"That a ruler in your pocket, Fraser, or are you just pleased to see me?"
Ray's smile is complex, amusement and leer overlapping, layered, glazing his lips like lemon and sugar.
"I am pleased to see you, Ray, and it is a ruler, but as I'm sure you can see, it's in my hand, not my pocket."
The smile loses its complexity and Ray looks as if he's a blink away from rolling his eyes. "Well, I know that, Fraser, I know. Jeez, can't you take a joke?"
Fraser has long since resigned himself to the lacunae in Ray's sense of humor. That Ray, sharp, bright, scalpel-slice insightful, cannot see that Fraser uses literalness as a defense against an enemy and a way of sharing with a friend is… well, it's incomprehensible.
Suspicion flickers to life. Is Ray's seeming obliviousness simply his own riposte, and is he winning each encounter because Fraser is too smug, too certain of victory, to look deeper? He studies Ray and finds nothing to confirm or deny his suspicions. Ray just looks impatient, jittery, normal.
"Hey, that's my ruler," Ray discovers.
Fraser sets it down on Ray's desk, a straight, shaped purposefulness amongst the clutter. "Yes, it is. I borrowed it. Thank you kindly."
"You borrowed my ruler." Ray scratches his jaw and looks contemplative, his gaze inward. "You know, I didn't even know I had one. Not really. Not until it was gone and you were holding it and then it all came back to me."
Fraser expects that to be it, subject over, but Ray can be persistent when he's bored, and right now, with no urgent cases pending and the room filled with a muted buzz rather than the customary chaos, Fraser thinks Ray is just that.
Which is worrying.
"What did you want it for anyway?"
"Well, it's a ruler, Ray."
"It has several uses."
"Not as many as you'd think. But narrow it down for me."
Persistent. Pushy. "I needed to draw a straight line."
"You needed it for that." Ray's lips purse. Every time they change shape, Fraser notices, fascinated, captivated. It reminds him of watching the shards of a kaleidoscope merge and form patterns, complex, beautiful, always different, until his eyes teared over from staring for so long through a small hole into vastness.
"Indeed I did. I took a sharp pencil; not so sharp that the point breaks immediately pressure is applied, no, because then the lead, or rather, the graphite, smudges the paper, and then I --"
"Save it." Boredom closes down the animation on Ray's face. "You took it, you did weird Mountie things with it; you brought it back. I don't wanna know."
Yes, you did, Fraser thinks. It just wasn't interesting enough. I wasn't --"
"Perhaps," he says, moved to mischief (maybe Ray isn't the only one bored this March day, with the world outside neither one season nor the other, gray and lifeless), "I should have used it to measure something instead." He picks the ruler up again and smacks it gently against his palm for the pleasure of the noise it makes, the resultant sting and heat inconsequential.
Ray grimaces. "Don't do that, Fraser. You're bringing back bad memories of school."
Fraser does it again, one more time -- slap -- and then desists. Playful. Make it obvious, make Ray see that he's offering this to him because it's what friends do. They play with each other. They share. "Perhaps you'd permit me to satisfy my curiosity by measuring a small part of you. I've made a estimate visually, of course, but --"
Ray's eyes widen and he makes a peculiar choking sound, barely audible. "God, Fraser, no fucking way." He settles his shoulders, recovering his dignity. "And I'm a grower, not a shower."
Fraser's left momentarily speechless. Not by Ray's immediate, predictably smutty misinterpretation of his words; he'd phrased it that way to get just that result, after all, subtle payback for that opening gibe from Ray. No, it's that the joke's on him, because now all he can feel is the soft, limp, loose curl of Ray's flesh against his palm, hidden in his fist, waiting for a coaxing squeeze, an encouraging brush of a thumb or finger to make it harden, stiffen, grow.
He recovers his self-possession and gives Ray a polite, brief smile. "I believe we're talking at cross-purposes." He steps closer and Ray… Ray doesn't step back. Ray stands still, waits, a pulse beating, thud, thud, bang in his throat and he closes his eyes as Fraser places the end of the ruler against his scalp, and tallies the impudent, incorrigible hair, standing up defiantly.
Ray's eyes pop open. "Hmm? Hmm? What's that mean? What does 'hmm' mean, Fraser?" Annoyance electrifies him, makes him dangerous, makes him spark with static.
"It means that my eye is out," Fraser tells him, serious now. "I estimated the length to be four, possibly five millimeters less. Hmm."
"What the fuck's a millimeter look like? No, don't tell me." Ray rubs his hands through his hair, a hard, violent scrub that leaves it clinging temporarily to his head, glued down by willpower. "So you're out an inch; so what?"
"Not an inch." Fraser's horrified by the enormity of that degree of error being imputed to him. "Not that much." He turns the ruler over in his hands, angular, smooth, warm in the way wood always is, stored sunlight oozing out. "Ah."
Ray greets his relieved exhalation with a frown. "'Ah'? Fraser, stop talking in grunts, like some sort of caveman. Use your words!"
"The ruler is old," Fraser explains and holds it out for Ray to stare at blankly. "Over time, with use and careless handling, the edges have worn away somewhat. It's enough to make a difference."
Ray snatches it from him, his fingers closing over it, curling around -- Fraser wrenches his mind away from the cascade of images that sight provokes.
"Fraser, this damn thing is in inches!"
"Which leads me to suppose that it's quite old."
"How can you tell it's off in millipedes --"
"Millimeters," he corrects automatically, and yes, there, see, there's a gleam of triumph in Ray's eyes. Caught you.
"When it's marked off in inches?"
Fraser shrugs. "I just can."
"You just can." Ray says it flatly, bemused and yet accepting it. "Fraser, does it ever occur to you that we went nuts some time ago and just never noticed?"
"Don't answer that." The ruler lands on Ray's desk with a clatter and the paper sifts over it, burying it. "Let's go get some fresh air. Find a wrong to right, a head to bust." His hand finds Fraser's arm as he passes him; an unnecessary touch, transferring more than pressure, more than warmth.
Fraser follows Ray out of the building as if Ray's hand is still on him, tugging him forward, helpless, attached, and watches Ray's hair, flattened but resilient, rise, stick up, stand proud as the raw March wind swirls around it.
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