A few days have gone by, and their vacation is coming to an end… but Claire's not entirely sure if she wants that or not. This definitely wasn't the vacation she'd dreamed of when she decided to take the girls to Europe for Spring Break, but she wouldn't trade anything in the world for the knowledge that Jamie is still alive.
Their flight is today, just hours away.
Jamie, John and his family are going to accompany her and the girls to the airport since their flight is just a few hours after theirs.
John, bless him, had gotten it approved for him and Jamie to change their flight plans to Georgia, sending Hector and Sophia back home to North Carolina on their own. They have a safe house just outside Atlanta where he and Jamie can stay, giving Jamie a few more days to work things out with her.
Claire is nervous, anxious to see how it will go having him back in their state again. He'll be staying about an hour away from her, but she knows Jamie, knows he'll spend every waking moment with her and the girls while he can, which is where her fears settle in. Will anyone see him? Will he stay inside the whole time? The questions build in her mind as she finishes packing the girls' suitcases.
She nods, taking a shaky breath. She admits her fears as she sits on the edge of the bed, and Jamie joins her, taking her hand in his. Her palms are sweaty. They've barely touched over the last few days besides a few awkward hugs, bumps of their shoulders, and the occasional hand holding, but now that it's coming to an end, she's kicking herself for not holding him more, not embracing the sensation while she could.
He gives her hand a gentle squeeze, promising her things will work out.
Biting her lip, she nods in hesitant agreement, thoughts of home swirling in her mind. Murtagh will be the hardest to avoid; he'll be wanting to come over right away to see the girls. Then, of course, there's Frank. Joe and Geillis might be easier to dodge, she can just claim they're tired from the trip and recovering from jet lag.
"What will ye tell Frank?" he asks, pulling her from her thoughts.
Blowing out a breath, she stands again, folding one of Faith's dresses and placing it into the luggage. "I'm not sure," she admits, shrugging helplessly. "I feel awful, and…"
"Do ye still want to be with him?"
His question interrupts her train of thought, stopping her dead in her tracks. She's got one of Brianna's shirts halfway to her chest, mid-fold, and she halts, looking at Jamie. Sighing, she finishes folding it, dropping it into the other tiny suitcase on the bed. "I… no, I don't know, Jamie," she stutters, ashamed of admitting how she truly feels to him. She does know what she wants, but it's difficult for her to imagine how to get there without hurting someone in the process. She's hardly had a moment to herself to really sit and think about what all has happened or how to deal with it.
She turns her ear toward the door, listening for the girls in the next room. She'd directed them to collect all their toys from the living room and put them in one pile to make it easier to pack. "You have to understand this is hard for me," she says, plopping onto the other twin bed next to him. "I've grieved your death, I've visited your grave," her eyes water, and Jamie places an arm around her shoulders. Her head falls to her chest, taking a moment to collect herself.
Sitting up, she clears her throat, adding, "I've spent the last six years trying to get my life back to some semblance of normal for me and the girls, and Frank helped me do that." She rubs at her temple, another headache brewing just below the surface. "I have a life that involves him. He helped me see that life could still go on after such a gigantic loss… he's a wonderful man, and I'm sorry, I know this bothers you, but the girls love him. He's around all the time and even helps out with the girls when I'm working," she sighs. "He's rooted in our lives, and I just… I don't know what to do."
She knows her hesitation is more rooted in the having to lie to Frank aspect. Of course she wants to be with Jamie, knows how wonderful life was with him before, but she's changed over the last several years. She imagines Jamie has, too. What if they've both changed too much? Fear gnaws at her gut, plaguing her thoughts. How will this even work with Jamie still in hiding in North Carolina and her life so established in Georgia?
Her head pounds from the stress building inside of her, and she huffs, closing her eyes.
Jamie nods, silently trying to support her, but she can see the tears brimming in his blue eyes. She knows talking about how integrated Frank has become in their lives pains him—it hurts her to hurt him—but he has to know the truth. He's the only one she can talk to about all of this right now.
After a moment, he finally speaks, his arm coming from around her shoulder to hold her hand again. "I ken this is hard for ye, Claire." He brings her hand up, kissing the palm. "And if Frank is better for ye now, I willna stand in yer way of happiness. I just want ye to be happy, ken?" He wipes a lone tear from his cheek, saying, "That's all I've ever wanted."
Fuck, fuck, fuck. Why does this have to be so complicated? Why couldn't she have found Jamie three years ago before she knew who Frank Randall was?
She worries her lips together, trying to hold back tears. She focuses on the sounds in the living room, listening to the girls giggle with one another. She's well aware they're probably playing more than cleaning, but right now, she doesn't care.
Claire buries her head in his chest, crying softly. His strong arms wrap around her like a father comforting a hurt child, whispering soft Gaelic reassurances into her hair.
"We'll take the next few days to figure things out, aye? See how ye feel once ye're back in yer home and in yer routine."
