4x2, romance, yaoi, lemon (a little)
Written for Dacia with much love, from a plot bunny of hers.
Part Two ... Year 2
Quatre stretched cautiously
in the uncomfortable visitor's chair and glanced again at the clock. He
probably shouldn't have arrived so early; he should have known the headmaster
had plenty of other things to do around registration time. He'd drunk
the indifferent coffee and flicked through the Prospectus several times,
and although manners dictated that he looked amiable and alert at all
times, he had to stifle a yawn of boredom.
The last year had been a whirl for him -- he'd moved more and more
into the business of Winner Enterprises, with the unparalleled opportunity
of seeing all areas on a 'fast track' management program. No track moved
faster than Quatre Winner's, of course. There were many people who waited
for their chance to protest that his success was only because his father
was Chairman -- that he was no better than any other apprentice
-- that he was unfairly allowed to skip induction training and
was merely waved through psychometric tests. But none of them had found
sufficient evidence to back it up. Quatre was a superb student with a
frighteningly quick and creative brain; and with such personal charm that
he was only likely to make enemies through pure jealousy.
The charm didn't equate to weakness in business, though. Maybe he was
still too young to be making many major decisions -- maybe his
father was just that little too much a control freak to allow him to,
anyway. But as he passed through his apprenticeship in each area of the
organisation, his input was sought and his opinion was appreciated. His
elders pursed their lips; his managers nodded cautiously. And Quatre rose
on up through the ranks with consummate ease.
His father guided him through the route that most new young trainees took
-- a spell in HR; a month or so in the technical department; plenty
of time in finance. Quatre didn't show any particularly outstanding brilliance
on the technical development side, although he had a flair for the avionics
support work that their engineering department handled. Where he excelled
was in the strategic planning -- he grasped the major objectives
and requirements of the business within months. Within a few more weeks,
he was offering input to the whole process. The rest of the Board dropped
their slightly patronising approach to this teenaged youth, and decided
to stop holding back when he tried to contribute to his father's running
of the company. After all, if he wanted to play the game by the adult
rules, he should take the adult consequences, shouldn't he?
But that was something that Quatre Winner was delighted to do.
Winner Enterprises Inc had a wide and varied portfolio of interests, all
the way from electronic and chemical development, to academic support
of the state education system. Its products spanned many industries, from
military equipment to household pharmaceuticals to art materials. It gave
money to charities and it sponsored both young people and mature students
in the organisation. WEI was rarely out of the news -- and its
promotions department revelled in it. Winner Sr was the figurehead of
it all -- but behind the scenes worked many thousands of people,
at all levels.
Quatre's strengths included a very mature understanding of what created
and maintained the global WEI -- and a genuine appreciation of
the people who did the work. It made him popular with a lot of staff out
in the field who could barely list the names of the other Board members.
It also brought him to the attention of the outside world faster than
he might have expected. When the paparazzi and the news channels came
calling for Winner Sr, they found themselves distracted instead by the
rising star of WEI and his far more attractive profile.
And so far, being one of the more public faces of WEI had also been something
that Quatre was delighted to do! He wanted to be involved -- he
liked learning, he liked influencing. He wanted to be where things
happened. It was most rewarding, he thought.
Except, came a wry afterthought, Except for the joys of sitting
on a plastic moulded chair in a busy school, waiting for the dubious joy
of opening the prize-giving assembly with a speech on 'What Commerce can
return to the Community'. He looked for somewhere to put his empty
coffee cup, but the desk was full of files and paper. He wriggled again,
trying to get comfortable. A stab of cramp attacked his left buttock and
he groaned aloud.
Somewhere else in the building a bell rang and a group of boys hooted
There was a deliberate cough at the open doorway.
Quatre knew it'd be just another of the boys, hanging round outside the
Head's study. Amazing how many of them had already passed today! When
he'd been at school, it had been the last place any of his classmates
had ever wanted to be. He bit back a smirk. He recognised the itching
curiosity that may of them had to see Mr Quatre Winner or his father --
perhaps even just one of their representatives.
