This beautiful cover graphic created by the incomparable Crysothemis

My most sincere thanks. --KM

This is a due South slash story. Rated NC-17 for M/M sex. Also, although these characters would have been above the age of consent in their particular part of the world at the time the story is set, things may be different where you are from so consider this an underage warning. It's a companion piece-- both a sequel and a prequel of sorts-- to Changing Gears but even though I'm a committed BF/RK chick, this particular story is primarily Fraser/Other. (Fortunately since it's set in the antediluvian world before Burning Down the House, Ray's not getting peeved about it.) Benton Fraser, Eric, Innusiq, and Ray Kowalski all belong to Alliance/Atlantis and Paul Haggis. No money will be made on this, ever, and I'm too poor to sue so don't even bother. Minor spoilers for Masks.

Soundtrack: Bruce Cockburn: "Starwheel," "Hand Dancing," and "Joy Will Find a Way." Kashtin: Ashtam Nashua, "Apu Shapentaman" and "Tshekuanu Mak." James Keelaghan: a good percentage of the songs on his albums "My Skies" and "A Recent Future."

I had a raft of betas on this story; it's been a difficult birth. My most profound thanks to Betty and Judy for conflicting opinions and coinciding advice to listen to myself; to Meghan for the inspired idea of framing the story; to realitycek for 'cultural beta' and dead-on suggestions about tone, and of course, to AuKestrel, without whom I would be known far and wide as 'Commagirl.' --KM 07/21/2000

Stealing Light

c. 2000, Kellie Matthews

"So, Fraser. . . ." Ray said, letting his sentence trail off leadingly.

Ben looked over at the man lying in bed next to him, bare skin still faintly sweat-sheened, and flushed from sex. God, he was . . . beautiful. It was an odd, angular sort of beauty but it was beauty nonetheless.

"Yes, Ray?" His own voice startled him: so throaty. That too could probably be attributed to the sex, he thought, still a little embarrassed after all these years by his own volubility in bed.

"Can I ask you something?" Ray's tone of voice told Fraser he was about to ask something that he figured Fraser wouldn't answer.

"Of course."

"Something personal?"

Ben couldn't help but smile a little at that. "Well, all things considered, I think you've that right."

"Yeah, but I don't want to assume."

"I think you can safely assume at this point, Ray."

Ray grinned. "Okay. I will. So, um . . . the other day when you told me you'd done this before, a long time ago?"

"This. . . ah. This. What about it?"

Ray's grin turned a little rueful. "Well, it's really none of my business, but can I just say I'm glad it was a long time ago? Because I'm, uh, kind of the jealous type, you know, and when I was thinking it was recent, I was getting kind of. . . cranky about it."

Ben felt his smile widen, which was probably an inappropriate response, but he couldn't help himself. "Ah. Would it make you feel better if I were to admit that I feel a trifle 'cranky' when I think of some of your former partners?"

"You do? Who?"

"Well, ah. . . ." He ran a thumb across his eyebrow. "All of them, Ray."

"All. . . even Stella?"

"Regrettably, yes. I know it's unconscionable, but . . . "

"No it's not. I like it. I like that."

Ben stared at him. There was really only one answer for that. "Freak."

Ray laughed out loud. "Yeah." He turned over and propped himself on his elbows, studying Ben for a moment. "So, you still know that guy. . . the guys. . . ." He rolled his eyes. "Oh, hell. Just tell me to shut up, Ben. Like I said, it's really none of my business."

Ben settled onto his side, avoiding the substantial damp patch on the sheets. "I think it's only fair, Ray. After all, I know about your past experiences."

"Well, some of 'em," Ray said, mischief in his gaze.

Ben refused to be baited. "Anyway, yes, I still know him, though it's been some time since I saw him, and far longer since we shared anything along. . . " he hesitated, found an acceptable way to put it, "these lines. Our lives went separate ways, we have different outlooks, different. . . ways of living."

Ray frowned. "Kinda sounds like you guys had a fight."

"No, not really. He just wasn't very happy about my chosen calling."

"Why? He a crook?"

Ben smiled. "Not. . . exactly. He's a shaman."

"A what?"

"A shaman. A Tsimshian magical practitioner. And a bit of a political activist as well."

"So you knew him up in the Great White North?"

"Yes. We went to school together off and on."

Ray looked puzzled. "Thought you were home schooled."

Ben was surprised how pleased he was to find that Ray had paid attention to that fact. "I was, mostly, but there were a few times that it was practical to attend an organized school."

"So, was that when you . . . um. . . ." Ray made an obscure hand gesture.

Fraser felt his face redden. "Yes. Well, not the first time, as we were rather young, but later. In high school."

"Oooh," Ray said, looking surprised, amused, and intrigued. "High school? Wow. I didn't hit the big time until college. Gets pretty cold up there, hunh?"

"You could say that," Ben said, suppressing a smile.

"Mmm. I'll keep you warm now."

"Yes. You will. You do."

Ray yawned widely, and grabbed for a pillow, tucking it between his chin and his arm. "Sorry. Sleepy."

"That's all right, Ray. Sleep." Ben reached out to stroke a hand soothingly down Ray's back, and got a husky murmur of pleasure. He kept stroking, and within moments Ray was sound asleep. Ben lay watching him for a long time with an unfamiliar feeling of satisfaction and . . . completion. Finally. It had taken a long time. There had been a lot of pain and darkness. And when he'd least expected it, Ray had. . . surprised him.

He smiled to himself, remembering. Ray's questions had brought it all back to him, as if it were yesterday. Lord, what a woefully ignorant adolescent he'd been. Between his father's red-faced inarticulation at the concept of talking to his son about sex, and his grandfather's loving but clueless homilies, he'd been worse off than if he'd known nothing at all.

* * *

"Mr. Fraser, am I keeping you awake?"

Somehow Mrs. Campbell's sardonic tone penetrated the haze of exhaustion in his head and Ben's eyes snapped open as he straightened from the slouch he'd slipped into. "No, of course not, Mrs. Campbell," he replied automatically, feeling the slow burn of humiliation in his face as his classmates snickered. You'd think he'd be used to being the 'odd' one by now, but it still stung. Sometimes he wished he were still living a hundred miles from the nearest school. It was easier on many levels, and frankly, his grandparents were better teachers.

"Good, I'm so glad to hear that," she said in mock pleasure. "Now perhaps you would be so good as to answer the question?"

He felt the spreading clutch of panic. Question? He had missed it. This wasn't the first time he'd drifted off in class recently, but it was the first time he'd gotten caught. He was steeling himself to face her wrath and ask her to repeat it when a movement caught his eye. Just behind Mrs. Campbell and slightly to her left, a classmate held up a piece of notebook paper with the words "Treaty of Utrecht" written on it. Ben hesitated for a moment, Eric Dawson had always been a bit of a prankster, but they'd been close friends once, years back. They'd been in the same scout troop, such as it had been: just him, June, and Eric, although his friend had gone by a different name then. Ben wasn't sure if he was still allowed to use that name, since circumstances had changed a great deal since he'd been given permission to use it. That had been before one of the many times Ben had been uprooted from what few friends he had and dragged off to a new place.

He felt his mouth quirk in a bitter grimace and shook himself. There was no point in dwelling on things that couldn't be changed. Live in the here and now. . . now, where he had to make a decision, one that hinged on the question of whether Eric would be deliberately cruel. Well, he had never been that kind of boy, and likely was not, now, either. Ben cleared his throat.

"Well, ah, the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713, and was an agreement of tremendous historical importance with far reaching ramifications that affect Canada's fishing rights to this day." He paused, lifting his eyebrows, waiting to see if he was supposed to continue.

He saw the startled look on Mrs. Campbell's face and then she nodded. "Yes, Mr. Fraser, and can you tell us why that is?"

He felt a warm glow of pleasure and relief. Eric hadn't betrayed him. With a grateful glance at his savior, he launched into a disquisition on the topic. By the time he'd finished Mrs. Campbell was looking rather as if she wished she hadn't asked, and she actually dismissed class fifteen minutes early, muttering something about having to go look up the War of Jenkins Ear1 in the encyclopedia. As whoops of joy sounded, Ben looked around for Eric to thank him, but as usual he was surrounded by other people, or, to be more accurate, girls.

Ben watched, feeling an odd little twinge of annoyance as Sarah Jimmie, the prettiest girl in school, put her hand on Eric's arm and moved closer, looking up at him adoringly. He wanted to do that. Even as he thought that, he could almost hear his grandfather's voice; "It's natural for a young man to want to look at girls, Benton." He shook himself. Yes. Of course. It was the girl. He wished that a girl would look at him that way, for once. But in all honesty, he also wished he were still as close to Eric as he had once been. He missed the closeness, the rapport they had shared.

Ben gathered his books and loaded them into his pack, waiting for the crowd in the coatroom to thin out a bit. He closed his eyes for a moment, just to rest them, and was startled a moment later by a hand on his shoulder. He swung around and found himself nearly nose-to-nose with Eric, or rather nose-to-chin, because he was taller than Ben now, and more muscular as well. His blue-black hair was very long, touching his shoulders. Ben was surprised at that, since the school had a fairly strict dress code and boys' hair was to be kept short and neat. It looked good on Eric though, accentuating the smooth curve of cheekbone and jaw. It looked . . . touchable.

"Hey, paleface, saved your butt, didn't I?" Eric asked with a grin.

"You did," Ben said, smiling back a little tentatively, not quite sure how to respond to the friendly overture. Eric had become . . . well, popular would not be a misnomer. And Ben was pretty much the polar opposite of that, so he wasn't sure why Eric was being so kind to him today. He had to admit it made him a little suspicious because they hadn't been close in a long time.

"Guess it's only fair, seeing how many times you saved mine on all those merit badge tests. You need to get more sleep. You look tired."

Ben nodded, feeling heat under his skin. "Yes. I was up a little late last night, doing homework," he said, hoping that would divert Eric from the topic. "Thanks again for the help."

"No problem. Look, you have to go straight home?"

He started to say he did have to go home, but then he stopped himself. He'd done most of today's chores last night in a desperate attempt to stave off sleep, and though he had a long walk home ahead of him, it would make little difference in temperature if he started now or half an hour from now. And Eric was. . . or seemed to be. . . extending a hand of friendship for the first time since Ben and his grandparents had moved back here six weeks ago.

"Suqa, our lead dog, had a litter last night," Eric continued with a slight frown, his gaze so intent it was almost as if he were trying to see into Ben's head. "I thought you might like to come see."

Ben knew it was quite an honor to be asked to see the pups and he nodded. "Yes, I'd like that."

Eric smiled, not his usual insolent grin, but a real smile. "Good. Come on, I'll take you."

Ten minutes later they were at Eric's house. It was amazing how much ground one could cover in a short amount of time on a snowmobile. Ben knew it would have taken him much longer to walk this far. He tried not to be too smug about how much time the ride would cut off his trip home.

Eric led him back behind the house, to a low cedar-thatched shack that he knew was a sweat-lodge. Ben stopped outside. He didn't want to be disrespectful, but he wasn't in any mental condition to do a sweat right now, nor did he have that kind of time.

"I'm sorry, Eric, I'm not . . . "

"It's okay, we don't use it for sweats since Uncle David built a new one farther from the house. Suqa decided to use it for her den. Come on."

Eric lit a lantern and ducked beneath the blanket-draped entry, Ben followed him inside. It was smaller than he remembered. . . or was it just that he was bigger? Probably. A low growl sounded before his eyes adjusted to the shadows inside.

"Shhh, hashaas," Eric said in a soothing tone as he hooked the lantern onto a peg. "Your babies are safe. Ben's not going to hurt them."

Ben kept a distance back, not wanting to disturb the animal any more than she was already. He squinted at the squirming shapes against the dog's fawn-furred belly, but it was hard to make out the exact number. "There are five?"

"Six. There were seven, but one died."

"I'm sorry."

Eric shrugged. "Her spirit chose a different path."

Ben nodded, absorbing Eric's unsentimental acceptance of the reality of death. It seemed to make sense to him at a deep level, that instead of making death a bad thing, a mystery to be hidden, it was simply acknowledged and moved past.

"She'll relax once we've been here a while," Eric said, taking a seat against the wall. Ben sat down next to him, watching the wary dog and her brood. After a few moments Eric spoke again. "It's been a while."

"Four years, give or take."

"Mmm. I missed you."

That felt . . . good. Ben found himself smiling. "And I you. I was glad when my grandparents told me we would be coming back here."

"I was glad when I saw you would come back. But then you were here, and . . . you didn't say anything and I didn't think you wanted to be friends any more."

Eric sounded and looked hurt. Disappointed. It had never occurred to Ben that Eric might feel that way. He'd just been too shy to approach the now-popular boy who'd once been his closest friend. He felt badly; he hadn't meant to hurt his friend. "I'm sorry, Eric. I didn't think you would want. . . you have so many friends, and I didn't want to assume."

