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Written in the Skin

Author: Tatau (kaffeewespe_la@yahoo.de)

Fandom: Due South

Pairing: Fraser/RayK

Rating: NC-17

Disclaimer: Due South is the property of Alliance Atlantis. Written for fun not for profit

Feedback Welcome!

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It all came down to this: a rose was still a rose, no matter what you called it. This was the personal insight of one Ray Kowalski who didn’t on principal tend toward the poetic but couldn’t for the life of him find a better way to describe it.

Call it buddy breathing if you want to. Hell, call it standard procedure if it makes you feel better. But it was still mouth on mouth and lips on lips between two persons – and Ray wasn’t even going into the whole ‘guy’ issue here.

Maybe this was normal for Fraser, and maybe he did this in Mountie school over and over again.

But Ray didn’t and Ray had only kissed one other guy and he was thirteen at that time and drunk for the first and Pete Kosinsky had suggested it as a good way to practice and Ray had wanted to impress Stella so he had gone with the idea.

It hadn’t even been bad. It had mostly been lots of teeth and drool, like first kisses had a tendency to have.

But Ray wasn’t thirteen anymore and neither was Fraser.

And Fraser didn’t even have the decency to acknowledge that this was way out of ‘standard’, this was being stranded on a little raft with only miles of water around you and a terrifying waterfall in hearing distance while ‘standard’ had crawled under a rock on the island you had left days ago, so far away was it.

Ray could have taken this bit of information and just tried to live with it. He could have been one happy fellow – he was alive after all. Sure, he could’ve played along, let Fraser have it his Canadian way.

If it weren’t for the little inconvenient truth that he couldn’t, he just could not forget about it. And it was driving him up the wall. Fraser seemed completely unfazed, cool and composed as you please.

So what if Ray had this little queer side to him? Just because he didn’t understand all the fuss about guys being guys and therefore different and because Stella seemed to be his one lady in a million and he didn’t think some other woman could fill that space didn’t mean he was all that queer.

Not really. But he was… open, you know, noticing stuff. He could appreciate a nice ass, even if it was a male ass… even if it was Fraser’s ass he was ogling.

But he kept this truth to himself because Ray knew that just because he could enjoy the finer points of a (mildly) queer existence that didn’t mean that there were enough to start a cheerleading team.

Okay, there was Johnson from forensics but that guy liked to wear eyeliner so Ray didn’t count him for the mildly queer part because that was more or less the whole shebang.

Anyway, back to Ray’s original train of thought.

All things considered Ray had anticipated a bit more from Fraser. That guy had after all lived with the musk ox and had probably had one female friend in his youth so Ray had assumed that Fraser knew the merits of the mildly queer ways.

But Fraser wasn’t owning up to that mouth on mouth action, so no dice.

To put it in a nutshell, Ray was rather alone with his astonishing epiphany that followed the great ‘buddy breathing incident’ – fondly remembered as ‘The Incident’ with capital letters because it covered the whole magnitude of Ray’s epiphany that much better.

It went like this: ‘Holy shit!… … … Do that again! (With tongue if you please, thank you kindly.)’

Afterwards Ray would recall vividly how Fraser’s lips had felt against his own and how he could swear that he almost felt some tongue with it and that he had detected something that tasted like Fraser underneath all that seaweed which was, of course, absolutely impossible.

After working with Fraser for almost a year he realized that he had more than just platonic feelings for his partner. And how stupid was that?

Had Ray taken the time to analyze his situation he might have been able to pinpoint that revelation a bit earlier on. For example when he asked Fraser whether he found him attractive or all those times he touched Fraser for no other reason than that it felt real good.

But Ray hadn’t been looking for it back then, had in fact not even been looking for it under the water but it had sort of hit him like a sledgehammer so he was kind of forced to think about it then.

Where did this leave him? Well, Fraser said it was ‘standard’ and Ray felt like it opened up countless opportunities so – he desperately needed an outlet.

Fraser was always talking about ‘sublimation’ – or maybe that was Ray interpreting the stuff Fraser did instead of the things he really wanted to be doing – so maybe this would work for Ray, too?

He thought about this long and hard and he could only remember one other instance where something had shook his life this profoundly. He had been 22 and Stella had said ‘yes’ to his marriage proposal.

He felt like the king of the world for winning her affections and he thought he could achieve anything.

Ray had desperately needed something that would always ensure him that everything could be done, that everything could be achieved if he put his mind to it, that – when it came right down to it – everything would be alright.

That’s what had made him walk into that tattoo parlor with fake bravado and a few beers in his system and demand the Champion logo to be written into his skin.

He had had a few moments where he had regretted it but all in all he felt like this was a part of his history, something he couldn’t deny and on the whole also didn’t want to.

Fraser had carved the second milestone in his life.

Had Ray been really honest with himself he would have admitted that this wasn’t even the moment Fraser had actually done so because in truth Fraser had done that the moment he had entered Ray’s life.

But Ray was only just realizing this so this moment was as good as any. He didn’t even rush into it like he had with his other tattoo.

Ray thought about it – long and hard. Days on end were spent with Ray staring into space imagining what might fit his debacle. So much even that Fraser started to get worried.

Ray was reclining in his chair at the station when Fraser arrived and failed on his whole way through the bullpen to attract his attention.

“Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray, RAY, RAY-“

“Huh? What? Hey, Fraser.” He smiled a genuine smile. “Finally managed to ditch the paperwork, huh?”

“Actually it was a delegation of Japanese woodcarving enthusiasts who –  let’s not talk about it.”

“Gotcha.” Ray grinned a feral smile at Fraser. “ Do you want to grab something to eat before I fill you in?”

“Well, taking all the empty coffee cups on your desk into account I’d say it is long overdue that your body is provided with some sustenance.”

Ray’s grin widened. “Right you are. What would you say to that little deli at the corner of—“ and Ray was off, dousing Fraser in a shower of illustrations and thoughts and ideas Fraser hadn’t had before and that were so Ray that Fraser couldn’t help but be amazed by it.

Ray had a grace about him, a loose limbed, energetic quality that Fraser had never encountered in anyone else before. It stunned him occasionally and it made it hard to focus at other times.

Ray really used his body, every inch of it, from the soles of his feet all the way up to the tips of his hair. It said so much that Fraser was at times surprised that Ray hadn’t actually spoken.

All the more unnerving were therefore the past few weeks where Ray had remained completely calm and contained and seemed to be miles away. It was so unlike him that Fraser worried if there was a last footnote to the ghost ship case, if Ray would change his mind.

But Ray seemed as glad to see him as he had before so that hypothesis didn’t prove to be too fruitful.

A few days later the first books started to pile up on Ray’s desk and Fraser couldn’t find any common link between them.

On Ray’s desk illustrated books battled for space with dissertation about symbols while art books covered the telephone and catalogues of photographies filled the in-tray.

“Ah, Ray. Is this for a case?” Fraser asked surprised.

Ray looked at him for a moment before he shrugged.

“Not really.”

“Ah. I see.” Fraser answered although he didn’t.

Ray had never expressed any interest in art. Fraser couldn’t explain why Ray had suddenly developed an interest in postmodern paintings.

Ray gave him a shark’s smile as if he knew that Fraser didn’t have the slightest idea.

Ray was munching happily on his sandwich – pastrami on rye – while Fraser contemplated his own choice with a puzzled frown.

“Ray, did something happen that escaped my notice?” He rubbed his eyebrow.

Ray looked knowingly at him.

“You mean something out of the ordinary, something you wouldn’t describe as watchamacallit, ah, ‘standard procedure’ my Canadian friend?” and Ray sounded mocking but Fraser couldn’t place the reason for it. He nodded.

“In that case, no.”

“Ah.” Fraser knew he was missing a vital piece of information. “Ray, I’m sorry if you think this an unnecessary question but are you mad at me?”

Ray sighed and then smiled ruefully.

“No, ‘m not.”

What was he supposed to say? Just because Ray had decided to follow the great Chicago past-time to lust after the Mountie it was suddenly Fraser’s fault?

Fraser couldn’t help it, he was like that. And Ray was one dumb bastard to join Frannie’s fan club in that manner.

Ray was silent for a minute more something that made Fraser’s skin itch because it was so unusual. Ray was always all boundless energy and unrelated impulses with a tongue as fast as quicksilver and a temper as sudden as the crack of a whip.

He wasn’t docile, he wasn’t calm and he certainly wasn’t silent.

“Hey Fraser, if you had to choose something to represent you what would it be?”

This abruptness was more like Ray and it eased something inside of Fraser to get a glimpse of the Ray he was used to, the one he needed to compensate his own deliberation and rationality.

It didn’t diminish his confusion at the question, however.

“In what sense do you mean?”

“You know, an image, an object, a – you know, any design that screams ‘me-ness’ for you?” Ray was watching him intently.

“I-ah, nothing particular comes to mind, Ray. I’m sorry.”

Ray deflated a bit. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” He picked unenthusiastically at his sandwich.

“If it is important to you I will give the matter some thought.” Fraser said earnestly.

Ray nodded absentmindedly. “Yeah, yeah, you do that.”

After a few days some of the books vanished only to be replaced by similar ones, others were now adorned with little scraps of paper to mark a certain page and Fraser was still observing Ray’s newest mania to find out what it was all about.

