Author's website: http://www.debchan.com/skalab/
Disclaimer: Profit? You're kidding, right?
Author's Notes: Thanks to Stormy & Valentin for the Zinetastic 'Duet'. A tip of the sombrero to Janis, Anne and Emily. Go, girls, go!
Story Notes: Set in the land between Hunting Season and Call of the Wild. First appeared in the zine 'Duet' Phrenology notes cribbed from Phrenology: A History of Pseudoscience. http://www.theness.com/articles/phrenology-nejs0302.html
The air as sharp as a paper cut with every breath. His cheeks were numb, lips chapped from all his mouth-breathing. The only sounds were his own panting and the crunch-powder-shush of walking on snow that had crusted over with the cold.
And god, he felt great, he was warm enough, even though he couldn't feel his face, the blood just tingling around inside him, and his eyes were watering but everything looked so fucking sharp, as good as a new prescription for his glasses.
He could see the cabin ahead of him, and he picked up a little speed, got some momentum going, oh yeah, baby, almost there.
The crunchy-shush picked up as his feet moved faster, his heart kicked up a few notches, and hell, he was almost running. He had to hurry. Get there before--
He woke up so homesick he could have fucking cried.
Homesick for what, he wasn't sure.
Jesus. His tongue was as dry as the little wooden spoons you got with Italian ices, the kind he used to buy from ice cream trucks in the 70s.
He'd been sleeping with his mouth open lately, some kind of sinus thing, waking up in the morning with drool pasted in a flaking stripe along his cheek and chin. Scrubbing at his face, he wandered into the bathroom and found Fraser's hat on the back of the toilet tank.
What the hell?
He didn't feel hungover... but he certainly didn't remember letting the Mountie in the night before. He put off pissing and leaned his head into the living room, expecting to see Fraser laid out on his floor under one lonely blanket.
No Fraser. No Dief, either.
Jesus, had he picked up Fraser's hat and brought it home with him in some sort of...
He hadn't done that, though.
He rubbed at his face again and returned to the bathroom. Yeah. One Mountie hat. Stiff felt, wide round brim, bumpy crown. He felt a little weird staring it like that as he took his morning leak.
Drying his hands on a skinny white towel, he made his way to the kitchen to start the coffee machine and make a phone call.
Even though it was way before operating hours, Fraser answered the phone after just one ring.
"Good morning, Canadian Consulate."
"Hey, Fraser. I uh... I got your hat."
"My hat?" Ray would have bet money Fraser was lifting a hand to pat the top of his head. One beat, two and then Fraser saying, "I'm wearing my hat, Ray. Are you sure the hat you have is mine?"
Before coffee, Ray didn't have the energy to argue with the guy. Besides the fact that Fraser was already in full uniform at 6:05 AM, it was entirely possible that he'd dreamed the hat.
And as he walked back into the bathroom with his cordless, he saw that the hat was no longer on the back of his toilet tank.
Which, when you thought about it, was a pretty un-Mountie-like place for it to be.
"Okay. Not your hat," he told Fraser. "Okay then." He scratched his shoulder with his free hand and yawned until his jaw cracked. Weird. "I'll see you in what, an hour, we'll get some breakfast?"
"Diefenbaker's been in the mood for poached eggs."
"Sure thing. Ginnie'll fix him up. See you later."
"Whose hat was it?"
Ray, who'd been squinting at the crud caught in the band of his watch while waiting at the red light, looked up and said, "What hat?"
Fraser gave him a two-blink pause. "The hat you asked me about this morning?"
"Oh, that. That wasn't a hat. I guess I dreamed it or something. No hat."
Dief nudged his shoulder impatiently.
"Take it easy. We've got plenty of time to get you eggs. And I get your home fries."
Dief made a distressed sound.
"Hey, you knocked mine off the table last time. It's the golden rule. A home fry for a home fry."
He could feel Fraser lifting his eyebrows at him.
"Fraser. You ever dream about Canada?"
Dief barked. The Blue Plate Diner had rolled into view.
Ray pulled up to the curb one street over and before Fraser got out of the car, he said, "All the time, Ray."
