Okay, all right... I never was anyone in my own right. It's like I need to be part of someone else's life to make my own seem worthwhile, and for the past two years I've been part of Benton Fraser's life. But that's over now and I feel... lost, cast adrift, floating free. Jeez, It makes my head spin.
What the hell is wrong with me that I would follow Fraser into the jaws of hell and let him toss me out of a plane without a parachute, rather than let him leave me behind? How needy is that? How pathetic? Christ, it's not like he's even my friend. I just borrowed him for a while from the real Raymond Vecchio. I knew it wouldn't last forever, but I just never expected it to hurt so fucking much.
It was good while it lasted but now... now it's nearly over. Just one last case, one last bad guy to bring down and then we can go back to being two separate people again. He can be the big red Mountie and I can be the... the....whatever it is that I am.
And if I feel lost inside my own head, it's even worse when I look around at what's outside it. Snow and ice as far as I can see. And cold. It's so cold my feet are already numb. At least back home I knew how to act, how to behave. I knew what to do to keep myself alive. Here... here I don't have a clue. I'm so far out of my depth that I can't even see the bottom. In fact, I'm not sure there even is a bottom!
But Fraser knows what to do. This is his element, his turf. I've never had a problem following his lead. I trust him. With my life.
Damn... I'm gonna miss working with him.
'Fraser, you ever get the feeling that uh, you know, you're lost?'
'No, a quick look to the stars or the sun, and you can always find your location'
'No I don't mean where you are, I mean who you are?'
What was I thinking?
I can barely believe that I was so selfishly focused on my goal, that I ignored everything else, including Ray's safety. This isn't Chicago. He has no defences here, and I never once took that into consideration when I dragged him out here, clinging to the wing of a plane.
I've asked myself why he came, why he followed me without question but I have no answers beyond the fact that it's what he's always done. I've never thought about it before, but even back in Chicago, Ray would follow my lead, despite it often ending in us risking our lives 'in wildly bizarre ways'.
As I watch him now, struggling to zip up the sleeping bag with cold-numbed fingers, I feel the guilt wash over me. I do not deserve his unflinching loyalty, and yet he gives it to me. He's here with me now, trusting me to keep him safe in an environment he's not cut out for. I feel humbled by his presence but I simply do not understand it.
I wish I could let go the way Ray does. I wish I could unbend just enough to truly feel an honest emotion again. It's been missing from my life since Victoria Metcalf showed me that to love is to make oneself vulnerable. A hard lesson, and one that I wish I'd never had to learn. I want to love again, I want to open my heart like Ray does, but.... I'm afraid.
It seems ridiculous. There are things I should perhaps fear more. I had thought that coming home would help me to see things more clearly. I had hoped that I could come to some decision regarding what the future might hold for me, but oddly, things seem more complicated. I don't know what I want anymore.
If I go back to Chicago when this business is done, how will I decide between my two 'Rays'? Ray Vecchio was my friend and partner for three years, Ray Kowalski for two, and I feel fiercely loyal to them both. How can I possibly choose one over the other? Perhaps now would be a good time to consider staying here, where I belong?
The thought fills me with no joy. I've become soft, I think, and needy. I've come to rely too much upon others for my physical as well as emotional needs, and I should relish the thought of getting back to my glorious isolation. But I don't. I really don't.
He's been still so long that I think he's asleep, but he surprises me with his question.
"Fraser, you ever get the feeling that uh, you know, you're lost?"
I'm not so dense that I can't read between the lines of his simple question. I don't know what to say to him. The true answer to it scares me so I plead ignorance, as I so often do when confronted with issues I don't know how to express. "No, a quick look to the stars or the sun, and you can always find your location."
"No I don't mean where you are, I mean who you are?" he insists, looking at me so earnestly that my heart aches.
"Oh." Of course I feel lost. I feel lost right now, here, in the country I was born in, the life I was raised for, amidst the countryside I know so well, I feel completely lost. Just like him. And I'm beginning to understand now. I think I know why he's here.
He spent so long playing the part of someone else that he has no identity of his own. He's here because he needs to find himself, to find his soul. And he trusts me to take care of him while he does it. Warmth surges inside me, and I want desperately to tell him that I understand.
But I don't know how to talk about it. I have no words of comfort for him so I slip on my mask, my Mountie persona and communicate my feelings of loneliness and displacement in the only way I know, I begin telling him a story.
"When I first came to Chicago I felt as though I was from anther planet..."
"Which you are!" he mumbles.
"...which I've come to accept." I agree, referring to the fact that I know how people look at me, how they see me as something strange and alien. Even Ray calls me a freak; though I've come to believe that he uses it as a twisted term of endearment.
"Everything was unknown, and at times it was frightening. I felt as thought I was... an explorer. An urban explorer."
He grins sleepily and repeats that, obviously finding joy in the analogy. Again my stomach does that little flip-flop. A disturbing mixture of pain and pleasure assault me and it's all I can do to continue.
"I remember one time we were on a stake-out, and I was trying to explain the sense of other-worldliness to the detectives." I stare into the fire as my mind takes me back to that time, which feels like a lifetime ago to me now. "I was telling them the story of Sir John Franklin who set out to discover the North West Passage." It's was one of my favourite tales, as it encapsulated so many wonderful emotions; romance, adventure, bravery. I had so wanted to make them understand who I was thought the tale. Of course nothing can be that simple.
