Secrets from San Francisco
Disclaimer: This story is written for the private entertainment of fans. The author makes no claims to the series' characters by the creation of this story. Fraser, Vecchio, Kowalski, Victoria et.al. belong to Alliance, Paul Haggis, Kathy Slevin, Jeff King, Paul Gross and all the creative genius who made this show so special. No infringement of any copyrights held by CBS, Alliance, CTV, TNT, Pro7, BBC or any other copyright holders of due SOUTH is intended. No money being made here. None expected ever. This disclaimer itself is almost a carbon copy of the one that a wonderful author of DS fanfic, Janice Sager, uses for her fic. I hope she doesn't mind.
Author's Notes: Post COTW. Minor spoilers present. From the top of my had: YMRT, VS, LG, The Pilot, BITH, The Edge, DMDTR, HS, COTW.
That's my first story and I'm not a native speaker, so please be gentle.
Story Notes: I'm not qualified in the medical jargon at all. I know nothing about it. So whatever I write using it, more likely than not, won't make much sense. Sorry. Some ideas in the last chapter are somewhat inspired by work of Terry Pratchett. But I'm not using anything that is 'his'. However if you find similarities, I admit I'm under influence of his great writing.
Any feedback, including but not limited to praise, comments, constructive criticism, quesitons, suggestions and otters is welcome.
Please send it to simonwds (at) gmail.com. I hope you enjoy it! Thank you kindly for reading.
Chapter 1: Facing Deamons
Fraser sat patiently on the bench in the park, the leafless oak being the only barrier between him and the afternoon sun. Well, the oak and the Stetson. He was dressed in jeans. His brown leather jacket was lying on his laps. He took it off because he couldn't stand the heat any more. *It's beginning of March for crying out loud.* he thought, undoing the top button of his dark blue flannel shirt.
A whine from beneath the bench signalled that Dief wasn't exactly happy about sitting on a stake out in such conditions either. After all, there was a reason he changed his fur for a thicker one for the winter. Ben was considering all the way from Chicago what to do once he finds her. That was a really long drive. But he knew that his only chance of leaving the city, so that no one could track him, or track where he had been afterwards, was if he drove down here. He paid everywhere with cash only. He actually never had such a large amount of money on him all his life as at the time he was leaving the windy city.
After a two days drive he still wasn't sure what he would say. Or what would be her reaction. She sure did her best to never be found. He considered for a moment a tempting plan of following her for a couple days before actually speaking to her. But he knew he was running out of time. It took him five days to actually find her, once he arrived in San Francisco. He was supposed to be back on duty tomorrow. He had to call and ask Inspector Thatcher to extend his vacation. He really appreciated that she knew better than to ask what was going on. After so many years working together she was really surprised when he asked for some time off. Last time she remembered him doing so he went to search... what was it? The Jewelled City of the North? No... Hand of Franklin, yes. A crazy adventure on which Kowalski almost lost two toes to a frostbite. And that was three years ago. Other than that she did not remember him taking a day off, or being sick, ever. Well, not unless he was shot, stabbed or something along those lines anyway. So when he asked for vacation she knew something was wrong. She offered her help, of course, and told him that if he needed to talk to someone she was there for him, but he only smiled and said he appreciated it. She knew better that to ask anything more, so she just granted his request.
Telling Francesca was a different story. She was really worried, especially that he didn't say where he was going and why. But telling her would only make things worse. She sure had a well developed imagination, but even in her darkest dreams she wouldn't come up with something as scary as what he was actually doing. He turned of the satellite phone that he took from consulate resources on his trip. No one could track back where exactly was he calling from. Plus taking it gave the very wrong impression that he was actually heading north, the only logical explanation for taking it. He thought that it was almost lying. But not quite. *What do you know. Living in American city for seven years can change your perception a bit.* he smiled bitterly. But he knew it was for the best this way. For everyone.
He thought that by the time he reached here, he would know what to say, how to act. Now he was in this city for five days and he still had no idea. He was almost hoping that he wouldn't notice her leaving work. "That's ridiculous. I didn't have to come here in the first place." he thought, only to realize that he actually said it out loud. A loud bark from underneath the bench was a very confirmation of that. And also indicated that the wolf considered not-coming the right choice. "I thought you were supposed to be deaf." said Fraser. A whine sarcastically announced that in this situation the wolf knew Alfa's thoughts without even looking up. Fraser sighed. That was hard to argue. Diefenbaker had much better judgement when it came to Victoria.
It was quarter past five. A lot of people left the building already. He started to wonder whether he didn't miss her leaving, when he noticed her walking out the revolving doors of the office building with a female friend. They chatted for a moment, but they stood with their sides facing him and he was quite far away, so he couldn't make out what they were saying by lip reading. They said their goodbyes and headed opposite ways. Fraser walked a respectable distance behind her. She changed the way she was wearing her hair. It was straight, bit longer than shoulder length. Just the way she had on the picture that she gave him all those years ago, the way she wore it when he met her. He realized he didn't even know which was the natural hairdo.
The street was pretty crowded and he carried his Stetson in his hand, hence fitting in pretty well. Minus the wolf, but Dief seemed to understand and tried not to be seen, hiding behind post boxes, hydrants or simply people. Ben knew where she was heading, the Embarcadero Station. That's where he finally saw her earlier in the morning. He knew she would be most probably taking the Judah line. That's of course assuming she would be going home. Just to be safe he decided to get a bit closer to her. He watched her standing at the platform and after she got into the front car, he went into the rear. He decided to go one stop further then her and then come back and let Dief find the way to her home. He watched people get on and off as the train travelled through the tunnels and streets of San Francisco.
"Excuse me, Sir. Could you please show me your ticket?" Fraser was so concentrated on observing what was going on outside, that he didn't even notice that there was a fare inspection, before a man approached him.
"Certainly" he quickly produced two cards "this one is for me, and this one is for my dog." an angry sound came from beneath his seat where Diefenbaker was lying.
"Uh, Sir, I am afraid I will have to ask you to leave this train, we only allow transportation of dogs that are muzzled."
"Oh that's okay, he is police canine." Ben said giving the man a necessary document. The man nodded and headed further. A growl of disappointment came from beneath the seat. Diefenbaker found it offensive that he was documented as a dog, even if that allowed him to avoid quarantine when travelling. Fraser was a bit reluctant to get Dief a license, but when Lt. Welsh gave it to him as a birthday gift, he didn't protest and simply thanked him. Diefenbaker was officially a police canine in the city of Chicago, as a husky, which was why the wolf was so annoyed by the whole situation.
They were reaching the end of the route, and Fraser realized that next stop will be last but one. He decided to get off, should Victoria remain inside, and then walk to the end of the line. After making sure she indeed stayed inside, he got off, hid and walked further, reaching the end of the line, which was practically at the ocean beach. "Well, the rest is up to you." an angry growl was only response "Watch your language. We've discussed it, and we've compromised. Now stop complaining and behave yourself." Dief looked rather resigned, but picked up the scent of the women that shot him and started going south. After about three minutes walk he stopped in front of four level apartment building, with windows facing the Pacific. "Good boy." Fraser looked around, checked whether there were any CCTV cameras around, found none. There was no doorman or guard inside. He sighed, stepped to the door and picked the lock to the building. Diefenbaker shot him a look of disgust. "I know. I know. But extreme situations call for extreme measures. Besides would you rather have this meeting in the streets?" He silently thanked Ray for teaching him how to pick the lock. He was quite reluctant at first, but his argumentation that it may become handy in emergencies worked.
They went inside and Diefenbaker led him to the top level and sat in front of a door. Fraser looked at him, silently mouthed "Come back." and hid behind a corner. Dief came and sat in front on kneeling Fraser. He whispered "I know we discussed it already but just to be sure. Let me handle it. Be calm, professional. I don't jump to the throat of every person that shot me, stabbed me or did something of that nature, do I?" Dief rolled his eyes, but gave some sort of a nod. Fraser reached to the pocket of his jacket and produced his fathers gun. He checked that barrel was full, checked the safety and put the gun behind his belt, so that it could be seen. He frowned, realizing that it wasn't used for six years and thought that the situation was a bit ironical.
He looked at the watch, it was just after six. He went to the door and took a few deep breaths. He realized his heart rate must be above a hundred. *That will do no good.* he thought and tried to calm himself. Diefenbaker stood in a defensive pose a very quiet growl coming from his throat, hair starting to rise at his back. Ben nuzzled his ear which seemed to calm the wolf a bit. Holding his right hand very close to the gun he knocked wit his left. He heard steps inside and someone slowly approaching the door. The closer the person got to the door the louder the growl coming from Dief's throat became. Finally the door became slightly ajar, being hold back by a metal chain, and a face slowly appeared in the space between the frame and the door. The moment Victoria glanced at the silhouette of the man standing in front of her, she found herself being hit with a brutal force, the chain holding the door broke and she hit the ground with a great impact. Soon after she registered a heavy weight on her body and the she looked into glacier blue eyes of a very angry, growling wolf. She heard the man call "Dief, that's enough. Get off! NOW!" and realized whose wolf was that. That was enough for her. Victoria Metcalf passed out.
Victoria slowly started to come back to reality. Her backed ached, as if she fell down or something. She started to open her eyes and saw a wolf sitting in front of her on her coffee table staring at her and not moving a muscle. His jaw was slightly open to reveal just enough of his teeth to wake a very prime instinct of fear in any human being, but at the same time giving an impression he was smiling at her mischievously. She stared at him with shock and was afraid to move a muscle.
"Welcome back Victoria. Here, take this. Drink some." Fraser said giving her a glass of water.
She stared at him blankly not believing this nightmare was actually coming true. "Ben?" she asked with disbelief and fear in her voice.
"Yes indeed. It's me." She took a glass from him and took a sip slowly. She closed her eyes, said a quick prayer and opened them again, but to her dismay Fraser was still half a meter from her, sitting on the couch in her living room, and right in front of her sat his wolf. She looked at him closely. Civilian clothes. A gun stuck behind his belt.
A fear went through her spine. She opened her mouth to find herself unable to form a sentence. After producing a couple unrecognizable sounds she managed "How did... What... uh... how... why... what are you doing here?"
Ben started to open his mouth, when he heard a key being inserted in the lock of the door. She watched with fear as he placed his hand on the gun. The door opened and a man, about forty years old, carrying a small girl came in. His hair was bushy, dark blond. He wore old-styled glasses, green sweater and a pair of dark blue jeans. The girl, about five or six years old, was wearing a colorful dress. He didn't look into the living room, which was directly in front of him.
"Hi darling! We are home!" he screamed happily to the wall in front of him as he knelt down to take off his shoes, putting the girl down. Fraser slowly stood up from the couch, Victoria staring at the whole situation horrified, unable to say a single word. Fraser slowly moved his hand away from the gun and covered it with his jacket. The men finally looked up at him and jumped up in surprise. "Oh, I am so sorry. I was unaware we were expecting guests." He took a step forward and extended his hand "Matthew Hazen, pleased to meet you."
"Co, uh, Benton Fraser, likewise." stammered Fraser looking for a second into the other men's eyes, but otherwise fixedly staring at the girl who was standing quietly next to the closed door, waiting patiently for adults to acknowledge her. *She has a daughter... How old can she be? Five, six? She can't be six, she would...* A realization finally drowned on him as he looked at the girl. The eyes. The glacier blue, deep eyes. He knew only one person with those eyes, and it was Maggie Mackenzie. He shook himself and noticed more details. The shape of her brows and mouth. The way her hair was arranging itself above her forehead. *She looks just like my mother.* "Dear Lord..."
Victoria noticed what was going on and decided it might be a good time to get up, but as soon as she moved a deep growl came from her guard. That stopped her immediately, but also drowned attention to Diefenbaker. The girl noticed a dog and a bright smile appeared on her face. She jumped up and started running towards Dief. The sound she made finally brought wolf's attention to the little girl and he jumped off the table. The three adults watched transfixed as the wolf jumped from the coffee table to the ground as the girl run up to him. Victoria had pure horror in her eyes, but Dief only smelled her and licked her face. She giggled and started to pet him.
"That's an interesting dog. Is it a husky?" asked Matthew, breaking the silence finally.
"It's a wolf actually. Well, half-wolf really." said Fraser automatically and finally looked over at the men with a conscious eye. He started thinking, but decided to leave the issue of the little girl alone for the moment. He judged the men in front of him. Casually dressed, nothing dangerous about him at first glance. Although his hands were covered in thin layer of white powder. Correction, just the right hand. He also noticed small remnants of the powder on mens right leg, and a bit on his sweater. Finally he smelled it. "Is that a blackboard chock?" he pointed at men's attire.
"Oh, yes." The men smiled embarrassed. "I was teaching a class in the morning, forgot to clean myself up afterwards. Sorry about that."
The little girl looked up at Fraser and noticed something familiar. "That's a nice hat Mr. Fraser. It looks like a Mountie hat."
"Well it is a Mountie hat. I am a Mountie. " Ben answered automatically without thinking and chastised himself the second the words left his mouth. A lot was going around and he needed to speak to Victoria. Alone. Immediately.
"Me daddy is a Mountie too." Said the girl matter-of-factly. She raised her hand and asked "Could I see your hat, please? I've never seen one before." In the meantime Matthew felt it was necessary to hold onto a wall to keep balance. He finally added two and two inside his head. He understood what so familiar in the men's look. He felt that the Earth started to swallow him and he gulped hard. He feared this moment for the last three years of his life, ever since he got married. Monica said that Caroline's father would never show up, but he never ruled that possibility out. It seemed that now his nightmares were coming true. The moment Fraser raised his thumb and passed it along his eyebrow, he knew. No DNA tests would be necessary here.
"Well, yes of course." He knelt in front of her and gave her the hat. "But would you mind telling me your name first?" he said with a smile.
"I am Caroline." she replied taking the hat from him and grinned. That was enough. Fraser lost his balance and landed on the floor with a loud thud. He stared blankly around and watched as Caroline rotated Stetson around with her little fingers.
Victoria was looking at it all with disbelief in her eyes. How can her life fall apart within five minutes so perfectly? Her husband was the first one to speak "Caroline, why don't we go and change for dinner. I think Monica and Ben have some things they would like to talk about." he said hesitantly looking into his wives eyes. She stared blankly at him with horror. Then she realized that they have to talk, and that Matthew can be nowhere around during that conversation.
Fraser got up slowly, anger visibly shining through his eyes. "Yes. Yes. I think _Monica_ and myself have some things to talk about. How about we take a walk?" He looked at Victoria warningly.
She swallowed. It was a dangerous game. Might be better to play it outside. "Yes. Of course. Good idea." she managed finally "Let me just take my purse."
"Oh, I sincerely doubt it will be necessary." Fraser stated firmly. "Dief, we are going for a walk." he said holding gaze with Victoria. "Shall we?"
Matthew looked at his wife with worry and pulled her close "Are you sure about this?" he asked with concern.
She faked a perfect smile "Yes of course." She quickly put her shoes and coat on and they left together with Diefenbaker.
Matthew looked with shock at the closed door. He suddenly felt like he was falling down from a very big cliff...
They stood in front of the building. Finally Victoria asked "So where do we go?"
He shrugged his arms "How about to the beach?" She nodded her agreement.
They didn't speak a word until they got through all the roads that separated them from the ocean and walked down the beach. Victoria didn't know what to do. She was in between Fraser, Fraser with a gun she reminded herself, and Diefenbaker, who showed her already what he thought of her and that he remembered everything. She felt like the ball was in his court.
Fraser's mind was spinning. Had he known she had a family, a daughter and what at first glance seemed to be a normal, crime-free life (although he learnt not to trust his instincts around her), he would have never even approached her. Of course the fact that the girl seemed to be his child complicated the situation significantly. Yet, she seemed to have a life, a new life. She got her second chance and she was using it. But it was his child... Oh why did he have to come here and find out about that. And what is it with the curse of having a children that one doesn't know about in his family... *How do I handle this?* His attitude towards her softened a lot since the moment he knocked on her door.