Hell, he thought sympathetically, anything to waste time and
avoid lessons, right?
Quatre was used to the public attention -- after all, he'd suffered
it most of his life, and now it followed him into his late teens. He swivelled
in his chair and turned to face the door.
"Hi," he said, with pleasure. Yes, just another of the boys --
but this one was different. This one drew his eyes immediately; this one
made his breath catch a little, and he felt his mouth twist into an instinctive
smile. It was always this way...
"You in a meeting or something?" asked Duo Maxwell. He peered into the
room, obviously wary of whether the Head was there or not. Seeing the
coast was clear, he grinned back at his friend. "I thought it was your
dad coming today."
Quatre nodded. "It was -- he's with Mr Capaldi now, preparing for
the Governors AGM tonight. He's rather pleased with himself. He never
had time to be a Governor at any of my schools, so the invitation from
Christ the Saviour has boosted his ego somewhat. I just thought I'd come
along with him to see how things were going."
"Bored at work then?" asked Duo, his grin even wider.
"Yeah, right," said Quatre, pretending to scowl. "Spread that rumour too
far and I'll have dropped a few rungs further down the managerial ladder
before the day's out." He stood up from the chair with some relief and
beckoned Duo into the room with him. The youth shook his head, preferring
to stand in the doorway, obviously alert for a quick getaway at any time.
Quatre smiled; Duo always made him smile. He was witty and sharp and mischievous,
wasn't he? He was so many things that Quatre wasn't really allowed to
"This is a break for me, Duo, but then we can't all be careless school
kids! Some of us have jobs to do."
Duo shrugged, as if they'd had this conversation plenty of times before.
"Rashid with you?"
Quatre nodded, and raised an eyebrow. "He's with the car, I refused to
let him wander the school. But Father won't let me go anywhere without
him." Rashid was Quatre's chauffeur, personal assistant, bodyguard --
a multitude of roles that had made the older man a firm friend of the
family. He was big, and heavily muscled, and with a grim _expression that
was intended to dissuade would-be kidnappers. The fact that his _expression
also terrified members of the public, paparazzi and the occasional school
child was just a bonus.
"I could go see he's OK..." said Duo, rather too casually.
"Don't you dare!" Quatre protested loudly, and immediately knew from the
answering glint in Duo's eyes that he'd been successfully baited. He sighed.
"Don't you have lessons or something? You're not to 'go see' anything
-- actually, you're to leave Rashid alone completely. You're dangerous!
You won the whole of his week's allowance off him last time."
"He should work on his poker face," grinned Duo.
"He should work on whupping your ass, as I heard you so vividly
put it," said Quatre, dryly.
"Yeah, that's right -- you were there too, weren't you?" said Duo,
with healthy sarcasm. "Won a few dollars off of me, too."
Quatre felt a smile tug at his mouth. "So maybe my poker face is
better developed. Father would --" then he paused in mid-sentence,
as if he were rethinking his words.
"What?" Duo looked a little belligerent. "What were you gonna say? That
your father would be mad if he knew Rashid spent evenings playing poker
with us? Come on, Quatre, what's the frickin' guy to do? You'd let him
sit in the car reading old copies of the Wall Street Journal and building
models of the WEI Tower out of gum and matchsticks, p'raps."
"Perhaps," smiled Quatre, but he knew that this wasn't the time to be
discussing his father, the president of WEI and the school's illustrious
visitor. Not with Duo, anyway. Duo was his friend; somehow, he didn't
want to mix the two more than necessary. "It's not that, Duo."
"What is it then? Other stuff?"
Quatre looked at the suspicious eyes, the brow furrowed in irritation.
He knew that, despite his younger age, Duo always challenged him; Duo
always pushed for what he wanted to know. He didn't accept that there
were things he couldn't understand; that he couldn't influence. And, of
course, Duo had a real soft spot for Rashid and the ridiculous job that
he felt the man had. "Yes," Quatre said. "It's other stuff. Let's forget
Duo glared at him for a moment, obviously thinking it over.
