Thanks: Many many thanks to mergatrude read-through and encouragement, and sprat for amazing, kick-ass beta
Notes: The Inuit stories Fraser refers to are both from The Virago Book of Fairy Tales, edited by Angela Carter
On a rocky shore, a gray shore, lapped by gray waves under a heavy gray sky, a man stands next to a decomposing whale carcass and talks to a wolf.
"No way! No way!" he says, throwing his hands in the air in disbelief. "How long's he been in there?"
The wolf tilts his head and whines.
"Oh jesus, you're kidding me." The man tugs off his woolen hat and runs long fingers through his hair. "Okay. Okay. God, he's gonna stink. I don't even want to think about what he's been eating."
The wolf's ears twitch mockingly.
"Yeah, well, you wouldn't either. Okay, go get him."
The wolf backs away half a dozen paces, and lies down. He pointedly turns his muzzle to the wheeling terns overhead.
"Oh, no. Oh, no fucking way. You are the wild animal here. I don't care if your nose is all super-sensitive or whatever. I'm the city kid, and I do not—" He catches the wolf's eye and sighs deeply, defeated. "Fine. But do not think I'm giving you leftovers or treats or pastries ever again. No, I am not." He snorts. "I am not being a bad sport about this. It's a fucking dead fish! Oh, shut up."
* * *
"Knock, knock—oh, gross!" Ray pulls his scarf over his mouth and nose, and peers into the whale's mouth. "Anyone home?"
A scrape of flint sounds deep in the carcass' belly. A small light flickers, then grows and steadies.
"Hello, Ray." Fraser's face floats in the thick darkness, lit by a small candle. His eyes are red-rimmed, the pupils hugely dilated so he looks like a Japanese cartoon character. "Come in. Mind the walrus."
"Walrus?" Ray bends his head and takes a couple of steps into the whale, but he can't see any walrus. He blinks a couple of times, waiting for his eyes and his lungs to adjust.
Outside the air was clear and icy. Inside the whale smells like a dirty Chicago alley in midsummer to the power of ten, but Dief had said it was an emergency, so Ray clambers in, slipping a little on the gooey "floor", and trying not to touch the sides. Fraser holds the candle higher to spread the light around, and Ray sees a small blobby shape back by where the teeth end. He squints closer, and yeah, okay, it's a walrus, perfectly formed out of blubber.
He glances up at Fraser, and then down at the blob. "Did you make that?"
Fraser gazes at him innocently. "Ray, a long stakeout is a lonely business, as you're well aware."
"So you made—"
"A companion. Yes." Fraser backs into the cavern of the whale's ribcage. "I'm sure I must have told you the folktale about the woman whose lover was lost at sea. She carved his likeness out of whale blubber and brought him to life by—well, that's not important. Regardless, there is a long tradition of fashioning companions out of the remains of sea creatures, Ray. So when Diefenbaker decided to abandon ship, so to speak, I simply—"
The thought of Fraser in this state wielding a knife makes Ray queasy—or perhaps that's the stench. "You feeling okay there, Frase? 'Cause, you know, they caught the guy."
"Who's that, Ray?"
"Mentonio. The fish oil smuggler. They caught him three days ago, in Cape Providence, so you can come home now."
"Home." Fraser murmurs, like he doesn't know what that means. "Home on the range."
"Yeah, we got some deer and buffalo waiting for you. Come on, get your stuff." Ray looks around. "Scratch that. Anything you got here, you can leave. It's never gonna stop stinking, anyway."
Fraser nods. "Right you are." He doesn't move. "You know, Ray, Innusiq's grandmother once told me a story about two women who ran away from their abusive husband and hid in a dead whale."
"Yeah?" Ray grabs his arm, and starts tugging him toward the mouth of the whale. "What happened? They died of legionnaire's disease?"
"As a matter of fact, the story goes that they lived there happily ever after."
"In the whale."
"Yes, Ray. It would seem that the Inuit have very low material requirements for attaining happiness. Besides, they were never short of food."
"Oh, gross, Fraser. Do not—do not tell me you've been eating this whale. I don't—I do not want to know. I do not want to think about it. Let's just get out of here."
"We could stay."
"What? Are you out of your mind? It may have escaped your notice, Fraser, but we are in a dead animal—"
"Stay here with me, Ray." Fraser steps toward him, the candle reflecting in his eyes, making him look crazy. Which is good, because he is crazy. High as a fucking satellite. "Kiss me."
Ray looks at him sharply, then turns away and yanks him toward the cold fresh air outside. "You don't want me to do that, Fraser."
"I do, Ray. I really—" Fraser frees his arm from Ray's grip. "I'm bringing the walrus."
"Leave the fucking walrus, and stop talking crap. Let's just go home, eat some stew, and play whatever that stupid game you taught me with the birdcalls and the numbers."
