Jenny stood still as a statue, her hands gripping either side of her door frame so hard that her knuckles were white. Claire stood just as motionless at Jamie’s side, her doe eyes fixed on Jenny in a pleading stare— begging for understanding. Jamie felt much the same. There was nothing to do but wait. The truth of Claire’s return was out— Jenny was staring it straight in the face— and the only thing they could do was hold their breath.
“We thought she was dead,” Jenny said, her voice dangerously low and even, “we mourned her wi' you.”
Jenny’s eyes were fixed on Claire. Her expression was a mix of accusation and disbelief. Jamie felt a surge of protectiveness rise in him. It wasn’t her fault. It was simply this twisted situation, and he couldn’t allow Jenny to lash out at her. Before he could stop his instincts, he found himself stepping in front of Claire.
“Jenny, ye need tae hear the full story,” Jamie said firmly. He softened his tone and his demeanor. “Please, may we come in?”
Jenny looked hesitant, still glaring at Claire. She remained stiff in the doorway for a long moment, forcing them to wait with baited breath before she finally threw her hands up and stepped aside.
Without a word, Jenny walked into the house. Jamie and Claire followed as Jenny led them through the hallway and straight into the study.
Standing behind the great wooden expanse of their father’s desk, Jenny fixed her eyes on Jamie once again.
Taking a deep breath, Jamie took Claire’s hand before launching into the same cover story he had told Murtagh.
“Claire was sick,” he started, feeling his wame twist at the truth of his words. “She was dyin’, really. There was nothin’ anyone could do for her.” His voice cracked with real emotion, and he paused to swallow. Already, his reaction had taken the slightest chink out of Jenny’s armor.
It wasn’t hard to act when the cover story so closely matched reality.
“When— when it was clear that she wouldna get better, and it was only a matter of time before she...” Jamie trailed off and looked over at Claire, who gave him a slight reassuring smile, “Claire decided to spend the remainder of her life back home.”
Jenny seemed to be struggling to take in this story, her eyes wide as she listened intently. Under her breath, she whispered a disbelieving “hospice...?” but never actually posed a question.
Claire picked up the story then, her voice soft but steady. “Jamie said goodbye to me that day before sending me home. We both thought it was goodbye for the last time. It....” Claire actually looked away from Jamie, her emotion very real, “it was one of the worst moments of my life.”
“So ye see now why I mourned her,” Jamie picked back up, “She was gone from me forever. Or… at least so it seemed. What seemed to be incurable had a cure after all. And as soon as it was found… well, she returned to me.” He looked over at Claire, his heart in his eyes, “thank the Lord.”
Claire broke eye contact to look back at Jenny, who was trying her best to absorb the news. For once, the brazen woman was speechless.
“I dinna ken what to say,” she admitted.
She looked at Jamie for a long moment, taking in his expression, and then her eyes flicked to their joined hands.
“And ye’re alright now? Ye're no' sick anymore?”
Claire shook her head, smiling. “I’m quite alright now. And I intend to stay that way.”
Jenny exhaled, a long, slow sound, and then she gave a little nod.
“Well I can see how happy Jamie is that ye’re back. So I must be happy too, then.”
The immeasurable weight lifted off of Jamie’s shoulders, and he felt freer than he had in a long time. Without a word, he let go of Claire and took two steps forward to pull Jenny into a hug. His sister embraced him in return. Tears of relief threatened at the corners of his eyes, but he blinked them back.
When he let go, Jenny had eyes only for one person.
“You too, Claire,” she said, opening her arms.
Looking like she’d won the lottery, Claire stepped into the hug, holding Jenny tightly.
“I’m sorry,” Jenny said quietly, “for how I treated ye at the beginning. I see now that the two of you are meant to be together.”
“We are. I promise I’ll take good care of him,” Claire whispered back.
Jamie felt like his whole body was melting.
Abruptly, Jenny broke the hug and wiped her hands decidedly over her legs, as if brushing off the emotion of the moment.
“Well, enough of that then. I have dinner tae prepare. And…” Jenny glanced at the door, “there are some weans who will be verra pleased to hear of yer return, Claire. Why dinna ye take them outside?”
