Chapter 1: Charles
When Charles Pemberton was five, the words appeared, wrapped like a maiden’s favor around his upper left arm. His gran had taken one look at the blockish writing, clear and precise, and done two things; she signed Charles up for counseling at the kirk rectory, and made him promise to always wear sleeves long enough to cover it.
When he was older Charles rebelled against hiding his mark, confronting his grandmother soon after his fifteenth birthday by asking, “What, are you ashamed of me meeting my match by getting arrested?”
“Nae, me lad, tisn't that it is a shame,” she shook her head, “as there’s the greater chance you and your lot, with your protesting the evils in the world, could be arrested for bein’ on the side of the angels. But I’d rather ye not be picked up by a bully on the force who saw your mark as an invitation to build a record.”
Stubborn as he was, he could see the practicality in her advice. That was decades ago, and through the years, he had not given up being a thorn in the side of the environmentally wasteful corporations, not even after moving to Canada to serve in the regional clinic system. The move had been a good idea for his career, and even made him less conspicuous.
While there were still a large number of people who hid their soulmarks, the mores of Western society allowing for more skin to be shown in polite company was not always the norm in the north. After his first summer of black flies, he found he was not alone in his choice for long sleeves year-round, soulmark or no.
By the time he was in his late thirties, he already had been arrested quite a few times in the ten years of supporting local protests, but the words the officers used were never the same. Most of them had been respectful, as the protests were peaceful, but he had a few scars from the bullies his gran had warned him about.
Protesting the pipeline that was going to disturb the caribou migrations, and therefore affect the livelihoods of half of his patients, Charles was in the midst of the crowd that was blocking the road where the trucks needed to travel for the surveyors. The local detachment sent out their men to clear the way, and it looked like it was going to be another good protest; everyone on both sides was behaving, the sergeant of the detachment listening to the organizer, and the sergeant then clearly explaining the charges for those arrested would be for those blocking the road, as the protest itself was properly registered.
Charles scanned the line of constables, and it looked like they were all stable, by his estimation. Just before he was turning to whisper to the younger kids to follow instructions and not fight, he caught sight of one of the most beautiful people he had ever seen.
His breath caught in his throat, and he did not hear anything of the instructions the organizers gave to the group, nor the orders of the RCMP sergeant. So it was a bit of a shock to be shoved aside.
The constable he had been watching stepped forward, pulling out his handcuffs. While that might be an interesting sight someplace less public, right now Charles was not best pleased. He did not resist the constable as the officer cuffed him, but as he was assisted to his feet, Charles muttered, “Oh, mount me sideways - that’s what I get for being distracted by a pretty face in uniform.”
The Mountie gave a sharp gasp, and leaned forward to stammer in Charles’s ear, “I-I’m terribly sorry! This is horribly awkward… not how I thought this would go at all, but I still have to arrest you.”
Charles froze, knowing that phrase better than any other he had ever read. He leaned back, turning his head to murmur to his soulmate, “I know, but I've been waiting ages for you. Any chance we can meet for breakfast after booking and bail?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Chapter 2: Francis
Francis MacKenzie was born with his soulmate's words around his right arm, just above the elbow. The spiky handwriting was not legible until he was older, and the band of words had enough space; after Francis's mother could read the words, he wore an elastic cuff around his elbow everywhere he went. He was not the only child in school to always wear something covering his words, and he might not have been the only one to have words he was not allowed to say, but that was not what bothered him as he grew older.
His words said he would be a distraction.
They also mentioned he was in uniform, which gave him more concerns. Most people in uniform needed to not be distracted. It worried him, if he was distracting a fellow soldier or police officer, it could mean something horrible. Francis prayed that his soulmate’s first words to him were not also their last words.
All through high school, university and Depot, he cultivated any skill he could that would allow him to fade into the background. All of the regulations regarding appearance were rigorously followed, and instead of dating, Francis chose to put his energy into his studies, particularly languages. Being able to register as multilingual meant he had his choice of postings after his training was complete, including the areas where he could take long patrols, away from others.
All that meant was he was usually in the forefront when there were civilians were massed for any reason.
Such as a protest.
This was Francis’s first protest at his new posting, but he already knew he would likely stay, from the way the sergeant handled the non-violent participants. He also knew this would be his test with the sergeant - how he handled this situation was going to set his course for his career for the next eighteen months, at least.
He had noticed the doctor, recognizing him from the briefing packet photographs. His booking picture from another arrest did not do him justice. Francis nearly missed the order to clear the road, and for the most part the protesters complied. When the doctor’s eyes went to the handcuffs and stumbled, Francis was concentrating on restraint without damage.
“Oh, mount me sideways - that’s what I get for being distracted by a pretty face in uniform.”
Francis was not sure what he stammered, but it was enough to for the doctor to ask him to breakfast. Which… was going to be interesting to explain to his superior.
“Sir?” Francis came to parade rest in front of his sergeant's desk, “Has bond been posted for Dr. Pemberton?”
Sergeant Rampersad-Padmanabhan regarded his newest constable with a raised eyebrow. “Usually he’s just released on his own recognizance, unless you have additional information to submit for your report?”
“Ah, no sir, just that,” he could not help the rising colour in his cheeks, “I was wondering when he would be released?”
The sergeant regarded him over steepled fingers, the reflection in his glasses making his expression unreadable. “If he follows his usual pattern, he will be in the holding area, requesting to wait for his lawyer, until the last of the others are processed and released. He never waits for his lawyer after they're done. Why the sudden interest?”
No hiding the blush now, “We… exchanged Words, sir.”
“That’s a relief,” though the sergeant’s expression did not change. “I was hoping we didn't have to add any more charges to his intake.” Turning his attention to the files in front of him, the superior officer gave Francis a dismissing wave as he added, “Try to wait on molesting him until you get him home.”
Constable MacKenzie most definitely did not squeak as he saluted, that would be undignified.
