*Damn it, don't die on me.* Her sodden form hung limply in his arms, water wringing out with each step in the great expanse of white. *Just don't die, Margaret.* When she hadn't returned to the Consulate two days after her expected return, Benton went after her. His first lead had been a rented snowmobile.
Constable Fraser knew he needed to get them out of the weather, and that he didn't have much time. Her breathing was shallow and shuddering, and she was well into hypothermia. *I'm going to have to set you down. Just hold on and we'll get you warmed up. Please hold on* On his own he would have set to building a proper igloo, even with the failing light. But he needed to tend to her right away, and an igloo would take several more hours than she had. Instead he set to digging into the snow, which he hoped was firm enough pack for just a small burrow. *Help her hold on, please!*
After he dug a short tunnel down into the snow and excavated a space about two pup tents big he checked on the Inspector. She still had a pulse, though it was very slow. "I'll have you by a fire shortly. Just keep fighting." Benton took a waterproofed piece of canvas out of his pack, quickly lining the burrow. Then he had to maneuver the unconscious Thatcher inside, and pull the pack in, setting it partially in the entrance. He then quickly set up a little stove that looked like a oversized lantern, fired by some canned heat.
Setting his own, partially damp coat to one side, he proceeded to extract his commanding officer from her thoroughly wet clothes. He could feel the chunks of ice that had formed in her parka, and was amazed that the zipper still worked and he didn't have to cut her out of her coat. Her boot laces were a whole other story, though fortunately he was able to pull he feet out without any more damage than that. Off came layer and layer of wet sweaters, socks, shirts and thermals, until she was in nothing save matching red and black bra and panties, which only highlighted how blue her skin was.
The shelter was still fairly cold, as the fire had to be kept very low to not melt the burrow, or set the tarp alight. Fraser needed to get her dry and bundled back up. Stripping down to his red longjohns, and unbuttoning to the waist her brought her against his bare chest, hoping she would quickly dry out and warm up.
Inspector Thatcher had gone up to Ottawa for new orders and a little rest. She hoped that Chicago and the Consulate would be in one piece when she returned, but she never could do much about the Constable and the Detective anyway. *The Constable? You have three officers under your command.* *Yeah, one incompetent, one fawning, and one exasperating.* She didn't even want to think his name; after all, she was looking for a little rest. Whenever she actually thought his name, it brought up that little thing he did with his mouth, the kiss on top of the train, the added message in semaphore... She just wanted it all out of her mind. Not to think of how good he smelled with nothing but soap, how he always looked freshly pressed, how he had taken all of her abuse and petty errands without question. It was no good thinking all that. It simply was impossible. He her subordinate, her his superior. He deserved better; she didn't think she could ever find better. After the incident with the train, she started picking up her own dry cleaning, and, after Turnbull proved his complete incapacity with the coffeemaker, started sending Ovitz out for her caffeine needs.
Finally, while not terribly warm, she was basically dry, though water still clung to her underwear. Benton set up his bedroll, carefully placing Thatcher at the closed side. He contemplated whether he should keep watch, but the days and nights of little sleep were catching up with him, now that she was, if not safe, safely with him. Putting his arms back into the sleeves of his longjohns, though not bothering to button back up, he crawled into the sleeping bag, and drifted into sleep.
She felt warm, very warm. Is this what it feels like to drown? Had her grip on the chunk of ice slipped? Or had she just gone so far into shock, that she felt warm, as her life slipped away? Not that she had much of a life; her parents dead, one of her mentors a lewd, self-serving pig. She hadn't even been able to bring in the criminal she was chasing. Constable Fraser would have gotten his man, even out of gas. But, no, he wouldn't have run out of gas. He would have used a dogsled, and would have caught up still. She hadn't been prepared, and so she was dying alone, where no one would ever know what happened. She knew she should probably fight the warmth, rage, and not go gently into that good night. But she was so tired, and the warmth surrounded her, smelling of soap.