They both gave wordless nods and followed Jenny toward the door.
“What should we tell them? About Claire?” Jamie asked.
Jenny gave a shrug. “They’re bairns. It willna matter in the long run. Just not... the truth.” Her eyes narrowed a bit in half a wince, her face looking both sympathetic and uncomfortable, as people often appeared when discussing the topic of illness and death.
Ironically, in the end, it was exactly the truth that they gave the children.
When Jenny sent the kids skittering outside, Jamie and Claire walked hand-in-hand out after them. As they emerged outside, the bairns turned to Claire, wide-eyed and mouths agape in shock.
“Claire?” Wee Jamie whispered.
His eyes snapped to Jamie to look at him in utter confusion. He was the only one of his siblings old enough to quite understand the enormity of Claire standing there after Jamie had told them about sending her back to the faeries.
Little Kitty, only 2, clearly hadn’t been aware of Claire’s absence. Surprisingly, she did remember Claire, though. Either that or Claire's magnetism simply drew her in, because the little girl came running and squealing to throw herself into her arms.
Claire laughed, scooping her up without hesitation, and bounced her on her hip to settle her, giving her a fond, “well, hello there!”
Wee Jamie was looking nearly dubious now, and Maggie eyed Claire with blank confusion.
Jamie stood by Claire’s side, letting the children make the first move. Wee Jamie was the first to break, the 6-year old stepping forward to whisper to Claire, “are ye a fairy? Uncle Jamie told us ye were.”
Claire shot a look over at Jamie, silently asking permission to confirm, and he gave her a smile and a shrug as if to say might as well.
“I am,” she said quietly, cuddling Kitty close as she knelt down in front of Jamie so she could speak with him face to face.
“I thought ye went to live forever with the fairies,” wee Jamie said, still in that childlike whisper, “Uncle Jamie was verra sad. He… he cried. For weeks. And mam told us we had to be kind to him because he lost ye. But you arena lost…?”
Claire gave the child a sad smile, then looked up to Jamie with her heart in her eyes after hearing about his grief explained in such an innocent way.
Returning her attention to his nephew, she answered, without hesitation, “I was lost. I had to go back to the fairies. But I loved Jamie so much that I figured out a way back to him. To stay.”
A big hand came down on her shoulder, squeezing affectionately. She couldn’t help but look up at Jamie again, seeing his face tight with emotion and fondness.
“So… ye arena goin’ tae leave again?” wee Jamie asked, a glimmer of hope on his little face.
“No. I’m never leaving again.”
It was a promise. Not just to wee Jamie, but his namesake as well.
The words hung into the air for a long moment before Maggie, surprisingly quiet during the whole exchange, burst out, as if she couldn't contain it another moment, “dae you have wings!?”
Claire giggled, seeing the exuberance on her face. She leaned in conspiratorially and said in a whisper, “I do. But ye canna tell your mother any of this. It has to be our secret. Because sometimes adults don’t believe in fairies, so I don’t just tell this secret to anyone. Only people I know I can trust.”
Wee Jamie puffed up his chest in importance.
“You can trust us, Auntie Claire,” he announced.
The title felt so new to her, so monumental, that she had to take a moment to smile to herself. Jamie’s hand on her shoulder squeezed again.
“I know I can. Now, enough of this whispering. Let’s go play!”
The kids were willing enough to drop the subject of fairies and her disappearance, and wee Jamie grabbed her hand to drag her toward the big swing hanging from the tree in the middle of their backyard. Jamie, Claire’s Jamie, swooped up Maggie and was tossing her over his shoulder as they followed behind them.
They felt overwhelmingly like a family as Jamie pushed the weans on the swing, taking turns between them. With tiny, soft swings for Kitty and big pushes for wee Jamie, he was… perfect.
Joy spread through Claire’s chest. She felt safe. Whole. For the first time in her life, she belonged somewhere. With someone.
His family was hers now, just as his body and soul was. The hole in her chest that had been there as long as she could remember— the gnawing fear that she’d never have security and belonging with anyone— seemed suddenly to be absent.
The only thing in her chest now was warmth and hope. And Jamie.
He gave her a smile from behind Kitty, who was laughing as gleefully at the second ride as she had at the first.
