This is a Due South/Highlander crossover, featuring the character
of Amanda, from Highlander: The Series, and several characters
from Due South, most notably Benton Fraser & Ray Vecchio. Rated NC-17 for graphic polyamorous sexuality (M/M/F).
If you're considered a minor in your community please do not read this.
If you're narrow-minded or easily offended, you may want to take a pass
as well. Characters property of Alliance & Rysher (no, NOT used by permission,
are you kidding?), everything else is OURS. ;-D
In this timeline, the events of Highlander: The Raven have not
yet occurred. In the Due South timeline it takes place sometime after
"Victoria's Secret" but before "Burning Down the House."
Thanks to our beta-readers, Marina Bailey, Debra Ann Fiorini, Mary Alice
Davis, Cathy Downes, and any others I may have neglected! Comments to
The One That Got Away
© 1999, Kellie Matthews & Julia Kosatka
As the queue wound its
way toward the entrance to the museum, Amanda was brought up short by
the fact that there was a brand-spanking new addition to the security
system since the last time she'd been there. There was now an x-ray
machine through which all bags were being sent, and a metal detector
to screen the patrons. She went cold. Damn. There was no way her 'accessories'
would pass unnoticed through those devices. But there had to be some
way to get her equipment into the museum, she had to have them. Otherwise
she wouldn't be able to disarm the security system later in the evening
after the place closed down. There were several uniformed security folk
gathered around the equipment, and that gave her an idea. If she could
somehow get them to let her through . . . .
around, her gaze fell on a worn place where the carpet had buckled up
a little under the influence of one-too-many steam cleanings. A tiny
smile curved her mouth, and she shifted position a little toward it,
then she put her hand to her forehead, shakily, as if she were unwell.
Some of the people closest to her in line noticed and looked at her curiously.
She let out a tiny moan, and rubbed her forehead again. Again, more
interest focused on her. Good. As the line moved forward she pretended
to trip on the worn carpet and stumble, then fall. Gracefully, so as
not to flash her Givenchy panties to all and sundry, she went first to
her knees, then on down to the floor.
there were people at her side, exclaiming worriedly and calling for help.
She feigned disorientation and tried not to sneeze as dusty carpet fibers
tickled her nose. Almost immediately two sets of trousered, male legs
appeared in the narrow field of vision beneath her lowered eyelashes.
She heard an odd, snuffling sort of sound to her left, but couldn't look
that direction without giving away the fact that she was completely aware
of her surroundings. Through her lashes she could see that one set of
legs was encased in high boots, and above that, black wool trousers with
a broad yellow stripe up the leg. Good. A uniform meant it was one of
the security people.
let her eyelids lift slowly and looked up enough to register that what
she'd first thought were trousers tucked into boots were, in fact, jodhpurs.
Now that was truly bizarre. Who wore jodhpurs any more? The edge of
a longish jacket came into view next. It was impossible to miss, being
just about the brightest scarlet she'd seen on this side of the Atlantic.
Scarlet? Definitely not one of the security guards. She lifted her
gaze to the face above the uniform, and momentarily felt as breathless
as she was pretending to be. The man was gorgeous! Not exotically Duncan-gorgeous,
or geekily Methos-gorgeous, or older-man Joe gorgeous, but uniquely attractive.
This one managed to be absolutely stunning while at the same time being
was definitely not someone who spent hours in a gym and tanning spa.
He wasn't particularly tall, or buff, but he had a sweet, boy-next-door
sort of charm. He was clean-shaven and clean-cut, his hair dark, thick,
and distinctly wavy, though worn quite short. His mouth was almost angelic,
but it was his incredible eyes that caught her attention the most. They
were the oddly indeterminate color of a newborns, a color that
could be blue, or gray, or even green, depending on the light. They
also held something of an infants trusting innocence, through strangely,
an almost world-weary wisdom as well. The combination was bemusing.
Realizing she was staring, Amanda dragged her gaze away. After all,
it wasn't like he was the first good-looking man she'd ever met.
"Are you ill, ma'am?"
Boy-next-door queried somewhat obviously, studying her with concern as
he knelt beside her.
I" she stammered, not entirely feigning her confusion.
She should have had a story ready. "I'm not sure. I was feeling
a little dizzy," she paused and lifted a shaking hand to her face.
"Then all the sudden, I opened my eyes, and was" she
gestured helplessly toward the floor. "Here."
gazed disingenuously into her rescuer's guileless eyes and saw no hint
of disbelief. A snort of derision from close by told her that the other
man was not so easily convinced. She decided to improve her story.
"I just flew in
from Paris yesterday, I guess the jet-lag on top of recovering from the
flu was just too much. I shouldn't have come out today, I should have
stayed in my hotel and rested."
would probably have been advisable," the red-coated man agreed,
his voice calm and soothing. "Influenza isn't something to be taken
lightly. However, perhaps I may be of some assistance?"
formal, she thought, looking past him toward the museum entrance. "I
don't know," she said dubiously. "Do you think there's there
any place I could sit down for a few minutes ? I don't want to be a
bother to anyone," she turned up the charm, all but fluttering her
the other man made a rude noise. Amanda shot a puzzled glance at him.
He was tall, thin, and balding, with a very large nose and shrewd gray-green
eyes. At the moment he was looking at his companion with an oddly long-suffering
expression, and Amanda took a moment to assess him. He was wearing
a good quality suit that could have used some tailoring to make it better
fit his lanky frame, but had thrown a nondescript trench coat over it
and something about the combination shouted "cop" at her.
Of course, the man in the uniform was a cop, too, just not an American
one. She wondered what a Mountie was doing in Chicago.
snuffling sound came again, and she turned, startled to find herself
nose-to-nose with a very large white dog. Or was it a dog? She'd seen
lots of dogs in her day, but she'd also seen her fair share of wolves
before they'd been hunted to the brink of extinction. This definitely
looked more like wolf than dog, except for that too-curly tail. The
animal didn't seem aggressive, though, just curious. She stayed still,
letting it sniff her as it pleased. Thankfully it was too well-trained
to stick its nose in her crotch like some dogs did. After a moment it
looked up at the Mountie and whined again. The Mountie cocked his head
curiously, looking from her, to the animal, and back.
He asked, as if speaking to the animal.
wolf-dog whined again, and gave a very quiet bark.
was the Mountie's only response. Amanda was intrigued. He was clearly
talking to the animal, not to her. And from the exchange, not only was
the wolf talking back, but they understood each other. Fascinating.
What had it said about her? She looked up at the Mountie.
a wolf, isn't he?"
expression of surprise flitted across the Mountie's face. "Yes,
he is. Half, anyway. Not many people realize that."
smiled. "He's beautiful."
wolf yipped, and the Mountie flashed a smile, so quickly gone she wondered
for a moment if she'd imagined it until he spoke and she heard humor
in his voice. "Dief thinks you have good taste."
laughed. "Deef? Is that his name?
Diefenbaker. Dief for short."
eh? Well, I'm sure he does think I have good taste." She thought
he had good taste too, in owners, anyway. She looked up at Dief's human.
"Please, could you help me up?"
a trifle embarrassed, as if he should have thought of that himself, the
man assisted her to her feet. As soon as she was up, she swayed a little,
as if she were going to fall again. Instantly he lifted her off her
feet and into his arms. She instinctively put her arms around his neck
for stability and heard a collective sigh go through the females who
waiting in line to get in. Amanda had to bite her lip to hide a smile.
She could relate. She could definitely get used to this kind of treatment.
She couldn't remember the last time a man had done something so old-fashioned
she had hoped would happen, the Mountie carried her around behind the
x-ray equipment, bypassing the security system. The cop and the wolf-dog
followed them. None of the guards objected as he carried her into a
small lounge just past the security checkpoint where he placed her gently
on a couch and then stepped back, straightening his uniform tunic.
"Is there anything
else I can do for you, ma'am?"
a glass of water? I think that might help."
Mountie nodded. "Quite likely, in fact. Dehydration can be a side
effect of both illness, and long flights."
headed for the door, and the cop looked at her for a moment, then toward
the departing Mountie. She got the feeling he was holding an internal
debate with himself, then he headed after the Mountie, leaving Diefenbaker
sitting at her feet looking at her curiously. Looking around the room,
it was obvious that it was an employee break-room. The small refrigerator,
coffee-maker, and microwave oven testified to that. Not a place likely
to be searched. Quickly she pulled her 'bag of tricks' from her handbag
and stuffed it down between the cushions of the couch, then took her
lock-pick kit from her jacket pocket and pushed it into the crevice as
well, then she lay back, arranging herself artfully, displaying her legs
to their best advantage. Dief whined, and she put a finger to her lips.
"Now, Dief, don't
tell on me, okay?" Dief yipped, and she smiled, reaching out to
ruffle his thick fur. "Good boy."
the hall outside, she heard hushed voices and eavesdropped shamelessly.
"I know, Benny,
but believe me, I know what I'm talking about. Just stop being nice
to her, and for God's sake do not smile at her, okay? You've done enough
as it is!"
have I done, Ray?"
were yourself, that's all. But you know what that does to women."
"I do?" The
Mountie sounded distinctly puzzled.
other man, she surmised he must be 'Ray,' sighed.
you don't. You never do. Never mind. Just do what I tell you, okay,
or shell be following you home."
later the Mountie and the cop stepped back into the room, the Mountie
bearing a paper cup which he extended to her solemnly. She took it and
sipped at the cool water, sighing. "Oh, that's much better. Thank
you so much . . . er . . ." she looked at him expectantly, eyebrows
raised, and he got the hint.
Benton Fraser, ma'am, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This is
Detective Ray Vecchio of the Chicago Police Department."
Mountie, in Chicago?" While she wasn't surprised to learn that
the man in the trench was a cop, it still seemed odd to find a uniformed
Mountie on this side of the border.
straightened and put a hand behind his back, looking for all the world
like a schoolboy about to recite an assignment. "Yes, you see I
first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father . . ."
"And he's still
here as liaison to the Canadian consulate." Vecchio interrupted.
"Unfortunately the story takes exactly two hours to tell, and we
were due elsewhere about ten minutes ago, so if you don't mind, we'll
be on our way."
allowed herself to look a little hurt, and then covered it. "Of
course, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to be any trouble. But you've just
been a real lifesaver, Constable Fraser. I certainly owe you."
"That is probably
somewhat of an exaggeration. While I am not a physician, I believe I
can safely say that your life was never actually in danger. You should,
however, consider seeing a doctor if you continue to feel vertiginous.
And it was no trouble, ma'am," he assured her. "I'm sure you
would have done the same for me."
tried to imagine herself sweeping Benton Fraser off his feet and carrying
him anywhere, and had to work hard not to giggle. Of course, if she
did sweep him off his feet, the place she'd carry him would be the nearest
flat surface. She smiled up at him, not hiding her interest. "Yes,
Constable, I'm sure I would have."
extended her hand to him, and he shook it firmly. She suppressed another
smile. Most men would have taken the opportunity to kiss or caress her
hand. Not this one. Ray's conversation with his friend out in the hall
began to make more sense. Apparently Constable Fraser was completely
unaware of his not inconsiderable charm. The innocence in his gaze wasn't
feigned. My, my . . . that was definitely a temptation. Training a
man could be such fun . . . but no, she had a job to do. Reluctantly
she let go of his hand and looked at both men.
you again, Constable. I really do appreciate your assistance. I don't
know what I would have done without it," she said, with absolute
you kindly, ma'am."
call me Amanda. Ma'am makes me feel like an old woman."
dragged his admiring gaze from her legs and looked into her face with
obvious amusement. She beamed at him, accepting the compliment he hadn't
thank you too, Detective Vecchio. You've both been such a help to me."
Vecchio's homely face
lit up with a startlingly sweet smile. "Anytime, Amanda. If you're
ever in the neighborhood, look us up."
smiled back. "I may just do that. Have a nice day, boys."
They bid her goodbye,
and left the room. Amanda could clearly hear Vecchio grousing at Fraser
as they moved away.
should see a doctor if you continue to feel vertiginous'?" Vecchio
repeated, sounding incredulous. "Where do you get that? Nobody
talks like that! Is that a Canadian thing or just a Mountie thing?"
Smiling, she gazed after
them, thinking nostalgically of a time when that scarlet wool would have
been used in a tight, short Hussar's jacket that showed a man's assets
to their fullest instead of in a long, a concealing tunic. She had to
admit, though, that the jacket's high collar with its black tabs and
golden medallions did set off Constable Fraser's jawline nicely. Ah
well, time didn't stand still no matter how much she sometimes wished
it would. She had work to do, and a deadline to meet. People were depending
* * *
Diefenbaker had just
finished wolfing (literally) down his breakfast and Fraser had just set
his freshly washed mug into the drainer beside the sink when he heard
a perfunctory knock at his door, then it was flung open to admit an agitated-looking
Ray Vecchio. Fraser frowned, concerned. It was unusual for Ray to actually
park his beloved Riviera in this neighborhood, so whatever had prompted
the visit must be important.
Ray, is there a problem?" Fraser asked, puzzled by the breach of
thought I ought to come up and show you this." He held out a newspaper.
Fraser took the
paper and glanced at the story the paper had been folded to display.
His eyebrows lifted and he looked back at Vecchio. "Oh, dear."
"You got that right.
Hell of a way to start the day. I sit down at the table, take a sip
of my coffee, and bam, the headline smacks me right between the eyes.
As soon as I saw it, I had to figure I knew who it was, since we all
but gave her the damned key. Five will get you ten that little jet-lagged
birdie you took pity on as we were leaving the museum yesterday is the
same person who helped themselves to an Easter egg worth a king's ransom."
"I believe in this
case it would be more accurate to say it was worth a czar's ransom."
Ray said impatiently. "In any case, it looks like we may have been
conned into being accessories to grand theft."
gazed at his friend in dismay. "And she seemed like such a nice
person," he said, though he knew that didn't excuse his breach of
shaking his head sadly. "Yeah, well, where women are concerned
we both know you haven't got the sense God gave a goose. But I shoulda
realized something was up. She looked way too great to be sick."
On reflection, Fraser
had to concede his friend was correct. The woman hadn't looked ill,
in fact she'd looked exceptionally well and very attractive, in a gamine
sort of way. With her slight stature and dark hair cut short around
her almost elfin face, she was not the kind of woman that usually interested
him at all. Although, come to think of it, there was something about
her that reminded him a little bit of Inspector Thatcher.
normally liked tall, strong women with long dark hair, but he had to
admit to himself that he'd felt a stirring of interest, especially after
Dief had made known his approval. He frowned, thinking about that.
Usually Dief's instincts were better than that, too. He went to the
closet and got out his uniform tunic, pulling it on and buttoning it.
"I must go to the authorities, Ray. They will want to question
at him like he was crazy, something he did fairly frequently. "Whoa,
whoa, whoa there, big fella! You ain't goin' nowhere. Knowing you,
you'd show up and confess to assisting the thief and end up behind bars
before anyone thought to ask you any other questions. No, we're not
gonna do that."
Ray, if my actions led to the theft, I must. . ."
must help me catch this chick and get that egg back."
considered that for a moment, and brightened. It did seem like the logical
solution. "Excellent idea, Ray. I suggest we start at the airport."
Ray looked at him blankly.
We know her first name, and we know she arrived on a plane from Paris
two days ago. From that information, we may be able to garner more."
Ray looked distinctly
dubious. "How do we know she wasn't lying to us?"
don't, but either way, whatever information we discover may be useful."
Ray thought about that
and nodded. "Okay, you got a point. You know, what I don't get
is how come if she was gonna go to all the trouble of getting in, and
turning off the security system, how come she only stole one? With a
whole exhibit full of equally expensive and transportable possibilities,
she only lifts one damned egg. Why?"
Ray, it's not uncommon for art to be stolen on commission. A collector
desires a specific piece, and they hire someone to get it for them.
That may well be the case here."
people have too much money," Ray said rolling his eyes. "Come
on, Benny, let's get going."
* * *
Amanda stood and gazed
out her hotel-room window at the excellent view of Lake Michigan, and
sipped her champagne. Celebration might be a trifle premature-- after
all, only part of the plan had so far succeeded, but she had a good feeling
about things. She had the egg, and she'd made contact. Now all she
had to do was wait. She was sure that DeBoer would be contacting her
soon. He wouldn't risk losing his 'baby.' She did have a niggling twinge
of regret about those cops she'd suckered. If it had just been the tall
skinny one she probably wouldn't be having an attack of conscience, he
was clearly worldly wise and cynical, but the thought of the disappointment
that would fill Constable Fraser's eyes when he realized what she'd done
gave her pause.
looked at her glass and sighed, setting it down though it was still half-full.
Between thinking about Fraser, and imagining how Duncan would react when
he heard about her little escapade, she couldn't quite enjoy her victory.
It had taken him a long time, but Duncan had gotten to her over the years,
infecting her with his dratted morals. Even though this particular theft
was in a good cause, she still felt guilty. Damn. She stood up and
made her way over to the closet, sorting through her clothes to find
something to wear. She didn't want to sit around feeling guilty. She'd
go out and see the sights, do some shopping, maybe find a nice restaurant
and have a decadently fattening lunch. Anything besides sitting here
feeling guilty for trying to do something good, even if her methods were
a little unorthodox.
finally decided on her coffee-colored linen pantsuit with an ivory silk
tee, and had just finished dressing when her cellular phone rang. She
knew exactly who it was. No one but DeBoer had the number. She'd bought
the phone for the express purpose of making calls to and receiving calls
from him, and would dispose of it once that use was complete. Smiling
cattily, she picked up the phone and turned it on.
There was a short silence
as DeBoer absorbed the fact that she was female. She knew that would
surprise him. He was from a time that thought women should be seen and
not heard . . . though frankly that era had existed only in his mind.
He'd just never realized it.
is this?" He demanded roughly, his accent mostly generic now, but
with a hint of the distinctive throatiness and glottal emphasis that
recalled his long-ago Dutch origins.
ah, ah!" Amanda scolded. "That kind of attitude won't win
you any friends. Stefan DeBoer, I assume?"
know damned well who I am! Where's my egg?"
you looked in your refrigerator?" she teased.
jibe was met with an expletive. She remained silent, waiting him out.
"What do you want?"
He finally demanded after he figured out she wasn't going to make the
million dollars in US funds, on deposit by noon on Friday in a numbered
million?" DeBoer sounded incredulous. "No way," he said
flatly. " I couldn't get that for the damned thing on the open market!"
"No, you couldn't.
But then again, you wouldn't just be paying for the egg. You'd be paying
me to keep my mouth shut about the phony provenance you've cooked up
for it, too. After all, you don't really want the world to know exactly
how you obtained it, do you Stevie-boy?"
was a moment of silence. "What do you mean?"
mean Russia, nineteen-eighteen."
was a longer silence, then: "You're one of us," he accused.
"One of whom?"
Amanda queried innocently.
are you? Ill have your head for this!"
really don't think so. Not unless you like scrambled eggs."
He sputtered at that,
but after a moment he settled down. "How do I know you'll give
don't, but can you take that chance?"
thought that over and she could almost hear the steam coming out his
ears. She waited.
me think about it." he growled finally.
You have twelve hours to think, or I contact my backup buyer," she
said, and hung up, smiling. This was going to work. It was really going
* * *
At the airport, Ray made
himself unobtrusive while Fraser managed to get copies of flight manifests
out of two different airlines, without a court order. All he did was
ask. Nicely. Of course, the fact that both of the people he asked were
female made that outcome pretty much a foregone conclusion. Although
he'd gotten used to it over the years, Fraser's effect on women really
was nothing short of magical. Ray kept hoping it would rub off on him
but it never did. At one point he'd thought it was the uniform, but
experience had later proven that wrong.
with the flight manifests, they had returned to the station so Fraser
could use Elaine's computer to check with Interpol. Lieutenant Welsh
spotted them on the way in, and impatiently gestured them into his office.
Ray slunk in, followed by Fraser, who closed the door as Welsh sat down
and leaned back in his chair, a fake smile affixed to his face.
nice of you to join us today, Vecchio," he said sarcastically.
"Did you forget we generally like to start the day a little earlier
I'm afraid Detective Vecchio's late arrival is entirely my fault."
Fraser said, before Ray could speak.
sighed. "What is it this time? You had to run faster than a speeding
locomotive? Jump tall buildings at a single bound? What?"
Fraser looked momentarily
puzzled, but he attempted to answer anyway. "No, sir, we were at
the airport, not the train station, nor were there any tall buildings
involved, unless of course you count the airport control tower, in which
case . . ."
was a joke, Fraser," Welsh interrupted. "Never mind."
Fraser nodded. "Yes
what were you doing at the airport when you should have been here? We're
going nuts on this museum thing. In case you hadn't heard, someone lifted
some kind of egg worth a couple mil from there last night."
egg, sir." Fraser informed him. "Originally created in 1914
as a gift for a former Czar of Russia, this particular egg was cut from
a single large piece of rock crystal and is ornamented with precious
metals, gems, and enamel-work. It is believed to be the only surviving
example of a Fabergé egg on which platinum was used as well as
gold. As customary with such eggs, this one contained a 'surprise',
in this case a miniature representation of the Winter Palace, hence it's
nickname, the Winter Palace Egg. At last estimate it was worth is two
point four million dollars, US funds, of course."
eyebrows barely lifted. Ray guessed he was getting used to Fraser's
uncanny ability to come up with case-related trivia from his vast store
of useless knowledge.
I take it you two were aware of the theft?"
sir," Ray said. "In fact, that's why we were at the airport."
That got Welsh's attention.
He leaned forward in his chair. "Is that a fact? What made you
looked at Fraser, who fixed his gaze on a point just past Welsh's shoulder,
locked his hands behind his back and spread his feet, assuming a 'parade
Detective Vecchio was kind enough to assist me at the museum as I evaluated
security for the scrimshaw exhibit which contains many pieces on loan
from the Canadian government. After we had completed that task and were
leaving the museum I insisted that we stop for a moment to give aid to
a woman who had apparently become ill while standing on line for the
'Treasures of the Czars' exhibition. As part of this assistance, I carried
her into an employee lounge just past the security gates, and I obtained
a glass of water for her. . ."
noticed that Welsh's eyes were starting to glaze over, and apparently
so did Fraser, because for once he decided to speed up the explanation.
"To be brief, in
retrospect, sir, after hearing of the theft, I became concerned that
the woman I assisted may have thus been able to gain access to the museum
without going through security, and indeed may have done so for nefarious
purposes, although Diefenbaker assured me she was a good person."
Welsh shook his head,
gazing at Fraser with weary exasperation. "You know, Constable
Fraser, sometimes I can't quite decide if you're an asset or a liability."
His gaze shifted to Ray and his eyes narrowed. "And you, Vecchio.
You just let him do this?"
gave his lieutenant a wry grimace. "Come on, sir! You know what
he's like. He helps old ladies across the street, he says 'please' and
'thank you' to bus drivers, one time he even bought every single box
of Troop 441's Girl Scout Cookies because one of them told him their
sales were down. Being nice is habitual with him. It's gotten so I
don't even think about it."
better start thinking, then. So, why the airport?"
suspect mentioned that she had arrived from Paris the day before, and
she gave us a first name. We went to the airport to see if we could
get access to the flight manifests."
they laughed in your faces and asked to see the court order, right?"
Welsh said, chuckling.
sir," Fraser reached into his cartridge case and removed several
neatly-folded sheets of paper which he held out to Welch. "They
were very obliging."
Fraser's back, Vecchio sketched a female form in the air with his hands,
and Welsh rolled his eyes.
just bet they were," he said, waving away the copies. "So
what did you find out?"
different women named Amanda arrived at O'Hare the day before the robbery
on flights originating in Paris. We were about to research the names
when you requested our presence."
what are you waiting for?"
turned and headed for the door. "We're on it."
and Vecchio, we got copies of the security tapes from the museum, if
you want them."
nodded, and followed Fraser out to Elaine's desk, watching over his
shoulder as he accessed Interpol's link and began typing in his queries
on Amanda Woolf, Amanda Clark, and Amanda Stevenson. While they waited
for the requests to be processed, Ray got the cart with the portable
TV-VCR on it and dragged it over to the desk where they started looking
at the tapes, fast-forwarding through several hours worth until they
got to the part where Fraser carried Amanda past the security gate.
Her head was turned away from the camera, tucked in against Fraser's
chest so her face was completely obscured. Ray swore, and looked at
Fraser, who met his gaze with a rueful expression.
would appear that she was careful not to be seen," Fraser said.
"She's a pro, all
right," Ray agreed. He scowled, tapping a pen against his thigh
for a moment, then he looked at Fraser. "Why don't you sketch her?
We could use that to make up some flyers for distribution."
Fraser looked dubious.
"Well, I don't know, Ray. My talents are rather meager."
"Look, Benny, just
because you're not Michelangelo doesn't mean you can't turn out a recognizable
sketch. I've seen you do it before. Just give it a shot."
Fraser picked up a pencil
from the desk, turned over a sheet of department letterhead and started
to sketch. Ray watched, shaking his head as with just a few lines Fraser
managed to create a recognizable likeness of the woman from the museum.
He suggested her short, dark hair with a few shaded strokes, emphasized
the curve of her mouth with a slight smudge from a fingertip, then stopped,
looking at it critically.
jawline is a bit off, don't you think?"
Fraser wouldn't stop asking him until he found something wrong with it,
Ray looked, and nodded. "Yeah, just a little. I think maybe it
should be more triangular."
erased a line, changed it slightly, then handed the drawing to Ray.
"There. It could use more chiaroscuro, but do you think it will
he think it would serve? If Ray hadn't known better he'd have suspected
the Mountie was fishing for a compliment. He'd seen worse drawings in
galleries. He forced himself not to roll his eyes, reminding himself
that Fraser couldn't help it. It was just the way he was. "It's
fine, Benny. It'll work great."
beep from the computer signaled an incoming message and Fraser turned
to the screen, reading rapidly.
he said after a moment.
what?" Ray prompted.
of the women checked out, both have valid passports. The third, Amanda
Woolf, seems to have been traveling on forged papers. Hand me that sketch,
handed it over, and Fraser nodded his thanks as he placed it face-down
on the scanner. A few moments later he was sending an electronic copy
of the sketch off to Interpol, and adding some details about height,
weight, and such, as well as about the crime to aid in a search for
a name to match the face. That done, he lifted the sketch from the
scanner and looked up to where Elaine was hovering, wanting her desk
we're taking so long, Elaine. Do you think you could have a few copies
made of this?"
took it and looked at it. "Sure, Frase. She's very pretty. Who
what we're currently attempting to ascertain. She may be a suspect in
the museum theft."
eyebrows climbed. "A woman did it?"
We don't know yet. At this point we just want to talk to her."
Elaine nodded. "I'll
get those copies."
smiled. "Thank you kindly."
she walked away, Ray sighed, shaking his head. "Fraser, it's her
job to do that kind of thing. You don't have to say thank you."
hurts, Ray." Fraser said mildly, then turned his attention back
to the VCR.
* * *
Fraser watched the tape
intently, looking for any sign that might indicate the woman had an accomplice
in the crowd, but saw nothing. As he watched, he heard Lieutenant Welsh
call Ray's name, and was vaguely aware that his friend had wandered off.
He rewound the tape and watched again as he carried the woman past the
security checkpoint. He sighed, shaking his head. He had been warned
many times about assuming the best rather than the worst about people.
Perhaps he should be more suspicious, but it just seemed so, well, so
impolite. Next to him, Dief whined softly, pressing his head against
Fraser's knee. Looking down, he saw that the wolf was regarding him
Dief. I don't suppose I'll be changing my stripes at this late date,
although I do wish I had thought to take her through the gates rather
than around them." He suddenly remembered that Diefenbaker had
seemed to approve of the woman, and he frowned. "You're not entirely
blameless here, you know."
made a little groaning sound and looked away, embarrassed. Fraser smiled
a little. "Yes, she was, wasn't she? Ah well, water under the
from Elaine's computer brought his attention back to the monitor. It
was the report back from Interpol. Computers certainly had made certain
aspects of police work far more efficient. Downloading the file he'd
received, he opened it and read the report with some consternation.
Sending the file to the printer, he clicked on the graphic that had been
attached to the report and as the image loaded he became aware that Ray
had returned and was looking over his shoulder at the screen.
like our girl, doesn't it?" he said, studying the image.
will admit, the resemblance is striking, however the woman in that photograph
can't possibly be the same one we saw in the museum yesterday."
that photograph was taken over twenty years ago. The woman at the museum
yesterday was no older than the woman in the photo. Besides, according
to this report, Amanda Darieaux died thirteen years ago."