Some pattern was now painfully obvious: most of the books concerned ships, water and marine life. He had a bad feeling about this.

What if Ray had second thoughts but did not want to discuss them with him? What if he wanted to take that transfer anyway? – No, Fraser forcefully calmed himself.

Ray wouldn’t do that to him. He wouldn’t leave him without giving him a reason, without talking to him before doing anything rash. Furthermore those books wouldn’t help him with a transfer. What was the use of those books? Was Ray suddenly interested in naval life or ships in general?

The next evening found them at Ray’s apartment watching a game and, in Ray’s case, having a beer and Fraser decided to brace the topic again. He wasn’t prone to needless curiosity but this strange behavior on Ray’s side was, well, to be fair, it was enough to drive him to distraction.

“Ray, do you have any particular interest in ships?”

Ray looked quizzically at him.

“Ships? Nah… after all that’s happened? Heh, I never wanna set foot on a boat again if I can manage.”

“So, you are positively sure that you have no interest in taking another cruise or in understanding more about shipping?”

“Fraser! Course I’m sure. What kind of freak do you take me for? Ya really think I would like to go on a cruise? Do I look like a cruise kind a guy to you? In case you forgot I can’t swim! With my luck the cruise ship would just sink down to the bottom of the ocean as well. Nah, I‘m not gonna risk it, no way.”

“I see.” Fraser desperately tried to watch the TV again but his mouth opened again on his own accord. Before he could voice anything, however, he closed it again with significant effort although he started the same procedure again less than a minute later.

Ray’s lips twitched even though he seemed to be watching the game rather intently. On Fraser’s third attempt Ray grinned and looked at him.

“You wanna stop imitating a fish and spit out whatever the hell is bothering you?”

Fraser sighed in defeat.

“Would you mind telling me why you are acquiring naval books then?”

Ray smirked.

“It’s not about the ships. I’m just collecting material, pictures and stuff that fits our last adventure.”

“And you do that for what reason, exactly?” Fraser was beginning to get frustrated. Apparently Ray realized that, too, because his grin just got that bit wider.

Ray’s mercurial nature was something of great fascination to Fraser; it wasn’t without potential to frustrate, though.

“I’m just trying to bring it all in perspective. Get my head on the right way.” Ray said trying to sound nonchalant but a slight blush crept on his cheeks. Fraser was hurt; it was crystal clear that Ray didn’t want to tell him the true reason for his sudden interest in ships.

He believed Ray when he said it had something to do with the Henry Allen he just didn’t believe that this was all there was to it, for what did Ray gain by looking at pictures of ships?

Two days later most of the books about ships were gone leaving Fraser wondering if it had anything to do with their talk. The theme was still painfully obvious, symbols for water from all cultures and continents, books about whales and dolphins and fish again with bits of paper between the sheets.

When Ray went to get a coffee Fraser dared a look into some of the books. He knew he shouldn’t invade Ray’s privacy and obviously Ray didn’t want to talk about it but he had to know. Fraser needed to know what kept Ray so composed, so quiet.

He was getting desperate. Fraser missed the way Ray’s usually frenetic energy lent him the agility of a dancer or the way his mind seemed to be a wild jumble of colorful thoughts and also… the way Ray wore his heart on his sleeve.

Fraser just didn’t know how to ask for this Ray to come back to him.

There were pages marked that showed symbols for plain water, in Chinese characters, in form of an Aztec symbol, in forms of fish or in pictures of different types of blue. There were even Mayan and Taino symbols that had caught Ray’s interest.

The books about marine life had pages marked with pictures of different fish and mammals and a biological description of them, how big did they get, how long did they live, what did they feed on and …how long they could stay underwater in case of the mammals.

…Stay underwater…. Maybe that was what this was all about? Ray’s near drowning experience? That would explain why it didn’t concern ships per se. He heard Ray’s unmistakable walk and closed the book hastily.

Was Ray suffering from post-traumatic stress?

Ray smiled easily at him. “Why are you looking like you’ve just been punched in the gut?”

“How do you feel, Ray? Do you feel alright?” Fraser asked before he could stop himself.

“Feel? I feel fine, why?” Ray asked puzzled. “Although,” he mused, Fraser looked at him expectantly, “I feel kinda hungry. Let’s ditch this dump and go get lunch.” Fraser felt hugely disappointed.

It just wasn’t adding up. Ray didn’t behave like a person suffering. At least not like a person suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Bit by bit the books on Ray’s desk were reduced. Left was a book entitled “The Four Elements – Their Symbols and Meaning” by one Michael C. Durer and another one with the enigmatic title “Mythology of the World” by Sarah Foster which Fraser couldn’t fit into his theories at all. Ray and mythology?

Perhaps he had gone about this the wrong way. Maybe Ray’s near death experience had caused Ray to discover his spiritual side?

Although Fraser had to admit that Ray had not been that close to death and had also been remarkably calm about his escape out of the sinking ship.

There had been a moment of discomfort when Ray had seemed panicked by Fraser’s conduct but after he had assured him that buddy breathing was standard procedure he had appeared to accept that. Ray was infuriating.

There was almost no one else whose motives appeared as unclear to Fraser as Ray’s often did. He just couldn’t follow Ray’s hunches and his strange leaps of logic but right at this moment he wanted to understand with all his might.

Ray took him for a celebratory drink that evening. They had actually managed to take down Tony Leone, the whole department had worked at this coup for several weeks and finally they had managed to get that last bit of incriminating evidence to put him away for good.

Everyone was in high spirits. After night after night of stakeout this came as no surprise. Huey and Dewey were starting to get a bit carried away but Ray wasn’t far behind them.

After another cry for “another round” their high spirits were almost tangible and Fraser was glad that he hadn’t participated in the drinking marathon. Someone should be the responsible adult here and keep things in check before they got thrown out of the pub.

And Fraser wouldn’t have wanted to miss this opportunity for the world. Ray was back, the Ray he knew and…missed. He swallowed. He wouldn’t go there. Fraser had promised himself that he would not think about Ray that way.

It was beneath him and it belittled Ray’s work as a police officer, his value at a partner and was on principle not open to discussion.

But Ray’s eyes were alive with mischief and his hands did most of the talking. It was so expressive and so very Ray that Fraser felt an ache just from realizing how much he had missed it.

Dewey had just finished one of his dirty jokes – that weren’t remotely funny but had everyone laughing anyway – and Ray was wiping tears of mirth away when Fraser caught his eye, completely unintended.

Their eyes locked and for a second there Fraser thought that Ray was leaning toward him – but then Huey clapped Ray on the back, still in convulsions because of that tasteless joke and Ray came back to himself with an owlish blink.

There was no going back to the carefree hilarity from before, though. Ray was suddenly serious and focused; still drunk but much less his usual free spirit.

Fraser felt oddly reminded of Robert Louis Stevenson and his novel Jekyll and Hyde. The transformation happened so smoothly that Fraser felt powerless to intervene. What had just happened? One minute Ray was laughing with the rest, at ease and cheerful and one short eye contact later he was back to this new, quiet self?

Fraser deeply regretted whatever he had done to compel this change.

Elaine came back from the bar with the next round of drinks and after a while Ray seemed to forget whatever had occurred between them earlier. Fraser released a silent breath of relief.

He observed Ray, afraid that a word he said might result in another relapse and all the while knowing that he couldn’t escape notice forever.

That moment came at roughly 1 am when most of their colleagues were saying their goodbyes and Ray was drunkenly staggering to his feet so that Fraser felt obliged to draw attention to his person.

“Ray, you are in no condition to get home by yourself. Give me your keys and I’ll drive you home.”

Ray was squinting at him as if debating if Fraser was going to take advantage of the situation. Fraser felt an odd tingle at that look even though he assumed that he should feel affronted.

“You’re going to take me home, Frase?” Ray leered at him.

“I will drive you home safely, Ray.” Fraser pointed out with a slight blush covering his cheeks. He pulled at his collar, it was a knee-jerk reaction.

“Going to tuck me in?” Ray grinned stupidly while he staggered out of the door.

“I- I don’t believe that will be necessary.” Fraser was never sure what the proper response to Ray’s sometimes flirtatious behavior was supposed to be.

“Ah, ah, ah.” Ray admonished and wagged his finger in Fraser’s face or at least in the vicinity of it. “One can never be too sure, right?”

Fraser wasn’t sure if Ray was indeed expecting him to see him safely to bed or if he was just yanking his chain as Ray was so fond of doing.

When he had wrestled Ray into the passenger side of the GTO and dropped behind the wheel a nefarious idea came to him.

“Ray… if I promise to tuck you in, will you tell me what you need those books for?”

Ray looked almost cross-eyed trying to decide if that was a fair deal.

“Promise?” he slurred. Fraser felt a wave of tenderness for him. Ray was such a prickly character at times, seeing him so affectionate was a rare sight and one Fraser privately cherished.

“You have my word.” Fraser replied gravely although he couldn’t quite keep the amused smile from his lips.

“’m getting a new tattoo, ‘s all. An’ I need a-“ he hiccupped, “a motif, you know. ‘s where I get inspri-imspiration from.” He smiled victoriously at Fraser as if he had known all along that Fraser couldn’t stay away from the topic – and maybe he really had known him that well.

