MASQUERADE

MASQUERADE

By Anna McLain

Rating: R, Implied violence, adult themes and two different swear words.

DISCLAIMER: Due South and all its characters belong to Alliance Communication. The author does not own the rights to ER, either. This story is written for the private entertainment of fans. No infringement of any copyrights held by Alliance Communication or anyone else is intended. This story is not published for profit, and the author does not give permission for this story to be reproduced for profit. All characters not part of the TV show are the property of the author and may not be used without the author's express permission. Please, contact the author for permission to archive this work.

MISC: Tiny crossover with ER.

PAIRING: Fraser/female.

SPOILER: Tiny spoilers for Call of the Wild.

Comments are welcomed at sgmiii@aol.com Thank you for your time.

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MASQUERADE

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"LOVE LOOKS NOT WITH THE EYES,

BUT WITH THE MIND;

AND THEREFORE

IS WINGED CUPID PAINTED BLIND."

-Shakespeare-A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act I, Sc.1)

PROLOUGE:

The snow paralyzed Chicago with a whispering hiss. Between flakes the colorful Christmas lights on the storefronts twinkled in rainbow jubilation, despite the fact that most of the stores had already closed.

"I can't believe you did this," Keanna Lee told herself softly, not that there was anyone around to hear. The street was deserted, the other shoppers either gone home or still in the few open shops. "It's Christmas Eve. You should be home singing Christmas carols to your cat."

One of her crutches slipped on the light snow covering the sidewalk. The small bag of groceries she carried in one hand fell to the ground.

"Great," she muttered.

It was difficult to stoop and retrieve the bag with two crutches and a sprained ankle, but she managed, very slowly. Again, she wished she had gone shopping that morning before going to the gym--the gym where she sprained her ankle. Just her luck. Things like this happened to her all the time.

A sound behind her made her jump and almost fall. She regained her footing clumsily, then laughed at her own foolishness when she saw the sidewalk and street were still empty behind her. News of female body parts turning up all across the city had made her jumpy. None of them had been identified nor found in the area in which she was shopping, so she really didn't think there was anything to worry about.

She breathed a sigh of relief as she reached her car. It was a challenge to drive with a sprained ankle. The doctor at Cook County General had warned against it this morning after he gave her the crutches. But, she lived alone and had to take care of herself.

She fumbled for her keys in the deep pockets of her long wool coat. They slipped from her chilled fingers and dropped into the snow by the car door.

"Terrific," she said.

She rested her crutches against the car, then used the door to steady her as she fished the keys from the snow, sticking her injured foot out behind her. She straightened up, shaking snow from the keys. She glanced into the door window and screamed, losing her balance and falling to the ground.

Reflected in the window was the face of someone standing behind her. She ended up on her rear, in the wet snow, staring up at the newcomer and laughing.

"I'm sorry, you scared me." She smiled.

She took the hand extended to her and was pulled easily to her feet. Brushing herself off, she turned and put the key in the door. "I was just on my way home. I know I wasn't supposed to come out or drive or…" she broke off, feeling a sharp prick on the side of her neck.

"What?" she mumbled, glancing down into the window. The reflection smiled as darkness overtook her.

~~~ONE~~~~

Ray and Fraser wove their way through the crowded halls of the 27th District, Chicago Police Department. Stanley Ray Kowalski, AKA Ray Vecchio, in his customary rumpled jeans and T-shirt, looked as though he'd just crawled out of bed and stumbled to work, hair poking up in sharp spikes. He held his jacket in one hand, shaking off bits of fresh fallen snow. Beside him, the Mountie looked impeccable, as always, not a black curl out of place, brown uniform creased and shoes spit-shined, the epitome of tall dark and handsome. He held his Stetson in his hand, gesturing with it as they walked, flinging clumps of snow against the wall.

"I'm tellin' you Fraser, I told her you'd be here and she didn't twitch. I even told her the Ice Queen gave you a couple days off. She must be near death."

"Really?" Concern colored his face.

"No, not really."

"In that case I shall have to drop Francesca a card." They swerved around an officer on a ladder exchanging Valentine's decorations for Easter props.

"Have a ball, though you'll just make it worse."

Fraser frowned, not quite sure what his partner was referring to. "Aren't you sending her flowers, Ray? She is your sister afterall."

"She's *not* my sister. I don't *have * a sister."

"Ray Vecchio does."

"La dee da for him."

"And if we are to maintain pretenses, so do you."

"Look, if I sent her flowers she'd either toss 'em or think they were from you so why waste my hard-earned money?"

"I don't understand why you feel that way, Ray. Francesca is an intelligent woman. She would probably appreciate getting flowers from you."

"She hates me. She thinks I suck."

"Now Ray, that's just not true." Fraser stopped Ray with a hand on his arm. "Perhaps, you should tell her how you feel?"

"No. No way. I'm not a glutton for punishment." Ray shook his head emphatically and started walking again. He had never had good luck with women. Francesca Vecchio was extremely vocal and particularly picky when it came to men. He'd never actually seen her with *any * man, so intent was her pursuit of his Canadian de facto partner. Every unattached woman in the District had already rebuffed Ray, so why ask for further failure? Besides, she probably wouldn't date anyone who didn't either step off the pages of 'The Sword of Desire' or who wasn't Fraser himself.

"I hardly see what masochism has to do with anything."

"Maso-who? Besides, she has a big mouth and I don't want my humiliation spread all over the station."

"She wouldn't...well, I see your point."

They entered the bullpen. It was crowded with suspects, detectives at their desks and people filing complaints. They had to raise their voices above the din. Diefenbaker, the Mountie's white half-wolf, immediately set off on his morning donut-snatching rounds.

"Still, Ray it wouldn't hurt to try. Life is short and you shouldn't let it end without telling people how you feel."

"I'll only die if I tell her."

"You never miss the water until the well is dry, Ray."

"You're weird, Fraser."

"Understood."

They stopped in front of Franny's desk. The young woman at the desk stood and smiled at them. Both men promptly forgot what they were talking about. She had a smile that could stop traffic. They both stood there, mouths open, until she smoothed her black jeans and cleared her throat.

"Hello," she said in a soft contralto, extending a hand and a smile to each in turn. "I'm Sophie Allende. Miss Vecchio is sick and I'm her temp."

"Hey, Ray Vecchio." Ray shook her hand, quickly scanning her from head to toe, taking inventory; light brown and blonde hair pulled back, 5'6", 130 pounds, bright blue silk shirt, black jeans, very nice…too nice. She wouldn't like a guy like him. The nice ones never did.

"Franny's brother?" she asked, arching a manicured eyebrow.

Ray nodded, dark blond spiky hair bobbing.

"A blue-eyed Vecchio? You don't look Italian."

"I'm a throwback." He shrugged.

"Ah."

"You do the 'Ah' thing, too." Ray rolled his eyes.

"What?"

Fraser thrust out his hand. She shook it, meeting his eyes, deep stormy sea blue, levelly. She gave him the same smile she'd given Ray, wide, friendly and unpretentious. He noted her hand was small and cool, her grip firm. Her arresting green eyes were as dark as forest shadows, bright, alive and filled with inner motion like a deep pond with summer sun filtering through it. He saw laughter pool there and realized she was waiting for him to introduce himself.

"Ah, um, I'm Constable Benton Fraser. I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father and for reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture..."

"...He stayed on as butler for the Canadian Ice Queen," Ray interrupted.

Fraser looked at him, slightly offended. "I'm not a butler, Ray." He turned back to her and smiled. "I'm a liaison officer."

"Whatever," Ray said. "Hey, look, Frase, she probably needs her hand to work why don't you give it back."

Fraser glanced down and dropped her hand like it was on fire. He hadn't realized he'd been holding it the entire time. He flushed and started to apologize but the amusement in her eyes told him he was forgiven. He gave her a quick smile and ran one finger over his eyebrow.

"Sounds like an interesting tale. I've read some fascinating Inuit stories, Constable, are you familiar with any?" She met his gaze levelly. A look of pure joy crossed his face.

Before he could speak Ray said, "Oh, don't open *that* door. We got work to do." He handed her a scrap of paper with four names on it. "Look, I need to pull up files on these guys, OK?"

"No problem." She took the paper and sat at the computer and read them off as she typed, "Gerald Stano, Erszebel Bathory, Daniel Rolling, Jane Toppan."

Ray leaned toward his friend. "Sheesh, Fraser, she types almost as fast as you."

The Mountie nodded in acknowledgment, watching her type and brush back loose strands of long light hair that wafted loose from her French braid. The gentle breeze from the heating vents lifted the stray strands in a gossamer cloud around her head, creating an almost imperceptible halo effect. Fraser watched, fascinated, as the free-floating curls caught the ambient light in golden sparkles.

He'd honed his senses over the years of wilderness isolation. On an ice floe perception was the difference between life and death. The thickest ice was a spellbinding blue color. If you chose the wrong spot on the drifting ice, you could float off into the open sea, freezing to death with no one the wiser. He had been in a similar situation. The ice floe had slipped away from the main ice at an alarming rate then deteriorated so quickly he had been dropped into the water. If Dief hadn't jumped in and pulled him out he would have frozen solid in a matter of minutes. As a result he was particularly attuned to the imperceptible.

"Hard copies or disks?" she asked, glancing from one to the other. Light glinted from the gold cross at her neck.

"You can put that stuff on a disk?" Ray asked.

She nodded, a soft thick curl falling across her face. She glanced over her shoulder.

"Hardcopy, please," Fraser said, mesmerized by the gently swinging curl. She wasn't classically beautiful, but something about her was definitely compelling. He made a quick mental note to have his inner ears checked.

"You got it," she told him. Behind her the printer started up just as the phone beside her rang. She picked up the receiver and continued to type on the computer.

"She can do two things at once, Fraser," Ray whispered. "And one of them ain't drooling over you."

"I don't recall anyone ever actually drooling..." he broke off as Sophie's green eyes swept over them both, his train of thought derailed and completely forgotten.

"..please, Mr. Bundy," she was saying. "If you'll take a deep breath and tell me the problem I'll get the proper person to help you." Her voice was soft and smooth, comforting and a bit enticing, reminding them of a late night radio host lulling people to sleep. Both men waited, enchanted by the soft cadence of her voice. "I see, sir, I will have to put you on hold while I contact a Detective for you but I promise I will be right back. May I put you on hold? Thank you."

Fraser popped his neck and Ray shook his head, coming out of their reverie.

She put the caller on hold and dialed an internal extension. Cradling the phone between her shoulder and ear she handed Ray the first printed sheets. He flipped through them, scowling.

"Detective Huey, I have a Mr. Bundy on the phone. He says he has an arm for you. Do you want the case?"

Fraser and Ray exchanged looks.

"Thank you, I'll put him through." The printer spit out more sheets. She punched the hold button again and continued typing on the computer. "Mr. Bundy? Thank you for holding. Detective Huey will help you now." She reached for the transfer button, hesitated.

"What? Yes sir, I am single. No sir, but thank you for asking." She transferred him, without changing expression.

Ray and Fraser exchanged a frown. Sophie picked up the other printouts, handing some to each man. Ray started to walk off, shuffling through the papers.

"Thank you kindly." Fraser gave her his most gracious smile.

Ray frowned over his shoulder. Fraser's most gracious smile was like the Pied Piper's pipe. Sad thing was, the man didn't know it. Now if he, Stanley Ray Kowalski, had that particular smile he'd use it every chance he got, particularly to win back his ex-wife, Stella. Stella was the one love of his life. Oh, he got attention on his own, always had, but when the Mountie walked in the room the women turned into Pavlov's dogs and Ray melded with the wallpaper.

Ray melted into his chair more than sat in it and put a cowboy-booted foot up on his desk. After a few moments he handed his stack of printouts to Fraser, who had taken a seat across from him. Ray stared at the door, deep in thought. There were too many leads to his case. Sorting through them was a mess. His gut told him the four people in question were guilty, beyond a shadow of a doubt. They just had to prove it. It was a puzzle and he had little patience for puzzles. He was a man of action. Paperwork was dull. He needed to be out in the field, on the street, up to his armpits in the goings on. He sighed. His mind began to drift. His gaze passed over the bulletin board covered with pictures of local missing women and continued to make a circuit of the entire room.

Fraser reviewed the sheets for clues. In contrast to his partner, Fraser loved puzzles. He always had. Of course, clues popped out at him as easily as they did for Sherlock Holmes. Still, assembling them was fun. The thrill of the chase was exhilarating, but God was in the details. Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance, he recited to himself. Many a case had been lost because the details were overlooked. When it came to details Fraser's desire to retain them combined with his sponge-like memory into an uncanny force.

Diefenbaker settled near the Mountie's feet with an audible sigh. There was not a donut to be snatched in the entire room. He would have to try again later.

"Whoa. Who opened the door to the Chicken Ranch?" Ray exclaimed, straightening up in his chair and dropping his feet to the floor.

Fraser's head shot up. He surveyed the room. "What? I don't see any chickens, Ray, though there is a ballerina."

Ray nodded towards a young woman standing in the doorway scrutinizing the crowded room. Her strawberry blond hair was loosely piled on top of her head. She wore an orange spandex minidress, faux leopard coat, huge green and jade bird feather earrings and blue eyeshadow that sparkled in the dim indoor lighting.

"Man, someone unplug that eyeshadow!"

"Where are the chickens, Ray?" Fraser glanced under Ray's desk. Dief whined. "He doesn't see chickens, Ray."

"What chickens? There are no chickens, Fraser." Ray gave his friend an exasperated look. "The Chicken Ranch was a famous bordello in the American West. * She's* the chicken."

Fraser followed his gaze eyebrows raised. "Oh dear."

The woman saw them looking at her and smiled, a broad, knowing, feral smile…all teeth. She looked like lust personified. Fraser swallowed hard and looked away.

"Duck, big guy, her radar's locked on you."

"How do you know she isn't enamored of you, Ray?" he whispered hopefully.

Ray snorted. "You're here." He hid his face behind a file folder. A blank look crossed Fraser's face.

The woman sauntered down the aisle, stopped, scowled, reached behind her and pulled a little boy along by the arm. Fraser judged him to be about six, with dark blond hair and green eyes. The boy took in every detail of the room as they passed, wide eyes flicking from one face to another. They settled on one fuzzy, donut-snatching wolfdog who returned the boy's gaze with chocolate-eyed interest.

"Sophie," the woman called in a singsong voice, smacking her gum and leering at Fraser and Ray from the corner of her eye.

Behind Ray, Sophie shut the file cabinet drawer with a slam. She passed Ray with a furtive glance around the room and behind her. She wasn't really ashamed of her cousin, but the outfits she wore always drew enough attention to make Sophie uncomfortable.

"Claudia?"

The little boy's face lit up when he saw her. He ran to her and tackled her legs, stopping her beside Ray's desk, with a giant smile. She bent and hugged him with a wide smile, then said something to him in sign language. He answered her in kind.

Ray whispered to Fraser, "What? The kid's deaf?"

"It would appear so, Ray," Fraser whispered back. "Don't stare, Ray it isn't polite."

"Look who's talking." He gestured to mimic how Fraser had to turn around to look. Fraser shifted in his chair so he could watch the two women without being seen, leaning back and observing them over the top of a file folder.

"He's her son."

Ray gave him a pointed look. "What? You psychic or something?"

"No, Ray, he called her Mommy."

"You know sign language?"

"Of course. There are some deaf Inuit, in fact one time I…"

"Later."

Fraser nodded. "Understood."

Sophie stepped closer to the shorter woman and lowered her voice. Fraser did not want to eavesdrop, but he could not help it if his hearing was extraordinary, honed by years of solitude in the Northwest Territories.

"You weren't going to bring him here. I didn't want Logan to see this place."

The shorter woman shrugged, faux fur slipping off one shoulder. She pulled it back up with a long, neon orange nailed hand. When she moved, light glinted off the diamond stud on her nose and the gold ring piercing her eyebrow. Ray winced, ouch.

"I had no choice. Henry's back," Claudia said with a coy smile. "He moved back into his house a few months back. He's working at County General Hospital now."

From the corner of his eye Fraser saw Sophie stiffen. The expression on her face went from annoyance to disbelief to outrage in seconds. She stood there for a few long moments, breathing rapidly, then took a couple of deep breaths.

"You're going back with him, Claudia," Sophie stated, her voice unsteady.

Claudia got a dreamy look on her face. "I'm going to be Mrs. Dr. Henry H. Holmes. He loves me. He said so."

"He loves himself!"

Claudia frowned, a petulant look that dropped years from her face. She looked like a teenager. "Look, I figured you wouldn't want Logan to go with us." She smiled suggestively. "Who knows what he might see. We're going hunting. He's got these cool night sight things. We may even go to the mirror house at the carnival. Besides, I know how you hate poor Henry. Don't know why, though. He's * so* much fun."

Sophie looked down at the boy and motioned for him to close his eyes. He did.

"You're as dumb as a rock sometimes, Claudia Belle Gunness," she hissed. "That...person, I won't call him a man because I don't think he qualifies, is the one who pulled me into that closet, cut open a live chicken over my head and licked the blood off my face! Or did you forget that?"

Claudia giggled. "So he's kinky. It's fun. Besides, he told me if he knew you would freak out like that he wouldn't 've brought the chicken."

"Sick bastard. He's not all there." Sophie fought to suppress a shudder.

"Different drummers is all, Sophie. And," Claudia shrugged. "I think it's kinda fun."

Sophie stared at her. "Leave us alone. Stay away from me and stay away from my son. You're my cousin and I love you, but I won't have that monster near Logan." She put a hand on the little boy's head, pulling him to her. He was all she had, besides Claudia.

The other woman looked up at Sophie, wisps of strawberry blond hair falling in front of her eyes. She looked sad but determined. This was an argument that always ended the same. She knew exactly which buttons to push.

"I'm sorry Francisco left you." She stuck out a petulant bottom lip. "But maybe someday you'll be happy that I found true love. And you're not perfect either. Least I was never with a priest."

Ray gagged quietly. Fraser's eyebrows flew up.

"He wasn't a priest then," Sophie retorted. "We were kids."

Claudia just shrugged.

"Thanks for bringing Logan here," Sophie said coldly.

Claudia nodded. "See ya." She whirled and flounced out of the bullpen in a brazen flash of neon colors. She paused at the door to shoot a carnivorous smile at Fraser and Ray. Then she was gone.

Sophie covered her face with her hands and sighed deeply. Fraser imagined she was fighting to control her temper. He could see her hands trembling slightly. After a moment she dropped a hand to the top of the little boys head. He looked up at her and smiled when she ruffled his hair. She returned the smile and laughed softly at the sight of Diefenbaker, Fraser's wolf, licking the child's face. The boy was petting the wolf enthusiastically. She touched the boy on the shoulder and motioned with her head toward her desk when he looked up at her.

She glanced over at the two men when she had the child seated behind her desk. Fraser thought she looked slightly haggard, older somehow and very tired. A few curls had escaped her neat French braid to frame her face. She pulled another chair over to her desk, plopped into it and handed her son a pencil and paper. She turned the chair ever so slightly so that her back faced the wall.

Through thick lashes Fraser saw her gaze sweep the room. Fraser regarded her for a few minutes. The desk sat at an angle to Ray's so he could watch her profile unobtrusively. Her hands had stopped shaking but the light had gone out of her. She smiled only at her son and had withdrawn from all activity in the room, though she sat right in the middle of it against the wall. It was as though the room had ceased to exist for her. Only she and her son remained. She even stopped answering the phone, he noted.

A short time later she got up and headed for the coffeepot. Fraser stood quickly and strode over to intercept her. She was pouring coffee and missed the cup as he came up.

"Ouch!" she muttered, automatically sticking her burned fingers in her mouth.

Wordlessly, Fraser took the coffeepot from her hand, set it down beside the cup and took her injured hand in his.

"I have some salve that would help this burn. May I?" His blue eyes sought hers.

Her gaze brushed over his then down. She nodded. "Please."

He fished a small container from a pocket on his Sam Browne belt.

She winced. "That smells rank."

He nodded and shrugged. "That would be the caribou...well it doesn't matter." He smeared a thin layer of dark brown slime over her fingers with a feather light touch. "It won't stain, but don't wash it off for as long as possible."

She studied his face as he worked. He was both classically handsome as beautiful as Apollo. Unconsciously, he licked his lower lip as he worked. She almost smiled. It was a very sexy habit. Briefly, she wondered what, exactly, he wanted from her. People were seldom nice just to be nice, men in particular. And, a gorgeous man like him most likely had a harem all his own. She wasn't much for crowds. He concentrated on her injury and finished applying the salve.

"It works quickly, though, whatever it is. It doesn't sting anymore."

"Yes, some natural remedies actually contain natural versions of pharmaceuticals. This one has an organic version of..." he broke off when he saw she wasn't listening to him. She was watching her son. "Would you like some coffee?"

"Yes."

He poured her a cup. "Cream, sugar?"

"Both, please."

"You have a very cute little boy. He was born deaf?"

"Yes." She sipped from the coffee. "He has all of the hearing mechanisms, but he's missing the nerve to connect them to his brain." She flicked a quick glance at him. "So, he will always be deaf, unless new procedures can be developed." A wistful expression crossed her face.

He nodded, gazing at her quietly. "Are you all right?" he said softly.

She frowned, trying to determine his motives. "Sure."

"You *can* trust me."

She met his blue eyes steadily, searching his soul, stepped back and took a chance. "Some demons never die."

"Understood."

She gave him a wry smile, eyes still locked on his. "You're not having coffee?"

He shook his head. "I already had my limit. No more until lunch. I just..." He shrugged. She nodded and looked away.

"I have work. Thanks again." She returned to her desk. Fraser stood, leaning against the wall by the coffeepot, watching. He had seen a spark of amusement in her eyes before she left. That alone made him feel she would be fine. The problem was transitory.

~~~TWO~~~~

The week passed quickly and uneventfully until a phone call led Detectives Huey and Dewey to the park.