"Perhaps for the beginning I should say that you don't have to worry that I came here to arrest you or something. I told you once that I regretted what I did in the past and I still do. I don't regret letting you go that second time, and I still think that I made mistake all this years ago." He paused for a long moment realizing he was babbling a little bit, but a quick look at her confirmed she knew what he meant.Victoria let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding. "Perhaps we could start over a little bit. My name is Corporal Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I was born in the far North, where I was raised. My mother died when I was six and then I lived with my grandparents. I joined the RCMP and became a Mountie, like my father. After my father was killed I went to Chicago on the trail of his killers, where I remained and where I live now. How about you?"
She understood what he meant and told him the truth and the lie, depending on how to look at it. "My name is Monica Hazen, nee Porcupine. I was born in Ontario, where I was raised. My parents died when I was in college. My father was American, so I have double nationality. I graduated from University of Toronto with degree in sociology. I moved to US to be with my boyfriend..." she looked up at him afraid how he would take that "I got pregnant, but it didn't work out. He was a Mountie and that's pretty much something only Caroline and Matthew know. By the way, Matthew is my husband. I moved to San Francisco, had a child and got married three years ago. I work as a Personal Assistant in a marketing company. Matthew is chair of the archeology department at UCSF."
"It's a pleasant surprise to meet you, Monica." he said shuffling aside the anger that built inside him around the time when she mentioned pregnancy, but still putting substantial amount of sarcasm in it. He tried to compose himself. Not thinking clearly is what got him into this mess in a first place. *Where 'this mess' can be defined in a lot of ways when it comes to my relations with this woman.* He had to ask her "Why haven't you told me?" he asked shaking his head "Why?"
A breeze from the ocean blew stronger and she lost her balance for a second. "First I didn't know if you even were alive. Then I read in the papers that you were. Then I read about this plane kidnapping in Canada and I thought you died, again. Then it seemed you were alright after all. And by that time I had no idea what to feel about you and what you felt. Or what would you do if I told you. I was afraid you would... well, that you would put me in jail, and take our child to raise on your own. I wouldn't be able to stand it..." She stopped short realizing it's something he could still easily do.
Fraser looked at her shocked "I was going to dump all my life to go run away with you, my friends, honor, duty, job after what you did to me, and you were afraid I would put you in jail after you told me you were having our child?"
"Ben. After what happened... I didn't know what would you became. I was afraid you would hate me same way I hated you all the time I spent in prison and afterwards. I know you Ben. Maybe not better then everybody, but better then most. I know that you can hate. And I know that it can be a very strong feeling in your case. As it was in mine."
They were silent for some time. She noticed that Diefenbaker seemed more relaxed. He didn't growl and stopped going right beside her. Right now he ran up and down the beach carrying a plastic bottle proudly.
"Besides what could you do?" she asked him.
"I..." he realized that he didn't know. And that it wouldn't have been an easy decision. Which also brought up the subject of their present situation, which was way more complicated. "I have no idea." he answered honestly.
"Even if you didn't arrest me and throw me in jail, and even if Ray or someone else didn't find me, or us, you wouldn't be with me for me. You would be with me only because of our child. And at the same time you would have to quit your job, and probably the only place we would be safe would be in some frozen tundra. Which was not exactly my dream come true at the moment." she answered honestly.
After thinking this through he had to admit that he really had no way of being with her. And that he would have done it only because of their child. "That would have been one sick relationship." he admitted quietly.
She just nodded along. They walked forward not thinking where they were going. It was already dark for some time but the moon was shining brightly and they could see their traces in the sand behind them. Neither of them spoke for couple seconds. Finally he asked "So... how is she?"
"She is extremely bright and notices a lot of world around her. She is really beautiful. As you've already seen. She is open to people and warm." Monica smiled with pride at their daughter. They walked further in silence. "So why are you here, Ben?"
*Oh dear.* he thought. *I guess I owe her the truth. She was just being honest with me, or at least that's what it seems like.* He hesitated a bit more and bluntly said "I am engaged."
She looked at him shocked. All she could say was "Congratulations." But before she could say something more he interrupted.
"Well, not exactly. I intended to ask her to marry me. And before I could have done that I had to find you and talk to you. You see I just wasn't sure that I could live in peace, not worrying about the future. That one day you will come back. And... and I don't know what. Kill me? Entrap me in something? Kidnap my child, my wife? Make my marriage brake apart? I had to make sure that we are... I don't know. Even? Not holding a grudge against each other?"
Victoria stared at the ocean waves flowing into the beach with splashing sound each couple seconds. She sighed deeply. "Ben, I... I forgave you. When I was standing on that train and watching you fade away, I forgave you a bit. When I was watching our child grow inside me..." she paused and noticed pain in his eyes "I am sorry..." he shook his head, but stopped walking. "When I watched Caroline grow inside me, I forgave you a bit more. When she was born and I held her in my arms for the first time, something lifted from my heart and I just couldn't hate you anymore. And somewhere between her first breath and her first words I forgave you Ben. For what you did to me. I still can't believe you did that. That you hid yourself behind duty because you were afraid of love. You killed some part of me then. But as I watched our child grow I somehow forgave you that." They stood next to each other watching waves crash the beach, neither of them speaking. Finally she said "There won't be any more revenge from me Ben. I am done. I am at peace with you. The moment I stopped to hate you I also stopped to love you. I think you will understand that." He nodded silently.
"Perhaps we... perhaps we should start going back..." he said somewhat sensing that they discussion reached the peak. And that it was somewhat going to be downhill now, even if it was to be a rough downhill. She nodded and they started to walk back.
"So who is the lucky lady?" Monica asked.
"Francesca Vecchio." he answered simply.
He looked at him not even trying to hide the shock. Then realizations started to hit her. Fraser was dating Francesca. Francesca is Ray's sister. "Does she know you're looking for me?" she started to feel he knees weaken.
He looked at her with 'are you stupid?' look "Of course not."
"Does she know where you are?"
He shook his head "No." he looked at her and he saw her fear. He might not want her imprisoned, but a lot of people, including the Vecchio family would love to see her behind bars. "Look, above all, I don't want to put you in prison. I made that mistake once and I learnt my lesson. I came to put the past behind me. For good. Now that is highly unlikely right now to happen. But that's another story..." realizing he drifted of topic he continued "I left town in a rented car in direction of Toledo. In Toledo I got myself caught on speeding." she frowned at him with disbelief clear in her eyes "I am capable. I am fully capable. I have to say it was tricky. The patrol officers were completely ignoring anything below ten miles per hour faster than the posted limit. But I managed" she looked down and smiled. "In any case, from there I drove down here, using only cash to pay for everything. I have a fake California driver's license with a name of Michael Smith." at that comment she stopped short and stared at him considering which is more probable - the fact that he got a fake license or the fact that he was lying. He took out of his jacket's pocket the phone "I use satellite phone, which cannot be traced. I did everything I could. I don't want Ray to find you either. I have no interest seeing you in jail. It will only mean that I will never be able to sleep peacefully." She nodded her head in understanding. She didn't even want to start to imagine what she would become, should this man throw her in prison again.
"Well... that will have to do." she was actually a little calmer now. It seemed he really didn't want anyone to find out about the fact that he found her. Found her. "How did you find me anyway???" she knew that he was best at tracking anything anywhere, but that still had to have her worry.
"Well I knew you were in San Francisco for a long time." Monica looked at him shocked. "I knew you wouldn't get out on the first stop, but second or third. Then you would catch a train heading somewhere else, but not buying a ticket. I also knew it had to be going somewhere warm."
"How did you know?"
"Well, you told me so."
"You believed anything I had said, after what I did to you???" she almost screamed at him.
"Not everything, mind you. But some of the things." he answered calmly. She shook her head. "Train to San Francisco was leaving from the second stop on your way ten minutes after your arrival. I knew once you got on it you would just hide somewhere and simply sleep."
"You do know me as well, I see." she admitted. He nodded confirming.
"Once I was here, I simply watched the busy train stations downtown each morning and afternoon. Around lunch time I walked around diners that I thought you might like. I spotted you today."
"That's ridiculous. You came here, not even knowing I would be here. Basing it on some conversation in which I was lying most of the time. And then you simply wandered through downtown San Francisco until you saw me. It's... bizarre to say the least."
"I would have found you sooner or later. Besides both San Francisco and looking for you downtown were ideas Dief confirmed as reasonable. He seems to have good intuition when it comes to you."
That she had to admit. And that also brought another subject "Ben, I know it's probably wrong of me to ask you this, but... were you ever able to... to forgive me?"
They walked in heavy silence for a good minute before he replied. "No. Not yet anyway." he finally admitted. "But I am trying." she hung her head thinking about it. "One day."
"There is no point in us apologizing to each other is there?" she asked but not waiting for his reply she said "I guess not. But I wanted to say it anyway. I am sorry... I am sorry for everything I did to you."
Fraser walked silently for some time. "Thank you." he said finally. "I am sorry I didn't let you go."
She smiled. It actually felt good. "Thank you."
They walked on in comfortable silence until they reached the place they entered the beach in. They went back to the apartment complex and stood in front of the entrance.
"So do you want to come up?" he shook his head "Caroline still has your Stetson..."
Ben smiled at that thought. "That's okay. Tell her... tell her she can keep it." he said and she saw a tear in his eye.
"Ben, she knows that Mat is not her real father. She knew that from the start. I mean I met him when she was eighteen months old. She knows that her real father is not with her. And that he is a Mountie, a policeman. And that he is a good man. She might actually figure out on her own that it's you. I am surprised she didn't do it yet."
"Victoria..." he looked at her. No. That didn't feel right. "Monica... I can't. I can't go up there, and tell her, or watch you tell her that I am her father and then just disappear." He looked at his shoes. "And you're married. It seems to me happily married." she nodded "And I would never want to destroy this for her, or for you. I love Francesca and Ray is to me like a brother. I can't throw it out just like that. And I can't just... I have to think. I have to think this through." he said finally gathering courage to look her in the eye.
"I understand." she said simply and then hesitated. "I am... I am willing to risk a bit to have you around her." she said quietly studying her feet carefully. "To have you come here sometimes, when I would be out of town. Or for you to take her to see Canada and maybe Alaska. I couldn't risk that, but it's my home and it's also where she... where she... well, if it wasn't for the snow blizzard there, she wouldn't be here. I... I would like to know she could count on you. If something ever happens to me." she looked at him "I think I could... trust you to play it right. Not to endanger me. I mean, if neither of your friends see me, I should be fine. And if they see you with her you could just say she is a daughter of your friend. I would somehow explain to Matthew."
"I have to think about what I want to do. With Francesca, with Caroline, with myself. I... I can't face her now."
"What should I tell her if she asks?"
"What can you tell her?" he shrugged his arms.
They sat in silence for a long time.
"Will you tell anyone?" she asked finally dreading an answer to this question.
"I don't know. Maybe my sister."
"You have a sister?" Monica asked surprised.
"Yes, I do. Well, half sister, really. My father used to warm himself in her mother's cabin so to say. I met her three years ago. She came to Chicago on the trail of her husband's killers."
Monica gave a small chuckle "I suppose that alone is a proof for the fact that you're related. Is she a Mountie too?" Ben nodded. She paused and added quietly "Can she be trusted?"
"Absolutely. I would trust her with my life without hesitation."
"That's not what I am asking Ben." she reminded him.
"She will understand. I know it's not easy on you, but we are each others only family. She would want to know her niece, you know."
"If you're sure about this... Just don't tell her where we live, please."
Ben nodded his agreement. "I will go now. Will you be moving in a near future?" she shook her head "I will let you know... I will let you know what happens." They got up and stood in awkward silence for a moment. Then Victoria (or was it Monica?) came up to him and gave him a kiss on a chick. Fraser didn't blush, didn't feel uncomfortable and didn't feel longing for her either. *That's new* he thought as he walked away with Diefenbaker at his leg.
Caroline was lying in her bed, covered, holding the Stetson in her hands. Monica came to give her a goodnight kiss. "Was this my dad?" she asked simply.
*Always so direct.* Monica thought. "Yes." she said simply. What else could she say?
"Will he come back to get his hat?" Caroline asked with hope in her voice.
"He said you can keep the hat."
Her daughter looked extremely disappointed. "So he won't come back?"
"Maybe. I hope so..." She kissed her forehead and turned off the bedside lamp.
Chapter 2: Back to the Present
'... Then I put my gloves on and waved to Ellen. She waved back and so did little Maggie, whom she was holding in her arms. That girl's eyes remind of my mother so much. I wonder how Ben is doing. Last time I saw him was on Christmas. He gave me a wallet he stitched himself. I carry it everywhere with me.' Maggie smiled to herself and wiped a tear away from her eye. She got up from the couch and put another log into the fireplace. The wind was howling loudly. She picked up a blanket and started to sit down to continue reading, when loud knock on the door startled her. *Who could that be?*
She put her leg two inches from the door, so that it wouldn't get blown in. Then she opened the door to see "Ben! Oh God, come inside!" She let Fraser and Dief in. The wolf voiced a complaint about his master, using words that would usually bring him quite a reprimand. This time however his Alfa was too busy trying to help Maggie close the door behind them. When they finally managed, Maggie looked at him with a frown. "Did you walk from the airport?" he nodded along "In this weather. It's twelve kilometers. Why in Gods name would you do that?"
"Well no one seemed to be going to town. I thought I would try to get here before the storm started. I didn't think it would get as bad as that so quickly." Fraser said dumping his backpack next to the fireplace, and started to get rid off the layers of clothing and snow that were surrounding him.
Maggie put some water in the kettle and set it on the stove. She took his parka and coat from him. "Hi." she said finally.
Fraser laughed. "Hi. Good to see you." he gave her a bear hug.
"So... what have I done to deserve this how pleasant surprise visit?"
"I took a vacation and decided to visit family." he lied. At least he didn't tell the whole truth. Which was quickly commented by Diefenbaker as he glanced away with dismay.
Maggie looked at Diefenbaker, then at her brother. "I am glad." she said simply.
Inspector Margaret Thatcher was annoyed. She understood that Fraser had full right to use the time off that he was eligible to, but he could have given her a warning in advance. He accumulated quite a lot of sick days and vacation. If he wanted to use them all at once, she would be in deep trouble and right now that seemed to be his plan. Transferring some of Fraser's responsibilities on Constable Michevski only seemed to make situation worse. She actually had to ask Renfield to come and help her. She hated having to hire babysitters.
So when a phone rang she barked into the receiver an unpleasant "Thatcher."
"Hello, Sir. It's Corporal Fraser."
"That better not be about requesting more time off, Fraser." she snapped at him.
"Well, actually, Sir. It sort of is. I have a personal emergency. I am currently at my sisters place and there aren't any flights out for next three days..."
"Personal emergency?" she never heard him use this two words next to each other.
"Er, yes, sir."
"Are you in some sort of trouble Fraser?" the worry overcame the annoyance.
After some time Ben replied "I'm in no position for immediate physical damage, Sir."
*Which in his mouth means 'yes'.* "Fine Fraser. You can come back next Monday. But that's it. Nothing more."
"Understood. Thank you kindly, Sir."
Francesca waited at the gate for the passengers to start coming out. She would be late for work because of that. Like her brother coming up from Florida was going to change something. But she couldn't talk him out of it. So she was picking him up from the first flight he was able to get himself onto.
"Ray!" she exclaimed happily upon seeing him. "I am glad to see you." they hugged each other.
"I am glad to see you too, Frannie." replied Italian detective.
"Got any luggage?"
"Just that." said Ray pointing at the small suitcase in his hand.
"Okay, let's go. Do you want me to drop you at home?"