“A tattoo?” Fraser’s eyebrows flew up. He had missed a vital piece of information, he hadn’t even thought about this possibility even though he had seen Ray’s tattoo countless times.

“Why are you getting another tattoo?” Fraser asked, daring to sneak a glance at Ray.

Ray had already opened his mouth before he closed it again with an audible snap and smirked at Fraser with a cunning expression in his eyes.

“Uh-uh, Fraser. You got your question. ‘m not going to say anything more. ‘m not stupid!”

“I never thought you were.” Fraser said earnestly, wondering what an answer to that question had to do with stupidity.

“Good.” Ray nodded along with it. Apparently Ray wasn’t capable of any more focused conversation because it wasn’t long before he was slumped against his window sleeping peacefully.

Fraser smiled at the sight. Sleep was probably the only time Ray Kowalski was completely at ease. All the lines in his face evened out in a peaceful expression that made him look years younger than he actually was.

At Ray’s apartment Fraser parked the car and then went to Ray’s side to carefully open the door. The moment Ray’s body started to slide towards the door Ray jerked awake.

“’m up! I’m up!” He exclaimed fuzzily.

“It’s alright Ray. We’re at your apartment.” Fraser held the door open for him.

“Huh? Oh. Greatness!” He extricated himself from the car seat and stumbled toward his door mumbling “Keys, where did I… oh right, jacket.” He fished for his keys but was unable to hit the lock. Fraser gently took the keys from him and unlocked the door.

“Thanks.” Ray mumbled.

“You’re quite welcome, Ray.” With the help of the banister Ray even managed to reach his apartment without falling even though Fraser had a hand out to steady him if necessary. Fraser unlocked the door for him and then followed Ray into the flat after a moment’s hesitation.

Ray went inside and slumped onto his bed which was still in the same rumpled state he had left it in this morning.

Fraser knelt down before him and helped him out of his boots. Before Fraser could decide whether this would be enough help to get him settled in Ray tried to get his shirt off but was stuck somewhere between his elbow and pulling it over his head.

Fraser helped him to fight the stubborn garment off and a second later Ray had his arms around him in a lose hug.

“Ya don’t smell like seaweed at all, Fraser.” He mumbled before he let his arms drop down again, pulling the cover more or less over his body. Fraser was left there half kneeling in front of him with an astonished look on his face.

“Ray?” he asked unsure but Ray was already fast asleep.

On the way down again Fraser thought about Ray’s remark but couldn’t figure out what he had meant. Why in heaven’s name should he have smelt like seaweed? Maybe Ray had gotten something mixed up and had intended to say something else?

But even though the night air was brisk and the walk to the consulate wasn’t exactly a short one neither, the warmth of Ray’s embrace didn’t leave him. He could still feel the softness of Ray’s skin and that smell of sunshine and something spicy, like cinnamon, around him with every breath he took. Ray simply wasn’t good for his composure but Fraser had known that from the very moment he had laid eyes on him.

Fraser lay on his cot later that night wondering about Ray’s intention to get tattooed. Tomorrow was Saturday and Fraser knew already where he would spend it.

The next morning found him at the public library with every book he could find on tattoos. The history was fascinating to say the least but he was fairly sure that James Cook’s journey or Melville’s time on the Marquesas Islands would not be the solution to Ray’s decision.

He also found countless books about the contemporary practice of tattooing which proved a better insight into the matter.

For most people a tattoo was a way of dealing with something life changing, with loss, with trauma, with something that had a deep impact on their lives and Fraser could understand that. It was an opportunity to preserve a memory, a way to take possession of whatever happened to you and to turn it into your very own version of it.

What was it for Ray? Surviving the dark, watery hold of a sinking ship? Being forced into a situation way out of your comfort zone and coming out on top? Or maybe it was the exaltation of having once more done something completely improbable?

Yet Ray’s Champion tattoo might work for all of those instances, too. What would Ray want to memorize in his own way from their turbulent adventure?

Fraser was only moderately happy with this conclusion for they had survived other life threatening situations and Ray had been remarkably composed in the water even though he couldn’t swim.

It was infuriating! Fraser just couldn’t pin down what had been special about this case. He groaned and rubbed his eyes. This was for all intents and purposes another one of the cases in which Ray’s instinct just couldn’t be explained by logic. …There was, of course, one huge difference between this case and all others before that: Fraser himself.

His inability to surrender control, to trust Ray’s instinct even though there was no logical reason for it had almost cost him their partnership.

But, they were fine now, right? At least, Fraser had thought that everything was alright… maybe he had again gone ahead alone thereby ignoring any residual doubts Ray might have still harbored about the status of their partnership?

This was probably only Fraser’s fanciful imagination; he was projecting his own fears onto Ray who had, after all, shown absolutely no intention of terminating their partnership neither had he voiced any discontentment about the way things had gone back to normal.

He gave up for the moment, hoping against hope that some sudden insight might come to him the moment he stopped trying to force an answer. Instead he got Diefenbaker from Turnbull’s care and went to the park with him.

“Ah, so now you think this is beneath you?” Fraser reprimanded his companion for distancing himself from a couple of nearby children. “May I remind you of the incident two days ago where you were all too happy to be petted by the children in return for some bribery in form of their candies?” he asked sternly.

“Nah, don’t be too hard on the furball, Fraser. He can’t help that sweet tooth of his.” Ray climbed over the back of the bench to sit next to Fraser.

“Ray!” Fraser exclaimed in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

Ray chuckled. “Yeah, I enjoy your company, too. Thanks, Fraser. I was just thinking about yesterday and thought that I should make it up to you.”

“That’s really not necessary, Ray. I’m quite sure that you would do the same for me.”

“Yeah, right. As if I ever get to see you drunk out of your mind. Nah, come on I’ll treat you to dinner.”

On their way to Ray’s favorite pizzeria Fraser finally asked Ray about his uncanny knack of finding him.

Ray grinned. “Fraser, it’s not rocket science. It’s a piece of cake, ‘specially when Dief’s also gone from the consulate. You’re like one single being when it comes to hiding places. You go for your approximation of wilderness every single time the walls of the consulate move that little bit closer. Am I right, furface?”

Dief gave an approving yip and let his tongue hang out.

“See, he agrees with me.” Ray said smugly.

“That’s very astute of you, Ray.” Fraser said, feeling a warm glow spreading through him.

When they had squeezed around one of the small tables with Diefenbaker underneath it Ray grabbed a menu, apparently studying it although Fraser had to admit that Ray ordered the same pizza time and again so he didn’t understand why Ray even bothered with it.

“So… did I make a complete ass of myself yesterday?” Ray asked casually without looking up.

Ah, Fraser thought, the menu is only a cover-up.

“Actually no, Ray. You were very well behaved under the circumstances.”

He nodded as if he hadn’t really expected anything extraordinary.

“Did I by any chance happen to say anything?” He asked still scanning down the list of items.

“Well, you talked quite a lot, Ray. In fact, it appears that you know quite a few rather sordid jokes.”

Ray finally looked up from the menu to throw an annoyed look at him.

“No, no, you know, said something like in something I shouldn’t have, something stupid maybe?”

Fraser would have wanted to stall because he wasn’t at all sure how Ray was going to take his confession from last night but Ray didn’t give him a chance.

“Oh, no! I did, didn’t I?”

“Ray-“

“ Whatever I said Fraser I’m sorry if it offended you and-”

“Ray-”

“I swear I was way too drunk to think clearly.”

“Ray!”

“ You cannot take me serious when I’m drunk.”

“RAY!”

“What?”

“You didn’t disclose anything offensive I assure you. You informed me, however, that you have plans for another tattoo. Was this intention also a figment of your inebriated talk then?”

Ray flushed and looked uncomfortable.

“Ah, no. I’m really going for that… uh, Fraser, why did I tell you that? I did so not wanna tell you that.”

Now it was Fraser’s turn to look uncomfortable.

“Ah, Ray, you see, I am terribly sorry, this was mostly due to my inappropriate line of questioning and had I not taken advantage of your intoxi-“

“Fraser, cut it out. You never did a wrong thing in your life you-“

“Ray this is blatantly untrue. I assure you that I have done my fair share of mistakes in my life.”

“No, Fraser. The stuff you do and feel bad about later does not even exist on your average guilt-o-meter. So, spill. What did your criminal plan to get me to confess entail?” He grinned at Fraser. Obviously, Fraser had managed to dissipate Ray’s stricken mood with his attempt to take responsibility for the blame.

“As you wish. I, well, you wanted me to tuck you in and, to be honest you were quite adamant on this point, Ray, but I took advantage of you and offered you a barter where your part consisted of explaining to me the reason for all the books you’ve been reading.”

Ray looked absolutely horrified. “I demanded that you tuck me in? And you did?”

“Why, yes Ray. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. You were even quite helpful. But I thought you had known that? After all, you invited me to dinner to thank me for my help.” Fraser asked puzzled.

“No, Fraser. You see,” he gave a short breathless laugh, “I don’t remember too much about yesterday. But I knew that you’ve probably taken care of me because no way would I have gotten home without any help. I did not know that I asked for a cuddle.” The last part was said with some disgust.