Huey and Dewey combed through the bushes in the park. The half frozen ground crunched and squished beneath their dress shoes. Bare branches snapped crisply from the bushes as they brushed against them. Huey shrugged deeper into his coat. It was one of those indecisive gray days when the ground, still frozen, thaws just enough to turn muddy in patches. The breeze, though slightly warm with spring, carried the promise of more snow.

"So, where is it? She said it was here?" Dewey sounded impatient. "We've been out here in the mud for two hours and nothing."

"Relax, Thomas," Huey told his partner. "We just have to find it. I'm sure it's here."

"We already got one piece. We should ship it to the 18th they got four."

"Shirking your duty, are you now?"

"Being realistic. And what was a little old lady doing out here in the park in weather like this anyway? She's yanking our chain."

"Walking her prize poodle, I expect. You know, the one that inherits everything when she's gone."

Dewey snorted then slipped. His foot flew out from under him and he fell on his backside, sliding three feet down a small gully.

"You okay, Thomas?" Huey called?

"Uh, yeah. You can stop looking. I found it."

"What is it…a body?"

"Nope, just a leg." Dewey's head appeared over the top of some bushes, grimacing at his partner. "That's all."

Huey shook his head and called Dispatch.

~~~THREE~~~~

"Ugh, how can you guys do that?" Ray rested his head against the wall, looking decidedly green. He would never figure out why people wanted to be Medical Examiners. It gave him the creeps. Every dead body looked to him like Uncle Bill. Ray shuddered at the thought of the nightmare; Ray was five. Uncle Bill was in a coffin; eyes open, calling Ray's name. Ray held his breath to slow his racing heart. It was long ago and far away.

Detective Dewey glanced over at him. "It looks like something out of that movie, Friday the 13th. It doesn't even look real, Vecchio."

"Looks real to me. Looks like spare parts. You been on this case two weeks and all you got is spare parts. I can't believe it took you guys a week to find her leg. Where's the rest of 'er?"

Fraser bent close to the body parts on the examining table. The Medical Examiner, Mort Gustafson, leaned in from across the table. "Well, Ray, technically you should ask 'where is the rest of them?' You see the arm belongs to one woman and the leg to another."

"Oh yeah? Tell me you didn't lick the cold cuts. Tell me you just looked at 'em."

The Mountie always licked things; mud, the bottoms of shoes, weird stuff. He said it was to test for evidence. Ray thought it was just some strange reaction to too much time alone in the snow.

"Of course, Ray." Fraser did not look up. "I was able to visually ascertain that the arm is from a Caucasian woman and the leg is from an oriental girl. Furthermore the unfortunate girl whose leg we have was suffering from a sprained ankle. There was no need for further sampling. I am curious as to this cut right here, Mort. Would you say those are initials?"

Mort peered closely. Detectives Huey and Dewey, whose case the miscellaneous body parts belonged to, leaned in from the foot of the table to get a better look.

"Why yes, I suppose they could be. Though with the amount of swelling and tissue damage, since it is so close to the point of dismemberment, it could be initials…or a symbol of some sort."

"Could you possibly get us concrete proof of what that is?"

"Yes. It would be a matter of removing the skin and..."

"La,la,la,la...I'm outta here, Fraser." Ray bolted for the door, hands over his ears.

"As you wish, Ray. I'll be upstairs for lunch soon."

"Raincheck."

"Understood." Fraser didn't look up. "Mort, what is the possibility of my watching the procedure?"

The door opened behind Fraser and Sophie came in carrying a file folder. She looked over her shoulder at Ray's retreating back. She blushed when she saw Fraser hunched over the table and thought of how much more open with her he had become over the past week.

"Of course, my boy. Watch any procedure you like." Mort smiled at him broadly. "You can even watch me draw samples for the toxicology report."

Fraser nodded.

"Detective Huey, here's the file you asked for." Sophie stood near Fraser and handed the file across the table to the Detective.

Jack Huey took the folder from her and opened it, flipping through the sparse contents. "Fifty women missing in the state this month alone." He shook his head.

At the sound of her voice, Fraser stood bolt upright, left hand still on the leg on the table. He cleared his throat. Absently he rubbed one eyebrow. He had become more open, she thought, but not more comfortable. Birds of a feather.

"Fraser, remember where that hand's been," Dewey, reminded the Mountie.

Fraser dropped his hand quickly, rolling his eyes, shrugging and giving Sophie a sheepish grin. She smiled at him broadly. Their eyes met and locked. The sterile white room began to fall away. Fraser stopped breathing; this feeling was so familiar. Mort cleared his throat. The couple jumped. Sophie looked away first. Fraser felt a flush creep up the back of his neck when he realized all eyes in the room had been on them.

"So, what were all you men doing in here?"

"Well, uh, we are..." For once, the Mountie was at a loss for words. Fraser glanced from the leg to the woman standing so close, close enough to smell the soap used on her hair, the delicately feminine musk of her skin....He shook his head to derail that train of thought. Hmm, train. Runaways. The image of a dark-haired woman kissing him atop a train passed unbidden behind his eyes and was gone. He absently patted the dismembered leg, a goofy grin on his face. "We're trying to identify these."

Her eyes left his face and drifted down his arm to his gloved hand to the mutilated inner thigh of a dead girl where his fingers rested. Her face went gray and she made a strangled, choking sound deep in her throat. Her eyes widened until the irises swam completely in white.

"Yeah, we finally have two of them," Huey said.

"Not again," she breathed. She took a step back; gaze locked on the examining table, stumbled over Dewey and bolted from the morgue.

Fraser frowned. He expected this reaction from Ray, but his instincts told him she had seen worse. The eyes are the windows to the soul, his Grandmother had always told him. In the depths of Sophie's green eyes he saw wisdom and amusement. It was as if she knew things no one else did, knew the punchline to a joke no one else realized they were a part of. At times her eyes showed the hollow echo of distant pain. Yes, she had seen worse, he thought, and lived through it. Staring after her, he yanked off the gloves and dashed out the door.

He found her in the stairwell, sitting on a step, head on her knees, hands clasped behind her head. She rocked back and forth almost imperceptibly.

He dropped to sit beside her and slid an arm around her shoulders. She flinched. He frowned. Her entire body tensed at his touch. He didn't remove his arm, just let his arm and hand rest lightly on her. For a minute he did not speak, and when he did there was honest compassion in his voice. She found herself touched, but did not show it.

"The morgue can be gruesome to some individuals, Sophie. Don't be ashamed that you had to leave." He tried to peek at her face. He decided to try humor. "Ray would say 'ya see, Fraser, even she don't get hungry looking at stiffs.'" He gave a short nervous laugh.

To his surprise she started to giggle. She sat up. The laughter had a high note of hysteria to it that worried him.

"Are you all right, Sophie?" he asked gently, watching her face intently.

She nodded, then shook her head slightly. Her forest green eyes took on a haunted inward stare that made him want to take her in his arms and shake her back to the material world. At the look of concern on his face her laughter dissipated, she made a small heartwrenching sound, a single full body sob. She drew a deep shaky breath. His arm tightened around her. He leaned closer, his face so close the free floating curls from her French braid tickled his cheek. He inhaled deeply and tried to concentrate through the intoxicating scent of soap and musk.

Her body stiffened as he pulled her close. He didn't care. She tried to relax against him, let herself be comforted. He smelled good, like apples and snow. She wanted to melt into his embrace and hold him tightly. But she had been alone so long, since Francisco, and been through so much that her body rebelled against the contact. Her shoulders jerked imperceptibly as she forced herself to relax a little.

"I should've guessed," she said, her voice cracking.

"It's happening again?" Fraser prompted softly, recalling her words in the morgue.

She nodded, letting her face fall forward. She covered it with her hands, short, neat fingernails glittering in the dim light of the stairwell. She began to cry soundlessly, cursing herself silently for breaking down in front of him.

Fraser felt the change and drew her to him, pressing her face against his chest and rocked her, making comforting sounds and stroking her hair. Her body was rigid, fighting comfort. She didn't touch him, hands clasped to her chest as if trying to retreat as far into herself as possible without physically pulling away from him. After a few minutes she took a great gulp of air and she pushed him away. Her face was dry, eyes red.

"I don't think you should visit the morgue if it affects you so strongly."

She snorted. "You're way offbase there, Ben."

"I don't understand." She took a deep breath, a weary sound.

"You will." She took his hand and led him up the stairs to the only closet big enough for two people. Fraser sighed. It seemed like he was always having conversations with people in closets, this particular closet and the one in his office, which doubled as an office for his father's ghost. Checking to be sure they weren't seen, she shoved him inside and closed the door behind them.

"I've only known you a week. Can I trust you?" Her narrowed eyes searched his, forest green to stormy deep sea blue. He met her gaze steadily and held it.

"Implicitly."

She took a deep breath, sighed, eyes still locked on his. Something in those eyes convinced her to believe him, for now. Her lower lip trembled. Her hands trembled. Her heart was racing so fast she thought she might pass out. Her mouth was dry and she had to force herself to continue. He needed to know. As strangled as the words were. He had to know.

"I have to show you something." The trembling in her hands grew to full out shaking. She perched on the edge of a box and began to pull up the hem of her knee-length black skirt. "You're the only one I've shown this to, other than Logan's father."

"Oh dear," Ben said and averted his eyes, a blush creeping from the neck of his brown uniform across his face. He looked up at the paint peeling from the ceiling. Why were city women always doing things like this? There weren't as many women in the Northwest Territories and he wasn't very good at these games. He had very little experience, foregoing chance encounters for those that had meaning for him.

"You can't see it if you look up there," Sophie said.

"I...Um...I think I already know... ah..um.." He couldn't bring himself to look. He could almost hear his Grandmother's voice telling him it wasn't proper.

"My *leg*, Ben." A small smile played across her face as she realized what he thought. It was cute that he didn't *want* to look. She just assumed all men would.

"Ah," He took a deep breath and looked at her. "Oh, uh," He swallowed hard. "Oh, dear." His eyes automatically followed one sheer black stockinged leg up over her knee to the shimmering edge of the stocking to the garter-covered creamy white skin. He shook his head. He was going to need to stand out in the cold rain. Wide blue eyes snapped up to meet amused green ones.

"Well?"

"Uh...very nice?"

She rolled her eyes. "Sometimes you gotta beat them with a stick," she muttered.

"Excuse me?" Fraser's eyes widened further. The mental image that went with her statement was slightly alarming but not *totally* unpleasant. He shook his head.

"Right here, Ben."

His eyes followed her well-manicured finger to a spot on her inner right thigh. This time he saw it. Duty overwhelmed modesty.

"May I?"

"Yes."

He knelt before her and shut out the fact that kneeling between her shapely legs in a janitor's closet was a very compromising position indeed. Gently he touched her trembling thigh with one finger. His RCMP training took over. He unconsciously cataloged everything about the situation. The thick white scars on her inner thigh were so deep they hadn't been completely eradicated by what looked like an amateur procedure.

"You tried to burn off the scars," he stated.

"It didn't work."

The marks inside the burn were very faint. The burn itself was about three inches in circumference, irregularly shaped. He looked closely. He'd seen that pattern before. His head snapped up. He met her eyes. She looked away and covered her mouth with the back of one shaking hand.

"The same as...."

"The girl in the morgue," she finished for him, the quiet certainty in her voice gave him a chill.

At that moment the door to the closet flew open. Simultaneously, Sophie closed her legs and tugged at her skirt, falling off her perch, Fraser threw himself backwards, fell over the mop bucket, smacked against the wall, and Francesca Vecchio whispered, "Oh my God!"

Fraser jumped up, brushing at his brown uniform jacket, face the color of Francesca's red passion lipstick. He and Sophie exchanged a quick guilty glance. Fraser gestured helplessly, looking for the correct words.

"We...er...you're back! I trust you feel well?" Fraser said quickly then added a broad grin.

"I was just looking for papertowels," Francesca said quietly, shock etched on her face, mouth hanging open. She did *not* see what she just saw, this was *Fraser* afterall. For a moment, Fraser was afraid she would either faint or pick up the mop and beat him to death, the latter being more likely.

"I was showing him evidence." Sophie jumped up and straightened her clothing.

Franny fixed her with an icy stare, like a lion staring at a meal. "It was small enough to fit up there, Miss Stepford Wife?" she snapped.

Sophie swallowed. The look on the older brunette's face was deadly and she wasn't completely sure where it came from. Sophie stared at her. They were nearly the same height, but then, Franny was wearing 4-inch heels to Sophie's flats. Franny's brown eyes were wide and angry.

"Yes," she said.

"No," Fraser said simultaneously.

Sophie glanced at him to silence him. "It's on my leg."

Franny stared at Fraser. He nodded emphatically.

"She has initials."

"So do I."

"On her leg. Carved on her leg." He tugged on his right earlobe.

"Oh, for goodness sake, Franny, look." Sophie raised her skirt and put her foot up on the mop bucket. Franny bent and looked, glancing quickly at Fraser to see if he was looking. Lucky for him he was counting the cracks in the ceiling.

"I'd be hard pressed to call those teeny tiny faint scars initials," Franny said coldly.

"Some things have come up since you were gone, Franny. I can brief you on them when we get back to your desk," Sophie told her.

Franny looked Fraser up and down quickly. "Some things better *not* have come up," she muttered, turning back to Sophie.

Sophie held out her hand. "I'm Sophie Allende, by the way."

"Yeah." Franny shook her hand then whirled and gave Fraser a sultry look. "Ya know," she drawled. "I've got garters, too, except mine are passion red just like in the 'Sword of Desire'. And I've got a few *other* things, too." She gave him her sexiest smile and ran a finger down the length of his jacket before sashaying out of the closet.

He swallowed hard, eyes wide and innocent. She looked positively feral when she did that. The image of a bobcat going in for the kill flitted through his mind. "Oh dear."

Sophie straightened her skirt again and stood. "Relax." She patted his arm. "I don't think she's going eat you just yet. I think she's going to filet me first."

"So it would seem." Fraser held the door open for her and followed her out of the closet.

~~~FOUR~~~~

Fraser slowed his steps so Sophie could keep up with him. She was five or six inches shorter than he was and it would be rude to outrun her. As they walked he nodded 'hello' to everyone they passed.

"We need to tell Lt. Welsh about this, as well as Detectives Huey and Dewey."

"I'm not showing every man in the District my inner thigh, Ben."

"No," he said quickly. "I'm quite sure that won't be necessary." He held the door to the bullpen open for her and motioned her inside. "Perhaps, only the Leftenant."

They crossed the crowded, noisy bullpen quickly. Fraser knocked on the Lieutenants' door, ducking his head to avoid Franny's dark look.

"What?" came Welsh's deep voice.

Fraser opened the door and peeked his head inside. "Ah, Leftenant, a moment of your time, please?"

"Anytime Constable." He motioned for the Mountie to enter.

Fraser ushered Sophie in and closed the office blinds. Welsh watched silently. He knew, in time, the Mountie would explain everything in more detail than was necessary. Until then, he leaned back in his chair and tapped a pen on his desk.

"Anybody seen Fraser?" Ray surveyed the bullpen, searching for perfection in a Stetson hat.

Jack Huey stepped past him, followed by Dewey. "Get in line," Huey told him. Ray fell in step behind them. They found Fraser in Welsh's office. Ray went to stand beside his friend, whose attention was on Sophie. She stood close beside him, staring vacantly at the floor, chewing her bottom lip, arms wrapped around her chest.

"She okay, Fraser?" Ray whispered.

"Just scared, Ray."

"What's up, Lieutenant?" Huey asked, standing in front of Welsh's desk.

"Close the door." Huey complied. "What do you have on this dismemberment case so far?"

Huey and Dewey each flipped open small notebooks.

Huey went first. "Nobody saw the pieces dumped. They were found 5 miles apart, leg in an alley dumpster, arm in bushes in the park. Fingerprints verify the arm belonged to Lori Palmer, 16, a runaway from Ann Arbor. The ME's report said the leg has the initials H.H. carved into the upper inner thigh with what may have been a serrated kitchen knife. There's no way to ID the leg." Huey looked up from his notebook. "The ME also said both pieces contained traces of a narcotic commonly used to put people under for surgery."

Right on cue, Dewey read from his notebook, "The list of missing young women in Illinois alone in the last 12 months is 8,652. Roughly, 700 of them oriental girls under the age of twenty. The leg could belong to any of them or none of them. The crime scene team is studying footprints taken from the site. There were no viable fingerprints. The 18th had no other information. They can't I.D their pieces, either."

"So, you've been on this case two weeks and you got nothing aside from the name of one victim and a set of initials."

"Basically."

"And no suspects?"

"Too many. Though we are running the initials through state and federal computers to narrow it down."

"Well, you just got lucky." Lt. Welsh leaned his elbows on his desk.

"Sir?" Huey asked. He exchanged a look with Dewey.

"Constable Fraser has discovered that our own Miss Allende has those same initials carved into her inner thigh." Welsh gave the Mountie an odd look. Eyebrows were raised around the room. All of the men turned and stared at Fraser. He flushed slightly and looked at the floor.

"Inner thigh?" Ray exclaimed, hands on hips. "You saw her inner thigh? What were you doing down..."

Fraser cut him off. "Ray, it wouldn't be appropriate to dis..."

"Drop it, both of you," Welsh snapped. "The point is she knows the perp. Show them your back, young lady." He motioned to Sophie. Ray smacked Fraser lightly on the arm.

She looked embarrassed and scared. Fraser gave her a small smile of encouragement to ease her fear. She took a deep breath, held it and turned her back on the room.

"Aren't you gonna tell me not to look this time?" Ray hissed. Fraser shook his head.

Quickly she unbuttoned her forest green silk shirt and slipped it off her shoulders, letting the back fall to her waist, careful to pull up enough material to cover the front of her green satin bra. She tossed her head to flip the long French braid over to the front of her shoulder.

A collective gasp went through the room. Welsh leaned back and watched the reactions, having already seen her back. Huey and Ray gaped. Dewey ran a hand over his face and hair, cringing. Fraser looked like he wanted to jump in front of her and cover her with his coat. Welsh suppressed a smile.

"Ouch," Ray muttered. "That had to hurt."

Her back looked as though it was covered with a fine filigree lace. A delicate network of thin white lines wove an intricate, spinning, design across and through the skin, in a composition mimicking the finest lace.

Fraser's first thought when he had seen it a few minutes before the others entered the room was the deliberate strokes of the knife that carved the pattern, the hours it must have taken, the pain inflicted on the pretty young woman who stood there displaying her past so quietly. His throat clenched. She was such a sweet girl. Now, with the others gawking, he yearned to throw his tunic around her and hold her, but he had to fight the urge so as not to embarrass her.

"It continues around the front," she whispered, and turned. The exquisitely weblike pattern slipped over her shoulders, stopping at her neckline, and cascaded down her front, like a spider's web draped over her. The web continued down her cleavage, her stomach. The contrast between her pale pink skin, the snowy scars and the cascading green silk she held over her breasts was shocking, like a surreal painting. Fraser found himself not breathing, captivated by that contrast, the silk so like the color of her eyes. He was surprised by how strongly the sight stirred him.

Lt. Welsh cleared his throat. The spell was broken. The men around the room exhaled in unison.

"Just a little longer, Miss Allende." Welsh gave the girl a sympathetic smile. "Constable, you seem to be our resident expert, tell me what you see in those lines on her back."

"Expert what, sir?" Fraser asked, kneeling behind Sophie to better inspect her back.

"Everything, Constable. You're one of those annoying people who's good at anything they try and some things they don't."

"Oh, I beg to differ, Leftenant. There was this time when I was a lad in the wilderness near...."

"Later, Constable."

"Understood."

Fraser studied the fine white lines. The lacy weblike pattern was so delicate, so beautiful in its own way, he thought she could almost go topless and appear clothed. Of its own accord, one hand began to gently trace the filigree, fingertips barely touching her skin. She shuddered so imperceptibly he was the only one to see it. He tried to concentrate on the pattern and ignore the subtle musk of her skin, the soap and clean smell of her hair.

The feel of his fingers on her skin was like fire, burning into her, almost as painful as the knife had been. It had been so many years since she had allowed anyone to touch her, other than her son. The last had been the boy's father, nearly five years earlier. After that fiasco she had decided she was better off alone. She focused on the wall, anything to ignore the man behind her.

"Well, Constable?" His fingers lingered on her lower back, just above the green silk of her shirt, the black cotton of her skirt.

Fraser cleared his throat.

"The lines are continuous, sir. There are no obvious starting or stopping points, as if the entire design were a single line."

"Which means?"

"That would indicate several things; the monster who did this is very meticulous, very careful and probably artistic or a doctor. The lines are perfect, all the same width and depth. He took a very long time to do this, hours, possibly more than one day. He also didn't care about the pain inflicted. Obviously this would hurt a great deal. He didn't use a knife with a serrated edge because the lines are too smooth, too perfect. A serrated blade would have made the lines jagged."

"Didn't Mort say the girl in the morgue was cut with a serrated kitchen knife?" Welsh said.

"Yes, sir. Perhaps our perpetrator was pressed for time, or didn't have his preferred tools with him." Fraser shrugged.

"Or he prefers me and wanted to take his time to make me perfect," Sophie added.

They considered the ramifications of this quietly. Fraser stood and lifted the back of her shirt and covered her. She inclined her head forward as he settled the material over her shoulders then gently lifted her hair to the outside of her shirt and onto her back. A shock like static electricity went through her when his fingers accidentally brushed the skin at the back of her neck. Her breath caught in her throat. She bit her lower lip. It was hard to stand so close to him, to anyone really, but him in particular. She buttoned her shirt quickly.

He licked his lower lip nervously and glanced over his shoulder to see if the other men noticed her discomfort. They did not. He touched her arm and gave her a small grin of solidarity.

When she turned around the others were discussing how to proceed with the case. She wasn't really listening. Fraser was standing so close to her it was very distracting. Unconsciously they drifted closer together until their arms were almost touching.

"Fraser, hey, Earth to Fraser," Ray's voice broke through his reverie.

"What do you think, Constable? Will it work?" Lt. Welsh asked.

"Uh," Fraser shook his head. "What, sir? I'm sorry, I wasn't quite...I didn't hear the...uh, plan, sir."