Fraser, outwardly peaceful, was haunted by the events of the last several days. Tracking a snowmobile following some sort of tracked vehicle. Finding the snowmobile, out of gas, and with the Inspector nowhere in sight. Spotting the snowshoe prints, deep-set from the pack she must be carrying. Having to leave the exhausted sled team with a wintering band of Inuit, still following Thatcher, her prints much fainter in the snow.
Had he came across her any later in the day, he was sure he would not have seen her there, bobbing in the water, half slumped across a broken off piece of ice. As it was, she was barely darker than the surrounding snow, so frosted over was her parka. He hadn't had to jump in after her; her piece of ice close enough for him to pull it in. Which given that Dief was still Stateside, was sadly, probably for the best.
He couldn't let her die. As much as his heart ached, it would be completely shattered if anything happened to Margaret. He'd thought he had been in love, once. He'd had to admit that it was but fear that he was alone. Benton had been alone for a very long time, he had to admit, after that whole sordid mess. His mother had died when he was young, his dad rarely around, and as much as he loved his grandparents, and they loved him, they weren't really enough. That's probably why his posting in Moose Jaw didn't work out; all those people to remind him how alone he was.
Chicago, somehow, Chicago was different. Maybe because they didn't expect as much. They didn't try to get inside; for all the bluster, they were like the Inuit in that way. Willing to let you be you, in your own time. Ray wouldn't understand that; or maybe he would. Ray always manage to surprise him, usually when he very least expected it. *Well, of course, it would have to be unexpected to be much of a surprise.* But still, Ray was a very unlikely best friend, but that was exactly who he was.
*Soap*, her mind caught on that. *Soap*, it kept repeating in her mind. *Soap. And wet wool. Why would I smell soap?* Her strength started to rally; she wasn't sure it was her imagination, but she knew she smelled soap. She was going to put up a fight. She was going to struggle to live.
Fraser at first thought he was having a nightmare. He wasn't sure by what but he was being attacked. Slowly he started to awake, realizing that it was no dream, he was being attacked. He pulled her tighter, hoping she would be unable to keep beating on his chest. Even through the briny glaze, with her this close, her could smell her hair. "Hush, hush. You not drowning. There is plenty of air. Breathe deeply."
Something was weighing her down. Or was it pulling her up? She was warm, and she thought she was dry. Something was rough on her legs. She was almost positive she wasn't imagining the smell of soap. Could she hear? Or see?* She concentrated her senses, stopping to struggle, struggling to open her eyes, to make her ears work. Her eyes fluttered open, very blurred at first, convinced she was dreaming. *No, it can't be, those blue eyes, I have got to be dead.* *If I was dead, would I be smelling wet wool?*
"Constable, I presume you have an explanation." *That was brilliant.*
Benton was startled; he hadn't expected her to actually wake. Not so soon. However, he was so completely startled, he, instead of making apologies, simply replied, "Actually, sir, I was going to ask you a similar question."
*Great, now you've got him calling you 'Sir' again! While he's holding you, no less.* " I meant, where are we and what happened?"
"We are weathering out in a temporary shelter near where I found you, clinging to a floating piece of ice. Your clothes, I'm afraid, were quite thoroughly soaked. I have not been able to deal with them, as of yet. How do you feel?"
*Conflicted.* "Like hell." *That's right, start swearing at him. So, if all my clothes are wet, then what do I feel on my legs.* Shifting position slightly, she noticed first Benton's bare chest, and then some red. *That's not his uniform, so... He actually is wearing old-fashioned longjohns? Good God!* She had always thought the Constable was as if from another age, but this was just ludicrous. The thought so occupied her, that it took a beat and a half before she even contemplated what she must, or rather, must not be wearing. Resettling a little more she realized, *Well, I do have on my underwear, but I think I have lace on my panties.* Not even wanting to think about it; 'And, when chasing fugitives, wear demure underclothes, just in case you get soaked to the bone...' "Would some food be possible?"
