When Ben woke up, he was stiff and sore, but the memory of Meg's hands as he had fallen asleep last night brought a smile to his face. He stretched, yawned, and sat up, fighting the protests from his body. The fire had died down, the cabin was cooler, and the morning sunlight was streaming in through the windows. He smiled and walked out into the main room, and immediately frowned at the sight of the empty bed with the blankets thrown back. Everything of hers was gone; he saw that her snowmobile was missing, too. Looking back into the room, he spotted the note on the table. He read it and relaxed, smiling. He turned on his radio and tuned it to the frequency that he knew Dave kept the Coopers' on.
"Benton Fraser to David Cooper," he said into the handset, leaning back against the kitchen counter, the radio beside him. Half a minute later, he heard the burst of static, and an undeniably grinning Dave answered the call. It could only mean that the baby had already been born.
"Ben! Hey, how're you doing?"
"I'm fine, thank you kindly," Ben answered, with a grin. "And you? How's the mother?"
"Caryn's fine, and the baby's fine. Seven pounds, eight ounces! Timothy Mills Cooper, he has red hair!"
"Caryn's maiden name. We couldn't decide, and it sounded fine. He was born, ah...forty minutes ago."
"Ah. Congratulations Dave."
"Thanks." Dave paused, and Ben heard what sounded like a yawn, through the radio static. "She's exhausted—I don't know how women do it—and Miriam's just leaving some last-minute instructions and baby things. Meg's in there helping her."
"I'm bringing breakfast over," Ben said. "Any requests?"
"Um, let me see..." Dave's voice drifted away from the handset, calling for breakfast requests. He returned a few seconds later.
"Orange juice," he said. "I think we're out of that."
"Done," Ben replied, nodding. "I'll be by within the hour."
"Thanks a lot—oh, and it's good to hear that you're all right. Caryn and I were concerned, after Meg took off two nights ago. We said a prayer for you."
"I know, thanks." Ben did not consider himself particularly religious, but he had learned enough from his grandparents and from life to believe that perhaps there was something to Dave and Caryn's prayers. In any case, he was thankful for another day, and another new life in the world. It made his work worth it all.
"I'll see you then. Dave clear."
"Ben clear." He put the handset back in its place and stood for a moment, thinking.
"What's on your mind, son?" Robert Fraser asked, walking over to stand beside the counter, his hands held behind him. Benton looked up at him and crossed his arms.
"I don't know," he answered, finally.
"Come on," his father said, unconvinced. "Just get it out. You're getting old and you want an heir."
"You sound like I'm trying to pass on the throne, Dad," Ben answered, looking sideways at his ghost of a father.
"Well, you are. We Frasers, we have a bold and noble Scottish line." His father pressed his fist over his heart and appeared to be trying to look noble. Ben smiled and shook his head, looking down at his bare feet.
"Do you still have that painting?"
His father turned to look at him, dropping his hand and frowning.
"The one with all the spots for Uncle Tiberius and all the relatives."
"There's a spot for Meg, too, you know," his father answered, seriously. "You're both sitting on a boulder on one of the mountains, and the grandkids are sledding."
"I didn't see that," Ben answered.
"Do you see it now?" his father asked. They were both quiet for a moment, and then Ben looked up.
"I'm not sure," he said, looking across the room towards the empty place in front of the fire. He turned to look at his father's reaction to his words, but there was no one there. Sighing, he pushed himself off the counter and went towards the bathroom. "I've got to stop doing that," he said to himself.
Dief was dozing comfortably on the floor of the physician's office when Ben stopped in to check on him. Lecrue and Bohner were both still asleep, so Ben, after exchanging a few words with Sylvia, the night nurse, left the clinic to pick up something for breakfast from Harold Onsten. When he walked into the store, Liven was standing at the counter exchanging morning pleasantries with the storekeeper. Both men turned as the Mountie came in, the bells over the door signalling his entrance.
"Hey, glad to see you alive and walking around, Fraser," Liven said, as Ben walked up to them.
