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Disclaimer: This story is written for the private entertainment of fans. The author makes no claims to the series’ characters by the creation of this story. Fraser, Vecchio, et. al. belong to Alliance; Dr. Greene, et. al. belong to Michael Crichton and Amblin Television; Mary Peeler belongs to me. No infringement of any copyrights is intended. I’m just having fun. No money being made here. Don’t even think about it! Also, many thanks to Ann Meekitjuk Hanson for her article on Inuit Culture @ www.artictravel.com/noframes/incultpage.html.

Note to the Readers: Small ER crossover. Being set in Chicago, I couldn’t resist. I’ve only discovered due SOUTH since it came on TNT and I still haven’t seen all of the episodes, most notably Victoria’s Secret, to which I refer here. Being an obsessive fan, I think I’ve put together the gist of the episode but would ask you to bare with me if I’ve made any glaring mistakes! This takes place some time after Victoria’s Secret, at least several months, but before Ray Kowalski shows up on the scene. This is my second attempt at a romance for Fraser. Someone’s got to help the poor guy out after what Victoria did to him! PLEASE let me know what you think! ’Thank you kindly!’

Memories, Friendship
Blood on the Snow

By: Janice R. Sager
E-Mail Me

Chapter One
Elusive Memories

        Constable Benton Fraser had been assigned guard duty outside the Consulate -- again, but he wasn’t quite sure what he’d done to irritate the Inspector this time? He had simply asked her if she was feeling well. She’d responded that he was ‘too damn observant’ and ordered him to stand guard at the Consulate entrance. He didn’t understand why a simple expression of concern for her health should warrant disciplinary action. She really had not looked to be feeling all that well. Perhaps she was coming down with something and it was making her even more irritable than usual. Or perhaps it had something to do with the Spanish ambassador’s advisor whom she’d gone out with the night before. . . .
        The sound of screeching tires broke his concentration if not his unflinching attitude of attention. A white panel van hove into his periphery vision and hurtled down the street at dangerous speed. Had traffic been heavier-- It suddenly slowed in front of the Consulate and the side door swung back as something was tossed out. Then it was speeding away again. It all happened very quickly and Fraser’s statue-like stance was broken before the door had fully opened. He’d been very much afraid they were about to become the victims of some kind of terrorist attack.
        But it was not a bomb that had been tossed out below the steps of the Consulate. It was a young woman. She was tied, gagged, blind folded and stripped naked.
        Fraser stripped off his hat, Sam brown belt and lanyard even as he ran down the steps. Several pedestrians were frozen in shock on the sidewalk. The nearest was a young man, probably a student given his attire and backpack.
        “Go inside and tell them to call 911, ambulance and police,” Fraser ordered curtly and quickly began removing of his dress tunic. However, the young man obviously required physical impetus to move. Fraser took him by the shoulders and shoved him toward the steps. “911. Now!” He turned back to the girl and pulled his arms free of the uniform, then quickly draped it over her nude form even as he reached for her pulse. He half expected to find her dead but no, there was a weak but steady rhythm beneath his finger tips.
        Working quickly but gently, he began to free the knot of her gag. It was quite tight and had obviously been in place for some time.
        “Fraser?” Inspector Thatcher s voice floated down from the doorway. “Oh mi God!”
        The knot was not coming free. Rather than waste precious time, Ben pulled out his pocket knife and slid it under the coarse material.
        “What happened?” the Inspector demanded, deigning to squat next to Fraser as he finally removed the gag and checked the victim’s breathing. He offered a concise but accurate report as he turned his attention to the young woman’s blind fold.
        “The license plate was obscured,” he concluded and gently removed the thick clothe, being careful not to move her head for fear of a possible neck injury. He got his first good look at her face and frowned.
        “Fraser?” Thatcher noted his frown and the direction of his gaze. There was more to the look than concern for the evident beating she’d suffered. “Do you know this woman?”
        “I believe I may have seen her before,” he offered, still frowning. “I can’t place where.”
        In the distance, they could now make out the sound of sirens.
        “Give me the knife,” Thatcher ordered. “I’ll free her wrists.” He handed the pocket knife over and checked the young woman’s pulse again.
        He judged her to be in her mid- to late-twenties. Her hair was blonde and appeared to have been hacked off with a knife or a pair of scissors. Her captors must have done it. Perhaps as some kind of trophy or souvenir, or as a form of punishment . . . .
        “I don’t understand why they would dump her here,” Inspector Thatcher offered, thinking out loud. “You’re sure it was a purposeful act? She couldn’t have managed to throw herself out of the vehicle somehow?”
        “No Sir,” Fraser answered resolutely. “The van slowed first and a man within tossed her out. His face was concealed by a ski mask but his movements were deliberate. I’m quite certain he was not attempting to pull her back into the van.”
        “Which means they picked the Consulate on purpose.”
        The two Mounties exchanged a speaking glance, knowing that the girl was most likely Canadian and that they would be taking much more than a casual interest in her case.
        Not surprisingly, Vecchio was the first to arrive, having heard the call on his radio and recognized the address of the Consulate. He jumped out of the Riviera and joined them beside the girl even as two squad cars and an ambulance pulled up.
        “What happened?” he demanded, relieved to find both Fraser and the Dragon Lady unharmed. “A hit and run? Jaywalker? Why’s she got your tunic?”
        “Possible kidnap and/or rape victim,” Fraser answered succinctly and offered an abbreviated version of events as the paramedics took over. A sheet replaced his tunic.
        “Okay, 1984 White Ford Panel Van, no plate. Anything distinctive about it? A dent or broken tail light--”
        “It appeared to have been recently painted,” Fraser answered. “There were no scratches or visible dents. The tires were new and the wheels had been painted black. No hubcaps.”
        “--no--hubcaps--” Vecchio repeated as he wrote. He had learned long ago not to question how the Mountie could possibly notice such details when things were happening too fast to blink! He glanced up from the small note book. “You said you knew her?”
        “No Ray,” Fraser corrected him. “I said I thought I had seen her somewhere.”
        “I can’t remember,” he frowned, apparently irritated by this lack.
        “Here at the Consulate maybe?” Ray suggested. “Say if she needed a new pass port or something?”
        Ben shook his head, certain it wasn’t at the Consulate.
        “Constable Fraser!” Inspector Thatcher demanded his attention and waved him toward the ambulance where the paramedics were loading the girl into the back. “I want you to go with her. You will act on her behalf until she wakes or we can discover who she is.”
        “Whoa, Meg!” Ray interrupted her. “That’s not how it works here. Only her family can speak for her, failing that the docs will do whatever they think best but Fraser here can’t--”
        “Oh yes he can Detective!” Meg Thatcher replied sharply. “You are standing on Canadian soil. We have reason to believe she is a Canadian citizen. Therefore, I am officially extending her the full rights and protections of this Consulate. Constable Fraser, as Deputy Liaison Officer, you will act as her legal representative until she can be identified and her family notified. Don’t be afraid to throw your weight around if you have to and make sure you fax me a set of her finger prints as soon as you can. There may be a Missing Persons Report on her across the border. Now, GO!”
        Fraser knew better than to question that tone of voice from his superior and immediately turned to enter the ambulance. The paramedics probably would have argued but they’d heard everything the Inspector had said and understood her tone of command as well. Instead, they merely redirected him to the front passenger seat.

        Another doctor entered the waiting area carrying a clip board and having obviously just come from surgery.
        “Mr. Mont-- no -- Mr. Mounty?” He corrected himself and glanced around the room. “Mr. Mounty?” he repeated.
        It took Fraser a long moment to realize the mistake that had been made. He stepped forward from where he stood against the wall, his hat in hand. “Excuse me Doctor,” he addressed the waiting man. “I believe you may be referring to me. I’m Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”
        The doctor quickly took in the bright red uniform and hat. Then glanced back at his chart. “Mr. Mounty,” he sighed and shook his head. “Cute, Carol. Real cute.”
        A microphone was suddenly shoved in his face. “Excuse me Dr. Greene,” a young woman fairly shouted at him, “can you tell us how Jane Doe is doing? Has any progress been made in identifying her?”
        “Security!” Dr. Greene called with a weary sigh. He shoved the microphone back out of his face and then realized that security already had their hands full with several other reporters at the front door. The story of how the girl had been flung out of a panel van-- He should have known this would happen.
        “No comment!” he snapped in disgust as the microphone was shoved back in his face again. He dodged it and grabbed the Mountie by the shoulder. “Come with me Red.”
        He had to shove his way past the camera man and, having made it through the ER doors, he spun sharply back around, putting a hand firmly on the lens of the camera as the two reporters who’d gotten by security tried to follow them through.
        “Can you guys read?” he asked in overly innocent tones and pointed to the sign beside the door. “Let me help you: ‘AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY’! He pronounced each word very slowly and distinctly, advancing on the two and forcing them to back up. He quickly stopped and sprinted back through the door, turning once again to glare at them. “STAY OUT!” he yelled and silently dared them to cross that threshold as the doors swung slowly shut.
        “God I hate reporters!” he grumbled and, grabbed the shell-shocked Mountie again, spinning him in the direction he desired. He pointed his finger and shook it at one of the nurses at the nurses’ station as they swept by. “Very funny Carol!” he accused a dark haired woman. “‘Mr. Mounty.’ HA-- HA-- HA!” His sarcasm was too heavy to mistake.
        “I didn’t have time to get his name!” she called after them as Fraser had to all but run to keep up with the doctor.
        Dr. Greene spun on his heel, still walking backward. “It’s your job to get a name!” he yelled back and again spun forward without missing a step. “I swear that woman loves to embarrass the hell out of me!”
        “Actually, I suspect she may be telling the truth,” Fraser offered in her defense. “There were two other ambulances which arrived at the same time the one I was in did.”
        “Only two?” Dr. Greene repeated, flinging a door to his right open. “That’s a walk in the park. Trust me. She did it on purpose.”
        He hurried into the room and behind his desk where he promptly collapsed into his chair as Ben let the door swing shut behind him. The other man closed his eyes behind wire rim glasses and let his head fall back.
        “Do you -- always move so quickly?” Ben had to ask, taken aback by what he had just witnessed.
        “What, that?” Dr. Greene asked, jerking his head back up. “Emergencies don’t wait for you to take care of them.” He suddenly took a deep breath and sat up straight, leaning his elbows upon the desk. Apparently his momentary rest was over and he was more then ready to confront any situation that might arise. “I’ve got a Jane Doe in ICU with you listed as her next of kin. `Mind telling me why you don’t know her name? What the hell is a Mountie doing in Chicago anyway?!”
        Fraser had to catch his mental breath as it were. Following the doctor’s rapid speech and thought processes was rather disconcerting. He answered the last question first, offering his standard reply.
        “I first came here on the trail of my father’s killers--”
        “And stayed,” the doctor interrupted him abruptly. “I don’t have time for more. Tell me about Jane Doe. Why don’t you know her name if you’re related to her?”
        “I’m not,” Ben answered concisely. “She was thrown out of a panel van in front of the Canadian Consulate and we have reason to believe she may be a Canadian Citizen. As such she is entitled to the full benefits and protections of the Consulate. As the Deputy Liaison Officer, I have been ordered to act as her legal representative until such time as she can be identified and her family informed of her condition.”
        The doctor stared at him blankly for a long moment, clearly trying to follow his logic and failing. “Whatever,” he dismissed it. “Your -- ward,” he decided, “is in critical condition. It’s obvious she’s been badly beaten and sexually assaulted. I’ve already ordered a full rape battery including DNA and finger nail scrapings for the police. She has a skull fracture, probably from being thrown out of that van you mentioned, and is suffering hydroencepholytis or water on the brain. It’s very dangerous. We’ve put in a drain tube at the base of her skull but basically the next twenty-four hours are touch and go. I won’t have any idea about possible brain damage until after she wakes up -- That is if she wakes up. Anything else you need to know right now? I’m kinda busy.”
        Ben thought the man’s bedside manner to be terribly lacking but suspected it was simply because he knew Ben wasn’t actually related to the patient.
        He cleared his throat. “Ah, yes, actually,” he answered. “Did you happen to notice any scars or tattoos which might help us to identify her?”
        “Nope,” the doctor answered succinctly. “Next question.”
        “When can I see her?”
        Ben frowned at the other man but he just stared back in authoritative impatience.
        “She is my responsibility, Doctor,” he answered firmly. “I take my duty very seriously. I also need to attain a set of her finger prints. There may be a Missing Person’s Report on her somewhere.”
        Dr. Greene continued to stare at him for a long moment before suddenly holding out his hand. “May I see some sort of credentials to go with that boy scout suit? I should have demanded identification before this.”
        Fraser ignored the ‘boy scout suit’ remark, having heard it before. Instead, he simply produced his wallet. The doctor frowned at the ID and his badge for a long moment before handing it back. “I have no idea why I asked for that. I can’t tell if it’s real or not. What’s the phone number for the Canadian Consulate?” He picked up the phone in clear expectancy.
        “It’s four o’clock in the morning Doctor,” Fraser pointed out, suppressing the urge to roll his eyes in frustration. “The Consulate is closed.”
        “They have an answering machine, right? --The phone number or I call security.”
        Ben sighed and quoted him the necessary number. He dialed quickly and listened for a long moment. Ben heard the sound of the machine pick up: ‘Hello, Canadian Consulate, Bon jour, Consulat du Canada. Our normal hours--’ The doctor didn’t wait to leave a message but simply hung up and started dialing again.
        “Jane Doe is in ICU, third floor,” he told Fraser, apparently satisfied. “I’ll call ahead and tell them you’re coming. --Margaret? Yeah, this is Doc Greene down in ER. I just sent a Jane Doe up to you?” He frowned and waved Fraser out even as he continued talking to ‘Margaret’. Fraser thanked him with a silent nod and touch to the brim of his Stetson before quickly leaving the office. Once outside he dared shake his head, clearing the image of the hyperactive doctor from his thoughts, and glanced around, trying to decide where the elevators were. There was a set only a few feet away.