Mumbling assent, Fraser quickly unzipped the sleeping bag, scrambled out, and re-zipped it up. Unfortunately, this reminded him, that he was in his longjohns, partly unbuttoned, and his superior officer was nearly naked in his bedroll. Thatcher realized, too late, that things could only get worse; first, however, she rolled the image in her mind. *Those should make him look utterly ridiculous. Then why am I getting flushed?* Highly embarrassed, Benton, quickly rebuttoned himself, and slid back into his pants; which, in a crouched position wasn't that easy. Nor, given how flustered he was, was buttoning his fly. He then turned to cooking.
"Here you go." He handed her a plate of food. "I better set your clothes to dry.", he said as he veritably bustled out of the burrow, clothes in tow. Outside, he started hyperventilating, making it a wonder he was able to thread the rope through the sleeves and legs of Margaret's clothes, tying the line to the shovel at one end and the packframe on the other, which also supported her parka. Considerably colder, he returned inside.
Thatcher had pulled herself into a sitting position, the sleeping bag tucked up under her arms. She found herself wondering how Benton could prepare such good tasting food with just a camp stove when even in her kitchen, usually only the take-out was a safe option. He had his back to her, as he prepared something for himself, unable to face her bare shoulders, and the red straps of her bra peeking out of his sleeping bag.
He'd had dreams like this. Not with her life in danger, mind you. Not in a emergency burrow, either. But that aside, he had had dreams like this. She had made it clear on the train, well, after the train, that what had happened could never repeat, without the same conditions, of course. Even Benton almost wished that trainloads of unconscious Mounties barreling for nuclear catastrophe would become a regular occurrence. Almost. Instead, he started having these dreams. Them alone, in the wilderness, holed up in a cabin, or an igloo, often with a raging storm outside. He knew it wasn't right; having such dreams. But red certainly was her color! She had stopped sending him for her dry cleaning, and never told him to make coffee for her anymore. When he mentioned it to Ray, Ray just laughed it off. But it worried him, that maybe, for her, it was just the situation. That she didn't want him to do things for her anymore, he didn't take as a relief from menial tasks. He saw it as a withdrawal.
"Constable, how did you find me? I mean, why were you looking?" She couldn't take the silence. Knew that he wouldn't speak unless spoken to. Afraid that he was now as assuredly in need of rescue as she had been. If only she could get him talking, keep him from bottling himself up. Then he wouldn't drown in there, behind those blue, blue eyes of his.
"You were late. Ottawa said you were gone; they thought you had returned. I, I was concerned."
"So, I am two days late coming back, and you come to Canada, find my trail, and manage to spot me? How do you do it Benton? A trail more than two days old, some snowfall. What is your secret." *Hope that inspires a long and detailed report, I can barely keep this up, but I need him to start talking.*
"Well, actually, once I had determined you had rented a snowmobile, and figured out your heading, it was pretty simple. Even with a snowfall, the tracks are pretty distinguishable. I was a little puzzled as to where the trail had gone until I spotted the snowmobile, out of gas? Don't worry, I radioed it in, so they'll have returned it to the store by now. Anyway, realizing that I had missed your direction while looking for traces of a snowmobile going by, it was a matter of deduction you had set off on foot, and that I should follow the snowshoe prints. However, I was not able to find your pack."
During his monologue, he had actually turned around and was basically facing her. By the time he had finished his account, he had also eaten his meal, taking bites at each breath. She wanted to ask about the radio, she wanted a lot of answers, but she was too tired to question Fraser. She could feel herself starting to doze off, but there was one thing she still had to do. "Constable, unless you have something pressingly urgent, I suggest you get some sleep. You nearly look as tired as I feel." As tired she felt, she still had to be concerned about the safety of her men, and this one, would have to be given a direct order to bed down.
"Uh, sir, that is..."
*Damn it, what have I done now?* While her body was still drifting off, her mind was fully awake. Almost. But he was calling her sir again. "Spit it out, Fraser."
"It's just that I figured you'd have the sleeping bag."