That smile filled all her senses, and the world grew dim around her and time stopped as she let herself get lost in it.
How I love you, her heart breathed.
Locked with Claire’s gaze, her whole face soft as she looked at him, Jamie could read her thoughts as if they were written clear over her face.
She was happy— with him, with his family that was now hers, and in this place.
Nothing brought him greater peace. It eased his guilt to see her this way. Even though her branded wings still plagued his mind (the image of them there every time he closed his eyes), seeing her like this pushed back every glimmer of self-reproach.
She’d always been meant to be here. With him. And now everything had clicked into place. Sure, they still faced the unknowns of a fairy trying to fit into a human world, but they faced it together.
He tore himself out of his thoughts as wee Jamie began begging for another turn, and “higher this time, Uncle Jamie!”
As he slowed wee Kitty down and helped her off the wooden plank that was the seat of the swing, it wasn’t Jamie’s turn that he had in mind.
“No, me!” Maggie yelped, pushing over her brother in an effort to get to Jamie.
“Woah, woah, ye wee gomerals,” Jamie said, holding up his hands and stopping them in their tracks.
He looked toward Claire again, unable to hide the endearment on his face as he looked at her. “It isna either of yer turns. It’s yer Auntie’s turn.”
Claire’s eyes went wide as a doe’s.
But it wasn't fear. No, his wee faerie had been eying the swing in curious delight from the moment they’d stepped up to it. So, as he beckoned her closer, the bairns parting to make way, he could detect the eagerness in her posture.
Claire settled in, her fingers wrapping around the ropes, and she gave Jamie a smile from over her shoulder.
He gave her a push. The moment she was in motion, she was laughing. The sound, like the clear ringing of bells, was music to his ears. He gave her another push, harder this time, and the answering gasp made his heart flip in his chest.
Desperate fool in love that he was, he quickly called, “Jamie! Do ye want tae push her?”
His nephew, ever the compliant lad, eagerly took Jamie’s spot and began pushing his Auntie.
Jamie was now free to move and came around the front to watch his wife.
The sight was everything he had dreamed.
Her face was split in a smile so bright it could easily have blinded him. Her eyes, crinkled just the slightest at the corners, were nearly closed as she laughed. She looked so carefree. So incredibly soft and happy.
After all the sorrow and pain she’d experienced, it was a miracle to see her so untouched. So able to enjoy life in such a simple way.
Christ, he found himself praying, thank you. Thank you. Oh God, thank you for her. Shield her. Let her feel this way the rest of time.
He realized after a moment that she had been looking at him. The smile, aimed at him at full force, nearly made his knees buckle.
He was a lucky bastard indeed to even be on the receiving end of such a thing.
Returning her smile, he let peace wash over him, eager for it.
But the tranquility shattered abruptly when, out of the blue, Claire was launching herself from the swing just as it hit its highest point. She flew from the seat, hitting the ground with a thud from her shoes, and all in a second, she was slamming into Jamie’s arms.
He caught her, barely, a surprised laugh tearing from him, and her arms were around his neck as she giggled breathlessly into his ear. He kept her close as he stumbled a step back before regaining his balance. She pulled her face back a bit to look at him, still grinning with that irresistible brightness.
Sacrificing her gaze for only a second, Jamie suddenly leaned to the side and shouted over Claire's shoulder, “Oh look, a stag!” and pointed at the woods behind the children.
All the weans turned to look, and just as Claire started to do the same, Jamie caught her face in his hands and tilted it back so he could crash his lips against hers.
The bairns suitably distracted for a minute, Jamie eagerly claimed Claire’s smile with his own. He kissed her with all that joy bubbling in his chest, and she kissed him back in just the same way. He held her close in his arms and let himself relish the moment.
As Jamie caught a glimpse of the kids turning back— their wee voices chiming out in confusion, as there was no stag to be seen— he reluctantly tore away (but refused to let go of her waist or allow her body to be parted from his).
Claire laughed softly, squeezing his neck in a hug, and she turned to look over at the kids, resting her temple against Jamie’s jaw.
He was home. She was home now.
"Alright you lot," Jamie called to the little ones, "inside now. It's time to wash up for supper."