Disclaimer: Gorgeous Carat belongs to You Higuri

They drove towards home mostly in silence, with Florian's head turned towards his side of the car. The blond was almost motionless, with his hands placed carefully on his thighs and his back straight. The unnatural stillness unnerved Ray enough that he made small attempts at conversation, all of which fell flat. He finally gave up and concentrated on getting them away from the ruins of the Rochefort ancestral castle, back to the comforting bustle of Paris.

It was twilight when Ray stopped at a brightly lit inn. Without a word he climbed down from the car and stretched, glad for the chance to move. He turned and watched as the expressionless blond crossed in front of the vehicle to stand at his side. Those amethyst eyes were startling against skin that was paler than usual.

"I'm too tired to drive anymore tonight," Ray lied smoothly, leading the way into the building. The lobby was simply decorated but clean and welcoming with a wooden counter for registration and two doorways, one on the left leading into the pub and one on the right leading towards the guest rooms.

Ray nodded to the hostess who greeted them and requested rooms for the evening. He kept an eye on Florian who was standing as unobtrusively as possible beside the wall. Several moments of discussion later, he finally paid for the only available room and motioned impatiently for Florian to join him.

They followed the hostess through the right-hand doorway to the stairway at the end of the hall. One flight up they stopped mid-way down the hall. The hostess unlocked the door then turned and handed Ray the key.

"Shall I send dinner for you, sir?" she asked politely, her eyes flicking only briefly towards Florian before returning to Ray. They had attempted to wipe away the worst of the dust and grime from their skin and clothing but neither of them were at their best.

"Please. Two of the house special." He was about to dismiss her, but added, "Tea and dessert as well as brandy, then we're not to be disturbed again. My companion requires rest."

"Of course, sir." The pleasant, stout woman nodded briskly and bustled away to see that their dinners were prepared. Ray led Florian into the room and closed the door. He barely glanced at their surroundings, not caring about the small sitting area with its well worn armchairs and knick-knacks. He was more interested in tending to his troublesome companion.

"The bedroom and bath are in there. Go clean yourself up before dinner. You'll feel better."

Florian obeyed in silence, carefully removing his soiled jacket and vest and draping them over the stiff-backed chair near the bed. He ignored Ray, who stood in the doorway watching, and strode into the bathroom, closing the door firmly.

Ray waited until he heard the water running before he removed his own dusty, dirt-streaked jacket and dropped into a chair. He was suddenly exhausted and indulged in a wide yawn, letting his head fall back against the cushioned seat back. He hated the thought of spending the night and part of tomorrow in his dirty clothes but they didn't have a change of clothes or even a toothbrush between them and all the shops would be closed by now.

Left alone with no distractions, Ray's mind wandered back to the Rochefort castle and the unpleasant surprises it held. The loss of the diamond was a disappointment, of course, but it could have been a much greater loss. Without assistance he never would have found the secret passage in time to free Florian. The blond would have suffered the same fate as his aunt and uncle whose corpses weren't likely to be found for years, if ever.

Pushing that thought firmly aside, Ray shifted, turning his gaze to the bathroom door. He was suddenly aware of what he wasn't hearing. A moment of hesitation, and Ray was on his feet moving quietly towards that door. He listed carefully and still heard nothing. It was only when he pressed his ear against the door that he heard the soft sounds of weeping. He'd been expecting tears all afternoon, and the tension of waiting for them, had worn away his patience.

Perhaps Florian would get it out of his system in private, sparing them both some awkwardness. Not that he hadn't already seen the man's tears - it was astounding, really, how easily Florian cried. Ray couldn't imagine it for himself. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time he'd cried...

The knock on the door was a welcome distraction and he hurried to open it. Ray detested being maudlin.

"Thought you gentlemen might like to borrow a few things seeing as you haven't any luggage." The proprietress bustled in with a small pile of clothing and dropped it on the nearest chair. "Just some of my son's old night clothes so they're nothing fine. Still, I expect they'll be better than those dirty clothes for sleeping even if they are a mite big." She held up a large nightshirt and Ray almost laughed. A mite big was something of an understatement.

"Thank you," Ray said most sincerely. "My companion and I had some car trouble and we're both the worse for wear."

"As I expected," the woman replied, bustling over to the fireplace where she fussed with the low flames until they grew enough to ward off the evening chill. "Those gadgets are nothing but trouble, I say. Best to keep with a reliable horse." She turned back to Ray brushing her hands just as Florian entered the room, redressed in his dirty clothes, his hair damp from the bath. He was still pale, and his eyes were red-rimmed and dull.

"Looking to catch a fever, you are. Best to warm yourself here before changing. I'll be back right quick with your dinner. If you'll change,
I can take your things and wash them so they'll dry overnight." She patted the chair and waited for Florian to sit before hurrying out the door.

"Don't get comfortable yet." Ray said as the door closed. He handed Florian one of the night shirts and a pair of drawstring breeches.
Florian took them without comment and retreated to the bathroom to change. He returned minutes later walking awkwardly in the oversized clothing, his own soiled shirt and pants, folded neatly, in his hands.

Ray watched Florian silently for a moment, then retreated to the bedroom where he found one of the spare blankets in the chest at the foot of the bed. He shook it out, inhaling the pleasant cedar scent and carried it out to the sitting room where he urged Florian to stand and let Ray drape the blanket around him loosely.

"I'll take my bath now. If dinner arrives, don't wait." He took the other set of clothing and walked off, fully aware that Florian's mind was still back in that castle rather than here with him.