"But I realised as I was telling the story that they had all fallen ..." asleep. They had fallen asleep. In that respect, Ray is no different to those officers. They too had lost interest in both my long-winded ramblings and in me before I could share what was truly in my heart.
I feel a brief stab of disappointment, which I quickly quash. What right do I have to expect Ray to be different from those men? I know I'm not the most interesting person on the planet, and he certainly finds me an oddity.
I watch him sleep for a moment, taking in the curves and contours of his face. If I decide to stay here in Canada, this might be the last opportunity I get to look at him so closely. He looks peaceful in sleep. All the lines and creases that life carves into his features are erased in slumber, leaving him looking young and almost innocent.
I smile at that silly thought and poke the fire with a stick. Ray is far from innocent, I know that much about him. Was I wrong to bring him here? I know I've been preoccupied with hunting down Muldoon. Sometimes, when focused on an important case, I tend to forget to look around. If I'm honest, I will admit that I would have come here with or without Ray but sitting here watching him sleep, the flickering light from the fire lighting up his face like a beacon, I can also admit that I'm glad he's here.
After the problems we faced last year when we almost ended our partnership, I've tried to pay more attention to what Ray wants, what he needs. Yet I admit, I have no clue as to why he trusts me to keep him safe, while he finds himself. It amazes me, and it overawes me. To have someone in my life that places that much faith in me...
A wolf howls, breaking the spell and I look to the stars, and make a silent vow that we will make it though this.
"The Yank won't survive this son."
I look up into my father's face and feel anger rise. I would dearly love to punch him right now, but my upbringing wont allow me to lay a finger on my father out of anger, ever if he is dead and wouldn't feel a thing.
"You might have to... you know... leave him in the snow."
How can he say that? Does being dead make one devoid of human feeling? He had a partner of his own once! Surely he understands how I feel about Ray. How I simply will not leave him here to die.
But as I look at my father, see how pale he's becoming, how translucent his ghost appears, I start to feel something else.
Not for my safety, not even for Ray's as I have sworn to keep him safe. The fear comes from deep inside my soul. From that place where I keep the pain and sorrow of loss buried. Here lies my anguish over the death of my mother and all those other myriad of losses I've had to endure over the years. I feel the pain beneath the surface tugging at me. It's like a warning. A reminder. I feel like I'm about to lose something else and that terrifies me more than anything else could.
My father tells me that I need to sleep, so I shake out my sleeping bag and curl up behind Ray. He will be warmed by both my body heat and the heat of the fire. He makes a small contended sigh as I tuck in tight and I realise that he probably misses contact like this. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to have someone share your bed for so many years. He mumbles sleepily and relaxes back against me so I throw my arm around him and hold him tight to me, keeping him warm, keeping him safe.
I'm going to miss working with him.
"Fraser, can we take a nap?"
"As soon as we get over that"
Hey, I think I'm finally getting the hang of these snow shoes! I haven't fallen flat on my face for over three hours, but damn - it's cold. I've never been so cold in my life, not even that time me and Joey Brewski got lost in the woods and spent the night shivering under a pile of wet leaves.
But I'm not thinking about the cold so much now. I'm thinking about me, and Fraser and Vecchio, and wondering where the hell I fit in. Somewhere along the line, I've accepted that the life I've come to know is over. I've accepted that I need to move on, and find out who I am. There has to be more to me that just one half of a marriage or a partnership. There has to be. We solve this case, and Fraser is obviously going to go back to work with Vecchio. I don't know why the hell that hurts so much. It's not like I wasn't expecting it.
I look at him tramping through six foot snow drifts like he's walking on water and I feel.... Jesus I don't know what I feel. I like Fraser. I really like him. I've never had a partner like him, never had a friend like him. He's everything I admire in a person, everything I want to be. The man shines for Christ's sake.
Hero worship? Sounds goofy don't it? But I do worship him. He's the only person in this miserable world that I truly trust. And yeah, I want him to choose me goddamn it! I want him to pick me for his team over all those other boys in the playground, you know?
Ain't gonna happen though. Why would it? I saw the way he looked at Vecchio in that hotel room. His face lit up and he smiled like... he smiled just like the way he smiled when we landed here and said 'I'm home'. Vecchio is 'home' to Fraser. I should have realised how close they were. I never really stood a chance of replacing the guy in Fraser's head.
Doesn't change the way I feel though. I'd follow him anywhere, I think. I don't feel like a whole person unless I'm with him, which is really sad, and really pathetic. So I'm here, floundering in his wake, letting him lead, while I try to find myself in this giant snow covered wilderness.
It's beginning to hit me how much danger we're really in, but for some reason I don't care. I could die here, on this mountain. I could die, but at least I would die knowing that I was Fraser's partner. Not some skinny Polack flat-foot with no friends of his own and no life of his own. This is a real adventure for us. Fraser is out to get his man, and in many ways, so am I. I have to find the man who would be Stanley Raymond Kowalski and find out if I even like him.
"Fraser, can we take a nap?" I gasp, spoiling my three-hour record by falling onto my knees. He doesn't even notice anymore. He just stops and waits for me to catch up.
"Soon, Ray" he promises, his gaze firmly on the terrain ahead.
