K/V, rated R, 4843 words
prompt #82: the Dempster Highway
road trip! millions of thanks to my veritable army of betas, shihadchick, the_antichris, and rhythmsextion. they listened to me whine. a lot. i'm not kidding. for the record: i did not insert every single comma Chris told me to. because i am a belligerent cuss.
also: please to enjoy this interactive map of the Dempster Highway. more than you ever wanted to know about it.
all you hear is time stand still in travel
you feel such peace and absolute stillness still
that doesn't end but slowly drifts into sleep
the stars are the greatest thing you've ever seen
R.E.M. - You Are The Everything
736 kilometers (457 miles)
Dawson City, North Klondike Highway
"We're gonna need a tent."
"A tent? What the hell for, we're driving, not camping."
"Who knows what could happen, out in the middle of God knows where, no one for miles or kilometers or whatever? Gotta be prepared."
"Prepared, right, why don't we bring snow chains while we're at it."
"Now that's just silly, Ray."
"Don't practice your Fraser impression on me, Kowalski, it's really terrible."
"We're getting a tent. And cold weather sleeping bags."
"Have it your way."
"I will, thanks." Kowalski inspects the selection of sleeping bags with singular intensity.
The sporting goods clerk wishes them a safe trip as they leave.
0 km (0 miles) - Gateway Interpretive Display
"This hunk of junk got a full tank?"
"Yeah. Not that it counts for much in a suburban ussault vehicle."
"Ess you vee, Vecchio. Uh-sault."
"Whatever. It in good shape? Fluid levels? Brakes?"
"Paranoid much? Jeez. It's a car, Vecchio, same as we got down south. They work the same. It's not a dogsled."
"Yeah, I would."
Silence for a moment. Vecchio squints through the bright sunshine at the display. Kowalski kicks the right rear tire of their rented vehicle.
"Just wanna be sure. Next fill-up spot isn't for... it says 365 kilometers. What's that in actual distance?"
"About 232 miles."
Vecchio gives Kowalski a blank stare. "You spent way too long up here."
"O-kay, full tank of gas, got our tent, we good to go?"
"Let's rock and roll."
"Oh for Chrissake."
66 km (41 miles) - Klondike Highway Maintenance Camp
Kowalski blinks. "What was that?"
"How do you know?"
"Look on the map."
"Maintenance camp... think they got vending machines?"
"We're not turning around."
72 km (45 miles) - Tombstone Mountain Campground
"Okay, who's hungry?"
"Who has to go?"
"God, it's like having Dief here again."
"It's my turn to drive too."
"The hell it is; we haven't even gone fifty miles yet."
"Hey, nice campground. Wanna stay here tonight?"
"Why not? We got a tent."
"We're driving. Not camping."
"Fraser said we should take our time. What'd he say, 'the Dempster Highway is a destination in and of itself' or something?"
"Bet you anything he got that from a brochure."
"Bet you're right."
They make use of the facilities. At least they're real bathrooms, not pit toilets.
"Come on, it's getting dark. They have firewood and water and all that good stuff." Shoulder nudge.
"Look, if you're tired, you can sleep in the backseat. It is not getting dark, and I want to keep going."
"Don't grumble. It's pathetic."
"Okay, kids, everybody in."
75 km (47 miles) - Tombstone Mountain
"The hell does it look like I'm doing."
"It looks like you're trying to keep the car from rolling off the road."
"Well, it isn't my fault they built it weird. It's like thirty feet off the ground."
"It's like seven feet, and they had to."
"Why? It's stupid."
"Because without the pad, the permafrost would melt and the road would sink. You're the one who was reading the display."
"Look, just stop, there's no one around."
Vecchio stops, and they get out. Tombstone Mountain is bigger than the biggest thing either of them can imagine. Sears Tower's got nothing on Tombstone Mountain. Kowalski snaps a couple photos, but they mostly just stare.
"Everything like this up here?"
Kowalski moves to stand closer to Vecchio. "You in there?"
"Yeah. I was just thinking."
"Did it hurt?"
"Shut up. I was just thinking, maybe we should take our time, like Fraser said."
"I thought it was a good idea."
"Well, you know Fraser. He's full of 'em."
"Full of something."
Vecchio kicks Kowalski lightly in the ankle. Kowalski just grins.
82 km (51 miles) - North Fork Pass
Kowalski flicks the headlights on. "Continental Divide."
"Well, I thought it was interesting."
"Don't know what it means, anyway."
"Means that-- something about the rivers. And the way they go. I forget."