At his desk that morning, stuffed to the gills, Ray found himself staring at Fraser's hat in a sort of buttered toast haze.
The hat in his bathroom had looked exactly the same, and just as three-dimensional.
Clearly, he was losing it.
"Whoa." He shook himself out of his carbo trance and tried to look alert. "Spaced out, there. What's up?"
"You seem to be... fixating on my hat. Is there something wrong with it?"
Ray pressed his thumbs against his eyelids, soft red suns going off in the dark. He opened his eyes again and said, "Hat's fine, Fraser. I just... maybe I didn't get enough sleep last night."
Fraser nodded, and stood up.
"I'd better be on my way. I have sentry duty this afternoon. It seems Turnbull is attending a seminar on doily tatting." If Fraser had been anybody else, he'd have been rolling his eyes while saying that.
"Yeah. I don't even know what that is, but I can tell you right now: chicks will not dig it."
"That may be so, Ray, but cultivating outside interests, joining clubs and the like, will bring him into contact with a sizeable female population." He re-settled his hat on his head and followed Dief out.
Ray stared after him, trying to decide if Fraser had just made a crack on his own admittedly pathetic love life.
Mountie snark. Maybe Fraser hadn't slept so good, either.
Drug dealer. He was fourteen, tops. Asian kid, sulky, muttering to himself-- and then he makes a break for it.
Fraser at the Consulate, and no Dief to ride herd on the kid. Only Ray and his scuffed Doc Martens to catch the fleeing suspect, headed north on Ambrose.
He stuffed his cell phone in his pocket and leaned into it, felt the sidewalk blur even more than usual as the perp slung himself around a corner and Ray pounded after him, right on his heels.
Hand out, his heavy bracelet jingling, slapping against his thumb as he reached for the kid, straining, panting, get him get him--
And he had no idea what the kid did to him, because he slammed back against the bricks, seeing stars.
He'd gotten checked out by the paramedics after a lot of eyeballing from the Lieutenant, who'd showed on the scene when he heard "lost suspect" and "possible injuries". Welsh was obviously dying to give him heat for losing the kid, but willing to bide his time about it. No fun yelling at a guy who keeled over before the barking was done.
His head hurt, but no concussion, so he could go home to sleep. Sleep sounded like a good idea.
It was like he was flying. Except with wolves. Wolves were everywhere, he was flying past them and they were wailing. Letting everyone know he was back.
Back where? Who even cared that he'd been gone?
There was a steady, firm knocking at the door. Ray rubbed his eyes and squinted at the clock.
It was 6:30. He'd only been asleep for a couple of hours. Fraser must have gotten word of his screw-up by now.
Except the knocking wasn't at the front door.
Feeling hinky, Ray got out of bed and edged toward the closet.
He opened the door.
There was a Mountie in the closet.
A Mountie who was... not Fraser. But maybe Ray had met him somewhere before, because the guy looked familiar. But then most non-Fraser Mounties tended to blend together in his head. As far his brain was concerned, there were only five Mounties in the world: Fraser, Fraser's cute little sis, Thatcher, that nutjob Turnbull and... all the other Mounties.
"Can I... help you? You looking for Fraser?"
The guy was looking him up and down, like Ray was a suit he was thinking about trying on.
"I'll give you one thing, Yank. You're more polite than most. I half expected you to say you were going to 'jump bogart' all over me."
Ray ran a hand through his hair.
"Um, well. Normally I would. I uh, haven't been myself lately. Is... Fraser's okay, right?" Why else would a Mountie he'd never met show up at his place?
"Oh, he's fine." The guy waved a bit and stepped out of the closet, walking across the room to sit on the bed. "A bit thick headed, perhaps, but people rarely find that fatal." He bounced slightly, and nodded. "Nice and firm."
"It's new. Listen. I just-- I mean, do you need something? Did Fraser send you? How'd you get in my closet, anyway?"
"It's become habit, I suppose." As if that answered anything. This guy was cracked.
"I'll call him. Tell him you're here. What's your name?" He picked up the phone and the guy on the bed stood up and held out his hand.
"Robert Fraser," he said. "Glad to meet you."
