Chapter 5 - That's the Way I Feel
(I'll Put My Arms Around You)

By the time the ambulance reached the hospital there were police officers waiting to take Thatcher to a safe house. She was parted from Fraser with no ceremony and bundled off in a waiting car. Fraser was barely aware that she'd left until he looked around automatically from the wheeled stretcher to confirm visually that she was safe, a tic that seemed to have developed in the ambulance, and was seized with a moment of panic when she wasn't there.

Fraser tried to sit upright. Strong hands held him down by the shoulders. He looked up to see one of the paramedics, a stocky woman with cropped grey hair. She had a worried look on her face.

"Sir, you need to stay still. It's all right. We're at the hospital now."

"Where is she?" Fraser said anxiously.

"The woman who was with you? She left with the police." the paramedic said. She was no longer holding him down, and the stretcher was being wheeled through the ambulance bay.

"I'm sure your friend is fine." the paramedic added. She was touched that even though the patient was hurt, he was more worried about someone other than himself. But he had to keep still so he wouldn't hurt himself more.

Not that she was too concerned. The patient was a combination of young, strong, healthy and crucially, lucky. His prognosis was good.

Thatcher was supposed to lie low in the safe house and stay out of contact and out of harm's way, but ten hours of trying to sleep, followed by four hours of pacing, meant that by ten o'clock the next morning she was driving herself and her guards absolutely crazy. There was nothing to do but pace, worry, or watch television, and she wasn't in the mood for a stream of flickering inanities.

"Just let me make one call. One call. That's all." she finally snapped at one of the hapless men. He rolled his eyes and handed her his cell phone, deciding that a bit of peace was worth the minimal risk. She put a call through the Consulate.

"Canadian Consulate, this is Acting Deputy Liaison Constable Turnbull acting. I mean speaking. This is Speaking Deputy Constab- I mean Acting-"

Thatcher cut Turnbull off impatiently.

"Constable Turnbull. I called to find out if there was any word about Constable Fraser's condition."

"Oh, yes Sir! I saw him myself. I'm very worried. I think that we should have him airlifted back to Canada immediately."

Thatcher gasped. "What?"

"Well, I'm just not sure that all this fatty, sugary American hospital food is-"

Thatcher almost crushed the phone in irritation.

"Never mind the food, what did the doctor say?"

"They say they're keeping him for a few days, to make sure he stays on bed rest. Apparently the bullet splintered the end of one of his ribs, but they dug all the pieces out, and luckily it didn't puncture his lung."

Thatcher winced. Well, yes, that was lucky, but she hadn't even thought of the possibility. He'd come so close to... she didn't want to think about it.

"Well, thank you Constable Turnbull, and if you see him again, " she paused. "Well, just tell him- tell him that he should follow doctor's orders." It was lame, but she couldn't bring herself to send a warmer message via Turnbull.

Turnbull filled Thatcher in on what was going on with the rest of the case. The man who shot Fraser had rolled over on Loman almost as soon as Ray started interrogating him, perhaps aided by a misplaced conviction that Fraser had died in the ambulance. Ray wasn't telling how the man happened to come by this idea, but thinking that he was on the hook for murder had certainly loosened the man's tongue.

With that information, the FBI stepped in. Loman's records were seized. Loman, however, was nowhere to be found. The airports had been alerted, and his accounts were frozen. Ray believed he was lying low somewhere, but finding him fast was of the essence.

The Ecuadorian Trade Minister had already been recalled to his country in disgrace before he could be arrested for negotiating to accept a large bribe from Loman's company to help secure oil rights in what was supposed to be a protected national park area.

Ray and the FBI agents assigned to the case had apparently been up all night scouring the Loman Corporation's records. A cursory reading of the most relevant documents showed that the company had already been allowed to do secret oil surveying in the area to find the best parcel of land. The oil would have been worth billions of dollars over the future decades, and the Ecuadorian Government was putting pressure on the FBI to find Loman so he could be extradited to face charges there as well.

It took a full half hour of questions to extract the gist of this information from Turnbull, and when she was done, Thatcher had a headache. But she could understand why Loman had acted so decisively to try to kill or capture her. The amounts at stake and the sheer illegality of it all was breathtaking.

After talking to Turnbull, Thatcher sat in front of the television, hugging one of the couch cushions to her chest, watching Oprah smile and smile at her latest troubled guest. Her mind wasn't on the talk show. As the guest spilled her guts to Oprah about how her man did wrong by her, Thatcher's thoughts turned to the problem of Fraser.

