Fresh Country Air


"Mangan! Another round?" The voice carried easily over the din of the bar, and Dan smiled to himself. His partner was obviously still chuffed at the arrest they'd made only hours earlier, and Dan wasn't above taking advantage of his good will. Nodding in the affirmative, he shoved his empty pint aside and waited for McMillan to rejoin him at the tiny table they'd managed to snag. They'd opted to celebrate their success at the local cop bar, and it was surprisingly busy for a Thursday night.

"To criminals behind bars!" McMillan toasted, raising his own glass even as he set Dan's in front of him. They both drank deeply, savouring the unique taste of the local microbrewery. Canadian beer, Dan decided, was the best part of Canada. Better, even, than the hockey, though he'd found that joining the local police league team ranked a close second.

"So, you're really taking off for a weekend?" McMillan asked, gesturing with his glass. "To a—a what did you say? Ornithology conference?"

Dan bit back a smile. "Not exactly. More like a reunion of friends."

"High school reunion?" McMillan asked, waving a hand at another group of police officers.

"No, just a group of very close friends," Dan corrected him. "We call ourselves the Bob-Whites of the Glen."

"Right. A club." He frowned, and gave Dan a narrow look. "This isn't some sort of crazy internet group, is it? Because you know that—"

Dan chuckled and shook his head. "Real, live people," he assured his partner. Amused, he asked, "Do you want me to check in with you each night I'm gone?"

McMillan snorted and elbowed him with a good deal of force. "Nah. Just keep an eye out for any axes—they're not just for internet stalkers anymore."

Dan snorted, his lips twitching at the reminder of all the hours he'd spent splitting wood to heat Maypenny's cabin, and even sometimes to heat the clubhouse when even Jim and Brian's tinkering couldn't get the gas heater to work. But it was August, and he highly doubted that he'd have to worry about heating a cabin or clubhouse any time soon.

"I should get going," he said, finishing the last of his beer and slapping a handful of toonies on the table. "I'll see you in a few days."

McMillan nodded, his attention already distracted by the conversation of some of the new recruits at the table next to them. Dan smiled at his partner's ability to fit in anywhere, and had no doubt that he'd soon be leaving the local force and training to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It would mean an increase in salary and potential of advancement, and Dan almost wished that he, too, could take that route. But he wasn't a Canadian citizen, and so was restricted to working for local police forces, rather than the national force. Not that it mattered. He'd moved to Canada on a lark, eager to see a bit of the world before settling down. Of course, what he'd seen in northern Alberta had mostly been snow, but…

He shivered as he exited the bar and drew his light leather jacket around his shoulders more firmly. August days in northern Alberta were hot enough, but the nights cooled quickly, making an extra layer of clothing a necessity. The drone of a lazy mosquito prompted him to move a little faster, and he crossed the parking lot to his motorcycle at a good clip. The engine caught easily, and he couldn't help but smile at the purr of the well-maintained machine. The bike had been his constant companion for the past several years, and he felt a sudden pang of regret that he'd chosen to fly to Sleepyside, rather than drive. A road trip would have been fun, he reminded himself, but the distance from northern Alberta to Sleepyside was prohibitive unless he wasn't on a schedule. And he was most definitely on a schedule. It was the Bob-White reunion, and he doubted that Trixie would turn a blind eye to his late arrival. No, Trixie's fiery temper would most certainly make an appearance if he dawdled. Flying was most certainly the better option. At least, if he wanted to stay in one piece and actually enjoy the reunion…

He cruised through the small town, mindful of the late hour and the distinctive rumble of his bike. It wouldn't do to have the elderly residents calling in to report a loud vehicle violating the noise by-law. He grimaced, remembering the chagrined expression on his captain's face the one time it had happened, early in his employ. It definitely wasn't an experience he was eager to repeat.

The town thinned as he continued to drive, leaving larger and larger open spaces between homes until he was well into the country. He turned off the highway and onto a mile marker road, once more grateful that he'd chosen to rent a house in the country, rather than an apartment in town. The drive was sometimes inconvenient, but it was a small price to pay for the privilege of uninterrupted horizon.

