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“Fergus!” I squawked. “I just tripped over your backpack again!”

“Sorry, Sassenach!” Fergus exclaimed with a slight edge of exhasperation, running out of his room to gather up his offending belongings and put them where they belonged.

I sighed and shook my head. But in a way, small misbehaviors were nice to see, because I knew that Fergus tended to overcompensate sometimes so as not to displease me, since it was in homes he didn’t like that he misbehaved in order to be removed. He was finally becoming comfortable enough to be a typical, sloppy, almost-eleven-year-old

“Did you decide who all you wanted to invite to your birthday party?” I asked him. He’d chosen to have it at the local skatepark, where he was quickly improving on his skateboard. 

“Nyiah and Aiden,” he said, listing the first obvious two. “Chase, Cole, Janiel…”

I glanced at him. “Come on, not a single other girl? Not even just for Nyiah’s sake?”

Fergus rolled his eyes. “Well, maybe Kayla. She’s Nyiah’s friend, but I don’t think she likes to skate.”

“Well, she might just like hanging out with the rest of you,” I reasoned. “At least invite her.”

“Okay. Do you want to invite Mr. Joe so you have a friend?”

I chuckled. “That’s not a bad idea, thanks. Of course if he’s busy, I always have Jamie.”

I felt a nudge on my arm in answer, and smiled, just as there was a knock at the door.

“I got it,” Fergus said, peering out the peephole. “It’s Louise!”

I furrowed my brow, wondering why she was dropping by unannounced.

“Hey,” I greeted her. “Come on in. Are you doing a house check?”

Louise hovered by the closed door, and I could tell right away something was wrong.

“Fergus,” she said gently. “Could I have just a moment to talk to your foster mom?”

Fergus looked between us nervously. “Uh, sure,” he walked to his room slowly, and I heard him whisper to Jamie to stay and tell him what we were saying, later.

“Something’s wrong,” I said, my heart climbing into my throat. “Is there an issue with the adoption paperwork? Do I not qualify or something?” I hadn’t told Fergus about the adoption just yet. I wanted to put the ball into motion first, make sure that everything was in order, and then on his birthday I planned to formally ask him if he would like to be my own son, permanently.

“That’s not it,” she said, looking defeated. “Look, I’m not going to beat around the bush. Fergus’s birth father never terminated his parental rights.”

What ? How can that be? He turned him over to the system!”

“And promptly disappeared,” she said. “There should have been a court date that eliminated his rights, but...like so many...Fergus just got shuffled into the system, and...for a lack of a better term, was forgotten.”

“Okay,” I said, crossing my arms, and wishing they were Jamie’s. “So you’re going to eliminate his rights now, right?”

“I had to show that an effort was made to contact him, and he had to be given a chance to accept his rights. Claire, I contacted him. He said...he said he wants Fergus back.”

I shook my head, suddenly feeling like the walls were closing in on me. I felt a tight, almost bruising grip on my wrist. “No...no no no. He can’t do that! He doesn’t get to just ditch his son for six years and then try to take him back like nothing happened!”

“You could take it to court, Claire,” she said. “But...if I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t know that you would win. Courts almost always side with the biological family. And, the foster system’s first goal is reunification. And there’s nothing else standing in his way. He has no record, seems to be an upstanding person, and, well, he’s loaded. He claims he was too young to know what he wanted back then, but now that he’s older, he wants a chance to be a father.”

I let out a choked sob, and this time I did feel an arm around me. “No! This isn’t fair!”

“Sassenach?”

I gasped and spun around to find Fergus there, staring at me with big eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“Fergus…” Louise began. 

But Fergus was looking to my left, at Jamie.

“What?” He whispered. “My...father?”

Louise smiled. “He...he said he’s sorry for leaving you, and he wants a chance to make up for it.”

I wanted to scream, I wanted to throw something, but here was this little boy about to have his world turned on end all over again, and I knew that I had to try and make it okay for him.

“He wants you, Fergus,” I said, trying to make it sound like a good thing. “He wants to take you home.”

Fergus shook his head. “But…but I am home!”

I went to him, trying to pull him into a hug, but he resisted. “No! I don’t want to go! Louise, tell him no!”

“I can’t do that, Fergus,” she said sadly. “He’s your biological father. Look, I know it’s scary right now, but this is your real father, honey. And he’s going to take really good care of you, I’ll make sure of it. Oh, Fergus...don’t do that, sweetheart…”

I looked down to find that Fergus had his thumb in his mouth, and he snatched it away, though his eyes darted around in a near panic.

“When?” I asked Louise flatly.

She shook her head. “Monday. God. Claire, Fergus...I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”

“Me too,” I said.

