Disclaimer - I have no rights, I acknowledge that I am merely wandering around in someone else's playground.


Sometimes you look so small, need some shelter
Just runnin' round and round, helter skelter

And I've leaned on me for years

Now you can lean on me
And that's more than love, that's the way it should be
Now I can't change the way you feel

But I can put my arms around you

That's just part of the deal
That's the way I feel
I'll put my arms around you

I stand in front of you
I'll take the force of the blow

Massive Attack, Protection


Chapter 1 - Shelter

Inspector Margaret Thatcher of the RCMP locked the front door of the Canadian Consulate in Chicago, straightened her business-like blazer and turned to walk to her car. The late afternoon sun was casting long shadows down the street. She kept her eyes down as she walked past her subordinate, Constable Benton Fraser. No point letting her eyes wander where they shouldn't. She was his superior, even if she had to remind herself of that fact far too frequently since the most electrifying kiss of her life on top of a speeding, runaway train.

All Thatcher's good intentions about not thinking about how Fraser's body fit against hers were bowled over by the man breaking from his immaculate position at attention to throw himself at her, pushing her to the ground and knocking the wind out of her.

Thoughts came to Thatcher quickly but in a sequence that wasn't as useful as it could have been. First was the awareness of the muscular strength of her subordinate, his arms wrapped around her in a way she had an unfortunate tendency to daydream about, his strong, lean body pressing her to the pavement.

"Constable Fraser, what do you-" the indignant, defensive words sprung to her lips before she could process the rest of her thoughts. Sounds. The squeal of tires, the soft pop of a silenced gun firing. And then blood - not a lot, but blood running down Fraser's arm. In the matter of instants it took for these impressions to settle in her mind, Fraser had rolled off her and held his hand out to help her up to squat beside him, keeping them behind the cover of a parked car.

"I think they've gone." he said, his eyes glinting with alert concentration as he listened for more tell-tale signs that the drive-by shooting might be repeated.

"Constable, you're bleeding." Thatcher said. Recovered from her moment of surprise at finding herself in such intoxicating physical proximity to Fraser, she was ready to take charge of the situation.

Fraser looked down at his arm, as if noticing for the first time that he'd been hit.

"Oh. It's only a graze, Sir." he said. "Perhaps it would be safest if we-"

"Got ourselves back inside the Consulate? Yes." Thatcher said, trying to frame it as an order, more or less. She couldn't help observe that Fraser kept his body between her and the street as they moved back to the door and inside the consulate.

Once inside, Fraser closed the door quickly. "We'd better call the police. Detective Vecchio-" he started to say.

Thatcher put up a hand to stop him.

"First things first." she said. "Your arm." She lead the way upstairs and into her office. "I have a first aid kit. Take off your tunic."

She turned to get the first aid kit from her desk.

"Oh dear. That's going to require extensive surgery." Fraser commented.

Thatcher turned around with a look of shock on her face, the first aid kit in one hand. "You said it was just a graze!" she said.

Fraser was holding up his red uniform tunic, a finger poking through the hole the bullet had made. "The entire sleeve is going to have to be replaced." he said mournfully.

Thatcher pursed her lips and suppressed a sigh of exasperation. He had just been shot, it was probably not the right time to yell at him for scaring her.

"You'll need to take your undershirt off, too." she said briskly, trying to keep things between them professional.

Fraser pulled down his suspenders and slipped the torn and bloody undershirt off over his head.

"If you'll give me the first aid kit, I can bandage my arm." he said.

"One handed? I don't think so, Constable. Sit down."

"Well, then I could at least call Detective Vecchio while you bandage it."

Thatcher conceded this point and gave him the phone. She forced herself to concentrate on his arm, which needed cleaning with antiseptic cream and bandaging with gauze, rather than on the broad chest and flat stomach that drew her eyes to them. He seemed entirely unaware of the effect he was having on her. While that stung a little, she supposed that it was a good thing.

Fraser was not entirely unaware of the effect he was having on Inspector Thatcher. If he seemed that way, it was through sheer discipline. His superior officer had told him that the kiss they had shared could never be repeated, and he was doing what he could to forget the sparks that flew between them, even with her fingers on his arm, even with that unique scent she had, even with the way he could feel her pulse racing through her touch and closeness.

