by Carmen Kildare

Author's Website: http://N/A

Disclaimer: Not mine. Never were. I make no claim, make no profit. I do make damn good milkshakes, though.

Author's Notes: Hmm. To Angel, who inspires. To Dawn, who encourages. To Livia, who is incredible. To Beth, who's always about. To Feith, the Codeine Queen.

Story Notes: The Arctic Survival Book by David Owingayak, Published by the Inuit Cultural Institute, gave me the framework. Spoilers for Bounty Hunter and Ladies Man, but small ones. The title means "Winter".

by Carmen Kildare

Part One: Siku (ice)

Ray drops me off at the Consulate after buying me dinner and trying to take me to a movie. For a brief moment as I grasp the door handle he reaches across my body, covers my hand with his own. His eyes are greyed-out in the streetlights, silvered, shadowed by wide pupils. I have the strangest sensation of falling, tumbling helplessly. I swallow almost convulsively, and that moves him to speak.

"It'll get better, Frase, I swear to God it will," he says earnestly, his fingers warm and steady around my cold hand. "Don't take it so hard, huh?" and I can see sympathy there, and understanding, and a caring that warms me in a way nothing else could.

"I'll be fine, Ray," I tell him gently, shifting my grip to squeeze his hand reassuringly. "Thank-you for ... everything." I get out, make my way to the dark, silent building that is my home away from home and no home at all. I do not hear him pull away until several minutes after I have closed and locked the doors. That, too, warms me in ways I cannot describe.

I decide on tea, not wanting to go to bed just yet, not wanting to sleep in bedding that still smells like Janet Morse. It would be too ... lonely.

There is a certain irony, I find, that it is here, in Chicago, that I am most truly alone, and most keenly aware of that isolation. In my childhood the communities were small but tightly knit. I admit that I was at times aware of a certain ... lack in my life. My mother's death, my father's protracted absences, the somewhat dry affection of my grandparents who loved me, yet still raised me with the same reserve that helped to create the man my father became ... they all created a distance within me that I never entirely overcame. Nevertheless, everybody in those communities knew me. I was a part of them, and they a part of me. We were all of us shaped by the same environment, by similar experiences. Beneath the surface, we were all of us kin. I may have been an occasionally odd or awkward child, but I belonged.

In later years, on remote patrol, I was often on my own for weeks at a time. I still did not feel particularly alone, primarily, I think, because I was not aware of any other alternative. Weeks passed without seeing another face, hearing another voice. The vastness of the Yukon made my own empty places seem small, almost meaningless by comparison. Besides, what other models did I have to compare myself to? This was the life my father had lived. This was all I really knew. My experiences, my expectations at the time seemed normal.

Of course, there was Victoria. But that was something past reason, past comprehension. It is not ... relevant to this.

Or is it? When she found me, I was already feeling this distancing, this gulf. When I told my father that I needed, I could not say what it was that I needed. If I look back upon it, and force myself to look upon it with reason and dispassion, perhaps it was the connection I craved as much as the woman herself. The completion of my body buried in hers, her fingers in my mouth, a circle unbroken.

I suspect it was that same ... longing that attracted me to Janet Morse. She matches me in so many ways. Just as Victoria's passion and my own were commensurate, so are my nature, my interests and my instincts matched to Janet. We could have fit into each other's worlds with very little adjustment. There is something terribly compelling about that.

That I found her warm and vibrant and remarkably pretty in her own way did not hurt, either.

"And yet you let her get away."

I slosh hot water over my wrist, my father's voice slicing through my reverie.

"Go away."

He ignores me. Which should not surprise me, yet time and again I am astonished by his seemingly blatant disregard for my feelings. "Pour me a cup of tea, too, son. One sugar."

I ignore his request, sit down with my tea. "Dead men don't drink," I say pointedly. "Then again, they don't generally pester their descendents and make a nuisance of themselves, either."

My father sighs. "True enough, son. And I must admit, I was off the mark with that Morse woman. Perhaps I've let the whole grandchildren thing blind me to the obvious."

I will not give him the satisfaction. I will not give him the ... oh, hell. "What's obvious?"