*Right. He said he hadn't found my pack. Did I just order him to sleep with me? But, he does need to sleep, and it is his bedroll. Think, think Margaret.*
"Constable, we cannot have two Mounties in the wilderness in sub-par condition. I am responsible for your welfare, and am duty-bound not to rest until that is assured. Am I understood?" She was almost sure that had space allowed, he would have been at full attention; he nearly looked that way even crunched over as he was. *Let this work, I'm so tired.*
Benton was snapped to; clearly he had made a muddle and vexed his commander. Given the confines of the burrow there really was only one option. "May I offer you my shirt?"
She stared bleary eyed at him, proffering his flannel shirt. *Let this be a sign.* Taking the shirt and sliding it on, buttoning as best she could lying in the bag and nearly asleep, she noticed that had appeased Fraser. Once she was finished, he got in, his back towards her. She was asleep before the zipper was pulled all the way up.
She was floating, as if completely weightless, as if she might float away. No, not quite, for she felt completely secure, more secure than she had ever felt. Completely cocooned, but bouyed, not constrained. She hoped it would last forever.
He was surrounded by an undifferentiated expanse of whiteness, whiter than any real field of snow, unmarked by even the faintest trail, and it extended forever. He was lost, completely and utterly lost. Alone. He felt if he was sinking, that he was adrift. And then there was something to hold onto. He held on for his life.
Thatcher was in between sleep and awake, her mind brushing at her environs. Her chest felt constricted, as if there were an increasing pressure. *No, I definitely am being vised.* Slowly, she nudged awake. Somehow, she had rolled over onto her other side, as had Benton, who was presently clutching her very tightly. Her mind swam until a single thought bubbled up. *He's having a nightmare.* Ever so slowly, she reached with her upper hand to gently rub his locked forearms. "It's okay. Nothing to scare you, I won't let anything hurt you." His grasp relaxed, loosening but continuing to hold her close, her back pressed into his chest. Able to breathe properly again, she drifted back to sleep.
She awoke to the smell of food, what she could swear was bacon and pancakes. She turned over to see her Constable, calmly preparing two stacks of flapjacks, alternating which plate received the newly readied pancake. To one side she clearly identified crisp bacon. She was never going to stopped being amazed by him, was she?
"Good morning, sir. Breakfast is just about ready, would you like syrup with your 'cakes?"
Normally, this kind of chipper behavior of a morning would have really provoked her. Under the circumstances, she was just glad. "Thank you." She tried pulling herself up but was unable to do so. Quickly, Fraser was by her side, helping her into a sitting position. She couldn't help but notice the stubble on his chin; she glanced away hoping he wouldn't notice.
"Try moving your legs, or knead them a bit. Do you think you can balance by yourself?"
"I think I can manage. So, what is the plan?"
Pouring some syrup on one stack, and handing it over, he started, "Well, there is a little problem." He picked up his own stack and poured on syrup with a bit more concentration than truly necessary.
*Great. He's back to that now.* She just looked at him expectantly, but with a little more patience than usual.
"The weather looks like it will turn bad, and while if I had the sled, we could probably make the village before it hits, I think we are going to have to weather it out."
She mulled it over as she chewed her food. *Where is the team then? Wasn't there a radio?* "You mentioned a radio, yesterday?"
"Ah, that is with the sled. The transmitter is rather heavy."
She just looked at him blankly, chewing her food. *How did you get to be such a good cook?*
"So, after breakfast, I will commence constructing better shelter, as I fear it may be a few days before the storm clears."
*Margaret, how are you going to handle this? After several days of sharing his bedroll, are you ever going to want to go back home?* "That's your best assessment?"
"Yes. Even by myself I would not try setting out on foot. Without a pressing reason. Carrying you, it is out of the question." He set to eating his breakfast in earnest. "Oh, most of your clothes should be dry by the end of the day. The parka is going to take awhile, though."
