Drowning in Blue



"No," Ray said firmly, handing the newspaper back to Laila with a shake of the head. "Find something else."

"There is nothing else like this," Laila answered, frustration making her voice louder than usual. "The 'Robin's Treasure' is one of the most valuable sapphires in the world and it's right here in Paris. How can you let something like this go?" She took a step back, her eyes narrowing. "It's him, isn't it? Florian's finally gotten to you with all of his talk about the evils of stealing."

Ray laughed, his face bright with amusement. Seeing her annoyance only made him laugh harder.

"When you're finished," Laila glared at him and she put her hands on her hips - the classic warning that she was about to lose her temper. With a snort of irritation, she slapped the paper down onto the desk and turned to leave.

"Laila, wait." Ray schooled his expression into his usual calm even as he wiped the moisture away from his eyes. "I assure you that Florian's little morality speech, as well used as it may be, is no more convincing now than it was the first time I heard it." He rose from his desk chair and approached her with a smile. "Surely you know me better than that."

"I certainly do," she replied, her expression softening. "Which is why I don't understand why Noir would pass up a chance to steal a jewel like 'Robin's Treasure'." She frowned for a moment, thinking hard. "Come to think of it, you haven't stolen a single sapphire in months. Not since... Oh!" Her eyes widened and she took a step back as if the realization was too much for her.

"I'll find something else," she offered quietly after a moment of awkward silence.

"Thank you, Laila," Ray replied, his gratitude for her understanding clear in his voice. "I hear the Countess Kourey has been shopping in Spain recently. I believe she has a fondness for opals."

Laila smiled, nodding once before she left, closing the door softly behind her. Ray stared at the spot where she'd stood for a long moment before turning and walking towards the nearest window.

It was a beautiful day and the sky was a brilliant blue. He turned away as if it hurt him to look at it. At one time he'd thought that shade of blue the most beautiful thing in the world.

Returning to his desk, he shuffled the remaining papers into an untidy pile. He'd finish them tomorrow. Today was a special day and he wasn't about to spend all of it at his desk. Just before leaving he opened the highly polished wooden box and selected one of the chocolates inside. Florian had surprised him with it at breakfast, calling it a token in honor of their five-month anniversary but when Ray had opened it, one of the chocolates was already gone. Now there were five missing and at this rate, it would be empty before the end of the week.

Leaving the study he strode briskly down the hall towards the back of the house. He'd had a set of rooms redone as his private suite a little over five months ago, shortly after returning from Morocco.

"You're early." Florian greeted him with a sleepy smile. He'd obviously just woken from a nap; his hair was mussed and his movements were languid as he shifted and sat up. He smiled as he watched Ray cast off his jacket and tie. "Did your meeting go well?"

"Another satisfied customer," Ray returned with a grin. He dropped down onto the chair next to Florian and leaned in for a kiss. "You look better. Is the headache gone?"

"Mostly, it just aches a little. The nap helped." He reached out and pulled Ray over to sit beside him on the bed. "I had that dream again."

"The naughty one?" Ray teased and ran his hand lightly down Florian's silk-clad chest. He was wearing one of Ray's old shirts, a recent habit he'd acquired for days when he was housebound with one of his bad headaches.

"No!" Florian laughed and grabbed Ray's hand to stop it from wandering any lower. "I don't need those kind of dreams. I get plenty of that in real life thanks to my insatiable lover." He lifted Ray's hand and kissed it lightly. "It was the color dream. Well, most of my dreams are in color, but this was the blue one." He smiled dreamily and half closed his eyes. "We're surrounded by the most incredible shade of sapphire - it's everywhere. We're floating in it and there are different shades of blue glittering all around us like jewels. It's so beautiful we can barely breathe. It's like we're drowning in blue but we're not afraid."

"Florian," Ray whispered, not trusting the strength of his voice. He stared into Florian's lovely amethyst eyes before leaning in and kissing him passionately.

"It's a good dream," Florian assured Ray when they finally broke apart. He changed the subject, not wanting Ray to be dragged down by memories again. "You taste like chocolate."

"Impossible. I never eat the stuff." Ray widened his eyes as he said this, an exaggerated copy of Noel's "perfect angel" expression.

"You don't expect me to believe that. Not after I caught you eating the last of the vanilla cremes." Florian shifted, resting his head on Ray's shoulder.

"It's your bad influence. I never ate chocolates before I met you." He ran a hand along Florian's face, ending at the point of his chin, which he tilted up gently for another kiss. "Are you ready for dinner?"

"I am. Laila refused to tell me what's on the menu but she promised something special for our anniversary. Hopefully it's not another of her experiments. "

"I didn't smell anything burning so we should be alright." Ray pulled away gently and stood. He leaned down to Florian and asked, "Ready?"

"Let's go." Florian pushed aside the blanket that had been covering his legs and raised his arms as Ray leaned down and picked him up. The wheelchair was nearby and Ray settled Florian into it with well-practiced ease.

"I can do that myself, you know." Florian's voice held an undertone of teasing. They had a variation of this conversation almost every night.

"Good because if you keep eating chocolate you'll get too heavy for me to lift." Ray gave the wheelchair a push and let Florian take over as he walked behind, muttering that the chair was getting harder to move.

"You just like to complain," Florian said calmly as he steered into the dining room. His chair was waiting and he maneuvered the wheelchair next to it so Ray could transfer him with a minimum of effort. Despite the teasing, Florian was thin and light for his size.

