"Ray, I'm simply trying to say that if you took a less obfuscatory approach--"
Ray emitted an incoherent animal noise, and Fraser fell silent. "You're doing it again," Ray snarled. "You always do that, you always do that, you use your big giant words so on top of screwing up I feel like an idiot! I hate that, Fraser, it's as bad as the correcting."
Fraser opened his mouth to reply, and his internal editor stopped the words at the last second. He'd nearly done it again, resorted to his hypertrophic vocabulary to deal with his agitation, and he and Ray had been through that feedback loop often enough in the past. He didn't really want to get punched in the face again.
Ray was just staring at him, eyebrows and irritation both ratcheting up as he waited for a response. "C'mon, Fraser. You get to the end of the dictionary or something? Got no pol-- polly--no more big goddamn words to throw at me?"
Polysyllables or polysyllabic, Ray? Don't say it. Don't. Fraser held up a hand, and backed away a step. "I'm just trying to think of what to say that won't make you hit me, Ray."
Ray made another wordless noise of fury, kicking wildly at the gravel underfoot, and Fraser winced. That had been poorly said, even without big words to make it worse. "So, what, now you're afraid of me? I'm gonna go off and pop you one so you better watch your mouth?"
Fraser retreated to the railing, and leaned against it, watching Ray. "No, of course not. But I don't want you to be angry at me, and I don't want to be angry at you, and I'm trying to think of what to say to break us out of this escalating argument pattern we're in."
Ray went still, and his shoulders slumped. He turned around again to face Fraser. "I guess we do know how to push each other's buttons, huh?"
Fraser nodded. "One of the hazards of knowing each other well."
Ray grinned, a radiant expression that came and went as fast as a camera flash, and left Fraser feeling just as blinded. He closed the distance between them, coming to lean on the railing close by Fraser's side. Fraser watched out of the corner of his eye as Ray's chin dropped nearly to his chest. One graceful hand rose to rub at the back of his neck--embarrassment, clear as a caribou's track in fresh snow--and he kicked at the gravel, but idly now--marshaling his words, so keep quiet til he gets them out. Fraser waited, and sure enough, Ray said quietly, "Sorry. You... you don't really do that just to make me feel stupid, I know that."
But a little reassurance wouldn't hurt. Fraser stared down at his own feet. "Of course not, Ray. It would be a pointless exercise, since you aren't stupid, and anyway it wouldn't be... buddies."
Ray snorted and swayed sideways to bump Fraser's shoulder with his own. "So why, then?"
"Why do I retreat into excessively formal language when I'm feeling a level of emotion I don't know how to deal with?" He thought that would be answer enough, but Ray looked up at him, waiting, and he shrugged and looked back down. "Distancing mechanism, I suppose."
Beside him, Ray fidgeted thoughtfully. "So, you use big words to hide the fact that sometimes you don't feel like the Perfect Mountie Poster Boy?"
"So, the less perfect you feel, the more perfect you talk?"
Perfect-ly, Ray. Don't say it. "Yes."
Ray didn't say anything for a moment, and when Fraser stole another sideways look, he was staring into the distance, the tip of his tongue working back and forth at the corner of his mouth. For a moment he couldn't look away, and then Fraser closed his eyes and visualized... a dictionary, set down before him on the kitchen table. A voice suspiciously like his grandmother's said, Start with heterosexual, Benton, and keep going until I tell you to stop.
Two days later, eating Chinese takeout from the cartons as they huddled over Ray's desk filling out paperwork in the night-quiet bullpen, Ray suddenly said, "So, where did you learn all those big words in the first place?"
Fraser studied Ray's open, curious face. There were a dozen different true answers to that question, but Ray wasn't looking for an explication of the Benton Fraser idiolect and in any case only one answer felt relevant at the moment. Turning his gaze back to the papers on the desk, he said, "When I was young, my grandparents used to have me copy out dictionary entries as a punishment when I misbehaved."
