On equal grounds
- a Gorgeous Carat story -

by Ryuosen

Requested by Astraplain at the Help_Haiti community at lj
Genre: Romance, Action, Adventure, Shonen ai
Timeline: Shortly after the events of GC: Galaxy
Wordcount: ~4400
Pairing: Ray x Florian
Summary:
After all that happened still nothing had changed and it only occurred to Florian now, that intimacy with Noir would be impossible as long as the stood on uneven grounds.

thoughts
"speech"

Without further commentary.. enjoy...


On equal grounds...

It was one of those days again, one of those days when Florian doubted that anything in the world would ever be right. The hands in the pockets of his jacket, lips pulled in an unattractive grimace of barely concealed fury and quite a fool mood, he walked down the sidewalk with no destination in mind. For once he didn't care, all that he knew was that he had to get away. Away from the house, he currently lived in and more importantly away from the people inside.

Can't he let one day pass without reminding me? Is that too much to ask for?

Avoiding another pedestrian he crossed the street and for once ignoring the angry sounds that came from one of the cars. Under normal circumstances he would have stopped to apologize for the rudeness, but not now. Not with his temper frayed and stretched like it was.

It made Florian pretty sure, that the next person would suffer the wrath of his anger unless he calmed down first. Therefore he was kept going until he reached a park. Sitting on one of the benches the blond took a deep breath.

Inhale! Exhale! Inhale again! And repeat!

Slowly the tension left his stiff frame, a calm settling over his mind like a balm. It reminded him of his mother, of the days when she had soothed his aches and nightmares with a comforting embrace. But that had been long ago, long before he had met Ray Balzac Courland. Also long before he had become a personal property of a bastard.

And might he be damned for the language, it was the truth.

The truth that constricted his heart every time it was rubbed in his face. Every time the count/thief reminded him, who his master was. When the debt was waved before him and he had to comply. Regardless of his reservations, of his opinions, of his objections. He had to obey and it was chaffing at his soul...

.. and possibly his heart.

Bless the soul of his long gone mother but it was another painful truth. He had lost his heart like she had been hoping for so long, yet not to the beautiful Francine des Cars with her puppet face or the fiery Jean Caraman with the long red traces. No he had gifted it to a younger wicked feline, who stole effulgent treasury like a magpie. The wicked feline also happened to be a man of mixed ancestry.

It would send him to hell one day, but Florian couldn't bring himself to regret his emotions or to try to break them off. He would be damned anyway for having those feeling at all. Not even considering to actually act on them. But acting he was, he continued to stay with the infamous thief and his subordinates, with Laila and her atrocious cooking and little Noel, who was like a son for him.

Home, the only place he could return to.

A pleasant lie, nothing more. The big house with him as a nice decoration. Wasn't that what Noir had said barely an hour ago?

His anger was returning, slim long fingers clenched in his trousers. It took more effort than he liked before the iron grip on the fabric loosened, but after a few minutes of concentrated breathing it did. Burying his face in his hands he tried to think of a solution. There couldn't be a repetition of today.

Pulling his hands away, hands clenched to fists again, his face displaying nothing but determination.

There wouldn't!

It was clear to him now. The situation couldn't go on like this. His heart wouldn't take much more and as Noir seemed to be contend with the situation it was now up to him to change it. Now he just needed to work out how he could solve it.

The problem was clear, as long as he belonged to Noir, Noir would never belong to him.

And may his blessed mother forgive him for his treacherous and damning thoughts, but he wanted Noir to be his. Wanted the other man as close to him as possible and share all of himself with him.

But how to... solve the problem... Florian continued to sit motionless on the bench, ignoring the lady, who had seated herself next to him. In his mind he turned over ideas only to discard them again until he settled on one, that seemed to be the most promising. He had no guarantee that it would be enough, but for his own sake and Noir's he had to try. The thief and he couldn't go on like this and even if he wasn't secure in the knowledge that Noir felt the same for him. Despite having been kissed by the brunet once before.

