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

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

Pazienza + Part Three ... Year 3

Duo came thudding along the corridor of the apartment and fell into the kitchen, a mess of gangly limbs in half-fastened school clothes and with a scowl on his face. "I told you I needed to be up early!" he protested. He looked round the room wildly, his eyes fixing on the plain clock over the cooker and widening with panic. "It's fuc- it's gone 8 o'clock, for God's sake! Quatre's going to be in school for the awards ceremony and I'm meant to be meeting him before it starts." He started to wriggle his arms into his blazer, one shoe on and the other one obviously lost to the alien beings who come in the night and steal vital parts of school children's uniform. "Hell, Mom, I need help here -!"

The woman at the sink turned slowly to face him. She was a remarkably striking woman and so obviously Duo's mother that it was a shock of pleasure to see them together. When they were out around town, people often stopped to look at them -- and smile. They were both tall and lean, with the same dark chestnut hair and bright, blue-hued eyes. Duo was already almost her height. And there was something very attractive about them, even if they didn't have the cool beauty of a magazine model or the tailored look of the professional city types. Instead, there was laughter in their faces and mischief in their manner. Kira Maxwell had the gentle curves of a woman, of course, and a little more gravitas than her teenaged son, but the same liveliness still bubbled underneath.

And the spirit, too. "Mind your language!" she snapped back. "You were up so late last night I thought you could do with another few minutes sleep. You'll still catch the bus --"

"But not with enough time to meet Quatre!" he wailed. She held him out a plate of toast and he waved it away angrily. Then his eyes narrowed, one of his hands sneaked out from under a twisted cuff, and he snatched up a couple of slices.

"You'll see him at the weekend, surely?" Kira was frowning. "And didn't he meet you from the store last Thursday? Duo, I think that's enough time with your friends during the week. Your studying isn't up to date, I met your English tutor at the library last week..."

"Mom!" he wheedled, anticipating the need to distract the lecture that was on its way. "I'm fine, I'm good, the guy just lost my paper from last year, it was just a mistake --" He was sidling over to the door. "Gotta run, I'll see you tonight, right? Are you in the studio, or down the store?" His mother worked on her paintings in the room above the art store where she worked during the day, then often finished them in the evenings in a small studio that she'd created in a garage down the road from her apartment; a friend had lent it out to her. She opened her mouth to protest at her son's distractions, or to try to remember what her schedule was for today, or to ask him if he had enough money for lunch today --

But he'd gone, a swift, athletic body darting through the kitchen door and out into the yard to the service road that ran behind, all the way to the bus stop. She noticed he hadn't done up his laces, as was the fashion; also his blazer was getting too small again as his shoulders broadened. He was a mature fourteen-year-old, there was no disguising it.

She would have smiled as usual at his nerve but for the fact that she'd seen the glimpse of a bruise on the hand that snatched the toast; a scrape across his knuckles.

Nor was it the first time.


*


Quatre sat with Duo in the small cafeteria across the road from the art store. It was around seven pm; too late for a lot of school children to be hanging around and too early for the groups of adults that might come into town for the evening. Duo had been due to work until eight, but there'd been so few customers that the owner had let him go early. He'd filled the shelves and tidied the stock room and basically run out of things to do. His mother hadn't worked this afternoon so normally that would have meant he had to walk home. Then Quatre had come into town to meet him and maybe take him for some supper.

However, there was a strange, awkward atmosphere between the pair of them tonight.

"It's OK to come to meet you? I mean, I know I've been before ..."

Duo shrugged. He'd been a little quiet all evening, and now he was pushing a glass of soda around on the table, flicking it against the condiments as if challenging them. "It's fine. So long as you don't let Rashid park the car where anyone I know might see it. Christ, damned great limo it is, they might think I'm being abducted by some rich weirdo or something."

Quatre tried to see where the joke was, but there was something about Duo's manner that warned him not to laugh.