Clearly, he was indifferent to her. She examined every interaction they'd had since the train. Certainly, she had made it plain to him that the kiss they had shared must remain nothing but a memory. But if he cared for her at all, he'd have argued, right? He wouldn't just let her tell him it didn't mean anything.

He was so reserved, so proper. Surely he couldn't feel anything like what she felt. It must only be her. What they had on the train, that was just his shock at the situation. It wasn't real.

And then there was her career. He had no ambition that she could see, and she was going as far as she could in the Force. And his partnership with Detective Vecchio - who could play a third wheel to that and be happy?

Several days of repeating this conversation in her head while staring blankly at babbling television celebrities was plenty for Thatcher to have talked herself out of her feelings. What she was refusing to think about, refusing to allow to stay in her mind for more than a moment, was her real fear. A fall from a train, a stray bullet, he could be gone in an instant. How could she allow herself to be in love with him?

And yet, every night when she closed to her eyes to try to sleep, the image of that sweet half-smile after he was shot would come to her, the way he'd said "You're safe." as if it made all the difference in the world to him.

Fraser was frustrated at being sidelined from the investigation during his hospital stay. When he was released from hospital, he was eager to finish the job. Sitting in Ray's Riviera, his arm gingerly guarding his bandaged side, he looked through the file on Loman.

"It's not over yet, Ray." he said. "We have some tracking to do." His face clouded over. He wouldn't say it, but he felt a particular desire to bring to justice the man who'd tried to have Inspector Thatcher killed.

Ray grinned. It was good to see his partner champing at the bit for action, even if he wasn't ready for any heavy lifting yet.

"Attaboy, Benny." he said. "We'll get our man." Of course, he amended silently, not until Fraser was guaranteed not to bust stitches chasing anyone over any rooftops.

-o-O-o-O-o-

Fraser hadn't been home from the hospital for more than a few hours before there was a knock on the door. He stood warily. Diefenbaker was not setting off an alarm. That was a good sign. Still, he also wasn't jumping at the door eager to welcome Ray in. And besides, it was nearly dinner time at the Vecchio residence. So who could be visiting?

Fraser opened the door to find Thatcher standing on the threshold. She wasn't dressed quite as casually as he was - in sweat pants and a t-shirt for ease of changing without pulling at his stitches and bandages- but she was dressed a lot more casually than he'd seen her before, in a mis-matched combination of one of her suit skirts and a faded Leafs sweater, soft with age, that clung to every contour of her body. A pair of scuffed moccasins over bare feet completed the scruffy ensemble. Her hair was tucked back behind her ears, and dark circles under her eyes suggested to Fraser that she had not been sleeping well.

"Inspector." he said with some surprise.

"Constable Fraser. How are you?" she asked. He wondered if she'd come over to his neighborhood just to ask that.

"Sore. Healing." He smiled slightly. "I thought Constable Turnbull would have reported on my condition."

"Well, yes." she said. That was a phone call she didn't need to rehash any time soon.

"And you?" Fraser asked politely.

"Fine. I'm fine." She cleared her throat. "May I come in?"

"Oh. Sorry, Sir, of course." He was embarrassed that her sudden appearance on his doorstep had startled him out of his good manners. He seemed to be making a habit of keeping her standing on his doorstep.

"Please, we're off duty." she said as she entered his small residence. Of course, she didn't have anything to call him that wasn't formal, either. "Call me Meg." she said. This barrier wasn't going to be easy to get over.

"All right. Meg." Fraser said, carefully. He was confused. She hadn't visited in the hospital, she hadn't been able to leave the safe house until now, and he didn't know what she wanted from him that she had come to his apartment, especially not looking like she'd thrown on the first clothes that came to hand. They stood uncertainly inside the threshold.

"I- Const- Benton, I need to talk to you." Thatcher wiped her hands nervously down her skirt.

"Would you like to sit down?" Fraser asked.

"No. Thank you. I won't be here long." Thatcher said. "I just need to know. Dammit. Why do you have to make it so hard?" she said in frustrated tones, looking at his open, curious expression. "I just need to know, did it mean anything? On the train? Do I mean anything to you, anything at all?"