After he finished his meal he bundled up and crawled out of the burrow, leaving the Inspector to think. *What sort of nightmare could he have been having? He doesn't seem to remember it.* Rather than stew over imponderables, she rolled over for a little nap.
This was something Benton could manage, doing something. He worked carefully, yet with the speed that comes with years of practice. It properly shouldn't be called an igloo; that would have taken several people and quite some time. But the name was close, so it would have to do. Digging into the snow he excavated both the entrance and down into the snow to pack the floor. As the shelter started to take shape, his thoughts wandered back to the Inspector. Part of him didn't want to go back to Chicago, or any other form of civilization. But it was futile and he knew it. They would go back, and resume their routine, he striving to please her, she ignoring him. If only he knew her thoughts. If only he understood his own.
She felt she was being watched. Instinctively, she carefully snuck a glance, and saw Fraser watching over her. She couldn't think of anyone looking more vulnerable than he did, a panoply of emotions coursing across his face. *So this is the Benton that hides behind the still face we see everyday. How does he manage? I am going to have to deal with this, well, this this.* She thought about what she had told him after the train. She realized that in trying to protect him from feeling pressured, she had pressured him not to feel. *To not admit to his feelings. Margaret, you have made a real muddle. How are you going to fix it?* First, she was going to simulate waking up, really slowly, to give him the chance to recompose himself. By the time she had her eyes open, her implacable Constable was back , though she swore his eyes were stormy.
"Ah. That is to say, well. Do you think you are up to getting dressed? It is time to transfer things out of here to the new accommodations. It will take some time to get the liner out of here and into there so dress warmly. I'll be outside." With that, he was back out.
She looked at her clothes, neatly folded, looking better than they usually did from hotel laundry services. Quickly she pulled on her various layers, starting with her legs so she didn't have to give up his shirt any sooner than she had to. She decided to put it back on, under her top sweater. About then Benton tentatively peered back in.
Finally they were in the new shelter, Benton again cooking. *If I didn't know better I would swear he's cooking as an excuse not to talk. Instead, it is just a handy cover. Well, Margaret, do we leave well enough alone or try to deal with this?* She sat in contemplation, doing her best not to look too intently at Benton. It wasn't the right time, out here, where their lives might be in danger at any moment. *And in Chicago, it won't be the right place. Face it, Margaret. It is never going to be easy. Something has to be done, be said. What? How? Those are the only questions left.* She concentrated deep within herself. *What do I feel for this man?* She knew Benton had this effect on women, of which, seemingly, he was unaware. Was she simply ensnared? *No. It didn't work on me, at first.* It wasn't any good. There wasn't anyway to solve this by herself.
Benton worked on preparing another meal. It wasn't something he had to think about, something he could absently do, so his mind wandered. He usually didn't think about his emotions; it wasn't something he was really comfortable with. Alone here, with her, it was all he could do. *She's my superior officer. Get this out of your mind, Benton.* He respected her, her professionalism, her dedication and her skill. *Face it, she stands up to you.* Yes, that was it. Long ago Fraser had learned that women reacted strangely around him; he had learned to ignore it, and largely forgot about it. Mostly, he avoided it. Frankly, if Ray hadn't complained about it, he wasn't sure he'd have consciously noticed. To the best of his knowledge, he had never thought it had anything to do with him. It wasn't like he encouraged them. For some reason, they all had an imbalance of the inner ear when he was around. *Except her.* That was what had him out of kilter.
"We should talk." *Is that my voice?* She thought he looked a bit startled; she knew she was. But she knew this had to be done. "There is this, interaction between us." *Please, you have to meet me part way.*
"Constable," *Damn him!* "This isn't an official conversation, though it does partially relate to work. It should have been dealt with earlier. I would like you to feel comfortable to speak freely." *Was that an order?*
"About..." Benton was, confused. His mind spun wildly, as if the gears could find no purchase, that the teeth couldn't mesh, that they were drifting further and further away. And then he was hit by everything; the brooch, the incubator, the semaphore, the train... Everything. "Ah."