"So what about lunch time?" suggested Quatre. "We could meet up then.
I'm to be shown round the cafeteria, though I think Mr Capaldi will take
my father to lunch elsewhere..."
"I bet he will," snorted Duo. His good humour was back at the mention
of food. "Go-baldy never eats with us kids. Saves the stagnant stew and
curdled custard all for us!" Quatre obviously hadn't hidden the
shock that must have chased across his face, because Duo was staring at
him and laughing loudly.
"Gotcha, Winner!" he cried.
Quatre grinned back. "Yes," he admitted. "You did."
There were still a few minutes before the start of lessons. The kids seemed
to have a sixth sense about it. At the moment, all that could be heard
up the corridors was the chatter and shriek of arriving students. In the
next five minutes, they'd suddenly go on alert. Conversations would be
cut short and there'd be a flurry of boys tucking in their shirts and
girls pulling down the hems of their skirts. Then wherever they were,
they'd wheel around to head towards the appropriate classrooms. Duo saw
it happen every morning.
He didn't want to leave until the last possible second. He wanted to talk
to Quatre; wanted to be with Quatre.
But he knew that Quatre had other things on his mind. Maybe his friend
didn't have the time for him now. Or whenever. Duo hated the way these
things nagged at him sometimes, making him question himself; making him
miserable. He had no patience with himself for it.
"Look, about the work business..." he knew he sounded belligerent again,
and he tried to soften his tone. His hand twisted the edge of his blazer,
and he bit his lower lip a little. "Didn't mean to be rude or anything.
I know you're busy." He looked straight into Quatre's eyes and for a second
he could imagine they were the same age, the same upbringing, the same
person almost. It made his head spin. "I mean," he went on, "I
don't see you so much at the moment, so I know things are different."
For a second, they were both silent. Duo felt a strange tug inside his
chest, as if he were hurting. He mentally growled at it and it backed
off pretty fast.
"I know," Quatre replied, slowly. They'd spent a lot of time together
in the last six months or so, albeit only in the evenings and at weekends.
They often met at the gallery, or some cafe in town where Quatre could
sip slowly at a coffee and Duo could gulp down a tea, working through
a surprising number of doughnuts between them. Sometimes they went to
a movie or a ball game, though Quatre was conscious of Duo having little
money of his own, and he wanted to pay his way fairly. Most of the time
they just wandered around the shops, Quatre sticking his hands in his
pockets to avoid spending on them both, then sat in one of the shelters
in the park and read papers and ate hot dogs and gossiped about the people
they'd seen on their walks.
It had been a great time! The friendship had grown swiftly and strongly,
though neither of them could have expressed exactly what its secret of
success was. Quatre had laughed more than he could remember doing for
years, and argued more passionately than he ever had, even with his sisters.
He'd also had raging indigestion more often than not, due to his unusual
intake of fast food; he'd ruined a good pair of shoes playing football,
despite scoring a couple of goals; he'd written a couple of songs for
a friend of Duo who played guitar, though he refused to take any credit;
and he'd helped create a mock-horror movie on a crappy old camcorder that
Duo had borrowed. He and Duo had dodged in and out of trees with torches
shining on their faces, making the most of the shadows in that eerie time
just as the day fades into the grey of evening. The only things that had
stopped them were the long-overdue demise of the camcorder battery, and
Duo cursing loudly when he stepped in some dog's mess. And their laughter,
He and Duo argued the merits of a multitude of diverse subjects, from
the pretension of some modern art, to whether alligators had cavities,
and then back to whether there really was life on other planets. And whether
it would have developed fast food and rock music by now. Quatre sometimes
felt queasy at the speed of Duo's thoughts and enthusiasms; he had little
knowledge of some of these topics. He'd been pampered and praised all
of his life for his looks and his sharp intellect and his social skills;
half an hour with Duo and he felt as much a dork as anyone else. His only
consolation was that Duo knew even less about all the crap, as he called
it, but seemed cheerfully careless of the fact. Nor did he let that stop
him holding forth about it.