Sophie tried not to grin. He wasn't listening, either? Maybe he didn't have a harem afterall.

"Tell him," Welsh said, waving at Huey.

"We take down as much info about this perp as Sophie can give us. Then we send her out to lure him into the open. He'll probably go after her. We've no proof that he ever let another woman go."

Fraser couldn't believe it. "You want to use her as bait for a serial killer?"

"Basically. But we'd all be her backup, of course."

"No."

"Excuse me, Constable?" Welsh said.

Fraser cleared his throat. "No, Leftenant, sir, it's too dangerous. Miss Allende is a civilian. If this criminal has a personal crusade against her or even if he doesn't, I suppose, his main goal would be to carve her into small pieces. She'd have no defenses if we were to send her in there alone."

Welsh sighed. He was quiet for a moment. "All right. Work on all the other angles first. But Constable, keep in mind that this is the backup plan. If I decide she has to go in she has to go. Understood?"

Fraser looked somber. "Understood."

"Right. I'll call Inspector Thatcher and get the okay for you to work with us for the duration of this operation."

"Yes, sir."

"All right, everyone out of my office. I want regular updates."

They all started to file out. Fraser put one hand lightly on Sophie's back to escort her out.

"Vecchio, stay."

"Yes sir," Ray said. Fraser shot his partner a curious glance as he shut the door behind him.

"Something wrong, sir?" Ray asked.

"What's up with the Mountie?"

"What's * not* up with him, sir?"

"I mean, has he got a thing for our new temp or what?"

Ray frowned. "I think so, but you can't really tell with him. It might be a Canadian thing, sir."

"He didn't tell you? 'Cause, you know, other than that one woman who tried to shoot him and escaped on the train, I haven't heard of him taking advantage of even one of the multitude of women tossing themselves on his boots."

Ray shrugged. He was still plain old Stanley Kowalski during the woman and train thing. Fraser never wanted to talk about it, except to say he thought he was in love, but decided it was an imbalance of the inner ear, or something weird like that.

"He hasn't, sir. He's like the Pope, Lieutenant. His wolf gets more women than he does."

"Not one? Huh, go figure."

They both shook their heads in amazement.

~~~FIVE~~~~

"She has initials, Francesca. On her * leg*, Francesca. Try right up next to her panties! Oh, no, Francesca, I didn't *look*," Franny muttered as she stomped to the bus stop, 4-inch heels pounding chunks out of the pavement. She strode quickly through the dark parking lot of District 27, slipping a little on the light dusting of snow. It was five p.m. and already dark. "I was just showing him * evidence*, Francesca. HA! Evidence my foot! Evidence framed by black garters and lacy panties no doubt." She fumbled for her bus tokens. "Try to steal *my* ring! I bet he gave it to her right there in the closet that..."

Her diatribe was cut short by a hand clamping over her mouth. Startled, she did not react until her attacker lifted her off the ground. Instructions from her self-defense class came back to her. She bit his hand, brought her arm forward and slammed her elbow into him. Her purse and bus tokens spilled on the pavement. The man let out a soft yelp of pain but did not let go.

He slammed her up against her car. The wind knocked out of her, she was momentarily stunned. A sharp prick stabbed the side of her neck was followed by numbness, seeping, liquid, black, numbness. Her last thought was, 'What is that funny taste?'. It took less than a minute for the narcotic to knock her out.

Her attacker glanced around the empty police station parking lot and tossed the petite brunette easily over his shoulder. He picked up her purse, then crossed the nearby sidewalk and levered her into the trunk as gently as one would lay a baby down for a nap. He covered her carefully with a blanket and other things, not because she might awaken, the drug was strong and she would not wake up for several hours. He covered her on the off chance he would get pulled over. But, he was really too careful for that. He would never speed and there was nothing about his car a police officer might find fault with.

He giggled to himself at the irony of the situation; he'd taken her from the parking lot of the Chicago PD. And they were none the wiser. They'd find her like all the others, well, parts of her.

He drove away carefully on the slick pavement, laughing and singing along with the radio. The fun was about to begin. He knew he'd have to go on vacation again soon. Spring was struggling with winter to force its way through. As the snow melted the results of his earlier fun would make itself known.

~~~SIX~~~~

"Thanks, Fraser," Ray muttered the next day.

"For what, Ray?"

Ray pushed apart the two stacks of files on the desk in front of him so he could see the man across the desk from him. Fraser had dressed up in his red surge uniform that day. He preferred the brown one, but often alternated. Ray thought he looked a lot like Santa, particularly with all the snow outside.

"For this." He indicated the stacks of folders covering his desk. "For volunteering us for all this work yesterday like I didn't already have a ton of it. And weren't you supposed to do your Mountie pigeon roost thing this week?"

"Turnbull has guard duty this week, Ray. And this isn't a particularly large amount of work. Huey and Dewey have half of the files."

"And this is only half of that half."

"Think of it as a puzzle, Ray. Somewhere in here is information that could stop a possible serial killer," Fraser said evenly, his face a studied professional calm.

"We already know who the schmo is. Let's go Rambo him and it's over."

"Now, Ray, we aren't sure the man Sophie told us about is responsible for the current crimes."

"Course not. Just because his initials are on a leg-cicle in the freezer? Oh no, that's nothing!" Ray stared at his partner. "You just wanta do this 'cause you got it bad for little miss eyes-like-tidal-pools."

They both glanced over to Sophie. She leaned back in her seat, sorting through papers and tossing the odd one into a trash can. Her ponytail hung down the outside of the back of the chair, swinging with each movement. She wore a jade green silk blouse that accentuated her eyes so well they could see the color of them from across the room.

"I didn't say that."

"Your drool said that." Ray was enjoying this. He loved to see the Mountie blush. And it was so easy!

Fraser's mouth opened indignantly. "I don't drool."

Ray smiled and laughed under his breath. "Your shirt's all wet."

"What?" The Mountie surveyed the front of his red surge uniform, aghast that he might be out of uniform. This was the only clean one he had. If it were wet, he'd have to run home and put on one of his brown uniforms.

Ray started to laugh. What a sucker.

Fraser looked at him blankly. "I don't see how that's funny, Ray."

Ray laughed even harder.

~~~SEVEN~~~~

Franny woke to a nightmare. Darkness. Soft cloth over her eyes. Cold, headache, her limbs burned and tingled with sleep. She lay on her back on something hard and cold. A brief struggle told her her arms were outstretched over her head, hands tied to something with what felt like thin, sharp wire. An attempted kick of her legs told her her legs and feet were also firmly tied with wire.

"Hey," she yelled at the top of her lungs. "Let me go you yellow backed jerk! My brother's a cop!"

The echo of her words was her only answer. She struggled against her bonds, wincing at the sharp pain caused by the wire. Her entire body felt stiff and sore, her head fuzzy. Her ears rang.

"He won't keep me here," she told herself. "I'm practically a cop." Then she noticed just how chilly the surface was against her back. Something was missing. She took a long deep breath to slow her racing heart and try to clear the cotton from her head. Anger gave way to fear then segued to panic when she realized she was wearing only her panties.

"Oh, no you don't." She yanked on the bonds. Pain shot up her arms and a liquid warmth flowed over her fingers. "Oh, no, no, no, no, NO!" she screamed.

~~~EIGHT~~~~

Fraser contemplated her through steepled fingers. Patience was something he'd learned early, patience and observation. Hundreds of miles from civilization on a field of ice or in the wilderness only your own senses, resourcefulness and patience could mean the difference between life and death. Chicago was different, but not that different. A wilderness or desert could be made of trees and rocks, water, ice and crevasses, or steel and concrete, each desolate and dangerous in their own way. Chicago was just more populated than the Yukon. And a lot louder, he thought. Sometimes the noise gave him a headache. And he missed the stars. In the wilderness of the Yukon, with no lights to dilute the effect, the Milkyway could be seen in full twinkling glory, often a backdrop to the beautiful Northern Lights. He sighed and looked at the woman across from him.

He knew she needed to talk. It hadn't taken much convincing to get her to this diner. He frequented this diner, despite the painful memories it invoked. It was the same diner in which he had reunited with Victoria, the one love of his life, so far. He shook off that memory. It was better left buried. Sophie actually needed him, he could feel it. He was determined to be there for her, damn the consequences. He just hoped he wouldn't get shot this time.

The young woman across the table from him fidgeted with the sleeve of the Red Wings hockey jacket she'd thrown over her silk blouse. She looked everywhere but at him, studied the rain that caressed the café window and pooled in the street. The weather was strange, raining one day, snowing the next. But, that was spring in Chicago, she thought.

She knew he wanted her to talk, to reveal the deepest secrets of her soul, and confess every detail of her experience with the psycho. And she knew she should, she had to. Telling might help him save the next girl. But the pain was like a cork in a wine bottle, long, thick, and very difficult to budge. The first word was just too difficult. She felt frozen, staring at the rain. Her mouth was completely disconnected from her brain.

"I…can't…" she managed to squeak.

Fraser gave her a kind smile, his blue eyes understanding but worried. "Take all the time you need." He regarded her for a moment. Her hands began to shake. Instinctively, he reached out to take them in his hands, to offer comfort. She flinched at his touch and yanked her hands back without thinking.

Fraser blinked in surprise.

She bit her lower lip and shoved her hands between her knees, pressing them together. It had been too long since a man, any man, had touched her. The specter of this psycho loomed too large. It overshadowed even Francisco's kindness and his subsequent departure. She did not blame him, though; he was destined for the priesthood from birth. Even though his father was a Baptist preacher, Francisco had become a Catholic at 17. Who was she to stand in the way of destiny?

Talk, damn it, she told herself, tell him.

She opened her mouth to speak but let out a long shuddering sigh instead. The rain caressed the window. Its gentle patter creating a serene white noise that she could easily let herself be lost in the way she always had. It was comforting. She wanted to pretend Ben wasn't there, calmly studying her, not prying, stoically letting her take her time.

"You know," Fraser said softly, "Once, long ago, when I was just a boy, I went out alone on a trek. I was trying to find adventure, to live what I'd only read about. So I set out with my pack and provisions, without my grandparents permission. My grandparents raised me, by the way. My father was always gone." A faraway look crossed his face. His voice got softer. "What I didn't know was there was a storm coming. And I didn't know Bobcat Mulgrew was in those same mountains. I didn't realize anything was wrong even when the snow began to fall."

Sophie closed her eyes briefly, then continued to watch the rain. She let herself be tranquilized by the gentle cadence of his voice. He has the most amazing voice, she thought, he should record those self-hypnosis tapes or be a radio DJ. His words and the falling rain wove together in a gentle dance, melding and complementing one another; melody and harmony, weaving around her like a warm blanket. The tension slowly left her body.

"…And I was frozen more from fear than the blizzard. He beat me until I could hardly think. Then he threw me from the cliff." Fraser sighed. "Luckily for me the snow had already drifted quite thickly at the bottom of the cliff."

She turned and watched his expression. His dark sea blue eyes were wide with remembered panic, his face still. He suddenly looked very young. He was quiet for a moment, then ran his thumb across his right eyebrow. When he noticed she was looking at him, the professional calm slipped over his face and all trace of vulnerability vanished.

"It was a short drop, really."

She smiled, a small sad smile, ghosts of her own flitting through her mind.

"But high enough, because you didn't know the snow was deep enough to save you."

He looked up at her through long, thick lashes. "Precisely. It's difficult to say with snow."

She held his gaze. His hands rested on the table between the half-full coffee cups and empty plates. She reached out and laid her hands over his, impulsively comforting. It was easier to give comfort than to receive it.

"Some demons never completely die."

He nodded. "You can't let them immobilize you, though. You incorporate them and move on." He turned his hands over to hold hers.

She was silent, staring at their clasped hands, amazed that she felt no compulsion to pull hers away, absorbing warmth and strength from him.

"My parents died when I was ten. Drunk driver," she offered.

He nodded. "I was six when my mother died."

He studied her hands, long thin fingers, and medium length natural nails, neatly trimmed and painted with translucent mint polish. A musicians hands. He noted the lightly callused fingertips. She plays guitar, he thought.

"I love the rain, the smell of wet earth," she said. "As a small child I'd watch my Daddy's horses play in the rain."

Fraser smiled. "I often ride my horse in the rain or I did, she's at home."

"Claudia Belle was always kind of wild, boys, whatever." She said out of the blue. It was the only way to get the words out. She took a deep breath and plunged ahead, speaking quickly. The words began to flow. "It was her fathers fault. Sick bastard. I'm glad I'm related to her mother, not him. At twelve I'd had enough of living with them. Claudia followed me to Detroit when I ran. Not a good place for a couple of young girls. Henry found her straight off. I found Logan's dad, whose father was a Baptist preacher. Let me stay in the basement of the church. He had quite a library."

Her face took on a faraway look, eyes searching inward. "Henry gave me the creeps, but Claudia was fourteen and knew everything. One night I stopped by to give Claudia her coat. She was sleeping, he answered the door."

Fraser squeezed her hands for encouragement.

"He dragged me into a walk-in closet, cut a live chicken open over my head and licked the blood from my face. He was so much bigger, I couldn't get away…"

She broke off, sniffling and fighting tears. Fraser rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb, wincing against the pain he was causing her. He was convinced she would feel better after talking.

"He let me go when Claudia opened the door. I don't even remember screaming. She said I was. Guess he decided he loved me then. Followed me a lot after that."

"When did he mutilate you?"

"I was fifteen. He tied me to a table with wire and…" her voice cracked, throat clenched and choked off any other words. She pulled her hands from his and covered her face.

Fraser leaned across the table and took her into an awkward hug, resting her head on his shoulder. After a moment she took a deep gasping breath and held it, fighting for control. He smoothed her hair gently and wished there wasn't a table between them, then realized that boundary was probably the only reason she didn't pull away. He couldn't get too close.

She tensed slightly and he let her go, sliding back into his booth seat. A single tear slid down her cheek. He reached out and wiped it away with two fingers. He still had questions. Perhaps answering them would help her regain control.

"What was his occupation?"

"Doctor. He always loved big houses. Talked about the Winchester rifle house, with the stairs that led nowhere."

"Do you know how to find him?"

She shrugged. "Follow Claudia?"

"How do we find her?"

"I could beep her."

"There you are then." He gave her an encouraging smile.

~~~NINE~~~~

Franny lay quietly trying not to panic, straining to put meaning to every minute sound she heard. The bonds that held her were very tight and secure. Her wrists stung from her struggle and felt wet. She was so scared she felt nauseous. She couldn't remember ever being this scared before, not even the time Ray and Maria had locked her in the dark closet for hours when she was six.

She kept going over escape and rescue plans in her head. Quite a few of them included a drop-dead gorgeous Canadian Mountie and white wolf swooping in to save her. They would. They had to.

By her feet a door creaked open. Franny held her breath.

Nothing.

A sudden surge of anger rocked her. "I know you're there scum sucker. I can hear you breathing. Just you wait 'til my brother and Fraser get a hold of you!" The threat echoed in the room.

Silence.

"Did you hear me, banana brain? They're gonna rip you leg by leg."

A soft chuckle at her feet sent a chill through her entire body.

"What kind of pervert are you?"

Footsteps, around the table up to her head.

"You've cut yourself," a man's soft tenor voice whispered.

Shivers ran down her spine. Such a soft, pleasant voice, who would've thought it belonged to a kidnapper?

Something soft touched her wrists at the bindings.

"Ouch! That stings!" She instinctively jerked away. "Did you just * lick* me? You did! You sicko."

Another chuckle, this time beside her. "A salty wine. Very nice."

"Let me go if you know what's good for you."

No answer.

A hand touched her outstretched arm, fingers lightly dragging against her skin, from wrist to shoulder.

"Stop that. It tickles. And don't you dare think of going lower, buster."

The fingers continued their quest, barely raking her skin, breast, stomach, thigh, foot, then up the other side, maddeningly ticklish. This was the first step in the game; exploration.

The man smiled, tuning out her protestations and threats. The game had rules and each step had to be taken in turn. He was patient. He could not be distracted. It would be a nice long day.

~~~TEN~~~~

Ray tossed the files on to his desk and ran a hand along his forehead.

"Problem, Vecchio?"

"Yeah, Huey, this case. It gives me the willies. Body parts turning up all over the place. It's like Jack the Ripper."

Jack Huey laughed. "Not exactly. This is more gruesome. It's more like…"

"Hey, don't add to my nightmares." Ray held up both hands.

"You going soft on us? Too much time with the Mountie?" Huey smiled broadly.

Ray slammed his palms down on his desk, pushing himself to his feet and knocking over his chair.

"I ain't soft. I can handle this. Hey, I'll * solve* this. I'll find this guy and go postal on him."

Huey put both hands out in front of him, defensively. "Take your medicine, Vecchio. And lay off the coffee."

Lt. Welsh walked up, cutting off Ray's retort. "Vecchio, Huey, I thought you had work to do or are chopped up women not reason enough for you to concentrate?"

Huey nodded and strode back towards his desk. Ray lowered his head and started to explain.

"Save it, Detective." Welsh indicated Franny's desk. "Tell that sister of yours if she's going to be out sick she better call in."

"Uh, she's not here, sir?"

"Your powers of observation astound me. Have you * heard* her?"

"No," Ray said slowly. Franny's voice tended to carry and she did seem to have an opinion about everything.

"Was she drooling on the Mountie's shadow today?"

Ray thought hard, brow furrowed.

"I haven't seen her since yesterday, sir."

"Maybe you should find her, Detective. And give her my message." Welsh shook his head as he turned to go get another cup of the mud that passed for coffee.

"Yes sir, of course sir, three bags full sir," Ray muttered under his breath. He picked up the phone and dialed the Vecchio residence. "Yeah, hi Ma. Could you let me bark at Franny? What?" He covered his free ear with his hand. "Well, where is she?"

A little while later Dief looked up at the tall, thin detective and woofed. Ray scratched his head through the hood of his rain jacket, spun around to take in the entire parking lot, then looked down into the wolf's waiting brown eyes.

"OK, I checked everything I could think of. What would Fraser do? I ain't good at picking clues out of thin air."

Dief whined.

"What? No, no way," Ray leaned closer to the white wolf. "No licking, no eating mud, no sniffing, no way. What else?"

Ray put both hands on his hips, deep in thought. "OK, think like Mr. Spock, that's what he'd do. OK," He took a deep breath, eyes closed. "Logical, OK, she takes the bus everyday." He returned to the door to the District. "So, she walks this way." He walked through the lot slowly, scanning every inch of pavement along the way.

"And the bus stops over there. So, does she get on the…hello!" He exclaimed and bent to examine two fallen bus tokens. Suspicion nagged at him. They lay beside a car.

He dropped to his knees and searched under the car: oil stains, a pop can, dirt, something small and white. He lay flat on the wet pavement stretched his arm as far as he could and picked it up with his fingertips.

He turned the object over in his hands and smiled.

~~~ELEVEN~~~~

They walked back to the District slowly despite the cold rain. Droplets formed on the brim of Fraser's Stetson, circled to one side as he looked down at the woman beside him and fell off onto his shoulder. His blue wool RCMP coat was warm but not waterproof. The gentle rain was slowly soaking through to his skin.

"Are you cold?" he asked Sophie, his breath coming out in great frosty puffs.

"Yes," She smiled at him. "Soaked, too. But I don't mind." She paused. "Are you?"

"No."

They crossed the street when the light changed. A breeze struck them when they entered the street, shoving Sophie sideways into him. He put an arm around her to steady her. The breeze carried the faint clean smell of distant snow. Fraser grinned. He loved snow, perhaps the weather would finally settle on a course.

"They'll send you out as bait," he told her, arm still around her. "It will be dangerous."

"Doesn't matter." She shrugged. "Had to happen some time."

"I won't leave you to him," Fraser said quickly. "I'll be there."

She squinted up at him through the light rain that ran down her face, small droplets trapped on her long lashes. "I know," she said simply.

The District was a cacophony of motion and smells in contrast to the surreal quiet of the rainy street.

Sophie stopped inside the door, on the threshold between the two realities, as Fraser pulled the door closed behind them.

"It's like another world," she said with a sigh.

"I agree," he whispered. He took her arm gently and pulled her down the hall. "We have to speak with the Leftenant."

They entered the bullpen and were immediately accosted by Ray.

"There y'are, Fraser. What'd you do for lunch, stalk the caribou before you cooked him?"

"Sandwiches, Ray."

Ray was staring at Fraser's arm his hand on Sophie's back.

"Oh, I see." He smiled broadly. Fraser yanked his hand away from her.

"I was just…" He let it go, knowing it was too late to avoid merciless teasing.

"Uh, huh. Look, what is this?" Ray shoved a plastic baggie in front of his partner's face.

"It appears to be a syringe."

"Bingo. And who found it?"

Fraser shrugged. "You?"

"Bingo. And where did I find it?"

"Now, Ray, I have no way of knowing, I've only just returned."

"In the parking lot. And what was in this needle?"

"Tell me, Ray."

"Knockout drugs. The same knockout drugs Mort found in the cold cuts downstairs." Ray smiled triumphantly.

"Very good, Ray."

"Thank you. I was humpin' while you was at lunch, Fraser. Getting things done. Course, maybe so were you." He glanced between the two of them. "Naw." He shook his head.

"I'm not sure I…"

"Franny's missing."

Fraser straightened up in alarm. "Missing?" He did a quick scan of the room.

"What? You don't believe me? She ain't here. I called Ma, her bed wasn't slept in."

"I hardly think they wouldn't notice she didn't come home last night."

Ray shook his head. "They all got this bug. Everyone went to bed early. Didn't notice until she skipped breakfast."

"The needle had the same stuff in it?" Sophie asked.

"Yep, so our rent-a-psycho has her."

"That means we have very little time," Fraser said.

"So, what do we…" Ray started.

Sophie stopped him with an upraised hand. "I'm going out as bait. We were on our way to tell the L.T."

Ray gave her a surprised look. "Bait? You really want to go out as cheese for this rat?"

"It's a moral imperative."

Ray looked at her with blank baby blue eyes. They all headed for the Lieutenant's office.

"Uh, Yeah. But you know this guy wants to make you sushi?"

"I think that highly unlikely, Ray. If he were going to dismember her he had many opportunities when she was younger."

"He coulda changed his mind. Psychos are like that."

Fraser frowned, worry creasing his brow.