Eric stared at him, looking almost angry. "Why wouldn't I want to be friends again?"

Ben looked away, and shrugged with studied indifference. "That's how it usually goes."

He could almost feel Eric's gaze on him, sharply focused. "You've changed," he said after a moment.

Ben glanced at him. "As have you. We're both older."

Eric nodded. "Yes. But that's not the way I mean. You're shutting yourself in, away from the light."

Ben stared at him, taken aback. "I don't know what you mean."

"You've closed off your heart. Why?"

Ben looked away again, feeling the sting of tears threatening behind his eyes. Eric always had been perceptive. For a moment he thought of simply not answering, but that seemed rude, and Eric had gone out of his way to ask. "It's. . . easier."

Eric didn't let that rest. "How is it easier?"

He couldn't do this. He couldn't. Ben pushed himself abruptly to his knees, reaching for the doorframe to pull back the blanket. "I'm sorry. I need to get home, my grandmother will be worried if I'm not home soon. I'll see you in school tomorrow, Eric, and thank you for letting me see the puppies."


Something in Eric's voice stopped him. A note of . . . something. Command. Irresistible. Powerful. He turned, slowly, looked into those dark eyes and for a moment he thought he heard a raven's call, saw the flutter of wings between them. Startled, he put up a hand to protect his eyes, and just like that the illusion was gone and it was just Eric again, staring at him intently. He shook his head to clear it, thinking that the lack of sleep must be affecting him more than he'd thought.

"Can you stay a little while? I'd like you to meet my Great-uncle David. He'll be home soon."

Eric seemed anxious that he stay, and it would be rude to leave, but . . . "I can't. My grandfather had to go into Yellowknife, and Grandmother's alone. She hasn't been well lately and we don't like to leave her alone for long. Besides, she'll worry if I'm not home soon. I need to get back."

Eric studied him for a moment and then nodded. "All right. Perhaps you can come over some other day after school, after your grandfather comes home?

Ben smiled. "I'd like that very much."

Eric grinned back. "Good. See you tomorrow then."

Ben nodded and started toward the snowmobile to get his snowshoes off the back, but suddenly he heard running steps crunching the snow and Eric was beside him again.

"Hold up, why don't I run you home?"

It was tempting, but he was sure Eric had better things to do. He shook his head. "That's all right, Eric, I . . . ."

Eric interrupted him, looking a little annoyed. "You used to call me by my real name. Why Eric now?"

"Well, everyone else . . . ."

"You're not everyone else. I gave you my name, I didn't take it back."

Ben stared at him for a moment, a little taken aback by his vehemence, but a cold place inside him warmed a little at the unmistakable offer of friendship. He smiled. "All right, Innusiq. Thank you."

Eric -- no, Innusiq -- gave him a brilliant smile. "Great! You're living at the old Morrison place, right?"

Ben realized that Innusiq had mistaken his assent to use his name for an agreement to the ride home. He opened his mouth to protest, then closed it again. Yes, he could walk home, but getting a ride meant being able to spend a few more minutes with his friend and that was too welcome to turn down. He nodded. "Yes, we are."

"Cool, that won't take much time at all. Come inside for a second, I need to leave a note for Uncle David."

As they entered the house Ben wondered briefly where Innusiq's mother and June were. He expected that June, being nearly two years older than Innusiq, must have graduated by now, but he couldn't remember a time from before that he'd come to see Innusiq and his mother hadn't been there to welcome them. Now the house was quiet and empty, and didn't smell of food like he remembered. It just smelled of a cold hearth. Perhaps the women were away visiting relatives. He had to ask, because in his experience none of the men in Innusiq's family would voluntarily come within six feet of a stove.

"Is your mother away?"

Innusiq stopped suddenly, a wistful expression flashing across his face, followed by a slight frown as he looked at Ben. "You haven't heard, then?"

"Heard what?"

"Mom and Dad, they're . . . ."

He paused, swallowing audibly, his dark gaze growing even darker, and Ben got a tight feeling around his chest, a feeling he knew from a long time back. He waited, filled with that fear, as Innusiq looked down at his hands, playing with a copper bracelet circling his left wrist. Finally his friend spoke again, his voice rough and raw.

"We were driving down to Port Simpson to go see June's baby . . . you probably don't know about that, either. She got in the family way by a guy from there and they had to get married. They live with his family now. Anyway, we were driving, and there was a drunk driver. We were hit head-on. I was the only one left."

Ben's hand was on his friend's shoulder before he could second-guess himself. He was surprised how solid the smooth curve of bone and muscle felt under his hand. "Innusiq, my God, that's . . . I'm so sorry. I didn't know."

"I'm surprised no one told you," Innusiq said, one of his hands coming up to rest over Ben's on his shoulder, still not looking up.

"People tend to . . . not talk . . . around me." Ben tried not to sound self-pitying in the face of Innusiq's loss. He was intimately familiar with that pain.

Innusiq looked up at that. "Because of your dad being a Mountie, maybe?"

"I don't know. Maybe." It was nice to console himself with that thought, at any rate. "When did this happen? I can't believe I didn't know, that my grandparents didn't know. . . ." He stopped suddenly, struck by the possibility that perhaps they had known and chosen not to tell him. They seemed to have some strange idea that he should be shielded from certain things in life, death being one of them. "When did it happen?" he repeated, instead of continuing with his earlier thought.

"Almost two years ago."

Two years. A hollow ache grew inside Ben, a bad, guilty feeling. Two years ago Innusiq had stopped writing. After several letters had gone unanswered, Ben had just assumed that, like most of his acquaintances, Innusiq had found other friends and had grown too busy to correspond any more. So just when Innusiq had most needed a friend, especially one who understood the loss of a parent, Ben had gotten angry and stopped even trying to communicate. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I thought when you didn't answer my letters that I shouldn't bother you. If I'd known I would never . . . ."

Innusiq shook his head. "I understand. I was in hospital in Yellowknife for a long time. They thought I would die, too, first from the crash, and then from pneumonia. By the time I was finally up and around, your family had moved again and the letter I wrote you came back. That was about when Uncle David came from Prince Rupert and brought me back here where I wouldn't be distracted and he could teach me right, and he's kept me pretty busy since then. So, it was just a thing that happened. Not anyone's fault, except maybe the man who drank and then got into his car. But he's not here to blame, either, so . . . ." Innusiq shrugged eloquently.

"You're very forgiving," Ben said quietly, wondering how Innusiq could be so calm. If it were him, he would be angry. He had been angry. For a long time. Angry that his mother was gone. Angry that his father might as well be.

"I'm honest, Ben. I don't blame you."

"Maybe you should."

"Maybe you shouldn't." He looked at Ben for a long moment, then smiled. "Come on, it's not getting any earlier." He turned and scrawled a note, stuck it up on a nail next to the door, and they headed out.

The ride home was exhilarating. Ben could see why the snowmobiles were getting so popular. Yes, they were noisy and smelly, but they were fast and fun too. He waved at Innusiq as he drove away, and then turned and went inside. The scent of burnt baked goods filled his nostrils as he stepped inside and he carefully hid a smile. He supposed it said something for her determination that his grandmother was still trying to bake after all these years of failures. He stood in the warming alcove and put away his snowshoes and outergarments, then headed into the main part of the cabin only to stop in surprise as his saw his grandfather sitting by the fire reading. He felt a twinge of irritation that he'd come home expressly so his grandmother wouldn't be alone, only to discover that he needn't have.

"You're back early," he said, hoping he didn't sound as annoyed as he felt.

His grandfather nodded. "I radioed in and they told me the package wasn't ready. I'll go in tomorrow instead."

"Ah," Ben said meaninglessly as he nodded at his grandmother and got out the dishes to set the table, taking refuge in the familiarity of setting blue willow-ware on the tan oilcloth which covered the table.

"Who brought you home?"

"Eric. We went by his house. His lead dog had a litter of pups last night."

That got his grandfather to look up from his National Geographic. "How many?"

"Six. There were seven, but one died." He had a momentary déja vu until he realized it was because he'd quoted Innusiq verbatim.

"That often happens. It's usually for the best," his grandmother said, turning from the stove to hand him a basket of blackened biscuits.

"Yes." Ben took the basket from her and put it on the table, then got out the silverware and placed a setting at each plate. Schooling his voice to as neutral a tone as he could manage, he spoke again. "Did you know that Eric's parents were killed in a car accident? That he nearly died himself?"

The glance his grandparents exchanged answered the question for him. They had known. They'd known, and not told him. He looked down at the table and drew in a long, quiet breath, let it out again equally quietly, unclenching his fist from around the napkins he held, slipping one of them beneath a fork.

"We. . . didn't know how you'd take it, Benton."

His grandfather sounded apologetic. Ben refused to look up as he put another napkin down.

"It seemed kinder to not speak of it," his grandmother said gently.

His temper slipped its already frayed leash and he looked up at her in astonished anger. "Kinder? It was kinder to let me think my best friend had decided I wasn't worth the bother?"

There were several seconds of shocked silence. He'd startled himself too. He was always so careful to curb his temper.

"Benton Fraser!" His grandfather's voice was hard and unforgiving.

His gaze went to his grandmother's face, saw the hurt in her worn face, the tears in her eyes, and felt a stab of guilt. A man didn't need to take his temper out on others. He could blame it on his fatigue, but that would be nothing more than a rationalization. "I'm sorry, that was inexcusably rude. I'll just go do my homework."

"Dinner's ready, Benton," his grandmother said, struggling for normalcy.

"I'm not really very hungry," he said quietly. "Leave the dishes, I'll do them in the morning."

"Benton, are you feeling all right? You haven't quite been yourself lately. Are you sleeping well?"

Ben barely stopped himself from laughing a little hysterically. Not been himself, not feeling well, not sleeping well? For one wild moment he thought about confessing all the sleepless nights, all his fears and worries, but, no, he couldn't burden them. They had enough to be concerned about with his grandmother's failing health. "Really, I'm fine. I'm sorry I was rude." He picked up his bookbag and headed for his room.

* * *

The next week at school was a combination of heaven and hell. While Innusiq had made it clear that he wanted to be friends again, it didn't take Ben long to realize that meant something quite different these days. Four years ago it had pretty much just been the two of them, well, save for June, but after the cooking merit-badge fiasco she'd kind of made herself scarce. Now there were far more demands on Innusiq's attention, and he had to share. Between student council, hockey, and girls, Ben got to eat lunch with him twice, but that was pretty much all the time they were able to spend together in school.

Then his grandfather had finally gone on his trip to Yellowknife so Ben had to decline after-school invitations twice in a row, and the weekend had come and gone without a chance to get together. He had borne the delays and disappointments with increasing irritation, but had somehow kept his temper in check. After his tantrum with his grandparents he was even stricter with himself than usual, despite his weariness. Finally after school on Tuesday, Innusiq had caught up with him when he was halfway home, roaring up behind him on his snowmobile and stopping a few feet in front of him in a spray of icy particles.

"Hey, Ben, hold up, can you come over today?"

"I. . . I'm not sure. I'd probably need to ask." He'd been trying to make up for his outburst the other night by being extra considerate, but he still felt guilty for it.

"Please? I still want you to meet my great-uncle. He'll be home soon. It's going to snow, so if you want, you can spend the night since we won't have school tomorrow. Maybe you could help me with my calculus for Friday? Anyway, you can call your grandparents on the shortwave, ask if you can stay. Come on. Even if they say no, I'll still give you a ride home, all right?"

That was an irresistible offer. Ben nodded. "All right."

"Great! Climb on."

They took a moment to stow his snowshoes on the back with Innusiq's own, then Ben settled himself behind Innusiq and slid his arms around his waist, tightening his thighs instinctively as the snowmobile leapt forward. After a few minutes, between the position and the vibration of the engine, Ben could feel a warm, pleasurable current of sensation climbing through him, tightening his groin. Even though he knew that there was no way Innusiq could feel what was happening through their cold-weather gear and heavy parkas, he squirmed back a bit, trying to put a little distance between himself and his friend. Unfortunately he did so just as they hit a bump and the next thing he knew, he was lying flat on his back staring up at the sky, trying to find his breath. A roaring sound came close, then cut off abruptly, which told him Innusiq had circled back around and stopped. Seconds later he was looking up into Innusiq's amused face.

"Not going to get home very fast like that, Ben."

Blushing, Ben tried to speak, and coughed instead. Innusiq laughed and reached out a hand. Ben took it and let Innusiq brace him to his feet, then he tried to take a step before his body had time to cope with the sudden change in position, and he nearly went over again. Innusiq caught him, held him, and pushed back the hood of his parka to look into his face until with a concerned frown. Ben stared back, mesmerized by how close they were, by the way he could see all the different shades of brown that made up Innusiq's eyes, intensely aware that he could feel the warm mist of his breath against his skin.

"You okay, Ben? You've been acting kind of weird lately."