Didn't he know what life and death situations brought out in humans.. he knew it all too well.

With one last glance at the lady beside him, he rose and turned around to leave the park. Only as he stood at the entrance did he notice that he had no idea, where he was... again. Shaking his head a bit with mirth at his own characteristic flaw he walked north in search for a street sign.

He had an important appointment after all....

Noir was in a foul mood, Laila knew it and had warned everyone in the mansion to stay clear of the wrathful young aristocrat. She knew that the first unlucky soul to meet him now, would receive a lashing of near epic proportions. The only loose factor being, whether he would use his mouth or whip, both being equally sharp.

Closing the door to Noel's room, safe in the knowledge that the child was fast asleep, she went to her own more modest one. At least the boy would be unaware of the anger Noir currently held and with a bit of luck the punishment Florian was going to get. As soon as he came home that is. The noble had been angry, the fury in his amethyst colored eyes matching the one in Noir's emerald ones.

Honestly Laila had been surprised that neither had attacked the other. Noir's hand had already reached for his ever present whip, a sign of just how angry he was, as Florian had simply cocked an eyebrow, snorted before stalking from the room. How he had managed to look dignified and patronizing at same time was beyond her.

It had however the desired effect as Noir threw something against the closed door in a fit of rarely seen temper. She ducked instinctively, reflexes ingrained her body since childhood to avoid getting hit. At least the thief had snapped out of his rage for a brief moment, apologized quietly before sending her out.

That had been nearly four hours ago and Florian was still not back, which didn't help Noir's mood at all. She could hear him pace around his study like a trapped cat, a big trapped jungle cat with an immense appetite. Distantly she wondered if she should pity the young blond noble. Her master seemed to be furious enough to chain his most prized possession up and drive his lesson home. Not that it would do him any good, she knew. Florian could be as stubborn as Noir if not more.

It would resolve nothing except drive them apart before they would be, inevitably, pulled even closer together. Deep inside her heart Laila knew, that the amethyst eyed man had changed her master and the thief barely realized it, far too mesmerized by those enchanting eyes. Things wouldn't go back to before Florian arrived, that she knew too.

Acceptance hadn't come until after their return from Maghreb. The older man had proven himself to be as loyal to Noir as all his men, herself included. Yet both man had come back changed. The thrall drawing them closer to each other thicker than the last soup she had cooked yesterday for lunch.

But against all odds nothing had changed between them.

Not even after Florian nearly committed suicide along the little nymph Eleonora. All good it had done was, that Noir leashed the noble even tighter, which resulted in dozens of arguments. Most of the time they had been more than half-hearted but this time around it had been serious... and she still didn't know what they had argued about.

Closing her own door, she dearly hoped that Florian had enough sense to return in time for supper. Perhaps then their master's rage would have been calmed by a tasty meal and he had never before punished the noble in front of his entire troupe... why was she trying to fool herself. The moment his most prized possession entered the house, the thief would most certainly punish him for his transgression. She resolved to ready quite a few bandages, she was certain that Florian would need them.

Of course it was too much to hope for. By the time the cook, a maternal woman in her fifties, served dinner Florian had not returned and by now all inched slowly away from the master of the household. It came as no surprise that the already foul mood hadn't abated, instead his fury had only be ignited until it was near a raging inferno. Clearly visible to anyone, who knew Noir.

Then she heard it, just as a servant was finished clearing the table, the turning of the lock on the front door. It seemed that Florian had come home after all. A sheep waiting to be slaughtered. Quite crude but fitting, because it seemed that Noir wanted to make a point. None of his men had been dismissed. This lesson would be public.

Laila gulped before assuming an air of calm, she was Noir's second in command and it wasn't the first time, he had taught someone a lesson. It wouldn't be the last time either.

Then the door to the dining room opened and Florian strode in. For a few seconds Laila felt like her heart paused before resuming its beating. The noble's face was like carved from marble, smooth and utterly frighteningly blank. For someone, who normally showed every emotion with eyes and mouth, the blond seemed to be quite apt at concealing what he felt.