Duo scrabbled in his pockets and pulled out a couple of tubes of paint; Quatre knew that he took a few things from the store for his mother, now and then. He didn't ask Duo if he'd paid for them legally. He knew what Duo was paid for helping out there, and had been appalled at how little it was. He guessed his friend might think he was entitled to the occasional perk.

"What's up, Duo?"

Duo scowled at the table top. "Nothing's up."

"Is it Maisie? You don't seem to be seeing much of her nowadays."

Duo snorted. "God's sake, Quatre, leave it alone. I haven't been dating her for months." The blonde girl had been an infrequent companion for a while, though Quatre had never really been graced with an introduction. He'd seen Duo leaning against walls with the girl pressed up against his side with a forced casualness; he'd heard tales of whose houses they'd been to together, whose parties they'd gone to.

Duo had never shown any preference for her company; he'd always been as eager to spend time with Quatre. But, hell, Quatre had found it difficult to talk to Duo about girlfriends, except in the way of jokes. He'd always assumed that Duo was still young; that the girls weren't serious; that it wouldn't affect the core of their friendship ...

Then in the middle of a night, he'd sometimes wake up suddenly in a cold sweat, wondering just how stupid he really was.

"Is it because you didn't win the business award prize again this year? Last year was magnificent, the trading cards were so successful it's a legend around the school, or so I understand. And you did well this year too, your team did -- you took second prize ..."

Duo shrugged again. Quatre knew how much he liked to win; how he drove himself all the time to succeed. But his manner was sometimes antagonistic; impatient with other students and the teachers alike. His ideas raced beyond them, and he didn't think to slow up and play the system in order to get their support. Quatre had huge admiration for his friend's skill and vision -- Duo's mind was rarely still. Quatre knew he'd be a success in whatever he chose to do as a career; he knew Duo would eventually be the victor, even if there were setbacks along the way.

Quatre also felt sympathy for him in his occasional isolation. He knew what that felt like, too. It hurt like hell.

"Work with me here, Duo," he murmured, a little impatiently. "You've had nothing to say except growls, and it's getting a little wearing. Is it awkward to have me coming to the school?" He'd been there as WEI's representative today, to make a special presentation to a young first year who'd excelled in his business management paper.

"What do you mean?" Duo's head bobbed up slightly. He didn't sulk, or Quatre had never seen him do so. But his mood tonight was unusually morose. Quatre looked at the young man fitfully swallowing his cola and he wondered how to go on. "The other boys might think you get preferential treatment. Maybe they didn't think you should win the award two years running, especially as it's sponsored by WEI."

Duo raised an eyebrow, and for the first time he met Quatre's eyes. His _expression was still dark. "Nah. Trent's was better, I know it was. He worked damned hard on it, whereas I let Henderson have more of a go this year and the stupid prick didn't have the balls to launch the new products I suggested with only two weeks to go."

"I think your insistence on firing Gazza may also have contributed to the management fall-out," Quatre said, wryly.

And then Duo smiled. Only a small crease at the side of his face, but it was a start. "Yeah, you're right. That's when Henderson stopped talking to me and Gazza threatened to hack my hair off with kitchen scissors. I guess that's when I knew we wouldn't be the most successful team this year."

"You're a maverick," smiled Quatre. "Damned difficult to work with. Remind me never to join you on a management team."

Duo looked at his friend and felt his mood lighten. Why the hell had he been so pissed?Wasn't girls; they were just peripheral. And the guys would be talking to him again soon, he'd always been able to charm his school friends back around him in time. Money was a bummer, but then it always was. And he wasn't really disappointed about the business award -- hell, he didn't want to be a big fish in the little pond that was Christ the Saviour! He wanted to get on, he wanted to be rich and famous, he wanted ...

Shit, he wanted so much it hurt.

He peered at Quatre a little. "And why should the WEI connection be a problem?"

"I think many of them know we're friends." Quatre seemed to feel awkward; Duo knew that Quatre thought him unusually serious, but hey, the guy could cope. "They might think there's favouritism."