He looks at me like I'm a particularly dense cadet. "That you love the Yank. Setting you on the Morse woman, sturdy or not, grandchildren or not, only confused the issue."

I feel my jaw drop open, my skin grow hot and Jesus Christ, I'm precariously close to forty, yet my dead father can make me blush. "What the hell?"

He nods knowingly. "I always knew you and the Yank were close. Saw it in the sub. Hell, I see how you look at him, how he looks at you. I just never added it all up before. Looks like you've already got yourself a damned good foundation." He shakes his head at that. "I must be losing my touch, son. As far as I knew, it was only ever girls for you."

"It wasn't," I answer, shocked into truth. "But you were never around, so how would you know?" His words echo through me, and I am like Saul on the road to Damascus, struck blind by realization and forever, fundamentally altered. In Ray Kowalski I have the passion I sought in Victoria, the companionship and camaraderie that beckoned in Janet. He is my best friend, the other half of my soul. Together, we are a circle unbroken. With him, I am never alone.

And I know with painful certainty that I can never have more with him than what I already have; with that realization, I find myself suddenly more alone than ever I was before.

I push back my tea, appalled, distraught. I stand, trembling, and something in my face makes my dead father stand as well, reach out to me with phantom fingers. I push him away, stumble to my room like a blind man. Somehow I find my way to my cot, strip down enough to sleep.

He apologizes several times, for once in our whole relationship seeing and understanding. I turn my back to him, face the wall, and the tears that I denied myself earlier come now, hard and fast and unstoppable. I cry so hard that I cannot breathe and the cot shakes beneath me and I hear my father saying my name, over and over, with a gentleness that makes me cry even harder. I fall asleep to the sound of his voice.

He is still there when I wake up in the morning. When I was eight, it would have meant the world to me. This morning, it means nothing at all, for the emptiness inside is cold and frozen and nothing can penetrate it.

I cannot allow it to.


Part Two: Quarraluktuq (ice cracking <under feet>)

He weeps for a long time after he leaves Beth Botrelle's house, great wrenching sobs that tear him apart. Diefenbaker is distraught, wanting to help but unsure of what to do and I am equally miserable in my own inadequacy. I try to pat his back, but it feels awkward to me, nothing like the ready comfort he offered me in the wake of Janet's departure. Still, he doesn't shrug me off. Eventually, he leans back and in, towards me a little; my hand is pressed between him and the seat, and I can feel each indrawn breath, each pulse, despite the barrier of his leather jacket, his sweater.

The silence stretches out between us, marred only by the ragged thickness of his breathing and Diefenbaker's soft, sympathetic vocalizations.

"Give me the keys, Ray," I say at last, and to my surprise he does just that, without a word of protest. I get out, pull him over into the passenger seat, and then walk around to the driver's side. The car starts easily and we are soon driving through the winter-dark streets. He doesn't speak at all; I understand this, I can respect this. Sometimes there are no words.

Still, I wish I could stretch out my hand again, touch him in the oddly fragile place between the hard jut of his shoulder blades. I wish I could feel his breath and pulse, feel him.

He is asleep by the time we reach his building, mouth open, snoring softly. I try to wake him but he only murmurs and stirs. I haven't the heart to keep trying. Instead, I manage to pull him from the car and lift him over my shoulder. He is surprisingly light, despite his height. I am barely even breathing hard by the time I reach his door.

He surfaces slightly when I have him on his bed, pulling his shoes off. He makes a slight, dazed noise. I look up to see his eyes half-open, half-aware. "Shh, Ray. Sleep," and he sighs, turns his face into his pillow.

"Don' go," he says thickly, indistinctly. "Jus' don' go."

"I won't," I promise, undoing his pants, pulling off his coat and sweater. He shifts and lifts like an exhausted child, utterly trusting in my hands. He is soon under the covers and snoring softly once again. Diefenbaker whines enquiringly from the doorway. I think a moment, then nod, and watch as he carefully climbs onto the bed by Ray's feet. He whines again, watching me, but I shake my head. Some limits can be pushed, others can't.

I move back out into the apartment, remove my own shoes and coat and stretch out onto the sofa.


