The first time they worked on a case together, Fraser found himself surprised by the sharp mind behind Meg's rather elfin countenance. He knew that was unfair; he personally knew how hard it was to be seen as more than just a pretty face. She was a member of the RCMP, the same as him: at the heart of her was a well-trained police officer.
She was more than a good officer, she was an exceptional officer, promoted to Inspector at an early age for her intelligence and skills and ability to negotiate the hazardous and dangerous landscapes of the RCMP bureaucracy.
Her quick observations led to a speedy conclusion of the polar-bear smuggling case: three career criminals ready to be transported back to Canada to face charges and two cubs anxious to be reunited with their mother at the polar bear rehabilitation center in northern Manitoba.
As he walked into her office, he caught a brief glimpse of a smile on her face as she cuddled a stuffed polar bear given to her by the grateful director for rescuing the cubs. The light slanted in from the windows, gilding her hair, and Fraser caught his breath at the sight of her.
After a moment, he cleared his throat.
“Yes, Constable, what is it?”
The toy polar bear was cute and fluffy, precisely conceived and created to melt hearts and elicit smiles. Meg had never been able to resist the power of a well-designed stuffed animal.
She had to admit to feeling proud after catching the smugglers and seeing the cubs returned to their rightful home. To say nothing of the way Fraser looked at her, appraising. Perhaps he'd realized she wasn't just a pretty face.
Idiot, she thought.
She sighed and buried her face into the soft fur of the bear, smiling ruefully. She couldn't blame him too much; she'd done the same when she'd first gotten to Chicago—seen only his beautiful face and not the sharp intelligence behind it.
There was the sound of footsteps behind her, and she could almost hear Fraser's hesitation. He cleared his throat and she lifted her head, looking at him.
Fraser was close, close enough that she could feel the warmth of his body. Too close, in too many ways.
“Yes, what is it, Constable?”
It was cold, and wet, but Meg really didn't notice.
She stood at attention and remembered her paternal grandparents, who had met and fallen improbably in love in the midst of the bloody turmoil during the Great War. Soldier and nurse, sharing their stories in soft voices, eyes haunted by what they couldn't unsee.
And in spite of all the death they'd witnessed, pride at serving their country.
She remembered the dark velvet case that her father had treasured. Inside, carefully displayed, were the British War Medal, the Victory Medal, and the 1914-15 Star awarded to her grandfather; the almost gaudy National Order of the Legion of Honour belonged to her grandmother, presented to her by a very grateful French government.
Turnbull sniffled, and she looked at Fraser. His eyes were closed, and she wondered what he remembered.
It was a rainy Remembrance Day, and Fraser stood stiff and straight between Turnbull and Meg. Members of the Canadian Consulate had been asked to attend a ceremony in Bronzeville, at the foot of the Victory Monument, and they had accepted the invitation graciously.
Full Dress Order, she'd said. Fraser had buckled and adjusted, snapped and buttoned, taking comfort in the familiar routine. His hands moved smoothly, automatically through the motions, tucking, straightening, brushing a bit of wolf-hair off of his sleeve.
The crowd gathered near the statue was older, mostly African-American, reflecting the strange heritage of this particular neighborhood of Chicago. Bronzeville, once known as “the Black Metropolis,” was a reflection of earlier, segregated times, when thousands of African-Americans flocked to Chicago is search of jobs and a better life.
It had its own Great War memorial, dedicated to the 8th Regiment of the Illinois National Guard, one of the few African-American units in the War.
Fraser looked at the sea of uniforms around him, representing the various armed services, the cloth, medals and ribbons carefully tended and worn once, maybe twice a year and stored away until the next memorial. The seamed faces, men and women both, by measures proud and sad, reflective of their losses. And their victories.
The crowd represented a curious time-line of war; the older soldiers having served in World War II and Korea, the youngest ones in more recent conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan; the ones in-between fighting in the jungles of Vietnam.
Turnbull sniffled into his handkerchief and Fraser spared a brief glance at him before looking back at Meg.
Her Stetson was dotted with raindrops that dripped off the brim of her hat, and the rain had soaked into her tunic. She must have been miserable, wet and cold, but her face was serene and peaceful.
Something in his chest fluttered, and he closed his eyes, taking a deep breath before turning his attention back to the speaker.
Her hands were small.
For some reason that he couldn't fathom, Fraser expected that her dress gloves would overwhelm her hands, hide them behind a veneer of brown leather and neat stitches. Instead, the gloves gave her an aura of absolute competence, not only behind her desk, but on a horse and on the gunnery range.
He thought about those hands touching him, stroking across his cheek, threading through his hair, and shivered.
She liked the way her hands looked in her dress gloves. Strong. Powerful. They hid her polished nails behind a veneer of leather and stitching, stripping away the obvious trappings of her femininity and replacing it with competence.
Flexing her fingers, she listened to the creak of horsehide and marveled at the difference. She was still herself, still the same person she was before she'd donned her gloves, yet this bit of leather transformed her.