Right now was not the time to be noticing anything about her other than that her life was in danger. It was one thing to give in to weakness, chemistry, during the life-and-death thrill ride on the train. It wasn't admirable, but it was human. But there was no such excuse now they were back in their day to day lives. The burning pain in his arm was doing a very good job of quelling other, less convenient, physical reactions.

"Ray." he spoke into the phone. "There's been an incident outside the Consulate."

As Meg Thatcher carefully cleaned the bullet graze, she put together the angle of the wound, the direction from which she'd heard the tires squeal, the position in which she'd been standing when Fraser knocked her to the ground, and as Fraser spoke the words into the phone, she'd come to the same conclusion:

"Someone tried to kill Inspector Thatcher."

Thatcher tensed as she heard Ray Vecchio's startled "What?" explode down the phone line.

Fraser outlined events calmly and concisely. "I was standing on sentry duty when Inspector Thatcher exited the Consulate." He left out that he noticed the way her eyes brushed over him and away. "I saw a car that had been parked start to move, and the window roll down. I just noticed the distinctive shape of the end of a silencer in time to push Inspector Thatcher down out of the line of fire."

He paused, listening to Ray's response.

"No, Ray, she wasn't hurt." Another pause, longer. "Well, yes. But just a scratch. No, Ray, really. I'm fine."

Fraser hung up the phone as Thatcher finished fastening the gauze firmly into place.

"He says he'll be over with a crime scene team as soon as possible." Fraser informed Thatcher.

"I should..." he gestured at his bare chest. Thatcher glanced across, then turned away, busying herself putting the first aid kit away.

"I have a spare uniform." Fraser said with a blush as he realized he'd just drawn her attention to the state of undress that they'd both been pretending wasn't an issue.

He left her office and came back soon after with his spare tunic pulled on over his left arm, but only draped over the injured right arm, and left unbuttoned. Thatcher was sitting behind her desk. She decided that without the benefit of the undershirt, the red coat draped over him did absolutely nothing to reduce his physical appeal. Thatcher took a deep breath and thought icy thoughts. Cold shower. Snow down the back of her blazer. Anything.

There was a bustle downstairs, Turnbull opening the door to Ray. Fraser took the opportunity to leave Thatcher's office, hurrying down the stairs to meet the detective.

"Benny!" Ray looked worried. "You sure you're all right?"

"Ray, it was just a graze!" Fraser insisted. They stood on the steps of the Consulate while the crime scene team gathered evidence. One of them was drawing a careful chalk line around Fraser's Stetson where it had fallen when he dove to protect Thatcher.

"I'll need you and the Inspector to come down to the station and make statements." Ray said.

"All right. I think the immediate danger to Inspector Thatcher has passed, but I would be more comfortable knowing that she was in police protection anyway."

Ray glance sideways at his partner. "We're going to have to find you a shirt before you go anywhere."

"I'm afraid I'm not decently dressed, but unfortunately my undershirt was quite ruined."

"It's not your decency I'm worried about, Benny." Ray snickered. "Elaine and the rest of the girls will eat you alive if you turn up showing that much skin. God forbid if my sister is hanging around." It was worth it to see Fraser turn bright red, then very pale at the thought.

"Don't worry, I have my dry cleaning in the Riv."

Thus, when they arrived at the station, Fraser was sporting a lovely blue and orange floral print shirt that was far too tight across his chest and clashed remarkably with the red serge of his tunic. He was in no danger of being swooned upon inappropriately by any of the lovely ladies in blue.

Ray took Thatcher's statement in an interview room, while Detective Jack Huey took Fraser's statement. Afterwards, Lieutenant Welsh requested their presence in his office. He offered Inspector Thatcher a seat, but Ray and Fraser remained standing. Welsh looked at Fraser's outfit and then gave it a second, astonished glance and a small shake of his head.

"Inspector. An attempted murder, resulting in an injury to a peace officer outside the Canadian Consulate. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this has the makings of a serious international incident." Welsh said dryly.

"That would be a correct interpretation." Thatcher replied. "But I'm not looking to make trouble for the United States."

"Appreciate it. But all things considered, the sooner we can track down the perps, the better, wouldn't you say?"

Thatcher inclined her head in agreement.