Chapter 3: Kat
Kat Matthieu-Sac'Paul grew up without knowing what it felt like to have sunburn on her shoulders. It was not because she never burned, but when your soulmark was essentially a scream of pain and terror, going without a shirt was not comfortable at the lake. Strapless dresses were right out.
At least the handwriting was firm and clear.
She had trained to be a physician’s assistant, hoping that if she was trained to help, it would not be so bad for her soulmate. Her boss understood, when she had explained why she preferred the scrubs for work.
“You know, sometimes I wonder if the words shape us in ways that push us closer to our mates,” he said as he showed her the spiraling warning on his arm. “Gran did her best to make sure I wasn't under arrest for something like vice.”
“I just hope I get there in time,” Kat murmured, and they had dropped the subject for several years.
Her soulmate had not shown up yet, when the doctor had called from the detachment detainment unit… again.
“Hey, Doc - got a list of who I need to call?” His distracted giggle worried her. “Dr. Pemberton, are you… all there?”
“I found him,” and there was another cascade of giddy giggles.
“Found who… oh wait, the apologetic arrest happened?”
“Oh, hm, yes,” and Kat would have paid good money to see his expression right then. He cleared his throat, “oh, yeah - the Li kids were here with their aunt, so they've got their release covered, but could you call the Chernenkos? Sofi is fine, just needs someone to pick her up.”
“Okay, got it. When should I come by?”
“I think I’ll hang around until he gets off shift.”
“Uhuh, and what about the appointments you have tomorrow afternoon?”
“Hng,” the doctor's voice was tight with indecision, “how many of them are kids needing school appointments?”
She checked the schedule on her phone, “Three, and they’re all after four.”
“Okay, I should be in at one, but if not, I will be in at three-thirty.” He then sighed, and added, “because if I’m not, you will shoot me.”
Kat laughed, “Got it in one, Doc.”
“I am not going to tell my soulmate how you threaten me, because you do it for the good of the community.”
“Go talk to him, and find out what your mate is like.” She smiled as he babbled on a bit and then disconnected the line.
Maybe there was hope for whoever Oh God NO OWOWAIIAGH! would turn out to be.
Chapter 4: Francis
Francis gripped the phone tightly as he waited for the line to connect.
“Hallo?” His mother’s voice had that thread of worry it always carried when he called from the detachment.
“Mum, I found him!”
Confusion replaced the worry, at least, “Found who, dear?”
“The one I distracted,” and Francis had no idea how much the depth of his relief was reflected in his voice. “I-I had to arrest him at the protest.”
“Oh, wait - I caught the news, the one with dark hair and glasses?”
“Yes, I - oh, Mum - I can’t tell you, this is such a weight off my shoulders.”
“I admit, he didn't look anything like what I thought he would,” she chuckled. “Though I suppose someone’s appearance has nothing to do with being the type to swear like that.”
Francis wondered if he was going to sprain something, blushing as much as he had this evening. “Well, he’s actually the doctor for the next town over.”
“Doctor? This is sounding a little better, have you made plans to meet again?”
“I… think we have a breakfast date.” He did not want to admit to his mother that he was hoping breakfast was not the beginning of the date, and maybe not the end.
“You think? Sweetling, you ought to make sure.”
“Right, I’ll, um, I should go check on his booking.”
“Go, and call me tomorrow.”
Chapter 5: Charles
Charles was just waving to the Chernenko family as they left the detainment unit of the detachment when a hand settled on his shoulder, “Dr Pemberton?”
The simple contact and voice wrapped him in warm comfort, and he smiled up at his soulmate, who had changed to civilian clothes. “To you, I’m Charles,” reaching for him, but something in his companion’s expression had him stop with a hand on the constable’s shoulder.
“Francis,” his soulmate offered in return as he started to pull Charles to him, then paused, blushing, as his eyes scanned the unit. “Ah, even if I’m not in uniform, I’m supposed to…” he shrugged, with a small smile.
“A model of decorum in public, sure,” Charles smiled at him with a touch of wicked amusement. “Where would you like to go to not be in public?”
“Well, I only have a room here at the detachment, so maybe we could go to supper, first?” the constable’s shy smile as he led them down to the car park was turning up the heat to that comfortable feeling.
The doctor nodded, as Francis held the door of a nondescript jeep open for him, “The Halfway Diner has a good special most nights.” If he were honest with himself, Charles would have to admit that tonight, he probably would not even notice what they were serving.
The Halfway was a good description; halfway between Blue Snow Falls and Dermott's Ford, it was a common meeting place in the area. The place was half-full when the two of them showed up, and rather than take his usual spot at the counter, Charles nodded over to the booth near the back.
His soulmate blushed again as they sat, “Still kinda public, but…” he reached across the table, laying his hand palm up in invitation, “I don’t want you to think that I don’t want to touch.”
Charles took his hand, lacing their fingers together, “No, I understand. I had hoped you would be okay with being out in public with me.”
“That’s a relief, I mean - I haven’t dated much recently, but I already declared my preferences after turning down one of the civilian aides.” Francis smiled, “Though if I’m arresting you every month, there might be some talks from my supervisor about your activities.”
“It doesn't happen that often,” the doctor chuckled. “I still have to be available for the practice.”
Francis’s hand squeezed Charles’s briefly, “When do you have to be back at the office?”
“Tomorrow at one,” he replied. “There’s some appointments that need to be done this week, it was just luck that tomorrow is my half-day.”
“I have-” the young man cleared his throat, “I have the day off tomorrow, for getting to know my mate, and I’d,” Francis swallowed down his blush, “I’d like to spend more time with you.”
Charles rubbed his thumb across Francis’s pulse point, and quietly asked, “Are there any rules against you staying out all night?”
The constable’s blush was almost as bright as his smile, “Ah, no curfew for the detachment, as long as I show up on time for my next shift. To be honest, my supervisor said something about seeing me next week.”
