By: Alanna J. Patrick
Ray opened the creaky door that led to his best friend's apartment and peered into the darkness. It wasn't like Benny to call in sick or not call him, but he'd done both and that worried him. Walking over to the small kitchen, he reached for the light switch and flipped it on, attempting to bring some light into the darkness. The naked bulb hummed to life, shining down on the huddled form of a tormented man, a man that Ray could scarcely have recognized as his friend, Constable Benton Fraser, RCMP. Tentatively, Ray gently squeezed Ben's shoulder, wondering what had sent his friend into this state. Two bloodshot, swollen eyes gazed up at the detective, the sadness in them making Ray's heart ache.
"Benny? The Dragon Lady said you called in sick. You want me to go get you anything?" Ray asked, the feeling in his gut that what made his friend sick wasn't any bug or germ getting more intense by the second.
"No, Ray, I don't need anything...thanks," the Mountie whispered, dropping his head back down onto his arms, hiding his weary eyes from the bright light above him.
Ray blindly reached for the chair beside him and sat down next to Benny, determined to find out exactly who or what was the source of his friend's pain.
"Has that bitch come back?" Ray asked, the venom in his voice barely held back by his clenched teeth.
Ben once again lifted his head to meet his friend's questioning eyes.
"Wh...?" he began, his raw throat not quite able to finish the word.
"Victoria. I swear Benny, if she comes anywhere near you I'll..." Ray growled, gripping the edge of the table to keep himself from hitting something.
"No...not Victoria. I've...this...this is not a good day for me Ray." his friend whispered, trying to prepare himself for the questions he knew would invariably come. "So I noticed." he began, firmly gripping his friend's shoulder.
"You know I'm here for you...if you feel like talking." he said, his friend's pain making him feel totally helpless.
Ben nodded as he placed his palms against the smooth surface of the table and lifted himself up, to make his way to the sink. The cold water he found there soothed his swollen eyes and cleared his mind. As he dried his face with the dish towel, he tried to gather his thoughts. He needed to talk, and he knew Ray would understand, if only he could make his mouth speak the things he'd kept locked away for over four years.
"Does it get any easier?" he whispered, busying himself by neatly folding and re-folding the towel he'd just used.
"Does *what* get any easier?" Ray asked, shooting Dief a worried glance as the wolf laid his head on the detective's thigh.
"The pain...of losing someone." he replied, clutching the edge of the sink to keep the trembling in his hands from overtaking the rest of his body.
"I don't know if it gets any easier. I do know that somehow you get used to it," Ray quitely replied, gazing out the window at the evening dusk settling on the skyline, his thoughts centered on Irene and Angie, and what could never be.
"But how can you get use to it when it's the other half of your soul you've lost, Ray?" Benny asked, still fighting the tremors...and the tears.
Dumbfounded by his friend's question, Ray could only whisper, "I don't know Benny. I just don't know."
Nodding to himself and forcing his eyes to focus on some unseen thing in the splashguard above the sink, Ben managed to say a name he hadn't been able to utter in over four years.
"Her name was Magdala," he murmured, shutting his eyes against the tears that once again threatened to spill down his cheeks.
EARLY SPRING 1992
Ben held his compass steady, intensely studying the motions of the needle as it gravitated North. North, due North: How much simpler could one get? Yet the compass had been leading him in circles all morning. If he didn't figure out why the blasted thing had taken leave of its mechanical senses, and soon, he would never make it to the Innuit village by nightfall. As he watched the compass attempt to make up its mind, the hair on the back of Diefenbaker's neck stood on end. Teeth bared, the wolf launched himself into the thicket of scrub pine that surrounded the edge of the ravine. Fraser looked up in time to see his companion attach himself to a massive black shadow coming towards him at a threatening pace.
"Oh dear," he muttered, as the shadow reached out for him, causing him to trip over the edge, falling toward the river below.
She sensed something creeping up behind her as she hoisted the
sledge hammer above the wedge she'd positioned in the oak log in front of her. Easing the implement down to rest beside her intended target, she slowly reached for the handle of the small hatchet
strapped to her right side and just as slowly turned to face the intruder. At the sight of the animal, her heart wrenched. It was a white wolf, or, rather, she assumed it was white, he'd evidently been in one hell of a fight. The poor animal was covered in blood and limping badly. She held out her hands so he could see them and crouched down, taking a chance that he was too weak to attack her. Oddly, the wolf seemed tame or, rather, his eyes told her she had nothing to fear from him. On very unsteady legs, the wolf walked toward the human in front of the small cabin. He needed help, for himself and his friend, and he hoped and prayed that he could make her understand that. He got within a foot of her hands and sniffed. Yes, she would understand.
"I'd hate to see your opponent if you look like this." she smiled, her humor not quite able to hide the concern in her eyes. "Here, let me get a look at you," she continued, lightly running her hands along his flanks, carefully noting each wound.
