In 1961, I was ordered to relocate, by force if necessary, 32 Inuit families. The government wanted them moved about 500 miles north to Ellesmere Island—some minor land dispute with the Russians. Now, I knew that those 500 miles were the crucial difference between life and death; those families would be hard pressed to survive. Ellesmere Island is a barren, desolate place, home to muskoxen, the remains of the Peary caribou herd and a handful of bird species. The coastal ice makes it difficult for marine mammals to approach the island. It's a polar desert and no one lives there because it's a brutal environment. I tried to explain that to my superiors, but they were adamant. Orders were orders and as a Mountie I was duty-bound to follow them.
I went to the Inuit elders and proposed a plan which appealed to their sense of irony. I traveled to Ellesmere Island, marked out 32 plots of land. I raised the Maple Leaf and built a small building as a post office. One of the young Inuk, a man named Tom Goforth, volunteered to be the postman. He collected the relocation checks that the government mailed and forwarded them back to the families down south. The families then used the money to hire an excellent civil rights lawyer to fight and overturn their forced relocation.
Your mother was the daughter of one of the elders from those Inuit families, Benton, and after the whole relocation fiasco was over, I spent many months courting her. She was a fine example of Inuit womanhood; an excellent huntress, skilled at the hand-crafts that were essential for survival in the North. She would have made any Inuit man proud to call her wife, but for some odd reason she accepted my marriage proposal.
Your mother and I got married in the local church and before long she was pregnant with you. To this day, I'm still not sure why she said yes.
It was late, and Ray was busy fighting with the computer, engaged in his never-ending battle to make it to do what he wanted, not what he told it to do, when Fraser entered the bullpen. He sat across from Ray and handed him a set of keys that jingled loudly.
"Thank you, Ray, for the loan of your car."
Ray shrugged and waved off Fraser's thanks. "S'nothing. Flight leave on time? Quinn get off okay?"
"Yes, Ray." Fraser nodded. "Your parents?"
"They found a nice little RV park in Skokie. They're planning on staying in Chicago for a bit, which is nice. I'm gonna go spend the weekend with them."
Fraser smiled slightly. Ray looked him over carefully, from the top of the ironed Stetson to his polished brown boots, noticing signs of wear and tear from yesterday's close call in the warehouse. He had to admit that he wasn't feeling completely recovered himself. Especially after spending most of the night tossing and turning, unable to get the image of Fraser being threatened by Kelly out of his head. When he'd finally fallen asleep, exhausted, nightmares of being too late to rescue Fraser had haunted him.
He glanced at the clock on the wall, and started to shut down his computer. It was long past quitting time. "Let's go get something to eat and you can tell me all about Quinn and growing up in the Northwest Areas."
Fraser nodded, and whistled for Dief.
They went to their usual diner, a cheap hole-in-the-wall place that was practically empty at this hour of the night. Diefenbaker was obviously feeling out of sorts, too, because he insisted on waiting out in the car. Ray promised to bring him a burger and maybe some pie, if he behaved himself. Dief yipped in answer.
The waitress, a young girl Ray had never seen before, brought them menus and drinks – coffee for Ray, ice water for Fraser. She stood next to their booth, tapping her foot impatiently while they perused the menu. Her behavior bordered on rude, but Ray couldn't seem to find the energy to make a fuss.
Even though Ray practically knew the menu by heart he still flipped through the laminated pages. Nothing sounded appealing to him. He wasn't particular hungry, but it had been hours since he'd eaten. His blood sugar was going to crash if he didn't get something into his stomach soon.
Ray ended up ordering a cheeseburger with all the fixings, and Fraser followed suit. Ray was exhausted and unsettled, and still disturbed by how close he'd come to losing Fraser. His brain insisted on focusing on all the things that could have happened if he'd been a little slower, a little less lucky.
"May I have some more water?" Fraser asked the waitress as she topped off Ray's coffee. She walked off without answering and Fraser put his glass back down on the table, sighing. She came back a while later with their food. The burgers smelled good and Ray's stomach grumbled.
Taking a bite, Ray suddenly found that his appetite had completely deserted him. He took the bun off the top of his burger and rearranged the lettuce and tomato slices, picked off the onion. He fiddled with the pickles, took them off, then put them back on, fidgeting. He forced himself to take another bite and swallow, then set his burger back down on his plate and toyed with his french fries. Fraser seemed to have lost interest in his food, as well.
He squirted a blob of ketchup next to his burger, and used a french fry to paint abstract designs around the edges of the plate as Fraser watched interestedly.
"So, tell me about Quinn and you. He was like a father to you, huh?"
Fraser smiled lopsidedly. "More like an uncle, Ray. My mother died when I was very young, and my father took me to his parents, left me there to be raised by them." He laughed mirthlessly, and dipped a fry into Ray's ketchup. "George and Martha Fraser were good people, but they weren't entirely sure what to do with a half-Inuit, half-white child. They felt that I needed to spend time with my mother's family, so I would grow up with the Inuit traditions and culture that are part of my heritage. I ended up spending part of the year with my grandparents, and the other part of the year with various relatives on my mother's side—aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. It was a very large, extended family.