"Some Mountie wannabe you are."
"Shut up. Enjoy the damn scenery."
Vecchio watches as the road twists out of sight ahead of them.
148 km (92 miles) - The Middle Of Nowhere
Vecchio jolts awake.
"Sorry. Kinda bumpy here."
"Yeah, kinda. Where are we?"
"Uh... the Yukon?"
"So nowhere, then."
"Sun's going down."
"Not yet. I mean--"
"You just don't wanna pee in the woods."
"Damn right I don't." Vecchio flips on the dome light and fusses with the map. "Here, there's a campsite coming up."
"Uh... okay, about a hundred and ten kilometers from the pass, and we're how far from there?"
"No freaking clue."
"Right. Well. It's coming up."
194 km (120 miles) - Engineer Creek Campground
The desk lady sets her fuschia-covered romance novel aside and presents a neighborly smile. "Hello, boys. A little late to start a camping weekend, eh?"
"We just need a space for the night, actually."
"Ah. Much further to go?"
"Wow. What's up there, then?"
"A friend of ours."
"Cool. Well, we got plenty of spaces free, you can pretty much take your pick."
"Thanks, uh... Leanne."
"No trouble at all. Drop by if you need anything."
"Speaking of which, you got a pay phone?"
"No, but you can use ours. Just put some in the jar if it's not local."
"It's definitely not local. Thanks."
Vecchio pulls the phone down to the end of the desk and dials.
"Hello, Benton Fraser speaking."
"Hey, Benny. I didn't wake you, did I?"
"Of course not, Ray. How are you?"
"We're fine. Taking it slow like you said." Vecchio watches with half an eye as Kowalski pays with plastic.
"Good. The Dempster Highway is a spectacular achievement of--"
"Yeah, okay, Benny, we got the memo."
"Understood, Ray. Where are you, exactly?"
"We're at, uh... the Engineer Creek Campground. Gonna stay the night. Lady named Leanne was kind enough to still be awake when we rolled in."
"You must explore the area if you are so inclined. The rock formations are fascinating, and I'm told the fishing is satisfactory. Watch out for Leanne, though; she can be difficult."
"We might look aroun-- Fraser, you cannot tell me you know Leanne."
"Everyone in Canada knows each other, Ray. It's very similar to a small American town."
"You're hilarious, Benny."
"Thank you, Ray. How is Ray?"
"His usual irritating self. He's actually good to travel with."
"I'm... glad you're keeping each other on your toes."
"Yeah." Vecchio traces a scratch on the desk with a fingertip.
"I should let you go get your rest."
"Right. Just wanted to let you know where we are. We're gonna be... you know, taking our time, like you said."
"See you in a day or so."
"I'm looking forward to it."
"Good night, Ray."
Vecchio returns the phone to its place on the desk. "Where'd, uh..."
"Your friend? He said he went to set up the tent. Didn't seem too pleased about having to do it himself."
"Great. Which site are we in?"
"Number five. Nice one, right by the ridge."
Vecchio throws Leanne a sketchy salute and heads out the door.
"Fuck." Kowalski kicks the tent where it lies, deflated and recalcitrant on the ground. "Where the hell have you been? Putting up tents in the dark sucks."
"It's not dark yet."
"Will be soon. Will be really fucking dark. All the food's in the car, right?"
"We'll be fine, as long as all the food's in the car where they can't smell it. Help me put the fucking tent up."
The eastern horizon is a deep blue by the time the tent is standing solidly in the glare of the headlights. Kowalski grabs the sleeping bags from the back, turns off the lights, and almost falls over backwards staring at the stars. "Fuck."
"What?" Vecchio looks up. "Oh."
The pines are silhouetted against the sky, mere tree-shaped blackness where the stars aren't. The stars themselves crowd thick in the rich blue-black of the sky, as if every one in the galaxy must fit within the boundaries of the horizon, and there simply isn't enough room. There is no moon, but it would only overpower the delicate, perfect starlight. It's barely enough to illuminate the campsite, the SUV, Kowalski’s face.
Vecchio points. "Shooting star."
Kowalski shakes his head. "Look how slow it is. It's probably a satellite."
"You can see satellites from the ground?"
"Check it out."
Kowalski's head is bent so far backward that Vecchio is sure he's going to just fall and break his skull and he won't even care because look. So he moves to stand behind Kowalski, and puts his hands on Kowalski's shoulders. Just in case.
"Been way too long since I've seen that." Kowalski leans into Vecchio's hands like it's the most normal thing in the world. And maybe it is, Vecchio thinks.
