Blow, blow thou winter wind. ~ William Shakespeare
Benton Fraser, whose mama always called him Ben, knew from a very young age that Winter was dangerous. Unforgiving. Deadly.
In looking back at our childhoods, we sometimes paint our memories with new understanding; make comparisons and judgements based on knowing beyond our current years.
But he is very certain that the sight of his father driving his team back into town with a blue-tinged lost drifter pulled from a hidden crevasse is pure and unvarnished truth.
Winter, unchecked, meant death. Ben was six.
Of course, he learned later that year that death could come even in the Summer, that a day full of sunshine and green growth could end in blood and grief. His mother died in June and yet his memory of it was frozen, frigid.
This cold swelled to encompass Ben’s whole childhood, from the well-meaning chill of his grandparent’s cabin to the abrupt howling of icy storms that always seemed to accompany his father’s scattered visits. Ben would always escape to the woods to forestall any goodbyes, following empty paths in the woods and drifts in the snow banks until the tears ripped from his eyes could be explained away by the wind.
Winter, alone, meant grief. Ben was twelve.
But even after the ache of his mother’s death and his father’s absence lessened (cooled), Ben found he could walk in the woods along half-forgotten paths as easy as breathing and while often storms could howl and rage, the quiet drift of snowfall after could be almost peaceful. His grandfather taught him how to track animals in the drifts, how to use snowshoes to ease his way. His grandmother fretted and knitted and tried to ease the chill. She did not know that Ben found the cold more familiar than the warmth ever could be.
Ben and his friends learned that with Winter came stories, Artic stories of Sedna, Inuit goddess of the sea, or of clever Raven traveling the crackling Northern Lights amidst the spirits of the dead. Ben knew from school that the lights were collisions of particles and gas, but all those facts could not capture the otherworldliness of the lights curving and arching above him.
It made him wonder what stories could be told about the harsh beauty of Winter, if there was a different Winter in the cities than out here in the Territories. If there were, he wondered if they got any closer to explaining the lovely vastness of it, the danger even in the quiet.
While many of his friends dreamt of moving away to find cities and new lives, Ben never did. He carved out a space for himself with his scholarly grandparents, in the edges of his father’s silent visits. When he was finally old enough, he slowly snowshoed to the closest outpost and signed up to join the RCMP. His grandmother said his father would be proud. His father would continue to be away for the next seven months.
Winter, chosen, meant home. Ben was seventeen and now introduced himself as Benton Fraser, RCMP. Only his grandmother still called him Ben.
Other recruits talked about how it was lonely out on patrol. Ben didn’t think so. The sound of the wind through the trees and the glitter of ice crust on the drifts made more sense than any of the overtures of friendship during training. He was friendly, but made few friends. It didn’t really bother him.
Ben tracked criminals through rivers and woods, rocky hills and icy paths. He helped in manhunts run by more experienced Mounties and then, slowly, was solving cases under his own authority. Being a Mountie’s in his blood, the other recruits whispered. Where others turned back at the sight of storm and snow, he never did. He knew Winter’s secrets, the others told each other.
Ben almost believed them. But Fortitude Pass reminded him that Winter had more secrets than he would ever dream to know.
He could feel the cold curling into his bones, stealing the breath from his lungs and the heat from his body. He and Victoria—he had been unable to think of her as the thief, the criminal since he had stumbled upon her shivering and alone two days before—lay with limbs intertwined, the halting words of a poem the only thing holding them from sleep and death. He’d known since he was six that Winter meant death. But, there in the lean-to was something far different than death, instead like reaching across a thousand lifetimes to find something… warm. Alive. When it all ended in betrayal and heartbreak, Ben wasn’t surprised. Most things did, after all.
Winter, survived, meant love. Fraser was twenty. He was almost glad his grandmother had died the previous year—it was appropriate that the only ones who still called him “Ben” were jailed or gone.
Fraser knew he’d been a Mountie for too long when he looked at recruits and thought green before he thought young. But then he’d been forced out of that early, hardened and prepared by a cold few knew or could withstand as easily. He’d seen even more lost in it, not simply to death (blue-tinged or green-warmed, both still cold in their own way) but lost in the heart of Winter even long after they’d found their way back to the outpost. Fraser knew that looking to hard into the heart of anything, even something could you loved, could still damage you.
He left the Territories damaged and lost, heading towards the City so that he could put the memory of his father’s last moments in the icy snow to rest. Here in the City were different rules, but still crimes to solve, hurts to heal. Fraser even found himself trying to bring his new friends of the City back to the Winter he knew, but Vecchio’s trip ended in bullets and fire, crumbling his father’s cabin even as it brought justice.
When Victoria had returned to him it was springtime. She’d rushed in, a biting force so like the wind from home that he’d been swept up by it. Still, he should have remembered. Remembered that love can damage, that her love can fracture the deepest. But it was warm and she was warm… the gunshot hit like ice, shattered him like the wildest of storms. He fell into the rush of cold, thinking that this was why his father had asked him if it would snow.
Winter, unchecked, meant death. Or should have. Fraser was thirty-six.
Ray Vecchio hadn’t really understood why Fraser wanted to go back, he was too much of the City. It was fitting them, that the Ray that replaced him was of the City too. But Ray Kowalski surprised Fraser. He might be of the City in a way that Fraser could never be, but when Muldoon had resurfaced, Kowalski joined the hunt, clinging to each icy cliff with amazing stubbornness. Their fall into a crevasse seemed a fitting end. Those that were drawn to Winter would be struck down by it. But, amazingly, they survived. Perhaps it was that even in the coldest of storms, Ray had sunshine about him. A vitality unmatched by the cold. For the first time, Ben remembered one could be warmed by a smile.
Winter, together, meant peace. Fraser (Frase, Benny, Benton, Ben) was thirty-eight.
They continued their journey, after Muldoon captured and justice served. Ben knew it was a temporary adventure, Ray loved the City too much to stay here forever, and there was something inside him that matched the howl of the storm too much to leave it yet, if ever. But it was hard to know the future, and better to remain in the now. Benton Fraser stood, breathing in the chill air (a run of good days, though he knew how quickly that could turn) even as he heard Ray stirring in the tent. It was the kind of day where Winter held all its potential out in quiet hands, showcasing the silent beauty of snow drifts and ice-capped trees.
Ben Fraser had heard that those who looked too deep into the heart of Winter could go mad, or blind. He’d seen it, heard the stories since childhood. But he also knew that Ray was strong enough to withstand it, just as he had been. Whether it was the touch of Summer they had about them, or something else. He figured that only the stories would say for sure.
"The great sea stirs me.
The great sea sets me adrift,
it sways me like the weed
on a river-stone.
The sky's height stirs me.
The strong wind blows through my mind,
It carries me with it,
so I shake with joy."
~ Uvavnuk, an Inuit shaman