Well, he amended, the corners of his mouth twitching as he spotted the farmstead of his nearest neighbour, almost uninterrupted horizon. Sure enough, Old Wayne (as opposed to his son, Young Wayne), was sitting on his porch, shaking his fist in his traditional greeting.

"Hooligan!" Wayne yelled, clearly audible even over the sound of Dan's engine. "Got no respect for the aged members of the community? We need our rest, you know."

Dan pulled up to the porch and shut down the bike. "Yes, sir," he said smiling. "That explains why you're sitting on your porch at," he checked his watch, "half past midnight."

Wayne waved his hand dismissively. "Well, are you going to join me, or not? Honestly. If you can't help out an old man with insomnia, what good are you?"

Dan dutifully took his place in the second of the pair of matching dilapidated chairs. "Arthritis acting up again?" he asked, taking a handful of pretzels from the bowl on the table between the two chairs.

"Nah," Wayne said, opting for the bowl of chocolate-covered nuts. Dan grinned to himself, recognizing the candy as the latest fundraising effort of the local elementary school. Old Wayne liked to put on a gruff exterior, but he was even more of a marshmallow than Mr. Maypenny when it came to supporting causes around town.

"Weather change coming," Wayne said. "Damn, these are good." He pushed the bowl of chocolate-covered nuts towards Dan. "Put them on the other side of you. I'll eat all of them if I'm not careful."

Dan obliged, but not before he'd plucked a handful for his own consumption. "Weather change?" he questioned. "Rain?" The night had turned awfully cool, he realized. And the wind was picking up, too.

Wayne frowned, staring out into the darkness. "Maybe," was all he said, but Dan felt a sudden wariness. Something about Wayne's response was almost...ominous.

No. Wayne was a cantankerous, lonely old man with arthritis, and possibly a trick weather knee, if his current prediction was anything to go by. Not that it much mattered, Dan decided. By tomorrow morning, he'd be on his way to Edmonton to catch a flight to New York City. If there was going to be bad weather, it wouldn't affect him.

Grinning with relief, he retrieved the bowl of chocolate-covered nuts and placed them on the table beside Wayne. "Here you go," he said. "I need to get home—I'm heading out of town for the weekend."

Wayne narrowed his eyes at Dan even as he scooped a handful of nuts. "Don't forget to pack a jacket," he advised. "I hear New York weather can be unpredictable."

"I'll do that," Dan promised, though he really couldn't see the point. August in Sleepyside never provided anything short of furnace-like conditions.

The knowing look in Wayne's eyes disturbed him almost more than his earlier ominous statement.


When his alarm blared at 5:30 the next morning, he felt the urge to revert to his teenage years and burrow under the covers in the hopes that he could catch just five more minutes of sleep. Of course, that had never panned out for him in Sleepyside. Mr. Maypenny had had… uncomfortable ways of waking him if he overslept. But darn if he wasn't almost as cold as those winter mornings in the cabin when the furnace had stopped burning an hour or two before morning.

Shivering, Dan slapped at the alarm clock, fumbling until he found the correct button to silence it. He sat up in bed, rubbed his eyes rather more forcefully than was probably wise, and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Hissing in annoyance, he immediately drew his feet back up. The floor was freezing! Grumbling under his breath, he hurried to the washroom, practically dancing in place on the cold tile floor as he brushed his teeth.

It wasn't until he was in the kitchen, gulping down his second cup of black coffee that he remembered that it was August.


Floors weren't traditionally freezing in August. Not even in northern Alberta.

Still half-asleep, he popped two pieces of bread into the toaster and waited. By the time he'd smeared a thick layer of peanut butter on both slices, he could almost open his eyes all the way. Eating over the kitchen sink, he gave a huge, jaw-cracking yawn and raised the blind on the tiny, sink-top window. The best part about summer, he thought, was being able to eat breakfast in daylight, even when he had to be up early.