259 km (161 miles) - Ogilvie-Peel Viewpoint
Kowalski knows this river is the Peel, but he doesn't know where the Ogilvie bit comes in, and says as much to Vecchio.
"Are you having fun, being all tour-guide with me?" Vecchio's eyes are hard, and they don't leave the road for a moment.
Kowalski blinks. "Hadn't thought of it like that."
"I just thought you'd be interested."
"Yes, of course I'd be interested in hearing second-hand about all the great stuff you and Benny did while traipsing all over creation."
Kowalski is quiet for a time. "Kinda thought we were. You know. Over this part."
Vecchio sighs and thumps the steering wheel halfheartedly. "I thought so too."
They sit in silence for the next three kilometers.
"I'll cut it out."
"Don't. I mean. It's irritating, but you're irritating, so I figure it's all an irritating package deal."
"Got me on clearance or something?"
"Or something. The bargain bin."
But from how Kowalski's hand creeps up to cover Vecchio's on the gearshift, Vecchio figures things are okay.
369 km (229 miles) - Eagle Plains Hotel and RV Campground
"A real bed."
"Okay, gas and food. No hotel."
"A real bed, real food, and we can poke around under the hood, make sure everything's running okay."
"Everything's running fine. I think I recall someone who isn't me saying they wanted to drive, not stop."
"I wanted to drive, not camp. We camped, it was good. Now we can stay under an actual roof, with actual beds that have actual sheets on them. The sleeping bags smell weird."
Kowalski mutters something that might be "you smell weird" but Vecchio isn't certain.
"It'd be nice."
Kowalski raises an eyebrow. "Subtle."
"Uh. Well." Vecchio scratches his nose to hide a smile.
Kowalski bites the inside of his cheek to do the same. "Sneaky bastard, think you can bribe me. Can't be done. It's nowhere near time to stop, it's only like three."
"Fraser said we should--"
"--take our time, I know. But a glorified truck stop isn't exactly the Yukon's finest offering. Nothing to do, nothing to see."
Vecchio's smirk is small and devious. "I wouldn't say nothing to do."
"Okay, that was terrible. And you know I'm right. Generally."
"Yeah, okay, fine. Gloat and get it over with."
"Nah. Let's just gas up and get food."
"A decent meal? Sitting down at a table?"
"You got it."
"Your compromisory powers are inspiring."
"Even I know that isn't a word. Plus you sounded like Welsh and that's creepy."
Kowalski kicks Vecchio under the table when he makes a crack about caribou burgers to the waitress. "Sorry. We're just dumb Americans."
"Oh, that's okay. Don't get too many tourists this time of year, it's nice to see people who aren't the regulars. What brings you up all this way anyhow?"
"Road-tripping. Gonna see a friend of ours in Inuvik."
"Oh yeah? That's the real end of the world up there. Dempster's a great way to go, too."
"We've liked it so far."
The waitress-- Dana-- gets a huge grin on her face, the kind you see on people who are inordinately proud of their home and would share it with the world if they could. Kowalski recognizes the grin from Fraser, stranded with him in the ass-end of a snow field. Vecchio recognizes it from Kowalski, speeding down Lake Shore Drive at one in the morning with the GTO's windows wide open.
They order and eat. Kowalski gets a burger with everything. Vecchio pokes at the spaghetti with some trepidation.
"Get over it, of course it isn't as good as Ma's."
"Not gonna go bitch at the chef?"
"You mean the short-order cook? No."
Kowalski shakes his head in a God-help-me way and gives his full attention to the burger.
405 km (252 miles) - Arctic Circle
Kowalski stops the SUV and kills the engine.
Vecchio tears his eyes from the scenery. "What's the deal, it's only been like half an hour." Kowalski points at the sign up ahead. "Oh, hey. Cool."
"Top of the world, ma," Kowalski mutters. "Okay, everybody out. Tourist time." Vecchio snorts and grabs the camera.
They take a moment to walk around the X-shaped display explaining the aurora and exactly why the sun never sets on the summer solstice. "Too bad we missed that."
"Endless daylight is not all it's cracked up to be."
Vecchio thinks about that as he fiddles with the camera. He takes a practice shot: Kowalski on the edge of the frame, shoulders hunched up inside the blue hooded sweatshirt, hands shoved in jeans pockets, looking at the mountains to the west. The shutter clicks and Kowalski looks up.
"All right already, get it over with."
Vecchio slings an arm around Kowalski's shoulders, holds the camera at arm's length, lens pointed at them. "Smile, okay?" He depresses the button. "Painless."