A noise in the kitchen wakes me, and I find myself sitting upright so suddenly I get a trifle dizzy, but it's just Ray getting something out of his fridge. He comes over to me, glass in hand. "Middle of the night mouth," he says by way of explanation, holding his half-drunk juice out to me. I take a sip, my own mouth dry and unpleasant. "You didn't have to stay," he says at last as I hand the glass back to him

I look up at him, his skin silvered by the moonlight slipping into his apartment. He is rumpled, with his odd, clingy boxers riding up, his tank top askew, his hair looking as though he were the one with the habit of licking electrical outlets rather than I. He is, to me, heartbreakingly beautiful. "Yes I did."

He blinks, pushes his head forward slightly, finishes off his juice. Sets the glass down. Nods. "Yes you did," he agrees, reaching out to me, pulling me to my feet, pulling me against his sleep-warm body. "God, Fraser," and his mouth is open over mine, sour with juice, thick with sleep, alive with passion. "God, Fraser," he breathes into me.

I try to pull away, but he's strong despite the deceptive lightness of his body, and there is no escaping the pull of his arms, the way his teeth bite down gently on my lip, the way his legs frame mine.

And I don't want to get away.

Still, conscience demands that I try. "Ray, this isn't wise..." and he laughs into my mouth, dark, rich, bitter.

"No, it's not wise, it's not ... fucking ... wise," he mutters between slow, hard kisses, bruising my lips, my heart. "But it's there, ain't it, Benton? And it's all we got, and everything I need, just this minute." He pulls away slightly, breathing heavily like he's been running. I rest my forehead against his, press myself against his body, and he groans, sighs. "Oh, God, please. Just ... please?"

I kiss him then, as roughly as he was kissing me, trying to find a way into him deep enough that I might never have to leave. "Bed," at last, a breath, a sob, both of us at once.

I am more than halfway naked by the time I fall back onto the disordered sheets. Ray lands on top of me, his mouth stealing my air, stealing my reason even as his fingers work their way between us. I lift, let him pull my pants down until he can touch me, can hold me in the hollow of his hand. I reach out, find him, pull him free of his shorts. We are kissing and stroking and gasping and it should be tender, it should be sweet, but it's all we've got, and everything we need just this minute.

Afterward, tangled and messy, he kisses me again. This time it is tender, it is sweet, and inside me something cracks open wide; I can feel it shuddering apart, everything shuddering apart. I simply close my eyes against it, hold Ray as tightly as I dare, and ride it out.


In the morning I awake to find him dressed, holding out a mug of tea to me. I accept it wordlessly, drink it so quickly it scalds my mouth. He sits down besides me, watches me with unfathomable eyes. All too soon the tea is gone, and now the silence stretches tight and thin.

Finally he snorts, shakes his head. "You look like Bambi in my headlights," he says, smiling slightly, and I feel my own mouth twitch in sympathy. "I'm shocked, Fraser. I mean ... you, quiet? No big, y'know, discussion? Debriefing? Questions?"

I sigh, rub my tired eyes. "I am somewhat afraid of what the answers might be," I admit.

He sighs as well, stretches out alongside me. "Me, I haven't got a clue. I figure, maybe there aren't any answers. Just more questions. But chasing questions, that's just one of those things we do, right Frase?" He leans back onto the pillow, stares at the ceiling.

Eventually I slide down beside him. When I reach out my hand, his is waiting. His long, slender fingers wrap around me, hold me tightly. We lay like that until the alarm rings for work


Part Three: Tuvaijaqtuq (ice break-up)

I brought Ray home with me to Inuvik after our adventure ended, and to my surprise he decided within a matter of days that he didn't want to leave again. I remember, quite distinctly, holding him down on our hotel room bed and checking him thoroughly for rashes, but there were none. I remember, equally distinctly, him whispering that he loved me against the pillows as I licked that oddly fragile place between the hard jut of his shoulder blades, as I pushed my way into his slow-yielding, sweet-yielding body.

Of course, we did have to leave again, if only to wrap up loose ends. We went back to Chicago to pack up possessions and to apply for Ray to live and work in Canada and for me to get a posting to the Inuvik detachment. The fact that we were heroes of a sort expedited matters somewhat, but it was still a nerve-wracking wait.