~~~TWELVE~~~~

It was cold, dark and musty. Franny awoke still in a nightmare. She shivered and curled into the fetal position.

"Hey," she whispered in surprise that she could curl up. She lay on her side on something soft. He had kept her in that room so long she felt sure an entire day must have passed. He'd tried to feed her once, but she wasn't falling for that. If he wanted to drug her he'd have to stick her. So she spat the food back at him. And he wouldn't even let her up to go to the bathroom. The nerve! She still had to go.

The last thing she remembered was the prick of another needle, a rusty taste in her mouth and quick oblivion. She raised a hand to her face to remove her blindfold, only to find she wasn't wearing one. The pervasive darkness was in the room itself. Great. She let her hand fall to her body and found herself covered with some sort of thin dress, long with short sleeves. Cotton, she thought, like wearing a sheet.

She sat up slowly, winced at the sharp pain and stiffness where her bonds had been. Her head ached dully, probably from whatever that creep shot her up with. After he…after…

"Don't go there, Franny," she told herself. "And what * is* that horrible stench?"

Cautiously, she extended he hands and explored her new prison. She decided she was on a mattress on the floor. The wall beside her was damp brick, the floor felt like concrete but was gritty and covered with debris, sticks and cloth and things unidentifiable. Some of the sticks were slightly mushy so she dropped them and wiped her hands.

"Think, Franny," she whispered to herself. "What would Fraser do?"

Stand up and announce that El wacko was under arrest? She almost smiled at the thought. Taste something off the floor? Forget it. Look for a way out. Yeah, but, the dark? Where's the door? Then it hit her. There was probably a blocked off window on the wall. All she had to do was find it.

"Way to go, Franny," she told herself, triumphantly. "You'll make cop yet."

She stood on shaky legs and felt along the damp and sticky wall.

~~~THIRTEEN~~~~

Sophie slowed her pace, aware that she would reach her apartment too quickly if she kept taking such big steps. She had to be on the street, in full view, as long as possible. The better to be bait, she thought wryly. But, man, it was cold. A light mist drifted to the ground laced with snowflakes. The day's light rain had already frozen, coating everything with a thin layer of shimmering ice. Random city lights reflected and sparkled like Christmas lights in the icy tree branches and from every surface. She shrugged deeper into the short coat she wore over her even shorter dress.

Ted liked short dresses, she knew, and a woman's legs. Why couldn't his fetish be hair, she thought, it would be so much warmer. A cold breeze numbed her bare legs, stealing all the way up her short dress. She shivered and fought down the urge to run to the warm observation van to join the men.

She smiled at the memory of Fraser and Ray's reactions to her gold dress and knee high boots. Nothing vital was showing, mind you, but she couldn't bend over.

Fraser's eyes had widened and he had covered them with a quick, 'Oh, my' as a flush spread over his cheeks.

"You gonna wear anything else with that shirt?" Ray asked, staring at her nearly bare thighs.

Sophie scowled at him and finished adjusting the radio transmitter disguised as a hair clip in her upswept hair.

"Don't look, Ray," Fraser hissed at his partner.

Ray stared, hands on hips. "That dress is really short."

"Ray,"

"* Really* short."

"Ray, Ray, Ray, RAY."

"What?" Ray snapped. "She's * dressed* Fraser. Everything is covered." He glanced back at the woman. "Basically."

"Drool doesn't become you."

Ray swiped a hand across his chin, looked at it and swiped again.

"Hardy, har, har, har, Fraser, maybe you should work at the duck boys' comedy club."

~~~FOURTEEN~~~~

Franny still wasn't ready to give up. It seemed she had gone around the entire room, tripping several times on small piles of sticks and unidentifiables. She put her hands on her hips and expelled a deep breath.

"So, no window, no stairs, but a * freezer*? What the heck kind of room is this?" A note of hysteria laced the words. She stepped forward, tripped and found herself back on the mattress. One hand slipped on to the floor and landed on something small and sharp. She picked it up. Sitting with her back to the wall she turned the object over and over in her hands. Then it dawned on her.

"A hair clip? A hair clip and a freezer?" She almost laughed. It was too weird. Frustrated and tired, she dropped her head onto her palms. The only sounds in the small room were her quick breathing, pounding heart and something scratching in the darkness. She held her breath when she heard it. Her head snapped up.

"Oh, great. Oh, * just* great." She listened. Scrabble. Scratch. Something ran across her foot.

She screamed, holding her ears against the reverberating echo.

~~~FIFTEEN~~~~

Sophie's foot slipped on the icy pavement, jarring her back to the present. Fraser and Ray were nearby, she knew, in a van parked up the street within sight of her apartment, along with Lt. Welsh, Huey and Dewey. There were also three other officers placed around her in disguises even she couldn't penetrate.

She sighed, but didn't say what she thought; this was getting really old.

In the van Fraser grimaced when she sighed. It came through very clearly. He knew she was scared and becoming impatient. He put down the small spyglass he was watching her through and peered over his shoulder at the other men.

"It's very late, Leftenant. She's going to get sick if we keep her walking up and down the street in this rain dressed improperly."

"Not much longer, Constable. She's almost home. Then we'll call it a night." Welsh reached over and patted the Mountie on the back. If he didn't know of Fraser's seeming disinterest in the opposite sex he'd swear the man was interested in this particular woman. "Don't worry, we'll let you be her baby-sitter again tonight."

"Yeah, Frase, don't be a hog. You had her all alone last night. I want to help tonight."

Welsh almost smiled. Leave it to Ray to be competitive, or jealous. "You got the last day and a half, Vecchio."

"Nights are better." Ray grinned. The other men, except Fraser, all smiled. "Besides, he was on me like a giant Nutcracker." He nodded toward the Mountie. "Now it's my turn."

"I don't need help, Ray."

Welsh gave him a harsh look.

"If you were with Vecchio during the day then you did not get the proper amount of sleep, Constable," Welsh admonished him. "I should take you off this case tonight just for the sake of safe police work."

Fraser looked stricken. "Please, Leftenant, I assure you I am in top form. I once went without sleep for 72 hours straight while tracking a kidnapper in the Yukon. I can…"

Welsh held up a hand to silence him. "Just promise me you'll take turns with Ray getting sleep."

"Yes, sir," Fraser said solemnly.

"All right. You both got it."

Fraser suppressed a smile as he turned back to the window with the two-way glass. Sophie was near enough that he didn't need the spyglass to see her clearly. He slipped the spyglass into the inner pocket of his old brown leather jacket.

He was silently thankful that the Leftenant had ordered him to wear civilian clothes for this operation. He was much more comfortable in this cramped position in jeans and a sweater than he would have been in uniform. There was the added bonus of not having to worry about ruining a uniform. He wiped his hands on his blue jeans and put both hands up against the glass to block off reflections.

She looked like a tiny doll amongst the glittering jewels of reflected tail and streetlights; green, red, yellow and white sparkles surrounded her in rainbows of twinkling refracted light.

Ray sighed. "Almost home. Again. Oh, yeah, this wacko really has the hots for her."

"Relax, Vecchio, we gave the tip to the cousin before we brought her in. The rat'll take the cheese."

"Nobody let the bimbo make a call before losing her in lockup did they?"

"No. She's lost 'til I want her found," Welsh said.

Sophie shivered and softly sang Amazing Grace to herself and to the listening men. She glanced at her watch. It was nearly eleven p.m. and the street was deserted. Her every sense was on full alert, hypersensitive to anything that might let her know he was approaching. She was almost home. She smiled then: another long night with the Mountie. All platonic, of course, darn it. Ben had stayed with her the night before.

He was so cute when he was flustered, she thought. He and Dief had camped in her apartment, within sight of her the entire night, standing watch complete with sleeping bag. She had a bit of trouble sleeping herself. The knowledge that he was in her apartment combined with worry about Logan made it difficult to fall asleep. In the end, Fraser had made something he called 'bark tea' with chamomile added to help her doze off. It worked.

He reminded her that Logan was safely ensconced with the Vecchios and would be until this was over. He repeatedly told her the Vecchios were a fiercely close-knit and loving family. Finally, she had let that worry go.

Ben assured her at breakfast that he had slept, but the dark circles under his sea blue eyes told her he hadn't. Somehow, that made her feel secure. For the first time in years she had slept without waking, not without nightmares, but they were mild compared to the normal monsters that visited her. Tonight would be the same, she thought.

Suddenly, a hand slipped over her mouth. So deep had been her reverie that she let him slip in and catch her daydreaming like a teenager. She managed a loud squeak when the needle pricked her neck. As darkness blanketed her she thought of Fraser, ever vigilant, waiting to come help her.

"He's got her," Fraser said. It took all of his self-restraint not to sprint down the street and wrest her from Henry's grasp.

The other four men hustled to look out the window. They crowded around the Mountie.

"Is he alone?"

"Yes. He subdued her with a syringe. If it contains the same compound as the others then she'll be unconscious until morning."

"He'll wait for her to wake up, won't he?"

"Yes, Leftenant. Her participation is part of the game."

~~~SIXTEEN~~~~

Dr. Henry H. Holmes hummed softly as he carried his prize from his Volvo to the house. The house was his pride and joy. He had it built years before and only recently moved back in. It was a part of him and was the only place he truly felt he belonged.

He gazed at the woman cradled in his arms. Her head was pressed limply against his chest. He smiled. She was so beautiful to him. He had wanted her from the moment he saw her when she was twelve and gawky like many pre-pubescents were. She stood by the banks of the Detroit River with her cousin. Both girls were watching the Boblo Island Ferry leave the dock. The Ambassador Bridge and Windsor provided a nice backdrop to the pretty picture they presented.

Claudia had taken a fancy to him immediately. Sophie had scowled at him and told him to drop dead. It was love at first sight. He was a moth to her flame and from that moment on she was his purpose in life.

He arranged her gently on the table.

~~~SEVENTEEN~~~~

Fraser squinted into the darkness at the mansion, nearly invisible in a copse of trees. A single window on the second floor glowed with warm golden light. The house was huge, at least five bedrooms, he mused, cozy, mostly hidden from the street. It presented a warm, inviting, familial face to passersby on the street. He tugged his right ear and shifted from knee to knee.

"Relax, Constable, you said yourself he won't kill her."

"Only draw pretty pictures," Ray muttered.

Fraser fixed him with a wide-eyed horrified stare. Someone had finally voiced his unspoken fear.

"Ray, psychological profiles show the average serial killer, if Dr. Holmes is indeed a serial killer, will have a pattern, a sequence of events he usually follows in what he does to his victims…or not." Fraser shrugged. "He does seem to adhere to his own rules consistently from the evidence we have so far."

Huey and Dewey rolled their eyes.

"We've no way of knowing if he completed the mutilation step or not, or what the next step is."

Ray stared at him with light blue eyes alive with annoyance. "You said she was different. You said he would've turned her to sushi already if he wanted to. So, what is this? You changin' your mind?"

"Well, no, Ray. I'm simply trying to cover all possible angles."

"Sit still, Constable, you're giving me the willies."

"Sorry, Leftenant."

"Don't worry so much. Miss Allende still has the radio transmitter in her hair and it's working fine," Lt. Welsh told him, indicating the headphones he wore and handing a pair to the Mountie.

Fraser slipped the headphones over his ears. Welsh had switched the receiver-recorder off speaker to headphone while Sophie was being carried into the house.

Immediately he heard humming. The man in the house was humming, accompanied by soft thuds and thumps and shushing sounds. Fraser closed his eyes and took a deep calming breath to help him concentrate. He began to classify sounds. Thud. Her shoe hitting a tile floor. Thump. Her bare foot dropping onto a wooden table, judging by the almost imperceptible echo the room was fairly large without other furnishings. Shush, swish. Ice water ran down his back, raising goose bumps on his arms and legs. Shush. Clothes removed and dropped. Click, chinkle, click. Handcuffs.

Fraser took a deep breath and quickly ran through the Inuit litany to slow his racing heartbeat and center his mind. He could picture the scene as if it were on a stage; Sophie stretched out on a long table, cuffed hand and foot to metal poles, unconscious, seemingly asleep, and probably naked. He flushed slightly at the thought of her nude and suppressed a surge of anger. He had never seen her nude but he had watched her sleeping the night before, all night, seen the soft innocence of her face reflected in the blue moonlight, seen the innocence ripple away with a thrashing nightmare. He had stilled her with soft words and a gentle touch, holding her in his arms for hours. She had not awakened until morning. Even in the security of his embrace she had whimpered softly, a heartbreaking sound, like a child who thinks she is alone. She fought quietly against the monster that stalked her dreams, and her reality, he suspected.

Watching the night shrouded house he was struck by the surrealness of the situation. The neighborhood and house were straight out of a ritzy fifties sitcom. The owner was a doctor, sworn to heal and help, yet behind the silver lining was a predator wearing the mask of a healer. Darkness behind light.

"Life is a masquerade," he whispered almost inaudibly.

Sophie's breathing was soft, deep and regular over the transmitter. They heard a door shut. Huey monitored the recording equipment with all the careful attention of a man desperately bored.

"Constable," Welsh tapped his shoulder. Fraser lowered the headphones and opened his eyes. "No sleeping on stakeout."

"I assure you, Leftenant," Fraser began.

Welsh cut him off. "You're sure he won't touch Miss Allende until morning?"

"In theory, sir, yes. He would definitely want her awake." Fraser ran a finger along his eyebrow. "Also, he I suspect he didn't expect to find her in particular so he would want time to make preparations. He does seem to treat her differently than the other women."

"And tomorrow being Saturday his office would be closed."

Fraser nodded.

"Well, then gentlemen. I am going home for some much-needed rest. Huey, Dewey you have the nightshift. Ray, Constable, relieve them at 0700."

Fraser frowned. "Leftenant,"

"Get some sleep, Constable. That's an order. You aren't Superman. You won't be any help if you're hallucinating from sleep deprivation."

Fraser nodded once, curtly. As they piled out of the van he told Dewey, "If anything happens, * anything*, call me first. I'll be at Ray's."

"Sure," Dewey shrugged.

Ray gave him a strange look. "My place?"

Fraser climbed into the car left by one of the undercover officers. Ray got into the front passenger seat. Welsh started the car. Dief jumped in beside him.

"Well, yes Ray, since I don't have a vehicle I thought it would be easier to return here quickly if I slept on your couch."

Ray shrugged. "Sure, just keep the wolf away from my turtle."

"Dief likes turtles."

The wolf whined.

"Your GTO is at the station, isn't it, Vecchio?" Welsh asked.

"That it is, sir."

"Right." Welsh drove them back to the District. "Just be careful. You could play hockey on these streets."

~~~EIGHTEEN~~~~

It was still dark when the two men left the apartment building the next morning and the air was crisp with impending snow. Ray and Fraser rode back to the stakeout in silence while Diefenbaker lounged in the backseat of Ray's GTO, licking the last of his quick breakfast from his muzzle before dozing off again. Ray watched the wolf in the rearview mirror and sighed. He'd give anything to be able to go back to sleep, even let Fraser drive his car. Well, maybe not. Five hours sleep just wasn't enough.

Ray glanced at his partner. Even the Mountie didn't look his usual infallible self. The dark circles under his eyes were more pronounced and the Mountie was uncharacteristically quiet.

"So," Ray broke the silence. "You like her then?"

Fraser jerked a little, startled. He turned slightly bloodshot sea blue eyes to his partner. "Who?"

Ray rolled his eyes in exasperation. "The Queen of England! Who do you think?"

"Well, I * do* like the Queen, Ray, very much. I give up a lot for her. She's part of our national…"

"Sophie, Fraser! You got a thing for Sophie. I can feel it in my bones. You're a big rabid caribou in heat for her."

"That's not a pleasant picture, Ray. While caribou are certainly capable of contracting rabies, as all mammals can, it doesn't happen often. Even then they would probably acquire what is termed 'dumb rabies' meaning…"

"Forget it."

"Actually, a caribou in heat…" Fraser shuddered.

"It's way too early in the morning." Ray shook his head. "I need more coffee."

"You already had four cups."

"And I need a refill." Ray scowled at him. "And so do you. Don't even tell me you don't, Superman. 'Cause I did one a your things last night."

"Things?"

"Yeah, the know-you-were-up-walking-around-while-I-was-asleep-without-waking-up thing."

Fraser sighed, ran a hand through his dark hair and picked at a gold button on his brown uniform.

"I tried. I just couldn't."

Ray gave him a worried look. Fraser unable to relax could mean the end of life as we know it, a meteor crashing into Earth, or nuclear annihilation, whatever, it definitely wasn't good.

"So, something real bad could be about to happen?" Fraser didn't respond. "This creep has Franny and Sophie and you're just * now* letting me know he might have Ginsued them already?" he ranted. Fraser didn't answer, didn't look up. "That's not what partners do, Fraser. Partners tell each other what's really going on. This is great. * Just* great!"

"Ray."

Ray's sleep deprived temper snapped. "Why did you keep saying things were fine? I can't walk in there and see pieces, Fraser! I CAN'T!" he yelled.

"Ray, Ray."

"If I see puree I'll hurl. I'll end up in a loony bin myself."

"Ray, Ray, I'm sure…" Fraser let the sentence trail off. He wasn't sure of anything.

Ray slumped back into his seat, anger spent. Ahead of them was a McDonald's. Ray slowed the car.

"You want coffee?"

"Um, not from them, Ray." Fraser frowned. "Too hot. In your present state, well, we don't have time for a trip to Hospital."

Ray glared at him.

Fraser went on quickly before another tirade started. "There's a Burger King right over there, Ray, and, yes, make mine extra large. With cream and sugar, please."

He gave Ray the most polite smile he could manage and fished a dollar from his hat.

~~~NINETEEN~~~~

Sophie woke up, confused, ears ringing, head fuzzy. If I scream loud enough I'll wake up, she told herself. It worked almost every night she spent on a table like this one. Then the fuzz lifted and she remembered, she really was back in the spider's web.

She surveyed the bare room quickly to assure herself she was alone. She cleared her throat and began to speak softly.

"Uh, hello. I'm in a large empty room," She moved her hands, craned her neck to peer over her head at her wrists. "Hands cuffed together, wrapped around a pole, on a table, and I'm, uh…damn, it's cold in here!"

Fraser could distinctly hear her teeth chattering. Reading between the lines of her words he suspected she was probably nude and didn't want to say so.

"I hear him," she said suddenly.

~~~TWENTY~~~~

Fraser held his breath. It was like listening to one of the old radio serials. The suspense was unbearable. Now he understood how the people felt that believed the original 'War of the Worlds' broadcast was real. His hands felt glued to the ear covers of his headphones, yet he had to fight down the urge to bolt in there and pull her out. He was hunting as he had countless times before. The keys to hunting were patience and timing. Restraint was difficult but vital to success.

He shifted position again. A hand fell onto his shoulder. Startled, he looked over his shoulder into Ray's frowning face. The interior lights of the surveillance van bathed his face in a stoplight green glow, giving his blue eyes an unearthly sparkle. Fraser shivered in spite of his knowledge of tricks of the light. He shrugged and gave Ray a halfhearted smile. Ray nodded and leaned back to relax against the inside wall of the van.

Fraser let out the breath he was holding and turned back to the window, as if trying to see through the walls of the house. He felt helpless, not for the first time, but he hated to flounder.

A gust of wind shook the van. Tiny bits of snow and sleet pelted its metal shell in an ever-increasing hiss.

Ray scowled, staring at the Mountie. No way did he want to go out in this, but Fraser would be right at home. Fraser was making him nervous. He was too distracted.

Over the headphones they heard Sophie exclaim, "Hey!"

~~~TWENTY ONE~~~~

"Where'd you come from?" Sophie demanded.

No answer.

"Don't touch me, Bastard."

Henry sighed loudly. "I'm happy to see you, too, Babe."

Don't call me that. I * hate* that."

The man strolled over to her; his gaze roamed over her body like a lover. He hadn't changed much; short, thin, light brown hair now streaked with gray, one brown eye, one green, both with that psychotic inner fire that only the experienced can see.

She suppressed a shudder. She didn't want to give him the satisfaction of showing fear. She concentrated on her anger, drawing strength from it. To think about her vulnerable position, even with Fraser and the others outside, would lead to paralysis and panic.

"You've gotten old, you're going gray," she spat at him.

He laughed. "Still full of spit and vinegar. You always were the strong one." He stood over her and ran his hands lightly over her body.

"Great, now I need a bath in bleach to kill the bugs."

"We didn't finish the dance, you and I, Sophie," his voice was low and gentle. He sucked in a deep breath, smiling at the ceiling and hugging his chest with his arms. "I still remember the thrill." He ran a hand over her hair. "You were so young. You fought like a minx. I still have the scar where you bit me. So dynamic, so energetic, like dancing with lava." He waggled a finger at her. "But, you left before the best part."

"Bite me, you sick bastard."

He raised his eyebrow. "Later, Babe, there are a few other things I need to do first."

He picked up a leather pouch and unfolded it tenderly. It contained six knives of varying lengths and shapes carefully arranged by size. He took his time then selected a short, thin, very sharp knife and ran it across her outer thigh, up her side and across her stomach as though tickling her with a feather. He grinned when her body twitched of its own accord. She had always been ticklish.

"If you're waiting for me to cry, forget it."

"You'll beg."

"You'll be dead first."

He smiled. "We both may, Juliet."

~~~TWENTY TWO~~~~

Ray strained to hear anything. To him the room was silent, except for the occasional soft humming, presumably from the suspect. He tried to be patient, watched Fraser, eyes closed, concentrating on the silence. But Ray Kowalski was never a patient man and watching Fraser be so patient grated on him. He knew the Mountie would come up with some off the wall statement about hearing the air displacement in the room and knowing the perp was filleting the women when all Ray could hear was a bunch of nothing.