*Great.* "Would you like to elaborate, perhaps a verb?" *This is pathetic.* Was he going to say anything? She needed him to try, she had to give him the chance. For a moment the deer-caught-in-the-headlights-of-a-hurtling-semi look washed across his eyes, quickly replaced by cool determination. She wondered how he had learned that. And why.
He felt as if he was adrift on a floe. His heart sank. There was only one thing he could say. "When do you want my resignation?"
*What!* I can't have heard that right. No, this is Benton. *What does he think this is about?* "Is there a reason you think you should resign?"
"I just..." *Just what, Benton?* He was lost. Completely and utterly lost. He felt like he was suffocating, that he was falling.
The sight in front of her stopped the blood in her veins. All the color washed out of his face, and his eyes became icy rims around a void. The slackness in his face reminded her of men who'd died with their ships frozen in place. Not even thinking, she pulled him into her arms, stroking his hair gently with one hand, and rubbing his back with the other. *What goes on in there? What were you dreaming last night, and why are you back there?*
And then he breathed, loud, like he was surfacing from cold waters. Thatcher held him tighter, and she felt him relax, reaching to hold on to her. She needed to know what was going on, but she was damned if she was going to press. She didn't know about last night, but clearly this time she had somehow; well, she wasn't sure what, but it scared her. She held on tighter, trying to comfort herself.
The next thing she was aware of, was the loud bubbling of the soup. Ploop. Ploop. Plahp, plahp. She felt Benton relax his hold and slowly she let him go. He turned his attention to the soup, and then she was taking the spoon from him. Laddling him his soup, and placing it in his hands. Then, she ladled herself some and turned back, not to face him but to face with him. They ate in silence, just the sound of spoons and blowing on soup. They repeated this until the soup was all finished. She could barely stand the silence, but she wasn't going to break it. *He has to start. When he can.*
*Fraser.* He didn't want to think. *Fraser.* He didn't know what to think. *Fraser.* He was going to have to say something. *What?* *I don't know.*
"I don't have an Inuit story for this."
She looked at him, hoping she hid her perplexation.
"Normally, I'd tell an Inuit story and it would drop." He looked at her there, watching him. He reached out to stroke her cheek. "But I can't think of a suitable one." She reached up to cover his hand, still lingering on her face. "What were you going to say?"
She grasped his hand and pulled it down to hold in both of hers. "Fraser. Benton. There is, an, interaction between us. It is there. I know what I said, and at the time it seemed the right thing to do, but maybe I was wrong." She noticed that he had that lopsided look on his face. "I don't want to pressure you. I'm not sure it has worked out that way." *There. You've said it Margaret.* She hoped it was the right thing.
Benton wasn't sure he had heard her. He didn't know if he was understanding correctly. "Pressure?" He really was confused.
"And then when you thought you should resign," *Why did I say that?*
*Did I say that? Yes, yes you did.* "I thought you had changed your mind, or I had misunderstood, or..." He was sputtering good now. He felt her lips brush faintly against his. Gently, he kissed back. Then he felt her pull away. She didn't much look like his Inspector; there was a softness in her eyes.
"It is a difficult situation. But we can't keep ignoring it. I thought we could, but we can't. It is interfering with work."
Fraser wasn't really hearing her, his thoughts roiling inside him. He didn't know what to do or say. Even what to think. So he just sat there, looking into her brown eyes.
*Say something. Anything, Fraser.* No, not just anything, she admitted to herself. She wanted him to concur, to suggest a rational course, to distract her from those eyes of his. *The heart of a glacier.* She mused the thought. *Not a sky blue at all, but ice, under great pressure.*
That snapped her out of her reverie. "Yes, Constable?" *Some day you'll shoot him for doing that.* *Yes, but not today.* She eased back into her more official persona. "You were going to say?"
Thatcher quickly breathed out. So this was where he chose to pitch camp. She had expected more; expected too much. Still, it was good spot. Somewhere to work from. A place to rest. How much had getting to this place cost him? The End?
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