Fort Liard

Chapter 15

When she woke up in the cozy warmth of her sleeping bag, on the floor of the cabin's living room, she thought she heard the murmur of voices in the background. Sounded like...Caryn and Dave. She listened to their low tones, smiling, her eyes still closed. She heard someone near her let out a long breath, and she opened her eyes to see Fraser sitting on the floor near her feet, leaned back against the wall, with one knee raised up and his arm draped over it. He was smiling at her.

"Hey," she said, her voice gravelly from sleep.

"Hey," he answered. She looked at him for a long moment.

"Were you watching me sleep?"

He nodded, not taking his eyes from hers. He suddenly folded himself forward and stretched out on his side, facing her. He rested his head on his right hand and used his left one to run a finger briefly across her cheek. She was comfortable in the warmth of her sleeping bag and so she simply looked up at him.

"What are you thinking?" he asked.

"That this is the best thing that I've ever woken up to."

He smiled at this, and it reached his eyes.

"Come for a walk with me," he said.

"Now?"

"If you're willing."

"What time is it?"

He looked at his Mountie-issue watch. "About four-thirty."

"It's dark outside."

"Yes," he grinned. "Beautiful sky tonight."

"Ahh," she said, with an answering grin. "Hmm. Okay. Let me get dressed."

"Sure. Take your time."

"Have you guys already eaten?" she asked, as she started unzipping and climbing out of her sleeping bag. Ben rolled out of her way and sat up.

"No, not yet. Dave said they'll wait until we come back. Are you hungry?"

"No, not really."

She gathered up warm clothing and went into the bathroom to change. There were butterflies in her stomach as she pulled on the long underwear and then her jeans and put her hair into a quick braid. She knew that he wanted to talk about their relationship, now that she was leaving. How did she feel about that? Her mind started to race, but she forced herself to stop and just wait for him to lead the conversation. She took one last look at herself in the mirror and was happy to note the colour in her cheeks and the expression in her eyes. The shadows on her face from a month ago had faded a little, to be replaced by something else...an expression of hope, perhaps. She snorted at her melodramatic turn of mind and promptly left the bathroom with a smile on her face.

He was waiting by the door for her, his own expression hiding a mix of thoughts. In fact, his face was schooled into submission—that in itself indicated to her that he was guarding something. A little apprehensive, she pulled on her boots and tied the laces. He had her coat in his hands and when she was ready, he helped her into it.

He opened the door and they were outside in the crisp air. He made sure the door was shut snugly behind them and she stopped there, pulling on her gloves, and looked at him quizzically. He indicated a direction with his head and they started walking slowly towards the mountain nearest them, the one that Meg had come to think of as her place to retreat to. They moved slowly through the snow in silence, with just the sound of their footsteps crunching beneath them. The sky hummed faintly, and Meg looked up to see the Northern Lights edging over the tree line to their right.

"It's beautiful," she said. He turned to follow her gaze and nodded. He let out a deep breath and continued walking. He had invited her out here; he should explain himself.

"Meg," he began, and looked at her. The tilt of her eyebrow pushed him to go on. "I wanted to...ask you about the future."

He had slowed down, almost to a stop, and had turned to face her. He saw her swallow and nod.

"Let's keep going," she said. She kept walking, but paused for him to fall back into step beside her. They made their way up the short stretch of incline and into the trees without saying anything more, until they reached the tracks that led up to the boulder.

"When will you be leaving?" he asked.

"I'm not sure, but I can't stay more than a week longer. Vera is keeping Paul and Maggie until Thursday."

"You were supposed to go back two days ago, right?"

"Yes," she said, climbing around a small clump of baby firs.

"Are you anxious to be gone?" he asked. She looked at the trail ahead of her and ran a gloved hand across a tree branch as she passed it.

"I...yes and no." She paused to gather her thoughts as the boulder came into sight up ahead of them. "In some ways, this life here is still unfamiliar to me. There are still many things that make me question whether or not I could be content up here." She shrugged. "And in other ways, there are things that I find myself...unable to leave behind."