"Shit, Quatre, do you think I'm just after your money or something? Just want you to buy me stuff and get me into posh places and drive me around in that fucking great tank of yours -?"

Quatre held up a hand, trying to stem the flow of indignance. "No, back off, that's not what I meant. But others might think it."

"You're telling me," grunted Duo, and immediately wished he hadn't. He saw Quatre's body tense, even though the man was leant back in one of the café's uncomfortable folding chairs.

"So ... what exactly is it that others are thinking?"

Duo grimaced. "You're not going to believe 'nothing', are you?"

Quatre just stared at him. His eyes had hardened in a way that Duo rarely saw. He'd seen it sometimes when Quatre talked about his father; and sometimes when he was involved in a difficult business decision. "Do your friends have some kind of issue concerning your friendship with me? Perhaps they think you are after money, or are -- God forbid -- some kind of slightly obsessive fan --"

"You mean they might think I'm panting after you like the girls do?" Duo's eyes glittered strangely. "That I'm a fag?"

Quatre flushed. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so embarrassed, both for himself and for Duo. "Hell, I can't get used to your frankness. Have you had that -- trouble, then?"

Duo looked at him for a while, while he phrased a reply in his head. He didn't usually bother -- that was the great thing about Quatre, he understood a lot of what he, Duo, wanted to say, without him having to find the words. He could speak his mind and the guy was hardly ever offended. Didn't judge him like the teachers, either, or tell him to watch his mouth like Mom. But he and Quatre had never talked about anything like this before. Sure, they laughed about the girls running round after Quatre, goggle-eyed and hormonal, like little teenaged groupies. Um... and some not quite so teenaged! Duo maintained it was only the money and the smart designer clothes that attracted them -- Quatre protested instead that it was his personal charm, and it was surely a sensible life decision for girls to prefer the maturity of a businessman to any poor, scruffy student. Then they'd both laugh about themselves.

This felt different, somehow.

"Maybe I have," Duo said, slowly. He surreptitiously slipped his right hand down into his lap, nursing knuckles that had suddenly remembered how sore they were.

"Shit!" scowled Quatre. He rarely swore, and it startled Duo. "It's disgraceful, that you can't choose your friends without it being misconstrued. I'll speak to Mr Capaldi about it..."

"No you fucking won't," said Duo, firmly. He watched the flickering emotions in Quatre's eyes, wondering why he felt a little shivery inside. "You'll just make more trouble for me. God's sake, it's nothing new -- they all do it. If anyone shows any interest in a man, whatever the reason, they all have a go. And with my longer hair 'n all, I'm always a prime target."

"But we're just friends, Duo. There shouldn't be anything odd about it."

Duo smiled at him, almost pityingly, and let his thoughts wander. He knew that his friend's handsome features were in many ways a distraction -- that this beautifully mannered and well-spoken man hadn't got to the top in his department purely from his family connection. Quatre could be bad tempered; Quatre could be tough; Quatre could kick ass. But sometimes it astounded him how that same Quatre Winner got through a single day without making a stupendous dork of himself. His world sometimes seemed so very different that Duo felt he was talking to him from Mars. Without a megaphone.

He bit back the sigh. Couldn't tell Quatre that, of course! "Look, chill. It's not a problem. Yes, we're just friends. But they're not interested in me telling them that, are they? You're older, you're almost nineteen, and you're rich and handsome like a movie star, and so they can't see why you'd have any interest in a grubby kid like them -- like me. Unless you want something else from me." He wondered why his throat was feeling so dry, and he let the words run out to a stop, so that he could slurp up the remains of the cola.

Quatre was silent for a while, stirring the residue on the top of his coffee. He grimaced at it, as though it was the drink that disturbed him. "But Duo -- are you OK with it yourself?" Duo peered at him -- the blond man's _expression didn't seem to match the words he was actually saying. "I mean, you don't feel awkward with me?"