The server chose that moment to find their table. “Ready to order?”
Charles smiled as Francis’s grip tightened. He ordered the day’s special, never mind neither of them had picked up a menu, keeping his eyes on his soulmate.
Chapter 6: Francis
Supper at the diner had been wonderful, even if Francis had no idea what they had ordered or eaten.
“Do we need to retrieve your vehicle from anywhere?” he asked Charles as they left the diner.
His soulmate shook his head, “No, I carpooled with the pastor this time. She’s been watching out for you, after a long and convoluted discussion.”
“Watching for me?” Francis asked, holding the jeep’s door open for the doctor.
Charles chuckled, “It’s a bit of a long story, funny in retrospect, but would be better with coffee, if you would like to see me home.”
He blushed, “I-I think I’d like that.”
It took a good bit of his concentration to focus on his driving, with Charles brushing his hand every time he pointed out another turn to take to his house. Francis knew where the clinic was, and guessed they were headed there, with the health staff housing units being right next to it. Distracting as they were, he still wanted to have the touches, as driving the manual transmission in town meant he did not have a hand free to hold his soulmate’s.
Having the clinic within literal shouting distance of the doctor’s place made Francis worry for a moment, “Should I park somewhere else?”
“What?” Charles’s face showed his confusion, then realization and determination, “No! If anything, I’m hoping your car is going to be parked here often. I have kept my soulmark hidden, but I don’t want to hide you.” Then he drew back, just a little, “Unless, you’d rather…”
“No, I wanted to make sure you were all right with, you know, everything.” Francis felt the blush rise up as he parked in front of the residence and turned off the engine.
“I am so okay with everything, I’m having to hold myself back from asking you to move in this weekend, because I don’t want to scare you off,” Charles held his hand out, palm up, just like Francis had done at the diner.
Francis rubbed his right arm, just above his elbow, and chuckled, “Understandable. I’m not sure how much would scare me right now, but I get that.” He took Charles’s hand, and gave it a small squeeze.
“Come on inside, please?” Charles smiled, “I promise to behave until you don’t.”
That startled a laugh from Francis, “Okay, then. I’ll come in for coffee, and you can tell me how many people are going to give me a shovel talk when I meet them.”
Their evening of getting to know each other was exactly that; Francis was happy they seemed to be so well-suited. Not all soulmates were able to be comfortable with each other right away, and on rare occasions, they never were. Besides their soulmarks influencing their long-term decisions, they had similar tastes in music, enjoyed the same types of books, and even took their coffee the same way.
By midnight, Francis had felt comfortable enough to lean into Charles’s shoulder. “When do you have your next shift?”
“Tomorrow’s my half-day, with the after-school appointments,” he said, shifting the lean into a snuggle. “In by one, done by six, barring emergencies.”
“Mmn, I should go and let you rest up,” Francis murmured, but he did not move away from the warmth Charles radiated.
“Don’t, I’d worry that you were driving tired,” Charles caressed Francis’s chin. “Stay, I promise, no funny business, and you can head back to the detachment rested.”
Francis considered, “Would cuddling count as funny business?”
“Not in the least.”
Chapter 7: Charles
Charles woke slowly, even with the unfamiliar sensation of being wrapped up in someone’s embrace. The way they fit together so well gave him a subconscious clue that it was Francis, his arresting officer and soulmate.
He chuckled softly, enjoying the idea of introducing him that way.
The sleepy murmur of the blond accompanied the tightening of his arms around Charles, signalling his transition to an awake state. “Mm, morning,” Francis blinked sleepily in the morning light.
“Sleep well?” Charles asked, gently brushing the hair out of the younger man’s face.
“Yeah,” he sounded confused, “I don’t usually sleep through in a strange place.”
“I’ll admit my house is stranger than some,” Charles laughed.
Francis shook his head, “New beds take a while to get used to,” but then he smiled up at him, “I guess it’s just that I haven’t had the right company.”
“Come on, I’ll make brunch before I have to go to work,” Charles chuckled.
The younger man hissed, twisting to look for a clock, then checked his watch and relaxed, “Oh, good - we didn't oversleep.”
“Not likely, with the clinic’s physician assistant in the habit of knocking when I don’t show up,” he rolled out of bed, “Come on, I’ll get the scones started if you get the kettle on.”
“I’m afraid I don’t cook much, but I can make tea,” Francis replied, taking a moment to make the bed before padding into the kitchen. “Mum doesn't trust me to make coffee when I visit anymore, since I joined the RCMP.”
“If it’s anything like what we used to drink in med school, I’m not surprised. Civilians shouldn't be exposed to anything that strong.” Charles slid the scones in the oven, and asked, “I usually just have scones and tea before a work day, but would you like eggs to go with?”
Francis shook his head, “I’ll be okay, that’s more than I usually get if I’m on duty. I was wondering if you would like to, tonight, maybe,” he stammered, but was interrupted by a knock at the door.
Charles shook his head, passing by Francis before shouting on his way to opening the door, “I’m not late, yet!”
Kat responded as soon as the door was open, “No, but I wanted to warn you that Estelle has the appointment at two.”
Charles groaned, “That woman. I’ll have to warn her off again. But come in and let me introduce you, as you intended.” He grinned, letting her in, “Francis, this is my physician assistant, Katerynka Matthieu-Sac-Paul. Kat, may I present Constable Francis MacKenzie, my arresting officer and soulmate.”
“Charles!” Francis responded with exasperated affection (and how cool was it that Charles could identify that tone of voice?) as he extended his hand to the woman, “Pleased to meet you, Ms, Matthieu-Sac-Paul. Charles has told me a little about you.”
“This early, I’m surprised he got that far, and call me Kat, it saves time,” she gave him a firm handshake, “Glad to know the doc wasn't up to more than his usual shenanigans when he was arrested.”
“Nothing out of the ordinary, other than not clearing the road when the order came through,” Francis smiled fondly at Charles.