He snapped after ten minutes. "Okay, spill it," he blurted. "What's he doin'? I know you're using some Canadian-Inuit-otter-sweat trick to figure out why she's so quiet, right? Right?"

Fraser opened his eyes to peer curiously at his partner. "That's silly, Ray."

"So, he's just standing there humming at her?"

"No," Fraser sighed. "He obviously enjoys the terror and pain of his victims. She's trying not to make him happy. To paraphrase, she said 'he'd be dead before she cried' from pain or fear, presumably."

"What else?"

"I'm not sure I understand."

"You've been pinging for two days, what aren't you telling me?"

Fraser stared at Ray for a moment, then took a deep breath. "Sophie said something to me that made me nervous."

Ray waited. Fraser just stared at the floor.

"Okay, so you gonna tell me or do I have to kick you in the head?"

Fraser looked up at him through long lashes. "She said 'He always liked big houses. He talked about the Winchester rifle house'."

"And that's supposed to mean something?"

"Sarah L. Winchester, heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, lived in a Victorian mansion in San Jose, California. At some point she became convinced the house was haunted. Over the next 38 years she contracted continuous construction on the house. When she died there were 160 rooms, secret passageways, rooms within rooms, skylights in the floors, and stairs or doors leading nowhere, and other oddities. Now they use it as a haunted house on Halloween."

"Sounds fun."

"The point is, Ray, when I checked the files on Dr. Henry Holmes I found that he had this house built years ago. We may not be able to find the women."

Ray stared at him, blankly, blinking. "They're trapped in the funhouse of death."

"It would seem so, now, may I continue to listen?"

Ray shrugged. "So, since he's quiet, you think he's being Picasso on them again?"

Fraser's eyes flew open again, and he stared at his partner, then turned wide eyes on Huey and Dewey. He started to remove his headphones and stand. Huey stopped him with a hand on his arm.

"Uh, uh. We have to be sure he has Franny." Huey's expression softened at the stricken look on the Mountie's face. "She knows we're here. She'd let us know if he was hurting her."

"I think she did." Huey looked confused. "'If you're waiting for me to cry, forget it'," he quoted. "He's cutting her, slowly."

"We can't go in. You'll give away the game. It isn't time."

He knew Huey was right, but had to take a deep breath to keep from leaving the van. He sat down and picked up the headphones. He listened again. He was determined not to let the crucial piece of evidence slip by that would mean she stayed there one second longer than necessary.

~~~TWENTY THREE~~~~

Henry unfastened her wrists, slipped the metal handcuffs off the pole and fastened her wrists again. Carefully, almost tenderly, he dressed her in a simple white shift that slid up over her legs and torso and buttoned at the shoulders. It quickly soaked up the blood. He slid her limp body from the table and lifted her into his arms.

She tried to struggle, tried to push him away, but managed only to thrash. The pain had been too great; her body was encompassed in shock. The residuals of the narcotic were slow to dissipate. She resorted to her only weapon.

"Where are you taking me?"

Outside the men in the van all jumped, startled at the sound of her voice after so long a silence.

Henry didn't answer.

"Where does this hallway go?" her voice was flat, tired, detached. During the ordeal her anger had simmered to burning embers, forming a protective wall around her psyche.

"Don't worry, Babe, you'll have someone to talk to."

He paused beside the dark paneled wall and pressed something she couldn't see. The panel slid open with a soft swish.

"No, no way, not another closet you sick…" her words trailed off into a long scream as he tossed her inside and shut the door. The closet had no floor. She plunged into total darkness.

After a long moment the men in the van heard the scream end in a gut-wrenching thud.

~~~TWENTY FOUR~~~~

Fraser snatched off his headphones and tossed them aside. He stood, adjusted his Stetson and started to open the door. Ray grabbed his arm.

"Let us in on the clues, Big Guy."

"It's time to go in. The closet obviously had no floor. She fell into the basement."

"From the second floor?"

Fraser looked past Ray at the other two detectives. They nodded agreement that it was time to go. Huey called for backup and Dewey notified their undercover help by radio.

"We go together," Ray said.

Fraser took hold off Ray's arm and yanked him out into the brilliant whiteness of driving sleet.

"Hey, leave the tendons intact, okay? I might need my arm." Ray pulled away from the Mountie. "I was coming."

Fraser started across the street. "The fall may have killed her. Your head makes a distinctive sound when it hits concrete."

They both sprinted for the house, Fraser's Stetson flying off into the gathering storm.

~~~TWENTY FIVE~~~~

Dr. Henry H. Holmes was standing at the bay window, sipping a cup of Earl Grey, enjoying the cozy warmth from the fireplace and the turn in the weather. The winter was always a peaceful time for him. Through the thickening storm he saw two men leap from the van parked by the house across the street. They ran for his house with such determination, one losing his hat to the wind in the process, that he could easily define their purpose. He'd been hunted before.

Carefully, he set down the steaming china teacup on a coaster beside the photo of his grandparents the antique table by the window. It would take them a while to get in, he knew, the doors and windows were all secured. It would take longer for them to sort through the house and find him. The house was such a maze sometimes even he got disoriented. He'd even misplaced a woman or two, never to find them again.

He wouldn't lose Sophie. He knew exactly where she was, Jezebel that she was, turning him in to the police. It had to be her. Claudia was so blinded by love for him that she would do any thing he said.

He scooped up the soft leather pouch that held his preferred art tools and depressed a brick on the fireplace. A section of the floor to ceiling bookcase across the room swung open far enough for a person to pass through. Once inside, he turned on the flashlight kept just inside and closed the door. Also, inside the door was a pair of night-vision goggles. It was always good to be prepared.

~~~TWENTY SIX~~~~

Sophie awoke disoriented. Her entire left side was numb from the impact with the floor. Her head felt as though someone had hit her with a bat. The ringing in her ears was deafening. She tried to sit up. Pain and dizziness forced her to lie back. She tried to remember everything that had happened so far. Her mind was fuzzy, though she was sure the shaft she fell down had turned up near the end or she would surely be dead now.

Get up, she told herself, if you lie here he wins. Slowly, she rolled onto her left side, causing fire to shoot through the bruised muscles and pushed herself up with her right hand. Nausea threatened to overwhelm her. She moaned softly. Sitting up, when her head stopped spinning, she took physical inventory. Nothing broken, except possibly her head.

She groped in the darkness, crawling along the litter-strewn floor until she stubbed her fingers on the wall. She used the wall to lever herself to a shaky standing position.

"Franny?" she called softly. "Are you here? Guys, it's too dark. Can't see at all."

She took a few tentative steps, leaning heavily on the damp slick wall. Her hair fell across her face as she stumbled again. Something wet and warm ran down her cheek and dripped from her chin. She reached up, touched her face with a fingertip and tasted it. Blood. She closed her eyes and sighed heavily.

"Help me, guys. Ben?" She investigated her head with her fingertips to determine how bad the wound was, leaning back against the wall. Her fingers became tangled in her loose hair. "Uh, oh." She felt for the hair clip. It was gone, no radio transmitter. "Great!"

"Who's there?" Franny's shaking voice came from somewhere off to her right.

"Franny?"

"Who wants to know?"

"It's Sophie."

"Oh, no! He got you, too?"

"I know him, Franny. My leg, remember?"

A soft sob answered her.

"It's okay, though. Ben, Ray and the others are outside."

The sobbing continued.

"Did he…* do* anything…cut you or anything?"

"No, just got fresh. Is he a perv? What was up with running the dull part of the knife all over me?"

Sophie let out a long breath. "Good. He was just planning then." She took a deep breath and slid herself along the wall toward the sound of the other woman's voice, her right side getting wet and numb from the mold and condensation on the wall.

"Planning what?"

"What type of design to carve into you." Sophie decided Franny could handle the truth. She needed to hear it.

Franny was silent, absorbing the scope of the information. Shock had a firm hold on her.

"Don't worry, though. The cavalry is outside. They'll be here soon." Provided the transmitter didn't shatter into a thousand bits when she landed, she thought. Franny didn't need that much of the truth.

~~~TWENTY SEVEN~~~~

Fraser and Ray skidded to a stop behind a hedge near the door, planning the best way in.

"You lost your hat," Ray pointed out.

Fraser ran a hand over his head, dark hair curling with wetness and shrugged.

"Front door?" he said.

"Can I kick him in the head?"

"Yes."

"Let's do it."

They ran through the wind to the front door. Ray slipped on the stairs and caught himself before he fell. They took up positions on either side of the door. Exchanging nods, Ray kicked in the front door. It took four tries to splinter the thick oak.

Ray stuck his head in to be sure the foyer was clear then he entered first, gun drawn.

Huey and Dewey came up behind Fraser just as he entered the house. Huey motioned the undercover officers to go around to the other side of the house.

Ray headed for the hallway and a row of doors.

"Ray," Fraser called and shook his head, pointing up the huge oak staircase with two fingers. "The closet wasn't on this floor. She fell too long and the light was on the second floor."

"Oh, yeah." Ray nodded once and followed the Mountie up the wide staircase. Paisley carpet, he thought and grimaced. This staircase looked like something from Gone With the Wind.

The interior of the house was dark, despite the fact that it was mid-morning, due in part to the sleet storm outside but owing more to the heavy crimson drapes pulled shut over most of the windows.

Huey and Dewey continued to check the first floor while Dief ran up the stairs behind Fraser and Ray.

~~~TWENTY EIGHT~~~~

Henry entered the basement room silently. The door covering the stairs was actually a small panel about four feet off the ground that opened behind the freezer in the basement room. He adjusted the night vision goggles and smiled, carefully climbing out of the passageway.

The two women had found each other and were talking, huddled together on the bare mattress in one corner.

He removed the soft leather pouch from inside his jacket and opened it tenderly. He took his time choosing the knife he would use. It was too bad, really, he wanted to play with both women for a few more days, Sophie in particular. He sighed softly. To have chased her for so long, loved her so completely and have to throw it all away because of the police. It wasn't fair. Then it occurred to him, maybe he could drug Sophie and make it to the tunnel with her. He touched the full syringe in the pouch. Yes, that would be fun.

"…And I'll have to stay in the shower for a week to wash off the feeling of him licking my arms and face."

"It wouldn't help."

"Then what will?"

"Shh."

"What?"

"Shh, I heard something," Sophie whispered.

_____________

~~~TWENTY NINE~~~~

They checked all the doors on the second floor. Ray went down one side while Fraser checked the other.

"Fraser this door doesn't go anywhere," Ray said, completely dumbfounded. "Who'd do that?"

Fraser leaned in an open door and peered at a circular room whose walls and ceiling were all mirrors. "I explained that, Ray."

Ray opened the next door to find another door, and another. "I can't find it. None a these closets has a hole in the floor."

Fraser dropped to his knees inside a small room and felt around on the floor for drafts. Ray looked at him for a long moment, then shook his head. It was probably better if he didn't ask.

"Perhaps there's a hidden switch, Ray, for a secret opening."

"This is like when I was a kid. I got lost in the funhouse at the fair. There was this maze. Man, I hated that."

Dief pawed at the paneled wall that Fraser had already passed. When neither man turned he barked once and whined. Fraser jumped to his feet. Dief scratched the wall again. Feeling no opening in the wall Fraser stood back, frustrated. Dief whined again.

"You're sure?" Fraser asked him.

Whine.

Fraser shrugged and kicked the wall with all his strength. The paneling cracked and splintered and fell away into a small closet.

"Ray, we found it."

Ray jogged down the hallway while his partner cleared the debris. "Dief found it? What is he, psychic?"

Fraser leaned into the closet, peering down the opening in the floor. "No, Ray. The shaft seems to be made of aluminum. It would retain Sophie's scent, skin cells, perhaps traces of sweat or hair."

"Or blood."

Fraser gave him a pained look. "A wolf's nose is many times more powerful than a human's and blood is a very pungent scent."

"Pungent?"

"Smelly."

"Oh, right. Well, hopefully it's not too pungent. I got a weak stomach."

"Take the stairs, Dief. Ray, stick your elbows out to slow you down."

Fraser stepped into the closet and disappeared down the hole, feet first.

"What? What? No way!" Ray paced quickly around the hallway then leaned in to stare down the hole, shaking his head vigorously. "Fraser?"

No answer.

"I can't believe this. I can't believe this." He put his hands on his head, pacing in circles. "He's nuts." He glanced down the hole. "I'm nuts." He stepped off into the total blackness.

~~~THIRTY~~~~

Henry Holmes walked straight up to the women and stopped a foot away. He stifled a laugh. They couldn't see him. He didn't allow them enough light. He watched as fear spread across their faces. They could feel him. Women's intuition, he thought, or whatever sixth sense alerted a prey animal that an unseen hunter was near. It didn't matter. Franny looked about to panic. Like a snake striking, his hand shot out, grabbed Franny and tossed her across the room. She made a strangled noise. He pounced on her. She fought wildly, thrashing, kicking and scratching. She kicked him off. The knife flew from his hand.

There was a loud sliding, thumping noise between Henry and the exit behind the freezer.

How did they find us, he thought. He looked behind him. Sophie was feeling around, calling Franny's name. He opened his pouch, removed the syringe, slid the pouch back in his pocket and jumped on her, pinning her arms to her sides with one arm. She struggled, crying out. He jabbed her neck with the needle. She threw her head forward then back, head butting him. One lens in the night-vision goggles cracked and the needle flew from his fingers.

"You got enough, Babe," he hissed in her ear.

"Ben!" she yelled.

He covered her mouth with his hand, feeling her struggles grow weaker as the small amount of the narcotic coursed through her bloodstream. A partial dose would not knock her out but would sedate her enough to make carrying her out of here a lot easier. He dragged her toward the exit.

The two men from outside untangled themselves and got off the floor.

"There's no lights. Where are they, Fraser?" the thinner one said.

Henry lifted Sophie off the floor, left arm still pinning her arms to her sides. Franny's screaming drowned out the small protestations Sophie made. He braved her kicking feet to carry her past the two police officers. He could tell, watching their movements with the night-vision goggles, that they couldn't see him at all. Afterall, the second floor was too high up to allow light to penetrate this far, and the shaft leveled out near the end.

Both men made their way toward the screaming woman. Henry smiled. Cops were so predictable He climbed into the passageway and pulled Sophie in with him. She kicked the wall as he pulled her in.

Fraser froze, listening. "Francesca, be quiet!" he ordered.

The authoritative tone in his voice startled her and she complied. Ray tripped over her. She whimpered.

"Hush, it's me," he whispered.

She reached out, found his leg and felt her way up to his chest, pulling him close and hugging him fiercely.

Fraser closed his eyes and concentrated. He heard faint shuffling, the thump of a foot hitting a wall. His eyes useless in the total darkness, he let his ears lead him to the opening in the wall. There was a slight breeze emanating from the passageway. The air smelled fresher than that in the sealed room. He climbed through the opening.

"Ray, get her out of here. The exit is here behind the freezer," he called.

Taking a deep breath he stood motionless and listened again. Up ahead were faint sounds of a struggle.

"Give up Dr. Holmes," he called out. "You can't possibly escape with her."

"Ben!" Sophie called weakly.

Henry laughed, dragging the squirming woman along. Just ahead of him the passage split: stairs on one side, the opening to the tunnel on the other. The tunnel led to the back yard, to a clearing in the bushes near the garage and his car. At the split he paused long enough to toss Sophie over his shoulder. He was a fast sprinter.

Fraser followed as quickly as he dared. He was thankful that all of his senses had been fine-tuned by years of survival in the wilderness. The inky blackness was not all that different from the snow-blindness of an ice floe at mid-day. Blind was blind.

He ran his right hand lightly along the wall ahead of him to help orient him, listening to the doctor's movements to track him. He heard them stop and the air being knocked from Sophie's lungs. He's going to run, he thought.

Abandoning caution he broke into a run, praying he wouldn't trip. Suddenly the wall to his right disappeared beneath his hand. Off balance, he fell sideways, landing painfully on stairs going up. His head hit a concrete step with a sharp crack. Green sparkles crossed in front of his eyes.

"Ben," Sophie's voice echoed from across the passage. He swiped at the blood that trickled down his forehead and squinted into the darkness. A very faint patch of light glowed across from him. An opening, he thought. He shoved himself to his feet and ran full tilt down the new passage.

Henry threw open the wooden door that sealed the end of the tunnel, holding Sophie over his shoulder with one hand. She kneed him in the stomach with all the strength she had. The world was fuzzy to her. The drug numbed everything, including the pain of falling down the three steps to the floor when Henry dropped her again.

The open door let in a gust of sleet and snow flurries, gentle and swirling like a snow globe. Fraser watched Sophie fall in the shifting opalescent light from outside. The entire scene had a soft surreal feel. Even at this distance he could see long, red marks covering her bare calves and thighs. Part of his brain told him the doctor had continued his artwork down her legs, another part told his legs to propel him faster.

He pelted down the tunnel on a burst of adrenaline. Henry hauled her out of the tunnel by one arm and dumped her in the slush and mud. The weather had fluctuated so much lately that the ground was not yet frozen. Fraser was close enough behind them to hear Sophie's soft protestations.

Henry pulled out his leather pouch, struggling to keep his hold on the woman. She slipped in the slush and fell to the ground again. He dropped the pouch, scattering the knives in the muck. He started to stoop to retrieve one when he heard Fraser reach the stairs. He dove for the door, slamming it down on the Mountie.

Fraser was knocked backward. Pain shot through his head when the door hit it. He rolled as he hit the concrete, coming up on his feet.

Abandoning the knives, Henry sat on top of the door while he tried to fasten the lock. Fraser hurled all of his weight and determination against the door. Henry went flying. He landed in the bushes. Sophie stood nearby, swaying dizzily and trying to clear her head.

Henry jumped up and took a step toward her. Fraser tackled him. They wrestled in the light slushy snow and mud, the windblown sleet and falling snow soaking them all. The front had arrived and the temperature was dropping rapidly. Henry was a few years older than the Mountie but kept himself in excellent shape. They were evenly matched. Henry flipped Fraser over and pinned him to the ground, raising his fist to strike. Fraser brought up one knee and tossed the doctor off. Fraser leapt to his feet, slipping on the wet ground.

Henry landed on his face near the pouch. He snatched up one of the knives and secreted it in his pocket. Fraser grabbed him by the back of the jacket and hauled him to his feet. Swinging around, Henry backhanded him then slipped and almost fell. Fraser recovered quickly and dropped into a fighting stance. Henry looked at Sophie, standing a few steps to the side of the Mountie. Fraser followed his gaze.

"Sophie, run," he told her.

She did not react. His words penetrated the fog that coated her mind. But she did not want to leave him. She had been running long enough. She stood her ground and stared at Henry.

Fraser frowned. She looked awful: bruised, pale, wet, bloody from head to foot and swaying as if she were going to keel over. Her legs were turning blue. What worried him most was that she wasn't shivering. That could mean shock and hypothermia. He took all this in the space of a few seconds.

Suddenly, he saw Sophie blink. Her eyes widened and she threw herself toward him, grabbed his arm and twisted in front of him to put her back to his chest. Henry tackled them both. They landed in a heap on the ground and slid two feet from the impact.

Fraser felt slush squish down the top of his coat and down the inside of his shirt. Sirens came toward the house from down the street. Shouts came from the house and footsteps ran toward them.

"Fraser!" Huey yelled.

Fraser twisted his head and saw Huey and two of the undercover officers running toward them, guns drawn. Henry pushed himself off them and ran for the car. The two officers gave chase.

Sophie rolled off Fraser, lying limp in the snow on her back, long clumps of wet hair plastered across her face. Fraser propped himself up on one elbow. Then he saw the knife. It was very slim, its silver handle sticking out of her ribs about two inches. He felt like he'd been punched in the stomach.

"No," he whispered. He leaned over her, gently smacking her cheeks until she opened her eyes and looked at him. "You're a mess," he told her softly, with a tender smile, his eyes full of compassion and fear. He was afraid she would leave. Everyone seemed to leave him. He found he did not like that idea. He had spent too long alone and lonely.

The cold slush ran down his back. His teeth chattered. He sat up and stripped off his coat and blue flannel shirt. The shirt he carefully wrapped around her wound, using his left hand to put pressure on it. He laid his jacket over her for warmth. He felt a sharp pang of fear as he recalled the last time he lay by a woman in a snowstorm. This time he knew he wouldn't be betrayed but it looked as thought he would be abandoned.

They could hear the two undercover officers congratulating each other on the capture of the fugitive.

Huey skidded to a stop beside them. "What happened?"

"Call an ambulance."

"Wouldn't it be quicker to take her in the van?"

"The knife is still in her. Call an ambulance," Fraser insisted.

Huey called on his cell phone.

"Hold me," Sophie whispered, dark eyes unfocussed.

"I can't move you, Dear heart, the knife would cut you."