        “The Home Office called an hour ago,” Thatcher reported two days later. “They’re still running checks, but so far, nothing. There have been no kidnappings or ransom demands in the last two weeks that they are aware of, and no Missing Person’s Reports that match her description.”
        “Detective Vecchio ran her prints as well on the off chance she was an American citizen, but if she is she has no criminal record.”
        “I seriously doubt she’s American,” Thatcher repeated her earlier observations. “If she were, they wouldn’t have dumped her outside the Consulate. Any luck on the police finding that white van?”
        “Not as yet Sir,” Fraser answered and heaved a silent sigh.
        “What about your memory, Constable?” the Inspector queried. “Any luck remembering where you’ve seen her before?”
        “No Sir,” he answered, extremely put out by the fact, “I’m afraid not.”
        The Inspector sighed audibly over the phone. “Keep trying Fraser. Unless she wakes up, it’s starting to look like your memory may be the only lead we have to finding out who she is.”
        “Yes Sir,” he agreed, having already reached that conclusion himself. He’d racked his brain ceaselessly for the past two days because of it. He’d even tried self-hypnosis. He frowned down at the comatose woman and fought the void yet again. The hydroencepholytis had self-corrected and she’d been moved from ICU to a private room on the fourth floor but had yet to wake up.
        He knew her. He could feel it. It was as if her name were on the tip of his tongue, but not a single memory of her would come to mind.
        “I’ll want you to return to the Consulate tomorrow in any case,” his superior decided. “You can’t do her any more good by staying there and the change of scenery might help jog your memory.”
        “Yes Sir,” he agreed again, somehow loath to leave his place at the young woman’s side but knowing Inspector Thatcher was correct. He could probably serve her better by teaming up with Ray. He didn’t seem to be able to force the memory. It would have to return on its own, sooner or later. He hoped it was sooner.
        “Until tomorrow then Constable,” she offered in parting. He said his good-bye and hung up, still frowning in pensive frustration at the unknown woman who had suffered so very terribly. It was extremely frustrating to have witnessed the ending of such a brutal crime and not be able to do anything about it. He sat down again at her side and stretched his neck, trying to ease the tension that was building yet again. It was only a moment before he decided he couldn’t sit anymore. He stood and leaned over her, talking to her as he had from the first. The nurses claimed that it sometimes helped. “I’m going to get myself something to drink,” he informed her softly, offering her hand a gentle squeeze. “I’ll be back shortly.”
        He had been given permission by the staff to use the coke machine in the nurse’s lounge. It only took him a moment and he was on his way back to her side when he saw someone else enter Jane Doe’s cubical. It wasn’t one of the nurses or doctors. Perhaps someone had just gotten the wrong room but he’d learned long ago to listen to his instincts. And right now all of his alarms were going off. He hurried back to the room, throwing the door open in his haste. “Excuse me--” he started to challenge the visitor but the door had hit whomever it was. A shot rang out and a gun went flying. Before Ben could react however, the would be assassin had slammed the door back at him, knocking him to the ground. He saw stars as his head collided with something and the assailant sprinted down the hall. Ben ordered himself to his feet, but his world refused to steady long enough for him to make it more than a few feet.
        The nurses on the ward had heard the gun shot and everyone now converged on Ben and Jane Doe’s room as the attacker made good his escape. Ben lifted a hand to his head as he fought to remember the man’s face so he could at least give an accurate description to the police. His hand came away wet with blood. He glanced to his right and discovered he must have hit the sharp edge of a food trolley loaded with patient dinners.
        “Are you--” the nurse who approached him quickly assessed the situation. “No obviously you aren’t.” She attempted to take him by the shoulders and lead him to the nurses’ station but he turned in the opposite direction, concerned for his ‘ward’.
        “Jane Doe?” he managed to ask as he fought the insistent woman’s hands. The Head Nurse came out of Jane Doe’s room and hurried to him.
        “Jane Doe is fine Constable Fraser,” she assured him, adding her insistent tugging to that of the other woman. “The bullet hit the wall beside her bed. Security has been summoned. Now let’s take a look at that head of yours. I only heard one shot. Did he shoot you?”
        “No,” Fraser assured her, allowing them to lead him to a chair and wincing as his fingers explored the injury site again. The Head Nurse pulled his hand away. “I seem to have hit that food trolley,” he nodded his head in the appropriate direction.
        Dr. Greene suddenly appeared, along with three security men, and raced into Jane Doe’s room. Ten seconds later he was back out and hurrying to where Fraser sat. “What happened?” he demanded bluntly as he lifted the make-shift pressure bandage and inspected Ben’s injury.
        Ben closed his eyes and quickly related everything that had happened, including a description of the assailant. “He was about twenty-five years old. Six feet, one hundred and fifty pounds with short sandy-brown hair and brown eyes, close set. He wore black jeans, a dark blue dress shirt and black tie. He was left-handed, wore a plain wedding band and had a crescent shaped scar on the back of the same hand.”
        One of the men who’d accompanied the doctor moved away, presumably to alert the rest of the hospital security personnel, but Fraser suspected the man had already fled the premises.
        “That’s an amazing description,” Dr. Greene offered, replacing the pressure bandage and lifting Ben’s hand to hold it himself. “How did you know he was left-handed?”
        “The way he was holding the gun. The door hit his arm when I opened it,” Fraser reminded him of what he’d already said. He had a sudden thought and made to rise, frowning toward Jane Doe’s room.
        “Whoa there, Cowboy,” Dr. Greene put a heavy hand on his shoulder. “I’m not done with you yet.”
         “I need to make sure no one touches the gun,” he explained.
        The doctor turned to the Head Nurse. “Go tell Ralph,” he ordered her and Fraser watched her hurry down to Jane Doe’s room. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
        “Three,” Fraser answered curtly, glancing back down the hall and wondering if Ray would be the officer to respond? He’d pretty much taken on the case as his own simply because the Consulate and Fraser were involved. “No dizziness, no nausea, no ringing in the ears,” he added, knowing the symptomology the doctor was concerned with. “I don’t have a concussion.”
        “I’ll be the judge of that, thank you,” the other told him firmly. “Look here, please. Follow my finger with your eyes. Don’t move your head.”
        Fraser suppressed the urge to argue, knowing it would do him no good and take far longer than simple compliance. He followed the man’s finger but turned sharply away when he would shine a pen light in his eyes.
        “The light hurting your eyes?” Dr. Greene frowned, noting his tendency to squint.
        “A little bit,” he admitted reluctantly.
        The doctor shone the light in his face again, and again he was forced to turn away, sharply.
        “A little huh?” the man observed in mild sarcasm. He pocketed the pen and stared long and hard at Ben’s eyes. “They’re a little dilated. Better get an X-ray to be sure.”
        “I can’t leave Miss -- Jane Doe,” he corrected himself. “Someone just tried to kill her.”
        “I doubt their going to be back in the next half hour, Constable,” Dr. Greene retorted. “The police should be here any minute, so she’ll be safe. As for you--” He stepped back, folded his arms and frowned in clear determination. “We can do this one of two ways. Either you cooperate, we get your head X-rayed and properly stitched up, ooorrrr-- I call your superior at the Consulate and ask him to order your compliance. Which will it be?”
        “Her,” Fraser automatically corrected the doctor. “My superior is a woman, Inspector Margaret Thatcher, but--” he sighed, knowing when he was defeated, “it won’t be necessary to involve her. I’ll cooperate.”
        “Smart boy,” the other decided off hand and offered a tight, momentary smile. “It’s never wise to argue with the Head of Emergency Medicine, I don’t care what hospital your in.”
        The Head of Emergency Medicine? No wonder the man ran around giving two hundred and fifteen percent!

        Fraser had agreed to cooperate but balked at the necessity of a wheel chair. He’d only come up against Dr. Green’s forceful manner once again. “I thought I told you not to argue with the Head of Emergency Medicine?” he’d been told as the chair was produced and everyone waited for him to get into it.
        He’d passed Ray in the elevator but wasn’t given time to relate more than the barest details of the incident, and assurance that his own injury wasn’t serious, before the doctor swept him away, declaring firmly that they could talk later. As the elevator door was closing, Ray called a very pertinent question that soon came to haunt Fraser’s troubled thoughts.
        “If they wanted her dead, why did they dump her outside the Consulate in the first place?!
        Try as he might, Ben could not come up with a plausible explanation, beyond the possibility that someone somewhere had made a mistake.
        It was more than an hour later before Dr. Greene got around to declaring his X-rays clear and sewing up his scalp. “You have got a concussion,” the man told him firmly. “Normally I’d tell you to go home and take it easy for a couple of days, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I’ve seen your history so I know you’ve heard it before. You won’t listen to me will you?”
        Ben chose to remain diplomatically silent, and stared at the pattern on the floor.
        “Right,” Dr. Greene sighed and asked the nurse for the anesthetic. “Good thing you normally wear a hat,” he observed. “You’re going to look a little odd for a while without it.”
        “I don’t think I require the Head of Emergency Medicine to suture a head wound, Doctor,” Fraser observed with a curious frown. Surely the man had better things to do.
        “Well, things are kind of dead right now,” the other man sighed. “Besides, it’s been a while since I used my quilting skills. I need the practice.”
        His beeper interrupted anything Fraser might say. He reached down and keyed it before cursing softly. “Damn I hate this thing.” He went to the wall and picked up the phone, dialing two numbers. “Greene,” he spoke curtly. “I was off duty fifteen minutes ago. It better be good.”
        He fell silent as he listened, becoming suddenly intent and glancing at Fraser.
        “I’ll be right there.” He hung up abruptly, striping off the latex gloves he’d only just donned. “Your Jane Doe is waking up.”
        Fraser made to stand up but found the doctor pushing him right back down as he turned to the nurse. “Call Carter in here,” he decided and turned back to Fraser. “You’re staying put until that head is sewn up. You can’t see Jane Doe anyway until I’m done examining her and that’s final. My beat Constable. I make the laws here.”
        Fraser opened his mouth to protest but thought better of it.
        “Go to the waiting area up on three when they’re done with you here,” the doctor told him. “I’ll find you when I’m done.”
        Fraser nodded. “Thank you kindly.”