Ray's pen tapped a couple of times, but Fraser didn't look up. His voice, when he spoke, was fondly amused. "So that happened, like, twice in your whole life, then? Three times?"
Fraser couldn't suppress a smile, half indignant, as he looked up. "You'd be surprised, Ray. Think a moment: the person I am is the product of their efforts."
Ray's eyes went briefly wide as he appeared to actually imagine the sort of parenting that might have created the Mountie he knew, and Fraser looked back down. He'd said too much.
Ray, of course, was not a detective because he ignored leads like that. "So, if you, say, got mad about something and yelled and hollered about it..."
He glanced up, and Ray was sucking on the end of his pen, staring intently at the desk, and Fraser looked quickly away and mentally opened the dictionary to... no, no, not fellatio. Friend.
"Fraser? Do you have any reprimands in your file that you didn't write yourself?"
Fraser couldn't resist looking up then, staring wide-eyed at Ray, who was squinting intently back at him. That logical leap... Mr. Instinct, in his element. Ray's gaze made him feel naked, and not in a good way. He looked down again, rubbing at his forehead. "A few, Ray. My superiors have never shared your delusion that I am a perfect Mountie."
Ray snorted softly, and he didn't much more than mouth the word delusion. "I'm saying, you did it to yourself, didn't you? If you thought you did something bad, you'd just go get the dictionary and start copying words. Am I right?"
He sighed, and composed his face to neutral self-deprecating amusement before he looked up. "You're right, Ray."
Ray's grin spread slowly, luxuriantly, and he shook his head. "You always were a freak, huh, Fraser?"
"Guilty as charged, Ray."
Fraser frowned as he slid into the passenger seat, picking up the thick blue paperback as he did. When Ray was seated beside him, he said, "Ray? What's this?"
Ray rolled his eyes and snatched it out of his hand. "It's called a dictionary, Fraser. Amazing invention. See," he flipped it open illustratively, "they put all your smarty-pants words over here on the left in bold type, and next to it in regular print they break it down into little cop words that I can handle. It's like a Fraser-English phrase book."
"Ray, you don't--"
"Fraser, come on. If you were one of those..." Ray paused, flipped through the book for a moment. "If you were a Quebecois," and God bless the pronunciation key, he didn't mangle the French suffix, "and we were gonna be partners, and buddies, I should try to learn some French, right? So I'm gonna try to learn some of your dictionary words, so we can communicate. You get upset, this way I can still understand what you're saying."
Fraser blinked, hard. "Thank you, Ray."
Ray cleared his throat, rubbed the back of his neck. Busted. He knew Fraser recognized this for the gesture it was, and was embarrassed.
"Anyway," Fraser said sturdily, offering him an out, "expanding one's vocabulary is always a worthwhile pursuit."
Ray nodded quickly, tossing the book back as he started the car. "Yeah, gotta expand the old vocabulary. It's just," and Ray waved animatedly toward the book in Fraser's lap while his eyes stayed on the road, his fingers straying so close that Fraser was tempted to open the dictionary, "I mean, how do you get the words out of the book and into your head, you know? I mean, I can read, but..."
"Ah. Well, I've heard it said that if you can use a word three times it's yours for life."
Ray glanced over at that, eyebrows furrowed, an impenetrable look in his blue eyes. "What, like, I say 'obfuscatory' three times fast and, boom, I got it?"
Fraser felt himself flush a little at the realization that Ray had remembered that particular word. "No, of course not. You have to work it into your normal speech, use it naturally where you might otherwise use another word. You have to incorporate it, make a conscious choice to use this word instead of that one because you prefer the connotation or denotation of the new word over the old."
Ray said, "Huh."
And a moment later, eyes still on the road, "Could you open that to the c-o-n's and hand it over here?"