She nods, loving this man no matter what has happened. He's always been so understanding, so selfless. She can tell his words hurt him to say, hell, they break her heart, too, but she knows he only wants the best for her. She wants the best for him, too, but she needs more than just the four days it's been since she found Jamie to figure everything out.
The last few days have been nothing but a whirlwind of equal parts elation and confusion. She feels constantly discombobulated, like her mind is racing in a cloud of confusion. Her head feels as if it is spinning in a dream that she can't—and doesn't want to—wake up from.
Hours later, once everything has been packed away, they make their way to the airport, a pit of dread forming in Claire's stomach.
The reality of life is starting to hit her, and she realizes this little bubble they've created in Spain over the last few days is about to pop.
Jamie hugs the girls goodbye as she hugs John, Hector, and Sophia.
She watches with tear-filled eyes as Jamie cries over letting the girls go, even knowing he'll see them tomorrow in Georgia.
"I'll miss ye both sae much," she hears him murmur, Faith and Bree both giving him sad little nods.
Brianna's arms circle around his neck, burying her face there as she mumbles something into his skin that Claire can't quite make out.
He stands with Bree still in his arms, and Faith wraps herself around his waist. Her head rests on his side as she looks up at Jamie, eyes shining as if she's looking at the moon.
They both love him so much, and Claire smiles despite herself as she watches the scene before her.
Turning back to Hector, Claire bounces Sophia in her arms and says, "You two be safe, okay?"
They've spent their last two days eating meals and spending time with John's family, and she's come to love this little girl. Faith and Brianna love her, too, treating the toddler like their own personal life-sized Barbie doll.
They would play with her thick, curly hair, putting bows in it and giggling as Sohpia chased them around. They'd all come back to Claire's hotel suite last night, letting the three girls watch movies and play dolls together.
It was adorable, really, and she's going to miss them terribly.
She kisses Sophia on the cheek, placing her down on the ground. The little girl bounds over to Faith and Bree, both girls encircling her in a group hug.
Hector chuckles, saying, "We'll have to try and get together if you guys ever make it to North Carolina."
She smiles, agreeing that they will.
John and Jamie join them then, Claire saying goodbye to John before Jamie takes her off to the side, leaving the girls with the other couple.
He wraps her in a big hug, his strong arms enveloping her in his heat. His body always ran warmer than hers, something she quite enjoyed on cold winter nights, but now it gave her a sense of melancholy, knowing she wouldn't have this feeling again for a while. Not like this, anyway, not just the two of them with no boyfriends or secrets hanging over them, looming like a dark shadow.
His lips press softly to the top of her head as he whispers, "Have a good flight. Text me when ye land."
Nodding against his chest, she wipes a tear from her eye, laughing derisively when he makes a comment about her tears never ending.
She picks up her carry on, calling for the girls to come join her.
She knows they're just as confused as she is. She and Jamie had tried explaining the situation to the girls as best as possible the other night, Faith understanding a little bit more than Brianna.
"A bad guy hurt Daddy," he told them as they all sat around the kitchen table. "And since he's not in jail yet, I have to hide."
Faith asked if that's why his hair is brown, and Bree said she liked it that color. The girls broke into a spat about who has seen more pictures of Jamie, and Claire had to put an end to it despite how happy it secretly made her that they had something to argue about when it came to their father.
They told the girls that no one can know, not even their aunts and uncles, which astounded both little girls, and Faith equated it to a kid-spy movie she had seen at a friend's house.
She knew Brianna didn't understand as much, usually just nodding along when Faith did, but they still had plenty of questions.
"Do you know who the bad guy is?" Bree asked, to which Jamie told her he does, but he's in Georgia, which is why Jamie was tucked away in North Carolina.
Claire could see that the knowledge of Master Raymond living in their state scared the girls, so she grabbed Jamie's hand and added, "But he doesn't live where we do, girls."
Her eyes caught Jamie's and he nodded, seeming to realize the effect his words had had on their children. "Aye, and he canna hurt ye girls, alright? Ye're safe where ye live now."
That seemed to placate them, based on their synchronous nods, but they still had plenty of questions, the curious little things that they are.
"What happens if Master Raymond finds you?" was Faith's question. Jamie pulled her into his lap, kissing her head and promising her that his friend, John, was working very hard to keep him safe. They'd meet him tomorrow, and Claire hoped that seeing the man protecting Jamie would help ease the girls' minds.
"He's like your fairy godmother!" Brianna giggled, perking up at the image clearly forming in her mind of this mysterious John dressed in a sparkly dress with a wand.
Jamie chuckled, looking toward Claire. "I'm sure he would love to ken ye called him that, m'annsachd, but nae, he's no' a fairy godmother." He smiled, letting Faith go so he could reach over and ruffle Brianna's hair. "He's just a police officer doing a verra fine job at his duties."