        Fraser and Ray both stood as Dr. Greene appeared in the waiting area doorway.
        “Well, Doc?” Ray asked, unable to contain his excitement.
        Dr. Greene was frowning and Fraser realized the news wasn’t good. The other man glanced around, quickly taking in the fact that they were the only two there, before he came in and sat down, waving them to be seated as well. Gone was the steamroller personality that moved at tornado-like speeds. He looked tired and Fraser knew that boded ill.
        “So did you at least get her name?” Ray asked, reading something of what Fraser was getting from the doctor.
        The man removed his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose, and shook his head.
        “You didn’t even--!”
        “Ray.” Fraser stopped his friend with a simple touch.
        Ray frowned at him in confusion but Fraser turned his attention back to the doctor.
        “How bad is the brain damage?” he asked quietly.
        Dr. Greene looked up at him silently, surprised the Mountie had read him so well. He sat back with a sigh. “It could be worse,” he offered. “I only gave her a cursory evaluation. I’ve ordered a full range of tests to determine her strengths and weakness. They’ll be able to tell us more. There doesn’t seem to be any great physical impairment. Gross motor functions are all intact. She had a little trouble with fine motor control but nothing serious. Her hearing is fine, speech is fine--”
        “So what ain’t fine?” Ray demanded, impatient.
        “Her memory,” the doctor answered bluntly.
        Ray threw his hands up in the air in a much put upon manner. “Naturally!” he exclaimed. “Why the hell did I have to ask?!”
        “You didn’t get--”
        “--her name--
        “--because she can’t remember it!”
        “Ray!” Fraser finally offered more insistently.
        Ray frowned at him but stopped his raving.
        Fraser turned back to Dr. Greene. “I’ve -- suffered temporary amnesia myself, Doctor, and I know there are many different kinds and causes. Are you saying her condition is permanent?”
        “I don’t know,” the other man answered bluntly.
        “She remembers English?” Fraser asked, knowing the doctor had said her speech was unaffected.
        Dr. Greene nodded. “Yes and that is a good sign, but not definitive. We’re probably dealing with a mixed bag here, part organic, part psychological. She was badly traumatized. Sorting out the two may prove to be impossible. The tests I’ve ordered will tell us more.”
        “Looks like we’re stuck with your memory Benny,” Ray observed. “Any luck?”
        “Your memory?” Dr. Greene interrupted.
        “I have seen her somewhere before,” Fraser explained. “I just can’t remember where. And no,” he told Ray, “I haven’t had any luck forcing it.”
        “Memory is a tricky thing,” the doctor observed. “Forcing it can often make it even more difficult to remember something. Usually a trigger of some sort is needed. One of the men I’ve asked to examine Jane Doe specializes in treating amnesia. He might be able to help. He’s supposed to be here around one tomorrow. I’ll ask him to talk to you.”
        “Thank you kindly Doctor,” Fraser responded. “That would be most appreciated.”
        “You’re welcome. Now,” he offered a weary sigh, “about the only thing she does remember, is your voice. You talked to her while she was in a coma?”
        “Yes,” Fraser admitted. “The nurses seemed to think it might help.”
        “It might have,” he agreed, “but there may be a problem.”
        “What would that be?”
        “She may tend to latch onto you. It’s not an uncommon phenomena in these situations. Her memories are so few that she will automatically closely identify with what she does remember, in this case, that means you. I’ll be assigning her a special councilor and I’m going to want you to report to him regularly as well. That is if you’re still going to be hanging around here like you have for the past three days?”
        “Ah,” Fraser needed to call the Inspector but he could guess what her reaction to recent developments would be. “I expect so. For a while anyway.”
        “Then I want you to promise to talk to the councilor, at least every other day. He’ll help you handle it so neither of you gets hurt. Okay?”
        “Understood Doctor,” Fraser agreed.
        “Okay, then it’s time I introduced you. I don’t have to tell you to avoid asking questions, do I? She’s under enough stress without anyone adding to the pressure.”
        Fraser nodded in sympathetic understanding.
        “I better head back to the station,” Ray offered. “See if I can find out anything about the assassin. I’ll call you if I learn anything.”
        Again Fraser nodded as he stood. “Thank you kindly Ray.”
        The two friends separated and Fraser followed the doctor back to Jane Doe’s room, nodding at the police officer who’d now been stationed outside. He paused a moment to prepare himself mentally, remembering the doctor’s warnings all too well. The idea of being so important to the young woman was a bit disconcerting.
        “Here he is,” Dr. Greene offered as he came forward, hat in hand and a carefully distant smile on his face. “Jane Doe, this is Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Because you were dumped outside the Consulate, they think you’re Canadian. Constable Fraser here has been acting as your repre--”
        “--Mary?” Fraser whispered, his smile vanishing into a look of incredulity. “Mary Peeler?
        “Constable?!” Dr. Greene interjected firmly.
        He blinked sharply and fought to bring himself back to the present. “I remember!” he explained. “My trigger was her eyes.” They were incredible eyes, of the clearest, brightest blue, like the heart of an ice floe. Eyes he could never forget. “Her name is Mary Peeler. We--”
        A sharply raised hand in his face halted him.
        “One thing at a time, Constable,” Dr. Greene ordered firmly. “Are you sure about this?”
        “Yes Sir,” he answered with a definite nod.
        The Doctor turned to judge Mary’s reaction. She was staring at the two of them rather blankly. It was clear the name meant nothing to her. The Doctor turned back to Fraser with a warning frown. “We’re going to do this slowly, Constable. You said you’d seen her somewhere before.”
        “Yes,” he answered, “but I was wrong.”
        The doctor frowned.
        “You see I thought it was a passing acquaintance. A witness I’d interviewed or someone I’d met while shopping. Something within the last year or two,” he explained. He looked to the girl on the bed. “Having assumed that she’s Canadian, I really should have known better but I didn’t--”
        “Get to the point please!” Dr. Greene interrupted.
        “Ah, yes Sir,” he returned contritely. “We grew up together,” he offered bluntly. “In Tuktoyuktuk.”
        Dr. Greene was taken aback by this blunt pronouncement. He glanced at the girl on the bed again but she was merely frowning slightly. “You grew up together -- and you’re just now remembering this?”
        “Well, it was a long time ago doctor,” Ben offered in excuse. “And when I say we grew up together I don’t mean to say we grew up together. I was -- am that is -- about seven years older than she is. She was the sister of a close friend. I haven’t seen Mary in -- it has to be -- more than fifteen years.”
        He turned to the young woman in the bed, wondering at the strange, and terrible, turn of events that had brought them back together again.
        “And you’re absolutely sure this is the same girl you remember from more than fifteen years ago?” Dr. Greene queried seriously. “How old are you?”
        “Thirty-five,” he answered.
        “Which makes her twenty-eight, minus fifteen?”
        Ben understood where he was going with this. “She was about eleven when I last saw her.”
        “Ah, seventeen years then.” The good doctor was fast with his math. “And you can tell me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this is the same girl you knew back when she was only eleven years old?”
        Ben frowned, questioning it himself but he was still very sure. “I believe I can prove it Doctor.”
        “Oh? How?”
        Ben turned back to Mary and addressed her in another language. She looked surprised but answered him easily in the same tongue. Ben turned back to the doctor with a satisfied smile and explained. “Her mother was Inuit. English was her second language.”
        The doctor digested this for a moment before nodding. “All right, I’ll buy it,” he decided, “but I still want you to run it through the computers up North.”
        “Of course, Dr. Greene,” Ben rejoined and offered Mary a small reassuring smile. “We still have to learn why she was attacked and dumped outside the Consulate.”
        “Ah Constable? Could you not discuss the attack around her please,” Greene said lightly. His eyes conveyed a far more harsh order Ben could not mistake. “In fact, I don’t want you to discuss anything of her or your past until after Dr. Martin and Freyes have had a chance to speak with her. Understood?”
        “But--” It was Mary who spoke, glancing from one man to the other with an almost desperate air. “--He can tell me who I am!”
        “No, Mary,” Dr. Greene told her, going to her side and laying a gentle hand on her shoulder. “He can tell you something of who you once were, but no one can tell you who you are. That’s something you’re going to have to rediscover for yourself.”
        Mary obviously understood and just as obviously wished she didn’t. “Heavy wisdom Doc,” she responded, “but right now I’ll take anything I can get!”
        “I know,” he agreed, patting her gently on the shoulder. “I know. And I’ll let him tell you -- after the other doctors have had a chance to visit with you.”
        She bowed her head in obvious frustration.
        “Look, it’s like this--” He held up a warning hand to Fraser. “Where do you come from?”
        She glanced up with a frown, her gaze went to Fraser but he held silent.
        “Tuktoyuktuk,” she answered.
        “And where is Tattoyukyuk or whatever it is?”
        She frowned harder. “Canada.”
        “Where in Canada?”
        She shook her head. “--I don’t know.”
        “You don’t know because he hasn’t told you.” The doctor pointed at Fraser. “I don’t want to know what he knows, and neither do the two doctors who are going to be talking to you tomorrow. We need to know what you know. The testing I’ve ordered is important. It will help us determine how best to help you. I don’t want to risk having those test results contaminated by what someone else tells you. Understand?”
        Mary bit her lip and looked away, forcing a nod as she fought back angry and desperate tears.
        “Hey,” the doctor called to her in a more up beat manner, “at least you know your name now,” he told her. “How does that make you feel?”
        She glanced back at him and considered the question for a long moment. “Lost,” she answered seriously and turned to stare out the window once more.