Then there was, of course, saying good-bye to friends and family. For the most part we decided to simply tell people that Ray and Canada seemed oddly well suited, and to leave it at that. At Ray's urging that's the approach we took with his parents.

It was, however, pointless. Mrs. Kowalski just shook her head when Ray was halfway through his travelogue, covered his mouth with her fingers, and asked him if he was happy.

"God, yeah," he said, smiling despite himself, and she nodded, and his father nodded, and a week later she gave me copies of family recipes and he took us around looking at a variety of four-wheel drive vehicles so we wouldn't get 'taken' when we needed to buy a vehicle of our own.

Stella was somewhat less understanding. Ray came home white-lipped angry and to this day has not said a word about it. Stella apparently also saw fit to inform Ray Vecchio, who called me that evening to arrange for lunch the following day. He was remarkably ... sanguine about the whole thing. I had expected something of the Italian machismo to colour his reaction, to taint the understanding between us, but he just smiled at me, a little sadly, a little ruefully, and said, "Benny!" as though I ought to have known him better.

Perhaps I should have.

When he dropped me off, he wished me happy in my life, gave me the address of his Florida cousins so I could keep in touch as it appeared they were moving down there, and told me, "You know, Benny, it isn't the fact that you're with a guy that gets me. It's the fact that the guy's Kowalski." He grinned at me then, and something in me unknotted, relaxed for the first time since his parting call two years ago. "At least up there, he'll be covered up in parkas and mukluks, so no one'll be subjected to his fashion sense!" Then he hugged me, kissed my cheek and was gone.

By the time all the paperwork was through, we had lined up a job for Ray with one of the excursion companies; the sharp learning curve of our adventure had turned out a rather remarkable outdoorsman. He also had an application in to the local Search and Rescue crew, which would allow him to work with me at times. Frobisher also managed to wrangle a 'consulting' credential for Ray, which would allow him further access to the depot and its investigations. Our partnership could continue to prosper.

It did.

Today, five years later, Ray is waiting for me after my duty shift ends, Diefenbaker riding shotgun, as Ray calls it, in the jeep we rebuilt out in the barn over the winter. He is hatless today, despite the chill, a sort of flagrant defiance of the weather that is utterly typical of him; I find this both endearing and maddening at the same time. The calendar says it is summer, and Stanley Raymond Kowalski refuses to wear a toque in the summer. He will, however, complain loudly about how cold his ears are.

I get in beside him, pushing a grumbling Diefenbaker into the back. "Hello, Ray. How was your day?"

He starts the engine, pulls away from the curb and begins heading out towards our cabin. He thinks awhile, scratching thoughtfully at the golden-blond beard he has grown this past winter. I don't think he actually meant to grow a beard, but a few days without shaving produced some ... interesting results one evening, and he's kept it ever since. His beard, unlike his five o'clock shadow, is amazingly soft. "Well, I got Johnny's old wreck of a snowmobile running again. Cheap bastard should just buy a new one, he's damn near paid me for one already. Uh, got all the harnesses cleaned and stored, the sleds fixed. Made stew. Umm, Mags called. Pups should be weaned in the next while, people are starting to make her offers, wants to know if we want one." Ray glances sideways at me, and Diefenbaker whines from the back. We've had this discussion before.

I sigh in exasperation. "We have two full sled teams, Ray. Why would we need another dog?"

Ray glances back at Diefenbaker, then reaches back and covers his eyes. "Because old hot britches back there is the daddy, that's why. And you know how much he likes pups. And hey, where's the harm in training up spare dogs, I ask you?"

"He has fathered many litters, and never wanted one before. He likes pups because he has the maturity of one. And if I let you have your way, you'd take in every stray half-breed in the North and raise them all up as sled dogs." I have to bite the inside of my mouth to keep from smiling. "But Maggie is family, and the pups are kin, of a kind, so what the hell."

Ray uncovers Diefenbaker's eyes, fists the air and shouts jubilantly. Diefenbaker is equally delighted, yipping excitedly, surging forward to lick us both, and neither one of them calms down the rest of the ride home.

I close my eyes, allowing their happy noise and the soft heat of the early summer sun to sink into my bones and warm me to the heart.


An End.