome in a new environment.
But before rushing in to gather supplies, he heads upstairs, passing by three empty rooms before he reaches Fergus’. The lad is lying with his head hanging off the bed, reading a book upside-down, and turns in his direction with an inquisitive expression as he enters the room.
“Fergus, can ye pack some o’ yer things. Ye’ll need tae spend the night at yer Aunt and Uncle’s place. I’ll have tae drop ye off while I go and bring home another bairn.”
Jamie watches as Fergus sits up, processing the new information, before a look of confidence flashes across his features.
“I can take care of myself, milord.”
He laughs, moving into the room and ruffling the lad’s curls, ignoring his protests at the matter.
“Aye, but I dinna ken how long I’ll be gone and ye are certainly not old enough tae be left by yerself overnight.”
In the early days, Fergus had asked to accompany him everywhere, as if afraid to allow Jamie to leave his sight. He’d learned that the lad was afraid of being left alone, scared that Jamie would abandon him. Fortunately, the past few years they’d spent as a family had convinced him otherwise, and he had regained much of the independent streak he had when the two of them had first met. Now, without any further protests, he leaves his book face down on the bed, marking whichever page he had reached before being interrupted, and goes about throwing things haphazardly into a duffel bag he always used for sleepovers.
Jamie leaves him to it, trusting that he’s old enough now to know what he needs for a night away from home, and moves to head back downstairs and ready one of the spare bedrooms down there.
Something stops him before he even reaches the other end of the hall.
Whenever he was given a little more notice, he would let the children pick which room they wanted to sleep in and ready it with their help. He knows this situation is different and while most of the kids liked being downstairs, near the playroom, he has a gut feeling that this child might require more attention, more support. The bedroom next to Fergus’ hasn’t been used in months, but it’s regularly cleaned when he takes care of the rest of the house, and there’s a wee bed with a plush white carpet and walls painted in cream. He steps inside, turning on the lights and begins changing the sheets, sticking with a neutral colour palette.
Jenny had helped him purchase many of the decorative pieces to furnish the house after construction had been completed. The woolly blankets and throws she’d knitted by hand as a housewarming gift, having snuck in with Ian’s help and decorated the entire place without his knowledge. In return, he’d carved rocking horses for each of her bairns, as soon as they were old enough to make good use of them, engraving their names onto the bridles. Fergus had already been too old to muster up any excitement over a wooden horse, gravitating straight towards the actual ponies that lived at Lallybroch’s stables. As much as Jamie loves his son, part of him still dreams of one day crafting a little rocking horse for a bairn of his own.
Jamie can hear Fergus puttering around, racing through the hallway and up and down the stairs, throwing together bits and bobs he clearly deemed important enough to bring with him to Jenny and Ian’s. He smooths back the covers on the bed, rearranges the pillows to the best of his ability and is about to go and check on Fergus’ progress when the lad races into the room, presenting him with a stuffed bear. It’s one of those plushies attached to the corner of a baby blanket and has never been used, simply sitting in the corner of the playroom downstairs. The bear itself is quite plain, cream in colour with a dark brown nose and giant black eyes, but the blanket was woven by Jenny herself, a rough replica of their family tartan.
“For le petit enfant,” he says, holding up the bear, and Jamie’s heart melts a wee bit at the sight.
“Thank ye laddie. Why don’t ye go and put it in the car wi’ your bag while I grab the booster seat.”
With that, Fergus darts off once more, and Jamie gives the room a once over before turning off the lights and heading out himself. He sends a quick message to Ian, letting him know about the situation and that he needs them to look after Fergus for the night. The only response he receives is two thumbs up emojis and he tucks his phone back into his pocket.
One car seat installation and a five-minute drive later, they’re at the other end of the estate where the main house is located. Jenny is waiting for them on the front steps when he pulls up. He barely has the car in park before Fergus is clambering out, bag in hand, making a mad dash at wee Jamie, who had just appeared behind Jenny.
He rolls the window down and calls out to his sister as the lads hug each other before disappearing into the house.
“Ye’d think they hadna seen each other in months, no’ less than a day.”
She laughs in response, shaking her head as she walks towards him.
“Do ye need me tae drop the lad off tae ye in the morning?” she asks, leaning against the open window.
“That would be a great help, truly. Geillis sounded quite nervous o’er the phone so I dinna ken what tae expect.”
“But ye’re excited, a bràthair. I can see it.”
She leans in, giving him a quick peck on the cheek and pat on the shoulder, before wishing him luck.
He has a feeling he’ll need it.
It’s just past eleven in the evening when he arrives at the station, pulling into his assigned parking spot and making his way inside. A couple of the guys on the night shift acknowledge him as he passes and he addresses them in the same fashion, with a nod and a quick ‘good evening tae ye’.
No one comments on the stuffed bear in his arms and he assumes they’ve all been made aware of the situation.
Geillis is waiting for him outside the main break room, greeting him with a quick hug.
“It’s good tae see ye, Jamie. I just wish it were under better circumstances.”
He nods in agreement before running a hand through his hair.
“How much can ye tell me?”
The only word to describe the look on her face as she begins speaking is harrowing.
“Yesterday morning, someone found her curled up, asleep in an alley when they went in tae open their shop. ‘Twas fortunate that it didna happen tae be verra cold last night or she might have had tae be hospitalised fer hypothermia. They could tell she wasna from one o’ the orphanages or homeless shelters from the way she was dressed, and they brought her straight to their local police station. She didna match any o’ the images of missing children in the area and willna speak tae anyone.”
Her words paint a picture in his mind of a child wandering the streets alone, seeking solace in a dark and dirty back alley, falling asleep beside a worn brick wall. He imagines that were this in a fictional scenario, they would have been able to ascertain her identity almost immediately using facial recognition technology, but alas, such wonders are not yet at their disposal.
“So ye dinna ken anything about her?”
“Nae. They had a behavioural specialist drop-in tae see her and they said there could be emotional trauma involved, but dinna ken fer sure. She spent last night at the hospital getting a checkup and based on her height and weight, the doctors think she’s around four years old. We’ll have tae have her see a child psychiatrist and see if that helps, but fer now, we decided the best thing fer the wee lass was tae be somewhere she could feel safe.”
“What’s her-” he starts, but then stops himself abruptly, already knowing the answer. Of course, they had no idea what the child’s name was.
Geillis shakes her head, turning to look through the glass pane of the door beside them, before redirecting her attention to him.
“We’ve put down Jane Doe on the file, but I dinna ken if we should confuse the puir lass by givin’ her a new name.”
“I agree. She must be terrified as it is.”
“Weel, no sense delaying things. The lass has been waitin’ fer long enough. I’ll let ye go and have a chat wi’ her and then ye can sign the paperwork and take her home.”
With one last nod, Geillis opens up the door to the break room where, by his count, the lass had been waiting for the last several hours, and gestures for him to head on inside. He can hear the door close behind him as he scans the room and sees a small figure sitting on a sofa that’s been at the station as long as he’s worked there. She offers no physical response to his presence, and he makes note of that as he takes slow, even steps, crossing the room in half a dozen strides until he’s standing in front of her.
He pauses for a moment, letting it all sink in.
She has a head full of curls, several shades darker than Fergus’, and her tiny body is wrapped up in a tan coat that looks like it might have been quite expensive when purchased. He can already see that it’s badly stained on the left side and imagines that’s how she had been curled up, sleeping in the alleyway where she had been found. Why they hadn’t given her a change of clothes, he doesn’t know, though if she’s refusing to speak to anyone, he has a feeling she’s stubborn about other things too.
Taking a deep breath, he crouches down on one knee, leaving a small but significant gap between the two of them, enough so that she doesn’t feel as though he’s intruding on her personal space.
“Hello tae ye. I ken it must be verra scary for ye right now. My name is James, but ye can call me Jamie if ye would like.”
As expected, she offers him no response. If Geillis — the child whisperer — Duncan herself hadn’t managed to coax a single word out of her, he has a feeling that it’ll be an uphill battle for him.
He tries another tactic.
“Ye probably have many teddies at home, but I thought ye might like tae meet wee Beary here. He’s e’en got a blanket o’ his own that’ll keep ye nice and warm.”
He offers the toy to her, holding it in her line of vision, smiling when she slowly reaches out both hands, taking it in her grasp and pulling it reverently into her embrace.
“I promise ye that everyone is trying verra hard tae find out where yer family is, but until then we thought ye might like tae stay somewhere nicer than a police station or hospital. And it just so happens I have a house wi’ a spare room wi’ lots of toys that I think you might like. Would ye like tae come wi’ me and see it?”
She doesn’t respond to him, only clutching the bear closer to her chest, burying her face in it’s fur. He casts his gaze to the ground, looking at the little boots on her feet and imagines that only two days earlier, her mother or father had probably helped her into those shoes before they left home, before whatever fate had befallen them.
The thought of her, sleeping out in the streets all alone, tears his heart to shreds. How afraid she must have been, of every noise she heard, not knowing if whoever approached would be friend or foe. He doesn’t want to force her to come with him, to drag her off to yet another strange place while the search for her identity continues, but the reality is that he’ll have little choice if she continues refusing to respond.
“I dinna ken how long ye might have tae stay wi’ me, but I promise that so long as I’m here, I’ll keep ye safe,” he tries, attempting to convey to her how much he’s already willing to do for her, to make her feel protected, through his words alone.
Still, she doesn’t speak, and he’s close to releasing a sigh of defeat when he sees her moving, slowly stretching her left hand out towards him. He’s frozen, just watching as her little fingers unfurl, and then her palm is resting against the back of his hand.
“Would ye… would ye like me tae hold yer hand, a leannan?” he asks, soft and gentle.
There’s a slight nod and he feels an indescribable sense of accomplishment, having been able to elicit a visible response.
“Tis a great honour ye’ve bestowed upon me,” he tells her very seriously, turning his hand and then taking hold of hers. After a moment, and a scream of protest from his back (though in his opinion, twenty-eight is far too early to start feeling like an auld man), he stands, keeping a gentle grip on her tiny fist.
Based on past experiences, children either found his stature terrifying, screaming that he was ‘a red giant’, or insisted on clambering up onto his shoulders to get a better view of the world. The lass doesn’t appear to fit into either of those categories, but he still holds his breath when she tilts her head up to get a good look at him.
And then he stops breathing altogether.
He hadn’t realised it when he first walked into the room, knelt at her feet and tried to make it known that she could trust him. They hadn’t made eye contact throughout the one-sided conversation, and she hadn’t so much as glanced in his direction.
She hadn’t looked up at him once the entire time.
He hadn’t looked into her eyes.
Not until now.
They were the most unique shade of whisky, a blend of colours that brought to mind a hint of mahogany, the slightest touch of treacle and notes of burnt umber.
He had only seen eyes that shade once before, but—
No. He can’t allow himself to go down that road again. His heart aches as he pulls himself from thoughts of a time gone by and focuses on the present, on the little girl that needs him.
A little girl that trusts him enough to take his hand, to let him take her away to yet another place that will be completely unfamiliar to her.
He pushes his memories away, locks them in a box once and turns his attention to her, giving her what he hopes to be a reassuring smile.
“Are ye ready tae come home wi’ me then?”
She blinks once and then offers him a watery smile. There are wee dimples in her cheeks, the slightest tremble of her bottom lip and he knows then and there that his life will never be the same.
Chapter 2: First Night
In the end, the paperwork is simple enough to complete, given the complexity of this case. Geillis runs through it with him, her attention to detail evident as she explains all the fine print. His new foster daughter sits at his side the entire time, quietly playing with the bear he’d brought her, a faint smile on her face as she engages in a silent conversation with the stuffed animal.
When he’s signed every line and checked every box, Geillis pats him on the shoulder and then looks down at the lass, a wide grin on her face.
“I kent I made the right choice in callin’ ye Jamie. I think that’s the first smile I’ve seen from her since I picked her up yesterday.”
“Thank ye for thinkin o’ me, Geillis. I hope that she’ll be happy wi’ me fer however long that may be.”
She bids them goodnight then, crouching down to say goodbye to the wee lassie, who waves rather reluctantly, attention still focused on Beary.
“We should get goin’ too, lass,” he says, offering his hand to her once more. She eyes him for a moment before reaching out to take it, sliding off her seat, boots making a soft thump on the ground as she stands. He steers clear of the high traffic areas as he guides them out towards the car park, noticing that her wee grip on his pinky is tightening as they move into the more dimly lit area.
“We’re almost there,” he tells her, feeling a lump in his throat as she moves even closer towards him, as if fleeing from some invisible enemy.
He unlocks the car from a distance, pointing the vehicle out to her in an effort to mentally prepare her for the trip ahead. Some children were not a fan of car rides, and he has little desire to wrestle her inside and forcefully strap her in. She seems fairly calm about it, standing at his side when he opens the door to the backseat and clinging to the leg of his pants when he releases his hold on her in order to double check on the seat.
“I’m going tae have to help ye up. Are ye okay wi’ that?”
She blinks at him, deep in thought, and then raises both arms, the universal sign of a child wanting to be picked up. He lifts her by the armpits, making exaggerated aeroplane noises through the process, before setting her down into the car seat and buckling the straps, careful to avoid getting the bear caught.
“Are ye comfortable there a leannan ? The belt isnae too tight for ye?”
He studies her, carefully, watching as she nods her head just the slightest bit. Satisfied that she’s properly secured, he turns to close the door and is stopped by a wee fist taking hold of the sleeve of his jacket.
“Dinna fash lass, I’m not leavin’ ye. But I canna drive the car from back here and ye're too wee tae sit upfront wi’ me.”
When she still refuses to release him, he tries to distract her.
“Why don’t ye hold Beary’s hand fer now and show him what a brave wee thing ye are.”
Slowly, she opens her first, allowing the bunched up fabric to be tugged free and he covers her with the tartan, tucking it around the seat in an attempt to make her feel safe and secure.
“Aye, there’s a good lass.”
He backs away then, closing the door and cringing at the slam, praying to every power in the universe that the noise hasn’t scared her. When he slides into the driver’s seat, he turns and finds her staring calmly back at him, a small sense of relief washes through him. It feels as though he’s talking to himself the entire journey back, nattering away at nonsensical topics to fill the silence. When he drives, he usually has the radio on, but he doesn’t want to risk frightening her with any unexpected sounds.
The journey home takes twenty minutes, and she makes so little noise in the back he has to double-check she hasn’t fallen asleep. She does look oddly alert for a child who likely hasn’t slept properly in two days, staring at him with wide eyes and an expression of curiosity. He helps her out of the car, unable to hold back a smile when she reaches up to take his hand without any prompting, practically attaching herself to the side of his leg as they walk up the driveway to the house. The lights on the first floor had been purposely left on so they wouldn’t be faced with complete darkness when coming home, and he unlocks the door, ushering her inside in front of him.
“This is my house,” he tells her as he secures the door behind them. “I built it myself. ‘Twas no’ an easy task and it isnae perfect, but I hope ye’ll like it here.”
She looks around and then takes a step backwards, crashing straight into Jamie’s leg and startles, quickly clinging to him once more. It’s probably wise to save the grand tour for another day, and to get her cleaned up and in bed sooner rather than later. He toes off his shoes, sliding them out of the way and watches with some amusement as she does the same, almost losing balance and toppling over as she wrestles her footwear off. The proud smile she gives him as she sets her boots down by his shoes has him grinning right back in return.
With some difficulty, he manages to coax her up the stairs; she stops after each step, turning backwards to make sure he’s still there behind her, and the sight of her, so nervous and uncertain, tugs at his heartstrings.
He guides her towards the room he’s prepared for her, reaching inside to turn the lights on before presenting it to her with a flourish of his hand.
“This is where you and Beary will be stayin’ fer a bit. I ken it’s no’ much, but we can get ye some more things later on.”
He’s careful not to make it seem like this is a permanent situation; he knows how dangerous it is to get attached to these children, for many of whom he is nothing more than a stepping stone to a better place in life. His home is an in-between for them, somewhere to stay before they find their forever homes, and he’s always torn up to see them go, even though he knows it’s for the best.
The ideal outcome in this scenario is finding the lassie’s parents and reuniting her with them, given they hadn’t purposely abandoned her in the streets in the middle of a winter’s night, leaving her to weather the elements and dangers of a city under the cover of darkness. The thought of it sends a flare of anger through his entire being, that someone could just abandon their kid like that. It reminds him of the scenarios he’s encountered in the past, the tales he’s heard from children that have lived under his roof and horror stories from social workers of the situations they had encountered during home visits.
No matter where these kids end up, whether it be with him or adopted out into a loving family an ocean away, all that matters to him is that they’re safe and sound, free from harm and terror and allowed to grow up in a loving environment, as he had.
But so long as they’re under his care, he does want to make it feel like they have a home here, a place they can turn to when times get tough. It’s a difficult balance especially with children so young, making them feel secure without allowing them to form such a deep attachment that it damages them emotionally when they inevitably part.
He’s known this wee lassie for two hours and she already has him wrapped around her little finger. With her big whisky-brown eyes, dimpled smile, and relatively calm temperament, he can see her getting along well with Fergus, who has always liked having younger bairns around. But it’s useless to look so far ahead into the future when they might find her parents as soon as tomorrow morning. If that were to happen, this night spent here will be nothing more than a distant memory for her, possibly forgotten altogether as she grows up.
And so Jamie has no choice but to focus on the present, and the task at hand, which involves selecting some garments for the lass to sleep in before he tries to get her to take a bath. He leads her over to the wardrobe, where there is a scant collection of clothing made up of pieces that Fergus had outgrown within one or two wears, and some newer unworn items he'd purchased as spares for children who came to him with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
“I’m sorry we dinna have much fer ye tae choose from, but if we need tae we’ll get ye some new clothes o’er the weekend.”
She doesn’t seem to hear him, immediately stepping forward to take a look, reaching out one wee hand; she doesn’t touch anything though, just hovers over the small assortment of shirts, pants and dresses until she settles on a plush grey nightdress with long sleeves. Unlike some kids he’s looked after in the past, she’s not impulsive. She doesn’t try to pull her selection free, simply pointing at it and waiting for him to retrieve it for her. It’s a good thing too, because it’s sitting beneath several shirts that would have inevitably come tumbling down had she just yanked the dress free. He scans the higher shelves, grabbing her some undergarments, a pair of socks and a towel before ushering her off into the bathroom down the hall.
He gives her instructions to discard her clothing into the laundry basket sitting in the corner of the bathroom and he turns his back as she undresses, working on filling up the bathtub. He dumps in just enough bubble bath liquid to cover the water in an inch of bubbles, and throws in a couple of rubber duckies for good measure.
When he turns back to her, the wee lass has just finished putting her dirty clothes away, having very wisely set her bear on top of the basket. She looks at him expectantly.
“Now I’ve filled the bath up wi’ bubbles and some toys. If ye would like tae wash yerself, I’ll just sit there and talk tae ye. But if ye wish fer me tae help ye wi' yer hair, I’d be more than happy tae assist ye.”
She turns to the bath and then back to him and points to her hair, before slowly making her way over and climbing in, an expression of delight on her face as she grabs a fistful of bubbles.
“Does the water suit ye then? It’s no’ too hot or cold?”
She shakes her head and then sits down with her back to him, already very much distracted by the duckies. The loud squeal they emit when she gives them a squeeze hurts his ears, but it’s worth it to see her so having a little fun after all that she’s been through. She doesn’t make a fuss as he washes her hair, careful not to get any soapy water in her eyes. Wee Maggie, who has the calmest disposition of all his nieces and nephews, would scream bloody murder whenever it happened, and then act as though he was her worst enemy for the rest of the day.
Needless to say, he looks forward to bathtime about as much as the kids do — not at all.
The water is starting to cool off by the time he’s done with her hair, and he helps her out of the tub, handing her a towel to dry herself off with as he drains the tub. She’s done a pretty good job of it, but again needs help with her hair, the soggy strands dripping onto the tiled floor at her feet. He tries to just blot it dry, not wanting to risk tangling the curls anymore than they already have and calls it a day when there’s no more drippage.
“Aye, there we go, nice and dry.”
From what he’s observed so far, she’s independent enough to accomplish many tasks children her age would still need assistance with. He knows that size isn’t the best way to guess age, but she’s a similar height to Kitty, so she can’t be too much older or younger than four. She pulls on her clothing with relative ease, only needing a little help when she can’t get her head through the top of the nightdress.
“Look at ye, getting dressed all by yerself. Aren’t ye a clever lassie?”
She looks a little surprised at the praise, staring at him for a moment before retrieving Beary. Jamie has a feeling she’ll be holding onto it for a while, and thinks that Fergus will be mighty pleased about having selected it for her when he comes home in the morning. But for now, he has one lass with a tangled mess of damp hair to contend with.
“We’ll have tae dry yer hair now,” he tells her, watching as she redirects her gaze to the ground, evidently having a clear idea of what drying her hair would entail. “Cannae have ye going tae bed wi’ a head full o’ wet hair.”
With a sigh, he turns to fetch the necessary supplies; he’d been through this enough times when Fergus was younger to know that it was an unpleasant experience for both parties involved. It’s also unavoidable, so once he’s gathered everything he needs, he holds a hand out for her once more, and together, they head back to what he’s designated to be her bedroom.
He plugs in the hairdryer and then sits down on the edge of the small bed, patting the spot beside him and gesturing for her to clamber up, watching with amusement as she keeps a tight hold of her bear the entire time. Again, she knows to sit with her back to him, and he begins the very stressful task of brushing out and drying her curls. He tries to be gentle, doesn’t want to hurt her, but when the brush catches on a particularly large tangle and he pulls a little too hard, she flinches.
“Och, I’m so sorry lass. I didna mean tae hurt yer wee head wi’ the brushing.”
It’s then he notices that Beary has fallen to the ground and that the lass has both hands clamped over her mouth. He’s not quite sure what to make of it, but reaches over, retrieving the stuffed animal and handing it back to her, full of apologies.
“Would ye be willing tae gi’ me a second chance?”
There’s no audible response of course, and he resumes his task, taking even more care than before. He can see her head begin to droop before he’s finished, and by the time he has her curls pulled into two pigtails, the only way to keep her from getting more tangles in her sleep, she’s more than ready for bed.
“Are ye tired, a leannan? I would be tired too if I’d gone on an adventure such as ye have. I think it’s time fer this wee lassie tae go tae sleep.”
She doesn’t protest as he gently coaxes her to move up on the bed and beneath the covers. He tucks her in before bending down so that his face is level with hers.
"Now, if ye need me during the night, ye can call fer me. I ken ye haven’t said anything so far, so if ye dinna wish tae or ye can’t, I’ll be right across the hallway. All ye have tae do is open the door and come and find me. Or if ye wish, ye can make a wee skelloch and I’ll come running in. How does that sound?”
She only has the energy for a single nod before her eyes fall shut, head lolling to one side, and if she had looked adorable when awake, she’s absolutely precious now. He moves around the room quietly, unplugging the hairdryer and collecting the two hairbrushes he’d used earlier. The little lamp sitting on the bedside table hasn’t been turned on in months, but the bulb seems to be working fine when he flips the switch. He typically doesn’t leave the lights on around the house at night, but he’s afraid she’ll be scared if she wakes up in the middle of the night and sees only darkness.
When he leaves the room, he switches off the main light and keeps the door open a crack, and prays to every force in the universe that she’ll have a peaceful night’s sleep.
Jamie wakes up before dawn the following morning.
He’s never been able to sleep more than an hour past sunrise, being so used to rousing early and doing his morning chores out on the farm growing up. Given that he hadn’t managed to get to bed till one in the morning, he feels surprisingly energetic. He’d spent an hour or two puttering around and doing the washing, and then scouring the other storage areas he had around the house for spare clothes and more toys in case they would have need of them.
The clock on his bedside table tells him that it’s just past seven in the morning, and he lies in bed for a while, figuring that he still has time before he needs to get up and start the day. Normally he'd leave the house and go for a run around the estate, but he can’t risk having a child home alone, especially not one so young and already suffering from abandonment issues. So he indulges in some screen time, reading news reports and making an effort at catching up on a true crime documentary that he’s several episodes behind on.
An hour later, he finally drags himself out of bed, pulling on a navy blue robe to combat the chill of the morning and making his way across the hallway to check on his newest charge.
The sight that greets him causes a pang in his chest.
The wee lass is sitting up in bed, blankets pulled up around her, face streaked with tears and flushed red from crying. When she registers his presence she cries some more, tiny body wracked with sobs. He can’t even imagine what it must be like, waking up in a strange place, mind foggy from sleep, and then slowly remembering the horrific events that had transpired.
If he were in her shoes, he’d probably be crying too.
“Dinna fash, I’m here," he tells her, approaching slowly. She shrinks away from him once he gets closer and he tries not to take it personally. He knows she’s just afraid.
With a sigh, he sits down on the carpet by the head of the bed and waits for her to make the first move. He knows that if he tries to talk to her now, to comfort her, it may have the opposite effect. Sure enough, her sobs lessen after a while — a minute, an hour — he has no idea.
He sits and he waits and soon he catches movement from the corner of his eye. She’s up and crawling towards the edge of the bed, slowly sliding off and onto the carpet next to him. Her eyes are still puffy and her cheeks streaked with dried tears, but the crying has come to an end, for now. She tugs at the sleeve of his robe and then presses her face against it and he cannot help but laugh.
“Are ye usin’ me as a tissue, lass?”
She shakes her head, continuing to wipe her face with his sleeve.
“Ye ken that’s no verra clean,” he chides gently, but she pays him no mind, holding on even more tightly to him. He shakes his head then, pleased that they’ve gotten over the first hurdle of the day relatively unscathed. She curls closer against his side and it makes him feel confident enough to pull her into his arms without worrying about spooking her.
He feels it, the moment two little arms wrap around his neck, and a wee face is pressed against his shoulder.
It’s different, having a child come into your life at a point where they’ve already passed so many milestones. He never had the chance to see his son crawl or walk or speak as an infant, but he still remembers the first time Fergus hugged him. There’d been a connection with the lad from the day they met, and he feels it now, with this mysterious, nameless lassie that they know so little about.
Less than twelve hours now have passed since she came into his life, and he already knows that it will break his heart to let her go.
But the funny thing is, he’s already lived through the experience of having his heart shattered beyond repair.
He suppresses the memory before it has a chance to rise to the surface, and focuses instead on the weight of the child clinging to him. With a little hesitance (because he has no desire to scare her with any sudden movements), he puts his arms around her too, holds her close to him, and feels as though one of the wee cracks in his heart has just magically healed.
Chapter 3: Pinky Promise
The lass ends up falling asleep in his arms, and, wanting to keep an eye on her, Jamie just carries her around as he tries to get breakfast sorted. She’s just a wee slip of a thing, practically weightless in his arms, and it’s easy enough to hold her on one hip as he rummages through the fridge, trying to see if there’s anything he needs to use up before it goes bad. The two braids he put in her hair last night have held up considerably well, and she looks adorable, her face pressed against his neck as she sleeps, cheeks dusted a rosy red. Every so often she shifts, unconsciously burrowing further into his hold, clinging to him like a wee monkey to a tree.
He’s half-way through pulling things from the pantry when she begins to squirm, clearly having woken from her post-meltdown nap and he recognises those movements well.
“Do ye need tae use the toilet lass?”
She nods, more vigorously than he’s seen from her, and he walks them over to the closest bathroom, setting her down on the ground in the doorway. With a fleeting glance at him, she walks inside and promptly shuts the door in his face.
He’s stunned for a moment, taking a step back and pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.
An independent lass indeed.
Jamie won’t lie and pretend that he doesn’t prefer this to changing dirty nappies or trying to toilet train a toddler whose parents haven’t bothered with the task themselves. He’s had plenty of practice in both situations, not only with his foster kids but also Jenny’s bairns. Back when he and Fergus had been living at the main house, he'd spent many an evening looking after wee Jamie, Maggie and eventually Kitty whenever Jenny and Ian needed a break.
He stands there, hands under his armpits, waiting for her to finish up inside and frowning when he hears a dull knock from inside the bathroom. Cautiously, he pushes the door open, careful not to move too quickly and accidentally hit her. By the time there’s enough room for him to move inside, she’s standing clear of the doorway, her hands raised in front of her, and looking between him and the sink.
“Och, I’m sorry lass. I didna think ye would not be able tae reach,” he apologises, stepping forward and lifting her up high enough to turn the tap. She bops her head as she washes her hands, scrubbing with far more precision than he’s ever seen from a child. He sets her back down on the ground when she’s finished, and she dries her hands on the towel hanging just beneath the bathroom cabinet.
“Let’s go and find something tae eat.”
She takes his hand almost automatically now, letting him lead from the bathroom. He makes a point to walk slowly, to allow her to keep up even with her wee strides.
Once they're back in the kitchen, he picks her up and sets her onto the counter beside him, keeping close enough to prevent her from taking a tumble as he continues to rifle through the pantry. While he's no Michelin star chef, Jamie certainly can cook, and he's never had complaints from anyone, not even the pickiest of eaters he's provided for. He's not so worried about how his food might taste (though he won't deny his feelings may be hurt if she spits it out and demands something else), but rather whether he'll accidentally put her in hospital thanks to a food allergy or intolerance. Children traditionally came under his care accompanied by a file with some medical history, anything that was pertinent to their everyday lives. He's never had to consider whether or not he'll cause a child harm by preparing a meal for them, and despite the fact that he has the appropriate training to react should an incident come up, he really would rather avoid causing anyone harm to begin with.
In the end, the solution is simple enough.
He gives her the choice.
"What would ye like fer breakfast, a leannan?"
Using his phone, he downloads a couple images of simple recipes that he knows he has the ingredients to make, presenting them to her one by one. He turns to gauge her reaction as she looks over each of her options, the little pout on her face prominent as she sees the pictures of plain parritch and buttered toast. There's even a wee furrow between her brows, as if she's personally offended he would even consider feeding her such things.
Her mouth forms a small 'o' shape when they arrive at an image of crepes, thin sheets made of eggs, milk and flour, filled with a vanilla custard and whipped cream, topped with strawberries and drizzled with melted chocolate spread. He sees the way her eyes light up, the look of genuine delight on her face and of course she had chosen the one thing that would take the most effort, but he’s willing to go through the process if it will make her happy.
Anything to bring a little joy into her life.
"Aye, that's a fine choice ye've made,” he tells her, resisting the urge to hold a hand over his heart when she offers him a toothy smile.
She watches in what he can only describe as fascination as he moves around, grabbing the ingredients for each component of the dish. The curiosity is present, but she doesn’t try to touch anything, sitting patiently with her hands folded in her lap, blinking those big brown eyes at him.
He gives verbal explanations as he cooks, cracking eggs into a bowl, adding in sugar, milk and flour before mixing the whole lot together. When he offers her the whisk, she doesn't seem to know what to make of it, clutching the utensil in both her hands and trying to mimic his earlier actions. The series of less than circular motions she makes with it don't contribute much to the final product, but she doesn't need to know that.
She doesn't offer him any assistance as other children have tried in the past, having no problem with just sitting there and observing the entire process, never once whining or kicking the back of her fuzzy sock-clad feet against the kitchen cabinets below the countertop.
He multi-tasks, switching between cooking crepes and stirring the crème pâtissière on the induction stovetop, and whipping up cream and slicing some fresh fruit as a topping. Weary about any underlying nut allergies, he steers clear of the nut butters and spreads and grabs a bottle of honey instead.
She looks almost in awe as he begins assembly, folding and filling the crepe, drizzling on some honey and then referring to her about the choice of topping. He offers her the bowl of cut up fruit, watching in amusement as she grabs a bit of everything and dumps it onto the folded crepe.
"What a wonderful job ye've done," he tells her, very seriously. When she beams at him in response and then looks at the plate, an expression of accomplishment on her face, he feels on top of the world.
He moves them from the kitchen to the dining area to eat, helping her up into the chair and setting their food down onto the table. After double checking that she's comfortably situated, he grabs the other essentials from the kitchen and returns to find she hasn't moved, except to turn her head in the direction he had gone.
"Time tae eat," he tells her, handing her a children's fork. She takes it from him, patting him on the back of his hand and then turning her full attention to the plate in front of her.
He can't help but watch as she eats, dainty little bites that still leave her cheeks all puffed up, her wee nose scrunching up as she tastes the kiwi fruit, which he gathers is particularly sour. She looks up at him with wide eyes when she's finished, smiling when he offers her a second serving, and continues eating at the same measured pace.
In the same amount of time, he's managed to scarf down three double portions.
They're just about done when his phone vibrates in the pocket of his robe - a message from Jenny letting him know that she's already on her way over with Fergus.
Ideally, Jamie would have liked to have enough time to clear up the mess from breakfast and get the lass situated in the playroom and occupied with an activity before trying to introduce anyone to her, but as with anything involving children, things are rarely predictable and almost never follow a set schedule.
He taps out a response to Jenny, a quick thank you accompanied by two thumbs up, and looks up from his phone to see the lass looking at him, evidently curious.
"My son will be home in a bit," he says, scanning her face for a reaction. She doesn't seem particularly frightened or excited, and he chooses to count that as a good thing. "His name is Fergus, and he was stayin' wi' my sister yesterday, but I ken he cannae wait tae meet ye."
The only response he receives is a series of blinks, and he shakes his head, smiling at her non-reaction.
"How about ye go upstairs tae yer room and grab Beary? Maybe the two of ye can have a tea party later and invite us."
The look she gives him at the mention of a tea party can only be described as scathing, and it's most definitely his fault for assuming she would be interested in the same thing his nieces are. Still, she slowly slides off the chair, walks up beside him and pats him on the knee, waiting for him to take her hand.
"Now, I have tae clean up all this mess we've made, but I'm sure a brave lass such as yerself can go upstairs just tae grab her wee bear."
As reluctant as he is to have her leave his sight, if she does end up staying with him into the work week, he'll have little choice but to drop her off with Jenny. He's seen how quickly children can form attachments and how separation anxiety can turn even the most well-behaved child into a bawling mess. She's already fairly independent, judging by the bathroom incident earlier, but he can see why she wouldn't want to be alone in a place that is still very much unfamiliar and not entirely explored.
"I'll be right o'er in the kitchen when ye get back, I promise ye."
Still looking the slightest bit doubtful at his words, she raises her hand once more and extends her pinky to him.
"A pinky promise, lass? Do ye no’ trust me?"
He raises a hand to his heart, faking offense, but upon seeing just how serious she is, he reaches forward, curling his pinky around hers. Apparently satisfied about the sacred oath sworn upon the crossing of their respective pinky fingers, she makes her way over to the stairs, pigtails bobbing behind her.
With a muffled groan he stands and begins clearing away the table, listening out for any sign of distress. The leftovers he packs into a container and leaves on the counter, in case Fergus should want to eat when he gets home. He can hear the faintest little footsteps from above him after she's made it to the first floor, and grows a little concerned when she doesn't return after a few minutes have passed. Leaving the dishes soaking in the sink, he's about to make his way upstairs when there's a knock at the back door.
Having chosen to have glass doors and large bay windows installed at the back of the house, to allow for an unobstructed view of the scenery surrounding Lallybroch, he can see Fergus waving at him. Jenny is a little further back, still making her way down the well worn track between the main house and his home.
He's torn between rushing upstairs to make sure the lass is well, and letting Fergus inside first, and in the end decides it won't do to leave his son and sister out in the cool winter's morning.
"Where is la petite fille?" is the first thing out of Fergus' mouth, before Jamie even has a chance to ask him if he'd behaved for Jenny. Ruffling the lads curls, he pulls him in for a brief but tight hug before turning to his sister, who is now approaching.
"I dinna think I've seen ye wi' out a bairn attached to yer side since wee Jamie was born," he jokes, causing her to roll her eyes at him.
"I thought it best we didna spook the wean wi' too many new faces. I'm sure we'll have a chance tae meet the lass soon enough,” she says, and he nods at her words, knowing that having the entire family over to see her before the poor thing has had a chance to settle in will likely only frighten her instead of making her feel welcome.
His sister leaves without much fanfare; the walk back to the main house takes about twenty minutes and given the choice, they always choose to make the journey by foot rather than in a car. Once she’s rounded the corner and is out of view, he turns to Fergus and hurries him inside, seeing that the tip of his nose and ears are already flushed red from the cold.
“Do ye remember how ye told me ye would refuse tae speak fer days at yer orphanage in France?”
Fergus nods, a mischievous smile on his face at the memory.
“Oui. The nuns were not happy about it.”
“Aye, weel, the wee lassie I brought home last night, she willna speak either. We dinna ken if it’s because she canna do so, or she’s too scairt, and we dinna ken where she came from or what her name is. I ken I can trust ye tae make her feel welcome here.”
He gives the lad this speech each time he brings a kid home, and he honestly doesn’t need to hear it again, but Jamie is really saying it more for himself than anything.
“Of course, milord. You can depend on me.”
He puts his arm around the lad’s shoulders as they make their way upstairs; the nerves from the previous evening are back, gnawing at the pit of his belly with each step they take. There’s always the anticipation in seeing how the children will get along with each other, but presently he's more concerned that the wee lass has passed out because he's accidentally poisoned her with breakfast.
Perhaps this is why Jenny is always telling him he's far too dramatic.
His heart only races faster as they approach the lassie's room. Fergus runs ahead, dropping his overnight bag against the wall with a quiet thump before turning into the room.
“Bonjour petite. I’m Fergus,” he hears, breathing an audible sigh of relief that the words aren't followed by a terrified scream.
Jamie moves into the room, and feels a rush of affection surge through his entire being.
Fergus is standing at the foot of the bed, holding onto a pillow as the wee lass attempts to make her bed. She’s truly made a good effort, having already pulled the sheets and blanket back into place, albeit very messily. He stands, leaning against the doorway and Fergus turns and grins at him.
“She is très mignonne.”
“Aye, a bonnie wee lassie.”
Unsurprisingly, the children get along very well indeed, the lass not having any of the same hesitancy with Fergus as she had with Jamie himself upon their first meeting. After checking that Fergus doesn’t have any additional schoolwork to complete, he leaves them to get further acquainted with one another and checks in with Geillis to see if there have been any updates to the case.
Her tone when she answers the phone tells him more than enough.
He knows that some of his own colleagues are handling the investigative side of things, and it leaves him feeling a little trapped. His position as her foster father allows him access to new information, only if it concerns her placement with him and little else. The professional side in him wants to become involved in the search for her parents, to look for clues others may have missed, but he knows deep down that it isn’t his place to do so.
But try as he might, he can’t stop thinking about where she had come from, the thoughts plaguing his mind throughout the rest of the day. Even after dinner and bathtime (with no curls to wash and dry, thank the heavens for small mercies), he can’t relax, can’t let go of the feeling that he could be doing more to help her. Once both kids are in bed, he throws himself into his work; one major case he had been working on was trying to shut down a drug and human trafficking ring that was operating throughout Inverness.
Apparently criminals these days were not content with smuggling just the one thing.
Rupert had managed to shoot one of the suspects in the leg, four days past, but no one had turned up at any local hospitals with an injury matching that description, so they've run into a bit of a dead end.
He’s so fixated that he almost misses the soft pitter patter of footsteps coming down the stairs, but he manages to slam his file shut before a tiny head pokes in, regarding him with a wee pout. Beary is tucked tightly under one arm, his blanket unfastened and dragging on the floor.
"What's the matter, a leannan? Can ye no' sleep?"
She shakes her head, her wee braids swinging with the movement, and he stands up, walking over to her.
“How about some warm milk?”
Clearly enthusiastic about the prospect, she reaches for his hand, giving it a gentle tug when he doesn't move fast enough for her liking.
Impatient wee thing.
He pours some milk into a heat-safe cup and warms it for forty seconds. When he turns back from replacing the bottle in the fridge, he sees her reaching for the top of the counter, lips pursed in concentration. Ignoring the beeping of the microwave signaling that her drink is heated, he crouches down beside her and takes both her hands in his, trying his best to be stern without upsetting her.