She turned to look at him, partially for his reaction, but also to let him know that he was in the second set of things. He seemed to catch her meaning. It was not quite a smile that crossed his features— he still seemed too serious about something on his mind to break into a wide grin—but his demeanor did change slightly. She turned back to face the trail. They were nearing the boulder now.

He waited until they had reached the rock and found a place to settle before he spoke again.

"I'm not quite sure where to begin," he said, "So I'll start at the end." He searched his hands and then looked up at her. "I don't want any misunderstandings." She nodded her encouragement, so he took a deep breath and looked back down at his hands. "I've been doing a lot of thinking..." he looked up at her, "...about asking you to marry me."

She took the statement in and knew that he was searching for her reaction. She looked down at her own hands. It both was and was not expected. How did she feel about the idea? She was not sure. He was waiting for her response, before he continued.

"Go on," she said. He squared his shoulders and nodded.

"I know there's a lot for both of us to consider, but especially for you: I'm asking you to consider living up here, to make a life with me...you have a career and you're very good at what you do...but could you continue doing it in the same capacity here? I don't know." His tongue flicked along the side of his mouth and he pressed his hands together. He looked sideways at her.

"Is that part of the deal?" she asked.

"What do you mean?"

"That I would come to live with you in Fort Liard."

He swallowed, nodded, and looked out at the landscape in front of them.

"I know it sounds...chauvinistic...of me to ask you to come to me," he said, and swallowed. "But from my perspective, I know that I am tied to this wilderness. If you asked me to leave here," he turned to look at her, "I would. But," he looked back into the distance, "I would be leaving behind a huge part of who I am."

She frowned, not sure that she agreed with his reasoning.

"But isn't real love supposed to cross all of the boundaries, to be willing to do anything, be anything, for the other person?" she asked quietly. A slight frown crossed his features. He tugged at his earlobe and turned to look at her.

"I think...in some ways, yes. But in other ways, no."

She was taken aback by his response.

"What do you mean?"

"Real love for someone is to love them as they are right now, not as who you want them to change to be in the future."

Meg looked down the mountain, thoughtful. He did have a point. Did she love him for who he was at that moment? Or was she hoping that he would change in some way? Of course, as she expected, she knew the answer to those questions included both yes and no.

"So you're saying," she said finally, "that who you are right now is who I should be in love with. And that a large part of you is this environment."

"Yes," he said, sounding a little relieved. "What I am trying to say is that I would feel that you were asking me to be someone I am not if you were to ask me to make a life with you away from this beautiful wilderness."

"Hmm."

"At the same time," he looked sideways at her for a moment, "I would be a fool to prefer a hiding place over a you." He sighed. "I am who I am, Meg. I'm trusting you in a way that I've never trusted anyone before. I don't want to lose you, but at the same time, I know that I could lose you anyway, if we don't think this thing through first."

"What do you want me to say?" she asked, frowning down at her hands. "I would feel horrible if I used guilt to force you into a situation against your will. At the same time, you are asking me to consider leaving my world."

"I know," he said. "That was why I asked you if you were anxious to leave Fort Liard. If your answer had been an unqualified yes, I would have talked old times with you and we would have parted, hopefully, as friends."

"Part of me thinks I should feel appalled at such apparent ease to let me go, after everything we've gone through in the past few weeks." She looked pointedly at him. "After some of the things you've said."

"I know," he said quietly. "It sounds cold." He looked up at the night sky and drew his shoulders together. "But I've had time to think between then and now. Being near death will do that to a person."

They shared a brief smile and then Meg sighed.

"But another part of me knows the wisdom of what you're saying," she said. "You cannot consider marrying someone based solely on the past; you must seriously consider whether or not you could have a good future together. It would be better to part now if we discovered it wouldn't work."

"Exactly."

"Why do you have to be so infuriatingly right?"

"Am I?"

She laughed, and then quickly became serious again.