I can barely catch my breath enough to speak. He's looking fresh as a fucking daisy and I'm ready to collapse. "Soon when?" I don't want to sound so pathetic but I just can't help it. I'm whacked-out here.
"As soon as we get over that"
No fucking way! I can't climb a mountain, I can't! He has got to be joking! I can't even see the summit clearly, it's blocked out by what looks like a blizzard. But before I can whine pathetically, he's striding off again and I follow, because that's what I do. I follow Fraser and put all my trust in him. And yeah, I need him. Here, in this cold and freezing hell-hole, I need him to help me survive.
As I stumble along behind, I realise that I needed him back home too. I don't know when or how it happened, but I came to rely on him more than I ever admitted. The thought of losing him to Vecchio hurts like a bastard, but the thought of losing his friendship completely ... I just can't bear to think about that. Maybe I could stay on at the 2-7? Maybe I could get the chance to work with him again sometime? Maybe I don't have to lose him altogether?
A couple of hours later, I'm thinking it's all moot. I'm not getting off this mountain alive! I must be nuts to let Fraser drag me into this shit. The only thing between me and freefall is one skimpy little rope, and Fraser's hand gripping the back of my overalls. I have never been so scared in my life and okay, I admit, I do care if I live or die. I was thinking I might freeze to death before, never imagined falling 200 feet straight down!
"I gottcha!" he said through gritted teeth as I scrabbled for a foothold. "I gottcha!"
And maybe I'm reading more into it than I should, but I'm dying here, and so I can allow myself a little wishful thinking. He seems to be telling me that he's there for me. That he won't let me go, not here, not now and not later. He seems to be telling me without words that he'll always be my friend.
"Jeez, you know, these aren't my underwear." I joke, not able to find the words to thank him, but knowing he understands anyway.
"There's red ships, and green ships but there's no ships like partnerships"
"Now Ray, you're starting to blither!"
We spent the night in a hammock suspended from the rock face. It was bitterly cold, and Ray was already exhibiting signs of exposure. I barely slept a wink all night, making sure that he was still alive became an hourly event.
At last dawn broke, and for a little while, the weather held. Ray was alive, but all his strength had been sapped. He hasn't got enough body fat to insulate him properly against this climate. I knew right then that he wouldn't make the summit without help. So I strapped the box of provisions to his back, and then strapped him to my back. It wasn't easy, but I had no option. Ray is my partner and he is my dearest friend. I have to get him to safety or die trying.
"Your mother and I were once trapped in a terrible blizzard on our way to Resolute to pick up supplies. I thought I was done for. Your mother too. We still looked a lot better than the Yank does now."
I do not want to hear this! If my father has to constantly appear, insisting on giving me the benefits of his dubious wisdom, why can't he say something encouraging? By now, he must know that I won't abandon my friend.
"Well what did you do?" I ask desperately.
"Well I pushed on, through the cold and the pain. We kept each other going."
For a moment, I'm dumbfounded by his words. It seems I've underestimated him. He really does understand. And what's more, he's helped me understand something too. Ray Vecchio and I were friends and we were partners. I missed him terribly when he was gone. But Ray Kowalski has come to mean more to me than I could ever have imagined.
"Because that's what partnership's all about." I acknowledge. There is no distinction for either of us between the love and commitment we feel for our respective 'partners'. Whether it's a working partnership, or a marriage, there is no difference. We each love unconditionally. Yes, my father understands more than even I do.
Ray is my partner, he is my friend, and I love him.
Purely and simply. I love him and I don't know how I'm going to survive without him in my life. I'm not sure that I want to. My life had been empty and pointless until I came to Chicago. Ray Vecchio became my friend and helped me to open up a little, but Ray Kowalski dug in so much deeper. He made it all the way to my heart.
"Fraser, you got this hypothermia thing? Cuz you seem to be talking to yourself," he asks in confusion, the first words he has said in hours. The weakness of his voice worries me.
"Oh, possibly!" I say grimly.
My father rolls his eyes, and I swear that under the frustration, and the determination, I can see a tiny spark of respect. Despite all he has said to the contrary, my father likes Ray, maybe even admires him and suddenly, I feel my resolve strengthen. I will bring my friend through this.
"Yeah, well Fraser, just listen to me. You gotta push through the cold and the pain and keep moving, because that's what partnership's all about...."
Oh, dear God, those are my father's words. The only way that Ray could have heard was if my father wanted him to hear. I raise my eyebrows in surprise but on this subject, my father remains uncharacteristically mute. I have a suspicion that if I asked him outright, he would insist he did it merely to help us catch Muldoon, and not because he wanted Ray to survive.
"...there's red ships and there's green ships but there's no ships like partnerships..."
Yes Ray, there's nothing like a good partnership. He's delirious of course, but he's also very right. "Now Ray, you're starting to blither!"
"You're gonna get us out right?"
"Not this time,"
Well this is... cosy! I feel like such an idiot. Fraser lugged my sorry ass right over that mountain, carried me on his back for fuck's sake and what do I do? I panic at the first opportunity and drag us both feet first into one of those fissure things he was trying to avoid.
So now here we are - wedged together chest-to-chest. Our legs dangling down over a crevasse that could be hundreds of feet deep and does he tell me I'm an idiot? Does he slap me upside the head and curse my stupid half-frozen ass?