“Now, I dinna want ye tae try and climb o’er the counters when I’m not wi’ ye. They’re verra high fer a wee lassie such as yerself and ye could get hurt fallin’. But if ye e’er want tae sit here and have a wee snack when I’m wi’ ye, all ye have tae do is ask.”
Thankfully, she doesn't burst into tears.
He ends up holding her as she drains the entire cup, leaving her with a wee milk moustache that he manages to wipe off with a towel before she tries to use his clothing as a tissue again. She drifts off soon afterwards, and he tucks her into bed, stuffed bear and all.
When he heads back downstairs to his office, he feels lighter, as if her very presence has helped ease the worry and frustration.
Jamie is startled from a deep sleep by the sound of whimpering, and something tugging at his bed covers. It takes a lot of control not to bolt upright; he moves, slowly, first turning to his digital clock to check the time (it's almost four in the morning) and then realising his bedroom door is open and there's light coming in from-
Almost blindly, he reaches over to turn on his bedside lamp, feeling around for the switch before the room is lit up, and he sees the small figure standing by his bed.
Her face is buried against the stuffed bear he'd given to her, but he can hear her sobs.
The sound of it tears his heart in two.
"Lass..." he tries, softly as to not spook her but loudly enough to draw her attention. She lifts her head to look up at him and he doesn't think he's ever seen a child look this genuinely terrified.
“Can I hold ye, a leannan?”
The tears continue to run down her cheeks, but she stretches her arms out towards him. Without a second of hesitation this time, he leans over and lifts her into his lap. She immediately curls up against his chest, crying into the ratty old t-shirt he had worn to bed, the force of her sobs wracking her tiny form. He holds her against him with one arm, his other hand gently rubbing circles against her back, trying to soothe her.
“Aye, it’s alright. Everything is going tae be okay. That’s it, cry it all out.”
The poor wee thing is trembling, her fingers ice cold against the skin of his neck, and he reaches over and pulls the duvet up and over her shoulders. Just how long had she been awake and out of bed before coming and seeking his help?
"Did ye have a bad dream?"
She nods and then shakes her head, and he doesn't quite know what to make of it, but senses that focusing on the subject of her nightmares may only scare her some more. He sits back against his headboard, resituating her against him, and has a vivid memory of a moment not dissimilar to this.
"When I was a lad, I had an older brother named Willie. He had red hair, jus' like mine, and he was my best friend."
When he closes his eyes, he can still see his brother in his memories; William, his defender and protector, the person he looked up to above all others. Perhaps it's because he holds him up on a pedestal even now, so many years after his death, but Willie had never been any less than a hero in Jamie's eyes.
"I was just a wee bit older than ye are when Willie went tae live wi' the angels. I was verra sad fer a long time afterwards, used tae crawl intae bed wi' my mam and da so I wouldna have tae be alone."
Jamie has no idea why he is spilling his guts to a child, but it feels therapeutic in a way, sharing his feelings with someone who may not necessarily be experiencing the same sort of loss, but is hurting nonetheless. He doesn't know if his words will help her in any way, but from what he's observed, she's calmed by the sound of his voice. Her wee sobs are already beginning to subside and so he keeps talking, telling her about his childhood, about all the trouble he used to get into as a lad.
He keeps speaking, even after she drifts off into a restless slumber, curled up against his chest.
Whatever demons she may be battling in her dreams, all he can do is shield her in reality.
Chapter 4: Peur de la Séparation
Dougal is not pleased when he finds out that Jamie has requested a few days off work for personal reasons. He is even less thrilled once he learns that Jamie has gotten others to volunteer to cover his weekend shifts for the rest of the month. Despite the fact that his uncle is more than aware of the situation he has going on at home - being part of the investigation himself - the man has never had much sympathy for people who would leave their work behind for the sake of family.
Jamie has always been aware of this and does not appreciate the reminder in the form of a scathing mid-morning phone call, having to censor his replies not only to keep himself from getting suspended, but also to avoid little ears picking up on ghàidhlig cuss words.
He hangs up the call with a muffled grunt, loud enough to attract the attention of the lass, who looks to be providing medical care to Beary and some of the other stuffed animals from the playroom. She had not been a fan of the dollhouse or the train set, making a beeline straight for the little doctor's kit he had picked up a few years back, complete with a fake stethoscope, thermometer and other child-like reimaginings of the tools of the trade. The wee lab coat that came with the set was a little too big for her; he'd helped her put it on over the cream jumper and blue jeans she had selected for the day's outfit from the dwindling options he now had for her to choose from.
If she's going to stay with him for longer than a couple more days, he'll have to go and purchase some new clothes for her. He's heard tales from children about staying in other homes, places where they were lucky to be fed three times a day and alternated between two sets of clothing, with all the money provided by the government lining the pockets of the foster parents instead of being spent on the kids.
The thought of these people being allowed to act in such a way fuels a rage within him, makes him want to go and do something foolish - like punch a tree.
He doesn't realise he's balled up his fists until he feels a wee hand resting on his knuckles. The lass looks rather concerned, and from what he's gathered in the past few days, she's very empathetic and in tune with the emotions of those around her. He gives her a smile and she holds up the end of the stethoscope, seeking permission.
"I dinna think I feel verra well," he says, faking a cough and slumping back against the wall. The giggle she gives in response to his antics is truly one of the most melodic sounds he's heard in a while now.
She leans forward, a very serious expression on her face as she listens to his heartbeat. After a few moments, she pulls back and shakes her head, letting out an almost audible sigh.
"Doctor, can ye heal me then?" he asks, reaching over and taking her hand in his. She pauses, frowning for a bit and then nods, extricating herself from his grip to go and rummage through her wee kit.
He cannot help but raise a brow when she returns with a bandaid, curious as to what she's trying to mend. When she puts the bandage over his heart and offers him a smile, he feels a strange mix of emotions that truly have his heart aching. Opening up his arms, he pulls her into a gentle embrace, pressing his face into her wee curls, eyes tightly shut in an attempt to keep the tears at bay.
Her diagnosis of his broken heart had not been incorrect.
There's a part of him that hasn't been quite whole for a while now, and he knows that it's a wound that won't be healed with time. It will live with him, a weight upon his chest until his dying day. He's always known that there are moments in life where a person has to make a choice and then move on, leaving them to wonder what could have been had they chosen otherwise.
Regrets; he has so many.
Not for the life he lives now, but for what could have been.
It is in this moment he makes the decision, silently, close to his heart and unspoken for fear of everything being torn away from him.
Should the lassie's parents not be found, he'll move Heaven and Earth to keep her in his life.
All too quickly the next few days go by, filled with joy and laughter and new experiences for them as a family of three.
His favourite time of day is when Fergus gets home from school, walking in through the door with an enthusiastic "Bonjour to the house". He sees the way the lass brightens up at the sound of his son's voice and doesn't even have it in him to tell her to slow down when she goes flying into his arms. In turn, Fergus showers her with compliments in both English and French, picking her up and spinning her around, causing high pitched shrieks that are like music to his ears.
She'd been entirely silent only days ago, and he can see the progress she's already made with them, see that she's beginning to grow more comfortable, to settle in.
Jenny had been completely enamoured when she dropped by two days ago, bringing with her a bag full of clothes she had picked up for him. She'd taken one look at the lass, lying on the floor and reading a picture book, and she'd fallen in love.
"She's sae precious, brother."
The wee lass, in turn, had been drawn to Jenny, who quite frankly had been maternal their entire lives. Whilst his sister was often quick to judge and had a fiery temper to match his own, she also had more kindness and compassion within her than most. She'd only stayed for an hour before having to leave to pick up the kids from school, and in that time she had managed to read through two books with the lass, who giggled in delight each time Jenny put on a funny voice for a different character.
He'd had an ulterior motive for having the two of them bond, knowing that his time off work was coming to an end. As much as he hated to do so, he had little choice but to leave her in the care of Jenny while he was gone during the day.
She is decidedly not impressed when he informs her of the news, the morning he is set to head back to work.
"Now lass, after we're done eating, I'm going tae have to drop ye off at my sister, Jenny's, house. Ye met her the other day."
The look she gives him is one of complete and utter betrayal, and he worries he may have just initiated a temper tantrum. But instead of kicking and screaming like others have done in the past, she just radiates silent anger, pushing away the strawberry yogurt she'd been eating, and refusing to look up at him. No amount of coercing will get her to finish her breakfast and not wanting to force feed her, he sends her up to her room to pick out her clothes for the day while he clears the table.
Ian had swung by to pick up Fergus for school an hour ago, and Jamie had intentionally allocated more time for getting ready this morning, already anticipating that things would not go smoothly.
Once he's finished with clean-up, he packs up all the relevant notes he'll need for work, fills a thermos with coffee and sets everything on the counter, ready to go. He's about to head upstairs to check on how things are going when the lass comes back down, wearing her brand new dark blue coat and white tights, Beary in her arms, looking as miserable as ever. She doesn't respond to him, just trails after him like a sad puppy as they make their way out to the car.
The tears start falling part-way through the drive, and by the time they pull up at the main house, she's having a full blown meltdown, clinging to his leg in the entryway of the house, refusing to let go.
"I want nothin' more than tae stay here wi' you, but I also have tae go to work, or else I'll get intae trouble wi' my boss."
She shakes her head, holding on even more tightly, and while it would be easy enough for him to just pick her up and deposit her into Jenny's arms, fleeing the scene of the crime without any more carnage, he can't bring himself to do so.
"I'm sorry, a leannan. I ken I promised I wouldna leave ye," he tells her and then looks up to see Jenny shaking her head.
"Dinna fash, a bràthair. Weans will always be wailin' if they think yer going tae give in and let them have their way. I guarantee ye if ye go off tae work, she'll be fine before yer halfway there."
"But look at her wee face, how can I just walk away and leave her here if she's sufferin' like this?"
As if to reinforce his point, she lets out a particularly audible sob and he's close to caving and requesting another day off work.
"Ye dinna have a choice, and if ye keep dallyin' ye'll be reprimanded, nephew o' the Chief or no'. She has tae get used to being away from ye, else it'll be even harder when she starts school."
Ah Dhia. He hasn't even begun to consider the possibility of having to send her off to school at some point; he's weary of planning too far ahead into the future, especially given she's been in his life for less than a week and could be taken away from him at any moment. The likelihood of that happening grows slimmer with each passing day, and he has very conflicting feelings on the matter. He would love the opportunity to see her become a permanent part of his family, but if that’s at the expense of her losing her parents...
Sighing, he carefully dislodges her grip on his leg, crouching down until he's at her eye level.
"I have tae go now, a leannan, but I'll be back tae pick ye up as soon as I'm finished wi' all my work."
She doesn't look convinced, but when he raises his pinky between them, she hooks hers around it, and nods, tears still cascading down her cheeks. He pulls her into a hug, and then bids her goodbye, each and every broken sob like a knife to his gut.
As he leaves the house and walks over to his car, he can feel her watching him go.
He doesn't turn back, knowing that if he does, he won't have the strength to leave her.
There's never a dull moment down at their station.
When Jamie walks in, having been away since before the weekend, he's met with a particular brand of organised chaos that is not unlike one of those huge family reunions as seen in television and movies. The reality is not too far from fiction; he's pretty sure that if someone tried to draw up one big family tree, they'd all be on it.
And even if they didn't happen to be related by marriage or blood, chances were someone's great-great grandfather had swindled a cow or a pig from someone else's direct ancestor at some point in time.
They were family.
Though if the looks Dougal give him during their morning briefing are any indication, the man is seriously considering nepoticide.
He's very careful to avoid his uncle's wrath, keeping his head down throughout the rest of the day as he works on his assigned cases. Double checking with Rupert, he confirms that they still have not uncovered any more evidence relating to the trafficking ring, and that a purse snatcher case from early on last week has been solved.
Once he's completed the list of tasks on his checklist, he makes a beeline for the breakroom, having seen Angus and Rupert make their way inside earlier.
He tries to be casual as he steps up beside them at the vending machine, tucking his hands into his pockets.
"Any updates on the case?"
It does not work.
"Ye mean about the wee lass that ye've taken home? Jamie, lad, ye ken that ye cannae get involved wi' the investigation."
Of all the times Angus chooses to strictly adhere to their code of conduct, it has to be now.
"I ken. I just wanted to know if ye were any closer to identifying the lass, or where she came from," he says, genuinely disappointed.
Evidently having chosen to take pity on him, Angus steps forward and claps him on the shoulder, speaking in hushed tones.
"We have some leads, but nothin' concrete yet. Didna wish tae get anyone's hopes up."
He tries not to let his disappointment show. The lass has been under his care for six days now, which means that it’s been over a week since she was found, sleeping alone on the streets. He doesn’t know the statistics about the chances of finding where she came from after this much time has passed, but he has a feeling that they’re only growing slimmer by the day. Their biggest chance in learning anything new is from the lass herself, but despite the progress they’ve made, she still has yet to speak.
Geillis had decided against another visit to see a psychiatrist, at least until she had settled in with him, not wanting to cause any permanent trauma by forcing her into counselling before she was ready for it. They already know that there’s no physical damage to her vocal chords, but the doctor hadn’t been able to perform a full evaluation of her intellectual development at the time. From what Jamie has observed himself, she’s very intelligent for her age, having little trouble with understanding and comprehending those around her, but he isn’t exactly qualified to provide a diagnosis.
At this point, they have very little choice but to wait things out.
When he arrives at Jenny’s that evening, he’s greeted by a hoard of enthusiastic children, immediately toppled to the ground by his nieces and nephew. They make a game of clambering all over him, and he lets out a groan when a pointy elbow is wedged into his ribcage.
“Och, ye wee gomerels! Leave yer uncle alone!”
The bairns scamper at the sound of their mother’s voice, disappearing down the hallway just before Jenny storms in, flour coated apron around her waist, clearly in the middle of preparing dinner.
“Yours are in the kitchen wi’ me,” she says, and he hurries to catch up with her, trying and failing not to fixate on her choice of words.
Your children, she had meant.
Christ, he had no idea what to make of it.
When they turn into the kitchen, Jenny rushes over to the stove, saving a pot of something from boiling over and he scans the room. He sees both kids sitting at the round table in the corner. Fergus greets him with an enthusiastic grin before turning his attention back to his homework - mathematics by the look of it - and the lass…
She doesn’t even look up at him as he approaches.
It appears that Jenny had given her something to read; it’s another picture book, but one with far more words and fewer images. She’s completely engrossed and he cannot tell if she’s actually reading or just taking in the pictures, but neither are reasons for her to seemingly not register his presence.
Anticipating a hostile standoff, he lingers beside her for a moment before offering her his hand. Fergus looks up at him, eyebrows raised high in question, but doesn’t say anything, and for that Jamie is very thankful. After a moment, the lass very begrudgingly sets down her book and hands Beary over to Fergus, who promises without prompting that he’ll look after her most prized possession. She then places her palm against his, sliding off the high backed kitchen chair and following him out through the backdoor and outside into the fresh air.
The sun is just beginning to set, but the sky is so overcast that everything seems to be different shades of the same hazy grey. They walk a short distance from the house, stopping when they reach his mother’s old flower garden. The rose bushes are overgrown with thorny vines from weeds and such, but there’s still an ethereal beauty to it all. He brushes away the snow from the wooden bench by the back hedge before sitting down, lifting her into his lap and holding both her hands in his.
"Did ye have fun wi' Kitty today?"
She turns away from him, and he sighs.
"Are ye cross wi' me lass?"
He doesn’t need a response to know that she is.
This entire situation is incredibly difficult, and as much as he’s aware of his own frustrations, he can also imagine how hard it is for her to cope. He feels so guilty that he can’t be there for her the entire day, that he has to leave her behind when he works, because now more than ever, she needs stability in her life.
"I have tae work so that I can help keep people safe.” It’s worth trying to give her a second explanation, now that she’s much calmer than she had been this morning. “Jus' like some o' my friends are workin' hard tae find out where yer mam and da are, and how ye got tae be alone."
She tilts her head to one side, as if deep in thought, and then leans her head against his chest, curling into his warmth.
"Dinna fash. I promised I would take care of ye, do you remember that? I even swore it on my wee finger, did I not?"
He feels a small hand patting the side of his cheek, and he smiles, holding her a little more tightly than before.
"But takin' care of ye means that sometimes, I'll have tae drop ye off tae play with Kitty and the other bairns while I'm at work. And ye cannae be cryin’ and making a fuss every time I do. Do ye ken why?"
She pulls back, looking up at him with wide eyes, turning her head from side to side.
“Because ye break my heart when ye cry, lass.”
Her mouth falls open a little, and she shakes her head more vigorously, and then throws her arms around his neck, clinging to him even more tightly than she had done in the morning.
There are no more tears for now.
Come Friday night, after a home-made dinner of roast chicken and a hearty salad of root vegetables, they’re curled up on the carpet in front of the fireplace. He and Fergus had chopped some extra wood together earlier while the wee lassie played in the fields, her cheeks red and rosy as she balled up fistfuls of snow, creating a very tiny snowman. Fergus had eventually gone to help her, and Jamie had managed to capture several videos of them playing together, and photos of them standing proudly next to their creation.
Once the sun began to set, he'd hurried both children back inside the house, sending Fergus off to have a shower while he supervised the lassie's bathtime routine.
And now the two of them are playing again, while he pretends to read - he's trying, really, but he can't seem to take his eyes off the kids, delighting in their every interaction. Fergus had emptied out an entire chest of lego pieces, determined to assemble an 18th century fortress by the end of the night. The lass is sitting across from him, sorting through blocks and separating them into piles with no rhyme or reason.
“Petite, can you please pass me one of the blocks?" Fergus asks when he's finished construction of the base of his structure. The wee lassie looks down at the pile in front of her, selects a long blue piece and holds it up.
“Non, le vert.”
Jamie is about to step in and correct Fergus and give the lass an English translation, but he sees her nod, dropping the blue block and reaching for the green one instead, handing it over without any fuss. He raises his eyebrows in surprise, trying to figure out whether she had truly understood Fergus’ instructions, or if she had grabbed the green block by coincidence. This entire time, Jamie had not considered the possibility that the lass might be able to comprehend a second language.
Not wanting to jump to any conclusions, he tries it himself.
"A leannan, est-ce que tu peux me passer trois blocs bleus et deux blocs rouges ?"
She blinks at him, and then looks down at the assorted pile of blocks in front of her, and counts out three blue ones and two red ones, crawling over and depositing them in front of him with a smile.
“Thank ye kindly, lass.”
With that, she turns back to sorting through the pieces, apparently very content to help Fergus with the construction of his fortress, and not at all interested in building her own. Jamie leans back against the sofa, mismatched thoughts colliding within his mind.
They hadn’t considered the possibility of the lass being from outside of Scotland, though her basic understanding of French does not guarantee that she’s a foreigner here. She clearly has no issues comprehending English, though it doesn't seem like she's willing to verbally communicate in either language for the time being. This revelation has created more questions than answers, and as Jamie sits and continues watching the children play together, he realises that he has no idea what he wants to do with this information.
He needs to let Geillis know at the very least, and his colleagues on the case, but he fears it may send them in the wrong direction. There's a lot he fears actually, things that will keep him up at night, but right here, right now, seeing these innocent smiles and hearing their laughter, he feels as though he'll survive those hurdles when he arrives at them.
Chapter 5: Five Words
Geillis comes by for a surprise home visit on Sunday morning.
It's supposed to be one of those impromptu drop-ins to check if everything is in order without giving him any time to prepare the house or the children, but they'd actually discussed it over the phone the evening before, when Jamie had brought up the possibility of the lass originating from somewhere outside of Scotland. He'd told Angus about it first of course, in a message just hours after he found out himself, and received a series of expletives in response.
Of course this case was only going to grow more complicated with each fact discovered, and not the other way around.
He was grateful that Geillis had reached out and given him advanced warning that she would be paying them a visit, and had spent an hour after the children were upstairs and in bed (the wee lass was sleeping already, but Fergus had been up and reading last he checked), just cleaning the house. Though Jenny's live-in housekeeper, Mrs. Crook, did come by once a week - and Lord that woman truly was a gift - he made sure to keep things relatively tidy himself.
Given the choice, he would have had her visit another day, because he'd already agreed to have Marsali and Joan over on a playdate with Fergus and the lass, who he was sure would get along famously with wee Joanie. They were both mild mannered with a gentle disposition, a far cry from Marsali who had no qualms about expressing herself.
And God did he adore all of them with his entire heart.
But both Fergus and Marsali were convinced that Geillis was a witch - not evil enough to set curses on an innocent passerby and eat small children for dinner - but a potion brewing, spell-chanting, broomstick riding witch. Of course the woman hadn't helped matters by showing up to the last Samhain festivities in a billowing dark cloak, and pointy hat, cackling the whole night through.
Given Marsali and Joan's situation at home, with a mother who was in and out of institutions throughout the year and a father who had left them before Joan was even born, he didn't want to cancel their plans. He'd already given Geillis a heads up about the situation, and she had no issues about him having an extra pair of children during the home visit.
And there was an upside to her being there when the girls would be dropped off.
Jamie was a man grown, and really should have had no fears in life, especially not fear of a lass who was half his size and dainty as ever.
But he'd been terrified of Laoghaire Mackimmie (née Mackenzie) since she slipped him a supposed love potion when they were in school together. He'd ended up sick to his stomach, and she was forced into counselling by her father, who was completely mortified about the whole situation.
The last time he'd had to spend five minutes alone with her after dropping the girls home one night, she'd followed him out to his car and tried to convince him to run away with her. Whilst he had no doubts that she was a fairly decent mother whenever she was stable enough to be at home and regularly took her medication, her obsession with him was the one thing that had made him hesitant to take in the girls the first time he got the call.
Geillis had laughed at him when he asked if she could arrive at his place before Marsali and Joan were scheduled to be dropped off, but sure enough, she shows up at his doorstep while he's in the middle of preparing breakfast. Fergus, who has never been an early riser, is still in bed, but the lass is keeping him company, sitting on the counter and watching him chop up ingredients. When the doorbell rings, the poor thing looks startled, but he sets down his knife and pulls her into his arms, carrying her with him to answer the door. She still has her face pressed against his shoulder when he greets Geillis, who is impeccably well dressed given that it's eight o'clock on a Sunday morning, and that she doesn't usually work weekends.
"Good morning to ye."
She pats his arm in a friendly gesture and he lets her inside, locking the door behind her.
"I've brought ye something fer the lass, because I didna think ye'd have time tae go out and grab it herself," she tells him, handing over a patterned paper bag. He takes a peek inside, but whatever she'd brought is still in the original packaging and he doesn't have time to rummage around in it right now.
"Thank ye, Geillis. Truly. Ye always go above and beyond fer these kids."
She brushes off his compliments and he deposits the bag in his office for safekeeping before they head towards the kitchen.
"How about you two take a walk around the house while I finish wi' breakfast? I'm sure she'd love tae show ye her room."
He sets the lass down onto the ground as he speaks, and nudges her forward towards Geillis when she tries to hide behind his leg.
"Come now, a leannan. Ye remember, Miss Geillis."
It takes a little coaxing, but she eventually relents and takes Geillis' hand, walking with her towards the stairs, all the while looking back at him with a pout. He almost gives in and accompanies them.
He most definitely is a pushover when it comes to the children.
Turning back to the kitchen, he resumes his task of preparing a veritable feast for breakfast, having chosen a menu with enough variety to please all the bairns. He knows now that the wee lassie isn't a very picky eater, and she'd even happily consumed the parritch he'd prepared on Friday morning with almost no complaint (He did end up placing a handful of assorted berries and a drizzle of honey on top to convince her to take her first spoonful).
Humming to himself, not audibly enough to garner any complaints about his lack of musical abilities, he finishes chopping up the mushrooms and begins mashing the potatoes, keeping an eye on the clock the entire time. By the time he puts various things in the oven to heat up, Geillis is making her way back downstairs with the lass, who lets go of her hand and runs towards him with a smile. He lifts her into his arms, holding her above his head for a moment, causing her to emit a happy shriek.
"She's doin' well with ye," Geillis comments, looking extraordinarily pleased, possibly at herself, for having been the one responsible for their arrangement.
"Aye, she is, and I'm happy tae have her here," he replies, before setting the lass back onto his hip, holding her in place with one hand. She's quite content to stay there, curled up against his side while he and Geillis talk about possibly arranging an appointment for her to see a psychiatrist to do a full evaluation. He continues to put together different components for breakfast, and before long, the scents of tattie scones, bacon, and lorne sausages frying up on the stove begin to waft around the house.
It's enough to rouse Fergus, who makes his way down the stairs, hair mussed from sleep, rubbing his eyes with the back of one hand.
"Good morning milord, petite…" he says with a yawn, stopping dead in his tracks when he sees Geillis sitting on one of the stools at the kitchen counter, before stammering out a hushed "Madame Duncan."
Thankfully, before the lad can dive for cover behind Jamie, there's another ring of the doorbell.
"Geillis, ye wouldna mind helping me tae get the door, would ye?" he asks, projecting innocence and nonchalance, which only makes her snort as she slides off the stool and heads towards the entryway, her heels clacking on the hardwood floor the entire way there.
Fergus moves over to greet the wee lass, taking her hand and kissing the back of it with a dramatic flourish. She giggles and reaches over, gently patting his curls.
Watching them interact, Jamie is completely distracted, until he hears a familiar voice that makes him want to dive straight into a loch.
"What do ye mean I cannae come in? This is not yer house!"
Christ, it was like listening to nails on a chalkboard.
"I believe I told ye that I am conducting a home visit fer a case involving a child under the care of Mister Fraser. While I am fine wi' having his previous foster children here, I cannae have an unrelated adult in the house that doesnae normally reside here. I dinnae want yer presence tae impede my evaluation, so I am going tae have to ask ye to leave."
Thank Christ for Geillis Duncan, and again for blessing him with the good sense to arrange to have the girls picked up by their great-grandmother later in the afternoon.
Jamie has no idea if the excuse given to Laoghaire to urge her to leave is a legitimate one or something entirely made up, but he's grateful for it all the same. He doesn't have a chance to ponder over it, or catch a response, because the next thing he hears are thundering footsteps and then-
Two of his favourite lassies in the world, tearing into view, and then Fergus, rushing forward to greet them.
He hasn't seen them in over a month, and it feels like they've both grown so much since then. Marsali is almost nine now, and Joan five-and-a-half, and when he thinks about it, sometimes it's as if someone has pressed fast forward, sped time up. He'd held Joanie for the first time when she was barely eight weeks old, their mother having been hospitalised after a postnatal depression induced breakdown, and they've been a part of his life for so long now that he can hardly remember a time when he didn't know them.
God, he really is turning into a nostalgic old fool.
As if sensing the change in his mood, a wee hand comes up to his cheek and gives him a small poke, quickly withdrawing when he makes to bite down on the offending finger. She giggles, and it draws the immediate attention of both girls who turn in their direction, curious expressions on their faces.
"Daddy Jamie! Who's that?"
Marsali, older and braver, though her directness had little to do with age, steps forward and gives the wee lass a once over, narrowing her eyes in suspicion for a split second until curiosity prevails. Before he is forced to wrack his brain for an explanation as to why the lass doesn't have a name for him to introduce her with, Fergus steps in, slinging an arm around Marsali's shoulders.
"That's petite, milord's new foster daughter."
He sees the way Marsali's eyebrows rise, her eyes squinting just the slightest bit, but she says nothing. Joanie, on the other hand, moves until she's right beside him, and holds her hand up in an attempt to shake the lassie's. Fighting a smile, Jamie bends down so that they can reach, and ends up just setting her down onto the ground. They immediately clasp hands, tiny fingers interlocking, and it's enough to get Marsali to change her mind, stepping forward and offering her own hand up.
"Why don't ye go and play a wee bit before breakfast is ready," he suggests, and hand in hand, they run off together, leaving him alone for two whole minutes before Geillis comes charging back in, clearly exasperated.
"I ken I'm no' supposed tae say a word against any of the parents of the bairns, but I swear tae God she's a right bampot. I couldna stand tae hear all that bletherin'."
Jamie chokes back a laugh at Geillis' whispered confession of her feelings about Laoghaire, shaking his head.
"Aye, she's a braw ma to those girls on a good day, but I wouldnae want tae be stuck in a room wi' her otherwise." He shakes his head, pausing to try and identify if they have any eavesdroppers, before continuing. "The lassies dinna need tae ken that their ma almost killed me as a lad though."
"Och, ye poor wee fox club, being so loved by all the lasses in school."
He snorts at that, turning his attention back to the second batch of tattie scones, which are promptly deposited onto a baking tray with the first lot and shoved into the oven to keep warm.
"If ye would like tae stay fer a bite, I suggest ye dinna bring up horror stories of our school days," he says, pointing the spatula in his hand in her direction.
She holds her hands up in mock surrender, an irritating smirk on her face the entire time.
“Ye ken I cannae resist making fun of ye. I remember that time ye were cornered outside yer English classroom on Valentine’s Day by at least a dozen lassies who all wanted tae be the first tae profess their love for ye.”
Jamie cannot help but shudder at the memory. He’d only been fifteen then, and the situation had only grown progressively worse until the aforementioned poisoning incident, after which he’d mostly been left alone.
“I’m still havin’ nightmares o’er it, so if it’s all the same to ye, why don’t we move ontae a safer topic else ye’ll gi’ me a wee heart attack before breakfast is even served.”
They don't get to open up Geillis' gift until much later that evening.
The rest of the morning and afternoon are spent supervising four very excitable children, trying his best to split his attention equally amongst them. After he has them all fed, they engage in a variety of activities, from dress up and faux sword fighting, to playing hide and seek around the house, and finally settling down and working on a puzzle together. It’s recommended for ages six and up, but Joanie and the lass have no problem keeping up, helping to seek out all the edge pieces as the two older children lead the efforts. Lunch consists of leftovers from breakfast, and then the girls’ great grandmother drops by to collect them.
Mrs. Fitz, who Jamie has known since he was a bairn himself, drags him into a great big hug and tells him to drop by for dinner soon so she can “get some more meat onto those bones.” She dotes on Fergus and the lass and hands over a container full of fresh bannocks to thank Jamie for always taking such good care of the girls.
He knows that given the option, she would have taken them in herself, but while she was still completely independent and spry for her age, she didn't have the ability to care for two children under the age of ten without warning and for extended periods of time.
The lass is in a sullen mood after she bids goodbye to Joanie, the two wee things hugging as if they've been friends their whole lives, rather than just half a day. Fergus manages to bring her out of her funk by the time dinner rolls around, and for that, Jamie is ever so grateful.
He remembers the bag after they finish with dinner, and he fetches it, setting it in the lassie's room before they proceed with bathtime and another painful round of hair brushing. She flinches each time he hits a snag, the brush pulling painfully at the roots of her hair and her wee whimpers tugging at his heart. Luckily, she seems to forget all about the little ritual once he has her curls braided in preparation for bedtime. Leaning back against her pillows, Beary sitting slumped by her side, she looks up at him expectantly, preparing for him to say goodnight.
They have a loose nighttime routine in place now: usually an hour of playtime after dinner, then bathtime, then a cup of warm milk and a story before bed. But Jamie himself is curious to see what Geillis had brought over, and fetches the bag from beside the doorway in lieu of making his way downstairs and heating up a drink for her.
"Geillis brought ye a wee gift earlier, and since ye were so good playing wi' Marsali and Joanie today, I think we should take a wee keek inside and see what's there."
She nods enthusiastically, and he sits down at the foot of the bed and empties the contents of the bag onto the covers between them. He smiles when he sees the assortment of nightlights, different shapes and sizes, with adorable designs.
During their phone conversation, he'd mentioned to Geillis that the lass, like most children he'd taken care of, was afraid of the dark. He had a couple of plain old nightlights himself, but one had almost shocked him when he tried to plug it in the other day. Having no desire to risk his personal health and safety over a wee light, he'd put them back into a box of faulty electronics, ready to be scrapped and hopefully recycled.
He'd been leaving the bedside table lamp on for the lass instead, but now it seems he has a better alternative (one that will undoubtedly help save on his electricity bills).
She leans forward, resting on her knees as she looks over all of the different options, from a wee elephant to a hot pink daisy, picking each one up and turning the boxes in her hands, performing a critical evaluation from all angles.
The poor elephant and flower do not pass muster, nor do the yellow bird and cheetie. She ends up picking up the box that contains an anthropomorphic sun, tiny fingers trying to peel back the tape holding the box shut before handing it over to him.
"Do ye like this one?" At her series of quick nods, he grins. "Aye, I think ye've made a good choice."
He opens the packaging, carefully taking the light out, giving the instruction manual a quick once over before placing it back into the empty box. That and all of the other lights that had been deemed unworthy are thrown back into the bag.
"Did ye ken that the sun is always shining somewhere in the world?" he asks, handing the nightlight to her and allowing her to hold it in her hands before placing it onto the nightstand, plugging it in and turning on power at the wall, all the while continuing his anecdote.
"Even when we canna see it here, it's still out there, keeping people warm and helping the plants tae grow. Sorcha. That means light in Ghàidhlig."
He presses the on switch and it glows, white and yellow, very bright, even in the already well-lit room. It's not the only thing that lights up. The smile on the lassie's face and the mixture of awe and excitement in her eyes are like a beacon of hope in the darkest days.
“And when the sun is hidden away, there’s still the moonlight." The curtains are drawn and he’s kept them that way since she arrived, knowing that staring out into the empty land and forest beyond Lallybroch can be quite terrifying at night. But by her nod, he knows that she understands him, so he keeps speaking. "Ye ken a wee bit o’ French do ye no’? Clair de lune . It means by the light o’ the moon.”
In the blink of an eye, the smile is gone.
"What's wrong lass?"
She stares at him, eyes wide and unblinking, and he'd be lying if he said it didn't unnerve him, make him shift in discomfort. He backtracks, trying to identify the cause of her sudden change in demeanour.
There's no response, so he goes back a little further.
"Clair de lune?"
Her mouth opens the slightest bit, and he watches as her pupils dilate, sees the fear within them.
"Are ye trying tae tell me something?"
Jamie can remember distinct moments in his life where five simple words had shattered his reality.
From his parents, when he was only a lad of six, sitting in the waiting room of the hospital, holding Jenny's hand.
"Willie is nae coming home."
Only two years later, being awakened by Murtagh in the middle of the night, pulled into his godfather’s arms and feeling empty for so long afterwards.
"Yer mam went tae heaven."
Once more the year he turned eighteen, having only just begun his time at the Scottish Police College. Jenny had phoned him in tears, and he’d known what had happened before she even said the words.
"Jamie, Da didna make it."
He remembers the anguish, the torment, the misery, feeling as though he was losing his grip on reality, that his life was crumbling to pieces around him. Each moment, each loss, had taken something from him - ripped away the love and comfort of a person he held dear - but in the days and months that followed, when he felt nothing but numb, he'd gathered strength.
Strength to bear the pain.
He prayed he would have enough strength to bear hers.
She looks so conflicted, sitting there with a wee frown on her face. He can almost see the battle going on within her mind and he has a feeling that whatever happens next will be a point of no return - like the opening of Pandora's box. But he doesn't ask to sate his own curiosity, out of a desperate need to know. This is about her, and wanting to help her be comfortable enough to confide in him, anything that will let him understand and enable him to help her, to the best of his ability.
"It's alright lass. You can trust me. I promised tae protect ye, did I no'?"
He reaches out, taking one of her hands in his, once again marvelling at just how tiny she is. Even with her fingers stretched all the way, her entire hand can fit on his palm. They sit there in silence until the tears begin welling up in her eyes, and he wants to say something, to tell her that it's okay, that she doesn't have to tell him anything now if she isn't ready to, but then she's pushing herself upwards and crawling over to him. He feels two little arms go around his neck, her tears dripping onto his skin, and hears the small hiccups as she tries to catch her breath.
And then there's a pause, a split second where it feels like the world is frozen, everything is silent, before she cups one hand over his ear and whispers her secret to him.
"The bad men took Mama."
Five words that change everything.
Jamie never imagined that the first time he'd hear her voice would be in delivering a message so harrowing, that it chills him to the bone. Instinctively, he tightens his hold on her, as if his mere presence is enough to protect her from whatever dangers are lurking out in the darkness of the night, whatever demons she had already faced when she was separated from her mother.
The woman has already been missing for close to two weeks at the very least, without anyone actively searching for her , and it cements his fears that whoever had left the lass behind would likely not be returning for her. He doesn't want to picture it, but the images form in his mind anyway; a faceless woman being dragged away by her attackers. Brown curls and whisky eyes, and of course his traitorous heart chooses now to try and mislead him with another memory.
He pushes it aside and concentrates, tries to feel the chilling wind, to throw himself into that dark night out on the streets of Inverness and recreate the scene within his mind.
There's a blur, a scream, the lass's mother, likely injured in the whole ordeal, choosing to leave her own child behind in a desperate attempt to protect her, to keep her safe.
For a child, to see her mother taken away in such a fashion, by people she knew to be bad men… he cannot begin to fathom what must be going through her little head. Had she perhaps suppressed the memories of the incident until now? Had he unwittingly triggered a flashback by saying something familiar to her? Or had she come to the realisation herself that he could be trusted, that the bond between them was strong enough now for her to know that he would never turn his back on her?
He has so many questions he wants to ask her, needing to understand the events that had led to her being acted under his care. Perhaps it isn't too late to begin their search now, to double their efforts and at least find an answer, to write an ending to the story, whether it be a tragic conclusion or lead to a happy reunion.
But before he rushes off to call Angus and pass on the information he's just acquired, there is one question he needs answered above all else. He pulls back from the lass, cupping her wee face with both his hands and wiping away the tears rolling down her cheeks.
"What's yer name, a leannan?"
She chokes back a sob, sniffling for a moment, before tilting her head up and looking directly at him. He thinks that she's trying to put on a brave face, and it hurts him even more. She blinks those big whisky brown eyes, once, twice, three times and then responds to him, her voice not unlike wind chimes blowing in a gentle summer breeze.
Chapter 6: To Have Faith
Jamie remembers the summer before he began his training at the Scottish Police Academy. He'd just turned eighteen, and had arrived back at Lallybroch after studying in France for two years, finding that very little had changed about his family home, the place where he had grown up and spent most of his life.
One day, when the sun was just starting to rise and the grass still wet with morning dew, his father had pulled him away from his morning chores and led him on a walk. They took the familiar track towards the forests in silence, savoring the fresh air and sounds of nature that surrounded them.
"What do ye think o’ the view?" his father had asked after they had paused to catch their breath. They'd been down this path hundreds of times before, but after being away for so long, it was a shock to his system. The sky was tinted pink, with orange and purple hues, and everything around them had felt so alive in that moment.
He'd been speechless, realising that Lallybroch had indeed not changed, but he had.
After almost a minute had passed, his father had laughed and clapped him on the back.
"I thought ye might like tae build a wee cabin out here, or something more. I ken ye were so eager tae get away from home before, but this land is yers, and I hope tae see ye make something o' it someday."
Jamie had tried to picture it then, settling down and having a place of his own, but couldn't imagine doing it alone. He'd always wanted to eventually start a family, but his time in Paris had taught him he knew very little about love. Annalise had taken his heart and put it through a feckin' grinder, and whilst he'd mostly gotten over his feelings for her, the entire experience had left him with doubts.
He'd asked his father then, seeking the man's advice.
"How do I ken when I've found the right person fer me? The person I'm supposed tae bond myself to fer the rest o' my life, start a family with, to build a home with?"
It was then the man had given him advice he would carry with him, quite possibly for the rest of his life.
"When ye meet them, ye'll ken it right away. Ye'll be able tae imagine a life with them, and no one else will be able tae replace those images fer ye."
He'd kicked the dirt at his feet, sticking his hands into his pockets and sighed.
"What if I ne'er find them?"
"Ye will Jamie, ye've just got tae have faith."