"All right, so part of this consideration for me is the possibility of effectively giving up a large portion of my career. That's big. I'm not trying to be petty, but..." she searched for the right words, "...why should the sacrifice seem so entirely one-sided?"

Ben considered her for a moment, realizing that he had no easy answer to give her. The only good response was another question.

"What do you want, Meg?" he asked. "If this is something that is a price too high to pay, I'll understand. We both have to go into this aware of the costs."

She looked up at the faint green ribbon of the Northern Lights above them and searched for an answer. Really, what did she want? Was she willing to become part of his world? She wanted a friend, a lover. She wanted more from life than the grey progression of days alone, living for the position that she held. She wanted the possibility of raising a family. She wanted to share Christmas with someone, instead of sitting alone in her apartment, wondering if her father was near a telephone. She wanted someone to know who she was, and she wanted to let herself fall off the precipice and be able to trust that she would land safely. Or she could stand safely away from the cliff and continue living up on her ledge, isolated, holding a respected title but little else.

It was hard to trust, though.

"What are you thinking?" he asked softly. With a start, she broke from her reverie and turned to look at him. What did she see in his eyes? Someone that she could trust? She let her eyes travel over the lines in his face, feeling an ache inside. Here, she knew, was a turning point. The ache could either become sadness or joy. It was up to her to decide. She looked away from him.

"I want to be open to the possibility of...you."

"Is that it?"

"As far as, for me, that encompasses a willingness to leave behind the career that I have basically been living for since I was twenty-two," she said. "I took that path and discovered that it didn't lead to satisfaction outside of the job. And when the job is over for the day, then who am I?"

Ben made a sound in agreement and Meg nodded.

"This month," she continued, "Just seeing the way Caryn and Dave interact, with each other and with their children, I have found again what it is to be a part of a family. Living here, being accepted into this community, it all seemed so strange to me, because I always felt like a stranger. I always thought of myself as an outsider when—I realize now—everyone was going out of their way to make me feel welcome. It was as if I felt like I had to have some sort of 'lost heroine' complex or something."

Ben laughed outright.

"I'm right though, aren't I?" she pressed him.

"Yes, now that you mention it," he answered, with a thoughtful-looking frown. "It does explain a lot..."

"Like what?"

"I'm just teasing you, Meg," he grinned. "But I do think you're right about it."

They were quiet for a moment, and then Meg turned to him.

"What do you want?"

He raised his eyebrows and exhaled a long breath.

"Well..." he began. "Let's see. A lot of things. I'd like a new pair of snowshoes; the ones I have now were my father's fifty years ago. I've had to repair them so many times that there is little left of the original materials used in their construction."

She stared at him.

"Snowshoes?"

"You looked so serious."

"Snowshoes?"

"Why is that so strange?"

"Does anyone still use them?"

"I do."

"Ben, you talk to a pet wolf. You don't count."

"That's not fair."

"Why do you want to marry me?"

"Why do I want to marry you?" he repeated, and she saw a mischievous grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Oh, where to begin?"

"How many ways doth I love thee? Let me count the ways..." she quoted, smiling.

"Yes," he smiled down at his hands, and then he became serious. "But more than just counting them, I've been thinking about what it would mean to finally...take this step. To tie my life in with someone else's, to share joys and pains and disagreements, to wake up beside your beautiful brown eyes every morning..." He sighed. "I want to believe that I would be a good husband, but..."

"Could I trust my heart to you?"

"Yes. That's basically the question. For both of us."

"What do you fear?"

He turned to look at her. "That's what John Glen asked me."

"You spoke to him about this?"

"Mmm. He's a good man."

"What was your answer to him?"

He let out a long breath and watched it curl away into the night air. "I told him that I felt darkness in myself. Things I've done, things I'm not fond of remembering. I told him that I'm not sure that I wouldn't hurt you." He turned to look at her. Meg seemed to be considering his words. "I don't want to hurt you—the thought makes me cringe—but I know that I am capable of it, that I have done it before. How then can I ask you to trust me?"