No he does not! "You all right?" he asks.
"Oh yeah." Sure I'm fine. I feel like a fool but I'm not hurt. "Stuck!"
"Yeah," he grunts, wriggling to dislodge us. Not sure that's a good idea. The only way out seems to be down. And down is a very long drop.
"Where are we?" As if that's not painfully obvious but I feel the need to speak.
"We're trapped," he supplies unhelpfully.
"You're gonna get us out right?" I'm not at all worried. There's no situation that Fraser ain't prepared for. He'll pull some rabbit out of the hat... "You're gonna use some of that uh... that Northern uh folklore type stuff and get us out right?"
He's got his gloves off and his hat off, and he's got a plan. I know he has.
"Not this time," he growls in frustration and I can't take my eyes off him. He looks defeated. For the first time since we started this, he doesn't know what to do. And I suddenly realise just how much I've relied on him since we got here. I don't usually give myself over so completely to anyone. I didn't even trust Stella this much. I look at him and I see the regret and the sorrow in his eyes
He thinks he's failed me.
Dear God, he thinks he's failed me . I don't get it. It was me that got us into this situation. This is my fault, yet he's blaming himself. "We are well and truly trapped. Gimme your gun,"
He uses it to fire a red hankie into the air. I should probably take a moment to wonder what the hell good that'll do, but nothing Fraser does or says can surprise me anymore. He's the most amazing man I've ever met and if I have to die now, if I have to die wedged in an ice crevasse hundreds of miles from civilisation, then I'm glad that he'll be with me.
"All right! And now... we just have to wait...and hope that...that in this vast, unpopulated, unravelled wilderness, that somebody sees it," he pants, the exertion of the last few hours finally catching up with him.
"And if nobody notices it?" I have to ask.
"Then we die." That's what I thought. I can't feel my feet anymore, and my fingers have begun to tingle. I guess I've got that hypothermia just hanging around like this. I can feel the occasional puff of warm air on my face from Fraser's body heat when he moves, but it's the only thing I feel. I'm not even shivering anymore.
'I get out of this... I live through this...I'm gonna find that hand, I'm gonna find that reaching out hand.'
'It might be the hand of death.'
"You know, when I add it all up, I only got one regret. That I never went on any uh... kinda real adventures."
Ray had dozed for a while, and I let him. There seemed little point in us both staying alert, and he was so terribly tired. I worried, of course, that he might never wake up again. I spent the whole time staring at his face, watching his lips to make sure they were not turning blue. But he stayed with me. He didn't leave me alone to deal with his death. And now he's awake and he's talking. I understand that need to communicate. I feel it too, although I'm not good with words and feelings. So I listen and encourage him to continue.
"You don't consider being trapped 200 feet down an ice crevasse an adventure?"
"Nah. More like eh... you know, like finding the top of the Nile or the... the tomb, king Tut's tomb, uh, dating a super model, uh... Franklin. Who the hell is Franklin - why am I thinking Franklin?"
I'm staring at him in wonder.
He heard me. He was listening. Ray was actually listening. He may well have fallen asleep during my discourse, but he was listening last night as I talked. Those stories that I tell, those tall tales - they're about me. They mean a lot to me, because they're my way of explaining myself in the only way I know how. And he was listening. My God, Ray was listening. And with dawning realisation, I see that Ray has always listened to me. I just never noticed before.
My mind goes over all the times I talked, and he would sit there, quietly until I finished, then he would smile and call me a freak. He was really saying that he 'got it' wasn't he? That he understood me, and he accepted me. God, I've been such a blind fool. I think Ray has been trying to tell me something for a very long time but I just didn't see it.
He's smiling at me now and I laugh out loud, finding it so stupid to be learning these things only now, when we are about to freeze to death. Why didn't I look more closely at my partner, why didn't I see what was in his heart? I realised earlier that I love Ray. I now see that he loves me too! Unconditionally. Ray loves me. It's a huge thing, this revelation. I don't know if I can ever put into words what I feel right now. And I know that he can't either.
He set out on an adventure with me, not knowing how it would turn out, knowing only that where I went, he would gladly follow. That was his way of telling me that he wanted to be with me no matter what.
And so I share one last story with him, my favourite tale because it touches the adventurer in me, and hopefully I will touch him too, with my words.
"In 1845, Sir John Franklin set off in search of the Northwest Passage with two boats - the Erebus and the Terror, and he was last seen navigating Peel Sound. July 26th..."
"Nobody found them?"
"No, no... No, many went in search of his hand reaching for the Beaufort Sea, but none found him." And more than likely, none will find us either. This is the end for Ray and I. I'm growing weaker by the moment, and Ray's lips are getting tinged with blue. So this is how it will end? A sense of deep peace settles over me.
He looks upward, towards the sliver of blue sky above us and sighs. "I get out of this... I live through this...I'm gonna find that hand, I'm gonna find that reaching out hand." And he raises him own hand weakly, making a little grabbing motion.
"It might be the hand of death." I feel compelled to point out even though I desperately want to encourage his attempt at frivolity. We're going to die soon, and there are things... things I want to tell him. Things I want to hear him say. Things about friendship, and love. Then I look into his eyes, and I see that he's not joking. He really wants that. He wants an adventure of his very own. He wants to do something more with his life than merely exist.