A couple of cars and a bus chose that moment to race past the window of the café, and the refracted beam of their headlights swept swiftly across the table between the two young men. Maybe it gave both of them a chance to draw breath. Duo moistened his lips and was pleased to hear his voice sounded quite calm. "Of course I don't. Shouldn't have to ask that." His friend still looked really pained, and he didn't know whether to laugh or console him. "Fuck's sake, it doesn't bother me, Quatre. Never has. They're stupid, and if it helps them sleep at night to bash fags, let 'em. I can like whoever I want. Boy or girl. Anything less -- well, it's their loss, right?"

Quatre was staring at him, with a really confused look in his eye. Duo felt warm, like he was blushing. He wasn't sure where this conversation was coming from -- or going. He wasn't used to talking like this with anyone else. Only Quatre drew this sort of stuff out of him ... Shit.

"You've been in a fight," said Quatre, softly. A statement, not a question. Shit, Duo thought again. Guy was brighter than a bulb, sometimes.

"It's OK. I'm good. It wasn't much." Well, it had been rather more than that, but he'd got out in time to run for cover. If he'd currently been on better terms with Henderson or Gazza, maybe they'd have helped him out. But he'd swung a few times and drawn blood himself, and that'd keep the bullies off him for a while. They could go sneer at someone else, call someone else foul, stinking names, rattle on at someone else about the things that obviously confused and disgusted their pea-sized, sewer-drenched little minds.

That's what usually happened.

His friend was still quiet. "Quatre, you upset or something? I gotta go home soon; Mom will expect me about nine..."

Quatre seemed to shake himself together again. "No -- go on, you mustn't be late. I'm fine." Like you're good, he thought, ruefully. We both dance around the real feelings as if we have to protect ourselves, even from each other's friendship.

He'd just never thought it through, had he? He craved Duo's company -- he loved every minute he spent with the young man, so he sought it out whenever he could. And whilst he revelled in their ease with each other, and the fun they had, and the bold friendship they'd developed -- well, he sometimes forgot their differences.

He looked out through the smeared window as if he watched the road outside. The town was getting busier now, there was a flurry of young people meeting up and window shopping and making their way to clubs and bars and friends' houses. Men laughing and yelling and pushing at each other. Girls sauntering after them, faces shining with overly-bold makeup and clothing too brief for the cool evening air.

If he couldn't see Duo, he thought, he didn't know what he'd do.

There was a sudden burst of movement behind his chair and a grinning face swam in front of his unfocussed gaze. Duo leant over him, his braid slipping over his shoulder, his eyes wide and his cheeks a little flushed.

"Earth to Quatre! You hear me?" He put a hand on Quatre's shoulder to encourage him, and although the café was hot and stuffy from the coffee machines and the steam from limpid toasted sandwiches, the blond man seemed to swallow down a shiver. "Look, come back with me for a while, OK? Mom won't mind, she likes you, you bring a breath of elegance and glamour to the place, she says." He saw that Quatre was still a little disorientated. He didn't know what had caused it -- was it because he'd been in a fight? Had Quatre been shocked by that? He couldn't imagine Quatre ever balling his fist and punching some kid on the nose. "Is Rashid driving tonight?"

"No," said Quatre, absently. "It's his night off."

"So let's go!" grinned Duo. "But for God's sake, don't bring your flash car right up to the door! The guy can wait for you around the block. We can walk back together from here, I'm only a few streets away."

"I'll interrupt your supper..."

"Fucking good thing too," said Duo, cheerfully. "It's my turn to cook. You, my dear Mr Winner, can be this week's most willing victim!"


*


It had been a far more relaxed meal than any of them might have thought. Duo had clattered around in the kitchenette and managed a very creditable pasta dish and mixed salad. His mother was called out of her studio to join them and she'd been pleased with her day's work for a change. Quatre just let himself go with the flow, and enjoyed himself in such a different setting.