“Ray, you didn’t ask me to cuddle you and I can absolutely reassure you that your conduct had not been the least bit embarrassing to your person and I didn’t mind in the least.”

Ray let out a relieved sigh.

“’kay, good… So, you tricked me, huh? Exploited my need for bedtime stories, that’s not very Mountie-like. That’s got to be the world’s most evil plan if I ever heard one.” Ray grinned gleefully.

“Yes, Ray. I am aware of that. I am terribly sorry that I let my baser nature govern me in that manner it’s just that those last weeks have been extremely trying and it was well beyond me to resist the possibility to get to the bottom of this mystery.”

Ray chuckled. “Easy there. No harm done, right? Hell, you could have asked anything, Fraser. Asking me after those books isn’t exactly snooping.”

“I’m glad you aren’t angry with me. There is, however, something that would interest me.”

Ray looked up apprehensively. “Try me.”

“You voiced yesterday that you were surprised that I did not smell of seaweed. Now, I do understand that you probably don’t remember that. Still, it is quite possibly that this train of thought is connected to some thought you already had earlier on in a sober state. I was wondering if you have any idea how that idea came to be?”

Ray looked as if he had swallowed something incredibly vile. He looked wide-eyed; like a hare caught in the stare of a snake.

“Uh, no. Sorry, no idea.” But Ray was fiddling with the menu again and Fraser felt confidently sure that Ray knew in some way what he had been talking about.

Their pizzas arrived and Fraser was still mulling over Ray’s denial.

Something wasn’t right and it had something to do with himself. This case had unearthed more about their partnership than he had cared to see before but it was obvious that it had not mended all of their problems.

“Ray,” he took a deep breath, trying to fortify himself for the possible answers he was about to get, “are you having second thoughts about our partnership?” Looking into Ray’s eyes at that moment was the hardest thing Fraser had ever done.

“NO!” The answer came instantaneous and with a vehemence that wasn’t faked, Fraser could see the shock in Ray’s eyes.

“Jesus, Fraser. Why should I have second thoughts? — You’re not thinking about getting a transfer, right? Cause I thought we were good together, a duet, I thought we-” Ray babbled, his voice rising slightly in pitch.

“Ray, no.” He shook his head and Ray relaxed slightly. “I’m not thinking about a transfer, not at all.”

“Good, greatness. You really took me by surprise there, buddy. Why would you think something like that?”

Fraser shrugged; a gesture he almost never used but voicing his misgivings wasn’t exactly an easy undertaking.

“It seems that something is bothering you and the decision to acquire a tattoo seems, quite frankly, to be a kind of coping mechanism. I wouldn’t want you to get an indelible mark for something you regretted, like not taking that transfer you were offered.”

Ray struggled for the rights words. “It’s not, well, it ain’t because of that stupid transfer. Believe me I’ve got tons of regrets, but taking that transfer? – Nu-uh, not one of them. This is just about me, okay?”

“I take your word for it, Ray.” Fraser took a bite of his now almost cold pizza and chewed thoughtfully.

Later on Ray dropped him off at the consulate and Fraser was left standing on the curb watching the car vanish around the corner.

It was strange, he mused. The more they had talked the less clear it seemed to be. Fraser didn’t feel that much better.

Lying on his cot Fraser leafed again through the tattoo books he had borrowed from the library. He was sure that he was simply going about this the wrong way.

A tattoo wasn’t after all a very logical thing. It was emotional, spiritual at best, and incredibly personal but it had not much in common with logic.

A practice that also entertained deep bonds to medieval torture was after all not desirable from a logical point of view. Fraser thought about Hawthorne’s work The Scarlet Letter and how the protagonist Hester had worn the mark of the adulteress first as one of shame but later also as an extension of who she was.

There was also the history of marking convicts with tattoos the easier to identify them which made a tattoo highly complex in its symbolic meaning. It marked the wearer, yet it was also a sign of resistance, it could prove a way to identify someone as a member of a specific group while at the same time it demonstrated individuality and self-possession.

The process wasn’t a logical one. You didn’t experience A with the result that you needed a tattoo to prove that you arrived at B. It may be a conscious thought to get one but everything around that decision was personal, an intimate connection you felt between the signifier and the signified.

Fraser sighed in frustration. Here he was again, quoting French theorists and imagining that all his theories and structures could serve as an explanation for something that cried individuality, ‘me-ness’ as Ray had— Fraser sat up with a start.

When had Ray referred to a tattoo as a sign of ‘me-ness’? He wracked his brain only to remember it had not been about the tattoo at all. Ray had asked him what motif would best represent himself.

He looked at it from all angles but there were only two possibilities why Ray had asked that. Number one, Ray had only wanted to know what Fraser would choose in his situation. So Ray had just asked for help with finding a way to express himself.

Number two, Ray wanted to find something that did indeed represent Fraser. And coming up with no idea had decided to go for the direct approach and ask him.

Fraser tried to listen to his gut, like Ray did every single time he was faced with a decision, and felt that the second possibility sounded right to him but he wasn’t sure. Maybe he was only projecting again after fearing for days that Ray had misgiving about their renewed partnership. Fraser had to concede that it was possible that he might be reading too much into it.

He couldn’t find any sleep after this revelation – after this possible revelation, he amended. Even if he was right, that still didn’t explain anything. What did it mean that Ray was looking for something that epitomized him, Fraser, if that was indeed what Ray had been asking?

And it would mean that Ray’s restrained disposition those last few weeks was connected to Fraser. Seen in context with the timing it was impossible to dismiss its relation to their journey on the Henry Allen, and Ray’s taste in books had also supported that theory.

Fraser palmed his face in a tired gesture and Dief whined softly.

“Yes, I know. It all comes back to the same thing: our partnership.” But he had asked Ray and Ray had sounded convincing enough when he had claimed that everything was fine between them.

Dief gave a short bark.

“Do you honestly believe that Ray would want to imprint into his skin the fact that we are still partners?”

The wolf grumbled.

“Well, yes, I know that other dogs have a tattoo that shows that they belong with their owners.” Dief produced a sound that sounded very much like a snort before he crawled under Fraser’s desk.

“Oh, there is really no need for your demonstration of superiority in the matter. I can assure you that a human tattoo is not done for the same reason.”

Yet, even while he was speaking Fraser heard a small voice in his head asking “isn’t it?” because after all wasn’t a tattoo also an expression of ownership? Some expressed the grief for a loved one, others were even done to impress a lover, and didn’t they all show what was important to the very being of the owner?

Fraser didn’t dare to hope. He didn’t want to face the potential for disappointment because this time he might not be able to cope with it. If, if maybe, in some way, he was right then their friendship or Fraser was that important to Ray that he would want to write it into his skin, preserved for ever as a fixed part of Ray’s being.

Fraser shuddered; there was a certain eroticism to it, not only the idea itself but the whole process of tattooing. Psychologically, the tattoo was deeply connected with the sexual level; a penetration of the body, over and over again, a circle of pain and catharsis between someone who liked to inflict pain and another one who relished receiving it, a relationship of dominance and submission…

Fraser’s throat felt suddenly dry, images of Ray completely open before him, accepting the needle into his body and reaching some deeper part of himself which shone through those eyes, glassy from pain. It was a deeply erotic picture and Fraser had never ever allowed himself to imagine Ray in that manner… because once there it was difficult to come back.

And it was only a short step to imagine Ray’s eyes fogging up with lust instead of pain, his body yielding to another power altogether. Fraser swallowed. He wondered if Ray new about those implications of tattooing.

At some point he fell into an exhausted sleep that found him tired and inexplicably nervous the next morning.

There was an impatient knock on the front door before it swung open to reveal one slightly disgruntled Ray Kowalski.

“Oy, Fraser! You forgot that I was supposed to pick ya up?” he called into the bustling entrance hall even though Fraser wasn’t even to be seen. On Ray’s call, however, he appeared in the doorframe that led to the conference room.

“Ray!” he exclaimed looking flustered all of a sudden. Ray puzzled over that. Was the weird starting already?

“Listen, it’s alright if you forgot, Fraser. Only we need to get going or Welsh is going to have me grilled. So, pitter-patter.” He made a motion with his arm and started toward the exit.

“Yes, Ray. I’m sorry.” Fraser replied distractedly but at least he followed him to the station.

Ray was really starting to worry. What the hell had Fraser so distracted? Hadn’t been all that long ago that he had left him in front of the consulate. How much could happen in the gap of a few hours?

The problem was, Ray was trying, he really was, but it only appeared to make everything worse.

Ray tried to ignore Fraser’s gnat-like attention span this morning. He simply smiled at him and acted as if he hadn’t already told Fraser twice that Francesca was working on those files about that scam of a construction company but this only resulted in Fraser losing his thread mid-sentence and when Ray reached out to shake him to his senses Fraser all but ran to the men’s room with a mumbled “excuse me” following in his wake.

Sometimes Ray thought he must be the owner of the shoddiest Karma in all of Chicago. How could he deserve this level of weirdness before it was even lunch time?

Had Ray known that Fraser was freaking out because he just couldn’t shake those images of Ray, naked, breathless, waiting and vulnerable he might have reconsidered the evaluation of his Karma.

In the meantime Fraser was trying to calm himself. He was overreacting, he knew that. It wasn’t even a proven fact that his connection between Ray’s question and Fraser’s involvement had been correct. Fraser simply needed to find the right question.