The memory of his father is the first thing that comes to mind, over a decade later, sitting in the home he had built with his own two hands, right where he had stood all those years ago. He remembers each and every word they had exchanged that day, and spends a moment reflecting on the last few years of his life, already knowing the truth of the matter.
The fact is that he hasn’t had faith in years, having lost his grip on it when he’d allowed himself to make a decision based on his emotions, without thinking things through. In a way, he’s long been resigned to living a half-life, but he knows that even with the missing pieces, he can still make a change for those that need it the most.
Those like… Faith.
She’s trembling a wee bit beneath his hands, looking up at him, so unsure and afraid, and Christ, what he would give to protect her from all evil, to rid her of those horrific memories of the things she had endured. He runs his thumb over her cheek, and smiles, wanting - no, needing - to reassure her.
"Ye have such a beautiful name, a leannan."
He sees the way her demeanor changes, almost instantaneously, downcast eyes and pout morphing into an expression of pure joy, a wee smile on her face.
"Really?" she asks him, leaning forward a little.
Being able to bolster someone's confidence by giving them a genuine compliment is so incredibly special, and he's always sure to do so when given the opportunity.
"Aye, and I'm so grateful to ye fer trusting me wi' it."
So often with children, trust is freely given. He knows it all too well, the stories of bairns being snatched away by strangers, so easily lured from safety by the promise of a treat or a toy. But he also knows the opposite to be true. The kids in the system, especially those who have already gone through multiple homes, neglected and unwanted through no fault of their own, trust no one. And those that have experienced trauma so often recede into themselves and refuse to let anyone else in.
It's all the more rewarding to know that he's earned a child's trust when they make the decision to open up to him, and he feels a surge of pride now at the sound of Faith's melodic laughter. She seems so pleased that he approves of her name, which is endearing in and of itself, but it warms his heart to see her smile and giggle, without the burden of her self imposed silence.
"Do ye remember how I said yer tears broke my heart?"
She nods, shuffling forward and pressing her wee hand to his chest, just above where his heart lies, and he's focused enough now to marvel at the fact that she knows exactly where it is.
"Do you need a bandaid?" she asks him, entirely serious and very much concerned.
"Nay, just hearin' yer wee voice and seeing ye smile makes it all better, lass."
She doesn't seem to know what to make of his words, looking slightly confused but comforted all the same. He pulls her into his arms once more, briefly remembering a time when he wouldn't dare do such a thing or initiate any excessive physical contact with the children under his care. The social worker he'd dealt with when he first fostered Fergus had been very firm about having boundaries, and he can imagine how some foster parents could be misled into neglecting children by following such guidelines.
He can't imagine what it would be like now were he still afraid to comfort the bairns when they needed it.
Faith (and what a beautiful name for a wee lass it is) is curled up in his arms, tiny fingers playing with the belt of his robe, and sensing that she's calm enough, Jamie makes the decision to ask one more question for the night, not wanting to push her.
"Ye dinna have tae answer me lass, if ye dinna ken how or ye wish tae keep a wee secret," he begins, settling one large hand over her back. He feels her still, concentrating on his words, but not quite freezing, so he continues. "Is there a reason why ye didna speak till now?"
Jamie is well aware that he's asking something of her that she may well not be able to comprehend. Even as an adult, he still runs into situations where he can't explain his thought process, and this may very well be a scenario where only a trained professional is able to get a grasp on the reasoning behind her choice to remain silent.
But when she speaks up once more, things become so much clearer to him.
"Mama said I must be quiet, or the bad men would find me too."
The poor wee thing had tried so hard not to make a peep, because of her mother's possibly parting words to her, to stay quiet, to keep herself safe. The thought of her muffling her cries, living in fear of being heard by those who might seek to harm her, it tears him apart. But here she is, speaking to him, letting him hear her, and he feels even more responsibility to listen, to be here for her.
"Now, if yer comfortable wi' it, Miss Faith, I wouldna mind if ye choose tae use yer words tae tell me things. I ken we've been able tae communicate jus' fine, wi' ye being as quiet as a wee mouse, but it would make things easier fer this auld man."
He feels her nod against his chest and sighs. There are so many things he needs to do now - informing Geillis of these new developments, passing on Faith's name to Angus along with the knowledge that her mother had likely been abducted, and definitely arrange for her to see a psychiatrist. Knowing how thorough his colleagues are, they'll likely want to interview her themselves, and he doesn't know how to feel about that.
The last thing he wants to do is impede the investigation for personal reasons, but as Faith's... guardian, he wants to do right by her and he's not sure putting her in a situation where she's forced to answer questions about a traumatic event is the correct choice to make. On the other hand, if this leads to her being reunited with her mother, perhaps it's for the best.
Even if it means losing her.
His mind is a battlefield of conflicting thoughts. He knows the barriers he must build to be rational, to see reason, but before he manages to spiral out of control, something cuts through it all, like a ray of sunlight through a hazy day.
"Can I have some milk, please?"
Faith tugs gently at his sleeve, not quite making eye contact with him, and he feels all of his worries melt away.
"Of course ye can, a leannan."
She turns to look at him now, placing both her wee hands on his chest and leaning back, frowning just a little.
"What does that mean?"
The curls that have come loose from her braids bounce as she nods, and he cannot help but reach over and attempt to smooth them back into place.
"Och, well it means sweetheart. "
She looks thoughtful for a moment, and then drops her head, cradling her own hands in her lap.
"Mama calls me lovey."
When he responds, he's careful not to speak in the past tense.
"Does she now? Then ye ken she must love ye verra much."
Gently, he reaches out and tilts her chin up so he can get a good look at her face. There's a single tear rolling down her cheek, leaving a silvery track behind on her skin, and he brushes it away.
"No more tears fer tonight, aye? Let's go and get ye some milk, and perhaps a wee snack?"
He stands up from the bed then, offering her his hand to hold, but she reaches her arms up to him instead, and who is he to begrudge the wishes of a wee bairn just wanting to be held?
Before heading downstairs, they take a detour to check on Fergus, who is already knocked out for the night, sprawled like a starfish beneath his dark blue bed covers. Jamie moves and turns off his bedside table lamp, bending over and dropping a kiss to his son's curls.
When Faith copies his movements and does the same, it's all he can do to keep from audibly reacting.
The lad begins to stir after a moment, and they leave the room before they wake him entirely, making their way to the kitchen in relative silence. He sets Faith down onto the countertop as he prepares her milk, heating it in the microwave and adding in just a wee bit of honey, figuring that she deserves something special tonight.
"What would ye like?"
She tilts her head to one side, as if considering his question, but he has a feeling she already knows exactly what she wants.
"Can I have some strawberries, please?"
As he cuts the fruit up into bite-sized chunks for her, he tries to recall whether or not he's encountered children before with such notably good manners in the past. Jenny is doing a braw job of raising her own hoard, but they can be right terrors sometimes, and he can only imagine the chaos that will ensue once Michael and wee Janet are up and running around. And his own son - well, he and Fergus have worked together on figuring out what behaviour is and isn't appropriate. Stealing people's wallets and making them chase you down several alleyways to get it back- most definitely falling into the not appropriate category.
As if to reinforce his awe of the situation, Faith rewards him with a big thank you when he puts the cup of honeyed milk and the little bowl of cut up fruit in front of her. The look of delight on her face when she sips the sweetened drink may well be forever ingrained in his memory. In fact, he's so engrossed in watching her he almost grabs the blade of the knife instead of the handle when clearing up, muffling a curse with the hope that she's missed his near outburst altogether.
Once he has everything cleaned and put back into its proper place (thankfully without any missing fingers), she's just about done with her snack, having already drained the cup of milk and handed it back to him to wash. He watches as she picks up the last piece of strawberry, holding it between two tiny fingers and offering it to him.
Blinking back a tear or two (because yes, he's an emotional mess and damn Jenny for always implying so), he leans down and allows her to pop it into his mouth. He makes a show of how grateful he is that she would spare him the last morsel, and she giggles, strawberry-juice-stained fingertips patting his cheek.
"Let's get ye cleaned up, lass."
He leaves the bowl soaking in the sink after wiping his face and Faith's sticky fingers, and they head back upstairs. They've just made it to the bathroom when she lets out a big yawn, tipping her head back onto his shoulder and wrinkling her nose.
"I think it's time fer this wee lassie tae get to bed. We've had a big day, have we no'?"
She nods sleepily and they breeze right through the bedtime preparations; she handles the tasks on her own for the most part, stubbornly independent, but does call on him to fix her hair.
Minutes later, he's kneeling by her bed, tucking her in and allowing her to adjust to having just the night light on to sleep.
"Ye ken that you dinna need tae be afraid when I'm here. That I'll protect ye, and never let anything bad happen tae ye."
She blinks a couple more times and then closes her eyes, snuggling further down into her blankets, obscuring almost half her face.
"Goodnight, wee Faith."
Jamie feels a bit like a movie villain, sitting in his office chair, turned away from his desk and shrouded in darkness, watching the slivers of moonlight that make it past the curtains. With a half-drained dram in one hand and a pounding ache in his head, he closes his eyes for a bit and thinks it's probably time to call it a night.
And what a night it's been.
After putting Faith in bed, he'd headed straight for his office, opening up the liquor cabinet and poured himself a dram, eyes fixed on the amber liquid as it poured from bottle to glass and then draining the entire shot in one go. He wouldn't normally indulge in an exorbitant amount of liquor if he needed to work the following morning, but drastic times had called for drastic measures.
Christ, it had been a long two weeks.
Jamie isn't ashamed to admit that he's been prioritising his family life over work. Since the beginning, when he'd made the commitment to caring for these kids, he knew that he would put them first, give them the best environment he could for as long as they needed him. Fergus had been special, the first, and his son, but each and every child since has been shown the same love and affection.
He likes to think that he's made a difference in their lives.
And in Faith’s.
He's gotten attached to these kids before, because how could he not, raising them and caring for them as if they were his own flesh and blood. It's selfish, but it pains him to see them go, even though he knows it's for the best, that they're moving on to a new home with a new family.
There's a part of him that desperately wants Faith to stay, to become a part of this family, permanently .
There's a part of him that knows he should be grateful for the time he's already had with her, and that if she does leave to return to her real home, he'll truly be happy for her.
And there's a part of him, buried deep within, that knows exactly why he had been so drawn to her that day they had met.
But he pushes those thoughts aside.
It doesn’t matter why.
He’s grown to care for Faith, for so many reasons, each and every last one relating solely to her, and her alone.
Things will begin to change as soon as he updates everyone involved in the case, as they uncover more information about her, and he's not quite ready to say goodbye. God, he doesn't think he'll ever be .
It doesn’t hit him until the moment before he drifts off, lying in bed, curled up on one side and willing sleep to come-
Faith had an accent.
Crisp and clear and English.
The first thing Jamie does the next morning is ring the main house. He's still lying in bed, and it's only just past six, but he knows that Ian and Jenny are already up and about.
There's pure chaos in the background when his call is answered; he can hear the sound of a baby crying, shrieks from unhappy toddlers, crashes and bangs as things are hurled around and then the cheery voice of his brother-in-law.
"Lallybroch Farms, this is Ian speakin', how may I assist ye?"
"Ian, this is yer house phone not yer office phone."
"Oh I ken, but the b-a-i-r-n-s are running round and if they hear it's their u-n-c-l-e on the phone, we'll ne'er finish our conversation."
"I'm pretty sure wee Jamie can spell."
"Aye, but his mam has him outside collecting eggs from the chickens."
Jamie is about to respond with sympathies for the lad, having been bossed around by Jenny enough times when they were growing up, but before he can, there's a loud shriek and the sound of one of his nieces screaming at the top of their lungs.
"Kitty took Maggie's favourite doll and they're havin' a stramash o'er it."
"Och, I'm sorry fer callin' ye at such a bad time."
"Dinna fash, they'll be back tae bein' best friends before breakfast. What can I do for ye?"
He inhales, hesitating for a moment, trying to keep his tone neutral and to no one's surprise, completely failing.
"The wee lass, she spoke tae me last night. Told me her name and Christ, Ian, she's a wee Sassenach. "
His news is met with complete and utter silence, and he's worried he's been disconnected for a second until he hears Ian bellowing Jenny's name. There's a bit more background noise of his crying niece or nephew, and then Ian explaining to Jenny what had happened, before his sister's voice comes over the phone.
"Ian said the lassie spoke tae ye?"
He sniffles, running a hand through his curls.
"Aye, aye she did. Told me some things I'll have tae let the lads at work know about, but we dinna have tae keep callin' her lass anymore." He pauses, inhaling. "Her name is Faith."
"Oh brother, that's sae precious. It suits her."
He finds himself nodding, before realising that there's no one here to witness it, thanking the heavens that no one is here to witness it, and then warns her that Faith may very well still choose to keep silent when he isn't around.
Jenny assures him that they'll just go about their day as they normally would, and not make too big of a fuss whether or not Faith decides to speak, and he's about to thank her when there's another crash, a shriek and more tears.
"I'll talk to ye later, brother," is the last thing he hears before she hangs up on him.
Complete and utter chaos, but God does it remind him of his childhood, running around in that same house, causing a ruckus and being scolded by his mother.
Twenty years and he still misses her, wishes she were here so he could ask her for advice, to help guide him in the right direction.
With a sigh, he sets his phone back onto the bedside table and throws back the covers on his bed. It's closer to half-past-six now, and he rushes through his morning routine, making several trips up and down the stairs and almost feeling a little winded by the time he hops into the shower.
It's most definitely a sign that he needs to hit the gym after work.
He makes his way across the hall when he's finished, pushing open the door to Faith's room and finding her fast asleep, almost completely buried beneath the bedcover and blanket. She has one hand hanging off the edge of the bed, the other curled around Beary, and he lets her sleep for a minute longer, just standing in the doorway and watching her.
It pains him that she's so afraid of being stolen away, but he's not going to push her to open up around others before she's ready. The last thing he wants to do is put her in a situation where she's uncomfortable or afraid or worse .
He's not immune to mistakes, and while he considers himself a good parent, teaching Fergus the rights and wrongs of the world, he hasn't always made the best decisions, particularly in his youth. This is a difficult situation to navigate, because his choices have the potential to permanently alter the life of another.
And he wants to do right by her.
Slowly, he makes his way over and crouches down by the bed, reaching a hand out and patting her shoulder through the cocoon she's formed.
"Miss Faith, it's time tae wake up."
She buries herself further beneath the covers in response and he cannot help but smile. After a minute, he tries again, and this time, she turns, slowly rolling over in his direction. He pulls back the covers to reveal her face and finds her blinking sleepily at him. She moves one hand to rub at her eyes and then sits up, a smile on her face.
Last night he'd thought her voice sounded like a bell, but today, it reminds him of a songbird, or a wee baby chick, chirping in it's nest.
"Good morning, lass. Can ye let me know what ye would like fer breakfast?"
He only gives her three options to choose between, because he doesn't have time for anything elaborate and once she's decided, he leaves her to get ready by herself, heading downstairs to prepare breakfast. She comes tottering down the stairs fifteen minutes later, wearing blue jeans and a knitted yellow jumper, Beary tucked under one arm.
When he serves her breakfast — egg-in-a-hole, cooked till golden brown and topped with bacon bits, — with a grand flourish, she trills in delight, thanking him before digging in. While she eats, he fixes up her hair, the braids having come loose in her sleep, and talks to her about the day ahead.
"If ye dinna wish tae talk when yer at Jenny's, I willna scold ye fer it. I want ye to do whatever makes ye comfortable."
She takes the time to swallow the bite of food in her mouth before responding with a simple okay.
When she's finished with her breakfast and he's fixed her unruly curls, he sits down with a mug of coffee and his own plate of food. She looks at him expectantly, waiting to either be excused or entertained. He checks his phone and, seeing that they have less than thirty minutes before they need to leave the house, sends her upstairs.
"Can ye go and wake Fergus for me? Ye ken he's a wee bit grumpy in the morning', but I'm sure he willna be frownin' if it's ye that calls him."
She looks absolutely elated to be given the responsibility, sliding off her seat and carefully setting Beary down in her place, before making a dash for the stairs. He listens, hearing her sock-clad feet against the wooden floorboards, the sound of a door being opened, and a wee voice calling out:
Not a minute later, his son is flying down the stairs, shouting for him, and he can see Faith rushing after him as fast as her wee legs allow her to.
"Milord, milord, la petite, she is speaking!"
Jamie laughs, both at the surprise in Fergus' tone and the shock on his face.
"Aye, I ken that laddie."
Faith comes up next to him, patting him on the thigh and he reaches over with one hand, tapping her on the nose and making her go cross-eyed for a moment.
"It is a miracle!"
He shakes his head, keeping a hand on Faith's shoulder.
"No lad, it just means she trusts us. Go on then, a leannan, why don't ye tell Fergus yer name."
With very little hesitation, she turns around, slipping out from under his hold and walks straight up to Fergus. He bends, allowing her to cup her hands over his ear and whisper to him.
Jamie catches bits of their conversation, their hushed voices truthfully being very much audible, but he tries to zone out for a moment, allowing them to bond with a little privacy. He drinks his coffee in large gulps, the hot liquid warming him right through.
"Okay lad, why don't ye go and get changed, and have a bit o' breakfast. We dinna want ye tae be late fer school," he tells Fergus, who looks much too pleased at the prospect of missing some of his classes. Still, he takes off back to his room, and Jamie turns once more to Faith, beckoning her over and then taking her hands in his own.
"Now Faith, when I'm at work today, I'm going to have tae tell some of my colleagues about what ye told me, so they can help find out what happened to yer ma. If there's anything else ye wish tae tell me, you can tell me now, or whenever ye feel like it. I dinna want ye to be scairt, I want ye to ken that ye're a brave lass, and I am so proud of ye."
She listens with rapt attention as he speaks, nodding her head at his words and then wriggling her hands from his grip and reaching up for a hug. He pulls her up into his arms, presses his nose into her hair and wonders if this may be the last bit of peace they have before the storm well and truly begins to brew.
Chapter 7: A Bad Day
Jamie makes the realisation that perhaps he hasn't quite mastered the art of controlling his anger when it takes both Murtagh and Rupert to restrain him from putting a fist through Dougal's face.
He'd already been in a piss poor mood by the time he arrived at the station, having woken up on the wrong side of bed (both figuratively and literally). The universe had it out for him, because he'd run out of hot water during his morning shower, burnt his hand on the coffee maker and then had to break up a fight between his niece and nephew on the drive to school.
All before work on a Wednesday morning.
Their regular briefing had run overtime, and all he wanted to do was get back to his desk and work on his cases in peace, but Angus had come over and quietly let him know that Dougal had rejected his request to expand the search for Faith's identity beyond the Scottish border.
White hot rage flowing through his veins, he'd stormed into his uncle's office, leaving the door open for the rest of his colleagues to hear as he questioned their captain's decisions, barely reining in his temper.
Jamie had expected to be told that they had other leads within Scotland or financial considerations that prevented them from calling in outside help.
He could have begrudgingly accepted it.
The excuse that he'd been presented with was fucking pathetic.
Dougal, a man Jamie had greatly admired and respected growing up, had turned and told him, in no uncertain terms, that Faith had fed him a tall tale.
"Why would she lie about her mother bein' taken? She's just a bairn! What benefit would there be tae make up such a thing?"
He'd tried to keep his volume down at first, knowing that an immediate outburst wouldn't help matters.
"Ye said it yerself, lad. She's nae but a child, and we all ken how active their imaginations can be," Dougal had replied, giving him a look that made it quite clear his uncle thought of him as a lad who was still wet behind the ears.
It only sought to further enrage him.
"Active is Kitty havin' an imaginary friend, not my wee lass tellin' me that the bad men took her ma."
"There isnae any evidence tae support such a claim!"
"I'm tellin' ye it's the truth. She's a witness tae her mother's abduction and ye need to take this seriously."
He'd walked right up to Dougal's desk, the only thing that stood between them, and glowered at the man.
"Ye need tae watch yer mouth, laddie. I willna justify turning this investigation intae an international operation on the words of a scared lass! And ye willna get yerself involved or I will have ye reported for misconduct, and that child removed from yer home."
How easy it would have been to just pull his arm back and swing it forward, hand curled into a fist, the satisfying crunch of a broken nose echoing through the station. Of course, he'd managed to hold on for a split second longer, just enough time for Murtagh and Rupert to intervene, flanking him on either side and pulling him from the room.
He'd stormed out of the station, heard the slam of the door behind him and headed around to the back to try and regain control of his emotions away from prying eyes. It's where he stands now, leaning against the wall, attempting to distract himself from his thoughts by watching the misty clouds created each time he releases a breath.
It doesn't work.
Jamie knows that logically, he can't blame his colleagues for not having made much progress on the case. He understands the way of things - he's gone for months without a single lead on an investigation before, but it feels so different to be on the other side of things, to be completely and utterly helpless. And God, he's been neglecting his own work because of it, distracted and unfocused, and it isn't fair to anyone involved.
His family has always been his biggest priority, but he wonders if he should find a better balance between life and work, because since Faith's arrival, he's put more emphasis on being a good caretaker and allowed his professional life to fall by the wayside as a result. The uniqueness of her case hasn't helped in the slightest; in fact it's encouraged the lines between the two to blur, and he knows that he should probably back down, but he needs to do whatever he can to achieve the best outcome for her.
He needs his colleagues to understand that he's butting in and trying to get involved not because he doubts their abilities, but because he's the anxious family member trying to get answers.
That he's only acting this way because he's looking out for Faith.
Jamie knows that Dougal's threats are empty, that he wouldn't actually involve himself in anyone's personal life, but the thought of Faith being taken away from him and placed in the home of a complete stranger… it makes him sick to his stomach. He leans forward, hands on his knees, staring at the ground, at the cracks in the pavement and reminds himself to breathe.
It's easier said than done.
He's still hunched over two minutes later, when he hears the sound of footsteps on gravel, and looks up to find Murtagh turning the corner.
"Ye alright lad?"
Straightening up, he runs a hand through his hair and grunts in response. Murtagh sighs, clapping him on the shoulder and shaking his head.
"Ye ken I'm on yer side, Jamie, but do ye ken how difficult it would be tae expand our search? There are'na any identification requirements tae cross the border wi’ England. How are we supposed tae find one lass amongst fifty-five million people?"
"I ken that, but I didna think it could hurt tae take a wee keek."
"Jamie, is there any possibility that the lass was just abandoned? Perhaps she's made all o' this up tae cope wi' it."
He shakes his head, taking in a deep breath and to the best of his ability, attempts to remain calm and rational. Murtagh had only met Faith once, when they were all over at Jenny's for dinner the previous week. She had decidedly not been a fan of his bushy beard at first, running to Jamie and hiding herself behind his legs. It had taken much coaxing from Fergus to convince her that he wasn't a big hairy monster.
"Ye dinna ken her like I do, Murtagh. Christ, she's a clever wee thing, bright and bonnie and sae well articulated when she speaks. And when she's talkin' o' her mam, there's a light in her eyes. I've seen many bairns come and go, and I know fine well when they come from homes where they've been raised wi' love. And whoever Faith's mother was, nae- is , I ken she loves the lass dearly."
Faith had only mentioned her mother in passing once more since that first night, during dinner the following evening. Jamie had picked up a pizza after work, and when offered a slice, she had slowly and methodically, picked off all the olives, leaving them in a little pile on the side of her plate. Once her task was complete, she'd offered him the wee heap, mumbling that "Mama likes olives".
"I'm sorry that yer havin' tae deal wi' such a horrible situation, but I'm more sorry that yer uncle is a feckin' clotheid wi' bawbags fer eyes."
He snorts at that, smiling for the first time since he'd arrived at the station.
"I cannae say I disagree."
"Have ye been able tae learn anything more from the lass? Where she was before coming tae Scotland, or perhaps her full name or mam's name?"
The sympathetic tone in Murtagh's voice is telling; they've had so many unsolvable cases in the past with far more evidence to go on than this.
"I dinna want tae force her to reveal anything tae me before she's ready, but I have been trying to steer her in the right direction. Though I dinna think I would have been able to answer any o' those questions when I was her age."
Jamie's memories of his early childhood are rather vague, but he remembers being carefree and clueless to the ongoings of adults around him. He only knew his parents by mam and da, that he lived at Lallybroch and that they had many coos on the farm.
"Weel, we've been checking the records of missing persons reported, and there still are no cases that match hers. Perhaps we can make arrangements tae contact someone down in London, tae do a wee check?"
He grins, nudging Murtagh's arm, thankful to have someone on his side.
"Dougal willna be happy about it."
"Aye, but what he doesna ken cannae possibly hurt him."
"Well then, I know jus' the man tae call."
When he picks up Fergus and Faith from Jenny's that evening, they're both completely knackered, having spent the entire afternoon running around the farm and seeing all the animals. As a result, they're also both positively filthy, and after he makes sure they're both cleaned up, he bundles them up in front of the television with dinner.
Bangers and mash; pork and apple sausages straight from Lallybroch farms, fluffy mashed potato and a thick onion gravy.
He leaves his own portion in the oven to keep warm and spends half an hour scrubbing the muddy stains from his car. His back aches from being hunched over, but he wasn't going to force the bairns to walk home in the cold when they were clearly exhausted. He leaves the laundry in the machine, thankful that Mrs. Crook would be by tomorrow to take care of things.
When he heads back into the main living area, Fergus is watching a cartoon on television with the sound turned most of the way down, and wee Faith has fallen asleep, curled up around one of the decorative cushions he kept on the sofa. He grabs his food from the kitchen, and sits down between the bairns, giving Fergus a quick one-armed hug.
"Do ye have any school work ye need help with?" he asks, before taking a bite of his dinner.
"Non, milord. I finished it all at Tante Jenny's."
"Aye, there's a clever lad."
Fergus beams at him before turning his attention back to the television, and by the time Jamie has cleared his plate, the lad has also fallen asleep. Both curled up in foetal positions, their brown curls splayed over the sofa cushions and cheeks flushed pink from the warmth of the fire, they could pass for siblings.
The thought makes his heart ache a little, because he still has a phone call to make once he gets the bairns into bed.
He takes care of the dirty dishes first, giving the kitchen a quick wipe down, knowing that it will be thoroughly cleaned tomorrow.
Fergus doesn't stir when he lifts him into his arms, carrying him up the stairs and tucking him into bed. It reminds Jamie of the early days, when the lad would fall asleep in his office almost every evening and carrying him to bed was a regular occurence.
Faith, on the other hand, does wake briefly when he picks her up, pressing her face into the crook of his neck and bunching a wee fist in the front of his shirt. She makes a grunt of displeasure when he tries to tuck her into bed, stubbornly clinging onto him, and he ends up doing a couple laps of the room, gently bouncing her in his arms until she's lulled back into sleep. He carefully places her in her bed, pulling the covers up and around her shoulders and making sure Beary is safely secured beside her.
The last thing he does before leaving is switch on her nightlight, a soft yellow glow immediately filling the room.
A hot shower (where thankfully the water had not suddenly turned ice cold) and a fresh set of pajamas later, he finally bites the bullet and calls up his most trusted contact in London.
"Jamie, it's wonderful to hear from you."
"Aye John, it's good tae speak tae ye as well, but I'm afraid I havena called ye fer just a wee chat."
He can hear the disappointment in his friend's voice and realised that he really has put his own social life on the back burner in recent months, first being preoccupied with work and now with family. They haven't had a proper phone conversation in almost a month. John had called to exchange Christmas salutations and then they'd tried to play a game of chess over video chat (It failed miserably) .
"Ye ken I mentioned I have another bairn staying wi' me?"
"The child they had found abandoned?"
He and John had briefly discussed the situation the day after Faith had come to stay with him, but there hadn't been much to tell at the time.
"Aye weel, she finally spoke tae me o'er the weekend and she's no' Scottish, she's English."
"So I'm assuming you'll want me to check our records and see if we have any missing children that fit the bill?"
There's little Jamie appreciates more than not having to explain himself.
"My uncle hasna approved o' any contact wi' yer department, so if ye could…"
"Discretion is not a difficult concept for me."
He can see the smirk on John's face just through the tone of his voice and cannot help but chuckle in response.
"Thank ye, John. I'll send ye o'er the details in a bit, no' that there's much tae say."
"I thought you said she was speaking."
"Aye, but I didna want tae force her to gi' me any information she wasnae comfortable wi' sharing."
There's a brief pause and then a bark of laughter.
"Far cry from the man who once put me in a chokehold in order to extract information."
Christ, the man loved bringing that incident up.
"It wasnae a chokehold, I just restrained ye is all. Ye were slinking around the station like a wee criminal. How was I supposed tae ken ye'd been sent up from Scotland Yard?"
Jamie had been a newly promoted sergeant then, working back to back shifts to save for his future. He'd caught a suspicious looking lad making his way through their station, and apprehended him.
"You could have asked."
"I took ye out fer a drink afterwards, did I no'?"
The bartender had been convinced John was underage until he flashed his ID.
"I almost got fired for showing up to work completely hungover."
"It isnae my fault that ye cannae hold yer liquor."
"Present tense? Really, Jamie?"
"Until ye prove otherwise."
"Well, I may have the chance to sooner than later. I'll be in Edinburgh sometime next week, and if I have a chance I'll try and pop by for a visit, perhaps let you know anything I might happen to find. If I manage to uncover any news sooner than that, I'll give you a call."
"I'm indebted tae ye John."
When he hangs up the call, Jamie feels lighter, like a weight has been lifted off his chest. He's made the right steps to aid in the search for Faith's identity.
He's put her welfare first, above his own desires, and for that, he has no regrets.
The next week-and-a-half of work can only be described as hellish. His unsolved cases are piling up and they have made next to no progress on their investigation into the trafficking ring.
An old warehouse had been raided on Wednesday evening after an informant tipped them off, but the team had arrived too late, the place having already been cleared out by the time they busted through the doors. All that had come out of that entire operation was a pile of paperwork and no new clues.
On Thursday, he and Rupert headed out into the field to interview potential sources and had come back completely empty handed. There was an unrelated burglary at a jewellery shop in town, and despite officers arriving on the scene almost immediately, the culprit managed to make an escape. The eyewitness accounts of the incident were unreliable, describing the suspect as both a man and a woman, tall and blonde, short with green eyes, and Christ, he wanted to tear his hair out.
Friday came with both ups and downs. Mostly downs.
A pair of their officers had a run in with a suspicious figure while patrolling the streets, tracked him through the city and found him handing off packets of an unknown substance. They'd called for back-up and a team of one dozen had cornered the man in a seemingly empty alleyway, only to be ambushed.
Four of their officers were now in hospital with injuries, one in the ICU, and their suspect was dead.
Of course the moment they had a body on their hands, the morgue was backed up, with no chance of having an autopsy done until Monday at the earliest.
They had managed to apprehend one of the attackers, a lad of no more than eighteen, possibly younger, who had clearly been left behind as a scapegoat and was terrified of the police. Upon realising that he was in danger of going to prison, he'd willingly provided them with all the information he knew, and they would likely be headed out to investigate several of the locations he had named in the following week.
By the time he clocks out on Friday afternoon, he's so drained he wants to curl up in the backseat of his car, forget his responsibilities and take a nap. But when he looks in the rear-view mirror to back out of his parking spot, he sees one of Fergus' spare jumpers lying in Faith's car seat and feels calmer.
It's truly the only highlight of his life right now, going home at the end of the day and holding his bairns, reminding himself why he had chosen this job instead of running the farm with his family.
Because he'll do anything to make the world a safer place for them to grow up in.
It's irrational, but Jamie feels an intense amount of guilt when he picks up the bairns from Jenny's and tells them they're going to head straight home and have a quiet night in. He wants nothing more than to take them on a walk along the borders of their lands, or let them play in the snow, but he's tired. Even the special Friday night dinner is missing from their evening's itinerary; he'd picked up an order from McDonald's, hoping that the wee toys would be enough to distract them.
Fergus disappears to his room after dinner to finish off his school work early, wanting to have the weekend free, and Jamie is left sitting opposite Faith at the dinner table, trying not to completely zone out. He does a terrible job of it, only snapping back to reality when there's a gentle tug at his sleeve.
"Bath? With bubbles?"
The guilt from earlier hits him right in the gut, because of course they've run out of bubble bath and he'd meant to buy more and forgotten.
"I'm sorry, lass. We dinna have any more bubbles. But ye can still play wi' the duckies."
He expects disappointment, tears even, but Faith's face is surprisingly blank. She tilts her head to one side and then takes his hand, her wee fingers wrapping around his pinky.
"Bath," she repeats softly, and he stands, feels his joints groan with the movement and allows her to lead him up the stairs.
He fills up the tub for her and is surprised when she doesn't even touch the duckies, just scrubbing herself clean and asking him for the towel. As she dries off, he watches the water drain and mentally curses himself, wishing he were a better parent.
The sun has barely set when he leads her downstairs to the playroom, letting her occupy herself while he takes a quick shower of his own. He leans his forehead against the cold tile, feels the heated water against his skin and tries his best to relax.
When that doesn't work, the water washes away his tears.
He loves being a father, but sometimes he wishes that he didn't have to do it alone. But to yearn for something he can never have is a fool's errand, and he knows better.
His mood does not improve once he leaves the shower; he spends a good five minutes just staring at his bloodshot eyes in the mirror, touching the rough stubble that had grown after three days without a shave. He changes, and then checks his phone, seeing that there's still two hours left before bedtime.
Get a feckin' grip James. Yer the adult here.
Sighing, he tucks his phone into the pocket of his robe and exits his ensuite bathroom, coming to a dead stop when he sees the figure in the doorway.
Faith is standing there in her fuzzy pale pink jumpsuit, Beary under one arm and a picture book under the other, looking up at him and then down at the ground.
When his first feeling is one of relief, that she's ready for bed and he can just knock himself out afterwards, he feels like the worst person in the world. Pushing those thoughts aside, he forces a smile and walks towards her, taking her hand and readying himself to lead her back to her bedroom.
She doesn't budge.
"Come now, lass," he tries, but she shakes her head and Christ, he really doesn't need this right now.
Feeling defeat, he just stands there, holding onto her and wondering how much worse his day can get. She pulls him further into his room, leads him towards the bed, and then releases his hand. He doesn't move, watching silently as she tugs the covers back and then pats the spot beside his pillow, gesturing for him to sit.
Jenny had always teased him about being a good soldier.
He does as instructed and then she's pressing a wee hand to his chest and coaxing him to lie back against the pillows. It may be that he's overtired (it's definitely because he's overtired) , but he doesn't realise what she's doing until she begins pulling his covers and blankets back over his legs.
The wee thing is trying to tuck him into bed.
There are tears in his eyes now, and he watches through his blurred vision as she sets the book and Beary down onto his lap, before scaling the bed herself, crawling over his legs and curling up beside him. She retrieves her precious bear, slipping it beneath the blankets too, and then turns to him, placing her wee hand over his own and blinking at him, eyes wide.
He hastily wipes away the tears with the back of his sleeve, angling his body so he is facing her properly.
"I'm sae sorry, a leannan. I ken today hasna been verra fun for ye."
She stares back at him and shakes her head.
"Are you having a bad day?"
He truly hadn't considered Faith would notice the change in his demeanour; he hates that she has, that his mood has affected her too, but he's also blown away at her empathy and compassion.
There's a surge of admiration for the woman who raised this child; whoever she was - is , he knows without a doubt she's a fantastic mother.
Not wanting to lie, he answers truthfully, hoping that she'll understand.
"Aye, I am."
She nods then, deep in consideration, and then grabs her book, opening it to the first page, and begins to read.
"Once upon a time, there lived a warrior. His hair was red as fire…"
She speaks clearly, slowly, and he's dimly aware that the book she had chosen was about a family of mice and not a red-heided warrior. But he cannot muster up the energy to check, finds himself drifting off, head slowly lolling to one side.
The first thing he registers when he next wakes is the weight in his arms. Faith is curled up against him, fast asleep, and he cups her head with one hand, holding her close.
He turns to check the clock and sees that it's only ten in the evening, and then realises that his bedroom door is shut and there's no light seeping in from the hallway outside.
Faith is too small to reach the light switches, even when standing on the wee stool he'd moved to the bathroom for her to wash her hands independently, so it must have been…
Here he was, feeling miserable and inadequate and the bairns hadn't made a peep about it. They just went about their own routines and checked in on him, and now he wants to cry for a different reason altogether.
He lies back down, carefully situating Faith beside him, and closes his eyes, silently promising that he'll make the most of this weekend with them, to show them just how much he loves them.
Both of them.
Chapter 8: I Like to Be Beside the Sea
Jamie makes good on his promise to himself and devotes the entire weekend to spending quality time with the bairns. The sky is overcast on Saturday morning; dark clouds obstruct the sun from view, and by mid-afternoon the rain is beating down onto the roof of the house, falling so heavily it almost sounds like hail.
They stay inside the entire day and transform the main living area into a fort, tying blankets to high backed chairs, anchoring them over the couch, high up enough so that even Jamie can sit comfortably beneath them. Granted, his back is still hunched a wee bit, but it’s the best that they can do. Together, they make it through two books, one chosen by each of the bairns, a tale of dragons and knights by Faith and superheroes and aliens by Fergus. Only then are the board games retrieved from the shelves where they are carefully organised (by the colour of the box in which they came, in the order of the rainbow). They pick ones that are simple enough for Faith to understand so that she can participate, finding joy and laughter in completing even the most menial of tasks.
He and Fergus do engage in one round of chess, lying on their stomachs and propped up on their elbows as they battle it out. Faith stays seated on his back the entire time, her arms draped around his shoulders. He shows her each piece he captures, letting her hold the wooden figures in her hands and telling her the names.
For a split-second, he thinks about what it might be like to teach her to play when she's older, and he quickly pushes that thought away.
It will not do to look so far ahead into the future when their time together is limited by so many factors outside of his control.
He serves up a creamy mac and cheese for dinner, with chopped up broccoli and carrots mixed in and is pleasantly surprised when they both ask for second portions. It's a recipe he's been tweaking since wee Jamie was a toddler, a way to encourage picky bairns to eat their vegetables. After the food is polished off, they crawl beneath the fort once more and settle in for a movie. He's careful about the options he allows them to select from, not wanting to trigger any nightmares or select something that isn't age appropriate for Faith.
"You pick, la petite. I have already seen these movies before and they are all trés bon!"
She chooses Zootopia, and he hesitates for a moment, wondering if it will be too much for her to comprehend.
"That's a braw choice lass, but why this one?"
She smiles at him, placing her hand on top of his, and sends all of his doubts flying out the window and careening off the edge of a cliff.
"Because the bunny is a police officer, like you."
He feels himself melting a wee bit.
While the bairns watch the movie, he watches them.
Fergus had indeed already seen it, twice in fact, but it doesn't hamper his enjoyment. The lad is a creature of habit, always open to trying new things but instinctively turning back to old favourites.
Seeing Faith react to the film is a joy.
She coos at the bunnies, giggles in tandem with Fergus during all the funny sections and wedges herself closer to him during the darker scenes, her mouth falling open in surprise at the twists throughout.
It's still early when the movie comes to an end, but he sends them off to bed anyway, anticipating that they'll need to rest up before tomorrow. The weather forecast is predicting a sunny day, and he wants to use the opportunity to take Faith on a wee trip, out in the open but somewhere without too many strangers. It'll be a nice surprise for the bairns, because he and Fergus haven't gone anywhere special since their trip in December.
He hopes to make lasting memories for them, particularly Faith, so she can look back on these times one day and know just how much he cares.
The bairns are still half asleep when he bundles them into the car early the next morning. He fills the trunk with essentials; extra bottles of water, raincoats in case the weather takes a turn for the worse, and other miscellaneous items that could prove useful should the need arise. The drive takes close to two hours; of course there are places closer to home he could have chosen, but he had wanted somewhere quieter to spend the day.