Ray hung the phone back up.
"Ray Kowalski," he said, making no move to take the man's hand. "Good to meet you, too. It's been swell. You just say hey to all the other spooks for me, like a nice dead guy."
He climbed back into bed and put his pillow over his head. Maybe he should call the doctor. His head was pounding. And he was definitely hallucinating.
Ray screwed his eyes shut. When he didn't hear anything else from Robert Fraser, he eventually fell back asleep.
There was a steady, firm knocking at the door. Ray rubbed his eyes and squinted at the clock.
He clambered out of bed and stalked over to the closet-- but it was empty.
The knocking came again, from the front door. Where it was supposed to be coming from.
He opened the door a crack.
Fraser. Benton Fraser. And Dief.
"Hey." He held the door open and Fraser brushed past him.
"Good evening, Ray. Francesca told me you'd--"
"Yeah, got myself smacked silly. I guess the kid was stronger than he looked."
He could feel Fraser giving him the Doctor Look.
"I'm cool, Fraser. Medics checked me out. I'm A-OK."
"I brought you dinner," Fraser said, holding up a cluster of white cardboard boxes with the red Jin Ho logo. "Beef and broccoli and five flavored shrimp."
"Thanks." He wasn't even a little bit hungry, but it was good to have Fraser there, a real live breathing Mountie.
He nabbed three plates and sat down on the couch, forking out some rice for Dief.
"How's your head?" Fraser snapped his chopsticks apart and handed Ray his Five Flavored Shrimp.
"Headache's almost gone. I'm thinking I should shave bald, get a plaster cast made. For poster-- posterior-- that thing, you know-- that thing?"
"Posterity, Ray?" And Fraser shocked the hell out of him by giggling. Ray tipped his head and tried to remember if Fraser had ever actually laughed at him for being stupid.
"What's so funny?" He was more than willing to be in a bad mood if Fraser was messing with him.
"I'm sure a model of your skull would be a phrenologist's dream."
"Phrenologist. What's that, somebody with a fetish for bald guys?"
"No, Ray," Fraser said calmly. "Someone who reads the bumps of the head. Phrenology was very much in vogue in the late 1800's. Every section of your skull was thought to correspond to a specific personality trait."
"Huh." Ray considered this a moment. "Could it tell you if you had a screw loose? Without going to a shrink?"
"Phrenology? It's quackery, Ray! Psuedoscience at best. You certainly wouldn't want to rely on it to diagnose a serious mental illness." He stared Ray down, the Doctor Look back in full force. "Have you been having any problems? Dimming of the vision, perhaps?" He reached out and tipped Ray's chin up to better see his eyes. His hands were warm against Ray's ears. Ray ignored that, focused on a way, any way, to skip a psych review.
He hated psych reviews. Every goddamned time he had one he'd flash back to Sunday School, and the way he folded like a cheap card table before the priest could even ask him how long it had been since his last confession. I stole a candy bar. I jerk off three times a day. I see dead people.
I think I'm pretty fucking hung up on my partner.
It was that last thing he'd really rather not discuss with a department shrink.
"But maybe you can tell if I got a dent in my head where my smarts should be. That kid-- there was no way he should have been able to-- ow! ...ow-- quit it, Fraser--"
Fraser continued to prod gently at the lump towards the back of his head, well behind his ear.
"You're very tense. I wonder if that isn't why your hair often looks so... aggressive."
"That's not aggression, Fraser. That's style. Now come on, read my mind."
Fraser didn't sigh, because sighing would sort of mean he was complaining, and Fraser never complained. He did stall, though. And lecture.
"Phrenologists believed the brain was a collection of muscles - and that, as with muscle, those that are exercised frequently 'bulk up', as it were. According to the theory, the skull overlying the 'lumpy' parts bulged out to accommodate the brain tissue underneath. Many believed that by measuring those bumps, they could determine where the brain was enlarged and which characteristics were dominant."
"That's. Fascinating, really. But can you tell if I'm a few pancakes short of a stack?"
"I'm not a phrenologist, Ray." Fraser was looping noodles on to his chopsticks. "Which is entirely beside the fact that phrenology has no basis in medical science--"
"But you read a book on it, right?'