That would clear the matter up and Fraser could rest assured that – even though Ray probably valued their friendship very highly – Ray’s tattoo was not a result of him realizing how important Fraser was to him and Fraser could relax and push all his hopes and late night dreams back to where they belonged.

Ray came into the men’s room and leaned against one of the stall doors.

“You alright, Fraser? You seem skittish.” Their gazes met in the mirror over the sinks and Fraser nodded in one, sharp motion.

“Yes, yes Ray. I feel better now. I don’t know what has come over me.”

Ray relaxed his stance a bit and gave him one of his beatific smiles. “This is a madhouse Fraser, you’re just along for the ride. Help me with the paperwork?”

“Certainly, Ray.” He nodded, grateful for Ray’s simple acceptance.

Fraser was sitting at the computer, typing up the statement of the last witness when he decided he could just ask Ray straight out and be done with this childish fancy of his.

“Ray, I was thinking about that tattoo of yours.” He was going for casual but Ray’s apprehensive look suggested that he had not been particularly successful.

“Why exactly do you want to get it?”

Ray busied himself with loose papers that had probably been lying on his desk for the last millennia but apparently needed tidying now.

“Uh, you know, that whole ghost ship thing was pretty intense. Surviving a sinking ship, mending our partnership, learning to swim …almost drowning…anyway, yeah, big stuff, right? So I figured, Ray, my friend, you should somehow find an outlet for that. Ya know? That little bit wiser and another notch on the desk for another case survived and another thing learned about myself. Doesn’t get much better than that as far as reasons for that kinda thing go.” He shrugged self-consciously.

It sounded plausible. It was also incredibly disappointing. In some way Fraser really had himself convinced that there was something to it, something more, something Ray wasn’t letting on…but, the explanation was reasonable.

That was it; Fraser almost smiled. No big revelations hidden away, nothing he had missed. It had only been his own neglected and denied feelings, his own fears and sorrows that he had projected onto Ray.

“I understand, Ray. I was just curious.” Fraser said in a hollow voice but Ray nodded in spite of it, lost in his own thoughts.

Shortly after lunch Fraser risked the next question – he couldn’t say why he was torturing himself like that.

“Did you find a suitable design?”

Ray hesitated for a mere second before he shrugged again. “Yeah, kinda. I think I’ll go and call Marty tomorrow or something, see when he’s a got a spot free for me. He did my last one and last I heard he was still doing business.”

“What did you choose?” Fraser waited with bated breath on the answer.

Ray grinned. “You’ll see it once it’s finished…. What’s got you so interested in tattoos anyway?”

Fraser almost said “you” but stopped himself just in time. “I read a few books on it and I have to admit it is a fascinating tradition.” He wasn’t lying; not really, he just wasn’t filling out the details like how he had read those books only a week ago.

An hour before their end of shift Ray and Fraser were in the lunch room so that Ray could keep his caffeine dosage on an agreeable level when Frannie bustled in with a text book in her arms.

“Frasier.”

“Francesca.”

“You know first aid, don’t you, Frasier?”

Fraser looked slightly uncomfortable.

“Why yes, Francesca. It is a common part of our training at the Depot.”

“Isn’t it fascinating?” she beamed at him. “Just thinking how noble it would feel to save a life, can you believe it?”

Fraser cleared his throat as unobtrusively as possible and Ray smirked into his coffee.

“I think it is our duty to give any aid possible in case of an emergency. It is very honorable of you to develop an interest in first aid techniques, Francesca.

“See, I am taking this first aid course and we did this re-breathing exercise last weekend.”

Fraser rubbed his eyebrow.

“You mean buddy breathing?”

Ray chocked on his mouthful of coffee before he started coughing, trying to dislodge the coffee from his windpipe.

“Exactly.” Francesca crowed triumphantly. “Mouth-to-mouth they called it. See, I have trouble with the technique and I thought, well, since you are an expert on such stuff,”

Ray was still hacking away but the coughs started to subside finally. Fraser was looking bewildered from Ray and slightly uncomfortable in Frannie’s direction.

“I was wondering if you might be able to demonstrate it for me.” Francesca simpered.

“Yeah, Fraser, why don’t you show us?” Ray said sarcastically and Fraser reared back, caught off guard by the stinging tone of Ray’s voice.

“I-Francesca, I believe that the paramedics that teach your course would be quite happy to practice with you again. I-I have to go. Please, excuse me.” With another tug at his collar Fraser vanished from the break room.

“What? You don’t just do that with anybody?” Ray called after him in a snide tone.

Fraser was in front of the supply closet before he started to think about his destination. He opened the door and went in; he didn’t even bother with the light.

What had just happened?

Ray’s reaction had been disproportionate at best and very out of place. What had called for his mean tone? It was true that Ray’s patience for Francesca’s flirting was certainly not above average but he couldn’t explain what had warranted Ray’s sudden outburst of sarcasm.

Fraser gasped as if he had been struck. The hold of the Henry Allen! Ray’s rescue and Fraser’s attempt to get the door open and — giving air to Ray. He could vividly recall how still Ray had looked in the water, how the stubble of Ray’s beard had prickled against his fingertips and how his lips had touched Ray’s to breathe life into him again.

He hadn’t thought about it at that moment… about the intimacy of it, the resemblance to kissing. Although he had thought a lot about kissing Ray Kowalski over the time of their partnership – only in the dead of night and laden with guilt, but he had thought about it.

But… he also remembered Ray spitting out water and asking askance what that had been and his own answer, channeling all his focus on his sole intention of rescuing Ray, that it was buddy breathing, a standard procedure… and how Ray had asked in a wary voice if anything had changed.

What could he have said? Of course nothing had changed. He would have saved Ray no matter what and he certainly hadn’t conducted mouth-to-mouth with any ulterior motives. No, the buddy breathing itself hadn’t changed anything – not if Ray didn’t want anything to change.

Hearing Ray’s mocking, hurtful words now Fraser could only believe that Ray was still unsettled by it. Fraser couldn’t help a short burst of anger at Ray’s display of pettiness. Was he that avers to getting air in this manner that he would have rather drowned than touched Fraser’s lips?

Fraser took a few deep breaths. He hadn’t done anything improper. And Ray had assured him that their partnership was rock solid; he had said they were fine. The shock at imagining Fraser taking that transfer had been real. Maybe this incident was still a sore spot for Ray’s masculine ego.

Apparently it wasn’t a reason for Ray to end the friendship. So, everything was alright, really. He would simply take care not to mention that subject to Ray again. It hurt, he couldn’t deny that but he would survive and Ray seemed set on forgetting about it or at least on standing above it.

This, too, would lose relevance and at some point Ray would not even bat an eyelash at the mention of it. They could overcome that.

Fraser left the supply closet and cautiously approached Ray’s desk. Ray had undergone his own fair share of bad feelings and regrets. He hadn’t wanted to hurt Fraser’s feelings. He certainly hadn’t wanted to betray him to Frannie; his mouth had simply been faster than the rest of him.

Fraser looked determined and Ray gulped. Shit, shit, shit. He had not wanted a confrontation over this. He could not talk about this with Fraser.

“Ray, I don’t know why this seems to upset you in this manner and I can assure you that your fit of pique is unwarranted. Mouth-to-mouth is, as I’ve told you, standard procedure and I am sorry that I didn’t have another choice but to administer air to you in this manner but I can assure you that it happened with the best of intentions and according to proper conduct.” Fraser intoned reassuringly.

The more he said the angrier Ray seemed to become. Something Fraser was sadly familiar with.

“Oh, yeah? Well, that just butters my muffin then. Great! Everything by the book so we can all go home now and get our Mountie points for saving another poor moron who was too stupid to safe himself. Of course, it’s all in a day’s work for you, ain’t it? Putting your mouth on people left and right without even batting an eye? Good for you, Fraser.”

He spit Fraser’s name with as much venom as he could muster before stomping off, bumping into Fraser’s shoulder in the process. Ray was out of the bullpen in a flash.

Fraser was left standing there rooted to the spot. He felt the tears threatening to come but blinked them away with the last shred of control. His jaw muscle flexed and he tried to take at least a deep breath but his throat appeared to be blocked, it was too constricted to squeeze a breath past it.

He shook his head and collected his hat from Ray’s desk. He couldn’t stay here, he had to get out, he needed air, space, and room to breathe — finally, outside of the station, the pressure on his chest eased a little. There was no point in staying at the station so he started walking in the direction of the consulate.

God, he hurt. He couldn’t remember the last time his chest had ached like this. Ray’s words had been…. He didn’t want to think about it. It hurt too much.

Fraser survived the rest of the day by going through the motions. He tried not to think about Ray; instead he focused on his paperwork and the question’s from tourists. He was fine; at least he could make himself believe it for the moment.

But evening came and the tourists left and the paperwork was done and all his chores for the next day were already finished and suddenly Fraser was alone with the ghost of Ray’s words in his office and no one else on the premises but Diefenbaker.

This was ridiculous – Ray’s accusations had been ridiculous. What would he have preferred, drowning?

How could Ray even think so little of him as to accuse him of taking advantage of this situation? What had even led Ray to assume that Fraser might have found more merit in the buddy breathing than was strictly necessary?