"I'm not blind, Ben," she said. "I know that I have hurt you as well." She gave a small, bitter laugh. "I find it ironic that your biggest fear is that you will hurt me, when throughout our time together before, it was usually me causing the pain."

"Not true, Meg."

She did not want to argue. She laced her fingers together.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I don't mean to dwell on all our past mistakes with each other."

"But I know what you're trying to say," she said. "Our past experience is all that we have to make out the other's character, to decide if we can trust each other."

"Yes," he said.

"All right, since we're trying to make out each other's characters...let me honestly confess that I don't think I truly understand you. You've always been something of a mystery to me, Ben." She looked down at her hands again. "That's part of your appeal, but it's not something to base a marriage on."

"I suspect that there will always be aspects of a person that one never truly understands, even after a lifetime of experience with them."

"What sort of answer is that?"

"It's not an 'I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours' sort of answer, if that is what you mean."

"What?—Wait, that sounds familiar."

"Pride and Prejudice," he answered, with a smile.

"Oh, right, after the dance—"

"She was trying to make out his character—"

"—and he was refusing to let her," Ben finished.

"So then what did you mean by your statement?" she asked.

"Simply that we may never understand each other completely, and that, itself, is one of the greatest challenges to a marriage."

"I don't want to have you in a neat little box with a bow, Ben." Meg said. "I just—look, as an example: I used to always chalk your various...quirks...up to your having been raised apart from mainstream society." He nodded; most people had written him off with similar qualifications. "But there were times when I would observe you with people—even with myself—and I would later find myself disturbed by you, when I remembered back to the events."

Ben frowned; he was still looking at her, but something had crossed over his features. "Can you be more specific?" he asked.

"Let me pause and say that I haven't observed anything to make me feel uneasy since I have come to Fort Liard, but I have only been here a month...I want to know you better."

"Of course," he said, a frown still creasing his forehead.

"In Chicago you seemed...inconsistent. I didn't know what to make of you. One moment you would appear to be at a complete loss, and then the next, I would realize that the very appearance of being such would give you an immense degree of control over everyone else around you. It was then that I would realize that I couldn't attribute all of your actions to innocent naïveté."

Ben smiled, though the light was not in his eyes, and he nodded.

"You could sway the perceptions of an entire group of people and they would have no idea that they had just been manipulated. There were times when I could see you doing it to me and yet I was unable to change the course of events. You looked lost and yet it was quite the opposite. I was both attracted to you and wary of you. You had a great deal of insight into what mattered to people, including me, and you wielded it with a frightening degree of power."

He did not answer, except to look up from his hands. He did not look at her.

"So now here we are four years later," she continued. "Sitting together, away from the rest of the world. You have admitted that you fear your ability to hurt me, and what I want to know is: how much of all this is an act?"

"That hurts."

"I am sorry. But I do need an answer."

"I know."

She felt a little sick in her heart. She did not actually believe him to be a secretly manipulative man, but there were still things about him that she needed to be comfortable with if she was going to be able to continue this conversation honestly.

"I knew that I would have to answer for it some day," he said.

"For what?"

"What I did in Chicago...what I became in Chicago. I disturbed even myself," he answered.

Why should I believe you? she thought. But she let him continue.

"I did come to the city as an outsider and honestly, it did begin as naïveté. Life was more focused in the Northwest Territory: it was simply about survival. The daily existence is distilled—that was why La Croix's motivation struck me so forcibly: I knew what he meant. I know what the ache of the loss of such freedom and simplicity feels like. The rest of the world starts to creep in and wrap its tendrils around your soul, and all you want to do is go back to the edge, the freedom of the wild. It's enough to almost drive a man mad. The hardest part is living in a sea of humanity where no one around you understands what is going on inside you. La Croix understood; he was the only one I knew in that city that did...and it frightened me, the way he had gone mad. I could see myself in him, snapping in the same way: the ache was there."