"No, I will go to the station with you. No discussion." he said when she started to protest.
"Why would I do that?" Kowalski all but screamed at Vecchio who took what usually was Fraser's seat in front of his desk.
"I can't explain it Kowalski. I have a hunch. It just doesn't seem right. Fraser doesn't do that kind of thing." Vecchio was really annoyed. If he was still a cop it would have been so much easier. Now he had to ask this annoying geek with experimental hair for help.
"With respect Vecchio, but a hunch of yours won't be enough." he said, mockery clear in his eyes. "Look. He is not missing. He called Frannie every day all the time since he left. Well, except for yesterday, but then he said he wouldn't call, and explained that he was going on some sort of trip in the wilderness. I talked to his sister, she said he is perfectly fine and healthy. He even checks in with Thatcher, despite that he is on vacation. He called me three times. And you want me to look for him."
"Yes." Vecchio said trying not to get annoyed. "Look, just trust me on this one, will you?"
"No way. Just no way. It's crazy. Fraser finally took vacation, he is getting some well deserved rest. He is in the wilderness. He went for a hike. Sure it's middle of winter, but for him it's nothing. He is in his element, gaining strength, that's what's happened."
"He didn't go there straight away. He flew there three days ago. Where was he for a week before that?" Vecchio was losing his patience with the Polish detective.
"How do you know that?"
"I've got friends."
"Oh, that's rich. That's just great. Does your sister know you're doing this? She actually asked you to track him down." Kowalski knew that Francesca would never do something that stupid. Fraser could get really sensitive if you showed him you didn't trust him. He couldn't even imagine how he would treat such a breach of trust from a girlfriend.
"That's none of your business." Vecchio snapped.
"Oh, but I think it is. Would you be pushing for that so hard if Fraser wasn't dating your sister?" Vecchio looked away. "I thought so. Look, I understand that she is upset that he didn't tell her where he was going. But that's their problem. Not yours. You come here and you think you know what's best for everybody."
Vecchio had enough. Kowalski was going way too far. "I just don't want my sister to get hurt." he slowly and tensely pronounced each word.
"Well why don't you lock her up somewhere and never let her out?" asked Ray with sarcasm.
Vecchio jumped out of his chair and had to stop himself from hitting Kowalski. He slammed his fist on the desk and stormed out. Once outside, he took out his cell phone and punched the number he still remembered after three years. "Jessie? Hi, it's Ray Vecchio... Yeah, long time... Well, actually, I need a favor..."
It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, Fraser couldn't see a single cloud around, the visibility was hundreds of miles. The dry, cold air was steady on this side of the mountain, but he knew that once he reached the pass there would be a great wind up there. He was slowly reaching his destination. About a hundred meters from the pass itself he noticed the group of rocks he was looking for. He slowly approached them and found the one which was marked by a large, red piece of cloth. He put it there himself many years ago, so that he could find the place if he wanted to.
He looked around. "Ah. That's where I stuck my rifle to make the lean to." he said pointing at the crack between the rocks he was standing on. Diefenbaker let out a whine of dissatisfaction. "No. It's just something I felt I had to do. Besides, you're really soft nowadays. A long hike like that is really good for you. Now, I brought food for myself, but you have to go and hunt." Dief stared at him with disbelief. He let out a growl clearly indicating he didn't find that joke amusing. "Oh, so if something is not prepackaged, you're not able to catch it? Perhaps I should leave you here in the wilderness." Two sharp barks indicated clearly that as long as the wolf had anything to say in the matter, he would live in Chicago. "Watch your language. Alright, let's set up a camp."
"You're unhinged." Kowalski couldn't believe his ears. "I could arrest you for that. Actually I should arrest you for that. And whomever it is that got you this information from."
"Just try. You want to focus here, or what? Fraser rented a car."
"Have you ever seen him drive?" Vecchio asked sarcastically.
"What are you saying? That he will cause accident by driving to slow? He went to Canada. Remember? They're all like that there."
"You think he drove all the way to Fort Simpson? I am not even sure they have roads up there."
"That's because you're so ignorant. Of course they do."
"And how would you know that?"
"Because I drove up there last summer."
Vecchio was really surprised at this development. "You did?"
The curiosity took over his anger caused by the need of requesting help from the Polish detective. "What did you do that for?"
"None of your business." Ray snapped.
"Okay, okay. Touchy. Anyway, that's not the point. I tracked his credit card usage. He didn't go north, he went east. Last he used his credit card, he was in Detroit."
"So? It's on the border, isn't it? Probably he used his Canadian credit card once he crossed the border. Why are you even telling me this anyway? I'm not interested in spying on my friends. I'm normal."
"I can't... I can't track him down any further. And if he was indeed going by car to Fort Simpson he wouldn't go to Detroit. I want you to track his phone calls." Vecchio clearly didn't like asking for help.
Kowalski stared at Vecchio with disgust. "You know Vecchio, I have newly found respect for Stella."
*Do not hit him. Do not hit him. Do not hit him.* Ray looked down, calmed his breath. "I will let that pass, given you're a frustrated ex-husband." He smiled inwardly at the look he got in return. "Look. I have a feeling that's got something to do with Victoria."
"Victoria?" Kowalski thought for a couple seconds. "Oh, that case when shot Fraser when he was in pursuit of the suspect who tried to frame him. What about it?"
Now it was Ray's turn to stare in disbelief. "He never told you about it, did he? You just read the file, didn't you?"
"Yeah. What's more to tell?"
"Let me buy you lunch, Kowalski. Please, just come. Don't give me hard time over this. I will tell you a story."
Fraser put the axe back in it's place in the barn outside of Maggie's house. He went back inside. "I chopped some wood for you."
"Mmm..." That simple sound seemed to be Maggie's equivalent of Fraser's 'Ah.'
"I figured I could do something for you, since I am staying here. You feed me. And more importantly you feed Diefenbaker." he gave the wolf a stern look.
"You know you can come here whenever and you don't have to do anything. And thank you very much for chopping the wood." Fraser was staying at her place for five days already. He was flying out a day after tomorrow and still didn't come even close to mentioning what made him run away couple thousand miles to get some rest. This required some diplomacy. "Perhaps I should sharpen the axe?"
"Why? I think it's perfectly sharp. Well taken care of. It would speak of the owner in superlatives only, should axes speak one day."
"Oh, then I should definitely want to keep it that way. To have it perfect. Given that you just spent ten hours chopping the wood, which by the way I expect to be enough to last me at least until September, I suppose it lost a bit of it's touch." Maggie had a look of perfectly blank expression.
"Ah." Two could play innocence game in that family. "In that case I will sharpen it for you tomorrow."
"How about dinner? I made a stew. I also went to work in the meantime, although I am not so sure you noticed, being so preoccupied. Working." They sat and ate in complete silence. After dinner Fraser cleaned the dishes while Maggie sat in her armchair in front of the fireplace and started reading a book. Ben soon joined her, took the couch and started to work on a sketch. "What are you drawing?"
"Francesca pointed out to me that I am supposedly not bad at this... She really liked a sketch I did of her. So recently I started to draw. It's like a second hobby, after witting, I guess."
"Can I move?"
"Oh, yes. Of course. But it will be a bit blurry then." he couldn't completely hide a smile when he saw her face with left eyebrow raised high up. "Once upon a time there was this young Mountie living in the north of Canada. He was young and quite idealistic." Maggie closed her book and gave him her full attention. Diefenbaker opened one eye, but decided that it was nothing new so he went back to sleep. "Few years after joining the force he was sent to bring in a criminal. A wheelman, well, a wheelwoman in a bank robbery in Alaska. She escaped through the border on a plane. The pilot left her after the plane was forced down because of bad weather. She tried to escape through a mountain range, but she had no proper equipment, and a very big storm was about to hit."
"There are worse ways to die than hypothermia, you know. Hypothermia might actually be quite a nice one compared to many others than might await a bank robber." Maggie found it strange that Fraser would feel bad about something so beyond his control so many years later.
"Oh, she did survive." his sister was genuinely surprised. "The Mountie had found her and they kept each other warm. But the Mountie, idealistic that he was, didn't quite follow his duty. He fell in love, or at least so he thought. He never really loved someone before." Fraser paused for some time, concentrating on the line of her jaw. "The fifth night after he found her they camped just outside the town. He held her in her arms, kissed her fingers and lips and they lay there in silence. She asked him to let her go. No one knew her name, no one knew she was found. She could have walked away and come back after few months and they could have been together. But he brought her in." Ben realized that it's really difficult to draw a flickering fire. Amazed, he thought about that for a moment and then continued "Ten years later, after she got out of prison, she found the Mountie. He thought he had been given a second chance. She just wanted her revenge. It ended quite badly. She got away, after he let her go. He got shot in the back while he tried to escape with her. He carries the bullet inside him to this day."
"So that's how you got the scar near your spine?" Ben nodded. "But that's not the end of that story, is it?" this time he shook his head.
"The Mountie managed to piece his life back together. After some time he moved on. But he was still afraid. That she might still want more revenge. He didn't much care for himself, but he was afraid about the ones that were dear to him. So he found her." Fraser fell silent.
"And that happened about a week ago." it was a statement. Confirmed by a nod.
"It appears that while she wanted to take revenge and he was trying to get his second chance, they conceived a child. They have a daughter together. She is five, and is the most lovely thing on this planet. The former bank robber has a new life, including a husband." They sat in a heavy silence. "I see you don't want your sketch to be blurry. Indeed. That's good. Really nice. May I suggest a career as a model?"
She blinked and breathed again. Then closed her jaw. "You have a daughter."
"And you just found out about that."
"Well... that's... big. Big news."
"Yes." after a pause he added "But there is more to it. It gets worse..."
"Okay." Kowalski said slowly and let out a long sigh. "Assuming, against my better judgement, that you're telling the story how it was and not leaving anything out, I must say that I understand why you are behaving in such a bizarre way." He paused, took a sip of coffee and continued. "However Fraser is my friend. Even if he went to find Victoria, which I doubt, he committed no crime. He is actually doing his duty, pursuing a fugitive. Even if, and I don't believe that's possible at all, Fraser finds her and falls back in love with her, let it be. Frannie is for me like an adopted sister, but if Fraser would do something like that, then she'll be better of alone."
Vecchio looked out the window. "Kowalski, you don't understand. I'm not doing it for Frannie. Not entirely anyway. Fraser is my friend too. I'm worried about him. He's not himself around this woman. He's acting irrationally. He was going to throw out everything that mattered in his life for her. I'm worried he'll do something as stupid again." He looked down into his cup. "I'm not proud about that I'm worried for him more than I'm worried for Frannie. She's strong and she'll survive. But _that_ woman has power to destroy Fraser. To destroy whom he is."
Kowalski was really surprised. That wasn't something he expected. "Vecchio, that was years ago. Fraser is older, wiser. He grew up. And if you're really worried about him, just talk to him. Call him. Don't track him down. If you have to, go up there. Look him in the eye. See what he says. But don't do anything behind his back." He paused for a moment to let the words sink in. "A real friend wouldn't."
Fraser's pencil was adding final touches to Maggie's hair. He finished telling the rest of the story quite some time ago and his sister didn't speak since.
"So you're planning to propose to a woman, whose family hates the mother of your only child. And to make it even worse, as if that wasn't enough, the mother is wanted for various crimes, including murder."
Ben thought about that for a moment. "As far as I know, Ray has never told the whole story to his family. I certainly haven't." he paused for a moment considering whether what he wanted to say would account for his insanity or not. He decided to go with it anyway. "On a bright side in four years she will be left only with the murder. There rest of the charges will be void by the statute of limitations. And if I don't testify against her, the charges for murder have no chance of sticking. There is nothing else to even place her at the scene of the crime. Actually, now that I think about it, without my testimony, it's very unlikely she would be convicted for anything."
If possible, Maggie was shocked even more than before. "Ben, you are an officer of the law. How could you possibly think of that. It's perjury."
"No, not really. It's what Americans call 'pleading the Fifth' I believe. Should I testify against Victoria, it would incriminate me to some extent." Two pairs of eyes bore into him. "If I was given a choice between putting a mother of my child in jail, again, most probably endangering well being of my family at the same time, and forsaking my duty towards justice... I don't know what I would do. And I don't intend to find out."
Maggie thought about it for a while. "You already chose the latter if she's not imprisoned and awaiting trial right now." Harsh words made Fraser wince. "You know, before I met you I've heard about your father, well, our father, a lot. And I thought he was always acting by the book. But now that you told me about him and when I'm reading his journals, I know that wasn't the case. Maybe you're just like that. Are you fine with that whole situation?"
"Our father said that duty is in your heart. I don't love Victoria any more. I might hate her, despise her. But I don't love her. However, tell me, how can I not love my own daughter?"
Maggie stared at the sketch Fraser made of her. *He sure knows his way around the pencil.* she thought. A loud triple knock brought her back to reality. She didn't expect visitors, especially not that late, and she finally convinced her brother to stop knocking and feel at home. He wasn't supposed to be back for at least another hour anyway. She came to the door and opened it a bit. A bold, middle-aged man was standing outside, with a look in his eye conveying a message that standing where he was right here and now was his idea of eternal punishment. "May I help you?"
"Yeah. Hi. Maggie Mackenzie?"
"I'm Ray Vecchio." she looked him critically from head to toe. "The REAL Ray Vecchio." They stood there in silence for a moment. "May I come in or something?"
"Oh, yes, of course. I'm sorry." She opened the door and let him inside. "Are you looking for my brother?"
"As a matter of fact, yes, I am." he said and started to get rid of the many layers of clothing he was wearing. "Where is he?"
"Oh, he took Dief for a walk. He should be back in an hour or so. Did something happen?"
"Yeah, something happened. Your brother run away without telling anyone where he was going. That includes leaving my sister out of it, the woman whom he is supposedly serious about." Sarcasm was leaking from between his words.
"As far as I know he kept in touch with everyone. Including your sister, naturally. As a matter of fact I've heard him speak with her today." Maggie had a feeling that wasn't going to be an easy conversation. She was hoping that Ray's abilities in detecting a lie weren't as good as hers. "What's wrong with taking vacation? I doubt that Frannie is the kind of person to hike through the mountains of the Northwest, especially in the winter. No offense intended."
"None taken. So when did your brother come visit?"
The conversation was getting out of Maggie's hands. Vecchio's visit put her in some trouble. She didn't know whether she was supposed to be Ben's cover story. However uneasy she would feel about that. "He came six days ago. I think. Why?"
"Oh, no reason. Do you happen to know where he was before that?"
"No. Not really. I tend to treat my guests differently then my prisoners." Vecchio gave her a blank look. "Meaning I don't interrogate them." Ray winced. Such sharp statement was completely out of character for her. Not that she wasn't capable. It didn't take much to have a sharp tongue. It took much more not to have it, if one could. Should Vecchio knew Maggie at all, he would know she was trying to hide something. But he didn't, so it worked as she predicted. He stopped questioning her and apologized. "Think nothing of it." She gave him a pleasant smile.
"So where did Fraser go?"
"Oh, he is walking on the river."
"You mean along the river."
"No. I mean on the river. The Liard River, to be exact. It's few hundred yard to the East from here."
"On the river? Look, where I come from you need Pope's permission for that kind of thing." Ray tried to joke. Not even a shadow of a smile appeared on Maggie's face.
"Well, Mr. Vecchio, here, where I come from, it's enough to wait until the river freezes."
Ray stepped out of the boreal forest onto a beach. Or on something that probably could serve as a beach during the months were the river was actually a river, not a block of frozen ice meandering through hundreds of miles of the wilderness. A boat was taken out of the water, and put on the shore. He took the view in front of him in awe. The other bank was about a mile away, covered with trees. It was magnificent panorama. He looked down. There were footprints all over the place. But it'd been snowing in the morning and wind was very calm. Which essentially reduced what Vecchio was looking at to a lot of hardly visible foot marks and two fresh trails. One of size ten boots and one of paws, which Ray knew belonged to a wolf. He was no trapper, but typical New Yorker who never left Manhattan could have figured this one out. He followed Fraser's trail, which took him North.
