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California Highway Patrol officers were, per regulation, required to keep their soulmark covered when in uniform.

There were basically three subsets of belief within the population; some believed they should be shown at all times, to maximize the opportunity to find one’s soulmate, some believed in keeping them covered at all times, out of respect for privacy and the sanctity of their soulbond, and some didn’t seem to care either way.

Thankfully, most of his officers fell into the latter two categories. Arguments over uniform regulations always gave him a headache - Poncherello and his tailored shirts were enough of a pain. The last thing he needed was to have to go around slapping uncovered wrists every time he found a spare minute.

Still, it was interesting, in the locker rooms, to see who subscribed to which philosophy. Grossman, for one - even showering and swimming, that black leather band never came off his wrist. Knowing Grossie, though, it could have been some kind of ongoing social experiment - he rarely could fathom what went on in that man’s mind.

Baker’s thick watch band generally covered his mark whenever the regulation wristband didn’t, but it wasn’t exactly uncommon to see Baker bare-wristed when he was washing or changing. His mentality, Joe could understand - the wristbands were government-issue leather, and chafed like hell when they got wet. Privacy was one thing, but practicality was another.

Poncherello, he had to admit, surprised him. When Baker had dragged the guy in, Joe’s first impression of him hadn’t been particularly favorable. Neither, unfortunately, had been the second, third, fourth, fifth, or numerous successive impressions. Poncherello was a good man, certainly, and he had a good heart, but his temper and libido both ran too hot for Joe’s peace of mind, and his lack of judgement was better suited to a lemming.

Those three aspects generally combined into someone who either displayed their soulmark with determined and wanton abandon, or ignored it as though it was any other birthmark, and rarely bothered with more than incidental coverings.

Poncherello, much to Joe’s surprise, kept his soulmark hidden with a fervor that even Grossman couldn’t match. Baker absently remarked that even when he’d first encountered Poncherello hot-rodding around on a dirtbike without a helmet in sight, there had been a bandana tied neatly around his left wrist, and it had been there for so long that the fabric was falling apart at the edges and the knot all but fused together.

It was something that hadn’t changed when the CHP accepted him; he usually kept a layer of fabric under his wristband, something that he nominally excused as padding (as a fellow motor officer, Joe sympathized - the angle you held your wrist while riding your bike made the damn things rub, and the edge of your gloves bumping them made them rub worse, which was why he didn’t cite Frank on the uniform violation) but anyone who’d ever stood near Poncherello in the locker room knew he wanted the extra security of the fabric in case his wristband slipped.

Ponch’s aversion to showing his own soulmark also seemed to translate into determinedly not looking at anyone else’s, to almost ridiculous extremes. It never interfered with him when it mattered - he could cuff a bare-wristed suspect without batting an eye, but here, with the people he worked with? He’d seen Ponch helping Baricza rewrap his sprained wrist with his eyes shut. Showering with Baker at the end of a long and particularly mud-splattered shift and nearly walking smack into the lockers because he was determinedly looking everywhere but his partner’s entire left side. Nearly breaking his neck because he’d recoiled from Bonnie waving, left wrist bare when she was in civvies, and fallen down the stairs at the back entrance of the station.

Baker had cuffed him across the ear for his stupidity at that one, which was the only time in Joe’s memory that Baker had employed physical violence of any kind against someone who wasn’t an active threat to his life.

But Ponch growled like a trapped bear (of the non-Baricza variety) anytime anyone asked him about his reaction to soulmarks, and eventually, the rest of the officers just learned to leave it alone.

What the man told his dates, Joe had no idea. The excuse probably changed by the hour. In any case, it wasn’t his problem, as long as Poncherello didn’t somehow manage to put himself in the hospital running away from someone’s uncovered wrist.

When Joe wrapped up that morning’s briefing, Baker had his wristband loosened several holes and was scratching determinedly beneath it, apparently having run afoul of a mosquito or twelve over his day off. His soulmark, the navy blue color clearly visible on his upturned wrist, was mottled red and white with the bites and the angry scrapes of his fingernails. Poncherello was so busy not-looking at Baker’s exposed mark that he nearly tripped over Turner’s foot before walking smack into the corner of a table. Joe bit back a less than professional snort of laughter; several of the other officers didn’t.

“Sorry, Ponch,” Baker grinned amiably, tightening his wristband back down and slinging his right arm over his partner’s shoulder, guiding him safely out of the room. Whatever Poncherello’s response was, it was lost in the thump of the door shutting and the other officer’s snickers.

Joe had been asked a fair few times over the years why he kept the pair of them partnered up. Poncherello hadn’t needed Baker’s supervision for years now; time and experience had cooled, tempered, and honed him into a good, solid cop, one who would have managed just fine on his own.

What those people didn’t know, though - what even Poncherello himself may not have remembered - was that every officer’s soulmark was a part of their personnel record, for identification purposes. Poncherello’s included.

He’d laughed himself almost sick when Ponch’s full file had landed on his desk. The Polaroid of the inside of his left wrist, mark in stark navy against skin that hadn’t been exposed to the sun in years, was stapled to the identification sheet, right where it belonged.

At that point, he hadn’t anticipated exactly how difficult it would be to have his two favorite idiots catch sight of one anothers' wrists. But it did give him a very valid reason to keep them partnered - sooner or later, one of them had to look.