"Yeah, well I've faced death," he acknowledges weakly.
"What did you do?"
"I sang," he answers immediately, looking a little surprised by his own confession. "Of course it was Abba so it sorta spoiled the romantic effect but yeah, I sang."
He sang? I can't imagine Ray singing in the face of death. Can't image him singing Abba songs at all to be honest, but if he says he did, then who am I to question.
"Then we should sing."
"No." And I begin to sing. The song is beautiful yet sad, haunting yet filled with hope. The words tear at me, filling the holes in my soul with memories, and unfulfilled wishes, dreams and desires. The journey is almost over for us, and we face the end together. It's a better end than I could ever have wished for.
I make no pretence about it. I'm singing for him. I'm singing to him. He closes his eyes, and I feel him begin to relax, to slip slowly away from me, a small, content smile on his face.
I'm glad that I didn't have to choose between you and Ray Vecchio. May we meet again on the other side, where we'll always be partners and nothing will come between us ever again.
"So, you boys want out or are you okay where you are?"
Grizzly Adams is hanging upside down from a hole in the ceiling. I know I'm dying, but surely God could have sent me a better looking angel? Claudia Schaffer I'm thinking or maybe...
"Ark-Angel Delmar. It doesn't sound right. I stare at the apparition dumbly, the full implications of its presence lost on me. My brain is already half way frozen.
"How ya doing?" the angel asks and I'm blinking like crazy, trying to work out what the hell is happening. Cuz this feels a lot like it could be a rescue. And I'm not sure I'm ready to be rescued. Not till Fraser's through singing to me.
"Oh, you know, uh... a bit stuck!" he says, almost conversationally.
"Hey, good to see ya! It's been what... since grade four?" the upside-down-guy says.
"Yeah, at least"
"God, I loved grade four..." I don't hear anything else. I'm looking at Fraser. Really looking at him. Now that the threat of imminent death has become merely the threat of eventual death, I'm feeling a little cheated. How fucked-up is that? I thought me and Fraser were gonna have a beautiful death scene here, like something out of a cheesy Harlequin Romance novel. Staring into his eyes. I was gonna die looking into the face of my best friend. Knowing that someone on this ball of dirt actually cared for me. Loved me.
I should be thanking God for the rescue, but I'm just hanging here, looking longingly at my buddy and wishing that we'd had more time. More time to... to what? I don't even know. To talk? Fraser and me don't talk to each other too well. Feelings and emotions are things we can't put into words. Maybe we needed more time to think about things. Put things into perspective? Come to terms with all the things that have happened.
I'm not uncomfortable about loving him. It's not that exactly. It's the way I love him that worries me. Perhaps the intensity of it can be explained by our near-death experience, but now that we're all but saved, I look at him and still feel my stomach churning. Could it be that today I fell into more that just an ice crevasse? Could it be that I fell in love with my best friend?
"So, you boys want out or are you okay where you are?"
Jesus is this guy for real? Maybe getting yourself wedged in an ice crevasse with your best buddy is like a national past time up here? Fraser doesn't even answer and I wonder if he's thinking the same thoughts that I am. One thing is for certain though, if I don't get my arms and legs moving soon, I'm gonna lose 'em.
"Out..." I croak, "...out'd be good."
"So, if uh, if we live through this uh... if we get back to Chicago, I guess you'll partner up with uh, Vecchio?"
It feels good to be warm again, to be fed and dry and safe. The meal was satisfying, and the company most congenial even if Ray refused to come out of our borrowed tent until he had completely thawed out. I should feel happy that we made it out in one piece, but something is bothering me and I don't know what it is.
Certainly I have a lot to think about, not least of which is the disturbing news about my mother's death and my father's part in Holloway Muldoon's apparent death. I'm finding it very hard to see my father in such an unfavourable light. He was a lousy father to me, but he was always such a paragon, such a shining role model of what it meant to be the perfect Mountie. I spent my whole life trying to live up to him.
"Delicious meal, sir" I compliment Buck Frobisher on dinner. It was the strangest thing I'd ever tasted, but it was hot, and filling and just what I needed.
"Ah, thank you."
"We should be able to make Bolt's rendezvous by midday tomorrow."
Buck looks around suspiciously, into the darkness where the firelight cannot reach. "Hm, yes. Is uh... is he around here by any chance? Your father, I mean."
"No, no." I've gotten to the point where I can actually feel his presence before I see him. Wherever he is now, it's not near by. And the mention of my father brings back my earlier thoughts. "You know, he never told me. About my mother," I accuse, looking perhaps for Buck to defend him in his absence. I'm not disappointed.
"And what could he say?" Buck asks, almost like he's been expecting this for a long time. And indeed, he probably has been. God, I feel like I've been walking around in blinkers for half my life. "That he was a flawed individual, that he failed your mother, that he failed you? He was half mad with grief, Benton. He did what he could, what he knew."
Some small, hurt voice inside me bubbles up, "He became a murderer!"
"Muldoon laughed at him! Laughed in his face. You mustn't be too harsh on him, Benton."
He's right, of course. I've put my father on a pedestal for too long. It's time to see him through adult eyes, and not those of a lonely confused ten-year-old boy.