Fraser was sitting on a log that Maggie carried over there some months ago. Ice-fishing. Diefenbaker, who was lying at his feet got up, looked behind him and gave a bark. Ben turned around. There was a figure approaching them. It was couple hundred meters away. He squinted and recognized the figure. "Oh dear."
Vecchio finally reached the solitary man, fishing in the middle of the frozen river. Ben got up. "Hello, Benny!" said Ray with a genuine smile.
"Ray!" they gave each other a bear hug. "It's good to see you. Care for a seat?" he said pointing to a second log, which he brought here yesterday himself, when he went fishing together with Maggie.
Ray set down. "So, how are you?"
Ben looked at him trying to figure out what could have caused his friend to visit. "I'm good. Very good. Enjoying my vacation as you can see." Ray nodded along. "You came all the way here..." he paused waving his arm slowly around, indicating their surroundings. They were sitting in the middle of Mackenzie River, where Liard River flew into it, over a mile to the nearest shore. In the middle of frozen rivers. Ice-fishing. "To ask me that?" He hesitated for a moment. "Of course you're more than welcome. I do enjoy company. Dief and I ran out of topics to discuss for today."
"No, Fraser. I came here, because I'm concerned."
"Concerned about what, Ray?"
"About you. About Frannie. About you and my sister." He put up a hand before Fraser started to say that everything was fine. "Fraser, we both know that you're behaving... in an unusual way to say the least. Even for you. You tell my sister everything. You're practically a textbook example of a relationship. And suddenly all the secrets." He paused for a moment. "You know, my mind reminds me immediately of a certain woman. Certain situations. You know what I'm talking about?" Fraser considered his options. Playing dumb or innocent will work only in a short run anyway. He nodded. "So. Is it about Victoria?"
"No." *It's not a lie. It's about Caroline and Francesca. And even if you factor Her in, it was about Monica, not Victoria.* He managed to keep his face straight, pulse constant, controlled his jaw and eyes. Watching liars helped becoming one. Apparently. *I'm not lying. Not technically anyway.*
"Alright. Would you care to tell me where you've been last week?"
Fraser considered his options. Making something up was most probably not going to work. Ray probably asked Maggie the same question already. But what did she answer? Would she lie for him? World was so complicated once you allowed one lie to enter your life... "I would prefer not to. If you don't mind. It's personal."
"Personal." Fraser nodded. "But it's not about Victoria?" Fraser shook his head and held Ray's gaze. *Either it's really not her, or he is a very good liar. Could he have learnt to lie so well?* Well, personal or not, that was his sister that was of concern here. Maybe he should shake Fraser up a bit. "You know, Frannie misses you. She decided to keep herself busy. She thought it might have been a nice gesture to clean your apartment. Maybe add some things there. As a gift, you know. So that you actually had some furniture." It wasn't the best day for irony. He got no reaction from Fraser. "So she cleaned your place real nice. Rearranged things in your drawers..." he paused. Watching expressions change on Fraser's face would have been pure pleasure, if that whole thing didn't concern his sister. Mild general interest. A slight annoyance. But then no man liked his girlfriend to clean his apartment. Not even the-most-tolerant-man-in-the-world Fraser. The annoyance slowly turned into realization and then very soon to pure horror.
"Oh, yes she did. And now she's freaking out. She thinks you're out here thinking things over. Thinking whether or not she's worth you." He stopped Fraser before he spoke. "I know. I know. You would never even consider such a thought. And on some level she knows that too. But by now her mind is far, very far from using logical reasoning. She's nearly panicking Fraser. And she is acting her ass off not to show anything in front of you."
Fraser stared at the horizon. Something got caught. The line was being pulled down. Soon the fishing rod had a new owner, who more probably than not, lacked abilities and equipment to use it. Fraser hadn't noticed. "I guess I should go back to Chicago." Ray nodded along. "As soon as possible." Ray kept nodding along. "And talk to Francesca. Very soon."
"Good idea, Fraser. A very good idea."
Fraser stood in front of the Vecchio house. He was wearing jeans, a sweater and a leather jacket. He was sure his thermometer must had been lying. He felt like it was a summer, nowhere close to five Celsius shown by the device. A whine came from below.
"Sh... When I'm ready." he replied to the wolf. His hand went up, and a thumb passed over an eyebrow for tenth time in the last two minutes. Finally the hand managed to form a fist and produce the very tricky sound of Knock On The Door.
He took a deep breath. The door opened and he was welcomed by Ma Vecchio. Within seconds he was inside and somehow the jacket was off his shoulders. He managed to retrieve it back from her hands politely finally he said something. "Hello, Mrs. Vecchio. It's good to see you."
"You won't come in? We are having dinner in a minute." Ma seemed confused. Francesca came out and a smile lit her face as she saw Fraser. She hurried over and gave him a kiss and a hug. He pulled away.
"Actually, I just came over to see Francesca, Mrs. Vecchio." he said to Ma. "I need to talk to you." he continued to Frannie. Fraser had never broken up with anyone, so he didn't know the meaning of certain phrases. Frannie's knees went weak. "Could we perhaps go for a walk, Francesca?"
"Of course." she said very quietly. Her mother gave her a worried look. "Ma, I will... I will just be out." She took her coat. They stepped outside in silence. Fraser offered her his arm. She took it reluctantly. *You won't cry. You will NOT cry.*
Fraser saw her unease and reluctance and wanted to ask whether something is wrong, but stopped himself before he opened his mouth. He knew something was wrong. He knew what. Francesca found the ring. And then she freaked out. And now she was worried. "Francesca, I have to confess something."
*Oh, God. He didn't... cheat on me, did he? He would never do that.* Out loud she just asked "What's that?"
"It will sound absolutely strange. And if you don't want to see me ever again I will understand." He realized this didn't sound like an optimistic beginning, but he learned not to try to make it better by explaining and starting over. Somehow it made things worse and people were getting annoyed when he did that. He never understood why. So instead he just went on. "I've discovered a... skeleton in my closet so to say. Well, metaphorically, of course. There's some secret in my past... that I can't tell you about. And I would... Oh dear. Well, I have to tell you about it, but I can't tell you what is it. So what I'm saying is that I have a secret from you, which I have to keep a secret. And I can't tell you what is it. But I have to ask you to be okay with it."
Francesca stared at him blankly. *What?* "Could you go over that one more time?"
"Certainly." Frannie often wondered whether Fraser really didn't notice sarcasm other people used or if he just perfectly mastered pretending not to notice it, in order to avoid small, stupid fights with her and to get what he wanted from others. "To sum up. I have a secret. From the past. I can't tell you what it is. And I would like you to accept it. Oh, and also for you keep it a secret yourself."
"That shouldn't be difficult, should it? Given you can't tell me what is it."
"Well, it's more complicated. I also need you to keep it secret that you know about the secret. Or rather that you know that there is a secret to know about in the first place."
Francesca sighed. All in all it could have went much worse. Fraser didn't seem to be breaking up with her. He was just trying to tell her something. She just needed to guess what it was. "Okay. Let's see. This secret of yours. Did you kill someone or something?" Fraser shook his head. "Have you got a secret wife?" Fraser shook his head again. "Are you a Russian spy?" Another shake. "You've got a child you didn't know about?" Fraser hesitated. And that was it. You couldn't lie to someone you wanted to marry, it was unforgivable. Something you couldn't built on. So he hesitated. But even that was enough. Francesca stopped in her tracks right there. "Oh my God." She stared at him in disbelief. "I was just joking. You're not serious are you? Because it's not funny. Not funny at all." But she knew that joke like that was totally not like Fraser. He didn't do things like that. "You are serious..." She settled for staring at him with her mouth open.
Ben considered his options. He really didn't want to admit anything. By now he didn't have to. Francesca knew him quite well. He didn't have a complicated personality when it came to that sort of thing. In a way he was relieved. He told her without actually telling her. Now all he had to do was to find out how she felt about it. "Francesca." He said softly. He got her attention. "Do you trust me?"
"Of course." The response was automatic. If you couldn't trust Benton Fraser, whom could you trust?
"I need to know. I have a secret." He looked at her meaningfully. They both knew what he meant and Frannie seemed to get he didn't want to say that out loud, although she wasn't sure why. "And sometimes, I might be out of town. For a few days. And I won't be telling you where I'll be going. And I'll ask you not even to tell anyone that I left. Do you trust me enough to be able to live with it?"
Francesca looked into his eyes. She hesitated. "What about the mother? Can you tell me anything about that mother?" Fraser didn't move, he just looked deeply into her eyes. Frannie got the message. "No. I will just know you have a child. And that you will be visiting her or him sometimes. And no one is supposed to know about it, yes?" This time Ben gave he a slight nod. She looked at him carefully. An understanding drawn on her. *He is asking me this, because he wants to propose. He's coming clean as much as he can and he's doing it up-front. I could probably try to guess the mother. He would start denying the names and then just wouldn't deny one of them because he wouldn't lie to me. He would 'fall' for that again, I'm sure. The list wouldn't be long. But it wouldn't be fair.* She looked down slightly embarrassed at her own thoughts. She thought about it for a moment. *What if it's THAT woman?* She started to open her mouth to ask, but hesitated. She changed her mind and instead asked "Can I trust you that much?"
"Yes." Fraser was absolutely sure of that.
Francesca smiled. *How could I question this man? Whom could I trust if not him?* She reached up with her hand and caressed his cheek. She leaned in and kissed him softly and tenderly on the lips. "I do trust you, Benton."
Fraser stood in front of the door. "You're sure about this?" a bark confirmed Diefenbaker's opinion. "Yes. But it's just intuition. You're being unreasonable." The wolf rolled his eyes. They've been over this already. Four times. "You can't smell that sort of thing. It's just not possible. There is nothing that could have told you the future events. Even if they were relatively close in the future." Dief just stared at Ben. Fraser looked closely. *Is he raising an eyebrow? No, that's just silly.* "Alright. I'll trust your sense of smell. Just this once." Diefenbaker's head dropped. Ben could swear he heard a cough. He pressed the button with name 'Hazen' on it.
"Hello?" said a voice. It was male. Fraser didn't expect that, although on the second thought he should have.
"Er, it's Benton Fraser." he paused not sure what to say next. That was certainly a bit awkward situation. Especially given that he really didn't know what Victoria told her husband. But he seemed to get grasp the last time.
There was a longer pause, followed by an awkward throat clearing. "Er, please come up." They did.
Fraser walked up to the fourth level, despite the elevator. The door opened before he could knock. Matthew, who opened the door, was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. "Please come inside" he said stepping out of the way and extending a hand. Fraser shook it. "Monica isn't home. They went shopping with Caroline. I stayed, I had to finish the conference proposal, it's due at midnight."
"Oh. I'm really sorry to be disturbing then. I'll just come back another time." Ben was actually relieved. Fraser ranked any possible conversation with this man about nine and a half on the scale of awkwardness (with one being normal and ten being first meeting with parents of the girl that you married yesterday in Vegas).
"No. Please. I am almost finished. I was just typing the email and was about to press 'Send.' Monica and Caroline should be here in an hour or so. Would you like something to drink? Tea, coffee, juice, wine? I think we also have some beer?"
"I don't drink alcohol. Water would be just fine, thank you."
"Please come inside, take a sit." Matthew pointed to the couch. "Would your dog-" he was interrupted by a short, friendly bark and caught the glance Dief gave him "-sorry, wolf?... Okay, would your wolf like something?"
Fraser gave Dief a Look. "No, he is on a diet. But we appreciate the offer."
"Very well. I will be with you shortly." Matthew disappeared in the kitchen and then in the corridor that led to the rest of the apartment. He came back after couple minutes bringing Ben a glass of water with ice and a juice for himself. They sat in an uncomfortable silence for a while. Fraser felt that the ball was probably in his court, but Matthew spoke first. "I'm sort of 'cards on the table' kind of guy. So let me start and say what I've got to say. From what I've heard from Monica, and also from what I noticed, you're Caroline's father." Fraser nodded. "Monica also mentioned that you are in a serious relationship, just about to get engaged?"
"Yes, that's true."
"Well, I'm a man of reason. From what I've seen, as far as I can say, you were unaware that you had a child." Ben nodded again. He felt he knew where this was going and he really wished Victoria/Monica would come back already. "Which brings me to what I don't exactly understand, that is why did you come looking for her, if you were just about to get engaged with another woman?" Fraser didn't offer any answer. "Of course, it's private, and none of my business. Well, it sort of is, really. Monica said that's something between the two of you and that it belongs in the past. And that she couldn't really explain it to me."
"I'm afraid I won't be able to offer anything better... She put it very well, Mr. Hazen."
"Please, call me Matthew. Or Mat."
"Oh. Well. Thank you. Er, you should feel free to call me Benton, or Ben. But no one does that. Friends just call me Fraser, usually."
They both sipped their drinks. Mat picked up. "I should also probably warn you that Caroline sort of guessed you're her father. So... unless you're here to... well, if you wish to stay you should probably be ready to face her as one."
"That is my intention." Fraser voice was unusually filled with emotion.
"I'm glad." They didn't say anything for a moment. "She'll be celebrating her fifth birthday tomorrow, by the way. In case you would want to go last minute shopping or something."
Fraser gave Diefenbaker a curious glance. The wolf barked back 'I-told-you'. Ben shifted his attention back to Matthew. "No that's fine. My wolf..." He paused. Explaining to strangers about Diefenbaker never worked. One had to know the animal and have him save one's life once or twice before one could accept explanations like 'Diefenbaker smelled it' or 'This men is innocent. He uses different laundry detergent then the one Dief smelled at the scene of the crime.' Ben decided to go with logic. That never missed with people who Reasoned. "I've sort of figured that out, by counting so to speak. I didn't know the exact date of course-"
"It's March, the twentieth."
"-thank you. But I brought a gift with me."
Matthew thought for a moment. "I hope you wouldn't mind me asking what is it? It's just that we try to keep Caroline away from the kind of... mass-culture things, if you know what I mean? She doesn't have TV in her room, nor a computer, she doesn't get this Barbie kind of dolls, thin like a stick, wearing layers of make-up. I don't mean to influence you in any way of course..." he finished diplomatically.
Fraser smiled. That was going to work out just fine. "Don't worry about that, Matthew. It's a dream-catcher. It's sort of..."
"I know what is a dream-catcher. I specialize in Native American Archeology. Where did you get one? It's an interesting choice for a gift."
"Thank you. I was visiting my sister in the Northwest Territories, and a chief of a local Tsimshian tribe gave it to me, so that I could give it to Caroline, once he found out I have a child."
"A chief of Tsimshian tribe gave you a dream-catcher?" Mat asked with disbelief.
"Oh, yes. We're friends. I spent quite some time with his son, when we were growing up."
"You were born in the Northwest Territories?"
When Monica and Caroline entered the apartment forty five minutes later it took a reasonably loud cough to get the attention of two men who were fully engaged in the discussion of the Inuit culture and traditions.
Chapter 3: Healing Wounds
Tim rarely took hitchhikers, but the little girl was hardly a danger. Oh, sure, she ran away from home. He was absolutely sure about that. But so did he, when he was young. He didn't see anything wrong with that. Home wasn't always a pretty place. She was claiming she was going to see her father. Supposedly the guy was working for a Canadian consulate. Nothing wrong with that kind of job. Tim was seeing his son once per month for an one-hour dinner. He wasn't going to stand in a way. Chicago wasn't exactly on a way to New York, he made couple extra miles.
"Are you naturally predisposed to irritate people, detective, or should I treat this as a personal attack on my person?"