Fraser closed the gap between them, moving closer to her unconsciously. His lips were parted as he looked into her hurt eyes. What could he say? She'd told him that the kiss they'd shared could never happen again. She'd treated him brusquely ever since, not that it was very different from how she treated him before the incident. If he had been holding back, it was for her. For her career. For her fears. Because he didn't trust himself in love. But how could he tell her all of that?

Thatcher turned away. Obviously, she thought, it had meant nothing to him, because he was struck dumb by her question.

Action was a lot easier for Fraser than words. He couldn't let her leave like that. He reached out, touched her arm, little more than a brush, turned her toward him, his hand moving up to tangle in her hair as he bent to kiss her. She tilted her face upward, the hurt gone from her eyes as their lips met. Her hands reached out to touch him, to feel that this was real. Fraser pulled her closer, one hand stroking her head and the other pressed against her back. Did she mean anything to him? With his lips moving against hers, possessive, exploratory, taking in her softness, her sweetness, could she doubt that she meant something to him?

He wasn't the sort of man who could demonstrate that kind of passion recklessly, without something deeper under it. All the desperate yearning for affection, for the touch of someone who cared for him, all the powerful emotions that she aroused in him, he couldn't push them down under the rigid constraints of duty any longer, not with her standing in front of him looking lost because she thought he didn't care for her.

Meg reacted to his kiss with an instinctive drive for more. Her lips moved with an urgency against his as her hands clung to him, holding him tight to her, feeling the heat of his body pressed against hers through their clothes, her curves fitting against his almost overwhelmingly masculine solidity. Their embrace lasted until Meg's hand strayed and pressed against Fraser's bandaged side accidentally. He yelped in surprised pain, and they pulled apart.

"I'm so sorry." Meg said. And it wasn't just for the accidental pain that she'd caused him. All the things that the touch of their lips had communicated, all his longing, there was a lot more than a moment's physical pain that she owed him an apology for. She wanted to hold him, to comfort him, make up for all the times she'd misunderstood him.

"I should... tea?" Fraser said, moving quickly to boil water. He needed time to put some semblance of the wall back up. The connection between them was too open, too raw. Especially when he knew how things were going to end. He ran his hand through his hair while the water heated. If she hadn't brushed against him the wrong way, things would have rapidly progressed somewhere they shouldn't go without a lot more consideration and a lot less pure lust-driven impulse.

"Tea. Yes." Meg said. She sat at the table and looked at her fingernails while he prepared two cups of tea. He sat down next to her with a wince at the pain in his side.

"You... know you do mean something to me." Fraser said. "Very much so. I care for you... deeply." He wanted to say the words, even though he was sure that she had received the message loud and clear while their bodies had been locked together.

"But?" Thatcher said, controlling the part of her voice that wanted to become sharp and shrill and defensive.

"But you also know that this isn't the right time or the right place." Fraser said. "I wouldn't do that to you. Fraternization - as my commanding officer, you could get in a lot of trouble, no matter what I want, or how I feel about it. And-" he smiled wryly "I suspect I make your career difficult enough as it is, without complicating matters any further."

"So - you'd give me up without a fight?" Thatcher said. She winced at her own words. Why should the blame lie on him?

He reached out and put his hand on top of hers, stroking the back of her hand with his thumb. "I would fight for you if I thought I had the right to. But I want you to be happy. Perhaps, one day we could be-. Perhaps one day you could be happy with me." his voice trembled slightly. "But I don't want to be something you regret. Never."

Thatcher opened her mouth to protest, but she couldn't, not in honesty. Honestly, there were good reasons they had both been pretending that there was nothing between them. Very good reasons. All the reasons she'd given herself. But part of her wished he'd say to hell with it and carry her away with the force of the desire that he was suppressing.

"So what do we do?" she asked.

"Go on. Live. Keep telling ourselves that we need a speeding train under us to feel anything. Wait until the time is right. I don't have an answer, and I'm sorry for that." Fraser said. He closed his eyes, hiding a bleak look of loneliness.

"We could pretend that none of it mattered, just for a little while." Thatcher's voice was small, pleading, not her strident tone of command.

Fraser opened his eyes, finding himself once more caught in her gaze. He couldn't help himself. He'd walk through fire to save her, and yet he was supposed to deny himself the warmth of her touch. Even from the smallest point of contact of her hand under his, he could feel the electricity of her need. No matter the logic of his arguments, no matter how much more it might hurt to give her up if he gave in to desire now, there was only so much he could hold out against 'for her own good.'