Chapter Two
Protective Custody

        Ben offered the nurse a friendly smile and held the door for her as she entered Mary’s room with the dinner tray. The officer on duty stopped her, checked the tray and stole one of the grapes from the fruit cup with a teasing smile. He saluted them with it and popped it in his mouth as they entered the room. Mary was sleeping so the nurse simply put the tray on the table beside her and left. Ben sighed and turned to the window. The psychological testing Dr. Greene had ordered was finished and he’d been given permission to speak freely with Mary, with the understanding that he allow her to control the conversation: Let her ask the questions and not volunteer anything she wasn’t ready for.
        She had specifically requested he return at six, when they kicked him out this morning, and he’d agreed. However, he didn’t think he should wake her, suspecting she was emotionally exhausted from the doctors’ patient and gentle questions. He’d been put through it before and knew how frustrating it could be. He frowned out the window and contemplated what he had learned since leaving her that morning.
        Inspector Thatcher’s request for more information on Mary Peeler had finally lit a flag in someone’s computer: The Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada. Apparently her father had witnessed a mob hit. His daughter was kidnaped and held hostage, not against his testimony but until the mob had killed him. Apparently that had been the agreement anyway. At first, his death had been ruled an accident. Two days later, the Home Office had received a video tape from him, shot before the ‘accident’, that explained all. He had not expected the villains to keep their promise to free Mary but had given his life in order to give her a chance. The video warned the RCMP to protect her, if by some incredible chance she were freed, and then went on to name names and describe the events he had seen in detail: A death bed statement. The mob had learned of it and now they wanted revenge.
        Arguably, the man should have gone directly to the police, but Fraser knew it would have been a death sentence for Mary as there was no way to know that she’d been taken out of the country.
         The cross border connection complicated the case incredibly.
        A loud thump against the door, drew Fraser’s attention. He turned to see it fly open as officer Martin collapsed against it.
        “Nurse!” he yelled urgently as he rushed to the fallen officer’s side. The man was breathing, but barely, and was turning blue. The nurse rushed to his side and felt for a pulse. Ben stood, moving out of the way as she yelled for help and started CPR. He noted that the nurse had no difficulty with the artificial respiration. The man had not simply choked as had appeared to be the case for a moment. He also noted that the pupils of his eyes had been reduced to pin points as he stared sightlessly at the ceiling.
        “What-- oh mi God!?” Mary hissed, sitting up in the bed and taking the situation in.
        Ben moved to the food tray and examined the fruit cup. He knew the nurse who’d delivered it, so it couldn’t have been-- Well, of course it could have been, but he thought it highly unlikely. Carefully, he sniffed. He wasn’t about to taste it. Nothing. Then he noted the poppy seeds floating in the syrup, which was slightly clouded. It wasn’t the sort of thing most people would even notice given it was a fruit cup, but Fraser--
        “What are you doing?” Mary asked, both confused and frightened.
        “Officer Martin ate a single grape from this cup about five minutes ago when the nurse brought it in,” he explained.
        “Are you saying he was poisoned?”
        “It would appear that way,” he answered.
        “Poison?” one of the nurses turned as a gurney arrived and the officer was rushed to an emergency room.
        “Yes, I believe so. I suspect an extract of opium poppies, botanical name: Papaver Somniferum of the Papaveraceae Family. It’s the principal component in Morphine.” He pointed to the fruit bowl, telling her that the officer had eaten one grape. “The poppy seeds are green, indicating they have not been properly heated so as to destroy their natural toxins. I think you’ll also find that someone has added a concentrate of the plant juices causing the syrup to become cloudy. I suggest an immediate analysis of the syrup but would ask that you leave the fruit and tray for the police as it is possible that whomever did the poisoning has left some tale-tail clues to his or her identity.”
        “Like finger prints?”
        “I’ll call down to ER and then get a syringe to get a sample for the lab,” the nurse declared, disappearing back out the door.
        Fraser turned back to Mary to find her staring at the tray. “My God,” she whispered, “that was meant for me?!”
        “I’m afraid so,” Fraser answered, picking up the phone and dialing. “I no longer think it wise for you to stay here. --Hello? Yes Francesca, this is Constable Fraser. I need to speak with your brother immediately. It’s an Emergency.” Quickly, he related the particulars of the incident and warned his friend that he no longer considered the hospital a safe haven for Mary. “--No. I received information this morning which indicates that a Canadian mob family has put a contract out on her life.” He glanced at Mary to find she was staring at him, blatantly listening to every word he said. He should have used a different phone but didn’t want to let her out of his sight. “--Yes, but I’d rather not discuss that right now. I think if at all possible she should be moved to the Consulate. I’m going to call and speak with Dr. Greene as soon as I hang up with you. --Yes, that should be fine. Thank you Ray.”
        He pressed the receiver closed for a long moment before beginning to dial again. He moved to the door and stuck his head out as he waited for someone to pick up. “Can I have a wheel chair in here, please?” He ducked back inside. “--Yes. I need to speak with Dr. Greene please. It concerns one of his patients. --I understand. Can you get a message to him? --Please tell him Mary Peeler is discharging herself. -- No ma’am. He can contact the Canadian Consulate for further information. --Yes.”
        He glanced at Mary again as he was put on hold. She was sitting at the edge of her bed, hugging herself in frightened confusion. He didn’t have time to reassure her. The wheel chair and nurse with the syringe arrived at the same time. It took only a moment for her to attain the necessary sample and hurry from the room again.
        “--Yes Doctor. --There’s been another attempt on Miss Peeler’s life. Is there any underlying physical condition which would prohibit me from moving her to the Consulate? --I am aware of that Doctor but at the moment protecting her life must take precedence. --No. I think it safest for everyone concerned if she-- --I am not asking your permission, Doctor. Only your advice. Is there any physical condition which would prevent me from moving her to the Consulate?” he repeated his first question firmly. “--(long pause)-- Understood. I’ll contact you later in the week.” He listened for a moment and then quickly withdrew his note pad and pen, writing a note to himself as he hung up.
        A moment later he was dialing again, this time the Consulate. The Inspector wasn’t in so he simply ordered Turnbull to prepare the ‘gray room’. It was the smallest of the visiting dignitary suites and would have to do until they could make other arrangements for Miss Peeler’s security. The protective custody that the Chicago PD had already extended to her had failed and they were going to have to come up with something else for her. . . .
        He turned to her again as he hung up and discovered her weeping silently as she hugged herself on the edge of the bed. His first instinct was to wrap his arms around her and promise that everything would be all right -- but she wasn’t a child, and he wasn’t sure she would welcome his sympathy.
        “Mary?” he asked tentatively, not at all sure what he should do.
        She looked up. Her icy blue eyes swimming with tears she didn’t even try to hold back. “What have I gotten myself into?” she asked quietly. “Am I a criminal of some sort?”
        “No!” he assured her quickly. “No, no, Mary.”
        She barely heard him. “Then why is the mob after me? That’s some kind of organized crime thing, isn’t it?”
        “--Your father witnessed a murder,” Fraser explained, squeezing her shoulder as he debated just how much to tell her. He decided she was upset enough without learning about her father’s death quite yet, even if she didn’t remember him.
        “My -- father?” she stammered, a look of lost confusion crossing her frightened features. “I -- I have a father?”
        Oh dear, Fraser thought, knowing he couldn’t lie to her. He closed his eyes and bowed his head, praying for the ability to handle this correctly--
        He looked up again. “You did,” he told her simply. She understood the past tense immediately. “--He was killed three days ago.”
        She turned her head to stare out the window behind Fraser, a frown on her face as she fought to digest this. She shook her head, obviously numb. “I -- don’t even -- remember him.” There was guilt in her eyes as she turned to stare at Fraser once more.
        “I knew your father better than my own growing up,” he admitted gently. “He was a good man Mary. He’d understand. And he’d want you to go on, not look back.”
        “I don’t have any back--” She cut herself off and shook her head again. “You said -- we were friends?”
        Ben nodded. “Yes,” he answered, though in fact he was stretching the truth. He’d been much closer to her brother than Mary.
        “I can’t even remember your first name,” she offered sadly and dashed her tears away on the back of her hand. He reached over and dragged the tissue box closer for her.
        “Benton,” he offered easily and watched as a strange look suddenly came over her face.
        “--Snow. . . .”
        “Mary?” he asked, concerned.
        She blinked and frowned at him. “Why does your name make me think of snow?” she wondered aloud She frowned harder and shook her head. “Big, fat -- huge flakes, falling--” She again shook her head, the tendril of memory gone.
        Ben nodded. “We had snows like that often in Tuktoyuktuk. It’s -- above the arctic circle.”
        The phone rang just then. “Hello? --Ray. Did you think to bring Miss Peeler some clothing? I just realized, she doesn’t have any.” He listened for another long moment before hanging up. “He’ll be here in a minute. His sister Francesca remembered the clothes.”
        “Do I -- know them?”
        “Ray and Francesca?” he asked surprised, and shook his head. “No,” he assured her. “Ray’s -- well, he’s my partner, here in Chicago. As far as I know, you’ve never been here before.”
        “Then why am I here now?”
        “Apparently, the mobsters who kidnaped you, brought you here. The RCMP wouldn’t have thought to look in the United States for you.”
        She nodded and turned to stare out the window again, sinking into her own thoughts as she left off with her questions. Ray arrived minutes later with Huey and Dewy and they were quickly introduced. The clothing was produced with the explanation that it was Frannie’s and the hope that it would fit. Then the four men went into the hall to talk and wait while she changed.
        Ten minutes later Ray frowned at his watch. “I know women are slow but--”
        Fraser turned and knocked on the door. “Mary?” he called. “Are you ready yet?”
        There was no answer. Concerned, he opened the door a few inches and discovered Mary fully dressed and sitting on her bed -- crying again.
        “Mary?” he called again, entering reluctantly. The others following automatically.
        She surprised them by picking up her shoe and starting to throw it -- but she stopped herself at the last moment and slapped it back down on the bed beside her. She offered a bitter laugh. “Would you believe I can’t even remember how to tie my stupid shoes?”

        She nodded again and fell silent. He watched her and waited. Each of her many questions had been quietly and carefully considered. There had been no tears or self-condemnation because she couldn’t remember what he was telling her. She’d accepted his words as simple fact and not asked for deeper explanations. There was a great deal he wasn’t able to tell her. He had corresponded regularly with Jared after entering the academy, until his death in an ice crevice a few years ago, but his friend had very rarely mentioned his sister. Ben knew almost nothing about her life after age eleven except that she had gone to university. He had no idea if she’d graduated or what her field of study had been. He needed to write the elders of her mother’s tribe and find out if she had any other living relatives. They’d know more. He’d tried calling but the lines were down and he didn’t have access to a ham radio.
        “Fraser!” he heard Ray call as he bounded up the stairway. Ben turned to the door and opened it, sticking his head out. His friend spotted him and quickly approached. “I learned something.”
        Ben nodded and turned to excuse himself only to find Mary at his side. “Hello, Detective Vecchio,” she greeted the other man and turned a patient gaze back to Fraser. “If what you’ve learned concerns me, I’d like to hear it.”
        The two men exchanged glances. Ben would really prefer to act as a filter for this kind of thing but it didn’t seem he was going to be able to, not this time anyway. He shrugged and let Ray in the room, closing the door behind him.
        Ray turned after a cursory look around the room and nodded. “Nice place,” he commented. Fraser knew he was stalling. Mary merely folded her arms and waited patiently.
        He remembered that stance from when she was younger and had insisted Ben and her brother take her hunting with them. She wasn’t interested in the hunt itself. She wanted to learn something about tracking. She’d been a regular pest about it and, seeing that stance, both Ben and Jared had known she’d simply try to follow them if they didn’t agree to take her along. She was ten and stubborn. Jared had suspected that any recourse to their father would result in him ordering them to take her along. Mr. Peeler had fully believed his daughter should learn everything she needed to know to survive in the harsh environment. If she was old enough to ask, she was old enough to learn.
        They’d told her she’d have to do the skinning and gutting, but the threat hadn’t even fazed her. She’d been watching her father and brother do it for years. Later, she mangled the job when her brother handed her a rabbit but she hadn’t flinched from the attempt. When she was done, she’d gone into the bush and was sick, but she never said a word. Instead, she’d returned and held out her hand in silent demand for Ben’s rabbit. It was late afternoon by then and he was hungry. The only way they were going to eat that day was if he taught her the finer points of the job. She’d proved an apt pupil and, by the end of the three day excursion, the young men had admitted having her along wasn’t such a hardship after all.
        “What?” Ray asked, seeing the smile that graced Fraser’s face at the memory.
        He blinked. “I was just remembering the last time I saw her use that stance,” he admitted. She frowned and he made a mental note to explain later. “I don’t suggest arguing with her. What did you learn?”
        “We ran the prints on the gun by Interpol and still came up empty. The shooter had no record, but the print we got off the fruit cup proved another matter,” he answered. “One Desmond Walters, small time thug. He lives about two blocks from here. I thought you might wanta come along on the bust?”
        Fraser hesitated, glancing at Mary. She was still his responsibility-- She shook her head and waved him out. “Get going,” she sighed. “I’m getting a headache anyway. I better take one of those pills the Doc gave me and they always knock me out. I promise not to leave this room until you get back.”
        “If you’re sure--” Ben knew there were two police officer’s posted inconspicuously at the Consulate: One in the room next to hers and one on the ground floor. Between them and the regular staff, she was perfectly safe--
        “I’m sure,” she answered clearly and reached up to rub her forehead.
        He knew the headache was real and decided she was right about needing to rest. “Right,” he stated and touched the brim of his Stetson before hurrying from the room. He stopped only long enough to tell the officer next door he was leaving before he was striding after Vecchio. The sooner they cracked this case, the sooner she could start to get her life back.