"I'm fine," Ben said automatically, his mind snapping back into focus as he took a step back. Innusiq just stood there, looking at him skeptically until he felt the flush that had started to recede come back. "I. . . haven't been sleeping well. I'm sure it's nothing. Just the move. I'm not used to it here yet, to school and everything."

Innusiq looked at him a moment longer. "You can talk to me, Ben. We're friends."

"I. . . can't," Ben said, shaking his head, mortified by the crack in his voice that made him sound like he was twelve again.

"All right," Innusiq said gently. "If you change your mind, you know where I live. Come on, get back on, and this time hold on, okay?"

Ben nodded. "Yes. I'm sorry."

The rest of the trip was uneventful, and they arrived at Innusiq's cabin without further mishap. Innusiq led Ben inside and they shucked off their outerwear, then Innusiq went to the woodstove to stoke the fire up.

"The radio's there." He pointed to the table near the door that held the familiar-looking shortwave setup. "Call. Then you can come help me cook. You always were a better cook than me."

Innusiq's smile eased Ben's guilt over his earlier reaction, and he went to try to raise his grandparents on the radio. His grandfather answered right away, and to Ben's surprise seemed perfectly happy to let him stay over. Maybe he still felt badly for not having told Ben about the accident. Ben joined his friend in the kitchen and they set about starting a stew, thinly slicing turnips, onions, and carrots so they would cook faster in their bath of beef bouillon, and searing caribou chunks in an iron skillet before adding them to the broth and vegetables. As the mixture simmered, Ben looked in the cabinets until he found the spices and added bay, thyme, and a little sage. Innusiq grinned at him, shaking his head.

"You don't need to show off, you already have your merit badge. You any good at biscuits?"

"If you like bricks. I'm better at pancakes."

"I'll make cornbread then, it's hard to mess up. Coffee. I almost forgot. Could you make a pot while I do the cornbread?"

Ben nodded and set about measuring coffee from the can on the counter into the old black spatterware coffeepot and setting it on the back burner of the woodstove to percolate. As he finished that and glanced out the window, he was surprised to see that it had started snowing. The weather report had said there was nearly no chance of snow, and just an hour earlier the clouds had been barely thick enough to hide the stars. On the heels of that he remembered Innusiq's offhand comment that it would snow, and frowned. "How did you know it was going to snow?"

Innusiq glanced up from pouring cornbread batter into the iron skillet. "I just knew. That's. . . but you don't know about that either, I guess."

"About what?"

"Me. What I'm learning. What I am."

"Which is?" Ben asked, curious now.

After a pause to put the cornbread into the oven, Innusiq wiped his hands on a towel and looked back at Ben. "When I was sick I walked the spirit lands. After I got better, I figured out that I could still walk there, sometimes in dreams, but sometimes awake too. Uncle David's a shaman, and he dreamed that he was supposed to come and teach me. Grandmother Dawson got pretty upset when he came to see me and told me that, she said it's not a Christian thing and I shouldn't do it. But Uncle David said because mom was Tsimshian, not Inuit like dad, it was my choice and my heritage from her clan. I thought about it for a long time, it was a hard choice, but finally I decided to study with him. Grandmother Dawson got really mad, but since Raven Clan has mother-right she had to go home to Aklavik with Albert and Victoria, and leave me with Uncle. I didn't want to make her mad, but . . . it's what I am. I can feel it. I could no more fight it than I could hold back the sun."

Ben wasn't sure what to think. It all sounded. . . farfetched, but then, he supposed it was no more farfetched than deciding one had a calling from God to be a priest or minister. Besides, it was Innusiq's heritage, and he wasn't going to say anything against it. "Is that why you've grown out your hair?" he asked inanely because he didn't know what else to ask, and he assumed that whatever Innusiq was learning, it was probably not anything he could really discuss. Especially not with the all-too-white son of a Mountie.

Innusiq nodded. "Yeah, Uncle says that's where a shaman carries his power," he said it solemnly, then in a quick change of mood he grinned. "Besides, it really bugs Mrs. Campbell, but she can't say anything because Uncle David is a respected elder and on the school board."

They laughed together at that, and then the front door opened and they both turned, startled. A tall, fur-clad figure entered the house, closed the door, and began to take off his outerwear. Ben waited quietly while Innusiq hurried to help the older man out of his cold-weather gear. Innusiq's great-uncle looked to be in his late sixties, or perhaps even early seventies. His hair was mostly white and gray with a few still-dark streaks, and very long, hanging in a thick, brindled sheet to his waist. Thin to the point of being gaunt, the older man had a beak-like nose that gave his expression a disconcerting fierceness. As Innusiq hung up his uncle's parka and mitts, the man turned toward the kitchen, took a step, and stopped, a frown darkening his face as he saw Benton.

"Eric! Who's this?" he snapped.

Innusiq turned, paling noticeably. "This is a friend, Uncle."

"You brought a white boy here when you have lessons tonight?"

Innusiq nodded. "I did. It was. . . important. You'll see. You'll know."

Ben tried to wait calmly while they talked about him as if he wasn't there, but it was difficult. He felt, as usual, like an oddity, something set apart, something that didn't. . . fit. He felt heat in his face and cursed his wretched fair skin and tendency to blush. The embarrassment helped steel his spine, though. He might be a 'white boy,' but he was from a long line of good and honorable people, and the Frasers were a clan too, if not in quite the same way Raven was. He lifted his chin, and met the dark, intent gaze that seemed to have an actual, physical impact. As soon as he did so, Innusiq's uncle nodded suddenly and moved across the room to stand right in front of Ben, staring at him. Innusiq hurried to join them.

"Uncle, this is my friend Benton Fraser. Ben, this is my great-uncle, David Pascal."

Ben forced himself not to look away from that bright, almost raptor-like, gaze, and held out his hand. It was clasped in thin, weathered fingers, then a second gnarled hand closed around his as those eyes pinned him. He couldn't look away, and had the oddest feeling that the older man was somehow looking into him, into his mind, his heart, seeing all the shadows there, every bit of who he was, and who he wasn't but pretended to be. It took all his courage not to yank his hand free and run. Somehow he swallowed the lump in his throat, moistened dry lips, and strung a few words together.

"It's an honor, sir."

For long, long seconds the man said nothing, and the urge to flee grew nearly unbearable, then suddenly a small smile curved his thin lips and he turned to look at his grand-nephew, nodding. "Yes, Innusiq. I see it. He is like you. Your paths are different but will cross many times. You can be of great assistance to one another."

Ben could almost feel Innusiq's relief, and could definitely see his color return to normal as he nodded eagerly.

"Yes. So I thought, Uncle."

"Mr. Pascal looked back at Ben and squeezed his hand between his two weathered ones, then took a step back and inclined his head a little. "It's an honor to meet you, too, Benton Fraser." He sniffed the air, looked back at Ben, and winked. "Especially if you can teach my nephew the proper use of spices."

"Hey!" Innusiq said in mock-offense.

Feeling some of the tension leave the air, Ben relaxed, but then Mr. Pascal looked at Innusiq again. "You know, nephew, Raven and Wolf can be an unequal partnership. Wolf shares his kill with Raven, but what can Raven do for Wolf in return?"

Innusiq frowned thoughtfully, and after a moment he looked at Ben, then back at his uncle. "Raven can warn Wolf of dangers to come."

"Yes, that's part of it. But what else?"

"I . . . ." Innusiq's frown grew more intense, then suddenly he smiled. "Light. Raven can bring light."

That drew a smile from his great uncle, and a squeeze of his shoulder. "Very good, yes. Light. I'm going to go wash up," he said abruptly, and left the two boys standing alone in the kitchen.

"Man, that was tense," Innusiq said after a moment, drawing in a long breath, then releasing it.

Ben nodded. "He's. . . ." His voice trailed off and he shrugged as for once in his life he found himself at a loss for words.

Innusiq laughed. "Yes, he is."

"What was all that wolf and raven stuff, or is that a secret?"

"Not a secret, just a little hard to explain. I'll tell you a Raven story later, maybe it will help."

"What did he mean that I'm like you?" Ben couldn't think of many ways in which he resembled his friend, either physically or mentally.

To his surprise Innusiq flushed faintly. "That's. . . well, he meant that because of the spirit balance within you, you can walk the spirit world more easily than most. You could be what I am, someday, under the right circumstances."

"I'm no shaman!" Ben said, trying to figure out why on earth Innusiq and his uncle would say such a thing. While he respected people who held strong spiritual beliefs, he had none of his own. He didn't really believe in the whole concept of deities, probably a result of his intellectual upbringing. "And what does that mean, spirit balance?"

Innusiq looked uncomfortable. "Some call it being two-spirited, but Uncle doesn't like that term. He says that's not a good way to describe it because it splits something that should be whole. All of us have two aspects, or sides to the spirit within us, male and female, but in this day most are out of balance, with one or the other 'side' stronger because of the way we're raised and taught. Some of us, though, are in balance, neither side holding sway. When you're in balance, like me, or Uncle David, or you, it makes it easier to relate to the spirit world, as well as to both men and women."

Ben made a rude noise and looked away, smoothing a thumb across his eyebrow. "Oh, that certainly sounds like me. I relate so well to everyone."

A hand settled on his shoulder, drawing his attention back to Innusiq's face, to the warm brown eyes that gazed at him searchingly. "You can. You will. You just have to open yourself again."

Ben stared back, not knowing what to say, how to say he was afraid to do that, because when you did that, you got hurt, not wanting to admit to his own fear. He dropped his gaze to Innusiq's throat, staring fixedly at the hollows and rises of tendons beneath the skin, the way his worn plaid flannel shirt lay against his neck, and he licked suddenly-dry lips. Too close. Too personal. He was starting to feel a flare of panic when a burst of static and speech from the radio startled both of them.

Innusiq went to answer the call as Ben covered his unease by returning to the stove to check the stew. He frowned into the pan as he stirred, wishing Innusiq would stop being so insightful. It was more than disconcerting.

"So, Benton Fraser, you're the Ben that Innusiq knew from before, aren't you? The boy he used to play with, who helped him learn to track."

Ben started a little, not having heard Innusiq's uncle come up behind him, but he managed not to drop the spoon in the stew as he turned and shrugged. "I only told him what Quinn had taught me."

"You did well, though. Not everyone can teach, especially that which they don't know well themselves. Innusiq says you had a way of showing him what to do in a way that made it seem like he already knew it and he just needed to remember. That's a peacemaker's talent."

Before Ben could think of a response to that odd statement, Innusiq interrupted them.

"Uncle?" he called from across the room. "It's John Alexcee. He says Joseph has taken very bad, they want you to come."

The older man sighed, and shook his head. "I can see that tonight's lesson was not meant to be. Very well, tell them I will be over as soon as I can." He started toward the parka he'd just taken off, and Innusiq stepped between him and it.

"No, Uncle. You need to eat first. It won't take long."

"I'm fine, boy. I'll go now."

"You're not fine," Innusiq said quietly, lifting his chin in a way Ben found amusingly familiar. He knew that movement, and he had a feeling that he knew who the winner of this debate would be. "You think I don't notice how little you eat? You should follow your own teachings, Uncle. You must be healthy to use your power, or it could turn."

David Pascal looked at his nephew with a scowl. "You presume to teach me?"

"I only reflect back your image, Uncle," Innusiq said with every appearance of humility.

That earned a snort of laughter, and the older man shook his head. "I should be so lucky. Very well, Innusiq. I'll eat before I go, are you happy now?"

Innusiq grinned. "Yeah. Ben, will you dish up the stew? The cornbread should be done in five minutes, we can start on the stew while it finishes. I'll tell John you'll be there soon and that he should plan for you to stay the night. You won't want to be out in this, it's going to worsen."

The old man nodded. "Your weather sense is improving. You'll have a day off tomorrow." He grinned and nodded at Ben. "Now I know why you brought him. You didn't want to be stuck here with just me all day. I'd make you work."

"Me?" Innusiq asked, widening his eyes like a girl would. "Would I do that?" He spoiled his act then by laughing, and his uncle did as well.

Ben found himself joining in, and realized his laugh was so unused it almost seemed. . . rusty. It felt good to really laugh. He went to the stove and ladled out three bowls of stew. It should have cooked longer to be really savory, but it would at least be hot and filling, and if the carrots were still a little crunchy that was all right. By the time he had set the bowls on the table, Innusiq had finished with the radio and was taking his cornbread out of the oven.

Mr. Pascal ate well under Innusiq's watchful gaze, and then went to gear up for outside once more. Ben started doing dishes as Innusiq and his uncle argued about what transportation the older man ought to use, and finally they agreed he would take the snowmobile, since it was faster and had a light, and more importantly, a radio. After he left, Innusiq stood for a few seconds looking at the closed door.

"Something wrong?" Ben asked.

Innusiq turned with a sigh, raking a hand through his long hair, pushing it back out of his face, tucking it behind his ears. "I . . . don't know. Lately I have a feeling he's hiding something from me. He's good at that, and sometimes he does it on purpose to teach me stuff, but this time, I don't know. There's nothing I can put my finger on, just a . . . shadow. I worry about him. He's not young, though he seems to think he is."