Returning the smile, he shrugged, “Just stunned by beauty, not trying to be trouble.”
“When are you not trying to be trouble, doc?” she laughed. “I’ll head over to the office, and get things ready for Miss Can’t-Catch-A-Clue.”
Charles saw her to the door, sighing. “That’s something I’ll need to be clear about with her, not that she’ll listen. See you at noon.”
When she was gone, Francis said, “She seems to be nice to work with.”
“Kat’s one of the local kids who went away to university and still came back,” Charles said, obviously proud. “There’s days I hope she continues on to become an MD, and there’s days I’m terrified she’ll go.”
“That good of an assistant?”
“Yeah, like the reminder that one of my patients today is one of those people I don’t want to see outside the office.”
Francis frowned, “Someone who wants a consultation in the grocery store?”
Charles busied himself in the kitchen with the scones to give himself time to answer. “She’s the reason why the security cameras watch the house as well as the clinic. I came home too many times to find she was trying to invite herself in. So far, it’s been just aggressive flirting, but somewhere along the line, she’s gotten the idea that I’m only gay because I haven’t dated her.”
Francis pinched the bridge of his nose, “That’s just lovely. Have you,” then he shook his head, “no, you wouldn't have sworn out a restraining order, since your residence is attached to the clinic, right?”
“Got it in one” Charles put a plate of scones between them on the table
“Do you think having your soulmate show up will have any effect?”
“She tried to tell me there’s no such thing, since she doesn't have a soulmark.”
Francis winced, “Right, I’ll be back here as soon as the clinic closes, but please give my number to Kat to call if you have any trouble.”
Chapter 8: Chief
Sergeant Parashar Rampersad-Padmanabhan, generally speaking, did not meddle in his subordinates’ private lives. That did not mean that their off-duty activities stayed neatly outside the attention of the detachment. He hated having to call someone when they were off the clock, especially when there was the high probability that the officer in question was indisposed.
It was a good sign when the phone was answered on the second ring, “MacKenzie.”
“Got a call for the clinic in Dermott's Ford of a suspicious vehicle. I need you to stop by the office to sign and file your report.”
“I’ll explain when you get here.”
MacKenzie’s worry was evident on his face when he knocked on the door frame. “I filed a report while I was with Charles?”
Parashar waved the new constable in, “Shut the door, hm?”
After MacKenzie settled into the indicated chair, he asked, “Is there a problem with me being out all night?”
The older man chuckled, “Nah, you aren't in trouble for breaking curfew, but the complaint was not filed by the doctor or the physician’s assistant, so I had Stowe do a drive-by. The only cars there were the ones registered to the medical staff and you. She logged the report and unless there’s anything you need to add, as far as we are concerned, the incident is closed.”
“There’s cameras covering the residences as well as the clinic,” MacKenzie said. “We could ask for the security footage.”
“Probably a good idea, but I’ll have Richaud handle that, since you were off duty at the time,” Parashar frowned at the file, “Richaud also took the call. The woman who reported the vehicle declined to give her name, but he’s familiar with the PA, and said it didn't sound anything like her. Maybe it was a good neighbor, but not giving any name, especially in this area, made me suspicious of the call.”
“Could just be someone who was worried about Charles, as I was there all night,” MacKenzie nodded. “I, ah - it could be they just need to get used to seeing my jeep there.”
“Good idea, since the soundproofing in the barracks is for crap,” Parashar kept his head tilted to seem to be reading the report, but got a good look at MacKenzie’s incandescent blush from under his eyebrows. “Go on, pack a bag for the weekend and get the locals used to you.”
Watching the constable go, there was a twinge of doubt. Should he have had Stowe do a door check? There was nothing in the call transcript that would have indicated a deeper problem, but something gave him an unsettled feeling about it. He emailed Richaud to get the video of the last forty-eight hours from the clinic’s security cameras, but the nagging thought that there was something he was missing made him uneasy. MacKenzie would be on site, that should be enough security for now.
Chapter 9: Kat
Kat had always been an early riser as a child, even when *up with the sun* meant sleeping four hours a night during the week of summer solstice.
So waking up at 0600 was not unusual for her. Considering yesterday’s phone call, it was no great surprise to see an unfamiliar vehicle with an emergency services sticker parked at the doctor’s cottage across the lot. Curious as she was about the doctor’s soulmate, this early was not a good time to drop in on Dr Pemberton, even if he had not had company. His sleeping habits were as opposite as possible to hers; he was more likely to watch a sunrise before going to bed than with breakfast.
Walking to the corner coffee shop to get her usual gossip intake, Kat spotted the RCMP cruiser on patrol, and waved. She was friendly to most of the officers, but this morning the prowler was driven by one of her schoolmates, who returned her wave with a cheery shout, “Mornin’, Kat!”
“Hey, Em! Everything okay?” she crossed quickly to the stopped vehicle.
“Ayup, saw MacKenzie’s jeep over at the office, but the scuttlebutt is he’s on soulmate leave,” Officer Stowe’s grin was bright and happy.
“Ah, I thought that car might belong to Dr Pemberton’s mate, but I haven’t met him yet. Do you know him?” Kat asked.
“Right kinda guy for the doc, from what I've seen. Been assigned to small towns since he left Depot, so he knows what to expect.” She shrugged, “His transfers have been to facilitate a member being assigned to a detachment closer to their soulmate, so it looks like we might get to keep him for a while.”
“Good to know. I haven’t met him yet, but this afternoon will be soon enough.” Kat nodded down the street to the coffee shop, “You going to stop by?”
“Maybe after patrol.”
The rest of the morning was her usual errands, but today the gossip flew.
At the coffee shop, the barista was chuckling with her sister, who was a waitress at the Halfway. “Honestly, I could have put a deep-fried telephone book in front of them, and they would not have noticed, they were that deep in each other’s eyes.”