        Desmond Walters was spilling his guts and what he said was changing the tenor of the entire case. It took a while to sort it all out but apparently the Canadian mob was of two minds where Mary Peeler was concerned. Walters didn’t know about the hit Mary’s father had witnessed but he did know a rogue Toronto Boss was involved. He had acted outside the Family when he ordered the girl kidnaped and her father killed. It was the God Father who had ordered her released. The Boss had broken with the Family and put the contract out on her life, in some kind of misplaced revenge. What the God Father would do next was anyone’s guess but Desmond Walter’s was scared. He hadn’t known the Boss had broken with the Family when he was ordered to poison Mary but the fact that he had failed wouldn’t protect him, from either man. The question was really who was stronger, the Boss or the God Father and the answer wasn’t as clear as it should have been. It was civil war and if the Boss had enough followers he might just supplant the present God Father. Mary was nothing more than a bone of contention to bring it all to a head.
        “Constable!” Welsh burst into the interrogation room. “The Consulate is under attack!”
        “What?!” Ben and Ray exclaimed as one.
        “Inspector Thatcher called. Something about gas. I’ve got every squad car available responding right now.”
        Ben raced out of the room, Ray right behind him. They flung themselves into the Riviera and sped through the streets of Chicago. They heard Francesca’s voice over the radio informing everyone to wait for the SWAT Team with their gas masks. Ben braced himself against the dashboard as Ray took a sharp corner. There was a crash up ahead and they had to make a detour. It took almost fifteen minutes to reach the Consulate. If it was a biological weapon-- No. This was the mob. Not a terrorist group. It had to be a knock out gas of some kind. Fraser prayed it was only a knock out gas.
        The building was surrounded by squad cars. A dense white smoke could be seen escaping from the windows on the second floor. The SWAT Team was already moving in as Ray brought the car to a screeching halt. Ben leapt out and made his way to the police line but, without a gas mask, was forced to halt there, powerless to help as he heard gun fire from within. The next five minutes were a nightmare for him. He berated himself over and over again for leaving the Consulate ‘though he knew it would have made no difference. He still should have been there, with his fellow officers. Mary must be dead, he knew, and he blamed himself for it. None of it was logical but then neither was the attack. This mob Boss he’d only just learned of must be insane to attack a Consulate!
        The first of the SWAT Team was coming back out now, carrying someone in red serge over his shoulder. Ben sprang up from behind the patrol car and sprinted to where the man was carrying his burden toward the waiting paramedics. He recognized Turnbull.
        He turned to the SWAT officer whose gas mask was dangling around his neck. “I need to get in there!” he stated, as close to panic as he had ever been.
        “There’s nothing you can do. The fights over,” the officer answered. “We’re bringing everyone out now.”
        Distantly, Ben noted that the paramedics were administering oxygen to Constable Turnbull, assuring him that the assailants had indeed used only some kind of knock out gas and nothing more lethal.
        “It is my duty to protect and secure the Consulate,” he snapped impatiently. “I have to get in there!
        “Give him the mask Sergeant,” Ray snapped from behind him, flashing his badge over Fraser’s shoulder. “This is Canadian soil. He has to be there. Now!”
        The Sergeant obviously wasn’t good at listening to orders and answered with a glare. Fraser grabbed him by the shoulders as he started to turn away and slammed him against the side of the ambulance. “Your refusal to help me will only worsen what is already an international incident, Sergeant,” he informed the man in a surprisingly calm voice. “This attack can be viewed as an act of war. Give me your mask or I will rip it off of you.”
        “Do it, idiot, or I’ll help him!” Ray shouted at his side.
        The man finally recognized the seriousness of the situation and stripped off the mask. Fraser fumbled with the straps even as he dashed up the steps, moving quickly to the side as he saw another SWAT officer bringing Inspector Thatcher out over his shoulder. He saw no blood and hoped that like Turnbull she was merely a victim of the gas.
        His first instinct was to find Mary but his duty lay elsewhere. He made his way quickly to the Inspector’s office and made sure the safe behind her desk was untouched and locked. It wasn’t. The door was open and a special paper shredder with a chemical bath in the waste receptacle sat beside it. He knew immediately that the Inspector had been following procedure and destroying certain documents before the gas finally over came her. What those documents were or if she’d been able to destroy all of them, Fraser didn’t know. This was a Consulate after all, not an Embassy. He merely moved the shredder aside and closed the safe, locking it once more. He glanced around the room. Nothing else seemed out of place so he hurried from the room, locking it behind him and moving to the stair. He had to step over a body there, dressed in black with a shattered face mask and an uzi at his side. There was a large red stain in the center of his chest and behind that mask. Ben didn’t stop to check for a pulse. He hurried up the stair, moving aside as another member of the SWAT Team moved downward carrying a body. This one was the police officer who’d been posted in the room beside Mary’s. He hurried on up the stair and into the gray room. It was empty, nothing out of place, no bullet holes, no blood. The bed was made. That meant she was awake when the attack happened. Had she already been found and taken outside?
        He moved back outside and to where the paramedics were set up, pulling the gas mask down. He ran a hand over his sweaty face.
        “Have you found a blond woman, about five foot two, twenty-eight years old?” he asked quickly.
        “This is the only woman we’ve found so far,” the paramedic gestured to where Inspector Thatcher lay on a stretcher, an oxygen mask over her face as another man sought a vein for an IV.
        “Thank you,” Ben nodded, turning back to the Consulate. She must have hidden somewhere and with the gas, that meant she was unconscious and hidden. He had to worry about the dangers of over exposure to whatever the attackers had used. Too much of any sedative could easily kill. He hurried over to the communication’s officer and informed him of his concerns before putting the mask back in place and darting around the firemen who were now carting three large exhaust fans into the building.
        He started in the gray room, checking under the bed, the closet, the bathroom. He frowned. If it weren’t for the gas, he’d have Dief in here. Where could she have hidden herself? The attack had happened very fast, of that he was sure. Where had the police officer been found? He glanced around the room again. Chair, floor lamp, night stands, settee. The settee? Had it been moved?
        He went to his stomach on the floor to look beneath it. Nothing. He stood again and quickly searched the other rooms. Still nothing. The gas was dispersing quickly now but he retained the mask as he hurried back down stairs to search the storage closets. He didn’t want the remnants of the drug to cloud his thoughts. He swung open the linen closet and instantly noted that the laundry hamper was much too full. It was never that full unless they’d had visiting dignitaries and hosted a Consulate soiree. He found Mary huddled in the bottom of the large basket and quickly scooped her unconscious form into his arms, noting that she was still breathing. It had probably taken a while for the gas to penetrate in here. Quickly, he carried her from the building and over to the paramedics.
        Ray quickly joined him as he stripped off the gas mask and took several deep breaths of fresh air. Ben suspected the intake filters had reached capacity after half an hour and were getting clogged by the time he found Mary and brought her out. He was sweating profusely and wiped an arm across his brow.
        “She okay?” Ray asked, watching the paramedics work.
        “Can’t say,” the medic answered. “We don’t know what they used, but the others seem to be coming around.”
        Inspector Thatcher could be heard arguing with someone in the back of the ambulance and Ben quickly went to her aid.
        “Constable,” she snapped seeing him. “Tell this idiot I’m fine and need to get back in the Consulate if he doesn’t want an international incident on his hands!”
        “I’m afraid the attack itself qualifies as an international incident Sir,” he rejoined, “and you really should be checked out. I’ve secured the safe and your office. I don’t believe there’s been any security breach. Their target was Miss. Peeler.”
        “Is she--”
        “Safe Sir, but unconscious,” he answered. “I found her hiding in the linen closet.”
        “Very good Constable,” she sighed, lieing back as she fought a wave of dizziness. She shoved the oxygen mask the medic tried to put back in place away. “I am formally refusing medical treatment,” she stated firmly, forcing herself to sit up.
        “Forgive me Sir,” Constable Fraser frowned as he watched her, “but is that really wise? We don’t know what they used and--”
        “Shut up Fraser!” she snapped firmly and glared at him. “We have suffered a chemical attack. Emergency security procedures are now in effect.”
        “Yes Sir,” he answered, coming to attention.
        “I need to report this immediately,” she continued, swaying dangerously as she forced herself to her feet. She collapsed back to the stretcher. “Damn. We’re going to have CIS agents all over the place!”
        “Forgive me Sir,” Fraser pointed out firmly, “but you are in no condition to resume your duties and there is no immediate threat to either the Consulate or the Canadian Government. I am fully capable of securing the premises and contacting the Home Office. You should allow yourself to be taken to hospital where your condition can be properly evaluated and treated. To refuse could be seen as willful self-endangerment. Sir.”
        Again she glared at her subordinate and her gaze was much more clear. “You have to see to Miss Peeler, Constable Fraser. I will not fail in my duty to see one of our citizen’s protected no matter the circumstances involved. How dare they attack a Consulate! If they can attack here, they can attack anywhere. I want you to find her some place and take her there, and I don’t want you to tell anyone where it is! Contact me once you have her secured but use standard secrecy procedures and don’t let her out of your sight. Which leaves me to handle the Consulate and don’t you dare question my judgment about this again or I will bring charges to bare. Do I make myself clear, Constable?”
        “Yes Sir!” he snapped smartly, coming to attention yet again.
        Fraser bit his tongue, spun on his heel and hurried back to Mary’s side.

Chapter Three
The Snowman is Bleeding

        Mary stood in the doorway and, closing her eyes, inhaled deeply. Pine-- wood smoke-- snow-- They were scents imprinted deeper than mere memory. She didn't know this place. She couldn't, even if her memory were intact. Benton said she'd never been here before. It was his father's cabin, about twenty-five kilometers outside of Yellowknife.  It wasn't much.  Apparently it had burnt down about a year ago and the only thing that had survived was the fireplace and part of one wall.  He and Ray had worked on it at one time. About five months ago, he'd broken down and contracted out some of the work.  It wasn't finished but it was weather tight--
        It felt like home.
        It wasn't but Benton understood. He told her it wasn't that different from Tuktoyuktuk, in summer. They were a bit further south and it was early fall here so. . . .
        She thought back over the past three weeks, remembering the hospital and the Consulate, the hospital again. Inspector Thatcher had ordered Benton to take her and run. If Don Vasco could attack a Consulate, he could attack anywhere. This was the safest place he could think of, and cheap. Inspector Thatcher hadn't thought that aspect of his orders through before telling him to take off with her. He didn't exactly have an unlimited budget to be spending on plane tickets, motel rooms and take-out dinners. His friend Ray had helped them get back across the border. There was no reason to think anyone would be able to trace them up here, at least not before either the police or other mob bosses got to Don Vasco. And if by some miracle, he did find them. . . . Well, this was Benton's back yard. He'd be ready for them.
        She leaned against the railing of the rustic porch and watched as he tramped through the ten inches of snow to the wood pile next to the small barn where the sled team was housed. There was a storm building. The sky was a broken patchwork of white and blue, but she knew that wouldn't last. She could smell it in the air, taste it in the wind. . . .
        Ben paused to look at the sky and surrounding country side, allowing himself a moment of contentment. The feeling of being home was -- intoxicating. It had been too long.
        He could almost forget this wasn't a vacation.
        He glanced toward the house and saw Mary standing on the porch. He frowned slightly, and knew he was being paranoid. Still, he scanned the tree line and horizon. The chances of Don Vasco knowing about this place were pretty slim but not impossible. Ben had spoken with Thatcher last night. The attack on the Consulate had brought the authorities down hard on the mob on both sides of the border. Chicago and Toronto had hauled in more gang members and small time hoods in the last two weeks than they had in the previous six months. The mob knew why and word on the street was that Vasco had a contract out on his own head. The other Bosses were mad and any who might have once thought to support him against the God Father, had definitely changed their minds.
        Unfortunately, the same sources that said he was through as a crime lord also described him as completely insane with his need for revenge. Until he was either behind bars or dead, Mary was still in danger. Thatcher didn't think the man could continue hiding for much longer.
        Mary turned from Benton as he started back toward the cabin, relishing a few more moments of freedom. She knew he didn't like her to show her face outside the door, 'though he never said it. He wasn't being paranoid, just concerned for her safety. She tried not to test his patience too much but occasionally the land just called to her. Tonight would be a new moon. Maybe in the dark, he'd let her sit on the porch and watch the northern lights, if the storm held off that long.
        He stomped his way up the three steps, dislodging the majority of the snow clinging to his boots. It was a wet snow and she knew, as if someone had whispered it in her ear, what it foretold. He came to stand beside her, looking out over the land, saying nothing about her presence outside the small cabin. His vigilance and the slightly increased tension in his body said it all.
        "There'll be a storm before morning," he observed quietly.
        Mary nodded with a frown. "Ice storm," she predicted grimly. Her mind could not remember ever being in one, but she knew it was something to be feared.
        "Maybe," Ben answered, not as certain. "The signs here aren't the same as in Tuktoyuktuk. We'll be perfectly safe even so. The cabin's strong and I've plenty of fire wood and food. I'd like to bring the dogs in though before we go to bed, just to be safe. If you don't mind?"
        She shook her head. The sled team, except Diefenbaker, normally slept in the animal shed. Benton was more concerned about the weather than he would admit if he wanted to bring the other eight into the cabin.
        "I started some caribou stew," she offered without looking at him. "I hope I remembered how to do it right."
        "I'm sure it will be fine," he smiled, pleased that she'd taken the initiative in even such a small thing. Dr. Greene had been wrong about her 'latching on' to him, but she did seem to be abnormally concerned about making mistakes. It was surprising what she did and did not remember. It seemed like the smallest things gave her great difficulty, like tying her shoes; but other things, like reading the weather, were almost instinctual.
        "You'd eat it with a smile even if it were inedible!" she declared with a little laugh.
        "No," he corrected her with a teasing light in his eyes. "One can't eat something that's inedible."
        "You'd try!"
       "Well, I am hungry," he admitted and watched as her smile grew and she shook her head. She knew perfectly well he would eat anything she made out of simple politeness.
        She looked back up at the horizon and he recognized the look on her face: The peace and yearning. He knew that feeling well and knew the land hadn't lost its hold on her soul, whether she remembered it or not.
        Inspector Thatcher had been able to provide a bit more history for her. Apparently, she'd majored in Ecology and Animal Behavior at university and later became a naturalist. She made her living as a wild life photographer and was quite well known, having authored four books and worked on at least two documentaries with the National Geographic Society and CTV. She couldn't remember any of it but he wasn't surprised that the land still spoke to her.
        He was assailed by a wave of tenderness and something more, as he watched her stare out at the mountains. He shoved the 'something more' away, refusing to acknowledge or examine it more closely. It frightened him. She was Jared's little sister for heaven's sake! The thought didn't help. She wasn't so little anymore. Still, this wasn't the time or place for 'something more'. Maybe when Vasco was no longer a danger-- When after a year or so had passed and she was no longer so vulnerable-- No. This was definitely not the time or place to be having such thoughts.
        He glanced at the sun, ignoring his watch to judge the time, and noted the halo that surrounded it. That usually meant strong winds. Given the slight warming they'd had and the way the horizon seemed to rise up, seeming closer than normal, he admitted Mary could be right in her prediction of an ice storm.
        "Would you like to try your hand at sewing?" he asked and turned back to her expectantly.
        She gave him a dubious look. "I thought it took longer than a day to cure caribou hide," she noted, referring to the previous day's lesson he'd given concerning tanning. He'd gone out hunting the day after they arrived and managed to get a large buck.  He normally didn't hunt but his supplies were low and going into Yellowknife for more wasn't an option. When he did hunt, he made certain to use all of the animal. Any waste was an insult to the animal whose life he'd taken.