Ben nodded. "My grandparents are that way, too, though even they are starting to slow down some. My grandmother's not been very well lately."

"Maybe Uncle David should have a look at her."

Ben thought about his grandmother interacting with a Native shaman, and smiled. "That could be . . . interesting."

"She's still a rationalist, hunh?" Innusiq asked with a grin as he came to stand next to Ben and picked up a dishtowel to dry.

"You could say that. I am too, really, but I like to keep an open mind."

Innusiq shot him an oblique look. "That's good. You'll need to. Like Shakespeare said, 'there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'"

For some reason that made Ben remember that . . . hallucination . . . from the day he'd come over to see the puppies. When he'd seen the raven. He looked at Innusiq. "Will you tell me what your uncle meant, now? About Raven and Wolf??"

"Mm. Yes. You know I'm Raven clan through my mother's people, the Tsimshian, right?"

Ben nodded. "Yes, you've mentioned it. But what's wolf?"

"You are. You're Wolf clan. Now most people call it Eagle, but you're a throwback. Definitely Wolf."

"Well, I'm not, though. I'm afraid we haven't a drop of aboriginal blood. . . unless you're talking about aboriginal Celts."

"You may not be blood, Ben, but you're still Wolf. I saw it, Uncle David saw it. It's very strong."

"What does that mean, then, if you're not talking about blood?"

"Spirit animals. I'm not just Raven clan, I'm Raven spirit."

"And a spirit animal would be?"

"It defines you. Raven is the messenger of magic, of wisdom and of trickery. He is also the symbol of changes in consciousness, of levels of awareness and of perception. He carries the mark of the shape-shifter. He is the carrier of healing energy from distances. All of these are things I am, I must deal with, learn to use, learn to be."

Ben absorbed that. It had a certain internal sense to it. He could see those things being part of Innusiq, from way back. Well, most of it made sense anyway. "Shape-shifter?" he asked dubiously.

Innusiq shrugged. "The ability to be different things to different people. At school I can be one thing, here at home another, with my uncle a third, with you, different still."

"Ah, adaptability, then."

"That's one way to put it."

"So what makes me a Wolf, then?"

Innusiq put away the pan he'd just dried and hung up the dishtowel. "I wondered when you were going to get to that. Come on, let's get a fire going, and bring out the bedding. When it gets really cold we usually close off the bedrooms and just sleep out here, it's easier to keep one room warm. Once we're settled we can talk. And do calculus. I do need help there, and you always were good at math."

Ben nodded and they took a few minutes to start a fire in the main hearth and rearrange the furniture so they could lay out a pair of bedrolls by the fireplace. As the room began to warm up, Innusiq stripped off his sweater and flannel shirt, leaving just his tank-style undershirt with his worn jeans. Looking at the way his brown skin turned almost gold in the warm light of the fire and lanterns, Ben thought of his own pale skin which was more comparable to something one might find under a rock, and stifled a sigh. At least he had dark hair, it would be worse if he'd been blond, or worse yet, red-headed. Though he was already overly warm, he was too self-conscious to take off his own shirt. He just settled a little further from the fire, his back against the couch, his math book and a notebook close at hand. Innusiq stretched out on his back on his bedroll, hands linked under his head watching Ben.

"You know, wolves and ravens are often seen together in the wild. Raven serves as a sentry and scout for wolf, and in return is allowed to share in the kill. But sometimes they play together as friends, not just working together."

Ben knew that Innusiq was talking obliquely about their own friendship, and he smiled. "Yes, so I've heard. Tell me why you think I'm a wolf."

"I don't think it, I know it. I feel it. In fact, I think Wolf is really stronger in you than Raven is in me, and that's . . . saying a lot. And why-- many reasons."

He took a breath and drew himself up, and Ben smiled, recognizing the pose. He saw it every week in class. Innusiq had memorized this, and was reciting.

"Wolves are very ritualistic. They live by carefully defined rules, and have specific places and roles within the pack. They don't like to fight, they'll go out of their way to avoid it even though they're capable of a fight if it comes down to it. But usually a look or a growl is all they need to resolve a problem. Wolf spirit is only given to those with the strength, confidence, and surety to not have to demonstrate and prove himself to all. Wolf people are fiercely loyal to those they consider part of their pack. Also, a wolf's senses are very keen, much more than most animals, far more than a human. I know this is true of you, also. And they have the inner sense, intuition, which you also have, when you allow yourself to."

Ben considered that listing, and frowned a little. Those all seemed to be good qualities. "What's the down side?"

Innusiq shook his head, sighing. "I should have known you'd ask that. Most people would want me to stop with the good, but not you. Hmmm." He frowned thoughtfully. "Well, Wolf spirit is wild, and can be dark. He can take too much enjoyment in the chase and the kill. He can be foolishly stubborn, defending his territory at all cost though it might be wiser to retreat and fight another day. He doesn't discriminate when he hunts--any prey is his for the taking, be it a wild hare or a rancher's prize sheep. That can make for powerful enemies. Wolf is usually a natural leader, but must learn to lead gently and without tearing others apart, or the pack may turn on him." His gaze had grown intent, but oddly unfocused as he spoke, and suddenly he shook himself and looked at Ben again, more present now. "But Wolf's good qualities far outweigh his bad ones, so don't dwell on that. Just remember what to watch for, and try not to fall into habits that could trap or harm you."

Ben nodded thoughtfully, warmed by the fact that Innusiq saw all those good qualities in him, though he was not entirely convinced, himself. "And Raven, what are his bad qualities?"

A flicker of . . . something . . . passed across Innusiq's face. "Impatience. A fixation with beautiful things." He looked at Ben oddly when he said that, but before Ben could ask why he'd gone on.. "Possessiveness. Anger. The trickster spirit is hard to resist, sometimes, but I have to remember that power can hurt as well as heal. It's difficult, this path. I always have to try and stay in the light, but sometimes the dark is . . . tempting."

He sounded so discouraged that Ben nearly put a comforting hand on his shoulder, but he wasn't quite sure how to do that. He'd never been good at reaching out. Perhaps just changing the subject. "Light. Your uncle said something about that. About Raven and light."

The brief flare of sadness on his friend's face vanished. "Yes. And I promised you a story. But we have to do math, first, just in case I'm wrong about the weather and we do have school tomorrow."

Ben nodded and picked up his book. "Okay, what lesson do you want to start with?"

As it turned out, he didn't get his story. Innusiq definitely needed help with his math, a lot of help, and by the time they'd finished his friend was yawning widely.

"Sorry, Ben," Innusiq said with a wry smile. "I promise I didn't forget your story. Let me warm up some coffee, then I'll tell it."

Ben didn't want to push him. He faked a yawn, too, though he didn't plan to sleep. "Why don't we go to sleep now? It's late. You can tell me the story some other time. It's not like you'll forget it, right?"

Innusiq made a derisive sound. "As if I could. Uncle David would have my hide. All right. Let me put out the lanterns, you add some wood to the fire so we don't wake up cold, okay?"

Ben nodded and they each took care of their tasks and then Innusiq was returning to the nest by the fire and skinning out of his jeans so he could crawl into his bedroll. Ben found himself watching his friend, a little envious at his ease within his own body. It would be nice to be so comfortable with oneself. As they settled in and pulled up their respective blankets, Innusiq looked over at Ben curiously.

"You sleeping like that?"

"Yes. I'm a little cold," Ben explained, fingers crossed against the lie.

Innusiq studied him for a moment, then lifted a shoulder in half a shrug. "Okay. If that's what you want. Good night."

"Good night. Sleep well."

"You too."

Innusiq closed his eyes, and within just a few minutes his breathing had gone deep and even. Ben waited a little while, to be sure he was soundly asleep, then slipped out from under his blankets, sweating from the warmth. He pulled off his sweater and folded it, laying it on a corner of the couch, and breathed a sigh of relief, much more comfortable in just his henley. Yes, it covered every bit as much as his sweater did, but it was . . . underwear. He read for a little while, did his French composition, and then was at a loss for a way to occupy his time. Finally he opened his notebook, picked up his pen, and started to draw. From memory he drew Suqa and her puppies, then a scene with a cabin, snow, and trees that could have been just about anywhere. Again he stopped, trying to come up with a new subject. His gaze fell on Innusiq where he lay sleeping, and he grinned, and once more turned to a fresh page and began to sketch.

As the drawing began to take shape, Ben found himself thinking ruefully that he could see why the girls all crowded around Innusiq. He was tall, and strong, and quite handsome-- any girl would find him attractive. After a bit he stopped drawing, and he found himself just sitting there watching his friend sleep, caught by the way the firelight played on his blue-black hair, and the smooth, honey-colored slope of cheekbone, darker, sienna-hued curve of mouth, mahogany shadows at the base of his throat and along the smooth flight of collarbone and shoulder exposed above the woolen blanket. His imagination supplied him with the texture of that sleek skin under his fingertips, and he felt a disconcerting rush of heat. Yes, he understood quite well how the girls must feel.

The realization dismayed him. He kept hoping this would stop. He'd been having this problem for a while now. It was just one more thing about him that wasn't . . . normal. He could look at Sarah Jimmie and know she was a beautiful young woman, but he could also look at Innusiq, and see that he was good-looking too. Ben hadn't known there was anything unusual about that until his grandfather had caught him looking at the library's art books and getting. . . flustered.

He'd been quite understanding, even a little amused, until he'd realized that Ben had been looking at Michelangelo's most famous male nude. He hadn't gotten angry -- though he never did, so Ben hadn't found that reassuring-- but it had been clear from his reaction and the way he directed Ben's attention to a painting of a nymph, that Ben was not supposed to do that. That it was understandable, if not quite polite, for a man to find a woman's nude body fascinating, but that a nude man could only be appreciated as art, not as. . . flesh.

Ben looked down at the sketch he'd been working on, realized he'd drawn Innusiq without his shirt, and instantly dropped his pen and notebook, shoved to his feet and retreated across the room, out of reach of the fire's warmth, where he couldn't see Innusiq because the couch and the table were between them. He stood by the kitchen sink, hands clenched against this unwanted new proof that there was, indeed, something wrong with him. He wasn't right. Wasn't normal. Then there was the other. . . problem . . . the one that seemed to be getting worse, not better. The one that had him desperately trying to live without sleep.

His secret fear was that perhaps he was a lunatic like his Great-uncle Tiberius, of whom no one in the family liked to speak, and who had apparently died in a very odd fashion. Ben had found the secret hiding place in his old trunk, though, found the photos hidden there. The fact that there had been photographs of both naked women and naked men hidden there only seemed to confirm his belief that he was likely to die quite mad. They said, after all, that insanity ran in families.

He sank down where he stood, back against the cabinets, the varnished wood chilly even through his shirt. He drew up his knees and rested his forehead against them as a shiver chased itself back and forth through him. He hoped the cold would dispel the last of that utterly inappropriate reaction he'd just had. He could only imagine the disgust with which Innusiq would regard him if he ever found out. Ben felt that by even just feeling such a thing he had done something wrong. Something bad. How could he repay Innusiq's trust and friendship in such a way?

After a little while with nothing to occupy him save self-recrimination, his eyelids started to droop despite the chill and the discomfort of his position. He knew he didn't dare go to sleep now, so he tried doing multiplication tables in his head, he recited poetry to himself, he even wrote an entire essay on the life-cycle of sphagnum moss in his head, but he kept nodding off, and the next thing he knew there was a hand on his shoulder, and warmth all along his left side, and a voice in his ear.

"What are you doing over here?" Innusiq asked, sounding amused. "Were you too warm by the fire?"

Too tired to be completely coherent, Ben didn't think to guard his tongue. "No, I was afraid."

Innusiq's gaze narrowed. "Afraid of what?"

Oh God. Of course he would want to know what was the matter. Ben shook his head. "Nothing, never mind. I must have been dreaming." Innusiq's hand moved from his shoulder to his chin, lifting his face. Ben twisted away from his touch. "Don't."

There was a long silence, then finally an annoyed sounding sigh. "Ben, what the fuck's wrong with you?"

Ben was shocked by the curse, but even more by the question. It was so exactly what he'd been asking himself that he couldn't help but answer. "I don't know. I'm . . . . wrong. Something's wrong with me."

Innusiq's hand returned to his shoulder, and he pushed it away roughly. "Stop it. Don't touch me. You shouldn't touch me."

"All right," Innusiq said calmly, crossing his arms as he moved back a little, still studying Ben. He shivered a little. "It's cold over here. Come back by the fire."

Ben didn't want to move, but one look at his friend's face told him that if he didn't, then Innusiq wouldn't either, and he was obviously cold, since he was only wearing an old pair of gym shorts and a tank top, no protection at all from the chill. He sighed, nodded, and went over to sit by the fireplace again. Innusiq followed and sat next to him, too close, but Ben couldn't move away without risking offense. He could feel his friend's gaze on him, almost tangible, but he didn't dare meet it.