Only the sky was suspiciously… white.


Whatever. He still had had his last minute packing to do. The weird white sky could wait. He finished his toast, absent mindedly brushing the crumbs from his tee-shirt. A glass of milk later and he was ready to get dressed and throw his clothes in his backpack.

He grinned, thinking of what Diana's reaction would be if she knew that he was packing for a weekend away only thirty minutes before he planned to leave. And that he probably wouldn't even completely fill the sturdy backpack he'd purchased for the occasion. Trixie would appreciate it, he thought, smiling even more. In fact, she could probably rival him for packing at the last minute.

Suddenly motivated to get on the road just a little sooner, he haphazardly tossed socks, underwear, shorts, tee-shirts, and a pair of jeans in the bag and called it good. He still had toiletries at Maypenny's cabin, so he didn't have to bother with toothpaste or a razor. Slinging the backpack over his shoulder, he took one last look around his small home, checking to make sure that nothing would explode or implode or mysteriously disappear over the weekend. He was halfway through the door when he turned to the wooden pegs on the wall and plucked his jacket from its place. He couldn't quite see the point, but he'd promised Wayne.

It was when he closed the door behind him that he realized why the sky had appeared white. Huge, fluffy snowflakes, the size of closed fists, were floating lazily to the ground, falling from the greyest, most ominous clouds he'd ever seen.


In August.

He blinked, hoping that he was still suffering from First Thing in the Morning Hallucinations. Not that he was prone to them. But it was never too late to develop the condition…

No. Three blinks later, the snow was still falling. Only now, instead of being the size of closed fists, they more closely resembled small origami shapes, and he shook his head in disbelief. He'd spent two winters in Canada and he hadn't seen snowflakes this size. And he knew for a fact that New York didn't grow them this big. Was this a sign of the end of the world?

Worst of all, the snow was starting to stick. Most of the snowflakes were melting, but the odd few were dotting the grass, making the expanse of lawn between his house and the gravel road a sea of green and white. His motorcycle, tucked under a porte cochere, was thankfully bare.

He stepped off his porch and tramped through the wet grass, grateful that he was wearing sturdy leather motorcycle boots instead of the tennis shoes or sandals he often wore on his days off. As it was, he could feel the cold moisture seeping through the leather and chilling him.

In August.

A horrible thought occurred to him, and he narrowed his eyes, scanning the yard for any sign of his practical joke-loving partner.


He reached down and tested the consistency of the snow, unable to give up on the suspicion (or was that hope?) that his partner had somehow orchestrated an elaborate and ill-thought out hoax. But no. The white substance was definitely snow. And not even McMillan could turn the sky such an ugly, pasty colour.

With a sigh, he stowed his backpack in the luggage compartment of his motorcycle and swung his leg over to mount.

After all, a little snow never hurt anyone.

Even if it did fall in August.


Thirty kilometres down the road and he was rethinking his stance on the benign nature of snow. The falling snowflakes were no longer the size of small sparrows (for a short while he'd been worried that a single huge flake would land in his eye and render him blind), but they had increased in quantity, and were starting to stick to the highway, instead of just the grass. The sky, horizon, and highway were all turning a blinding, uniform shade of white that had him constantly questioning where he was on the road. A semi approached, kicking up a swirl of snow that reduced his visibility to zero for a good ten seconds. Gripping the handlebars more tightly, he slowed his speed in an attempt to lessen the chance of drifting off course. As he emerged from the cloud of cold snow, he jerked the handlebars and swore vociferously. A car was parked on the shoulder of the highway, tail encroaching on the road, lights flashing. As he sped past, Dan caught a glimpse of shadows in the vehicle and sighed heavily. Carefully reducing his speed, he pulled over and backtracked to the stranded vehicle.