Kowalski clicks and advances, clicks and advances. Vecchio sneering and grabbing for the camera. Vecchio laughing, eyes bright. Vecchio in a ridiculous "monarch of all I survey" pose. Both of them, Vecchio's hand on the back of Kowalski's neck, Kowalski's expression relaxed and unguarded, focused completely on Vecchio.
465 km (289 miles) - Yukon/Northwest Territory Border
"Hey, set the clock back."
"I'd tell you something, but you might get irritated."
"Okay, smartass, what?"
"Even though it's on Mountain Time, Inuvik is further west than Vancouver."
"Do you feel better? Now you got that out of your system?"
"Yes. Yes I do."
"You were just dying to say it too, weren't you?"
"Hey, the tour-guide thing is kinda fun."
"For you, maybe."
"I don't suppose you wanted to stop and see the interpretive display, then."
"Nah, I know all that stuff already."
"Of course you do. Fraser Mark Two."
"So it's... okay, it's 3:30 now."
"Thank you very much."
"You're very welcome."
"I would seriously kill for WXRT right now."
539 km (335 miles) - Peel River Ferry (aka The Middle Of Nowhere II)
"Fuck. Goddamn fuck fuck fuck. Fucking son of a bitch."
Vecchio leans back against the SUV's hood and watches Kowalski stomp around and swear. "Hey, something you didn't know."
"Shut the fuck up. I'm pissed as hell right now, okay?"
Vecchio leans in through the window and snags the camera. He takes a shot of the offending sign. Peel River Ferry. Free. 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Closed For Repairs.
"Can I help you folks?" A young man gets out of a pickup and waves.
"How long will the ferry be closed?" Vecchio asks before Kowalski can jump all over the poor guy.
"Just until tomorrow morning. Sorry, didn't they tell you at Eagle Plains?"
"Nope. We only talked to the waitress, though."
"Ah, well. I'm Alex, I'm working on the ferry." Vecchio shakes hands. Alex is handsome with dark hair and eyes, obviously First Nations. Out of the corner of his eye, Kowalski looks calmer.
"So what, we're stuck till tomorrow, right?"
"Yeah, the ferry won't be running till the morning. You could go back to Eagle Plains, get a bed and all that. Kind of a waste of fuel, though." Alex looks at the SUV. "Especially if you have a tent. If you do, you might as well make camp here, stay the night."
Vecchio glances at Kowalski, who is grinning like an idiot. "Alex, that's the best idea I've heard all day."
Vecchio finds an old fire pit, and they pitch the tent upwind. "What's next, outdoorsman?"
Kowalski rolls his eyes. "I figure we go explore and look for firewood while there's still plenty of light."
Kowalski pulls off his sweatshirt and hangs it by the hood from Vecchio's head.
"What the hell." Vecchio pulls it off but Kowalski grabs it and puts it back.
"Can't be having you getting your pretty head all sunburned. You'd moan and cry for days. Hell if I'm putting up with that."
"I look stupid."
"And there's no one to see you for about a million miles in any direction. Except me. And I give you shit no matter what."
"You are nothing if not reliable." Vecchio puts the sweatshirt on properly.
They find a long-dried dead tree near the river. They spend a couple hours pulling it apart and carrying it all back to the fire pit. Vecchio sits down. "We set then?"
"I wanna go look around some more."
"Go on then."
"Come with me."
"Do I have to?"
"If you don't, I'll probably fall and die and you'll be sad."
"If I come, I'll probably let you fall and die anyway."
"Asshole. Come on." Vecchio gets to his feet, grumbling. Kowalski grins like a kid.
They climb down the bank to the edge of the river. The Peel rushes noisily past them. Kowalski flops to the ground and takes off his hiking boots and socks.
"Oh no you don't, your feet will freeze off and you'll bitch and complain. And have frozen stumps. Which would be disgusting."
"Shut up, Vecchio. Live a little." Kowalski rolls up his jeans, splashes into the shallows, and yelps with the cold.
"It's great! You gotta come in!"
"Come on, Vecchio!"
"You are no fun at all."
"That's right. I am a fun-free zone."
Kowalski leans down and dips his hands in, letting the water flow through his fingers in swirling patterns. Vecchio sits on the bank and watches him and the water. "You love it here."
"It's okay. It's good."
"Nah, you love it almost as much as Benny does."
"Couldn't stay here, though."
Vecchio doesn't know how to answer that.