“Oh, he’s got it bad,” Mavis said, serving up a cup of mocha for Kat. “Have you met Doc's young man yet?”
She shook her head. “No, but I hope to, later today,” Kat replied. Turning to the younger sister, “What do you think, is he in over his head?”
Helen shook her head, laughing, “By what I saw it was mutual, and about time Doc had someone like that to see him for real.”
“That’s a relief,” Kat smiled, listening to the buzz around them at the coffee shop. So far, things seemed positive.
It was late in the morning before she caught the first sour note, one of the stockers at the grocery store asked quietly, “Doc stepping out on Miss Robbins?”
She looked at him with a questioning eyebrow, “No, I would have thought the whole town knew they weren't dating, the way he keeps shouting NO.”
Jason looked surprised, “Wait, he and Miss Estelle don’t have an understanding?”
She huffed in irritation, “Nope, she just thinks she can bully him to the altar,” Kat gave him a sour look, “You should know better, honestly.”
“She’s been flashing a ring for the past month, though.”
“Probably something she got at the midway when the carnival came through,” Kat scoffed. “Besides the fact that he’s been exclusively dating men since he moved to town, he met his soulmate last night.”
“She’s not going to like that,” the young man observed.
“She doesn't have to like it, but she will need acknowledge it and leave him alone.” Kat headed to the cashier’s queue, and mentally rearranged the schedule for the afternoon.
Chapter 10: Charles
The commute to the office was less than fifty meters, and his assistant had already made sure he was up and about. Dr Pemberton did not have an excuse to be late. Add a recently-acquired, duty-conscious soulmate, and Charles was early. Francis made sure he was out the door in plenty of time, but with a kiss on the cheek and a renewed promise to be back when the clinic closed.
Kat met him at the door, locking it behind him, before pointing him to his office. “Glad you got here early, perfect excuse to catch up on all the benefit paperwork, since you’re not going to be here for the weekend.”
“So I am not avoiding Miss Robbins, because I’m the only one that can finish and file the forms?” Charles shook his head, “Not that it’s going to dissuade her, but I’m not going to argue.”
“I picked up some rumors this morning. From what her friends have been saying, it’s for the best that she not see you until your soulmate gets here.” Kat put his filled tea mug and scone plate on the desk. “To be honest, you do need to finish these before the end of the month anyway, and I can handle the first three appointments.”
“All right. I’ll get the paperwork caught up, and see you when the Smerchanski kids show up for their hockey physicals.” He settled into paperwork mode, but an itch at his shoulder made him get up and lock the door to his office. He calmed to the point that he was able to convince his subconscious that he did not need to further barricade the door.
It was an odd feeling. He had felt threatened before, sure. Years of civil disobedience had put him in the sights of several bullies who had gotten a badge, but this was different. Charles had been quite clear and firm in his refusal of Estelle Robbins’s attentions from the first. He had, in fact, delivered the No is a Complete Sentence, Stop is an Order lecture to her, on several occasions, in public venues, in several different formats. She still seemed be oblivious to his continued rejection. The feeling he got when he thought of the situation was becoming less like ‘annoyance’ and more ‘hunted’.
“Maybe I ought to see about tranquilizer darts,” he muttered. Then he laughed to himself, “it would make it easier to have her moved to a new hunting range.” He sighed, shaking his head, and applied himself to the health services forms. The baseline situation with Miss Robbins was not new, and neither was his distaste for the woman’s tactics. He had considered asking for a transfer to another clinic in the past few months, but now that he had found Francis, it was not just up to him anymore.
Francis’s question earlier that morning about a protection order was another consideration. If the harassment continued, he would have to swear one out. Now that he had found his soulmate, he could start looking into finding a private home. That was something he would talk over with said soulmate later.
He shook his head, Ye óinsigh! One date and you’re wanting to set up housekeeping with him! Chuckling at himself, he put the idea aside… at least until their third date.
Able to focus on the paperwork, Charles had almost finished with the backlog when he heard the argument. Kat’s calm murmur barely carried through the door, but Miss Robbins’s strident tones rose and fell, “...don’t CARE what… with HIM, not YOU…”
He got up to do something; he had not decided if it was going to be putting the chair under the knob or unlocking the door, when the knob rattled. The sound of someone impacting the door followed immediately. It was not as solid as someone attempting to break down the door, but more like someone not expecting the door to not open for them.
“And what is this then?” Miss Robbin’s tone indicating her displeasure.
“THAT,” Kat said, her tone conveying she was done dealing with this tantrum, “is a locked door. Such a door indicates that the room beyond is not a public area. Now, are you going to take your prescription renewal and go, or should I call for one of the constables to assist you?”
That sounded like a good idea, so Charles dug his phone out of his pocket, beginning to ring up the detachment.
“You will do no such thing, I will see my fiancé now.”
Charles froze in the act of dialing from the shock. Was the woman completely delusional? Kat’s hearty peal of laughter saved him from making any immediate decisions.
“You think if you say it enough, it’ll be true?” Kat was laughing harder, letting Charles relax. The number was input, but he held off making the call until it truly was an emergency. His assistant was still laughing, “Not like he hasn’t told you no a thousand times. Shoot, he said it on the church steps in front of witnesses, but you go right ahead and keep wishing.” Kat’s laughter tapered off, “You’ll just have to deal with the facts; he’s met his soulmate, that’s the end of it.”
“Oh, I’ll end it, alright,” Miss Robbins growled and the sounds of her heels clacked off to the main door.
Charles switched the number from the main reporting line for the detachment to Francis’s phone, before he let Kat into his office.
Chapter 11: Francis
Francis became aware of feeling a vague sense of unease by the time he had reached his room in the barracks at the detachment. At first, he considered it might be due to the sergeant's report, but instead of lessening as he logically discounted any reason for the anonymous report to have serious repercussions, it got worse.