"Chicken again?" Ray grumbled as he settled into his own chair next to Florian. He didn't actually mind chicken as a main course because Florian liked it and it didn't usually upset his stomach like fish or beef sometimes did.

"You like chicken," Florian said as if he were reminding Ray of something he kept forgetting. They bantered through the excellent dinner and dessert before Florian brought up the subject they'd both been avoiding.

"The doctor was here this afternoon. You were with a client or I would have asked you to join us." Florian gave him a brave smile. "He said that the therapy had done as much as could be expected but that I could continue the exercises on my own. He also said that I should use the brace and cane if I intend to walk a distance, or simply use the chair."

"The brace causes you too much pain. You can't..."

"I can, Ray." Florian leaned forward and placed his hand over Ray's, squeezing as tightly as he was able. Therapy had helped him regain some strength on his weakened left side, but it would never be as strong as before the head injury.

Ray looked down, hiding his pained expression. It was so hard some days, pretending that everything would be fine when it was far from the truth. And the worst of it was knowing he was to blame.

"Ray, don't." Florian gently lifted Ray's chin so he could look into Ray's eyes. "It was an accident. You know that."

"But I..." Ray's voice choked off and he had to look away. He couldn't stand looking into those beautiful amethyst eyes. Not when he knew their painful secret.

"The headaches are less frequent. I'm getting stronger. It won't be long before I'm able to help you with more than letter writing. And I'll have you know I'm planning on holding you to your promise - Christmas in Vienna this year."

"It's April, I don't think we have to start packing just yet."

"But I don't want you changing your mind. I'll be well enough to travel long before then. I'm not letting something as minor as a bump on the head keep me from going, no matter how overprotective you may be."

"It was hardly a bump on the head." Ray countered, secretly proud that his voice didn't break when he said it. "You were unconscious for days."

"Ray," Florian's voice was as soft and gentle as his touch. "You saved me. You took care of me and you made sure I had the best medical care. I'm getting stronger every day." Florian's voice took on a hint of teasing as he added. "And I've given you a hobby that doesn't involve stealing anything more than bedcovers."

"Which I wouldn't have to steal if you didn't try to keep them all for yourself. You wrap yourself up tighter than a mummy some nights."

"You complain now, but you certainly weren't complaining when you were unwrapping me last night."

"I'll unwrap you right here if you keep teasing me." Ray grabbed Florian's hand to stop it from wandering any higher up his thigh.

"Later. I want to go out into the garden for a while."

"Florian," Ray whispered unhappily as he tightened his grip on Florian's hand. He started to shake his head but Florian stopped him by whispering, "Please".

"Only if you let me push you in the chair. You'll need your strength for later."

"Promise?" Florian teased as he held out his arms for Ray to transfer him into the wheelchair.

"Fifteen minutes and I'm timing it."

"Grouch. You just want to keep me locked away for your wicked pleasure."

"Of course I do. Now let's go get this over with." Ray pretended to grumble as he pushed Florian down the hall and out into the flower garden. He'd hired a gardener just for Florian's sake, and the once barely-tended grounds were alive with color. It hurt Ray to look at them, but Florian was delighted.

"Over there," Florian pointed. "Look, there's something new."

Obligingly Ray pushed Florian along the path to the spot he'd indicated. It was a simple array of daisies and Florian leaned down to try and catch their scent.

"You'll fall over, let me." Ray reached down to pick one of the blooms but Florian stopped him.

"No, it's okay. I just want to enjoy them like this." He looked up into Ray's eyes, his expression bright. "They're my favorite color."

"Are they?" Ray said quietly, the knot of pain in his chest tightening. This was the worst of it, more than the headaches and the weakness, more than any of the other intermittent symptoms that resulted from Florian's injury. When Azura had left them to drown and they'd ended up being swept into the sea, they'd been washed up onto a rocky shore where Florian had hit his head on a large rock. Ray had been so relieved when Florian had finally woken up that he didn't realize what damage had been done. It was only later that he discovered what Florian had lost - his ability to see color.

Ray managed a weak smile for Florian but the blond's eyes were cast upward, gazing at the sky. Before the accident, Florian loved gazing up at the sky with all of it's brilliant blues. Now when he looked up he saw nothing but grays. The same grays that colored his whole world.

"What is it today?" Florian asked quietly, no trace of bitterness in his voice for the colors that had been lost. He still remembered them in his dreams and insisted that was all he needed. But every time he asked the question, it tore out another piece of Ray's heart.

"Sapphire, like your dream," Ray answered slowly, playing the familiar game of naming only jewels rather than colors. He hated this color most of all for it's reminder of Azura, Ray's childhood friend and the man who had cost Florian so much.

"Wrong." Florian's laughter startled Ray and he frowned at him wondering if this was a new symptom of his old head injury. Florian just shook his head and pointed upwards. "You said I could have whatever I wanted for our fifth anniversary. I want to pick my own colors. So..." He drew the sentence out just to tease Ray but finally relented. "...I choose emerald."

Florian reached up and pulled Ray down so he could look directly into Ray's brilliant green eyes. "Sapphires are for my dreams. When I'm awake all I see are emeralds." He pulled back a little grinning. It's my favorite color, you know."

Just before their lips met, Ray finally smiled. "I know."



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