Meg sat, stunned, listening to the quiet force with which he spoke. She had never fully known how he had reacted, living down in the American city. He had always kept his struggles close to himself. She had known that he had been displaced, but she had never realized how out of place he had felt. He had not chosen the assignment to Chicago; like her assignment, his had been more of a punishment than a promotion. They had both been taken out of where they knew best and sent to exactly where they did not want to be.

"I could say that it was just another defense mechanism, but I would be lying, in part," he said. He turned to look at her briefly, and she saw both shame and frustration in his features. "I came to Chicago from my own world and was suddenly thrown into situations and among people of whom I had only read about. I came with a lot of book knowledge, but not much personal experience. People generally know when to leave you alone out here. No one knew when to leave me alone in the city. The press of humanity was always closing in on me. I walked around every day in a bright red costume that was both my anchor and my storm, so to speak. It was my identity. In Chicago it set me apart as a figure of honor, but also in many ways, as a joke."

Meg made a noise, understanding exactly what he meant. Ben nodded and continued. "It did not take me long to begin to feel the awkwardness of donning the uniform. I would feel lost at times, but remembering my job, where I had come from, what I was supposed to be focusing on—those things gave me my anchor. At the same time, I was caught between two warring desires, unable to be free to really do the job that I had sworn to do: uphold and protect, but required to do the job that I had been instructed to do: stand in a red suit for people to gawk at, day after day.

"Now, I'm not saying I was bitter and angry. More or less, I was simply feeling lost. I was, however, determined to make the best of what I had been given, and in time I found myself enjoying aspects of my life in the city. Ray was the first true friend I had ever had in my adult life—not counting Dief—and as you said, he didn't hide anything. He had a sort of existential honesty that was a relief for me, because I hid many things, unsure of how to play them out. Frannie's attempts to draw me out, though misguided, were still genuine and caring. When you came, your steadiness in some ways kept me on a more even keel." He gave a short laugh.

"I found it was more of a combination of the mental image of your frowning disapproval and the knowledge of your disconcerting effects on me that helped me to refocus in my second year at the consulate. You reminded me of home—remember when I asked you about your scent? Your presence at the consulate gave me a way out of the despair I faced because of Victoria. You would walk by and my stomach would twist: homesickness, just your presence, loneliness..."

He drifted off for a moment, and then returned. "You were strong when I needed someone to give me a good pull back into reality. I did appreciate the fact that you didn't...try to get me romantically interested in you. In fact, you did your best to do the exact opposite to me. I came to respect you a great deal in those first few months."

"Even when I asked you to pick up my dry cleaning?" she asked, half-seriously.

"Even then. I knew that you were testing me and I resolved not to fail you. I wanted you to be able to trust me as a fellow officer. I knew that what you had come in to find at the consulate was an office in shambles—because of me. I had to earn your trust. I knew it was worth earning." He stopped to look at her, but she did not respond. She waited for him to continue, and he knew that he had to reach the explanation of why he had begun to manipulate the people around him. He sighed and looked away again, not relishing this confession.

"You wanted to know why I started using people and maintaining an appearance of innocence," he said, his voice unexpectedly rough. He hunched forward. "The simple answer is: because I could. Because it gave me a measure of control over my environment. I am ashamed of some of the things I did. My use of Detective Vecchio at times, or my use of women, playing off their reactions to me. I knew that the things that I found myself doing were wrong, but I told myself that no one was really being hurt and it got me what I wanted.

"Yet it was hurting someone: it was hurting me by separating the truth of who I was from the appearance of who I let them think I was, and it was also hurting Ray. It drove him away, I know that now. I treated him like a simpleton for two years and he really wasn't one. He was just good-hearted, better than I was. He hadn't learned to manipulate people, to just use them and push all of their buttons so they played like puppets without them even being aware of it. He just was who he was, and I hurt him. He caught on, eventually, and when they gave him the chance to transfer away from me, he separated himself from his family and the places he knew and he walked into a hellish existence, rather than take out on me all of the anger that both he and I knew that I deserved. His leaving hurt me...it hurt me more because I knew I had let down the only true friend that I had. Our relationship could never be the same again. I had let down his trust in the worst way possible."