Louise left after that, and I sat down heavily on the sofa.

Fergus hesitated a moment, but then he curled up on my lap, his thumb in his mouth like the small child he no longer was, but had never really gotten to be.

I didn’t bother to correct him, and instead just wrapped him in my arms as best as I could what with how big and long he was, and cradled him. Jamie sat beside us, his arms around us both.

“Make them let me stay,” Fergus said.

“I would if I could,” I said. “I’m so sorry, Fergus. But...maybe it’ll be okay. Maybe you’ll like your dad.”

Fergus pressed himself closer, and I just held him.

 

Monday was only four days away, not nearly long enough to try and come up with an alternative. I did some research, but from everything I read, Louise was likely right in that the court would side with Fergus’s biological father, and the lengthy court battle might do Fergus more harm than good.

So long as this Robert St. Germain was a good person, and genuine in his desire to raise and love Fergus, it ultimately would be better for Fergus if I just let him go.

But how? How was I supposed to just let him go?

We moved up Fergus’s birthday party to that Saturday, and luckily most of the parents allowed their children to go, even on such short notice. 

Fergus played with his friends, but I could see how strained his smile looked. How a shadow followed him wherever he went. I felt the same.

“I’m sorry I even got you involved in this,” Joe said, sitting beside me at the park. “This is just shit, Lady Jane.”

“No, don’t apologize,” I said. “It hurts right now, but I’m glad to have had Fergus, even for just a little while.”

“If this Robert guy really cared about Fergus, he wouldn’t try to take him away like this.”

“I have to just hope that he really does want to be Fergus’s father. It’s the only way I can get through this. I just...I wish we had more time, you know?”

Joe put his hand on my shoulder. “Well, I’m here for you, LJ. Whatever you need.”

 

With the pain of having to say goodbye to Fergus, I didn’t even want to contemplate saying goodbye to Jamie. Of course, a small, selfish part of me wanted him to stay, but I knew he wouldn’t. Couldn’t. Whatever reason Jamie existed in this world, he was clearly meant to stay with Fergus. We hadn’t even really talked about it. I was simply avoiding the subject, and because of that, I really had no idea how Jamie was reacting to it all.

It was all just happening so fucking fast

On Sunday night, I awoke to feel arms around me, a body pressed up against mine from behind.

“I don’t want to leave you,” he whispered in my ear.

“I know,” I said. “But Fergus needs you, even more than I do.”

“He needs you . I dinna know if I can be with him forever.”

“Where would you go?”

“I dinna ken.”

I rolled over, and of course he wasn’t there, but my mind could almost imagine the outline of him.

“Stay with me,” I whispered. “Tonight, at least.”

“As ye say, mo nighean donn .”

He kissed me, and I could swear I could almost taste him, but it was probably just my imagination.

His kisses grew bolder, his hands mapped out every inch of me he could reach. His body came in and out of corporeality more than usual, sometimes flickering away entirely before bursting back to life, pulsing all over in perfect time with the clenching of my core. When I tried to rake my fingers through his hair, he hissed and pulled away.

“Did I hurt you?” I asked.

Jamie froze a moment. “Hurt me again, Sassenach,” he murmured before kissing me more, and I tried to imprint it in my memory, the feeling of his invisible mouth against mine. Tried to remember it, remember him exactly the way he was.

My clothes vanished almost as magically as his did, and when he entered me, I didn’t care that it didn’t even feel real. I didn’t care that I couldn’t be with him as a normal woman could be with a normal man. I didn’t care if I could never walk down the aisle with him, or give him children.

I didn’t care.

If Jamie was nothing but a soul, tethered somehow to a separate plane of existence, I wanted him anyway. It was as Gale said, after all. You fall in love with a soul, not a body.

 

Monday dawned a rainy, gloomy day, which was fitting, really. A bright, sunshiny day would have been an insult to everything we were feeling.

I suggested that Fergus and I play a video game together, to keep his mind off things. Louise had called to say that she and Robert St. Germain would be there at ten, and that Robert was willing to sit with us a while and let Fergus and I get to know him a little. I tried not to hope that it would be like a movie and that he’d see how happy and settled Fergus was with me and have a change of heart. I didn’t want to be disappointed.

I hoped that he could keep Fergus in his same school, or at the very least allow him to remain friends with Annyiah. I hoped he would allow Fergus to remain friends with me, too, but again, I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

“I don’t want to play anymore,” Fergus said, setting down the controller. 

I patted his leg. “Come with me, I want to give you something.”

