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Fic: When Masks Slip

Fandom: due South
Characters: Fraser, RayK
Summary: Fraser finds out more than he wanted to know.
Rating: R for sexual content and angst
Length: 2145 words
Challenge: Written for the ds_flashfiction Button Challenge
Thanks to: My beta, slidellra
Disclaimer: due South, Fraser, and Ray belong to Alliance/Atlantis.

It had been a rather trying day. Lieutenant Welsh had apparently threatened Ray with physical violence if he failed to complete the mountain of paperwork that had built up on his desk. It had been a Herculean task, but between my typing and Ray's steady stream of commentary and invective, we had finished just before the 7 pm deadline. Ray had delivered the files to Welsh and triumphantly invited me to his home for take-out and TV. That such invitations were frequent made them no less precious to me.

As we walked through the twilight-lit parking lot to the GTO, I noticed something different. A flat, dull green object was hanging from Ray's rear-view mirror. I braced myself as I opened the car door. Diefenbaker recoiled as the stench avalanched over us, a foul mass of chemicals crudely mimicking the scent of fresh-cut pine. At my hand signal, Diefenbaker shook himself all over and jumped into the back seat.

I eased into the front seat, blinking rapidly against the stinging in my eyes. Ray was on his cell phone, ordering Indian take-out, as we had agreed.

"You want the eggplant again?" he asked, turning to me.

"Certainly," I replied, trying to think of a delicate way to request that Ray dispose of his new accessory.

"Yeah, the eggplant," Ray continued into the phone. "I don't know the number! That spicy one, all mushed up with onions and peas," he said as he pulled onto the street.

The barest trickle of a growl reached me from the back seat. I turned to find Diefenbaker licking the upholstery. It seemed a bizarre response to the pine-assault. I reached back to draw Dief's attention and froze. Wafting to me, released by Diefenbaker's saliva was a salty, musky scent. Sweat and semen. Sex.

Ray had been intimate with a woman in the back seat of his car last night.

"What's with the wolf?" Ray asked, eying us through the rear-view mirror.

I turned to face him. "He appears to be somewhat overwhelmed by your new air freshener," I said. That was certainly true, and it wouldn't be courteous to bring up the subject of Ray's … activities.

Ray settled into his seat, looked back at the road, and lied to me. "Yeah, well, it was getting kinda musty in here, and I thought you two might like the pine."

It hadn't been the slightest bit musty in this car. Not until Ray had sex in the back seat. Why would he do such a thing when he had a perfectly good apartment? I had to sit in this car every day! And why lie to me about it? Was he ashamed of her? Was she unattractive? Unkind? A prostitute? A criminal?

Once it occurred to me, this seemed horrifyingly plausible. Ray was, beneath his cynical surface, a warm-hearted and generous man. And, since the departure of his ex-wife, a rather lonely one. A beautiful woman might easily have led him into a difficult or dangerous situation. Should I ask him about it? No. Ray might not be acting in his own best interests. I would need to gather evidence, without revealing to him what I had discovered.

I had sat too long without offering any response. Ray continued the conversation without me. "If the air-freshener bothers Dief, I can dump it when we get to the Taj Mahal."

Summoning a blank face perfected during hundreds of hours of guard duty, I spoke blandly. "Thank you, that would be much appreciated."

There was a somewhat awkward silence until we reached the restaurant. Ray found a spot to parallel-park a block down the street. He unwound the air-freshener from its position on the rear-view mirror and stepped out of the car. I opened my door and unbuckled my seatbelt, but remained seated.

Ray ducked down to look at me. "Coming?"

"Actually, Ray, I think I'll stay here so that we can air out the car." Still not a lie. The car needed airing out.

Ray shuffled his feet. "Ummm, okay then. It's my turn to buy, anyway. I’ll be out in a few with the food."

As Ray disappeared into the restaurant, I scrambled into the backseat, ending up on my hands and knees, searching out the true smells masked by the false pine. Diefenbaker jumped out of the car, giving me room to investigate.

Here, by the door, Ray's hair-care products and aftershave. He had been lying down. Sweat throughout much of the seat. A faint trace of alcohol and cigarette smoke. Was the woman was a smoker? Perhaps he had met her in a bar or club. No hint of perfume.

Crawling across the carpet, I scented latex with a touch of wintergreen gum. At least Ray had not forgotten the most elementary precautions. I found myself flushed with anger. No whiff of vaginal fluids on the seat. None on the seat back. None on the carpeting. I was running out of time. That should have been the easiest scent to find, no matter what sexual act had been performed. This made no sense! Unless…

Unless Ray had been in the back seat with another man.

I scooted around to face Diefenbaker. "Diefenbaker," I whispered over the pounding of my own heart, "was there another man here? Not Ray? Can you find his scent?"

Diefenbaker gave a low affirmative yowl and scrabbled at the gap between the carpeting and the doorframe. I reached in and brushed a small hard object with my fingertips. Stretching further, I managed to pull out a button. It was faintly opalescent under the car light.

I snatched up the evidence and was standing at parade rest on the sidewalk, a pleasant smile plastered to my face, when Ray emerged from the restaurant with two plastic bags full of take-out containers.

"My apologies, Ray, but I've just remembered something I need to take care of back at the Consulate," I called out as he approached. Behind my back, the button was clenched tightly in my hand.

He paused in the dark gap between two streetlights. "Well, it can wait 'til after dinner, right? This is a lot of food to go to waste."