She had a bad feeling about this. Apparently neither of the household had ever seen Florian truly angry. Because he was, and she was sure that Noir's anger was nothing against it. In all the time she had known him, she had never been afraid of the gentle blond man, who seemed soft and fragile at first glance.

Now she was.

A disguised look at her master told her, that he hadn't noticed, for once too caught up in his anger to pay attention. She just knew, that he would regret it dearly. Nevertheless she stayed silent. It was too late now.

The green eyes narrowed at the young noble, who stood in front of him with nothing but a table to separate them. The pale face seemed even paler and his prized amethyst eyes were near glacial, not that it dimmed their beauty. He had yet to see any moment, when Florian wasn't beautiful. But he had to admit that the noble unsettled him now.

He hadn't risen to his greeting, which had been more of a mocking anyway. Well if you ignored how his fists tightened on the handles of the two briefcases he carried. Instead he set them down at his feet with a calmness that Noir found slightly unsettling. It wasn't like Florian to keep his anger in, something had happened. But he had no idea what. Swallowing his next remark he studied the noble briefly and realized the change of clothes. The white suit had been exchanged for a dark grey one, never seen before. It was obviously new. It made him only angrier to know that while he had spent his time worrying about the noble and awaiting his return, the blond had wasted his money. It seemed that it was once more time to remind Florian just who belonged to, forever.

"I see you spent your afternoon well, furthering your debt."

With a lazy gesture he remarked on the suit, the shoes and the hat, which had been placed on the table. Yet once more the blond didn't react to his remark, face still utterly blank. Normally such a remark would at least earn him a flinch and a shameful expression. Despite living with them for quite some time, Florian was still a noble. Talking about the debts, which then led to the fall of his once prestigious family were a taboo. It was the reason he had brought it up in the first place, even if it was painful. But he was selfish that way, the blond was his.

"Apparently, Noir I have a question for you and I would like a honest answer."

The brunet raised an eyebrow before slowly nodding. He had no idea, what the older man wanted from him, but a question couldn't harm him. And he still wanted to know what the other had done the complete day. Because he would receive his punishment, he would.

"As you probably remember, I once asked you after our return from... Maghreb if there was anything in my possession to help you or pay my debt."

Noir didn't wait for Florian to go on. It was about this again? How often had he told him that as long as he helped with his heists, the debt wouldn't grow significantly. Well with the exception of case like the money he had left for Florian's childhood friend Eleonora. That had had to be added.

"Yes I remember quite clearly, I said no and before you ask, I also repeated it after we came back from the castle of your cousin."

Florian stared at him, his amethyst colored eyes drilling into his. No other reaction, just a small tilt of his head, causing the blond strands of hair to shield his face. He stayed quiet until the noble continued with an even frostier voice than before.

"And you stand by what you said, I have no means of pay my debt off?"

His fingers played idly with the cigar he had yet to light. There was a pleading note now in the others usually melodic voice, but Noir couldn't fathom what Florian would beg him for. Aside from evaporating his debt of course and that was definitely out of question. So he simply nodded curtly. And watched as the handsome features of his possession closed off even more. He hadn't considered it possible, the eyes were darkened to a lilac and the mouth was pulled in an expression of disgust. What had he done now?

"How high is my debt, including interest and living costs until this evening for me and Noel?"

The expression didn't vanish and the coldness in the noble's voice was rather frightening. He could deal with the tantrums Florian had on occasion, but this was uncharted territory. What was going on in the blond's mind?

Not betraying his inner conflict he pulled a slim notebook from his inner coat pocket and opened it without looking on the page, which had listed the debt of the Rocheforts. By now the sum was truly enormous and he knew that Florian would never be able to pay it off. He would stay with him forever, which was one of the reason why he had stopped quite a while ago to add his and Noel's living expenses to the debt. Quickly he scribbled the correct sum down, after calculating the current interest. Satisfied he held the book so that only Florian would be able to read the sum. While he had never made it a secret among his men, that the debt was huge, he had also never given a concrete amount. It would stay that way. Green eyes tracked every movement the older man made as he took the information in.