"As am I. Good morning," he answered, nodding to them both. Their eyes noted the cuts on his face, and they exchanged a glance.
"Hey, is Inspector Thatcher all right?" Harold Onsten asked, as he rang up Liven's cup of coffee. Ben smiled at how formally Onsten had referred to Meg, now that she had established herself as a force to be reckoned with.
"Yes, she's fine," he answered, going over to get a gallon of orange juice. "She's at the Coopers: they have a new son." He spotted a package of donuts on his way back to the register and he picked them up.
"Wonderful!" Onsten said, thumping his hand down on the counter. "That's just wonderful!"
"What's his name?" Liven asked, smiling and taking a careful sip.
"Timothy Mills Cooper. Doing well, when I spoke to Dave."
"Tell them I said congratulations, will you?" The council chief lingered for a moment, wanting to ask something.
"I will," Ben nodded, as he counted out the bills for the impromptu breakfast.
"So...everything is taken care of with that fugitive?" Onsten asked, ringing up the food and returning the change. "You want a bag for that?"
"Ah, we're not sure—and no. I don't need one."
"They haven't found the body yet, huh?" Liven asked him, as Ben turned from the counter. He nodded his thanks to the storekeeper.
"No, unfortunately," he answered.
"The guy must be dead by now," Liven said. "They haven't found any places where he could have gotten out of the river downstream."
"I won't be content until they find him," Fraser answered.
"Neither will I," Liven said. Fraser started to leave. Liven exchanged a glance with Harold Onsten and then left the counter to go after Ben.
"I heard that Inspector Thatcher had a...very prominent role," Liven began, as he followed Ben out of the store. Onsten came out from behind the register and stood in the doorway as the Mountie loaded the food into the compartment under the seat of his snowmobile.
"Yes," Ben answered, securing the seat. "Her shot saved my life." He looked up at them, not surprised by the looks of grudging admiration on their faces. "Have a good morning." With a nod to both of them, he drove off in the direction of the Cooper home.
They stood there in silence, Liven sipping his coffee and smiling behind his cup, and Harold Onsten leaning up against a front post of the store's porch, his arms crossed.
"Nope. Not bad at all," Liven answered with a laugh.
Miriam drove down past him with a wave, as he drove his snowmobile up the incline to the Cooper's cabin. He waved back and went the short way up the hill and shut off the engine. He pulled the food out of the seat compartment and let himself into the house. He heard Dave's voice coming from the bathroom, and he left the food on the kitchen table. He draped his coat over one of the chairs.
He peered into the bedroom as Dave came into the kitchen, drying his hands on a towel. Caryn lay sleeping in the bed, and next to her, Meg finished wrapping the baby in a blanket in the bassinet and picked him up. She cradled him and smiled down at him, and Ben was transfixed by the sight. He remembered what he had imagined so long ago, when the Inspector had asked for his assistance in becoming a mother—and had neglected to clarify that she meant that she wanted his help with the adoption process. The awkward misunderstanding between them and her subsequent ineligibility to qualify as an adoptive parent had left its mark on her spirit. The sight before him gave him a sense of relief, somehow.
"Beautiful, hmm?" asked Dave quietly, coming up behind him. Ben came out of his reverie, and Meg looked over at them.
"Yes," he answered, smiling. She returned his smile with a quiet one of her own and walked over to them, standing in the doorway.
"Do you want to hold him?" she whispered. The baby was nearly asleep. His little mouth opened in a yawn that wrinkled the skin around his nose. Ben reached down and she put Timothy into his arms.
"It's always amazing, every time," he said quietly, looking at the tiny, perfect features and the little, puckered lips. Children seemed inclined to be comfortable around him, and he had done the occasional babysitting job for Dave and Caryn and some of the other couples in the valley. But each new one was beautiful.
"Mmm-hmm." Meg ran her fingers over the soft, downy hair on the sleeping baby's crown. Dave laughed quietly and turned away from them after a moment. He poured a glass of orange juice for himself and one for Meg, and brought it over to her as she came out of the bedroom.