The woman in the photo. She was killed in a fall from a seventh story
window during the commission of a burglary on 12 January, 1981. It's
in the report." Fraser retrieved the printed copy and handed it
to Ray, who scanned it quickly, scowling.
that's weird." Vecchio said a moment later. "You gotta admit,
she looks just like our suspect."
our suspect resembles this woman rather than vice versa, since she is
the younger of the two. Perhaps they are related, is there any family
listed in the report?"
looked, and shook his head. "No, no one. That doesn't necessarily
mean there wasn't any, though. So, you think maybe this is mom, and
our girl is just following in her footsteps?" At Fraser's nod,
he grinned. "I didn't think they had 'take your daughter to work
day' twenty years ago, but hey, I guess maybe she was a forward thinker."
"I did notice something
else in the report," Fraser said, ignoring Ray's flippant comment.
"The pseudonym our suspect used to enter the country, 'Amanda Woolf,'
is one that Amanda Darieaux also used. Perhaps we might be able to locate
her using one of the alternate aliases in the Darieaux file."
"It's a thought,
it's definitely a thought. And if we can find her, then Mr. DeBoer will
be one happy camper."
lifted his eyebrows. "And Mr. DeBoer would be?"
guy who's missing an egg. Guess that's better than his marbles, eh Benny?"
Ben frowned, feeling
left out. "I don't recall hearing about this person before."
I just got off the phone with him before I came over here to see what
Fraser's feeling of exclusion faded. Clearly Ray simply hadn't had time
to mention the fact. "He called you?"
he called Lieutenant Welsh, who had me talk to him. Oh, and you'll like
this, Ben. He's Canadian. You're legit on this case."
owner of the purloined egg is Canadian?" Fraser asked, to be sure
he'd understood correctly.
takin' hearing lessons from Dief? Yeah, he's Canadian. He loaned the
egg to the museum for the show, but he lives across the Lake, on a private
estate outside Sault Ste. Marie on your side of the border."
"I see." That
development did tend to legitimate his involvement. "Did he have
any idea who might have taken the egg?"
a clue, but he did seem real interested in getting it back."
"He asked us to
keep him informed about any developments."
seems a reasonable request."
I guess," Ray said, frowning slightly, staring blankly at the image
on the computer.
something wrong, Ray?" Fraser asked, picking up on his obvious
at him, and shook his head, still frowning. "I got a weird feeling
about this guy. Can't quite put my finger on why. As soon as I told
him we had a possible suspect he got pushy, wanted to know who, and what
she looked like. Not that that's surprising, but . . . I don't know.
Something felt wrong."
studied him for moment, concerned. "I would tend to go with your
instincts, Ray. If you feel that something is amiss, you're probably
we should find out. Did you get a first name?"
yeah. I think it was Steven, or Stephan, or something like that."
Fraser turned his attention
to the keyboard for a moment and typed a query. "There. Perhaps
we'll find something that will put your mind at ease."
not. Like you said, I got a nose for trouble."
didn't comment on your nose, Ray."
Ray said warningly.
looked at him innocently. "What, Ray?"
"Yes, Ray." Fraser bit the inside of his lip to keep the smile
at bay, enjoying the byplay. Ray was the only person who understood
his somewhat quirky sense of humor. Everyone else simply assumed he
was always serious. Elaine returned with a small stack of photocopies
and handed them to Fraser.
you go, Frase. Are you going to be much longer here?"
a little bit, Elaine, long enough to check some search results. I hope
that's not a problem."
no problem. Well, I guess I'll go get some coffee, then. If you need
anything, I'll be in the break room. Want me to bring you anything?"
"No thank you, Elaine.
I'm fine. If anyone asks for you, I'll let them know where you are."
She stood for a moment, looking at him, then sighed slightly, shaking
her head as she turned away, heading for the break room.
shook his head. "Oh man, she's got it bad."
looked at his friend, concerned. "Elaine is ill?"
laughed. "No, I wouldn't say that. You really do amaze me, Fraser.
I've never known anyone so oblivious in my entire life. Women fling
themselves at you with monotonous regularity and you just don't notice!"
Fraser looked after Elaine's
retreating figure in consternation. "Elaine was throwing herself
a little encouragement she would."
Disconcerted, Fraser returned his attention to the computer and pulled
up a web-browser. "I'll check for news reports about Mr. DeBoer
while we wait on an official report."
minutes later, after receiving and printing the Interpol report, along
with a bunch of web-citations, they retired to Vecchio's desk with a
larger stack of paper on the owner of the egg than they had on their
is weird," Ray said, after reading through it. "There's nothing
on this guy before 1972. It's like he didn't exist until then."
"Perhaps he changed
his name?" Fraser asked.
Ray said absently, still reading. "Man, he sure seems to have his
fingers in a lot of pies. Most of his money is in petroleum and mining.
Has had a lot of bad press, too, especially about this one site."
Ray pulled out several pages and handed them to Fraser. "Here,
you look at these. I have no idea where it is, other than someplace
took the pages and glanced through them. "I know this area, it's
in the MacKenzie district, north of Yellowknife. It's not all that far
from Inuvik." He read further, and started to frown. "Ray,
this is terrible! A uranium mine in that area would cause unconscionable
levels of environmental damage!" Fraser exclaimed, aghast. "I
can't believe the government let this happen!"
sighed, shaking his head. "Fraser, governments do whatever they
have to in order to make a buck. You know that as well as I do. I suppose
it does explain why my 'spider-sense' was tingling, but in any case,
this is all beside the point. We're looking for a stolen egg, not an
sighed and acknowledged that. "You're right, Ray, I just hate to
see things like this happening. It's a sparsely populated, and very
poor area. Many people may not even realize what's happening there."
or there wouldn't be any protests for papers to write stories about,
right? Back to the case at hand, any ideas where we should start looking
for our thief?"
I do have some. Considering the obvious quality and expense of her clothing
and accessories, I would suggest that we check the nicer hotels in the
city. My guess is that we'll find her at one of them, probably one with
somewhat of an 'old world' reputation, considering her European connections."
"Good thought, Ben.
picked up his hat and stood, looking around. "Dief?"
was no sign of the wolf, and Fraser sighed, starting to search. He looked
under all the desks, behind all the files, and in three offices before
he located his companion in the break room. When he saw Fraser, Diefenbaker
hid under a table, and Fraser frowned, crouching down low so the wolf
could see him speaking.
leaving. Are you coming?"
whined, and Fraser sniffed the air suspiciously. "Is that chocolate
I smell?" He straightened and glanced around the room. On the
floor, half hidden by the soft-drink machine, was an empty doughnut box.
He sighed and looked at the wolf sadly.
those doughnuts were purchased for consumption by the police, not by
you. Besides, you know chocolate makes you sick."
wolf's response was another whine, and Fraser shook his head in disgust.
"Come on. And this time let me know if you need to stop. Ray won't
thank you for regurgitating in his car again."
left the room, Diefenbaker at his heels, and joined Vecchio at the door.
"One question, Ray?"
exactly is 'spider sense?'"
* * *
Shopping palled quickly,
and though Amanda found a lovely little Russian café near the
Loop for lunch in honor of her latest acquisition, its exotic decor and
live balalaika music didn't distract her from her nerves or her guilty
conscience. Eating alone always made her feel a little sad, too. She
was a people-person, and didn't like to be alone. She sipped her lemon-infused
vodka, picked at the blini with caviar and salmon, and finally gave up,
paid the bill, and left.
a taxi to the waterfront, she walked along the lake shore, her thoughts
drifting back to the two cops at the museum. What on earth was a Mountie
doing working with a Chicago cop? Or had they been working together?
Fraser had said Vecchio was his friend, not his partner. Perhaps they'd
just been at the museum to see one of the exhibits. She had just about
talked herself into that when she realized that if that were the case,
the Mountie wouldn't have been in uniform. No, he'd clearly been there
in some at least semi-official capacity.
frowned. Why on earth was she still thinking about them, well, aside
from the obvious reason? She should be planning how best to use the
money when DeBoer caved in and gave it to her. The donations would have
to be made anonymously, of course, and she would have to break it up,
giving smaller sums to several appropriate charities. Although she would
have preferred to give it all to the Children's Fund, a lump-sum donation
of four million would draw too much publicity, and if he heard about
it, DeBoer might eventually connect it with the theft of the egg. That
was the last thing she wanted. The kids who relied on that money needed
care, not publicity and a pissed-off Immortal poking around in their
publicity in general about what he was doing wouldn't be bad. Maybe
she could donate some of the money to some university to do a very public
study. It would also be a good idea to make sure some if it went toward
environmental remediation. Otherwise the land would stay poisoned for
years, affecting not just the current generation, but many to come.
She wondered if there was any way to 'donate' some to a government official
to make sure DeBoer didn't get his permits renewed next time they came
up. That would certainly be amusing.
smiled, thinking of how angry DeBoer would be if people started making
some real waves for him. It really was worth the thought that she wasn't
going to keep a penny of the money she got from him. She began to see
how Duncan got hooked into being such a do-gooder. It felt nice to know
she was helping people. Not that she would ever admit that to the Scot,
of course. He would never let her live it down. Especially if he found
out it was because of the kids. She just didn't want him to know how
big a soft-spot she had for kids. That whole mess with Kenny had almost
tipped him off, but she'd managed to make it seem less incriminating
than it really was.
She sighed, thinking about the young Immortal she'd once befriended.
Maybe if she'd been more like Duncan, then Kenny wouldn't have turned
out the way he had. She hadn't instilled enough moral sense in him.
Of course, how did one manage to teach someone that killing was wrong,
when there were people with swords out hunting for them on a regular
basis? No, she might not have been the best influence, but she certainly
hadn't been the worst, either. Somehow the thought didn't cheer her.
She found a bench and
sat down, staring at the cold, gray waters of the Lake Michigan, feeling
a little cold and gray inside, herself. Sometimes it was tough being
what she was. Other people had parents, and kids, and friends to grow
old with. Not growing old had a way of short-circuiting relationships
before they even had a chance. And with the rare exceptions like Duncan,
Richie, and Methos, having Immortal friends tended to be a bad idea.
She sat by the lake for a long time, until the breeze got a bit too cold
for comfort and a storm seemed to be blowing up from the west. She was
about to head back to The Drake when her cell phone rang, startling her.
Quickly she snatched
it out of her pocket, extended the antenna, and opened the connection.
"So, have you made
up your mind?" she asked.
pay it," DeBoer growled.
resisted the urge to scream "YES!" and pump her fist in the
air like some demented sports fan. "I thought you might," she
said evenly. "If you're ready to wire the funds I'll give you the
account number." A numbered Swiss account, of course. Untraceable.
"First I want proof
that you do indeed have it, and that it's undamaged. After all, this
could be a bluff. You could have heard about the theft and decided to
run a scam."
enough. Give me a fax number."
"A fax number.
I'll send you confirmation via fax."
want to see it in person."
laughed aloud. "Just how dumb do you think I am? No way."
DeBoer sputtered and
balked for awhile longer, but he finally gave in and gave her a number,
as she'd known he would. He wasn't the kind who would ever let any of
his possessions out of his grasp for long. She wrote down the number
and hung up. Putting away the phone, she walked briskly back toward
the hotel. It was only a few blocks from the park and the walk would
give her time to think, to plan.
passed a Walgreens with a sign advertizing cameras, and went inside.
Fifteen minutes later she was on her way again, this time burdened with
an inexpensive Polaroid camera, a three-pack of film, and a Chicago Sun-Times.
Everything she needed to create a little art project. Whoever said Immortals
weren't creative? She was still smiling as she walked into the lobby
at the Drake, and was halfway to the elevators when something registered
on her. A hat. A Smokey-the-Bear sort of hat. The uniform under it
was olive-brown today instead of scarlet, but the hat was unmistakable.
Next to the man in the hat was a guy in a trench-coat, and at their feet
was a white-coated canid.
little warning shiver went through her. The cop and the Mountie. Why
were they here? Were they looking for her? Had they guessed? Shit.
They were facing the clerk behind the counter and hadn't noticed her
yet, she could slip past them, up the stairs, grab her stuff and be gone
before they knew it. But skipping out would be a dead giveaway and would
send them after her in earnest. Rebecca had once told her it was best
to hide in plain sight. That was just what she would do. It would cost
her a little time, but that was something she had in spades. She walked
straight over to the registration desk..
Vecchio? Constable Fraser?"
turned as one, surprised expressions on both faces. Vecchio hastily
folded up something that looked like a sketch of her. Amanda smiled,
not altogether feigning her pleasure. Seeing Benton Fraser would always
be a pleasure.
is you! I thought it was! What are you boys doing here? Looking for
at each other, and she bit the inside of her lip to keep from smiling
as Fraser raised his eyebrows at Vecchio as if to say 'you think of something.'
there you are! We've been all over town looking for you. Fraser insisted,
he was worried about you, wanted to see if you were okay. Sorry we had
to duck out on you like that, but duty called."
shot a glance at Fraser who looked torn between wanting to correct his
friend, and realizing he really ought to be agreeing. If she hadn't
seen Fraser's face, she would almost have believed the cop. Clearly
Ray Vecchio was a first-class liar. She'd rarely met anyone of her own
caliber before. In the end Fraser said nothing to refute the cop's statement
though the lie clearly didn't sit well with him. His discomfort was
almost comical. Well, at least she had the answer to her question.
She'd been right, they did suspect her.
guys are so sweet!" she gushed. "Really, I'm fine now, a
good night's sleep did the trick. I've been out sightseeing and shopping
today," she held up her bags so they could see them, the Saks bag
a peculiar contrast to the Walgreens one. "I bought a camera so
I could take some pictures." Amanda chattered on in an innocent,
affectless manner, as if they were old friends. They looked a little
confused by her apparent pleasure in seeing them.
a group of people heading up to the tearoom, Amanda had an idea. "You
know, I'd love to do something for you, since you were so nice to me.
I'm hungry and the tea-room here is world famous. If you're not on duty
or anything, would you two like to have tea with me?"
Vecchio looked a little dubious, then shrugged. "Sure, what the
hell. We're not on the clock right now," he shot a quelling glance
at Fraser, who had winced when he said it, then continued on. "And
it's not like you're offering us a bribe, right?"
played offended. "Detective Vecchio, I've never in my life had
to bribe a man to spend time with me!"
shook his head, his gaze sliding appreciatively downward. "No,
I would imagine you haven't, Ms.-- ah, I don't think I caught your last
what name was she using now? Oh, yeah. "Woolf, Amanda Woolf. So
cleared his throat. "I'm afraid Diefenbaker would be somewhat of
an impediment to such an undertaking."
him in the car," Vecchio suggested.
groaned, looking up at her forlornly, a hint of hope gleaming in his
eyes. How could she turn that down?
wouldn't dream of excluding him. Where there's a will, there's a way.
Constable Fraser, do you have a leash for him?"
see. May I have it?"
puzzled, Fraser took a leash from his cartridge case and handed it to
her. She took it, wound it around the wolf like a harness then removed
the double-looped shoulder strap from her purse and clipped it to the
makeshift harness. Coiling the end around one hand, she pulled a pair
of sunglasses from her purse and put them on.
gentlemen?" she asked, as with a soft 'tchking' sound to the wolf
she started toward the tea-room. Diefenbaker assumed the lead position
as if he'd been born to it, guiding her to the door. As she'd expected,
no one gave a second thought to the presence of a 'guide dog' though
she never once suggested that was what he was. Fraser and Vecchio followed,
the cop chuckling as they were shown to a table. Vecchio took a chair
and sat, but Fraser took a moment to seat her in a courtly gesture as
anachronistic as he was. Dief curled up under the table at their feet
with a contented sigh, out of the way, but remaining with Fraser, who
was clearly his 'alpha'.
move, lady. You think well on your feet," Vecchio said admiringly.
Amanda grinned. "Thank
you, I like to think of myself as resourceful."
looked troubled. "You do realize that health regulations prohibit
bringing an animal into the restaurant."
sighed and looked at Vecchio. "Is he always like this?"
confirmed. "Makes me nuts."
can imagine," Amanda sympathized, then she reached out and patted
Fraser's hand. "Relax, Constable. No one's going to arrest your
wolf. He's very well behaved, and that's the main reason behind those
rules, after all. I could understand excluding a badly trained, nervous
animal who might upset things or try to steal food, but not Dief."
Beneath the table Dief
groaned, and Fraser leaned over to look at him, his eyes narrowed. "Yes,
you should feel guilty. You may look quite innocent to the unwary, but
we both know you stole those doughnuts."
sure he feels quite repentant," Amanda said, trying not to laugh.
A Mountie who spoke wolf. Or was that a wolf who spoke Mountie? Either
way, it really did defy logic.
her defense of him, Diefenbaker looked at her adoringly, and she wondered
for a moment if the animal actually understood every word she was saying,
or just her approving tone. A loud crash from the kitchen as someone
dropped a tray made all three humans at the table jump, but the wolf
didn't bat an eyelid. Amanda looked at Fraser, puzzled.
certainly an extraordinarily calm animal."
Mountie cocked his head slightly. "Why do you say that?"
"Most dogs would
at least have looked up to see what the noise was."
that. He didn't react because he couldn't hear the noise. You see,
Diefenbaker is deaf. He lost his hearing when he pulled me from Prince
Rupert Sound, and the water in his ears froze and shattered his eardrums."
"Ooh, poor baby!"
She reached down to stroke his soft fur. "I'm so sorry to hear
that!" So much for assuming that he was going by her tone of voice.
She looked at the wolf again, then back to the Mountie. "If he's
deaf, then how does he know what we're saying to him?"
stared at Fraser, then looked at Vecchio for confirmation. He nodded.
me how, but Fraser's right. Dief reads lips. If he can't see you, forget
about commands, he just does what he wants, or whatever the last thing
you told him was. Of course, even if he does see you and he doesn't
want to do what you want, he just pretends he didn't see you."
Amanda grinned. "Well,
isn't that just like a male?"
doesn't pretend he doesn't see you, Ray," Fraser said earnestly.
"He just has trouble with your accent, that's all."
don't have an accent, you do."
actually, Ray, you do. Although I'm sure that to you it would appear
that I have an accent."
don't think you have an accent? What about that thing you do with your
know that 'ah-oo' thing. Canadians always do that. That Jennings guy
on the news even does it, and you'd think by now the network would've
hired someone to teach him how not to."
'ah-oo' thing?" Fraser asked, blankly.
know. 'Ah-oot' instead of out. 'Ab-ah-oot' instead of about."
"I don't believe
that the diphthong is quite that pronounced, Ray."
a diphthong?" Ray asked. "Sounds like a Brazilian bathing
was highly entertained by their banter. It was clear that Vecchio was
attempting to get a rise out of Fraser, and succeeding only in getting
one out of himself. The Mountie appeared to have been born with a Valium
gland, while the cop was about as hyper as one could get and not be on
Ritalin. She wondered what on earth had brought such opposites together
and was about to be rude and ask when a waiter appeared to take their
order. She ordered a pot of tea for herself and the Mountie, coffee
for the cop, and assorted goodies to share. Under the table she felt
Diefenbaker's tail thump against her leg, reminding her he was there,
and she added an egg-salad sandwich to the order. She'd never yet met
a canine who didn't like eggs.
Amanda said after the waiter had gone. "Do you two work together
or just play together?"
looked a trifle disconcerted by the question but it didn't phase the
we work together, though in an unofficial capacity. I facilitate Ray's
investigations whenever possible and he has provided assistance to me
have?" Vecchio asked, looking surprised.
course, Ray," Fraser assured him. "Frequently."
I've heard about it," Vecchio muttered.
Mountie looked concerned. "Your assistance has been invaluable
on several occasions. I'm sorry if I haven't appropriately expressed
Vecchio said, turning to Amanda. "So, what do you do for a living?
Must pay well, whatever it is," he asked pointedly.
a location scout," she said, hoping neither of them had aspirations
toward acting. "I'm here looking for locations for a film shoot.
In fact, maybe you two can help me with that."
like a job for a realtor, not a cop," Vecchio said, doubtful.
You're perfect, with your knowledge of the city. You do know your way
around Chicago, right?"
bet I do! I was born and raised here," Vecchio said proudly.
"Benny's still kind of learning his way around, but I know the city
like the back of my hand."
Amanda couldn't really picture ever calling the excruciatingly formal
Benton Fraser 'Benny.' But then, she wasn't male. "See? Like
I said, perfect! What I need most is to find an abandoned church or
looked interested, Vecchio looked puzzled.
church? What for?"
just any church. One that's not currently being used. The film is one
of those Gothic Horror types, and the climactic scene takes place in
an old church or cathedral. The problem is, folks tend to get a little
testy about having a film crew disrupting their services, so it's best
if it's not currently being used."
can see where that might be a problem," Fraser said, nodding. "You
know, Ray, there's the old St. Benedict's. It's been vacant since before
I came to Chicago."
and that place is pretty spooky. Used to scare the you-know-what outta
me when I was a kid and we'd go by there at night. Or there's St. Teresa's,
but it's farther out."
took a small computerized planner from her purse. "Addresses?"
she asked brightly. She really did want to know. It was always good
to know where a nice, quiet piece of Holy Ground could be found, in case
of emergency, and she really wanted to get her little nest egg to someplace
safer. She really didn't like carrying around a small fortune wrapped
in tissues and buried in the bottom of her purse. It was just asking
* * *
"So, what do you
think?" Vecchio asked as Fraser settled himself in the passenger
seat and fastened the safety belt.
think we should watch her," he said, looking back toward the hotel
too," Vecchio said. "Something feels funny."
Fraser said, frowning thoughtfully. "Though it seems odd that she
didn't seem at all displeased to see us."
with a couple of notable exceptions women are never displeased to see
Ray, that's an exaggeration," Fraser protested.
it's not," Vecchio said, slightly aggrieved. "I swear on my
mother isn't dead, Ray." Fraser pointed out reasonably.
Well, you know what I meant. Anyway, something tells me she's up to
something. I mean, first off, this woman wears designer clothes, she
stays at one of the most expensive places in town, spends money like
she hasn't a worry in the world. So why would someone with her kind
of dough buy a cheap little Polaroid camera when she could afford something
some people prefer the convenience of not having to have the film processed,"
Fraser offered, then he fell silent for a moment before his eyes met
Ray's and they spoke their thoughts aloud, in unison.
needs the camera to prove she's got the egg."
had a copy of today's paper, too," Fraser said. "She probably
plans to use the paper to confirm that the picture is current."
"That means she's
about to make contact with her buyer."
nodded, looking distracted. After a moment he looked back at Ray. "Why
would someone with Ms. Woolf's obvious affluence need to steal?"
"It takes money
to spend money, Benny. She's got to maintain her standard of living."
Fraser considered that,
and discarded it. "I don't think that's it."
she just likes the thrill of it. She wouldn't be the first rich kleptomaniac
I've dealt with."
his idea was considered, and discarded, Fraser shaking his head with
a frown. "That doesn't seem likely, either."
then?" Vecchio demanded, exasperated. "You tell me."
"What if it's a
just how could stealing be considered a political statement?"
"I was just thinking
of what we discovered about Stefan DeBoer. Perhaps she feels that what
DeBoer is doing to the environment needs to be recompensed."
"To her, personally?
So that would make her, what, Mother Earth? Give me a break, Fraser.
If she wanted to make a political statement she'd have done so when she
first stole the thing. I think you're the one who wants to make a political
whined, and Fraser looked at him, then sighed. "You're right.
I am letting my personal feelings influence my investigation. Still,
it is entirely possible that she stole the egg simply in order to ransom
it back to its owner, whatever her motive. We may want to communicate
with Mr. DeBoer and see if she has contacted him."
was surprised to hear that acknowledgment, and it took him a moment to
realize that the Mountie was replying to him and not the wolf.
"Good idea, Benny.
He pulled out his cellular phone and dialed the station. Elaine picked
up, and he barely waited for her to finish her greeting when he started
speaking "Hey Elaine, it's Vecchio."
where are you? Lieutenant Welsh has been asking for you."
over at the Drake staking out our suspect, and I don't have time to talk
to Welsh right now. I need the number of that DeBoer guy who owns the
egg. It's on my desk."
Elaine sighed, and he pictured her annoyed look, but she consented to
go get it. As he waited for Elaine to find it, he waved his hand frantically
at Fraser, who somehow figured out what he wanted and extracted a pen
from his jacket. Ray snatched it from him and scrawled the number on
the back of his hand as Elaine read it off, then hung up on Elaine and
dialed the number on his hand. After three rings it was answered.
how may I help you?" A beautifully modulated female voice answered.
"This is Detective
Ray Vecchio with the Chicago P.D., let me talk to your boss."
"I'm sorry, Mr.
DeBoer is unavailable at the moment. May I take a message?"
Vecchio rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, tell him we may have a lead on his egg and he needs to call
me. Here's my number." Vecchio rattled it off and hung up, then
looked at Fraser. "Seems real concerned, if he's not even bothering
to take my calls."
he's trying to keep the line free for a call from Ms. Woolf?" Fraser
maybe, if he's the intended buyer. She could be selling to anyone.
You said yourself that people steal on commission these days."
"True, I just have
a hunch he's the intended target, not the money, per se."
and the same, Benny. It's one and the same."
this case, I tend to agree with you."
whined, and barked, staring at the hotel. Ray glanced up and didn't see
"What's his problem?" Ray asked
Fraser, who was staring at the hotel with intensity equal to the wolf's.
"Ray, that red-haired woman near the taxi. . ."
took a second look at the woman in question. As he did, the wind whipped
open her leather trench-coat, revealing her svelte, black-clad figure
and Ray swore, starting the engine. Her hair might be long and red,
overlarge sunglasses might hide her face, but he'd recognize her breasts
her. Good work, Dief. Remind me to get you a box of Milk-Bones."
He pulled out into traffic
six cars back from the taxi and followed it easily. It made one stop,
at a copy-shop near the University, where she went inside for about five
minutes before returning to the taxi. As they took off behind the taxi
once more, Fraser looked back over his shoulder, frowning.
there's a black Mercedes behind us."
what? There are hundreds of them in the city."
noticed one parked near us at the Drake."
probably did. People who own Mercedes tend to like to stay in places
like the Drake."
And it may not be the same vehicle."
not. Why would someone in a Mercedes want to follow us, anyway?"
"I don't know, but
perhaps we should find out."
looked over at the Mountie and sighed. "Look, we can follow the
suspect, or we can do a traffic stop on the Men in Black back there,
which would you prefer?"
considered, and rendered judgement. "It would be logical to continue
to follow Ms. Woolf. If they are indeed following us, then we will eventually
end up at the same destination. If they aren't following us, then we
would be distracted from our pursuit by stopping."
thinking. I'll keep following the taxi." He fished out his phone
and handed it to Fraser. "You call Elaine and have her get someone
to check the copy-shop and find out what our suspect was up to there."
Fraser complied as Ray
drove, and by the time they had gone a few more blocks it suddenly hit
Ray where they were going, and he looked at Fraser. "St. Benedict's,"
he said cryptically.
does appear likely," Fraser said, without missing a beat. "Although
we may have jumped to an erroneous conclusion. She may in fact be what
she said she was. Why else would she be interested in an abandoned church?"
"I don't know, but
I can't think of any real good reason why she would need to put on a
disguise to go make copies and look at real-estate, either."
"I thought so."
They drove in silence
for awhile. Eventually the taxi pulled up next to St. Benedict's and
stopped. Ray drove past casually, circled around behind the building
and pulled into an alley where he eased the car into a building shadow
and killed the engine. He started to get out, and Fraser put a hand
on his harm, holding him back.
She's not going to try the front door, not when it faces a busy street.
She'll come around here."
waited a couple of minutes, and as predicted, a petite figure came strolling
around the corner, looking up at the tall spires of the Gothic structure
as if merely sightseeing. She made a quick check right and left, then
trotted up the stairs to the arched wooden doorway that had a chain and
large padlock across it. She took something from her pocket and bent
down, obscuring whatever it was she was doing. After about a minute
and a half she dropped the chain and padlock on the step and turned her
attention to the door lock. That took only a few seconds work, and then
she was opening the door and slipping inside, closing the door behind
As one, Ray
and Fraser exited the car, Diefenbaker on their heels. When they got
to the door, Fraser leaned down to speak to the wolf. "Stay,
Dief. Watch the door, and if she comes out without us, keep her here
till we show up."
yipped assent, and skulked over into the shadows. Vecchio wondered if
his life would ever be normal again. Quietly they entered the building
through the same door that their quarry had just unlocked with a professional's
skill. It was dim and very quiet inside, but there was just enough light
coming in through the tall, and surprisingly unbroken windows to see
that their pursuit was made easier by the single set of footprints which
made a clear path in the thick coating of dust that filmed every surface.