"Well. Yes. But it was--"
Ray scudded off the couch and settled on the floor in front of Fraser.
"Do me. I wanna know if I'm gonna end up in a rubber room."
"I don't believe there's a section that corresponds to anything that specific, Ray."
Craning his neck, Ray half-twisted around to look up at Fraser, trying to block out the heat that was sliding off Fraser, the almost-sweaty smell of his dark, creased jeans.
"So phrenology me, anyway. I wanna know what my lumps say about me." He turned around again and tugged off his shoes. Dief came over to nose them a bit before licking Ray's eyebrow and then helping himself to Ray's cooling beef and broccoli.
"Well, according to the tenets of phrenology, memory is located... ah, here." And he tapped just below Ray's hairline, above his recently licked eyebrow.
"It's kind of smooshed there," Ray admitted. "Jimmy Rinaldi pegged me with a hockey puck in the eighth grade. So maybe that's why I can't remember the right words sometimes."
"That could be possible. But according to the map I studied, the center for language, if I recall correctly, is... here." And he brushed a thumb against the ridge of the socket below Ray's left eye.
This was getting into a whole weird area. Guys didn't touch other guys' faces unless one of them was a barber.
Still, it had been his idea in the first place. He wriggled his shoulders a little and tried to relax. He felt Fraser's fingers spread against his hair, taking the weight of his skull. He leaned back, and when he opened his eyes he had a nostril shot of Fraser.
How a guy could not look bad from the nostril-cam was beyond him, but Fraser still looked pretty okay. Pretty. Even upside down.
It was so weird he could almost ignore how much he liked Fraser's hands in his hair.
"Uh. Is there one for high score in air hockey?"
Fraser's face loomed down at him like a 3-D movie. The way the lamp hit him made his eyes look like green ice, the kind he'd totaled his first car wiping out on.
"Well. No. But there's one for 'destructiveness' and 'combativeness'." He set two fingers in two spaces behind Ray's ear, near his lump, and Ray shivered in spite of himself.
Gently, Fraser probed the swollen knot where the kid had whammed Ray.
"What about there? Anything important get busted up there? Is that where, like, driving or--"
"This spot here is purported to describe your capacities and appetites in the realm of amativeness and conjugal love." Fraser cleared his throat slightly.
He only sort of knew what Fraser was saying, but just the way Fraser said it tipped him off. His face was getting hot and he closed his eyes again. Fraser's hands now cradled the back of his head, and Ray wasn't sure how long he was supposed to stay this way, with Fraser looking down at him like he was a crystal ball, trying to understand him from the outside in.
"So. Uh. It's all puffed up. And... bigger is better, right?"
"I suppose... if you're a student of phrenology, yes."
"Okay. Uh. So, no spot for loony tunes... is there one for, you know, spooky stuff? Seeing the future? Ghosts?"
Ray's head bounced slightly against the couch cushion when Fraser dropped it, and Ray realized his hair was mashed up against Fraser's crotch... and that was freaking him out in about six different ways.
So he leaned forward and got to his feet, double time.
Fraser was goggling at him from the couch, that blank look you could see in Bugs Bunny cartoons after somebody got walloped with a frying pan.
Then he blinked and said, kind of sharply, "Have you seen a ghost, Ray?"
"What? Me? Do I look like Agent Mulder to you? No way. No ghosts. Haven't seen any. You want some tea? To wash down those noodles?"
Fraser set his mouth, and for a moment, Ray figured Fraser would press him for details for sure. But eventually he just reached for his hat and stood up.
"Perhaps you should get some rest, Ray. I don't want to keep you up too late."
"Hey, wait up. Come on. I'll make the tea, okay?"
"No thank you, Ray." And he made his way to the door.
Maybe he was still freaking out about the way Fraser's hands had felt in his hair. Maybe he was head injured. Maybe he didn't want a second round of Robert-Fraser-Gone-Bye-Bye. But he caught Fraser's hand, and then held him by the shoulders.
"Fraser. Don't go yet, okay?" God damn it, he could hear how desperate he sounded.