        Mary had accompanied him, and just as she had when she was younger, had been fascinated by the different processes involved from tracking to dressing out the carcass, even insisting on helping. He hadn't expected that and wouldn't have been surprised had she turned squeamish on him. He couldn't think of a single woman of his acquaintance who wouldn't have, but she didn't. She was an able and curious companion, asking pertinent and searching questions without hesitation.
        "I have some hide I prepared last year," he answered. "I'll teach you how to make mukluks."
        She offered a smile and nod, then turned her attention back to the mountains.
        "Bored?" he asked, reading her fairly easily.
        She shrugged and sighed. "I don't know why I should be," she allowed.
        He clucked his tongue and nodded. "Cabin fever," he diagnosed. "You haven't been out here for more than a couple of minutes at a time since we returned with the caribou."
        Again she shrugged. "I -- didn't think you wanted me outside," she frowned. Could she have read him wrong?
        He lifted his brow and pursed his lips, offering a philosophical shrug. "I didn't," he admitted. "But I never meant for the cabin to be a prison either."
        She shrugged and turned away, leaning over the rail to breath deeply of the fall air. "It's so beautiful out here," she offered, changing the subject slightly. "Like food for the soul."
        Ben nodded, understanding the sentiment easily, and leant on the rail beside her. He'd been wrong to keep her cooped up so much. The land was as much a part of her as it was of him. She'd lost so much with her memory but this was something he could help give her back.
        "Would you like to go out again?" he asked without turning to look at her, his eyes taking in the scenery anew as she must see it. "Not hunting," he added. They had enough meat to last for three or four months. "Maybe tracking. I can show you some of the other animals that live around here."
        He saw her turn to him in his periphery, a gentle and glowing smile on her face. "I'd love it," she answered simply. He forced his eyes to stay focused on the horizon. That smile did things to his heart he wasn't ready to acknowledge. Instead he simply nodded.
        "After the storm," he decided. "We'll take the sled. The dogs need a good run anyway."
        "After the storm," she agreed. "I guess I'm going to need those mukluks. 'Still want to teach me?"
        This smile was safer and he returned it readily. "I'll go get the hide."
        Mary stood silently and watched him tramp back over to the barn. An idea tickled the back of her brain. Did she dare? It was tempting, but -- would he laugh, or think she was being childish?
        A grin split her face as temptation won. There was only one way to find out.

        For an instant, Ben was terrified Vasco had found them and he'd been taken by surprise.
        --Well, he'd definitely been surprised, but the icy trickle of snow down his neck assured him his assailant wasn't out for blood. He turned to see Mary chuckling from the corner of the barn.
        "Sorry!" she called in continued amusement. "I just couldn't resist!"
        Ben lifted a brow and nodded, then tossed the rolled hide onto the table within the open doorway, swung it shut and bent to scoop up a snow ball of his own.
        "Uh oh!" she cried, reading his intention easily and disappearing around the corner. He followed more slowly, carefully shaping the snow in his hands to best effect. He automatically ducked forward and back at the corner.
        "Oh pooh!" Mary exclaimed as her projectile splattered harmlessly against the wood. He peeked around the corner again. She was sprinting toward the cover of the tree line. He stepped out from behind the barn, drew back his arm and fired.
        She must have heard the rustle of his jacket because she instantly zigged, leaving her straight line of retreat and avoiding the shot that should have hit her square in the back of the neck. She made it to the edge of the trees, taking refuge behind a medium sized white pine. He grinned as he bent and scooped up another large hand full of snow. He took his time shaping it, knowing he was well out of range.
        "Hold it! Hold it!" she cried around her laughter. "I only took two shots. You get one more. That's it!"
        He lifted a silent brow. She was dictating rules to a snow ball fight? He didn't answer, merely compacted the snow in his hand carefully. "Are you sure you want to stand there?" he called loudly.
        "Just take the shot Mr. Marksman," she laughed as she dodged around the trunk. "If you think you can?"
        He shrugged and let fly.
        "Ha!" she exclaimed as the missile sailed too high. "You mi--"
        He hadn't missed. His target had been a snow laden bough above her head. It now emptied several pounds of wet snow directly on top of her. To his dismay, the rest of the tree followed suit and buried her under an avalanche!
        "Mary!" he exclaimed, running forward. He fell to his knees and quickly started digging. Something suddenly snagged his collar and he yelped as Mary shoved a hand full of snow down his neck. He spun, only to see a snow covered Mary quickly scrambling out of reach toward the safety of the cabin. She must have rolled next to the trunk, avoiding the worst of the deluge. His relief that she was okay was quickly replaced by a need for justice and he scrambled after her. As an RCMP officer, he was used to chasing people through the snow.
        She didn't stand a chance.
        He tackled her and found his arms full of a laughing, wriggling woman who wasn't about to give in easily. She managed to slip from his grasp once but he snagged her ankle, bringing her down again and throwing himself on top of her. She tossed a hand full of snow in his face but he grabbed her wrists and pinned them above her head. She struggled for another long moment before dissolving in another fit of laughter.
        He waited patiently as he contemplated appropriate retaliatory action. Unfortunately, the sound of her laughter and the pure enjoyment of life dancing in her eyes destroyed any thought of revenge he might have harbored.
        God her eyes were beautiful. . . .
        She smiled up at him now, her laughter spent, and he forgot that this was little Mary Peeler, Jared's pest of a sister. He knew the moment she too became aware of him, not as a Mountie or her forgotten brother's friend, but as a man-- Her lips parted and her gaze dropped to his mouth. He was lost. He closed his eyes and dropped his head.
        Their lips touched, explored and tasted-- The kiss was a heady wine of which they both drank. He wanted more -- and knew he couldn't have it. Abruptly, he rolled off of her and to his feet. He couldn't even remember how they'd wound up lying in the snow!
        Mary watched him with a confused gaze as he stared up at the sky and took a shuddering breath.
        "There's a storm coming," he offered inanely. Hadn't they already had this discussion? "We should go in," he decided and abruptly walked away, back into the cabin.
        Mary stared after him in dazed shock. What had just happened?
        Ben was feeling miserable and painfully confused several minutes later when he finally heard Mary stamping the snow from her boots. He hadn't felt this way since-- a vision of dark riotous curls and warm brown eyes passed thru his mind. He shivered at the memory, shoving it and its accompanying pain away. Mary was nothing like Victoria. Nothing!
        The door of the cabin opened and closed, and he kept himself busy inventorying supplies that didn't need inventorying. Mary didn't say a word. She didn't question him, or yell at him or offer some small comment totally unrelated to what had just happened. She remained silent. The memory of her joyous laughter and dancing eyes of minutes ago made that silence an oppressive weight he couldn't ignore. He glanced over his shoulder to see her sitting beside the stove, briskly drying her hair with a towel. She was ignoring him as hard as he was ignoring her, but he doubted it was working for her any more than it was for him.
        He closed his eyes and sighed. They needed to talk about it.
        Mary knew he was standing behind her, though the barking of the dogs in the barn outside had masked his footfall. She even knew when he lifted his arm to reach for her, but then thought better of it and clasped his hands behind his back instead. She could almost hear the confused search for words going on in his head -- but blast it all if she was going to make it any easier on him!
        She was mad and she was hurt and she knew she didn't have any right to be.
        "Mary," he offered quietly at last. "I -- need to apologize--"
        "Don't!" she snapped furiously and turned to glare up at him. "Don't insult me that way!"
        "Insult you?" he echoed, confused.
        She turned away again, fighting back the tears that threatened. She really didn't have any right to be feeling this way!
        "I wanted you to kiss me Benton," she sighed, admitting the truth to herself as well as him. "I'm the one who should be apologizing. I never-- at least I don't think I ever--" She stopped, struggling to find the words to express everything she was feeling without embarrassing herself any further.
        Ben came around the chair to kneel in front of her, concerned by what he was hearing.
        "You weren't being forward, Mary," he assured her. Heaven knew he'd dealt with enough women throwing themselves at him to know the difference!
        She looked up at him reluctantly and he saw the tears she refused to let fall; saw the brave smile she offered in denial of those tears.
        "I -- ah -- take it there's someone else?"
        "No," he answered readily and was again assaulted by a vision of dark, russet hair and doe-like eyes. Strange how those dark brown depths had always been far colder than the icy fire in Mary's pale blue gaze. "There was someone," he admitted. "She nearly destroyed me. If I'm lucky, I'll never see her again."
        Mary frowned as she gazed up into his eyes, seeing more there than he was willing to talk about.
        "You still love her," she offered. It wasn't a question.
        "No," he denied, lying to himself as well as her. Maybe if he said it often enough he could make himself believe it. "She was a criminal," he explained coldly. " A con-artist and thief."
        "She stole your heart."
        "She stole my honor and self-respect," he corrected her. "My heart will mend." He stood and turned abruptly to the stove, checking the lie of the logs within and avoiding those eyes that saw too much.
        "--How long has it been?"
        He purposely misunderstood her. "We've been here ten days now," he supplied and stood to brush off his hands. "I forgot to lock the shed. I'll be right back."
        Mary watched silently as he made his escape. She couldn't help but wonder about this woman from his past who'd hurt him so badly. Did she know what a treasure she'd tossed away? Having heard the guilt and pain in Benton's voice, she had to wonder, which of the two of them had been more blind . . . .