When he knocked on the passenger window, his eyes grew wide. Was that—

"Thank God!" a man from the driver's seat exclaimed, and the electric window on the passenger side of the vehicle rolled all the way down. Dan's attention, however, was firmly fixed on the woman in the passenger seat. The seat had been moved as far back as possible, and she was sprawled quite inelegantly, her hands clutching what appeared to be a basketball stuffed under her sweater.

"She's in labour!" the man said, trying to be heard above the woman's groans. "And I couldn't see the road, and she needs help! Now!"

Dan blanched. Sure, he had attended basic emergency skills classes, but childbirth definitely hadn't been on the curriculum.

"I'll call it in," he said hastily, and fumbled for his cell phone after informing the couple that he was a police officer.

"I already did," the man said, wincing as his wife squeezed his hand. "The paramedics are spread thin right now, what with all the accidents from this snow, but they're sending someone."

Dan sighed in relief and ran a hand through his hair. "Good," he said. "Good." Against his will, his eyes darted back to the woman in obvious pain. "Well, then." He started to back away from the window, uncomfortable at the prospect of witnessing the miracle of childbirth.

"Don't go!" the woman protested, her voice hoarse. "You can't go!"

"Er..." Dan glanced longingly at his motorcycle. He truly hadn't intended to leave; he was just planning on giving the couple some privacy.

"Of course he's staying," her husband soothed, shooting Dan a meaningful look. "Everything's going to be just fine."

"Right." Dan nodded. "Just fine." He took a small step back from the car, maintaining eye contact so that the occupants of the vehicle would know that he wasn't going far. Taking a deep breath, he tried to remember everything Brian had ever talked about. He remembered plenty of stories of broken limbs and oozing wounds, but none about childbirth. Which probably made sense. It wasn't as if he would be called upon to deliver a lot of babies while in the employ of the Navy. As far as he knew, at least. Who knew what Brian got up to in his spare time? Still, Dan thought grimly, it would be nice if the majority of his own knowledge on the subject didn't come from sit coms.

An agonized wail from the vehicle had him reluctantly shifting closer. The woman, June, he thought her name was, based on what her husband was saying, was now facing the passenger window, her back supported by her husband.

"It hurts!" she informed him, panting.

Dan nodded, even though the information seemed superfluous. "You're doing fine," he said, somehow knowing that a response was required, and that it had better be of the supportive variety.

She beamed at him, but quickly reverted to making a horrible sort of hissing noise as another contraction hit. Before he quite realized what had happened, she'd grabbed his hand and tugged him halfway into the vehicle. Eyes wide, he tried desperately not to see anything that he shouldn't as she writhed. Unfortunately, his head was practically level with her stomach, and somehow, his hand ended up resting on the distended bump. When he felt something move (move!) under his touch, he drew his hand back as though it had been burned. Luckily, June didn't seem to notice and only sighed heavily as the pain abated.

"How far apart are the contractions?" Dan asked, vaguely recalling an old episode of ER.

June's husband stared at him blankly. "Er..."

Shaking his head, and wondering how the man could possibly have gotten through life without watching enough television to know that this was essential to the birthing process, Dan checked his wrist watch. "Okay. It's 7:45, and her contraction just finished. I'll keep an eye on the watch, and—"

He frowned, still staring at his watch. "It's 7:45," he repeated.

"Right." June's husband looked up at him, clearly depending on him for guidance. "You'll time the next contraction, and..." The panicked look returned. "And then what?"

"Then we wait for the paramedics," Dan said, and tried to smile encouragingly. It was 7:45. If the paramedics didn't arrive in the next few minutes, he was going to miss his flight. And that was one phone call to New York that he did not want to have to make.

Trixie would never forgive him, for one thing. His lips twitched upwards at the thought of the tongue-lashing he'd no doubt receive from the blonde spit-fire. Assuming, of course, that she made it on time. After all, she hadn't been known for her punctuality in her teenage years, and he doubted that much had changed. His ruminations were interrupted by the appearance of a vehicle with flashing lights, and Dan heaved a sigh of relief. Help had arrived! He wouldn't have to add "roadside birthing assistance" to his list of specialized skills!