Quatre had watched his response to Duo with some objectivity and sometimes
a little amazement -- but not much. Instead, he found it all energising;
They both had other friends -- of course they did. Also, Quatre
was committed to his work, and Duo was still studying; they'd never come
across each other in any casual manner. But they found reasons to meet
up, without perhaps realising they were doing anything so deliberate.
Quatre had lost count of the times he'd gone back to his car with mud
on the bottom of his laundered pants, ketchup on his tie and a flush on
his cheeks that could only have come from a brisk, unguarded walk in crisp,
autumn air and unbridled laughter. Rashid would be waiting for him with
never anything more than a respectful murmur. But if they caught each
other's eyes, they couldn't help but grin.
It wasn't always so easy for them to get together. Quatre was fairly well
known and they often had to abandon trips round town because he was recognised.
His father also saw nothing wrong in rearranging his schedule whenever
he chose; the first Quatre might know of his leisure time being lost was
when Rashid appeared beside him with the car running and a tactful cough.
It was when he was driving them through the town once that his route went
past one of the town apartments that WEI owned, and Quatre had the idea
of using it for his own relaxation. He had access to the keys to all the
WEI properties, and he had Rashid bring in some food supplies and to keep
the place aired and comfortable. It meant that he and Duo could stop by
for a drink or a light meal, maybe watch a movie. Rashid would join them
and that was when the controversial card games took place, along with
loud laughter and good-natured abuse and a rapidly increasing pile of
food wrappers. Sometimes, at the end of such an evening, Quatre would
stay on there overnight if he had an early meeting the next day, and Rashid
would take Duo home in the car. The two young men had drawn the bodyguard
into their friendship almost casually, but with genuine warmth. The advantage
of having Rashid on side was that he was both a cover and a protection
Though neither of them admitted they needed it.
Quatre hadn't yet suggested that Duo come to his house; it hadn't been
an issue to date. There'd been no issues at all, really -- it had
just been a great time.
Quatre's reply now was gentle, and careful. "There's such a lot to be
done. Father appointed me to the Board of Grants and Sponsorship last
month and there's been a sudden flurry of meetings. It's -- difficult
to keep up with friendships, sometimes."
Duo shrugged, but he watched Quatre's body language carefully.
"But it's not like it's been fun, or anything," Quatre was continuing.
There was a yell from up the corridor, and Duo allowed himself to be momentarily
distracted. He caught sight of some of his classmates -- one of
the guys called to him, and he flicked a hand back, something between
a friendly wave and an obscene gesture.
When he looked back, he knew his _expression was probably rather mischievous.
He could see the sudden flicker of wariness in Quatre's bright blue eyes.
"Not fun. Right. Of course, it wouldn't be, not with all the interviews
and stuff," he stated. He leant casually against the door frame now, trying
to look as if he often dropped in on the headmaster in a social capacity.
He popped some gum into his mouth, and offered some to Quatre, but the
older man shook his head. "Saw you on TV yesterday morning with that hot
reporter girl, she kept giggling all the time -- then there was
that drop-in chat with the music channel guys, and all those cool bands
wandering through on their way to a set."
Quatre grimaced. "There was the lunchtime business news, too, don't forget.
It was rather less glamorous being quizzed by the fierce guy in the suit."
Duo grinned. "Yeah, Mom saw that. All about you being the youngest Board
member ever of Winner Enterprises Inc -- but you protesting it
was nothing to do with your Dad being the Chairman."
A couple of boys passed behind him in the corridor, and a backpack brushed
too deliberately against his legs; there were some jeers and a laugh from
them. Duo traded a few new insults with them that might have provoked
world war in another context, and he caught a glimpse of Quatre's rapid
blinking at the colourful choice of curses.