        He should never have brought her here, Ben knew. It was too isolated, too intimate. Dr. Martin would surely be concerned about psychological dependancy. Mary was very vulnerable right now and he couldn't believe he'd even been tempted to take advantage of her that way!
        He marched through the crusting snow, back to the shed, and suddenly froze as he noted another set of foot prints overlaying his previous tracks. Any thought of what had happened so recently between himself and Mary was instantly drowned out by the fierce alarms going off in his brain.
        It was another man, bigger and heavier than Ben, or maybe carrying something heavy. He'd obviously scouted the area and was likely watching Ben right now.
        He dove for the cover of the wood pile even as a shot rang out, splintering the wood of the door where he'd been standing.
        Instantly the dog team inside the shed began to bark again. Ben frowned as he realized he shouldn't have ignored them earlier. He'd let himself be distracted and if he wasn't very careful that mistake would cost both him and Mary their lives.
        Ben glanced around, quickly figuring out the trajectory of the shot and praying Mary was smart enough not to come investigate. He'd shown her the trap door in the living room. If she was smart, she'd use it.
        He had to get around behind the barn. There were some loose boards there where he could slip inside. He'd learned the hard way to keep a rifle near the door. Ben stayed low and sprinted around the corner, knowing his assailant couldn't see him from this angle but concerned about who else might be out there. Was Vasco alone or had be brought hired thugs with him? Would anyone dare take his money?
        He glanced up as he heard a strange whoosh and was knocked off his feet as the wood pile where he'd been hiding moments before exploded against the front of the barn. He rolled behind a snow bank and turned to see the front of his shed in flames.
        He heard laughter and turned to see a lone man step out of the tree line, tossing the spent tube aside and bending to extend open another. Fraser was shocked to realize the sound he'd heard was from a LAWS rocket!
        "Mary?" their attacker laughed maniacally and lifted the new tube to his shoulder. "Oh, Mary?"
        "No!" Ben screamed and started running toward him as he took aim at the cabin. He received no more than a glance. There was no way Ben could get there in time.
        He watched in horror as the other man fired and the rocket entered an open window, exploding inside to send debris high into the sky. Had Mary gotten out? He couldn't let himself worry about that as he charged into their attacker and brought him down. The spent rocket launcher went flying and Ben found himself following it as Vasco tossed him aside like a paper weight. He rolled and looked up into the eyes of a mad man holding a rifle on him.
        "You can be her bodyguard in heaven, angel boy," the man laughed.
        Ben kicked at the gun even as he fired. Pain erupted in his arm as his foot connected and the gun went flying. He rolled swiftly aside, fighting the shock and pain as he turned to face his antagonist -- only to see him blink stupidly and crumple to the ground, a bright red stain spreading across the back of his white parka.
        Ben looked up and saw Mary sprinting toward him, a rifle slung over her shoulder. He was overwhelmed to see her and then remembered the dogs. Everything had happened so quickly, but now he heard them barking and whining, trapped within the burning building.
        "The dogs!" he yelled, waving Mary back to the barn as he started walking that way. He grabbed his injured arm, wanting to break into a trot but even walking caused him pain. He glanced at the wound and saw the spreading red stain above his elbow. The rifle had been a sporterized .303 Lee-Enfield. He was lucky the arm was still attached, and wondered idly how much tissue damage had been done.
        Mary had found the loose boards and called for the dogs. Ben joined her at the side of the shed and offered several loud whistles as she held the boards open. Three dogs appeared. one badly injured, and then the roof collapsed inward, showering them with sparks and smoke, forcing them back.
        Ben was greatly relieved to see Diefenbaker. He bent to pet the wolf, but tripped and went down hard.
        "Benton!" Mary was at his side instantly. His vision grayed out for a long moment as the pain in his arm threatened to overwhelm him.
        He realized it was more than a threat when he blinked his eyes open to see branches traveling through the sky overhead. It only took him a moment to realize he was the one who was traveling. He blinked again and lifted his head. He was riding in a travois of some kind, cocooned in pine and fir boughs with the injured dog stretched out atop him, presumably for warmth. It was snowing quite hard and the wind was blowing.
        "Damn it!" he heard Mary curse as they came to a sudden halt.
        "Mary," he called. The travois was quickly lowered and the young woman came back to his side.
        "Benton!" she sighed in obvious relief. He was embarrassed to realize he'd scared her so badly. He wasn't even sure why he'd fainted, having suffered worse wounds-- He tried to sit up only to have his world threaten to disappear again into a whirling black void.
        "Don't move! Don't move!" she ordered anxiously. "You've lost a lot of blood. I think the bullet got an artery. I almost had to use a tourniquet. You start bleeding again and I will."
        The use of a tourniquet in such a situation, when they were several hours at best from medical help, would almost certainly mean the loss of his arm. He laid back again, careful not to move the injured appendage and looked around as best he could.
        "Where are we?" he asked as he felt her checking the make-shift bandages and the pulse at his wrist. She'd strapped the arm in place across his chest.
        "About five kilometers from the cabin," she answered. "I thought I could make it to Yellowknife before the storm hit. It moved in faster than I expected."
        "We should have stayed at the cabin," he thought aloud. "There would have been wood for a lean-to and the smoke from the fire would have alerted rescue personnel.
        "The shed fire touched off a forest fire," she explained. "I don't think it'll last long once the storm hits, but there was no way we could stay there."
        "You're heading into the wind?"
        She nodded. "Northwest, toward Yellowknife, but it's starting to pick up."
        Ben lifted his head carefully again, examining the snow that blanketed the travois and dog atop him. The dog was dead he realized, the gaping wound where his front right leg should be covered in bloody ice. He noted the way it had frozen and knew the temperature was close to zero. But the falling snow was wet, slipping against the pine needs before freezing in place where the wind touched it.
        Ice storm. Mary had been right, and that meant they were in some very serious danger.
        "We'll never make it to Yellowknife," he decided.
        Mary nodded, having already made that same determination. "I'll have to make a shelter here, but the only thing I can think of is a lean-to and I'm worried about the wind."
        He shook his head. It would take too long anyway. "A snow cave," he told her, raising his voice to be heard over a gust of frigid wind. Lightening danced across the sky above them, not a good sign at all. "Find a hill or rock outcropping where the snow has blown into a high drift, at least six or seven feet high. Start digging on the leeward side about halfway down." He quickly finished explaining what they needed and lay back amid the boughs, surprised at how exhausted even the effort to speak had left him.
        Diefenbaker appeared at his side and snuffled his face. Ben smiled and dared lift his good arm to scratch the wolf behind the ears.
        "Go find Mary," he instructed his friend. "She needs your help. Help Mary."
        The wolf offered a soft noise deep in his throat before turning and speeding into the night, seeking the woman his pack leader spoke of. Dief did not like the smell of the air: Too cold, too wet. . . . The man was weak and only the woman could help him. He would not survive without her.
        It took Mary half an hour of furious work to find an appropriate snow drift and dig out the cave like Benton had instructed. She hit the frozen ground and scrambled back out. Using Benton's hunting knife, she quickly stripped several nearby saplings of their branches and laid a floor to keep them from the ground. Then she hurried back to the travois, praying Ben hadn't tried anything while she was gone and reopened his wound.
        He hadn't. He was still lieing amid the fir and pine boughs, the dead dog atop him. She felt a momentary pity for the dog but its life had probably saved Benton's.
        She knelt beside him and felt a thrill of panic at how still and pale he was. She striped off a glove and reached for the pulse at his throat. His eyes instantly snapped open at her touch and he offered a weak smile.
        "I'm still here," he assured her.
        She paused a moment to brush the snow from his face.
        "I've got the cave done," she told him, shielding her own face from an icy blast of wind. "Hang on."
        She quickly put her glove back on and took up the travois again. The trip to the cave proved to be a bit painful. Ben was sweating by the time she lowered the travois again.
        The wind was really blowing now. He couldn't hear Mary over the noise. The snow had changed to super cooled rain, freezing on contact. It would strengthen the snow cave, he hoped. He glanced up, making sure there were no trees near by.
        Ben knew he was in really serious trouble when the effort to get into the cave, even with Mary's help, almost proved too much: A severe blood loss coupled with approaching hypothermia. . . . His chances of surviving the night weren't good.
        The night outside was dark and the cave was darker still. He couldn't see his hand in front of his face let alone see how Mary had shaped the interior. The use of pine boughs on the floor surprised him but it was a good idea. They had absolutely no supplies and, though dressed warmly, weren't outfitted for such extreme conditions.
        "Dief!" he heard Mary call. "Charlie! Stay!"
        She turned from the entrance and felt her way to where he'd all but collapsed in the small space.
        "The dogs--" he offered, suddenly wracked by shivering, "--bring them--"
        "Shh!" she ordered, lifting his coat to check the bandages again. "I will. We need their body heat, but first-- Damn!"
        Ben gasped as he felt her applying strong pressure to his wound and knew he'd started bleeding again. God he hoped she didn't have to use a tourniquet. His life in the RCMP would be over if he lost his arm. He'd almost rather die -- almost.
        "I've got to get some fluids into you," she offered, thinking aloud. She might as well be praying for an immediate rescue.
        He must have passed out after that because the next he knew Dief was lieing on top of him, licking his face.
        "Stop that," he ordered.
        It wasn't Dief lieing on him. It was Mary. Dief was huddled to his left and he presumed the other heat source to his right was Charlie. Something was draped about his feet, but he couldn't tell what anymore than he could tell what was draped about his head. He was still quite cold and knew it was because of the blood loss.
        At least he could still feel his fingers. That meant Mary hadn't resorted to using a tourniquet -- yet.
        "Benton?" Mary called again. He felt her breath on his face. "Can you hear me?"
        "I'm awake," he whispered.
        She moved against him and he felt skin against skin. There was nothing sexual about it, or there shouldn't have been. Shared body heat was a well known survival technique in such situations. From the sound and feel of everything, she'd taken her coat off and zipped it to his. Her arms were inside the makeshift cocoon and with a little squirming, she produced something from between them. She lifted it to his face and put a small wad of plastic sheeting in his mouth.
        "Drink," she ordered.
        He realized then what she had done and sucked on the end of the small plastic bag, bringing the melted snow water to his mouth. He allowed himself two swallows before carefully spitting the plastic back out.
        "What about you?" he asked.
        "I've got two more bags stuck under Diefenbaker," she answered. "I've had my share already. Now drink," she ordered, tucking the plastic back between his lips.
        Obediently, he swallowed the remaining liquid. She squirmed around again when he was finished, putting her arms back into her sleeves and reaching to one side to fill the bag with snow again. He heard her switch it for one under Dief who offered no complaint at the arrangement.
        "No more for me," he told her as she brought the bag back between them. "Too much too soon will only make me sick."
        He felt her nod and tuck the bag against her side.
        His good arm was going to sleep, having been positioned with his hand low on his stomach between them. He moved it and put it around her waist. He couldn't help but remember the last time he'd been trapped with a woman this way. Well, not this way exactly, but the situation had been just as desperate, maybe more so, even though he hadn't been injured.
        "How long have I been unconscious?" he asked, trying to think straight.
        "I have no idea," she answered. "Maybe a couple of hours. Long enough to really scare me."
        "I'm sorry," he offered automatically.
        "Do you always apologize for stuff that's not your fault?"
        Ray was always telling him that, but he didn't think the sentiment held true in this case. "I should have taken greater precautions against Don Vasco," he chastised himself. "Or not taken--"
        Mary's fingers covered his lips, silencing him.
        "Ayokrakman," she told him in Inuktituk. It was a complicated ideal of the Inuit meaning 'to be content in hardship' or 'it can't be helped'. Condemning himself for what had happened wasn't helping either one of them. He nodded his understanding. Her fingers left his lips and stroked his cheek. They trembled slightly.
        "I'm scared Benton," she admitted quietly.
        He smiled and turned his head to kiss her palm. "You're doing fine," he assured her in a whisper, fighting the lure of sleep. "If it wasn't for you, we'd both be dead long ago. You'll survive."
        "We'll survive!" she corrected him emphatically. "Don't you dare leave me Benton Fraser. I can't do this on my own!"
        "Yes you can," he assured her. Ben had no desire to die but he had no illusions about his chances either. Hers, on the other hand, were quite good.
        'No she can't, son,' his father's voice told him. Ben turned his head but in the dark he couldn't even make out his father's ghost. He sounded like he was on the other side of Diefenbaker.
        "No I can't!" she railed at him, unable to see or hear his father. "Maybe two months ago I could have, but not now."
        'She has amnesia,' his father reminded him. 'She's forgotten too much.'
        "it's like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing!" she exclaimed. "When I set out for Yellowknife it was because I had no choice, but you're right, I should have stayed closer to the cabin. I should have known I could never make it twenty-five kilometers before the storm hit. I tried to head northwest, but I'm not sure. . . ."
        'The clouds. There were no stars, son,' Robert Fraser told him.
        "Benton, I have absolutely no idea where we are. I didn't want to tell you before. You're injured and I didn't want to worry you, but I don't know this area and I'll never make it out of here without you!"
        'She's lost Benton. You know what that means.'
        "She should have told me earlier--" he whispered.
        '--When you could see the lay of the land and help her,' his father finished for him, 'but she didn't. And you know how the snow can change things. She may have been traveling in circles for all you know.'
        "I know. I'm sorry," Mary whispered, on the edge of panic and started to cry.
        "Shhh," he comforted her as best he could, rubbing her back with his good hand. Fear was an even greater danger than the elements in a survival situation. Panic was deadly. "I'm not dead yet," he assured her.
        'But you're close,' his father confirmed his fears. 'You can't give up son. If you give up, you will die and so will she. It's not your time yet, Benton, but you have to want to live. You have to fight.'
        He frowned, trying to think. Given his condition, he didn't really trust his thought processes but he had to come up with something. "Circles--"
        'Traveling in circles?' his father asked. 'You're right son. She might not be as far from the cabin as she thinks.'
        "The fire--," he decided after another long moment, fighting the temptation of sleep harder for her sake. If he slept his body temperature would drop and he might go into shock.
        "Fire?" Mary asked. She reached up and felt his forehead. He knew she thought he was becoming delusional.
        "In the morning-- When the storm blows over--"
        'Mid-afternoon at the earliest,' his father corrected him.
        "Look for the smoke," Ben told Mary. "Go back to the cabin. The fire won't be a danger any more."
        'What if there is no smoke?'
        "What if there isn't any smoke?" Mary asked.
        There has to be smoke, his mind insisted.
        'No there doesn't, son, and you know it,' Robert Fraser insisted. 'It matters on how bad the fire was.'
        "Tell Dief to find the cabin," Ben answered, knowing the wolf would be able to find it easily.
        'If he doesn't lose her first,' Robert Fraser pointed out. 'Do you think she can keep up with him? Does she know how to track him?'
        "He won't lose her. Don't be so pessimistic," Ben complained.
        'Not pessimistic,' his father corrected him. 'Realistic. She's in a dangerous situation and she won't survive without you.'
        A part of Ben knew what they were doing. He knew Mary wasn't as helpless and frightened as she was making out, but she wasn't as self-reliant as she would have been only two months ago either. She did have amnesia. He couldn't be sure she would survive if he were to die. Which meant he couldn't die -- not yet.
        "Talk to me," he told her. "I can't go to sleep."
        And so they talked. Mary asked questions and he answered. He remembered again the night he'd spent huddled together with Victoria on Fortitude Pass and found himself telling Mary about it. And then telling her about Victoria's return and everything she'd done to him. He told her things he'd never told another living soul.
        It had been Victoria's voice that had kept him alive on Fortitude Pass more than ten years earlier. Now it was Mary's. He realized he'd passed out again when he woke to hear her singing. Victoria had told him a poem, repeating it over and over again as the blizzard howled around them. Mary sang. It took him a long moment to realize it was an old Inuit song: The legend of Kaujajak and how the moon became his brother. It was a haunting song, the story of an orphan boy who had to overcome great obstacles and pain to become a man and find love.
        'Moon up there,
        My brother like, up there,
        You give me a little bit of warmth . . .
        I am trying to dry my clothes.
        It is unlikely, it is hopeless, it will not . . .'
        Ben hadn't heard it since he was a child and found himself captivated anew by the many adventures, mystical beings and magic of the story. It was a very long song and he was amazed at how much of it she remembered; how much of it he remembered. Every time she started to falter, he would take over, and when he faltered, she'd take it up again. His heart beat became the sound of the song drum, setting the cadence of their words. When it was done, she began another: The story of Qalluplluk, the troll who lived under the ice. It was a child's story but she told it well and then he took a turn.
        Her voice became his lifeline, much as Victoria's had all those years before, and the old Inuit stories he'd always loved became his anchor; but with Mary there would be no struggle between his duty and his desire. She was no criminal. He didn't have to worry about her trying to destroy everything and everyone he loved. She was the sister of his close friend and he didn't have to be afraid to let her slip inside his heart.