The ice in Fraser's glass was melting, but when the waitress came back by to refill Ray's coffee cup, she ignored both it and Fraser.
"It sounds like your grandparents had your best interests at heart, though. A lot of people in their position would've tried to 'civilize' you." Ray made finger quotes around the word, grimacing. "My mom told me that's a big issue in Arizona, too. Kids from the rez get adopted or fostered by white people, who think that it's better for the kids to grow up not knowing anything about their culture. And a lot of times, the kids really resent it once they grow up."
Fraser nodded, a lock of his dark hair falling onto his forehead, as he absently traced the rings of condensation on the table from his water glass. "It was just difficult to adjust to switching back and forth between the Inuit inuusiq and life as a Qallunaaq."
"Inuusiq, Ray. It translates, roughly, as 'way of life.' Lifestyle, basically."
"Inuusiq," Ray repeated slowly, exaggerating the movements of his mouth. "No, I understand what you're saying, though. Every summer, my parents and my aunts and uncles would pack up the kids and send us all to Michigan. We'd spend six weeks with my babcia and dziadzio, a dozen of us. My grandparents were from the old country, and didn't have a lot of the language, so it was a summer of Stanislaw and Katarzyna and Tomasz. When I'd get home, English would sound funny."
Fraser looked at him. "It so much more than language, though. Behavior, thought patterns and processes, the way you view the world and the things in it. The way you interact with the environment and other people. The way you view yourself, in terms of one culture or another..." Fraser's voice trailed off.
Ray covered Fraser's hand with his own and gave it a comforting squeeze. "And Quinn helped you with that?"
Fraser stared at their joined hands for moment before looking up to meet Ray's eyes. "Yes." Fraser's eyes were dark, like chocolate, and Ray never got tired of looking at them. "He was the first to treat me like an adult, to let me make my own decisions, and he trusted me enough to let me make my own mistakes."
Ray borrowed a page from Fraser's book. "Ah." He played with a french fry, before eating it, and taking another bite out of his burger. He tried to catch the waitress' eye, to get a refill on Fraser's water, but she refused to look at him. Giving up, he pointed to Fraser's plate sternly. "Eat."
Fraser ate half of his burger in three quick bites, chewing neatly before putting the remainder of it back on his plate. "The Frasers wanted to protect me from the harsh realities of life, wanted to shield me from the discrimination and prejudice and hatred that I was likely to encounter in the wider world. Quinn let me see the bad, so that I could better appreciate the good." He cleared his throat and looked at Ray from under his eyelashes. "You know, Ray, my people have a story about—"
Laughing, Ray held his hands up in mock surrender. "Please, please, no Inuit stories."
"Very well." Fraser tilted his head, a small smile creeping onto his face. Still laughing, Ray threw a balled-up napkin at his head.
Ray looked around for the waitress; his coffee cup was empty and she kept forgetting to fill Fraser's water back up. He waved his coffee cup at her and she nodded curtly.
A companionable silence settled over them as they ate the rest of their food. Ray's appetite seemed to return, and he attacked his burger with some gusto. Before long, they were pushing their plates away and settling back in the booth, bellies full.
"Was Depot more difficult, you think, as a Inuit recruit?" Ray was genuinely curious how different Fraser's experience was from his own at the police academy. There'd been a few problems when he'd been at the academy, and for the most part the instructors had looked the other way, refusing to get involved. This was part of the reason why cops could be the most bigoted, racist, sexist assholes around, no doubt about it.
"Things are very different now." Fraser sighed, and folded his paper napkin neatly. "Not easier, but different. In the past, the retention rate for Inuit recruits was very, very low. And at the same time, Inuit members work extremely well in the community policing programs that have been at the core of Inuit self-sufficiency. Inuit RCMP officers understand the people and the communities in ways that Qallunaat can't.
"The RCMP now recognizes that there are special challenges facing Inuit and other First Nation recruits at Depot. Isolation tended to be one of the biggest issues for most Inuit cadets. Not only were they far away from home and family, but they were surrounded by people who thought differently and talked differently and that emphasized how alone they were."
"Things aren't perfect, not anywhere near where it should be, but better." Ray nodded to himself, mostly. "Same here, y'know. Things are a lot different when I was a recruit. If you were African-American, or Hispanic, there was a good chance of getting picked on or bullied. You'd get pushed around, and called nasty names. You weren't welcome, for the most part. It's getting better."
"You think so, Ray?" Fraser was somber, his face reflecting the pain of the prejudice and discrimination he'd encountered in his life.
"Yeah, buddy, I do." And some days, Ray actually believed it.
"Where is that damn waitress?" Ray looked around, but she must have slipped back into the kitchen.