Fraser walked precisely in Amanda's footprints, scarcely disturbing the
dust. Ray found himself doing the same, though he wondered who the hell
cared if he messed up dust.
glanced heavenward, feeling guilty for even thinking the word 'hell'
in a church, even if it wasn't in use. It was still a church, and old
habits died hard. He imagined he could smell the faint sweetness of
ancient incense in the air, and felt a strange compulsion to cross himself,
which he resisted. It was just programming. They came to the doors
of the sanctuary, one of which was ajar. From inside the room they could
hear a faint scraping sound. Fraser lifted a finger to his lips and
eased up to the doorway, then looked inside. Ray did the same.
Amanda was kneeling in
front of the altar, working at it with a small pry-bar. He frowned.
He hadn't expected her to be here intent on vandalism. After a moment
a stone came loose, and she put down the pry-bar and carefully worked
the stone away from the altar and set it aside. She bent and shone a
flashlight into the hole, and he could see her teeth flash in a smile
as she peered down into the cavity. Picking up her handbag, she removed
a small object from it, which she placed inside the recess, then replaced
the stone. Stepping back, she put the pry-bar into her bag, dusted off
her hands and then frowned as she studied the scene.
a second she unwound a scarf from around her throat and used it to dust
off the entire altar, then to his surprise made a quick genuflection
before looking up at the ceiling and giving a thumb's up gesture. Ray
looked upward to see who she was gesturing to, and saw no one. Odd.
Was she talking to God? He couldn't imagine who else it might be.
Suddenly she gasped and stiffened, looking wildly around the room. Almost
simultaneously, Fraser grabbed him and shoved him behind a wooden screen
that stood a few feet from the doorway. Before he could demand an explanation,
Ray finally heard the footsteps that had alerted Fraser, and apparently
Amanda as well, to the fact that they weren't alone.
footfalls rang loudly in the quiet, as if someone wanted to be heard,
and a figure came into view. It was a tall, strongly built man whose
trench-coat flared out behind him like wings as he moved. He stopped
in the doorway looking into the sanctuary, affording Ray a good look
at him. He had a face like a Nazi from an old war movie, with harsh,
aristocratic features and short-cropped, iron-gray hair. His hands were
leather-gloved, and the suit and shoes beneath the trench-coat spoke
knew you were here, and I knew you were one of us. I can feel you."
The man's voice
was strangely familiar; deep and with a hint of an accent. Ray struggled
to identify it, knowing he'd heard it before, and recently.
Stevie," Amanda said, her tone full of haughty bravado. "Nice
of you to come, though I have to admit it's a bit of a surprise. How'd
you find me?"
were surprisingly careless. I followed the policemen who followed you."
Fraser shot Ray an 'I-told-you-so'
look, and Ray shrugged, trying to pay attention to the conversation.
"Oddly, they don't
appear to have followed you in, I'm not sure why. Perhaps they had to
get permission to enter the building, or they're waiting for backup.
Not that it matters. When they return, they will find only your body.
It's a bad neighborhood. I'm sure that your death will be just another
crime statistic, even if the cause is a bit . . . unusual."
"This is Holy Ground,
Stefan, or have you forgotten?"
I haven't forgotten, my dear. But you will have to come out sometime."
"What makes you
think you can take me? It's been a long time since you faced anyone."
Ray suddenly realized
where he'd heard the voice before. It was the egg-guy, DeBoer. How
the hell had he managed to track Ray and Fraser down to follow them?
They hadn't even checked in until twenty minutes earlier, and by that
time they'd been en route here. Had they been followed all day as they
attempted to locate Amanda? It seemed the only answer. Ray felt embarrassed
that he had managed to miss an all-day tail. He'd never live that one
down, if it got out. It only marginally helped that Fraser hadn't noticed
either, not until the last little bit.
embarrassed tended to piss him off, and he felt anger rising. Before
he could even reach down and unholster his weapon, Fraser put a hand
on his arm and shook his head silently when he had Ray's attention.
How the hell had Fraser known he was thinking of stepping out and announcing
his presence? Sometimes he thought the Mountie must be psychic. With
reluctance he nodded his agreement to wait, and mouthed 'DeBoer' at Fraser.
Fraser's eyes widened, and then he looked thoughtful.
because you haven't heard of me taking anyone recently doesn't mean I'm
out of practice. There are benefits to being obscenely wealthy,"
DeBoer said mockingly. "Among them, the ability to dispose of one's
enemies without interference."
was a short pause, then Amanda spoke again. "Who?"
Let me see if I remember, there have been several. Oh, yes, I remember
now. Since midsummer, there were Taliesin, Al-Qataan, Riviera, oh,
breath hissed in a gasp. "Etienne Duvall? But I saw him just three
months ago! No one told me he was gone!"
I said, just because you have not heard of something, does not mean that
it did not happen. I'm very discreet."
looked at Fraser, wondering if the Mountie understood the conversation.
Fraser shook his head, looking as puzzled as Ray felt.
what's your name, in case anyone asks me that question, afterward."
yes, the lovely thief. I should have guessed. I've heard of your exploits,
though I thought you usually traveled with the Highlander."
"Sometimes I do,
not always. He's a friend."
laughed. "A friend? Come, my dear. We have no friends, at least
not of our own kind."
wrong, you know. It's possible."
say that now, but when the Game calls, you will find otherwise."
"Like you did, when
you took Gregor?"
time the caught breath belonged to DeBoer. "How could you know
have my sources." Amanda said coyly. "I know you let other
people soften him up for you, first. Hardly playing by the rules."
"Sometimes one must
make ones' own rules. Gregor had become a liability. He'd started to
believe his own press. Always a bad idea."
lived long enough to help you bring down the Romanovs."
was useful there, yes. But that's old news. Where is my egg?"
"Safe. I faxed
you a picture of it, but I guess you weren't there to get it."
"No, I was here,
looking for you."
bad. Have you made the deposit?"
would I do that, when I can get it back without spending a cent?"
He moved further into the doorway. "Frankly, I'm interested in
seeing how you plan to get out of this. In order to leave here, you
must pass me."
necessarily," Amanda said. "There are always alternatives."
DeBoer laughed, shaking
his head, then froze, his gaze on the floor, where Ben and Ray's footprints
in the dust diverged from Amanda's and led toward the screen. His gaze
narrowed, and before Ray could snatch his weapon from his shoulder-holster,
DeBoer tipped the screen aside and leveled a nine-millimeter automatic
at them. Slowly Ray let his hand shift to Fraser's arm, as if he hadn't
been reaching for his gun. If he could keep the weapon, he might get
a chance to use it.
well, gentlemen. If you hadn't stepped out of the lady's tracks there
at the last, I would never have guessed you were here. How convenient
for me, though. Just the leverage I need." Smiling, he gestured
for Ray and Fraser to step into the sanctuary. They complied, allowing
DeBoer to herd them toward the front of the room, close to where Amanda
stood. "See what I've found, Mistress Darieaux? Now, shall we
discuss the location of my property, again, or will you force me to take
steps to ensure your cooperation?"
face was pale in the dimly-lit sanctuary. "You wouldn't."
"Oh, but I would,
I assure you," DeBoer replied silkily.
this is Holy Ground," she whispered, clearly shaken.
it is, and while that prevents me from disposing of you here, as you
know there's no rule which says I can't kill them on the premises."
Ray saw Amanda's jaw
tighten, then she looked at him, and Fraser. Her gaze anxious, and she
seemed to be trying to communicate something to them. He had no idea
isn't, is there?" she said, sounding defeated. "If I tell
you where it is, will you let them leave safely?"
another church, St. Teresa's. I left it there. I have the address in
my organizer, can I get it?"
nodded, his gun still trained on Ray and Fraser. "Get it, but no
tricks," she agreed, turning to pick up the bag.
tensed, preparing to go for his gun. Amanda was up to something, and
he wanted to be ready. He knew she hadn't had time to go to St. Teresa's,
so there was no way she'd stashed the egg there. He was pretty sure
that the item in question was tucked snugly into a hollow within the
altar, not four feet from where they stood. The one thing he was sure
about was that he and Fraser wouldn't be leaving the church alive, even
if she did hand over the bauble. They knew too much now. He still wasn't
sure exactly what he knew, but they'd heard DeBoer as much as admit he
was a murderer, and that he planned on killing Amanda, too. That alone
made them too dangerous to be allowed to live.
turned, holding her Polaroid camera, her fingers poised on the shutter
button. DeBoer frowned. "What are you . . ."
hit the button and the flash went off. In the dimness, it was searingly
bright and in that scant instant of surprise it afforded, Ray dove for
the floor, shouting "Down!" and reaching for his gun. He
heard DeBoer curse, and rolled onto his back, releasing the safety on
his weapon just as he saw DeBoer sight on Fraser, who had for some idiotic
reason taken it into his head to put himself between DeBoer and Amanda.
As Ray brought up his gun, Amanda grabbed the Mountie and turned, reversing
their positions, then she shoved him away from her as hard as she could.
Fraser fell backward just as the thunderous crack of a gunshot split
the quiet, echoing in the stone-walled cavern of the sanctuary. Amanda
staggered, and went to her knees, then toppled limply to the cold stone
floor. DeBoer aimed for Fraser again, and Ray shot him without a second
It was a
nice, clean shot, and DeBoer fell, his weapon hitting the ground with
a metallic clatter. Fraser scrambled to Amanda's side as Ray grabbed
his cellphone and called for backup and paramedics. Wrestling Amanda
out of her coat, the Mountie's hands came away dark with blood. He flipped
her onto her back and started CPR as Ray leaned down to pick up DeBoer's
gun, and feel the man's throat for a pulse. Nothing. Feeling rather
pleased by that, he checked the clip in DeBoer's gun, and sighed as he
realized what it held.
he said quietly.
didn't look up from where he was trying to resuscitate Amanda. Ray tried
he was using hollow-points, mercury filled. There's no point in trying
to revive her. She's probably got a hole in her the size of Kansas."
For three more breaths,
Fraser ignored him, then finally he sat back and looked down at Amanda's
still figure before him. He looked at the amount of blood on the floor,
at her half-open, sightless eyes, and an expression came over his face
that made Ray hurt for him. He knelt beside the other man, a hand on
it wasn't your fault."
it was, Ray. If I had let you draw your gun and announce your presence
when you originally wanted to, none of this would have happened. If
I had thought to tell Diefenbaker not to let anyone in, as well as telling
him not to let Amanda out . . ."
you'd done that, he'd've shot the wolf." Ray said flatly. "He
wasn't the type to wait around for someone to call Dief off. And if I'd
gone out when I started to, we'd probably both be dead now. You were
right to wait, it was just bad luck he saw the footprints. Look, Amanda
knew the chance she was taking. She knew DeBoer had a gun, she knew
he was going to kill us. She could have let him do it and had a chance
at escaping, herself. Instead she chose to use that flash to distract
him, and she chose to put herself in the path of that bullet. She may
have been a thief, but she was a good enough person to not want innocent
blood spilled on her behalf. Don't dishonor her sacrifice."
Ray had no idea where
he was getting what he was saying, but it sounded pretty good. He'd
probably heard it in a movie or something. Fraser closed his eyes,
took a deep breath, and then opened them again. Ray saw the gleam of
tears on his face, but his mouth was set and determined now.
right, Ray. It was clearly an intentional sacrifice on her part, one
that should be respected." He looked down at his bloody hands a
little helplessly, and Ray pulled out a handkerchief and offered it
to him. Fraser wiped his hands as clean as he could, then reached down
to gently close Amanda's eyes. After a long, silent moment, he stood
up. "We should continue our investigation, Ray. We're still looking
for motives. We'll need to notify the Canadian authorities that they
should investigate DeBoer, as well. Clearly the man has been concealing
a criminal past."
nodded. In the background he could hear sirens nearing. Time to see
what could be salvaged from this mess.
* * *
"So, what do you
think all that talk about 'holy ground' was, anyway?" Ray asked.
Fraser turned from watching
the crime scene photographer at work. "I'm sorry, Ray, what did
DeBoer and Amanda referred to this as 'holy ground,' like it meant something."
"Well, it is holy
ground. All churches are."
sighed. "I know that, Fraser. What I meant was why would that
make any difference to a thief and a killer?"
don't know. Frankly, it makes no sense."
mean you don't have some old Eskimo story that explains it?" Ray
faintly, realizing that his friend was trying to annoy him out of his
mood. "Inuit, Ray. Not Eskimo. And, no, I don't. I would have
guessed their conversation referred to the concept of 'sanctuary' but
that clearly wasn't the case, as DeBoer had no qualms about killing us
here, just not her."
he ended up doing anyway. Weird."
he felt it would be bad luck."
that it was, since he got himself offed too."
true. I was also wondering about the references to 'Gregor' and to 'the
Romanov's.' Since there is a Fabergé egg involved, one might
almost assume that they were speaking of Gregor Rasputin, and the Imperial
house of Romanov, but since they seemed to be speaking of people they
knew personally, that can hardly be the case."
be Russian Mafia," Ray offered. "They'd probably love to get
their hands on something like what Amanda snatched."
guys?" A uniformed officer who was kneeling next to DeBoer's body
waved them over. "Look what I found in his coat. Is this weird,
moved to where he could see that the man held what appeared to be a sword-hilt
in his latex-gloved hand. About four inches of blade showed beneath
the hilt, the rest of its length was hidden in a special sheath which
had obviously been engineered into the coat to hold the weapon. Ray
heard of concealed weapons before, but never a goddamned sword. Man,
that's gotta make it tough to sit down."
other man snickered and Fraser knelt to examine the blade, even more
puzzled by the case now.
had a gun, why would he need a sword?" He mused aloud.
this day and age, why would anyone need a sword?" Ray retorted.
He had a point. Fraser
got a pair of gloves from the evidence kit the other cop had brought
and pulled them on, then took the sword. It wasn't a reproduction, at
least he didn't think it was. There was nothing decorative about the
blade, it was simple, utilitarian. The edge was keenly honed, and there
were definite wear-patterns on it. There was something about it that
felt old, felt used. "I believe this weapon is an antique, Ray.
Perhaps DeBoer belonged to some sort of recreationist group?"
"Nah, I know people
who do that. They wear funny clothes and bash each other around in parks
with big sticks wrapped in duct tape. They don't carry real swords in
trench coats. This guy was nuttier than I thought. Make sure that gets
bagged for evidence, okay?"
nodded, handing it back to the uniformed officer. He looked over at
Amanda, and frowned. Walking past her, he went to where he'd tossed
her coat aside when he'd tried to save her life. Was he imagining things,
or had there been . . . he nudged the pile of fabric cautiously with
his toe and something clanked on the floor. No, he hadn't imagined it.
He'd been too upset to wonder about it when he'd taken the coat off her,
but now he needed to know. Kneeling, he sorted through the folds until
he found what he had half-expected to find. Slowly he eased the long
blade free and held it up.
Ray turned, and his eyes
widened. "She had one too?"
nodded. "Apparently so. It's a different style, but as authentic
as DeBoer's. This shorter, wider blade would probably have been more
appropriate for someone of Amanda's size and build."
rubbed his forehead. "So, what have we got here? A couple of maniac
fencers? I don't get it, what have antique swords got to do with a stolen
shook his head, equally baffled. "I have no idea, Ray. From their
conversation I would say they had not met before, but they did appear
to know some of the same people. When DeBoer named his recent victims,
she knew at least one of them, and he apparently knew a certain amount
of information about her, even if he didn't know her personally."
"So, are you saying
it's some kind of cult? That there's a whole bunch of these people out
there with a kink for long, sharp, pointy things?"
possible. We should look into it, at any rate. So far it's about all
we have to go on."
sighed. "Fraser, just once I'd like to be involved in a case with
you that doesn't get weird. Just a nice, simple homicide where we can
arrest the perp and declare the case closed with a minimum of fuss.
You're like a magnet for the bizarre!"
sorry, Ray. I don't mean to be."
know that, Benny. You can't help yourself. So, maybe they were part
of some kind of nutso militant religious cult or something. That could
explain how they knew of each other, but hadn't actually met, the references
to 'holy ground' and the swords. We need to check out those other names
DeBoer mentioned, see if we can come up with anything that links them
to bladed weapons. And speaking of checking things out, let's take a
look-see in here." Ray bent down, picked up Amanda's bag and dumped
its contents on the altar's flat surface.
gaze quickly catalogued a lockpick kit, cellular phone, an electronic
organizer, a small makeup case, a hairbrush, and a wad of paper. He
snagged the paper, flattening it to find it was a newsletter from a group
called "The Children's Fund." The lead article thanked contributors
for their generosity and described how their donations helped children
from all over the world. The second story reported on the difficult
adjustment period of two Native American children who had been taken
in by the charity after their parents had died within weeks of each other.
Scrawled in the margin next to the story, in an ornate, feminine script,
were some notes and figures. He looked up.
I think I was right. Taking the egg was a political statement of a sort."
Ray came to stand next
to him. "What did you find?"
Fraser held it out.
read, then looked at him blankly. "I don't get it. A manifesto
children in that story. They were both from the Territories, from an
area very near DeBoer's uranium mine. I would guess that their parents
died of radiation-related illnesses contracted by unsafe conditions in
would anyone work there if it's not safe?"
there's very little work to be found that area of the country. They
probably took jobs there hoping to better support their children, and
ended up losing their lives instead. Look at what she wrote in the margin.
DeBoer's name, underlined. The name of the museum, the letters WPE,
which likely stands for 'Winter Palace Egg.' Note also the figures '2.4
mil' and '4 mil.' One is the appraisal value of the egg, I suspect the
other is probably what she was asking for it. Then she's written 'half
to CF, remainder to smaller groups' and 'university study?'. I suspect
those were notes for how she planned to disburse the funds once DeBoer
paid her. "
reading an awful lot between the lines there, Fraser," Ray said
Ray, I am, but I know that area, and I know its people. I believe that
a few minutes spent researching this will confirm my theories about the
children and their parents. After that, the seems fairly obvious."
"Obvious is a relative
term, but I suppose it's possible. It's also possible that she just
wanted the money."
looked into Ray's cool gray eyes and shook his head. "I don't believe
that, Ray. Do you?"
held his gaze for a long moment, then shook his head, making a wry face.
"No, Benny. I don't. God help me, I don't believe it either.
Now how do we prove it?"
sighed. "I don't know."
to the station then, sounds like it's time for you to hit Elaine's computer
again, while I make some calls." Suddenly Ray groaned. "Oh
God, I'm also going to have to file an incident report on this."
Fraser looked at
Ray, knowing the seriousness of that. "I'll gladly supply any supporting
affidavits you need, Ray. It was clear that you had no choice."
"I know that and
you know that, I just hope they believe us. Come on, let's go."
* * *
Amanda gasped herself
awake. God, waking up was such a bitch. It was like sticking her finger
in a light socket. The first thing she realized was that she was naked,
and very cold. She tried to look around, but everything was kind of
a soft, glowing white, and for a moment she wondered if somehow she'd
managed to end up stuck in a snowdrift. Then the tingling, itching
ache in her back reminded her what happened, and she realized that the
reason she couldn't see anything but white was because there was a sheet
over her face. Oh damn. Damn, damn, damn. That meant she was in a
her stomach, relieved to find that it felt normal, not weird like her
back. That meant they hadn't started an autopsy. Thank heavens for
small favors. She listened carefully, and could hear someone singing
opera, 'La Traviata,' she thought. The sound was distant enough that
she risked tugging at the sheet until it slipped down to the middle of
her nose and let her see. Yep. Definitely a morgue. Whoever was singing
wasn't anywhere in sight, and she started to sit up, then heard the singing
she lay back down and closed her eyes most of the way. An older man
in green scrubs wandered into the room, still singing. Without sparing
a glance at her, he picked up a saw and turned back the sheet which shrouded
a body on the main table, then the phone rang. Muttering to himself,
he moved off into the outer office once more. Amanda quickly sat up,
wrapping the sheet around herself like a sari. She had to get out of
here, and quickly. She saw a door across the room from the one through
which the pathologist had exited, and she went over and opened it. Drat,
there she looked back at the exit, and as her gaze went past the corpse
on the table, Amanda realized she had another reason to get out of here
quickly. It was DeBoer. At this point half his face was barely recognizable
due to the damage from whatever had killed him, a bullet probably, but
she could tell it was him. And, since she was awake, that meant that
his recovery process was well underway and he'd probably be coming to,
only the old man hadn't taken that saw with him! Since her sword was
nowhere to be found, it would have been the next best thing. She eyed
the tray of scalpels for a moment, and decided they wouldn't really work
for what she needed, besides, the Quickening would bring the entire population
of the building running. Plus, it would be cheating to kill DeBoer
when he was dead. No, getting out was the best option she had.
Clothes, she needed clothes.
Inside the closet was a shelf that held stacks of scrubs like the pathologist
was wearing. They wouldn't win any fashion contests, but they would
attract a lot less attention than a sheet. She was about to take a set
when she noticed that pushed toward the back of the closet was a box
with what looked like fabric in it. Inside the box she found a pair
of jeans and a drab gray jersey turtleneck. They were dusty, apparently
they'd been there for a long time. Probably someone had put them in
the closet and then forgotten about them. Both were about four sizes
larger than she was, but they were even better than scrubs. Fortunately
huge, baggy clothing was 'in' among certain segments of the population,
so no one would think anything about it.
into the closet, Amanda pulled on the sweater, stepped into the jeans.
She had to fold the hems up four times to get the jeans short enough
not to trip her, and use the drawstring from a set of scrubs to belt
the waist of the pants tight enough that they would stay on. For a
while she could faintly hear the old man talking on the phone, then he
finally stopped and she heard a door open and close, then silence.
Cautiously easing the
door open, she found that the room was empty. Good. Spotting a couple
of bags beneath the table she'd been lying on, she checked them on a
hunch and found that one held her clothes, the other her shoes. Unfortunately
her purse wasn't there as well. Of her clothes, her sweater was a shredded,
bloody mess, and there was blood all over her pants, too. Somehow, both
her shoes and her panties had managed to survive unscathed. The shoes
were a bit of luck. She stepped into them, stuffed her panties in her
pocket, and headed for the door.
it, she glanced around. The hallway was a busy one, people heading every-which
way in controlled chaos. A pair of policewomen came out of a door several
yards away, both of them had wet hair. Smiling, she headed for the
room the women had just left. Sure enough, it said "Women"
on the door. When she stepped inside she found not just toilet stalls,
she skinned down and ducked into a shower to wash the dried blood from
her back and hair. After drying off with a handful of paper towels,
she dressed and headed out once more. No one even glanced at her as
she moved deliberately down the hallway, toward what she hoped was an
exit. A familiar voice made her bend quickly to get a drink from a fountain,
hiding her face.
I guess someone needs to call the Consulate," Vecchio said as he
passed. "Damn it, this has to be one of the worst days of my entire
faded as he and the black man he was with rounded a corner. Amanda straightened
and stared after them, her mouth suddenly dry despite the water she'd
just sipped. Call the Consulate? Why? And what would make him say
that about it being the worst day of his life? Fear arrowed through
her. She'd tried to get Ben out of the way. What if she hadn't succeeded?
What if DeBoer had shot him after she had died? She realized that there
had been an third body in the morgue. What if that had been Ben?
Amanda swallowed convulsively.
No, please, God, no. Please don't let her have been responsible for
his death. How could she find out? She looked back the way Ray had
come, and saw a room that was obviously a bullpen of sorts. If she
could find his desk, she might also find something about Ben. Walking
deliberately, she stepped into the room and went up to the first person
she saw, a stocky, dark-haired man who looked harassed.
me, can you tell me where Detective Vecchio's desk is?"
over there," he waved a hand. "It's the one with all the files
on it. And if you see him tell him I'm looking for him. IAD wants to
talk to him."
nodded, though she hadn't a clue who the man was. "I'll tell him."
She wove her way through
the crowded room to the indicated desk. A quick scan of the surface
revealed nothing but chaos, but there a sheet of paper in the typewriter
caught her eye. Reading through the misspellings, she saw it was the
start of a report on the incident at the church, but to her frustration
it stopped at the point where DeBoer had found Ray and Fraser behind
she looked around, no one seemed to have noticed her yet, but she couldn't
count on that continuing. She was about to give up and go when Vecchio's
Rolodex caught her eye. Swiftly she flipped through it and found a card
simply labeled "Fraser." There was no phone number but there
was an address. Grabbing a pen she scribbled the address on her hand,
then picked up the card file and looked around. Seeing an open file
drawer in a cabinet a few steps away, she put the Rolodex in the drawer
and closed it. She was pretty sure DeBoer wasn't as clever as she was,
but there was no point in taking chances, and if Fraser was all right
she wanted him to stay that way. Making herself as unassuming as possible,
she slipped out of the building, unnoticed in the everyday chaos.
* * *
Fraser sat by himself
in the janitor's closet, going over his actions of the past few hours,
trying to think of anything he could have done differently, any way he
could have circumvented the tragedy. Somehow, though his thoughts just
kept returning to the jeweled egg he'd last seen in Lieutenant Welsh's
office, sitting incongruously on the paper-scattered, scarred wooden
desk. While he acknowledged that it was beautiful in a very artificial
sort of way, the fact that it had fit easily into the palm of his hand
seemed wrong, somehow. Something that had cost two people their lives
should be larger, more imposing.
couldn't fathom why anyone would kill over an object with no intrinsic
value at all. Unlike a real egg, it couldn't be eaten. The resources
which had gone into making the gift for a long-dead Czar could have fed
many of that ruler's starving subjects for a year. Sometimes he really
didn't understand humans. Animals killed for many reasons, but sheer
greed was rarely one of them.
tugged at his collar, suddenly feeling claustrophobic, though the closet
had never made him feel that way before. For the first time he was bothered
that it had no windows, and no air circulation. Maybe it was because
Ray wasn't here with him. Usually when he came here, it was with Ray,
and that helped him not notice the smell of chemicals and the closeness
of the tiny room. But Ray was busy. Any time a gun was fired, things
got messy. While Fraser understood that, it didn't make it easier to
be alone right now. He felt guilty, and sad, and angry. He wanted Ray
to help him focus, and get past that.
he channeled his thoughts into more productive areas. He should really
spend some time researching Amanda Darieaux to see if he could confirm
his suspicions about her. Somehow he knew she would rather be remembered
as someone who had tried to do a good deed, than as a common thief.
He hadn't known her for very long, but it had been long enough to realize
that she had been as one of a kind as the jewel she'd stolen. He sighed,
and Diefenbaker looked up with a soft groan. He reached down and put
his hand on Dief's head, not exactly petting him, just a touch, a reassurance.
"It wasn't your
fault, Dief. I didn't tell you to stop him. You couldn't have known."
Dief whined, and Fraser
smiled. "Thank you. Ray told me that as well."
told you what?" Ray said, opening the door and peering in. "I
thought I'd find you here."
sat up straighter, a little disconcerted. "Nothing, Ray. I was
just musing aloud."
not let anyone else catch you talking to the wolf like that or they'll
put you away again," he said, with a grin. "Thought I should
let you know, I had Lieutenant Welsh call the Dragon Lady for you and
tell her you solved the case. She was impressed."
boggled, trying to imagine that. "She was?"
no," Ray admitted. "But I thought you'd like to hear it."
"I see. Well, thank
you for the thought. Ah, how was her mood?"
. . ." Ray hedged uneasily.
I'll be prepared when I see her Monday."
idea. Maybe a little peace offering?"
lifted his eyebrows. "Such as?"
. . . Good question. A pool boy, maybe?"
"I know, I know.
I shouldn't be disrespectful. Anyway, I'm going to be stuck here for
awhile longer, filling out paperwork and meeting with the shooting team.
Why don't you go on home? Dief probably needs a walk. I'll come by
after I'm done, we can get a pizza or something."
hesitated. "Don't you need me to corroborate your story?"
"Don't worry, Elaine's
already got the statement you gave her all typed up, all you have to
do is sign it on the way out and she'll notarize and file it. Right
now we're just in the talking phase, if they need you, they'll get in
eyed Ray with concern. He wondered if his friend was upset by the shooting,
and just covering it up, as he tended to do. "You're sure it's
sure, Benny. Go on."
* * *
Amanda was lurking.
There was no other word for it. She was lurking outside a small market
a little ways from Ben's building, waiting for Ben to appear. She'd
gotten the address from Ray's Rolodex at the station, and come here to
keep vigil, hoping her wait wasn't in vain. She hadn't been able to
think of any other way to assure herself of Fraser's safety.
had no idea what had happened after DeBoer's bullet had taken her between
the shoulder blades as she hurled herself between him, and Ben. She
knew Ray was all right because she'd seen him, but she hadn't seen Fraser,
and Ray's comment had worried her terribly. She'd thought about calling
the Consulate, but decided not to, since that might attract attention.
No, this was the only way.
the thousandth time since she'd come to her senses on the cold metal
of a morgue table she cursed her own stubborn, impulsive nature. If
only she hadn't been so cocky, so damned self-confident. She'd never
expected DeBoer to come after her, especially not with mortals around.
