Layer after layer of autumn leaves
are swept away
Something forgets us perfectly
--Leonard Cohen, "For E.J.P."

Five Variations on an Inspiration #3 Deviation B: Benton Fraser

The whistling comes from somewhere out in the dark, and the low, tearing chuff of the call follows after, a pale stroke of chalk on rough paper.

"Who's whistling?" Ray asks. Only his hair is showing above the top of the mummy bag.

"Swans," Fraser answers. His eyes are open wide to gather the meagre light and he can see through the gap in the tent door the ghosts stroking the air toward the north. There's no open water there. The cold sifts through their wings, whistling.

Ray hums something that might be either approval or deep unconcern and squirms in his bag closer to Fraser. Out on the ice, the swans come to rest, fold their legs, tuck their feet into the down of their bellies and their noses under their wings. The world turns toward the sun. Their purple shadows lengthen, both pointing the same way.


Ray hunches like a comma toward the blue waver of the camp-burner and blows on his fingers. Fraser leans toward him, mouth open to speak, but Ray's looking away now, rocking a little with his arms curled against his body while his eyes narrow, focussing on the oblique brush-strokes of the swans against the clouds. Scattered ellipses, Dief and team are waiting under the overhanging curl of a wave frozen at the moment of breaking.


At the top of a meandering, dunelike ridge, Fraser brings them to a stop. The wind continues without them and for a few seconds Dief gazes after it, then looks back with one ear pointing toward the horizon, the other toward Fraser, the question in the tilt of his head. After a moment, he settles down with his muzzle on his paws. As always, the rest of the team follows his lead.

In the sled, Ray tips his head back and squints at Fraser upside down. If he had Dief's ears, they'd both be pointing Fraser's way. He doesn't, but the question is the same. Fraser hesitates. The command to get underway is already in this throat, but he swallows it, claps his hands together, steps off the skids and walks around beside the sled. Ray follows his progress, just his eyes visible between the toque and the scarf, but he pulls the scarf away as Fraser crouches beside him and looks back the way they came. Ray's warm breath has seeded the scarf with crystals of ice. They can't hear it, really, but the wind is whistling in feathers as the swans head further north.


Oddly out of context in the low, hissing soundscape-snow on snow on sky-Ray's voice brings Fraser back to study his face with the same expression he uses to confront the clouds, reading their contours for signs of inclement weather. Ray's watching him back now and, as is the case more and more often lately, his gaze is clear. In Chicago Fraser had gotten used to the interference that settled across Ray's face, in his eyes, in his fretful body language, a sort of dissonant feedback as Ray assessed how he was being seen, adjusted, deflected, projected you-talking-to-me-come-and-get-it bravado, street-smarts, Ray re-written in jabbing gestures and the tale of the one-two punch and a kick to the head. In Chicago, Fraser had learned to watch for the moments when the interference cleared. Usually this was when Stella was in the room. To be more precise, it was when Stella was in the room and not looking at Ray. Then, in those flickering moments easily lost in the traffic of the station, Ray was so openly Ray that Fraser couldn't breathe.

Here, at times like this when Ray's watching him with a new stillness and the interference has cleared from his eyes, Fraser has had to learn how to breathe again. He opens his mouth to speak and Ray tips his head, waiting. Fraser looks back along their tracks, at the twin ribbons of blue-grey shadow, and the swans dwindling close to the horizon. He shakes his head, self-deprecating.

"There was this Inuit warrior guy, and he had a...bird? Dog? Whale?" Ray prompts, and Fraser laughs. Ray does, too, silently into the icy folds of his scarf, and goes back to waiting. Dief tucks his nose under his tail.

Finally, like tipping off a cliff, or maybe because the world is turning in that direction, Fraser gives in to momentum and leans forward and kisses the corner of Ray's mouth. It's not a wild, caught-up-in-the-moment kiss, or a dry peck, or any of the possible kinds of kisses that come with plausible deniability. It doesn't last long, but it is what it is. Then he sits back on his heels.

Ray's gaze is still clear, but his eyes narrow so that they gleam in the diffuse light. "This one of those buddy-breathing kinda things?" he asks.

Fraser shakes his head. "No." Although, he admits to himself, it is, too, in its way.

Just when Fraser is starting to get a cramp in his foot, and the wind is setting miniature white tornadoes dancing across the top of the ridge, Ray's narrow look becomes instead heavy-lidded and a grin slants across his face, cocky, a little smug. "Okay," he says. That's when Fraser notices that Ray's got a death grip on the sides of the sled.

Nodding, Fraser says, "Okay," and pushes himself up to his feet. Fumbling in his thick mitten, Ray's hand catches his briefly before he climbs back onto the skids and sets them going again. Behind them, winging northward, the swans are tiny deviations in the white and space unfurls between them and the sled as Dief turns the team south. The wind blows sideways across their tracks.


Notes:  This is part of this little multi-fandom series I'm doing in which I'm writing snippets based on the last lines of Leonard Cohen's "For E.J.P."; hence, the funkay subtitle.

Feedback welcomed at troyswann@yahoo.ca.

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