        It was light and he was warm . . . and that was wrong.
        He blinked his eyes open to discover an acoustical ceiling overheard.
        "Hey there Benny," Ray greeted him with a tired smile. "God, you know how to scare a guy. You're going to give me gray hairs yet."
        Ben blinked stupidly and glanced around. He was in a hospital room connected to an IV and monitoring equipment. His arm was bandaged and secured in a blue sling across the front of his hospital gown.
        How did he-- His memory following the snow cave and Inuit stories was badly disjointed. He remembered talking with his father some more but couldn't remember what they'd talked about. He also remembered a helicopter and a soldier -- that must have been a medic he realized, and -- was Thatcher there?
        "Mary?" he asked in concern.
        "She's around here somewhere," Ray answered. "They released her yesterday: A little frost bite and dehydration. She came through the storm with flying colors. It was you who scared us half to death. She won't tell us what happened but knowing you, I can guess. We found Vasco and the spent LAWS. Let me tell you, I about had a heart attack when we first got to your place and I saw the cabin. 'Looks even worse than when Gerrard's goon tripped over my hand grenade."
        "It didn't burn down?"
        "Nah," Ray assured him. "That was the barn. It started a bit of a forest fire, not bad though. Maybe ten acres. Then the ice storm must've put it out. Where'd you hold up during that thing anyway? It was really nasty. Thatcher actually thought you might not survive."
        Thatcher was here.
        "A snow cave," he answered. "What are you doing in Canada Ray?"
        "Hey, you're in trouble and you think I'm going to stay away?" he joked, then offered a shrug. "We followed Vasco up here, but he was always about twelve hours ahead of us until we realized he'd found out about your cabin. We would have made it there before him except for the damn storm. How the hell he got to you before it hit, we're not sure. We found his snow mobile at the bottom of a cliff about two miles from the cabin. He must have hiked the rest of the way. I wonder how he planned to get out again?"
        "He didn't," Ben answered, remembering the look of madness in the other man's eyes over the rifle. He shook his head. "Thank you Ray."
        "For what?" his friend asked. "It was Thatcher who found you and it looks like Miss Peeler may have helped save your life. I take it you collapsed after worrying about her so much you forgot to worry about yourself, right?"
        "No Ray," he corrected his friend. "The bullet hit an artery. I collapsed within minutes of being shot. She saved my life. Not the other way around."
        "He's still delirious," Mary commented from the doorway. "Either that or suffering amnesia."
        "Hey there!" Ray greeted her easily as she came to stand next to him by the bed. "You're looking better. So. You ready to tell me what really happened out there? I know this guy too well. He's always Mr. Modest when I least want him to be."
        "I am sorry to disappoint you, Ray," Ben rejoined with a frown, "but I am not being modest.  I can't always be the hero you know."
        "Oh yeah?" Ray asked, sharing a knowing smile with Mary. "So who shot Mr. Vasco right through the heart, huh? That was a beauty."
        Ben lifted a brow and tilted his head to the side as he regarded Mary.
        "A lucky shot," she murmured, blushing.
        "You made that shot?" Ray exclaimed in clear disbelief.
        "She had no choice Ray," Ben defended her. "He had a rifle on me and shot at the same time she did, which is how I was injured. Had she not killed him, he would have certainly killed me."
        "You kicked the gun out of his hand," she pointed out.
        "That would not have stopped him," he answered seriously. "And with my injury, I could not have properly defended myself."
        "And then you passed out?" Ray asked, clearly dismayed. "Come on Benny. I can't believe you didn't do anything!"
        "Of course he did," Mary exclaimed. "He told me how to build the snow cave. If not for him, I would have tried to build a lean-to and we would have frozen to death."
        "I still would have frozen to death if you hadn't zipped our jackets together and used the dogs on either side of me," Ben pointed out.
        "Common sense," she shrugged.
        "I doubt I would have thought to use Diefenbaker to thaw snow for drinking water," he added.
        "I wouldn't have thought to tell him to take me back to the cabin," she returned. "I was lost and would have panicked if it wasn't for you."
        "Hold it! Hold it!" Ray interrupted firmly. "This is turning into a mutual admiration fest here. Let's just say you both saved each other's lives and leave it at that. Okay?"
        "That hardly seems fair Ray--"
        "Excuse me," Mary told Ray, stepping around him and bending over to deliver a passionate kiss, interrupting anything further Ben might have thought to say. He stared at her as she straightened, a smug look on her face.
        Ray laughed. "That's one way to shut him up!" he quipped. "I'll have to remember that the next time he starts on one of his Inuit tales. I know he told you some of those! A captive audience, you have my sympathy!"
        It was Ben and Mary's turn to laugh. Ray regarded them as though they'd both gone batty. The movement of Ben's chest jerked his arm and made him bite back his mirth.
        "I'm half Inuit Ray," Mary reminded him. "We used the stories to keep each other awake while we waited for the storm to pass."
        "Twelve hours of Inuit tales?" he asked in disbelief.
        Ben nodded with an amused smile. "She even managed to come up with a few I hadn't heard before."
        "It's strange how I can remember them so clearly when I still can't tie my shoes!" she shrugged.
        "You'll have to tell me that one about the troll and the otter again," Ben decided. "I don't remember how it ended."
        "No!" Ray exclaimed. "Wait until I get out of here first! He drives me crazy with his occasional words of wisdom. I can't imagine listening to twelve hours of the stuff! I gotta go call home and let everyone know you're okay anyway." He reached out and gripped Ben's shoulder, then leaned forward and in a stage whisper told him, "Don't let this one get away. I think she musta been made for you!"
        "I think you may be right!" Ben answered in the same sotto voice Mary couldn't help but hear.
        She smiled and slapped Ray's shoulder. "Get out of here," she laughed, "before you have him proposing!"
        "Hey now there's an idea!" Ray joked. "Do I get to be best man?"
        "Out Ray," Ben ordered firmly, feeling the beginnings of a blush, not because he didn't want Mary getting any ideas -- but because he did! It wasn't something to joke about.
        "I'm going! I'm going!" Ray laughed and disappeared out the door.
        "I think I like him," Mary decided, turning a bright smile back to Ben. It reminded him of how she'd laughed during the snow ball fight and how he hadn't wanted that kiss to end--
        "Would it be so terrible?" he was surprised to hear himself ask. He hadn't meant to say that!
        "What?" she asked confused.
        His throat closed up and the words wouldn't come. He could only offer a shrug.
        "Marriage?!" she asked, reading his discomfort too easily.
        "No," he offered but found it impossible to offer a glib lie concerning what he'd been thinking. He was quite certain his face must be flaming and looked anywhere but at her. "Well, I mean, yes but -- You're not ready-- I mean it's only been--" He closed his eyes in dismay as he realized just how much of an idiot he must sound.  He was surprised when she kissed him again.
        He blinked up at her.
        "Breath Benton," she told him gently and he realized he'd been holding his breath.
        He sighed, and then offered her a wry smile as he ran his thumb across his left brow. "I'm not very good at..."
        "I love you too," she interrupted him bluntly, causing him to blink again. "Or I think I do."
        He frowned.
        "You're right," she agreed, bowing her head. "I'm not ready. I don't think you are either, not really."
        "I do care about you, Mary," he told her, more afraid she'd convince herself nothing had happened between them than about how the words might sound. "Very much."
        She nodded, meeting his eyes with an equally serious gaze. "But is it real?" she asked quietly. He understood exactly what she meant.
        "Real? Yes," he answered staunchly. "Permanent--" He shrugged.
        "It's hard not to form a powerful emotional bond given what we've been through," she agreed.
        "A life bond," he specified. He knew exactly how powerful that could be.
        "Like Victoria," she offered quietly.
        He frowned sharply. "You are not like Victoria," he rejoined firmly. But there was a truth hidden in her words he didn't want to examine too closely.
        "I'm still trying to re-discover who I am," she offered, looking away. "It's only been a month since -- everything!" She shook her head in dismay. It felt like forever.
        "Understood," he answered tritely.
        She frowned, looking beyond his wooden smile. "I'm not saying no," she specified carefully. "I just don't think you should ask -- yet."
        He nodded vaguely. "We both need time," he agreed. Victoria had destroyed that part of him which had once been innocent enough to give up his heart blindly.  He wouldn't make that mistake again -- even with Mary.
        "Shall we try a more traditional course?" she asked. " 'Find out what's real and what isn't?"
        "You mean a date?" he asked.
        She blushed and bowed her head as she shrugged. "Now I am being forward," she muttered softly.
        He reached out with his good hand and lifted her face to his gaze.
        "Would you do me the honor of having dinner with me, Miss Peeler?" he asked her formally, finding the words came far easier than he would have ever expected. "--After I get out of here!" he added with a wry smile for the setting.
        "It would be my pleasure, Constable Fraser," she answered with a tender smile. "My pleasure."

The End?

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