Fergus wakes up when they're about half-way there, and Jamie hands his phone over so the lad can keep himself entertained. He checks the rearview mirror and Faith is still fast asleep, a wee bit of drool at the corner of her mouth. She doesn't stir until he's put the car into park mode, and it truly is a nice day outside, warm for late January and unbelievably sunny.
All the markings of a wonderful day ahead.
But not two minutes later, he realises how incredibly wrong he is.
Faith seems startled by the new surroundings, looking around frantically as he helps her out of her carseat, setting her on the pavement beside him. He thinks she must be nervous because of the change in environment, and takes her hand, leading her over to the path down to the beach while Fergus bounds on ahead.
Her grip on his hand tightens as they descend the rocky path, and her wee nails are digging into his skin by the time they get down to the sandy area. The beach is far from crowded, but there are other families around, enjoying the warmer weather.
She begins to drag her feet as they make their way to the spot Fergus is standing, and he hears her gasp and then feels her tearing herself from his grip.
"No," he hears her whisper, before she repeats it louder and then louder again. Her face is flushed red and the tears are falling rapidly, her cries drawing attention from those around them.
He kneels, putting one hand on her back to make sure she can't escape, because he really doesn't fancy chasing a runaway bairn today.
“Faith, what’s wrong?”
She shakes her head and only bawls louder.
“I ken ye’re scared and hurtin’, but I cannae help ye unless ye tell me what’s wrong.”
At this point, she's utterly inconsolable. He can see Fergus watching them with wide eyes from a distance, but the lad is wise enough to stay back and just observe. The same cannot be said for others.
"Can ye no' get yer bairn tae shut her gob? 'Tis ruinin' the scenery for everyone else."
Jamie turns, seeing a woman glowering at him from a little ways away.
"I beg yer pardon?" he asks, giving her a chance to correct herself, just in case he's heard wrong.
"If ye dinna ken how tae raise a well behaved child, ye shouldna be bringing them outside, botherin' the world around ye."
Jamie prides himself on having patience for stupidity, but his protective instincts take over and he stands, rising to his full height and fixes the wee besom with a glare.
“Why don't ye keep yer neb out o' my business? Ye dinna have any idea what my lass has been through."
He can vaguely hear the woman continue to spit vitriol in his direction, but he's had enough. Scooping Faith up into his arms, ignoring her flailing limbs as she tries to slip from his grasp, he storms off. He can see Fergus trailing after him, keeping a meaningful distance, and he feels such relief that his lad is so mature now and can look after himself when need be.
It takes five minutes to reach a rockier, more secluded part of the beach, and Faith thrashes in his hold the entire time, crying her little heart out. He hasn't seen her this distraught, not even during the first few days, and he hopes that he'll handle this correctly and not destroy the trust she's built for him in the past few weeks.
She continues to sob as he finds a spot and sits down, and he just stays silent and holds her. He keeps his arms around her, gently stroking her hair, and letting her tire herself out. When the cries begin to subside, he murmurs to her in Ghàidhlig, low and deep in his throat, hoping that the sounds will soothe her.
"It's alright, a leannan. Dinna fash. I've got ye."
He sighs, feeling her trembling and looks up to see that Fergus has climbed up onto the rocks a safe distance away, close enough for Jamie to keep an eye. Turning his attention back to Faith, he instinctively presses a kiss to the crown of her head, slowly pulling back before setting her down onto the rock beside him.
"Did ye see something that scared ye?" he asks, reaching out and fixing her hair, brushing away the last of her tears with his thumb. She hiccups, staring down at her own hands before looking up at him, lips pressed tightly together.
"I miss Mama."
Och, the poor wee thing.
It's no surprise that she misses her mother and now that he's heard her say it, he's a little shocked that it's taken her almost a week to articulate it to him.
"Of course ye do, and I ken she must miss ye verra much too."
The tears begin to well in her eyes again, and he so wants to know what had caused her to suddenly panic like that, but he doesn't want to cause a second wave. He knows that if they don't figure things out, he'll have no choice but to pack them back up in the car and head home, putting a damper on the entire day.
"Did ye see something that reminds ye of yer mam?"
She sniffs, emits a quiet whine and then turns around in the direction of the sea. The waves are lapping gently at the shore, the sea reflecting the blue of the sky, a calm serenity in the air around them. He can smell the salt, feel the grains of sand brushing against his skin with the wind and he finds himself staring at the hazy line where the sea meets the sky, remembering how he had once foolishly believed he could reach the sky at that point, as the sea had.
"Mama sings the sea song before I sleep."
Faith is still staring out into the distance as she speaks, but soon turns back to him and clambers over into his lap. He can feel one damp cheek press against his own and he pauses, wondering if they should turn back, perhaps find a park to explore instead, when she speaks up.
"Can I go and touch the sea?" she whispers, and he lets out a chuckle. Her curiosity has clearly won over, now that she's cried out most, if not all, of her feelings, and his relief is palpable.
"Aye, ye can, a leannan. But I must warn ye, the water is verra cold."
The sea water is indeed freezing, but they stroll along the shores anyway, bending down to inspect different shells as they go. When the sun is high in the sky, they head over to explore the wee beachfront shops, each one like a hidden gem along the coast. Fergus bounds ahead, but Jamie can tell Faith is getting tired. He's not surprised, given the energy she must have expended earlier, crying and screaming at the top of her lungs. She doesn't complain though, keeping a firm hold of his hand and tottering alongside him.
He picks her up anyway, lifting her onto his hip and knowing he's made the right choice when she immediately clings to him, her head resting in the divot between his shoulder and collarbone. She hides her face in his shirt each time they pass by someone who remarks that she's adorable, evidently very shy around strangers. But whenever he turns, tilting his head to look at her, she smiles up at him.
It warms him to the bone.
They catch up with Fergus just outside Jamie's favourite shop. It's housed in a wee white shack that has stood, battered by wind and rain, for decades now, and the wooden slats along the walls are worn and weathered, but the building is still in one piece.
And the shop sells only one thing.
Crispy battered fish and golden chips with a side of mushy peas and a loaded tartare sauce - packed with onions, pickles, capers and dill.
There's a secret ingredient in the sauce that the owners refuse to share, no matter the bribe, and it's what keeps people coming back every time they visit the area. (Jenny is convinced it’s pickle juice, though she’s never been able to replicate the recipe herself).
Jamie purchases three orders, and spends a solid minute agonising over the fact that he's served the bairns such unhealthy meal choices the past few days. They'll just have to survive on salads the next week to make up for it.
He leads them over to a secluded spot amongst the rocks that has an incredible view of the ocean, and lays down the tartan for them to sit on, hoping it will protect them from the chill of the ground. It doesn't matter to Faith, who stays seated in his lap the entire time. He has to eat one handed as a result, using his other to keep her from slipping off, but it's a small price to pay to keep her happy and calm until they head home.
Quite frankly, he couldn't give less of a fuck if another nosy besom complains that she is disturbing them, assuming that she's a disobedient child or that he's a bad parent. He just doesn't want to see her in distress, each of her anguished wails chipping off another piece of his heart.
Fergus chatters away in a mix of English and French, describing what he and Marsali had gotten up to during breaktime at school. Faith just listens quietly for the most part, only interjecting once to ask him what the other aspects of school are like. Jamie keeps a close eye on her as Fergus responds and finds her expression is not one of intrigue and fascination, but understanding.
He likes to think he's gotten to know her well enough in the past few weeks to understand her general mood from just a quick glance, and mentally berates himself for not having noticed her sullen mood the moment they had arrived and he had pointed out they were at the sea. The tears and heartache could have been lessened had he only taken the time to prepare her.
It's one of the reasons why he's dreading taking her to see the specialist at the hospital. He fears that she won't talk to the doctor if he's not around, or worse, have a complete meltdown at the thought of him leaving her behind with a stranger.
She ends up dozing off him in his arms, greasy fingers leaving stains on his leather jacket as she burrows herself against him to stay warm. He finishes her half eaten portion of food, despite it having gone cold and soggy, not wanting to let it go to waste.
"Do ye want tae go and walk along the shore a bit before we leave?" he asks Fergus. He immediately turns his attention to Faith, who is now knocked out cold, breathing evenly in sleep.
"La petite is tired," he comments, and Jamie swallows, feeling a surge of affection for his son.
What a considerate lad.
"Dinna fash, laddie. I'll jus' be carryin' her the entire time so she willna even ken it."
They end up spending another hour strolling along the shoreline, and as Jamie had predicted, Faith doesn't budge the entire time, completely knackered from her ordeals.
"I did have a good time today, milord," Fergus tells him later, when they're in the car and heading home.
"Aye, so did I, lad."
They stop by a Tesco on the way home, picking up some supplies. Fergus is all too happy to push the trolley and given how crowded the supermarket is for a Sunday afternoon, Jamie is greatly relieved that Faith sleeps through the entire trip. He knows the downside is that she may have trouble falling asleep after dinner, but it's one hurdle they'll have to deal with when they get there.
She wakes up in time for her bath, complete with bubbles and duckies, and then Jamie spends half an hour wrestling with her hair while she tells Beary about all the things they had seen at the beach during the day.
He prepares a giant pot of Scotch broth, and they eat curled up together in front of the fire. Fergus escapes to his room afterwards, after seeking permission from Jamie to indulge in a video game before bed, something he doesn't ordinarily allow on a Sunday night. But the lad has been so well behaved, and it also gives Jamie a chance to sit with Faith and begin preparing her for the appointment she'll have some time in the next month.
"Now, do ye remember how I said that ye were going tae have to go and see a special doctor?"
She nods, looking nonplussed about the entire affair.
"You said I can have a lolly if I'm good."
"Aye, that I did. Ye have such a good memory lass."
He had been convinced she would put up a fuss about going to see a doctor, because he hasn't known a single child who hadn't needed bribery beforehand; promises of sweets or wee trinkets in order to get them to be on their best behaviour throughout the whole affair.
She beams at him and he takes it as a sign that she's feeling well enough to entertain him with a few answers to questions. He's still firmly against pushing her into telling him things, but given that she had chosen to reveal a little of her life to him earlier today, he wonders if she might do so again.
"Ye were askin' Fergus about school earlier. Have ye been to school?" he asks, trying to conceal his surprise when she nods in affirmation.
"Is that where ye learnt French? En français s'il vous plaît."
She shakes her head then.
"Non, mama m'a appris."
He files that away under the little facts he's learned about her mother; loving, fan of olives, sings about the sea and speaks French.
"And what did ye do before ye went tae school?" He tries to be deliberately vague with his questions, so it doesn't seem as though he's pestering her for a particular answer, but he's once again shocked by her response.
"I stayed at the hospital," she says, as if it's the most normal thing in the world. Of course his mind immediately jumps to the sinister conclusions; what if she's been sick this entire time, needing medication, and he's just allowed her to wither away without medical care? She’s certainly not thin and brittle, cheeks round and flushed red with warmth, but that doesn’t mean anything. So many people had underlying conditions that could worsen at the drop of a hat.
What if his ignorance causes her harm?
Stop panicking and jus' ask the lass, fer feck's sake.
"Why were ye at the hospital, a leannan?"
She straightens up a bit and looks almost prideful before she responds.
"Mama's a doctor."
"Aye, is she now?"
"She saves people's lives."
She saved your life, he thinks.
"Yer mam sounds like a verra brave lass. Do ye ken what the other doctors called her?"
He feels as though he's verging on pushing too far now, but he can't help it; they're on the right track and he needs to know. The wee furrow between her brows makes an appearance, and when she speaks, he thinks he must be dreaming.
It can't be.
He pauses, taking a deep breath and tries to think straight.
There must be multiple Doctor Beauchamps in England.
Who just so happen to speak French.
And have a child with whisky eyes and unruly brown curls.
This can't be any more than a coincidence.
He feels his chest constricting and realises he’s forgotten to breathe, gasping for air, frantically trying to draw oxygen back into his lungs. Faith’s eyes are wide and he knows his reaction must be terrifying her but it’s so difficult to calm himself down. His heart is thundering on at a beat that can’t be healthy, his palms cold and clammy and he thinks he might be having a panic attack as he takes one shuddering breath after another, body trembling uncontrollably.
It feels as though the light is fading from the room, his vision darkening at the edges and he allows his eyes to fall shut, on the verge of passing out when he feels two tiny hands on either side of his head, then a wee forehead resting against his own.
She doesn’t speak, but when he opens his eyes, he finds himself staring into pools of familiar whisky. He fixates on the colour, a deep chocolate brown around the edges and a golden glow surrounding the darkened irises. His breathing slowly evens out, and he pulls her into his arms, pressing his face into her wee curls and allows a single tear to fall.
He fears jumping to conclusions, but deep in his gut he knows.
Christ, he should have known this entire time.
But for his peace of mind, he needs to be sure.
“Lass, that night when I told ye about the moon… Clair de lune, and ye spoke tae me fer the first time. Was that...” he trails off, not knowing how to finish his question. How is he supposed to ask?
Lass, this may sound crazy, but I think I ken yer mam, and I’ve been trying sae hard tae no’ think o’ her when I see ye, but I need tae ken the truth. I’ve been running away from it fer far too long now, and it’s time tae face the music.
“Did ye tell me about yer mam because I said her name?”
He’s frozen, trapped in the moment before the truth comes out, feeling as though he is being pulled sharply in opposite directions, unsure of what he wants the response to be. If he’s wrong, and this has all been one big coincidence…
But then she nods, her chin digging into his shoulder, curls brushing against his face and he feels sick. His mind is assaulted with a barrage of memories that he’s tried so hard to keep locked away:
Walking through the streets of Paris, edging closer and closer together, the backs of their hands barely brushing at first and then their fingers entangling and him knowing that he never wanted to let go.
Sharing a buttery croissant at a streetside cafe, her, smearing chocolate over his lips and leaning in to taste the sweetness for herself.
A candlelit dinner by the sea, holding her shoes as she ran along the shore, hair blowing wildly in the wind, skin glowing in the moonlight.
His flight back to Scotland, curled up in the window seat and staring out at the cloudy sky, cheeks dampened with tears and knowing that it wasn’t just the travel sickness that had him wanting to empty his stomach.
He was heart sick.
And now, he's an emotional wreck, trying to come to terms with the fact that Claire Beauchamp… his Claire, might be the mother of the wee lass that's wormed her way into his heart. It takes him a moment longer to connect the dots, to arrange all the pieces of the puzzle before him;
If Claire is Faith's mother...
She's been missing for over three weeks now.
He feels a small hand rubbing circles into his back and God, even if Claire isn't here right now, he has a piece of her with him, in the form of a beautiful wee thing with the purest soul and a gentle touch he now knows must have been inherited.
"Dinna fash, Faith. I'm alright," he murmurs, embracing her with more vigour than he's done before.
She's been precious to him since the start, and this doesn't change anything, only makes him feel more conflicted for not giving himself a chance to take a different path in life. He wouldn’t trade what he has now, with Fergus, with his family, for anything, but he can’t help but wonder if he could have had all that and more. These thoughts and desires are so laden with greed, but even the best of people have the capability to experience these emotions, to have these feelings that were once (and to some, still are) considered sins.
For a moment he thinks of himself before others, taking comfort from the child in his arms and letting his mind wander, passing into dangerous territories.
Claire - God, Claire.
If it’s truly her, then...
He’s lost her again, before ever having a chance to find her.
Chapter 9: The Bookshop
Once, when he was in the middle of a homicide investigation, trying to catch a man who had taken the life of his own family — a wife and two beautiful children — Jamie had slept a combined total of eight hours in three days. He'd ended up mislabeling the evidence and had almost gotten the entire case thrown out; he would have been demoted and sent on patrols had Murtagh not caught his mistake.
Since then, he's made an effort to maintain a healthier lifestyle and get enough rest, though it's never easy with bairns underfoot.
After he tucked Faith into bed the previous evening, he had paced the bottom floor of the house, trying to come to terms with reality. There was no way to know with one hundred percent certainty that his assumptions were correct unless he took measures to confirm his suspicions. With shaking hands he'd reached for his phone and sent a message to John.
Check records for Claire Beauchamp. Medical doctor, possibly a surgeon.
Later, lying in bed hours after his revelation that Faith's mother may well be someone from his past, sleep escapes him once more. It isn’t until he sees the light slowly begin to stream in between the curtains, hears the wee chirps of birds from outside, that he realises he's stayed up the entire night, consumed by memories of her.
Paris, some time ago.
Having grown up in Scotland, Jamie is more than accustomed to dreary days, one after another for months on end. The gloomy weather isn't for everyone, but he doesn't mind it so much when he's home. Sometimes it feels as though the rain never lets up, a constant drizzle that slowly mists one's hair and skin and clothes.
But when he's away from the rolling hills of the Highlands, he embraces the change of scenery.
There's something about the streets of Paris during winter — the ice crystals coating every surface that make it seem as though the city is sparkling.
Of course, it's not the sight he's greeted with when he leaves his hotel room. The air that hits him the moment he steps outside the doors is nowhere near as cold as he had been anticipating, and the sky is overcast, filled with darkened clouds that make him worry whether or not he'll make it to Jared's bookshop before it begins to pour.
He does, by the skin of his teeth.
There's a flash of lightning, and seconds later a crack of thunder, and he's pushing open the door and stepping inside the wee shop when the sky opens up and begins battering at the streets with heavy rainfall. He sees Geordie sitting at the cash register, looking bored as ever, and nods in his direction before making a beeline to his favourite spot in the shop, right in front of the fireplace.
It's there he sits and reads for the next hour, draped in his family plaid, feeling a cocoon of warmth and his mind and body relaxing. Others may find it strange that he's choosing to spend his holidays away from home in such a fashion, but his career is stressful and he just needs a little peace and quiet.
He's returning a book to its proper place on the shelves (though Geordie organises the volumes with no rhyme or reason), when the door to the shop is pushed open, the wee bell ringing to signal that a customer has entered. Occupied with his search for another novel, he doesn't pay them much heed until he hears an expression that has him smirking in amusement.
"Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!"
When he turns, he feels as though all the air has been knocked from his lungs. Standing just inside the entryway, dripping rainwater onto the old wooden floorboards and cursing under her breath, is quite possibly the most beautiful woman that he has ever seen.
Her hair is wild, tangled strands of the darkest brown, not unlike thorny brambles, and he can only imagine how the curls must look in the sunlight.
Her skin is pale, damp from the rain, and almost glows in the dim lighting of the shop. It reminds him of a pearl, lying forgotten on the seabed, only visible in the moonlight.
Her eyes… Christ, he doesn't think he's ever seen anything quite like them. He only catches a brief glimpse, because she's too busy scanning the rest of the room and looking anywhere but in his direction.
"Oh, for fuck's sake."
Lord, she cusses like a sailor.
He makes his way over to her, trying valiantly to ignore the little palpitations in his heart, the way his veins are thrumming with barely contained excitement as he considers how he might greet her. Taking a deep breath, he moves out of the shadows, standing a short distance away from her, and speaks up.
"Are ye alright there, lass?"
She snaps her head up to look at him, and he can see the golden embers in her eyes, like whisky, set alight.
"Do I look alright?"
He registers it then, the clipped British accent, and before he can stop himself from shoving his foot into his mouth, he responds.
"Och, what's a sassenach like ye doing all the way out here in a wee bookshop in Paris?"
She doesn't even try to hide her anger, glowering at him, her brows drawn together and lips pursed. God, it's been all of two minutes since she walked in, and even if she were to slap him across the face right now, he thinks he wouldn't mind it so much.
"The same thing as the bloody Scot next to her I'd imagine, seeking shelter from the blasted storm outside."
He doesn't bother to correct her, too lost in the way she'd called him a bloody Scot, feeling himself flush red in response.
Get a hold o' yerself, man.
"I dinna think ye've managed tae avoid the rain, lass," he says after a moment, trying to keep his tone light, a smile on his face to show that he's just teasing her. She looks at him and then down at herself: the winter coat she's wearing is completely soaked through, and from the sounds he hears as she shifts, her boots are likely waterlogged as well.
"God, I must look like an utter mess," she finally says, accompanied by a soft chuckle, and Christ what he wouldn't give to hear the sound of her laughter uninhibited. By her tone it's clear she's not using self-deprecation to fish for compliments, simply making a casual observation about her own physical appearance, and he wonders if she has any idea how she really looks.
A wild beauty, like a Siren straight from the sea, or a faerie, escaping a dewy forest and falling into his life.
"Weel, ye’re a wee bit soaked, but I'd say ye look bonnie right enough," he responds, and his heart skips a beat when she cracks a smile. She reaches up, brushing a damp curl behind one ear and muttering another curse when her fingers get caught. He sees the way she casts a furtive glance in his direction, to see if he's noticed, and how could he not? It's been impossible to tear his eyes away from her since the moment she entered. He hasn't had all that much experience with lasses, but he’s fairly certain that what he's feeling isn’t usual.
It's moderately warm inside the shop, but not enough for him to feel flushed, sweat pooling in the dips of his body, his hands clammy from it.
His heart, which is functioning one hundred percent fine according to his yearly physical, has been beating at an erratic pace and doesn't show signs of slowing down any time soon.
There's something gnawing away at his gut, his wame rolling as though he's standing on a boat out on the sea, in the middle of a storm.
She looks as though she's about to say something, but then shudders, quite violently, and he reaches an arm towards her, gesturing to her soaked outer garment.
"You should get out o' that wet coat before ye catch a chill."
He sees the way she raises her brows, and the way her lips quirk up at the corners, and if the Lord wants to have mercy on his soul, he prays for the strength to not make a complete and utter fool of himself in front of this woman.
"We've only just met and already you're trying to get me undressed?" she asks, and he immediately tears his gaze away, tips of his ears burning red and suddenly finding a wee crack in one of the floorboards to be the most interesting thing in the world.
He coughs and splutters, jumping his words a bit before managing to bite out, "Ach, ye ken tha’s no' what I meant!"
She laughs at him, probably finding the indignation in his tone to be utterly hilarious, and what a delightful sound it is. He's never had a way with music, being unable to distinguish one pitch from another, but God, her laughter is positively melodic.
Very pointedly holding his gaze, she begins to remove her coat, slowly undoing each button, before slipping the sodden fabric from her shoulders. The dress she has on underneath is damp enough for him to see—
Oh dear God.
He doesn't want her to think he's leering at her, but it's terribly difficult to not stare. She looks like a wee angel, ethereal in white, and he focuses on that instead, pure, pure thoughts. They stand there, awkwardly staring at one another, until he hears a low cough from Geordie, and decides it's best to move out of the doorway to continue their conversation.
"Why don't ye come and sit wi' me by the fire? It will give ye a chance tae dry off, and there's plenty o' books tae keep us entertained."
There's no hesitation in her answering nod, and he grins, waiting for her to walk ahead of him. His hand hovers behind her, far enough that he won't accidentally brush his fingers against her back. He can hear the sound of her shoes with every step and winces in sympathy, thinking back to the fields of Lallybroch; long hours spent wading through mud and slush, trying to herd the animals to safety whenever the weather took a turn for the worse.
There's a trail of water all the way from the door to where they're standing now, beside the brick fireplace, and he looks back and sees Geordie glowering at him. He straightens up, slowly rolling his shoulders back and dares him to make another peep. The response Jamie is given is a silent eye roll, but he feels a victory when the lad begrudgingly heads towards the wee storage area and returns with a mop.
He turns his attention back to the woman — no, the Sassenach — and finds she has sat herself down on the plush carpet in front of the fire, slowly laying her coat on the ground to dry. It's mesmerising to him, seeing her yank her boots off, cursing at the Lord when her heel gets caught. He's never known anyone to use such foul language with alarming casualty, but God help him, he's drawn to it.
Drawn to her.
And if he thinks his heart was behaving erratically up to this point, it stops and goes haywire at what he's witnessing now. She has one leg extended in front of her, bent at the knee as she slowly rolls down her stocking, revealing inch after inch of bare skin. He finds himself suddenly unable to breathe, eyes round and pupils blown wide as he stares, not entirely sure where he wants to look. It's tempting to follow the path of her fingers, but her wee dress has also been rucked up in the process, and he can see the curve of her thigh leading up to her—
James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser! Yer mam and da raised ye tae be better than this.
He screws his eyes shut, but it only makes things worse. His imagination runs wild until he forces himself to conjure up thoughts of the most unappealing scenario: slipping face first into cowpat — which is, unfortunately, a memory.
When he blinks back to reality, she's got both stockings and her shoes lined up beside her coat, and is rubbing her hands together, trying to keep warm. The harsh sound of the rain against the cobblestones is gone now; he can hear the crackling of the fire, the wood splitting apart in the flames. Grabbing his plaid from the armchair where he had left it earlier, he sits down beside her, leaving a respectable amount of distance between them.
"I've seen elephants sit down with less impact," she tells him, clearly amused by the loud thump he made when dropping to the ground, and to encourage the banter, he draws back, gasping in mock offense.
"I was going tae offer to share my plaid wi' ye, but now I'm not so sure ye deserve it."
She smiles, and it lights up the room more than the glow of the fire. He can see the goosebumps across every inch of her exposed flesh, and he swallows, holding out one corner of the tartan fabric to her.
"Here lass, take the other end."
Her fingers brush his — just a fleeting touch, but it's enough to send a metaphorical jolt of electricity through his body. He wonders if she's felt it too, but when he looks up, she's turned away from him, slowly draping his plaid over her shoulder. The fabric isn't quite long enough to cover them both, and he considers just offering her the entire thing, knowing that she needs the warmth much more than he does.
Before he has a chance to, she's shifting closer to him, until her shoulder is pressing against his side. He throws all caution to the wind, slowly moving his arm around her; he doesn't settle his hand on her waist or hip, just rests it on the ground right by her arse, releasing a breath when she leans back and uses him to support the weight of her body. She trembles, the cold clearly having soaked through to her bones, and he presses himself more firmly against her side.
"God, ye’re shakin' so hard it's making my teeth rattle," he whispers.
She tries to pull away then, and he moves, slips his hand upwards and rests it firmly against her hip, making it clear that he's not complaining. He tilts his head down until his lips are almost brushing the crown of her head.
"Dinna fash, the plaid will keep ye warm."
Jamie has never been this forward with a woman before, certainly not one he’s only just met. His last garbled attempt at romance had occurred in this very city, five years ago, when he was still a bairn himself, chasing after a classmate like a lovesick puppy. But he can't even conjure up the memory of her face now, not when he's in the company of this brown haired lass.
Mo nighean donn, he thinks.
He mentioned a book for her to pass the time while she warmed up, but with her curled up beside him, fitting so snugly in his hold, he doesn't want to risk moving and disrupting the quiet tranquillity they've found here. Her curls are dripping water onto his knitted jumper, and he feels the damp patch on his shoulder. The fire crackles on and he drums his fingers against his thigh, all the while sneaking furtive glances at the woman who has so quickly consumed all of his thoughts.
Subconsciously, he begins drawing circles against her hipbone with his thumb, his hand slowly drifting upwards as she buries herself further into his side. It's only when she tenses that he realises his fingers have just brushed up against a gentle curve that may well have her knocking him into the fire and screaming harassment. He quickly gravitates his hand back down to a safer area by her hip and is about to withdraw altogether when she speaks.
"I don't even know your name and you've already come close to copping a feel," she teases. He can feel her hand resting on his thigh, just above the knee, and her touch is so gentle it makes him ache for it.
"Well, since ye asked so nicely. James Fraser, but ye can call me Jamie. Yer servant, Madam." He inclines his head as he speaks, moving his left hand through the air with a flourish, being rewarded by another soft chuckle from her.
"Claire Ra— Claire Beauchamp."
What kind of lass isnae sure of her own name? he wonders, but it only adds to the enigma that she is, a mystery that he wants to be given the privilege to solve.
“So, what brings ye tae France, Claire Beauchamp? Business…" he trails off, lowering his voice and looking her right in the eye, "or pleasure?”
She smiles then, but it's strained.
“Work. I’m a surgeon, or… I suppose I will be in the future.”
Christ, of course she isna just a pretty face.
“Och, ye shoulda led wi’ that, Doctor Claire Beauchamp." He tests the name and title out on his tongue and finds he rather likes the sound of it, though he thinks she may be better suited to a different surname altogether.
“And what about you, Mister Fraser?”
“It’s Jamie, lass. Mister Fraser is… was ... my father.”
A shadow immediately falls over her eyes, and she gives his thigh a gentle squeeze, sending shockwaves throughout his body.
“I’m so sorry for your loss, Jamie.”
“That’s verra kind of ye tae say, lass. I shouldna have brought it up, we’ve only jus’ met. Ye usually dinnae get tae these sorts o’ things until the third date, at least.”
“This isn’t a date.”
The words alone have the potential to tear his heart to shreds, but he sees the hesitance in her eyes, hears the slight catch in her voice, as though she doesn't quite believe what she is saying. He leans in, slowly reaching towards her, pausing for a moment before tucking one of her wild curls behind her ears.
“Isn’t it? It stopped rainin’ five minutes after ye sat down here wi’ me and ye’re still here.”
She looks startled then, a rosy pink hue slowly spreading across her cheeks. When she pulls away from him, her fingers are still holding his plaid in place and he allows it to slip from his own shoulders.
“I should get going," she mumbles, reaching for her clothing, which is still damp but no longer dripping. He watches, speechless, as she quickly pulls her stockings and shoes back on, grabbing her coat with one hand and standing.
No, he wants to shout, to move in front of her and prevent her from taking another step. He wants, no, needs her to stay, to feel the connection between them that is so blatantly obvious to him, but he knows he cannot force things.
It isn't right to push too hard.
But he'll be damned if he lets her leave without taking a chance. He breathes deeply, feeling his lungs expand with oxygen, catching the faintest whiff of orange blossom, and then speaks from the heart.
"If ye dinna mind it, Claire, I'd like tae take ye out on a proper date.”
He sees the way her eyes widen, her mouth falling open just a little, and he knows he's being forward, but he cannot help it.
It doesn't escape his notice that she doesn't deny him right off the bat.
"If I have tae part ways wi' ye now, I hope ye'll meet me here tomorrow."
He reaches towards her once more, hand hovering over her wrist, skimming his thumb across her knuckles. When he pulls back, she moves to slip the plaid from her shoulders and he stops her, stepping forward and shaking his head.
"Keep it, lass. Ye can return it tae me when we next see each other."
She looks a little smug now, still smiling, rosy cheeks and all as she stares up at him through her lashes.
“Is that your way of making sure I show up?”
He grins, tilting his head to one side.
“Nay, Sassenach. I have faith I’ll see ye again.”
By pure coincidence — or perhaps the stars are finally aligning and the universe is working in his favour — John calls him during his lunch break at work, asking to drop by after dinner, to bring him some news. Jamie spends the rest of his work day fueled with nervous energy, hands shaking and mind racing ( though it's quite likely those are the signs of too much caffeine for the human body to handle, considering he'd already had six cups of coffee to get him through the day). Rupert heads off for a meeting with the human trafficking division at the coroner's office to catch up on their case, and Jamie chooses to stay behind and take care of investigations that have a little less at stake, knowing he isn't performing at full capacity.
He's looking rather haggard by the time he gets home, and once again he’s thankful that he has the option to stay for dinner at his sister's, leaving one less thing for him to worry about. Jenny had even taken the initiative and given Faith a bath after she and Kitty made a mess chasing the dogs around the farm earlier in the day.
While waiting for John to arrive, he sits in the playroom, just watching Faith try to put a puzzle together by herself. Her brows are furrowed in concentration, her tongue poking out between her lips as she turns each piece in her hands, figuring out the correct orientation. She looks up at him when the doorbell rings, but doesn't move to follow him when he stands and leaves the room, focused on the task at hand.
Clever wee thing.
When he opens the door to let his friend in, he finds John looking impeccable as ever, befitting a man of his social standing. Five years and he still hasn't quite figured out how the brother of a Lord found a career as a public servant. He guides them into his office but leaves the door open, in case the bairns need him.
“Do ye have news fer me, John?”
He fears he's being a terrible friend, but he knows that John understands. They can have a dram and play a round of chess later, but he needs to know any and all news the man has unearthed, immediately.
John takes a seat opposite his desk as Jamie sinks into his office chair, leaning forward and clasping his hands together. He watches as John retrieves a file on his tablet, deliberately tilting the screen to conceal its contents from his view.
"I looked into the name you sent me last night, and at first, I wasn't able to find anything. A colleague called just as I was about to board my flight, and passed on some new developments to me-"
"-which is when ye called me," Jamie finishes, a wave of dread washing over him. John nods, scanning the screen of his tablet.
“A missing persons report was filed this morning by the Chief of Staff at the Royal Children's Hospital in London. One of their new surgeons, Claire Beauchamp, didn't turn up for her first shift last Friday."
Without warning, John flips his device around and Jamie finds himself staring at the face of a woman he hasn't seen in years. Unruly brown curls, skin like pearl, and rosebud lips. And those whisky brown eyes, almost identical to the ones he's been studying for the past few weeks.
Christ, it really is her.
If he had thought the conflicting emotions doing battle in his mind were as messy and confusing as they could possibly be, he's now proven wrong. When they parted ways, he'd left bitter and broken and angry, but he'd always hoped that she would continue to live her life and be happy without him. The thought of her meeting some terrible fate feels like a nightmare that he wants to claw his way out of.
He takes a deep, shuddering breath and looks over at his friend, wondering if he's managed to reveal every sordid detail of their past affair. It seems as though he's done a good enough job of concealing his reaction, because John turns the tablet back towards himself and begins to read from it once more.
"They tried contacting her over the weekend, and when she didn't show up this morning, they notified the police, who turned up at her residence for a wellness check and found it undisturbed. Her landlord advised the police that she has a young daughter..."
He's cut off once more by the sound of footsteps growing nearer, and Jamie looks up to see Faith standing in the doorway, peering in and staring at John with a wide-eyed curiosity.
At the sound of her name, Faith slowly enters the room, quickening her pace when Jamie swivels in his chair and opens his arms up for her. She clambers up into his lap and he holds her close, shutting his eyes for a moment and feeling a small sense of relief in the knowledge that Faith really is Claire's daughter. A child of her blood that he's been caring for, that he will continue to protect and look after and...
All the things he wishes he had been able to do for Claire.
"I finished my puzzle," Faith whispers into his ear, and he holds her tighter, pressing a kiss to the top of her curls.
"Aye, did ye now? Aren't ye just the most clever lass I've e'er kent?" he says, smiling when she laughs, muffling her wee giggles against his shoulder.
He turns back to his friend, sees the look of surprise on John's face slowly morph into understanding, and then shock.
"Oh dear God in Heaven."
Chapter 10: Checkmate
After Jamie takes Faith upstairs and puts her in bed, they quietly discuss the case and agree that John should drop by the station in the morning and pass the information on to Dougal there. Jamie is more than prepared to deal with his uncle’s wrath if it means the man has no choice but to comply and provide more support to the team in charge. John tries to press a little further, not entirely satisfied by Jamie’s explanation as to how he’d come across Claire’s identity. Jamie wonders what he’s done to give himself away but ultimately closes right up, not ready or willing to discuss that part of his life.
Some memories are so very painful to relive.
And so they set up the chess board and crack open a bottle of whisky, and play one game and then another. When John tries to move his rook diagonally to capture Jamie's bishop, they realise it's time to call it a night.
"I should really get going," John says, swaying slightly as he stands and smooths the invisible creases on his suit.
Jamie takes one look at him, unsteady on his feet and face flushed, and shakes his head.
“I cannae allow ye to drive yer wee rental car back tae yer hotel at this hour, not after how much you’ve had tae drink."
“I had two shots.”
“Aye, weel, lightweight that ye are, I’d have tae arrest ye fer drivin’ under the influence."
Jamie grins at the scathing look John directs at him and then ushers his friend upstairs, directing him to a guest room and giving him a change of clothes to sleep in. When he makes it back to his own room, he almost nods off in the shower, and then crawls into bed with his hair still damp and loses consciousness for the next eight hours.
When Jamie comes to the next morning, he feels something gently prodding his cheek. Not yet fully awake and still completely exhausted despite the hours of uninterrupted sleep, he keeps his eyes firmly shut.
His peace and quiet lasts only another minute before he feels a weight on his back. When he turns, dislodging said weight, he hears a chorus of high pitched giggles and he breezily cracks one eye open to find Fergus' face inches from his own. If he were not so tired, he thinks he may have sat straight up in shock, perhaps let out a yelp of fright, but even blinking is a chore, and he finds himself dozing off again.
The incessant prodding begins anew — this time accompanied by a more gentle probing, tiny fingers pressing into his back — and Jamie groans, wondering for a split second if his life would be easier if he lived alone. His shirt has ridden up in his sleep and the fingers poking him are icy cold, making his skin prickle; a chill runs down his spine as he shudders involuntarily. Pushing himself into a sitting position, he runs a hand over his face, feeling the short hairs that signal it's time for another shave — yet another task to add to the ever-growing list.
Opening his eyes once more, he sees Fergus standing at his bedside, looking rather unimpressed, and Faith right beside him, mouth open in a wide yawn. Registering that he's now awake, she curls up by his side. Feeling how chilly it is at this time of the morning, he pulls the blanket up further on the bed and drapes it over her. She snuggles into the warmth, into him, and then wrinkles her nose, and God, he hasn't truly allowed himself to consciously make the comparison before, but she looks just like her mother.
It isn't just the dark, gravity-defying curls and distinctive amber eyes, but also all of her mannerisms. The defiant jut of her chin when something doesn't go her way, the look of determination when she's concentrating, her gentle touch… he thinks he could probably go on forever. She's so young and already so caring, compassionate and intelligent; it makes him wonder how much of that is nature, and how much is nurture. Had she simply chosen to mirror everything that her mother did, or was it something built into her from birth? There are so many questions that he may never get the answers to, and Christ — he turns to the clock, sees that it's only seven-thirty, and far too early for him to be having a breakdown.
Jamie blinks back to reality and sees Fergus sitting down on the bed beside him, an expression that can be best described as a mix between curiosity and concern on his face.
“What is it, laddie?”
"I don't want la petite to hear, she is much too small for such things," he says, and Jamie raises a brow, positively intrigued. He reaches for Faith, depositing her into his lap and covering her ears with both hands. There's no guarantee how much sound that will muffle, but her peals of laughter are likely to do the trick and prevent her from hearing whatever it is Fergus wants to say.
“Are you and Monsieur John…” he starts, trailing off and lowering his voice even further before continuing, “sleeping together?”
Of all the things he expected to come out of his son's mouth, that is certainly the most surprising. He doesn't even bother to try and conceal his shock, mouth falling open and spluttering for a moment before he shakes his head.
“What the devil would make ye think that?”
Fergus shrugs, as if he had just asked the most mundane of questions — closer to "did you hang the washing out to dry?" than "are you engaging in sexual relations with your friend?"
“I saw him in the bathroom wearing your clothes, and isn’t that what always happens in the movies?”
“I dinna ken where ye picked that up, lad, but if they let ye watch these films at school, I'll be writin' a strongly worded letter tae yer principal."
This time, Fergus shakes his head, holding out his hands in defense.
"No, no! It was not from school. I am old enough to know such things, milord. You never have any ladies around, you are always alone. I worry for you."
At this point, Jamie has already endured much ribbing from his family and friends — namely Jenny and Murtagh and everyone else at the station — about his lack of female companionship. It is not the first time it's been suggested that he might be attracted to someone of the same gender, but he certainly never anticipated it might come from his eleven-year-old son.
“I appreciate the concern, but ye dinna need tae worry about such things," he says with a sigh. "And I'm no' alone, I have the two of ye wi' me."
With that declaration, he releases his hold on Faith — who appears rather happy to have regained her ability to hear — planting a kiss to her curls before reaching over and fluffing up Fergus' hair. His hand is quickly batted away, but when Faith tries to do the same, the lad sits still and allows it. She clambers over to him, digging a particularly bony knee into Jamie's thigh, but he doesn't mind it so much, just watching the love between the two bairns, seeing just how much they adore one another.