"So, this is all one thing, isn't it?" Innusiq said in a conversational tone. "You being tired all the time, falling asleep in class-- and this don't-touch-you thing. It's all flowing from the same spring."

"I don't want to talk about it," Ben said mulishly.

"Too bad, you're stuck, and I won't let you off the hook. Ben, I know it's been a long time, but I thought we were still friends. We are, aren't we?"

"I. . . would like to be. But you won't want to be, if I tell you."

"Think I'm kind of a jerk, hunh?"

Ben's head snapped up as he stared at Innusiq. "No, no of course not. It's not you. It's me."

"Then why not talk to me? I might understand more than you think."

"No, I don't think so."

"Try me. Please? I swear to you, there's nothing you can say that will make me think less of you."

Ben eyed him narrowly. "Does that mean you already think so little of me that you couldn't think less?"

Innusiq growled and smacked Ben on the back of his head hard enough to sting. "No. It doesn't. Stop being stubborn. Why don't you want me to touch you?"

"It's not that I don't want you to . . . ." Ben began, then trailed off, unable to complete his sentence.

Innusiq looked at him for a long moment, and a tiny smile lifted the corners of his mouth. "Oh. Oh, I get it." His smile got bigger, and his hand lifted again, though not to smack this time. His fingers slid through Ben's hair, soothing the fading sting there, and Ben couldn't suppress a shiver of reaction.

Panicked, he started to pull away, to jump to his feet, but before he could, Innusiq's fingers tightened in his hair, holding him still. Ben could have pulled away and only lost a little hair, but he found he couldn't look away from those shining brown eyes. There was mischief there, yes, but something more. He didn't know what it was, but he very much wanted to find out. His heart was racing as if he faced a grizzly instead of his friend, but he held his ground, because he was, after all, a Fraser, and Frasers didn't run, they faced things.

"It's not that you don't want me to, is it? It's that you do want me to, don't you?" Innusiq asked, bringing his other hand up to touch Ben's face, very gently. Then he wasleaning forward, and he didn't stop, and their mouths met.

Ben might have thought it was a dream, but he could taste the unfamiliar flavor of Innusiq's lips, feel their softness, the faint roughness where they were a little chapped. Not a dream, his senses told him. Not a dream. He was frozen with shock, not responding, not fleeing, just absorbing, a part of him that seemed to never shut down was analyzing, as well. He'd only ever kissed family members before, and never on the lips at that. Never felt lips part against his, never felt the sharp, ardent flare of heat that arrowed down from his mouth to his groin, never felt the sleek, wet flicker of tongue, hadn't even known to expect it.

At that the panic took hold again, he pulled away so abruptly and so hard that he fell over backward in his bid for freedom and ended up flat on his back staring at Innusiq, who was still crouching where he had been a moment earlier. He had a thousand questions he wanted to ask, everything from 'What the hell was that!' to 'Would you do that again?' but he couldn't ask any of them, his voice wouldn't work. He could only stare, scared half out of his mind.

Innusiq looked at him and smiled, but it wasn't a making-fun-of smile. It was warm and open. "Ben, jeez. Settle down. It's no big deal. You liked it, didn't you?"

He felt heat flood his face, belated but strong. "I . . . don't . . . I don't know. I never. . . ." God. He couldn't talk tonight. Couldn't say these things, these intimate, embarrassing things that no one knew about him but himself. That he didn't want anyone else to know.

He watched Innusiq's expression change, his eyebrows drawing down a little, his head tipping a bit to one side as if that somehow gave him clearer sight. His eyes widened. "Oh, man. You haven't?" It seemed to be Innusiq's turn to blush now, his face getting distinctly flushed. "Oh, Jesus, Ben. I didn't even think. I mean, you're only a few months younger than I am, I figured you'd have done . . . stuff."

Ben shook his head, staring into the fire. "No."

"You. . . saving yourself or something? I didn't think that was your style."

Ben blushed some more and shook his head. "No, not really. There just wasn't anyone to do 'stuff' with. Literally, most of the time. It was just me and my grandparents. No one else."

Innusiq absorbed that in silence for a few seconds, then he cleared his throat. "No one else?"

"No. Not most of the time. It's been very . . . lonely."

"Not even one girlfriend? Boyfriend? Any friend?"


"Your dad should be shot," Innusiq said, his voice hard. "Your grandparents too. Jesus. Taking you off like that where you had no one. No wonder you're all shut up and closed off."

Ben felt compelled to defend them. "It wasn't their fault. Even when there were others my age, I never really. . . fit. I'm just too different."

"That's bullshit, Ben. You're just like me, a regular guy. Smarter than most, maybe. Better looking. More stubborn." Innusiq grinned at that last one.

Ben found himself smiling back, though he didn't think the two previous descriptions were very apt. "I don't think it has much to do with who I am, really. It's more what I'm not. I'm not good with people, like you are. And I'm not the right culture. Not the right . . . color."

Innusiq's frown got darker. "Now that's really bullshit, Ben. Would you say that if it was me?"

"Well, no, since you are the right version of both."

"What if we were in Calgary? Would it be right for someone to say that about me?"

Ben began to see his point. "No, of course not. But that's different."

"No, it's not different. Not at all. Don't give me that. You're too smart to do that."

"It may be wrong, but that doesn't alter the fact that it is reality."

"Then you have to change reality. Don't settle. Shake things up."

"I think I'm shaken up enough, thank you," Ben muttered.

Innusiq laughed. "Good. You need shaking up. So. Is that what makes you think there's something wrong with you? Just that you met a bunch of rude people?"

The flush was back, burning his face. Ben shook his head mutely.

"What, then?"

"I . . . sometimes, a lot of the time, really, when I sleep, it's. . . and then I wake up all. . . ." Again, he couldn't finish his sentence. It seemed to be as chronic as the problem he was trying to describe. It was bad enough to wake up disgustingly wet and sticky without trying to tell someone else about it.

Innusiq looked at him, frowning. Then got an odd look on his face, half amazement, half amusement. "No. Oh, Jesus, Ben. Didn't anyone tell you that's normal? Didn't your dad, or your grandfather, or someone tell you that?"

Well, honestly, yes, someone had, the one time he'd summoned up his courage to ask his grandfather about the problem. "Grandfather said I shouldn't worry about it," Ben said, low-voiced. "But he says that about everything. I heard them talking, so I know we moved back here to be closer to the clinic. At first I thought it was for Grandmother, she's been under the weather a great deal lately, but she doesn't go, so then I thought maybe it was for . . . me."

"I can see how that wouldn't be very reassuring," Innusiq said ruefully. "All right. So, sometimes when you go to sleep, you wake up a mess right? That's the problem?"

Ben nodded, staring at his hands.

"That's what I thought. Ben, there's nothing at all wrong with you. Yeah, it's messy, but it's just come."

"Come. . . where?"

Innusiq sighed. "Remind me to teach you a whole bunch of new words, Ben. 'Come' means semen, okay?"

That word he knew. Ben's face went hot yet again. "Oh." He thought about it for a moment, then frowned. "But why? I mean, I'm not having . . . ." he swallowed hard, and continued. "Sex."

"No, but your body thinks you should. It needs to. It's kind of built for it. That's what Uncle says. . . that guys our age are pretty much just designed that way. It's kind of like when the dog starts humping your leg, you know. It's sort of annoying but natural, he can't help it."

"Oh, well, thank you very much," Ben said irritably. "What a flattering comparison."

Innusiq laughed. "Don't get cranky, Ben. I didn't say you were doing that. It just means that your body's ready to make babies now."

"Well, it may be, but I'm not. I don't even know any girls, and wouldn't do that if I did. But I can't just stay awake all the time, it's affecting my schoolwork."

Innusiq laughed. "I noticed that. And no, you can't, you'll get sick if you try. Does it happen a lot?"

It was getting easier to talk about. Innusiq's matter-of-factness helped. He nodded. "Lately, yes. Before we moved back, not so much, just once in awhile."

"Well then you just need to take care of it more often yourself. Then it doesn't sneak up on you when you're sleeping."

"Take care of it how?"

That earned him another startled look. "You mean you don't. . . ." Innusiq made an arcane gesture with one hand, and at Ben's blank look, he shook his head, sending his hair swinging. "I thought everybody knew how to do that. Oh, man, no wonder you're messed up! What did your grandparents do, lock you in a closet your whole life?"

"I suppose figuratively that's not a bad metaphor," Ben said, so embarrassed he was past blushing now. Obviously his oddness extended even further than he'd thought. He'd had no idea he was so ignorant. It wasn't like he didn't know about sex. . . about procreation anyway. One couldn't grow up around animals and not at least know the basics. And he'd read some things, D.H. Lawrence and the like, but those had been sadly uninformative, though vaguely stimulating. Apparently there was a lot he didn't know.

"Hmm," Innusiq said cryptically. It was an irritating habit. "I still owe you a story," he said, out of the blue.

Ben blinked, and stared at him. "What?"

"Your story. I promised you a Raven story."

Ben was confused by the sudden jump from talk of embarrassing things to the much safer subject of mythology, but he had to admit to a certain amount of relief as well. Still, he wanted to know. "But . . . ."

"I think it's time to tell it. We'll get back to this, don't worry."

He gave in. Innusiq was probably right anyway, they needed a bit of a break from the more serious subject. "All right."

Innusiq moved off the hearth, and sat down on Ben's bedroll, his back against the couch as Ben's had been earlier. "Sit here." He patted the blanket between his legs.


"You like that word. Sit. Here." Innusiq pointed at the blanket.


"Oh, you learned a new word. Good. It's my story, I'll tell it my way. Sit."

Ben wanted to resist, but there was something in his friend's voice, his manner, that would not be gainsayed. Feeling awkward, he went to sit where Innusiq had told him to, acutely aware of how few clothes Innusiq was wearing, especially when, as soon as he had settled there, Innusiq put his arms around him and pulled him back against him instead of at the relatively safe distance that Ben had chosen. Now his back was against Innusiq's chest, and his rear flush up against his groin, and those bare, brown thighs flanked his own denim-clad ones.

"There. That's better."

Ben wanted to retort that it wasn't, but something kept him silent, though he was so tense he felt like a guy-wire in a windstorm.

"You know, when June had her baby, the nurse told her that babies who don't get touched enough sometimes die," Innusiq said matter-of-factly. "I think that happens to grown people, too. Except they don't die outside, they only die inside."

His arms were still around Ben's shoulders, his hands resting lightly, but a definite presence. And Ben understood suddenly what Innusiq was saying to him without actually saying it. And he had to swallow hard against the lump in his throat, and blink back the sting in his eyes. Yes. He could see that might be so. It wasn't wrong to want to be touched now and then. Just touched.

"All right," Innusiq said quietly. "Now I'll tell you how light came into the universe. It's a Haida story, but Raven is Raven, no matter where the story comes from. In the beginning the world was in total darkness. Raven, who had existed from the beginning of time, was weary of groping about and stumbling in the dark. After a time Raven came upon the home of an old man who lived alone with his daughter. Through his slyness, the Raven learned that the old man had a priceless treasure which was all the light that had ever been made, closed in a tiny box, hidden within many larger boxes."

As the tale progressed, Ben slowly began to relax a little, to lean back against the warm plane of Innusiq's chest, to accept the weight of hands on his chest, the enclosure of arms around him. That feeling, the brush of long hair against his cheek, the firelight, the woodsmoke, all of it combined to evoke an almost-memory, and an intense, nostalgic feeling swept over him-- just for a second or two-- leaving him confused but relaxed and oddly comfortable. Comforted. He didn't know why, just that this seemed strangely, oddly, familiar.

"When he found out about this, Raven decided to steal the light," Innusiq continued, his voice low and cadenced, almost hypnotic. "He thought for a long time, and finally hatched a plan. He waited until the old man’s daughter went to the river to gather water, then changed himself into a leaf and dropped himself into the girl's water-basket after she drew her water. As she drank from the basket, she swallowed the leaf." Innusiq shifted a hand upward, touched Ben's throat with a finger, and let it slide down his throat to his chest as he continued to speak. "The leaf went down into her warm belly. . ." his hand came to rest on Ben's stomach, just above his navel, stroked there gently, ". . . where Raven transformed himself again, this time into a tiny human. After sleeping and growing there for a very long time, at last Raven emerged into the world once more, this time as a human baby."

The desultory stroking didn't stop and Innusiq's other hand shifted, opening buttons on his henley, sliding into the gap thus created. He tensed as Innusiq's fingers came to rest on the bare flesh of his upper chest and shoulder, holding his breath until he couldn't hold it any longer and he had to suck in air, which felt . . . good. Very good. And he had to admit that the fingers on his skin felt good, too. Slowly he relaxed again as Innusiq's hand moved on his shoulder, soothing, gentling like he was a skittish horse.