"So, can you think of anyone who would have a reason to want you dead?"

Ray snorted at Welsh's question, earning him glares of reproof from Welsh and Thatcher, and a slightly hurt look from Fraser. Ray smoothed his face into a deadpan expression. "Sorry, dust in my nose or something." he prevaricated.

"No, Lieutenant." Thatcher said. She added, perhaps more sharply than she meant it to sound, "Unlike Constable Fraser and Detective Vecchio, I don't seem to lead the kind of colorful life that results in people trying to take revenge on me."

Welsh looked at Ray and Fraser, neither of whom had the happiest expressions on their face. Ray looked outright pissed, whereas Fraser was unreadable as usual, but definitely not pleased. Neither of them needed reminding of the dark events in their lives that had resulted from being caught up in twisted revenge schemes.

"Think harder, then, Inspector. Because looking at the crime scene reports, it's obvious you were the target of a co-ordinated assault. Is there the possibility that you've unwittingly witnessed a crime recently? Something that didn't seem important at the time but might seem hinky now?"

Inspector Thatcher crossed her arms in front of her chest. Being in the Lieutenant's office always put her off base. It was so much his territory, and he was questioning her as brusquely as if she'd been one of his own officers.

Fraser chose that moment to interject helpfully, "I think that the Lieutenant is suggesting that it's possible that you know something that you don't know you know. If you know what I mean."

That only served to exasperate Thatcher further.

"I really can't think of anything right now. I've made my statement, and if it's all the same with you, it's been a long, troubling day, and I'd like to go home." she said.

Welsh and Fraser spoke at the same time.

"You can't-" Fraser blurted

"Inspector," Welsh said, raising his voice to speak over the Mountie. "I don't think it be a great idea for you to go home right now with an unknown person or persons gunning for you."

Thatcher rolled her eyes. "I'm a big girl, I can take care of myself. If you want, send someone with me to check the place out. But I'm going home."

"Inspector-" Fraser began to speak, but Thatcher interrupted him.

"Constable, I didn't ask for your opinion on the matter." The truth was, she was shaken, almost scared, but she was damned if he was going to see that. "I expect you to have the sense not to contradict your superior officer."

Ray rolled his eyes. Yeah, he couldn't think why anyone would want to shoot her. Hah! She couldn't even be civil to the man who'd just saved her life.

"Yes sir." Fraser murmured. He didn't mean to put Inspector Thatcher on the defensive, and there wasn't anything he could do about it now that she was. It was better to let Lieutenant Welsh see to her security.

Ray patted Fraser's shoulder. "C'mon." he said, glaring for a split second at Thatcher, "It's been a long day for you, too, what with getting shot and all. Let me give you a ride home."

Fraser found it impossible to settle down to sleep after he'd eaten dinner and taken Diefenbaker for a walk. Loneliness was never so powerful as when it had been all too recently contrasted with something he needed but couldn't have. Most nights were bearable, he had the excuse of exercising Diefenbaker to roam the city streets until he'd physically worn himself out, and he could sleep and not dream or not remember dreaming of the two women, the poisonous one he had loved, the one who he could love if she would let him. But after being so close to Meg as he protected her from the shooting, the memory of the smell of her wouldn't leave him tonight. Eventually he gave up on trying to sleep and got up and dressed again.

"Diefenbaker, we're going to the Consulate to complete some paperwork." he said. "Come on."

The wolf opened one eye and then closed it again, not deigning to lift his head.

"Oh, come on. It's only seven minutes' walk." Fraser chided him. "And you're a wolf. Wolves are nocturnal. Or have you forgotten that?"

Diefenbaker opened both eyes and merely glared, still not moving.

"Fine, stay here then." Fraser said. "I'll see you later."

The Consulate was dark. Fraser let himself in the front door and locked it behind him. As he headed up the stairs, he noticed a thin line of light coming from under Thatcher's door. Could she have come back to work after being attacked? Or was someone in there who shouldn't be?

Author's Note:

Um. So. Romance. Not my normal genre. But this story wanted to be told in a particular way, so here we are. I hope you'll enjoy, and don't forget that feedback is the best way to straighten out authors who are messing with forces beyond their wildest comprehension. Oh, and there's more than enough action to make up for all the yearning glances and so forth, I promise!