He was always so worried about getting attached to these kids and being deeply affected when they move on, but he's never been so genuinely troubled about how it might impact Fergus. The lad seems so used to having other children come and go, and he gets along with all of them for the most part (save for the unfortunate incident with Marsali that they have both long since moved past). He's always had such capacity for affection and adoration, but Jamie doesn't think he's seen it to a degree like this. And he cannot fault the lad for it, because Faith has enchanted him as well, ensnaring his heart from that very first day.
It's almost unthinkable that they'll part with her unscathed.
The next two days are a whirlwind of activity, trying to get work done while having his every move scrutinised by Dougal — who has indeed approved of increasing the efforts in Faith's case, but is still very much angry at him and Murtagh for going behind his back and seeking assistance from John. As far as Jamie is aware, Angus and his team have been provided with further information concerning Faith's background; even Geillis has received updates and related files, all of it information that he isn't privy to.
He's never hated his position more, treading the fine line between personal and professional and benefiting from neither.
The only positive aspect of his work life is the headway they've made in their trafficking ring case. Rupert pulled him aside on Tuesday afternoon to provide him with all the details of his meeting at the coroner's office, and the two of them had sat, neck-deep in files, analysing the situation from every angle. The reports were puzzling at first, but they'd begun to paint a bigger picture when slowly pieced together.
Despite having no records of any gunshot victims showing up to local hospitals or clinics for medical care, a man’s body had turned up at the lab with a bullet fired from Rupert's department-issued firearm lodged in his thigh.
Weeks after the incident.
The bullet hadn't been removed, but the wound was already healing, precisely stitched up and well cared for.
And a second John Doe, who had died a week before the first, had washed up on the shores of Loch Ness. The coroner determined that the man had bled to death, but not before his injuries had likewise been tended to.
Earlier, two hospitals in Inverness had reported medical supplies being stolen, and while the thieves had managed to cover their tracks well enough, Jamie’s department had been keeping an eye on both locations, wary that the theft was related to a larger operation. Facing pressure from higher up, Dougal had even assigned two undercover vehicles to stake out the sites, and Christ how the man had boasted about his brilliance when the efforts of the officers had proved fruitful.
And here they are on a Thursday afternoon, going over the details of an operation that Jamie is all too glad to be a part of, given his desire to keep the city safe. They've been passed reliable information that a particular warehouse location will be unguarded on Friday evening, with a shipment due to be sent out then. There's one team tasked with meeting the criminal masterminds at the docks and hopefully making an arrest, but Jamie will be heading to the warehouse with others in his division to do a comb through of the area.
He won't lie and deny that part of his excitement is closely tied to how much he loves the idea of going out into the field, having little desire to allow his career to turn into one of office cubicles and constant paperwork (The latter already frustrates him to no end).
They'll have several uniformed officers as backup, though the level of experience in the field leaves something to be desired; one of them includes Willie, a lad who has been on the job for all of six months, and looks as though he's going to piss himself at the thought of being caught in a shoot-out. Rupert is confident that the Mackenzie blood in him will be enough to help him survive the night without any incidents, and Jamie tries his best to not doubt the man's words.
If the lad passes out at the first sign of blood, it will not be the first incident they've seen.
Christ, it's only February.
Come Friday afternoon, Jamie still clocks off work early and picks Fergus up from school, but informs his son that he unfortunately has to go back to work that night, so they won't get a chance to spend extra time together. Fergus, who is accustomed to Jamie’s erratic work hours during major investigations, doesn’t bat an eyelash at the announcement. It helps that he's more than a little excited at the prospect of having another sleepover with his cousins.
Faith, on the other hand, who has done a remarkable job thus far adapting to change, is not having any of it. She clings to him, wee fists balled up in the fabric of his pants as she shakes her head.
"I don't want you to go."
The words come out as a whine, and the sound pains his very soul. Her eyes are wide, filled to the brim with unshed tears, her bottom lip jutting out, and Jamie thinks this is quite possibly the worst part of parenting: disappointing a bairn.
"Och lass, please dinna give me that look. Ye ken I want tae stay here wi' you, but I have some work tae take care of."
She shakes her head, one hand releasing hold of his pants to tug at the bottom of his shirt. Powerless to resist, he picks her up. The way her arms gravitate automatically around his neck, one knee digging into his lower back — the familiarity of it all brings him both joy and sends him into a state of melancholy. How much longer will he be able to hold her like this before she’s taken away or grows up, too old to be swooped up and carried around?
He’s drawn from his thoughts by a hand patting his cheek, and he turns his attention back to Faith, who then points at the open living room window.
"But it's night time. Even the sun is sleeping."
"Aye, but remember what I said about the sun always shinin' somewhere in the world?"
"There are people there who are working now."
"That's exactly right, lass."
"But you're here, not there."
Christ, she has a point.
"Aye, ye're no' wrong, but sometimes I dinna have a choice but tae work at night. But I promise ye'll have so much fun sleepin' o'er wi' the girls. And I’ll be back tae pick ye up as soon as I’ve finished wi’ all of my work."
Jenny invited Marsali and Joan over for a playdate with the rest of the bairns, and Jamie already informed Faith of this at the beginning of their conversation, but clearly even the promise of spending time with friends isn’t enough to distract her from his absence.
"But what if you don't come back?"
He sees the tremble of her bottom lip as she speaks, the way she holds onto him just that wee bit tighter, and feels-
There's no other way to describe it.
He should have known better than to tell her he was heading off to work so late at night; she's so perceptive and intelligent, of course she associates his job with danger. Coupled with her pre-existing issues with abandonment, it's no wonder she's a mess at the thought of him leaving after sundown, wandering out into the darkness.
In her mind, he may never return — finding the same fate as her mother, forever lost in the night.
He cups her cheek with one hand, brushing back a wee curl with one finger, and then leans forward to rest his forehead against the top of her head.
"I promise ye, a leannan. I will always come back for ye."
The warehouse they pull up outside of looks completely deserted, not a single sign of life in the vicinity. It becomes increasingly evident that the next few hours of exploration have the potential of turning into a wild goose chase, but they press on anyway, not willing to miss a chance to comb through an area that could house even the slightest bit of evidence.
Another team performs a quick sweep of the perimeter and finds that whoever has been occupying the warehouse has also been siphoning power from a nearby storage facility. When the lights are switched on, they give the entire place a blue, ethereal glow that has the hairs on the back of Jamie's neck standing on end. It's cold outside, a winter's night, but as they make their way through the building, there's an eerie chill running down his spine that has nothing to do with the temperature, making his skin prickle.
He can feel Willie's nervous energy radiating from behind them, and he just wants to tell the lad to go outside back outside and sit in the car, but then again, this is a good low stakes operation for him to get some experience on.
The entire place is dark and damp and thoroughly sterilised, smelling of ammonia, but no amount of cleaning could erase the horrors that must have taken place here. He can see the individual cells where the victims must have been locked up, and his fellow officers mutter low curses as they take in the surroundings.
"It looks like they dinna use this place fer anything other than storage. We'll have tae bring the dogs in tae see if there are any traces left behind," Murtagh says eventually, voice thick with disgust.
Looking around at their surroundings, the careful placement of furniture and locked cabinets, it's apparent that while the building appears to be devoid of life, whoever had been occupying it intends to return. It leads him to surmise that whatever they're transporting tonight must have required all the personnel they have at their disposal, leaving this particular facility entirely unguarded.
He does not have high hopes for their team at the docks.
There's a quick discussion about whether they should leave men behind and catch the criminals in the act of returning, or tear the place apart and have all the evidence sent back for analysis. After the last incident, where they underestimated the manpower at their enemies' disposal and wound up with several of their men hospitalised, the decision to play it safe is an easy choice to make.
They're about to retreat and call for backup when he hears it: the wind carrying a peculiar noise that has him freezing in his tracks.
"Did ye hear that?" he asks, only to be met with grunts of confusion.
"What are ye on about?"
Ignoring his colleagues for a second, he tries to move in the direction of the noise, calling out, "Is anyone there?"
He hears it again — the dull clinking of metal against metal, like chains — and tries to locate the source of the noise, looking around in the dim lighting and seeing no movement. There are a series of doors on the far side of the warehouse that look to be locked, and he turns back, calling out to the officers that did the initial sweep.
"Did any of ye check those rooms?"
He barely takes a second to breathe after he hears their response, taking off, ignoring the outraged shouts from Rupert and Murtagh and other members of his team, choosing to follow his instinct.
It hasn't led him wrong so far.
There is a lingering dread, however, that he's walking straight into the line of fire — one that may force him to break his promise to his wee lassie.
He concentrates, follows the sound, and tracks it to one of the doors on the far right. One quick test of the handle tells him it's unlocked, and he holds a hand up to signal the others to wait outside before they charge in alongside him.
"A Dhia, cuidich mi," he mutters, before pushing open the door.
All else fades away into the darkness as he takes one step, and then another, his heart beating wildly in the confines of his chest. He sees it then, barely illuminated in the weak lighting streaming in from the open doorway behind him…
He's not alone.
There's a faint whimper from the figure curled in the corner, and his hand shakes as he reaches for his torch, flicking it on and pointing it towards the direction of the sound.
He sees a mass of dark hair, matted with dried blood, pale skin painted with blues and purples, and dull amber eyes.
Blinking, but almost lifeless.
He stops cold, just staring into her eyes until she flinches away from the light. The torch falls from his hand, cracking as it hits the concrete floor. It's broken, he thinks, the light flickering for a moment before fading away.
He's frozen, rooted to the spot, somehow having forgotten how to move, how to breathe. This cannot be happening right now; the coincidences are piling up and the universe must be playing tricks on him because there is no way…
She can't be here.
Jamie's last memory of Claire, while shrouded in pain and regret and heartbreak, is one where she was safe and sound, cocooned in bed, her wild curls spilling over the pillows as she slept. There'd been a look of contentment on her face then, and while it incensed him at the time, he now looks back to it with longing, because the woman he sees now is so far removed from the one that lives within his mind, and he doesn't know what to make of it.
There's another whimper, and it breaks him out of his reverie, has him stumbling forward and onto his knees, having no idea what to do, but needing to be close to her. It's like they're a pair of magnets, an invisible pull drawing them together, or perhaps an even greater force in the universe that no one has the ability to comprehend or understand.
He doesn't know what it is, but he feels it.
"Claire," he whispers, the word sounding so foreign in his own voice. He hasn't said her name out loud, not since they last saw one another, and the single syllable is so heavy on his tongue.
It feels as though he's made a mess of it, as with most things in their relationship.
He hears the clinking of chains once more as she shies away from him, and Christ, he's doing all of this wrong. The delicate handling of crime victims is something he's been extensively trained for, and he knows that each and every move he makes could end up hurting or traumatising her even further, but he doesn't have it in him to sit back on his heels and watch her, struggling beside him.
"I'm going tae remove the cloth from yer mouth," he tells her, slowly reaching forward in the semi-darkness. It's easier to see with each passing minute, his eyes slowly adjusting to the lack of light, and he can make out the dirty gag they've tied around her head to keep her from crying out. The cloth is drenched in spit and tears and no small amount of blood, and he carefully pulls it out from between her teeth, dropping it and allowing it to hang from her neck, not wanting to retrieve a blade and cut it off.
Not wanting to give her any more reason to fear him.
Her lips are cracked, smeared with dried blood, and he can see the silvery tracks glistening on her bruised cheeks, silent tears falling from her bloodshot eyes.
What have they done to her?
"I’m an investigator wi’ Police Scotland," he tells her. It’s a line he uses on an almost daily basis, impersonal and informative. “I’m here tae help ye. You’re safe now, you’re going tae be all right.”
He's so careful to speak softly, not wanting to scare her, and curses himself for dropping his torch earlier, knowing it must have given her an awful fright. Her eyes are cloudy and unfocused, but he sees it in the rest of her face: she's absolutely terrified, and he cannot blame her for it. He could very well be a foe, not a friend, someone who could hurt her, put her through even more pain and suffering than she's already been through.
In the time they've been apart, he's lived his life with his head held high, all while nursing a broken heart. But now, seeing her here, bloodied, broken and so completely afraid, it tears him apart. Each of those little pieces, those fragments…
Like glass ground back into sand.
Blown away in the wind, with no hope of finding each minuscule grain.
He feels it, that ache in his chest; it's a phantom pain, a figment of his imagination, but it's relentless, brings tears to his own eyes. Every logical part of his mind is telling him to back away now, to update the others, but he cannot bring himself to leave her side, no matter how much she may not want him there.
It's foolish, but he tries once more, edging closer and reaching out with one hand.
His touch is delicate, barely grazing her skin as he brushes a tear away, but it seems to ignite something within her, because he can see her eyes widening, pupils dilating just a bit.
Chapter 11: Love is a Song That Never Ends
Warning for depictions of past violence.
London, 5 months ago
Having never quite found somewhere she truly belonged, Claire is no stranger to feeling like an outsider. But she's never felt more out of place than now, making her best attempts to mingle with other parents as they wait for their children to finish classes on the first day of school.
As awful as the thoughts are, being surrounded by so many families brings forth a dull ache in her heart.
It reminds her that she has no one else to share this with.
Fortunately, she has yet to have any encounters with anyone old-fashioned enough to turn their noses up at anything other than a traditional family with one mother, one father and two-and-a-half children. However, engaging in conversations with each of the families around her only makes it more clear how utterly alone she is. How did that old saying go again? It takes a village … and it sure seems like some of these children are fortunate enough to have that many people to care for them — parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and everything in between.
No one is tactless enough to come right out with it and ask her if she's by herself or why she's the only one that's alone, but she feels a small sense of pity in their looks. The sympathetic expressions only become more prevalent after she shares a short anecdote about the difficulties of taking a day off work to be here. It doesn't cause her much grief that she doesn't have a partner to lean on; she's more than capable of juggling a career and motherhood all by herself. Her capabilities don't make things any easier though, nor do they assuage the guilt she carries within her, constantly fearing the consequences her actions may have on her daughter.
Christ, now she well and truly understands how Uncle Lamb must have felt when she fell into his custody, all those years ago. Mildly eccentric and far from the traditional father figure that his brother had been, he had done everything in his power to raise her, and she could not be any more grateful to him.
She can only hope that Faith feels the same way when she's older.
Not two seconds later, she's torn from her maudlin thoughts by the shrill ring of the school bell, bracing herself for the swarm of children that spill from the school's double-door entrance. She scans the crowd, trying to spot the head of familiar brown curls, but it proves quite the challenge, as her daughter is considerably smaller than most of her classmates. With a sigh, she stands back, watching the emotional reunions between parent and child, willing herself not to shed any tears.
She'd failed miserably at drop-off in the morning, only managing to maintain her composure until she reached her car before bawling her eyes out in the driver's seat.
It seems like only yesterday she held her little angel for the first time, so tiny she could cup her entire head in one hand. Since then she's clung on so tightly to each and every moment they’ve had together, but still, time has a way of slipping through her fingers, passing by in the blink of an eye.
But all of her worries and fears dissipate the moment she hears her daughter's voice, calling out to her amidst the screams and shouts of every other child in the vicinity.
She turns in the direction of the sound and sees Faith rushing towards her, as fast as her little legs will allow. Shoving aside the instinct to tell her not to run on concrete lest she trip and skin her knees, Claire drops into a crouch and opens up her arms, just in time for Faith to barrel into her hold.
“Oh, there's my big girl! Mama missed you so much today.”
She feels two little arms wind around her neck as she stands, setting Faith against her hip, school bag and all, a comforting and familiar weight in her arms.
“I missed you too, Mama.”
Faith presses a sloppy kiss against the side of her head, and Claire leans down to nuzzle her cheek before rubbing the tips of their noses together. The gesture never fails to draw a giggle from her daughter, and this time is no exception.
“Did you have fun today, lovey?”
They begin to make their way towards the car park as Faith excitedly recounts her first day of school, unwilling to leave out a single detail. Whilst it had been overcast the entire day, the sun decides to come out from behind the clouds just as they make it to their car, and Claire finds herself momentarily stunned as the rays of light bounce off Faith's curls.
She sees a flash of red.
Tastes copper in her mouth.
Realises she's bit down on the inside of her cheek, hard enough to draw blood.
Swallows, trying to ignore the metallic tang invading her senses and push aside the dangerous thoughts.
Tries to convince herself that she’s just imagining things once more.
It takes her far too long to realise that Faith has stopped speaking and is watching her with wide eyes, clearly having noticed Claire's sudden change in demeanour. She forces a smile, trying to convince her little girl that all is well, but even at her tender age, Faith is more perceptive than most adults.
Claire's lack of ability to conceal her emotions certainly doesn't help matters.
But instead of asking her if something is wrong, Faith simply curls up closer to her, burying her face against Claire's neck and whispering three words that do bring tears to her eyes.
“Love you, Mama.”
Releasing a shuddering breath, she leans back against the side of her car, holding Faith tightly in her arms and allowing herself just a moment of weakness.
Perhaps she had once found somewhere she felt she could belong, someone who belonged to her, gave her the desire to belong to them.
It's all in the past now, and no one has the power to turn back time, to grant second chances.
She knows this to be true.
But Christ, not a day goes by where he isn't on her mind.
Sometimes she feels anger or resentment.
Sometimes it's longing and melancholy.
There's always something else as well; not quite identifiable but ever-present all the same.
She doesn't know what it is, but after all these years, it's still there.
When he had burst into the room not five minutes earlier, and found her, the woman who had been haunting his thoughts since the day he last saw her, he'd been startled.
But hearing his name, a bare whisper escaping from between her cracked lips, he wonders if he maybe hit his head on the way in.
Wonders if this is all just a figment of his imagination.
He allows his fingers to curl around her face, close, but not quite touching. She blinks, and the tears continue to fall, a single drop catching on the pad of his thumb. His entire hand trembles and he realises he's forgotten to breathe, just staring at her, taking everything in.
The teardrop succumbs to gravity.
Trails down his skin.
A track of cool salt upon a fiery terrain.
He inhales deeply and regrets it immediately. The air around him positively reeks, smells of piss and shit, and God does it make his blood boil, causes his entire body to shake from the force of containing his rage. They'd been so careful to clean things up outside, but let her rot away in here, bound and gagged. He's almost afraid to speak, fearing that he may growl instead.
“Sassenach,” he manages to whisper once more, voice thick with emotion. His hand grazes the side of her face. She flinches, and he wonders how far down the damage goes if the dark marks upon her skin are just broken blood vessels beneath the surface or indicators of far more serious injuries. He's afraid to hurt her, to cause her any more pain, but he finds himself unable to pull away, gently brushing his palm just beside the hollow of her cheek.
It starts with a quiet gasp, a whisper which he cannot decipher, but then she shakes her head, shrinking away from his touch, and releases a whimper of pain that punches him square in the gut.
He sees the confusion in her eyes, faint moments of lucidity fading, replaced with disbelief.
“No!” she cries out, voice cracking with the effort. "You're not real," she says, as though she's trying to convince herself. She whispers it, again and again, and he wants to interject, to make her see the truth of things, but his radio crackles to life.
"Jamie, what's goin' on in there?”
Cursing under his breath at the timing, he turns his back to Claire for a moment and calls out to Rupert.
“Call an ambulance, but leave me be until I tell ye it's safe tae enter.”
He hears a muffled grunt of agreement, and then turns back to Claire, finding that she's curled in even further on herself, knees tucked against her chest. When he shifts forward, she makes an effort to back away from him, but he can see how even the slightest movement is difficult for her, sapping away at the last remnants of her energy. He tries to recall the classes he took back in the day, the lessons about hostage rescue and the correct procedures to follow, but he cannot find it within him to focus on anything other than her. He shifts closer once more and this time, she doesn't move, only staring at him with glassy eyes.
It terrifies him.
“You're not really here,” she murmurs.
He sinks to the ground beside her, kneecaps aching from holding the weight of his entire body, and tries his best to keep her calm. "Aye, I'm right here beside ye, Claire, and I'm going tae need ye to take a deep breath fer me, all right. Can ye do that, lass?"
Slow, measured breaths.
“Am I dying? I must be dying.” She sobs, her body trembling, heaving as she tries to take in air. There are no more tears, just hoarse splutters and coughs as she begins to hyperventilate. If Jamie were not trying to remain calm for her sake, he would have cried out in anguish at the thought of losing her.
“Ye'll no' be dyin' if I have anything tae say about it,” he manages to choke out between gritted teeth. Making a leap of faith, he reaches forward and takes her hands in his. He expects resistance, for her to pull away, but then he feels it.
Her skin is cold — no, frozen to the touch, like ice — and he curls his hands into fists around hers, trying valiantly to warm her. She isn’t just trembling from fear, she’s shivering from the harsh environment, and what he wouldn’t give to drape his family plaid over her shoulders once more, to bring her warmth and protection, both physically and symbolically.
“This isn't real, I'm hallucinating.”
Even now, she speaks with so much determination, trying to convince herself that he isn't right there beside her, holding her, protecting her from anything and anyone that might seek to harm her. He knows the dangers of trying to change someone's beliefs, to help them break free from whatever illusions they may be fixated on, but he cannot bear to see her like this. Shifting forward, maintaining a tight grip on her hands, he stares her right in the eyes, inhaling sharply at the ring of ruby red around one whisky iris.
But very much alive.
“Can ye no' hear my voice, Claire? Can ye no' feel my hand holdin' yers?” Desperately, he squeezes her fingers between his own, brings their joined hands to his chest, holding her close to his heart.
“No, no, NO!”
With a surprising amount of strength, she tears herself from his grip, the chains around her wrists rattling together with the movement. He watches in horror as she begins to yank at the metal restraints, digging her nails into her own skin in the process, as if trying to claw herself to freedom. Faced with no other feasible options, he lunges forward and cocoons her in his arms, holding her tightly against his chest, firmly enough to stop her from causing any further damage, but not so much as to severely aggravate any existing injuries. He rests one cheek against her matted curls, not caring about the filth, only wanting — needing — to reassure her.
“Please, lass, I dinna want ye tae hurt yerself. Jus' breathe wi' me, aye?”
He keeps one hand on the centre of her back, fingers spread wide to hold her steady as he takes deliberately slow and deep breaths, praying that the motion of his chest will encourage her to follow his breathing pattern. It's something he's tried with weeping bairns in the past, pulling them into an embrace and soothing tantrums with love and affection, rather than trying to hash it out with a three-year-old over having a lolly before dinner.
But she's far too out of it to cooperate, shivering in his hold and letting out short and erratic breaths against his chest. He begins speaking then in low whispers of reassurance, moving his hand in small circles across her back, hoping the sound of his voice and the motion will be enough to soothe her, regardless of whether she believes his presence to be real or not.
“It's alright, mo ghràidh, ye're safe now, ye're whole.”
The words escape from him, Gàidhlig endearments he hasn’t uttered in years, save for in his thoughts, and always with an image of her in mind.
“Claire, I ken it must be confusin’ for ye, but you needn’t be afraid, not so long as I’m with ye.”
He strokes her hair then, weaves his fìngers between the tangled curls, brushing up against her scalp. The motion appears to comfort her well enough, because she stops fighting him, almost leaning into his touch. She pulls back after a moment and he allows it, satisfied that she's calmed down enough so as not to thrash and fight the second he relinquishes his hold over her. When she tilts her head upwards, eyes darting around wildly, searching for his, he tries to smile, but the muscles of his jaw are clenched so tightly that he likely appears to be grimacing. Leaning forward, he allows his forehead to rest against hers; her skin is clammy, but not so terrifyingly cold as before.
“Aye, that’s it, just look at me, I’m right here. I’m going tae help ye, I promise.”
He can hear the idle chatter and gruff voices of his team, and in the distance, the sharp wail of sirens growing louder.
“I've found ye, mo nighean donn.”
And for the first time since he came crashing into this room, laying eyes upon Claire once more, he thinks of the other brown-haired lass in his life — remembers the feeling of cradling her tiny body in his arms and pressing a kiss to the shiny ringlets upon her head.
I've found your mother, a leannan, he thinks.
“I willna let ye go," he whispers.
He holds true to that, even as she goes limp in his arms, head rolling to the side, eyes shut to the horrors of the world around her.
Jamie has never been a fan of hospitals.
They do little but remind him of death and loss, both of which he desperately hopes to avoid encountering this evening.
It had taken both Rupert and Willie to pry him away when the paramedics showed up, and even then he'd refused to leave the room whilst they were tending to her. Thankfully, Murtagh had the good sense to also call in someone from the local fire station to help extricate Claire from her bonds. Jamie was forced to stand aside, watching helplessly as they located a proper light source, and then struggling not to drop to his knees and lose the contents of his stomach once he'd gotten a proper look at the full extent of her injuries.
Christ, it had been so much worse than he feared.
He didn't understand most of the exchange between the medics, lost in a haze of medical terms and genuine terror, but even without the expression on their faces and the tone of their voices, he could see for himself that things were bad. They'd looked shocked when he described his conversation with her, astonished at the fact that she was still able to sit up and speak to him, only losing consciousness shortly before they had arrived on the scene. He had heard them mumbling beneath their breath to one another about the tests that they'd recommend once they got her to the hospital.
She'd been abducted.
Abused, heartlessly so.
Violated, in ways he cannot even imagine.
Even then she'd held on.
Defied all odds, lived and breathed in his arms.
But even after they'd managed to stabilise her, it had taken what felt like an eternity to cut her free from the chains. Her wrists had been rubbed raw, but her hands were undamaged, and he knows now that her captors had taken great care not to injure the only pair of hands that could patch their men up. It's the only thing that makes sense to him.
He holds his head in his hands, trying to distract himself from the chaotic energy of the emergency room. The wee plastic chair he's folded into has a loose screw, making the seat squeak each time he shifts, but sitting stock still is not feasible for him. The rest of his team has already headed back to the station, but Angus, as the investigator in charge of Claire's case, is here with him, uncharacteristically silent for once in his life.
It makes Jamie infinitely more nervous.
The doctors had already whisked Claire off for tests and such by the time he arrived at the hospital. Given the choice, he would have accompanied her in the ambulance, unwilling to let her out of his sight. But he'd been forced to wrap things up at the scene before making his way here, and then relegated to the waiting room alongside Angus upon his arrival.
Left with more questions than answers and even more uncertainty about the future, he desperately wishes for a sympathetic ear.
Fortunately for him, one arrives not twenty minutes later, her entrance marked by the rhythmic clack of heels against the linoleum flooring. He looks up, managing a weak smile when he sees Geillis breezing her way over. When he stands, his seat lets out the most horrendous squeak, drawing the attention of all the other waiting room occupants.
“Thank ye fer comin’ at such short notice. I ken it’s no’ yer main concern, but—” he starts, raising a hand to the back of his curls, cut off as the woman gives him an almighty squeeze of the arm in greeting.
“Dinna fash. I’m here for ye, both as Faith’s social worker and as yer friend. I cannae imagine how ye must be feelin’ right now, but ye’re not lookin’ sae great.”
He'd caught a glance of his own reflection in the glass when he entered the hospital, and he can't say he disagrees with her assessment of his appearance. His hair is damp with sweat, his clothes badly stained, and he smells like he took a roll through garbage. Quite frankly, he's astonished that hospital staff haven't escorted him out, though he surmises that may have to do with the badge he'd flashed upon entry. Geillis, on the other hand, he notes with just a wee bit of envy, is as impeccably dressed as ever.
“And ye’re lookin’ as ye always do,” he grumbles.
“Dinna be jealous.”
“It’s close tae three in the morning’ and ye were asleep when I called ye.”
“Tis part o’ the job, Jamie lad. I must always look my best, ye ken?”
“I ken now why my son thinks ye’re a witch.”
Angus, who has been a silent observer during the rest of the conversation, lets out a guffaw of laughter. Unimpressed, Geillis levels them both with a glare before shooting out a hand to give Angus a cuff on the ear. The pair of them begin to bicker, which results in Angus being sent off to fetch them all coffee, while Geillis steals his now-empty seat.
“How’s the puir lass?”
Jamie sighs, shrugging his shoulders, feeling just how tight the muscles in his back are. “The doctors dinna have any updates yet. We’ve contacted those in charge of her case down in London, and I’m sure they’ll send o’er more information in the mornin’, but all we can do fer now is wait.”
She looks up at him, scanning his face and then frowning.
“Jamie, I ken ye may want tae go home and tell wee Faith that ye’ve located her mam, but until we ken fer sure that she’ll survive, I wouldna break the news tae the lass just yet.”
He rubs his left eye with the back of a hand, shaking his head. There's already an image forming in his mind: the sound of laughter and excitement, the happiest of smiles, his wee lass clambering into his arms and squealing with joy upon learning that she is to be reunited with her mother. It's accompanied by a dull ache, the thought of losing her then — losing them both — but Lord, he'd give anything to ensure their safety and happiness.
“I just want tae gi’ her a wee bit o’ hope," he mutters eventually.
“But that hope willna last long if her mam doesna make it through this.”
Even just the thought weakens his knees, and he presses one sweaty palm against the wall in an effort to steady himself.
Geillis narrows her eyes at him, the strangest combination of concern and suspicion plastered across her face. “Jamie, I ken ye’ve grown close tae the lass, but there must be something else. I can see the pain on yer face, and ye’ve always been verra good at hidin’ it.”
For a split-second he wonders how it might feel to voice his thoughts, to unload the burden that's been weighing him down, but it's all too much to think of, to speak of.
He shakes his head once more, closes his eyes, and prays that all will be well.
Jamie arrives home to a darkened house at just past five in the morning, stumbling, weighed down by exhaustion as he climbs the stairs and heads straight into the bathroom for a shower. It's there, under the scalding water, that he allows himself to break, releasing all the pent up emotions of the previous evening.
Claire's physician, Joe Abernathy, had given them an extensive rundown of her injuries, and Jamie couldn't list off half of them if he tried. He'd found himself spacing out, unable to keep a grip on reality, as the man explained to them that her chance of recovery depended on her own will to live.
Jamie knows that his stubborn wee Sassenach won’t give up so easily, but she'd barely been clinging on by the time he stumbled upon her. He didn't understand it, though, how she could have been sitting up and speaking with him if she was so seriously hurt. Doctor Abernathy, bless his kindness and compassion, had taken the time to speak with him one-on-one, honestly and truthfully, without giving any false promises or providing some made-up diagnosis.
"What I can say is that you got to her just in time. Any longer without medical care, and she would not have survived."
It did little to reassure him, but alleviated some of the guilt.
While at the hospital, they'd also received news that the teams at the docks had arrived too late to catch anyone in the act. It was disheartening, but not unexpected. They'd been a step behind the entire time, and it was a miracle they'd even managed to rescue Claire.
His skin comes close to rivalling the shade of his hair by the time he staggers out from the shower, roughly towelling himself off. Pulling on a pair of boxers and not bothering with anything else, he crawls beneath the covers of his bed, drained of energy.
Before he manages to fall into a restless slumber, he closes his eyes and plays the memory on repeat:
The sound of her whispering his name.
When Jamie steps across the threshold of Lallybroch later that afternoon, he’s met with complete and utter chaos. Jenny's bairns are running amok, tearing through the halls, flinging their toys left and right, and he can hear the sound of wailing.
At first, he's unconcerned. Since the arrival of wee Jamie, he hasn't set foot in the house without being welcomed by the melodic tunes of a crying bairn. It only takes him a few seconds more to recognise which of the weans is making such a stramash.
His wee lassie.
He follows the sound of her cries at a run, bursting into the children's playroom to find Marsali and Fergus huddled around Faith, who has curled herself into a foetal position, sobbing uncontrollably. Fergus turns at the sound of his entrance, quickly stepping aside as Jamie rushes forward, immediately falling to the ground and pulling her into his lap.
“A leannan… mo chridhe, what’s the matter? Are ye hurt?”
She doesn't answer him, muffling her gut-wrenching sobs against his chest, and he turns to the two older children, hoping that there's some sort of explanation for this.
“Marsali’s maman put on a movie for us to watch and then petite began to cry,” Fergus informs him, looking very much concerned as he gestures towards the television, which is now in screensaver mode, likely having been paused when her meltdown began. The Fraser-Murrays have quite possibly the largest physical collection of movies in all of Inverness, but he can't imagine the children would have been allowed to watch anything that isn't age-appropriate. He scans his surroundings and sees the DVD case lying on the coffee table.
There's a wee cartoon deer, front and centre.
Resisting the urge to curse out loud, he turns to Fergus and Marsali, inclining his head towards the door. "Why don't you two go and play wi' the others fer now?"
Both bairns are aware his suggestion is more of an order, and they cast one last glance at Faith, still wailing in his arms, before slipping from the room, closing the door with a solid click. Taking one slow breath to maintain his composure, he turns his attention back to the trembling form in his arms, and God, having held Claire against him only hours earlier, he cannot help but feel utterly useless.
Letting down both mother and child.
It's a struggle to not dissolve into tears himself, but he stands, securing Faith in his arms and resting his cheek against the crown of her head as he begins to slowly pace the room. He tries his best not to jostle her too much, just taking measured steps, walking in circles again and again until she begins to calm down. She sniffles, practically blowing her nose with his shirt, and he manages a small smile at that, one that quickly fades when he hears her choked whisper.
“Is Mama dead?”
He fixes his gaze at a stain on the wall; it's one made by Jenny herself when they were wee bairns. His sister had lobbed a paint pot at their older brother and missed, resulting in a bright pink patch marring the solid blue wall. He stares until it fills his vision entirely, numbing his mind and giving him a chance to think.
There is no right answer.
If he tells Faith that her mother is alive, only for Claire to wind up—
Christ, he cannot bear to say the words, even within the confines of his own mind.
“What would make ye think that?” He chooses to counter with a question of his own, seeking confirmation that it was indeed the film that triggered her breakdown.
“The mama deer got hurt by the bad men," she whispers, hiccuping and then gasping to regain her breath. "And she never came back."
Despite fearing he might need to have such a conversation with her — dreading the notion from the moment they first met — he's not prepared for it. There isn't a guide in the foster care handbook to help him here, nothing that fits his specific scenario. He doesn’t blame those in charge for this one; he imagines children don't generally end up in the system because their mothers have been abducted by human trafficking rings.
Unable to answer with certainty, he tries to reassure her instead.
"Tis just a film, lass, it doesna mean anything."
Unsurprisingly, she doesn't seem to believe him, looking up at him with wide, tear-filled eyes, as if daring him to give her the truth. Fortunately, it's not difficult to have restraint in a situation like this, having already heard from Geillis the dangers of providing her with a definitive answer, given they don't know for certain themselves. He leans down, pressing a kiss to one chubby cheek, pulling back with a slight frown when she bats him away, rubbing at the spot.
"Spiky," she mutters, patting at his stubble with one hand.
Before he has a chance to respond with a meaningful apology about forgetting to shave, the door is thrown open. Jenny storms in, followed by his least favourite person in Inverness, quite possibly the whole of Scotland.
Perhaps it’s a lack of sleep (only three hours of a restless slumber) and the emotional exhaustion of the past twenty-four hours, but the casual politeness he usually reserves for Laoghaire is nowhere to be found, replaced by an uncontrollable ire. He turns to them and is dimly aware of Faith clinging more tightly to him, but he has something to take care of.
Standing tall, he squares his shoulders and regards Laoghaire with an emotionless stare. “Can I speak wi’ ye in private?”
Jenny, who is arguably the most hot-heided and confrontational Fraser (in Jamie’s opinion anyway), is also stubborn about being hospitable to her houseguests and tries to step between them and intervene. “Brother…”
He stands his ground, trying to convey to her the seriousness of the matter through just one look. Though displeased, she concedes, taking Faith from his arms and leaving the room. He watches them go, sees the way his wee lass looks in his direction, eyes still filled with tears, and it only fuels the fire within him.
“What did ye want tae speak wi' me about, Jamie?”
The gall of this woman, to stand there and flutter her lashes up at him, as if his demeanour could be mistaken for anything other than anger.
He inhales, sharply and loudly, feels his ribs and lungs twinge in protest.
“I want tae ken what exactly ye were thinking when ye decided tae show my wee Faith a movie that would lead tae her breakin' down in my arms, cryin’ and askin' if her mother is dead.”
How harrowing for a child to think of something so permanent as death; he's lived through it himself, known the pain and grief that comes with loss. But he'd been sheltered, surrounded by family.
He was lucky.
“I didna ken the lass would have such a strong reaction tae the movie. ‘Twas an innocent mistake, I swear.”
Something in her expression tells him quite the opposite.
“Ye didna ken?” he asks through gritted teeth, clenching his fists at his sides.
“Aye, how was I tae know that she would start makin’ a stramash o’er a wee cartoon?”
Sometimes he wonders if people are capable of thinking before they speak.
“Are ye trying tae pin the blame on a bairn?” He raises his voice with each word, the pressure in his chest growing; the vein in his forehead throbbing. “Fer bein’ afraid? Fer bein’ upset because she hasna seen her own mother for nigh on a month now?”
“Och, Jamie, ye must ken I had no idea…” She tries to sound apologetic, but her actions make her appear coquettish more than anything, and he trembles in barely restrained anger, taking a step backwards.
“Dinna try tae act all innocent wi’ me! I can tolerate much from ye, I have in the past, but I willna have ye traumatisin’ one of my bairns!”
“Jamie—” she says, and continues to speak, but all he can see is her mouth moving, the pounding of his own heartbeat deafening to his ears.
He cannot remember the last time he lost his temper in such a fashion, unleashing the beastly warrior dwelling within him. His words are no longer spoken, but roared. Even when he butted heads with Dougal, he had managed to have some restraint.
But now it's like there's a fight between emotion and logic, and like the battle of Culloden, which he'd studied copiously during school, there's soon a clear victor.
“I dinna wish tae hear another peep from a foul besom such as ye, and if ye had any idea o' the weight of yer actions, ye'd leave my sight!”
She stands before him, face flushed red in embarrassment or anger, he knows not which, and then flees from the room, calling out for Marsali and Joan.
He stumbles backwards until his calves meet the edge of the sofa, and he collapses into it. The weight of his body causes him to sink deep into the plush cushions, and he closes his eyes and wonders how much more can go wrong before the day is done.
Wonders how much of it will be his fault.
Jamie has a twinge of regret for not controlling himself better when he feels the hesitance in Marsali and Joanie's goodbyes to him. Jenny assured him they hadn't heard the contents of his outburst, but he knows that no amount of distraction could have rendered them completely oblivious to the situation. Laoghaire had allowed them just long enough to give him a hug before she dragged them off, and the confusion and hurt on wee Joanie's face is imprinted on his mind.
Whilst he had lost the ability to feel any sympathy for the woman long ago, the bairns are a different matter, and he doesn't want them to view him in the same light as their birth father. Joanie has no memories of the man, but Marsali had many a tale to tell about her father's violent outbursts and angry tirades, and he, in turn, has a pressing need within him for them to know that he would never lay a finger on them.
He wishes he had chosen to be more rational, knowing that there was a possibility the girls could hear him, but what's done is done.
He looks up to see Faith standing an arm's length away from him, gaze trained to the floor, wee fists tugging at the hem of her woollen dress. God, he'd been so distracted by his thoughts he hadn't even noticed her enter. Her bottom lip is jutting out, quivering, and the guilt hits him now, harder than ever. He opens up his arms, beckoning her, and with a little reluctance, she shuffles forward, until her chin is resting upon his knee. She makes no move to come any closer, and he sighs, lifting her and pulling her into his arms.
“Faith, lass, ye ken nothin' that happened here was yer fault. Ye didna do anything wrong.”
She sniffles, settling cross-legged into his lap, looking up at him with doubt and hesitance and guilt.
“But you were angry. I heard you yelling at Joanie's mama.”
Had he really lost control, shouted so loudly that the entire house could hear the dramatic confrontation?
“I shoulda controlled myself a wee bit better,” he says, more for himself than anything. “Twas wrong fer me tae speak to her in such a manner when all of ye bairns could hear me. I shouldna have raised my voice so.”