"Thanks, Ben," Dave said, sitting down at the kitchen table to snag a donut and relax for a moment.
"You're welcome," Ben answered, still looking down at the baby. Meg sat down across from Dave and picked out a cinnamon-frosted donut. The brown dust stuck to her fingers and flew down into a fine layer on the table, but it was good. When she finished, she licked the clumps off her fingers and leaned back to watch Ben for a moment. She was tired, but she felt completely content after the whole long ordeal and after making sure Caryn and the baby were comfortable. She felt her eyes starting to drift closed.
Ben noticed her starting to nod off, and after a smile from Dave, who tapped her awake again, he laid Timothy back in the bassinet in the bedroom. Dave had gotten up from the table and was cleaning up.
"I need to go to the outpost and file all of the paperwork for everything," Ben said, coming back into the kitchen and picking up his coat. "I'll be back by supper-time. I'll bring food."
"I need to do that—" Meg yawned, covering her mouth with her hand, "—too." She made a vague attempt at starting to stand up.
"No," Ben said, pulling his coat on. "It can wait a few hours. You need sleep."
"But you need—" Meg started to protest, and then stopped herself, a wry grin appearing on her face as she settled back down again. "What am I saying? You're right. I should jump at the opportunity to avoid the mountain of forms and reports. Enjoy your morning."
"I will," Ben replied, with a mock wince. They shared a look of administrative understanding, and for a brief moment, Ben cringed inwardly at the amount of paperwork she must have had to plow through in Chicago, due entirely to his exploits. Additionally, she had had to deal with not just the one set for the Canadian consulate, but also the sets for all of the international issues and the American officials. His part in the ensuing paperwork was usually just to fill out an incident report and leave it on her desk. It was no wonder that she had regarded him with such annoyance at the beginning: the mess that she had walked into when she had first arrived was an embarrassing incident on all levels of local and national power. He was sure that she had had a lot of backlog paperwork to clear up also, since his former superior officer had been somewhat less than competent. He felt a small twinge of regret for the difficulty that he had caused her.
Meg watched the mix of thoughts cross his face for a few seconds and then she raised her eyebrows in question.
"I now can appreciate all that you had to do before," he said.
"At the consulate."
"Ah," she smiled. "Not so much of a 'dragon lady' anymore, am I?"
"You never were," he answered warmly.
"Thank you kindly," she smiled, then yawned.
"'Dragon lady'?" Dave asked.
"A rather dubious term of endearment that Detective Ray Vecchio gave her," Ben said, by way of explanation.
"He was the American police officer that Ben unofficially worked with," Meg said. "A bit hot under the collar, but a good man, nonetheless." Ben looked at her, a little surprised at her candour. She raised an eyebrow at him. "Well, at least he made his feelings clear; I didn't have to pry anything out of him," she said, smiling.
"Point taken," Ben bowed slightly, with a grin, and pulled on his gloves. Dave winked at him. "I'll see you, then. Get some rest."
"No worry there," Meg said, covering another yawn. Ben headed towards to the door.
"Thanks for everything, Fraser," Dave said again, giving a wave as the Mountie went out.
"You're welcome," he nodded back, as he pulled the door closed behind himself.
"Thank you, too, Meg," Dave said. "We couldn't have done it so smoothly without you."
"It was the least I could do, I'm just glad I could be a part of this. When should I bring Paul and Maggie back from Vera's?"
"Give Caryn two or three days. When are you leaving?"
"I'm not sure," Meg said, frowning. "But it does have to be rather soon. Not much longer than three days, certainly. I'm already two days over what I intended."
"I know. Sorry about that," he said.
"Nothing anyone could control. I'm sure Hearst will run just fine for a little while longer without me." She stood, yawning again—she was so tired!—and she went into the den and unrolled her sleeping bag across the floor.
"Sweet dreams," Dave sang out, softly.
"You too," Meg answered, with a grin, and climbed in. It was not too long after that she drifted off into a much-needed sleep.