The relief was short-lived as the ambulance skidded to a stop.

Directly on top of his motorcycle.

He stared in amazed horror as the bike crumpled and bounced under the heavy vehicle. Before the shock could quite register, two uniformed attendants rushed past him.

"In the car," Dan managed to say. "Woman giving birth."

One of the paramedics nodded while the other began taking vital signs and assessing Jane's condition.

Dan stared at the mangled metal of his sole source of transportation.

"You're going to be fine," he heard the paramedic tell Jane. "And so is the baby."

Tearing his eyes away from his motorcycle, Dan forced himself to concentrate on what was important. Help had arrived in time, the mother and baby were going to be okay, and he wouldn't need to take a scouring pad to his brain, as he'd planned to do if he'd actually had to deliver the baby.

All in all, it could have been worse.

"That your bike?" one of the paramedics asked as they hoisted the expectant mother onto a board and carried her to the ambulance.

Dan nodded, even though their attention was on the slippery terrain, and not him. "Yeah," he said. "It's mine."

"Sorry about that," the paramedic apologized with a grimace. "I didn't see it until it was too late. I'll call it in and have a tow truck take it away."

Dan helped hold the ambulance door open as they transported Jane into the vehicle. "That would be great," he said, wondering how on earth he was going to catch his flight.

The taillights of the ambulance disappeared rapidly in the haze of snow swirling over the highway. In the time he'd been on the side of the road, the grass on either side of the highway had been completely hidden under a white blanket, and the snow was now sticking on the highway instead of melting. The temperature was actually below freezing, Dan realized. With a sinking heart, he let go of the notion that the snowfall was a momentary aberration. It obviously wasn't melting immediately, and it wasn't stopping any time soon, either.

Honestly. What were the odds? It was August! It had been hot only the day before!

The rumble of an approaching vehicle had him backing further to the side of shoulder, and practically stepping into the ditch to ensure that he didn't end up in the same condition as his ruined motorcycle. A large farm truck passed him, its taillights flashing red as it slowed. Hoping that the vehicle didn't contain another pregnant woman, Dan sighed heavily, and then almost gagged. The farm truck had obviously been hauling livestock recently.

The driver side door opened, and a short, wiry man in a cowboy hat stepped out. "You need a ride, son?"

Dan glanced around, as if hoping that his magically repaired motorcycle would appear out of thin air. "Yeah," he said on a sigh. "I suppose I do."

"Well, get in, then," the middle-aged man said, already climbing back into the vehicle. "In case you haven't noticed, it's snowing."

Ignoring the jab, Dan walked around the vehicle to the passenger side and hauled himself into the high seat. The truck was old, he noted, but seemed clean enough. Aside from the smell.

"On my way back from taking a load of cows to the slaughterhouse," the rancher informed him, turning up the country music already blaring from the radio.

Dan felt his ears start to bleed. "I'm heading to the airport," he said, not sure whether or not to hope that he'd be able to drive him the entire way.

"I'm Chuck," the rancher said. "Nice to meet you." Pleasantries, such as they were, out of the way, he continued. "I can drop you at the airport."

Dan nodded and rubbed his hand over his face. Though he'd only been awake for perhaps four hours, he felt as if he'd already completed a twelve-hour shift. At least, he told himself, he didn't have the threat of paperwork looming over him. Not yet, at least. There was still the matter of his motorcycle.

He stared out into the swirling mass of white that seemed to be attacking the vehicle and growing thicker each moment.

"Damn snow," Chuck said, turning up the wipers to an even faster rate. The rubber blades squeaked, grating against the windshield, but did the job of keeping the view mostly clear. Not that there was much to see, other than more snow. "Every once in a while," Chuck continued, "we get a spell of bad weather in summer. The Chinook in October sort of makes up for it, but..." his voice trailed off grimly.

"This has happened before?" Dan questioned, squinting and trying to see further ahead than one hydro pole.