The truth is, he would have no regrets at all had their disagreement taken place without an audience. While Jamie doesn't pride himself on much, he's a rational person for the most part, and he knows, without a doubt, that Laoghaire's obsession with him is a catalyst for bad decisions on her part. He can stand to put up with most things, but there's a line to be drawn when it comes to the children under his care.
He watches as the tears slowly seep out; it scares him more somehow, seeing her crying so calmly. She's so incredibly upset and affected, but is holding back because she feels responsible for causing his outburst, and it makes his heart break anew.
“Och, a leannan. I’m sae sorry. I didna mean tae scare ye wi' my shoutin',” he tells her, wondering if he should make an effort to explain why he was so aggravated to begin with, but deciding against it in the end. She's so sensitive, perceptive and understanding, and he knows she'll only feel more guilty if he continues on.
He'd give anything to take those feelings away, and so he chooses a different route.
“I think we'd both feel sae much better if ye gave me a wee hug, lass,” he says, seeing the way her eyes light up at the prospect of helping him, more so than helping herself.
Like mother, like daughter.
She curls up around him with all her limbs, like a wee koala bear, creating a matching stain on the right side of his shirt as she uses him once more to dry her tears. It's a habit he should probably start working with her to break, but…
If her mother survives — and Christ, Jamie would give anything to ensure that Claire makes it out of her ordeal with no lasting consequences — then wee Faith will soon be leaving him, likely heading straight back to England.
With her mother.
Where they belong.
Away from him.
It had slipped out earlier when he'd arrived to find her in so much distress.
Mo chridhe, he had called her.
A part of it, anyway.
And he knows, without a doubt: to lose them both would mean living the rest of his life with only half a heart.
Chapter 12: Stand By You
I'm so sorry this chapter took so long, due to unforeseen circumstances, I took a bit of a break over the holidays but I'm back on top of things now. Thank you all for your patience. I hope you'll enjoy :)
After the calamity that was Friday and Saturday, Sunday is spent hidden away in the comfort of the home he built with his own two hands, in the company of one wee lassie who is clingier than usual. She’d been visibly upset upon learning that Fergus was heading over to a friend's house for the day. Saddened by the loss of her favourite playmate, she had sulked all through breakfast, pushing the pieces of her blueberry pancake around on the plate, only taking the occasional bite. In the end, Jamie had caved and fed her himself, coaxing her to eat through a series of ridiculous arm motions and aeroplanes noises he normally reserved for infants. He knew full well the repercussions of coddling a child, but Faith had already been through one emotional rollercoaster after another.
An update from the hospital early in the morning, passed to him through Angus, had perhaps been the motivating factor in keeping her as calm as he could possibly manage.
Doc reported no change. Said the lass is still unresponsive. Didna report any other updates, but urged us tae locate her next o’ kin as soon as possible.
Jamie had dropped his phone then, felt it slipping from between his sweat-dampened fingers, heard the dull thump as it collided with his thigh before falling to the bed. He could hear Angus’ voice grumbling faintly in the background as he tried his best to not react, to maintain his composure. After a minute, he’d retrieved the device and mumbled a gruff reply of thanks before hanging up, turning over in bed and burying his face against the pillows.
Eyes closed, all he'd seen were the haunting images of her, struggling in his arms. Her voice had echoed through his mind, her cries of fear seeping into his bones.
It had taken all his strength not to simply foist Faith off onto Jenny and high tail it to the hospital, all for a single glance at Claire — to see for himself that she was still clinging to life.
But he’d put head over heart and reined in his emotions.
She meant more to him than he cared to admit, even within the confines of his own mind, but in truth they were little more than strangers now. Faith was his priority — she needed to be his priority.
His hand had been forced; there was no choice left but to pull some strings with the department and get Faith in to see a psychiatrist right away. Preparation — in case the worst should happen.
It won't be on him to sit her down and deliver the bad news, but the aftermath… he knows that nothing will help dull the pain. Little distractions may help to ease the situation, but the heartache of loss cannot be erased. He doesn’t know how he'll cope with it himself, but at the very least he can help her, can focus on making sure she's okay at the end of all this.
But there’s nothing immediate Jamie can do, and he knows that he shouldn't let a potential circumstance, no matter how terrible, haunt his every waking moment before it should come to pass.
As all things are, it’s easier said than done.
For the rest of the day, he focuses his attention on Faith, tending to her every need, focusing on the good in his life and helping her find the good in hers. It's important that they're happy now, knowing that the future may only hold sadness for quite some time.
He doesn’t want them to stay cooped up in the house all day, but he fears that if he were to bundle her up in the car and spend the day out in town, the temptation to take a detour to the hospital will be all too great. Throughout the morning he’d already found himself reaching for his keys more than once, before quickly setting them back down into the misshapen bowl Fergus had made in art class.
Faith’s mood improves considerably when he suggests they take a walk around the farm, and so he bundles her up and they stroll the grounds of Lallybroch for an hour. She insists on stopping to smell all of the flowers ( weeds), scrunching up her wee nose when she leans in a little too close and a petal or leaf irritates her skin. Her curiosity is endless, but he draws the line when she tries to investigate the various types of fungi growing amongst the trees. She’s not pleased about her freedom being taken away, but is easily distracted when he picks her up and allows her to sit on his shoulders. Her shrieks of laughter mingle with the sounds of nature, her wee fingers finding purchase in his hair, holding on tightly to help herself feel secure.
Soon enough, the sky opens up and it begins to drizzle, forcing them to seek shelter indoors. It makes him think of another rainy day, the smell of old books and the sound of a crackling fire invading his senses.
His eyes water a bit, and he blames it on the rain.
They make it back to the house without too much fuss and change into dry clothes before he heads straight into making lunch (accompanied by his own wee sous chef). She supervises for the most part, sitting cross-legged on the counter and watching his every move, but proves to be quite talented at buttering bread. He heats the slices on the stovetop ‘til they are golden-brown on both sides, adding on a thin layer of mayonnaise before piling on the toppings: jammy onions cooked with brown sugar, crispy bacon, slices of cheese and tomato and a handful of shredded lettuce, topped off with another piece of perfectly toasted bread. The sandwiches are cut in half (diagonally, of course), and they eat right there in the kitchen.
Faith smiles up at him between each tiny bite — a balm for his battered heart.
As he anticipated, she isn’t able to finish the entire portion, sliding her plate over to him after she’s eaten one half.
“I’m full,” she tells him proudly, and he chuckles, helping her down from the counter when she informs him she needs to go to the bathroom. He finishes off the rest of the food and is doing the dishes by the time she returns, Beary in her arms. She stands patiently by his side, humming to herself, waiting for him.
The tune is indecipherable, but he thinks he recognises the rhythm.
That or his mind is playing tricks on him.
They spend the rest of the afternoon curled up on the couch, watching a movie — one he is confident will not contain anything sensitive. He winds up falling asleep halfway through and when he startles back into consciousness, it’s getting dark outside and there’s a knee wedged just below his ribcage. Poor Beary has been relegated to sleeping on the floor while Faith has tucked herself into his arms. Doing his best not to jostle her, he reaches for his phone on the coffee table and sees that it's getting close to dinner time, which means that Fergus will soon be home.
He leaves Faith dozing on the sofa, settling Beary into her grasp and spreading the attached blanket around her tiny body, and sets out to prepare a simple roast dinner. Sure enough, Fergus arrives home just before the oven-timer goes off, chatting animatedly about the day spent with his friend. His voice immediately lowers when he sees Faith sleeping, but Jamie gives him the go ahead to wake her up, not wanting her to nap for too long. He watches the two of them as he cooks, listens as Faith asks Fergus questions all about his day. Their conversation slips between French and English and ends with Fergus giving her a piggy-back ride into the kitchen, the two of them lured in by the smell of food.
Dinner is a relaxed affair, as is bedtime. Faith, who is very much still displeased that she and Fergus were separated for a whole day, and on a weekend no less, asks him to read to her before she sleeps. Jamie sits at the foot of the bed, watching them, willing the sounds of their chatter to drown out his worries and fears.
And when it comes time for him to retire for the evening, he curls up beneath the covers and wonders how long he’ll be able to distract himself before his resolve crumbles.
When Jamie shows up to work on Monday morning, he finds he’s been reassigned. The case he has devoted months upon months of work to is no longer his to investigate. But he feels no anger, no resentment. The truth of the matter is that he’d known this would happen, the second he pushed past those warehouse doors and took Claire into his arms.
It’s far too personal for him now.
And so he spends his day following up on far more mundane cases: vandalism, stolen property, and a dispute between two farmers concerning a single cow. They do well to occupy the time, but cannot distract him from the depths of his own mind — the harrowing thoughts persist, continuing to pull him from reality and into the darkness.
He feels foolish now, having lived under the pretense that things would be resolved the moment Faith’s mother was found. In his mind there had existed only two outcomes: one where she would immediately leave him to return home, and the other, where she’d slowly become a permanent member of his family.
As usual, reality is far from his imagination.
They’re stuck in limbo, with nowhere to go.
When work is done for the day, he finds himself sitting in his car, once again battling with his own instincts. He doesn’t consciously realise that the decision has been made, not until he takes a left turn instead of a right, heading straight for the hospital. The sensible thing to do would be to turn around and head home, but it’s far too late now.
He needs to see for himself, with his own eyes, that she’s still there, still whole.
The nurses working in the reception area smile and giggle as he approaches; he feels his spirits being lifted considerably by their positive attitudes. “I’m Inspector James Fraser, here tae see Claire Beauchamp,” he tells them, reaching into his pocket with the intent of retrieving proof of identity. Before he has a chance to, their laughter increases tri-fold, and he wonders if he has something on his face that is inciting such reactions.
“Och, leave the Inspector alone, ye wee troublemakers!”
The order is backed by an older woman — one with seniority, he surmises, given the way the other nurses quickly disperse. She gestures for him to follow her and he tries his best to memorise the path that they take. As they walk, she gives him instructions on the different protocols they have in place to ensure the wellbeing of their patients, and he makes low noises of agreement, throat and mouth drying with each step he takes.
His heart is pounding in his chest by the time they come to a stop.
“As long as ye dinna get in the way o’ the doctors and nurses when they come tae check up on her, ye can stay as long as ye’d like.”
She leaves him then, standing awkwardly in the hallway, trying his best not to appear entirely suspicious. He paces back and forth for a minute, gaze trained on the ground, before plucking up the courage to slip into the room and close the door behind him. Paying heed to the nurse’s instructions, he quickly sanitises his hands, not wanting to risk anything that may jeopardise her recovery.
He realises he hasn’t truly prepared himself for this.
For the longest time, he simply stands at the foot of her bed, casting a faint shadow over her unmoving body. He doesn’t know where to begin — or how. The devil on his shoulder is loud and cruel and taking over his thoughts. What could he possibly say to her now that would have any meaning? She cannot hear his words, understand them, respond to them. There’s no purpose for him being here other than to alleviate his own guilt, to make himself feel better.
Has he always been such a selfish man?
You’re here for her, to help her stay tethered to this world, to give her support in her darkest times, whispers another voice inside his mind.
“It’s been a verra long time since we’ve properly spoken,” he says softly, his voice cracking. The dull whirring of machinery surrounds him, as does the smell of unnatural sterility. Combined with the dim lighting — a stark contrast to the bright fluorescent glow of the hallway outside — it really doesn’t feel like a place where one is recovering.
It feels like somewhere one would go to die.
His knees grow weak with the thought and he stumbles forward, forcing himself to stay upright. He ends up dragging a chair from the side of the room, sanitising his hands once more and then sitting down beside her.
“What did they do to ye, mo ghràidh?”
She lies there, completely still save for the imperceptible rise and fall of her chest, and he finds himself subconsciously mimicking her breathing pattern. With each exhale there's an accompanying moment of dread, waiting for her chest to rise once more, proof that she's still holding on. While he knows that the monitors are serving the same function, the numbers and graphs and such make very little sense to him, nothing but patterns on a screen.
Her injuries look worse than they did when he found her; the swelling and bruising have rendered her face almost unrecognisable. He’d prayed many a time to have their paths cross once more in life, to see her again, even if just in passing.
To clear the air between them.
Had he known she would come into his life again in such a fashion, having to endure violence and pain, he would have never wished for it.
“I canna bear tae see ye like this. I’m sorry, Claire. I’m so sorry that I didna push harder and find ye sooner. If I'd had, maybe ye would be up and about and on yer way back home.”
Despite Joe’s reassurance that he’d saved her life by finding her just in time, he is still overwhelmed with guilt. Perhaps if he had worked harder, put in more hours, picked up other clues, they would have found her earlier.
Not when she was tiptoeing the line between life and death.
He clenches his jaw and then his fists and tries to search for words of reassurance, ones that will bring her comfort, should some miracle allow her to hear his voice.
“But I swear to ye, I willna rest until those responsible are found.”
It doesn’t matter that he’s no longer officially allowed to take part in the investigation into her abduction. His colleagues at work are practically family to him, and there’s no way they’ll keep any pertinent information from him. There’s a time and place for strictly adhering to the rules, and where family is concerned, nothing else matters. They understand his devotion to wee Faith. If he manages to keep his guard up around them as he failed to do with Geillis, there will be no further enquiry.
And should any questions be asked of him, about her, a half-truth will suffice.
She’s just a lass from my past.
No one needs to know the tale of the weeks they spent together, how he’d been ready to offer her his entire heart.
That she was the woman he had once wanted to build a home with.
People change, in days, in months, and it’s been years. Things between them aren’t the same anymore. They’ve led entirely separate lives.
The version of her that’s lived within his mind for all these years they’ve spent apart is not the same woman that lies here beside him now.
But he still remembers exactly how he’d felt then, the happiness and joy they had found together, however short that time had been. And he knows how he feels now, holding her daughter in his arms, tucking the wee lass into bed, brushing a kiss to her unruly curls.
The love is still there. Perhaps it’s changed, shifted, become something else. Maybe it’s faded a wee bit in the years, but it hasn’t been lost as time’s gone by.
“Ye dinna have to worry, Claire. Your wee Faith is safe wi’ me. I’ll stay by her side for as long as she needs me.”
He makes a vow then, not out loud but within his mind, his heart.
If these are to be her final days on this earth, he’ll not let her spend them alone. She deserves to have someone who cares for her by her side, to hold her hand and bear witness to her last breath.
I’ll do the same for you.
On Tuesday morning, he drops a very cranky Faith off at Geillis’ office.
She fights him at every turn, refusing to get dressed, keeping her mouth firmly shut when he offers her breakfast (parritch with sliced bananas and honey) and he ends up buckling her into her booster seat, unfed and still clad in pajamas. It’s much earlier than she’s accustomed to waking, so he understands her reluctance to start the day, but he has very little choice but to adhere to a schedule. He slips a change of clothes for her into a small backpack, along with a snack that should be enough to tide her over until Geillis drops her off at Jenny’s later in the day.
He expects her to protest when he leaves her, but thanks to the early morning start, she’s already tired herself out and fallen asleep in his arms once more. She doesn’t make a peep as he hands her over and he hopes that she won’t make a fuss when she wakes, though he has the utmost confidence that Geillis will be able to handle it.
With one task checked off, he heads off, taking a familiar route to a familiar place, walking into a not-so-familiar room.
The curtains have been pulled open and the atmosphere in the room has changed since the day before. It's brighter and makes him feel much less claustrophobic.
What remains unchanged is Claire herself. She’s still motionless, hooked up to various monitors, and he tries to tell himself that her bruises don’t look as severe as the day before, but fears his eyes may be playing tricks on him. He cleans his hands and sits down in the same chair before he tries to take a closer look. The dark patches seem very much the same, but the swelling looks to have gone down a wee bit, and the thought of her healing brings a small smile to his face.
"Good morning, Sassenach."
He wants to reach out, to hold her hand in his, but he’s so afraid he might hurt her. In the end he keeps his hands folded in his lap, leaning forward a little to speak to her.
"Aye, I ken it’s a wee bit early and ye once told me that ye’re no’ a mornin’ person, but I cannae come and see ye after work today, so I’m here now. I just dropped Faith off wi’ her social worker. They contacted her paediatrician tae get some o’ her medical records, and she’ll be seein’ a psychiatrist tae get a full evaluation done."
Despite his grumbling, Dougal had begrudgingly forwarded a request to have Faith seen as early as possible by a specialist. The soonest available time happened to be in the middle of a work day on Tuesday, and so Geillis had volunteered to accompany her to and from the appointment, promising to update Jamie along the way.
He hopes that he’s made the right decisions for her.
"I dinna ken if that’s what ye’d want, or if the choices I’ve made these past few weeks were what ye would have made yerself, but I do know that ye’re an incredible mother and ye’d want what’s best for her."
He tries to imagine it, Claire waking and Faith regaling her with tales of all the adventures she's had in these past few weeks. It makes him feel lighter as he pictures the smiles on their faces, the joy of a reunion between mother and child.
"I promise that I willna be upset if ye choose tae yell at me about all o’ the things I’ve done wrong, once ye wake up."
He can see it, clear as day: her, giving him a disapproving look as he confesses to spoiling Faith and giving in to her every whim. Him, shrugging and whispering conspiratorially that he’d do it all again just for one wee smile.
"But fer now, I’ll be lookin’ after that lass o’ yers. She’s a brave wee thing, just like her mam. I ken ye must be so worrit about her, but I promise ye it’s alright. She’s safe wi’ me. I dinna want ye tae fash about anythin’ else. Just concentrate on healing, Sassenach."
One thing he doesn’t think his imagination will come close to is how Claire must have felt all this time. Not only alone and fearing for her own life, but also that of her child’s, wondering if her little girl could have survived by herself, lost in the streets at night.
Had she held onto the hope that Faith would be found by someone kinder than those who had taken her?
Had she prayed each night and day that her daughter was safe and cared for?
Had she dared to imagine that the two of them could one day be reunited?
They’re questions that he’s sure he’ll never know the answer to, whether or not she ever opens her eyes again. He forces his mind to head in a more positive direction, noting to himself that it gets more and more difficult to do so each time.
“I cannae wait until the day I walk through that door and ye’re sittin’ up in bed, smilin’ or glarin’, I dinna care which,” he says, eyes scanning her face, looking over the mottled skin.
“So long as ye’re here.”
He prays, holding his hand over his heart, whispering softly in Gàidhlig and hoping for a miracle.
When he drops by on Wednesday, he finds that Claire isn’t alone. There’s a nurse checking up on her and he stands quietly out of her way, only giving the woman a small nod of acknowledgement in greeting. When it appears she’s completed her task, he shuffles forward, smiling as he moves to his usual position by Claire’s bedside.
He hears the disapproving cluck from the nurse as she exits the room, and surmises he must sound quite rude addressing an unconscious patient in such a manner, no matter their relation. Claire had never minded though, at least not back then. For a moment he wonders if her opinion has changed in the years that have passed, if she’d take offense to his wee nickname for her now.
What he wouldn’t give for her to sit up right at this moment and hurl something at his head in anger.
“Ye… ye look well.”
Seeing her, despite the horrific injuries, helps to quell the worry within him. Her skin is mottled black and blue, with patches of green and yellow in between. The wee cuts on her face and arms are beginning to scab over. The hollows of her cheeks are no longer so sunken in, the swelling around her bruises having faded too. Her lips, which had been a terrifying shade of deep purple, almost blue, when he found her, are now pink once more. Slowly but surely, her body is healing.
“I ken if ye were awake right now, ye’d probably tell me I was lyin’, but it’s only the truth. Ye were so thin when I found ye, covered in so much filth and so badly hurt, and now ye’re slowly gettin' better.”
Her hair is still as wild as ever, fanned out around her, the dark brown standing out against the off-white pillows. He almost reaches out to twirl a curl around his finger, wondering if it will feel the same as it did before. He’d done the same to Faith when he’d dropped her off with Jenny that morning, brushing a kiss across her forehead and gently tugging on one wee curl, smiling as she batted his hand away, feigning annoyance.
“Remember how I told ye yesterday that Faith was wi’ a doctor? Geillis, her social worker, told me that she’s doin’ verra well. Said she was so well behaved, and of course I took her tae get some lollies fer bein’ such a good wee lass.”
Geillis had indeed passed on the doctor's findings to him, summarising the hour-long session with a single phrase:
“She's doin' incredibly, all things considered, and seems tae be verra well adjusted.”
There’d been other things, of course — details that were best relayed in person rather than through a hurried phone conversation — but nothing concerning enough that Geillis had felt the need to inform him right away. He’d been happy enough to hear that Faith was fine, and hopes that this news may bring Claire some comfort, if she can hear his words.
“I hope ye dinna mind it.”
He finds himself nattering on about nonsensical topics, leaping from one event to another, filling the silence with his chatter. It doesn’t matter how foolish it may seem to others for him to sit here and engage in a one-sided conversation. He doesn’t fear their judgement.
“I would stay forever if I could, mo ghràidh. But I want ye tae ken, even when I’m no here wi’ ye, ye’re on my mind.”
His thoughts are truly innocent — simply well wishes for her health and prayers to whichever deity may deign to give him the time of day — seeking only good health and a steady recovery for her.
“Ye’re always on my mind,” he whispers in confession.
Always in my heart.
By Thursday, Jamie is starting to get a little antsy.
John messages him just before he leaves the station, his texts perfectly punctuated as always.
My colleagues are still trying to locate Dr. Beauchamp’s next of kin. I’m afraid I cannot provide you with any more information than what has already been said, Jamie.
It troubles him deeply the entire journey to the hospital and is on the forefront of his mind as he makes his way inside, hastily greeting the nurses at the reception desk. They still giggle at the sight of him, but leave him to his own devices, barely batting an eyelash as he takes the now-familiar route to Claire’s room.
“Good afternoon tae ye.”
As usual, his greeting is met with complete silence, but he doesn’t mind it so much, quickly sitting down beside her, eager to begin their conversation.
“It’s a bit of an awful question tae ask of ye… but there’s something I dinna understand. How is it that ye’re alone here? Ye told me once that ye had no family left… ye cried in my arms that night, Sassenach. It broke me tae see ye hurting.”
It’s not his place to be here, but there’s no one else.
Not one person.
“But ye have such a big heart, so much kindness within yer soul. I find it hard tae believe ye werena always surrounded by friends, people who cared for ye. But it was yer work that reported ye missing…”
Jamie cannot imagine a woman like Claire had any trouble making and keeping friends; whilst stubborn as a bull and unafraid to speak her mind, the woman he’d known was also kind and compassionate and the perfect person to have on your side no matter what situation should arise. It doesn’t make sense to him that no one in her life had noticed her absence, that no one had cared enough to realise she was gone.
He knows without a doubt that if he were to suddenly disappear, his family would make the realisation in less than twenty-four hours. Hell, Jenny would ignore the rules and search for him herself, armed with a pitchfork used to muck-out the pigpens and a butcher’s knife, threatening anyone who dared to stand in her way. He’s fortunate enough to be surrounded by the blood of his blood, and while he knows that the same can’t be said for Claire, he finds it very difficult to believe that there isn’t a single person in her life to fight for her, to protect her, to ensure her safety.
To be her champion.
“John told me that they’re trying tae contact yer next o’ kin, but he wouldna share anything else wi’ me.”
He doesn’t need to delve deep into his investigative skills to realise that John’s colleagues likely had not been able to locate any relatives or close friends that lived in England. If they had, the matter would already be resolved. They wouldn't still be here, almost a week on, with no one having the authority to make any decisions on her behalf.
“What have ye been doin’ all these years? Was it just you and wee Faith?”
Faith had never spoken of anyone aside from her mother, but Jamie hadn’t asked either — afraid to push her too far and have her clam up on him, withdrawing back into her shell. He’d put Faith’s wellbeing above all else, and it makes him feel like less of a failure now, despite having ascertained very little about her past.
“And I dinna mean tae sound like I’m judging ye for it, Sassenach.”
He has no idea what her life has been like these past years, but she's clearly made a life for herself, maintaining a successful career in such a challenging field and raising a child.
“It’s just… I have some foolish regrets, ye ken?”
He says no more then, lowering his head and closing his eyes, allowing his thoughts to drift, forming and reforming like a storm within his mind.
Determined to spend his weekend off with the bairns, Jamie stays late after work on Friday to finish going through the paperwork piled on his desk. He’s meticulous, but doesn’t dwell on each section for too long, having learnt from experience that his efforts in doing so are usually wasted. The station is often quiet around these hours, until around eight or nine at night, when patrol starts bringing in the drunk and disorderly.
This part of his job is quite possibly the most tedious, but he knows that it’s just as important as the rest. Even so, he takes a wee break every once in a while, just looking up at the photo collage sitting on his desk, framed in dark wood with golden decals. Jenny had given it to him as a gift when was first promoted:
“I ken ye’ll be surrounded by family when ye’re at work, but I thought ye might want tae be around some cuter faces.”
It had only contained two photos then, wee Jamie and baby Maggie. His sister had assured him he’d have plenty of bairns himself in the future to fill up the frame, but he’d been pessimistic and unconvinced. He’d only just returned from Paris, certain that all hope for a family of his own was lost.
But then a wee lad had tried to rob him in broad daylight, and soon after he added an image, front and centre. His son, Fergus.
In the years since then, he’s filled the frames with photos of every child he’s been fortunate enough to offer a home, no matter how temporary. There are new shots of all his nieces and nephews too, though he’d joked to Jenny that she might need to get him another frame if she and Ian kept it up.
He finds himself fixating on one image above the rest, the newest addition to the collection.
Fergus and Faith had been looking at seashells together on the beach, and while Jamie couldn’t allow them to take any home, he was happy to stop and give them the freedom to explore. They’d knelt down in the damp sand together, staining their clothes, awestruck by their own discoveries.
He’d captured the image on his phone without their knowledge. The twin looks of delight on their faces were not portrayed for the sake of a shot.
They were genuine.
Of the dozens of photos he’d taken that day, this had been his favourite, and the one he’d created a physical copy of using his home office printer. It’s been sitting in this frame ever since, and along with all the images that surround it, it reminds him of all the good there is in the world, giving him the needed boost to finish off his work.
It’s dark out by the time he’s well and truly done for the day, and not for the first time he’s exceedingly grateful that the hospital is so close to the station, making for a quick trip.
Nurse MacArthur, who had helped him out earlier on in the week and waved to him in acknowledgement every day since, is handing over a file to someone at the reception desk when he arrives, and turns to him with a wide smile.
“Ah, Inspector Fraser! Ye’re late!”
He ducks his head, feeling the same level of embarrassment he had when the barista working at a coffee shop near the station remembered his usual order for the first time.
“Aye, just a wee bit.”
“Weel, if ye want tae head on back, I’ll page Doctor Abernathy and let him know ye’re here.”
He’d plucked up the courage to ask if he could speak with Claire’s doctor about her recovery, knowing the chances his request would be turned down were abysmally high. To his surprise, she’d stopped him in the hallway when he left the previous afternoon and told him that the doctor would be happy to spare him a few minutes the following day.
“Dinna fash lass, I’m happy tae wait.”
He makes his way to Claire’s room, careful to not get in the way of the staff bustling around, saving lives. By pure coincidence, he runs into Doctor Abernathy the moment he turns the corner into the hallway of his destination, hearing his name being called.
“Back again, Inspector Fraser?”
He does flush a little this time, wondering just how many of the hospital staff have picked up on his daily visits.
“Aye, Doctor Abernathy. Thank ye fer taking the time out o’ yer schedule tae see me. I ken ye’re a busy man,” he manages to say, trying to convey his immense gratitude to the man — not only for agreeing to speak with him, but also for providing such excellent care to someone he cares very much about.
“You know, you’re quite the hero around here.”
Jamie raises his brows, hoping that his reaction speaks for itself.
“All the nurses are talking about how the brave and handsome Inspector Fraser charged into a warehouse full of armed men and single-handedly took them down before rescuing the damsel in distress.”
“Christ, ye must be pullin’ my leg,” he says in response, shaking his head.
“Oh, I’m not finished. Everyone is wondering what they have to do to have, and I quote, ‘such a kindhearted and devoted man’ paying attention to them. We don’t often have officers making such frequent trips to check up on victims of their cases.”
Jamie raises one hand to scratch at the back of his neck, feeling how heated his skin his, wondering if he’s gone as red as his hair.
“Is this yer way of tellin’ me I need tae find a better way tae occupy my time?” he asks, trying to sound casual but truly second-guessing every choice he’s made in the past week.
“The opposite, really. I find that in cases like this, having visitors can help with recovery, no matter the visitor’s relation to the patient.”
He breathes a sigh of relief at that.
As he is no longer officially taking part in the investigation, no one has a legal obligation to provide him with any updates. But apparently both Geillis and Angus had been kind enough to speak to the hospital on his behalf, letting them know just enough details about the unique situation to convince them to turn a blind eye to the usually stringent protocols. Doctor Abernathy’s update is brief, but gives him a small flare of hope.
She’s getting better, physically.
“I’d give anything fer her tae wake up, unharmed,” he says, looking down at the ground as he speaks. He doesn’t notice the curious expression that washes over the doctor’s face, nor does he see the small smirk that follows. Their conversation ends there, the sound of pagers going off before everyone in the vicinity is rushing to deal with another emergency.
He ducks into Claire’s room then, allowing his eyes to adjust to the lack of light for a moment before moving about. After catching him sitting in relative darkness days before, one of the nurses had informed him that he was welcome to have the lights turned on for the duration of his visit. He prefers it like this though. Perhaps it’s cowardice, but he meant what he said about being unable to bear seeing her so hurt.
“Good evenin’, mo nighean donn. I’m so sorry I’m late today. There was much work I had tae finish at the station before I could come see ye.
Of course, she wouldn’t have noticed had he not turned up altogether, but he needs to be here.
“Yer doctor told me ye’ve been healin’ up well. It makes me so verra happy tae hear that, Sassenach. Ye dinna even ken it…" He trails off for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “I canna stay verra long today. It pains me tae leave ye so soon, but I havena been spendin’ enough time wi’ the bairns this past week.”
Given the choice, he wouldn’t leave her side. The bairns have Jenny and Ian to look out for them, but Claire has no one but him. He knows that she’s surrounded by experts who can do far more for her health than he could dream of, but it’s not the same.
“When I think about all the suffering ye’ve endured, it breaks my heart, Sassenach. But I’m so grateful tae have met yer daughter. To have been given the chance tae take care o’ her, protect her as you have… it’s the greatest honour. Faith is the most amazin’ wee lass. So intelligent, kind, compassionate, and she gets all o’ that from you. Ye’ve raised her so well. I ken she’s happy wi’ me, and I ken I’m doin’ my best to give her somewhere safe tae stay fer now, but it’s no’ the same. She needs ye, mo ghràidh.”
He finds himself reaching out to her as he speaks, his hand hovering over hers, just a hair’s breadth away, but he’s so afraid. It had been one thing to hold her in his arms that night, adrenaline coursing through his veins, causing him to make decisions he hadn’t exactly thought through.
But he’s scared now, truly terrified.
She’d come to him in his dreams before, his imagination running wild whilst he was unconscious and lost to the world. But each time he tried to touch her, to feel her skin against his, she’d fade away, reality bleeding back in as a harsh reminder of the choices he’d made.
Taking a deep breath, he allows his hand to drop onto hers, and for a moment in time, everything is silent.
The space between two heartbeats.
Her skin is cool beneath his palm, but very much real, and he releases a choked sob of relief. Unable to hold back now, he curls his fingers around hers, mindful to not disturb the wee wires, and gives her hand a gentle squeeze.
“I need ye.”
It’s a broken confession he whispers to himself, not yet understanding the weight of his own words and not strong enough to comprehend the meaning behind them.
“So I’m going tae need you to keep holding on. Ye need tae wake up, so yer daughter can be wi’ ye again. She misses ye so much… as I’ve missed ye all these years.”
He’d thought of her often, try as he might to push all thoughts of her aside and concentrate on the life that he had chosen. The connection they shared was special, but beyond that, he cared for her wellbeing as one might a friend.
It’s foolish to imagine that they could forget about the reasons why they’d moved forward in their lives apart. Despite the regrets and wondering and wishful thinking, he knows that things happen for a reason. It would be ridiculous to pretend otherwise.
There’s so much more he wants to say, but he finds himself unable to voice all his thoughts aloud. Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he whispers one last thing.
“Just promise me ye’ll try.”
With that, he brushes a soft kiss across the back of her hand, just below her knuckles, and takes his leave.
If he’d chosen to turn the lights on when he’d entered the room—
If he’d lingered just a moment longer—
If he’d turned back to catch one last glimpse of her before pulling the door closed—
He'd have seen it.
The barest twitch of her index and middle fingers, stretching forward almost imperceptibly, as if reaching for something lost.
Chapter 13: Awakening
Jenny, bless her ingrained motherly instincts, has made sure both the bairns are fed and bathed when he comes by to collect them long after dinner is over. Jamie tries to insist that he’ll be fine heading home with them, but she takes one look at his haggard appearance and all but drags him into the kitchen, slamming a double portion of reheated leftovers into his hands.
“There’s dessert in the fridge, but only if ye finish all yer vegetables,” she tells him wryly, fluffing up his curls with one hand before leaving the room to attend to one of the bairns.
He eats like a man starved, barely pausing to appreciate the savoury stew — chunks of pan-seared lamb and oven-roasted vegetables simmered together until soup turned to gravy. It takes him all of five minutes to polish off the entire bowl, mopping up the remains with a slice of dry crusty bread. He's about to go in search of a second serving when he hears the door to the kitchen open and close. At first, he doesn’t turn, thinking it’s probably just Jenny, returning to check if he’s passed out face-first in his dinner, but when there’s no accompanying voice he pauses, listening.
There’s the sound of light footsteps coming towards him — barely audible, fuzzy socks on tile — and he presses one hand over his heart, spinning around with an expression of shock when he feels a wee hand tug at the leg of his pants.
“A leannan, ye gave me a fright, sneakin’ up quiet as a wee mouse!”
Faith doesn't appear to be apologetic at all, smiling with a glint in her eye, cheeks flushed, looking very warm and cosy in her yellow duckie onesie. A quick glance at the clock on the wall by the door tells him that it's most definitely time for bed, and the soft yawn she emits just moments later reaffirms the fact.
“I’m not a mouse, I'm a duck,” she corrects him, yawning again and then rubbing at her eyes with the back of one hand.
“Aye, a sleepy wee duckling,” he concedes, reaching down and picking her up. She curls into his hold immediately, resting her head on his shoulder with one hand over his heart. He covers her wee fist with his own hand, walking slowly around the kitchen and lulling her to sleep, knowing from experience that she’s more than happy to doze in his arms. It hinders him a little, only having use of one free arm, but it’s worth it to have these moments with her.
He finishes a second helping of dinner and opts to skip dessert after seeing the decadent slices of tiramisu Jenny left on a shelf in the fridge, knowing that even the slightest bit of caffeine this late at night would likely keep him up until the early hours of the morning. Faith moves around in his arms the entire time, searching for the most comfortable sleeping position while remaining entirely unconscious and drooling on his shoulder. Her face is completely obscured by her curls, shiny ringlets that so closely resemble her mother’s, and he swallows back tears.
Would Faith ever feel her mother’s touch again? Be cradled in her arms and doze off to songs of the seas? Or would Faith's final memory of her mother be of that harrowing night when they were parted forever?
He tries to clear his head of such thoughts, but they plague him through the rest of the evening, even as he bids goodnight to all of Jenny's bairns, reading Maggie and Kitty a bedtime story and watching wee Jamie’s demonstration of the self-defence techniques he'd learnt at school. The shadow of Claire’s condition hangs over him— a darkness that cannot be illuminated— and his change in demeanour is obvious to Fergus, who sneaks several glances at him throughout the very short drive home.
It’s close to ten when they pull up at the house, and he lifts a sleeping Faith from her car seat while Fergus scrambles forward to help by grabbing her backpack along with his own. Only two years earlier Jamie had still been constantly picking up after his son, nagging him to take responsibility for his own possessions. Back then he’d wanted the lad to learn to be more independent, but now it brings forth a wave of nostalgia, seeing him take initiative and show so much care, not only for himself, but those around him.
His wee lad is growing up much too fast.
As if to prove his point, Fergus not only rushes to open the door for him but also goes on ahead, switching on the lights along the way and setting down Faith’s bag inside her room before tending to his own things.
It makes Jamie’s heart constrict in a way that can't be healthy.
Faith stirs briefly as he sets her down in bed, rolling onto her side and burying her face against Beary’s middle. He adjusts the blankets around her body, unable to resist brushing a thumb over the curve of one chubby cheek, smiling as she leans into his touch. Even unconscious, she seems happy to have him close, as though an invisible connection has formed between them in the past month.
Likely soon to be broken, whispers the traitorous voice inside his mind.
He forces the briefest of smiles for no one to see, and then presses a kiss to her forehead, briefly nudging one stray curl with his nose. Her scent is soft and mild — honeydew melon and rose nectar, the special shampoo he always purchases for his wee bairns with curly hair.
“Goodnight, mo chridhe,” he whispers.
He leaves her then, softly closing the door behind him as he goes. For a minute he stands there in the hallway, eyes closed, trying to regain the strength to carry on with the evening. When he pulls himself out from his own mind, regains a steady hold on reality, he turns, catching a glimpse of someone ducking away from his gaze.
The poor lad has always been so perceptive, and Jamie's change in mood has clearly not been lost to him.
He’s sure that it had been easier to conceal his emotions before he became a father. Opening his heart and letting his guard down around the bairns had made him that much easier to read when he was with them, and now is no exception. Sighing lowly, he returns to his own room, washing away the worries of the day in the shower, feeling a little more like himself once he climbs into bed.
He anticipates that his son will likely reach out, verbally, physically, before the night is done.
To let him know that he's not alone, as Jamie has always done for him.
He occupies himself with his phone in the meantime, catching up on current affairs, and sure enough, not five minutes later, there's a rather timid knock on his half-open door. Jamie looks up as a familiar head pops inside his room, eyes like the ocean, swimming in turmoil.
There's a hesitance in his voice, accompanied by the fact that he hasn't quite stepped into the room, that has Jamie straightening up and turning his full attention towards the doorway.
“What is it, lad?”
He tries to keep the concern from his voice, speak as neutrally as possible. Early on he'd learnt that even the slightest sigh could be mistaken for exasperation, not just by Fergus but many of the bairns that have stayed with him. They'd grown accustomed to being perceived as a nuisance, and it had been quite difficult for Jamie to break down the communication barrier and assure them all that if he was tired or annoyed or in a foul mood, it was never because of them.
When Fergus doesn't respond, still just eyeing him from the doorway, he extends an arm, and within seconds the lad is flying into his embrace, tucking his head right beneath Jamie's chin. He's done so since the very beginning, feeling sheltered and safe there, and though he's long grown out of needing or even wanting to be held all the time, the comfort of touch never really goes away.
“I ken I havena been home as much as usual in the last week, and I dinna want ye tae feel as though I'm neglectin' ye.”
“It is alright, I know you are busy with work,” Fergus mumbles, determined yet resigned.
“Why don’t ye go and grab my laptop from the office, lad? We can watch a movie together if ye’d like?”
The lad’s demeanour completely changes as he pushes away from his hold, eyes lighting up with glee.
“Oui!” he exclaims, grinning and then tearing from the room at a speed that makes Jamie wonder if he'd still be able to outrun him.
Fergus returns not two minutes later, laptop under one arm and a bag of crisps under the other, eyes already wide and shining with hope. Jamie knows he'll be vacuuming crumbs from the sheets tomorrow, but relents, waving him over with one arm.
“Just this once,” he mutters, repeating the same concession he’s given each and every time a bairn turns to him with puppy-dog eyes, knowing that when push comes to shove, he is helpless to resist.