She hadn't figured on him wanting to remove anyone who might connect
him to her death. Stupid. Really stupid. When would she learn?
A flash of red caught
her eye and she turned, hopeful, heart pounding, only to find that it
was just a brightly colored knit cap on a young girl. She sighed, and
shifted, trying to find a place to stand where the cold wind didn't cut
right through her borrowed clothes. Too bad there hadn't been a coat
in that closet, too. Just because she was an Immortal didn't mean she
was impervious to the elements. Once she had reassured herself about
Fraser, she'd sneak back to her hotel and get her things, and be gone
from the city, leaving the cop and the Mountie safely behind, she hoped.
That brought up
new quandaries. If they were both okay, how could she make sure that
DeBoer didn't try to hurt them again? She knew the answer. She had
to take him. But unfortunately she had no idea where to find him in
the city. More time passed. The sun dropped behind some buildings and
the shadows lengthened as dusk approached. It was getting noticeably
colder, and it hadn't exactly been warm to begin with. Tugging the collar
of the turtleneck up as far as it would go, she tucked her hands into
her armpits to keep them warm. After a little while she started shifting
from foot to foot, just trying to keep the blood flowing.
Scarlet. Not just red, or burgundy, or orange, but the distinctive scarlet
she'd been waiting for. Ben seemed to materialize out of the shadows,
walking steadily, head down and face obscured by the brim of his hat
as he conversed with Dief. Amanda sighed as she saw that he was fine,
and that Dief looked fine, too. The relief she felt was profound. She
couldn't have lived with herself if her carelessness had brought injury
to Ray, or Fraser, or even Dief. They didn't deserve to be harmed because
of her. They were good people, even the wolf.
if thinking of the wolf had alerted him to her presence, Dief suddenly
stopped in his tracks, his head swinging toward her, nose lifting as
he sniffed the air. With a sinking feeling Amanda realized that she
was upwind of him. Damn. Another stupid thing. Of course the wolf
could smell her, and he recognized her scent. She stayed perfectly still,
barely breathing, hoping he would give up. She should have known better.
His gaze focused on her, then he gave a short, decisive bark and trotted
toward her a few feet, then stopped to look back at Fraser, clearly intending
him to follow. Damn it, Dief would choose this moment to do his Lassie
lifted his head, and looked where the wolf was looking. She could tell
the instant he saw her. His eyes widened, his lips parted as if to speak,
and he stood like that for several seconds, then he sighed, and shook
his head, with an expression she could only describe as resigned sorrow
coming over his face. He took a step toward her, then another, then
a pedestrian passed between them, startling both of them and breaking
their eye-contact. When she looked again, his eyes were closed, but
they flashed open again before she thought to move out of sight. He
called Dief, and looked over at her again, nodding toward the door of
his building as if inviting her to join him.
frowned, puzzled by his reaction. Most people, on seeing someone alive
who'd been killed right before their eyes, would not be quite so blase'.
Fraser seemed to find it not entirely surprising. Very strange. He
took a few steps, then stopped and looked back at her expectantly. She
shrugged, and followed. Who was she to argue? At least she'd be out
of the wind. Dief seemed pleased, and followed her in.
* * *
Fraser didn't speak,
he just led Amanda's ghost up to his apartment, opening the door and
letting Dief, and her, precede him into the room. She looked around,
shaking her head; a not uncommon reaction to his apartment, but somehow
it surprised him coming from a dead person. Of course, his father's
personality hadn't changed substantially after he'd died, either. He
knew that most people found his rooms to be excessively austere, but
he liked their simplicity. All the windows were open, rendering his
apartment almost as chilly as outdoors, which he preferred to the stale,
overheated air of most buildings. Amanda finished her perusal of his
rooms and shivered. He smiled a little.
don't need to do that any more, you know."
frowned. "Do what?"
"But it's cold in
you say so." He figured it must take a while to get used to being
dead. Speaking of which, he didn't want to offend her, but really, he
had to nip this 'appearing in public' thing in the bud before she got
as annoying as his father was.
while I realize that it's really not my place to tell you how to do your
job, I think since I'm going to have to be putting up with you from
now on, I think I'm entitled to make one request. If you could please
confine your appearances to times when I'm alone, I would greatly appreciate
it. It tends to complicate things when you. . . ah . . . people show
up when I'm in public."
people'?" Amanda repeated, an odd look on her face. Sort of a combination
of puzzled and offended. Of course, she probably hadn't much thought
about how she wanted to be referred to. What did one call a ghost, anyway?
After a moment she shrugged, and nodded.
certainly, I'll try to respect that, Ben. But you won't have to 'put
up with me' for long. I just wanted to check on you, be sure you were
okay. I, ah, kind of lost track of what was happening there for awhile."
His gaze searched hers.
"You're not staying?"
stared back at him, seeming to consider his words, then she smiled, slowly,
with a disturbingly sensual smile for a dead person. "Well, if
you really want me to . . ." She purred throatily.
Fraser exclaimed, then realizing from the look on her face that his vehemence
had hurt her feelings, he backpedaled. "I mean, not that you're
not welcome to stay, if you like. I mean, after all, what happened was
my fault and I wouldn't blame you for wanting to well, haunt me,
for lack of a better term. I just meant that, well, it wasn't really
necessary for you to stay." He chanced a look at her. She still
looked hurt. He sighed. "I'd love for you to stay," he lied.
Amanda laughed out loud,
shaking her head. "You're such an awful liar, Ben."
didn't quite know what to say in response to that, and while he was trying
to figure it out, another voice spoke up.
little thing, isn't she?" The voice said. "Why, she doesn't
look strong enough to heft an axe to split a log! And besides that,
she's a thief. Son, I just don't understand what it is in you that makes
you go for this sort of woman. I thought I raised you better than that."
Fraser stiffened as he
saw his father standing beside Amanda. Oh, his day had only needed this
to be complete. "As I recall, you didn't raise me at all,"
he retorted testily. "You left that task to Grandmother."
His father chose to ignore
that, though Amanda looked completely mystified.
bad looking, though, I'll give you that," Robert Fraser added,
studying her critically. "Though the hair's a bit short."
he admonished the older man.
rude?" The second ghost asked, looking at him blankly.
rude?" Amanda echoed.
scowled at his father. "Talking about her like that when she's
standing right there."
looked around. "Talking about who? I wasn't talking about anyone."
"Not you, him."
Fraser clarified, nodding toward where his father stood, a few feet to
her left. He noticed that his father's gaze was fixed in the general
vicinity of her chest. "Dad! Really!" he said, scandalized.
Amanda started to back
up, very slowly. "Ah, Ben, are you all right? I mean, you didn't
get hit on the head or anything during the fight, did you?"
"No, why do you
um... because you're talking to someone who isn't there."
considered that. Coming from a ghost, it was a fairly petty quibble.
It did make him realize something, though. "You can't see him?"
She shook her head.
"I see you, me, and Diefenbaker. I know you talk to Dief all the
time, but since he's over there on the bed, it can't be him you're talking
Fraser looked at his father. "You can see and hear her?"
"I'm dead, son,
I'm not blind," Bob Fraser said, looking not a bit ashamed of himself
for having just moments earlier been noticing things no self-respecting,
not to mention dead, parent should be noticing in front of their son.
Fraser ignored him.
can't see or hear you?"
shook her head vehemently as his father answered.
course not, son. I'm dead. You're the only one who can see me."
"I just figured
that you two really ought to be able to see each other, all things considered."
"All what things
considered?" Amanda and Bob asked, almost in unison.
what with you both being dead, and all. I suppose I simply assumed that
disembodied spirits would be able to see other disembodied spirits."
Amanda took a quick step
sideways, away from where Fraser's gaze was fixed, and thus away from
his father. She eyed the space next to her mistrustfully.
spirit?" she asked, her voice a little higher than normal. "You
mean, like a ghost?"
nodded. "That's one word for it, yes. However, being one yourself,
there's really no reason for you to be alarmed. Even if you weren't
dead, Dad wouldn't bother you. He only bothers me."
not dead," his father said.
not dead," Amanda said, on about a two-second delay.
grimaced. "Will you two stop that? Or at least synch it up."
Amanda and his father
looked at each other, or at least it seemed to Fraser that they were,
though he realized that only one of them could actually be doing so.
Amanda's gaze moved back to Fraser.
what you're telling me is that your father's ghost is standing there,"
she pointed vaguely toward his father. "And he's talking to you?
She considered that a moment, then shrugged. "Well, I've certainly
heard of weirder things. If you're used to seeing ghosts it would certainly
explain why you didn't react more to my reappearance. So, you think
I'm dead, and a ghost too, right?"
nodded again. His father made a disgusted noise, shaking his head.
"I tell you
son, she's definitely not dead. I think I can be considered a bit of
an expert on that, and I assure you I know the difference."
Amanda moved closer to
Fraser, smiling that frighteningly sensual smile of hers. "I'm
swayed backward a little, but decided it would be ungentlemanly to actually
take a step back. Strange. He was imagining he could feel body heat.
He tried reasoning with her.
I know you're dead. You were shot through the heart at relatively close
range with a Sig-Sauer nine millimeter automatic pistol using a mercury-filled
hollow-point bullet. I saw you die. I saw you in the morgue. Mort
even said you were dead, and as a pathologist one assumes that he would
needs to have his eyes examined," his father said disgustedly.
"So do you."
please!" Fraser exclaimed, exasperated.
moved closer still, bringing her body up against his. Odd, he hadn't
thought a ghost would have any substance. His father never did. Maybe
it was because Amanda was 'fresher.' Speaking of fresh, how did she
manage to smell like, well, like an odd combination of soap, and clothes
that had been hanging too long in the back of a closet? He was having
hallucinations. Olfactory ones.
really not dead, Ben," she said huskily. "Could a dead person
put her arms around his neck, then went up on her toes to lift her mouth
to his. Her lips were soft, and warm, and very, very nice. Without
conscious thought, he found himself holding her, tilting his head a little
to one side to deepen the kiss, his hands molding the slender line of
I'll just be going now . . ."
heard his father distantly, but didn't think much about it. It dawned
on him after a little while that he was kissing a ghost. There was something
abnormal about that. Of course, she really didn't feel like a ghost.
Not at all. Her question echoed in his mind, 'Could a dead person do
this?' He drew away from her, still tasting her on his tongue, trying
to ignore the way her fingers felt in his hair and concentrate on the
answer your earlier question, there is the myth of the succubus, but
technically the succubus is considered a female demon, not a ghost."
Amanda smiled. "I
do love an educated man," she whispered. "Now where were we?"
She flowed in against
him, her body all curves and heat. Her mouth was warm, and soft as it
found his again. He closed his eyes, cupping her head in his hand, absorbing
the sensations she caused, feeling an unfamiliar heat expanding inside
him. Suddenly realizing he was enjoying the feelings, and that his control
was in danger of slipping, he pulled back, though slowly enough not to
offend her. She put her head against his shoulder, rubbing her nose
along the curve of his chest. "Mmm, you feel good, but you'd feel
better without all this scratchy wool," she said, bringing her hands
around front to unfasten his collar.
caught her hands in his. "Wait. I don't understand. You're not
noticed!" she said, clearly amused.
shook his head, completely confounded. "But . . . how? Amanda,
I saw you die."
looked into his eyes, suddenly serious, and sighed. "I know you
did. As for how, well, that's a very, very long story."
have time, and despite appearances, I can be a good listener."
Her smile flashed again,
quick and bright. "Yes, I can tell." Her hands returned to
his tunic, finding the first button, sliding it deftly from its hole.
"But there are other things I'd rather do right now than talk."
said, gentle reproach in his voice.
let her hands fall, and stepped back with a sigh. "Oh, all right.
Men," she said in disgusted tones. "Go figure. They're all
over you unless you want them to be, then they won't even think about
shivered as she moved away from the warmth of his body, and Fraser was
instantly remorseful. He tended to forget that not everyone was as acclimated
to the cold as he was, and she'd already said once that she was cold.
He realized she'd probably been waiting for him outside for quite some
time, without a coat, hat, or gloves. No wonder she was chilled. He
looked around and decided the best course of action would be to get her
into the warmest place in the apartment.
don't you get into bed while I make some tea? Dief, get down and let
Amanda have the bed." Assuming both she and the wolf would do
as he suggested, Fraser turned, reaching for the teakettle to fill it.
* * *
Bed? Amanda brightened
at the Mountie's suggestion. That sounded promising. Actually the tea
sounded pretty good, too, she was still freezing. As Fraser worked in
the tiny kitchenette, she turned and after a moment realized that the
bed was pretty much the only furniture in the apartment other than a
couple of crates, and the kitchen table and chairs. Really, the place
gave new meaning to the word 'Spartan.' How could a person live like
this, without the simple necessities of life? Clearly he just didn't
feel the need for much in the way of possessions. The prospect of 'bed'
seemed a trifle less promising with that realization. It was entirely
possible that he'd suggested bed simply because it was the most comfortable
place to sit. Still, it was a start. She could work with it.
beside the narrow bed, Amanda untied the drawstring that held up her
stolen jeans and immediately they slid off, pooling around her ankles.
Fraser was ostentatiously not watching her. She smiled. It might get
wearing after a while, but at the moment, she was enjoying the novelty
of his attitudes. Ben was a throwback to a time that had never really
existed. After stepping out of both the jeans and her shoes, she caught
the hem of her thin jersey turtleneck in her hands and started to tug
it upward, then stopped, shooting a glance at Ben's red-clad back, and
thought better of it. Better not rush things. Instead she picked up
her jeans and in deference to her host's compulsive neatness, folded
them and placed them with her shoes on the floor beside the bed before
turning back the covers and sliding beneath them.
was a warm spot where Diefenbaker had lain. It felt good. She huddled
under the thick, wool blanket on the bed-- a Hudon's Bay, of course,
what else would one expect from a Mountie? Shivering, she lay back,
and watched Fraser in the kitchen, wondering a little wistfully what
it would be like to have someone do this sort of thing for her all the
time. Of course, he was used to doing things for himself. It was clearly
just him, and the wolf here, and maybe occasionally Ray. Yawning, she
looked down at Dief lying on the floor, gazing at her with a slightly
reproachful air as if to question her presence in Fraser's bed. Grinning,
she reached down to ruffle his thick fur.
worry, Dief," she whispered. "I'm just borrowing him. I'll
give him back, I promise."
had almost dozed off when someone's presence next to the bed brought
her back to full alertness. She looked over to see Fraser crouched beside
the bed, regarding her with that intent, solemn gaze that she'd come
to realize was his trademark. In his hands he held a steaming mug of
tea. Sitting up, she took it from him, cupping her own hands around
it, inhaling the fragrance. The liquid in the cup looked oddly cloudy
but she knew he wouldn't offer her anything harmful. Sipping the steaming
tea, she discovered it was both sweet and milky. Her eyebrows lifted
as she gazed over the cup at Fraser. She hadn't figured him for the
milk and sugar type.
grandmother always said it was the best way to warm up," Fraser
explained, apparently having read her mind. "The sugar and caffeine
stimulate the metabolism while the milk keeps it from being purely empty
do you do that?" she asked, truly curious. Sometimes she was sure
the man was telepathic.
what?" he asked, gazing at her blankly.
mind." Sliding over to make room, she patted the bed next to her.
"So, come sit and I'll tell you my long, long story."
Fraser regarded the empty
spot dubiously. "I'm quite comfortable here, thank you."
She sighed. "Come
on, I don't bite, much. And I'll behave, okay? But first you have to
he resisted. "I'm fine like this."
gave him a look. "Ben, if I wasn't here, what would have been the
first thing you did when you got home?"
was caught. Innately truthful, he wouldn't lie to her. "I would
have changed out of my uniform," he admitted reluctantly.
thought as much. So, go change. I promise I won't peek."
looked as if he were going to argue until she held up a finger and shook
it at him, at which point he finally he gave in. Amanda drank her tea
and pretended not to notice when he ducked into the closet. A few minutes
later he emerged, looking marginally less prim in a pair of jeans and
a flannel shirt with a thermal undershirt beneath it. Figuring he'd
been wearing that all along, she realized why he wasn't cold, too. Then
she noticed that he was also wearing shoes. Sneakers, to be sure, but
Fraser, would your grandmother have approved of you putting your feet
on the bed with your shoes on?" Amanda asked, shaking her head
in theatrical amazement.
no," Fraser admitted sheepishly, toeing them off as he gingerly
sat down next to her, bolt upright, on top of the covers.
smiled. If this man wasn't a virgin, he was 'as close to it as made
no never mind.' It was kind of sweet, actually. She might just have
to behave herself. It would be difficult, but some things you just had
to leave in their natural state. Then again, no one ever said virginity
was a natural state for a man. She sipped her tea, and stared across
the room at the outline of a bricked-up fireplace. Too bad it had been
filled in, fire would have been nice. After a few moments of silence,
she finally decided it was time.
how old do you think I am?"
regarded her with the trapped terror of a rabbit facing a lion. "Er
. . . how old?" he asked nervously, and she realized at once what
was wrong. Clearly he'd experienced the usual outcome of accurately
guessing a woman's age.
smiled. "It's all right, I promise you won't offend me. Go on,
how old am I? Be honest."
fear left his face and he studied her intently. "Thirty two?"
he hazarded after a moment. "From your skin I would have guessed
younger, but some of the things you've said lead me to believe you must
be older than you appear."
laughed. "There's the understatement of the year! Thirty two?
That's very nice of you, Ben, but actually, you'd about have to multiply
that by itself to even be in the ball-park."
calculated, and his gaze narrowed. "Impossible."
can't be over a thousand years old. It's impossible."
Amanda said, looking into his eyes, her own gaze steady and serious.
"I am. I swear to you. Remember how I was dead?"
thought about that, and nodded. "Yes, you were. But you're not."
He looked hopelessly baffled.
nodded. "That's right. I was before, but now I'm not. You see,
I can die, but I just don't stay dead very long. I don't know why, myself,
but I don't."
gaze took on a hint of pity. "Amanda, you don't really believe
that, do you?"
a moment she started to get offended, then she shrugged it off. She'd
hoped he would believe her since he seemed willing to accept the most
extraordinary things. But apparently this was too much. She was going
to have to show him. Damn, she hated that. It was painful, messy, and
a real bitch. She slid out of bed, bent over and picked up her jeans,
removing the hunting knife she'd lifted off him when she'd kissed him
earlier. All she'd been thinking of at the time was making sure she
wasn't completely unarmed when she left his apartment, but now . . .
unsheathing the blade she looked at it and sighed deeply.
rolled off the bed, his expression focused, and a little fearful. "Amanda,
I think you should give me that," he said coaxingly, holding out
looked at him steadily. "Promise me something. Don't call the
cops, or the paramedics, or the fire department, or a doctor. No one.
Not a soul. Don't do anything for me, either. You have to just leave
nodded encouragingly. "Of course. Whatever you want. Now, give
me the knife."
can have it in a minute," she said, and turned it inward, driving
it up with a short, hard push. She gasped and whimpered as pain flowered
around it, barely biting back a scream. The knife fell from suddenly
nerveless fingers, and then darkness descended.
* * *
Fraser caught Amanda
before she hit the floor and eased her down carefully. Diefenbaker had
sprung to his feet and was whining anxiously as Fraser grabbed the pillowcase
off his pillow and wadded it into a pad, placing it over gaping wound
just below her sternum and applying pressure to try to stop the bleeding.
Reaching up he put his fingers on her throat to feel for a pulse, but
found none. * * *
the attempt to stanch the blood, he yanked her shirt out of the way
and moved into place to begin CPR, until he realized that the compressions
could damage her torn heart even further. As he tried to decide what
to do, he noticed that her bleeding had stopped on its own. That,
more than anything told him she was gone. Without a heartbeat, there
was nothing to keep the blood flowing. She was dead.
reminding himself that he never panicked, Ben slid an arm beneath her
legs, another beneath her back. He would take her out to the street
so he could flag down a car and get her to a hospital. Then he remembered
his promise. Don't call anyone. Don't do anything. Just leave her
alone. How could he have promised anything so stupid?
almost decided that since she was dead, he didn't have to keep his promise,
but he knew better. That made it matter even more. Wait. . . he hadn't
promised he wouldn't call Ray! Ray would know what to do, how to help.
For a moment Fraser seized on that, the thought 'call Ray' playing like
a tape loop in his mind. Ray hadn't promised not to call anyone. Sure,
that would sort of be cheating, but in a good cause.
he settled Amanda's still form back to the floor, and sat back. His
hands were shaking. In fact, his whole body was shaking. She was dead.
Why? Why had she done it? How had she done it? More to the point,
why hadn't he stopped her? He still couldn't believe it. He'd been
so sure no one could possibly kill themselves in such a manner, it just
wasn't possible to do that kind of damage to oneself, but clearly, she
had. He'd underestimated her strength, and the power of her delusion.
liked her, a lot. He hadn't known her long, but there was something
about her that was as real, and decent as Ray was. Sometimes, with some
people, an honest facade hid a core of deceit. With Ray and Amanda,
it was just the opposite. They both had a liar's face they showed the
world, but beneath that lurked a clear and honest soul. And she'd called
the only person who'd called him that since his grandmother passed on.
Not an impersonal 'Fraser,' or 'Benton,' like he was in trouble, or 'Benny,'
like he was twelve. The only person he put up with that from was Ray.
No, she'd used Ben. He'd liked that, and also the fact that she'd looked
at him without the vacuous infatuation that so many women seemed to display
around him, which made him feel somehow more object than person.
Not Amanda, she'd treated
him much as she'd treated Ray, as a man, not an object. Now she was
dead. Twice. Wait. His brow furrowed slightly as he realized this
was the second time today that he'd seen her corpse. He rubbed his forehead,
realizing that he'd just left a streak of her blood across his face.
He'd have to do something about that later. Right now he had to think
about this. How could someone die twice in the same day? Who could
he ask . . . ? A thought came to him, and he looked around hopefully.
met his query, or as much silence as an apartment in the heart of Chicago
ever afforded. Dimly he heard sirens and wondered if someone had called
an ambulance, before realizing that was unlikely since he was the only
person who knew what she'd done, and he didn't have a phone. His gaze
skimmed the form on the floor, unwilling to really look, then he forced
himself to do so. She was so pale, so limp, all the wonderful, flashing
life of her gone, drained into a slowly spreading scarlet pool. Scarlet,
like his uniform. Was that why the uniforms were red? So blood wouldn't
unnaturally still, this woman who had been all motion and intensity.
Even in death, she was lovely, small, but lushly curved, pale, completely
unmarked save for the blood on her smooth skin. Smooth skin? Confused,
he looked closer, and found no wound. He blinked, and gently touched
her, finding her skin surprisingly warm. Beneath his fingers he felt
a strange tingling sensation, almost electrically charged. While he
knew that people often thought he was crazy, for the first time in his
life he wondered if he really was. He knew damned well there had to
be a wound there.
his eyes he used his other senses. Yes, the iron-and-copper scent of
blood was strong in the air, he could almost taste it. His fingers searched
her flesh, finding only softness, wholeness. Beneath his hand her ribs
moved suddenly, strongly, and she gasped. His eyes flew open and he
found himself looking into Amanda's dark, and very much living gaze.
He nearly screamed. Dief let out a yelp and skittered away, eyeing her
with caution. She put a hand on her midriff, where the wound had been
just minutes earlier, her fingers grazing his hand where it still rested
on her, frozen with shock.
Amanda woke up with
the awful rush of returning sensation that meant she had just rejoined
the living. She found herself looking into Fraser's stunned gaze, and
remembered. Oh yeah. She remembered.
I really hate that," she groaned. Levering herself up on her elbows,
she looked down at herself and her eyebrows went up as she saw that her
shirt was well above her breasts.
blush climbed his face and he snatched his hand away as if she were a
flame. "I, ah, was trying to help."
smiled gently. "I know that, Ben."
expressive face revealed his every thought as if he had spoken aloud.
He thought he was losing his mind. She could see it as clearly as she
could see him.
haven't lost your mind, Ben. I'm alive. I told you, I can't die. Something
happens to me that looks like dying, and pretty much feels like it too,
but it's temporary. I always come back."
stared at her mutely, trying desperately to make sense of things. She
knew it was rather a lot to ask, on top of a lip-reading wolf, a dead
but apparently still-present father, a best friend with questionable
morals, and a host of other oddities. With a grimace, she sat up and
carefully removed her blood-soaked shirt, using it to wipe up the blood
that remained from her 'suicide. Leaving him to think, she went to the
sink to rinse the shirt out and clean herself off. As she stood there,
someone knocked on his door and poor Ben almost jumped out of his skin
for the second time in ten minutes. Amanda looked toward the sound,
ready to comply when whoever it was knocked again.
Benny, you in there?"
was Vecchio. Amanda saw Fraser's gaze fill with relief and pleasure,
and a hint of suspicion flowered inside her.
here," Fraser said unnecessarily.
she could practically read Ben's mind in his expressions. He was thinking
that Ray would know what to do, Ray would help him, and reassure him
that he wasn't crazy. He was on his feet and moving before she could
ask him not to, but as he reached the door, he suddenly stopped, as if
realizing that Amanda might not want all and sundry to know about her
back at her, his question unspoken, but clear. She thought about it,
and slowly nodded permission. She knew she could trust Ben, and she
was pretty sure she could trust Ray, too. Being basically untrustworthy
herself, she'd learned to read that flaw in others quite well. Outside
the door, Ray banged again as she mentally prepared to let another person
in on her secret.
I can see light under the door and I know you're in there. Open up!"
opened the door a little, blocking it with his body. Ray stood there
with a pizza in one hand and a six-pack of soft-drinks in the other.
"Hello, Ray, what
brings you here?" He asked, somewhat stupidly.
gaze searched his face worriedly. "I was at the pizza place when
I had this weird feeling that something was wrong, that you need . .
." His gaze fixed on Fraser's forehead and his gaze narrowed.
touched his forehead, looking puzzled. Ray dropped the pizza and the
drinks with a loud crash and grabbed Ben's hands, holding them up to
the light. Amanda realized Ben still had her blood on his hands. A
lot of it. Frankly he rather looked like he'd killed someone.
"Benny, what's going on? What happened?" Ray asked anxiously,
trying to see past him into the apartment.
difficult to explain, Ray, why don't you come in?" Fraser said as
he stepped back from the door and let his friend inside.
leaned down to pick up the pizza and drinks, then stepped inside. Benny
closed the door behind him, and the lanky detective stopped, frozen in
place as he took in Amanda standing next to the sink wearing only her
panties. His gray-green eyes darkened with something she could only
call hurt, and that suspicion she'd just had blossomed into full fledged
knowledge, puzzle pieces falling firmly into place. She waited expectantly,
and sure enough, the hurt in his gaze faded as utter disbelief replaced
it. The pizza and drinks hit the floor again. It would be hours before
the cans would be safe to open.
the hell?" Vecchio barked. "But . . . how can she be here?
I believed, also, Ray," Ben said quietly, and Amanda heard the relief
in his voice as he realized that Vecchio could indeed see her as well,
proving that he hadn't lost his mind.
gaze swept her, momentarily lingering on her secondary sexual characteristics
like he usually did. Another puzzle piece clicked in. Okay. Things
weren't quite as simple as they seemed. Of course, they never were.
Poor Ray, poor Ben. She'd bet money that neither of them had a clue.
It happened like that sometimes. She decided that maybe she ought to
put on some clothes, at least for the moment. All kinds of ideas were
percolating in her mind, but there was a lot of talking that was going
to happen now, and it was cold in the apartment. She picked up her jeans
and put them on, then looked at Ben.
can I borrow a shirt?"
he said, putting the food on the counter so he could remove his flannel
shirt and hold it out to her.
pulled it on, feeling his warmth surround her, and sighed. It would
have been nice. It really would have been. She shot a glance at Ray,
and hid a smile. Of course, it could still be. After all, they did
practically everything together . . . oh, bad girl. Stop that. Be serious.
"So," she said.
"I imagine you want to know how I came to be alive."
yeah, that'd be a good start," Vecchio said sarcastically. "And
a few hundred other things when you get done with that. "
enough," she said evenly. She couldn't blame him, really. She'd
almost gotten both him and Ben killed, he had a right to be a little
I make a request?" Ben said hesitantly.
and Ray both looked at him curiously. "Yes?"
would ask that you find some, ah, less drastic means of convincing Ray
of your veracity."
smiled. "Don't worry, three times in one day would be too much
even for me. Besides, I won't have to. He'll believe you."
I'm immortal. I can't die."
snorted. "Yeah, right."
true, Ray, she really doesn't stay dead."
try, Benny. Now pull the other one."
held up his hands. "I assure you, I witnessed the phenomenon myself.
