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 counter top. 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 an emoji of two thumbs up 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 greets them in the same, 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, a slight 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 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, turns back, 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? 'Tis not 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 adverse 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 washroom 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 noise 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 rest of Jamie's work week 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 rearview 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 demeanor; 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.