The silence between them thickened, but before he could make one of his quips to break it Florian acted. And only now Noir recognized the feelings hidden in those glacial lilac jewels: Despair, humiliation, shame, disappointment and most of all fury. Florian was furious, really furious. Then his lips parted.

"My mother always taught me to never judge without knowing first. Yet I did when I first met you. After you saved me from my uncle, I was forced to rethink my opinion.. and you allowed Noel to stay here, even though you were not obligated. Then Maghreb... Eleonora and what you were willing to sacrifice... and considering what I know of you... I just cannot believe, I dared not to believe. How dare you Noir, do you enjoy seeing me humiliated and in shame. Or is it the measure of control you have over me, is that one of your pleasures?"

He blinked, for once genuinely speechless and hurt. Had Florian screamed his accusations at him he could have dealt with it. The Rochefort heir was probably still angry over their argument, but this calm cold voice, like a knife in the gut. The resentment blew him away, an animosity he had never expected to find in the noble, especially against him. But before he could defend himself against the accusation, the blond continued.

"You appear to clearly enjoy what you can make do, even if I object..."

"I have never forced anything on you!!"

Who did Florian think he was, Azura!? How dare he. But once again the older man was faster. One briefcase now in his hands, slim musician's fingers digging into the leather. The other fumbled with the simple lock on it, a lock he could have picked in seconds.

"So when I was forced to wear a dress during one of your heists, which I clearly objected to, you didn't threaten me with my debt? Or a few hours earlier you weren't prepared to hang it over my head because I refused to spy and help steal from my own aunt?"

Alright, Noir had to concede the point to the last Rochefort heir. Still, so what, accept it or not, he was officially still the property of Ray Balzac Courland. No amount of screaming about it would change that. He opened his mouth to make things clear and to finally get the dreaded punishment out of the way.

"This ends tonight Noir! It ends! I shan't take it anymore!"

With that the noble opened the briefcase and turned it over. And out fell banknotes, whole bundles of Franc, tumbling onto the table. It was more money than he had ever seen at one place at once and considering that he was a loan shark, that was saying something. But the Rochefort heir wasn't finished, he took the other briefcase and even more money fell out.

"Start counting!"

It was the moment Noir had dreaded more than anything else, more than being caught by Solomon, more than being thrown in prison. Florian would be leaving and by all appearances he would be leaving tonight. He couldn't fall apart now, he couldn't. His men weren't allowed to see him breaking down. So he did as the blond had ordered and counted, and counted some more until the bundles were stacked in neat little piles before him. Hoping that his hand wasn't shaking as he felt inside he pushed one bundle back to Florian, who hadn't moved an inch since he had, quite literally, dumped a pile of coin on his table.

"That's yours."

Another nod with that still blank face. Then a pale hand took the last bundle and stuck it into the coat he wore. Both briefcases were shut and neatly put next to the table. Only then broke Florian the silence.

"Noel and I will be leaving now."

"How?"

Florian had turned around and now he wouldn't look back. He couldn't lest it break his resolve to end this. The step had to be taken and he couldn't count on Noir to be the one to do it, all up to him.

"I took more than the sapphire with me from the cave. I went to a bank and had someone estimate the actual worth of all my jewels. Imagine my surprise, as I was told that the sapphire had nearly enough carat to match the Hope Diamond. But you knew that already. You lied to me Noir, you knew I could have paid my debts months ago, but you said nothing... nothing at all. Tell me, did you enjoy seeing me bend to your will and whims. The power of knowing that I could have been free for months and yet still did what you asked?"

"It wasn't like that Florian, you know that!"

He was glad that he couldn't see Noir's face now. His imagination provided him with a fitting image all on its own. Staying strong to every ounce of will, not to turn around and go back to what had been his routine for so long.

"Then what was it like, Noir?"

