Ray's library was very large, and as eclectic in subject matter as it was in organisation. Florian had been annoyed at the lack of index when he'd first found the room, of the way that books appeared to be shelved with respect to the order in which they had been purchased, or wherever space had then been found, or because the colour of the bindings complimented each other. However, of late, he found his opinion quite changed. Short of being caught with a book open in his lap, there was little chance of anyone knowing what he chose to read. Florian had been surprised; and then, face hot, surprised not at all that Ray would have books like the one in his lap: one with far more pictures than prose.
The first such volume he'd found, he'd slipped right back onto the shelf, upset descending on his mood like a summer sun-shower. He'd retreated to his bedroom, his sanctuary in this house of madness, and had to be dragged out when the time came for the theatre.
The humour was ribald, but at least everyone was standing at the end. The evening had ended so much better than it had begun. It was only when Ray lingered at Florian's bedroom door that he was reminded that they had fought. His excuse had been weak, Ray's response that strange juxtaposition of giving both affront and charm and they had been all right again.
In time, Florian had discovered that otherwise innocent experiences, like the more perfumed dishes in Laila's repertoire, were as likely to return him to that abrupt disquiet as the prurient lines of ink on a page, and that mere frequency of those upsets did not make them much easier to bear.
Florian had returned to the library wanting to know what he had done, had been done to him, detesting how his ignorance had made him prey. He now knew half a dozen copies relevant to his query by the colour and width of their spines, scattered through the collection, found at intervals weeks and months apart. There were books in the library with women in states of deshabille, too, but they embarrassed Florian more than the volumes that featured only men. Looking at naked women, even those of ink and paper, was a level of liberty-taking upon which his conscience could not well sit.
Some of the plates were detailed, some were not. Some were coloured, some monochrome. Some were accompanied by stories; Florian liked those best, for the sense of why, and of wanting, which made the images easier to bear. He wanted to understand. He'd been lucky, Florian now knew, and unlucky. The figures on the page he had open had tangled legs, and were kissing.
He lifted his hand from paper, and licked his fingertip to turn the page.
The next print was of a young man shackled to a wall, black lines of varying thickness cut across his bare back. A whip, foregrounded and jutting from the darkness bordering the image, was the only indication he had not yet been left alone. Florian had read the accompanying story before, which was, though in good French, as incomprehensible to him as Ancient Greek. He looked as long as he could, and then shut the volume up in his lap, pressing his palms flat against the cover.
Unlike the youth in the story, Florian had not wished to be whipped, had not enjoyed it to the point of fainting from the pain-- in fact, his memory of the occasion was little more than the pain overwhelming everything, even his misery at his situation or his hatred at his then new 'owner'.
By contrast, his even more hazy memories of the seraglio held more confusion than pain, curious scents and tastes that blurred to nausea and muscular aches that had lingered beyond his withdrawal that Florian had needed the books to match to activities. He had been hurt, torn apart that first time, but to his shame, his body had also spent itself. And the first time had not been the only time.
His reactions Florian wanted desperately to blame on the drug, but he read these books, didn't he? He read them still, long past the need for education. The print with the whip did not move Florian, or rather moved only his stomach, and even that feeling lessened time after time.
But there were others, which moved Florian below his stomach. Tangled legs and kisses. Desire, touch and skin bared. For all the perversity they catalogued and traversed, there was almost an innocence in the stories he had found in Noir's library. Even the stories with whips ended with kisses, which Florian found more than a little implausible, even if the kisses themselves did not always fall precisely on lips. The stories made Florian restless, and curious, despite himself, despite his memories.
Ray might have been ridiculous, utterly ridiculous and perverse about Florian's eyes, but he mentioned Florian's debt as leverage, never the threat of physical pain. Ray threatened, with a smile on his lips and warmth in his eyes, but Azura had only kissed Florian with a mouth full of tranquilliser and taken him. Florian wanted to trust Ray, and perhaps he would, one day. But not yet.
For now, there were Ray's books.
Ray was sitting in another of the library's wide armchair. He was reading. Florian was only pretending to do so.
Florian set down his book, its subject forgotten.
"I want your sash," Florian said. He could feel the heat suffusing his face, but did not look away.
Miraculously, Ray did not comment, beyond raising an eyebrow and setting aside his book.
Florian took the sash, and held onto the hand that Ray had used to offer the sash until Ray held up his other hand. Ray always seemed to disappear into his Arab house dress, but without the belt, it was as though he was draped in a sheet, nothing but hands and head visible. Florian wound the sash tightly around and between Ray's wrists. The knot was as tight as he could make it. He exhaled, and moved forward to sit in Ray's lap, Ray's bound hands between Florian and the parts that concerned Florian the most.
"Convince me," he began, and Ray tried to move his hands. Florian pushed them down, and smiled when they stayed. "Convince me with your mouth, not your hands. Your mouth, nothing else."
Ray smiled, and he did.