She killed herself right in front of me and now she's alive again. That's
where all this blood came from."
snorted derisively. "Yeah, right. It's probably stage blood or
something. I bet if tasted it, I'd find out it tastes sweet and kind
well." Fraser extended a hand toward Vecchio, one eyebrow lifted
looked disgusted. "Geez, Benny! You don't really expect me to
do that, do you? Licking stuff is your thing."
was your idea, Ray," Ben pointed out reasonably.
you should be. It is a useful investigative technique."
really want I should lick your hand?" Ray demanded, clearly astonished.
"Yes, Ray, I do."
They stared at each other
for a long moment, then Ray rolled his eyes and grabbed Fraser's hand.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," he said, and licked Ben's
a faint tremor go through Fraser. Vecchio didn't notice, he was too
busy gagging melodramatically.
that's horrible! It tastes like . . . it tastes like . . ."
supplied, deadpan. Amanda was starting to realize that he really did
have a sense of humor, it was just wickedly dry.
Vecchio admitted reluctantly. "But still, it could be cow's blood,
and she could be, like, Amanda's twin sister or something."
"Remember the photo
from Interpol? The woman who 'died' thirteen years ago? Remember how
surprised we were by the resemblance?"
nodded. "Yeah, but the picture could have been doctored."
Amanda sighed. Ordinarily
she wouldn't bother, but she knew it was important to Ben that Ray believe
her. She opened a drawer and pulled out a kitchen knife. Fraser's
face went white.
please. . ." he said, starting toward her.
Ben. It's just going to be a little demonstration. Nothing dramatic,
stopped and nodded, still looking worried.
come over here please."
complied, warily. "You gonna stick me with that?"
you're gonna stick me with it," she parroted, reversing the knife
to hand it to him handle-first. He took it, gingerly. "But just
a little bit. I've already died twice today and I'm really not up for
a third time. Here," she held out a hand. "Just cut me across
looked at Ben, eyebrows lifted. Ben nodded. "It's all right, Ray.
Ray put the blade against her skin, then stopped and looked into her
eyes for permission. She nodded, and with a quick, sharp movement he
sliced her palm open. The wound was neither deep nor serious, but it
hurt and she drew a breath over her teeth in a sharp hiss as she continued
to hold her hand steady, where he could see it clearly. After a moment
a tiny flicker of sparks danced along the edges of the wound as it closed
itself neatly and faded away without a trace.
Vecchio exclaimed. "Okay, I'm impressed." He was silent for
awhile, absorbing the realization that both Fraser and Amanda were serious,
and not lying to him. Finally he shrugged as if to say 'I give up' and
looked at Amanda. "You better not have any communicable diseases,
since I was licking your blood off Benny there."
small advantage to immortality" Amanda said archly. "Full
spectrum immunity, and I can't be a carrier, either. Germs just don't
like me. There's lots of things that are different for us. We don't
age, we don't get diseases, we can't have kids . . ." She stopped
abruptly, biting her lip. They didn't need to know that. She hadn't
thought it bothered her so much but if it was slipping out like that,
it must. "Well, anyway, you get the picture," she finished
thought for a bit more, then looked back at her. "So, how'd you
get to be immortal? Somebody bite you?"
laughed. "No, Ray, that's vampires. Actually I was just born this
way. Of course, I didn't know it until the first time I died, during
the Black Death."
did a double-take. "The Black Death? Wasn't that, like, a really
long time ago?"
could say that."
thought about that, looked at her, and shook his head. "You know,
for an older woman you're in really great shape."
couldn't decide whether to smack him one or laugh, so she just shook
her head instead. "Thanks, I think."
that's why you threw yourself in front of Benny today. You wanted to
make sure he didn't get hurt, and you knew a bullet wouldn't do any permanent
damage to you, right?"
but I was still taking a chance. DeBoer knows what I am. If you hadn't
taken him out for me I'd probably be dead for real."
looked confused. "I thought you said you couldn't die."
"Well, there is
one way to kill me that would result in a very permanent death, but I'd
really rather not say what it is. No offense."
nodded. "Understood," he paused, then frowned. "Might
it have something to do with swords?"
sighed. It figured he'd guessed that. "Yes, Ben, it does."
Vecchio was looking at
her speculatively. "So, if this DeBoer guy knows what you are how
come he hasn't had you grabbed and hauled off to some lab to find out
what makes you tick? He's got the bucks. I would think a rich guy like
that would definitely want to know."
doesn't need to. He's like me."
scowled. "Oh great! There are more of you?"
a few, actually."
people have all the luck," Vecchio said, clearly annoyed.
stared past him at the night outside Fraser's open window. "No,
Ray. It's not lucky at all," she said, knowing he wouldn't understand.
"It would be terrible
knowing that you will almost always outlive all the people you care about,"
Ben said quietly, cutting right to the heart of things with a glance
at Ray that told her he understood all too well.
exactly it, Ben. Exactly," Amanda said, grateful that for once
someone understood, quickly, and instinctively. "It's horrible."
Even Ray seemed to understand
that, he nodded solemnly. "That would pretty much suck. But I
thought you said there are others like you. Can't you just hang out
sighed. "It's . . . complicated. Sometimes you can, I do have
a couple of friends I can do that with. Unfortunately most of the time
understand," Ben said. "Just because you have something in
common with someone doesn't mean you can be friends with them. For instance,
Constable Turnbull and I are both Canadians and officers of the RCMP,
however I don't consider myself to be his friend."
chuckled. "Proving once and for all that you're not as dense as
you sometimes act."
shot a wry glare at his friend, and Amanda smiled. Sometimes he reminded
her of. . . who? It was on the tip of her mind, but just out of reach.
All she knew was that it was someone she liked very much. Someone she
of Turnbull, did you ever give him that sign?" Vecchio asked innocently.
Fraser looked puzzled.
"What sign, Ray?"
one I made for you. The one that says 'I'm mentally deficient.'"
A corner of Ben's mouth
twitched infinitesimally as he controlled a laugh. "No, Ray. I
saw no reason to hurt his feelings."
sighed. "You're too nice, Ben."
shrugged, and again she felt that tug of familiarity. Who was it he
reminded her of? Damn it, it had to be someone . . . Her eyes widened
as it hit her. Rebecca. Benton Fraser reminded her of Rebecca. That
stainless sense of honor and duty, the strange combination of wisdom
and deliberate naivete. The resemblance didn't stop there, either.
Fraser had Vecchio, just as Rebecca had once had her. The dichotomy
of good and bad, the innocent and the ambiguous. Ray and Ben were herself,
and Becca. Oh, god, Becca. She felt her eyes fill with tears and turned
away to hide that from them.
wait a second," Vecchio said suddenly. "Does this mean he's
walking around somewhere now like you are?"
took a deep breath, controlled her tears, and turned back. "Yes.
That's why I wanted to make sure you and Ben were okay."
great!" Ray said sarcastically. "Two dead people walkin'
around Chicago. Just what we need."
I look dead to you, Ray?"
know what I meant," The detective snapped. "And he still
wants his egg back, and he still wants to kill me and Benny, and you."
leaned against the wall and gently banged his head against it. "Wonderful.
A dead guy wants to kill me. That really makes my day. What did I ever
do to him?"
Ray, you did kill him," Fraser pointed out evenly. "People
don't generally take very kindly to that."
tried to kill you first!" Vecchio exclaimed. "And he did
kill her! What was I supposed to do, ignore that?"
course not, Ray, that was against the law which, as a police officer,
you are sworn to uphold. But you could have just -- winged him."
Ray stared at Fraser,
shaking his head. "I will never understand you if I live to be
a thousand. The man tried to kill you, and you want me to just 'wing'
him?" He shot a glance at Amanda. "You're old, do you understand
looked at Ben and smiled. "I think I might, a little. Ben is one
of those rare individuals who wears their virtue like a shield. It protects
him." She grinned then. "Unfortunately for most of us, that
doesn't work for beans."
I prefer something a little more substantial, like a gun, or a bulletproof
vest, or a dead perp," Ray said drily.
too," Amanda said fervently. "Ben, that uniform of yours doesn't
come with a dress sword for an accessory, does it?"
looked at her, frowning. "No, why?"
sighed and shook her head. "Nothing, never mind." Her stomach
cramped painfully, reminding her that she hadn't eaten very much all
day, and that two resuscitations had taken a lot of energy. She looked
hopefully toward the counter. "I don't suppose that pizza is still
any good after being dropped?"
laughed. "Only one way to find out."
* * *
said, settling down with a slice of slightly scrambled pizza. "So
let me get this straight. You're telling me that Fraser was right? You
stole the egg so you could ransom it back to DeBoer and then give the
money to charity to get back at him for running a uranium mine that cost
a couple of kids their parents?"
looked embarrassed. "Well, yeah. But don't tell anyone, okay?"
Ray shook his head, looking
at Fraser. "I don't know how you do it."
out stuff like that without the slightest clue at all."
there were clues. The theft of a single object out of all the valuable
items at the exhibit was one. The newsletter and the notes another."
"Two clues, then.
And from that you deduce the whole shebang? I'm telling you Fraser,
you're a freak of nature."
he's not!" Amanda said, jumping to his defense. "He's just
very observant." She looked at him thoughtfully. "You know,
Ben, Sir Arthur would have loved you."
Arthur?" Benny asked, puzzled.
Vecchio asked. The name sounded vaguely familiar but he wasn't making
Arthur Conan Doyle," Fraser supplied. "The creator of Sherlock
Holmes. I'm flattered, Ms. Darieaux."
sighed. "Please, Ben. It's Amanda. I really don't have much use
for last names, since I don't tend to keep them for very long. And I
was not flattering you, Artie really would have loved you. You'd have
been validation that his theories could actually work in practice. You've
turned the art of observation into a science."
stared at her. "Wait, are you saying that you knew this guy?"
I did. He was very sweet. Remember his 'Irene Adler' character? He
modeled her on me."
smiled. "I can understand that."
fictional detectives have to have a love interest," Amanda said,
nibbling her slice of pizza, and capturing a stray strand of melted cheese
with tongue action that made Ray sit up and take notice.
Miss Adler was not a love interest," Fraser said, oblivious. "Although,
as Dr. Watson put it, 'In his eyes she eclipsed and predominated the
whole of her sex.'"
was a love interest, believe me. Artie just couldn't write that back
in the 1800's." Amanda said archly.
believe that Sir Arthur, and the character himself, both disavowed that
speculation," Fraser said, a little apologetically.
shrugged. "Well, Artie's wife didn't much care for me."
"All of his biographers
agree that he was devoted to his wife, and quite devastated when she
died," Fraser pointed out in response to her implication.
Amanda glared at him.
"Who's telling this story?"
Fraser could reply, desperately wanting to distract them from their discussion
of literary theory, Ray tried changing the subject.
back to present day, DeBoer's probably out running around looking for
you now, so he can off you permanently?"
looked nearly as relieved by the topic shift as Ray felt. "Yes,
in all likelihood. And not just me. He'll be after you two, as well.
He's not a man who takes interference well, and he has little regard
Ray asked, startled.
you know, people who die and stay dead the first time."
that would make you what, immortal?"
sort of. More so than most."
is too weird," Ray said, grabbing another slice of pizza. "Too
damned weird. But I guess that means we need to watch our backs until
we can find this guy, right?"
nodded, her expression serious. "Yes, you will. But you don't
need to find him, I'll take care of that. You don't need to be involved."
"We're already involved,"
Fraser said solemnly. "And you're vulnerable. DeBoer is taller
than you by several inches, and proportionately strong. His height means
his reach is greater than yours to begin with, and he carried a longer
weapon. If as I surmise, you must defend yourself with and against a
sword, you are at a disadvantage."
bounced to her feet, arms akimbo. "Listen mister, I've been fighting
my own battles since before the printing press was a gleam in Gutenberg's
eye, so don't you go impugning my abilities!"
managed to look simultaneously stunned and apologetic. "I'm very
sorry, I meant no insult," he said sincerely. "I was merely
stating a fact. I'm sure you must be an excellent swordsman."
"You better believe
it," Amanda said, then she sighed. "Unfortunately you guys
confiscated my sword. And it was my favorite, too! The only saving
grace is that his got taken, too. However, he's probably got some goon
whose job it is to keep him supplied with a weapon, and I don't."
Fraser looked thoughtful,
then stood up. "Excuse me, I'll be back in a moment," he said,
and was out the door before either Ray or Amanda could ask where he was
no idea," Ray said in response to Amanda's lifted eyebrows. "He
does that now and then. I've just learned to live with it."
Amanda grinned. "I
understand. He's quite . . . unique, isn't he? It's got to be hard
living up to his standards."
know it," Ray said fervently. "Heck, I've even stopped lying.
Well, mostly. To him, anyway."
have a friend like that. He's a terrible influence on me."
Ray chuckled. "Sucks,
both looked up as the door opened, and Fraser returned to the apartment,
bearing what was unmistakably a sword. A bright yellow tassel dangled
from its hilt.
a Union cavalry saber!" Amanda exclaimed excitedly, examining the
weapon. "Very nice! It's even in decent shape, though it's dull
as a butter knife."
the heck did that come from?" Ray demanded, dumbfounded.
Grant in 2-E. He believes he can trace his family back to a second cousin
of Ulysses S. Grant and is quite proud of the fact. He collects Civil
shook his head in amazement. "Only you would know that."
Mr. Grant likes to put on his Civil War regalia and drill in front of
the building on Memorial day, most of the neighborhood knows it."
"Well, you're the
only one who would remember it in a useful context, then."
that is quite possible," Fraser admitted, looking a little embarrassed.
Amanda removed the ornamental
tassel from the sword's hilt, and did a couple of experimental thrusts-and-parries.
"This has nice balance," she commented. "Thanks! Got
a whetstone and some oil?"
a matter of fact, yes," Fraser answered, retrieving the items in
question from a cupboard in the kitchen.
figured you would," Amanda said. "Your knife was nice and
sharp. Hardly even hurt when I killed myself." She took the implements
from him and sat down, setting to work on the time-dulled edge of the
blade, oblivious to how odd her words sounded.
looked from Amanda to Fraser, and back. "I hope no one is recording
this conversation," he said, shaking his head. "So, what are
we going to do?"
at the moment," Amanda said without looking up. "I'm too tired
to be out hunting him tonight. I've died twice today, I need some recuperation
time, and some sleep. Once I get this sharpened I'm going back to my
no, you're not," Ray said. "We notified the hotel that you
were dead, and took all your stuff in as evidence."
dropped the whetstone and looked up, aghast. "You did what?!"
she asked, her voice rising ominously. "My Valentino? My Vera
Wang? My Ellen Tracy? Tell me you didn't!"
looked puzzled, but Ray winced. He might be a man, but he had sisters.
He knew she was talking clothes. Expensive clothes.
we did think you were dead," he said apologetically. "And
dead people don't usually need clothes or hotel rooms. We could try
to get your stuff back from the evidence room for you, tomorrow."
Amanda sighed longsufferingly.
"No, I don't want you guys to get in any trouble if someone catches
you. I'll just have to buy new things." She brightened a little.
"And I have a good excuse to shop, now."
She went back to sharpening the sword, and Ray took a few moments to
finish off two more pieces of pizza.
swords?" Fraser asked.
replied without looking up. "It's just this thing we do. I can't
really explain it. It's traditional."
ritual?" Fraser asked.
of. There are rules."
why he said he couldn't harm you in the church?"
Holy Ground is definitely off-limits. Any religion or denomination."
"I see," Fraser
mused. "I don't suppose you would . . ."
Amanda said, cutting him off. "I'm not going to tell you any more.
You already know a lot more than you should. I'm relying on you two
to keep this to yourselves."
course," Fraser said.
looked at Ray, who stared back in amazement.
Tell? You think I'm going to tell this to anyone? Like they'd believe
me! You think I wanna get fitted for a strait-jacket? Been there, done
that, have no interest in doing it again. Tell someone? Sheesh!"
Amanda said drily and put down the sword, looking around. "Bathroom?"
"Down the hall fourth
door on the left." Ben answered.
the . . . you mean, out there?" She pointed at the apartment door,
nodded. "Yep. Out there."
shot a disbelieving look at Fraser, and shook her head. "Not much
for creature comforts, is he?" she asked, then stood up. "Excuse
me, gentlemen, I'll be right back."
nodded, and she left. After a moment, Ray looked at Fraser, frowning
slightly. "Benny, I gotta ask you something. I mean, she's a thief,
why are you helping her? Isn't that, like, against your moral code or
Ben sighed, looking at the floor between his feet for a moment
before lifting troubled eyes to meet Ray's gaze. "Yes, Ray, it
is. But once before I took the moral high-ground on a similar issue,
and have regretted it ever since. I suppose, when I weigh the moral
culpability of what Amanda did, versus what DeBoer has done, the scales
tip in her favor."
nodded as he realized what, or rather, who, Fraser was talking about.
Victoria. If he'd let Victoria go that first time, instead of sending
her to prison, a whole tragic chain of events might have been avoided.
He nodded. "Yeah. It might have been better. And you're right
about those scales. Okay. I understand now. But when you came back
in here with that sword, I wondered for a minute if you were a pod-person."
Fraser asked blankly.
mind. So what are we going to do about this situation? I mean, it's
not like we can put out an APB on a dead guy."
true, although . . ."
Fraser had been about to say went was cut off by Ray's phone ringing.
He pulled it out and switched it on. "Yeah, Vecchio."
said a familiar voice. "We got a little problem here."
as two missing bodies."
Ray exclaimed in exaggerated surprise. "Whose bodies?"
"The two corpses
from the shooting at St. Benedict's this afternoon. They've both disappeared."
He'd been expecting this.
"Impossible. How can two bodies disappear? They couldn't have
just gotten up and walked out, right sir?" Ray asked with a broad
wink at Fraser who was watching curiously.
knows. Morton got called out of the morgue for about an hour, and when
he got back he saw the man was missing. While he was looking for him,
he discovered the woman was gone too. We've looked all over the station.
I hate to ask you this, but did you and the Mountie put them somewhere?"
"Oh right! Like
we're grave-robbers now?" Ray exclaimed indignantly. "That's
disgusting! I can't believe you asked me that!"
Vecchio, but it was your shoot, and you have to admit, sometimes the
Mountie has some peculiar ways of solving a case."
that peculiar! Geez! You know, sir, he'd be very hurt if he knew you
thought he might be involved."
lifted his eyebrows, and Ray shook his head. No point in making things
right, Vecchio. I'm just at a loss here, clutching at straws, as it
were? Sometimes Ray thought Welsh talked as weird as the Mountie. "So
you want I should come back down or something?"
no, that's not necessary. I just hoped you might know something."
"Well, I don't.
Probably someone showed up from a mortuary to pick up bodies while Morton
was out, and they didn't want to wait so they carted off the wrong ones."
"I suppose there
could have been a mixup like that," Welsh said doubtfully. "But
it does look kind of bad. The shooting team won't be able to complete
their report without the bodies."
That did look bad. Ray hadn't thought of that.
wasn't anything, ah, wrong with that shoot, was there?" Welsh asked
in a troubled voice. "They wouldn't have found anything amiss?"
Now Ray was offended.
"No sir, there absolutely was not," he said flatly. "It
went down exactly as I described in my report."
I figured as much. You may be a little eccentric, but you're a good
cop, Vecchio. Besides, Fraser's statement matched yours exactly, and
he would never lie."
crossed his fingers. "No sir, never. Let me know if you find them,
Keep the phone on in case we need to contact you."
off the phone and put it away with a sigh as the apartment door opened
an Amanda returned. She looked from one of them to the other, and frowned.
"Just got a call
from the station," Vecchio said, talking to both of them. "Strangely
enough, your body has turned up missing. So has DeBoer's."
Amanda sighed. "I
figured he'd be out by now. It takes longer to come back from a head
wound, but not a lot. So, he's out there. Looking."
"Will he find us
here?" she asked, looking at Fraser.
thought about that. "How did you locate me?"
got your address out of Vecchio's Rolodex."
walked right into the office, looked through my stuff, and nobody noticed
you?" Ray asked, simultaneously amused and appalled.
one noticed me at all. I asked someone where your desk was, he didn't
think twice about telling me."
sorry, I don't know. Older than you by a few years, tall, but beefy.
He was wearing a white shirt and tie, and looked kind of harassed."
exclaimed, shaking his head. "Oh man, I'd love to bust his chops
about that. Too bad I can't. Oh well. So, if you thought to look there,
would DeBoer have done the same?"
not. I hid it when I was done with it, on the off chance he had the
same idea. Oh, and by the way, it's in the file cabinet behind your
desk. Even if he'd thought to try to look through your desk, he'd have
been a lot more noticeable than I was. The only thing left in the morgue
he could have found to wear were a bunch of scrubs. No, I bet he used
the pathologist's phone to call someone to come get him. He has infrastructure.
who don't ask questions."
'infrastructure.' I get it. Okay, so he probably didn't look up Fraser's
address there. Is there anyplace else he could get it?" Ray asked,
looking at Fraser. "You don't have a phone so he couldn't find
you in a phone book."
Consulate, perhaps, if he thought to check there. May I borrow your
handed it over and listened unashamedly to Fraser's half of the conversation.
Turnbull, it's Benton Fraser. No, you're Turnbull, I'm Fraser. That's
right. Yes." He paused a moment, looking as exasperated as he ever
got. "No, that's quite all right, Turnbull, it was an understandable
confusion. Now, has anyone called the consulate today asking for my
was another pause, then Fraser spoke again. "Very good, Turnbull.
If anyone does make such a request, I need for you to decline to give
it out, politely of course. Yes, it does have to do with a case. No,
I'm not under cover. No, I can't tell you what it is. Yes, yes, it's
actually rolled his eyes. Ray grinned. "Yes, thank you very much,
Turnbull." He clicked off the phone handed it back to Ray with
a sigh. "Honestly I have no idea how he ever passed the examinations
necessary to obtain his position."
burst out laughing, and Amanda looked between them, curiously.
"If you ever meet
Constable Turnbull you'll understand," Ray said. "Somewhere
there's a village that's missing its idiot."
know the type," Amanda said. "So, we should be safe here?"
Fraser thought about
it, then turned to Ray. "While we are relatively safe here, I believe
it would be advisable to send your sister and your mother away for the
weekend. DeBoer could easily get your address, and that would put them
at risk. Even if he didn't attempt to use them as leverage, one of them
might inadvertently let slip our whereabouts, too."
had a point. Ray thought about his recently paid-off credit card and
sighed. "Yeah. I'll call them. Uh, what should I tell them?"
"The truth, Ray?"
"That some cranky
dead guy might come looking for me?"
no. But it would be accurate to say that a known malefactor might be
attempting to locate you and that you fear for their safety should they
remain in the city."
Oh never mind. I'll figure out something. So, looks like we're staying
here tonight? Wonderful. I love sleeping on the floor."
do I, Ray," Fraser said, looking pleased, totally missing the sarcasm
in Ray's voice. "I have plenty of blankets, and my bedroll would
serve for the three of us, provided we sleep crossways."
looked intrigued by that suggestion. Ray didn't have the heart to tell
her that what she was thinking was never, ever, going to happen.
* * *
Amanda lay awake, enjoying
the warm cocoon of blanket, Mountie, and cop. The only thing that would
have made it better was if the Mountie, the cop, and herself, hadn't
been fully clothed, but hey, one rarely got everything one wanted from
life. It was certainly better than many alternatives she could think
of. No, it just wasn't fated, not this time. There simply wasn't time
to try to break these two out of their self-imposed blinders and show
them what they were missing. Not when she had work to do.
she could tell already that Ray would be a problem. After watching them
interact, Amanda had come to the conclusion that Ben was quite aware
of the potential between them. He just chose not to act on it out of
deference to Ray, who had been raised in that time-honored macho tradition
that held that a 'real man' would kill himself before he'd admit he might
be attracted to another man. Sad, really. If he'd been more open-minded
tonight might have gone a great deal differently. Unfortunately she
seemed fated to fall for Scottish boy-scouts and their wise-ass best
friends, who deep inside would rather boff each other than her. Whether
or not they'd admit that to themselves.
couldn't see her watch and Ben didn't keep a clock handy, but she was
pretty sure it was somewhere around two in the morning. Time to go hunting.
She had a feeling she knew exactly where to find DeBoer. In the course
of conversation earlier, she'd casually asked what had happened to the
egg, and learned it was being held in the District 27 property room for
safekeeping until the investigation was completed. Since DeBoer wasn't
one to let go of something he considered to be his, he'd have gone after
it. It would be tricky to do that close to a station full of cops, but
somehow she would take him there and remove the lingering threat he posed
to Ben and Ray. Carefully she eased her way out of the cop 'n' Mountie
sandwich. Ben stirred sleepily, and she put a hand on his shoulder reassuringly.
to use the bathroom, hon. It's okay. I'll be back in a bit."
Her lie lulled him, and
he relaxed again, slipping easily back into his dreams. Ray didn't even
twitch. Amanda felt Diefenbaker watching her as she picked up Ray's
trench-coat and removed his keys and phone from its pockets, placing
them on the table next to his weapon before putting it on. Then she
picked up her shoes, and the saber Ben had found for her. She made a
mental note to make sure the weapon was returned to Mr. Grant. She wouldn't
want Ben to be held responsible for it. Quietly she slipped out of the
apartment, hid the sword beneath the coat, and made her way out onto
the street. This was a mess of her making, and she wasn't going to let
someone else clean it up like she had with Kalas. No, this one was all
* * *
Ray woke up slowly, aware
in the dim glow from the lights outside the window that he was curled
up against a warm body. That was unusual enough that he had to think
about it, and remembered he was doing the slumber-party thing with Amanda
and Fraser. Right. Okay, so that was explanation enough. He closed
his eyes again, relaxing, enjoying the unaccustomed comfort of being
so close to another human being. It had been awhile, although he wasn't
about to admit that.
tried to drift back off, but after awhile he could tell he wasn't going
to get back to sleep. He wondered what time it was, but was too comfortable
to move and check his watch, besides, he might wake up the others if
he did. It really was nice, lying like this, even though he was fully
clothed, and the floor was kind of hard, and the apartment was cold.
Beneath the heavy woolen blankets he was warm, and snuggled up against
a really world-class backside. It had been waaay too long since the
last time he'd felt that, too. He found himself thinking about that,
probably a little more than he ought to.
by Amanda's slow, deep breathing, she was still soundly asleep. Ray
couldn't help himself. He shifted one hand slightly until he could cup
that denim-clad curve in his palm. If she woke up and objected, he could
always plead that he'd been asleep and dreaming when he did it, and she
wouldn't be able to refute that. She stirred a little in her sleep,
but didn't wake. He grinned, inordinately pleased to have gotten away
forward he nuzzled the back of her neck where her short-cropped hair
left it bare and vulnerable. She smelled good, a simple, clean, faintly
soapy scent. That surprised him a little, he'd had her pegged for 'Joy',
or maybe one of the Chanel's. Again, she responded to his touch with
a little shiver, but didn't wake. Emboldened by his successes, he moved
his hand forward, up beneath her shirt where it rode up a little, baring
her midriff. Her skin felt like warm satin under his hand, though her
abs were rather more firm than he'd expected. Obviously the lady worked
out. Must be the fencing, or whatever you called whacking on people
starting to get a little turned on, although he knew darned well that
this wasn't going to go anywhere really interesting with Benny only inches
away on her other side. Still, he couldn't help but enjoy the forbidden
adolescent thrill of 'copping a feel.' Surreptitiously he attempted
to ease his hand higher, only to be stopped by an arm in precisely the
wrong position. Undaunted, he decided to try for a different destination.
Very gently, he inched his hand downward again, this time beneath the
loose waist of her jeans. He was momentarily startled to find that beneath
the jeans she had on a pair of long-johns, until he remembered she was
borrowing clothes from Benny and that he shouldn't be surprised she was
wearing them, since the Mountie kept his place only marginally warmer
than a refrigerator.
his fingers lower down the side of her smooth, flat abdomen, he finally
came to the soft, wiry brush of pubic curls. Torturing himself, Ray
curved his hand to cup her as low as he could, nuzzling her earlobe again
as his fingers found . . . Ray froze as he registered that the world-class
butt he'd been snuggled up against belonged to Benny, not Amanda. When
his mind started working again, he realized that somebody must have moved
during the night, since he distinctly remembered that Amanda had been
between him and Ben when he'd drifted off.
resisted the urge to yank his hand away, figuring a sudden movement would
wake his friend, which was pretty much the last thing he wanted at the
moment. Slowly he began to ease his hand away as he considered the highly
disconcerting fact that he'd just been feeling up Benny. And the even
more disconcerting realization that his arousal had not entirely fled
the moment he'd realized who it really was. In fact, it was just as
strong as ever. This was not a good thing. Definitely not a good thing.