The pain was almost physical. It was hard to breathe again but he ignored the soft sound that escaped his throat that might have been a sob. It wasn’t doing anyone any good to grief about it.

He might have feelings for Ray that went beyond partners but he had not used buddy breathing on Ray for personal benefits. And Ray knew it, too. He should, if he knew Fraser at all.

Fraser blanked everything out for a minute. He sat at his desk and tried to clear his mind of everything. It took him almost five minutes but he felt decidedly calmer.

He tried to observe the whole situation as objectively as he could. Ray’s outburst appeared completely illogical.

Why was Ray so angry about this? He had only tried to ease Ray’s state of mind. He had not even pegged Ray as a man who would feel threatened by intimacy between two men. Ray had also not erupted into his face right after the incident…then why had he worked himself up about it now?

Look at it in the chronological order, he told himself.

He had given Ray breath by mouth on the ship.

Ray had asked if anything had changed and Fraser had told him that it hadn’t.

Francesca brought the topic up and Ray demanded another demonstration, dared him to, almost, and when he excused himself Ray had flung at him that he would not have done it with anyone after all.

Fraser rubbed his eyes. It was exhausting. He wanted nothing more than to go to bed and forget the whole incident. But he couldn’t do that. He needed to understand… they had come this far together and now they were throwing their partnership away over a standard first aid technique?

Fraser had thought that Ray had been angry with him because the buddy breathing had meant more to Fraser than it should. Why else would Ray have taunted him with the remark “you wouldn’t do it with just anyone after all”? And it made sense with his question right after the buddy breathing, if it changed anything.

This, Fraser felt confident, they could talk about. It was a misunderstanding. It did not mean more than it should. That Fraser had deeper feelings for Ray was completely beside the point. They had not been the cause for the buddy breathing.

Ray had been suffocating and Fraser needed to save him, it was his responsibility because Ray was only on this ship because of him and… he couldn’t live with himself if anything happened to Ray.

But this had been exactly what he had tried to explain to Ray and look where it had gotten him.

Ray had been enraged and all because Fraser had said that there was nothing to it. Had the buddy breathing been such an invasion of Ray’s comfort zone that it was simply beyond Ray’s scope to imagine it as an innocent act?

Fraser could not imagine that this was the case; Ray had not avoided him after their miraculous escape and had been as generous with his affections as before. Fraser smiled at the memory of Ray’s drunken demands.

Honestly, first he wanted to be tucked in by him and then he flew into a rage because Fraser didn’t see why the buddy breathing mattered.

Fraser’s eyes widened. What had he just said? – Because the buddy breathing didn’t matter to him? …Could it be… that Ray was jealous? Fraser’s whole body felt hot and cold at the same time for a second.

That couldn’t be true. Fraser thought about Ray’s exact wording before he had stalked off. “Putting your mouth on people left and right without even batting an eye” Ray had said.

What was it going to be, either Ray thought that Fraser had enjoyed the buddy breathing a tad too much or he had enjoyed it himself and was hurt that Fraser didn’t measure it with the same significance.

Dear god, was he projecting again? His biggest fear was to confuse imagination with reality and now, which was which?

Ray’s aggressiveness was usually his biggest defense. Could it be possible that he had lashed out in order to protect himself? And then, could it be that Ray had feelings for him that went beyond friendship?

Fraser tried to get comfortable on his cot. One thing he was absolutely certain about, there had to be an explanation for it and Ray would not want to ruin their partnership over this issue. He only had to find the right words; and the right moment to talk about it with Ray.

Fraser debated half the morning if it was wise to meet Ray at the station. They couldn’t possibly talk there and he hadn’t heard anything from Ray since he had left yesterday.

At one pm he couldn’t take it anymore, anything was better than sitting around waiting. “Dief, let’s go and visit Ray.” The wolf jumped up happily. Fraser almost felt bad; Diefenbaker had been incredibly annoyed with Fraser’s indecisiveness all morning.

Fraser arrived at the station with some apprehension; he almost wished someone would interrupt him on the way to Ray’s desk. But no one took any notice of him, no more than usual at least.

He rounded the corner, prepared to apologize or to take whatever rant Ray had up his sleeve but Ray was nowhere to be seen.

At that moment Francesca walked out of Welsh’s office.

“Ah, Francesca, have you seen Ray by any chance?”

“I think he’s in the break room.” She said with a strange look on her face.

“Thank you kindly.”

Fraser crossed the hall and entered the break room. There was no one there.

“Hm. Detective Huey,” he called as he saw him coming out of the men’s room, “have you seen Ray?”

Huey looked thoughtful. “Isn’t he at his desk, Fraser?”

“No, he doesn’t appear to be here at all.”

“I’m sure you’ll find him.” Huey said and continued towards his desk.

This was feeling a lot like the time when he came back from holiday to find Ray Vecchio replaced. Please, don’t let it be true. Had Ray vanished?

He knew who would be able to tell him.

“Lieutenant, I was wondering if you could spare me a minute?”

Welsh gave a long suffering sigh. “What can I do for you Constable?”

“Well, I was wondering if you happened to know the whereabouts of Detective Vecchio?” His throat felt parched as he asked it.

Welsh scrutinized him.

“Constable, I am somewhat surprised that you are still uninformed.”

“Uninformed, Sir?” Fraser asked uncomfortable.

“Upon reflection, I should have known that he wouldn’t tell you.”

“Tell me what exactly?” Chewing glass couldn’t be any more painful.

“We won’t be seeing Detective Vecchio for the next–“

Fraser sat down on the nearest chair. These were his worst fears coming true.

“Sir! You are not going to tell me that the other Ray Vecchio went deep undercover?” He asked weakly.

Welsh looked at him funny.

“No, I am not, Constable. What gave you that idea? I thought Vecchio had told you he wasn’t going to take that transfer?”

Fraser felt weak with relief.

“Ah, yes Sir, he had. You have to excuse my deduction. This scenario strongly reminded me of – it’s not important right now.”

“Let’s just say that the Detective will cool his heels at home for a few days. But you better ask him for a more detailed report.” He smiled grimly.

“Ah, I see. I will do that. He should be at his apartment then I take it?” Fraser asked.

“Yeah, yeah, if he knows what’s good for him.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

Fraser arrived at Ray’s door with no uncertain amount of dread. He pressed the bell for Ray’s apartment. No one answered; he pressed again but still no reaction.

He looked around the building but the GTO was nowhere to be found. So Ray had not gone home as he had been advised to do.

Fraser gave a long suffering sigh. Nothing with Ray could ever be easy. He walked the long way back to the police station. Someone had to be able to tell him something.

He found Francesca at her desk and decided to ask her. After all, maybe she knew what had gone wrong.

“Francesca, I heard that Ray left the station. I looked for him at his home but he appears to be out. Do you have any idea where he went to?”

“Fraser, ah, Welsh told you, huh? I’m sorry. We all told him to go home. I can’t imagine where he would’ve gone instead.”

“Could you tell me what happened, please?”

Her eyes shifted to the left as if she was looking for an escape route. “Maybe it would be better if you asked him.”

Fraser abstained from grinding his teeth with sheer willpower.

“I am trying to. However, I first have to find him. Could you tell me in what condition he left?”

“He… hurt, I suppose. Angry, probably but he had already been mad when he arrived, so don’t ask me what had stung him.”

“Ah, I suppose you mean “bitten him”.”

“Yes, thank you, Fraser.” She beamed at him whereas he knew all too well that she would have snapped at Ray for correcting her.

“Thank you, Francesca. You were of great help.”

Usually, when Ray was hurting he could be found at the gym, beating away his frustration and his anger with the help of a punching bag.

At least Dief was getting his exercise today.

When he entered the gym, however, he couldn’t spot any blonde heads, neither were their many men of Ray’s wiry constitution. He looked for one of the trainers.

“Ah, Sir.” Fraser called towards Malcolm, one of the older trainers but one Ray held in especially high esteem.

“Constable Fraser!” he exclaimed happily and Fraser was again taken by surprise how the mere acquaintance with Ray caused other people to like him.

“I was wondering if you might have seen Ray sometime today?”

Malcolm was nodding his head gravely.

“Good of you to drop by, I had expected you sooner. He’s a real mess today, eh? Wonder what’s eating him? Anyway, you’re a bit too late pal. He was pummeling those bags for at least an hour and when he couldn’t lift his arms anymore he said that the only solution was to go and see Marty – ring any bells? So, I suppose that’s where he’s now.”

Fraser’s spine started to tingle. It didn’t matter if Ray was going crazy because he had unrequited feelings or if he was mad at Fraser for having some for him but he was ruining himself.

Fraser couldn’t let him go on. So Ray had gone to get tattooed in his condition – and Fraser didn’t even know what had gone down at the station this morning.

“Do you happen to know where I could find this Marty?” Fraser asked without much hope.

“Nah, the only Marty I know is a tattooist up on Halsted.”

Fraser wanted to embrace Malcolm for his random knowledge.

“That might be the Marty I am looking for. Do you have an address?”

“Sure, sure. No one with a tattoo who doesn’t know Marty. He’s a legend.”

“Is he such a skilled craftsmanship?” Fraser asked curiously.