Fraser slid from his chair and knelt next to Meg, lifting his face up to her. She leaned down, her arms around his broad shoulders as she met his invitation, her kisses gently roaming his cheeks and chin before returning to his mouth, finding his eager lips. He moaned softly, this time not a sound of pain at all. His hands stroked her bare legs and moved up her back, drifting under her sweatshirt to feel her silky skin. She felt his hunger in the way his fingers moved restlessly, as if he wanted to know all of her by touch as well as he did by sight and scent.

In all the times that Meg had dreamed of being in Fraser's arms, she had imagined his naïveté around women translating to something more fumbling and less assured than the way he was responding to her caresses now. His lips moved from hers, straying down to her neck. She let her head fall back as he trailed kisses down to her collar bone. He had an intuitive sensuality that had nothing to do with experience and everything to do with his ability to read every shiver, every small sound she made with perfect clarity. It was easy to forget all the reasons why this shouldn't be happening.

Fraser didn't protest when she leaned down further to tug his t-shirt off. He moved his arms for just long enough to let her lift the shirt up, and more or less tolerated the interruption to his exploration of her pale throat as the shirt came off over his head. He didn't resist as she slipped forward off her chair to join him on the floor, pushing him down softly from his knees to his back, leaning over him on her hands and knees, her fingers tracing the old scar on his chest.

Then her hands ran lightly over the bruising that showed at the edges of the bandage wrapped around his ribs. The contrast between the dark, mottled marks and the smooth perfection that she'd seen when he'd taken his undershirt off for her to treat the graze on his arm struck her. Tears formed in her eyes, and her hair hung over her face like a curtain, hiding it from him.

"Is something the matter?" Fraser lifted his head and propped himself carefully on his elbows.

"I just- they did this to you." Meg said in a low voice. "I can't stand that I couldn't do anything to stop it. I could lose you so easily."

"I'll heal." Fraser said. "Please..." he reached up and brushed a tear from her cheek with his thumb. She nuzzled her face into his caress.

There were things that there were no words to say. Fraser had no words to express that he knew, he knew how she felt about wanting to stand between him and harm. It wasn't fair to her, but since the threat to her life, he and Ray had done everything possible to make sure she wasn't going to be the one to get hurt. He couldn't promise she wouldn't lose him. He couldn't even promise that he'd be careful.

"Please." he said again. "Just be here with me now." She looked into his eyes and saw such depth of feeling that it took her breath away. What he saw in her eyes in response was her deepest secret, how close she was to falling in love with him.

He ran his fingers through her hair again, and then his hand slipped under her chin, guiding her face back up to his, his uneven breathing and slightly open lips forming an unspoken demand for her kiss, which she met with enthusiasm, her mouth once more on his. This was the point of no return. He knew he should stop, be the strong one, the one who did what was right even if it ripped him apart, but this felt right, this felt so right, his hands on her felt right, her lips against his skin felt right. They fit together. He needed her. She needed him. Let it be that simple, for once in his life.

-o-O-o-O-o-

Ray Vecchio was on a mission to make sure that his best friend wasn't stuck at home alone on his first night out of the hospital without any food or company. To that end, he'd even gone so far as to pay for pizza. When he showed up on Fraser's doorstep and found the door ajar, he pushed it open cautiously, the hand not holding the pizza reaching for his gun.

He was expecting the worse, fearing that one of Loman's men had come after Fraser. He didn't expect what he saw at all. Ray's eyes were wide with surprise as he silently turned to leave, closing the door behind him. Before he could close it, Diefenbaker slipped through, with his eyes on Ray's pizza box.

Ray looked down at Diefenbaker. "I hope he knows what he's doing." he said dryly. He didn't think that threats to kill Thatcher if SHE ever did anything to hurt his friend would go over so well with either of the Mounties. Ray scribbled a note on a piece of paper saying that he was taking Dief home with him and stuck it under the door.

"C'mon, Dief buddy. There are times between a man and a woman, when all a guy can do is split a pizza with a wolf and keep his nose out of it." Ray shook his head and headed for the stairs, Diefenbaker trailing behind him

End

Author's Note: Loman needs catching! And woah, a couple of Mounties need to sort out their feelings pretty sharpish, I'd say! Because that didn't look like a casual roll in the hay to me. (Hope Fraser didn't pull out any stitches!) So stay tuned for the sequel. Thanks to everyone who took the time to review. Your feedback is important to me, and very much appreciated. And especial thanks to vic32, without whose advice this would not have been half the romantic adventure.