"I spent half of the year with my mother's family, playing and growing with my cousins, being called Ukaliq and Unitsirittuq, and Isumatujuq." Fraser smiled fondly. "And then for the rest of the year I'd go back to being Benton Fraser."
It didn't take a genius to realize that Fraser had missed his Inuit family more than he missed the Frasers. Ray played with his coffee cup, trying to imagine Fraser as a child, serious and straight-laced, with a subtle, ironic sense of humor. A young boy with a foot in each world, trying to find a way to fit in.
"So, you hung out with Quinn while you were staying with your mom's family?"
"Oh, no, Ray. Quinn was a friend of my paternal grandparents. He's the one that kept me grounded in my Inuit heritage while I was struggling to fit into my grandparent's very Qallunaat world. Helped me navigate my way through a culture that made no sense to me, that seemed to be filled with senseless and contradictory rules." Fraser paused, and inhaled slowly. "I ran away from my grandparents' home when I was twelve, and Quinn was the one who found me."
"Why'd you run away?"
Fraser caught the waitress' attention, holding up his empty water glass. "I ran away because I was twelve, and my grandparents wouldn't let me go out and hunt a caribou, which is a traditional rite of passage for young Inuit boys. I'd been gone for two days and my grandparents were very concerned. Quinn found me, easily enough, being the expert tracker that he is."
"And he took you home?"
Fraser shook his head. "No, Ray. We followed the trail of the caribou, and he taught me a lot about tracking in the process. And when we found the herd, Quinn let me do what I felt I had to do." Fraser scrubbed at his eyebrow with his thumb. "I climbed the hill, looked into the eyes of a beautiful young buck, and shot it." He stared down at the table, refusing to look at Ray.
After a long silence, Fraser continued. "I'd never killed anything like that before, and I was so self-centered that I didn't really think about the consequences of what I was doing. Quinn had warned me, had told me that killing without need was wrong, tried to explain that for an Inuk it was different. I didn't listen, couldn't hear what he was trying to say, and so I killed that caribou."
Ray sighed. "That's what growing up is about, Fraser. Parents have to step back, let kids make their own mistakes, letting them fall down and get back up on their own." He looked around for their waitress, holding up Fraser's empty glass. She was standing behind the counter, paging through a magazine. "Can we get some water over here?" Ray asked loudly. She ignored him. "Christ." Blowing out a frustrated breath, he set Fraser's glass back down. "Good help is hard to find, yeah?"
Fraser smiled wanly. "I think the young lady objects to my presence."
"What? No, I don't think—" Ray paused, mentally reviewing the waitress' behavior since they'd sat down. Unlike just about every other woman, and quite a few men, she hadn't gone gaga over Fraser. There'd been no flirting or winking, no subtle attempts at leaving her phone number with Fraser. As a matter of fact, she hadn't made eye contact with Fraser at all, and had kept her distance from him. She'd taken their order and had brought their food to the table, but after that, she'd steadfastly ignored Fraser. She'd refilled Ray's coffee, taken away Ray's empty plate, but hadn't gone near Fraser again.
Ray looked at Fraser, really looked at him, trying to see him through a different set of eyes.
He saw a man in his mid-30's, neither young, nor old. A little under six feet tall, probably about 180 pounds. Well-muscled, but not bulky. Dark skin, dark hair, beautiful brown eyes. Sharp cheekbones, an average nose, and a mouth that didn't smile as often as it should. When Fraser did smile, it showed his slightly crooked tooth, which only highlighted how imperfectly gorgeous Fraser was.
Ray saw Benton Fraser, a man who was part of two extremely different cultures, but belonged to neither. Smart as a whip, full of ideas and thoughts and dreams, always caring about other people and the world they lived in. Someone who wasn't appreciated by those he worked for, who was undervalued and underutilized. Inspector Thatcher treated Fraser like he was her own personal errand boy, having him fetch her dry cleaning, seemingly unaware he was a damn fine police officer.
Ray saw his best friend, his partner, his buddy. Someone he trusted, someone who had his back, someone he lo—
Ray didn't let himself finish that thought, pushing it away.
He didn't get it. Ray couldn't understand how some people could look at Fraser and see someone not worthy of respect, of kindness, of basic human decency. How they could look at someone who was different and think lesser and ugly and wrong. He knew it happened; it was hard to grow up in Chicago and not hear the words, see the hatred. But he didn't understand racism, didn't understand prejudice. Couldn't see Fraser as anything other that what he was—a fine, upstanding man.
He glared at the waitress and stood up, carelessly throwing some cash onto the table. He raised his voice obnoxiously. "Let's get out of here, then. No reason to subject ourselves to small-minded bigots, right? Plenty of greasy diners in Chicago to patronize."
"All right, Ray." Fraser grabbed his hat. "We'll have to stop somewhere and pick up some pie for Dief, otherwise we'll never hear the end of it."
Ray threw a companionable arm around Fraser's shoulders. "We'll pick up some pie for you, and Dief."
Chuckling, they stepped out into the Chicago night.