Dief let out a pitiful howl, turning his head to look back at the direction he'd just came from, hoping she'd get the message. She did.
"Ah, you have a friend? Maybe in worse shape than you?" she asked, cupping Dief's head in her hands, forcing his eyes to meet her's.
The wolf let out a soft howl in answer and looked away again.
"Mmmm." she nodded, leaning in close to his face, "We'll go get him, but I need to patch you up first. You'll do no one any good if you pass out from blood loss. Let me get you inside and I promise we'll go and get your friend as soon as I get some antiseptic and bandages on those wounds, okay?" she pleaded.
Dief sighed and bowed his head, allowing two soft, strong arms go under him, and lift him from the ground. She would help them. He knew it.
Dief stopped and smelled the ground, making sure this was the path he'd taken barely an hour before. Magdala, as she had introduced herself to him while she cleaned out his wounds, was right behind him, carrying a shotgun and supplies for whatever emergency they might meet. He liked this human. She was much like his friend - very self sufficient, very kind, and very alone.
Woman and wolf soon came to the edge of a deep ravine - Maggie knew that this was the place. The ground showed signs of a violent row, never mind the blood scattered everywhere. Turning around in a circle to take in the terrain, she stopped when the wolf let out a yelp. She walked to the edge to look at what the wolf intended for her to see. He was no more than ten feet below them, his fall onto the jagged river bank below broken by a small ledge that jutted out three feet from the sheer face. From what she could see, he had been beaten up rather badly and knocked unconscious. Leaning over a little further, looking for an easier way down to him, the wolf nudged her leg. Maggie looked down at the blood matted animal at her feet.
"What is it?" she asked.
Dief walked along the edge of the ravine stopping a few feet away to look back at her. Yes, she would help them.
"I'm coming," she answered, hoping she could get the wolf's friend out without causing more damage than the fall or what ever had attacked them in the first place.
He opened his eyes and immediately shut them again, trying in vain to stop the world from spinning. A hand on his forehead and a sudden weight across his feet forced him to reopen them again, then his eyes focused on her. She reminded him of grandmother. Her face was perfectly serene... her eyes... they were identical to Diefenbaker's.
"Diefenbaker?" he whispered, trying to lift himself from the soft mattress.
Soft, strong hands, her hands, gently guided him back to the warm sheets below his back.
"Shhhh. He's right here." she answered, holding her hand toward the foot of the bed, silently motioning the wolf to come closer.
Dief cautiously moved off of his friend's feet and scooted up by Maggie so he could have a better look. The last few days had been very difficult for his friend. He had been delirious with fever, alternatively carrying on conversations with his father, grandmother and even him while in the throws of his delirium.
Maggie lifted the Mountie's head and slid another pillow under him, so he could see his friend, and turned to pour a glass of water from the pitcher on the nightstand. Turning back to her patient, she lightly placed the rim to the Mountie's lips before he could ask any questions.
Without a word, Ben gratefully drained the clear glass of its quenching liquid, vaguely wondering how she knew he was thirsty.
/Those eyes. Yes, it's those eyes. They see everything./ his fever addled brain thought. What was she doing now? She was saying something. To Dief? Yes to Dief. She chatting to him like she's known him since he was a pup. Strange.
Turning her attention away from the handsome man in her bed, Maggie sat the glass back on the table and looked squarely at the equally handsome wolf sitting by his friend's side.
"Diefenbaker, huh? Well nice to finally know your name, Diefenbaker." She smiled, rubbing him behind his ears, eliciting a contented grunt from the wolf who promptly stretched out alongside his friend as she started to scratch him under his chin.
"Ah ha! The truth is out. You're not a wolf. You're a *lap dog* Diefenbaker. Yes a lap dog," she teased, glancing back at the Mountie who looked at them both with a mixture of confusion and amusement which turned into a full fledged chuckle when Dief took exception to being called such a reprehensible name and jumped off the bed, letting out a very dissatisfied snort as he leapt past Maggie.
"Wonder how long he'll sulk?" she said under her breath.
"Until you feed him something with more sugar than God intended," a quiet voice behind her answered.
She turned to find the bruised but handsome Mountie staring intently at her, the warm light from the fire in the small hearth shinning through his green eyes, absently fingering the bandages plastered to the right side of his rib cage. She quickly grabbed his hands to stop him from playing with the dirty bandages and leaned down to pick up her black bag, softly setting it on the edge of the bed, all the while holding his hands in her own. She looked down at those hands, then up at their owner and back at the black bag on the edge of the bed, and smiled. The Mountie took in a deep breath and reluctantly let those soft, strong hands go and placed his palms down by his sides, lightly gripping the sheets in anticipation of what she was about to do. Catching the bag between her thighs, she opened it and preceded to pull out tape, gauze pads, baby oil, and ointment, laying each item on Ben's stomach she withdrew them from the black leather bag.