“Yeah, that and he never forgets a tattoo. He can tell what the tattoo is all about. It’s like the design tells him its story while he inks it. He said to me, “Malcolm, everything I write into your skin is already there I just bring it out. And like your skin the whole story opens up to me while I work the color into your flesh”, gods honest truth, that’s what he said. I think ya have to be a bit spiritual in that business, huh?”

“I would imagine so.” Malcolm handed him a slip of paper.

“Thank you kindly.”

“No need to thank me. Just bring him back, will ya? Wasn’t all himself today, that boy.”

“I will try to, thank you.”

He called for Dief and they started their journey to the next destination. Dief didn’t seem to mind but Fraser felt more uneasy with every delay.

Fraser puzzled over Malcolm’s story all the way to Halsted. The address wasn’t exactly hard to find but Fraser already knew that he was too late when he looked into the shop.

“I am afraid you will have to wait outside.” He explained to Diefenbaker who gave an indignant whine.

“I am sure that you would appreciate his art; I am afraid, however, that your presence is against the health regulations of this business.”

Dief grumbled and sat with his back to the shop, ignoring everything going on inside.

“Suit yourself.” Fraser muttered before he entered the tattoo parlor.

A man in his late fifties was cleaning his utensils when he walked in, but there weren’t any customers left inside.

Marty had long blond hair, pulled together in a ponytail, but on the top of his head the hair was already getting thinner, his face wasn’t what Fraser had expected, though. In his short time in the city he had come to associate tattooists with piercings as well.

Marty didn’t have a single one – at least non Fraser could see at first glance. Fraser presumed that Marty was one of the old block, where tattooing was a sacred form of art whereas piercings were the invention of bored punk kids during the late 60s.

His tattoos, however, also didn’t reach his face. But Fraser could catch a glimpse of a jungle landscape starting at his collarbone and a sleeve, he believed it was called, down each his left and his right arm, which showed off some very fine Japanese tattoo motifs.

The hands were again uncovered, but Fraser suspected that almost every inch of this man’s body was painted in one way or another. He wore smallish, round glasses and his face appeared peaceful and calming, like that of someone who had seen it all so nothing could disgust or shock him anymore – and maybe that was true.

“Good evening.” Fraser said in a clear voice. Marty seemed rather lost in his cleaning process and Fraser did not intend to cause any accidents.

Marty turned around, completely unperturbed and studied Fraser for a second. His gaze drifted away and outside his shop window so that Fraser felt the need to interrupt. After all, maybe his presence wasn’t worth Marty’s attention because he, like so many artists, favored other objects of interest.

“Excuse me, I was wondering if—“

“I have seen Ray?” Marty finished with a roguish grin.

Fraser lost his composure for a second before he remembered that gaping wasn’t very becoming.

“Yes, I am. Have you?”

“Course, he was here till an hour ago. Did the loveliest work on him, too.”

“Can you tell me what you did for him?”

Marty considered him for a second.

“You don’t know? Ah, I should have known it. It was such a clear piece I was sure you knew about it. Oh well, I guess than you’d better wait for it to tell you its story.” Fraser swallowed. This conversation sounded familiar. It sounded like his own hopes quoted back at him.

“Its story, Sir?” Fraser asked although he thought he knew what Marty meant.

“The tattoo, of course. Had it done right over his pulse, too. Hurts like a motherfucker, I tell ya but you can be sure that it whispers to your blood with every pump your heart does. The wrist is such a queer little space of skin, is it not? Such tender skin, such vulnerability and yet your hands are the most dexterous things you own, they are expressive, they are strong. A cut to the vein at this point and your whole existence just stops, poof! It’s a very private tattoo, that one. Although, of course, it’s the one you can never properly hide. I wonder… do you know what it means?”

“It’s something you fear and something you can’t live without.” He said quietly, instinctively.

Marty nodded his head approvingly. “So you do know what I did for him.”

He went back to polishing his equipment and Fraser hesitated a second before he asked.

“How did you know who I was looking for?”

Marty only turned his head around, while his hands continued the cleansing process.

“The wolf, I recognized him.”

“From where did you recognize him?” Fraser asked, feeling like he knew from where.

“Don’t you think that it’s amazing how much skin can tell you? Age, habits like smoking or drinking, childhood accidents. It’s quite expressive, I tell ya.”

“Thank you for your time.” Fraser said.

He exited the shop and looked at Dief.

“Do you think I am ready to see this through?”

Dief yawned.

“It is really not necessary for you to stress how long this conversation between Ray and me is overdue. Thank you very much.”

Dief snorted and started walking.

“If you knew how it would end, why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

The wolf’s ears twitched.

“Oh, now you pretend you’re deaf again. Great!”

Fraser continued bickering until they reached Ray’s apartment. He could see the GTO parked in front of it. He tugged at his collar. “Diefenbaker, maybe you want to wait here.”

Diefenbaker groaned and pawed at the front door.

“I see. If you feel that you must accompany me, by any means, do so. But don’t say I hadn’t warned you.”

He rang the bell. God, he was nervous.

“Yes?” It snapped over the intercom.

Fraser hesitated for a second.

“YES?” The voice repeated a bit less patient.

“Ah, Ray, it’s me-ah, Fraser.”

Nothing happened.

“Ray?” Fraser repeated but there was no answer.

He pressed the button for the bell again.

He heard the intercom crackling to life but no one said anything.

“Ray, we need to talk. Please, let me in.”

Again nothing happened for a long time. Then he could hear a sigh and then a muttered, “get in.”

“Thank you”. Fraser answered automatically, although the intercom had already lapsed into silence again.

With every step he took, Fraser’s legs felt more like lead. When he reached the first floor he could already see Ray standing inside his door.

Diefenbaker trotted past Ray to his customary seat next to the couch.

Ray’s arms were crossed and his facial expression was unreadable, it wasn’t the biggest welcome Fraser had ever received… he had had worse, though.

“Ray!”

“Fraser.” He acknowledged with a nod of his head.

“I-I’m sorry. For yesterday. Could we talk about it, please?” Fraser almost stammered.

Ray let his head hang.

“Fraser, you’ve nothing to be sorry about. I was a jerk and I should’ve called you sooner. I just couldn’t, kay?” Ray mumbled, clearly uncomfortable.

“Ray, it’s alright. I don’t think this was your fault alone, I think I did my fair share. I had just hoped we could talk about it.”

Ray shrugged his shoulders while he looked at Fraser’s boots.

“Are you going to invite me in?”

Ray seemed to come back to himself.

“Sorry, come in.” He stepped back to let Fraser enter.

Fraser ran through all the possible speeches that he had prepared in his mind. Which one was the right one?

“Listen, I’m sorry for yesterday, okay? I was an asshole and I can’t explain why I flew in your face like that.”

Ray used his left hand to tousle his hair in an unconscious, embarrassed gesture. And at that moment Fraser caught a glimpse of a picture on that wrist.

He couldn’t stop everything he had every read about the “left hand” from running through his brain. There was the left hand path according to the Indian Tantra where the left hand meant the breaking with conventions and taboos.

But it was also the fact that Ray was right-handed, so this was his “other” in all possible meanings. He swallowed and moved without conscious intention.

He was next to Ray in an instant, grabbing his arm before Ray could even move. They stood like this for what seemed like forever, frozen right in the middle of Ray’s hallway, Ray pushed back against the wall.

Frazer pulled the arm towards him, careful to grip a few inches below the tattoo so as not to hurt Ray.

He gasped when he realized what Ray had written into his skin.

It was the head of a wolf. Unmistakably so, although the depiction was only done in a few lines. It looked a lot like some of the Inuit drawings Fraser had copied from tribal elders in Tuktoyaktuk. It was done completely in black with a triangle in black ink around it; no it wasn’t just a triangle. There was another line crossed through it, parallel to the bottom of the triangle, situated near the tip of it. Fraser thought about the origin of this triangle with the crossed line in between and he remembered… this was the alchemical symbol for “air”.

“Ray…” he couldn’t find the right words to describe his feelings. Ray seemed to get the gist of it, though, for he blushed a dark scarlet and tried to pull his arm away.

Fraser didn’t let him – he couldn’t – instead he studied the lines of Ray’s tattoo with his eyes, noticing the area of reddened skin around it.

No, there was no logic to it, but Fraser felt sure… he felt it inside of him.

He looked right into Ray’s eyes. “What does it mean, Ray?”

Ray gave a strangled sound in the back of his throat. “I told ya, Fraser. It’s just something that symbolizes our last adventure.” He tried again to pull his arm away but Fraser didn’t let him. Instead he stepped a foot closer.

“I know what it symbolizes. This is buddy breathing.”

Ray’s head shot up as if someone had hit him in the jaw.

“This depicts even more than body breathing. This is me giving breath.” Ray gave a despairing sob.

“You lied to me, Ray.” Ray looked confused and on the verge of contradicting him but Fraser overrode him. “This is not only about you, like you told me. It’s also about me.” He took a deep breath before he continued.

“Ray what happened today at the station?”

Ray seemed to struggle with the question. As if it was a long way to consciousness.

“I… I lost control. I was interviewing a suspect… the assumption was homicide. And I… I got him to confess.” And then Ray fell silent again.

Fraser jerked his arm. “And then, what happened afterwards, Ray?”

Ray gulped down the last of the air left in the room.