They were sitting on Ray's couch, watching hockey. Ray had his feet up on the coffee table beside the empty pizza box, and was staring intently at the half-full beer bottle he was rolling back and forth between his palms. Fraser was trying to watch the game, but his eyes kept sliding back to the spot where Ray's t-shirt had ridden up, exposing a crescent of golden skin above his jeans. When he tried to tear his eyes away from that, they gravitated to Ray's shoulder, where the short t-shirt sleeve flirted with the bottom edge of Ray's tattoo, sometimes revealing it, sometimes not.
Fraser forced his attention back to the game, and wished he could remember who was playing, despite the fact that that information should be instantly deducible from the jerseys of the players moving around the ice. Beside him, Ray cleared his throat, and said, "So, whaddya think, Ben? They gonna go all the way?"
He opened his mouth and was trying to formulate a response that would hide the fact that, sitting beside his partner trying to keep his thoughts in check, he wasn't even sure which round of the playoffs they were watching, when the important part of that question penetrated his skull. He turned to look at Ray, who kept his eyes on the beer bottle for another few seconds before looking up with a pointedly innocent expression.
"You just called me Ben."
Ray shrugged a little stiffly and looked down again. "Well, yeah. It's your name."
"I know that. I just... I mean, you never..."
"If you don't want me to use it, I'll--"
Dangerously, he did want him to. He wanted to hear Ray say his name. Whisper it. Scream it. He could not tell so huge a lie as that, even if he couldn't tell the truth either. "No, no, I want you to."
"Good. It's just. I was thinking, y'know? We're partners, we're buddies, we live in each other's hip pockets most of the time, and I just thought..." Ray looked up, and Fraser was pinned by that blue gaze, naked in his clothes, unable to feign interest in the hockey game. "I mean, we've got all that, why not just take it to the next level, right? Why not go all the way, why not--" Ray looked away again, toward the game, breathed a half-laugh as Fraser turned to stare at the ice on the television screen and tried to rein in his breakaway thoughts. "Why not try to get on a first-name basis with the guy?"
Fraser nodded, feeling strangely breathless. "That seems perfectly reasonable, Ray."
He listened for it, but Ray called him Fraser for the rest of the night; it seemed to fall more easily from his lips than Ben.
Fraser blinked up at the sky, which framed Ray's anxious face.
"Ben, come on, talk to me, tell me you're okay."
He frowned, pressing a hand against the sharp ache of his ribs. "I'm fine, and you called me Ben."
Ray rolled his eyes and smiled. "Of course I did, idiot. It's your name, and you said I could use it, and you scared me, and."
Ray glanced around and then leaned forward, his lips almost brushing Fraser's ear, sending a shiver down his spine despite Ray's innocent, surely innocent, intention. "I preferred the connotation."
They both got into the car after dinner at the diner, and Ray hesitated, fiddling with the keys rather than starting it up. "So, I was wondering if, um...."
Fraser waited, frowning over at Ray slightly. He'd been behaving a little strangely for the past few days, ever since Fraser had taken that spill pursuing a suspect.
"Would you like to come over and, y'know, watch some tv or something? Ben?"
Fraser blinked, and then...
Ray's hand tightened into a fist around the keys. "Yeah?"
"That's the third time you've used my name."
His free hand rubbed fiercely at the back of his neck. "Uh, yeah." He glanced up, and smiled nervously at whatever he saw in Fraser's eyes. "Busted."
"It took longer than I thought it would, you know that? To use it three times, naturally, because it was what I wanted to be saying in the circumstances."
Fraser closed his eyes. He couldn't be trying to say...
"And you told me," Ray murmured, his voice husky and going straight from Fraser's ears to his groin, "I say a thing three times, it's mine for life."
All the air had been sucked out of the car, that was the only possible explanation for the way he was feeling. With an effort, he opened his eyes to meet Ray's, hungrily fastened on him. His mouth worked wordlessly for a moment before he said carefully, "I don't think that's quite the way it works, Ray."
Ray grinned brilliantly, a heartstopping expression that didn't fade as he leaned closer, and closer, until his lips were nearly brushing Fraser's. "Well, no. But it's a hell of a conversation starter."