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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. 

 

Yours.

 

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.