Detective Semanski, the man in question, looked Meg Thatcher in the eye. He even managed to hold her gaze for good five seconds before he checked if his shoes were still clean. Ray Kowalski, who was sitting next to him smiled under his nose. The younger detective had a lot to learn in his life, if he was to survive the dangerous police work.
"Is there a third option?" Semanski managed.
"Certainly. We'll just do it my way." Years of practice taught Meg that when it comes to 'group meetings' the best strategy to end them fast and with reasonable outcome is simply to terrorize everyone.
"Er, Inspector? If I may?" Of course if Fraser happened to be in the meeting that sometimes proved to be considerably more difficult. He was always polite, logical and actually managed, quite often, to make some good points. But he liked to discuss things. She hated long meetings and hours of pointless discussions. Fraser called it democracy. Meg called it waste of time. She just liked things to be done her way. It usually worked out quite fine.
"If you don't mind me saying so, I think Detective Semanski has made some good remarks. Now, speaking from my own experience from two summits that our Consulate was helping to protect so far..." Meg stopped listening. She knew what he would say anyway. That international cooperation is excellent idea, because... well, she wasn't sure why, at the moment, but she knew she was able to explain it if necessary. But it was also an administrative headache. Which of course would cause her to do unnecessary work. NAFTA was up and running for a long time, the meetings that were taking place right now were just for bureaucrats to have a nice dinner. Diefenbaker could probably protect the summit on his own. It wasn't causing as much turmoil as it used to.
She sighed heavily, got up from the conference table and walked to pour herself a cup of coffee. The moment she picked up the cup and the pot, the door to her office opened. That was surprising, she said not to disturb this meeting. Not that it was that important, it's just that if she had to leave the others would have come up with some nonsense while she was gone. *That better be good.*
Ashley, a young woman who managed to stand being Meg's secretary for two years already, (surprising for both of them) looked at her boss frightened. "Er... I'm terribly sorry to interrupt, but-"
"Daddy!" a little girl's scream from behind startled everyone and made her stop. Eleven year old Caroline run up to Fraser, who stopped his monologue. Although he looked shocked, he picked her up, kissed her and hugged her tightly.
The short moment was broken by the sound of glass braking. Everybody looked at Meg, obviously the cause of it, but she didn't seem to notice neither that her legs were covered in a steaming liquid nor that she was standing in the middle of her conference room with mouth open.
Fraser looked around. Ashley might be a patient secretary, but he knew she was also quite a gossip. So was Detective Semanski for that matter. Some things certainly needed to be taken care of and straightened out. Pretty quickly. "Sir, it appears that I might have a personal emergency. Would you mind if I took the rest of the day off?"
Meg blinked at last. Her first reflex was to say 'of course' but she managed to stop herself. That was too good of a chance. "I gather that you finished your argumentation and that you fully agree with me then?"
"Er, yes, of course, Sir." Ben had to admire Thatcher's technique of negotiation.
"Very well then. You should feel free to leave, Sergeant. Dismissed." Four pairs of eyes watched Fraser hurry out of the office, still carrying the little girl in his arms, Dief at his heels. The neurons in some part of Meg's brain finally got unblocked. "Auuuuu!" she screamed out loud noticing the burning coffee on her legs.
"Oh, honey... are you okay?" Fraser put Caroline on the ground and kneeled besides her.
"Of course. Why wouldn't I be?" she asked curiously.
As Fraser left the conference room waves of emotions were overcoming him. First worry (although logically he didn't have anything to worry about now - she was safely here, he should have worried before, but he didn't know about that fact at the time), then anger (he wasn't sure whom he was angry at), then again relief. Finally he decided he should probably get away from consulate. "Would you accompany for a walk?"
"Okay." she said happily.
When they were away from consulate, Fraser lead them to a bench in the park. They sat down there. "So... Caroline..."
"Yes?" she looked up at him innocently.
"How should I put this... Does your mother know where you are?"
Caroline thought about it for a moment. "No. Not really. Although she knows I would be away." Fraser looked at her expectantly. "Well, I sort of lied..." she was clearly embarrassed about that, which made Ben fell quite good. "I said I had a school trip. You know I really never lie. Well, until now anyway. So they just believed me."
"And are you proud of yourself?" perhaps that wasn't the best time to be giving reprimands, but Ben just couldn't stop himself. A lie was nothing to approve of.
"Well, no. Of course not. But I asked first if I could visit you, but mum said no. And she couldn't really give any reason. Any good reason I mean. She just mumbled something. And she said I should ask you first, but I knew you'd want me. Right?" she looked with hope in her eyes.
"Of course, darling. You know how much I love you." Fraser was smiling like an idiot. He gave her a hug. "But your mother will be really worried. And Matthew."
"Oh, I don't know." Caroline stared at her feet which were kicking the air quite violently.
"Why not?" Fraser knew that this was the problem. Or at least part of it.
"Well, he's really busy taking care of Angela..." she managed quietly.
*Oh, dear. Well, we did expect that. We just didn't expect Caroline to run away from home.* He hugged her again. "Oh, honey. Mat loves you. You know that."
"Well, yes, I know. Of course. But he's never so... warm with me. So caring."
"Honey." She had a point. Ben knew it. He saw it himself last couple times he was visiting. Matthew was so happy that he and Monica finally had a child, that he seemed to undergo a metamorphosis. He was fixated at his daughter. Sure, he loved Caroline a lot. But since Fraser was around quite a lot, they all knew he was never really a father. And he really wanted to be one. And now he got his chance. The situation was a real mess. Capital 'R', capital 'M'. How could he explain that to an eleven year old? "You know your mother and I love you very much?" Caroline looked at Fraser, she gave him a little nod. "And you know that Mat cares for you a lot." a nod, but joined by roll of her eyes. Fraser decided to let go. "Now, you see, most children can only have two parents. If they are lucky. My mother died when I was six, you know. And then my father was mostly away. And you sort of got two and a half parents and maybe even a bit more. Consider yourself lucky."
Caroline suddenly looked very embarrassed. That was not what he wanted. Not for long anyway. "Come on, princess. Stop sulking."
"I don't sulk!"
"Of course, dear. Now, shall we perhaps try calling Monica? You know, to let her know where you are?"
They got up and started walking. "So how did you get here?"
Ben sat in a cyber-cafe wearing a headset. Caroline sat next to him, quite fascinated with what was happening around. Fraser logged into consular network, from where he logged onto a server in Russia (it was run by an old friend from the Territories) and then to an anonimizer in India. Finally he dialled a number and they both heard the tone.
"Monica Hazen, how may I help you?" the tone was professional, clearly indicating that it was a busy day.
"Hello. It's Ben." he heard the silence on the other end of the line. The arrangement was clear - if he was calling there was an emergency. He didn't have to say anything. But keeping appearances of a normal conversation in front of Caroline might be a good idea. "And right here, next to me, is someone very special." he gave his daughter an expectant look.
"Hi, mum!" they could hear a heavy, long groan. "I... I wanted to say that I'm sorry." She looked up at Fraser. Clearly there was a discussion about that before. "But I came to visit daddy without telling you." she finished. "I'm okay. Dief is quite fun. He let me play with him and he seems to be happy wearing a scrunchie." Still there was no sound from the other side. "Mum? Are you okay?"
"I'm here honey. Oh, God. I'm glad you're alright. Honey, could you let me talk to your father for a while?"
"He's listening right now, mommy. We're both wearing headsets!" she was clearly proud of that.
"Ah. Well, perhaps you could put another scrunchie on the wolf, honey?"
"Oh, you need to talk alone. That's cool. I'll talk to you later, mum. Don't worry I'm sure daddy will take good care of me! Bye bye!" she took her headset off.
Fraser looked around. It wasn't ethical, he knew, but he knew it'd work. "They have some games in there, darling." he said pointing to a row of computers. "I think they have Sims." Caroline didn't have her own computer. And Mat used his for work quite a lot. Her eyes shined. Ben nodded his permission and she was gone. He motioned for Dief to watch after her. "We're alone." he said to the headset.
"Oh, God, Ben... How did this happen..."
"Well, it appears someone gave her a ride. All the way from San Francisco to Chicago actually."
Monica considered it for a while. "Oh, but it could have been a kidnapper. Or even worse... Oh, I can't even think about it."
"Well, she did ask him before, if that's of any consolation. She asked whether he was a kidnapper, a rapist or any other sort of criminal. She also warned him she is going to see her father, who was a policeman."
"Not much of a consolation, Ben. Oh, God... She never lies you know? I didn't even think of checking if there was a school trip. She never lies." There was a longer pause. "Why did she run away?"
"Er, she was jealous of Angela, I believe." A long heavy silence on the other side was followed by a heavy sigh. "I tried to explain it, but it isn't easy, you know."
"Oh, God. It's my fault. I should have talked with Mat about that. I've seen troubles coming, but he was so excited, I didn't want to ruin it for him. We were trying for so long..."
"I know. It's not your fault. You couldn't have predicted that. Don't blame yourself too much."
"Easy to say, Ben." Monica paused for a long while. The shock started to wear off. "Ben, did someone see her?"
Fraser thought how to brake the news. Probably blunt was the way to go. "She walked in the middle of a conference meeting screaming 'daddy'. An hour ago, at least five people knew, including my superior officer and Ray." after a second he added "Kowalski."
Monica didn't speak for a long while. In her office she put the phone down on her desk and let her head rest on her hands. She could hear sound still coming from the receiver. She glared blankly outside the window at the downtown San Francisco. After a minute she slowly put the receiver back on a base. She picked up her purse and coat and left the office. After half a minute the phone rang again.
"Could you repeat that?" Vecchio couldn't believe his ears. Then his brain switched to the detective-mode and suddenly a lot of past events started to make a lot of sense. "Thanks." he managed to say to the person on the other end of the line. He hung up.
He stared blankly at the phone for a little while. Then he slowly went to the living room of what used to be his home in the past, and what was Fraser's and Frannie's home now. His sister was walking around, trying to get Dorothy to sleep. Robert was playing with LEGO on the floor. Ray was to preoccupied to notice that and almost stepped into a medieval castle. He apologized and turned to Frannie. "Frannie, could I talk to you?" he whispered.
"I think she's just falling asleep. It'll take couple more minutes." Frannie looked into Ray's eyes. So did her mother, who was reading a book on the couch. She got up and took Dorothy from her.
"Okay, we'll be in the kitchen." they left the living room.
Once in the kitchen Frannie asked "Okay, you look like you've seen a ghost. What happened?"
"You better sit down for this." Vecchio said pulling out a chair for her.
"Ray, you're scaring me. Is Fraser alright? Did something happen?"
"Fraser is okay. I mean he isn't wounded or something." He sat next to her. "Frannie a friend from the precinct called. Apparently Fraser has a daughter."
His sister stared at him waiting for more. That seemed to be the news. "I know Ray. I've just put her to sleep. Or was trying to, until you came, anyway."
"No, Frannie. He has another child. She is ten-twelve years old. She came today to the consulate in the middle of a meeting. Fraser took a day off and no one has seen him since. But he seemed to know about her."
Frannie sighed heavily. "Of course he knew about her. Do you think that children just wander around the country finding their long lost parents that have no idea about them?"
Vecchio stared at her in shock. "You knew about this???" he screamed at her.
"Don't scream. Above all don't scream. Yes, I knew about this. Did you think Benton would keep something like that from me?"
"How long did you know?"
Frannie considered her options. The situation seemed to be getting really complicated. "He told me very soon after he found out, Ray. He doesn't keep any secrets from me."
"So you've met her? Who's the mother?"
"No, Ray. I've never met her. Nor her mother."
"Isn't it a bit strange? How old is she?"
"She's eleven." That was a mistake and Frannie knew it the second the words left her mouth. Ray still had some experience from interrogation room and Frannie was never good at keeping secrets. She couldn't go back in time and kick herself in the shin. She watched the look on her brother's face as he was dealing with math. Finally the look of horror overcame the puzzlement on his expression.
"No..." he said with disbelief. He stared at Frannie like she was from another planet. "Do you realize who the mother is?"
"Yes, I realize whom she is, Ray." Ray started to get up. "Sit!" There is a tone of voice that is available only to nasty dictators and mothers. Ray's legs did the work independently of his mind. "Where do you think you're going?" A back of Ray's mind started to wonder automatically whether he perhaps forgot to do the homework.
"Er... To find him? Them?"
"And then what?"
"Well, I didn't exactly thought it through." Ray sit and thought for a moment about the whole situation. "How can you be fine with that?"
"Ray. I have a wonderful husband and children. We're a happy family. Besides that Ben has a daughter and visits her sometimes. Her mother... well, her mother is not the world's nicest person. Fine. But she's different now. Ben said she's got her revenge and she's done. She's married, Ray. They just had a child. She has a new life."
"Oh! Sure! Now you'll tell me she's Mother Teresa, saving orphans and all. I know her, I've seen her, I was there when it all happened. You haven't slightest idea about Victoria."
"So what do you want to do? You want to put her in prison? You want to tell her husband about her past? Tell her children? Ruin her life, that she's got now? Yes, that makes perfect sense. Afterwards, I'll just sleep soundly every single night for the rest of my life." Frannie's stopped her outburst for a moment. "The only reason that I've never met her, is that Ben's been afraid what you'll do if you find out. It's the only reason that he kept it secret from everyone for all these years. That's why I'm not expecting him back here for tonight, since you're visiting."
Ray felt a lot of things. Anger was definitely one of them. How could Fraser do that to his family and his sister? Bastard. But then some things that Frannie said started to sink in. He suddenly felt a bit embarrassed. In the end it was Ben's child. And Ben was family. "What's her name?"
Vecchio was quite shocked. "She named her after Fraser's mother?" He sighed heavily and got up. He held a hand up before Frannie started to protest. "Don't worry Frannie. I'll try to make it right." He gave her a kiss and left the kitchen.
Mat was really confused. He was standing inside the Emeryville train station looking at the schedule. Angela (Thank God!) was sleeping peacefully in the baby carrier. The whole situation didn't make any sense to him, but Fraser seemed to be very serious. He was so sure where Monica would go, although he claimed she didn't tell him. Matthew was finding this whole situation quite abstract and bizarre. Besides the train towards Chicago wasn't leaving until tomorrow morning. It wasn't even standing on a platform yet. It just didn't make any sense.
Although he had to admit that his wife's behavior was a bit unorthodox today. According to her secretary she left early without saying a word to anyone. The secretary described it as dream-walking. Matthew took the fact that Caroline ran away (Well, not really away. She just wanted to see her father.) quite hard, but she was definitely safe now, there was nothing to worry about. Something caught his attention in the corner of the eye. A woman looking very familiar was walking towards the platforms. He followed her.
He went up to the platform just before she reached the door of the train. "Monica!" he screamed after her and started running. Monica stopped dead in her tracks and looked back. Mat caught up with her. She seemed quite shocked. "Honey, what's happened?" She just stared at him. Then she looked down at their daughter sleeping peacefully in front of her husband. She sighed and looked away. A tear started to roll down her cheek. "What is it?" His mind started to absorb the situation around him. "Why would you want to go to Seattle? What's going on."
But Monica didn't say anything. She just sobbed. He hugged her. "How did you find me?" she managed after some time.
"Benton called. He said to come here and stop you. What happened? Did he do something to you?"
Monica laughed bitterly. "No, Mat. No. He didn't."
"Then what's going on? Where were you going?"
She looked at her husband and daughter again. "Nowhere." She kissed him. "Let's go home."
"Why can't we stay at your home?"
Fraser looked at his daughter. There was no easy way of explaining this. They were walking down the street towards Ray and Maggie's apartment. "Honey, you know how mum has a new husband?"
"New? I thought she wasn't ever married before?"
"Well, no. No, she wasn't. What I mean is... That's not important. The important thing is that, as you know, your mother and I are not together."
"You're trying to tell me you have a girlfriend? That's okay, I know all about that."