His heart was pounding, and he found himself fighting tears. He had told the minister general things about his past, but Meg knew the people that he spoke of; she had seen that darkness in him even then. He wondered how many others he had hurt without realizing it. Ironic, how he had been her comforter on this boulder only weeks ago, and now she was listening to him break this time. He felt her hand move onto his shoulder.

"I used people because I feared that if I didn't, they would use me," he continued, his voice even quieter now. It was almost a private confessional, not just for her ears, but for his own...and perhaps for God's, as well. John's words strayed into his mind: "He knows our frame is dust..."

Ben kept that thought at bay and finished what he had begun to say. "I never felt at ease around women who...imposed themselves on me. I always had a sense of how fragile, how easily, my heart could stop being my own...and how quickly I could lose the rest of me, as well. I thought that life in the Territory was freeing because I was not forced to face these things: I could flee and take the most solitary assignments, if I so desired. That solitariness became my undoing when I encountered Victoria. Through her I learned very painfully that it was a pathetic defense. The total loss of it in Chicago was like stripping off my only layer of protection and then flooding me with ice-cold water. I was left gasping for breath, so to speak. I built a secondary defense when I learned that I could manipulate people, once again keeping them at a distance from myself. Instead of being honest with myself and with them, I maintained an appearance of being guileless and lost myself and my closest friends through it."

He gave a sort of wry and bitter laugh. "It's no wonder that I started imagining that I could see the ghost of my father. I was in such denial that finding fantastic reasons to explain the confusion of my own soul seemed an easier thing to cope with."

A chill went up her spine as he said it, and she frowned. She took her hand from his shoulder.

"The ghost of your father?"

"Yes," he said. "All those times in the consulate when I appeared to be talking to someone else? A product of my imagination...frustratingly real at times." He gave another bitter laugh, as he dropped his head into his hands. Tears threatened and burned the edges of his eyes. God, he was so screwed up. Well, at least he was glad that he had had this conversation with her. It must have cemented in her mind any objections she had to accepting his hand by this point. It had certainly cemented them in his. He thought he had put these demons to rest years ago, and here they were, flapping their leathery wings in his face, no more dead than when he had faced them during the nights in Chicago.

"Did your father have blue eyes and..." How to describe the eerie man she had seen when she had gone to find Ben on the river? She tried to remember some distinguishing feature other than his piercing blue eyes. Just like his son's, now that she thought about it. Another chill ran down her back. The man had woken her up from a sound sleep. "Was he smaller than you?" she asked.

Ben looked up from his hands, and she could see that he had been fighting not to cry. She wanted to pull him to her and hold him tightly, but first she needed him to answer her. She felt that this was important.

"Was he?" she repeated.

"Physically? Yes," he answered, focus coming into his eyes as he frowned at her. "Why do you ask?"

"I...ah," she paused. How to describe her encounters? "I was woken up by an older man with grey hair and sharp blue eyes the night that you were caught by La Croix. He disappeared when I woke up." She swallowed, licked her lips, and kept going. "And then when I went to look for you with Ankers and Harding, I saw him again in the woods, far ahead of us. For some reason, I felt compelled to follow him, though Ankers said that we were going off the projected path that would bring us into contact with your team. I just knew that I had to follow this man, but neither Ankers or Harding could see him. I followed him until I heard La Croix's first gunshot, and then the man disappeared again. He had guided us right to the place on the river where you were fighting with La Croix. If not for him, we would never have found you in time."

She stopped to take a breath and she watched the expressions crossing his face.

"You saw him," he said, after a long moment. It was more of a question than a statement.

"I think so," she answered. "I would need to see a picture of him to be sure, but...I think so."