Bathing quickly, Ray was dressed and waiting when the woman returned with a young boy at her side. They were both carrying heavy trays laden with food and drink. The woman fussed, setting out the plates and simple flatware on the round table between the two armchairs. She set the dessert and bottle of brandy on the shelf behind them along with the teapot and cups.

"You are most kind, Madame." Florian gave her a grateful smile. "Thank you."

"You can thank me proper by eating while it's hot, sirs." She gathered up their soiled clothing and motioned the boy to leave the room. She gave the place a quick glance before following, adding, "Set your dishes outside when you're done so we won't disturb you. I'll bring your clothes back with your breakfast at 8am. I'll be at the desk if you're needing anything before that." With a nod of goodnight, she left, closing the door firmly behind her.

The house special turned out to be savory beef stew, with thick-cut vegetables that were firm and beef that was nicely tender. Ray finished his to the last bite having missed lunch. Florian on the other hand, spent more effort toying with his food than eating it.
When Ray set his spoon down, Florian did too.

"You must be hungry," Ray insisted, hoping to encourage him to try a few more mouthfuls. He hadn't known the blond long, but they'd shared enough meals that Ray knew Florian wasn't a particularly picky eater.

He took up one of the small crusty loaves and broke it revealing the fluffy white center. "Try the bread at least. It's lighter on the stomach for sleeping."

Florian didn't meet his eyes, but he did break his own loaf and tear off a few pieces, which he ate without interest. His eyes remained distant and somewhat unfocused and he had none of his usual energy.

When Ray's loaf was half gone, Florian pushed his bowl towards him with a forced smile. "I'd hate to waste this. Would you...?"

Ray accepted the dish without comment and finished the stew and the rest of his bread while Florian continued eating small pieces of his own loaf without enthusiasm.

"I'm sorry," Florian whispered, unable to keep up even this small pretense at sociability. "If I could be excused?"

"In a moment," Ray countered, motioning for him to remain. Ray rose and took up the bottle of brandy and one of the mismatched glasses, pouring a measure and swirling it for a moment. Deciding it was ready, he handed it to Florian. "To help you sleep."

Florian nodded and accepted the glass, despite the fact that he didn't care for brandy. He drained it in one go and made a face as he set down the empty glass. "Thank you," he said quietly as he rose, hesitating beside Ray on the way to the bedroom. He reached out tentatively and touched Ray's arm lightly. "For everything today. Thank you." Florian lowered his head and left the room, leaving the blanket he'd been wrapped in draped across the chest at the footboard before pulling back the covers and crawling into bed, his back to Ray.

He stayed that way even when Ray finally climbed into bed beside him more than an hour later, having set out the dishes and finished half the brandy. He'd placed the chair so his back was to the bedroom, but had spent much of his time listening for sounds from the other room. Finally conceding it was a lost cause, he readied himself for bed.

Ray didn't really expect to sleep. He wasn't the soundest of sleepers at the best of times, but the day's excitement and the brandy helped and he drifted off almost as soon as he settled into the comfortable bed.

He slept so deeply that it took him several long moments to realize what had woken him.

"What the hell are you doing?" he demanded, grabbing a handful of Florian's hair and jerking his head up. With the other hand he pulled the borrowed breeches up to cover himself. He was still half-hard and it was awkward, but he managed without loosening his hold on the blond.

"It's why you bought me, isn't it?" Florian's face was red but Ray wasn't sure how much of it was anger, and how much was embarrassment. He loosened his grip and watched as Florian sat up, not bothering to straighten his clothing. The red hadn't faded, but now Ray could clearly see the conflicting emotions in those coveted eyes.

"Why else would you want me? You could have demanded what little of value we had left. What other use would you have for someone like me? I'm not your intellectual equal, nor social, now that I've been sold. I have no skills, no prospects, what else could you possibly want?"

"Well I certainly don't want you for a whore. Especially one who doesn't know enough to save his attentions for when I'm awake." Ray pushed himself out of the bed, setting a rapid, agitated pace as he moved back and forth, his mind working furiously to produce a logical explanation for his anything but logical reactions to Florian. "What were you thinking anyway, doing that while I was asleep?"

Equally agitated, Florian climbed out on the other side of the bed and began to pace as well. He clenched and unclenched his hands as he moved, as if fighting an internal battle. Finally he stopped and turned to Ray, his posture one of surrender. "I was practicing." He seemed to be concentrating on a point on the wall behind Ray, but he kept talking. "I've never... I mean, I've heard others talking. Some people talk too much when they've been drinking. So I've heard. details. But it's usually about a woman and man so I..." He finally looked directly at Ray. "You were sound asleep. I thought I could try a few things, so that when you wanted me to... do that... I wouldn't disappoint you and..." He broke off suddenly turning his head away. "...be sent away."

Before Ray could react, Florian continued, his body tensing, his fists clenched hard enough to make his knuckles white. "At least as your whore I have food and a place to sleep. If you sent me away... I'm not naive enough to think I'd be any better off than any of the others who have nothing to sell but themselves."

He raised his chin a little, a small act of defiance, as he lifted the hem of the large sleep shirt, exposing his chest and the still-healing lash marks. "Punish me as you see fit. But I won't apologize for being what you've made me."

Ray clenched his own fists in irritation. It was the middle of the night, dammit. He was not having this discussion now. He stomped around the bed and yanked Florian's shirt down, covering the welts.

"We'll talk about this in the morning. Now get in bed and keep your hands, and other things, to yourself." He pushed Florian down onto the mattress and tried to ignore the blond's wide-eyed confusion. Instead, he stomped out into the sitting room and finished the brandy.

::end part 1:::