He'd been to Duo's house a couple of times, sometimes when his mother was in, sometimes not. They'd sit and have a soda and then Duo would think of something they needed to go see or do and they'd be off out again. Quatre marvelled at the young man's restlessness; his energy. He'd never had much of a chance to meet or speak to Kira Maxwell. Tonight was a welcome opportunity.

He watched the pair of them laughing, Duo and Kira, and inevitably it seemed to be at something he'd said. He didn't mind in the slightest. He made initial appraisals of people very quickly, and he was rarely found to be wrong on later acquaintance. It was part of his success in business; part of his irresistible charm. He decided swiftly that he liked Kira a lot -- she was bright and talented and assertive in ways that he suspected other people never learned. She wasn't a traditional, subservient mother as his own had been; she was a woman who worked and lived alone and cared for herself and her son and enjoyed a great deal of life. Quatre saw so much of Duo in her -- though maybe it should be the other way around.

Kira insisted that Quatre took a seat in the lounge after dinner and Duo would make him coffee, then she joined him on the single, ill-matched but comfortable armchairs. They talked pleasantly about art for a while. Quatre had taken responsibility for the WEI sponsorship of the city's galleries, and was loving the involvement.

"Do you show your paintings anywhere, Mrs Maxwell?"

She smiled slightly, and he thought the colour heightened on her cheeks. "No, I'm afraid not. No-one yet has taken the chance with me; new art is always such a gamble to the commercially-minded, it seems. Please call me Kira. And it's Ms Maxwell -- I've never married."

Quatre nodded to her. "Kira. I'm sorry if I made assumptions."

Her smile was far wider now. "You really are a very charming young man, Quatre! No wonder you're so popular, so successful. Not a blush about my unconventional situation -- not a bluster. Are you ever embarrassed in company?"

"Only with Duo," he answered without thinking, and his mouth paused in mid-smile. But Kira laughed at his reply.

"An honest answer! Duo embarrasses us all sometimes, and loves doing it, too."

Quatre smiled back at her. "He did well in the awards again this year. He complains he didn't win, but he's consistently come up with ideas, and he motivates all of the people around him. He'll be successful himself."

She gazed at him steadily. "Maybe he will at that. His -- style -- isn't always acceptable, particularly to those in authority. He I expect you know that as well as any of us, from your work with his school and your ... friendship."

Has she paused a little too long on that word? Quatre couldn't tell.

"He's very talented, too, artistically. His designs for the cards last year were inspired. And this year, for the project on a central messaging system for the school -- his graphics were bold and imaginative. And entertaining." He grinned involuntarily at the memory of Mr Capaldi's cartoon face spouting the reminders about homework. The school had loved the presentation; but it had possibly been another reason to cost Duo top place. "He has your talent."

She seemed pleased to hear his assessment, though she shrugged it off gently. "Duo doesn't want to admit that, Quatre. He doesn't want it to be so much a part of his life as mine is. I've lived for painting all my life -- can't imagine doing anything else. But he doesn't consider that's enough. He has a strong desire to provide for us; he doesn't want to be poor." She laughed softly. "Maybe I need to have some of his talent in return." She looked at Quatre with eyes a little hooded, as if she were weighing up how far to be frank with him. "His father is also an artist, you know."

"No, I didn't know." Quatre felt a quiver of surprise that Duo should have kept such a thing from him. "I don't think he can deny talent, even if he wishes to. He might not follow it as a career, or an ambition, but it's in everything he does."

Kira moved on her seat as if to get more comfortable, though her eyes never left Quatre's face. "I know that, Quatre Winner. Did you think I didn't? He's my son, after all. He's my everything." Her voice was soft and it robbed it of any offence, but Quatre was moved, regardless.

"I know that too, Kira. I know how that feels." He was saying more than he meant to. It must be the warmth in the room, the good food and company -- the coffee that didn't seem to be appearing any time soon.