"I'm not so sure about this, uh.. rendezvous..." Ray chooses that precise moment to come out of the tent. "... I mean, we only got uh, half a dozen Mounties and they got uh, 40 armed uh, men. The odds are kinda funky."
"Well, it just won't be any good if there's no challenge huh? Well I think I'll go lay down some tallow for the dogs..."
As he gets to his feet, we are reminded once again, why wrapping Moose Hock in gorgonzola cheese is not a good idea. He blames it on Diefenbaker of course, who is less than gracious about it and then he leaves us alone, Ray and I.
Ray sits beside me, fidgeting nervously with the flask of bark tea prepared for him by Turnbull.
"So, if uh, if we live through this uh... if we get back to Chicago, I guess you'll partner up with uh, Vecchio?" he asks, unable to look me in the eye.
I stare down at the snow glistening in the light of the fire and clear my throat. I had hoped for a little more time to think about this. Ray assumes that we will all go back to Chicago of course, and that I will choose Ray Vecchio over him.
He's wrong of course.
"That's okay, cuz he's a... " I sneak a look at Ray and I'm surprised to see that he's struggling to find the right words to say. "...good guy, you worked with him for a while." Ray finally manages to look me in the eye and I can see how close to tears he is. It shakes me to the core that Ray trusts me enough to show me how hard this is for him too.
"You know, Ray, my Father and Buck Frobisher were partners for more than twenty years, and their territory was thousands of miles. Sometimes they wouldn't see each other for months, but no matter how far apart they were they always knew that they were partners."
I'm trying to tell Ray that the bond we share will live on in our hearts even if we can't be together anymore, but I'm not sure I'm getting the message across. Then suddenly he smiles that smile, the one that makes my insides flip over and he begins "I'm not sure if you've..."
Inspector Thatcher interrupts before he can finish. "Fraser?"
There's something soft about her voice, and I get the impression this is not about work, still I excuse myself from Ray with a regretful "Duty."
Ray stares into the fire and replies "barks!" and again there is that smile. It's all I can do to get to my feet and follow her into the shadows.
"I've been thinking about the matter of our transfer..." she says as we walk, and I can feel Ray's eyes bore into the back of my head. Something is niggling at me; something I feel I should know. That I should have worked out.
"You know, I look out into this cold, barren, empty landscape, where any mistake could be your last, where you are surrounded by endless miles of silence with only yourself for company and ..."
As she speaks, I begin to smile at the image she's describing until she continues with...
"... and I can't help think of a life less appealing."
My head drops to my chest, having entertained a brief hope that she might consider transferring us both here instead of to Toronto. I steel myself to argue against her choice, but it's not necessary. Once again, Meg Thatcher surprises me.
"But obviously it is where you belong"
"Yes sir, I think it is," I say, taking one tentative, hopeful step towards her. Could she really be letting me go this easily? I expected more of a fight.
"So then this could be our last..."
"Possibly," I agree, feeling the same sense of sadness and loss that I experienced when I first realised that Ray Vecchio was really gone.
"Then... maybe we should...?" she leans forward, just as Buck begins howling, setting off every dog in the camp. I lean forward too and press my lips to her cold cheek.
"It's been an honour working with you Meg," I whisper, and she turns her face slightly brushing her lips against mine briefly, reminding me of the kiss we shared half a lifetime ago atop a runaway train.
"Likewise, Benton," she says softly, turning to trudge back towards her tent. I stand there for a while watching her go, wondering if there could ever have been anything more between us. I was very attracted to her, that was true, but when we kissed, long ago on that train, all I had felt was desire, lust, pure and simple. There had been no heavenly choirs, or even choruses of Mounties. She did not hold my heart back then, and she does not hold it now.
I turn back to the fire and see Ray still sitting there, watching me. Here is where my heart lies.
In the palm of Ray Kowalski's hand.
"You and the Ice Queen - looked real tight out there in the shadows. It's no secret that she wants to go to Toronto. So... I'm thinking that you have two choices, you go with her, or you go back to Chicago, take over the consulate and maybe work with Vecchio again. How am I doing?"
My heart is pounding inside my chest. I can't believe I nearly made the stupidest mistake of my life. I was listening to Fraser tell me one of his little stories, trying to tell me that even if we weren't together, we'd always be partners, and I was thinking that it was his way of telling me that he'd chosen Vecchio and it felt like I'd just been slapped hard right on the face. I didn't want to hear him say it. I didn't want to feel that pain and I nearly begged him to stay with me. I nearly begged! Shit Ray, what the hell was that all about?
I've been struggling with my feelings since we arrived in the camp. Out there, stuck in that crevasse with Fraser, I thought I was gonna die. My head was screwed up. I didn't know what I was saying or thinking. I believed that I might have fallen for Fraser, which is ridiculous. He's a guy, for crying out loud. He's a guy and I'm a guy and we ain't going down that route. It's just that I've never felt so strongly about another person in my life. Not even Stella and she was my goddamned wife!
Not that he's ugly or anything. He ain't ugly at all. I might not be the best qualified to judge, but even I can see that Fraser is real good looking. His body is nice, he's not deformed or anything, but I've never really been looking before. I'm not really looking now.