"Before I try to pry this very sticky surgical tape off of you, I'd really like to know your name," she said, deftly fingering the edge of the strip of tape she was about to relieve him of.
"Constable Benton Fraser, RCMP, ma'am," he whispered, holding his right hand out, desperately wanting to feel the warmth of her touch again.
"Magdala Saint John, M. D., in my former life, Maggie to everyone around here, and please - I'm not *that* old. Drop the ma'am," she stated, taking his hand and shaking it warmly.
"I'm very glad you found me, Maggie," he said, his voice almost giving way on him as she spoke to and touched him.
"Actually, you should thank the sulking wolf. He found me and brought me to you," she chuckled, still holding his hand and looking into his eyes. Eyes, dear God! She could get lost in those eyes for the rest of eternity.
Fraser's nerves getting the better of him, he quickly averted his eyes as a blush crept up his neck and tried to get his fever tempered brain to think of a diversion, and quick.
"M.D.? If you don't mind me asking... how did you come... to the Territories?" he stammered, realizing that her voice came from somewhere much further south than Yellowknife.
Never taking her attention from the tape she was gently prying from his smooth skin with the help of the baby oil, she decided that the short version of her travels would probably leave fewer unanswered questions. "Well, I tried to live in the city and couldn't. So, I packed what I needed and moved here," she explained, removing the last strip of tape and the dirty gauze pad to expose the deep claw marks the bear had left as a souvenir.
"Ah, I see," he said, not wanting to pry into her real reasons for isolating herself this way.
"Actually, I'm doing more good here than I ever did when I... before," she began, catching her mouth before it uttered the name of a place and time she had struggled to forget for three years. "There is a small Inuit village. I'm assuming that was your intended destination, so between that and rescuing stray mounties and wolves, I'm kept pretty busy," she chuckled, looking up in time to see the blush working its' way up Ben's neck. Diverting her attention back to the matter at hand, she set about cleaning and redressing the wound, continuing her small talk as if she hadn't noticed the effect she had on him. "Thanks to my neighbors, I'm kept in everything I need, and even in a few things I've yet to figure out a use for," she chuckled, shaking her head as she recalled said items, now safely deposited in the back of the broom closet. "There! All
clean." she pronounced, daring to look up into those eyes while she gathered up her supplies and returned them to the depths of the leather valise.
He didn't know what came over him, but something in the back of his brain screamed, 'Don't let her go!' That must have been the part
of his brain that reached out for her hand as she picked up the leftover gauze from his stomach. He held on to her hand as if he were clutching the last life raft on a sinking ship, and, in a way, he was.
She looked down at his hand tightly wrapped around hers, trying to keep her heart in her chest, and slowly brought it up to her lips, softly touching her lips to his knuckles.
He stretched his fingers to touch her cheek, not trusting his mouth to speak the things his heart and soul felt the moment he saw her. Eric always told him that part of a person's journey in life was to find the other half of his soul. Strange. Until a few moments ago he hadn't put much stock in it.
The dawn crept through the window and touched his eyelids, rousing Ben out of a peaceful slumber. As he blinked away the sleep, she stirred against his chest, lightly brushing against the gauze pad she'd applied the night before. He tightened his arms around her, pushing the twinge of pain out of his mind, and gently kissed her shoulder. He couldn't believe this was happening to him, couldn't believe he'd found her. Slipping his arm out from the crook of her neck and sliding his feet out from under Diefenbaker, who had draped himself across the foot of the pine four poster bed, Ben sat up on the edge of the mattress and gingerly planted his bare feet on the cold hardwood floor. Stealing one last glance over his shoulder at Maggie to make sure she hadn't stirred, he made his way across the chilly floor to the dwindling fire in the old stone hearth. He pulled up a cushion in front and set about coaxing the embers to take the chill out of the room. As he placed the last of the oak splits on top of the growing flames, a thick quilt wrapped around his arms, enveloping him in a cocoon of warmth and soft skin, her skin. He let out a soft sigh and closed his eyes, letting himself drift further back into her embrace.
"Raised in the Territories or not, you *can* catch pneumonia running around like this," she breathed in his ear, lightly squeezing his thigh. "Especially in your weakened condition," she continued, running her fingertips over his bandage, turning her face into his soft hair to hide the wicked smile creeping across her lips.
"Weakened condition?" he asked, turning slightly to look into her ice blue eyes. "I seem to recall you saying something not too long ago. What was it? Yes, something about me having the strength of a bull moose I believe," he finished, desperately fighting to keep a serious expression firmly on his face.