Or maybe he couldn't help himself.

Quatre disliked losing control, but the evidence was plain where Duo was concerned. He was just afraid that Duo's mother now had the measure of it too.


*


Kira came to find Duo. He was sitting at the kitchen table, head in his hands, lost to the world. She sighed softly, but didn't speak. She let herself down on to the chair beside him, and waited a while.

"Tell me," she said at last. "Please tell me, Duo. I want to help you."

"Fucking can't," he spat back, but he immediately dropped a hand to place over hers. It wasn't her fault, was it? "It's all a mess, that's all. I don't even know what or why. I get things wrong -- nothing moves fast enough, changes enough for me. I can't deal with people properly, can't get my ideas across. Everything just feels ... bad."

"Is it school?" she asked and the fierce shrug told her that was part of the problem. It was the whole of life -- it was the frustration and confusion and misery of growing up, she thought, tenderly. But he'd not thank her for saying so. "Every person has their time, Duo. Maybe you haven't reached yours yet. Please have patience. You're such a good boy, such a good man. You have so much to offer."

He shook his head; wouldn't meet her eyes. "I'll never be like him," he muttered, so low that she barely caught it. But she did, and she knew what he meant.

"Quatre is very different, Duo. So very different ... and he's older, don't you see? He's been through all this already."

"You all think it's because he's rich and smart and always had good things ... I'm not good enough to match up."

"No," she protested, but gently. "It's not that at all. You're just as good and no-one must tell you different! It's just that ... he's a man already. He runs a company, earns money, owns assets beyond our imagining. He dates all those beautiful women ..."

"He's beautiful." Duo's words were only a whisper and she wasn't sure that she caught them properly at all. She also wasn't sure when she became aware of Quatre standing behind her at the kitchen doorway, but she didn't think he would have heard Duo's conversation. She didn't know whether that was a good thing or not.

Hell, her son was as incomprehensible to her as anyone else at times. All she could do was be there for him.

"Duo?" Quatre's voice was soft and there was a thread in it that Kira thought she recognised; a care that she would show herself for the young man slumped at the table. "Can I help, or shall I go?"

Duo didn't answer him. He stared at Kira instead with a fierce look, one full of misery and anger and a desperate plea for help.

Kira glanced over at Quatre. "I think it better that you go, Quatre. Maybe he can call you tomorrow or something."

Duo stirred suddenly and although he didn't look at Quatre, his head jerked up towards him. "Quatre... shit. It's your birthday tomorrow. I didn't forget, you know."

Quatre felt something catch in his throat. His family rarely celebrated birthdays, except to exchange cards or as a reason to contact relatives far away. "Hey, I know you didn't forget. We'll take in a movie or something at the weekend."

Duo shrugged. "You'll have parties -- clubs, whatever. Your family friends. Those supermodels and the rock stars that follow you around. The paparazzi, that's what they're called, isn't it? Your father will have things planned."

"No, I doubt it," said Quatre. What did Duo want to hear? "My father doesn't have a lot of time for unnecessary events."

"At least he's there," growled Duo. Kira stirred beside him, and frowned.

Quatre felt as if he trod on thin, slippery ice. "Duo, I don't know ... your father ..."

"My father?" Duo suddenly snapped. He stared at his mother and she flushed. "My father isn't around to celebrate or ignore, is he? You see, Quatre, my father is married to someone else. He has other birthdays to organise. Can't be bothering with excess family duties, can he?"

There was a shocked silence.

Quatre drew a deep breath. "I'll go. My birthday isn't important, believe you me ..."

"No," said Duo, his voice now a little strangled. "Shit, it is important. Stop patronising me, stop treating me like a kid. Both of you!" He kicked at the chair leg, seemingly torn between getting up and facing Quatre or staying trapped at the table. "Mom ... please ..."

