Florian scanned Ray's study, shoulders slumping at the sight of so many books scattered around the room. It would take him hours to re-shelve them all. So much for his plans to take a brief nap while Ray and Laila were out and Noel was with his tutor.
Florian glared at the nearest window and beyond to the cold, rainy street. He was feverish and congested and the miserable weather wasn't making him feel any better.
He crossed the room to the pile of books farthest from the bookshelves and picked up the topmost book. Absently he flipped through the pages, extracting the bits of paper, money and other oddments that Ray had used for bookmarks.
Just over an hour later he started on the desk. All the other books were neatly in their places, but the teetering piles on the desk promised at least another hour of work.
Exhausted and miserable, Florian glanced towards the door, then settled gingerly into Ray's chair, smiling at both the comfort and his own daring. He leaned back, closing his eyes and nearly drifted off to sleep. A noise elsewhere in the house startled him and he leapt up, blushing, and started quickly checking and stacking books.
When several minutes passed with no more noises. Florian relaxed again, settling back into the seat but continuing to work for fear of falling asleep and getting caught. He was nearly three-quarters of the way through the pile when he found a particularly interesting bit of paper.
It was a lined page with ragged edges, possibly from a ledger. Written in Ray's angular script was a detailed list of jewels, some with checkmarks beside them. Normally Florian wouldn't give something like this a second thought, but one particular item caught his attention. He read the description several times trying to remember where he'd seen a cameo like that.
A long minute passed before he gave up and returned to his work, folding the list and tucking it away to think about later.
Another forty minutes and the last book was re-shelved. Florian scanned the room, checking under the chairs and desk to be sure he hadn't missed any. He was in no mood for Ray's teasing, especially when he suspected that his "owner" was out with Laila planning yet another robbery.
Florian snatched the folded paper out of his pocket and read the list again. With sudden certainty he hurried to Ray's desk and opened the top left drawer, taking out the dreaded ledger that held every detail of the enormous debt Florian owed.
Starting at the marked page and working quickly backward, Florian found the correct place. Placing the ledger and list side-by-side on the desk he quickly matched each of the items.
Slamming the ledger closed, Florian dropped into the desk chair, too aggravated to worry about being caught.
If only he could confirm the last part of this... what those checkmarks meant. But to do that he'd have to get into the safe and he couldn't possibly... could he?
He leaned back, shocked by his own traitorous thoughts. He wasn't a thief!
But he wasn't planning to steal anything. He was only going to look. He certainly couldn't ask Ray.
But if he knew. If he could confirm his suspicions...
Florian leaned forward, resting his elbows on the edge of the desk and holding his head in his hands.
The fever must be making him delusional. He could never... He couldn't possibly...
The safe was directly across from him, hidden behind a painting that Florian thought garish. He tried not to look at it most times, but now he couldn't stop looking at it.
Couldn't stop walking closer.
Couldn't stop opening the hidden latch and swinging the painting aside.
Couldn't stop the smile that brightened his face and his mood.
He certainly couldn't stop himself from turning the dial quickly through the left-right-left combination that he'd witnessed on numerous occasions, knowing the numbers without even having to think about them.
The cash box and stacks of currency took up the top shelf, but the bottom contained velvet pouches and cases. Florian picked up the pouch closest to his hand and opened it carefully, tipping the gold and emerald brooch onto his palm. Not on the list, he decided, and returned it to its place before selecting a small, rectangular case. He recognized the contents immediately.
Florian jumped, turning towards the voice so quickly he nearly dropped the cameo. "Ray!"
"So this is how you spend your time when I'm away." Ray moved closer until he was scant inches away from Florian. He took the case, barely glancing at the cameo before snapping it closed. "Not you at all. I'd suggest..." He leaned past Florian, reaching into the safe and extracting a large pouch that contained a jeweled hairclip. "Now this..."
Florian batted his hand away. "Stop that! I know that you're cheating on me!"
"Cheating on you?" Ray repeated, looking more amused than ever. He put the clip away and closed the safe, spinning the dial. He reached over and grasped the picture frame, swinging it back into place so quickly Florian barely had time to get out of the way.
Ray pressed forward, and only then did Florian realize that his hair and clothes were wet. He placed a hand on Florian's face and the cold made Florian flinch.
"Your fever is making you do and say foolish things. If you're lucky, I'll accept that as an excuse for what I just saw and heard." He pressed even closer until Florian was bent back slightly over the desk. "But if I ever catch you in my safe again, I'll leave you in the cellar for a week. Understand?"