I went first to my room, and then led Fergus to his own, where his suitcase sat still open on the bed. I’d gone right out and purchased him real suitcases, and made sure they were nice ones. No more garbage bags.

“I want you to have this,” I said, dangling a small opal pendant on a chain. “My uncle gave this to me for my eleventh birthday, and I want you to have it. You needn’t wear it, I know it’s probably too girly for you, but I just wanted you to have something to remember me by.”

I took a deep breath, trying to keep my composure. It wouldn’t do any good to lose it in front of him. A warm hand rubbed my back, and I felt a little better.

“Thank you, Sassenach,” Fergus said quietly, taking the necklace and, to my surprise, putting it on.

“And here, keep your phone,” I said, handing his to him. “Know that you can call or text me whenever you want. Night and day. I want you to put Jamie’s phone in the bottom of your suitcase. If your father decides he doesn’t want you to have this phone, you’ll have Jamie’s.”

It probably wasn’t a good idea to ask Fergus to hide something from his father right off the bat, but I needed to feel like I was giving Fergus a safe out, just in case.

“You’re always going to have me, Fergus. No matter what. If you’re eighteen and just need money for a ride home because you were out with your friends and got stuck, or you’re twenty-five and just went through a breakup, I’ll be here for you. Always.”

Fergus sniffed and leaned toward me, putting his arms around me. “I’ll miss you. And so will Jamie.”

“I’ll miss you both too,” I said, stroking his hair.

There was a knock at the door, and Fergus and I both just sat there, not particularly wanting to answer it. 

“Come on,” I said at last. “Let’s at least give the guy a chance, huh?”

Fergus shrugged and followed me into the living room.

Louise smiled as I let her in, followed by a tall, attractive man with dark hair and vibrant blue eyes.

There was really no mistaking that this man was Fergus’s biological father, but even when he smiled kindly at me, I couldn’t forget the fact that he’d abandoned his own son for six years.

“Hello, I’m Robert,” he said, extending his hand toward me to shake before turning to Fergus. “Hi, Fergus. How are you?”

Fergus shrugged, shoving his hands into his pockets.

Robert winced. “I guess I deserve that. You probably don’t even remember me. You have to believe me, Fergus, when I say I regret the way I left you. I never even knew you were born, and when they came and told me I had this five-year-old son who barely spoke English from a woman I hadn’t seen in years...I was scared. I was only twenty-two years old, still a boy myself in many ways.”

I had to admit, he seemed sincere. And being so young at the time, it was understandable that he made a mistake he regretted, even if I didn’t particularly sympathize.

“Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of you,” he continued. “I even looked for you, but I didn’t know where you’d ended up after I turned you over. And then they called me, saying you hadn’t been adopted yet and I...I want another chance.”

“But I like it here ,” Fergus said quietly.

“I know you do, and I’m sorry,” he turned to direct that comment to me, as well. “But I have this really nice house in New York with a big yard, and a dog named Alfie.”

“New York?” I asked. “Y...you don’t live in Boston?”

He shook his head. “No, not anymore. But the schools there are excellent, and I know he’ll be happy.”

“Could I still talk to him on the phone? Visit occasionally?”

“Of course.”

I wanted to believe he meant that. Had to. “He um, he has a cat. Will that be a problem?”

Robert shook his head. “No, no problem. Alfie is fine around cats.”

“No, Sassenach, I want Adso to stay with you,” Fergus said.

I furrowed my brow. “What? Are you sure?”

He nodded. “I don’t want you to be alone.”

His words shattered what was left of my heart, and I pulled him into a hug.

“I think it’s time to go,” Louise said, tears in her eyes as well. “Get your things, Fergus, dear.”

Fergus and I went to get his suitcases, and I relished the feeling of a hand on my wrist. Jamie and I had already said our goodbyes the night before, but it still hurt that I couldn’t say anything to him now.

Robert took Fergus’s bags, but when they reached the door, Fergus suddenly stopped. “No! No! I don’t wanna go!”

“Fergus,” Louise said, taking his hand.

“No!” Fergus snatched his hand back and ran to me, wrapping his arms tightly around me. “Please! I wanna stay here! Jamie, help me!”

“Fergus, don’t,” I cried, helpless to do anything but stand there while Louise pried Fergus off of me. “I’m so sorry.”

Louise and Robert had to manhandle Fergus out of the house while he screamed and cried. “Mom! Please, I don’t wanna go! Mom !”

“I’m sorry,” Louise said once more, and then shut the door.

I slid down to the floor, hugging my knees and sobbing as Fergus’s cries got farther away until they stopped altogether. 

No hand touched my shoulder in comfort, but I didn’t need to feel the absence of that to know that I was all alone.