Chuck shrugged. "Not since I was a kid. But it has happened. It's not the end of the world, you know."

No, but it could very well be the end of his plans for seeing his closest friends again, Dan thought grimly. He closed his eyes, tired of staring into the relentless white, only to be shaken awake what felt like seconds later.

"We're here," Chuck said gruffly, his cowboy hat tipped low so that Dan couldn't see his face.

Blinking, Dan saw that there were, indeed, at the airport, and that he must have been sleeping for the better part of an hour. "Thanks," he said, patting his pocket to make sure that he had his wallet, passport, and, most importantly, his plane ticket. He reached for his backpack, only to realize that it was most likely still attached to the mangled heap of metal formerly known as his motorcycle.

"Cripes," he muttered, rubbing a hand over his face. He was heading to Sleepyside with no luggage. But at least, he thought, checking his watch, he was still heading to Sleepyside. He hadn't missed his flight, after all.

"Thanks for the ride," Dan called as he hopped down from the vehicle. "I appreciate it."

Chuck nodded and pulled away, leaving Dan at the entrance to the airport. He passed through the automatic doors and took in the harried crowds with something akin to horror. People were crowded around the Arrival/Departure monitors, clutching steaming cups of Tim Horton's coffee and studying the board with what looked to Dan like miserable resignation.

"You'll want to check your flight, dear," an elderly woman pushing a cart loaded with suitcases told him. "Loads of flights are delayed." She wheeled the trolley back a step, her nose wrinkled.

"Right," Dan said, his eyes on the monitor. "Thanks for the advice."

He should have seen it coming, of course. His flight would almost certainly be delayed. He edged closer to the monitor, the crowd parting easily to let him pass through. Apparently, Dan thought, the authority of his police officer persona worked even without the uniform. When he finally got close enough to read the monitor, he discovered that his flight had only been delayed by thirty minutes, which was almost the exact amount of time he'd spent on the side of the road. With a cheerful whistle, he strode toward his gate, again appreciating the wide berth offered him by his fellow travellers. He liked people just fine, he reminded himself. He just liked them better when they didn't crowd him.

Stepping up to the Air Canada gate, he presented his ticket for check-in. The young, dark-haired woman smiled at him initially, but frowned when he grinned sheepishly after she asked about his luggage.

"Nothing to check," he assured her.

"And your carry-on fits within the parameters?" she questioned. "I can measure for you," she offered.

Dan shook his head. "No carry-on, either."

She stared at him for a moment. "No checked luggage and no carry-on."

He nodded.

She bit her lip. "I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to come with me." She flicked her eyes guiltily away from him and he frowned. "I'm sorry," she whispered, "but it's policy."

Of course. He was travelling without luggage in a terrorist-sensitive world. Before he could produce documentation that he was, in fact, a police officer, she had waved to a uniformed officer to call him over. Dan sighed and prepared for the interrogation.

"Travelling alone?" the officer asked.

"Yes." Years of interrogating suspects had taught him to answer politely and honestly, but not to offer more information than was asked.

"Purpose of your trip?" The officer sat down behind the tiny desk and shuffled papers that Dan suspected weren't even his.

"To visit friends."

"In New York City?"

"Yes," Dan replied. "Well, a little outside of the city. Westchester, to be exact."

The man nodded as if he knew exactly where Westchester was, but Dan suspected the man's only knowledge of the state of New York was gleaned from watching episodes of Law & Order.

"And you're a police officer."

Dan fought the urge to narrow his eyes as the officer studied his badge. For one bad moment, he worried that the officer was actually going to bite it to test its metal. "Yes," he replied tersely.

"And you're travelling without your weapon?"

Dan nodded. Since becoming a police officer, he'd grown accustomed to carrying a gun, and he did feel rather, well, naked without it, but he hadn't wanted to bother with the hassle of transporting a weapon across the border.

"Well, everything appears to be in order," he said, shoving Dan's identification towards him. "But you still haven't explained why you're travelling without luggage."

