Thanks: To Sage for beta
Notes: For lamentables
Buck woke with a fart. It was ungodly early, even for a sergeant of the RCMP, a man who'd tracked murderers across the tundra and thieves through city streets, a trailblazer who'd invented the four-tail triple-shake whipknot and six different methods of evacuating one's bowels in sub-zero temperatures without getting frostbite in unfortunate anatomical areas. A legend who'd forgotten a great deal more than the young recruits sleeping down the hall ever knew.
The early morning air was dim and chilly, and thick with last night's repast, a deep-fried cheese platter with elk-tail dumplings.
"Ah, the power of cheese," said a gruff voice from the foot of the bed.
Buck shot upright, eyes wide. The room was supposed to be empty. He was certain he'd locked the door when he'd retired to bed with his book. But perched on the end of his bed, large as life and just as stubborn — not to mention dead — was Bob Fraser. At least, it was a silhouette that looked and sounded like him.
Buck groped around the notepad and alarm clock on the nightstand and switched on the bedside lamp. A yellow glow lit the room, burnishing the brown regulation bedspread. It was Bob sitting there. The back of his hat was cut off like he'd walked through a meat-slicer.
He was looking around with a foolish smile. "It takes you back, doesn't it?" He cast a sly sideways glance at Buck. "The room, I mean. Not your malodorous cheese emissions. I remember when I first arrived, a green recruit with only three pairs of socks to my name—"
"We never had officers' quarters," said Buck, resenting the gastro-intestinal insult, not to mention being woken by his deceased, only occasionally lamented partner. "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing," said Bob, serenely. He pulled a knife out of his pocket and started cleaning his fingernails. "They're finally giving you a refresher course, are they? It's about time."
"Yes." Buck hunched his shoulders against the chill of the room, and pointed sternly at Bob. "Now go away. Come back and visit me at a decent hour. I need my beauty sleep." He lay back down, flat on his back, and pulled up the covers pointedly.
"It'd take more than sleep to make you beautiful," scoffed Bob. "Shove over."
Buck resisted, but Bob lay down next to him anyway, and somehow Buck found himself teetering on the edge of the mattress. They lay in silence for several minutes. Buck tried to summon the will to switch off the light and go back to sleep, but he was lying next to a dead man, after all. There were only so many things one could bear in the dark.
"So, what was it this time?" Bob was clearly oblivious to Buck's inner turmoil, and that at least was a familiar feeling. Oddly soothing. "Cut off someone's leg? Shot a pensioner? Arrested your superior officer for loitering again?"
"What the whillikers are you talking about?" demanded Buck, his indignation so automatic that it bore no heat.
"The reason they sent you back to Depot," said Bob. "You must have done something. They don't make officers repeat their training unless things have gone more than a little skew-whiff, if you know what I'm saying."
Buck raised up on one elbow and glared down at him. "I'm not on the course! I'm the instructor, you impudent apparition!"
Bob grinned up at him like a sixty year-old cherub. "I knew that," he said, simply, and leaned up and kissed him on the lips.
Buck spluttered and lurched back, and would have fallen from the bed if Bob hadn't had his pajama top in a death grip. He seemed completely unapologetic.
"What was that for?!" Buck wanted to pry Bob's fingers from his clothing, but he was afraid that any move toward him might be construed as encouragement. "Have you taken leave of your senses?!"
"They say it's never too late to try new things," said Bob with alarming insouciance. "It keeps you young."
"Young? You're dead!" Buck swallowed and lay down again, stiffly, keeping as much space between them as he could.
Bob sighed and let go of Buck's pajamas. "So people seem to take great pleasure in reminding me."
A suspicion formed in Buck's mind. "You're not Bob Fraser at all! I'm dreaming." He had to be. He reached over and switched off the light, brimful of determined conviction.
"Do you often dream about me kissing you?" asked Bob's voice in the dark. His elbow poked Buck in the side.
Buck rolled away from him and closed his eyes tight. "It's all a dream. A nightmare, perhaps, although there aren't any quail."
"Given your eating habits, I suppose a dream isn't an unreasonable explanation." The bed shifted behind Buck, and he knew Bob was rolling away, too. A second later, they were lying back to back, as they had so many nights out on patrol. "I'm just a figment of your cheese-engorged imagination, no doubt. I'm astounded you're still alive."
"I beg of you, don't say engorged," said Buck, uncomfortably. His intestines cramped at the mere thought.
There was no answer but the faint, chainsaw snore of a sleeping dead man. Buck sighed and bunched the pillow up under his head, and somehow slowly drifted back to sleep until at dawn he stopped breathing.