Kowalski splashes out of the river, sits down next to Vecchio, and dries his feet with his socks. He bumps shoulders with Vecchio while putting his boots back on his bare feet. "Couldn't stay. Which is why I'm visiting."
"Right." Vecchio swallows down on something large in his throat.
"Dumbass." Kowalski leans over and kisses Vecchio. "There, okay? I mean... you know?"
"You fucking better." Kowalski's expression is wide open, maybe a little bit scared, desperate for Vecchio to understand him.
"Okay then." Kowalski gets up and pulls Vecchio to his feet. Doesn't let go of his hand. "I mean-- I'm stupid with words, but-- I can only have one, and I picked, and that's it. I don't want to change it. Fuck, I don't know what I'm saying."
"I know, Ray. I know."
"You're the only one who does, probably."
"Would you shut the fuck up." Vecchio yanks Kowalski close for another kiss.
Kowalski pokes at the fire with a stick, stirs it up so it flares briefly and then settles back down. "I never was much good at fires. Those were more Fraser's thing."
"He told me once that his dad left him in the middle of God knows where with like a rock and some dirt or something, and that was how he learned to make a fire."
"Isn't that like child abuse?"
"Isn't having anything to do with Mounties some sort of abuse?"
"So we've been abused?"
"Is there any doubt whatsoever?"
"Are we playing questions?"
They snort laughter over a bottle of vodka (Vecchio had said "I know we were saving it, but what the hell"). Kowalski pulls his sleeping bag over his head and tighter around him, like a cocoon. "You know, you're right."
"I do love it here."
"I can tell."
"And that's okay, right?"
Kowalski tips over onto his back so he can stare at the stars. Vecchio grabs the camera and clicks off a couple.
"They won't come out. No light."
"Do you love it here?"
"Okay, that was sort of out of nowhere."
"Nuh-uh. Do you?"
Vecchio scratches at a patch of mud on the cuff of his jeans. "I like it here."
"No cab service. No Riv-Rivieras. No Marshall Fields, no Red Line, no White Hen, no bad neighborhoods, no pizza delivery."
"Just snow. Not now. But a lot of the time. And tundra. And caribou. And Fraser."
"And you like it?"
"I like it. I don't love it."
"But you do. Even without bad Chinese food and classic cars and the train right outside your window every ten minutes."
"I'm used to the train. I can't sleep without it."
"Are you being metaphorical?"
"No, I'm being kinda drunk."
"Bedtime for Bonzo."
Kowalski dampens the fire as well as he can, and makes Vecchio take his sneakers off before getting in the tent. He grabs Vecchio's sleeping bag and zips it together with his own.
"Nice trick. Learn that from a certain crazy Mountie?"
Kowalski leans over and kisses Vecchio's neck. "We are in the middle of nowhere in the freaking Yukon. No one for miles and miles. It's about a million times more private than any truck stop motel room. You get me?" He shakes out the doubled bag and crawls in. Vecchio crawls in after him.
Vecchio wakes in the night. Kowalski has attached himself to Vecchio's side, face buried in his shoulder, one arm curled around his waist. His breathing is slow and regular; he is deeply asleep. The outside temperature must be below freezing, Vecchio thinks, but inside the sleeping bag they are warm and comfortable. Vecchio shifts slightly, pulling Kowalski closer, and quickly falls asleep again.
"How far to the next stop?"
"Map says... eleven kilometers. Uh. Seven miles. After the ferry."
"Oh thank God. I say we get breakfast, get coffee, and call Benny, let him know we're alive. And gas up."
"Sounds like a plan."
They pack up the SUV in the cold dawn light. Kowalski takes one photo: Vecchio, facing west, the river behind him sparkling under the newly risen sun.
550 km (342 miles) - Fort McPherson
Vecchio orders for both of them: eggs, pancakes, bacon, and enough coffee to take the enamel off their teeth. The diner is fairly quiet-- it's past the breakfast rush and only a few senior citizens are left, clutching coffee mugs and the daily crossword like lifelines-- and he has no trouble hearing Kowalski's side of the phone call.
"Yeah, we're in Fort McPherson. No, the ferry was being fixed and it just opened this morning. Well, no one bothered to tell us, did they? No way, we camped out. Obviously we survived. Smartass Mountie. Yeah, we're just having breakfast and we're gonna gas up and go. Yeah, he's fine. Doing way better in the big scary outdoors than I thought he would. Yeah yeah, Fraser, he's not entirely useless. I know. Yeah. It's-- yeah. Yes, Fraser. Okay. See you soon. Few hours. Right. 'Kay. Bye."