And as expected the thief stayed silent and Florian was glad that none of the men sitting at the table or Laila could see him. His tears were for him only. This part of his life was over, that was the nature of change. His fingers clasped on the door knob and opened the door. In the hall was little Noel with his teddy and small satchel with his favorite books. More they wouldn't take from Noir, couldn't. Meeting the curios face of his adoptive son, he took the tiny hand in his before speaking again.

"Be glad I have more honor than you Noir, for I will take your secret with me into my grave."

After that he shut the door and left the life he had gotten used to in the last months. They stepped into the carriage that had been waiting and brought them to the house he had purchased this afternoon. Exhausted he tucked Noel into his new bed before falling exhausted into his own. Tomorrow he would have much to do.

Only to be greeted in the morning by the scent of freshly brewed coffee. Before he knew it he was traipsing down the stairs in his nightshirt, gun in his hands. Noel wasn't able to brew coffee, he couldn't even reach the cupboards yet and most important Florian had yet to buy coffee. It could only mean one thing: Someone had broken into his house!

"Good morning..."

And that someone turned out to be Noir. He was sitting on one of the newly purchased chairs and sipped from a cup of coffee. There was a calm controlled expression on his face, but Florian had spent enough time in his company to read all the signs. Noir the infamous phantom thief was nervous.

"What do you want?"

Nervous or not, he was furious with Noir and it showed. Had either of his parents still been alive, they would have scolded him for being so rude. Not that he cared at the moment. Without taking his eyes off the thief he sat down, not relinquishing the hold on his weapon. It satisfied him immensely to see a small flinch the brunet couldn't hide.

"I wanted to talk, I didn't... I didn't explain.. please let me explain..."

"You didn't want to admit something in front of your men, but you would have punished me in front of them... aren't I right!"

A statement not a question and it made Noir wince inwardly. He had once more forgotten that despite his naive behavior Florian was quite observant with an eye for details. Knowing he couldn't lie, he simply settled for a nod. Then he put his coffee cup down. The heir had to believe him.

"I didn't tell you about the sapphire because … because... for not the reasons you mentioned yesterday. It.. it is .. simple actually. I just didn't want you to leave me.. never leave me. Therefore I said it was worthless."

Stunned silence followed. Florian gaped at the thief in disbelief. It couldn't be, it couldn't be so simple.

"I wanted to hold you as close as I could... as close as I was ever going to get."

"You never said anything."

The gun was taken from him as Noir enclosed his own hand. How different they were, his pale fair ones against the darker honey colored skin of Noir's. They couldn't be more different than dark and light. But in the end they were inescapably connected. Two sides of the same coin.

"What should I have said, what would you have wanted me to say?"

"You.. you could show me... forget I ?"

The whispered sentence got Noir's attention. He was staring at the blond aristocrat until the blond began to feel uneasy. Hastily he wanted to pull away, to laugh away the foolishness he'd just committed, but the thief didn't let him go, only pulled him closer.

"Shut that beautiful mouth of yours."

And then Noir kissed him again and again until they both were out of breath and were sitting on the floor instead of the chairs. Not wanting to separate. As they finally did, the coffee had gone cold and neither of them was calm. Both their faces flushed, panting for air. The room was thick with tension until Florian remembered something vital.

"Noel!"

"Relax Laila took the little runt out. He's fine."

Sighing in relief, Florian sacked back to the ground, shivering slightly. His kitchen floor wasn't the most comfortable place. Noir apparently had noticed, because he pulled him up, their fingers still linked and kissed him again.

"I want you to stay with me forever."

"Noel and I will continue to live here. It's our new home."

Another soul burning kiss and Florian couldn't get enough of it. How long had he longed for this.. the closeness and intimacy? He didn't remember anymore. His fingers fumbled as he pulled the ribbon from the brunet traces, combing through. Enjoying the pleasurable sigh of the younger man.

"Quite acceptable, I still plan to steal from your aunt too."

And Florian found that maybe the world would be alright. Now that they finally stood on equal grounds.

fin