She imagined the contrast of dark leather against pale skin, his skin, and inhaled sharply at the wave of arousal the thought produced.
She was reading the most boring tome of diplomatic protocol she'd ever set eyes upon. It was poorly written, badly edited, and redundant, and she was sure she would run screaming into the cold Chicago afternoon at any moment.
Leaning forward, Meg closed her eyes and wished her headache would go away, wondering if she should just give up and call it a day.
Fraser came in, his tread soft but steady, the distinctive creak of his boots almost soothing. Meg rubbed at her aching head briefly, all too aware of Fraser's nearness, his solidity and steadfastness.
He made her feel small and delicate, made her feel other things she wasn't ready to deal with just yet. “Constable?”
He shook his head and left.
He walked into the office and found her sitting at her desk, head bent over some weighty tome of diplomatic protocol. Her hair swung with the pull of gravity and exposed the back of her neck, a seemingly vulnerable sight.
He had to bite his lip hard to resist leaning over and nuzzling at that small expanse of skin, tasting the textures with his lips.
Meg looked up at him sharply, and he couldn't stop himself from rubbing at his eyebrow apprehensively, looking away from her perceptive glance. “Constable?”
He shook his head. “Sorry, sir. It's not important.” He left her presence before he could make more of a fool of himself.
Ray laughed incredulously. “The Dragon Lady? Benny, she's way out of your league.”
“Well, Ray, possibly, but don't you think—” He tugged on his earlobe nervously and once he realized what he was doing, grimaced in annoyance at himself.
Ray threw a lanky arm around Fraser's shoulders. “I try not to think in general, Benny.” He squeezed once before letting go. “C'mon. Ma said I should bring you home for dinner tonight. She's thinks you're getting too skinny.”
“The Constable?” Yveline laughed, her English heavily accented by her Québécois upbringing.
Heads turned in their direction and Meg switched over to French to confound any eavesdroppers as she picked up her wine glass. “I know, I know.”
Yveline shrugged. “He is very good looking,” she agreed. “And a good looking man is not something to be ashamed of to have in your life. Or in your bed.”
Meg tried to act shocked, and ended up giggling. “Yveline!”
She shrugged again. “It is too bad you are his superior. Otherwise, I think he'd be a good fuck.” Eying Meg, she raised her glass in an ironic toast. “You need to get laid—it's been too long.”
Meg wondered if it was possible to die of embarrassment.
In her mind, he was fixed firmly as Fraser. Not Benton—such a ridiculously old-fashioned name. Like Margaret. No, it was most definitely Fraser, always Fraser, even though she was always careful to call him Constable out loud.
Fraser was the name she whispered in the dark, drawn out and rough edged with pleasure as she lay in her lonely, cold bed.
In the privacy of his mind, she was always Meg. Never Inspector, or Margaret, or even the supremely impersonal Thatcher. Meg. There was something about using her nickname, even in the privacy of his mind, that made him feel more connected to her.
Meg was the name caught in his throat in the darkness, late at night when no one could hear him.
Ray smiled sadly as they huddled around the small campfire, the lonely sound of wolves howling in the distance. “I get it, Fraser. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I understand lost love and what-coulda-beens. I am an expert on the subject.”
“But—” Ray held up a gloved hand, stopping Fraser's words dead in their tracks. “You can't give up when you haven't even started. After you've tried, after you've given it your all, then we'll talk about unrequested—”
“—unrequited love. Until then—” Ray made a zipping motion across his lips. “Don't wanna hear about it. Can't complain about losing when you haven't even rolled the dice.”
Fraser thought that maybe Ray had a very valid point.
“So, what is stopping you? You no longer work with the Constable; there is no reason why you can't tell him how you feel.” Yveline's voice was soft and soothing over the phone, and Meg ignored a wave of longing to be with her friend.
Meg chewed nervously on her lower lip. “He's gone back to his home, up north. It's where he belongs; I can't imagine him being happy anywhere else.” There was a long pause. “Plus, I'm not sure how he feels about me.”
Yveline scoffed. “There was enough chemistry between the two of you that even the dimwitted one noticed.”
“Yes, yes. Turnbull. Good-looking but dumb.”
“It's true, you know it, even if you won't admit it.”
“Better.” Yveline sighed. “You've been so mopey lately.”
“I miss him.” Meg never thought she'd say it out loud, but there it was, like a heavy stone dropped in a pond, the ripples of reaction spreading outwards.
“Maybe it's time to take a risk and reach for what you want.” Meg could almost see Yveline's flamboyant shrug.
The first kiss was soft and sweet, a tentative exploration. Their hands were hungry, touch-starved; it would be hours before they would be sated, naked and sweaty in her bed, marveling at the joy and wonder of discovering each other, peeling back the layers of self until the truth was revealed.
And later, the sleep of the satisfied, limbs entwined, relaxed and replete.