He then tried to write it off as being further away from his soulmate than they had been since finding each other. In the past 24 hours, they had at least been in the same building, if not within arm’s reach of each other. This separation was only for six hours, surely he could stand that, he chided himself. After all, this was just until the end of the doctor’s shift, then they had the whole weekend together to solidify their relationship.
He had heard that soulmates with a close bond could check in on each other emotionally, but Francis was unsure. Could they have started to bond just by being together last night, without intimate contact? He did not know who to ask, other than Charles, but he was busy.
The feeling leveled out when he paused in his task and gave in to an irrational need to lock his door, but the unsettled mood did not go away.
He had just about finished packing for an off-duty weekend away when he felt a spike of anxiety. He fumbled for his jacket hanging by the door, digging his phone out of the pocket, intending to check on Charles, when his phone vibrated for an incoming call. The number was Charles’s, causing him to answer with the question, “Are you all right?”
“Yes, I am now,” the doctor seemed to be sighing in relief as he replied, at the same time the knot of anxiety in Francis’s chest loosened.
“I’m not imagining you being upset?” he asked.
“No, you aren’t, there was an argument between Kat and Miss Robbins.” Charles gave a thready chuckle, “I could be imagining things, but from what I heard of it, I worry that she might have threatened you.”
Kat’s voice in the background said “It was definitely a reportable threat.”
“Have Kat call the detachment, if she thinks it’s serious, and,” Francis paused, thinking through the conversation with his superior, “I might need to ask you if you really need to be in residence this weekend.”
“Why Constable! Are you asking me to run away with you?” Charles’s teasing chuckle helped dissipate the worry that had been building in Francis’s chest again.
A different, richer emotion coloured Francis’s voice as he responded, “I’d love nothing better than to find someplace for us to stay, without interruptions, for the next couple of months, but for now, it might be best to try for just a weekend, as a starting point.” A part of his conscious thought process was somewhat shocked at his forward and salacious manner, but a deeper instinct made him want to throw Charles over his shoulder and run for the woods.
“That sounds perfect,” Charles growled, his voice rumbling with similar overtones, ones Francis found absolutely lovely. “I have to get ready for the next patients, but I’ll find time before you get here to get a bag together for the weekend.”
“I will be there as soon as I can, Charles,” Francis said, warmth blooming in his chest as they rang off.
His pack was not quite full, so he gave into his paranoid side, and added his field kit, with extra boot socks and a set of heavy dungarees. It was not what his base instincts wanted him to pack (he had already packed his favorite massage oil, he was not that innocent) but there had been times in the past when he was glad to have listened to that paranoid voice, the one that trusted no one, at least until yesterday.
That voice wanted to protect Charles, snarling whenever he thought about the possible threat to his soulmate.
Hitching his pack over his shoulder, he stopped by Chief’s office, “Headed out, sir; got my phone but please don’t call.” He was just intending to pass by, but his supervisor beckoned him back into the office.
“You’re leaving your phone here,” Chief said, offering one of the undercover phones in exchange. “Everyone who would be calling you this weekend should know better, but I don’t want you out of touch after the latest report.” Of course the sergeant already knew about the threat, Kat must have made her call before he and Charles had even finished their conversation. “Hand over the keys to your jeep, We’re going to leave it at the clinic.”
Francis dug in his pocket, beginning to see the shape of the plan, “Make sure James wears his vest under his jacket, just in case.” Constable James was the one closest in height and coloring to Francis of all the others assigned to the detachment, and also new to the area, but much younger, straight out of Regina. Francis would hate to think a green constable was playing decoy for him, but they all were officers, always at risk.
Chief nodded, “I’ll remind him. Also, you are going to drop off the grid; here,” he passed over a set of keys, “The truck is fueled up and waiting in the visitor's lot. You’re taking him up to the cottage on Spirit Lake,” he handed over another set of keys. “Stop at Sutler’s, they’ll have the supply box ready for you.”
The truck and the cottage were not RCMP resources, but the sergeant’s personal property. “Sir, I…” Francis began, only to be cut off with a wave.
“If there’s problems keeping you from returning, I will call you. Otherwise, I do not want to see nor hear from you until noon on Monday.” Chief glared at him over his glasses, “Do I make myself clear?”
Francis stood a little straighter, but smiled as he answered, “Yes, sir.”
“Right, go collect your soulmate and get to bonding.”
Chapter 12: Kat
Apologies for the delay, multiple plotbunnies attacked at once and the cats were not at all helpful in herding them.
Kat left the two of them to calm each other down over the telephone while she checked the waiting room. Mr. Tombaugh was not in yet, giving her the opportunity to call the official line for the detachment.
Filing the report was straightforward, with a promise to follow up later this afternoon. It helped that Corporal Richaud had been in the congregation the day Dr Pemberton had his loudest argument with Miss Robbins.
“So she’s gone off the rails, finally?” he asked.
“I’m not sure she was ever on them, honestly.” Kat snorted. “At this point, I hope we can finally refer her to another clinic. We should be referring her to a specialist.”
“You finally talk him into it, get us copies for the file,” Richaud said. “And be careful, right?”
Kat waved to Mr Tombaugh as he came into the door, “Ayup, gotta go, and thanks.”
This examination, Dr Pemberton did not need her, so Kat settled in to write a few letters that were long overdue. The first was to refer Miss Robbins to the clinic in Dog Elk Lake. Yes, it was over one hundred kilometers away, but they had a psychiatric division, which was the main reason for the referral. Then there was the letter to Miss Robbins notifying her of the referral, the reasons for it, and that her medical records had already been sent to the new clinic.
By the time Mr Tombaugh was finished and the Smerchanski triplets had shown up, Kat had everything right and tight for the legal issues.
However, this time Dr Pemberton did not follow the script when she gave him the tablet to sign off on the letters. Reading through them, he sighed, “Kat…”
“No,” and she pulled him away from the examination room, “this is something you should have done months ago.” Despite the rising voices of Dermott’s Ford Dervishes defensive line arguing about the logistics of all three girls dating the coach’s son at the same time, Kat decided this was the more important issue at hand.