He did not want to know this about himself. He really didn't. He was
Catholic, for God's sake. Lapsed, sure, but he'd been brought up to
think it was a sin to even think about doing what he was thinking about
doing. And with Benny, of all people!
he'd noticed that Benny was gorgeous, how could he not? Everywhere they
went, the sort of glassy-eyed looks on people's faces when they saw the
Mountie reminded him of that fact. And yeah, he'd noticed that Benny
had a great butt before, but he'd figured he'd only noticed because women
were always pointing that out to him. Sure he sometimes got a little
irritated by the attention Benny got, and maybe a little relieved by
his friend's lack of interest in what was so freely offered, but that
was purely a guy thing, right? It was annoying to see some other guy
get all the attention, and when he ignored them that meant there were
more women left for Ray, right?
why was he lying here with his hand in Benny's jeans and a yen to keep
it there? Worse, why was he wondering what Ben's face looked like when
he came? Oh man, this was really bad. He'd never in his life had this
kind of thoughts about another guy. He'd dated, he'd had tons of straight
sex, he'd even been married. He liked women. Females. In fact, Amanda
was quite the babe. He reviewed a gallery of curvacious beauties in
his mind, and was relieved to find that pastime was still was as pleasurable
as it had always been. Ray kept emphasizing that to himself. He wasn't
gay. He wasn't. No way.
managing to extricate his hand from the confines of Benny's clothing,
Ray inched away a little bit to put some much-needed distance between
them. His panic began to fade. It was a fluke. An aberration. He
must have been dreaming something erotic and that was what had done it.
That was all. He let out a sigh of relief, and then Ben sat up, destroying
his newly-restored equilibrium.
gone," Ben said.
expected a very different comment, it took Ray several seconds to make
sense of the two words. She's gone. She who? Gone where? Finally
gone? When? How?"
turned and leaned down, sniffing the bedroll between them. Ray pulled
back from his nearness as if he were carrying something virulently communicable.
"I'd say at
least an hour, perhaps longer," Fraser said, reaching for his boots.
"Her scent has faded considerably. I have a vague memory of waking
up and realizing she had moved, but she told me she was going to use
the facilities, and I didn't think anything about it at the time. Clearly
I should have been more vigilant." He began to put his boots on
as Ray sat up, shaking his head.
were sleeping, Ben, you couldn't exactly be vigilant in your sleep."
"Exactly my point,
Ray. I should not have slept. I should have realized she would do this."
"Go to find DeBoer
on her own. Amanda feels that he's her responsibility, and doesn't want
us involved. She sees us as more vulnerable than she is, and she has
strong protective instincts. Come on, we need to go."
scrabbled around, looking for his shoes, thanking his lucky stars that
Benny hadn't woken up about eighty seconds earlier, or he'd be having
a lot of explaining to do. Ben finally turned on the light so he could
locate his shoes, and Ray put them on quickly as the Mountie stood impatiently
by the door. He reached for his coat, and swore.
man! She took my coat!"
Ray. She needed something long and loose enough to hide the sword in."
He opened the door, then turned to the wolf and looked him in the eyes.
"Dief, find Amanda."
barked assent, and headed through the door at a brisk trot. Fraser
followed, and Ray brought up the rear, closing the apartment door behind
himself, some part of him still amazed after all this time, that Fraser
never locked it.
* * *
Fraser tried to keep
focused on tracking Amanda, but part of him insisted on remembering the
feel of Ray's hand on his bare skin. It had been clear from his friend's
reaction that Ray had thought he was touching Amanda, but it had taken
a great deal of willpower for Fraser to not betray his own response to
that mistaken caress. Knowing that Ray would be terribly embarrassed
if he realized that his accidental touch had not gone unnoticed, Fraser
had said and done nothing, though his own mind was somewhat in turmoil
because of it. He'd liked that touch. A great deal. Maybe too much,
since Ray was not the kind of man who, well, never mind. Don't think
Ray, he had known that for a very long time, but he had never before
allowed himself to think about exactly how he loved Ray. He knew that
he would die for Ray, in a heartbeat, but did that make what he felt
anything other than the love one would normally feel for a friend? Fraser
honestly didn't know. He did know that he had experienced an erotic
stirring at Ray's touch, but that could just have been the natural response
of a somewhat touch-deprived body to a stimulus. Amanda's kiss had provoked
a similar response, so it was probably more akin to autonomic reflex
than to conscious desire, though she was an extremely desirable woman.
And Ray was . . . Ray. His best friend.
up extremely isolated as he had, he'd learned to ignore such feelings
in himself, but then Victoria had taught him the pleasure that came from
not ignoring them. Since then it had been much more difficult to disregard
the inclinations of his body. Although he knew those feelings were simple
biological urges, and felt he should be able to control them easily,
that had proven rather more difficult than he had expected. While he
had figured out how to deal with being attracted to women, of late he
had discovered that there was a whole other segment of the population
that was equally dangerous. He remembered that Eric had once told him
he was a 'two spirit person' and explained that it meant he had both
a male and a female spirit within him.
that time, when Ben was young, he had simply told him that being 'two
spirited' sometimes indicated that a person was a candidate for 'angakok'
or shaman. Ben had never pursued that, but sometimes he did wonder,
like when he saw his father's ghost. That was something only a shaman
should be able to do. Only later had Fraser realized the phrase 'two-spirit
person' had other connotations, one of which he was experiencing right
now. It implied sexual ambiguity.
reflection, he decided his current best course of action was inaction.
He would have taken anything Ray offered, but a mistake was a mistake,
and he knew that. He would simply have to continue on as he always had.
In his own experience, and from what he had observed in others, giving
in to one's desires often led to more pain than was offset by any fleeting
several blocks, Fraser became aware that Diefenbaker was leading them
toward the District 27 station. Why would Amanda be going there? After
only a moment's thought the answer came to him. She had gone there because
DeBoer would have gone there. The other Immortal wanted his property
back. He jogged forward until he was in front of Dief and the wolf could
stopped and sat down, panting, looking at him quizzically. Fraser turned
and waved to Ray, who was pacing them a few yards back in the Riviera.
Ray came to a halt beside them and leaned out the open window.
"I believe she's
gone back to the station. She must believe that DeBoer will turn up
there to get the egg back."
mouth hardened. "Yeah, that sounds right. Get in, let's go."
Fraser opened the door
and Dief jumped in, Fraser followed the wolf a moment later. Ray floored
the car as Fraser attempted to fasten his safety-belt, a task made a
great deal more difficult as Ray tore around corners like a maniac.
Fraser gritted his teeth and finally got the belt in place. While he'd
gotten used to Ray's driving, he still didn't enjoy it. Four minutes
later Ray screeched to a halt before an all too familiar building.
"You think they're
inside?" Ray asked, staring at the nondescript brick facade.
Fraser thought about
it, and shook his head. "No, doubtful. She would not want to confront
him in public. It's likely they're nearby, but not actually in the building."
He got out, then leaned back inside and dragged Diefenbaker's muzzle
around until the wolf could see him. "Stay here," he said
firmly, then closed the door. Ray got out of his side, rolling the window
most of the way up as a deterrent to Diefenbaker's escape.
where do we start looking?" Ray asked.
held up a hand, and Ray quieted instantly. He walked around the building
to the alleyway behind it, and stood still, listening. Gradually closing
his mind to the normal city discord all around him, Fraser found one
noise that stood out, a sound that made him think of horses. Why horses?
The answer came. The sound was metal on metal, like the strike of hammer
against shoe at a farrier's.
tilted his head from side to side to catch the Doppler shift in the sound,
then leaned back, as if he were looking at the stars he could never see
in the shimmering Chicago sky. After a moment, Fraser opened his eyes.
"The roof, next building over from the District."
looked up at the building, dismayed. "The roof? You're sure?"
Fraser nodded. "I'm
gotta be fifteen stories high!"
ten, I believe. Come on, we'd best get started."
groaned, but followed as Fraser went up to the back door of the building.
As he placed a hand against it to try the handle, it gave beneath that
slight pressure, swinging open. He listened for a moment, heard nothing,
sensed nothing, and stepped into the dimly lit hallway.
the elevator?" Ray asked, following him in, looking around.
"Right over there,"
Fraser said, indicating the open doors of the elevator. "But it
appears to be locked down for the night."
"There's our access,"
Fraser said, nodding toward the door to the left of the elevators with
its discreet sign that read 'stairs.' Ray followed his gaze and sighed
knew it. I just knew it. You're determined to kill me, aren't you Fraser?
Fine, I always wanted to die of a heart attack. Lead on."
Fraser did, and Ray followed
him through the door, then stopped, looking up the stairwell, and groaned.
"I really am
going to die here."
Ray, it's good for you," Fraser said encouragingly, already a flight
up. "Just pace yourself."
trotted up the stairs, trying to move quickly, but conserving energy.
Even so, by the time he was halfway up he was beginning to feel a slight
burn in his thighs, and his breathing was faster. He frowned, making
a mental note to increase his exercise routine. City life was making
him soft. Stopping for a moment he leaned over to look down the stairs.
Ray was only a quarter of the way up. Ray saw him, and waved him on.
"Keep. . .
going! I'll . . . get there!" Ray yelled between panting breaths.
Fraser nodded, and
started moving again. The mental image of Amanda dead again, this time
permanently, spurred a surge of energy. He took the stairs two at a
time, eating up the distance, and finally reached the top. It felt like
hours had passed, though objectively he was sure it had been less than
five minutes. He put his hand on the door that said 'roof' and felt
a subtle vibration in it. Beyond the pounding of his heart and the harsh
rasp of his breath he could hear the sound again, a blacksmith's hammer,
metal on metal. It was louder here, muffled by intervening concrete
and the fire-door, but there. She was still alive. He found the fire-bar
and pushed, the door swung open, and he stepped into the night.
figures danced on the rooftop, one tall and broad, one slight and graceful.
Coats flared out like cloaks with each thrust and each parry. For a
moment he simply stood and stared, caught up by the strange beauty of
the deadly pas de deux. As he watched, he realized he'd underestimated
Amanda, terribly. She didn't need his help. She didn't need anyone's
help. She was strong, and fast, and skilled.
comparison to Amanda's grace, her opponent appeared to flail and lunge
like a lumbering bear, strength his only asset. As Fraser's eyes adjusted
to the darkness he could see that Amanda's sword had stung DeBoer more
than once already, his clothes bore mute witness to that, stained and
torn in places. She seemed to be untouched. He suddenly had no doubt
what the outcome of this duel would be.
him the door opened and Ray stumbled out, gasping like an asthmatic.
After a few moments of recovering his breath, he saw what Fraser was
seeing, and instantly went for his gun. Fraser reached out and wrapped
his hand around Ray's wrist, feeling the long, narrow bones beneath his
fingers, feeling the wiry strength there. For a second he remembered
how much he had wanted to do this earlier, to stop Ray from moving his
hand out from beneath his clothes. Then, in the present, Ray tried to
yank his hand from Fraser's grasp and broke the spell.
the hell's wrong with you Benny? Let go of me! We gotta help!"
Fraser said quietly. "We don't. Watch."
Ray stopped trying to reach for his gun and did as Ben had suggested.
He watched the lethal ballet for a few seconds, and then looked back
at Benton, his eyes wide.
he breathed reverently.
both watched, mesmerized, then suddenly, shockingly, it was over. Amanda
executed a series of movements that looked as if they had originated
in a Samurai movie, and brought her opponent first to his knees with
a blow to the midriff before a single, controlled slide of her blade
finished the duel. The man's body fell one way, his sword another, his
head yet a third.
was for the kids, you bastard." Amanda said into the sudden stillness.
Then she looked up, and saw them. Her expression was horrified, and
sky screamed back, a lash of incandescent energy setting the world ablaze.
Ears ringing, Fraser blinked, eyes tearing and pained. He was confused.
Lightning? In January? Out of a clear sky? Shielding his eyes with
a hand, he could vaguely see swirls of phosphorescent mist rising from
DeBoer's body in coils and tendrils that snaked toward Amanda. Lightning
flashed again, and again.
stood in the middle of a maelstrom of rising wind and plasma, her body
rocking, shuddering, yet she made no move to escape it. Into Fraser's
less-than-coherent mind came the realization that while he and Ray were
protected by a slight overhang near the door, Amanda was vulnerable to
the deadly blasts that were turning the night into hell. Instinct kicked
in. Protect. Without hesitation Fraser launched himself at Amanda and
took her down, tumbling to take the brunt of the fall and keep from grinding
her into the gravel on the roof, then pushing her beneath him, using
his body to shield hers. Beneath him she felt small and fragile, though
he knew that she had just killed a man.
off!" Amanda gasped.
her plea, he wrapped his arms around her and rolled with her toward the
meager shelter of the overhang. The world became brighter, and he found
himself encased in that weirdly luminous fog. It slid along his skin,
cold, yet hot, seeking something and not finding, moving on. Amanda
shuddered and gasped in his arms. Brilliant light flared and something
struck right through him and into her, not a spark, not electricity,
something far stranger. He gasped as well as the sound of a hundred
voices filled his head from the inside out. Before they faded, another
bolt struck, more voices, ecstatic pain. He moaned, so did Amanda.
Somewhere in the
distance he could vaguely hear Ray's frantic voice. "Benny? Amanda!"
Sensing that Ray
could no more leave him alone in the fire than he could have left Amanda,
Benton tried to find voice to warn him away, but nothing came from his
throat except another strangled gasp as yet another bolt of . . . whatever,
struck. Voices, memories, anger-pain-love-pleasure-sorrow-delight.
Vaguely he was aware that it barely brushed him, saving its full intensity
for the woman he held. Ray was there then, pulling at them, trying to
drag them toward the door.
Get Ben away!" Amanda panted, nearly monosyllabic.
refused to let her go, refused to abandon her as he so often had been
abandoned. Ray babbled, tugging at him. The world went white again,
fusing him into those voices, those lives. The mist licked and swirled
around them. Ray howled like Diefenbaker on the hunt, and Fraser felt
his friend's arms close around him. Yes. Together. That was right.
A last, searing flare, a last, confused impression of a kind of bizarre,
human travelogue, and finally the sky quieted, the wind died, and they
were left alone, the three of them, lying on the roof amidst smoldering
tar fires, with a corpse a few feet away.
discovered that a certain portion of his anatomy, one he didn't usually
pay much attention to, was hard as metal and aching. And it was pressed
quite firmly up against Amanda's shapely backside. He couldn't understand
his reaction. It was not the kind of reaction he normally had to a brush
with death. Or had that been what had just happened? He wasn't really
he was being decidedly ungentlemanly, he attempted to ease himself back
away from Amanda, only to find himself coming into closer contact with
Ray who was behind him, and unless he was delusional (always a possibility,
he admitted) Ray was in much the same state as he was. He was trapped
between a proverbial rock and a hard place. Move forward and make Amanda
uncomfortable, move back and make Ray uncomfortable.
dear," he breathed, at a loss for what to do next.
can say that again!" Amanda said.
the hell just happened?" Ray demanded plaintively, still wrapped
around him like white on rice.
language," Fraser admonished his friend automatically. There was
a lady present.
chuckled. "Well, I guess we know Big Red's okay. But I still wanna
know what happened."
sighed. "A friend of a friend calls it 'a kind of magic.'"
Fraser swallowed until
his dry throat was moist enough to accommodate an entire sentence. "I
felt. . . I heard . . . voices. Souls. Didn't I?"
eased away enough to turn and look into his face. In her eyes he could
see his answer, the reflection of those souls. She looked slightly stunned,
but also . . . tender?
Ben. That's exactly it. I don't understand how you know that, how you
could possibly have felt that since you're not . . . well, never mind.
Anyway, you're right."
this is like some 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' kind of deal?" Ray
out laughing. "Not exactly, but sort of."
disentangled herself from the pile. Fraser felt immensely relieved and
immediately rolled out of Ray's loosened grasp and got to his feet, extending
his hands to help both of his friends up. Amanda brushed herself off,
looked around, and frowned.
I suggest we get out of here in a hurry unless you really want to try
to explain why we're up here with that . . ." she gestured to DeBoer's
corpse. "My little light show will have attracted attention, probably
from next door. Since the last time any of your compatriots saw DeBoer
he still had his head and there was a big hole in it, explaining how
that got fixed and then the whole thing got detached from his neck is
going to be iffy at best."
got a point," Ray said. "Actually, a bunch of them."
He got out his handkerchief and used it to open the door to the stairwell.
Propping the door open with an elbow, he used the handkerchief to wipe
their prints from the handle and the emergency-bar. No lights glowed
from inside the building as they had before. The 'light show', as she'd
put it, must have short-circuited them.
hesitated. A voice in his head, peculiarly unfamiliar, urged him not
to argue, but he pushed it back and looked at Ray. "It's unethical
to just leave him here."
life's like that, Benny," Ray said, tugging at his arm. "Come
on. Look, he was dead before, and he's dead now. Just think of it as
death with an intermission. Let's get outta here, I think I hear Welsh."
Fraser listened, confirmed
that one of the voices faintly drifting up from below was indeed the
lieutenant's, and looked at Ray, surprised. "I didn't realize you
could hear that well."
I could hear from the Space Shuttle," Ray said drily. "Come
on. We'll go a couple of floors down and duck into a hallway, wait for
them to pass us, and then scram."
let himself be persuaded. His head was aching, and he felt very strange.
All he could think about at the moment was getting away somewhere by
himself, so he could close his eyes and try to absorb what was happening
to him. "Very well, Ray."
* * *
As they hid in a hallway
four flights down waiting for the police to pass them, Amanda realized
she almost felt high. The remnants of the Quickening coursing through
her were potent, and in combination with the adrenalin rush of hiding
from the police, and the sheer pleasure at having rid the world of a
complete scumbag, she was just about walking without touching the ground.
Manic energy pulsed in her, making her edgy and wild.
was very quiet, but then, he usually was. The only thing that seemed
unusual was that Ben was standing very, very close to both her, and Ray.
Whenever either of them moved a little away, he shifted to bring them
closer again. That could just have been worry, though. Overall, it was
hard to tell how he had been affected by the Quickening. Ray, on the
other hand, was wound like spring steel, twitching at every sound, bouncing
lightly on his feet like a race-horse pawing at the ground. He had one
hand on Ben's shoulder, the other on hers, as if to assure himself they
were both staying put. Clearly he feeling much as she was.
relief that they both seemed unharmed was nearly as delicious as the
energy the Quickening had left behind. She'd never had mortals so close
during a Quickening before. She'd been afraid it would harm them, but
thankfully it hadn't seemed to, even though it had struck through them
on its way to her. Ben, though-- how could he have sensed what the
storm that lashed around him was, when he wasn't even a pre-Immortal?
Whatever he was, or wasn't, the one thing she was sure of was that he
was an amazing individual. And Ray wasn't half bad himself. She found
herself looking from Ray, to Fraser, and back, and licking her lips.
Voices nearing froze
them all in place. Even Ray managed to keep still. They heard a group
of people tramp past the door at the end of the hallway, then the voices
faded. They waited an extra few moments to be sure, then Fraser headed
for the door. Ray started after him, and Amanda grabbed his arm, suddenly
compelled to say something to him about Ben. She just couldn't stand
to see Ben get hurt, and she was sure he would, unless Ray was more careful.
He turned, squinting
at her in the dark. "What?"
push love away just because it's not in the package you think you're
supposed to want. Don't be afraid of it. One thing I've learned in
my long, long life, is that you take love wherever you can find it, because
it's rare and sweet, and far too precious to waste."
he asked, clearly confused.
know what I mean," she said quietly. "Or maybe I should say
'who.' I know you do. Think about it."
don't have time to think about anything, we gotta go," Ray said
irritably, grabbing her arm.
sighed and let him steer her to the door. Men. Sometimes she wondered
what it was she saw in them. Then the Quickening still humming in her
body reminded her. Oh yeah. That was it. They did have their uses.
They slunk down
the stairs to the first floor. Fraser paused a moment at the door, listening
intently, then waved them out into the lobby. There were people standing
outside the front door with flashlights, but apparently no one had yet
thought to go to the back door. They probably still thought they were
just dealing with a freak thunderstorm and power outage. There was no
reason for them to think any different. Yet.
guided them toward the back door and into the alley, from there they
walked down to the end of the block, and out onto the street. Ray pointed
at a well-lit bus stop half a block from the alley.
you wait there. We'll come around and pick you up. Fraser, with me."
The immortal woman nodded
and sat down on the bench as they walked away. They hadn't gone more
than three feet when Ray stopped to look back at her with an odd expression
on his face. He slowly looked from her, to the Mountie, then back again,
and she could almost see the light dawning. His jaw dropped.
he asked, utter astonishment coloring his voice.
smiled and nodded.
Ray?" Fraser replied, puzzled.
you, I meant her. Oh, never mind."
looked even more puzzled, but shrugged and nodded. "As you wish,"
he said, striding off in the direction of the station.
looked at Amanda again, shaking his head, and then turned and followed
Ben. Amanda smiled. Gotcha.
* * *
Geez, what was he, radiating
'I'm gay' vibes or something, Ray wondered as he followed Fraser toward
where they'd left the car. Realizing he was staring at Benny's butt,
he instantly lifted his gaze higher, to his shoulders. He had nice shoulders.
Strong, broad, rounded . . . Oh crap. Damn it, Amanda, why'd you have
to go and say that? It was a nutty thing to say anyway. He was straight
and Fraser was straighter. Straight as an arrow. That metaphor conjured
images which he hastily banished, or tried to.
As in not gay. Not as in an upright . . . no, don't EVEN go there.
Fraser was straight. Or, was he? Come to think of it, Benny had turned
down nearly every woman that had ever come on to him. Which was just
about every woman he knew, or had ever met. In all the time Ray had
known him, there had only been Victoria. And maybe Frannie but Ray refused
to think about that. What his sister did on her own time was her business.
Ray had always put Fraser's unassailable virtue down to some sort of
maple-headed, grandmother instilled sense of morality, but what if that
wasn't it at all? What if Amanda was right?
thought back over the time he'd known Fraser, and little things began
to click into place like pieces of a puzzle. The way Fraser sometimes
looked at him, the way he was always there whenever Ray needed
him, or didn't need him, he was just always there. Fraser's willingness
to put himself in harm's way to keep Ray out of it. The little touches--
that could just be cultural, or could be more. Benny would never, ever
push, but he could . . . want. And if Amanda (who, granted, had a couple
of thousand years worth of experience in reading people) thought he did,
then maybe she was right.
idea stopped him in his tracks. Then he realized Fraser was standing
at the car, waiting for Ray to unlock it. He hurried to do so and Fraser
got in without a word, sitting quietly, staring into space. Something
in Ray registered that his friend was acting a little oddly, but he was
feeling pretty odd himself so he didn't give it much thought. Ray slid
in behind the steering wheel. Glancing over, his gaze slid across Benny's
lap as he fastened his seatbelt, and he had to drag his eyes back to
the wheel so he could locate the ignition slot with the key instead of
fumbling at it like a virgin with his first girl.
had trouble finding the damned hole before," he grumbled under his
looked at him, eyebrows raised. Ray felt himself blushing, and was very
glad it was dark. "Sorry. I guess whatever happened up there has
me kinda . . . keyed up."
nodded. "I must admit to feeling unsettled, myself, Ray."
Ray looked at his friend's
composed features, and shook his head. "Coulda fooled me."
He finally managed
to get the key in the ignition and turn it. The Riv growled to life
and he pulled smoothly out into what passed for traffic at screech-o-clock
in the morning. He turned the corner at the end of the block and started
to laugh as he saw Amanda standing at the bus stop with her thumb out,
his borrowed coat open and swept back to reveal baggy jeans that she
had allowed to slide so low as to just barely be legal, and Fraser's
flannel shirt, which she'd tied up under her breasts and unbuttoned all
the way down to the tie. She looked like some sort of ragamuffin white-trash
to the curb next to her, Ray stopped the car and Fraser started to open
his door to let her in just as she leaned over to look inside the car,
in the process just about falling out of the shirt.
babe, wanna date?" Amanda asked, pretending to snap nonexistent
"Get in the car before someone sees you and my reputation goes even
further into the toilet than it already is."
laughed and waited for Fraser to get out and put the seat forward to
let her in. "Just trying to give you a plausible excuse for picking
me up!" she said as she slipped into the back seat next to Dief.
Ray said drily.
Amanda said, grinning as she settled in, her gaze darting from Ray to
Fraser, who had returned to his seat next to Ray and closed the door.
Ray noticed that his friend looked a little pale and was frowning, but
he figured it was a holdover from having just been on a first-name basis
with Amanda's cleavage. Fraser didn't generally deal well with close
proximity to female anatomy. Glancing in the rear-view mirror, Ray's
gaze was caught by Amanda's as she ran her tongue across her teeth and
nodded toward Fraser with her eyebrows lifted in a suggestive query.
Ray stared at Amanda
for a moment. She couldn't mean what it looked like she meant, could
she? As if in answer to his unspoken question, she nodded. He almost
gasped. Oh man . . . That would not only be like serious Penthouse
Letters material, but it meant he could touch Benny without it seeming
too damned weird.
swallowed, or tried to, but there was no saliva in his mouth. He felt
a little dizzy, precipitated, no doubt, by the sudden rush of blood away
from his head and into his groin. Ray concentrated hard on the difficult
task of pulling out into non-existent traffic and headed for Benny's
place so fast that the Mountie went even whiter than he already was.
As he drove he thought
about what Amanda had said in that dark hallway, and about what he'd
been thinking earlier. Suddenly he felt really shallow for having had
that stray thought about Amanda's presence making it okay to touch Ben.
It shouldn't be that way. That wasn't fair at all, and it wasn't completely
honest. He had to admit to himself that right at the moment, her presence
didn't make a bit of difference. He wanted to touch Ben with, or without
her. He was confused as hell, and so aroused he was surprised he could
short drive to Benny's place seemed to take ages but finally he found
a space about half a block from the apartment building and parked. Fraser
threw open the door and exited the car like his seat was on fire, actually
stumbling in uncharacteristic gracelessness. Ray frowned. Fraser was
never clumsy. The Mountie took two steps toward the apartment, then
stopped in his tracks looking dismayed and apologetic. Diefenbaker was
dancing at his heels, whining in concern.
you for the ride, Ray. Good night."
Ray absorbed the brusque farewell, Fraser dashed for the building and
disappeared through the doorway. Diefenbaker stood on the sidewalk for
a moment, staring at Ray intently, then he took off after Fraser. Ray
blinked. He'd never seen Fraser act like that before. He'd never seen
Dief act like that either, almost like he was trying to tell Ray something.
"What the hell was
that all about?" he asked no one in particular.
frowned as she leaned forward to stare out at the door to the apartment
building. "I don't know. While I haven't known Ben long enough
to say for sure, that didn't seem very normal to me."
was frowning too. "It wasn't. Not at all. Hell, normally after
a night like this you'd have to stuff a sock in his mouth to shut him
up, but he hasn't hardly said a word since we left the roof. And he's
never, ever rude, which that almost was."
was silent for a moment, then she looked at Ray, worried. Almost simultaneously
they spoke the exact same words.
threw open his door and hit the ground running, Amanda close on his heels.
* * *
Fraser exploded into
his apartment, shoved the door closed and slid down it to sit on the
floor with his back against the old, warped wood. His heart was pounding
faster than it had been after scaling ten flights of stairs. He looked
around, half expecting to see his father there, chiding him for running
away from his problems instead of confronting them. He hadn't run away
from anything in over twenty years. Until now.
just couldn't face watching Ray look at Amanda like a starving man looks
at food. He wanted that look too much for himself. On top of the strange
things he was feeling and seeing, and hearing in his head, it was just
too much. He'd had to get away, to run for the only sanctuary he knew,
outside of Ray's presence. It wasn't much, but it was home.
his elbows against his knees, Fraser put his head in his hands, trying
very, very hard not to cry, feeling much as he had the last time he'd
tried to run away from a problem, when he was ten. Why was it he always
ended up wanting the one thing he couldn't have? Was it a character
flaw? Was it stupidity? Was it just plain bad luck? He ached with
the effort of control as he tried to intellectualize his feelings, to
take away the hurt.
whined softly and butted his nose under Fraser's elbow. He laughed shakily,
and reached out to bury his fingers in the wolf's soft fur, needing to
touch something warm, and living. Needing to not be alone, even if it
was just Dief.
okay, Dief. Really," he lied baldly, trying to ignore the flashing
images that kept leaping into mind as if they were his own memories.
Ever since that
lightning had hit him on the roof it had been getting steadily worse.
At first he'd thought it was just a momentary thing, feeling those others.
But they were still there inside him. It was like he was losing himself,
losing hold of who he really was and sliding into random lives
some male, some female, none of them familiar. Other souls, other spirits.
He was not just two-spirit now, he was many-spirited. How many? He
couldn't tell, they all clamored for attention, lost and confused, just
like he was lost and confused. He felt as if he stood naked in a room
full of strangers.
things worse was a surging, glowing heat that ran through him and made
him ache, made him burn like he'd never burned before, not even with
Victoria. He hurt with it, as if electricity, not blood, flowed in his
veins. Out of control. Out of control. He couldn't allow that. It
was not who he was. Sometimes he thought control was all he was.