Given they'd stayed up till long past his usual bedtime, Jamie is not surprised that Fergus is still out like a light when he checks on him late the next morning. The lad had made it back to his own room when the film was done, leaving behind Jamie's laptop covered in greasy fingerprints, a scattering of crisp crumbs and flecks of salt strewn across his bedspread. Despite his intention to get things cleared up before dozing off himself, Jamie had blacked out the moment his head hit the pillow, his dreams filled with nothing but shapes and shadows, all swirling together like those images used in inkblot tests.
Images not unlike the assortment of wee doodles that Faith has been making the entire morning.
As much as he always wants to let the bairns develop their artistic abilities, arts and crafts tend to be very messy and result in colours and paints ending up in places that take much too long to clean. Puzzles and other developmental toys are far easier to tidy up, but Faith had made known her desire to draw when he’d asked her what she wanted to do before they headed over to spend the afternoon on the farm. And so he’d handed over a stack of printer paper and a pack of crayons, gently reminding her to keep her creations on the paper and not the table.
She’d looked very much offended when she turned to him, so much so that he couldn’t help but laugh, earning him a series of giggles in return.
He’s not entirely sure if she’s trying to replicate a familiar pattern or just allowing her creativity to flow into works that could only be classified as abstract, but he cannot for the life of him figure out what it is she’s creating. She has a steady hand; he knows that from the very neat signature she leaves on each piece, five letters that spell out her name, but the control seems to fly out the window when it comes to her artistic side.
It makes him happy that she’s able to let loose, as it were.
He looks through each of the pieces she’s created, tracing his thumb over her name, marvelling at the tidy print, and the thought hits him like a speeding train.
“How old are ye, a leannan? I never thought tae ask." He’d been so focused on other things, splitting time between his professional and personal life and failing at both. Now is not the time for self-pity, but he feels horrible.
Without glancing up from the crayon masterpiece she’s working on, Faith holds up her hand as if to wave at him, fingers outstretched.
Christ, he’d been convinced she couldn't be any more than four years old, given her small stature. Her paediatrician in London had forwarded some medical history to Geillis, but she hadn’t yet had a chance to pass on the information to him. Presumably, their misassumption about her age hadn't qualified as something important enough to inform him about immediately, and he doesn't blame her for it.
He only wonders why he hadn’t thought to enquire himself, how he hadn't picked up on the clues.
When Faith had mentioned being in school, he imagined she meant nursery school or reception at the very most. He hadn't even considered she might have already been partway through Year One, and mentally berates himself for it. Her age would have explained why she appeared to be so advanced, well ahead of the learning curve for a four-year-old.
There are so many things going on in his mind, confusing thoughts and conflicting emotions, all of which fade away when Faith turns to him, resting one hand on his knee and presenting him with her completed artwork.
It's a drawing of two stick figures.
One very tall, with very orange hair.
One tiny, with a mass of brown curls, clutching what appears to be a teddy with a crude rendition of a tartan blanket attached.
They’re holding hands (thanks to the abnormally long arms on both figures), and both have wide smiles on their faces.
“Do you like it?” she asks shyly, looking down at the drawing and then up at him.
“Aye,” he manages to choke out. "It's the bonniest picture I’ve e’er seen, lass.”
He ends up helping her save the other drawings in a folder, but this one is slipped onto his office desk, ready to be framed.
How much can the human body endure before reaching the point of no return?
Perhaps it would be easier if she felt the pain, the fractures in her bones and the rips in her skin, evidence of all that she had suffered, however long she had been imprisoned. But all her sensations are muted, dulled. It's as though a heavy mist has descended upon her mind and body, shrouding her from the hurt, but taking away her ability to feel. Her memories are still there; she can make out something through the haze, but it's so difficult to see clearly.
So hard to stay… awake?
No, that can’t be right.
She can only see shapes and shadows, blurred at the edges and only in shades of grey. Nothing is truly tangible, fading away the moment she tries to reach forward and touch whatever it is that lays before her. It would be easier to succumb to the darkness, but she cannot bring herself to let go, to plunge into the abyss.
There’s a voice sometimes, speaking words that she can’t quite understand, but it comes and goes. It’s so familiar yet foreign, feels strangely comforting, and makes it easier for her to hold on, to cling to the light.
Day and night, night and day.
Time must be passing around her, and yet she knows not if she is living or if she is dead.
And then there’s a warmth, and she feels a change in her own pulse — her heart is still beating, so she must be alive. She hears that same voice again, but it's louder now, closer, and she tries to follow the sound—
-tries to break free-
—and then it fades away once more.
For a while after that it feels as though she’s drowning, falling deeper and deeper, the light fading away with every passing moment. But she holds on — to the memory of that sound, the sensation she had felt in that moment, tries to recall the steady thump of her own beating heart.
There's ear-splitting shrieks, pressure on her chest, and it feels as though her limbs are weighed down by lead.
But then she's breaking through the surface, leaving the icy depths of the frozen lake she had been trapped within, gasping for air...
She opens her eyes and then quickly squeezes them shut once more. The intensity of the light is painful, stinging. It's artificial, and yet somehow she knows it's day, knows that it's time to wake up.
There’s a familiar smell, one she’s learned to associate with long shifts, rounding on patients and scrubbing out after surgeries. I’m a doctor, she thinks — no, she knows.
And the memories come flooding back.
Not like waves, gently lapping at the shore, taking away grains of sand and bringing back more. The visions crash over her all at once and not in the right order; images that somehow assault each and every one of her senses, leave her struggling to breathe. She feels it, the pounding in her head, in her chest.
The look on Faith's face when she’d told her to hide.
The machines begin to scream.
It’s her own voice.
She has no idea how much time passes before the door is being thrown open, a wide-eyed nurse charging in, clearly unable to mask the expression of shock on her face. The woman’s mouth falls open, and then she’s turning, calling out to someone else for help.
“Doctor Beauchamp! Ye’re awake!” she says, and in any other circumstance, Claire may have rolled her eyes at the woman for stating the obvious, but she’s too panicked, with little control over her own body, to react in any way other than to call out for help.
Her voice cracks as she yells, desperately and continuously, waiting hopelessly for a familiar little girl to come running into the room at her call. It only serves to terrify the nurses more, two them approaching her as though she is a caged beast.
“Where is she?!”
She cannot bring herself to recall the events that brought her here; she’s not entirely sure she remembers it all, but she does know that her little girl is nowhere to be found, and her instincts take over. The nurses are trying to help her — the logical part of her knows this to be true — but she’s blinded by the need to protect her child, and so she turns on them, furious and demanding, with no control over her own emotions.
“Where is she?! Where is Faith?!”
They only stare blankly at her, as though they have no clue of what or whom she is speaking, and Christ, it feels as though she’s being torn apart, straight through the middle. She begins to cry, hot tears spilling down her cheeks; it stings, but then again, every breath is painful.
“Claire, I’m going tae need ye to take a deep breath fer me and mind yerself. Yer injuries arena fully healed yet and we dinna want ye tae open up any o’ the wounds.”
She shakes her head then, trying to reach out to the nurse on her left, crying harder when the woman withdraws, stepping backwards with her gloved hands raised in front of her.
“Please, I need to know where she is,” she pleads — no, begs — and she’d heave herself off the bed and onto the ground, crawl on her hands and knees if that got her closer to an answer.
She repeats the word, over and over, so many times that it should lose all meaning, but doesn’t. Her throat dries out and she begins to sputter and cough, vision blurred by liquid salt and energy waning with each passing second.
The nurse on the left — the older of the two and possibly more experienced — seems to take pity on her, shaking her head and inching forward one step.
“Lass, ye were alone when they brought ye in.”
“I told her to hide, I didn't want them to find her too,” she cries out, shaking her head, trying to make sense of the situation.
What if she'd been wrong to make such a choice? What if Faith had met a worse fate, alone in the streets at night?
“Claire, do ye ken where you are?”
She knows, she tries to remind herself that these women are only trying to help her, but they’re not listening.
“Where is she? Where is Faith? Please, you have to take me to her!”
Her throat is hoarse from screaming; the numbness is slowly fading. She can truly feel the pain now, all through her body and growing in intensity, but nothing that compares to the violent pangs in her heart. She’s finding it more and more difficult to breathe, struggling to draw air into her lungs. Dimly she’s aware of one of the nurses tearing out of the room, the other looking over her shoulder and calling for help.
"Page Doctor Abernathy to the bedside STAT. Tell him it's an emergency!"
Perhaps her mind is clouded, perhaps time is not moving as she’s used to, because before she knows it, more people are rushing into the room and restraining her, pinning her thrashing limbs down.
“No! What are you doing? Let me go!”
Her pleas are ignored; she can hear them talking around her, above her. Everything makes sense and yet simultaneously doesn’t. A mask is slipped over her face but she’s powerless to resist.
“I don’t want to be put under!”
She yells, she screams, she tries.
But everything in her vision slowly fades to black once more.
How long can a person survive without breathing?
He remembers learning of it before, challenging himself to see how long he could go before his vision became littered with dark spots and he came dangerously close to passing out. It was only sheer dumb luck that saved him from seriously injuring himself, having decided to take on such a foolish experiment while swimming in a loch. His father had saved him that day, pulling him from the murky depths, and scolded him for days on end afterwards, reminding him of the value of life.
Four years later, Jenny had called him from the hospital and told him that their father would never draw another breath on this earth.
The memory of that moment stays with him now, plagues him as he tries to remain calm, gripping the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles have gone white.
He'd been out on the farm with the bairns, supervising them as they did their chores — which mainly involved “feeding” the animals (giving them wee treats) and trying to stop wee Jamie from scaling the fence into the sheep pen. It was a pleasantly warm afternoon, winter having slowly begun to thaw away, the sun warming their skin and melting the last of the snow. The air was crisp and clear, the sound of laughter and joy surrounding him until the shrill ringing of his phone had brought it all to a halt.
A courtesy call from Angus, letting him know that the hospital had contacted the station.
Claire was, Christ— Claire was awake.
He’d tried not to let the shock of the news show on his face as he rushed to find Ian, informing him of a work emergency and then quietly slipping away before the bairns could object to his leaving. God knows how many speed limits he’s already broken, but he manages to pull into the hospital car park only twenty-eight minutes after receiving the call, and is in the building in less than half an hour, sprinting towards the reception desk.
Perhaps the stars are finally aligning for him today, because Nurse MacArthur is behind the desk and she does not look surprised to see him. In fact, the expression on her face is one of blatant concern, and in the last seven strides it takes to close the distance between them, he thinks of a dozen horrific scenarios that might have transpired to cause that look. Before he has a chance to voice any of his worries, she speaks up, offering him a guarded smile.
“I can take ye back tae see her, but they had tae sedate her earlier. She panicked when she woke up.”
At the look of sheer horror he must be exhibiting at her words, she quickly shakes her head, reaching out to pat the back of his hand.
“Dinna fash, lad. It’s nothing I havena seen before. Yer lass is good hands, I promise ye. And you arrived at a good time too. She should be wakin’ any minute now.”
He flushes at that, stammering but not quite finding the courage to inform the kindly nurse that Claire is most definitely not his lass. She chuckles good-naturedly at his pink-tinged cheeks and gestures for him to follow. He does so with zero hesitance. On the way there, she chats animatedly about God-knows-what; in truth, he doesn’t hear a word she says, his mind completely occupied by one thing and one thing only.
Her name echoes in his mind as he comes to a stop outside the open doorway of her room. He can feel a gentle hand pat him on the arm, hear a soft whisper of ‘good luck’, and then he's alone.
But not quite.
He wracks his mind for something to say, but finds himself completely at a loss for words, gaping like a fish.
Sitting up and looking in his direction. Her hair as wild as ever, surrounding her like a halo. Her skin still bruised and blotchy with unnatural hues, shallow cuts scabbed over and deeper ones heavily bandaged.
He’d seen her only yesterday, but she looks so different.
Who blinks, several times, stares deeply into his eyes and shakes her head in disbelief.
“Oh God, I really am well and truly dead.”
She holds a hand up to her face, looking very much frazzled and entirely exasperated, and he can't help but crack a smile. The sound of her voice soothes the unsteady thrum of his heart; the sight of her golden eyes bring more light into his life than the midday sun.
“Ye’ve always had a strange sense o’ humour, mo ghràidh,” he says, letting out a low chuckle and slowly entering the room, hands behind his back, fingers sharply digging into his own flesh. He notices the way she tenses, entire body going rigid as he speaks, but she doesn't respond, just continues to stare at him, eyes wide and unblinking.
“Sassenach…” he whispers when he’s at her side, unable to move any further when he sees the rage flash across her face.
“Don’t call me that,” she snaps, a furrow forming between her brows.
“It’s just the Gàidhlig fer—”
“I know what it means.”
She looks furious, and he doesn’t know how to process it. He’d expected fear, he’d anticipated fear, he’d been so prepared to handle fear. His instincts take over, and he tries to soothe her anger, to remind her that he isn’t using the word as an insult.
“I ken ye remember me. Ye said my name when I found ye,” he says, his tone almost pleading, worrying for a split-second that his own fears have come to pass, that he has been erased from her memory.
The fury increases tenfold — a living flame in her eyes, so like the fire he’d seen when he found her in the warehouse, held her in his arms.
“If you know I remember you, you’ll know exactly why I don’t want to see you,” she snaps, turning her head and averting her gaze.
“Please, just go.”
He swallows, trying not to let the hurt take over, to suppress his pride and not act without thinking.
“Claire…” he whispers once more, trying to convey his sincerity, his concern, his care for her. If she turns him away now he'll leave her be, at least until she's had more chance to rest, to reconsider. But he'll be damned if he doesn't at least try, just this once.
Slowly, he reaches forward, wondering if the words they had uttered all those years ago still hold true.
It’s easier when we touch.
It had been true then. They’d shared their truths with one another, words flowing between them with ease thanks to a single point of connection; the backs of their hands brushing as they moved beside one another, his pinky hooking over hers as they sat on the shore, staring out into the horizon, and later, her head nestled against his chest, their fingers entwined.
His fingers barely graze her knuckles and she starts, shirking away from him.
“Don’t touch me!”
In a complete state of panic, she thrashes about, trying to push him away and tearing the IV from the back of her hand. Blood immediately begins to well up at the site, ruby red against her pearl-like skin, and he backs away, hands in the air, not wanting to provoke her any further.
He turns back and forth, wondering if he should call for help, but apparently the wee stramash between them has already been heard by one of the ward's nurses. He thinks he might recognise her from earlier on in the week. The woman bursts into the room, catches sight of the blood splatter across the sheets, and follows the erratic shrill of the machines to the monitors, mouth dropping open in alarm.
“Inspector Fraser, I think it’s best ye take a step outside,” she manages to stammer after a moment, and he's quick to comply, but he cannot help turning back just once, seeing Claire curled in on herself, shaking like a leaf.
His touch, terrifying her so.
It’s almost enough to break him.
After a lengthy conversation with Angus (in person at the hospital after he finally arrived, not at all surprised that Jamie had beaten him there) and Geillis (over the phone before he headed home), he’d been given the all-clear to break the news to Faith that her mother was alive (true) and well (not so much). He’d questioned whether he would be the best choice to do so, wondering if it would be better, for Faith’s sake, to have the news come from a doctor or someone who could present the information to her in a way that she could understand, without causing any additional stress or impacting her psychologically.
The last thing he wanted to do was to handle the situation all wrong and hurt her.
Geillis had assured him that while they were all acting in Faith’s best interest, she was certain that no one cared for the wee lass as much as he did.
“Ye’re so fiercely protective of the puir thing. I ken how ye almost went after yer own uncle because o’ it. She’s lucky tae have a champion such as yerself, and there’s no one better than you tae speak wi’ her about this.”
He’d agreed, but only because he couldn’t stand the thought of not being there to comfort Faith should she have an unexpected reaction or be overwhelmed by the news. He wanted to be the one to hold her if she needed the comfort of touch, to brush away her tears and reassure her that all would be well.
When he reaches Lallybroch to collect the bairns, Jenny and Ian offer to keep them overnight if he has work to do. So often he feels guilty for leaning on his family so much, but he knows voicing that line of thought would only earn him a wallop over the head by Jenny.
And she'd force him to crouch down to allow her to reach.
Fergus and wee Jamie are playing a video game together, and though he's loath to be separated from his son for the evening, the conversation he'll need to have with Faith will be easier if it's just the two of them. The lad is all too happy to stay at the main house; while Jamie is not strict by any means, Jenny and Ian do allow their bairns a touch more freedom, and he understands the environment is more fun for them.
And so dinner that night is just for two; he sets the table up for a special occasion, with deep blue napkins folded into crowns, Faith's favourite cutlery set (the ones with wee bears printed on the plastic handles), and polished silverware for him. He even lights a scented candle, though he's not quite sure what Secret Garden is supposed to smell of.
He serves up a veritable feast, one that takes him almost two hours of preparation. The entire time is spent telling himself that his extensive menu for the night isn't a manifestation of him trying to procrastinate sharing the news of her mother's recovery with Faith.
The fridge ends up filled with leftovers, but Faith is endlessly delighted by the entire affair, blushing profusely when he explains that it’s a special dinner for his favourite wee lass.
For dessert he has a serving of tiramisu from Jenny’s, of which he allows Faith only one bite, not wanting the caffeine to affect her sleep schedule. She's content with the chocolate pudding he offers up instead, polishing off the entire cup with an expression of bliss.
He does the dishes and considers the exact words he wants to use, stumbling and tripping over them in his mind, unable to string them into complete and coherent sentences.
Perhaps it would be better to go with the flow, as it were.
Wanting to give her time to process the information before bed, he realises that he cannot delay the inevitable any longer. After drying his hands, he heads to the playroom and finds Faith working on another puzzle. She looks up as he walks in and beckons for him to join her, patting the empty spot on the floor beside her, but he shakes his head, staying in the doorway and watching intently as she puts each piece into place.
He offers her a round of applause once the puzzle is complete, and without prompting, she disassembles it and returns it to the box. When she gestures for him to help put the box back in place, he shakes his head.
“Dinna fash about it, lass,” he tells her, holding out his hand. Curious but not quite suspicious, she runs towards him, placing her wee fist onto his palm. He leads them back out to the living room, sitting down on the couch and then helping her settle opposite him.
“There's something I need tae tell you…” he starts, only realising how ominous he sounds after the words have left his mouth.
He hears the voice inside his mind, the hollow echo of a memory:
Might as well come straight out with it.
“I found yer mam, a leannan.”
Her reaction is not at all what he anticipated, but Jamie supposes he should have expected to be surprised. Beauchamp women have a proclivity for the unexpected, it seems.
She looks up at him, head tilted to one side, lips pursed and brows furrowed, evidently deep in thought. The emotions that must be tearing through her right now are likely a storm compared to his own earlier internal conflict, but she's eerily calm, taking the time to process things at her own pace. It scares him a little, how mature and controlled she is for a lass so young, but he also knows she's not immune to tears and meltdowns like any other child, and it makes it all the more difficult for him to predict her reactions to any given scenario.
“Can we go and see Mama?" she finally asks, her voice small and shaky, bottom lip trembling. It makes him want to just pull her into his arms and grant her every wish, but he knows that her request is not feasible for the time being.
“Not yet. She’s verra sick right now and has tae stay in the hospital fer a bit so she can get better.”
He holds her wee hands in his own and squeezes them gently, trying to reassure her not only through his words, but his touch. Her frown deepens as she looks down at the ground and then back up at him, unshed tears in her whisky eyes.
“Did the bad men hurt her?”
It is this line of questioning that has him wishing she were more innocent, blissfully ignorant of the truth of things, unaware of the horrors of reality. He’d given her half-truths before, kept secrets for her own benefit, but he cannot bring himself to lie to her.
“Aye, they did. But she’s safe now.”
He watches as she processes the information, looking far more troubled than someone her age should be capable of. She sniffles but does not cry. He marvels at her restraint for a moment, and then feels a pang in his heart when he realises she’s holding back once more because of him.
“It’s alright, a leannan,” he mumbles, drawing her into his arms. The tears do not dampen the front of his shirt as he expects. She sits still, allowing herself to be held, but is very much deliberate in her thoughts and actions. Her wee fingers tug on the fabric of his sleeve to draw his attention, and then she's pushing herself upwards, using his shoulders for support. He keeps one hand on her back to prevent her from teetering off the edge of the couch, but allows her to stand there between his legs, almost at eye level with him.
“When can I see Mama?” she asks, her voice slightly louder and clearer than before. He raises his other hand and brushes back a stray curl, gently stroking her cheek with his thumb.
“Soon, mo chridhe. I promise ye.”
“I want to see her now,” she tells him. It’s not a demand or a request, rather an expression of her innermost desires, to be reunited with the woman who brought her into this world, who had cared for her, loved her and protected her above all else.
“There’s nothing I want more, lass. But we must give yer mam time tae get better first.”
He wants to convey the severity of the situation without frightening her further, but realises he’s done a rather poor job of it when she frowns once more.
“What if she doesn’t get better?”
I don’t know, he wants to say. He has no idea what he'll do or how he'll handle things should things suddenly take a turn for the worse; he's been stubbornly hoping for a miracle, to live each day as though they're closer to being granted good news than bad.
But I don’t know is not the answer she needs to hear. He feels no shame in admitting that even he, a grown adult, doesn't know how to handle a situation like this, but he recognises that responding to a child in such a way will never be enough to satisfy their curiosity.
“I have faith,” he says instead, gently tapping his finger to the tip of her nose, making her eyes cross for a moment, “that she’ll be fine.”
He sees the excitement in her eyes, the joyous expression on her face, and feels a stab of guilt right to his gut.
This is… this is exactly the outcome that they had wanted, for Claire to awaken and Faith to be reunited with her mother.
For a family unfairly torn apart to be put back together.
Jamie himself had prayed for Claire’s recovery, wanted to see her safe and whole. Even before he’d known of her identity, there was little more he yearned for than to find out where Faith had come from, to help her return to where she belonged. He can imagine it, the twin expressions of love and adoration they'll wear when they see one another again. The tears of joy and soft cries of happiness, finding one another after so long apart.
He wants to be able to share in their excitement, to wish them both the best and see them on their way, but it is now that Jamie realises he's not as selfless as he wishes he were.
When it comes to matters of the heart, he’s not entirely immune to selfish thoughts.
And as he sits, watching Faith, hearing her babble on about making a card to show her mama, he feels the barely mended cracks in his heart split wide open.
A gaping wound, invisible to all.
His days with her, with both of them, are numbered. There’s every chance in the world that Claire will refuse to see him again, that he'll eventually be forced to hand Faith over and watch them leave. They’ll go back to their lives and he'll go back to his, and in a little time, they’ll have forgotten all about him.
There’s every possibility that he’ll only live on in Claire's mind as a man she once knew — a man she now resents, as he deserves.
There’s every chance that Faith will not remember their time together at all. Perhaps an image of him will appear once in a blue moon, simply a tall man with red hair who had once shown her kindness. Perhaps he'll be a blur — a memory, foggy and fuzzy around the edges.
But they’ll live on in his heart, in his mind, right beside each and every loved one that he's lost too soon.
His mother, his father, his brother.
Parts of him that can never be erased.
Chapter 14: Uncertainty
There’d been a time when Claire's life was structured, organised and adhered to a schedule. Even when she'd become a mother, coping with the unpredictable nature of having a child in her life, they'd still found a routine together, just the two of them.
Now, she has no idea what tomorrow will bring.
After the third time she’d come out of sedation, an older nurse had taken a seat at her bedside and quietly apologised for rendering her unconscious, not wanting her to injure herself or any of their staff amidst her panic. She'd understood. As a doctor, she knew that they had made the right call in the moment. As a mother, still clueless about the whereabouts of her only child, she'd been desperate for answers.
“Dinna fash, lass. Inspector Mhor arrived while ye were out cold, and he told us that yer daughter has been verra well looked after in yer absence. She’s safe.”
The relief had only been momentary. She had far too many questions. Where was Faith at this very moment? Who had she been staying with during this time, however long they'd been apart? Was she doing okay? Did she miss home?
Did she miss Mama?
She’d begun to cry anew, leaving the poor nurse to awkwardly offer tissues and help mop up her tears and snot. It was clear she'd get no more answers in the meantime, but to know that Faith was well, that she hadn't met a fate worse than Claire's own, it had to be enough.
Inspector Mhor — or Angus, as he'd insisted she call him — was clearly a man very skilled at his job. He’d known exactly the right questions to ask without pushing her too far, but seemed to have no boundaries when it came to personal matters. The room had no reflective surfaces, and she couldn’t know for sure how she looked, but a complete mess would have likely been a correct guess. And yet the man had no qualms about openly flirting with her, enough so that she could likely file a complaint. She found she didn’t mind it though, his bawdy humour and how forward he was. It was a refreshing change of pace in comparison to the interactions she'd had with all of the medical staff that flitted in and out of her room.
They treated her as though she was made of glass.
The only other visitor that had chosen to be honest and upfront with her had been the doctor assigned to her case. Doctor Abernathy had come in to see her, given her a brief rundown of her injuries, and discussed different treatment plans. He was friendly, with a smile that would put most patients at ease and a delightful American accent that reminded her of the time she spent in Boston. A good man, and an excellent doctor — that much she could discern.
But she didn’t need his assessment to know the toll her body had taken; she could still feel each and every break and fracture, remember the precise moment when a particular injury had been inflicted. Internal haemorrhaging, damage to several vital organs, severe malnourishment accompanied by a notable loss of muscle mass — he’d read off each of her diagnoses in the same manner one might a shopping list.
Despite it all, he was very hopeful she'd make a full recovery, in time.
With the right care, she would certainly heal — had begun to already, in fact, slowly but surely. The pain persisted, ravaging every inch of her broken body, but she didn't like the drugs. They inhibited her ability to think clearly, to have full control over her own thoughts, and allowed the horrors that now dwelled permanently in her mind to take over, with no strength to keep them at bay.
She didn't want to think about it, to relive the days of darkness, filled with terror and dread, like one endless night going on and on and on until she'd been pulled away — rescued — like a damsel in distress.
By none other than Inspector James Fraser, whose name appears to incite giggles and redden the face of every nurse that brings him up, always completely of their own volition. Thankfully, they all have enough tact to avoid mentioning the fact that she'd panicked wildly upon seeing him, going so far as to accidentally tear the IV from her arm, making a mess of the room and more work for them to clean up. She hears the rumours though, that the handsome inspector had taken an interest in their mysterious patient, and had come to see her almost every single day since she was brought to the hospital.
She doesn’t quite know what to make of it.
And so she takes the easy way out.
She has no idea if he’s truly been frequenting the hospital to see her, but a quiet word to one of the nurses on the night shift, asking if they could turn him away the next time he tries to pay her a visit, gives her a small sense of relief. Perhaps it’s cowardly, and perhaps there's a better way to deal with things.
But she’s not ready for it yet.
She doesn't know when, or even if, she ever will be.
It's the only word Jamie can come up with to describe the confusing range of emotions coursing through his body. He cannot say for sure what he feels most, whether it be that these feelings are too complex for him to process, or that there are simply too many of them existing in tandem for him to settle on one.
In the early days, when he was quite a few years younger and a little more naive, he'd been consumed by anger, allowed the rage to take control and made decisions without too much consideration. But with time, all these negative emotions, the fury and ire, had dulled.
Like a star, slowly dying, losing its light.
When he'd whispered her name aloud for the first time in years, there had been no fight left in him. He'd anticipated the slightest flare of anger, but his concern for her well-being and worry for her fate had overshadowed any negative feelings that still lingered within his mind. Holding her in his arms once more, all he'd felt was relief.
Relief that she was still alive, that she'd somehow survived the horrific ordeals that no one should ever have to live through.
To be completely furious with her yet still want her in his life.
The desire to grab her by the shoulders and shake her till she listened while fighting the urge to pull her into his arms.
Needing to vent his frustrations and scream accusations and simultaneously trying to prevent himself from showing just how much he still cares.
He’s at a tipping point, balancing between two extremes. It’s harder now that he’s less impulsive, trying so valiantly to remain impartial. Perhaps it’s because he’s no longer considering only himself, or maybe he’s simply taking more care in guarding his own heart.
When he shows up at the hospital on Monday morning and is advised that Claire is not receiving any visitors, he revisits the entire range of emotions. First concern — that she may have taken a turn for the worse, then anger — at himself, for ruining their last interaction, and finally resignation — because he’s not in the least bit shocked at her reaction to seeing him. He tries to probe a little further, asking if all is well with her health, and is informed that ‘Doctor Beauchamp made the request herself’.
From their tone and pitying looks, he concludes that she’s specifically singled him out as someone she doesn’t want to see, and he isn’t quite sure how to deal with that information.
His mood is sullen for the rest of the day. He barely goes through the motions at work, and only perks up the slightest bit in the couple of hours he spends with the bairns in the evening. As he tucks Faith in, wondering how many more times he’ll be granted the opportunity to do so, she asks him again-
“When can we go and see Mama?”
To know that her mother has been hurt by the bad men is one thing. To see evidence of the damage caused, the hurt inflicted upon someone she loves dearly, is another matter altogether.
“Soon,” he murmurs, hoping it will be enough to placate her, to help her sleep peacefully through another night.
How soon indeed?
Geillis drops by on Thursday evening for another home visit — officially, to check up on Faith, but off the record, to provide him with updates on the whole situation.
Jamie had headed to the hospital once again earlier in the day, this time briefly after work, and was greeted by a very apologetic nurse, shaking her head as he approached. He was well aware that both Angus and Rupert had spoken with Claire regarding their respective cases; they’d both mentioned dropping by to interview her (Angus, for the second time), though their accounts of the visits were deliberately vague. They’d already shared more with him than they were required (and permitted to). The rules were rigid, especially when it came to investigations of this scale; he’d known that from the beginning.
Oh, but how he hated it, not even being able to throw himself into his work as a distraction, with nothing but mind-numbing petty thievery to investigate.
He’d driven home after the unfruitful visit to the hospital, plagued by voices in his mind that would not quieten despite his very best efforts. As much as he hates the negative thoughts, he is only human, and the past few weeks haven’t been easy — not for him or any of those around him.
He’d felt angry, bitter and resentful, and recognised each of these emotions clearly.
And now he feels shame.
It’s the most difficult to escape from; it’s something he doesn’t even try to fight against.
Their brief history aside, he has no reason to see Claire, much less speak with her. His presence at her bedside while she was unconscious should not have been allowed. It’s perfectly within her right to send him away, even when factoring in his role as Faith’s caretaker in her absence. Any communication between the two of them could and should be handled by Geillis. The logical part of him understands this.
The other part, ruled by emotions and desires, is shattered at the thought of having her so near, yet being unable to see her.
He’s not a man to wear his emotions so clearly upon his face, but Geillis — as annoyingly perceptive as ever, and still entirely suspicious after that night at the hospital when Claire had first been found — sees right through him. It’s obvious in the way she scrutinises him from the moment she crosses the threshold into his home, narrowing her eyes and sneaking furtive glances, lips pursed in concentration. She’s wise enough not to say a thing — not while in Faith’s presence — and tonight his poor wee lassie is a tad clingier than usual, absolutely refusing to leave his side.
“Are ye sure ye dinna want tae go play wi’ yer puzzles or read a book, lass?”
She shakes her head at that, curls bouncing with the motion, and then burrows even further into his side on the couch. Geillis, occupying the armchair to one side of them, gives him an undecipherable look and he sighs in response. There’s not much better after a monotonous day of work than a cosy night-in at home with his bairns, but he does need to speak with Geillis and there’s little they can discuss with Faith listening in. She’s a clever wee thing, and though she might not understand all that they speak of, he fears whatever conclusions might be reached from what she can comprehend will only lead to more confusion.
As if things aren’t already difficult enough for her.
“How about we go and get ye some milk before bed? I’ll even put a wee bit o’ honey in it for ye?”
Bribery, one of the most important tools of the trade.
“Strawberries too?” she asks him, eyes wide and lashes fluttering.
“Aye, whatever ye wish, a leannan.”
Faith climbs over onto his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck with a giggle, shrieking when he stands and pretends to stumble from the weight of her.
“Ye're a pushover, Fraser,” he hears Geillis call out as he heads into the kitchen with Faith, but pays her no mind. The sooner Faith gets her snacks, the sooner she’ll be asleep and off in dreamland. It may be a little early for bedtime, but he doesn’t expect Geillis to wait around until Faith falls asleep of her own volition. The woman already goes above and beyond for him, scheduling visits around his unpredictable work hours and always doing the best for his bairns.
One cup of warm honeyed milk and a couple of strawberries later, Jamie has his wee lassie tucked in and drifting off, curled up with her bear in his stead. He pops in and checks on Fergus before heading back downstairs; the lad had fled to his room the moment he learned that ‘Ms. Duncan’ would be dropping by for a visit. He’s reading a comic book he borrowed from the school library, and surreptitiously glances over Jamie’s shoulder to see if he’s alone. Resisting the urge to roll his eyes and wondering if there is a guide on the internet on correcting children’s beliefs about witchcraft, he shakes his head and bids the lad goodnight as well.
Upon his return to the main living area, he finds Geillis has helped herself to his whisky collection and poured a dram for each of them. He recognises the bottle and is thankful that she hasn’t gone for anything too pricey. He sits himself back down on the sofa and takes a sip, savouring the taste in his mouth before swallowing. It wouldn’t be wise to over-indulge on a weeknight, and he hopes to make this glass last the entire conversation.
“Sorry about that. She’s no’ normally so insistent on bein’ glued tae my side.”
His apologies are dismissed by the wave of a well-manicured hand.
“I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: it’s truly a blessin’ when bairns are comfortable in their placements. Ye dinna ken how many home visits I’ve conducted six months in, sometimes a year or two, where the wee things are still sae terrified.”
He nods, taking another sip of his drink in lieu of a response, and thinks that perhaps his plan to slowly savour the glass was a foolish one to begin with.
“I guess we should be gettin’ tae the matter at hand,” she says, clearly sensing that he’s waiting for her to take the lead. “As we discussed before, had Claire no’ been found, we would have pushed tae have all o’ Faith’s records transferred to us and eventually passed on to ye, as long as any o’ her next of kin couldna be contacted.”
She pauses then, taking a deep breath and then adopting an entirely too serious expression that has his hackles rising.
“Now, you and I both ken that what happened tae Claire was truly awful. But the investigation into her disappearance has no’ been officially concluded, and it hasna been confirmed where or when exactly Faith was separated from her mam. There’s a verra small chance that this case could still be treated as child abandonment until proven otherwise.”
He inhales, sharply.
Downs the rest of his whisky in one go and pours himself another.
Whatever grievances there have been between them, he knows with absolute certainty that Claire would never do such a thing to her own child. He’d stake his own life on that. But there’s little use venting his frustrations to Geillis, who is very clearly on his side, on their side. The anger blazing beneath his skin renders him lost for words of a polite nature, and all he can do is grunt in response.
“I’ll be meetin’ wi’ her doctor tomorrow tae check on her progress. If it’s possible, I’d like tae speak with the lass myself, tae do my own assessment as Faith’s social worker. I’m confident that wi’ her doctor’s testimony and that of you and yer colleagues, we can prevent any accusations against her. But even then, until she’s declared fit tae resume care o’ Faith or appoints another guardian, the wean will remain under yer care.”
It does give him a small sense of relief that things are likely to be resolved in the least complicated manner possible, despite the unique circumstances. There is one more fear, however, that he cannot help but voice.
“What if she wanted tae be transferred back to England?”
He has no idea the likelihood of such a request being made, but imagines it wouldn't be unusual for someone to want to be home, wherever they felt the safest.
“Then she would have tae appoint a guardian there or Faith would be placed with a new emergency foster family. I ken how attached you and the wee lass are to one another, but ye ken how these things work, Jamie. Sometimes it’s out of our control."
He chuckles ruefully, remembering the days when he’d been separated from Fergus. The lad had spent some time in emergency care with another family while Jamie was going through the process of becoming a foster parent, and they’d been reluctant to let him go, appreciating his presence in their household as an additional source of income.
Christ, some people were truly awful.
“Aye, I ken,” he says, pushing aside thoughts of those isolating times. “But it doesna stop me from thinking of how much I’ll miss her, and she’s no’ even gone from my life yet.”
There’ll be more children in his future; it’s something he knows with absolute certainty. Every bairn that he’s cared for has made a change in his life, but not all have impacted him so much as Fergus did all those years ago, and now Faith.
“Are ye speaking of wee Faith, or someone else? Her mam, perhaps?”
Of course, he’d taken that exact moment to have another sip of whisky, and it goes down the wrong pipe, making him cough and splutter, his throat and lungs burning. When he finally catches his breath, he levels her with a glare.
“You really are too nosy for yer own damn good.”
“That doesna answer my question.”
He ponders it for a moment, and perhaps it’s because he’s already had way too much to drink (a terribly poor excuse for a Scot who had his first taste of whisky before he’d even learned to walk), but he makes the decision to not hold back anymore.
“Fine… I kent Faith’s mam before. Claire and I were briefly acquainted some years ago.”
Seeing the cheshire-cat smirk appearing on Geillis’ face, he wonders if it’s a poor choice on his part.
“Claire, is it?”
“Christ, why I am even telling you this?”
“And when ye say acquainted,” she presses, looking him in the eye and making air quotes around the word with both her hands, “what am I supposed tae make o’ that?”
The rest of his second dram of whisky is drained in the span of three heartbeats.
“I dinna ken,” he mutters hoarsely, throat still stinging. “Make of it what ye want.”
“Och, Jamie. I’m just teasin’ ye. And does it no’ feel better tae get this huge secret off yer chest?”
He shrugs, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. Whatever relief should have come with his admission is nowhere to be found.
“It’s not something I wish tae dwell on. The past is the past.”
She looks as though she wants to press him on it, to force him to explore thoughts he’s deliberately kept hidden away, and throws him through a loop when she poses one more question.
“Seems the past is yer present now, is it not?”
This time, it’s her that pours him another glassful, nudging it in his direction with a sympathetic glance. He takes it in his hand, staring into the amber liquid.
In one spot, it catches the light, a golden hue.
By the shadows of his hand, a richer, deeper brown.
Two whisky-eyed lasses, soon to leave his life forever.
“In the near future, I’ll be nothing but their past.”
When Claire is woken up on Friday morning, long before the crack of dawn, the very cheerful nurse informs her that she might have a new visitor later on in the day. There’s part of her that doesn’t want to see anybody, that wants to curl up in a ball and forget the horrors of the world. But there’s another that’s been so lonely and so isolated that she craves conversation, especially interactions that don’t involve measuring her urine output or poking at her incisions.
“Who?” she mumbles, still not entirely conscious.
“Someone from social services. They’re comin’ in tae speak with Doctor Abernathy about yer condition and wanted tae personally provide ye wi’ an update about yer daughter.”
She can almost say with a hundred percent confidence that she hasn’t sat up so quickly her entire life (or at least made the effort to). Her body vehemently protests the sudden motion, nerves sending shockwaves of pain to her brain, and her groan prompts the poor nurse to rush forward and help her up properly. It takes a moment before she’s comfortably situated — as comfortable as one might be in a hospital bed — leaning against a lumpy pillow, body battered and worn.
God, she’s exhausted, despite barely expending any energy in the four days since she regained consciousness. Physical therapy will eventually form part of her regimen after she heals up a bit and passes through any psychiatric assessments they deem necessary, but she cannot even picture it right now. She’s observed post-surgery fatigue in her patients before, but rarely this severe, though she’s never personally operated on someone starved and half-beaten to death.
Even the simple task of eating a meal tires her out, despite the tiny portion sizes recommended by one of the hospital’s nutritionists. By the last few bites her arms are often shaking from exertion.
It makes her feel helpless.
She hates it.
Despite the small rush of adrenaline upon learning that she could soon have more news of her little love, she soon succumbs to a restless slumber once more, fatigue winning out.