Something soft folded in Fraser's face, and he was looking at Ray so gently Ray worried he'd lose it. People acting nice to him when he was having a hard time always tended to lead to a big shakedown in his gut. He was already having a nice little psycho-freak out panic attack or something here; why be half-assed about it? Why not go whole hog? Crying Jag Number Two was bound to be less humiliating than the Botrelle case.
He took a moment to be glad Fraser hadn't made him bring on the waterworks.
Dief, who seemed to be waiting on Fraser's agreement, took the opportunity to amble over to the coffee table and make the most of the leftovers.
"Hey, listen. Would you do me a favor?"
For a moment, he almost asked Fraser to sing.
Face touching. A little crooning. This was probably Frannie's dream date, right here.
"Tell me about Canada," he blurted. "'Cause I was only there that one time, and it was the city, and it's mostly no city living where you're from, right?"
"None to speak of, no. A few villages. The local populations seldom exceed a few hundred people."
"And it snows a lot there, right?"
"It snows in many places in the winter, Ray." He looked inches away from asking Ray if he felt feverish. "Not just Canada."
"But when you dream about it... is it snowing?"
Fraser's mouth buckled a little and he ducked his head.
"It's seldom snowing, actually." He met Ray's eyes again, but there was something far away in his face. "When I dream, the day is clear, and the snow is fresh and white but hard packed. Good for sledding."
Fraser nodded again.
"And you miss it."
He'd been dreaming about Canada, Fraser's Canada. And Fraser had been dreaming about it, too.
Something about the way Fraser had been looking at him ever since Maggie Thatcher had gone back home felt like bad news. Felt like a build up to a break up.
Maybe Stella had given him a sixth sense about this stuff. Maybe he knew Fraser was leaving. Maybe Fraser was only just realizing it himself.
"Just. Close your eyes. Okay?"
Fraser closed his eyes immediately and Ray took his hat off his head and set it on the table by the door. He could hear his keys skid on the table under the hat, and he took a deep breath.
A deep, Fraser-flavored breath.
He shook himself out, like he was warming up for a sparring match, tossed his head and shifted his shoulders, working the kinks out.
Maybe Fraser Senior was his emergency back up Canadian. So that when Fraser was gone, he could still get a Mountie fix.
Maybe he'd just been hit harder in the head than he'd thought.
But if Fraser was leaving, Ray wanted at least one chance at him while he was still stateside. Something to confess to the department shrink, because when Fraser left, he'd need somebody to talk to.
He petted Fraser's cheek before cupping his face with both hands and pressing his mouth against the Mountie's. Fraser was as tall as he was, so the angle was a little weird, but it was okay. Stayed there a moment, then two, and before he could pull away again, Fraser's hands slid over his shoulders and tugged him close. Tipping his head, Fraser opened his mouth and... kissed Ray back.
Fraser was wet and warm inside, and maybe a kiss that wet should have been sloppy, but his lips glided against Fraser's like satin on satin, cool/warm friction and the weird alive thing that was Fraser's tongue... His brain was blood-free. He was so hard that if he'd had his eyes open he wouldn't have been able to see anyway.
He could feel Fraser's seal-smooth hair, and his warm skin, a little scrape against his palms, where the evening's beard was coming up. Couldn't see it, but he could feel it, and Ray made an unconscious little grunt of pleasure that Fraser answered with a squeeze that nearly tugged Ray bodily off the floor.
"You okay with this?" He muttered, after Fraser had let him down.
"I believe this is one of those times that actions speak louder than words, Ray." And Fraser kissed him again, angling Ray until he was backed up against the door with Fraser crushed against him, one thigh grinding against his.
Ray figured it was way past the time for skin, and he tugged Fraser's shirttails out of his jeans and ran a hand under his shirt.
He could feel Fraser gasp, and that only made him hotter. Fraser. Skin. Swapping spit.
He'd been worried about something a few minutes ago, but he sure as hell couldn't remember what.