“I know, I know; I had some informal inquiries out about a transfer away, but the way things are going now...” he frowned at the letters.
“You need to send these out to cover your assets when she tries anything else.” Kat kept her voice down, but the argument in the examination now involved the girl’s mother, and all four of them were strong voices. “When, not if. Because the way nothing you have said has stuck with her, I do not see her backing down anytime soon.”
“Yes, all right,” he took the stylus and signed all of the forms and letters, “but you get to give the girls The Talk today, it sounds like it might be due.”
“Get the school sports forms printed out while I talk to them, and that will give you time to finish the official paperwork before Father Carrier stops by for his copies.”
Chapter 13: All In
Yes, sorry this took so long. Besides being the chapter one with twenty-seven 8 x 10 colored glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explainin' what each one was, to be used
as evidence against usto figure out where everyone was when in the story, there was a bit of a one-two punch with holidays and illness.
Coming into the last stretch, but the next chapters should be up sooner this time.
In the middle of the afternoon, Charles got a small break. Father Carrier had to cancel his appointment, only stopping by to pick up the forms and give a distracted preliminary blessing to the doctor’s new relationship.
“I must get these to the board, but bring your soulmate to Mass as soon as you both have the day off,” the priest said with a wave, dashing out to his motorcycle.
Charles hurried over to his place, throwing a few changes of clothes and his walking boots into the duffel bag. Francis had texted, telling him they had been gifted a weekend in a cottage, so no suits, only woods-wear. He had not had any woods-wear when he first came to Dermott’s Ford, and years later, still had very little.
If the weekend went as he hoped, he would not need that many clothes, but it would not do to underpack. The last thing he wanted to do was make their first weekend together all about the physical context; he also had to convince his soulmate he wanted a full, life-time relationship. Adding a new bottle of lubricant and the unopened box of condoms was a bit more in line with his usual habits, though.
A sudden chill down his spine had him seeking out his heavy-duty field medical kit, and adding it to his luggage.
Hauling everything into his office, Kat pulled him aside before his last appointment of the afternoon. “Your mate called, he’s going to be coming a little early, through the alley, in a borrowed truck. I’m to get you out the back while whoever is driving his jeep parks out front, then I let the other officer into the clinic.”
“Okay, has there been any sign of-” he began, but Kat shoved him in the examining room.
“Keep to the schedule, Doc!” she said, and shut the door.
Pulling up to the store, Paul Sutler stepped out and waved him to the rear parking lot. Once there, Paul’s wife, Rebecca, had him back up to the loading dock. Once inside, she led him to the shipping desk. “I’ve got the standard fishing camp kit set up, but Chief couldn’t tell us if there were any food allergies. Now that I know it’s for you, especially after hearing what happened at the protest yesterday, I was tempted to change out the whole lot for the Valentine’s weekend package.”
Francis chuckled ruefully, “He makes scones from scratch, from memory, but I don’t want him to think I’m only courting him for his cooking skills.” He tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress his blush.
“You’ve needed someone to feed you up proper long before you were assigned here, from the looks of you” Rebecca said as she assembled a few more items. “Wine or cider?”
“He mentioned I should try the cider that was served at the Canada Day picnic last year. From how he described the taste, I think he enjoyed it.” Francis shrugged, “I don’t drink that much, what with being on duty so often.”
“Sparkling cider, low alcohol, good choice,” she said, pulling a pair of bottles out of the racks. “We’ll put those in the cooler under ice and they should be proper temperature by the time you get where you’re going… where are you going, by the way?”
“Somewhere off the grid, and private.” Francis raised an eyebrow, “We aren’t looking to be entertaining others, just yet.”
“A proper bonding weekend, then? Just be careful, and go slow if you are on any of the dirt roads, with these bottles.”
“You realize this is a decoy operation?” Chief’s tone was familiar to Seamus, as if he was restraining himself from calling the younger man “son” or any number of nicknames referring to his youth and newly-acquired skills.
“Yes, sir.” The constable was of a similar height and complexion to MacKenzie, but reed-thin, and extremely ginger. “I participated in several undercover exercises at Depot,” he nodded as he hurried on, “and yes, I know this is not a drill, and there’s a possibility of live fire.”
“Speaking of which, here you go,” Constable Richaud held out the vest for James. “Should stop the kinds of rifle rounds sold around here.”
“Just in case they don’t go for the headshot, you mean,” James shrugged the vest on over his ever-present undershirt. He had kept the words on his left pectoral covered since he understood they mentioned he would be a member of the RCMP, his reticent demeanor helping him pass off his affectations as being body-shy. “My being skinny helps there, so the vest won’t be so obvious under one of Constable MacKenzies spare jackets.”
“He’s also in the habit of wearing his Stetson everywhere, even off-duty, so that helps hide the hair,” Richaud nodded. “Won’t help disguise you if they get up close and personal, but you will be a distraction.”
“We have his vehicle, and you’re to arrive when the office officially closes for the evening. If nothing happens, we’ll call your cell phone, not the clinic landline, to give the all clear.” Chief said from the door.
“Yes, sir,” He shrugged his shoulders to settle MacKenzie’s jacket, “Anything else?”
Richaud chuckled, “Be polite to Kat, she’s got a mean hook.”
Constable MacKenzie nodded to her and smiled, but his quick looks up and down the delivery lane as he got out of the pickup showed his nervousness.
She poked her head into the doctor’s office, “He’s here, in back. You go on, while I go meet the decoy at the front.”
Watching the doctor greet his soulmate with a brief kiss, and the constable’s surprised blushing grin, Kat smiled to herself. Even with the craziness of the past twenty-four hours, Dr Pemberton seemed to be happier, more hopeful, than she could remember.