“The victim was another guy… apparently he had loved him… but the other guy had a girlfriend… when our guy found that out he killed him in a rage…”

“What happened then?” Fraser couldn’t even understand where his calm came from. He just knew where he was going; he knew what he had to do.

“I lost my cool… I… just snapped… I tried to take a swing at him…Dewey caught me in the last moment… so I threw a chair across the room.” Ray tried to hide his face in his arm which was still under Fraser’s control.

“And the Lieutenant found out and sent you home?”

“Yeah… on the whole.”

“Why did you do it, Ray? Tell me why?” Fraser’s fingers dug into Ray’s arm a little more forceful than necessary.

“I… “ Ray rubbed his face against his arm and Fraser wasn’t sure if Ray was trying to hide his face. “I wanted to hurt him for being such a selfish bastard. It wasn’t his decision. The victim should’ve been able to get happy in every which way.”

“You’re right, Ray.” Ray’s head was almost buried in his raised, tattooed arm.

“You don’t have to protect me from yourself.” Fraser said more quietly. “You don’t have to fear your own instincts, Ray. You would never go in that direction. I know you.”

Ray’s head jerked up for a second, looking at Fraser with the gaze of a lost man.

“I know what I want, Ray.”

Ray swallowed visibly.

Fraser pulled Ray’s wrist close to his mouth. He looked Ray straight in the eye before he extended his tongue to retrace the lines of the tattoo. Ray gasped, unable to look away.

“Ask me.”

“What?” Ray asked completely bewildered.

“Ask me what you asked me in the squad room, when Francesca asked me if I knew first aid.” Fraser repeated calmly, although a slight blush covered his cheeks.

“Show me.” Ray said hoarsely.

Fraser bent down toward him, looked him straight in the eye and then closed his eyes the moment he touched his lips to Ray’s.

Ray gasped but the moment Fraser’s lips met his, he completely forgot what he had been thinking. His lips parted slightly and the next second, Fraser’s tongue was begging for entrance. Ray moaned but that only seemed to encourage Fraser’s tongue.

Fraser was taking his breath away and giving him air at the same time. It was like he could really breathe for the first time in his life… kissing Fraser was a, a revelation, or another epiphany or a force of nature… it was… god, it blew his mind.

Ray knew that a life time of this might just about be enough to satisfy him, so that he wouldn’t feel breathless anymore. He clung to Fraser’s lips with a delicious desperation as if Fraser somehow carried the wide open around with him and Ray was still under water and Fraser was the only thing that gave him enough room to breathe – and maybe Fraser had always been that to him; a safe zone, where Ray could just – breathe, be himself and not care about all the stuff that wasn’t right with his life or the world in general.

And it  had taken the physical act of getting air from Fraser to finally hammer this truth into his brain, that Fraser was like the one essential thing in his life, the thing he could not do without, he was like air, and wasn’t that just another big realization.

If Ray kept on getting whacked upside the head with these kinda things every time he kissed Fraser he was in for one hell of a headache. If… Fraser wanted to do it again.

When Fraser released Ray’s lips, neither was very composed.

“Are you sure?” Ray croaked. “You sure, that’s what you want? Are you sure this isn’t a guilty conscience thing?”

Fraser simply kissed him again, his fingers moving through Ray’s hair and over his back, until Ray didn’t have any more doubts about Fraser’s intentions.

Fraser tried to get closer, rubbing against Ray with one hand still closed around Ray’s wrist. “God, Ray… I had thought I was going crazy…” he panted and Ray moved his head to the right to give Fraser’s wandering lips better access.

“I thought… ugh,” Ray’s hand had sneaked under his shirt, “that you, that you had found me out.” He bit the side of Ray’s mouth and Ray desperately tried to capture Fraser’s lips for a kiss. Ray’s tongue was scorching, as if he could fuse their mouths together with sheer heat. A moan resonated deep in Ray’s throat before he broke away gasping for air. “Found you out, Frase?” Ray’s hand snuck lower and worked on Fraser’s pants.

“I—oh god,” the heel of Ray’s palm was pressed against Fraser’s crotch, “had never thought you could,.. oh Ray, that you could want me too.” His hip moved on his own accord and it finally seemed to register with Ray that Fraser was really with the program.

“God…you’re hard…” he whispered in amazement. Fraser could only nod frantically but Ray- Ray didn’t wait for no invitation. He pushed away from the wall, pushed against Fraser and suddenly it was Fraser who was pressed against the wall with Ray plastered against his front.

Ray’s right hand was still rubbing him through his jeans and Fraser’s hips followed the rhythm, helpless to stop.

“Ray… oh Ray… Ray…” in a never ending whisper.  “Yeah, that’s it Fraser.” Ray murmured, leaning forward to bite that strong tendon at the side of Fraser’s throat.

Fraser still had Ray’s tattooed wrist in an iron grip so it took Ray a second longer to get Fraser’s pants undone.

Ray reached inside and Fraser- Fraser made this sound, like a whimper and god, that was the hottest thing Ray had ever heard.

He wrapped his hand around Fraser’s cock and stroked his thumb over the head, Fraser all but jerked from the wall. He bit his lips and Ray was distracted by how beautiful he looked, the dark hair falling into his face, those red lips between those white teeth… god, he was beautiful.

Ray’s cock felt hard enough to pound nails and he would’ve liked nothing better than to jerk himself off but Fraser didn’t surrender his hand.

He started rubbing against Fraser’s leg, in rhythm to his hand that was still stroking Fraser, smearing pre-come all over the head and Fraser gasped, completely undone.

And Ray sped his movements up, rubbed that bit harder against Fraser and – damn it just wasn’t enough friction – gods, he wanted to come, damnit.

“Fraser… oh… please… touch me… do me… please…” he groaned hoarsely and Fraser nodded and reached for his pants with his free hand.

The angle was awkward but Ray didn’t care, he was just so horny and please, let him come… he felt like he had waited forever for this to happen.

Fraser appeared to be a master of one-handed undressing, or maybe Ray’s jeans just wanted to open for the Mountie, who knew, but Ray felt cool air on his cock and he groaned in gratitude but that was nothing compared to the touch of Fraser’s hand.

A jolt went through him and he knew he wouldn’t need long. He squeezed Fraser a bit tighter and gave a little twist to it and Fraser – he moaned and he pressed Ray’s left hand against his mouth again and touched his tongue to the tattoo and Ray heard his breathing stutter and Fraser came, long and hard and all over Ray’s hand and god, that pleasure pain Ray got from his tattoo and this hot and bothered look on Fraser’s face, the way his pink tongue had sneaked out to lick his tattoo, oh god, that was enough to send him over the edge as well.

Ray heard himself shout Fraser’s name but it was all he could do not to drop to the floor. Instead he leaned against Fraser who wrapped his arm around Ray, gently stroking the back of Ray’s head.

Fraser’s left hand was softly stroking the skin just a few inches beneath Ray’s tattoo and he smiled weakly.

“You got a weird kink you wanna tell me about?” Ray slurred lazily.

Fraser blushed lightly and then shook his head slowly. “Not that I know of.” He paused to think about that. “Maybe you created one.”

Ray laughed quietly. “You’re a freak.”

“Understood.” Ray could feel Fraser smile against the side of his head.

“I didn’t lie, you know? Not really.” Ray said in a soft voice. “I didn’t do it like any stupid lovesick kiddo. This is for me… to remind me of what I learned about myself… about partnership – I-“

“I know.” Fraser interrupted. He nuzzled Ray’s hair affectionately. “A tattoo seems to be able to tell as much about the person looking at it as it does about the wearer.”

“Yeah… I’ve never thought about it that way… I just- I would’ve done it anyway… even had I known that I wasn’t, you know, uh, alone in this.”

“I’m glad.” After a beat or two Fraser asked, “What are you going to do about it at work?”

Ray grinned. “Good thing I got suspended for the week, huh? Means it can heal without anybody seeing it.”

A week and a half later Ray was back at work. Fraser entered the bullpen and found Ray at his desk with a folder in his hand.

His gaze zeroed in on Ray’s left arm. Instead of the glimpse of ink he had gotten used to seeing Ray’s wrist was adorned by a metal watch, the clock face turned inwards so that it rested on the inside of his wrist.

Fraser’s eyes heated up and he looked up into Ray’s sly grin. Ray winked knowingly at him. Fraser was distracted by Ray’s cover-up throughout the day. Whenever he wasn’t actually doing anything his eyes strayed down to Ray wrist.

Ray’s amused smile became something of a fixture towards the end of his shift. The second Ray closed the door to his apartment Fraser snatched his left arm and removed the watch – as if he wanted to make sure that Ray’s inked adornment was still there.

He pressed his lips against the image and Ray groaned at the sudden heat of Fraser’s gaze.

“I created a monster. You let a Mountie save your life and you pay, and pay and—mrgh!” Fraser interrupted him with a heated kiss.

Ray had to admit buddy breathing had nothing on this, he was, in fact, even sure that if Fraser continued doing this he could survive without any air, no problem – at least he was willing to try.

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The fabulous surya74 did an incredible job so that you all can get a glimpse of Ray’s new tattoo. Go, check out her journal there’s even more great art where that came from 🙂 Thank you again for this awesome piece of work

 

 

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