He put his hands over
his face, and felt them trembling, knew his whole body echoed that tremor.
Fear, and loneliness overwhelmed him, despite the other voices, or maybe
because of them. For the first time he realized how alone he normally
was, both within his skin, and outside of it. He was going to shatter,
and there was nothing he could do about it, and no one would know, or
A knock vibrated
the wood at his back, shocking him into a heart-pounding adrenalin surge,
stunned that he hadn't felt the tremors in the floor as whoever it was
had approached his apartment. How could he be so unobservant? He scrambled
to his feet and put a hand on the knob. It could be anyone, he reminded
himself, his neighbors often stopped by. But not generally at four in
the morning. He found himself hoping that it was someone closer than
a neighbor, even though that hope was astonishingly painful. Taking
a deep breath, he opened the door.
They looked oddly solemn,
even worried, standing there in the dimly lit hallway. Oh, God. Ray
was here. Amanda was here. Not out in the car, not driving away. Not
leaving him alone. Neither of them were leaving him alone. Not alone.
Something as cold as a glacier started to thaw inside him and without
a word he swung the door wider and stepped back to let them in. He couldn't
have spoken if his life had depended on it. He was afraid of whose voice
would come out.
his head, new sounds joined the voices. A deep, syncopated drumbeat.
The hollow, haunted skirl of a wooden flute. A rich, dark voice, half-singing,
half-chanting. Fraser reached for that voice, trying to hear it above
all the others, grabbing for its unfamiliar familiarity. The room skewed.
Someone caught him. Ray. Fraser held on to his friend, wrapping his
arms around his lean, hard form, burrowing his face into his shoulder,
the fabric of his suit smelling faintly of coffee and garlic, exhaust
fumes, and . . . Ray. The scent grounded him a little. He found his
leave me!" he gasped. "Lost!"
reply they made, their voices faded into the chorus in Fraser's head,
and he heard no words. He just felt. Amanda's hands, Ray's solid strength
supporting him. Safe. He was safe. With that realization, all but
one of the voices in his head suddenly stopped. Everything went dark,
but not black. It was the dark of a forest at night, which to the accustomed
eye, wasn't dark at all.
flickered faintly in the distance. Snowflakes whirled faintly in the
air. The drumming was louder, as was the flute, and the chanting. He
walked naked in cold and dark, yet felt nothing, smelled nothing, tasted
nothing. Only sight and sound seemed to operate here. Looking down
at himself, Fraser saw his own skin was white, as white as the snowflakes
that dusted the night, vaguely translucent. He appeared to be made of
ice. It was a strange realization.
instinctively toward the light, toward the presence there, Fraser stepped
into a clearing and saw a person sitting before the fire, facing away
from him. Long, wavy, dark hair spilled over shoulders draped in loose
deerskin. Where skin showed above the hide, it was fair, which startled
him. Somehow he'd expected the singer to have skin the color of fall
he ventured, because Eric was the only shaman he knew, and he was sure
the singer was a shaman.
not Eric," came the reply. Another shock. The voice was warm,
and rich, and female. "Come to the fire."
hesitated. He was ice. If he neared the fire's light and warmth, he
would melt, and disappear forever, his being absorbed by the earth.
He was afraid.
can't," he finally admitted.
can, but you won't." The woman replied. "I understand. It's
a fearful thing, fire. It can burn you. It can hurt."
nodded, though the woman couldn't possibly see him.
rather be cold, then?"
hadn't felt the cold before, but now he did. It hurt, down to his bones.
He gasped. Why did he have to feel it now? He had preferred the numbness.
A shiver racked him to his core.
is as painful as heat, Benton, is it not?"
was startled and confused. How did the woman know his name?
have always been part of you, Benton. From the first. You just haven't
ever acknowledged me before. I am you, I belong in you But these others
the clearing was full of people. Male and female, old and young, though
most in their prime. None were babies, though. Why was that? They
all looked bewildered. He wondered if he should say something to them,
something reassuring, but he had no reassurance to give.
must put them back where they belong," The dark-haired woman continued.
"If you don't, they will destroy you. You aren't made to contain
so many, though you were made to contain more than most. Come to the
took a step forward, then stopped.
woman turned finally. Ben stared into his own face, softened. She was
fair skinned, blue-eyed, a scattering of tiny dots were tattooed across
her nose and cheeks like blue freckles. Small bird bones decorated narrow
plaits on either side of her face. Huge amber beads glowed at her throat.
A gleaming, black stone knife was tucked into a plaited leather belt
a her waist. Her hands were rough, callused, in one she held a sprig
of plant with thin, spiky leaves of dusty silver. Artemisia absinthium.
Wormwood. Used from time immemorial in many cultures to induce visions.
Tall, and strong, she
looked like a warrior, and a mystic. Her gaze was deep. Ageless. Wise.
Sad. The eyes of a shaman. He knew now, who she was. This was his
other spirit, the one Eric had told him about. The one he hadn't, until
now, ever had the courage to confront. She studied him for a long moment,
and some of the severity left her face. She looked from him to the fire.
"You must, Benton.
If the fire dies, it cannot be rekindled. Set them free, set me free,
and set yourself free. Remember, you once told someone that if you know
who you are, you have no need to hide."
dropped the plant she held into the fire. Bittersweet smoke began to
rise, and suddenly the clearing was empty, and there was no one at the
fire. Now that the woman was gone, Fraser could see that the fire was
very small. Just a few slender branches, rapidly being consumed. A
few feet away there was a pile of dry branches, clearly waiting to be
placed on the fire.
fire was important, that was obvious. It meant something. What? What
did it have to do with putting the spirits back where they belonged?
It was a riddle, and he had to solve it. He considered the clues, and
found nothing of substance. Maybe it was a metaphor. Perhaps the fire
personified the spirits? As he deliberated, the fire grew dimmer. He
began to worry. It would be a bad thing if he couldn't solve the riddle
before it went out, that much had been clear in the shaman's warning.
Something struck him
hard between the shoulder blades and scored his back, leaving him bleeding
and sending him stumbling forward a step. Whatever had struck him had
broken the skin of ice that comprised him, he could feel the heat of
his blood melting the ice of his back. Across the clearing an owl landed
in a tree, staring at him with the shaman's blue eyes. He stared back,
and suddenly he understood. There was no answer to be puzzled out, no
riddle to solve. The answer was as simple, and as difficult, as taking
a few steps, picking up a branch, and placing it on the fire. That was
himself to move forward, closer and closer to the fire. The fire that
could destroy him. He began to feel its heat, felt little trickles of
melted self beginning to run down his surface. If the fire was the spirits,
then letting it go out might mean their permanent loss. The shaman had
warned him the fire couldn't be rekindled, once it was extinguished.
He had a choice. He could stay away from the fire, stay safe, stay intact.
Or, he could move closer to it, give it fuel, and risk losing himself
in the process.
did so many of his choices seem to be like this? Why did he always have
to put his own needs aside for some vague greater good? Why did he always
do the right thing, instead of the selfish thing? He sighed. It didn't
matter. Doing the right thing was as much a part of him as the color
of his eyes, or the otter-tooth scar. He moved forward and leaned down,
carefully choosing two smaller branches and one larger one. He knelt
beside the fire and carefully eased the smaller sticks into the dying
flames until they caught and brightened. He waited a few moments to
be sure they were well kindled, then he placed the larger log atop the
as if it had been soaked in gasoline, became a brilliant, sparkling torch.
He couldn't snatch his fingers back fast enough, and the flames licked
at them, warm, so warm, and strangely wet. Wet, because he was melting.
The skin of ice began to slough away, leaving his hand bare and clean,
and flesh once more. The flames leapt up again, reaching for him, engulfing
him, burning away the ice. Fire danced on his skin for a moment without
burning him, then it seemed to dive inside him and once again he was
filled with that current of living flame.
Benny, you okay man? Talk to me, Fraser! Now!" Ray's voice was
Damn it, Ben, wake up!" Amanda was just as demanding.
voices shocked him. They were from another world, one where there was
no forest, no flame, no other self. For a moment that world seemed less
real than the one in his head. Then, gasping, he opened his eyes and
looked up into Amanda and Ray's anxious faces. His body sang with energy,
it seemed to be running just under the surface of his skin, making him
burn, making him need, making him . . . Comprehension came to him then,
on the heels of need.
was right that the fire had been a metaphor, but not about what it symbolized.
Not the souls, but passion. The most common metaphor there was for
desire. He could either feed it or kill it. He started to laugh, realizing
that for once he'd chosen the path that was not just for the greater
good, but for himself, too. With that choice he'd also been given the
clue he needed for how to give back the souls who had been drawn to him
instead of to her. Amanda had been born a reservoir for these brilliant,
burning spirits. He had to give them back to the one who was made to
hold them. He reached up, curved his fingers across the back of her
head, and pulled her mouth down to his.
Fire leapt between them, lightning sparking across their lips, their
tongues. One soul found its way through him, to her. Amanda collapsed
against Ben with a provocative shudder and his body responded instantly.
He spread one hand across the small of her back to hold her to him, though
it wasn't necessary. She was already moving against him in a way that
told him she shared his need. Folie a' deux. Except it wasn't.
It was folie a' trois.
that Ray was withdrawing in the face of what was occurring, Ben reached
out, wrapping his fingers tightly around Ray's wrist, dragging him back.
He pulled his mouth from Amanda's, leaving her dazed and gasping, and
reached up to frame Ray's face between his palms. More afraid than he
could ever remember being in his life, Ben made another choice. The
only choice he could make. He kissed him.
was a mistake. He knew it as soon as Ray pulled away with a startled
grunt, staring at him with an all-too-familiar expression-- dismay and
disgust mixed. He'd seen that look many times before, though never before
in so painful a context. Ben dropped his hands from Ray's face and turned
away, closing his eyes, feeling that shell of ice begin to reform around
him. Freedom had its price. He wondered if he could bear to pay it.
* * *
When Fraser had opened
the door, he'd just stood there, looking like warmed-over death. They
stared at each other in silence for a moment, but Ray could see the almost
painful leap of hope in Ben's gaze as he registered their presence.
Hope? Why? What was he hoping for? They had stepped into the apartment,
and then, without saying a word, the Mountie had collapsed against Ray
like he'd been cold-cocked, staggering him a little. Bracing himself
against the sudden weight, Ray tried to see Ben's face.
Benny? What's the matter?"
wrapped his arms around him, hiding his face against Ray's shoulder,
and his words were broken and barely audible when he spoke.
leave me! Lost!"
stepped forward, looking worried, touching Ben's head, his neck, his
shoulder. "We're here, Ben. What's wrong? Can you tell us what's
Spirits." Fraser mumbled, shaking his head.
put a hand over her mouth, looking shocked . "Oh my God! That's
impossible. You can't possibly . . . I've never heard of such a thing!"
demanded. "What's impossible?"
looked over at him, her gaze shadowed. "I-- I think somehow Ben
caught some kind of flashover from my Quickening," she told him.
"I should have realized it sooner, when he said he'd 'heard souls.'
But he's not even a Potential! I know he's just a mortal, or I could
feel it! How can he possibly have taken part of it?"
the hell are you talking about?" Ray demanded, confused and scared.
Fraser could be dying, and Amanda was babbling? What the hell was a
'quickening?' He had a vague recollection from something he'd overheard
his sister say that it had something to do with being pregnant, which
didn't make any sense at all. First off, Amanda had said she couldn't
have kids, and second off, there was no way Fraser could be pregnant.
later," Amanda snapped, suddenly getting her act together. She
nodded toward Ben's bedroll, still spread on the floor where they'd left
it earlier. "Let's get him over there. He's burning up, we need
to cool him down."
they maneuvered the limp Mountie over to his bedding and managed to manhandle
him out of most of his clothes, leaving only his undershorts on. Amanda
went to the sink, soaked Ben's shirt in cool water and brought it back
over, using it to sponge him down. He was hot enough that Ray didn't
even have to touch him to feel the heat. Feeling scared and useless,
Ray grabbed his cell-phone.
calling an ambulance," he announced.
looked up at him, shaking her head. "Don't bother. No doctor's
going to be able to fix this. On second thought, give me the phone.
I think I know someone who might be able to help."
she was right, Ray surrendered the phone. She started dialing. And
continued dialing. He frowned. "Where the hell are you calling
with that many numbers?"
she said shortly.
Ray echoed, aghast. "Do you have any idea what that's gonna cost
on a cell. . ." he stopped, thought about it, and shut up. What
were a few dollars in comparison to Benny's life? He picked up the wet
cloth Amanda had abandoned when she'd taken the phone, and went to work
on Ben again. He thought his friend seemed a little cooler, but now
he was muttering something half-aloud, sounded like it was Russian, or
more probably in Inuit. Whatever it was, it wasn't English.
Is that you? Are you alone? Oh, thank god," she said, sounding
relieved. "Listen, you're the only person I could think of who
might know what to do. Have you ever heard of a Mortal taking part of
a Quickening?" She paused, listened, and scowled. "No, I
am not joking. I'm deadly serious. A life may depend on this!"
She listened again.
Ray wished the phone had a speaker function so he could hear the other
end of the conversation. Her frown deepened. "No? What do you
mean, no? In five thousand years you've never heard of anything like
this? Not once?" She demanded, sounding skeptical. She listened
some more, then she sighed. "Yeah, I know, I know, you're just
a guy. No, I don't have time to explain. Goodbye."
clicked off the phone and put it down, then looked at Ray, defeated.
"I'm sorry. I was sure he would know what to do, but even he hasn't
heard of a case where a Mortal got part of a Quickening, and if anyone
would have, it would be him."
the hell is a Quickening?" Ray asked, continuing to swipe at Benny's
bare skin with the wet cloth. He was definitely cooler, no longer radiating
heat like he had been.
hard to explain," Amanda hedged.
an effort," Ray suggested strongly.
that 'Indiana Jones' stuff you were talking about. The light show."
"Oh," Ray knew
she was holding back, but before he could call her on it, Amanda put
her hand on Fraser's forehead, and yanked it back, looking shocked.
Puzzled, Ray touched
his friend's shoulder and was equally stunned. In barely five minutes
Ben had gone from fever-hot to icy-cold. His skin was as cold and pale
as marble. Ray tossed aside the wet cloth and grabbed a blanket, Amanda
got another one, and they layered them over Ben. The blankets barely
seemed to be making any difference. Ben started to shake.
under the blankets and help me warm him!" Amanda snapped, burrowing
beneath the covers to plaster herself along Ben's left side, untying
her shirt to expose more skin. Ray discarded his coat and fumbled with
his own shirt buttons to do the same, and then crawled under the covers.
He gasped as his bare chest came into contact with Ben's. God he was
cold. Positively frosty. A whine from nearby made him look over to
see Diefenbaker observing them worriedly from beneath the bed.
worry, Dief, he'll be okay." Ray said, reassuring himself as much
as the wolf.
edged out from beneath the bed and nudged one of Fraser's hands where
it stuck out from beneath the blankets, making that odd little groaning
sound that meant he was concerned.
looked back at Amanda. "Are you sure we shouldn't call a doctor?
What if this isn't what you said? What if he's just sick?"
is no sickness that acts like this. Fever, yes, but not cold. This
isn't something that can be cured in a hospital!" She reached up
to slap Benny's face. "Ben? Can you hear me Ben?"
Ray objected. "He's bad enough off without you smacking him."
"I was careful!"
Amanda said defensively. "Sometimes that works."
thought you said you'd never seen this happen before," Ray said
haven't," she snapped. "But it's certainly not the first time
I've been around an unconscious man."
unease faded. "Oh. Sorry."
accepted," Amanda said primly.
them, Ben flinched and jerked. They both stared at him, worried. Ray
wondered if he was having some kind of seizure. He flinched again and
the hand by Diefenbaker's nose twitched. Dief licked it. Fraser shuddered,
and a tide of heat flushed through his body, strong and startling.
"What the. . . !"
Ray exclaimed, pulling back a little. The change from ice to fire had
happened so fast it had almost been painful against his own skin. Amanda
echoed his motion, frowning.
don't know, but we'd better get these blankets off him again," she
said, dragging at the heavy, scratchy wool. Ray helped, and as they
got the blankets off he leaned down and shook the perspiring figure roughly.
"Benny? Benny you
okay man? Talk to me Fraser! Now!" Ray ordered angrily. Damn
it, how dare he decide to pull this kind of a stupid stunt? He wasn't
about to lose him now, not before he got a chance to figure out exactly
what he felt for the stubborn, irritating Mountie.
Damn it, Ben, wake up!" Amanda sounded both annoyed and scared.
Ray reached across
Ben to squeeze her shoulder reassuringly, even though he was just as
worried himself. Suddenly Ben's eyes flew open. He focused first on
Ray, then on Amanda, with a look of wide-eyed wonder, and then a smile
lit his face like the sun coming out, and he started to laugh. God,
he was beautiful. He practically glowed, pleasure shining out like light
from beneath his skin. Utterly beautiful.
reality of him went through Ray like an electrical shock, centering right
in his groin. As he tried to absorb that reaction, to Ben of all people,
he started to wonder about himself again. After all, it wasn't like
any of his relationships with women had been roaringly successful. No,
his longest, and strongest relationship was with Ben. He'd thought it
was just friendship, but maybe, just maybe, there was more.
as that idea began to breach his defenses, to Ray's utter shock, Ben
reached up and grabbed Amanda, hauling her down for a kiss. And it was
a hell of a kiss, too, that much was easy to see. It was long, soft,
wet, and very, very thorough. Ben's hands moved, one of them cupped
her head tilting it slightly to improve the angle, the other slid beneath
her open shirt, fingers stroking down her spine, then spreading over
the soft curve of her buttocks to push her hips down into his. That
was kind of reassuring in a weird sort of way. Victoria must have taught
him a lot in that one night. Either that, or he'd found the sex manual
section at the library, if there was such a thing.
he realized that he was watching them and getting turned on like some
kind of peeping Tom, and that squicked him. His lips were tingling like
he was the one getting kissed, and he licked them uneasily. Amanda had
to be wrong. Ben wouldn't be kissing her like that if what he really
wanted was Ray. Embarrassed, Ray started to ease away from the couple,
but suddenly Ben's hand shot out and yanked him back into place so hard
it made his wrist ache. Ben took his mouth from Amanda's and looked
into Ray's eyes. There was fear in his gaze. Terror even. Letting
go of Ray's wrist, Ben lifted his hands to Ray's face and half-sat up,
moving closer, still looking scared, until he got so close he had to
close his eyes, as did Ray, and their lips met.
Ray jerked back and stared at the Mountie. Jesus, he'd just kissed Ben!
Or rather, Ben had just kissed him. The reality of it bounced around
in his head like a ping-pong ball in a handball court. He could barely
even remember what it had felt like, it had been so quick, but he was
sure it had happened. Then he looked, really looked at Ben, and saw
the pain in his eyes moments before his lashes lowered to hide his feelings.
His hands dropped away from Ray's face and he turned his head to the
That wasn't what he'd meant to do. It wasn't how he'd planned to react.
Well, he hadn't planned to react at all, he'd just done it. And done
it wrong. He looked helplessly at Amanda, begging her for a way to fix
his screw-up. She was looking a bit rattled and it took her a minute
to respond, but finally she looked from him, to Ben, and back. She sighed,
shook her head sadly, then rolled her eyes and tapped her lips with a
finger and pointed at Ben. Oh. Right. Yeah, he could do that. That
reached out and tipped Ben's face back toward him. Ben didn't open his
eyes. His face was expressionless. That hurt more than he wanted to
admit. He wanted that glow back, that smile, that pleasure. With a
glance at Amanda for reassurance, Ray leaned down. Feeling incredibly
self-conscious and as awkward as a teenager on his first date, he let
his mouth touch Ben's in a quick, dry brush. The kind of kiss you'd
give your aunt or your grandmother at a family reunion. He drew back
hastily, a little freaked out. Ben's eyes flew open and he stared up
at Ray, a dizzying mix of anguish, hope, and desire in his guileless
my god," Ray breathed, struck full force by that look. Amanda was
right. She really was right. Unable to verbalize any of what he was
thinking or feeling, Ray said the first thing that came to mind. "You
okay, Benny?" As the words came out, he was startled by the sound
of his own voice. It was husky, breathless, and almost seductive.
A slow smile curved his
friend's mouth. "I think so, Ray. Or I will be, if you . . ."
His voice trailed
off and a faint flush flared across Ben's face, and Ray grinned as he
realized Fraser couldn't say any of those things either. That made him
Ray said, deliberately using one of Fraser's favorite responses.
Benny looked anxious,.
"Are you sure? I mean, I have to . . . this time, it has to be
. . ."
stalled out, incapable of completing his sentence, but the way his gaze
was shifting back and forth between Ray and Amanda made his meaning clear.
Ray knew exactly what he was trying to say. Actually, that made it a
little easier. For this first time, they could both pretend a little.
Take things one step at a time. Ease into it. He nodded.
Benny. I know. Me too. Okay?"
looked unutterably relieved. "Thank you, Ray."
had to smile. Only Benton Fraser would say 'thank you' at a time like
shifted over to Amanda and he caught his lower lip between his teeth.
"I'm afraid I'm unfamiliar with the logistics of this particular
situation," he admitted, looking embarrassed.
laughed. "Don't worry, I know what to do. Ray, close your eyes,
Ben, close your eyes too."
closed his eyes and waited. He heard a feminine whisper, but couldn't
make out any words. Next thing he knew, he was getting kissed. Really
kissed. The whole nine yards. Tongues and everything. He explored,
finding the slick, even surfaces of teeth, the soft, yielding palate,
the little hollows beneath the tongue. God, it was good. He had no
idea who he was kissing, either, and that was a turn-on in and of itself.
He was barely even tempted to open his eyes.
felt movement, and someone's hands were on his hips, urging him to shift
position. As he settled against a body in response to that guidance,
Ray figured out who he was kissing without opening his eyes. The shape,
and bulk of the body against his told him that. Especially one particular
shape, matched by a very similar shape of his own. Acting purely on
impulse, he rolled his hips, dragging his own erection against the other
man's, and Ben shuddered, his fingers digging into Ray's flanks to hold
him there, a soft groan low in his throat. The sound was raw, and urgent.
Ray pushed again, and again, bringing their bodies as close as he could
through his clothes and Benny's shorts.
lips feathered against his ear, making him shiver. Amanda. She tugged
Ben's hands from his hips, and pushed Ray to one side, then urged him
up against Ben's thigh by spreading her hand across his butt much as
Ben had earlier done to her.
me your hand," she whispered, her voice a sibilant caress of breath
against his ear.
complied, and she led his hand first to Ben's chest, then drew it downward,
beneath elastic and cotton so his fingers touched the taut expanse of
Ben's stomach. One finger dipped into the well of his navel. It was
strange knowing this was Ben he was touching. Amanda let him pause there
for a moment, then she leaned close to his ear again.
him, Ray," she urged breathlessly. "Touch Ben."
words brought a surge of arousal so intense it made his breath catch.
Hesitantly he let his hand ease lower, as it had once before, though
that time he hadn't quite realized what he was doing. This time he did.
So did Ben. Beneath him he felt the tension in Benny's body torque up,
felt his pulse thundering under his own. His fingers found and curled
around the rigid shape, settling into a familiar curve around the blunt-tipped
shaft. It was like touching himself, but even more erotic.
was definitely expansion going on beneath his palm, Ben was responding
to the touch. Somehow Ray found the heat and silken skin beneath his
hand startling, though he knew damned well what a penis felt like. But
this wasn't his own, and he could feel the differences. While they were
similar in size, Ben was slightly thicker, the curve of him more pronounced,
the head broader. Instinctively he set a rhythm that echoed the ache
in his own groin, and Amanda stroked his hand encouragingly.
he faltered. Ben was going to kill him. Well, actually he wouldn't.
Ben would never do anything so declasse'. But he would be upset, wouldn't
he? A soft whimper of protest at the change in pace answered that question.
It was clear Ben would be more upset if he stopped. He slowly rebuilt
slid down, moving lower, and lower. Even with his eyes still closed,
Ray had a pretty good idea what she was up to. Sure enough, her hands
went beneath Ben's shorts and pushed them down, then a moment later he
felt her lips brush his fingers. Automatically he moved his hand out
of her way, without removing it entirely. Ben shuddered and let out
a low moan as her mouth found him. Ray couldn't believe Benny was letting
them do this. It was mind-blowing. The amount of trust he had to have
in them . . .
damn it. Trust. How could he do this to someone as trusting, and as
vulnerable as Ben? How could he let Amanda do this? On the other hand,
how could he not? No normal man would object to what Amanda was doing,
and most normal men wouldn't even object to what Ray was doing, as long
as there was a woman somewhere in the mix. But then, Ben wasn't like
anyone else, and Ray really had no idea how he would feel about this.
Sex simply wasn't something they had ever discussed. The very thought
of trying to discuss sex with Ben made Ray grin, despite the situation.
He found himself
moving his hand in counterpoint to Amanda's mouth. Ben's breathing sounded
quick and harsh in the relative quiet of the room. Ray had to look.
He had to see. He opened his eyes, and looked into Ben's face. As his
pleasure built, his head tipped backward, exposing the vulnerable arch
of his throat. Ray leaned down and kissed him there. He was so damned
beautiful. That hint of softness in the line of his jaw, the little
out-curves that would someday be smile-lines around his mouth, the fan
of dark lashes against pale skin. His lips were parted, and god, he
had a fabulous mouth. Looking lower, he saw his own hand holding and
stroking Ben, watched Amanda's mouth slide wetly down gleaming flesh.
He nearly lost it. No, don't think that. Not yet, not yet. This is
for him, not you.
tightened his arm around Ben's waist, pulling him closer. The action
both eased and worsened the ache in his own groin where it was pressed
into the Benny's thigh. The ache he kept trying to pretend wasn't there.
Ben put a hand on Ray's arm, his fingers clutching convulsively on his
forearm as if to anchor himself to reality. Ray reluctantly admitted
to himself that he really wanted to kiss Benny on the mouth again. So
mouth moved over Ben's, he felt in his hand the tightening, the thickening
that heralded an orgasm. He found himself wishing it were his mouth,
not Amanda's, that was bringing Ben to this point. Suddenly Ben's body
tensed in his arms, a shudder went through him, and Ray finally found
out what he looked like when he came. Perfect, blind innocence and delight.
Ben slowly relaxed, and he sighed Ray's name with a sound like coming
home, and the sound hit Ray like a brick. His name. Ben had said his
name when he came. Not Amanda. Not Victoria. Hell, not even Francesca.
He'd said 'Ray.' That realization stunned him, but when it finally sank
in, he felt wetness on his face. He was a little stunned to realize
he was crying.
let Ben go, and slid up against him, and putting her arms around Ben
too. They held him between them for a long time, as if he were still
in danger of freezing. Ben was silent for so long that Ray was starting
to worry, when he finally spoke.
his forehead against the Benny's shoulder and groaned in mingled relief
and incredulity. "Thank you? Is that all you're going to say?"
"What else is there
to say, Ray?" Ben asked, sounding . . . amused? No, he couldn't
question. I guess I just figured you might be mad."
would I be angry, Ray?" Ben asked in a very reasonable and curious
because we didn't . . . ask."
inspired several more seconds of silence. Was he imagining it, or had
Fraser's neck just gotten warmer? Was he blushing? Ray rather thought
he was. Finally Benny spoke again.
ah, I could have objected, were I so inclined."
That was certainly true. But it also raised a host of other questions.
So far as Ray knew, there had only ever been one person in Fraser's life
with whom he'd been intimate. Where had this Benny that was open to
a menage a trois come from? Suddenly Ray felt insecure. What
if it was just that 'quickening' stuff? What if he regretted this later?
"You really don't
mind?" Amanda asked, sounding oddly tentative. Maybe she was insecure
too. Perversely that made Ray feel better.
not at all." Ray could hear the smile in Ben's voice, and relaxed
a little more. Ben reached out and stroked his fingers lightly down
Ray's face. Opposite him, he did the same thing to Amanda.
good," she said, her voice more natural now, a throaty purr. "Because
there's lots more fun we could have."
got a little tense and started to speak "Um, I don't mean to .
up, Ray thought at Amanda. Letting him talk would be bad. He'd talk
himself out of this. As if she'd heard him, Ben's words were abruptly
cut off as Amanda's mouth found his. From this close, Ray could hear
their kiss, the soft, moist sounds of lips clinging, moving. His own
lips were suddenly dry, and he moistened them, trying to ignore the fact
that the ache in his groin was at the point of being painful. As the
kiss continued, Ben gradually relaxed a bit and his hands unclenched
from Ray's arm. Only then did Amanda draw back.