"All about what?"
"Well, when boys like girls they do things together."
"What kind of things?"
"Oh, I don't know. Like go to the movies."
"Oh, that kind of things. That's good. Really good. Er, yes, well, I don't have a girlfriend, I have a wife. I'm married."
"Oh. Well that's good. I wouldn't want you to be old maid. So can I meet her?"
"That's not everything. I also... Well, you also have a brother and sister."
Caroline stopped and eyed him suspiciously. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I have two more children. With my new wife. Her name is Francesca. Your brother's name is Robert, after your grandfather. He's five. Your sister's name is Dorothy. She's one. And a half."
Caroline stared at him, thinking. "You could have told me earlier."
"I know, I'm sorry. I didn't know you'd be here."
"So, why can't we go to your home and meet them?" Fraser sighed. "Are you ashamed of me?"
"Oh, honey, of course not. You know how proud of you I am."
"So what? I'm like a secret or something?"
Fraser hesitated. "Well, sort of. Francesca knows about you, but no one else does."
"How come?" The hurt look on Caroline's face was tearing Ben's heart apart.
"Well, when... Let's just say that when me and mum were together, your mum did some mean things to Francesca's family."
"What kind of mean things?"
"I can't really tell you. Maybe when you're a bit older."
"Oh, great." Caroline hated being patronized. "So what, they're still mad at her?"
"You mean, you don't know."
"Well... No, not really. But I'd say there's very high chance they are."
"Well, couldn't mum just apologize? And we could meet together or something?"
Ben sighed. "No, honey, it's not that simple. Can we go, please? Ray is my best friend. And you know Maggie, she loves you a lot."
"I guess..." she was clearly disappointed.
Ray Kowalski entered his apartment. "Hi Maggie!" he shouted.
"Hi!" came from the kitchen. She came out to give him a kiss. "Ben called. They'll be staying over tonight. They should be here in an hour or so."
Ray stared at her in disbelief. He was trying to think of a gentle way to break this news to his girlfriend for half a day. "You mean you knew about his daughter?"
"Oh, sure." she walked back to the kitchen.
After couple seconds of standing in silence he followed her to the kitchen. "And you didn't tell me?"
"Benton asked me not to tell anyone."
"Well, alright, but it's me. I mean, I'm your boyfriend, he's my partner... I think I deserve to know."
"Could you chop the onions, please?"
"Am I talking to myself here?"
Maggie looked at Ray and smiled. "Ray, I'm sorry. It was for the best this way."
"What do you mean? How old is she anyway? Who's the mother? What's her name?"
"You don't know? I thought Ben would tell you everything once you've met her."
"I didn't 'meet' her. She ran into the conference room at the consulate today screaming 'daddy' and jumping on Fraser and before I could speak again, after the shock, Fraser was gone having taken a day off."
"Oh. Sorry, I didn't know. Her name is Caroline, she's eleven. Her mother is..." Maggie hesitated. Well, he'd figure it out anyway. "Victoria Metcalf."
"That witch???" Ray screamed. Further realizations dawned on him. "You mean Fraser knows where she is? And he didn't arrest her?"
"Oh, calm down. A statute of limitations on her crimes kicked in two years ago anyway."
"Not on murder."
"Ray, she killed a con. Sort of in self defense anyway."
"That's not what Vecchio told me."
"Vecchio is not the most objective person when it comes to this case, Ray. Besides Ben wouldn't testify against her. And from physical evidence he's more guilty then her. All you do if you arrest her is that you'll ruin her life, Ben's life and their daughter's."
"If RCMP finds out he was covering up for her for six years, it won't do any good for his career, will it?"
Ray stared at her in shock. "I can't believe I'm hearing this! You two are the most by-the-book officers I've ever met. You're practically insane with rules. It's almost as if you enjoy bureaucracy! And now that?"
Maggie looked away. "I'm not happy about this Ray. But it's my brother. She's his daughter, his flesh and blood, my flesh and blood. What am I supposed to do? Arrest him?"
"You could tell the authorities about whereabouts of Victoria..."
"That'll do no good. Ben is really afraid what would happen if she went to jail because of him. I don't understand him here, but... I respect that."
Kowalski gave it a little thought. "Actually, after what Vecchio told me, I can understand Fraser quite well."
It was few days later and Fraser parked the car in front of Monica and Matthew's apartment.
"Well, we're here."
"Yeah." Caroline looked up nervously. "I'm sort of afraid."
"Honey, just be honest. They'll understand, just apologize. Come on, Dief and I will both be there."
They went upstairs and rang the bell. Monica opened the door. Caroline jumped into her arms. "Oh, sweetie, I've missed you so much." She carried her inside. "You scared the hell out of me, you know that."
"I'm sorry. I really am. I just wanted to see dad."
"I know. It's okay."
"Where's Mat?" Fraser asked.
"He's at work. Please come in. So, how did you like Chicago?"
"It's really nice. It's not as hot as here." That was clearly an advantage. "I've met so many people! I've met Frannie and Robert and Dorothy and Uncle Ray and Ma and Ray. And I've seen Maggie again. And daddy took me to so many places!"
Monica looked at Fraser horrified. He mouthed a silent 'later'.
Some time later Caroline was using one of her few chances to surf the web, while Fraser and Monica were preparing lunch. "So, Ben, I'm freaking out here. What happened?"
"Well, I'm not sure how it happened, but it seems to be alright..."
She looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"I think Francesca had a good long talk with her brother. He was visiting us. Later, me and Caroline, we were staying at my sister's place and he came over and said that we're family and we should stay at home. That family should stick together."
"Doesn't he know I'm her mother?"
"Oh, he knows. We just don't speak about it. He seems to be fine with it. In the end it's been a long time ago."
"Oh, Ben, I see where this is going. You'll want us all to meet and get along. The world doesn't work this way."
Fraser looked up at her sternly. "I'm forty six. I'm not a kid. I'm pretty sure that if Ray ever sees you he'll shoot first and then ask questions. But he liked Caroline quite a lot. And she likes him too. She got along with Francesca quite good as well. So don't worry. As long as you don't come to Chicago, or visit Florida, everything is going to be fine."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm not. What can I say? The moment Caroline entered Consulate screaming 'daddy' and jumped on me, there wasn't much I could've done."
They worked in silence for a while. Fraser was chopping tomatoes and mushrooms, while she was frying onion and bacon. "I wanted to thank you." she said.
"For telling Mat to go and get me. You scared the hell out of him. Especially with that 'whatever happens under no circumstances contact the police' stuff. He thought I was in real trouble." After a while she added "Which I sort of was. I can't lose my family Ben. It means too much to me."
"Don't worry. I'd have found you even if you left." She looked up to notice him blink to her.
"You flatter yourself."
"No, no. Between my brain and Diefenbaker's nose, you don't stand a chance."
It was some time later and all five of them, or six, if you count Diefenbaker, decided to go to the beach. It was late May, so it was warm enough. Matthew, Monica and Angela stayed under a large umbrella, while Ben and Caroline enjoyed the sun. Francesca seemed to like when his skin was getting a bit darker and he didn't mind. He couldn't do it too often of course. He'd go bankrupt spending all his money on the sun lotion. But he didn't mind a sunbathe once in a while.
Monica glanced at them. Mat who was sitting in between followed her gaze. Ben chose this moment to rotate onto his stomach. Midway through his movement he heard a loud gasp from behind. He looked back. "Is something wrong?" he asked curiously. Monica was looking the other way. It seemed some sand got into her eyes.
Matthew looked surprised between his wife and Ben. "What's that thing on your back."
"The thing on my back?"
Caroline looked at her father whose back was currently facing her. "Oh, yeah. Right here!" she said touching old bullet wound.
"Oh." Realization dawned on Fraser. "Oh. It's, uh, a bullet wound."
His daughter was fascinated. "You got shot?"
"Well, yes. Many times actually."
Mat was staring at Ben with a mixture of admiration and horror. Caroline was showing signs of curiosity available only to children. "Really? How many?"
"Er... Let's see." Ben was running a commentary while showing the places the bullets hit him. It might be shallow but the look of admiration on his daughter's face was worth it. Besides he was taking all these bullets for someone. "Twice in the right leg, once in the left shin, once on right arm, but that was just a graze really. And the one in the back."
"Oh, I've been stabbed here."
"Oh. That. A dead otter was frown at me."
Everybody stared at him in shock. "Pardon?" Mat managed at last.
"An otter was flung at me. It was dead at the time. It was shot before. A local bully, so to say, had thrown it, the whole school was afraid of him. He shot the otter first and then he thrown it at a friend of mine, but I pushed her out of the way. Unfortunately I didn't predict the trajectory to well and it hit me."
"That's unusual to say the least."
"Why, thank you kindly." Ben really didn't like telling that story.
Caroline was first to recover from the surrealism of the described situation. "So why is that scar at your back different from the other ones. It's darker and bigger."
Fraser took a look at Monica. She was looking in the opposite direction. "That one was pretty bad. I lost lots of blood and was recovering a long time." Significant pause. "The bullet's still in me."
"Does it hurt?" Sarcastic part of Monica's brain was starting to wander whether Caroline and Fraser prepared that gig on their way over here.
"No, not really. Only sometimes, when I overuse my back, a little. It's stuck there for good so there's nothing to worry about." He said to calm his daughter. He looked at Monica and decided he might as well cut her some slack. "Let's go swimming?" he asked Caroline.
Matthew watched them run for the ocean and play in the watter. Apparently no wolf was happier than a wet and dirty wolf. Then he looked at his wife. She had an uneasy look on her face. "It's his job, he's a policeman. It comes with the badge. Sure, he's got more than most. But when I think about it, doesn't surprise me. Did you google him?"
"Did you look him up on the Internet? He's some kind of local hero. He's saved the city couple times. Once from a nuclear disaster or something. He made cover of 'Chicago Guardian.' He's kind of local minor celebrity. Some things sound almost impossible. There was this case when he was catching Russian spies and intercepted some huge load of machine guns and in the middle of it he had to take part in ballet as a cover. The critics thought it was part of a performance. He got great reviews. There's a whole website devoted to him. Although most of the crazy stuff he did is from some years ago. Recently he seemed to calm down a bit. Maybe it's the marriage?"
Monica stared in shock. "I had no idea." She still seemed troubled.
"So don't worry. He seems to be invincible. I'm surprised he got this one bullet which is stuck in his back. He seems to be managing to avoid others quite well."
"You don't understand..." she bit her tongue.
"What do you mean?"
Monica stared at sea in silence for a long while. "That bullet was meant for me."
"Why didn't Frannie want to come?" Caroline just couldn't understand why someone wouldn't want to come and visit the North. It was so beautiful up here. They've been here for almost four weeks already and she loved it. She was sad they had to go back home.
"Francesca doesn't like the Territories." Fraser couldn't fully hide his disappointment about this, but he did it quite well anyway.
"Because it's cold and barren landscape? I'm not sure. Probably she doesn't like it for the same reasons I love it. But it's different for me. I've been brought up here. I'm really happy you like it so much. I was afraid you'd hate it."
"I love it!" They were hiking up a hill and Fraser almost couldn't keep up with Caroline. This was really unacceptable. Sure, he was carrying all the equipment. But that didn't justify him. He was only forty six! His father at this age was walking day and night chasing criminals in much worse conditions. He surely wouldn't have problems keeping up with an eleven year old girl.
*I'm telling Dief all the time that city makes him soft. Perhaps I should keep telling that myself.* "I don't particularly enjoy shopping in big malls. They say that opposites attract. While that might not exactly be true, unless you speak of electrical charges... that's not important. Two people who are the same, couldn't stand each other in a marriage. It's the differences that make it interesting and let it sustain the test of time."
"So you're saying is that you let Frannie shop, and she lets you come up here and wander through the wilderness, as long as you don't make her come here?"
"I wouldn't put it like that. But, sort of... I don't really like shopping anyway."
"I can understand that."
"Okay, we'll stop here for a second."
His daughter looked around. "But we're almost home. It's twenty minutes down there, isn't it?"
Ben was surprised. "Who taught you topography?"
"What do you mean?"
"How do you know how to use the map?"
"What's there to know? It's all written here." she said pointing to the legend.
He looked at her catching azimuth on the mountain opposite. "And who taught you how to use compass?"
"What's that?" she looked up from the map which was by now lying spread on the ground pressed down with four stones and Caroline was kneeling in front of it trying to find their location. "I think we're here."
"That's right. Three hundred meters due north from where you're pointing, actually. How do you know how to catch azimuth?"
"How to catch what?"
"Azimuth. That's what you've just done. You measured a real angle from some point which you can name to the north and then placed it on the map. How do you know how to do that?"
"It's called azimuth? I didn't know. I just figured if I do that I can position myself."
"That's... That's quite impressive. I'm proud of you."
"Thanks, dad. So why are we stopping here?"
"Oh. I wanted to show you something. Come." They went up a steep hill that they were transversing till now. They stopped after few hundred meters. "I think it's here. But it's been so many years. And the landscape is changing a bit every winter."
"Why are we here?"
"I wanted to show you this place. It's where you're grandfather died."
"Oh." she looked around at nothing by wilderness. "What happened?"
"He was going to reveal a fraud scheme. A friend of his, who was in on it, ordered a hit. He was shot."
Caroline stood in silence for a while. "That's terrible." Ben just nodded. "What happened to this man who killed him?"
"The man who killed him is dead. The one who ordered to kill your grandfather killed him to cover it all up. The one who ordered the hit is doing life sentence in prison."
"Did you catch him?" Ben nodded. "I'm sure grandfather would appreciate it."
Fraser couldn't help but smile. "He did." They stood in a comfortable silence listening to the wind blow around them. "Let's go home. I don't know how about you, but I'm getting hungry."
Chapter 4: Life's Journeys
Victoria woke up and opened her eyes. She saw only darkness. Not really darkness, actually. Darkness has shades. And for there to be a shade there has to be some light somewhere. Anywhere. But if there is a place that never saw any light at all throughout the history of the universe, can there be darkness there? Maybe that's how a vacuum looks like. Just a second, it wasn't like her to think such things. Something strange was going on here.
Ben stood outside his home, leaning against the column supporting the porch. He was slowly sipping his tee. The sky was cloudless, stars clearly shining even through the glow of the city. Right in front of him the moon was casting bright light onto the world.
*Diefenbaker never liked the moon in it's quarters.* thought Fraser. *He always said that it was on the edge then. Changing between two states, there is some uncertainty in the world then, he used to say. Dangerous.* Ben sighed melancholically. Arms wrapped around him from behind. He smiled.
"Still sighing to the moon, Ben?" Francesca asked coyly.
"No. Just thinking."
"Well, okay. I just wanted to let you know, I'll be upstairs. In case you'd be interested." She added seductively and went inside.
After couple seconds Fraser followed his wife to their bedroom, only to find it completely filled with candles and Frannie lying invitingly in the middle of the bed.
Caroline had enough of it. It was end of March, for Pete's sakes! This wasn't the best time for a hike in the Northwest. She could think of better ways to spend her birthday, thank you very much. It was twenty below!
"We're almost there." her father announced walking two meters in front of her. They reached a clearing. Soon after that, the path became almost flat. There were four graves, two on each side of the path, about fifteen meters apart from each other. The monuments on each were made out of stone and assembled, perhaps a bit clumsily. They weren't like the ones she was used to see in the city. Right now they were almost completely covered in snow.
Caroline looked around at the steep walls of the mountains surrounding the valley. "It's beautiful in here."
Ben smiled. "That's what your grandmother said, the first time she came here. That's why my father put her grave in here."
"It's the same accident as the rest. Smashed in between car and a bus."
"I want her intubated, number seven. Bag her. Estimated blood loss?"
"At least three units."
"Forty five minutes."
"BP 90, pulse weak but steady."
"I don't understand how she's even alive."