He sighed. "Anyway, I gotta be moving on, tutor period first thing and,
whoop-de-doo, I seem to have left my science project at home. Again."
He smiled at Quatre but there was an odd look in the man's eyes. Was he
worried about something? Bored of Duo, and hanging around with school
kids? Duo wasn't aware of the way his brow creased when he puzzled over
something, but that's what he was doing now. Quatre Winner puzzled him
a lot, sometimes.
"Do you feel OK?" he asked, awkwardly.
Quatre laughed more warmly, and Duo relaxed. "It just feels a bit weird,
Duo, seeing you here with your friends. It's all so different from what
I grew up with, and the two of us coming from such different --
Duo knew Quatre had been tutored, and then put through accelerated business
training. The details were a million miles away from his experience. "You
wish you'd been at proper school like this dump?" he teased.
"I wish I had with you," Quatre answered quickly.
Duo laughed loudly, but it tapered off quickly. The first lesson bell
rang somewhere in the distance. He cursed, comfortably. "Gotta go. See
you later, I can take a full lunch break. No sports today, what with the
assembly now and the AGM tonight." A stream of children started to push
past in the corridor behind him, breaking around him to make their way
to the different rooms along the hallway. Duo still seemed reluctant to
go. He grinned again at Quatre. "See you again in a few minutes, right?
Good luck with your speech. You won't see me in among that great heap
of shuffling, yawning kids, but I'll be near the left side at the back
of the hall..."
Quatre stared back into the sparkling eyes. "No, I'll see you," he replied,
slowly. "Thanks for the good luck." It was an automatic, polite response
- for a moment, he couldn't think what Duo was talking about, then he
remembered he was due to address the school in twenty minutes time. Duo
was grinning and his face was flushed and Quatre couldn't think of anything
except how long it might be until lunch time.
Duo was continuing as if Quatre had never fallen so still; as if he didn't
notice the careless hands grabbing at him as they passed, the school bags
knocking at his ankles, the yells of laughter in his ears. It was as if
they both made up a small oasis of friendship and calm in among the eddying
sea of yelling, chattering bodies. "And make sure you see the new Business
Studies Department!" he urged, dragging his own bag back up on to his
back. Someone pushed at him, and he nodded to them that he was on his
way. "You hear that, Quatre? After all, you paid for it --"
"WEI did," Quatre protested.
"Sure!" grinned Duo. At last he was turning away; on his way back into
the stream of similarly dressed youngsters. "I guess not even your
allowance stretches that far, right?"
By the time Quatre and his father had been shown around the new classrooms
and the various sports and science facilities, it was past the school's
main lunchtime. However, Quatre politely refused the invitation to lunch
with his father and the headmaster, and suggested almost casually that
he'd catch a sandwich in the cafeteria. When Mr Capaldi effusively offered
whatever the young man might need to enjoy his meal, Quatre smiled slightly
and asked for Duo Maxwell to join him, so that they could talk about the
new Business Studies Department.
The headmaster had grimaced. He'd blustered. The boy was surely busy in
classes now; also his appearance wasn't always smart enough to be entertaining
important visitors; there were plenty of older, more acceptable companions
for Quatre to choose...
Quatre had politely -- yet firmly -- insisted. It had partly
been Duo's inspiration that had prompted WEI to invest in such a school
facility, and he allowed Mr Capaldi just enough time to recall that.
Now Duo sat opposite him, working his way through a third sandwich. Quatre
knew he'd already eaten his own lunch -- but this was on the school's
hospitality budget, and he intended to make the most of it. They'd discussed
the Business Studies Department at length, and Quatre had found his friend's
enthusiasm very infectious. The school had never had access to its own
computers before -- to study materials -- to interactive
whiteboards and online stock market reports and links with many local
businesses and service providers ... Every word of Duo's appraisal was
fast and lively and laden with unadulterated excitement.