Florian swallowed hard and nodded, before reaching up with a tentative touch and smoothing drips of water off Ray's face. "You're soaked. You should change before you catch cold."
"I was intending to after I told you we had returned. I didn't expect to find you playing dress up."
"I wasn't playing dress up!" Florian pushed Ray out of the way and moved out of his reach. He took the list from his pocket and waved it. "I was finding proof that you are a cheat."
Ray grinned in that way that made Florian really nervous and took a step closer. "Yes, you said I was cheating on you." He advanced steadily, backing Florian up against a bookcase. "Do you care to explain that? How can I be cheating on you unless we," He leaned close to Florian and spoke directly in his ear, "have a relationship that can be betrayed." He slid a cold hand along the back of Florian's neck and pulled him even closer, moving his head so they were facing each other, scant inches apart. "Is that what you are implying?" Ray moved his head forward as he talked so his lips almost touched Florian's.
"I…." Florian's hands were pressed against Ray's chest, fingers curved up onto his shoulders, neither pushing him away, nor pulling him closer. They were frozen there for long seconds until Florian abruptly turned his face away. He was breathing fast, almost hyperventilating. Ray took no pity on him.
"You left your list in a book. I found it." Florian's voice steadied and grew louder as he gained confidence. He turned his face towards Ray's again, but now there was fire in his amethyst eyes. "All those jewels you used to rescue me from Louise Tassel. You threw them out of the airship and then put them all on my debt. You're stealing them all back!!"
"Well of course I am. They were mine to begin with."
"But you're making me pay for them!" Florian pulled away from Ray, bumping hard against the bookshelf before freeing himself. He brushed past Ray and stalked to the center of the room, pacing back and forth in agitation. "That's wrong!"
Ray dropped into a chair, laughing. "You're right."
Florian stopped cold and stared. "I am?"
"You are. I should be charging you expenses for the recovery too. After all, you're the reason I have to go steal them again." He stood and walked over to the desk, opening the drawer and looking for Florian's account book.
"You are not making me pay for your thievery!" Florian's face was red from shouting and his hair was hanging down over one eye. He pushed it back in annoyance and slammed his hands down on Ray's desk. "I won't stand for this."
"You won't?" Ray shook his head in dismay. He reached into his pocket and pulled out something long and thin. "And here I thought I wouldn't have to use this after all. You've been so obedient lately."
He circled the desk, smiling when Florian made a half-hearted attempt to move away. Ray reached out and caught him around the waist, pulling him up hard against his chest.
Florian shivered and made a weak attempt to pull away. They'd been dancing around each other for months, never getting past the casual touching stage and this was both a delicious temptation and a frightening possibility.
"I know you don't like the cellar, but sometimes you need to be punished. Big things, like breaking into my safe, will earn you lashes, but smaller disobediences will earn you this." He held up his hand and opened it to reveal a long strip of soft leather with a gold buckle on one end.
"That's a dog collar."
"No, it's a pet collar. I had it specially made. See? It even has your name."
"You can't expect me to wear that?" Florian tried to pull away but Ray held him firmly in place.
"I can, and do. As punishment for opening my safe and," he paused and looked Florian in the eye, "for sitting in my chair. I think a week will be sufficient."
"A week. I can't! The others."
"It goes on under your shirt collar. You always wear a tie. The only one who will know it's there is me." As he spoke, Ray was loosening Florian's tie and undoing the top buttons of his shirt. He put the collar around Florian's neck and leaned close to fasten it in place.
"There. I had it made of soft leather so it won't chafe, and the clasp can only be undone by me. You'll have to bathe with it on or ask me nicely to remove it. But it goes back on right after the bath."
"Ray!" Florian wailed, hands tugging at the thin band around his neck. He was sure everyone, especially Laila would know that he was wearing it. How would he ever face them?"
"It's not that bad," Ray soothed, brushing away the tear that slid down Florian's cheek. "It's not bad at all. In fact, it's rather nice." Ray fussed over Florian's shirt and tie, putting everything back in order before nodding his approval. "There, no one can see it now."
Florian shuddered and looked down, face still flushed with embarrassment. Ray put a finger under his chin and lifted his head. "My precious Amethyst." He brushed his lips lightly against Florian's.
Florian nodded once, a hand reaching up to touch his neck while the other took Ray's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.