Victoria looked around. But she might as well have done it with her eyes closed. She was certainly standing ON something, wasn't she? She reached down and indeed managed to touch the ground. Or the floor. Something. It felt cold. She walked forward waving her hands in front of her in case she managed to touch something.
"Victoria?" a voice echoed around.
There's been many years since anyone called her that. "Yes?" she answered uneasily.
"Ah. Good. Can you see the light?"
"Yes, that's me."
"I don't see any light."
"Oh." he paused for a longer moment. "How about you just follow my voice?"
"Alright. I can do that."
"Follow me. Follow me." Ben went on and on and on. Finally he heard a bang.
"I think I hit something."
"Sure. Now just go along the wall you walked into in the direction of my voice. If you find a door, come inside."
"Inside of what?"
"Good point. Just step outside."
"Outside of what?"
"Ah. A tricky question."
Fraser's eyes snapped open, but aside from that he didn't move. He quickly assessed where he was. His own bedroom. Francesca was sleeping peacefully, resting her head in the hook of his arm. Her hair was a mess. He smiled to himself realizing, that she looked beautiful to him. He looked at the time. It was thirteen past five. Some of the candles were still burning, giving the room a mysterious look.
He got up and went downstairs. He took the phone and sat on the couch. He dialled the number for information. "Hello? Yes, I would like phone numbers for the information desks of all hospitals in the San Francisco Bay area."
"Would you fasten your seat belt? It's dangerous to travel without it. It's also against the law!" Monica had enough. Her daughter was at the age when she was rebelling against everything. It was surprising she wasn't rebelling against the stereotype of teenagers rebelling against parents. "Besides the visibility is really bad in this fog. Please?"
"I don't like seat belts. I'm not gonna wear it."
Monica sighed. She was hoping her daughter would leave this phase of her life quite soon. Otherwise she might have to kill her. "Fine. But if I see a police officer somewhere, I'll stop and ask him to give you a ticket. And you're gonna pay it from your allowance."
Monica concentrated back on driving. Somewhere ahead she saw a bright red light. She pushed a brake violently. They stopped a few feet from a bus.
"A traffic jam." Matthew stated matter-of-factly.
"At this time?" Monica replied to him. To Caroline she pointed out "You see - that's why you use seat belts. So that you don't have to hang onto the head rest in order not to smash your teeth on the seat in front of you."
They sat in uncomfortable silence for a moment. Then they heard a loud horn from behind. At the same moment Monica saw a light in her back mirror.
"Oh my God!"
Caroline opened the door and tried to jump out of the car at the same time as Monica tried to dive to the right, pressing accelerator to the floor.
Half a second later a thirty ton truck smashed their Toyota into the bus standing right in front of them.
Finally Victoria found a knob. She pushed the door open and stepped into the snow. The light blinded her instantly and she had to fight to keep the balance.
"Are you okay?" It sounded like Ben was next to her. "Victoria?"
"Why are you calling me that? You haven't done it in years..." she tried to look around opening her eyes slightly.
"Oh. We're in the Borderlands now. Here you can only be your real self."
She was standing in the middle of a boreal forest, on a footpath. Everywhere she looked there was a thick layer of snow. "Where are we?"
"The Borderlands. A stopping place along the way as my father put it once."
Victoria looked at Ben. He was wearing his red serge. She hadn't seen him dressed in it for years. He had sergeant insignia on his right arm and six stars on his left, indicating over thirty years on the force. But he looked like as if he was younger. Much younger.
"You look good. And so young."
"So do you."
She finally looked at herself. A black coat, black sweater, black pants. She touched her ear. Large, circle shaped earrings. A silver bracelet with three amber stones in. Her hair. Curly, long. She put it in front of herself. Black. No shades of gray that were supposed to be there. Like they were a moment ago, when...
"There was an accident." she stated the fact.
"I'm afraid so, yes."
After a moment she asked "How is everyone?"
"Angela and Caroline will be alright. Matthew is alive and stable. That's all I know."
She digested that information with sort of relief. "And I'm dead."
"But I will be." She knew that.
They stood in uncomfortable silence. "According to my briefing. Yes."
She hesitated. "Briefing?"
He turned his head sideways and rubbed an eyebrow with his thumb. "Yes."
Few more seconds of significant silence. "It might sound like an intrusive question, Ben, but given my current position it's a vital one. Who was it that briefed you?"
"Er, no one exactly. It was more like a vision."
"Oh... And why are you here? You're alive, aren't you?"
"Oh, very much so. I'm afraid for me it's just a dream."
She sighed. "Good. It's quite a relief actually."
"So... why are we dressed like that. Or more importantly we are we thirty five again?"
"That's not something I know. Apparently we have some unresolved issues to be dealt with. And I'm to be your guide through the Borderlands." he showed the wilderness around.
"Which also brings me to another question: where is the door I came through?"
"It's right behind you." Victoria looked around. "Well, you can't see it now. It's a one way door. We shall go, before it gets dark."
"Dark?" Somehow the word seemed to carry some weight after waking up in the total darkness, or vacuum.
"Yes, we have about two hours to get to the cabin, before the sun sets. It's that way." he said pointing to their right. He started walking.
"You seem to know your way around, Ben."
"Oh, I was visiting several times over the years."
Fraser entered the private room where Mat was recovering. He was still sleeping almost all the time. He could hardly talk but he asked for Monica two times already. The doctors told Ben to lie to him. Tell him that she's recovering. They told him that it might kill him if he knew the truth. So Fraser lied. It killed him inside to see how Mat brightened up, knowing that Monica was getting better. He had no other family.
Besides their daughter of course. Which was what made Ben accept the lying he did. If Matthew died there out of loss for his wife, Ben wouldn't be able to live with himself. Angela needed family, even if it was only supposed to be half of it.
He sat in the armchair next to the hospital bed. He hated hospitals and recently he spent way too much time in them. After a long while Matthew woke up. "Hello, Mat. How are you feeling today?"
"I'm okay, Ben. Thanks for asking." he talked very quietly. He had eleven broken ribs. Ben knew what kind of pain that was and that it must hurt him to even breathe. He couldn't hold his gaze. His eyes went southward on the bottom of the bed, where Mat's legs should be. But the doctors said he was out of the woods now, that he'll handle the truth. He said, he would tell him. He wasn't sure he was able to.
"Mat, I have to tell you something." he managed without looking him in the eye.
"Monica died." Ben finally made eye contact with him. He nodded.
"How did you know?" Mat looked out the window.
"Oh, Ben. I can see what's bothering you. How is Angela? Caroline?"
"They're both fine. Angela is starting rehabilitation at the end of the week. Caroline is getting used to the crutches."
"Can I see them some time?"
"You know they don't allow children here, Mat. But don't worry, you'll be out in no time." There was one more thing. The will was very explicit. Ben thought that perhaps these were extraordinary circumstances, but he was the executor and it was his duty to follow Victoria's last wishes. "There is something more, Mat." he said handling him the envelope. "Monica wanted you to read this."
Just as it was starting to get dark, they made their way to a clearing. A very small wooden cabin with two windows and chimney stood in the middle of it. It was about half the size of Robert Fraser's cabin. They went inside.
"I'll get the fire going." Ben said pointing to the fireplace. There was a couch standing in front of it, in the middle of the only room. Next to the left wall stood a single sized bed. The rest of the area was used for a table for two and kitchen.
"There is a gas oven in here???" she was truly amazed by that.
"Why not? Is it any more surprising than the fact that there is a cabin at all?" Fraser asked rhetorically.
Victoria thought about it for a moment. "I suppose not..."
"Exactly. Don't try to understand. Just... live. Well, just be. Try to see if there is some food."
"Food? Do we eat here?"
"Oh. Well, are you hungry?"
"I guess... I didn't think of it."
"Well, if you are, why don't we eat something. I'm quite hungry myself."
"Yes. Alright. But do we need to eat? I mean what happens if we don't?"
He looked at her curiously. "I have no idea. Why would you want to find out?"
"Because..." she couldn't believe him. "We're here in the after world-"
"It's not an after world, not yet. A middle world, if you please." Ben corrected.
"Fine, a... middle-world, and we can find out whether we need to eat in the eternity or not and, well, for me it's not that vital..." she grunted at the irony of using that particular word in her situation "but you can take that knowledge back!"
Fraser watched her with disbelief. "You've spent way to much time with scientists, Victoria. Look, you're reading way too much into this. You're hungry, you eat. Simple as that."
She sighed. "Okay, I'll check the fridge." She opened it and paused staring inside. "I suppose I shouldn't really ask how is it working, should I?"
Ben opened the door to the shed in his backyard. He connected the electric drill to the socket. He took off his Stetson and fished out two Canadian quarters from it. He carefully placed the first one under four millimeter drill. He put on his goggles and turned the machine on. He carefully drilled a hole exactly in the middle of the coin. Then he repeated the operation with the second coin.
He shut down the drill and disconnected it from the power supply. He took off his goggles. "I hope you forgive me, Your Majesty." he said apologetically. He took a very thin leather strap, about tenth of an inch wide, and pushed it through the holes in the coins. He tied both ends of the strap together in a fisherman's knot. He critically judged his work and being quite content with it, he put the strange necklace on.
Now all he had left to do, was to buy a new compass.
Victoria finished cooking and decided it was about time to set the table. Ben was outside cutting more wood (he claimed the cabin should be left in a same state as you would like to find it). He just came inside to notice Victoria staring at the opened cupboard, located directly above the oven.
He came behind her and observed her curiously as she was standing there, watching the contents of the upper shelf, mesmerized. Standing just few inches behind her he asked "Is something wrong?"
She jumped up a bit. "Is it... Is it some kind of a message the universe or something is sending us?" She said slowly turning around and standing just inches from Fraser. She leaned in. "Does that have some meaning?"
Ben bit his lower lip. "Yes. It does." He looked into her eyes. "It means..."
He closed his eyes and inhaled her scent deeply. "It means that this cabin was previously occupied by Sergeant Robert Fraser. My father. He was always prepared for everything." He opened his eyes to see her watching his face intently.
The tense moment lasted a second longer. Then they both burst out laughing. After a long moment of laughter Victoria composed herself enough to speak again. "I'm sorry, Ben. It's just..."
"Don't worry about it. I understand."
They stopped laughing. She looked into his eyes seriously. "I'm afraid, Ben." she whispered.
"I know." he said simply. He slowly encircled her and brought her to him to a hug. She leaned into his strong form. Shivers went through her body. She wrapped her arms around him. Somehow she felt his strength and courage leak a bit into her. His hand was slowly massaging her back in circles. After a minute or two, not that time exists in Borderlands, or can be measured, they slowly broke of. "Let's eat, shall we?"
She nodded and smiled. "Thanks." He smiled back. Victoria took two plates and cutlery and went to set the table. After a moment of hesitation Ben picked up two candles from the upper shelf.
"Who is Victoria Metcalf?" Caroline asked suspiciously. The other graves were of her grandparents and Diefenbaker. But this name she's never heard of.
"It's your mother." Fraser answered calmly.
Caroline got up from her knees, as she finished removing the snow from around the grave and looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "You mean that mum wasn't my mother? I mean, that Monica wasn't my mother?" She was starting to get quite angry.
"Oh, no, darling. That's not that. It's just her real name is Victoria Metcalf."
His daughter stared at him blankly. "What are you talking about, dad?"
"Remember how I told you once, that when you're older I'll tell you what happened, that uncle Ray doesn't like your mum?"
"Yes..." she said uncertainly.
"Well, you're old enough now, Caroline."
"I still don't understand."
"Your mother had to change her name, shortly after you were conceived. She was running away from the law." He watched her intently. "As you know I was the executor of her will. And the last wish she had, was for me to tell you the truth, when you're adult. Well, you're an adult as of today."
Caroline looked around confused. "You know dad, most kids would prefer a car or something. I might not be most kids, but this is a bit too much..."
Ben smiled. "Oh, Caroline. It's only the beginning." He sighed.
His daughter looked at the grave. "But if this is my mother, who is buried in San Francisco?" Her mind was finally starting to work again.
Fraser cringed. "Your mother, too. She had very atypical instructions with that regard. She wanted her body to stay in San Francisco, but here heart to be left here. Literally."
Caroline digested that information for a moment. "You mean..."
"That's... strange. Really strange."
Fraser cracked his neck. "It was a bit symbolical." He pointed to the pass in between the two mountains at the end of the valley. "Do you see that pass?" His daughter nodded. "It's called Fortitude Pass. It's where I met your mother."
She looked around. "You met here?" Ben nodded. "How's that even possible? Was she hunting and got stuck in a trap or something? You rescued her?"
"No. Not really. She was running away. She robbed a bank in Alaska. I tracked her down here, after she crossed the border."
His daughter stared at him in shock. Then she grabbed her mother's grave to keep balance. "You know, you might want to give me a warning if such details are gonna follow, dad."
Fraser considered that. "Well, dear, let's just say that till the end of the day, you've been warned. There is more..."
After few hours of walk they saw the clearing in the tree-line. Fraser stepped out first on what seemed to be a beach. Sand, made of the smallest grains that Victoria's seen in her life (and death), was making a crunching sounds when they were stepping on it. About a hundred meters further there was a river and already here the smell of fish and dirty water was hardly bearable.
"Where are we?" she asked curiously.
"I have no idea. This place hasn't been here before."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, last time I've been here... It's been quite a while, mind you, but the last time I've been here, the same way as we took led me to a very beautiful mountain valley."
"How often do you come here?"
"Oh, not very often. It's strictly connected with being close to death, as you figured by now, so I'm trying to avoid it as much as I can. Contrary to the opinion of my wife, but that's another story."
"So. What do we do?"
"I guess we walk along the river."
"Left or right?" was the only question that she could think of not involving questioning her own or Fraser's sanity.
"I suspect it doesn't matter. I'm pretty sure we'll end up in the same place in the end anyway."
They started walking to the right. "Couldn't we cross the river?"
"Well, I'm not sure. I suspect that'll turn out to be impossible. Some dangerous animals guarding it or something. I suspect that sooner or later we find a bridge. And then we answer the riddle."
"Well, that's sort of standard deal in the after-world, or middle-world in this case. These things happen here, they're created by our minds. Humans create this reality, or surreality, so the stories that we hear all our lives creep in."
"But riddles? It's a legend."
"Oh, it might be a legend back in the real world, but here it's surprisingly possible. Last time I was here, I was asked to answer a riddle to cross the bridge over the valley, so that I could find a way back to reality."
"What was the riddle?"
"I have no idea."
"Oh, I was having such a good hike that I decided to just cross the valley without the use of the bridge. I had to climb a beautiful wall, it was one of the best vacations of my life."
Victoria stared at him in disbelief. "But in the legend, you have to answer the riddle to cross the valley."
"No, no, no." Fraser stopped and held up both his hands. "By no means. You have to answer the riddle to cross the bridge. There is no rule about crossing the valley." He resumed walking. "Always read the rules, contracts and manuals. Especially everything written with very small letters."
"Mr. Fraser, you're the executor of Mrs. Hazen last will."
"I beg your pardon?"
"On a personal note, sir, I'm as surprised as you. But it's not my job to be surprised. I suggest that we get on with the formalities."
Fraser was sitting alone in the office of Victoria's lawyer. "Shouldn't there be any witnesses?"
"That won't be necessary, Mr. Fraser. Mr. Hazen is well aware of his wife's will. He was a witness when it was written down, and he's accepted that you deal with all the issues alone."
"Yes, sir. There are very specific instructions concerning Mrs. Hazen body for instance. But let's go through it step by step, shall we?"
"Alright." Ben was really confused by now.
"First let's talk about the mutual funds."
The lawyer eyed him curious. "As you know Mrs. Hazen had a successful career, Mr. Fraser."
"I was... unaware of that."