Quatre watched the generous mouth widen in smiles around its food, then
launch out another stream of conversation and admiration of the new facilities.
The best money WEI ever spent... he thought, a little awed. Finally,
he managed to break into the flow with his own comment. "And your own
Duo waved a crust-filled hand as if to dismiss the whole matter of his
own work, but he flushed slightly with excitement. He never really bothered
with such concepts as not talking with your mouth full. "We start it next
week! I'm on production and sales, and Gazza's been in charge of marketing
the idea around the school. Henderson's a frickin' clumsy idiot, of course
-- I've told you that before, right? - but he's really good with
the books. We've already got a full pre-order list, and by the end of
next month we should be at break-even. Then it's profit all the way!"
He reached for more chocolate milk and sat back in his plastic chair,
already sucking the straw into his pursed mouth.
Quatre nudged at his own cup of lukewarm coffee -- could nowhere
in this place serve it at a decent temperature? -- and watched
Duo talk, fascinated.
It was a project to launch and run a small business within their own school
over the course of a few months. Duo's idea had been to hitch a ride on
the current trend for trading cards -- but the packs that his 'company'
would sell would be uniquely personalised with each customer's own artwork
or tag. Single items would be easily affordable, yet would encourage personal
style and individuality in among the comfort of belonging to a community.
The cards would be seductively collectible -- and would inspire
the hungry desire to possess that all modern crazes depended upon.
Quatre had read Duo's business plan; he'd sat in his apartment and unfolded
many creased sheets of squared paper; he'd perused some luridly coloured
bar charts. He'd checked the projected sales figures and the break-even
point that should be reached in approximately three weeks' time. He had
found no major flaws -- in fact, he'd found an impressively sharp,
pragmatic and thorough presentation. Despite the mustard stains on the
back of some pages.
He'd have been tempted to invest himself, if it hadn't been restricted
to 'fun' money only.
"And it's not just exploitation," Duo urged. Quatre felt a small
shiver of surprise, for his talk at assembly time had touched on the twin
subjects of capitalism and consumerism, and their potential evils. He
was pleased that Duo had obviously listened to him; he was ridiculously
pleased, actually, though he had no time to nurse that thought because
Duo was rushing on with more justification for his plans. "The customer
will have a real piece of art, of their own choosing, to their own specification.
I'm hoping that the guys will want to trade the ownership of the cards
as much as the battling monsters on the faces of them..."
"And the art work will be done by you?"
"Oh, lots of us, probably," said Duo, flushing again. It was a blatant
lie and Quatre knew it, but he forgave it. Duo vehemently denied any interest
in art for its own sake -- but his talent was unmistakable. Quatre
had seen some preliminary sketches of the cards, showing a bold, imaginative
style, much like manga drawings yet with strokes of both realism and melodrama
that illustrated -- to him -- an artist who would aspire
far beyond the restrictions of a particular common style. He privately
assumed that this project was one of Duo's ways to reconcile the two things
in his life; the talent for creation that he undeniably had, and the hunger
for wealth and success that he chased like a terrier. There was always
so much to be aware of with Duo -- so many things to think about,
to watch, to be fascinated by ...
"Hallooo? Earth to Quatre?" snorted Duo, and Quatre snapped back to attention.
"Give me a break!" He growled a little, but couldn't hide the smile on
his face. "I've listened to this tale of potentially huge riches enough
times to know the script backwards. When the hell are you going to get
on and do some real hard work?"
"Yeah, right," laughed Duo. "Like you, you mean? Sitting in the studio,
hand on that interviewer's knee. Bet you took her out to dinner afterwards,
or were you doing so much frickin' real hard work you didn't have time?"
"I told you --"
"You want that muffin?" interrupted an ever-hungry Duo. "Pass it over,
As they got up to leave the cafeteria, Duo heard some nervous giggling,
then a fierce shushing from a small knot of schoolgirls. He'd seen them
come in ages ago, and now they were taking way too long at the vending
machine. Quatre looked across at them, peering over Duo's shoulder.
