Fraser sat before the fire, his shoulders leaned against an arm chair. On the end of a fire poker he'd placed a marshmallow to roast. Diefenbaker lay dozing on the warm hearth stones, oblivious to the thoughts running through his keeper's mind. Fraser wondered if he could ever set himself aside from the duty and honor he felt wearing the RCMP uniform. To serve and protect had been his life for so long, how could he separate himself from something so engrained? Fraser just didn't know if he could walk away from a way of life, the only way he'd always known. He pulled the browned, jumbo marshmallow off the fire poker and took a half hearted bite.
"May I have one, Fraser?" Whirling around, the usually keen eared Mountie looked surprised to see Inspector Thatcher. Her cocoa brown eyes reflected the dancing flames at Fraser's feet.
"Sir, oh dear," Ben jumped to his feet, the large marshmallow puffing out the side of his jaw. Thatcher shook her head and told him to stand at ease. Part of her enjoyed the surprise on his face and the way Fraser became just a fraction paler when he saw her. The other part of her wished he would see the million little ways she tried to get Benton to notice her.
"I am surprised to see you tonight, Inspector Thatcher, usually it's just Diefenbaker and myself." Fraser would have fidgeted if he if he'd been anyone else. Meg sighed.
"The Romanian diplomat insisted on escorting me back here after I pleaded work to get away from his boorish humor." The Inspector pulled off her wool coat and threw it over the back of the nearest chair. Coming around the Mountie, she sat down cross legged around the room, unsure of what to do with himself.
"Sit down, Fraser, I won't bite." The lady Mountie sighed, a tired edge to her powerful voice. Ben shrugged before doing as she said.
"I'm still confused, Sir, as to why you're here at this late hour." Fraser smoothed an eyebrow with his thumb nail. Meg searched out and pulled his hand away from his face. Their eyes locked for a long moment. It didn't matter why she'd chosen to come back to the consulate.
"For just a moment, pretend I'm not your superior officer, pretend we don't even work together."
Ben didn't move a muscle. He tried not to think of Meg Thatcher as his boss. "Tell me, Benton, could you ever fall in love with someone like me?" A heavy tightness gripped her heart as she felt the surge of energy pulling and twisting her insides. It had taken three years for this moment to happen. Fraser squeezed her fingers, his face changing to the one Meg would have etched forever in her memory.
"I don't know, Meg." His voice didn't have any of it's usual brisk, professionalism. Those crystalline, green eyes softened ah he turned, his head cocked to his left. It took every bit of determination and will power for her not to cry. He had let her down softly. It hurt worse than any prick of rejection. Benton had cut the heart right out of Meg Thatcher. The soft, tender bit she walked in and armored had been wounded.
"Oh, I see." Was all she could manage to say without sobbing. Looking into the fire the Inspector pulled away from Fraser. Neither of them spoke. Meg tried to make sense of how she felt; relieved, disappointed, hurt, unwanted and confused. Amongst all that she could still feel Fraser's hand in her's, his calloused fingers against her skin. For a very long time to come, Meg Thatcher would close her eyes when she was alone and let his rough hand hold hers again for a moment.
Eventually the Inspector rose to her feet and walked quickly out of the room. Fraser collected her coat and followed her tot he front door. He held it up for her to slip into, but Meg just couldn't be that close, so she snatched the wool overcoat away. Shaking, she threw it on and threw open the front door. Looking back, Meg saw Fraser standing in his bare feet, hands in his jean's pockets, looking for answers written in invisible ink among the carpet threads. When the door didn't close immediately he looked up. The Mountie saw tears in her eyes a moment before she rushed out into the city streets beyond. Fraser sighed heavily, like breathing wasn't worth the effort to keep himself alive. The Mountie felt like shit.
Meg took a cab to her apartment. First thing inside she flung herself on her bed like a teenager and sobbed til her throat ached and she hiccuped. It had been an eternity since she'd felt so bad. Like high school, Meg felt insecure and clumsy around Fraser. She had always done well in school and had decided to join the RCMP to build her confidence and work on her social graces. The Inspector thought about it all as she dressed for bed then ate a quart of rocky road ice cream. Watching Princess Bride didn't even help. Eventually Meg went to bed. She called Turnbull and told him she wouldn't be in to work the next day.
"Back at the consulate after her 'sick day', Inspector Thatcher wore her Armani pant suit and knock off Gucci pumps like armor. Make-up hid the puffiness from crying while Visine took care of the redness. Turnbull hovered around the office asking if Inspector Thatcher wanted anything to eat or drink and suggesting home remedies. Finally she'd had enough and ordered the junior Mountie out, not to come back for the day. Fraser stood beside the reception desk, a look of concern on his handsome features. Meg turned before her heart could make her face betray them both. The door closed noisily and firmly behind the Inspector. She stood, her hand over her eyes, listening to the sound of Turnbull talking to Fraser. The rumble of their voices sounded in turn. Meg moved away, trying not to hear Fraser's voice. A brief, polite knock interrupted her composure gathering.
"Turnbull, if that's you, I'll..." Thatcher never finished her threat.
"Oh, it's you, Fraser." She sat down and began reading a file she'd already read. "State your business, Constable." Thatcher demanded briskly.
"I am pleased to see you feel better, Inspector Thatcher." The Mountie at parade rest, as usual With an exasperated expression she thanked Fraser then turned back to the file. Hesitantly he took a step forward. "About what we spoke of the night before last..." Before Fraser could finish the sentence Inspector Thatcher had risen to her feet, her dark eyes blazing and her jaw clenched.
"Don't, Fraser, please don't." Meg waved him back. "The other night was an anomaly, alright." Her hand shook as she spoke. It was obvious how deeply she hurt but Ben wouldn't or couldn't push the subject any farther. He looked down at his boots for a long moment, wondering what he would want to hear if the show were on the other foot. Meg had turned to look out the window behind her desk when Ben proceeded to speak. His voice came quietly, with a kind of concern the lady Mountie hadn't heard since her father had wiped way her tears and comforted her.
"Someone can, Meg, you deserve it." It was only the second time Fraser had ever used her Christian name. She treasured the sound of it coming from his lips. Fraser turned to leave. Tears fell as he glimpsed her reflection in the window. Alone with her thoughts, Meg knew Fraser's words were true, but it didn't ease her pain. As long as he was nearby, every day would be torture. Their worlds would orbit along the same path, never to collide. Meg would never know Fraser's touch, his tenderness or his warmth. She would only know the cold void of loneliness. Meg Thatcher felt the keen, cutting pain enough for the both of them. The wound would heal, but a scar would always remain to remind her.