"I'm sorry Ray, what were you about to say?" I glance up and there he is, looking flushed and a little embarrassed and I know I can't ask this of him. Long before I met him there was the Ice Queen and there was Vecchio. He wants to have them both back in his life and there's no room for me there. No room for a guy who who's totally fucked up. I can't beg to be allowed to stay with him. I won't beg!
"Doesn't matter Frase..." I get up and head back for the tent we were allocated, not really surprised when he follows me into the gloom. We're silent as we strip away out outer garments and wriggle into our borrowed sleeping bags.
"Ray," he says softly. "I'd like to hear what you were thinking. Your opinion does matter to me."
I sigh deeply and stare up at the roof of the tent. Outside there's a full moon and I can track the movements of clouds passing over its face through the pale material.
"I don't know who I am anymore," I blurt, wishing like hell my mouth would check in with my brain before saying these things. "I thought... I thought this trip would clear things up, you know? I thought I would find.... something..." Hell, I don't have a clue what I'm trying to say here. "I guess I'm looking for answers."
"I'd like to help Ray," he murmurs, rolling onto his back and staring upwards like me. "But first, you have to tell me what the questions are."
"Okay, all right," I close my eyes and go for it. It's not like it's gonna make any difference. He's going back to reclaim the life he had before I came along. I'm going back to.... to... well, I have no idea what I'm going back to but it feels like a whole mess of nothing right now. "You and the Ice Queen - looked real tight out there in the shadows. It's no secret that she wants to go to Toronto. So... I'm thinking that you have two choices, you go with her, or you go back to Chicago, take over the consulate and maybe work with Vecchio again. How am I doing?"
For a long time, there is complete silence except for the sound of our breathing and the faint crackle of the dying campfire outside our tent. I figure he's working out how to let me down gently. He's been a good friend to me, and I know he wouldn't want to hurt me, not on purpose. But he knows that his next words will hurt like hell and he's trying to think up some damned Inuit story to cushion the blow.
"There is another option, Ray," he finally allows. "And one I've more or less decided on. I'm not going to Toronto. Nor am I going back to Chicago to partner with Ray Vecchio. I'm going to stay here, Ray. This is my home, this is where I belong."
Speechless. Completely speech... I'm.... Well shit! "You ain't partnering with Vecchio?" I could have sworn ... God, I'm speechless here.
"Or marryin' the Ice Queen and producing tons of little Mounties?" Let's be absolutely clear here, cuz it sure looked like they were getting friendly over there by the big pine tree. There's been something simmering between them for a long time, and while she scares the pants off me, there's no reason why he couldn't make an honest woman of her. He's got the balls for it.
"No, Ray. I'm not cut out to be a Father. Or a husband for that matter."
Well fine. Good. That's good. I don't know why I'm so fucking happy about that. I should be gutted on his behalf. He's telling me that he's going to spend a single, lonely life up here in the frozen North but all I can think about is that he won't be working with Ray Vecchio. I'm scum. I'm worse than scum.
"Me either." It's all I can think of to say. We're a pair all right. Both of us lonely and both of us stubborn. "So you're staying in Canada?"
He nods and rolls a little onto his side so that he can look at me. "I have no real reason to go back. My home is here."
"I don't have a home," I whisper, feeling the weight of it press down on me, crushing me. "I don't have a home, and I don't have a life without... well, without you." My God, did I say that out loud? His sharp intake of breath tells me that I did. "I'm lost Fraser," I say wretchedly, rolling to look at him too. "I always knew Vecchio would come back one day and reclaim it all. His name, his job, his... his partner..." I feel his hand on my shoulder squeezing me tentatively and it feels so good.
"I just didn't think about what that would mean for me. I took the damned job after the divorce became final because I needed to escape for a while. I swear to God, I never intended to get so..."
"Involved?" he offers.
"...involved right. Welsh, the Duck brothers, Frannie... even your fucking doughnut stealing wolf... they all came to mean a lot to me and I don't want to give it up Frase, I don't want to loose it all."
"No one's asking you to, Ray," he reasons, looking a bit confused. "I'm sure that Leftenant Welsh will be happy to have you stay on at the precinct..."
"I know that, I know that! But if you ain't part of it Fraser, if you ain't there with me, then I don't see the point. Don't you get it?" I don't know how it happened but I got a fist full of his sleeping bag and I'm shaking it like I'm mad at him, which I'm not - it's me I'm mad at, for being needy. "You've touched my life - you've been the biggest influence on me even if you don't know it. You're everything I want to be and I'm no one without you. No one."
There, done it. Told him. Came right out and showed him what a broken, pathetic and sorry excuse for a human being I am. Only blubbering all over him would make this moment feel worse and I'm in real danger of doing just that. I force my fingers to release the death grip they have on his sleeping bag and I roll onto my back again, shame burning my face with embarrassment. The silence between us stretches and grows until I have to fight back the urge to flee the tent.
"You know, Ray, I have a lot of leave accumulated, and I've been thinking that if we succeed in capturing Muldoon and his cohorts, I would enjoy accompanying you on your quest to find the hand of Franklin."
For a moment, I'm speechless all over again. Unable to equate what he's just said with what went before. "You... want to come on an adventure with me?" Is he really offering to stay with me? Is he really offering that?
"If you'll have me."