"Please,"

Fraser swallowed hard, his throat was closing up. He stretched out on the ground beside her, pressing his body to hers, still putting pressure on the wound. His tee-shirt and jeans were soaked through and the mud seeped around him where they lay. His side went numb with the cold. He didn't care. Blood from the wounds on her legs slowly soaked into his jeans. He cradled her head with his free arm and pressed his cheek to her forehead and began to speak to her almost inaudibly. She closed her eyes and listened. A gentle covering of light snow dusted them as they lay together and waited for the ambulance to arrive.

~~~THIRTY ONE~~~~

The rain was heavy, cold and cleansing. It rinsed the pollution from the air and the darkness from his soul. Spring seemed to have hit with a vengeance when only a few days before it seemed winter was upon them in force. Fraser loved the snow, but the thought of those days made his stomach knot. Visions of Sophie, battered and bleeding, bare feet and bleeding legs turning blue with cold had haunted him ever since. He spent his dreams trying to warm her.

The image of Sophie mingled with nightmare memories of a time when he'd been stranded on a mountainside during a blizzard with a fugitive. He'd lost his supplies and there had been nowhere to take shelter; he'd never felt his own mortality more clearly. It had been a strange feeling, being certain that he was about to die. At first, the fear had been suffocation, the panic absolute. Then, like a switch had been flipped, the fear vanished and was replaced by a pervading sense of serenity. That was how he'd felt with Victoria that night, certain that death waited for them both in the blinding snow. He'd been sure then that she was his soul mate. Later, when she tried to destroy his life, he'd realized how foolish that was. Still, it was the most dramatic hour of his life. Until this one. He had the opportunity to start again. Perhaps to build his faith in eternal love, destined love. He ran the gamut of emotions again each night. Sophie's face melded into Victoria's and back. He awoke each night in a cold sweat, telling himself to be rational. Sophie was very different from his dark lady. Victoria was the demon of his dreams. He shook his head to banish the ghosts.

He had the window open a little, though the nurses told him repeatedly to close it. He laughed humorlessly at that. His Grandmother had always told him that fresh air was the best way to cure the ill. Sophie lay in bed, as pale as the sheets that covered her. He doubted she knew the window was open. She struggled against the infection that stemmed from the knife wound in her stomach—a knife meant for him. Why were his friends always putting themselves in harm's way to protect him, he wondered? What about him made their lives so much less important than his? He had no answers.

Now he knew how Walter felt about his brother, Ty, so long ago. Fraser had gotten himself committed to a mental institution after Walter begged him to find his brother; a brother Fraser discovered was five years dead. Walter had arrived home after Ty's suicide. Walter was late. Fraser was late. Too late. His split second reflexes had failed him. He had turned too late. She had seen the knife first and thrown herself on it to save him. The pain of potential loss hit him sharply. But, as the breeze through the window chilled him, he knew that he, like Walter, still knew the difference between a hawk and a handsaw. He covered his eyes briefly, ran his hands through his dark hair and gripped the outer edges of the window. He leaned forward and let his forehead rest on the cold glass. He didn't care that the front of his white uniform shirt was getting wet with rain blown in. The sweet smell of trees and wet earth wafted through the room. He wondered if she noticed it, wherever she was, or noticed the faint trace of snow and burnt firewood in the rain. He liked to think she could. He sniffed. Pine.

He could feel the patter of the rain through the glass. He closed his eyes and let the rhythm enter him. Like the ticking of a metronome the rain could center him, bring peace. Imperceptibly, he allowed himself to slip into a light trance, breathing deeply and evenly. Images of the past played across his mind like a movie. He was an objective observer, postponing judgment.

Flashes of his parents and grandparents came and went--all of the people who had left him. Ray, telling him to hurry back when he left on vacation only to be gone and replaced when he returned. Victoria, smiling after lovemaking. Then later holding a gun on him. All gone. He had trusted them all and was hurt by their leaving, voluntary or otherwise.

He sighed, looked over his shoulder at the still woman. Dr. Greene told him she should wake up, * would* wake up. His intuition screamed she should already be awake. The infection was almost gone. She had been fighting it for three days.

He wondered if she just didn't want to wake up. There had been so much pain in her short life, so much horror. It would be easy and peaceful to just give up. He quickly dismissed that idea. An image of her wise, amused eyes crossed his mind. He smiled, a small sentimental smile. She always amused, laughing internally, as if the world and everyone around her were part of a giant joke only she could hear. She was a fighter and she would stay if for no other reason than her son. He could only hope she also counted him among the reasons.

The Inuit believed in Spirit Guides. He said a silent prayer that she be sent a guide to lead her back.

~~~THIRTY TWO~~~~

Sophie was ice-skating. The pond was small; the edges were cushioned with fluffy snow banks that glittered like pearls and diamonds in the clear sunshine. The blue sky above seemed to stretch endlessly to a horizon so distant it wasn't visible. Birch and fir trees encircled the pond, forming a cozy picture straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

She closed her eyes and spun, enjoying the dizzy sensation of losing contact with the world, the chill breeze lifting her hair and spinning it in a cascade of brown and gold around her.

"Young Lady," a man's voice broke her reverie.

She came to a stop, taking deep breaths, but feeling more exhilarated than winded. She gazed at him curiously. He wore the full dress Red Surge of a Mountie with an open deer skin coat over the top. He appeared to be about fifty, with kind blue eyes and short gray hair. She liked him immediately.

She smiled at him and he smiled back.

"Do I know you?" she said.

"No," he replied. "No, we've never met, though I suppose I might seem familiar." He shrugged. "I've seen you."

"Where?"

"Doesn't matter. Do you know where you are?"

"Heaven?"

"Good gracious, no. That would be the light out there." He waved at the trees on one side of the clearing. "In the tunnel. You're somewhere in between."

"What am I supposed to do here?"

"Well, I haven't quite figured that out yet." He frowned. "Ponder, I suppose, decide what's really important to you."

"I like it here." She pushed off and skated away from him, spinning around. "I want to stay. It's so tranquil."

The man looked surprised then frowned. "Peace isn't everything, Young Lady. Life has a lot to offer as well; marriage to a good man, work, that son of yours."

"Why don't * you* go back then?"

"Me? Oh, I can't. I'm dead, you see. Been here too long now." A sorrowful expression crossed his face.

"Why are you here if you can't help me?" she called from the middle of the ice.

"Do you always ask so many questions?"

She shrugged.

"I was shot. I can't go. But you, you're not completely dead yet."

She whirled to a stop in front of him. "I thought that's why I'm here."

"No, no. You have to decide whether or not you want to give up. You never miss the water 'til the well is dry. Consider it carefully."

She gave him a blank look. He threw his hands up in the air.

"Kids these days, " he lamented. "Ah, well. Think of your son. You can't abandon him. You hardly know him yet. And believe you me, not getting to know him would haunt you well into the afterlife." He looked around wistfully. "You'd be amazed the things that follow you. You can't abandon him, can't abandon my son. Got a full life ahead of you. So, your little boy's deaf, eh?"

"Mm, yes."

"What kind of life is it for a boy without his mother?" He shook a finger under her nose. "Not good, not good at all. They have trouble trusting people."

She frowned. He took her hand and led her to the other side of the pond, by a stand of birch trees.

"He's right over there. There you go. Make your choice."

She looked where he pointed. Gone were the birch trees, the fluffy snow-banks. The ice ended at the chain link gate to Logan's school. Children squealed with laughter and play inside the fence in the rain. She skated to the edge.

"Oh, Sophie?" the Mountie called.

"Yes?"

"Never follow a man over a cliff." He chuckled and turned away.

She shook her head and glanced at the children. When she looked back the man was gone. The ice seemed barren, empty and cold. She shivered. The solitude called to her, but it seemed a lonely place. She was tired of being alone.

A peal of children's laughter broke through to her like a siren's song. She turned and took a step into the playground without another look back.

Suddenly, she was falling and vertigo gripped her. A wall of pain smashed into her. She fell through it into fuzzy warmth; the smell of wet earth and trees caressed her nostrils while the serene patter of raindrops calmed her.

She opened one eye a crack. The room was bathed in diffuse white light. The baby blue walls seemed insubstantial and distant. She opened the other eye and turned her head slightly toward the sound of rain.

A man stood by the window, resting against the windowsill, face in his hands.

Ben.

She smiled and watched him. He looked so tired. Weariness was etched in every line of his body. He sagged against the windowsill and his shoulders drooped forward. His Red Surge tunic was draped across the chair beside the bed where it had been carelessly tossed. He had the long white sleeves of his undershirt pushed up to his elbows and his dark hair was tousled. He looked adorable with the front of his shirt all wet.

He rubbed his face and dropped his hands, raising his eyes to her face. He started and drew a sharp intake of breath when he saw her looking at him. Then he smiled. To her the room abruptly warmed twenty degrees. He had a beautiful smile that transformed his entire face into a work of art.

"You're laughing at me," he said quietly, blue eyes twinkling with humor.

She shook her head. "Admiring God's artwork." She returned his smile. "You saved me."

"No," He looked sad, lost. "You saved * me*."

Her brow furrowed. She could not remember everything. It was like a dream that evaporated when she awoke.

"I remember darkness and snow…and …your voice whispering to me."

He nodded in confirmation and walked over to sit on the edge of the bed. He tentatively reached out to brush her cheek with his fingertips. He touched her softly, as if he thought she would break. At his touch she closed her eyes and allowed herself a small smile. He let his fingers linger against her cheek, memorizing the lines of her face, lashes against cheeks, lips against too pale skin. When she opened her eyes he turned away quickly. She pursed her lips as she thought she saw wetness on his cheek.

"Ben?" she asked.

He cleared his throat. "I'm glad you came back," his voice was hoarse. "I have to go get the doctor."

"In a minute." She reached out and took his arm, pulled him toward her. As he leaned over her she slipped an arm around his neck and eased him into an embrace. Her stomach was tender from the sutures and the cuts on her legs were sore so she could not move very quickly. He held her, as she lay there, careful to keep his weight off her so he wouldn't hurt her. He bent his head and pressed his face into her unbound hair, eyes closed, inhaling deeply.

They lay together for a long time. Neither spoke. Finally, she released him. He held himself up on his elbows and swept her hair from her face tenderly. He studied her face as though trying to memorize every detail. Strange, a week ago having a man so intimately close to her would have made her cringe and try to bolt in panic. Something about Ben, about the way he looked at her at that moment, erased all the fear from her soul. All she felt was peace.

"You need to sleep," she told him gently, concerned he might accidentally hurt himself in this condition.

He nodded, too tired to speak. He stared into her eyes for a few moments, grinned, nodded once and pushed himself up off the bed. Donning his uniform tunic, he staggered a little from exhaustion. He looked completely drained.

"You aren't driving, are you?" she asked, frowning.

He looked up from buttoning and shook his head with a slight grin. "I was going to walk. It's only forty blocks."

Her eyebrows raised in surprise. She glanced at the window. "Isn't it raining?"

"Yes." He smiled.

She nodded in understanding; they both loved the rain. "Be careful."

"I'll be here as soon as I get off work."

"Come back when you've had enough sleep. If you go to bed when you get home you should get at least ten hours."

He regarded her silently for a moment, then studied the Stetson in his hands. "I could stay," he said softly then motioned to the chair.

She shook her head. "You'll hurt your back."

He perched on the edge of the bed, not looking at her. He was silent for a few long minutes.

"I don't have a car," he almost whispered, frowning.

She read between the lines of his words and plainly saw the fear there. He was afraid he couldn't get back if something happened. She recognized the deeper fear--abandonment, living alone forever. It was a fear she knew well. She touched him on the arm. "You'll always know where to find me. Have faith."

He turned frightened, doubtful blue eyes on her, seeking confirmation. He found it in her eyes and tried to smile, to echo the certainty in her face that he didn't feel in his heart. Some of the tension fell from his shoulders. The expression on his face softened.

He stood quickly, donned his Sam Browne belt and straightened his tunic. Once more the efficient, pristine RCMP Constable stood before her. The professional calm slipped over his features and all trace of the weary, lonely man who had embraced her disappeared. If he saw a mugging on his way home she had no doubt he would chase the offender for miles on foot. Duty overwhelmed all. The RCMP was his calling.

Silently, he leaned closer to her. Suddenly shy, he was unsure of how to say goodnight. She tapped her cheek, aware that asking him for a real kiss would make him uncomfortable, particularly while he was in his suit of armor. He nodded once, bent and kissed her softly on the cheek, letting his lips linger, forehead touching hers. He inhaled deeply the scent of her, his eyes closed. She turned slightly and kissed his cheek, feeling the stubble there. Her fingertips brushed his chin.

He smiled when he straightened up, eyes sparkling and holding her gaze. "I could stay," he repeated.

"Go feed your wolf."

"Ah." He settled his Stetson on his head. "Pleasant dreams, then."

"You, too."

He left quickly, before he changed his mind. She was right, he knew. He would get more rest at home. She had the doctors and nurses to look out for her. Lt. Welsh had promised him to send patrols by. It was still early and since he was off until the next morning he could make up for several days of sleep deprivation. Dief also needed attention.

Constable Turnbull had been kind enough to feed the wolf, since Dief had stayed at the Consulate. Fraser sighed. He really needed to look for an apartment. Somehow, living in his office at the Canadian Consulate wasn't as appealing as it once was. He tried to shake off the sad, sentimental emptiness that plagued him, but couldn't.

He stopped by the nurse's station and told a very nice young Nurse Hathaway that Sophie was awake. With a prize-winning smile he extracted a promise to call him if anything at all happened to his friend before the next afternoon.

~~~THIRTY THREE~~~~

Ray followed Huey down the now brightly-lit tunnel. Crime scene investigators had positioned light-alls at every junction in the tunnel. It was longer than they all originally estimated. The tunnel was a long series of serpentine twists and dead ends that ran under the house and property like a tribute to the labyrinth of King Minos. One could easily get lost for days.

Ray stopped at the small entrance to the room where they had found Franny, unable to go on. Huey turned and looked back at him.

"You all right, Vecchio?"

"Yeah, sure." Ray stared at the opening as if it were the mouth of a monster.

Huey motioned to the entrance. "The team has been in there ten minutes. They're all over this place all ready."

"Like roaches."

"They say there are bones everywhere. Some of them with teeth marks."

Ray swallowed hard. Great, more gore. Just what he needed to add to the nightmares of dismembered arms chasing him. He nodded and took a deep breath to steel himself. "Let's go. We can't let Dewey have all the fun in there."

Huey climbed through the opening first. Two steps inside he froze, beside the freezer. Ray bumped into him. Huey's mouth hung open. 'Bones everywhere' did not quite prepare them for the carnage in the small room. The floor, now brightly illuminated, was littered with bones and pieces of half-rotted clothing. It was as if people had been piled up, left to turn to dust, then scattered about.

"Whoa," Ray felt his stomach heave. He squeezed his eyes shut to control his nausea.

Slowly, Huey picked his way through the scattered skeletons to his partner, who was examining the dirty mattress in the far corner. Dewey stood at his partner's approach.

"Y'know what? There aren't any skulls in this mess," Dewey stated.

Huey looked around quickly to verify the statement. He was right--the bones were all mixed together but there were no skulls.

Ray sagged back against the door of the freezer and shuddered. He forced himself to look around the room. In the dark it had been scary, now it was a full-blown nightmare. What am I more afraid of, he asked himself, the dark or what's in it? What's in the dark, he decided, definitely. He'd have to tell Fraser his answer to that particular question. Shoes and personal belongings, watches and jewelry, were interspersed with the bleached white bones. Against the stained concrete floor the bones seemed to glow pearly white. Something gritty was underfoot. Ray didn't even want to consider what it was.

The freezer behind Ray whirred. He jumped as if shocked, spun around and faced the appliance in a fighting stance.

Across the room he heard Dewey chuckle.

"Hey," Ray snapped. "Gimme a break. I'm only in Jeffery Dahmer's pantry." He stared at the freezer and had a sudden realization. It wasn't a very pleasant one. Tentatively he reached out and opened the freezer door; then promptly was sick all over the floor.

~~~THIRTY FOUR~~~~

Claudia peered through the door into her cousin's hospital room. Sophie was awake, reading the Bible, propped up in the bed. She knocked softly then bounced into the room, plopping onto the bed and taking the younger woman in a fierce hug before she could react.

"Hey, easy," Sophie laughed.

"I missed you!" Claudia backed off and laughed. She touched the bruises on her cousin's face and winced. "Look at you."

"Yeah. Love taps." She pulled her cousin into another hug.

Claudia pulled away and brushed a strawberry blond curl behind her ear. "He's a good man, though."

Sophie watched hope and sadness war across the other woman's face. It bothered her that Claudia was so blind. Maybe it was just a reaction to the things her father had done to her as a child. Still, she didn't even protect herself.

"I like it rough, see. So it don't bother me. He wouldn't actually hurt you. He promised me."

"He did."

"You're just not used to it. Or it was an accident."

Sophie took Claudia's hands in hers. "No, it wasn't. There was another woman there, too."

"You're wrong." Claudia yanked her hands away. "You just hate him. He wouldn't do that to me."

"You believe him and it's good to have that kind of faith. But you believe in the wrong man."

Claudia jumped up and started for the door. "Anyway, the cops finally let me out of jail. Kept me nearly five days. Not that you came to see me or anything." She laughed shortly.

"Jail? Why?" A concerned look crossed Sophie's face.

Claudia shrugged. "Protective custody, they said. Like Henry would hurt *me*. Kept me in a room by myself." She scowled at Sophie, eyes full of distrust. "Figured they told you since you're all so tight."

"No," Sophie said.

Claudia stood quickly. "Well, I'm glad you're okay. See ya." She ducked out the door.

"Claudia," Sophie called.

Her cousin kept going.

~~~THIRTY FIVE~~~~

Ray reclined in the doorway; collar turned up against the chill from the rain, spiky blond hair glistening with captured mist. Agent Ford and cohorts piled out of the unmarked van parked at the curb in front of the District 27.

Ford spotted him and jogged over to huddle with Ray beneath the overhang by the front door.

"Where is he, Vecchio?"

Ray nodded toward the door. "Holding cell."

The FBI agent scowled. He hated to wait.

"What?" Ray said. "You FBI guys think we'd let a nut like that just hang out on the street until you bless us with your presence?"

Agent Ford shot him a dirty look. "Get off it, Vecchio. We're on a tight schedule. We have to be in Milan, Michigan tonight and it's already one."

Ray glanced at his watch. "I already made the call. They're on their way out now."

Ford nodded. He surveyed the set up. Two of his men flanked the open door to the cage reinforced prisoner transport van. Another waited in the driver's seat.

"What was the total at the house?" Ford asked.

"You kidding? The place is the funhouse from Hell; rooms inside rooms, stairs behind the walls. They probably wouldn't find 'em all even if they tore the whole place down."

"Estimate."

"Twenty-four, so far, when I left anyway. Hard to tell. Most bodies aren't complete." Ray shuddered. "Never saw frozen heads before."

Ford turned to stare at him with a look of distaste. "You found them?"

Ray nodded. "Freezer. With other…uh…stuff. He didn't just kill women."

Ford flashed him a quick, sympathetic look. He didn't want to speculate on what the cop had seen. "All recent?"

"Naw, house's been there ten years. Some of the bones had gnaw marks on 'em. Matched 'em to the Doc's weird teeth."

"Dental work?"

Ray nodded. "Some kind of weird partial thing."

Agent Ford felt a chill ricochet from his head to his toes. Some cases gave him the willies.

The door opened behind them. Ford jumped, startled. Detectives Huey and Dewey led Dr. Henry H. Holmes out in handcuffs. The man walked, head held high, like a man strolling through the park. Calm and confident, he seemed to have no worries. He winked at Ray as he was pulled toward the van.

"Tastes like chicken, Detective." He laughed. "Say hello to your sister."

Ray snapped. He lunged at the man. Agent Ford snagged his coat as he hurtled by, whirled the wiry Detective around and deposited him back on the steps.

"You just * wait*, you butcher!" Ray yelled.

"Don't touch * my* prisoner, Vecchio. Vecchio!" Ford shook him. Ray looked him in the eye. "I thought he didn't really hurt your sister."

"Yeah, well, that depends on your definition." Ray could still see the empty, horrified stare Franny wore when they found her, the way her nails dug into his shoulders as she clung to him when he carried her out. The cuts in his skin still hadn't completely healed.

Ford scowled. "He's mine now. Let him go."

The two agents helped Henry into the back of the van and took seats on either side of him. Henry secured his seatbelt and waved out at Ray.

The door to the van slammed shut, then Ford released Ray. He turned and pointed a finger in the young Detective's face. "Go home. Cool off. Don't worry about him. He's in the care of the Federal Government now." He whirled and climbed into the passenger seat of the van.

"Yeah, so why do I feel like I'm watching the Three Stooges?" Ray scoffed.


The van pulled away from the curb. Huey and Dewey strolled over to stand by Ray and watch it disappear down the street.

"Good riddance," Huey said.

"To bad rubbish," Dewey added.

"Hopefully," Ray muttered.

Dewey patted him on the back. "It gets better. Welsh wants us all to go back to the house and make another report."

"Can't. I have to check on Franny," Ray said. "And Fraser. Haven't seen the Big Guy for days."

~~~THIRTY SIX~~~~

The day passed slowly for Constable Benton Fraser. Inspector Thatcher had stacked his desk with menial paperwork in an effort to keep his mind occupied. But it backfired. The reports were so menial that a small part of his brain could complete them quickly while the main part of his brain fought boredom and the suspense of not knowing what was going on at the hospital. He glanced at the clock. 1500 hours. Only one more. The Inspector had assigned him to the seven to four shift for the rest of the week since the Chicago P.D. no longer needed his help to catch Dr. Holmes. Briefly, he wished he hadn't told her the case was concluded. He'd much rather have stayed at the hospital. He sighed and glanced at the phone. He couldn't call Sophie again. He'd called twice already, waking her once. He was determined not to disturb her rest again. His gaze was pulled to the phone again.

Then it rang.

He jumped, so startled that he broke his pencil. To calm himself he took a deep breath and picked it up.

"Hello. Bonjour. Canadian Consulate, Consulat du Canada, Constable Benton Fraser speaking may I help you, puis je vous aide, s'il vous plait?"

"Yeah, say * that* five times fast."

"Ray!" Fraser sounded delighted to hear from his friend.

"You guessed."

"Is something wrong?"

"Naw, just thought you'd want to know the Doc gave Franny a clean bill of health."

"Isn't that what Dr. Greene said when she went to hospital?"

"Well, yeah. That was the Emergency Room. Today was the shrink."

"I see."

"He said she has a little after shock but she'll get over it."

"Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome?"

"Yeah, that." Ray took a deep breath. "Anyway, he basically said she'll just have nightmares for a while and not to tell her what was in the basement…or the freezer."

"What * was* in the basement, Ray?

"You're kidding, right? This is a joke?"

"No, Ray. I assure you, I've been here at my desk for the past seven and three quarter hours. Before that I slept for twelve hours. Before that I was in County General Hospital from the time Sophie was admitted."

"I didn't need the itinerary. Just say you were busy."

"Understood."

"The room Franny and Sophie were in was full of bones and stuff, real gruesome stuff. You should've seen the freezer." He drew a shaky breath.

"Ray?" Concern colored Fraser's voice.

"Stephen King woulda been proud."

"I see." The tone of Ray's voice made Fraser decide not to ask for details.