And the questions continued long after that, from "How long do you have to hide?", to "Can we hide with you?", which broke Claire's heart, to random questions about his new house—how many bedrooms it had, was there a playroom, how big was the backyard—and soon the girls had moved on from Master Raymond and his mob to just asking Jamie random questions about his life in general—what North Carolina was like, if he liked his job with the horses, and what he thought of his new roommate, Fergus.
She and Jamie tried answering their unending questions as best as possible, trying to be as sensitive as they could be when it came to Master Raymond, the trial, and witness protection in general.
Jamie had explained the term 'witness protection' but didn't want to give too many details other than that. The girls may have seemed to grasp the concept of why Jamie was in hiding, but giving them much more would just confuse, and possibly scar them deeper than Claire thought necessary.
It was a difficult conversation, but in the end, the girls handled it as well as possible.
Pulling herself from her thoughts, Claire smiles down at their daughters.
They say one more goodbye to Jamie, the girls a little teary-eyed as well, and make their way to their gate.
Once they've loaded the plane and gotten settled—headphones on and iPads playing movies until they have to turn them off for take-off—Claire flops into her seat, thankful that John got them upgraded to business class.
She is mentally and physically exhausted from what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation before the girls go back to school. Peering out the window, thinking over everything that's happened the last few days, Claire finds herself still heavily conflicted on what to do and how to feel.
The girls turn their iPads off for the ascension of the aeroplane, swiftly turning them back on, giggling together as they press play at the exact same time so their movies can play in tandem.
Smiling, she reaches over, running a hand through Faith's hair, then leaning over to press a kiss to Brianna's head since she's closest to her in the middle seat.
She closes her eyes briefly, then watches the clouds go by, the world below them growing smaller. She thinks of Frank, of what to say to him, how to explain what is happening without saying Jamie is actually alive.
Then she thinks of Jamie, and his smile, his understanding nature, and how much, despite what she's been trying to convince herself of, she still loves him with her whole heart. He's still the same man he was, a bit bruised and broken from this experience, but so is she.
She knows deep down, despite her fears of them each having changed too drastically, there isn't a thing in the world that could keep their bond from breaking.
After a while, she looks over, noticing that both girls have already passed out, and she chuckles. She observes the way they both smile in their sleep like Jamie, and how much they resemble her husband. They've always been her little pieces of him, but now she has him back, and that thought makes her feel like a jigsaw puzzle that was once broken, put back together with a few dings in it and now tossed around, skewing the pieces all over again.
She takes their iPads, pausing each of their movies and tucking them into the mesh pocket in the seat in front of them. She knows as soon as they wake up, they'll want to watch another, having not much else to do on the flight, but at least for now the devices won't slip and fall while they sleep.
After an hour or so of reading and attempting to watch an episode of Friends, Claire starts to drift off as well, images of her husband and her boyfriend vying for dominance in her mind. She bites at her lip, restlessly squirming as she fights her own mind, willing it to be quiet long enough to let her sleep. She'll need all the rest she can get now, because she has a feeling that later tonight, when Jamie lands in Georgia, she'll be facing both her men with no solution of what to do.
This is a terrible situation and she just wishes she knew how to handle it. If she ever saw a movie like this, she'd be yelling at the leading lady to jump into her long lost husband's arms, she'd think that was the logical thing to do, but now, being in this situation, she realizes how messy it truly is.
Frank is a good man, and doesn't deserve to just be left out in the cold. She needs to talk to him, needs to explain, but how… she doesn't know. She doesn't want to hurt him, couldn't live with herself knowing she'd left him with no explanation after he's been there for so long for her.
He's been one of her best friends for almost three years and has helped her see that moving on and starting to date again wasn't a bad thing. He'd let her take things slow, hasn't pressured her to do something she's not comfortable with, and she appreciates him more than words can say.
He plays an important part in all of their lives. He's always been such a big help with the girls, even when they were just friends—picking them up from school on days she had to work later and making them dinner, helping with homework, and he often accompanies them to practices when he's not at work or just lazing around the house on the weekends. He's truly involved with all three of them, and she knows the girls love him as well, which just makes this even more convoluted.
Huffing so hard that her cheeks puff out, she lets her eyes trail over to the girls. They're both curled up in their seats, the little blankets she'd brought from home tucked around them. The arm rest between them is lifted, Bree's head on top of Faith's hip, and she smiles.
No matter what may be happening around her, these two little rays of sunshine will always ground her, making her feel settled.
She tucks a corner of Brianna's blanket tighter around her foot, then closes her eyes, finally descending into a fitful sleep for the remainder of the flight.
Whatever will happen, will happen, and she just hopes she has the strength to get through it all in one piece.
Just a quick little update…. They're all headed back to America! What will happen now? Please remember Claire is just a wee bit emotional right now over everything. It's only been four days for her, and she's dealing with a lot so let's have a little patience with her (and me haha) as she figures life out! Lol
Thanks again for all the support of this fic; it truly means the world to me! Please let me know what you thought of this one, too! :)