"Ray--" And holy jesus, Fraser breathless, Fraser talking in a broke-down sex voice. "I'm-- it's been--"
And Ray barely had time to get Fraser's jeans open. Warm, healthy handful of Fraser, and when the hell did he think that could ever happen, and then-- hot, slick pulse, and his hand was striped and dripping and Fraser's forehead clunked heavily against the door like someone had thrown a shoe against it.
Ray couldn't seem to stop breathing hard, but Fraser still had his face buried in Ray's shoulder.
Eventually he lifted his head, looking like someone had kicked his puppy.
"Ray, I-- I'm terribly sorry. I hadn't intended to--"
Well fuck that, Ray's puppy still needed to be kicked.
"Fraser, you were great. And the stamina thing... We can work on it. But uh... I'm not done yet." And he set Fraser's hand against the open zip of his jeans.
It hurt in that good way, like pressing down on a bruise on your arm.
Fraser nodded once, like he was sure, his eyes hot now, no more green ice, hot blue, like the flames on a gas stove. He leaned against Ray, so heavy Ray could hardly breathe, like he was his own kind of gravity, and Ray couldn't see Fraser's hand, but he could feel it, every slow, grasping tug. And before he could even ask for faster faster faster, Fraser lifted his head and licked Ray's lower lip, one long lick, two small ones, then Ray was kissing him again, hungry and crazy and kissing Fraser with everything he had, while Fraser looped a forefinger and thumb around the crown of his cock and Ray lost it.
When he could focus his eyes again, Fraser was smiling at him, this doofy sort of smile that Ray knew for sure he was shining right back at the guy.
He felt... amazing. Terrific. Lots of other words that meant amazing and terrific. Fraser would know what they were.
After a moment, Fraser shifted, leaning heavily against the wall rather than Ray. He glanced down at himself and gave Ray a small smile.
"I don't suppose I could borrow some clean clothes from you?"
"You can borrow anything you want, Fraser." He leaned his temple against Fraser's hair, and Fraser turned his head to kiss him there. Just below the hairline. Where his memory lived.
"I'm going to clean up."
"Do you... want anything?"
"I'm good. I'm peachy. Do you want anything?"
Ray had to grin.
"You got it. But." Fraser's face tensed a little. "Maybe after I get a nap or something." He rested his cheek against the cool, dry wood. After a moment where he considered just sliding to the floor, Fraser tugged Ray's arm around his shoulders and frog-marched him into the bedroom-- which was kind of fun, actually-- and pressed him down on the mattress. Which was even more fun.
After a few more slippery kisses, Fraser rolled off him and staggered a little on his way to the bathroom.
Ray grinned. Satisfaction at a job well done.
He could hear the water running in the bathroom... and voices. He was pretty sure about that.
Maybe Fraser was chatting up his old man.
"Fraser?" he croaked. Sex always seemed to do something to his voice. He wasn't a yeller, so it wasn't that--
Fraser stood in the open doorway, framed by buttery light. He was shirtless and god, he was beautiful, and he was blushing. Or maybe it was beardburn.
"You talking to yourself?"
Fraser made a move like he was going to look over his shoulder. The he stopped himself and met Ray's eyes.
"In a manner of speaking."
"Ooookay. Well, when you're done come over here and kiss me some more."
Fraser settled beside him, and for the first time since Stella, Ray could feel the bed roll toward somebody he loved. He felt a little choked up, but it was dark, and Fraser was already damp.
"I'm done," Fraser said, which was pretty obvious. He ran a hand through Ray's hair. Ray figured it was probably clumpy and even sticky from the sweat-melted gel, but Fraser seemed to like it just fine. "You should know, Ray, that according to the phrenologist's map, your personality is characterized by loyalty, perseverance and an affectionate heart."
"Good to know. Sure beats thinking all those lumps would make me a head case."
He could feel Fraser smile against his hand as he stroked his palm against Fraser's mouth.
"Well, phrenologists would also find you unbalanced, as you have several overdeveloped knots on your head that correspond to quarreling and --"
"That's it, I'm gonna have to get physical with you, Fraser." He looped his arm around Fraser's neck and hugged him closer.
"Is that a threat, Ray?" Fraser nuzzled his ear. It tickled.
"It's a promise."
End Head Case by Pares: firstname.lastname@example.org
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