"Shut it, Fraser. I am not in the mood for this. You been gone two weeks. I've had no one to talk to, except for the last two days there was the wolf, but then I had to worry about you and come all the way up here to find you—"
"Ray. Don't leave me."
Against his own better instincts, Ray spins around and pokes Fraser in the chest. "You said you didn't—"
Fraser catches his hand, and pulls him close. "Well, obviously I was lying, Ray," he murmurs. "All Cretans are liars."
"That makes no sense. Why would you lie about that? I say, 'Hey Fraser, you ever have feelings for another guy?'" Ray pulls his hand away and crosses his arms tight across this chest. "You think that was an easy thing for me to ask? No. It was not. It cost me a lot to say that. And you said no. You said no and you meant no. You said we were partners, and I—I stuck around for that. And then you go haring off alone like Daniel Boone after this fish guy and—and now you tell me this, that you want, you want—That really squeaks my wheel, Fraser. Why would you say no if you didn't mean it?"
"I didn't want to make you uncomfortable." Fraser steps closer. "I may have, ah, misread the situation."
Ray stares at him for a long wordless minute, trying to decide if it's just the whale-fumes talking.
"I hope you'll give me a chance to remedy my mistake," says Fraser quietly. He pokes the candle into the side of whale.
"You're out of your mind. You're stoned on rotten fish gas."
"Ray, I assure you—"
Ray shakes his head. "I am not listening to a word you're saying. This is for your own good, Fraser. You'd regret it in the morning. Trust me."
"Very well." Fraser's expression dims, hope fading. "As you wish."
"Yeah. I wish. We are not having our first kiss in a stinky whale corpse. I am not imprinting on this damned whale."
"Ray?" Fraser catches his arm.
"That's what I said, Fraser. Let's get out of here."
* * *
Ray leads the way out of the whale's mouth, his hand tight on Fraser's jacket. Once outside, he sucks sea-fresh air into his lungs until he's dizzy with it. He stumbles on a rock, and Fraser turns quickly, steadies him. Even through the sealskin jacket, Ray can feel Fraser's grip, firm on his shoulder. Ray comes to a sudden stop, and turns slowly toward Fraser, and Fraser peels Ray's scarf down from his face.
Ray tilts his chin up, holding Fraser with his gaze, daring him to chicken out. Fraser smiles a crooked smile that belies his dark, intent eyes.
It's okay. Ray thinks it's okay. He nods quickly to himself, and then, like a signal's been given, they move toward each other, their mouths coming together softly at first, and then passionately, wildly. Ray tastes Fraser—tastes him for the first time. No lake water, this time, and both of them are conscious. Ray winds his arms around Fraser, ignoring the lingering smell of whale, and Fraser holds Ray tight. They press together until Ray is shuddering in Fraser's arms, his hips pushing forward urgently.
He tears his mouth away. "You'd better still mean this when you're sober," he says. "Or I'm going to hate one of us, and right now I really don't know which one."
Fraser kisses him hard on the lips, and says, "I am sober, Ray. Trust me."
"Yeah, but no. See, I remember what you said one time about a caribou carcass being hallucinogenic, so—"
"Ah." Fraser disentangles one arm from Ray's jacket, and cups Ray's cheek. "You know, that incident took place in an entirely different climate. Also, caribou and whales have very different chemical make-ups. There's nothing particularly intoxicating about a dead cetacean. In fact, mikigaq—fermented whale meat—is considered a local delicacy."
Ray grimaces and shakes his head. "So what's with the walrus, crazy man?"
"Ah. Well, it was a long stakeout, Ray, and after Diefenbaker left so abruptly, I decided I needed an external representation of a creature off whom I could 'bounce' my thoughts about—us. Since blubber was the most readily available material, and since walruses symbolize—"
"You know what? It's not important." Ray kisses Fraser again, trying to shut him up. "Humor me, Fraser. Pretend I'm, you know, a romantic."
Fraser coughs, and looks up at the sky, and then along the shore to where the wolf is waiting, staring out to sea. Ray knows Fraser's practically laughing at him, but he's horny enough he doesn't care.
"All right," Fraser agrees. He leans forward and says, "I love you, Ray. Let's go home."
* * *
On a gray rocky shore lies a beached whale, dead and decomposing. Two men are walking away, hands gesturing, heads bent together as they talk.
A wolf runs up to them, urgent questions in his bark.
"Yes," says one of the men, flapping his jacket to dislodge the smell. "Well, that may be the case, and it's not that I don't appreciate your intervention, subtle as it was, but I simply don't think it's fair for you to take all the credit, in this instance."
The wolf barks in reply and runs ahead, and the men follow.
And the terns fly endless loops and circles above the shore, and all is quiet.