Kowalski slides into the booth across from Vecchio. "Ooh, coffee. Do they got Smarties?"
"Not entirely useless?"
"Not entirely. You have some uses. It's not nice to eavesdrop."
"You're lucky you're cute." Vecchio throws a little bag of M&Ms across the table.
Kowalski rips into it and dumps six candies into his cup. "I'm lucky, you're the one who was listening in."
"What kind of uses?" Vecchio's voice is low.
Kowalski flushes slightly. "Eat already."
608 km (378 miles) - Tsiigehtchic
"Hey, at least that one was open."
"Another damn ferry."
"Yeah, it's been there on the map the whole time. Not like it was a big secret or something."
"What is your problem."
"I just want to get there."
"What the hell, are you taking after Frannie's kids now? 'Are we there yet?' Jeez." Kowalski tosses the map onto Vecchio's lap. "Map. Look."
"Where are we?"
Kowalski points wordlessly at the sign for the community.
"Okay, unpronounceable name, there it is... Inuvik. A hundred and twenty-eight kilometers. Crap." Vecchio looks up at Kowalski. "Help me out here."
"About two hours. Ish."
"Two hours? I can't do two hours."
Kowalski drives in silence until the small town is out of sight, then he stops in the middle of the road. "What is your deal?"
"We were doing good. What is the problem?"
"I just want to get there."
"We're almost freaking there."
"I don't know."
"What is it, is it me? You're sick to death of me and this road trip thing was a mistake? Or is it Fraser? You're freaked out about seeing him again? Seeing me and him together?"
Vecchio looks at the map without seeing it, wrinkled paper in his lap. "No. Sort of. Shit."
"Everybody out. Now." Kowalski shoves the door open and jumps out of the car. Vecchio follows suit, slightly lost.
Kowalski pushes Vecchio up against the side of the SUV and wraps him up in a hug that smells like a small town diner. He rests his cheek on Vecchio's shoulder and talks to Vecchio's neck.
"I don't know what to tell you because I always fuck up everything I say. But I guess I'm fucking it up anyway because you're all--" Kowalski wriggles and makes an uncomfortable noise. "So I don't know what to do. Because if you don't get it by now, then I'm obviously doing something wrong."
Vecchio's breath hitches. "No-- you're fine. You're good. You're-- you're good. I get it. I'm just-- it's weird."
"This-- thing. That we have. Like-- there's me and him, and there's you and him, and there's you and me. And just-- what the hell."
"Yeah, I know. But it doesn't have to be bad."
"It's not bad, it's just--"
"--weird." Kowalski lifts his head and puts his face right in Vecchio's. "It's weird. But it can be good weird. Or even just good."
"We'll figure it out. We always manage to."
"Okay. We good to go?"
Vecchio nods. Kowalski gives him a quick kiss and pushes the keys into his hand. "Can't drive. Too-- worked up. Whatever." Kowalski shakes his hand in the air and climbs back in the SUV.
692 to 719 km (430 to 446 miles) - Gwich'in Territorial Park
"Close the window, it's freezing."
"I'm taking pictures. Don't want a reflection."
"Pictures of tiny plants at seventy-two kilometers per hour?"
"You never know."
"I'll make a sharp turn and you'll fall right out."
"Hey, look at the lake. And there's like a million birds, slow down." Vecchio pulls over and shuts the engine off as Kowalski hangs out the side window, snapping photos. "This is cool."
Vecchio leans across and drapes an arm across Kowalski's back. He looks at dirty blond hair turned gold in the autumn sun. "Yeah, amazing."
736 km (457 miles) - Inuvik
"Okay, Benny, you gotta explain the continental divide because Nature Boy here couldn't remember what it was."
"Hey, shut up, I remembered the kilometers to miles thing, that's pretty good for a dumb American."
"Ray, you certainly are not a 'dumb American'; you have a unique intelligence."
"He means you ride the short bus."
"I didn’t mean any such thing. Ray, don't bait him."
"He likes it when I bait him."
Fraser turns to see Kowalski crouching down, hands buried in Diefenbaker's new dense coat. Dief grins with his mouth open and tongue hanging out. Fraser notes that while Kowalski's hands are sending Dief into wolfish ecstasy, his eyes flick up toward Vecchio's. Kowalski is clearly asking a question, and Vecchio seems to have an acceptable answer, judging by the furtive smile Kowalski gives him. Fraser isn’t about to pry; he is willing to wait for his own answers as they come.
Winter is coming, and the pack is together.