"Sheesh, don't encourage them!" Duo groaned. He didn't turn round because
he didn't need to -- he was well aware of what was going on. He
slurped loudly on the final dregs of his chocolate milk and dumped it
back down on the table with gusto. "Tell me who it is. Tall girl? Dark
ponytail, eyes like a sleepy cat?" Quatre raised an eyebrow and nodded.
Duo grimaced. "Thought so. That's Mel. She's got a picture of you on her
"Me?" Quatre flushed. "That's a little embarrassing."
"Crap," said Duo, cheerfully. "Bet you're used to it! They all say you're
really good-looking. Really hot. You're in all the magazines. You'll
be selling candy next, your photo wrapped round some love heart or something
-- sheesh, the sales would rocket, right?" Hey, that thought wasn't
so nuts, was it? He bit at his lip, thoughtfully. "Actually, I need some
ideas for my next business project, I might add that to my proposal."
He made a half-hearted attempt to tuck his shirt back in, ready to go
back to class.
Quatre was protesting. "I can't help the way I look, can I? Accident of
birth, really. You'll have them chasing after you too, I daresay --"
"Like how?" Duo's laugh was loud - he didn't bother holding it
back - and he saw Quatre smiling in response. A couple of the girls looked
over, too, a thin girl with short blonde hair showing particular interest,
but he pretended he didn't see that. "I'm nearly fourteen --
and look, I have spots like you have meetings. Loads of 'em and all over
the place! My legs and arms are growing all long and crooked and I fall
over my own feet. Like anyone's going to look twice at me!"
Quatre's laughter joined his, and Duo was delighted. He loved to make
him laugh -- he loved to see the blond head thrown back and the
wide mouth creased up with amusement. "Anyway," he sighed, "I got enough
to worry about with detention and basketball and my frickin' science project.
There's more fun in food and sleep and basketball, y'know? Plenty of time
to worry about giggling girls when I'm rich and handsome like you, Winner."
Quatre grinned. He spoke quickly, as if he didn't want to wait to think
about his words. "You're OK as you are, Duo. You're good-looking enough
Duo wrinkled his nose and made a sound like he was going to be sick. "Go
back to your real hard work, Mr Pin-Up Winner. Get some proper
experience and maybe I'll give you a job when I'm rich and famous." They
left the cafeteria, both laughing, both talking still about Duo's project.
When they reached the corridor, Duo waved him away and said he had to
get back to class.
Quatre looked back once, just before he turned the corner to find the
exit out of the school building. Duo was still there, leaning against
the wall, his shirt untucked again. He was talking to another student,
a pretty girl with short blonde hair and wide eyes that were fastened
on Duo's face. Duo was doing all the talking -- no surprise, there
-- but she didn't seem to mind. As Quatre watched, she put a hand
shyly on to his friend's arm. Duo's head dipped briefly as if he were
either embarrassed or angry, but he didn't push the hand away.
Quatre didn't know why he felt awkward, but he did. He turned abruptly
and walked quickly away, putting them both out of sight.
Rashid saw him into the car and they pulled away from the school, scattering
small groups of inquisitive schoolchildren to either side. Quatre loosened
his tie and sank back into the soft leather seat with a deep sigh.
Rashid's eyes flashed in the mirror in front, watching his young charge
relax. "A busy day, Master Quatre?"
"Exhausting," said Quatre. "Noisy ... boisterous ... fascinating, of course,
to see what they're doing with the new Business Studies Department. Frustrating,
too - to suffer lunch with Duo. I barely got a mouthful for myself." But
he was smiling as he said it.
Rashid grunted understanding. "Master Duo is a livewire, sir."
Quatre laughed aloud and Rashid's eyes narrowed, startled. He'd been with
the family since before Quatre was born, and he remembered the young man
as a very quiet child, though never timid. It had been rare to see him
relaxed enough to laugh and joke -- though he did it regularly
nowadays. Rashid liked to see it.