"You mean we could really do this? Go find the hand of Franklin for real?" God, I never seriously thought... when we where dangling from that fissure in the ice, close to death I let my mind fly free. I thought about all the things I should have done with my life, all the things I would never get the chance to do. "We could be artic explorers on a... a quest or something?"
I've been stumbling along, doing what people wanted me to do; Stella, my teachers, my parents. The only thing I ever did for myself was joining the academy, and that decision totally fucked my relationship with my father for too many years to mention. I'm tired of wearing this mask. Tired of living this lie.
I need to find out who I am. Fresh start; new beginning; clean slate. And as I lie here in the darkness I feel it rising within me, the buzz of excitement and wonder. Can I really have this? Can I really live the dream?
"If that's what you want, Ray, then of course we can. We'll send word back to Chicago. I'm sure Francesca would take care of your apartment, and of course your turtle."
"How long...?" Not sure what I mean by that - how long will it take, how long can he put up with me, how long is a piece of string....
"As long as it takes." He replies, and I see that he understands me. And maybe, just maybe, Fraser needs this as much as I do. Maybe he has some things he needs to find out about himself too.
In the muted darkness of the tent, I see the outline of his hand, stretching across the space between us and I smile at him "That a 'reaching out' hand you're offering me, Fraser old buddy?"
Fraser looks at his outstretched fingers and nods, "I do believe it is."
"I would be honoured to go on an adventure with you, Benton Fraser." I say formally, because the occasion seems to warrant it.
I meet him half way, twining my fingers through his and gripping tightly. Yes, this is what I want. I don't understand it yet, I don't know what the future will hold for us, all I know is that I don't feel whole without him by my side, and I would pretty much follow him to the ends of the earth. I'm hoping he feels the same way. We can work out the details later.
We fall asleep like that, facing each other, only our fingers touching. In the morning we wake up at the same time, and spend an agonising few minutes getting our fingers to relax enough to separate. There's no embarrassment, no awkwardness. For the first time in forever, I don't feel lost and I know I made the right choice here. Last night we made a commitment to each other, for better or for worse.
I suppose, at some point, Fraser and me will have to sit down and hash out what that really means. Lay down some guidelines, figure out what we both want and need from each other. See if we can fulfil those needs in one another. But not right now.
Right now we have a job to do - a bad guy to catch. And as Fraser keeps telling me - a Mountie always gets him man.
"I don't know why anyone ever does that. Lord, that, hurts!"
My father looks down at his knuckles and I follow his gaze, expecting to see bruised and swollen skin, but find flesh so pale and translucent that I can see almost right through it. "What?" He asks seeing my expression. I raise my eyes slowly, and with my heart thundering in my chest, I acknowledge what I've feared for some time.
He sighs. "I've solved my last crime.." Then he smiles proudly, "I've caught my last man. No reason to hang around."
He's leaving? He's finally going to be at rest? I should feel happy, grateful even, but I just feel empty and terribly alone right at that moment. "I uh... I thought you were permanent." I sound like a child, like a boy who's being let down again, by a father that can't or won't stay with him. I don't want to sound like that but I simply can't help it. He's leaving me again and it hurts.
"Oh, son," he admonishes softly, "Nothing is permanent."
I don't believe that. Not for a moment. There has to be something left that I can rely on in this world. Someone that will be there for me always.
I'm managing not to make a spectacle of myself by blubbering all over him, knowing that my father was never one for overt displays of emotion, but then I hear a strange tinkling sound and when I turn to find it's source, my heart stops beating for a split second. For coming towards me through the gloom, is my mother, looking just as young and beautiful as I remember her.
We both speak at the same time, but she tears her eyes away from my father at the sound of my voice and looks at me in wonder. She must still remember me as a ten year old boy. She brushes my hair away from my forehead, just like she used to do when tucking me into bed at night and she smiles at me. Such a beautiful, proud, happy smile, that for a moment I feel my heart swell with love. Then she steps backwards and it all begins to fall apart. She's here to bring my father peace. She won't stay with me, and I shouldn't wish for it.
I know that there are tears rolling down my cheeks as I watch my mother and father walk away from me, hand in hand. I can feel the cool sting of them in the freezing cold of the mineshaft but I don't care anymore. They turn to look at me one last time, and then they slowly, silently disappear like smoke dissipating on a breeze. I'm alone again, in the cold and the dark.
"Frase? You need any help?"
I look up to the shaft entrance through which we fell and see Ray's face silhouetted against the sun. I can tell he's smiling. I can hear it in his voice and I swipe the back of my hand across my eyes and I smile back at him.
Not alone. Not anymore. Ray took my hand last night when I reached out to him, not really knowing how much I needed him to take it. Ray will be with me always.
I cast a quick glance in the direction my parents went and beneath my breath I whisper, "Some things are permanent, Dad. You just need to believe in them."
Then to my friend Ray I yell, "I could use a rope." I manage to keep my voice steady. "Or possibly a long ladder would suffice."
"You get your man?" He asks softly.
"Yes, Ray," I gaze back up at him and smile "I believe I did."
- And as for Ray, or should I say Stanley Kowalski? Sergeant Frobisher geared us up with tack and tallow, and led by Diefenbaker we set out, Ray and I. We set out on an adventure. And when we looked below, he saluted. Sergeant Frobisher saluted and I saluted back. And off we went to find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea.
And if we do find his hand... the reaching out one.... We'll let you know.