"Now despite the strange nature of his conception, Raven’s grandfather loved him, but threatened terrible things if Raven ever touched the treasure box. Even so, Raven begged to be allowed to hold the light just for a moment, and finally the old man yielded, and lifted from the box a warm and glowing sphere, which he threw to his grandson."

The hand on his shoulder slipped downward, stretching his shirt as it moved, and blunt, callused fingertips grazed one of his nipples. Ben caught his breath in surprise as that unexpected touch sent a shower of intense and pleasurable sensation through him. Innusiq continued without pause.

"As the light came toward him, Raven transformed into his bird-form, and when the beautiful ball of light reached him, Raven caught it in his beak. Quickly he took flight through the smokehole in the roof of the house, and escaped with the treasure. When he released it, it burst apart to become the sun, moon, and stars, and that is how light came into the universe."

Ben was silent for a moment, absorbing the story, analyzing it as best he could with that distracting touching going on. "In . . . interesting. It's like the story of Adam and Eve, but without the element of judgement."

"How so?"

Those stroking fingers brushed his nipple again, and Ben gasped, tensing. It felt good. So good. And the hand on his stomach was straying lower, down onto his lower abdomen, barely above the aching, and that felt good, too. Scary, but good. Against his lower back he felt a growing hardness and realized what it was with a palpable shock. This part he knew about: erection meant desire. He just hadn't made the association of this state with the one that accompanied waking up messy. It was so obvious now that he felt stupid to have missed it. He shied a bit from the realization that Innusiq was aroused, too, and suddenly remembered that he was supposed to be answering Innusiq's question and forced himself to speak. "Th-the light." He swallowed hard, trying to control the tremor in his voice, moistened his lips, and went on. "Light . . . like the apple. . . is knowledge."

Innusiq laughed. "Uncle David would be impressed. It took me a lot longer to get that. Knowledge is right."

"Forbidden knowledge."

"Forbidden but needed."

"Yes. But without judgment when it's gained."

"Yes, that's why I like our stories better than yours."

"So do I," Ben admitted, feeling a little guilty over preferring Innusiq's culture to his own.

"Good. Because I'm going to show you something you need to know, and you shouldn't feel bad about it." Innusiq's hand slipped free of the now-stretched neck of his shirt and he tugged at a fold of the fabric. "Take this off."

Ben hesitated, and then sat forward and complied, wordlessly, self-consciously.

"Okay, good. Now your jeans. Get comfortable."

Ben wanted to say that comfortable was the last thing he'd be if he took off his jeans, but couldn't quite. "I . . . do I have to?"

Innusiq shrugged. "It's up to you, but it feels better that way. Plus you don't have to worry about doing laundry."

Oh. That. Yes, after hand-washing countless pair of boxers, Ben was quite familiar with that problem. He warred with himself for a moment, then he shifted away from Innusiq to get room to move, and his hands went to his waist. He fumbled open the button and slid down the zipper, carefully. It took a few awkward twists and shoves to get the heavy flannel-lined denim down to his knees, then off, but finally he was wearing only his boxers, like Innusiq. Well, actually, Innusiq still had his shirt on. He must have noticed where Ben was looking, because he smiled.

"You're right. It's only fair."

Innusiq skinned out of his shirt with a lithe twist of his body, white cotton peeling away to reveal more smoothly-muscled, caramel-colored skin. Again Ben was reminded of how pale he was, and he instinctively crossed his arms over his chest just as Innusiq looked at him and smiled.

"Not so scrawny any more, Ben."

Involuntarily Ben's gaze slid over Innusiq's bare torso. "No, you aren't. But then, you really never were."

"I meant you," Innusiq said in fond exasperation. "You've filled out."

For some reason that relatively innocuous comment made Ben's face burn. He had no idea how to respond to that. He could almost feel Innusiq's gaze on him, like a physical thing.

"Ben, you don't know, do you?"

"Don't know what?" Lord, was there something else he didn't know? This was getting depressing.

"That you're . . . well . . . you know how ravens like to pick up shiny, pretty things?"

"Yes." He was a little confused. Well, a little more confused. What did that have to do with anything?

"Well, you're one of those things." For the first time, Innusiq looked a little self-conscious.

It took a moment for that to sink in, then Ben's eyes widened. "Me?"

Innusiq nodded. "Yes. You."

Ben scowled. "I'm not pretty. Girls are pretty."

"You are. Just . . . in a boy way."

He couldn't deal with that thought. It made no sense to him. It must be just the difference in their cultures. It wouldn't be the first time he'd come across such a gap in understanding. "You kissed me," Ben said suddenly, his mind suddenly deciding it had come to grips with that fact.


"I thought. . . I thought that you were supposed to do that with girls."

Innusiq smiled. "You can. It's good with girls. Different, but the same. Boys can go with boys, too, doesn't matter."

That wasn't the impression Ben had garnered from what little he knew of such things or from his grandfather's reaction, either. Not one book he'd read or one film he'd seen had ever given him that idea. And he'd never seen a man kiss a man in public, not like they did women . . . well, other than the kiss of greeting that was relatively common, particularly among Francophone men. In fact, though never explicitly spoken aloud, he'd gotten the distinct feeling that it was definitely not acceptable for a man to be. . . romantic. . . with another man. "It doesn't?" he asked dubiously.

Innusiq shook his head. "No. I found that out in Yellowknife. When I was in physical therapy, there was a guy in my ward, Jason, we got to be friends. He. . . showed me some stuff. It was nice, and it's safer than girls."

"Safer?" Ben couldn't quite figure that one out.

Innusiq looked at him somberly. "A guy can't give another guy a baby. What happened to June. . . it made me think about that. Besides . . ." He grinned suddenly. " . . .when you're kissing and touching, it doesn't really matter if you're with a guy or a girl, it all feels good. I'd kiss you again if you let me, show you how good it feels."

Ben thought about that. He knew that he'd never heard anything about it being okay for boys to kiss boys. But then, there was apparently a lot he hadn't heard about. Perhaps, again, it was a cultural difference. Ben was well aware of how many European cultural norms were in conflict with Native beliefs and customs. And Innusiq was clearly knowledgeable about . . . things. And he trusted his friend. He cleared his throat. "I . . . you could."

Innusiq looked at him for a long moment, then patted the blanket again, wordlessly, and Ben returned to the spot he'd left to get out of his jeans. In the movies people kissing usually closed their eyes. He thought that seemed like a good idea, so he closed his own and waited. He heard a soft exhalation from Innusiq, felt his breath against his skin. Fingers rested on his shoulder for a moment, then slid up his neck, urging him to turn his head a little, tipping it a bit, then that warm exhalation was on his mouth, followed a moment later by parted lips against his own. That soft, moist movement felt good, very good.

Even though he was halfway expecting it this time, the slick, hot stroke of tongue against his own when it came made him jerk back and break the kiss. Innusiq just looked at him steadily, waiting. He licked his lips experimentally. It . . . he. . . tasted good. It had felt good. Really good. Weird, but good. Thinking about it sent shudders of heat through him that seemed to magnify the explosive, itching ache in his groin. He brought a hand up to cup the back of Innusiq's head, felt the cascading silk of his hair spill against his hand. Even that faint sensation wracked him, and he made a sound in his throat, a startled, almost animal sound.

Embarrassed, Ben would have pulled away then but Innusiq wouldn't let him go, just pulled him closer, bringing their mouths together again, gently at first, mouth closed, but softening, lips parting, urging Ben's lips to part as well. Ben tried to mimic Innusiq, relaxing the instinctive tension in his lips, letting them open a little. He could feel the moist heat of Innusiq's breath mingle with his own, feel the hardness of teeth behind lips, and this time when the sleek slide of tongue came he didn't startle, just accepted the slick, wet flicker against his own that stirred a shiver even though he wasn't cold.

In fact, he was sweating, flushed, and would have been panting if it hadn't been for the mouth on his. As it was he could hear himself breathing harsh and fast through his nose and he would have been embarrassed by that as well, except that Innusiq sounded just the same, and when a soft little sound of pleasure vibrated against his lips he relaxed further into his friend's embrace, understanding from those echoes of his own noises that it was all right to sound like that, too.

After a little while he found himself on his back on the bedroll and it was very strange because he had only a vague memory of changing position. Innusiq was leaning over him, touching him– stroking his torso, teasing his nipples; kissing him, sometimes his mouth, sometimes his jaw, his throat, even his. . . ear. The quivers of pleasure that odd caress sent through him were amazing. He struggled to think, to do more than just feel, but it was so difficult– he'd never felt anything like he was feeling now, only the faintest echoes of this sort of pleasure had ever filtered through the shock of waking. It was. . . nearly too much. He was about to pull away in fear when Innusiq lifted his head, releasing his mouth. Ben sucked in a deep breath, trying to calm himself, as Innusiq nudged one of his hands with his own.

"Put your hand on top of mine."

It was an innocent enough request. Ben reached out and curved his hand over the back of Innusiq's. "Like this?"

"Yes, just like that."

He moved his hand back to Ben's stomach, just above the waistband of his boxers. Ben jumped a little as the warm, slightly callused skin of Innusiq's hand came into contact with his bare skin.

"Shhh. It's okay."

Innusiq's hand, and by extension, his own, soothed back and forth across his midriff for a moment.

"Feel good?"

Ben nodded, unable to speak.

"Good." That stroking hand slid down his belly, down below his navel, down . . . between his legs. He was torn between two contradictory responses. The first was to pull Innusiq's hand away and clamp his thighs closed, the second was to arch forward into that gentle touch, to get more of it. As a result he did neither, though he thought he might just shake apart with the way his pulse was pounding. He almost moaned in disappointment when Innusiq's hand moved back up his thigh to his waist, then fingertips were sliding under the waistband of his boxers. Instantly his hand closed hard around Innusiq's, preventing further movement. There was a moment of tension between them, then he heard Innusiq take a long, slow breath, and let it out.

"You can let go."

Ben eased his grip, and Innusiq lifted his hand and sat up, looking apologetic. "Sorry."

"It's all right," Ben said automatically, sitting up as well.

"No. I went too fast. I didn't think."

"It's . . . hard to think right now," Ben said, understanding.

Innusiq flashed him a grin. "Yeah, but I didn't mean to freak you out. I just wanted to make you feel good."

"You did. It felt . . . feels. . . good. I'm just not used to, well, touching."

Innusiq tilted his head a bit to one side and regarded Ben thoughtfully. "I have an idea," he announced after a moment. "Give me your hand again."

Ben frowned, but reached out to put his hand over Innusiq's again, only to find his hand captured instead. His gaze went to Innusiq's face, eyebrows lifted in query. Innusiq smiled and brought their hands up to his shoulder, holding Ben's hand against his skin.

"You touch me, however you want." Innusiq dropped his hand so Ben's rested against him without duress.

Ben stared at his hand, so pale against Innusiq's darker skin, saw the warm, hopeful invitation in Innusiq's face. Tentatively he shifted his hand a little, and for the first time he noticed the scars, a half-dozen or so of them on Innusiq's left shoulder and upper arm, more of them all down the outsides of his forearms. He cautiously touched the worst of them with a fingertip.

"From the accident?" he asked quietly.

Innusiq nodded. "Yeah." He fingered his forearm. "I put my arms up in front of my face, so they took a lot of damage. Then we spun around when he hit us, and got hit on the left side by a second car that couldn't avoid the accident, and that's what caused these." His fingers traced the deeper weals on his shoulder.

Ben put his hand over Innusiq's there, squeezing lightly, trying not to dwell on those shocking reminders of the accident that had come so close to claiming his friend's life. "Do they bother you?"

"No." He looked at Ben intently. "Do they bother you?"

"Only because they mean that you were hurt."

"They don't hurt now, it's okay to touch."

Ben nodded and shifted his hand a little, stroking it up the curve of the trapezius muscle, up beneath that dark fall of hair. Innusiq leaned into his touch, smiled.

"Mmm, nice."

Remembering Innusiq's touch on himself, he let his hand slip from Innusiq's throat down his chest; let his fingertips skim across one brown nipple. Saw, and felt, the nipple grow taut beneath his touch; heard the catch in his friend's breathing. Not sure if that was good or bad, his gaze lifted again, saw Innusiq's eyes were half-closed, his lips parted. His own mouth tingled with sense-memory, and he found himself leaning in. . . and banging their noses together painfully. He pulled back instantly. "I'm so sorry!" he exclaimed, mortified, rubbing his nose with one hand.

Innusiq rubbed his own nose. "That nose-rubbing thing is just a legend, you know, and besides, I'm only half Inuit."

"I was just. . . ."

"I know," Innusiq said with a grin. "I did the same thing the first time. Noses get in the way. Try it again, but just tilt your head a little. . . yeah, like that."