They didn't speak any more until the car pulled through the gates of the
Winner estate. Quatre was looking through the window and seemed to sink
back a little further into his seat as the wheels crunched in over the
carefully tended gravel.
"Will you be around to drive tonight, Rashid?" His voice was quiet, but
Rashid heard him well enough. "Duo is playing in a school basketball league
match and I thought I might go and support him. Then I'll probably stay
at the town apartment."
"Yes, that's fine, Master Quatre. Though I thought you were exhausted...
and your father will be arriving home himself in a couple of hours." It
wasn't a rebuke, and Quatre didn't take it as such.
"I know. I know. But he'll be engrossed in the AGM business tonight, I'm
sure, and he'll prefer to discuss today's meetings with the other School
Board members rather than me. I was only at the school with him today
under tolerance - for marketing purposes, you might say."
Rashid frowned slightly. "I'm sure that's not the case ..."
Quatre shook his head, impatiently. "I'm a product, Rashid, the same as
our logo and our printed ballpoints, and our generous grants and donations.
The press seem to like me, the magazines find me photogenic. I'm a sexier
face than my father, don't you agree?" Quatre's voice had a strange tone
to it, as if he found no pleasure in describing himself as attractive.
"Oh, don't misunderstand, I don't mind. I know my role, and I'm
happy enough to fulfil it. But I don't see why I shouldn't have time and
friends of my own."
"Yes, Master Quatre."
Rashid brought the car to a stop at the front of the house and his eyes
caught Quatre's in the mirror.
"Your father might prefer to believe you are at the gallery, sir. An evening
showing." He coughed, deliberately. "I'm not sure as to his attitude towards
school basketball games."
Quatre raised an eyebrow and nodded. "He might believe that, yes. I agree
with you; that would be the least disturbing explanation for him. Thank
"Like I said, he's a livewire, sir. He's very persuasive; very charming."
Quatre knew he referred to Duo. He just wasn't sure if he understood why
Rashid was talking about him now.
"I know," he smiled. "He's a tonic for me." A friend; a companion;
a mystery; a delight.
"You'll be careful, Master Quatre?" Rashid didn't often ask questions
-- he just commented with gentle confidence when he felt it was
"Careful?" Quatre was shrugging off his jacket, ready to go straight to
his rooms and freshen up. He looked at his bodyguard with fond puzzlement.
But Rashid didn't elaborate, and Quatre shrugged. "Of course, I'm always
careful. Don't want you having to bail me out of trouble, Rashid, do I?"
"I would, sir."
"I know you would," Quatre said again, and smiled his appreciation. Rashid
slid from his seat and came round to open the car door for Quatre. The
young man eased himself smoothly out of the vehicle, stretching tired,
Rashid watched the handsome face fight off a grimace of tiredness. "I
wouldn't want you to be hurt, Master Quatre," he said, softly.
Quatre looked up at him, curiously. Only Rashid could say such an emotional
thing with such a steady, impassive _expression! "I'll be all right with
Duo," he replied, just as gently. They both stared at each other for a
moment, as if trying to understand what was going on in each other's mind.
Eventually, Rashid gave the slightest of nods, as if he had discovered
something that was both satisfactory and acceptable to him.
His own wide, slow smile creased away his seriousness. "That's unlikely,
sir, if there are more card games involved."
"Maybe," Quatre laughed in reply. He flung his jacket over his shoulder
and slipped his tie out from under his collar; he saw Rashid wince at
his casualness. But he just didn't care! Maybe it was a damned good thing
that his father wasn't going to see him for a debriefing tonight.
"Oh, and by the way, Rashid, Duo says you must work on your poker face!"
And then the blond head was twisted back towards the house, his long athletic
legs carrying him swiftly and impatiently up the flight of stone steps,
with nothing but a thread of laughter left behind.
[part 1] [part 3] [back
to FancyFigures' fic]