My breathing was too fast. The edges of the button dug into my palm. "Perhaps your landlady will appreciate the leftovers. Now, if you'll excuse me…"

Ray's urgent voice reached out to stop me from the shadows where he stood. "Hold on, Frase! I'll drive you! It's got to be, what, thirty blocks from here to the Consulate?"

Got to go, got to go, got to go. Courtesy was a thin veneer over the snarling beast within me. Any longer and Ray would see.

"Thank you kindly, but a brisk walk is just the thing after such a slothful day. Goodbye!"

I strode off, nearly running, without waiting for Ray's reply. Three blocks down I turned left onto a side street and ducked into an alleyway. I crouched down and offered Diefenbaker the first sniff of the button, even though that back seat surely held enough of a scent trace to track the interloper across an ice field.

I pulled a maglite out of my belt pouch and carefully examined the button under its beam. It was made of some type of shell, perhaps pearl. It's front held an interlocking pattern of four leaves. Judging by the tiny imperfections, the button was most likely hand-carved. This was clearly from a very expensive men's shirt. Certainly Ray possessed nothing like it in his wardrobe. A tiny shred of indigo thread was caught in the hole.

I closed my eyes, brought the button up to my mouth, and licked it. The taste of my own sweat was dominant, of course, after the way I had been holding it. But beneath that, I tasted Ray. The image of him, sweating, eager, desperately fumbling and then ripping an elegant shirt from another man's body drove me to my feet and out of the alleyway.

I ran down the sidewalk, Diefenbaker at my side, as my mind worked the case. From a window-shopping trip with Ray Vecchio, I knew that only a handful of shops in Chicago supplied such exclusive men's wear. If he had purchased the shirt locally, it should be relatively simple to find him. We had tracked down numerous criminals with far less of a lead to start with. If the button wasn't enough, Diefenbaker and I could always start at the other end. Trace Ray's steps from the night before. Find out where he had gone. Once we discovered the original crime scene …

No. Wait. Stop.

Both my feet and my mind stumbled to a halt. There was no crime here. No criminal. And this display of … territoriality on my part was … inappropriate. Unwarranted. Unhinged.

Shaking, I took a few steps and dropped the button down a storm drain. Diefenbaker lunged after it with an urgent whine.

"No. No, we are not going to track him down. This is none of our business."

Diefenbaker barked twice, sharply.

I turned on him. "No, it's not, and if you understood anything about the way humans, normal humans, relate to each other, you would know that! In fact, if you had shown a little discretion, I wouldn't be in this position!"

The formless rage in me had found an outlet, and I was unable to stop the flow of words. "I did not need to know this! Ray did not want me to know this! And that's perfectly understandable; given common attitudes among law enforcement personnel, there's no reason why he should confide in me, just because I'm his …"

The word tasted like old blood in my mouth. " … partner."

Diefenbaker was crouched, ears back, ready to spring away. It was as shocking as a sudden drop into icy waters. What dark truth had Diefenbaker glimpsed beneath my tattered mask that could make him fear me?

Reaching for control, I closed my eyes; consciously slowed my racing heartbeat and breath. The revelation of Ray's desires I folded up tight and small, and then buried it in a footlocker in a distant corner of my mind. Cluttered to over-flowing, that corner, as evidenced by my outburst. Someday soon I would need to trace back the thread of my anger and see where it led. But not today.

I opened my eyes and held out a hand to Diefenbaker. His tense stance relaxed as he sniffed it. I knelt down.

"I'm so sorry," I whispered to him. "It's not your fault." Diefenbaker huddled against me. I buried my hands in his ruff, offering and seeking comfort. "I'll just … I won't … mention it. I'm sure everything will be fine."

Head throbbing, I walked slowly back to the Consulate.

Ray Kowalski sat alone in his apartment later that night. It was dark except for the glow of the streetlights outside the window. Two bags of food abandoned by the door and a fist-sized hole in the dry wall bore mute witness to his first reaction; a half-empty bottle of bourbon the second.

Slowly he stood up and walked into the bathroom. Ray turned on the light and blinked at the brightness as he pissed. He washed his hands and glanced up at the mirror.

Ray inspected the drunk asshole he saw there. "Just couldn't keep it in your pants, could you, Kowalski," he jeered. "Not even your partner's gonna put up with your shit. Fraser made that pretty damn clear." He closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them again to glare. "You fucked it all up." He leaned in closer to the mirror, a white-knuckle grip on the sink, and bared his teeth. "Again."

Ray hurled himself back away from the mirror, out of the bathroom, down the hall to his bedroom. Stripped down to bare skin, clothes kicked into a pile on the floor. Switched on the bedside lamp. He opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of black silk boxers, and then walked to the closet and carefully removed two items hanging all the way in the back. A gray suit. An olive mock turtleneck. He brushed off the shoulders of the suit and got dressed, then walked into the bathroom.

The mirror reflected a different man. "Detective Ray Vecchio," he whispered. A little louder. "Detective Ray Vecchio." Ray stepped back from the mirror, gave it a hand gesture, a little paisan attitude. "Detective Ray Vecchio."

A flash of silver at his wrist. Ray pulled off the bracelet. He held it between two fingers for a moment, and then dropped it in the trash. Finally Ray wet a comb and slicked down his hair.

Detective Ray Vecchio, calm and nearly sober, pursed his lips as he examined his reflection. He nodded. It would do.