When she awakens an hour later for her first meal of the day, she only feels the slightest bit more energised. She has no appetite, though she cannot say for sure whether it’s a lingering effect from the weeks of starvation she’s endured or the general lack of appeal of hospital food. Thanks to her jaw injury, she’s relegated to pureed vegetables for the most part; bland and tasteless with a grainy texture.
It makes her feel a little guilty for all the things she tried to feed Faith when she was moving on to solid foods. There’s no wonder why her decidedly unfussy daughter refused her poor attempts at homemade baby food.
She tears up thinking of her little girl; her rosy cheeks and dimpled smile, her giggles and the way she said Mama. Her brain might be muddled but she remembers how to do basic mathematics. They arrived in Scotland just after Christmas, travelling light, wanting to explore nature and spend time together, just the two of them, with no late-night hour shifts and emergency pages.
Just Mama and her lovey.
Forty-four days since she last saw her child, her flesh and blood. To her, the most precious thing in the entire world.
The next few hours feel like another forty-four days, waiting eagerly for someone named Geillis Duncan to arrive. And when she does, stepping into the room just after Claire’s third meal of the day, she looks nothing like what Claire had anticipated.
Not the homely kindergarten teacher stereotype. No... Geillis Duncan looks as though she just strutted off a catwalk. Her hair, flaming red but strawberry blonde at the roots, fashionably dressed, makeup painted flawlessly onto her skin.
Claire has never been too concerned about her physical appearance, but for a split second, she wonders what’s going through Geillis’ mind as she observes her. Bird’s nest curls and deathly pale skin, marked and marred — perhaps it wouldn’t be much of a stretch if someone were to mistake her for a fresh corpse. She tries to smile, look a little more alive, but the muscles in her cheek spasm with the effort.
“Ye must be Faith’s mam, Doctor Claire Beauchamp.”
Claire nods, a thousand questions at the tip of her tongue as Geillis pulls up a chair beside her bed and takes a seat.
“I’m Geillis. Geillis Duncan, from social services. I imagine ye must have verra many questions and I hope tae be able to answer most o’ them.”
It’s difficult to truly gauge someone’s character upon meeting them, but every single one of Claire’s instincts is telling her that this woman can be trusted.
“I just need to know that she’s okay,” she whispers, her voice still hoarse, throat scratchy.
“I had Faith placed wi’ an experienced foster father the day after she was found. Now, I’ll admit to ye that I may be a wee bit biased, but I’ve kent the man fer almost half my life. He’s a good man, a wonderful father, and yer wee lassie is verra fond of him.”
She’s so very grateful that Faith is being cared for by someone who is kind and loving, and in awe of her daughter for adapting to a new environment so easily. Faith has always been cautious around strangers, uneasy in unfamiliar surroundings. If her daughter managed to find trust and comfort with this man, she has no doubt that he’s deserving of her affections.
“I’ve worked wi’ children in the system fer many years now, and I could tell from the moment I met her that Faith had been raised wi’ such care and devotion. And I ken ye must want what's best fer the lass.” She pauses then, waiting for Claire to nod in affirmation before continuing, “It’s not my place tae tell ye what decisions tae make. I can only provide ye with the facts. Faith is verra happy where she is now, and until ye’re well enough tae take her home, it would be wise tae no’ confuse her too much.”
She hears the persuasive nature of the speech, knows that these words are intended to gently coax her into making one decision over another. But it truly isn’t needed. As much as she wants to get up and walk away from this hospital, collect Faith and hightail it away from somewhere that now holds such terrifying memories, she knows that she’s not ready for it.
Being a mother means having to make decisions for the benefit of her child, and so long as Faith is happy and healthy, Claire doesn’t want to make any changes. She has no idea how long it’ll take before she’s back to normal (if she’ll ever be after her ordeal), but for now, she knows that she’s not quite whole.
“Can you tell me a bit more about him? I know there must be rules about how much you can share, but I just need to know a little more about this person I’m entrusting my daughter with.”
Her own words are desperate, pleading, her eyes shining with unshed tears. She expects pity or reassurance, but the look on Geillis’ face is baffling to say the very least.
The response she gives knocks the air from Claire’s still-healing lungs.
“Och lass. Ye already ken him. The police inspector wi’ the ginger hair. James Fraser.”
She can’t quite remember the rest of their conversation. There’s a buzzing sound, a haze descending upon her mind once more. She should have known the minute she set foot in Scotland.
The ghosts of her past were bound to catch up to her.
The universe, it seems, has a sick sense of humour.
Nurse MacAllister, younger and cheerful and prone to oversharing (Jamie knows she left England four years ago to marry her Scottish beau and that they have a wee laddie named Alfie), is manning the desk when he arrives at the hospital on Friday evening. She greets him with a wide smile, but he can tell from the look in her eyes that nothing has changed, even after Geillis’ visit earlier in the day. Her next three words only confirm what he already knows.
“I’m sorry, Inspector.”
He shrugs in return, shaking his head softly.
“It’s not yer fault.”
There’s a moment or two of almost awkward silence as he shuffles his feet, unsure of what to say next. Thankfully, she relieves him of having to make the decision, turning her attention to the bag in his hands.
“Did you have something you wanted me to pass on to Doctor Beauchamp for you?”
He glances downwards, sees the gift bag absolutely stuffed to the brim with things he picked out for Claire, and wonders if he's once again overstepping. Geillis had called him in the afternoon, giving him a courtesy rundown of her meeting.
“I saw yer Claire earlier today. Puir lass was shocked when I told her that Faith has been stayin’ wi’ ye. I didna stay fer verra long but I couldna help but feel sorry fer her. No’ just wi’ what happened… seein’ her wrapped in that thin sheet and eatin’ that disgustin’ hospital food.”
He’d stopped listening after that, creating a checklist on his notepad at work of things that might make her hospital stay a little less suffocating. As far as he’s aware, she has no one else to bring her anything, no one to visit her outside of their professional duties, and he thinks were he in that situation, he wouldn’t mind the kindness of another.
Whether it be a stranger or an old acquaintance.
“Aye, here. Just a wee snack in case she gets peckish. I did check yer regulations about bringing food into the hospital, so I think it should be allowed, though ye’d be a better judge o’ that than I.”
He had, in fact, scoured the hospital’s website, searching for their policies on such matters and selected only items that should pass muster.
“Oh, and I was worrit that she might get cold in the middle o’ the night. I ken ye and the other nurses on staff are takin’ mighty fine care o’ her but-”
“Don’t worry, I completely understand,” she cuts him off, thankfully before he can embarrass himself by continuing his excessive explanation.
After a brief pause, he finally manages to string together the words to articulate his exact feelings on the matter.
“I just want tae make sure that she doesna want fer anythin’.”
Her mouth falls open and she lets out an audible “aaaww”, holding one hand over her heart and the other out to accept the bag from him. “I’ll make sure this gets delivered straight to her.”
He clears his throat, tucking his hands into his pockets and awkwardly shifting his shoulders before making one more request.
“Do ye… could ye maybe no’ mention that it’s from me? Ye ken she doesna want tae see me and…”
The poor lass looks a little confused at his request but nods all the same, reaching forward with one hand and gently squeezing his forearm in reassurance.
“For what it’s worth, I think she’ll be well chuffed.”
He can only hope that the bag won’t be returned to him, completely untouched, when he comes by tomorrow.
She’s sitting in bed (of course), bored out of her mind (unsurprisingly), and trying to forget about the horrid taste of the lumpy mashed potatoes that had constituted seventy percent of her dinner when someone pops in, lugging a paper bag filled to the brim. Nurse MacAllister, the one with an accent that reminds her of home, the one whose son (Alfred?) had ‘gone potty all by himself’ for the first time yesterday.
“Someone left some things at reception for you,” she says, way too cheerily for Claire’s taste.
A chair is pulled up to her bedside once more, the bag deposited onto it, and just when Claire thinks she’s in for another twenty minutes of chatter about a toddler’s toiletry habits, the sound of a pager halts the conversation before it has a chance to begin.
Thirty seconds later, she’s alone again, peering curiously over to the bag, branded with the logo of a food delivery service, clearly repurposed for this occasion. It’s inconspicuous — the receipt that had been stapled to the bag has been ripped off, leaving only a tiny blank scrap behind — but she knows who assembled this collection of amenities for her before she even pulls the first item out.
An assortment of fresh berries, all packaged in individual containers, marked with a sticker reading Lallybroch Farms and a very clear best before date — they’re more than soft enough for her to eat and are far more appealing than the mess provided by the hospital.
Two pairs of very fuzzy socks, one in grey and one in cream — her feet were always cold, even cocooned in bed.
A book of Scottish folk tales, well-read, the spine cracked and creased, the pages yellowed with age — she’d often found peace curling up in a quiet corner and thumbing through a novel, a journal, a book of poetry.
And at the very bottom, taking up half the space of the bag, a thick woollen blanket of browns and blue-greys — the pattern is all too familiar, and when she brings the fabric up to her nose for a sniff, she’s flooded with memories; another tartan, draped around her shoulders, covering her rain-soaked body.
A little while later, she presses a button and a nurse comes in to help her with the socks, replacing the hospital issued ones that make her ankles itch. When she falls asleep that evening with the blanket awkwardly flung over her body, she feels warm for the first time in so long. Breakfast the next morning is turned away; instead, she snacks on sweet berries and occupies her time with tales of lochs and selkies.
By the time lunch rolls around, she quietly asks Nurse MacArthur how long it would take to arrange a meeting with Inspector Fraser.
The older woman grins.
“Och, no’ long at all. The lad didna come in this morning, so I have a feelin’ he’ll be by after work.”
At the look of confusion that Claire must be displaying, the nurse smiles even wider and confirms the rumours she’s heard whispered in the halls.
“Ye’re quite the lucky lass. He’s come by tae see ye nearly every single day since ye were brought in. He’ll no’ be far.”
Her cheeks burn as though they’re on fire, and she wonders if the redness is hidden by the bruises that cover her from head to toe. Anger and forgiveness play tug of war within her mind, and amidst it all, she feels the butterflies dancing away in her belly.
After what seems like the longest pause, she finally speaks, fingers worrying the edge of her blanket, knowing in her gut that someone has poured hours of time and much affection into crafting it.
Who? she wonders.
“I would like to speak with him.”
Chapter 15: Forty-Six Days
Jamie had once imagined a life with a dozen bairns of his own, running wild in the fields of Lallybroch. He dreamed of coming home to them each day, hearing the excited shouts of ‘Da’, and chaotic family meals served on a long table, sitting opposite their mother, the love of his life.
Now, sitting on the floor of the children's playroom at Lallybroch, letting Maggie put wee plastic flower clips in his hair while Kitty and Faith play doctor and nurse with just about every single doll in the Murray household, he begins to reconsider his dreams of a football-team sized family. He's covered in the crusty remnants of Michael and wee Janet's dinner and perhaps a smear or two or whatever came out the other end when he changed their dirty nappies.
He thinks TLC could come and film a special segment about it: Red Jamie and the Seven Bairns.
It's certainly the type of mind-numbing television he'd tune into.
By the time Jenny and Ian finally get home from their evening out, both a few drinks past tipsy and giggling like a pair of teenagers, he's half-asleep on the couch, Faith draped over him, drooling onto his shirt. It took him over two hours to put all the bairns to bed; each time he tucked one in and turned his back, another would sneak out to wreak havoc. He doesn't bother regaling his sister and brother-in-law with any details, knowing that they likely won't remember much of it come dawn. They thank him for ‘lookin’ after the wee beasts’ and stumble their way through the house and upstairs towards their bedroom.
He hears the slam of a door, the sound of things being knocked over and then his sister, shrieking and providing him with a mental image he could have done without.
After checking to see that Faith is still sound asleep, he heads upstairs to wee Jamie’s room to rouse Fergus. The lad is knocked out, sprawled on the bottom bunk, and it takes three attempts to wake him.
“Come laddie, let’s get ye home and into yer own bed,” he murmurs.
Half an hour later, both bairns are tucked in and dreaming away, and he’s in the shower trying to scrub away the smell of shit and comb the snarls and tangles from his hair. Under the spray of the scalding hot water, it's far too easy to let his mind wander.
Had Claire received the items he left for her? And if so, had she rejected them outright or explored the contents of the bag first? Did she like the wee snacks he’d sourced from the farm? Were the colours of the socks to her liking? Would the book his mam read to him most nights as a child be entertaining, or brushed away as drivel and nonsense? Would the blanket be enough during the cold nights? Enough to warm her to the bone and keep her skin from being chilled?
He tries not to imagine it, to clear his mind and focus on the rivulets of water trailing down his skin. Paying little attention to anything but the patterns the fog is creating on the shower screen, he scrubs himself clean, lathering soap across his body and feeling it all melt away in the heat and steam.
Tomorrow is another day, he thinks.
Saturday morning is spent going door to door at a residential tower, trying to find anyone who may have witnessed a burglary occurring in the building. It’s a refreshing change of pace from being cooped up at his desk, but these sorts of interviews rarely prove fruitful.
When he leaves work, he heads straight for the hospital. It’s a bad habit, one that he’ll need to eventually unlearn, force himself to make a different turn and pass on by. He’s conscious of all this as he parks his car and makes his way through the car park and inside the building. Perhaps it’s sadder that he’s aware of how pathetic he must seem to the staff, making such frequent visits and being turned away day after day, but he doesn’t mind it so much.
He finds the reception and waiting area deserted, which is not atypical for this time of day. It’s likely to be busier later in the evening, but for now he leans against the counter, not in a rush to head anywhere in particular. Mrs Crook would have come by to tidy up the house earlier in the day, which means he’ll have no pressing chores to tend to when he heads home after collecting the bairns.
He fiddles with his phone, browsing the internet for a bit, scrolling past articles filled with gossip and half-truths, and has just bookmarked one titled ‘Easy Recipes for Midweek Meals’ when his wait comes to an end. From the corner of his eye, he catches sight of a familiar nurse entering the area. Tucking his phone away, he looks up with an easy smile.
“Och there ye are, James!”
“Were ye expecting me then, Moira?”
Never in his life had he imagined he would be on a first-name basis with hospital staff, but as he’s realised recently, life is often unpredictable.
“Aye weel, no’ exactly. A certain English lassie asked after ye today, seemed in an awful rush tae speak wi’ ye.”
His excitement is barely containable.
He thanks Moira profusely and turns down her offer to escort him, assuring her that he is perfectly capable of finding his way.
When he makes it to Claire’s room, the door is shut, and he pauses before knocking firmly. He hears only a muffled noise but takes it as a sign to enter.
It’s the blanket he sees first, covering the entire lower half of her body, tucked up and around her waist. He studies it for a moment, sees a circle of the pale blue of the hospital sheets; he’d missed a stitch there, distracted by something playing on television, though it’s been far too long now for him to remember what. It takes a great deal of restraint not to hurriedly scan the rest of the room, wondering what she’d made of the other items of comfort he’d provided her with.
“Ye wished tae speak wi’ me?” he asks, only slightly out of breath from the brisk pace (frenzied rush) he’d made from the reception to her room. He studies her face, tries to gauge her reaction, and it’s very clear to him that she’s trying not to think.
To conceal her emotions.
“I want to see my daughter.”
To hear her voice once more brings him such comfort, even if it sounds as though her vocal cords have been met with gritty sandpaper. It’s no surprise to him that she’s requested his presence to enquire about Faith, though he would be lying if he claimed to not be the slightest bit disappointed.
He’d hoped to speak with her eventually, to clear the air between them. When they go their separate ways once more, he wants to do so with a clear conscience, without the weight of their past hanging over his shoulders, crushing his chest — a heavy burden that he can’t rid himself of. But for now, he supposes he should be grateful that she’s speaking to him at all, having pieced together enough to make a guess of what she’s endured.
He says her name, not for any other reason than his own need to hear it.
She appears to take a moment to process it too, glancing down at her hands, folded neatly in her lap, before looking back up at him with newfound determination in her eyes.
“Her social worker came to see me. Said that Faith had settled in well with her foster father. I hadn’t expected to hear it was you who had been looking after her all this time.” She pauses then, taking a deep breath, her eyes fluttering shut. He waits, watches as her shoulders rise and fall, bides his time until he’s staring into the finest pools of whisky once more. When she says nothing else, he awkwardly clears his throat, rubbing at the back of his reddened neck with one hand.
“Aye, she’s been doin’ verra well. Misses ye somethin’ fierce. Hasna stopped askin’ me tae come and see ye since we kent ye were awake.”
He leaves out the finer details, choosing to be deliberately brief. Claire is a strong woman, he has no doubt about that, but hearing recounts of how much anxiety and panic her child has endured won’t help her now. Learning of all the tears and nightmares would only bring her more pain.
“I didn’t want… not after what happened…”
Her words say very little, but her eyes speak a language his heart understands. She hadn't wanted to reach out to him after their first interaction went south, and he feels guilt wash over him like a tidal wave.
“I’m verra sorry about that, Claire,” he tells her, hoping that he sounds as sincere as he truly feels. “I didna mean tae scare ye like that. I wasna thinkin’ right.”
“It’s fine.” Her response is short, clipped, and doesn’t leave much room for him to reply. And so he stands there, trying not to fidget, hands tucked in his pockets as he waits for her to speak again. The silence is not awkward; it’s not anything, really.
He doesn’t mind that.
She’s looking into her lap once more. This time, her fingers are worrying the edge of the blanket, smoothing over the careful stitches. He stares at her while she stares at her hands — the time passing so slowly, like trying to pour honey in the winter.
“Thank you for the gifts. You really didn’t need to,” she murmurs.
He allows himself a grin, shaking his head a bit. “Nurse MacAllister is a wee bit chatty.”
To his surprise, the corner of her mouth quirks upwards. Not quite a smile, but close enough.
“You’re not wrong, but she didn’t say anything to me. You weren’t exactly very subtle.” Her tone is lighter now, eyes less narrowed, and he goes along with it, feeling his body relax a little.
She looks up at him then, head cocked to one side and eyebrows raised just a little.
“Lallybroch Farms? A book from the library of Ellen Mackenzie? A Fraser tartan patterned blanket?”
It hadn’t been his aim to be a mystery. He could have easily purchased supplies for her at Tesco, nothing linking back to him or his family. But he wanted each of the items to have a personal touch, for her to feel cared for. He’d been shocked enough when she whispered his name that night, the first time he’d held her in his arms in years. She’d remembered him (not in a particularly positive light), but he hadn’t expected her to remember much more. Not his family home, his mother’s name, the pattern of his clan’s tartan.
Fearing that he’ll embarrass himself should he speak his mind, he makes a joke of it instead, wanting to continue the light-hearted banter they’ve begun.
“Och, wi’ such keen observation skills, ye could take my job.”
She shakes her head lightly.
“You found me, didn’t you? Inspector Fraser?”
The way she says it — so measured and calculated, without the slightest quiver in her voice — it makes him wonder just how much control she’s exerting over her each and every move. Jamie doesn’t know what to think of it, how to process the flare of something running down his spine, his nerve endings tingling. It takes a moment longer to truly register what she’s said, no — asked, and he inclines his head in response. He doesn’t know how much she remembers of that night, but the memories of it still have him feeling as though his soul is leaving his body.
The last thing he wants is to bring up something that may send her careening down a rabbit hole.
Like Alice, tumbling into Wonderland — a place filled with not so much wonder at all.
And so he says nothing and they lapse into silence once again, just gazing at one another, a silent staring contest that only ends when she blinks and looks away.
“Tomorrow?” she asks, voice lowered in volume. It takes him a second to process what she’s asking, a minute more to find a response. He considers her request, the feasibility of arranging a meeting in such a short time frame, but he’ll not force mother and child to spend any more time apart if he doesn’t have to. Geillis hadn’t mentioned anything about Faith not being allowed to visit, only that he should exercise his own judgement about the matter and adhere to all the usual protocols. It would be easier to bring her by on Monday; he has the day off work and Faith needs to visit the hospital anyway for a follow-up session with her doctor, but delaying it any longer to avoid himself some minor inconvenience feels wrong.
In truth, it’s only one more day of waiting, but he can’t bring himself to do it. Before he can truly think through what he’s agreeing to, he nods.
“Aye, I’ll bring her by before work. It’ll have tae be early and probably willna be a verra long visit.” He’ll need to squeeze in a couple of extra journeys in the time he has before work. It’s an inconvenience to be sure, but he’s more than willing, for her — for them.
“It’s… it’s fine. I just need to see for myself that she’s okay.”
He has a feeling she’d be content with holding Faith for only a minute if he could somehow materialise the lass to be in the room with them at this very moment.
“When we come and see ye tomorrow... if ye need anything else, you only need ask.”
His instinct is still to reach out — to take her hand, perhaps give her a squeeze of reassurance — but he restrains himself, offering her a weak smile instead.
“I’ll be seeing ye then.”
Jamie has always been a morning person, but waking up and leaving the warmth of his bed on a chilly winter day does lack appeal. He doesn’t have much of a choice though; sleep is not easy to find when he has an over-eager five-year-old, determined to have him fix her hair before the sun has even risen for the day. Faith manages to sit still long enough for him to brush out her curls and fix a wee clip in her hair before running off to get changed. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen her this excited or full of energy, not even after a double helping of dessert.
Yawning widely and not entirely awake, he sets about the gruelling task of rousing Fergus for the day. The lad flops back into a content slumber each time, despite sitting up and answering Jamie’s calls, and it’s only twenty minutes later when he finally leaves his room, disappearing into the bathroom with an echoing slam of the door. In that time Jamie manages to brew a pot of coffee, sort out the papers he’ll need for work, almost scald his mouth with the aforementioned coffee, and take a very quick, very cold shower.
No better way to wake up than to freeze his entire body.
He shaves and combs back his hair, using a wee bit of gel to keep it in place and then dresses. A sky-blue button-up shirt, a pair of dark trousers and a jacket to ward off the nip of the air. When he leaves his room, Fergus is stumbling from the bathroom, dressed in a dark sweater and jeans, suffering from a major case of bedhead. He smiles at the sight, seeing his son so grumpy in the early morning, and decides to leave him be until they need to head out.
When he pops in to check on Faith, he finds her sitting on the floor against her bed, engaging in a staring contest with her wee boots, the same ones she’d worn when she first came to stay with him. It takes him another moment to realise she’s dressed in the same coat too, and jumper and leggings. Seeing her deliberate choice in her outfit gives him a warm and fuzzy feeling, much more useful at warding off the cold than any jacket would do.
“Can you help me with my shoes, please?" she asks, and he’s at her side in an instant, kneeling as he reaches towards the wee boots. They’re laced up on the sides, clearly designed for someone with far more nimble fingers than him to undo, but he manages in the end.
“Ye look verra bonny, a leannan,” he tells her, but there’s no shy giggle or smile in return. She looks terribly nervous, the poor thing, and he doesn’t understand why until she shares her fears with him.
“What if Mama doesn’t remember me?”
He sits down beside her with a muffled groan, pulling her onto his knee and straightening her coat. She looks every bit the scared lassie who had come into his life not two months past and it pains him to see.
"Now, tell me lass, do ye still remember yer mam?"
At her indignant stare, he continues.
“Do ye think ye could tell me a wee bit about her? What does she look like?”
Faith nods, entirely serious. “Mama has hair like mine but it’s longer. We have the same eyes. She’s tall but not tall like you.”
Watching Faith speak, hearing her descriptions, he can imagine exactly what Claire must have been like as a child. He nods along, listening with rapt attention as she talks about how ‘Mama puts stuff on her face sometimes. She says people do it to look and feel pretty’. She wrinkles her nose as if remembering an unpleasant smell, and he chuckles.
“Och, and what did ye have tae say to that?”
She shakes her head, looking far more exasperated than a child should have the capability to. “I told Mama that she was always pretty, even without the funny powder.”
Oh, what a sweet lass.
He reaches over and smooths one of her shiny curls back into place, securing it with the wee ribboned clip he’d used to hold back her flyaways.
“Now, ye remember everything about yer mam, do ye no'? And yer mam is a doctor, so she’s verra smart. Do ye no’ think she’d remember everything about ye too?”
There’s complete silence as she contemplates his words, and he lets out a breath when she finally nods, evidently convinced by his completely logical reasoning. He counts it as a victory, the first crisis of the day averted, knowing it would be foolish to even hope there won’t be a second or a third.
By seven, they’re out the door, making a quick detour to grab breakfast along the way. By the time they pull up at the hospital, he’s left with greasy fingerprints all over the car, crumbs in every crevice and a stain on the carpet by the passenger’s seat after he’d turned a corner a little too fast and the lid had popped off his coffee.
A stark contrast to the day before, the hospital is bustling with activity. He keeps a firm hold on both bairns as he signs them in on the visitor’s log, marvelling at their ability to sense their surroundings and knowing to behave.
He sits Fergus down in the waiting area just down the hall from Claire’s room, handing over his mobile and trusting his son to not run off if left unsupervised for a couple of minutes.
“Why don’t ye wait right out here? Ye can play wi’ my phone fer a bit, and then I’ll drop ye off at Rabbie’s.”
Fergus accepts the device without a second glance, quickly navigating to search for his favourite games. Content that the lad is taken care of for now, Jamie turns his attention back to Faith, standing silently by his side.
He grabs an alcoholic wipe and thoroughly cleans her hands, smiling as she patiently holds them up in front of her. Once satisfied that she's ninety-nine percent germ-free, as claimed by the label on the package, he cleans his own and disposes of the used wipes in the rubbish bin.
“Alright then. Let’s go and see yer mam, a leannan.”
She slips her hand into his, and with one last glance over his shoulder to check on Fergus, he leads them down the hall towards Claire’s room. The door has been left open, likely at her request, and he catches sight of her, sitting up in bed with a wide smile that must cause an ache in the muscles of her face. She’s radiating happiness as she catches sight of the precious wee lassie by his side.
He sees a light in her eyes, a joy that’s been missing in all the time since he found her, one that is quickly fading. Faith’s grip on his hand tightens, to the point where her wee fingernails are digging into his skin, and his heart sinks to his stomach as the blood seems to drain from Claire’s face.
A high-pitched whimper echoes through the silent room and he looks down, sees the tears begin to trail down Faith’s cheeks as she lets out a wail.
His attention is torn between the two of them.
Claire, sitting huddled in bed, looks even smaller and more broken than when he first found her. The anguish written clearly on her features tears at his gut, makes him feel as though someone is trying to physically disassemble him.
Faith is quickly going red in the face. She wraps herself around his leg, shaking her head and continuing to weep. He can feel her trembling, sobbing as she tries to get the words out, to tell him what it is she wants.
“Nooo, please! Can we go home?”
He casts a quick glance towards the bed and Christ, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. He’d wanted nothing more than a happy reunion between the two of them, and the sight of Claire, her glass face betraying the emotions doing battle beneath the surface – he feels as though he’s being torn in two.
“Lovey… it’s okay, Mama’s here.” Claire opens her arms out towards them – towards Faith. The smile she’s wearing now is unnatural. He knows… he knows what joy looks like spreading across her features, and this isn’t it.
She’s far too controlled.
He can only imagine the pain she feels.
He can only admire how strong she is –
A cliff battered by a stormy sea –
Pieces being chipped away by relentless waves –
And yet still standing.
Swallowing back his own tears, he extricates himself from Faith’s grip and tries his best to direct her attention back towards her mother. “Come now, lass,” he says, laying a hand on her back and urging her forward a little, “yer mam is right there.”
“Faith, it’s okay. I know you’re scared, lovey, but everything is going to be okay.”
Jamie hears the waver in Claire’s voice, sees the way her arms are trembling from the strain of reaching out towards Faith, who refuses to budge – refuses to even look up, gaze trained on the ground. He feels his own shoulders slump as he bends down to her level, cupping her face with one hand.
“A leannan, ye’ve been askin’ fer yer mam for weeks and now ye want tae leave?” he asks gently, hoping to calm her, to change her mind.
She shakes her head, then nods, then wails even more loudly than before, her wee hands reaching out to tug at his coat.
“Please, please can we go home?”
She’s said it twice now.
She means back to his house, with him, not in the arms of her mother, where she truly belongs.
“Faith…” he tries once more, brushing away a tear with his thumb only to have another replace it, endless streams cascading down the curve of her cheeks.
“I don’t wanna stay here,” she whispers, but it’s a childlike whisper, one that is most certainly loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. There’s a sharp inhale from Claire, and he wants to go over there, to put his arms around her trembling form and tell her that Faith doesn’t mean it, that she’s just afraid. But he knows his words won’t help, that his touch is unwanted, and there’s a little lass right in front of him that needs his comfort more than anything.
He rests his chin on Faith’s head, cradling her close as he looks over at Claire, seeking her guidance, seeking her permission.
Claire – whose fists are clenched so tightly her knuckles are white.
Claire – trembling fiercely even as sweat gathers at the nape of his neck.
Claire – tears beginning to pool in her whisky eyes, stubbornly refusing to fall.
A crack in the glass, fracturing, breaking into a thousand tiny pieces.
She shakes her head and whispers a single word.
With a heavy sigh, he stands, pulling Faith up into his arms and letting her cry against his shoulder, setting one hand over her back and holding her close.
“I’m sorry, Claire,” he whispers, before fleeing the room.
The last thing he sees as he makes his abrupt exit, is her – crumbling.
It has to be the cocktail of drugs in her system because she’s rarely this outwardly emotional. She’s had a glass face her entire life, unable to conceal her thoughts and feelings, but she wasn’t prone to publicly bursting into tears. It was important to her to be strong in front of Faith, especially today of all days, having not seen her daughter for over a month and a half.
Claire had expected a tearful reunion, perhaps silently sobbing into her daughter’s girls, kissing her cheeks and holding her so that her little head rested right over her heart.
She had not anticipated that the sight of her would scare Faith, would render her so terrified that she ran into the arms of another and begged to leave.
It breaks her, shatters her beyond repair.
She tries to rein herself in, to gain some semblance of control before the nurses have her transferred to the psychiatric ward for her unpredictable outbursts. Her nose is stuffy, snot and tears mingling on her face and pooling in the bow of her upper lip, and she wonders if she should cut her losses and wipe it off on the sheets or try and locate a tissue like a civilised person.
It’s in the midst of this decision when she finds she’s no longer alone. The door — which had been left ajar when Jamie ran off with Faith bawling in his arms — is inched open, creaking the entire way, until a boy steps into the room, peering around, eyes alight with curiosity. With a head of chocolate brown curls and distinctive cherubic features, he doesn’t look old enough to be classed as a teenager.
When he speaks, it only adds to her confusion.
“Are you alright, milady?”
She’s grown used to the Scottish brogue of the medical staff and the Americanisms from Doctor Abernathy, but the boy’s accent is one she hasn’t heard in quite a while.
Not bothering to wait any longer for a response (or an invitation for that matter), he pushes the door closed behind him. It doesn’t quite click into place, giving her the reassurance that she could still scream for help if this innocent child turns out to be a prolific serial killer.
She sits up a little straighter, aware that she’s as far from authoritative as one could possibly be, pulling her arms across her chest and trying to sound confident when she speaks.
“Who are you, and what are you doing in my room?”
He puts a hand over the centre of his chest, wearing an expression of apologetic disbelief as he walks up to her. “Pardon, I have forgotten to introduce myself. Fergus Claudel Fraser.”
Fraser. She takes it all in once more — the tousled curls, ocean blue eyes, and charming smile — and she echoes her first thought aloud, seeking confirmation.
The boy, Fergus, nods enthusiastically.
“Oui! Milord— Jamie, he is my père, non — papa. He took la petite outside to get some fresh air… she would not stop crying.”
And just like that there’s a fresh wave of pain, the knowledge that right now, her little girl is being comforted by another, all because she’d been scared to see her own mother. She sniffles, tries to keep the tears at bay, but it’s a hopeless endeavour. Just as she’s about to cave and wipe her face with the back of a hand, a box of tissues is thrust into her field of vision. She grabs two handfuls, wipes away all the bodily fluids, and blows her nose twice for good measure. Before she can even think to ask, Fergus is holding up a wastebasket, ready to receive the mound of crumpled tissues.
Of course, Jamie Fraser’s son would be gallant and polite, the image of a perfect young gentleman.
“Thank you,” she whispers.
“No need to thank me, milady. It is an honour to finally meet Faith’s maman.”
She’s not entirely sure whether Geillis had mentioned any siblings; if the woman had, it must have been after she revealed the identity of Faith’s foster father. As much as it fills her with shame to think about, Claire had zoned out for the rest of the conversation, not paying much attention to anything that was said after the words Inspector Fraser. It’s good that Faith has another child for company, she thinks, especially seeing how well-mannered the boy is. The only thing that troubles her is wondering where the boy picked up his accent.
His mother, most likely.
A woman in France.
As she had once been.
Lost in a spiral of nonsensical thoughts, she’s only brought back to reality when Fergus takes her silence as an opportunity to begin chattering away. He speaks mostly of Faith, about her favourite toys and snacks, about the mischief they’ve gotten up to while playing with his many cousins, the fun they’ve had together in the past month.
“I know she has not been with us for very long, but she is the best petite souer I have ever had. I will miss her when she goes back to England. Milord too. I think if he did not find you, la petite would have stayed with us forever. But it is better this way, non? She has missed you very much.”
She begins to consider the implications of his words. Fergus is clearly fond of her daughter and pays much attention to her, having learned so many of her quirks in such a short span of time. Having never had siblings of her own, she often wonders what a bond like that must be like. The second part of his declaration frightens her a little. There are many things about James Fraser she had once been sure about, things that she no longer believes to be true. But one thing she knows without a doubt is that he’s passionate.
If he truly cares so deeply for her child, she believes Fergus’ words, that Faith would have found a permanent home with them. Before she can allow herself to delve any further, to begin considering the effect that her mortality may have on their future, the door is pushed open once more, revealing a very frazzled Jamie and a now sleeping Faith. He pays no heed to her as he steps into the room, stepping right up to Fergus and placing a firm hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Lad, I thought I told ye tae stay outside. Ye shouldna be in here botherin’ Claire.”
From Jamie’s tone of voice, she senses that the poor boy is about to get a very public scolding, and decides to intervene, grateful that he has taken the time to speak with her.
“No, it’s alright. He’s been keeping me company, haven’t you, Fergus?”
She smiles at him, sees him smiling in return, and notices the odd expression on Jamie’s face as his gaze darts between the two of them. He doesn’t speak though — just stands there and observes, Faith motionless in his grasp. Before she can talk herself out of it, she clears her throat, drawing his attention.
“Do you…” she starts, feeling strange for even asking.
“Aye, what is it?”
“Could I hold her? Just for a minute, while she’s sleeping?”
For a second, she wonders if he’ll say no, if he’ll flee the room once more, taking away the one thing that had bound her to this earth when she had grown close to giving up. But then he’s moving closer, very carefully setting Faith down in her lap, afraid to jostle her and disrupt her slumber.
Despite her protestations earlier, Faith seems to have no reservations while unconscious, immediately curling up and resting her head on the centre of Claire’s chest. With her child at peace in her arms, she can see the changes that have occurred in their time apart. It could be that her mind is playing tricks on her, but Faith seems a little heavier now, her hair slightly longer than before.
Claire is careful to keep her touches light, gently resting her cheek against the top of Faith’s head, fingers smoothing over her back. She closes her eyes and imagines they’re back home in England, curled up together early one weekend, not a care in the world but one another.
And then Faith shifts and she’s brought back to reality.
Inhaling, she’s hit with the gentle scent of honeydew melon and something else, roses perhaps.
Looking up and across the room, she sees Jamie standing there, arm draped over Fergus’ shoulder, the pair of them silent observers to quite possibly one of the most vulnerable moments in her life. She can’t explain why, but she’s grateful for their presence.
“Thank you,” she whispers.
“Dinna fash,” Jamie responds, biting down on the inside of his cheek as if to physically stop himself from saying any more.
It doesn’t hit her till much later that he hadn’t called her Sassenach.
By her request, of course.
It takes her a little longer to realise that she wishes he had.
Jamie spends the day at work ridden with guilt and worrying about Faith, having little choice but to just drop her off with Jenny in order to make it back to the station on time. He doesn’t have a chance to see how she’s faring, to have a wee chat with her about the earlier incident, and it eats away at him. His mind cannot help but conjure images of her crying in his sister’s arms, unable to be consoled.
She’s quiet but free of tears when he picks her up after collecting Fergus, not making a peep all through dinner and bath time, and it scares him. When it’s time for bed, he sits with her, holding her tiny hand. He knows that she’ll be seeing her doctor tomorrow, someone trained to provide her with support, but he needs to do his part, whatever he can to make her life a little easier.
“I ken what happened today must have been verra scary for ye, a leannan. And ye dinna need tae explain yerself tae me. Sometimes we have feelings and we cannot control them.”
She nods, still silent, reminding him very much of the first few days they spent together.
“Yer mam is trying her best tae get better, and I ken she doesna look as ye remembered, but she’s still yer mam. She loves ye verra much and all she wanted was tae see ye again, tae hold ye.”
He hopes his words don’t make her feel any semblance of guilt. It’s not her fault that she’d reacted the way she had. It’s something neither he nor Claire had paused to consider, that the injuries to her face (even partially healed) would be so terrifying for Faith to see.
“Do ye ken that ye give the best hugs? Do ye not think yer Ma would get better faster if ye gave her a hug?”
He feels her nod against his chest and then wrap her wee arms around him, to the best of her ability.
“Can we go and see Mama tomorrow?” she asks, newly determined and no longer afraid.
“Are ye sure, lass?” The last thing he wants is to pile on some additional emotional trauma for either one of them.
“I want to say sorry,” she tells him, eyes downcast, lashes dark against her pale skin.
He softens at that, leaning down and pressing a kiss to her cheek. She pats his in return, wee fingers tapping against the line of his jaw.
“Och, ye dinna need tae do such a thing. Yer mam understands, I promise ye.”
She shakes her head and then looks up at him, offering words of wisdom that linger in his mind even as he falls asleep later that night.
“Mama says it never hurts to show someone that you’re sorry.”
The first thing Claire does when she’s alone once more is to take stock of her injuries.
She examines her hands, the only parts of her body that have been left unmarred. Her wrists, the marks from where the shackles had cut into her skin. Her arms, slashes and gashes, all stitched back together, a rainbow of bruises, painted above and beneath the surface. It’s not possible to see the damage done anywhere else; she’s still bandaged up for the most part, and only catches a quick glimpse here or there when gauze is replaced or incision sites are inspected for infection. She’s healing up more slowly than they would like, her weakened body protesting each and every step of the way. They don’t voice their concerns to her; it’s foolish, because she can see for herself.
When a nurse comes in to check her vitals at midday, she asks for a mirror. He’s young, inexperienced, and doesn’t quite have it in him to conceal his reactions around patients. Claire can see the horror in his eyes, the reluctance, but she doesn’t back down.
Twenty minutes later, a small handheld mirror is set down beside her bed, just within reach. She waits until the door is firmly shut, knowing that she won’t be disturbed for the next hour, before grasping the handle and laying it face down in her lap.
For the longest time, she sits there —
— breathes —
— tries to prepare herself for what she might see.
Finding a surge of courage, she turns it over and brings it upwards, holding it across from her face.
She stares, but doesn’t recognise the woman staring back.
She blinks, and the image does too.
She shakes her head, and the motions are mirrored.
Vanity had never been more than a fleeting thought for her, with so many things in her life that were more important.
But now, being unable to recognise the image of herself, it terrifies her. Makes her hands shake and body tremble, causes her heart to beat erratically. She’d been able to entertain other causes for Faith’s panic earlier, but now, seeing herself for the first time after, she understands completely.
Beneath it all, she thinks she can still see herself, the shell of what she once was. There are still parts she knows to be familiar, but there’s no denying that she isn’t the same person she was before.
And so there’s one thing she cannot make sense of, a riddle she cannot solve.
She doesn’t understand how he could stand there and look at her so, as though she hadn’t changed at all.