Because no one had asked him why, yet! "I pulled over to help a motorist on the side of the road," he said. "An ambulance came to attend to the occupants of the vehicle, and in the process, my motorcycle was wrecked."

The officer stared at him, as if trying to determine what, if any, part of the story was true.

"You can call the EMS," Dan said. "They promised to arrange for a tow truck."

"Hmm..." He busied his hands with a new set of papers, stacking them importantly. When he glanced to the computer screen, Dan knew he was clear. His badge was valid, and looking up his number would only reveal his exemplary record on the force.

"Well, go on," the officer said, standing up. "You don't want to miss your flight, do you?"

Without looking back, Dan strode straight to the boarding gate and joined the tail end of the group making their way to the plane. The crowd trickled onto the plane, people pausing to heave pieces of luggage into overhead storage compartments. The muffled apologies as people tried to find their seats formed an almost soothing background noise, and Dan realized that, despite the fact that he'd slept most of the way to Edmonton, he was still tired. With any luck, he'd have a row to himself, and he'd be able to stretch his legs a little and catch some shut-eye before arriving in Sleepyside. When he found his seat, however, it was to discover that he had a window seat directly over the engine. With a complacent shrug (because he was pretty sure that if he could sleep through Chuck's country music, he could sleep despite the rumble of the engine) he dropped into his seat, grateful that he didn't have to fight with luggage. And with any luck, no one would claim the seat next to him.

He had just closed his eyes when he felt someone standing beside him. "13B," a high, giggly voice said. "That's me!"

Dan opened one eye to see a gorgeous young woman with blonde hair attempting to wrestle a pink suitcase into the overhead storage compartment. She frowned prettily before giggling again. "It just won't fit!" she complained, giving the offending piece of luggage a stab with her finger.

Dan smirked, just a little. "Maybe I can help," he said, feeling as if perhaps the rotten luck he'd been experiencing was about to take a turn for the better. He stood up and took over the task of stowing the luggage, smiling even more when the woman didn't move aside, but allowed him to brush against her.

"There," he said, snapping the bin closed. "All secure." He turned to smile at the woman, but found that her expression was not the vapid, flirtatious smile he'd been expecting. Instead, her nose was wrinkled in distaste and she was edging away from him. He frowned, a little confused by the sudden change in her demeanour.

"Thank you," she said shortly.

Dan shrugged and returned to his seat. "No problem." Tucking his long legs under the seat in front of him, he waited for her to sit down. She seemed reluctant, and he decided that giving her a little space might make her more comfortable. After all, she'd seemed perfectly friendly until he'd spoken to her. Maybe she hadn't been flirting, after all. It was possible, after all, that she didn't find him attractive, he told himself, though he didn't really believe it.

When she did finally sit down, she kept her body as far away from his as was physically possible. Dan frowned, noting how her legs were directed at an angle which put them almost entirely in the aisle. As far as body language went, it was a pretty fair indicator that she was most emphatically not interested in him. Which was fine, of course. But it was still odd. While not all women fawned over him, he didn't generally have them scrambling for the hills, either.

With a shrug, he closed his eyes and thought longingly of the paperback novel he'd shoved into his lost backpack. It was definitely going to be a long flight if he didn't have the distraction of either reading or talking to his fellow passenger.

"So," he said, determined to win the girl over, even if it was only to have her converse with him, "flying to New York?"

She nodded, though she avoided looking him in the eye. "Yes," she said, her voice sounding choked.

"Not for a sad occasion, I hope," Dan said, concerned. Was she crying? Flying home for a funeral, maybe?

"Visiting friends," she said, still not looking at him. She held a tissue to her nose.

"Me, too," Dan replied. "I'm getting together with my six closest friends."

"That's nice," she said, using the tissue to cover both her nose and her mouth.

Dan frowned at her actions. Was she worried about picking up germs during the flight? Maybe that would explain why she insisted on staying as far away from him as possible. "Fighting a cold?" he asked, gesturing to the tissue.