"So what's up?"

"Just finishing paperwork."

"You going to the hospital then?"

"Directly, yes."

"The G-men came and got Dr. Strange an hour ago."

The Mountie was quiet for a moment. "Good."

Ray waited for him to continue or add a really long Inuit tale to the conversation as he usually did. When he didn't go on Ray said, "Yeah. OK. I'll see ya then."

"Goodnight, Ray."

"'Night, Frase."

~~~THIRTY SEVEN~~~~

Henry stared out the window at the passing scenery and hummed with a small smile. He had seen the car come up alongside them once and fall back. They had been driving for an hour and, thanks to heavy traffic, had not gotten far from the city. The wheels purred on the wet pavement. Soon it would begin to get dark, the road would ice over and they would all be better off on snowmobiles.

I94 was more than busy, traffic was creeping. He could have walked faster than they had been moving for the last fifteen minutes. Agent Ford was seldom a patient man and his small reserve of patience was dwindling quickly.

He hit the dashboard and cursed. "We have to get off this highway. We're due at the Penitentiary in Milan in less than three hours."

The driver, Agent Nissan, shrugged and took another drag on his cigarette. "There are back roads. We could go around the jam. It's probably an accident." He motioned skyward. "Looks like snow soon."

"Take one, take the next one!" Ford nearly yelled, waving impatiently at the cars in front of them. "I won't relax until this," He hooked his thumb back at Henry. "Is safely locked away."

Henry smiled calmly at the FBI agent. He pretended to look around at all the other vehicles crawling around them. Directly behind them was a blue Mazda Protégé, rented, he knew. He suppressed a smile and turned back to relax between the two officers. He looked down at his cuffed hands and noted neither officer wore their seatbelt. It was all he could do not to laugh out loud.

~~~THIRTY EIGHT~~~~

Fraser thought over his conversation with Ray as he walked the corridors of Cook County General Hospital on the way to Sophie's room. It was reassuring that the FBI had taken Dr. Holmes. Sophie was safe and had now only to recover. A surge of joy went through him. Hopefully, this knowledge would bring her some peace. He carried a small bouquet of flowers loosely in his hand along with his Stetson. Rounding a corner he spied a familiar bald head and white coat through the crowd.

"Dr. Greene," he called.

The tall doctor stopped and turned. He smiled when he saw the Mountie and waited for Fraser to catch up. They shook hands.

"Hello, Constable. Fraser, was it?"

"Yes, Doctor Greene. Good to see you again."

"Yeah, you too. Are you here to see Miss Allende?"

Fraser nodded. "What is her condition, Doctor?"

"She'll recover. She's doing great. The cuts on her legs were all really shallow. They'll be sore for a while due to the scabs, but nothing debilitating. Good thing he only cut the outsides of her thighs and part of her calves. It would've been much more painful if he had carved up all of the skin on her legs. Tell me, what kind of wacko carves a pretty girl up like that?"

Fraser started to answer, but the doctor continued. "The knife wound and concussion were bad in combination, but she's healing so quickly we should be able to let her go in a day or two."

"You don't want to keep her longer? I thought a knife wound was more dangerous than that."

"Welcome to Managed Care." Dr. Mark Greene shuffled the medical charts in his hands and tucked them under his arm. "Anyway, if there's no sign of infection tonight we'll let her go home in two days with antibiotics among other medications."

"Ah. I'm relieved." Fraser smiled.

"Hey, I heard a rumor that Henry Holmes did this, that true?"

Fraser shifted uncomfortable. "We, he has not been convicted."

The young doctor nodded in understanding.

"Look, I've got to…" Dr. Greene motioned down the hallway.

"Of course." Fraser watched him walk away, spun on his heel and went to Sophie's room.

She was sitting up, reading. He stood quietly in the doorway for a few moments, observing. She looked so young, vulnerable. He had the sudden urge to take her in his arms, kiss away her fears and keep her safe. He knocked once and went in.

She looked up and smiled, closing her book. "Ben."

"Hello, Sophie. You look much better."

"Dr. Greene said I'm healing quickly."

"Yes, I saw him in the hall."

"Did he tell you I can leave day after tomorrow?"

"Yes. Would you like me to go to your apartment and prepare it for you?"

"No, just be here to escort me home and to pick up Logan." She had a hopeful expression on her face.

He nodded. "As you wish."

He handed her the flowers and fished a small glass vase from his blue coat pocket.

"I saw Logan today at lunch," he said, filling the vase with water from the bathroom sink. "He's adjusting well to the…robust Vecchio household." He set the vase on the table beside her bed, put the flowers in and fluffed them. "It's probably just as well he can't hear."

Sophie laughed. "I heard the cacophony when I called to see how he was. Mrs. Vecchio told me he's keeping up with the other children. She's very nice."

Fraser smiled and made himself comfortable. "That she is." He slipped an arm around her and settled in, coat and tunic carefully laid over the chair. "Have I told you about the time I was in Dead Horse Gulch and…"

~~~THIRTY NINE~~~~

Agent Ford breathed a sigh of relief. Ahead of them the back road stretched out. It was empty, tree-lined and serene in the late afternoon sun that peeked through the increasing clouds. They drove for about ten minutes when a blue Mazda Protégé passed them. The car quickly vanished in the distance.

Henry smiled.

The scenery whizzed by, lulling them all into a comfortable silence. The agent to Henry's right began to nod off. In the distance snow clouds lined the horizon, visible just above the treetops far ahead of them. The driver inched the heat up a notch to ward off the increasing chill that came in through his open window. He lit another cigarette, eliciting a scowl from Agent Ford, in the passenger seat.

Agent Ford stared out the window, agitated and bored. He barely registered the sign for a sharp curve in the road as they passed it. The driver slowed.

Suddenly the van lurched as the driver yanked the wheel to the left. Ford glimpsed the blue Mazda blocking the road.

"Shit!" the driver yelled.

The van swerved and spun wildly on the still damp pavement. It careened toward the trees beside the road. The driver fought to regain control. All of the agents were tossed about. The two beside Henry were thrown to the side and onto the floor, one hit his head on the door and lay still.

"What the Hell?" Ford screamed as his head smacked against the side window. His ears were ringing when the driver finally stopped the van nearly perpendicular to the road in the oncoming lane. Fortunately, the road was deserted except for the Mazda.

All of the men drew deep shaky breaths. Agent Ford turned and grabbed the cage separating the front and back seats. "Pontiac! Are you all right?"

"Bruised, sir."

"How's Yugo?" Ford motioned toward the prone agent.

"Uh, sir," the driver said.

"Not now."

"Unconscious, but alive, sir," Agent Pontiac said.

"Obviously," Ford muttered. "If he's unconscious he must be alive."

"The car's empty, sir."

"What, Nissan?"

Agent Nissan, squinted through his open window at the car. "There's no one in the…uh…oh!" He ducked in his seat.

Ford glanced over his shoulder out the driver's window. "Perfect!" he growled and dove for the floor.

Ford's back exploded in pain ricocheted off his closed window and bounced onto him before hitting the floor. The van filled with smoke. Henry held his breath and undid his seatbelt. The handcuffs did not slow him.

The petite strawberry blond giggled and surveyed the damage she had done. "Cool," she whispered.

She tossed the weapon through the open passenger window into the back seat of the Mazda and ran around to climb behind the wheel. Tear gas billowed from the van. She waited. The doors did not open immediately. She could see the men inside struggling. She tapped the steering wheel impatiently, staring at the van, waiting for Henry.

The three FBI agents tumbled from the van, coughing and choking on the ground. Henry vaulted through the open side door over the prone men and hit the ground running. The moment he slammed the car door shut behind him Claudia floored the gas. The car sped away before Ford or his cohorts could regain their senses.

Henry leaned over and kissed her soundly. "Beautiful! Absolutely beautiful, my Love."

"Anything for you," she replied and produced a universal handcuff key.

Claudia smiled at him and laughed raucously. Glancing in the rearview at the fading van, she took the next major road and headed south into Ohio.

~~~FORTY~~~~

"And so, the Inuit are always wary of those they meet alone on the ice because what you see is not always there," Fraser said.

"Great story! Evil spirits taking human form. What's the moral to that story?" Sophie snuggled closer to him.

He sat, propped up on the bed beside her, she under the covers, he on top. He looked down at her as she lay her head on his chest and pushed up his white shirtsleeves.

"Don't rely only on your eyes, they're fallible, they may deceive you. Rely on all of your senses and your intellect," Fraser told her.

"Makes sense. But it's not to be taken literally, is it?"

"Oh, I don't know. I firmly believe there is real evil in the world."

"But the evil is done by humans or the Devil through them."

"Is it always?"

She frowned up at him, considering.

"Some Inuit would argue the legend is very literal. An elder once told me a small portion of what you think you see everyday isn't actually there at all," Fraser said. "The spirit world is all around us."

"But, then why do you see it?"

"Well,…"

"Aw, isn't this cozy?" Ray's voice interrupted Fraser's reply.

"Ray." Fraser smiled at his partner.

"Am I interrupting the snuggle fest?"

Fraser cleared his throat and straightened up, but did not pull away from her. "No, Ray. I was just telling Sophie some Inuit tales. It's been quite enjoyable."

"How many hours you been telling stories, Frase?"

Fraser glanced at his watch. "Oh, dear, about five hours." He and Sophie exchanged looks and laughed.

Ray leaned closer to Sophie, studying her face. "And you're still alive? I thought you woulda been bored to death."

She shrugged. "I * like* stories, Ray, particularly when based on fact."

Ray looked surprised. "Your stories are true?"

Fraser nodded.

"You didn't tell me that."

"Yes, I did, Ray," Fraser said. "I've told you most legends are based on fact."

"Not all of 'em?"

"Most."

"Yeah, well…" Ray paced over to the window and pushed open the curtains. "You know it's snowing? Started an hour after the sun went down. Freak storm or something."

"The front came in?" Fraser asked.

"Like an asteroid crashing. Streets are almost impassable."

Fraser smiled broadly. "A blizzard, Ray?"

"Thought you'd like that." Ray looked at the floor, then the wall, then sat back against the windowsill.

"Something is bothering you, Ray," Fraser stated.

Ray's gaze flicked up to Fraser's face, then away. "Uh, yeah. They transferred Doctor Strange today."

"You told me."

"Yeah." Ray fidgeted.

"And?"

"And they lost him."

"What?" Sophie exclaimed, automatically glancing at the door.

"They lost him. They were shanghaied on a back road on the way to prison. They're still looking for him."

Fraser slipped an arm around the woman. He was worried; she was too pale. "Do they have any leads?" he asked.

Ray nodded. "Mutt and Jeff say they were jumped by a chick with light red hair and a tear gas launcher. Chucked one right through the driver's open window. Whacked Ford a good one on the back."

"Claudia?" Sophie looked stricken.

"Looks like it."

Fraser tightened his arm around her. "Don't worry. I'm sure Leftenant Welsh will put you in protective custody until Dr. Holmes is apprehended."

"Naw," Ray shook his head. "No good. Welsh can't do it. Came down from the Powers that Be. No protective custody. They figure he's lit outta the state by now."

"No protection, Ray?" Fraser was appalled. "After using her as bait?"

"Sometimes life sucks, Fraser," Ray said.

"She'll have to stay at the Consulate, then. I'll give you sanctuary," Fraser told her. "Though, it's safer for Logan at the Vecchio's. Dr. Holmes seems to be fixated only on you."

"I thought the Ice Queen didn't want you turning the Consulate into a hotel?" Ray said.

"Mm, I'll have to convince her."

~~~FORTY ONE~~~~

Late the next evening Claudia and Henry drove slowly through the streets of Denver.

"Him." Henry pointed.

"He's too thin."

"They won't be able to tell."

"Okay." She pulled over to the curb. "Still wish I didn't need to dye my hair. I hate having black hair," she whined.

"Someday you can dye it back. Now, go." Henry nodded toward the transient on the street.

Claudia nodded, got out and smoothed her jeans and low cut shirt. The clothes were much more conservative than her normal mode of dress, but that was the point. She sauntered over to the man and flashed a beautiful smile. The man smiled at her tentatively then spoke to her softly. She laughed and led him closer to the car. Henry stepped out from behind the car and stuck a needle in the man's neck.

Together they dragged the man into the back seat. Henry drove and dropped Claudia off at a second rental car. She followed him out of town into the mountains.

A short time later, parked on the shoulder of the road, in a seldom-used area, Henry worked on the man in the back seat by the feeble dome light. He wished he had his tools with him. The substitutes Claudia had bought for him were poor at best. He sighed and picked through the clumsy tools.

He used a pair of pliers to pry out some of the unconscious mans teeth. It took ten minutes to remove the correct ones. Then he popped out his bridge and settled it into the other mans mouth. It wasn't an exact fit, but it was close enough.

Claudia leaned in the window. "Yuck."

"Don't watch, Love. Almost done."

She grimaced and returned to the other vehicle, starting it and turning the heat on high.

When she left he crawled back over the seat and pulled the unconscious man over with him, dumping him in the passenger seat.

Henry signaled out the window to Claudia and drove off. The man in the other seat moaned but did not wake.

They stopped at a point higher up the mountain. Henry pulled off on the tiny shoulder overlooking a sharp curve in the road. He turned the Mazda so that it faced down the mountain. Leaving the car running, he got out and maneuvered the unconscious man into the driver's seat, fastening the seatbelt.

Claudia jogged over to join him. "What now?" she asked.

Henry handed her a pair of gloves. He opened a small flask of whiskey and poured it over the man and interior of the car. Claudia frowned as he lit a cigarette and held it to her lips. They each took a drag before he tossed the cigarette into the other man's lap. He reached in and slid the gearshift into drive.

"Push," he ordered.

Claudia complied.

Henry steered the car into the lane through the open window. He gave it one good shove and yanked his arm out of the car just as the cigarette lit the whiskey on fire.

It picked up speed quickly and missed the first turn. The car hit the guardrail and became airborne, flames streaming into the night from the windows. It looked like a meteor streaking over the trees.

Henry watched the car hit the mountainside and bounce. It twisted and danced through the air then tumbled to the trees below, slid a few feet in the snow and exploded. With a smile, he took Claudia's hand and pulled her back to the other car. Once inside he kissed her full on the lips.

"Congratulations, my Love, now we can reinvent ourselves."

~~~FORTY TWO~~~~

The two days it took to release Sophie from the hospital were excruciatingly long for Fraser. Inspector Thatcher had him on guard duty the entire time; even though the city was buried so deeply in snow he doubted anyone could overthrow the Consulate without snowmobiles.

Normally the sight of snow would lift his spirits, but he had been in a sentimental mood lately. This case had affected him more deeply than he expected. He was tired and it occurred to him just how old he really was. Standing there the first day, watching the snowflakes drift lazily down to bury the fence surrounding the Consulate he thought of all that was missing in his life.

He was thirty-eight. By his age his father was already long widowed with a grown son and well-established career. Ben did not even have a girlfriend. He'd only truly been in love once before, but he didn't want to think about her. His thoughts turned to his mother then. He had dreamt of her for several nights; not dreams of the past, but dreams of the present. He had awakened the night before expecting to see her standing at the foot of his bed. She wasn't there.

The second day on guard duty, as he watched the plows clear the street, his thoughts turned to what he * did* have: friends, a career, a mission in life, a promising future. He was very fortunate. By the time he got off duty and Ray came to take him to the hospital he was in much better spirits. His glass was, indeed, more than half-full.

The main benefit, he thought, of the location of the new Consulate was that his post was now twenty feet from the sidewalk inside a fence. No more milkshakes poured on his boots or spitballs on his face from passing schoolchildren and, best of all, no more women with groping hands exploring his uniform when he was not allowed to fend them off.

Ray pulled up to the curb in his GTO a few minutes before Fraser's shift ended. Promptly at 1600 Ray honked the horn and the Mountie jogged to the car, grateful for the activity. Anymore, his legs tended to get a bit stiff on guard duty. His legs and feet were slightly numb and sluggish from the cold.

"What's with you?" Ray demanded when Fraser climbed into the car and shut the door. He fastened his seatbelt.

"What do you mean, Ray?"

"You look funny, kinda down. Are you frozen?"

Fraser was quiet for a moment. "No, Ray."

Ray regarded him for a few long moments then shrugged and started the car.

They stopped by the Vecchio's house on the way to the Consulate. The tearful reunion between mother and son fit perfectly into the vibrant cacophony that was the Vecchio household. They stayed for an hour. Then Fraser tactfully told Sophie they needed to go. He assured her Logan would be safer without contact from her until things were settled. Reluctantly, she agreed.

Half an hour later Fraser carefully stowed Sophie's bags in his office. She sat on the edge of his cot and watched with amusement as he meticulously arranged the bags among the file cabinets and boxes.

"You sure packed light," Ray said, as he leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed over his chest, and watched the Mountie.

Sophie shrugged. "No sense bringing the entire apartment. Besides," She gestured at the tiny office. "There's hardly enough room in here."

"Thank you kindly for your help, Ray," Fraser said and turned to Sophie. He hooked his thumb towards the front door down the hall. "I'm just going to…" he trailed off. "Make yourself comfortable."

She nodded, running her hands along the surface of Fraser's cot.

Fraser escorted Ray to the door.

"You sure you're gonna be safe here, Frase? I can stay." Ray checked his friend's face, trying to decipher the emotions there. "I mean, you got no defenses."

"We'll be fine, Ray." Fraser flashed one of his customary smiles. "Diefenbaker and I can protect ourselves. The Consulate will be locked up tighter than a drum." He put a hand on his friend's back. "Besides, Dr. Holmes has no idea Sophie is here. Since his escape, I am quite sure he's left the state."

"I dunno, Frase, something's queer. It don't feel right."

"If he hasn't yet left the state he will most likely assume she is in the hospital or in protective custody."

Ray shook his head. "Yeah? And maybe he figured it out. Guy's gotta be smart to get away with the house a doom so long and to get away from the G-men." Ray paused. "Or not. But look, maybe he figured out the two of you are awful close. Maybe in his unique psycho way he already figured it out and is on his way."

"How would he do that, Ray?"

"Wacko radar?"

"Ray, you worry entirely too much." He opened the heavy front door. "We've been through worse and come out sterling."

"I hope you're right there, buddy."

"Good night, Ray."

"Yeah, don't have too much fun."

"I've no idea what you mean."

"Sure ya don't." Ray snickered.

"Ray, she's * injured*. She's recovering."

"For days," Ray smiled.

Fraser frowned and shook his head. "It wouldn't be proper to-"

"Whatever helps you sleep at night." Ray waved from his car. "Goodnight."

Fraser sighed. "Goodnight, Ray," he called. Ray really did have a unique view of the world, he thought. To think he'd take advantage of a temporarily disabled woman. A woman with bottomless green eyes and creamy white-he shook his head vigorously. Time to lock up.

He made a quick circuit of all the doors and windows in the Consulate. The building was secure. He paused outside his door, listening. It was quiet. He looked down at Diefenbaker who lounged across the doorway, reclining against the closed door.

"All is secured, Diefenbaker."

The wolf whined.

"Yes, I * know* she took the bed. It's only proper. She is a lady, afterall. Where's your sense of chivalry."

Diefenbaker grunted.

Fraser frowned. "Hardly. I'll bring the bedroll out here."

The wolf yapped softly.

"For * me*. Ingrate," Fraser muttered and rapped lightly on the door.

"Come in."

"Uh, yes, are you…that is, you're not…"

"I'm dressed, come in."

Fraser glanced down; Dief licked his lips and met his gaze.

"Right." Fraser nodded and went in. He averted his eyes in case her attire was less than requisite.

She chuckled and he glanced at her inadvertently. She sat up on the bed, wearing a V-neck undershirt that he recognized as his own by the RCMP logo and men's boxer shorts, not his, he noted. He raised his eyebrows in surprise and breathed a sigh of relief that she was fully covered. His gaze momentarily fastened on the harsh red lines winding delicately down her smooth outer thighs and around her lower calves and ankles. He shook his head and tore his gaze away.

"My, um, clothes are in here." He motioned toward the closet.

"Are you nervous?"

He froze, then spun on her and pressed his back against the wall, eyes wide. "Uh, me?" His voice broke and he cleared his throat. "No, no…no, why would I be nervous? I'm always like this before turning in. I…have to get dressed." He attempted a quick smile; it came across as more of a grimace.

"I won't look," she said softly.

"Ah." He ducked into the closet. A moment later he emerged; his red surge uniform exchanged for equally bright long underwear. Unconsciously, he held his Stetson over his waist as he dashed for the door.

"I hope you don't mind, I borrowed your T-shirt. Forgot my nightclothes."

"I don't…uh...don't mind at all. Will you be warm enough? I have more red long underwear."

"I'll be fine," she said, then cocked her head to the side. "Where are you sleeping?" she asked.

"Oh," He staggered to a stop then gestured and nodded toward the door. "Diefenbaker is waiting for me." He snagged the bedroll with two fingers and tossed it on the floor outside the door.

"I didn't mean to kick you out of your room."

He shook his head emphatically. "No, no, I'll be perfectly comfortable using my bedroll and the hallway is more conducive to perimeter defense," he said quickly.

"If you change your mind you can sleep in here." At the shocked look on his face she went on. "On the floor, if you like."

"Thank you kindly. We'll be fine." He shut the door, then quickly opened it again. "Goodnight. Sleep well."

She smiled. "Sweet dreams."

~~~FORTY THREE~~~~

Two days later Franny returned to work. She smoothed her new black jumper dress over her hips. It wasn't the most flattering style and was definitely far outside her usual fashion choice. It was, however, very comfortable now that her normal clothing was becoming slightly tight. Gotta leave the donuts to Dief, she thought.

She strolled into the bullpen, prepared to relish all the attention sure to be showered upon her. Automatically, she scanned the room for Fraser. She was excited by the possibility of seeing him again. He was so gorgeous, so perfect. He would ask her to marry him one of these days; he just didn't know it yet.

Her shoulders sagged and her spirits deflated a little when she saw he wasn't there. Then Huey and Lt. Welsh came towards her offering condolences. Yes, it would be a good day after all.

