Author: FancyFigures
4x2, romance, yaoi, lemon (a little)

Written for Dacia with much love, from a plot bunny of hers.

Pazienza + 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 in derision.



*


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 be himself.

"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 it, eh?"

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, of course.

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; stimulating; exciting.

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 for them.

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 -- contexts..."

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 project?"

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, then."



*


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 locker."

"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 for anyone."

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 you, Rashid."

"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 warranted.

"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. "About what?"

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, elegant limbs.

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]