This time, she did manage to glance at him, and her expression looked suspiciously guilty. "Er, not exactly..." she said.

He waited for her to elaborate, but the silence between them only stretched.

"I'm a police officer," he said, hoping to continue the conversation. "What do you do?"

He was used to people looking vaguely uncomfortable when he announced his occupation, as if he were suddenly going to confront them with all their unpaid parking tickets. He was not, however, prepared for the woman's reaction.

"Yeah, right," she said, rolling her eyes. "Try again."

He frowned, confused by the sudden shift in her behaviour. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to," he assured her, assuming that she was reluctant to give out personal information to a stranger.

"No," she said, turning to face him. "I mean, you're obviously a farmer, not a police officer."

He frowned, looking down at his jacket and jeans. "I am?" he asked, more confused than ever.

"Well, sure," she said. When he motioned for her to elaborate, she bit her lip. "You smell like pigs," she finally whispered.

Dan's eyes grew wide as he remembered the pervasive odour of the cattle truck he'd ridden in. For the love of... He tried to sniff himself, but couldn't smell anything. Was it possible that he stank so badly he'd already gotten used to it? Judging by the girl's wrinkled nose, he assumed so.

"I'm not a farmer," he said, edging closer to the window to protect her from the smell. He fished his badge out of his pocket and held it up to show her. "But I did get a ride to the airport in a cattle truck when my bike…" he grimaced. "Well. I needed a ride, and he stopped. Given the weather, I was happy to have any ride at all."

She nodded, looking slightly more sympathetic but still keeping her distance from him.

"I wonder why we haven't taken off yet," Dan mused, looking out the window.

As if in answer to his question, a bell chimed, and the captain's voice filled the cabin. Dan stifled a groan as they were informed that take-off would be delayed by at least twenty minutes as technicians worked to de-ice the wings.

In August.

The girl beside him huffed and, disregarding the captain's request for everyone to remain seated, struggled to the front of the cabin where a lone seat was unoccupied. He watched as she dropped into it, greeting the portly elderly gentleman in the next seat with a smile.

He'd been ditched for a centenarian.

Closing his eyes again, he attempted to sleep, but the growling of his stomach made it impossible. He'd planned on enjoying a coffee and breakfast sandwich at the Tim Horton's kiosk before his flight, but the security check had stolen his window of opportunity. He briefly considered breaking into the stash of Tim Tams he'd brought along for the female members of the Bob-Whites before remembering that they, too, had been a casualty of the roadside accident.

Trixie was going to kill him.

All of the girls appreciated the Australian-based cookies, but Trixie was the one who'd asked for them. Repeatedly. Complete with threats of violence if he didn't come through.

Resigned to his fate, he closed his eyes and cleared his mind by an act of will. He didn't quite manage to fall asleep, but he was able to relegate the fussy infant and the screaming toddler to the furthest recess of his mind. The twenty-minute delay to de-ice the wings turned into an hour-long wait for a take-off strip to clear. Turbulence from the crazy weather system that had dumped a foot of snow on Alberta (in August!) made sleeping impossible.

And he still smelled.

But, at the end of the day when he was enveloped into the kind of group hugs he'd only ever allow with the Bob-Whites, he couldn't help but think that it had all been worth it. Even if Trixie never forgave him for the lack of Tim Tams.

"Guys," he said, feeling the pressure of his lousy day lessen, "you would not believe what I went through to get here today!"


Author’s Notes

Poor Dan! Just in case anyone is interested, an August snow storm is not outside the realm of possibility in Alberta. Many moons ago I went on a camping trip with relatives, and, yes, you guessed it, encountered a freak summer storm. Good times! *shivers in remembrance*

Happy Jix-Anniversary! I'm thrilled to be celebrating another year of Jix with all of you. *hugs*

A special thanks to the WWW for all the fun of working on this project together. You ladies are the best! And extra thanks to Bonnie and MaryN for editing.

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