Ben looked back out at the landscape and took in a deep breath. "Thanks," he said, into the wind. No answer came back, and they sat in silence, listening to the moving of the pines and the faint song of the Northern Lights above them. Meg thought about what he had said, and remembered the times that he had been candid with her. They had been few, and the intensity of their effect on her had made her painfully aware of her own vulnerability. She had pushed him away when they had needed each other the most and they had lost what?...years?

Could she trust him with her heart? She dearly wanted to.

"So," she said, finally. She felt him shift beside her.

"So."

"What do you want to do?"

He laughed to himself and licked his lips. "I was just able to confess something to you which has been weighing heavily on me for years. What do you think my first reaction is?"

"Relief?"

"Well, yes...but more to the point: what do you think is on my mind concerning us?"

Meg was quiet. He looked at his hands, turning them over slowly. He shook his head.

"What was the likelihood of our paths ever crossing again, Meg?"

She laughed quietly. "I know."

He straightened and looked up at the night sky through the treetops. It was almost as if the wind had stilled to match the breathless pause in his heart. Where would they go from here? They had been given a second chance, and he was grateful. He looked at her.

"What are you thinking now?" he asked. She found his hand with hers.

"Thank you for explaining, for being honest," she answered, resting her head on his shoulder. He turned his head towards her there and closed his eyes, feeling again like there were tears, but now for an entirely different reason. "I think I understand a little more now," she said. "Seeing you living in Fort Liard, in this environment, and seeing the way that you are part of the community and the way the people respect you; it's the first real chance that I have gotten to see you where you are most comfortable—where you can be yourself." She shifted slightly. "You are changed, Ben. Somehow more peaceful, and I think I have begun to see why. You just need to learn to trust yourself more."

"And trust others, I think," he said.

"Yes."

"And...God, as well? I don't know," he said. Meg frowned down at their clasped hands. Now there was one person she had never been at peace with. Somehow though, at this moment beside Ben, she felt that some of her oldest hurts were being softened within her. Who knew what the future held for them? There was something appealing about the simple faith of the Glens, and even Dave and Caryn.

They sat in that position for a long while, just listening to the other breathe, and thinking. At long last, Ben finally swallowed and leaned away slightly from Meg, and she sat up and faced him. He appeared about to say something, and then he changed his mind and slid off the boulder and turned to look up at her. He offered her a hand, and she took it and slid off the boulder to stand beside him.

"I liked the other way better," she said with a grin, nodding towards the rock. He smiled in response, and then took both her hands in his own. He looked down at them and then looked squarely at her. Her heart was racing, and from the look in his eyes, so was his. The rumble of a train beneath their feet went through her mind, and she caught her breath as he bent towards her. Their lips met softly and she felt a tear run down her cheek. She squeezed his hands, and he returned the press with his own.

"Do you think we can do this?" he asked her, when they separated.

She nodded, slowly. "As long as we're both honest and we take our time," she answered.

"Marry me," he whispered. She closed her eyes for a moment, searched, and then opened them to meet his.

"Yes."

"Thank you," he said, relief diffusing through his features. He pulled her close. She felt his tears quickly cooling on her forehead.

"Thank you," she answered, smiling against his chest. And for one moment, she closed her eyes and thought, Thank you, to whomever should hear it.

Behind them, Robert Fraser smiled, turned, and faded quietly away.


Author's Notes

Copyright © 2000-2008 Rachel Smith Cobleigh; not for profit

Based on characters and situations owned by Due South/Alliance Atlantis Communications Corp., created by Paul Haggis

Excerpts from 'ghost horse of the Mounties', Sean O. Huigin, David R. Godine, Publishers, Inc.; 1983

Excerpts from Robert Service poetry

Excerpts from 'Pride and Prejudice', Jane Austen

Excerpts from "The Edge" © 1996 Seth Freeman, Due South/Alliance Atlantis Communications Corp.

Cover image: "Yellowknife" by Natstradamus from Pixabay; cover design by Rachel Smith Cobleigh


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