Ben tried it again, and this time succeeded in brushing Innusiq's lips lightly with his own, without other collisions. His lips were soft. Smooth, except for that little rough spot he'd noticed before. . . chapped. Ben figured he had a couple of similar spots. It was inevitable in this climate. Without even thinking about it he licked out to moisten the dry skin there. Innusiq made a soft sound against his mouth which almost. . . tickled, but it felt good too. Tasted good. Lips parted against his own, moist heat, beckoning. . . he licked again, sliding his tongue between parted lips, feeling the hard, sharp edges of teeth. There was nothing tentative in Innusiq's response, a slick, supple lick of tongue against tongue. This time Innusiq suckled gently on his tongue for a moment before letting it go and nipping at his lower lip, sending shivers through him.

Shortly they were back on the bedroll again. They rolled together, legs tangling. Ben narrowly avoided accidentally kneeing Innusiq in the groin, but finally they were in each other's arms, hips moving together, two similar hardnesses pressed up close. He felt hot, and shaky, and his penis was hard, and . . . wet. Just as he started to get worried about that, Innusiq caught his hand and slid it beneath the worn old cotton of his shorts. Ben tensed, but didn't pull back. He let his fingers be urged around the silky shaft that lay hidden behind the fabric. Wet too. Slick. All right then. Another natural thing.

Innusiq's hand showed him a movement, repeated it. Tentatively he copied the slow, firm stroke Innusiq had shown him, watched the responses it evoked, Innusiq's head tipped back and he pushed hard into his hand, with a soft moan of pleasure. It was fascinating, moving, compelling. It was clear that it felt good, and that reassured him, took him a little past his hesitation. If Innusiq wanted this, liked it, then it was all right, wasn't it? But he wanted to see more. Wanted to see it all. To engage all his senses. He unwrapped his fingers and eased his hand out from under the garment.

"Shit, Ben. . . don't stop now," Innusiq gasped, reaching for his hand.

Ben blushed and tugged his hand free. "I'm not. I just . . . " he swallowed, and hooked a finger in the elastic waistband. "Would you mind?"

That earned him a shout of laughter. "Hell no." Innusiq pushed, twisted, kicked, and was bare before Ben could finish being embarrassed at his easy profanity. He was slim-hipped and golden-skinned, and despite the scars marring his shoulder and arms, and one thigh as well, he was beautiful. More than any nude in an art book: those were flat and dull compared to this living vibrancy. Beautiful. He suddenly realized what Innusiq had meant before, about being pretty in a 'boy way,' and though he still couldn't quite apply that concept to himself, he could actually understand it now.

Pretty, yet quite definitely male. Ben kept trying not to look, not to stare, but he was fascinated by the similarities and the differences. Of course the basic structure was the same, that was a given, but everything else was different. About the same length, but definitely thinner, and where Ben tended to be varying shades of pink, Innusiq was tawny and russet. Ben had always thought he had very little body hair compared to most of the men he knew, but he had a veritable forest in comparison to Innusiq who had only a sparse furring of black at his groin and a few threads under his arms. That bareness made him seem even more naked than he was, which was really quite a ridiculous notion, no matter that it was true.

"You just gonna look?" Innusiq asked challengingly.

Ben's gaze flashed upward, saw something in his friend's face that he could only identify as . . . need, and shook his head. "No, but I . . . " Lord this was difficult. He wanted to touch, but it seemed so forward, so presumptuous, to touch someone so intimately. He didn't even touch himself-- not like this. Not with deliberate intent. Hadn't even known such a touch existed. Didn't quite know where it would lead, though he was starting to have a pretty good idea. He might be ignorant but he wasn't stupid and he'd always been good at addition.

As if reading his mind, Innusiq reached out and pulled Ben's hand back down to his groin, placing it squarely on the firm length of his penis, which jumped like a landed trout as Ben touched it. He felt an answering tremor in his own groin, and had to close his eyes and grit his teeth to get his concentration back. He realized suddenly that he could feel the rapid tic of Innusiq's pulse against his palm. It was racing, fast as his own, faster maybe.

He curled his fingers a little tighter, carefully, because he knew how easy it would be to hurt, and Innusiq thrust up into his hand. When his hips eased back down again, Ben felt the give and slide of Innusiq's foreskin as it slipped back to expose the head of his penis, shining and moist. There was a rich, salty scent in the air, sweat, and more. He knew that smell, or one quite like it, from waking in a panting, shivering mess.

"Come on, Ben. Just do it. I'm dying."

Worried, Ben looked back at Innusiq's face. He did look rather distressed. "Do what?"

Innusiq closed his eyes, shook his head, opened them again. "Okay. Okay, can I touch you again? Is it okay now? Are you all right with it? Because I have to show you."

Ben's heartbeat skyrocketed but he clamped down on the reaction. He would never learn anything if he gave in to mindless panic, and he knew instinctively, that Innusiq would not hurt him. And it was only fair, after all. Innusiq had let him touch. He nodded, slowly, and then self-consciously pushed his own boxers down, then off. He had to resist the urge to hide behind his hands, and tried to imitate Innusiq's more casual attitude as best he could. He couldn't quite bring himself to look at his friend, though.

"Come here and sit like we were before," Innusiq said softly, pushing himself up to a sitting position again.

Ben complied with a certain sense of relief. Having his back to Innusiq certainly would make things a little easier. Or so he thought until he felt all that . . . skin. . . against his own. And the firm thrust of erect penis against his backside was a little disconcerting, though not really unpleasant. As soon as he was settled, Innusiq tightened his thighs and arms around Ben and . . . hugged him and then he let his hands ease down to Ben's thighs, resting them there for a moment. Just when Ben thought he'd go out of his mind with anticipation he moved them slowly inward, the left one sliding low to cup his scrotum, the other curving warmly around his aching penis. He sucked in a long breath through clenched teeth, and heard Innusiq laugh softly.

"Feels good, hunh?" he asked against Ben's ear, his tongue flickering out to trace the convolutions there.

The action sent shudders of sensation through him, and he bucked up into Innusiq's hand involuntarily, and oh, Lord, it felt so much better than 'good' that he had no words for it. How had he missed this? How could he not have known, not have figured it out before? Sometimes when he washed himself, it felt good, and he'd start to get hard, but that had always scared him and he'd stopped. If he hadn't. . . . would he have discovered this? Probably. He nodded, speechless. That clever tongue slid down the side of his neck, back up.

"You have a nice cock, Ben. Feels good in my hand."

For a fraction of a second he wondered why Innusiq was talking about domestic fowl, then the context supplied the meaning, and he felt his face go hot, and he had to laugh at himself for blushing under these circumstances. The sound was harsh and tense in the quiet.

"Shhh, it's okay," Innsiq whispered, his hands stroking, slowly. "Just let it feel good. Stop thinking, just feel it."

Stop thinking. Ben wasn't sure he could. That was exactly the opposite of what he'd been told to do all his life. He didn't know how. But . . . maybe he was learning, because with each stroke of those big, callused hands on his member, his cock-- that word seemed so much more appropriate at the moment-- he thought less and felt more. He shifted restlessly, and Innusiq shifted with him, letting him spread his thighs wider so that left hand could move more easily between his legs, and so he could buck his hips upward into each firm stroke of right hand. There was more of that scent now, a heavy, musky smell that seemed to go to his head like a fever. It wasn't just his, though, part of it was Innusiq's, and he could tell the difference, could feel the slickness against his back where Innusiq's cock was caught between their bodies. He wondered if that felt as good to Innusiq as those hands on his body did to him. Innusiq made a ring of his fingers and slid them up and down. On each upstroke the outside of his index finger stroked just below the head of his penis, in a place that made him shudder with the intensity of the pleasure he felt, then he ran a thumb over the exposed crown, a slick slide of skin over wet skin, and Ben jerked helplessly into that sensation, wanting, needing, more of it.

To Ben's dismay Innusiq took his hand away then, and he moaned an inarticulate protest, but then there were fingers against his lips, brushing back and forth until he opened his mouth for them to slip inside, and he could taste an unfamiliar bitter saltiness along with the subtler flavor of clean skin. He licked, fascinated, realizing suddenly it was himself he tasted. He sucked, licked, nibbled at Innusiq's fingers until his friend bucked against him with a soft groan and then they were slipped free. A thumb replaced them, equally briefly, but when that left his mouth too, he turned his head, blindly searching, until Innusiq leaned forward and their lips and tongues met as now-wet fingers encircled his cock again.

It felt so good, that warm, just-tight-enough grip around him, he couldn't help but make a soft sound to convey his pleasure. The stroking was faster and harder now, each motion ending with a little twist across that top that made his hips lurch in response. It should have hurt, he would have thought it would, but it didn't. It just felt amazingly wonderful. A spreading pool of heat consumed him, like a fever, but no fever ever felt this good. There was a sweet pain in his groin that became the center of everything, and each quickening stroke on his cock made him forget more and more of the world as his focus narrowed and narrowed and narrowed again until he was nothing but the pounding of his heart magnified past bearing, and finally, finally, that liquid ache exploded like light into the darkness.

* * *

It was some time before Ben could drag his scattered wits back into some semblance of order. Waking to a pounding heart and saturated undershorts had given him little warning that such pleasure had hidden in his dreams. As his pulse and breathing settled to something resembling normal, he gradually became aware that he was lying on his side, with Innusiq holding him, his arms warm and very strong around him. That felt good, too. He also realized he wasn't disgustingly messy, and a quick glance around showed him that Innusiq's shirt had been used to clean him up-- and probably Innusiq's hands, too, he thought, embarrassed, though Innusiq didn't seem to be the slightest bit put off by any of it. He was, however, still in a state of arousal, if the pressure against Ben's backside was any indication. Ben had been too occupied with being touched to do any touching in return. He felt a flare of guilt at that, and pulled away a little.

"I'm sorry," he managed, surprised by how hoarse he sounded.

"What for? Didn't you like it?" Innusiq's tone clearly said if Ben hadn't, he was a few bricks short of a load.

"No, not that. That was . . . " he groped for an appropriate word, blushing. "Extraordinary. But I didn't. . . you haven't . . ."

"Oh, that. Well, you were in a worse way than me," he said with a warm chuckle.

Ben supposed that was true. He wasn't sure what to do now; it seemed only fair to offer to reciprocate. "Would you like me to . . . ?" Ben stopped, not quite sure what to call it.

Innusiq grinned. "Nah, you don't have to. I can take care of it, I've had more practice." He rolled onto his back, dropped one hand to his groin, and started to stroke himself lazily.

Ben watched, fascinated as Innusiq's mostly-erect cock thickened more in response. After a moment or two of watching, he felt a strong urge to get closer, to touch, to . . . help. To feel that silky hardness in his hand, and taste his mouth again. Remembering what Innusiq had done for him, Ben reached out and brushed his fingertips against Innusiq's shoulder, down his chest. Innusiq jumped a little, obviously startled, his eyes opening. He studied him for a moment, solemnly.

"You don't have to," he said.

"I know," Ben said, meeting his gaze. "I want to."

"You want to? You sure?"

Ben nodded. "Yes. Can I . . . kiss you again?"

A little smile curved Innusiq's mouth. "Sure, if you want."

Mustering his courage, Ben leaned over and kissed his friend. This time he was active instead of passive, parting those soft lips with his own tongue. He liked the way that felt, the way it tasted, liked the feel of sharp edges of teeth and the slick, hot slide of tongue against his own. He shifted position until he was able to lean on one arm, freeing one hand to explore warm, soft skin, faintly damp with sweat. Tiny, hard nipples. He suddenly had the oddest urge to see what Innusiq tasted like in other places, to use his tongue to learn Innusiq the way he would learn prey he was tracking.

Ben remembered Innusiq licking his ear, and lifted his mouth to lean over and try that. He tasted of soap, or shampoo maybe. He let his tongue range down the side of Innusiq's neck, tasting mostly salt and minerals, a faint hint of woodsmoke. The sensations of tongue on skin and taste on tongue were oddly exciting, causing a subtle stirring in his groin, one that wasn't nearly so disconcerting now that he knew what he . . . knew. He kept going, down the slope of shoulder, onto the pectoral muscle and then curiosity made him taste one brown nipple. Innusiq gasped and Ben pulled back instantly.

"I'm sorry, I . . . mpfh!"

His nascent apology was cut off abruptly as Innusiq put a hand behind his head and urged him firmly back down. "Oh, man, that's nice! I didn't know that felt so good, Jason never did that. Do it again."

Ben nodded and laved the tight nub again, and felts fingers clench in his hair, almost hard enough to hurt, but not quite.

"Yeah. Oh yeah," Innusiq sighed.

Emboldened, Ben let his hand slide down Innusiq's torso to his hip, then slowly across to where his friend's hand was still wrapped around himself, stroking slowly. He put his hand over Innusiq's, learning the rhythm, still licking a taut nipple, stroking firm and fast. The fingers in his hair clutched tighter, and under their hands Innusiq's hips bucked and arched, and there was wet heat spilling over their interlaced fingers and the chest under his mouth was heaving with each fast, shallow pant.

Innusiq's hand, and by default Ben's, slid a few more times over his softening penis as his breathing slowed, and he let out a long, low purr like a cat.