"Actually, it was a bull moose during rutting season, and that was said under...extenuating circumstances, so I can't be held liable for it," she deadpanned, managing to remain calm, even though a replay of those 'extenuating circumstances' was presently running rampant through her mind.
Tilting his head down to hide the blush that washed across his face at the mention of the uninhibited side of his nature, Ben reached for her hands and squeezed them tightly.
"Ben, what's wrong?" she asked, feeling the crushing grip around her fingers.
Looking over to meet her concerned gaze, he swallowed hard and uttered the two most important words he'd would ever say. "Marry me?" he whispered.
Her heart stopped at the sound of those two words flowing from her beautiful red cloaked knight. She had never really believed David when he had told her that the only cure for her illness was to find the other half of her soul. No, she had never believed him, until a certain wounded Mountie staggered into her life.
"There are things you need to know about ..." she began, fighting the lump in her throat.
"It doesn't matter." he said simply, reaching to wipe away the tears from her cheeks.
With that simple statement, her voice completely failed her. Trusting her soul to control her actions, she leaned forward and kissed him, putting everything she hadn't been able to say into that kiss.
He returned her kiss with a fire that made the one he'd kindled in the hearth look more like the fire from a match. Eric was right: For the first time in his life, he felt complete.
"You were married?" asked Ray in astonishment, shaking his head in disbelief. No wonder Fraser hadn't come unglued when he told him about Angie.
"Well, David, the shaman of the village, joined us according to the old ways. We were going to wait until I could get permanently transferred to the village before we were *officially* married," Benny explained, stroking the top of Diefenbaker's head as he
"So you weren't *really*, *really* married then?" Ray asked.
"We were married in every way that truly mattered, so a piece of paper telling us what we all ready knew didn't seem so important." Ben whispered, softly scratching the sad wolf behind the ears.
Ray let out a deep sigh, trying to think of a way to ask 'What happened?' without sounding like a cold hearted ass. Thankfully, Ben started to tell the rest.
"About six months later, a young man from the village came to the cabin looking for Maggie. Dief and I had left out early that morning to go check on a case I'd been working on," he began.
"Maggie you've gotta come quick! It's Ruth, she's...." the boy frantically rasped, gasping for each heaving breath he took.
Maggie guided him to the bench by the door and gave him the glass of water that she'd just retrieved from the kitchen.
"She's gone into labor?" she asked, all ready lacing up her hiking boots.
Joshua nodded, downing the water in four gulps. "Yes. The storm last night washed out nearly all of the road, so I had to take the old path."
"I can't get the jeep through?" Maggie asked, buttoning up the heavy field jacket and slinging the back pack over her shoulder.
"No, some of the trenches are way too deep. Please, we've gotta hurry! David said it didn't look good."
"I'm ready," she stated, cinching up the waist strap of the pack and pushing Joshua out the door.
The old gun, her constant companion in the woods, was left standing by the bench.
Maggie and Joshua ran through shadows, mud and tree limbs, hoping to get to the village in time. To make matters even worse, there was another storm following on their heels. 'Please.' Maggie thought just as one of the shadows reached out with its' claws...and opened her neck with a single stroke.
"I...finally found them three days later... a bear...they never had a chance," he whispered, looking down at the wet spots on his folded hands. "I took Joshua back to the village and..." Ben swallowed hard, fighting the rock that had settled in his throat. "I brought Maggie back to our cabin, razed it..." He closed his eyes and gripped the edge of the table to steady himself, "...and buried her beside the hearth. "I left that evening, or rather, my body did. I buried what was left of my soul with her."
"Today's the day that...?" Ray began, not really wanting to finish.
Ben nodded. "Yes, today, four years ago I died," he whispered, the hot salty tears making fresh tracks in his cheeks.
"Oh God, Bennie, I never knew," Ray breathed.
"You didn't know. I never told anyone, not even my superiors when they asked why I had suddenly withdrawn my transfer request," Ben replied, wearily tilting his head forward. "Ray, if you don't mind, I need to be alone for a while, please," he whispered, unable to look his best friend in the eyes.
"I understand," Ray nodded, fishing in his coat pocket for the flip phone he kept there. He laid the inconspicuous device on the table. "If you *need* *anything*," he stated quietly, lifting himself from the hard chair and heading for the door. As he reached for the door with no lock, a small voice called out to him, stopping him dead in his tracks.
"Ray, thank you," Ben murmured, still not able to look at his friend.
Ray quietly nodded and softly shut the door behind him, lost in thoughts of he and Irene and Benny and Maggie, and what could never be.
Ben crept to the bed and crawled in, pulling the covers up to touch his chin, praying that sleep would give him ease. Thankfully, the sleep came quickly and brought with it the sweet dreams - dreams of a life that was cut horribly short, dreams of a life that could never be... dreams of new fallen snow and the ghost that would forever haunt his heart.