"Oh. Well. Anyway. There are two funds that you'll be in control of for now. One is supposed to pay for your daughter's education, and the other one is for her future. She's supposed to gain control of it when she's twenty five."
Fraser looked at him blankly. "So, I guess I can safely assume it's nothing urgent."
"Oh, indeed no, sir. However Mrs. Hazen was quite specific that some issues are to be dealt with immediately. That's why I made you come here today." He got up and took a large brown envelope from the safe behind him. "I have no idea what's inside this envelope, Mr. Fraser, but I was to give it to you as soon as possible after my client's death." he said handing him the said envelope. "Then there is also the issue of the body..."
Fraser took a last look at his daughter. She was sleeping quite peacefully. She took it much better then he expected. Come to think of it, probably much better then he took the death of his mother. But she was ten years older. The tear tracks on her face were breaking his heart. But crying was the only thing you could do, really. He was proud how strong she was. He closed the door behind him. He had things to do.
Instead of going to the guest room, he entered the bedroom. It felt really wrong being in there. It was private. He certainly wouldn't be happy if someone was going through his bedroom. But Victoria gave him explicit instructions. He opened the closet. He looked at the amount of clothes and shoes and sighed. He knelt down and started to go through the shoe boxes. Finally he found the orange sandals she was talking about. He took them out of the box. He took out his knife from his boot and cut around the bottom of the box, close to the edges. Finally both layers of the bottom fell down on the floor and so did a lot of different documents. Two full sets of alternative identities that she had ready in case she had to run away again. His picture. A letter he sent to her when she was in jail. She never replied, but apparently, she kept it.
He took it all along with the shoe box and went to the living room. He put it at bottom of the fireplace and started to make a fire.
After an hour or so, they saw three boats parked at the beach a hundred meters away. In the meantime a fog came down and general visibility was really bad. One couldn't see the other bank of the river. They approached the boats. Three boatmen were sitting on a bench at the bay.
"Ah! Gentlemen!" Fraser got their attention. "Hello. My name is Sergeant Benton Fraser. This is Mrs. Hazen. I was wandering if you could help me as to what river is this." He said pointing to the substance that contained water as one of the less significant ingredients.
"It's the river they call Stinks." boatman one replied.
There was a long pause. Ben and Victoria stared at them blankly. Finally Fraser got the joke and asked "Don't you mean Styx?"
"Styx?" Victoria's eyebrows shot up high and she looked at him questioningly.
"Yes, it makes perfect sense. You're half Greek in the end."
"More sense than anything else around here." She admittedly murmured under her nose.
"I don't know about that. We just call it Stinks." boatman two corrected.
"Well, I admit I'm not an expert but I'm pretty sure the river is supposed to be called Styx, sir." Ben wasn't going to give up easily.
"I wouldn't know about that." boatman one shrugged his shoulders.
"I admit the smell is a bit unpleasant and one might say even that the river stinks-"
"No, no. Not stinks. This river Stinks." boatman three interrupted.
"What did I say?" Ben was getting genuinely confused.
"You didn't pronounce the capital 'S'. You said small 's'." boatman one clarified.
Fraser considered his situation for a while. He looked at Victoria for help but she just shrugged her shoulders. "Is this the river that Achilles was bathed in?"
The three boatmen exchanged surprised glances. Boatmen three spoke for them all. "I don't know any Achilles, but I'm pretty sure that if someone was bathed in this river and survived... well he'd have to be invincible or something."
"Ah. Oh. Oh well." Ben looked at Victoria understanding drawn on his face. "Apparently we got the legend wrong, it happens all the time." he assured her in whisper. Out loud he continued "Is one of you gentlemen perhaps called 'Charon'?"
The boatmen eyed him suspiciously. "I'm Jim, this is Jack and that is Bob." explained boatman two introducing his coworkers. "Who the hell is Charon?"
This time Fraser didn't even show any signs of surprise or confusion. "Oh, just someone I knew." The boatmen stared at him blankly. "Do you gentlemen perhaps provide the service?" He pointed at the river.
"We do. Except that it's lunch brake now. And we don't go in such a fog." Bob explained.
"Ah. Of course. I understand." A thought occurred to him. "Would you mind if I used the boat to help this lovely lady across?"
"How would we get the boat back?"
"Oh, I'm coming back."
"I'm pretty sure."
Victoria watched the conversation with amusement and mouth open.
"Well, given that you're coming back, I'll charge you just for the lady. That'd be a quarter."
Ben looked at Victoria expectantly. "I don't have any money." she said at last.
"Oh. Well, allow me." He said taking down his hat. He pulled a ten dollar bill from there. "That's ten dollars. Please keep the change." he added imagining having to carry thirty nine quarters all the way back.
Jim eyed the piece of paper suspiciously. "How much is that in quarters?"
"It's forty quarters, sir."
"Really? That piece of paper?" he was clearly hesitating.
"Well, I'm just borrowing the boat, really."
"Well, that's true." Jim nodded in agreement. "Alright, you can take the first one. Be careful. You know how to operate a boat?"
"I've had some practice, yes."
Ben took amazed Victoria and led her to the boat. After thanking boatmen, he started to row away from the shore.
Ben was sitting in the attic of his home. In the corner he found the old folder he was looking for. On top of it was written 'Benton Fraser. Taxes 1982.' He opened it and from between various documents he fished out an envelope addressed simply 'Caroline'. He put in it his pocket and started to climb down the ladder.
"Your Taxi is here!" Francesca screamed to the general population of the house.
Caroline trotted down the stairs with a medium sized tourist backpack. She sighed heavily. "Dad!"
"I'm coming!" Fraser screamed from the top of the stairs.
The door opened and Angela came inside. "Hi! You're leaving?"
Caroline knelt in front of her sister. "Yes. We'll be back on Monday, Ange."
"Okay, have fun." She said going in further to the living room to see what Dorothy was doing.
Fraser came down. He looked at his daughter and it hit him how much she reminded him of her mother. Of course, she wasn't aware of that. Monica Hazen never wore her hair curly. She looked so beautiful. He composed himself. He screamed "We're leaving!" Everybody came to say goodbye and wish them safe trip. Finally they stepped outside the house. They both sighed in relief and walked down the disabled platform that replaced the stairs that used to be there.
Matthew was wheeling down a similar platform attached to the neighboring house. "You're not gonna say 'goodbye' to me?"
They smiled. "We were just going to come over to your place, Mat." Fraser explained. His daughter gave Mat a hug.
Mat hugged her back and said "Caroline, could I have a word with your father?"
She looked between them curiously. "Sure. I'll just wait in the cab."
After she closed the door behind her, Mat asked. "You're going to tell her everything, aren't you, Ben?" Fraser nodded. "Why?"
"Monica asked me. In her will."
Mat sighed. "She's dead. And she didn't know what she was doing. If I had a choice I'd prefer you never told me."
"You asked me to tell you!"
"Well, if I knew, I wouldn't."
"If you knew you wouldn't have to ask."
"You know what I mean!"
"Mat. It's her mother. She deserves to know. Especially she. More than you perhaps. You knew Monica Hazen. A person very, very different from Victoria Metcalf. But she is product of love between myself and Victoria. Not Monica. She deserves to know."
"Love?" The word was dripped in sarcasm.
"Yes, Mat. Love."
Mat looked down, defeated. "Be gentle with her."
After couple meters the fog was getting significantly thicker. "Hmm."
"Oh, no, nothing."
"No, Ben, you said hmm. That means something."
"Well it's just that I'm not sure how wide is the river. We certainly can't see the other side. And the fog is getting thicker by each meter." He took his compass out of the pocket. "Let's just try to navigate perhaps. It seems to me we should be going north."
Victoria stared at him. "Your compass works here?"
"I don't know." She shrugged her shoulders. "I guess I just thought it would spin around in wild circles or something."
Ben thought about it for a while. He put the compass in front of him so that he could navigate. Victoria was sitting about a meter from him, they were facing each other. "That would be really difficult to do. It's hard to come up with a magnetic field that would spin around like crazy. At least on a planet. Or on whatever we are." He went back to rowing.
After a minute or so, she asked. "So. Do you know what's on the other side?"
"I'm sorry. I don't." he gave her a smile. He stopped rowing.
"Why are you stopping?"
"We need to talk, Victoria." He looked her in the eye intently.
"We've been... civil to each other for many years. We come to accept each other despite our pasts as parents of our child." he paused "Perhaps even as friends." She nodded her head. "You're the only person who knows the truly dark side of me. The evil me. The side that I watch everyday. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Well, I do. But you've seen all of me. You're one of the few and the only one whom I can talk to about it."
She nodded her head in understanding. "Likewise."
"What I'm trying to say, Victoria, is that I forgive you."
She couldn't hold his gaze and looked down. "Thank you." she whispered.
He picked up the oars. After another minute they reached the other bank of the river. The fog was finishing instantly about two meters before the shore. Once outside of it they could see it forming a white, tall wall alongside the beach. In front of them was a dessert. Sun was shining from the top. The wind was picking up sand grains and whirling them around. The boat hit the shore. Ben looked around. They stared together for a moment.
"A dessert." Victoria stated matter-of-factly.
"I need to cross it?"
"I'm afraid, that's as far as I can go."
They sat in uncomfortable silence for a while. Fraser picked up his compass and gave it to her. "I want you to take it. Just continue north. You should cross it sooner or later." She took the device from him.
"Oh, I also wanted you to have that." he said picking up a peacock feather from the boat deck. It was very large, over five feet long. It was shining with rainbow of colors, catching ones eye immediately.
"Where did this come from?" she asked curiously.
"Oh, it was here all the time." he said with blank expression on his face.
She stared at him with a raised eyebrow. "Yes." she said finally "But was it here all the time a minute ago?"
"Ah. I see you start to understand. Good. That's good. Just take it, okay?"
"Alright." she agreed, taking the feather hesitantly.
"It's the heaviest feather I can think of."
"Yes. Remember. Read the rules carefully. No one says you can't bring your own feather."
She stared at him with amazement. "Thank you." was all she could manage.
"Well, I'll just..."
Ben came close to her and gave her a hug. She hugged him back. They stood there for a moment and when they broke apart she gave him a kiss on a cheek.
"Good luck." he said as she put her foot on to the sand.
"BP down to 50, pulse ox 42!"
"Give me internal paddles. Charge to 15. Clear!"
"Still in V-fib."
"Charge to 30. Push an amp of epi! Clear!"
Victoria's shoe touched the sand. Sand consisting of smallest grains, like a yellowish white powder. She stepped out of the boat. She looked into Fraser's eyes and opened her mouth but no words came out. They'd said them all. She smiled and he smiled back. She turned around and headed north, as he said. After couple minutes when she was on top of a dune she looked around and waved to him. He waved back. Then she turned and after couple more seconds she disappeared.
"Time of death: three thirteen."
If you're reading this then I'm most probably dead. I'm sorry. I hope you're okay and that you'll take care of our daughter. Please make sure that she's alright and happy. It's not easy for me to write this, because it's not a simple 'good bye' letter. I'm writing this to let you know who I really am. I've hidden it from you all our life. I guess I was just afraid what you'd do if you ever found out.
Monica Hazen, the woman you love, your loving and caring wife is not real. It's not really me. That's not my real name. I didn't finish university. Instead of that I spent ten years in jail, following a bank robbery. I'm a criminal and not a nice one, either.
Why did I keep it from you? I've done terrible things Mat. I'm not sure if you want to know about it. The reasons for why I wasn't with Ben, why Ben didn't know about his daughter and why I could never see his family from Chicago all lie in my past. If you want to know that story, ask Ben. He'll tell you. As you know he's executing my will. I asked him to tell you if you request it, and he's a man of honor. He will.
I hope that if you decide to know about me, you'll still find love and forgiveness for me in your wonderful heart. I want you to know that I love you a lot and always will. You'll always be in my heart. I want you to live your life and be happy.
Fraser sighed and picked up the oars. He maneuvered the boat around and started rowing back. After a minute he heard a low wheezy croak and a raven landed on the sit in front of him. Ben blinked and when he opened his eyes there was no raven, but the seat was occupied by Sergeant Robert Fraser.
"Hello, son. How are you?"
"Well, I'm good, I guess. How are you?"
"Can't complain, son. Can't complain."
"How is mum?"
"Oh, she's well son. Sends love and hugs and that sort of things. Women."
"Tell her... tell her I miss her." Ben hang his voice for a moment. "So, how come you're here, dad?"
"Oh, you're on my territory, son."
"Well, no, not technically. But on the border."
Ben considered that for a while. "You mean the river is the border." His father nodded. "Oh. So you can't go beyond it." Fraser Sr. shook his head. "Oh, well, we can talk here."
"Oh, we can't just stand here, son! Keep rowing."
"Only the dead and the boatmen are supposed to cross this river. Technically you are neither. Get away before someone notices. You can get away with such things when the moon is on the edge, like tonight, but don't push it."
"Oh. Alright." Fraser picked the oars and went back to rowing.
"So... do you think she deserves it?"
"Who? Deserves what?"
"You know who, son. And you know what."
Ben thought about it for a moment. "It's not my job to judge, dad. I just brought her in." He smiled bitterly to himself.
Caroline and Fraser were sitting in front of a fireplace. Their tent was set up mere meters from the place where Fraser built a lean-to when he met Victoria. They've just finished dinner.
"How could you do that?" Caroline couldn't believe the story.
"All of it. Both of you." She shook her head. "How could you let yourself fall in love with her. How could she ask you to let her go. And how could you turn her in. How could you believe you could still be with her after all those years. How could she do that to you. How could she just kill a man with cold blood. How could she shoot Dief. Why would you want to be with her nevertheless. And how could you just find her and let her live afterwards. Without arresting her or marrying her. I just can't believe it."
Fraser smiled. "We were young, stupid, immature. And later... Well, later I felt guilty and she felt hurt. And even later... well, then we had you. And that sort of sorted out everything. You're a beautiful effect of a tragic love, Caroline."
"Love?" she couldn't believe her ears.
"Yes, Caroline, love. Your mother and I, we loved each other. Perhaps in a sick, unhealthy way. But we did. And it lasted for many years. Perhaps it's in me even now, tiny bit. Perhaps that's why her grave is next to my parents, not here. But we just weren't meant to be." The water boiled. He pured it to the thermos. "Tea?"
This brought her back to reality. "Sure, why not." They sat in silence for a while, sipping hot liquid.
"If she was alive, we would tell you together. But she's not. So I had to do it on my own, honey. But she left you a letter. I want you to read it. It was her last wish, to give you this letter and for me to tell you the truth." He said handling her the envelope. She opened it and started to read. At some point tears started to come down her face. She finished, hid the letter in an envelope and held it in her hand. She made a movement in the direction of the fire, but she hesitated. Finally she hid it inside her jacket pocket.
"So. What do you get if you cross a perfect policeman and arch criminal?"
Fraser couldn't help but smile. "You overestimate both your parents, Caroline."
She nodded her head. "Maybe, a bit." They sat in comfortable silence for a moment. Then the sky was brightened by the first lights of Aurora Borealis. They stared at the sky with admiration. "Wow."
Fraser nodded along. "Wow, indeed." His hand reached up and in an automatic movement he touched the necklace he was wearing.
Ben put the boat in it's place. He stepped on to the bay and thanked kindly for letting him use the boat. Jack got up and hurried after him.
"Well, we was thinking. We really don't trust for money to be paper."
"Oh." Fraser wasn't sure where this was going.
"So when you come next time, bring two quarters with ya, alright?"
"Sure thing, Mr. Jack. I will."
The sun was really annoying. She didn't really feel the heat. She wasn't thirsty either, but the dessert wasn't a fascinating landscape. She looked at the peacock feather she held in her left hand, grazing it with the right one. She sighed and got up from the stone she was sitting on. She looked at the compass and headed north.
End Secrets from San Francisco by SJW
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