Ben tried again to speak. "Not that I don't . . ."
Ray," Fraser said meekly.
laughed. "Nice technique there, Ray. Maybe you should try something
a little subtler."
what?" Ray asked, though he thought maybe he knew. He wanted it,
you could try my method," she suggested archly, covering Ben's mouth
with hers again. Ray watched jealously, until Amanda drew back, and
immediately leaned over to Ray, her mouth soft, and warm, and moist.
Ray kissed her back, hungrily, tasting her, and-- oh god, he remembered
just where her mouth had been a few minutes earlier. He groaned, and
chased that salty-sweet taste with his tongue. She cupped his face in
her hands and continued to kiss him while she shaped a hand over the
rigid, nearly painful arc of his cock where his clothes restrained it.
Wait, if both of Amanda's hands were on his face, that meant that the
hand . . . the hand . . .
went through him like an erotic shockwave and he groaned again, bucking
against the hand that somewhat awkwardly stroked him through the constricting
layers of his clothes. He tensed, and not just in anticipation. He
was scared. This was a big step. A very big step. Irrevocable. Weird
how it had been so much easier to touch Benny than it was to let Benny
touch him. Amanda must have seen the panic in his eyes, because she
leaned close to whisper in his ear.
know you've been taught to think it is, Ray, but really, sexuality is
not an either-or proposition. Think of it like a spectrum. At one end
there's completely straight, at the other end, there's completely gay.
Most people fall somewhere in-between, not on one end or the other.
As much as I adore men, there was a woman I met when I was young who
was very special for me. We had a relationship that was every bit as
deep as any I've ever had with a man. She taught me that you don't have
to put a label on love. It just is."
she made it sound so easy, so normal. But what was happening to him
was way past normal, for him. But it felt so good, so right. Why couldn't
it be normal? What was normal, anyway? Especially right now. Normal
had gone right out the window the minute he'd walked into the room.
He was waaaay down the rabbit hole on this one. Images of Ben in a white
rabbit costume, Amanda as Alice, and himself as the Mad Hatter suddenly
flitted through his brain, and he couldn't help himself. He laughed.
Both Benny and Amanda looked at him curiously.
the joke?" Amanda asked.
grinned. "Nothing, nothing at all. I'm just . . . happy."
And he was. Weirdly,
unaccountably, he was. The look on Benny's face when he said that made
him even happier.
We want you to be happy, right Ben?" Amanda asked.
now let's make you even happier," she continued, fingers going to
the zipper on his trousers.
tensed, then reminded himself of all the times he'd changed clothes,
or even showered with Ben not four feet away. So, it wasn't like Benny
had never seen him nude, he tried to tell himself. It was just a difference
in context. Of course, the reverse wasn't true, he realized with a start.
He'd never seen Benny completely, one-hundred percent au natural. He'd
always just figured the Mountie was shy, which he was, but maybe that
wasn't quite all of it. Maybe he hadn't wanted Ray to notice any physical
reaction. He thought about that for a minute, and decided against it.
No, Fraser was just shy. It was as integral to him as breathing.
Which thought led him
back to amazement about what was happening now. For Benny to be this
outgoing meant he had to want it bad. Really, really bad. Bad enough
to overcome his inborn reserve, and throw caution to the wind. Ray flashed
again on Benny's expression as he hit orgasm, and the sound of his name
sighed in complete ecstasy, and his arousal returned like a steam train
on full throttle. God, it shouldn't be erotic, but it was.
murmured approvingly as she peeled down his trousers. Ben untied his
shoes and removed them. Together they had him stripped in short order.
As Amanda moved away to finish removing her own clothes, cold air hit
his skin and he shivered. He felt vulnerable, exposed, and downright
chilly until he looked at Benny, who was devouring Ray with his gaze.
Heat flushed through his body instantly in response, warming him despite
the coolness of the air. He struggled for composure, and found it somewhere.
"Take a picture,
it lasts longer," Ray said, grinning, resorting to being a smart-ass
to cover his discomfort.
shook his head, a tiny smile curving his mouth. "No, Ray. A picture
never lasts as long as a memory."
gulped. Ben's words made no sense at all, but at the same time they
made perfect sense. That was scary. He was starting to think like the
Mountie. Was it normal not to be totally freaked out by what he was
feeling? Amanda's words came back to him, and he realized that it probably
was. Sure, he and Benny both liked women, but maybe there was room to
like men too. No, that was much too general a way to put it. They liked
each other. Not men. Each other. He couldn't imagine ever feeling
like this about any man other than Benny. Lots of women, sure, but not
a lot of men. This was special. Unique.
* * *
Amanda watched the two
men, trying very hard not to grin openly. God, they were so cute. And
it made her so damned horny to know that they were not only getting off
on her, but on each other. Why was that such a turn on? She had no
idea, but it was an undeniable fact. She'd almost come herself, just
from watching Ben go over the edge when Ray kissed him. Such a simple,
tiny act, with such explosive results.
when Ray had gone after her mouth so wildly she'd known exactly what
he was doing. He was trying to taste Ben on her lips, on her tongue,
to find some trace of his flavor in her mouth. Under different circumstances
she might have been offended at being relegated to third-fiddle in this
trio, but for some reason it didn't bother her a bit this time. Actually
it was kind of a kick playing Fairy Godmother.
she'd really thought it would be harder to get Ray past his hang-ups.
He was either farther along than she'd thought, or more open minded than
he liked to let on. Or he was just a hell of a smart man, which she'd
already suspected. Street-smart, like herself, rather than educated,
like Ben. He and Ben made a good pair that way, mental and physical
as their ways of thinking were complimentary, Ben's classically handsome
features and proportions were offset by Ray's lanky, intense charm.
Although, now that she'd seen him 'before and after,' she found that
Ray presented better with his clothes off, because then you could see
the long, lean muscles, and the endless legs that were hidden by his
penchant for baggy clothes. He was built like a thoroughbred. Hopefully
he had the stamina of one too, because she had no intention of being
slighted tonight, and she didn't want to leave Ben out of the equation.
Ray was leaning
back on his elbows, looking a little skittish again. Time to distract
him. Slowly Amanda peeled down her panties and stepped out of them,
kicking them aside. That definitely got Ray's attention, and his eyes
were glued to her as she sank to her knees, straddling his thighs. Having
noticed before that he seemed to rather like her breasts, she leaned
forward until they brushed his chest. His eyes closed, and he smiled.
Behind her, she sensed Ben's warmth, and a second later his hands came
firmly down on her shoulders, thumbs circling, fingers fanning deep into
the muscles of her back, finding and soothing sore spots she hadn't even
known she had.
she sighed, closing her eyes, letting her head fall back in pained pleasure.
God, that felt good. Not particularly sexy, but good.
brushed her nipples, fingertips, she rather thought, and her breasts
tightened instantly. A few seconds later something soft, warm, and moist
covered one taut bud, suckling. She shivered, keeping her eyes closed,
savoring the dual sensations, one sensual, one sexual. Very nice combination.
There was hope for these two yet, if they could just get past that 'nervous'
drifted down her back to her hips, and very deliberately he guided her
in a circle over Ray's prominent erection. The touch of his hands on
her hips and Ray's body between her thighs was delicious, even if Ben's
actions were a little surprising. She hadn't thought Ben would be so
bold. But then, he wasn't doing it for him, he was doing it for her,
and for Ray. That made more sense. She'd just have to make sure he
got his share of attention tonight, since he would never dream of pushing.
Amanda sighed as
Ray's mouth left her and his hands moved up to cup her breasts, thumbs
stroking over the tight-furled nipples, sending waves of pleasure through
her to pool between her thighs, adding to the sexual glow that a Quickening
always left in her. That thought brought back the realization that something
about that first kiss Ben had given her had stirred echoes of that glow
into flames. It had almost been like a miniature Quickening in itself,
complete with a little memory-surge. Very weird. It must have had something
to do with that 'flash-over' effect. She made a mental note of it.
Methos would want to know.
if sensing she was distracted, Ben's mouth moved along her shoulder in
soft, butterfly touches until it reached the juncture of neck and shoulder,
where he bit, very gently. Sparks seemed to surge through her, and she
moaned and shivered. How was he doing that? God, it was fabulous!
But she wanted more. Amanda reached down to her hip, caught one of Ben's
hands in hers, and drew it forward. He got the hint. His fingers slipped
down, curling over her soft mound, into the shallow cleft there, searching.
She gasped and jumped a little when he found the right spot. He paused,
touched her there again. She made a little sound of pleasure, just to
make sure he knew he had it right.
Ben was anywhere near as inexperienced as he appeared, then giving him
hints would be necessary, though so far he seemed to be a quick study.
Proving that, Ben edged forward, until she could feel his thighs pressed
against her buttocks, and the swell of his erection against her lower
back. Impressive recovery time. It hadn't been all that long since
she'd taken him over the edge, and already he was hard again. Between
her thighs, his fingers dipped lower, then back up, using her own moisture
to make his touch slide effortlessly against swelling skin.
shivered, and shifted her weight so there was a little more space between
her and Ray. That hint worked perfectly, too. Ben was either very well
read or he had incredible instincts. His other hand left her hip to move
into that space, then lower. Ray gasped, looking down, realizing whose
hand was on him. His eyes widened, but Amanda reached down and put one
hand over Ben's, and lifted one finger of the other hand to her lips
in a 'shushing' motion. Ray bit his lip, but didn't protest. And he
certainly didn't seem to be adversely affected. To the contrary, he
moved under Ben's touch like a man on the ragged edge of control.
Hmmm. She'd thought
to let Ray take the more traditional role here, but perhaps that wasn't
necessary. While she was sure neither of them was ready for certain
things yet, Ray's reactions to what he'd already done told her he was
less conservative than she'd thought. He also, judging from where he
kept looking, seemed to be fixated on Ben's mouth. Not that she blamed
him. Ben's mouth just naturally made one want to have it placed against
intimate portions of one's anatomy. She had no doubt at all that Ben
was willing; he seemed to be quite in tune with his own desires, if chronically
too unassuming to pursue them. Yep. Time to make some changes here.
Reaching back, she slid her fingers along Ben's jaw and urged him forward
until she could turn her head and whisper in his ear.
you want to taste him?" she whispered.
surge of his cock against her back gave her his answer before he even
managed to whisper a strangled affirmative. She smiled. "Move
back a little," she suggested.
moved so fast he nearly lost his balance. She grinned and lifted herself
up and off, to kneel next to Ray, who looked up, clearly about to object
to their desertion. Positioning herself to leave Ben plenty of room,
Amanda leaned forward and stopped Ray's protest with her mouth as she
motioned with one hand for Ben to move in. Ray was a very good kisser,
at least until Ben found him. After that he was even better, nearly
desperate. While she couldn't see what he was doing, the way Ray moaned
into her mouth told her it was good. Men were always good at this because
they knew what they liked better than any woman could.
slid a hand down Ray's chest, down his belly, found where Ben's head
rested against him. She trailed her fingers along his jaw, feeling it
work as he sucked, and slid. She let her hand move lower, felt the wet
rasp of tongue against hard, male flesh. Oh yeah. Even if she couldn't
see, feeling was enough to let her envision the scene. She felt hot
all over, flushed and swollen and tight, need a pulsing ache between
her thighs. But she knew she could wait. While her basic nature was
rash and impulsive, there were some things that were always so much better
if care and time was taken.
hands stopped clutching the bedding and lifted, finding her breasts.
His long, lean fingers tugged at her aching nipples and she arched against
his touch. Lifting her mouth from his, she cupped her breasts, offering
herself. He accepted, still teasing one taut crest with his fingers
while his mouth found the other and suckled, hard. She gasped and shuddered
as a tiny quake went through her, almost an orgasm, almost. She moaned,
so did Ray, bucking hard enough that she almost went sprawling.
Amanda took that as her
cue to lean back and watch. Unashamedly she let one hand slide between
her thighs, keeping her own arousal high, though she barely needed to
touch to do so. Watching did enough on its own. There was something
so incredibly arousing about Ben's mouth sliding down the rigid, blood-gorged
length of Ray's cock, tongue swiping at him like a kid with an ice-cream
cone, licking, sucking, even gently nibbling as one of his hands stroked
in counterpoint, and then dipped down to cup the tightening sac between
his thighs. Ray was back to clutching the bedding, and finally his body
arched, and three ragged words tore from his throat.
. . God. . . Benny!"
had to admit, it did look like a religious experience as Ben's mouth
covered Ray, his throat working as he wrung every last drop of sensation
from the rangy form beneath him. A true test of masculinity. A man
Ray went boneless with a sigh, relaxing with eyes closed, chest heaving,
a smile playing around his mouth. Ben lifted his head, delight dancing
in his eyes, delight, and something darker, wilder. It surprised her.
She hadn't thought he had a dark side, but there it was. It was suddenly
clear to her that like his wolf companion, Benton Fraser was only partly
domesticated. He could act the part, could keep the wildness hidden
so well it seemed nonexistent, but it waited, patiently, for the right
moment. She shivered as he sat back on his heels and reached for her.
This was the right moment.
pushed her back until her head and shoulders were pillowed on Ray's midriff.
Ray didn't seem to mind being used for a pillow at the moment. Her feet
were on the cool wooden floor, her butt on a slightly scratchy woolen
blanket, but she didn't care. Only one thing mattered now. She waited,
feeling a little feral herself, playing submissive as Ben nudged her
thighs apart with his own. He slid one hand between her thighs, parting
her, stroking through wet curls to test her. Two broad fingers slid
easily inside, she was far more than ready. She moaned and arched against
his hand. He moved his hands beneath her, lifting her to his heat and
hardness. She used her gymnasts' flexibility to push herself down onto
his upthrust cock and then he was finally in her and every nerve in
her body seemed to explode.
pounded into her, through her, around her. Then the memories came, memories
not her own, flared and spun in her mind. Confusion and bliss ruled
her as each thrust of his body into hers brought yet another surge of
pleasure, and pulses of energy burst through her, almost as if he were
their source. It was a Quickening, yet not. She grabbed for his shoulders,
trying to stop the world from spinning, and as she stared into his eyes
she was pulled in, pulled deep.
was dark, and yet brilliant. They lay in the heart of a fire as blue
as Ben's eyes, but weren't burned as the flames licked around their fused
bodies. They weren't alone, either. A little ways away she saw a woman
watching them with a smile on her face-- Ben's face, but not. She was
naked, her body flushed and damp, and she was straddling a sleeping,
smiling Ray. Amanda knew that meant something, but she didn't know what.
It didn't matter. What mattered was Ben inside her, the fire, the need.
She opened to him, yielding totally as he drove in, and in, and in deeper.
Finally Ben lowered his mouth to hers, and the circuit was complete.
Flames seemed to rush into her in a spiraling tempest, and it was too
much, too much, too much . . . she screamed.
of ecstasy burst through her and everything faded for a for a little
bit in the face of that, then she gradually became aware again, pulse
starting to slow as her orgasm slowly faded. She was back in reality.
Someone had a hand over her mouth, and she knew the scream hadn't just
happened in her mind. Ben was still between her thighs, but gentle now,
the liquid glide of his half-hard penis inside her prolonged the last
echoes of pleasure until he collapsed against her, his face buried in
the curve of her shoulder, his breathing shallow and ragged.
stroked his back, trying to understand what had just happened to her,
to them. That hadn't just been sex. That had been like sex in the middle
of a Quickening. Not that she'd ever had sex in the middle of a Quickening,
but if she had, she was sure it would have been like that. Apparently
having decided the yelling was over, Ray lifted his hand from her mouth,
soothing it for a moment with a fingertip before stroking sweat-soaked
hair off her forehead, then dropping to curve over the back of Ben's
head like a benediction. Amanda couldn't even think of moving. She
couldn't ever remember feeling so tired in her life, not her life since
before her first death, anyway. Ben's body was warm, and solid, like
a blanket over her. Ray was warm, and solid at her back. She felt safe,
and protected. She closed her eyes. So tired.
* * *
A groan woke Fraser up.
A groan that wasn't lupine in origin. Startled, he sat bolt upright,
or tried to, but found himself too entangled in arms, legs, and bodies
to move. Everything started to come back to him, and he felt himself
reddening as he met Amanda's sleepy gaze. The groan came again, and
slowly Ray worked his way out from the bottom of the pile and sat up,
rubbing his back. He looked at Amanda, then at Ben. Ben's face got
even hotter, and he thought Ray might be blushing a little too, but his
friend met his gaze without difficulty as he swept a hand through his
man, next time we get a hotel room," Ray said, wincing. "One
with a king-size bed, okay? I gotta tell you, I am not cut out for sleeping
on the floor."
sounds lovely," Amanda concurred, stretching. "And so would
did they manage to seem so nonchalant, Ben wondered. As if waking up
with two people after a night of incredibly wild sex were perfectly normal?
Of course, he was rather pleased that Ray didn't seem to be at all averse
to the idea of doing it again. Still, Ben hadn't a clue how he was supposed
to be acting right now. No etiquette book he'd ever read had prepared
him for this so he did nothing, just lay there, looking at them, clutching
the edge of a blanket across his midsection.
giggled. "I think Ben's asleep with his eyes open."
he's just reviewing the Mountie Handbook to see if this situation is
covered under their Code of Conduct," Ray teased, his tone warm.
Ben started to relax
a little. If Ray was okay enough with everything to tease him, then
things were going to be all right. "Actually, Ray, I can safely
state that this situation is definitely not covered. Now, if there were
a moose present, or, say, an otter . . ."
laughed, looking at Amanda "Canadian humor. They love to see just
how much they can make us dumb Americans believe. Give it up, Benny.
I know what you're really doing. You're trying to figure out a way to
get up without either of us seeing you in the altogether, as if we hadn't
Ray a startled look. Ray must know him better than he'd thought. He
did wish he knew where in the tangle of bedding his boxer shorts were.
It was one thing to be naked with Ray and Amanda while in the proverbial
throes of passion, it was something else entirely to wander around his
apartment that way in front of them. Although, clearly, neither of his
companions was having much difficulty with that aspect.
took pity on him and dove under the blankets, surfacing a moment later
with a rather wrinkled pair of shorts. Ben grabbed them gratefully and
pulled them on, only then getting to his feet. He was well aware that
it was a case of closing the barn door after the horse was gone, but
it made him feel better. He seized on the fact that Amanda had said
something about room service, and decided that the best thing to do would
be to make himself useful. At least then he wouldn't feel quite so awkward.
He headed for the kitchen.
and Ray both looked at him, then at each other. Something seemed to
pass between them, and then suddenly Ray was pushing him down onto one
of his chairs and pulling one up for himself. Amanda joined them, and
they looked so serious that Fraser had the urge to comb his hair and
polish his boots. He knew 'lecture mode' when he saw it. Even if the
lecturers were both stark naked.
relax," Ray said quietly. "It's okay. Nothing's changed."
Amanda rolled her eyes,
exasperated. "Don't be silly, Ray, of course they have. But not
the important thing."
important thing?" Ben asked, wondering if he really wanted to know.
She smiled. "Yes,
the important thing. The way we feel about each other. Both of you
are very special people, both to me, but even more to each other. That
was clear from the moment I met you. That hasn't changed, and it never
at Ray, hoping for confirmation. What he saw in his friend's steady
gaze filled him with relief even before he spoke.
Benny. It never will. You're my friend, my best friend. No matter
what happens, or happened, or doesn't happen."
chewed the inside of his lip, trying to decipher that statement. Amanda
you're hopeless. Ben, I think what Ray is trying to say is that regardless
of what happened last night he still has the same feelings for you that
he always has. And I think, in his own clumsy way, he's trying to say
that if what happened last night happens again, he's okay with that,
or if for some reason it never does, he's okay with that too. Am I right?"
Ray nodded. "Yeah.
Exactly." Then he grinned, broadly. "Although, frankly I'm
not sure I could survive another night like last night. What exactly
was going on there? I thought we were having an earthquake, or one hell
of a thunderstorm. For a few minutes there I was worried something important
might get zapped. Is it always like that with you people? I always
thought fireworks were just a figure of speech!"
blinked. "That wasn't just in my head?"
very real. I thought you were gonna set the place on fire, until I realized
it was kind of like on the roof."
looked at Ben, who looked back at her innocently. "I think we need
he asked, with some trepidation.
talk. About what happened last night. And I don't mean the sex part.
I need to know what happened. That's never, ever happened to me before,
nor to my knowledge, to anyone else. If you two weren't who you are
I'd have suspected one of you gave me a hallucinogen, but I know neither
of you would do that. Besides, Ray saw at least part of it, too. So,
that tells me it was real, and that somehow you're the key. Spill it,
sighed. "I'm not quite certain yet. I have a theory, but before
I can confirm it, I need to know something from you. You spoke of something
called a Quickening. What is it?"
started to speak, stopped, looked from him, to Ray, and back, and finally
sighed. "Oh, all right. You know everything else, I don't see
what difference this is going to make. Guess I'm going to have to call
Joe and have him recruit you two after this. This probably won't make
sense to you, it hardly does to me and I live with it. You see, every
time one of us dies, I mean really dies, not the temporary kind of death,
it releases a kind of energy, which is in turn absorbed by the Immortal
who killed them. That's called a Quickening. It's cumulative. Each
successive absorption makes that Immortal's Quickening stronger. The
older you get, the more Quickenings you've taken, the stronger and more
complex your own becomes."
so then what did Benny mean about 'hearing souls'?" Ray asked.
"When we take a
Quickening, along with it comes what could be described as memories,
almost like a recording of the person who died. Since it's cumulative,
if the person who died has taken any Quickenings, we get those 'recordings'
too. Some say it's really the souls of the dead that we absorb. I don't
know if that's true, but it does seem that way. That has to be what
Benny meant. He must, somehow, have been able to sense those 'recordings,'
nodded. "I thought as much. That was the only thing that made
believe what happened last night was that somehow, some of the souls
that should have gone to you during the Quickening came to me instead."
"But why? Why you,
when no mortal has ever done that before?"
don't know that it's never happened before, you simply have not heard
of a case. You referred to the Quickening as a kind of magic. I suspect
that it happened because of who, and what, I am. When I was a boy, an
Inuit shaman told me that I had two spirits, and that I had the potential
to become a shaman myself. I never pursued that end, but still, apparently
the presence of that other spirit within me was enough to confuse the
stared at him, frowning slightly. "Two spirits?"
nodded. "Male, and female. Most people only carry one, but some
few have two. Myself among them." He shot a glance at Ray to see
how he was taking this. He looked puzzled, but interested. Of course,
Ray would have no reason to know the significance of that. To him it
would just be another 'Inuit story.'
eyes widened. "The woman with your face! That's who she was!"
It was Ben's turn to
stare. He frowned. "You saw her? When?"
time Amanda did blush. It went down quite far. "Um, well, when
we . . ."
Fraser said, saving her from having to complete the sentence. "That's
. . . unusual. Shared visions are usually deliberate, not accidental."
"A woman who looked
like you?" Ray queried, grinning. "You been cross-dressing
lifted her eyebrows at Fraser, clearly waiting for an explanation.
"It was for a case,"
he told her with a quelling glance at Ray. "Undercover work."
Amanda studied him for
a long moment. "Well, I'm sure you made a lovely woman," she
said, the corners of her mouth twitching in an effort not to smile.
"Wish I'd been here then. I would have loved taking you shopping!
I think you'd do very well in Ralph Lauren. Of course, nothing says
we can't still . . ."
looked at her worriedly, and she relented, if a trifle wistfully.
"Oh, I'm just teasing
you, you know that. But I still don't understand how you, a Mortal,
could have taken part of a Quickening. It's not supposed to happen."
"I know that. She
told me that as well, and told me I had to give them back to you. They
would have destroyed me otherwise. You were made to contain them, I
nodded slowly, thoughtfully. "Did you see them, in your vision?"
He nodded. "Yes.
I believe so."
there a man, silver-blond hair, gray eyes, mid-forties?"
thought back, and nodded. "Yes."
sighed. "Etienne. Then you really did see them. I missed him
the first time, I thought DeBoer must have lied about killing him, but
then last night, he was there. He must have gone to you first."
She studied him thoughtfully,
tapping a finger against her lips. "Fascinating. Joe and Methos
are going to want to know all about this."
stared at her, feeling heat rise in his face again. "You're going
to . . . ?" he couldn't finish, he simply couldn't.
shook her head, smiling, and leaned in to plant a kiss on his lips, then
drew back. "Ben, they surely broke the mold with you. You've got
to be the only man I've ever met who wouldn't claim bragging rights."
Amanda shot a glance at Ray, who grinned and spread his hands as if to
say 'who, me?' before returning her attention to Fraser. "Now,
you must know that a lady never kisses and tells. I promise your name
will never pass these lips. I can tell him all about what happened without
ever mentioning where I was or who I was with."
glanced quickly at her hands, then her feet. Neither her fingers, knees,
or toes were crossed. Relief flooded him and he started breathing again.
stood up and picked up his flannel shirt from where she'd tossed it the
night before, sliding it on and buttoning it. It covered her more than
some dresses he saw on women on a daily basis. She went to the door
and peeked out, then looked back at them.
no line. Back in a few."
left the room, closing the door behind her. Ben looked everywhere but
at Ray. Diefenbaker was sitting on the bed, his back to the humans,
staring pointedly at the wall. Ben smiled as he realized the wolf was
expressing his displeasure.
don't blame him," Ray returned.
looked back at him, surprised, and Ray grinned. "If you were mine,
I wouldn't want to share you either . . . with certain exceptions."
He nodded toward the door through which Amanda had just exited.
blinked. Ray was saying this? Ray? Apparently his surprise was obvious.
Ray leaned forward and put a hand on his shoulder.
Benny, I know I'm kind of thickheaded at times. I'm sorry it took being
smacked upside the head with it for me to figure things out."
"Figure what out?"
"That I was being
stupid. That there are . . . feelings, between us."
Ben knew he was on dangerous ground. He was prompting. Not good. But
he couldn't help himself.
gave him a lopsided smile. "You're gonna make me say it, aren't
enough. It told him exactly what he needed to know. He shook his head.
"No, Ray. I'm not."
looked relieved. "Good, because I've always been really lousy at
that. It's not something we're good at, in my family."
nodded, his gaze sympathetic. "Quite a pair, ain't we Fraser?
I suppose you'd like me to get dressed." He walked over to the
bedroll and started hunting for his clothes.
smiled, slowly. "Well, Ray, that all depends."
what?" Ray asked, picking up his shirt and tugging his pants out
from under the bed.
whether you want breakfast sooner, or later."
turned, startled. "What did you say?"
think you heard me, Ray."
stared at him, and then he started grin. "Boy, you save a Mountie's
life and he makes you pay, and pay, and pay . . ."
know what they say, Ray."
do they say, Benny?"
Mounties always get their man."
thought you told me that was just a myth."
it may not be the official motto but there is a grain of truth in it."
* * *
Amanda left the bathroom
and padded barefoot back down the hall toward Ben's apartment. She stood
outside the door for a moment, listening, hearing the murmur of male
voices through the paper-thin walls. Then it got quiet. Very quiet.
She smiled, and waited. Waited a little longer. A strangled moan sounded.
Her smile broadened. After a moment's thought, she returned to the bathroom
and started filling the tub. Clearly she wouldn't be missed. Half an
hour later, scrubbed and damp, she returned to the apartment and slipped
inside without a sound. Ben and Ray were sprawled on the narrow bed
in an magnificent tangle of masculinity. Sound asleep. Poor things.
Of course, they had been up most of the night. They needed their rest.
She stood by the bed
just watching them sleep for a little while, then lifting a hushing finger
to Diefenbaker who was looking rather put out, she silently gathered
up her clothes and put them on. Then she located Ray's wallet and lifted
a fifty from it. She'd return it first chance she got. Quietly she
slipped out of the apartment again. Time to go home. She had new identification
and a supply of cash hidden away at the airport, and wanted to be long
gone from Chicago by the time Ben started to feel guilty for aiding and
abetting a thief. She'd give them time to get over that, and to get
used to each other, before she came back to visit. Which she definitely
planned on doing. Someday.
* * *
The door opened and Ben
heard quiet footsteps cross the floor, knew Amanda had finally returned.
He left his eyes closed, face still pillowed against Ray's shoulder,
waiting to see what she would do next. She stood for a little while
next to the bed, then gave a soft sigh and he heard clothing being gathered
and donned. After dressing, she picked up Ray's pants and went through
the pockets. He had to smile against Ray's skin. 'Once a thief,' as
the saying went. But he also had a feeling that whatever Ray was missing
would turn up in a few days. Finally he heard the door open and close.
She was gone. He was a little sorry that she'd chosen to leave, but
he understood and appreciated it. Perhaps they might meet again someday.
He had a great deal to thank her for.
* * Finis * *
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