"Niiice, Ben. Nice. Feels good to have someone else help. I mean, it's always good, but it's even better with someone else. And that licking thing. . . wow. I have to do that for you sometime."

The idea of that went through Ben with a rush that seemed to head straight to his groin, thickening quiescent flesh. Surprised, he lifted his head and stared down at himself. "Is it supposed to do that?" he asked, dismayed. Somehow he thought he'd just fixed that problem.

"Do what?" Innusiq looked too, and grinned. "Oh, that. Well, yeah, sometimes it happens fast like that, but not usually. It's probably just because you haven't been taking. . . care of it, so it's kind of anxious."

"Oh." It seemed extremely strange to be speaking of a body part as if it had its own personality, but at the moment it sort of felt that way. "And if I take care of it regularly, it won't do that?" he asked hopefully.

"Well, not so often anyway," Innusiq said. "Though sometimes it happens at really weird times no matter what you do. One time I was putting a math problem on the blackboard at school and it all the sudden I was rock hard. Thank God I was wearing a long sweater."

Ben thought about such a thing happening and his mouth went dry. "Good lord!"

"Yeah," Innusiq said wryly. "It was bad. And sometimes the snowmobile really gets to me."

Ben stared at him. "The snowmobile?"

"Yeah, the vibration just kind of. . . ." He stopped suddenly and grinned. "Oh, jeez . . . is that why you fell off?" At Ben's chagrined nod, Innusiq laughed softly. "Welcome to the club. Having a cock can be a real pain, but it can also be a lot of fun."

Ben found himself smiling. "I'll have to admit it was. . . fun."

"Good. It's supposed to be." Innusiq sat up, nodded toward the bathroom. "I'm gonna go wash up. I'll be back in a second."

Ben nodded and watched him go, once more admiring the toffee shade of his skin in the firelight, feeling much less dismayed by that realization this time, feeling a little happier about his own fair skin. It was comforting to know that someone else found it attractive. To his relief, their discussion had served to divert his independently-minded anatomy, which had subsided once more. His own fingers were a little sticky, and curiously he lifted them, sniffing, then cautiously tasting. The scent was musky, and somehow . . . dark. The taste was mostly salt, but it left a subtle, astringent sting on his tongue. It wasn't unpleasant but it wasn't like anything he'd ever tasted before, either.

He got up and went into the kitchen to rinse his hands. Not quite sure of the etiquette of the situation, he stood there, feeling awkward, until Innusiq came out of the bathroom again, crossed to where he stood in the kitchen, and hugged him wordlessly. He hugged back, hard, and then was suddenly overwhelmed with a huge yawn. Innusiq smiled.

"So, think you can sleep now?"

Ben nodded, eyes still watering from the yawn. "For a week, I think. Thank you. I honestly thought there must be something really wrong with me, I thought maybe I. . . I don't know. . . broke something. It seems so stupid now that it never occurred to me that it could be something so natural."

"Not stupid, Ben. You're smart, but you're not very. . . worldly. It's not like you'd pick this kind of thing up, living in the boondocks. And your grandparents are nice, but who's gonna ask their grandparents about this stuff? The only reason I can talk to Uncle David about it is that he's cool, for an old guy. And you can figure out sex from animals, but only partway-- I mean, animals don't really jerk off."

"Jerk . . . is that what it's called?"

"Jerk off. Masturbate. Yeah."

"Ah." Somehow Ben found the more formal word easier.

"Ah," Innusiq mimicked. "Come on. Bed. I'm tired.

Ben followed him back to the bedrolls and they spent a moment rearranging their respective bundles into a single pallet before sliding in together, still naked. Ben couldn't remember ever sleeping completely naked. It almost felt more decadent than masturbating had. Skin to skin. Just touching. Comfortable. The warmth and relaxation was wonderful, more so the thought that he wasn't sick, wasn't crazy, was normal. Or. . . was he? Sudden doubts stole his relief suddenly. "Innusiq?"

"Mmm? What, Ben?" Innusiq asked sleepily.

"Are you sure this is all right? I mean, my grandfather said-- well, he didn't exactly say it was wrong, not with words, but . . . ."

Innusiq sighed. "Yeah. I know. It's . . . well, it depends on what you mean by all right, I guess. Mostly it's not talked about. It's not okay in public."

Ben felt a tightness in his stomach. "It's not?"

Innusiq turned to look at him, his expression solemn. "No. I wish it weren't so, but it is. When I told Uncle David about me and Jason we talked about it a lot, and it's hard to understand how it can be right in some contexts and wrong in others. See, some people think it's wrong for two guys to make each other feel good, to have sex that's not intended to make babies."

"Wrong?" Ben prompted, though that feeling was tighter, and harder now. He swallowed back the acid on the back of his tongue.

"Yeah. Immoral. Perverted."

There it was. Just like he'd been afraid of. "But. . . you said it was okay," Ben said, feeling betrayed.

"Because I think it is. Just because some people think something is wrong, that doesn't make it wrong, you know."

"No, I know that, but . . . ."

Innusiq cut him off. "Stop. Just stop. See, Uncle David says that before the whites came, lots of native peoples didn't see anything wrong with it, it was just a normal, natural thing. Some of your cultures did, too, an even longer time back. Not all of them did, but a lot of them. Some of the Greeks did. Other peoples too. I just think it shouldn't be wrong to make someone else feel good. It shouldn't matter if they've got a cock or a pussy."

"Cock or . . . what?"

Innusiq laughed, shaking his head. "Jesus, for someone with an amazing vocabulary there are a hell of a lot of words you don't know. Think girls. Think what they've got between their legs. You know that much, right?"

His face went hot. "Of course. I've read medical texts, and seen paintings . . . ."

He was interrupted with a deep sigh. "Ben, Ben, Ben. Medical texts? Paintings? You need a Playboy. They're nice for when you're by yourself and need to take care of things. I'll give you one of mine.

Ben refused to be distracted. "But if people think that it's wrong . . . ."

"What people think doesn't really matter. You're the only one who can make that decision for you, Ben. I don't think it's wrong or I wouldn't have touched you, because I respect you and I like you. We've been friends a long time. I just wanted to show you, to help you. Do you think that was wrong?"

Ben thought about it and slowly shook his head. "No. I . . . don't. I'm glad you did."

"Okay then, go with that."

Ben thought about it some more. He had so many questions, so many concerns, but they were so hard to sort out. One, though, seemed important to know, because though he liked Innusiq very much, there was some . . . thing. . . he had always expected to feel under circumstances such as these which he didn't feel now. "How does this change . . . us?"

Innusiq rolled over and propped his chin on his hands, staring at Ben, the flickering shadows of the firelight playing over his somber face. "It doesn't. We are what we've always been. Friends. Wolf and raven. We play together. It's not serious. It's for fun."

For some reason that lightened his heart. "Fun?"

Innusiq nodded. "Yeah. Just for fun. You okay with that? I hope. . . I mean . . . ." He reached out, touched Ben's shoulder. "You know this isn't for always, right?"

He looked a little worried, but Ben felt something ease inside him as his friend continued.

"I'm not the right person for you. For long-term you need someone who can be a better mate to you."

"Another wolf?" That seemed logical to him: that like would call to like.

Innusiq considered that for a moment, then shook his head thoughtfully. His eyes seemed to go a little blank, as if he were watching something very far away. "Mmm, no. Not another wolf. You're not supposed to partner with your own kind. Be careful of that. She would be too intense, you'll feed each other's dark sides too much. No, you need someone who's like you in some ways, but not in others. Fox maybe. Yes. Fox. Smart, and constant like you, but with a lot of passion to balance your composure. Impulse to your control. Sun to shadow. Someone who can irritate and charm you, and who understands what you need even when you don't. It's a long way away, a long time away, a lot of pain and darkness between now and then, but don't give up. He'll surprise you when you least expect him."

"Him?" Ben asked, puzzled.

Innusiq shivered a little, focused on Ben's face once more. "What?"

"You said he'd surprise me. Who will?"

Innusiq gazed at him blankly. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Fraser shivered, too, suddenly knowing that what had just happened lay outside the realm of the natural. "I. . . must have mis-heard," he said, letting it go, mentally turning Innusiq's words over and over in his mind. "I'm tired. We should sleep."

Innusiq nodded, and squeezed Ben's shoulder lightly. "Night."

"Good night."

* * *

Ben pulled himself out of his memories with a sigh. His friendship, and relationship, with Innusiq had continued for several months, until his grandfather's death, after which he and his grandmother had moved once more. Odd how it had never occurred to him that his grandfather was the one for whom they had moved closer to the clinic, that his visits to Yellowknife were to see a specialist. He wished they had been able to talk about things freely. It would have made his life so much easier then. But, had things been different then, he wouldn't be the man he was today, which meant he might not have met Ray, and nothing was worth that cost. Ray was the right one, he knew that with a certainty surer than he'd ever felt. Ray was Fox, charming him into inattention, then pouncing on him when he hadn't been looking, hadn't been expecting . . . anything. And now he had everything.

He smiled, wondering if he ought to call Innusiq and tell him he'd been right all those years ago. Ben was glad that he and Innusiq had managed to work out the tensions that had pushed them apart, had lost him the prerogative to call his oldest friend by his real name for so long. It was good to have that back. It was even better to have Ray here, in his bed, in his arms, in his heart. He wondered if Innusiq had ever found a mate. Someone not-raven for him, as there was someone not-wolf for Ben. He wondered, too, if the phone number he had in the case file on the incident with the faked Tsimshian masks was still good.

A smile shaped his mouth. In that particular instance, his 'dark side' had stood him in good stead. His father's story about the settlement on Baffin Island came to mind, and he knew he'd done the right thing. Sometimes one had to serve a greater justice. And sometimes one was rewarded for it. He turned, slid his arm around Ray's waist, kissed the back of his neck, and put his head down against the same pillow Ray was using. He breathed in deeply, imprinting his partner's scent into his sense memory, as if it wasn't already stored there, and closed his eyes. Good. It was good. He was whole.

* * FIN * *

Yes, fanfic occasionally comes with footnotes. :-)

Notes: In both The Pilot, and in Masks, I always felt that there was a strong 'spark' between Fraser and Eric, especially with the Eric of The Pilot. That chemistry made me think that they probably had been much closer in the past, though clearly events had occurred which had eroded their affection. The wistful way that Fraser speaks of Innusiq in I Coulda Been A Defendant has always rung those same bells. Somehow I got the notion into my head that Eric and Innusiq might be one and the same person-- among many aboriginal cultures it's not unusual to have both a 'public' and a 'private' name (no, I don't know if this is true of either the Tsimshian or the Inuit... a little 'prosetic' license). Anyway, this kind of took shape from there and there's nothing at all canonical about the idea. I am not by any stretch of the imagination an expert in Northwestern Aboriginal spirituality or customs, so this is probably all nonsense, but I did try to keep it from being egregious nonsense. :-)

Much of the description of animal spirits came from the book 'Animal-Speak' by Ted Andrews and is not necessarily of Northwestern Aboriginal origin. (After the story was written and published I was told that Fox is not commonly used in the NW, and that Wolf is often rendered as Whale.)

The version of 'Raven Steals the Light' used in this story is a traditional Haida (not Inuit or Tsimshian) tale, and is slightly different from the version used in Masks. It can be found at

1"The War of Jenkins' Ear." The 'asiento provision,' part of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) between Spain and Britain, gave the British South Sea Company the monopoly over the slave supply to the Spanish American colonies, 4800 slaves annually for 30 years. It also allowed one ship to engage in general trade once a year in Spanish America. This limitation of trade between Britain and Spanish America would lead to the War of Jenkins Ear.

To enforce the trade laws of this treaty provision, the Spanish had a coast guard in their American waters. This was no easy task considering that both sides were violating laws by smuggling goods to and from the Spanish Americas. To make matters worse, the Spanish coast guard harassed British merchantmen by confiscating their cargoes and, in some cases, abusing the crews of these ships. This practice would lead to the infamous 'Rebecca Incident.' On April 9th, 1731, a Spanish coast guard sloop (the San Antonio) commanded by a certain "Juan Francisco" intercepted near Havana, the British merchant brig Rebecca that was on its way from Jamaica to London. According to the Spanish, the logs and cargo were incongruous. Thus, the captain of the merchant vessel and his crew were accused of violating the trade laws specified in the treaty. Captain Robert Jenkins supposedly insulted the Spanish captain, Juan de Leon Fandino. For this insult, Fandino used his sword to cut off one of Jenkins ears. Reportedly, Fandino had said, "Were the King of England here and also in violation of the laws, I would do the same for him!"

In 1738, before a committee of the House of Commons, Jenkins reported the incident and exhibited his severed ear. In this report, he said that his ear was "cut off in April 1731 in the West Indies by Spanish coast guards who had boarded his ship, pillaged it and then set it adrift." This report provided an excuse for the British to declare war on the Spanish in October 1739. There were a few sea skirmishes, but no major battles. (Footnote swiped wholesale from the Microsoft Encarta encyclopedia.)

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