In the time it took her to lock the back door to the clinic, secure the supply cabinets and lock up the doctor’s office, the constable’s jeep pulled into the front lot.
Opening the door, she called out, “Come on in, Constable! He’s not quite ready to go, yet.”
The constable looked up at her in surprise, breathing “Oh, God….” before the rifle report sounded and the back window of her car shattered. Then he shouted “NO!” before falling to the pavement, screaming in pain.
Chapter 14: Charles/Francis
Francis had just driven to the end of the alley when they heard the rifle shots, and the shouts down the street were amplified by the radio of the cruiser parked at the corner, “SHOTS FIRED. OFFICER DOWN, OFFICER DOWN, SHOOTER IS ON THE ROOF OF THE BANK.”
Immediately following on that, came another voice, “Get MacKenzie clear!”
Charles put a hand on Francis’s arm, letting the worry show in his face, “Turn right, but go slow. If they need us, we’ll still be close by.”
Francis nodded, “And that takes us out of line-of-sight of the bank.”
“When leaving the scene, obey the posted speed limits,” Charles murmured.
A small huff of a laugh escaped Francis’s lips, but his brow was still creased, “Part of the protest guidebook?”
“Nah, Gran made sure I learned how to drive like I wasn’t a suspect,” Charles said, keeping his eyes on Francis. Watching his soulmate as he drove, Charles felt the echo of worry in his chest that matched his own.
“MacKenzie, why is my truck still in town?”
He turned around in his seat, searching for the cruiser Chief was calling from, “Sir?”
“You were supposed to be klicks away by now.”
He gave a shrug to Charles, answering, “Driving like you stole it gets you noticed, sir. Is everyone okay?”
“Minor injuries, treated at the scene. We caught the shooter and one accomplice, but just in case there’s more than two of them, I’d like you to be out of sight. Preferably half an hour ago.”
“Yes, sir. Taking the scenic route now,” Francis said before hanging up.
“What’s the situation?” Charles asked.
“Minor injuries, he said,” A little knot in Francis’s chest loosened as he turned west to catch the highway. “Either my supervisor spotted us, or he has a tracker on the truck,” Francis answered. After a moment of thought, he added, “Probably more than one kind of tracker.”
Charles chuckled, “He’s that paranoid?”
“I don’t know, but he was the one to make sure there was a decoy constable,” Francis shook his head. “Constable James is awful young to have his first scars, but it’s good that they were survivable.”
“Everyone is too young to have scars, but they still happen,” Charles said, resting his hand on Francis’s knee.
It made concentrating on his driving more difficult, but Francis found he preferred the contact.
A knot of anxiety pulsed in his chest, and Charles asked, “Should we do a security check first?”
The knot relaxed, then Francis nodded, “I’d like for you to stay in the truck with the engine running.”
“I’d prefer to stay with you, but you’re better at this sort of thing,” Charles said, worriedly peering through the gathering gloom.
Francis gave him a quick pack on his temple, “Won’t take long, promise.”
Charles watched anxiously as his soulmate entered the cabin. The need to have eyes, if not hands, on Francis was building every moment he waited in the truck. Finally, the lights in the cabin were all on, and Francis’s gait as he returned to the truck was relaxed.
“All clear, want to give me a hand with the groceries?”
It did not take them long to unpack, and Francis offered to let Charles have the first shower, blushing. “I’d offer to share, but maybe I’m going too fast,” he murmured.
Charles chuckled, “Maybe later, you go ahead. I’ll see what I can pull together for supper.”
Soup and sandwiches assembled as Francis finished unpacking, Charles opened a drawer, looking for spoons, and found a drawer full of cheese graters. “Francis, any idea why someone needs more than five graters?”
His soulmate came to see what caused the question. He began to speak, then an odd look crossed his face as he gently closed the drawer, “Knowing who owns this place, it’s probably best not to ask.”
“Francis,” Charles slid his arms around Francis’s waist from behind, resting his forehead between the younger man’s shoulder blades, “why are you so nervous?”
He let out the breath he did not know he was holding. “I just want to get this right.”
“You weren’t worried about it last night.”
“Last night was a great first date,” Francis chuckled. “Today, with all the threats, I would understand if you wanted to keep your distance.”
The arms around him tightened, “Not on a bet. It’s just,” the doctor whispered, “I could have lost you today.”
“I know. It probably won’t be the last time someone shoots at a uniform, so I understand…”
“You understand squat!” Charles spun Francis around and leaned into him, “If last night had been all I had of you, at least I had that! Every moment we have together is precious to me, and I won’t give up a single one.”
Francis returned the embrace, “Neither will I. But you understand now why I was taking things slow, earlier?”
“To give me a chance to run?” Charles glared up at him.
“To give you a chance to see what life with a police officer involves. It might not have been the best protection for you, but when a tenuous bond gets… severed, some people think it doesn’t hurt as much.”
“I waited for you for years, and now that I have you, I want the full experience.” Charles cupped Francis’s face with his hands, “If that means dealing with the shock of a shattered bond with my grief if you die before me, then I want happy memories of our life together to look back on to get me through it all.”
Francis leaned forward, “I want that too, I do.” Touching his lips lightly to his soulmate’s, he felt the warmth of a growing bond between them.
“So stop stalling, and let’s get to bed.”
“If I apologize for being stupid by trying to keep you at arm’s length, can we do that again in the morning?” Francis murmured sleepily.
Charles snorted a laugh. “Don’t have to wait until morning, just until we wake up.”
“Oh, good,” Francis murmured, pulling Charles closer.
“I know how you are about not wanting to rush things,” Charles said quietly into the soft evening twilight, “but I don’t suppose it’s too early to start looking for a house together?”
Watching Francis’s smile take over his face was something like watching the sun rise, with a slow warmth that developed into a radiance that could blind anyone looking too long.
Charles hoped it meant he got to see that smile for years to come.