~~~FORTY FOUR~~~~

"So, how did you spend your day off?" Sophie asked, leaning forward on Fraser's pillow. Dief jumped up onto the cot and stretched out beside her, resting his muzzle on her shoulder.

Fraser sighed. "Oh, I played hockey with some of the local kids."

"Have fun?"

"It was quite enjoyable. I thought tomorrow I'd go fishing."

"In the snow?"

The man nodded. "Ice fishing. Did you locate a new job today?"

Sophie frowned. "No. I dropped off ten resumes but there are a lot of people out of work. I had hoped the L-T would let me stay." She shook her head at his inquiring glance. "No room in the budget now that Franny's back."

"Did any of the prospects appear promising?"

"There's an espresso bar a few blocks away. The owner-operator said she'd call me tomorrow."

"Good." He spread his bedroll on the floor outside the door for the third night. She watched and shook her head wistfully, pulling the V-neck T-shirt she had borrowed from him back up over her shoulder.

"You don't have to sleep out there, you know."

He looked at her, surprised, then flushed and averted his eyes. He thought she had forgotten making that offer before. "Um, I know."

"You could sleep in here. On the floor here." She indicated the floor beside the cot.

He stared at the section of floor. Dief whined. Fraser glanced at him, bent and scooped up his bedroll and deposited it beside the cot. He carefully and methodically smoothed out all the wrinkles, avoiding her amused gaze.

"Tell me another story."

He looked up at her, took a deep breath, then leaned back against his desk, drew his knees up and draped his arms around them. He smiled at her and licked his bottom lip in the habitual way that always gave her a chill.

He half-closed his eyes. "High atop Sulfur Mountain in his lonely stone cabin, Looou Scagnetti, heard a knock at the door. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM…" he began, complete with sound effects.

Sophie hugged the pillow, snuggled up to Dief and watched the story come alive on his expressive face as he found joy in the telling.

~~~FORTY FIVE~~~~

Trooper Jim Malone studied the tire tracks. It was going to be another long night; it always was after a wreck. Cautiously, he leaned out and peered over the edge of the cliff. The shoulder of the road was snow-covered ice so he was afraid to lean too far out, lest he follow the car over the edge.

Poor bastard, never even hit the brakes, he thought. The guardrail was bent and twisted, but still in one piece. Must've been really going.

He jogged back to his cruiser, thankful the Colorado State Police had finally given him a new unit, one with an operating heater. He foraged through the disorganized trunk and located a long length of rope, then ducked inside his cruiser long enough to call in a quick report of the accident and request backup. That done, he returned to the exit point.

He tested a section of the guardrail for stability, tied the rope around it and secured the other end around his waist. Technically, he should wait for backup to go down the side of the mountain. But it was getting dark and the slim chance of survivors weighed on his conscience.

The decent was easier than he anticipated. Within minutes he stood beside the wreckage of a car. At least, he thought it had been a car. The entire thing looked like a piece of modern art from the museum. All of the paint had burned off and the interior was melted. Small piles of snow covered parts of the wreck. Too long for survivors, he thought. With a gloved hand he brushed a patch of snow from what remained of the windshield, cupped his hands against the marbleized glass and peered inside.

And jumped back so quickly he slipped and fell.

He gagged and tried to catch his breath. He'd seen dead bodies before, but this was worse than any Hollywood creation he had seen. Surely, he would have nightmares.

Slipping and staggering, he pulled himself up to the road as quickly as he could. There was nothing he could do to help what was in the vehicle and there was no way he would stay down * there* after dark. He untied himself with shaking hands and dove back into his cruiser, locking the door, to await the arrival of help and try to erase the horrific picture from his mind.

~~~FORTY SIX~~~~

Lt. Welsh hung up the phone with a sigh. It was good news and it came just in time. Through the half-closed blinds on his office window he saw Detective Vecchio slamming things down on his desk. Welsh pushed himself back from his desk, opened his door and yelled, "Vecchio, in here!"

Ray stood in front of his desk before Welsh was seated.

"Something happen, Lieutenant?"

Welsh dropped into his seat like a sack of potatoes. "Yeah. Where's the Mountie?"

"Protecting the girl."

"Like Mounties do." Welsh raised his eyebrows. "I got a call from a Trooper Jim Malone from the Colorado State Police. They found the car."

"And the wacko?"

Welsh nodded. "The remains of one individual were inside. They've been positively identified using dental records as Dr. Henry H. Holmes. Seems he had some weird bridge replacing a few of his teeth."

Ray frowned. "Weird, sir?"

"Yeah, had an unusual combination of teeth knocked out when he was a kid."

"What about the babe?"

Welsh shrugged. "No sign. Maybe she got smart and ditched him before Colorado." He leaned back. "So, it's over. You want to inform the Constable or should I?"

Ray straightened up. "I'll do it, sir. Brighten his night right up." There was no way he wanted to miss the look of relief on his friend's face.

"If it's not bright already." Welsh waved him out.

Ray nodded, then looked as if he were going to say something, but changed his mind. He shook his head and almost ran out of the bullpen.

~~~FORTY SEVEN~~~~

The single lamp on Fraser's impeccable desk bathed the room in a cozy golden glow. The office felt homey despite being cramped, or perhaps because of it, he could not decide. It was almost like being back in his Grandmother's cabin, huddled by the hearth, a blizzard serenading him to sleep. He was amazed by how relaxed he felt, considering the proximity of a woman he found beautiful. He had so little experience with them that he turned into a bumbling fool around women he was attracted to-usually.

Sophie's features were painted delicately amber by the warm golden lamplight. Half of her face was in shadow. The contrast made her seem younger, incomplete. Her cheeks were touched with pink and her hair cascaded in loose gold tinged curls about her shoulders. His eyes were drawn, once again, to the bare skin of her shoulder, unwittingly exposed when the white v-neck T-shirt she wore slipped off as she moved. The old scars were barely visible in the soft light.

He forced himself to look away. The open neck of the shirt exposed a little more than he felt he should be seeing. His breathing became more rapid. His gaze fixed on her lips, pink, damp and slightly parted. He watched them curl into the barest of smiles and realized he was no longer speaking. He could not even recall which story he was in the middle of. A bumbling fool, he thought.

Almost unconsciously he leaned forward until their lips met. He closed his eyes and kissed her slowly, deeply, and savored the sweet taste of her warm mouth. She kissed him back with barely restrained passion. He could feel the need in her that echoed his own as she pressed her mouth to his, opened to him. Her hair caressed his cheek. The kiss deepened, tongues entwined, exploring. He brought his hand up and wound his fingers through her hair, pulling her closer. It had been so long since he had allowed himself to feel desire; his body trembled from the struggle to keep it in check. He was close to the edge of losing control.

He was breathless when he pulled back, eyes searching her face. Dief whined. Fraser blinked, suddenly reminded of where they were and his duty in the situation. The professional persona slipped over him unbidden.

"I'm…I'm sorry." He scrambled back against his desk. "I didn't mean to take advantage of you."

She tilted her head to the side and squinted at him. "You can't take advantage of the willing," she told him. "I * am* an adult."

Fraser looked away. "I…can't."

"Why, because I'm in your room? In your shirt?" She sat up and leaned back against the wall. "In your bed? Next to your dog?" She patted Dief, flinched when he licked her bare knee and beamed a smile in Ben's direction.

He choked, shook himself. She looked like a painting.

"Well," he groped for words.

"You don't think I'm an adult because I'm so much younger?"

Fraser shook his head, running a finger over his eyebrow and his tongue over his trembling lower lip.

She went on before he could speak, "So, you just don't find me attractive." She looked stricken.

"Oh, no!" he said quickly, holding up his hand. "I mean, yes, definitely, I—" he broke off with a frustrated sound, unable to look at her, fighting the urge to throw her down on the bed and satisfy the fire they both felt.

They were quiet for a moment.

"Duty?" she asked.

He met her eyes. "I brought you here to protect you, not to—" He shrugged, eyes straying to the bed. "Things should go incrementally."

She stared at him long enough for a flush to flow up over his cheeks. "You don't ever take off that uniform, do you?"

"Not really," he said quietly.

She nodded, took a deep breath and went to the door. "Dief." She opened the door and motioned him outside. "Let us know if someone comes in."

He barked.

She closed the door, locked it and pulled a box of files in front of it. She surveyed the office with her hands on her hips and gave a satisfied nod. "Looks safe to me."

She settled herself comfortably on the cot and fixed Fraser with a direct look. The ball was in his court. He flushed.

"I…um…have to prepare," he fumbled.

"For?"

"For tomorrow. Work." He sighed. The look on his face softened. "I have to shave for work."

"At night?"

He shrugged. "I can't grow a decent beard."

"Bring your things over here."

"What?"

"You heard me."

He opened his mouth to speak, closed it, opened it again, then nodded and retrieved his supplies from his closet. He ran to the bathroom for a cup of hot water, carefully replacing the box in front of the door when he returned.

~~~FORTY EIGHT~~~~

He leaned back slightly against her. "Have you ever done this before?" He regarded his shaving cream covered face in the handheld mirror. Light glinted from the blade of the straight razor in her hand. She smiled at him in the mirror, leaned further over him, her breasts pressed against the back of his head.

"Well, not exactly."

His eyes widened.

"But, I have sculpted. I have a very steady hand."

He swallowed. "Right you are, then."

He tilted his head back as far as he could, exposing his chin and throat to her. To distract himself he studied the line of her throat, her lips, the way she ran the tip of her tongue along her bottom teeth then bit her lower lip as she concentrated. She had her hair loosely tied back. The open neck of her shirt tickled his ear. He closed his eyes and allowed the soft heat of her to sink into his body where her velvety skin caressed the back of his neck. He inhaled deeply; the slight musky scent of her, like lilacs and vanilla, mingled with the sweet tangy aroma of shaving cream.

Gently, she ran the razor along his face, then rinsed it in the cup of hot water sitting beside them on the desk. She worked slowly and carefully. It was over before he knew it. She picked up a towel and wiped off the remaining shaving cream.

"There," she said with a contented smile, standing behind him. "Not a drop spilled."

He ran a hand over his smooth cheeks, smiled and reached up to take hold of her shoulders. He pulled her down over him into a kiss, deep and lingering.

"I have sick days available," he whispered, hoarsely.

She blinked, surprised. Had passion overwhelmed duty or could he protect her anyway? "You * live* here in your office. Won't the Inspector notice you're healthy?"

He frowned. "Unfortunately…but not until tomorrow."

~~~FORTY NINE~~~~

Ray pounded on the door to the Consulate. Inside, he heard Diefenbaker barking on the other side of the door.

"Come on, Fraser. Where are you?"

The he heard footsteps running toward the door. A moment later it opened. Fraser stood there in his usual red long johns, hair rumpled, face flushed.

"Busy?" Ray asked.

"Ray! Mm, how do you mean?"

"I knocked so long I think my knuckles are bleeding."

"Really, Ray?" Fraser bent and tried to look at his friend's knuckles. Ray pulled his hands away.

"Of course not!" Ray looked at him closely and grinned. "You've got a hair out of place…and you missed a button…in the middle." Ray snickered and pressed past Fraser into the Consulate.

Fraser looked down at his buttons with a horrified expression. Quickly he buttoned up the offending button. He shut and locked the door then followed his partner, smoothing his hair and checking his buttons.

"Ray, if you're implying-"

"Spare me the stories, Frase. You wouldn't tell me the good stuff anyway."

Fraser blinked at him, his face completely innocent. "Ray, it wouldn't be chivalrous."

"Yeah, yeah, where's the fox?"

"Fox? Well, there's a wolf behind you."

Ray gave him a long look then rolled his eyes. "I assume from your rumpled appearance that the office siren is in here?"

"Ray, she's hardly-"

"Fraser," Ray said.

"In my office."

"Good, 'cause I got something to tell you both." Ray opened the door without knocking. "Well, hello." He stopped in the doorway. "Isn't this cozy? Sleeping side by side."

Fraser squeezed past him and sat in his chair behind his desk. "I was on the floor, Ray."

"Uh, huh."

"Hi, Ray." Sophie smiled up at him, yawning. "I was dozing."

Ray gave her a small, lopsided grin. "Of course. Look, I got news," his voice became serious. He sat on the corner of Fraser's desk. "Colorado State Police called Welsh today. A trooper found a wreck. They ID-ed the body as our Dr. Frankenstein. "

"They're sure?"

Ray nodded. "Dental records. He had some bizarro tooth thing."

"A bridge?"

"Yeah, only weird. Body was toasted."

"So they aren't sure?" Sophie said.

"They said they were sure," Ray's voice softened. "Look, it's him. You can sleep at night now. The monster's been fried."

She looked doubtful. Silence fell over the office with each of them lost in their own thoughts.

"Okay." Ray slapped his thighs and stood. "Just wanted to tell you all the good news. I'll just go and let you get back to what you weren't doing."

Fraser stood and followed him to the front door, where Ray put a hand on his arm. "You off again tomorrow?"

"Yes, Ray. I thought I'd go fishing."

"Yeah? I'd say you're fishing now." Ray smiled. "Later."

"Goodnight, Ray."

Ray was still chuckling to himself over Fraser's situation when he pulled the GTO away from the curb to go home. *Sure * he was on the floor.

~~~FIFTY~~~~

Mrs. Vecchio opened the door. "Oh, Raymondo! Come in. Is something wrong?"

"No, uh, Ma." Ray shifted from foot to foot. "I just saw Fraser. He's fine. I just wanted to stop by and drop these off for Franny." He produced a small bouquet of assorted flowers from behind his back.

"Oh, how beautiful." She smiled broadly and enveloped him in a lavish motherly hug and kiss on the cheek. "She will love them, but please, let me go wake her and you give them to her yourself."

"No, no," Ray said quickly. "Just, uh, tell her I…tell her…I hope she feels better."

"She pretends to be fine, but the * dreams*!" She shook her head sadly.

"They'll pass. Um, well, I gotta go."

"Can't you stay? I could make coffee."

"No, thanks though. My turtle, he needs me." Ray motioned vaguely in the direction of his apartment.

She gave him an understanding smile and hugged him tightly. "You are a good boy, Raymondo."

He thanked her and walked back to his car a little more confident and a little lonelier. The Vecchio house was so alive, vibrant and loving. It made the snowy darkness outside a little more empty.

~~~FIFTY ONE~~~~

The next day passed quickly.

Fraser returned to the Consulate late that night. Sophie was asleep on his cot. Diefenbaker trotted over to the cot when Fraser opened the door. He hesitated in the doorway, knowing it wouldn't bother her to wake and catch him staring, but he wanted to keep the moment private, to absorb every detail of her without her defenses. He watched the wolf sniff the sleeping woman, then noticed her small suitcase near the door. He sighed and let his head drop to his chest.

She had not moved when he returned from his shower and shave, dressed in the red long underwear he wore to bed.

Change was in the air. He could feel it in his bones. His certainty of change was as strong as the homesickness that had been slowly growing in him over the past year. Homesickness for the Yukon had become a cougar, stalking him whenever he let down his guard.

He leaned back against the closed door and watched her sleep in the dim moonlight coming through a gap in the curtains. She looked peaceful. This was the second time he had seen her look so serene. The first was the night before, after being told the phantom that haunted her was dead. She slept soundly in his arms. A sharp pang of regret and loneliness made his stomach clench.

Tomorrow she would leave him, like everyone else he allowed himself to care for, except Ray-both of them. She would leave and his office home would seem that much emptier. He was amazed at how quickly one became accustomed to living in close quarters with another person. The last had been Victoria. If it hadn't been for Ray, the real Ray Vecchio, he didn't know if he would have recovered from her treachery and abandonment so quickly.

He looked from his bedroll, rolled up in the corner, to the cot, which still had plenty of room, and back, and sighed. She would leave him, true enough, but he felt a connection to her and knew that even if they were never to see each other again they would still be close. Briefly, he wondered about karma and the connection of souls; whether, if reincarnation were true, he would always return surrounded by the same souls, life after life. If so, it was comforting to know that everyone important to him was someone he had met before and would meet again.

Quietly he turned off the light and stretched out under the blankets beside the sleeping woman. The sheets were cool against his bare chest and legs. He shivered. It was rare for him to sleep in only boxer shorts. He slipped his arms around her. In moments he was fast asleep and dreaming, his breathing changing to match the rhythm of hers. Unconsciously, he snuggled closer to her and buried his cheek in her hair. Still sleeping, she adjusted her body to fit his.

~~~FIFTY TWO~~~

The knife descended with agonizing slowness. Franny heard the humming. It echoed and echoed until it seemed to overwhelm everything. She struggled, but was completely immobilized.

The knife slid along her leg from ankle to inner thigh, cutting. It tickled in a perverse way. She could feel sweat pool beneath her back. The room was sweltering.

Suddenly the door opened. She craned her neck and saw Benton standing in the doorway in full dress red surge, haloed by white light.

"Benton!" she exclaimed.

From the corner of her eye she saw the knife raise up.

"Help me!" she screamed.

Benton strolled into the room and stopped beside her. He gazed down at her and smiled. "Don't worry, Francesca, I'll save your heart."

The knife flashed and plunged again and again.

"Help me, Benton!"

Fraser started to laugh.

Francesca screamed.

And sat up, fighting off the blankets that were wrapped tightly around her. Her heart pounded so loudly her head ached. She groped wildly for the lamp beside her bed, flipped the switch. Her room was bathed in a sunny glow that did not quite chase away the nightmare.

With a deep breath she leaned back, eyes straying to the picture she kept on her mirror. Benton Fraser smiled back at her. She took several deep breaths to slow her racing heart and ran a hand over her face and hair. Then she rolled over to go back to sleep, leaving the light on. She had the feeling she'd be sleeping with a light on for a long time.

~~~FIFTY THREE~~~

Fraser slammed the trunk of Ray's '67 GTO and brushed off his hands. Sophie stood watching him silently. Ray already sat behind the wheel, letting them have a few moments of privacy. He sensed the sadness in his friend and tried not to intrude.

Sophie waited for him beside the car. He stood in front of her, staring at her shoes, unable to think of anything to say. He was terrible at good-byes, even temporarily. He didn't want her to leave.

She regarded him tenderly. After a long moment she spoke with more levity than she felt. "Thank you for letting me keep the shirt." She indicated the white V-neck undershirt she wore under her coat, the RCMP logo on the shirt partially visible.

"It looks better on you."

"No, it doesn't."

He smiled at the compliment and met her eyes, his eyes alive and intense with emotion. "You know, um, I'm not very good at…expressing…"

She stepped close to him and touched his face with her fingertips. He leaned forward and kissed her gently, passionately, with all the longing of a man dying in the desert gazing on a mirage of water. She returned the kiss with equal desperation, bodies touching only at the lips and her fingertips.

They broke away, breathless and trembling.

"Things are changing," he whispered.

"You know where I'll be."

He nodded, his face sad. Then he held the car door open for her. "They say we meet the same souls life after life."

She smiled softly. "This one's not over," she said, then climbed into the backseat with Dief.

Less than an hour later Fraser and Ray sat in the GTO in the parking lot of the 27th.

"You okay?"

"I'm fine, Ray."

"You'll see her tonight and the kid after school."

"I know, Ray."

"Maybe we can, like, go by that coffee shop for lunch. She starts today, right?"

"Yes, Ray."

"So, why are you bummed? It's not like," Ray laughed. "We're going to the Yukon in the next couple of days or something." He laughed again. "Then you'd be happy."

Fraser looked at his partner and smiled.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

EPILOG

Sophie struggled through the door with the groceries, fighting the night wind and cool rain. The door to the apartment building was always locked at night, so she struggled with that, too. Once inside, she handed Logan the key to their mailbox and went ahead of him up the stairs. At six he was tall enough to retrieve their mail. She waited outside their door as he ran up the two flights of stairs, carrying several letters and a small box. Opening the door, she tossed the bags on the table and took the mail from him, hopeful, as always, for word from Ben.

Her breath caught in her throat. The package was rectangular and lightweight. The postmark said, 'Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada'.

She locked the door then took the package into the living room and sat on the window seat. With trembling hands she carefully opened it. Inside were two soft leather bundles. One was marked, Logan, the other, Sophie. She motioned Logan over and handed him his gift. He opened it eagerly.

With a small laugh he held up small figures carved from bone in the shape of an Inuit man, dogsled and sled dog team. Gently, he arranged them in order on the floor and began to pretend they were gliding through the snow.

Sophie watched and laughed with the child. Then she carefully opened the other bundle. Inside was a beautiful bracelet of whalebone and gold inlay, delicately carved in a spiderweb lace pattern. It had a tiny spring joint to open it and close it. It fit her wrist perfectly. With misty eyes she checked the box for a note.

She found it in the bottom. The small piece of white stationary had a very short message written on it.

Third star to the right and on 'til morning.

We share the stars at night.

Happy Easter.

Alone but never parted,

Benton

She wiped the tears that slid down her cheeks and looked out at the rain cascading through the circles light from the streetlamps. She couldn't see the stars that they shared that night, but she knew they were there and that he was gazing up at them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Half a country away the landscape was a pristine virginal white, broken only by the two men, their sled dogs, equipment and fire. Fraser poked at the fire with a long stick, sending cascades of orange-gold sparks dancing into the dark sky. Stars peeked through the holes in the snow clouds. A few flakes spiraled lazily down.

Ray lounged across from him, on the other side of the fire, peering out of the open tent flap. Diefenbaker and the other sled dogs yapped to each other and settled down into soft beds in the snow. Ray snuggled further into his sleeping bag, watching the wistful expression cross the Mountie's face as he looked up at the stars.

He almost asked about that look, but in their four and a half weeks of traveling through the Territories and the Yukon he had seen that look come and go and learned not to ask. Every man deserved some privacy, afterall.

Then he changed his mind.

"You okay? You're home."

Fraser nodded without looking at him. "I'm home."

"And?"

"Something's missing."

Ray thought about that for a moment and could think of nothing to say that would console his friend. "Happy Easter, Fraser."

"Happy Easter, Ray."

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Finis

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