Kira sighed softly. She stood up from the table herself and reached for a small package beside the sink. It was wrapped in lurid holographic paper, lying ignominiously between the dirty pasta pan and a squashed mess of chopped parsley. "He wanted you to have this," she said, her voice rather stilted, and she held it out to Quatre.

"No," he said, instinctively. "I don't need --"

"Take it!" groaned Duo. "Please, man ... look ... " At last he swivelled round towards Quatre, his breath shallow and his eyes suspiciously red. "But you don't open it until midnight, OK? It's not your birthday yet. Promise me!"

Quatre looked at the small package in his hand and smiled. He was moved; he was confused. He stared back at Duo but the other man still wasn't meeting his gaze. "I promise. And I'll see you soon. That's a promise too,"

"I'll see you out, Quatre," said Kira. Duo lurched back around to stare at the table top and nudge a stray fork around with restless fingers. Kira took Quatre's arm gently and steered him out of the kitchen.


*


They stood for a moment at the door, Quatre fingering his gift almost reverently.

"He chose it himself. Paid for it himself." Kira didn't know what she was doing with this tall, gorgeous young man in her apartment, or what it all meant. Or perhaps she did know, but was reluctant to admit it. "Don't mind Duo, he's been unsettled recently."

"There's been some ... trouble at school," Quatre suggested.

"Maybe," she sighed. Then her dark eyes cleared and the sparkle lit again. "He'll be fine. I'm sorry we troubled you with our family problems, but I daresay a man of your intelligence will understand there are things in families that are ... sensitive."

Quatre nodded. He caught the woman's eyes and saw compassion there. "Leave us, Quatre. We'll settle things between us soon." She saw the young man's reluctance to go, but she stood between him and the apartment door and he knew he must leave. "It's not a failure," she said, softly, as if she read his mind. "It's not a defeat. There are just times that you must leave him to be himself."

"I know. It's just hard, to think I've upset him somehow..."

Her laugh was soft and a little bitter. "You'll have to accept that, if you're his friend. He's volatile, Quatre. He thinks he's tough and bright but he's young. Maybe I can't see him as anything but that... but it doesn't mean his needs are any less. If you're a true friend, keep him close -- don't let him run too loose, else he'll run away from you. He needs to know you're there."

Quatre's gaze was steady. "I'd not want to do anything else, Kira.

She shook her head, bemused. "Quatre Winner ... what exactly are you?"

"I'm sorry?"

"What do you see in him, Quatre? In my Duo?" She didn't sound scornful or sarcastic -- she sounded genuinely interested. "Look at you -- you're everything a young man would want to be. People gravitate to you; they court you. You have everything to make your life easy and rewarding. I don't say that you don't deserve it, for you seem fine enough to me -- but why do you seek time with Duo? The pair of you seem so ill-matched ..."

Quatre's voice was cool. "Maybe your assessment of me is wrong -- maybe I don't have everything I want. Maybe my life isn't that easy at all. You underestimate your son, Kira, and what he has to offer a ... friend."

She took a deep breath and laughed aloud. "OK, so I stand corrected. What do I know, eh? It just seems to me that in some ways you're dangerous for him."

"I would never let him be hurt -- " protested Quatre, but Kira put a hand on his arm to soothe her words.

"I didn't mean to offend you. And Duo - he's always courted danger, hasn't he? Perhaps what I'm really saying is that in other ways, you're just what he needs. You complement each other. He needs someone to watch over him."

"I want to be that!" said Quatre, fervently.

"I can see that," replied Kira. "Good night, Quatre Winner. Happy birthday for tomorrow. We'll both see you again soon."


*


At three minutes past midnight, Quatre sat himself down on the edge of his bed, dressed in only his pants, his feet bare on the thick, deep carpet of his room. He wriggled his toes a little, feeling the threads of it; he flexed the tired muscles of his shoulders. For one of the few times in his life, he didn't feel enthusiasm for the next day and all it might bring.

He felt alone, here in his room. Here in his life.

He reached for the slim parcel by his bedside and slowly unwrapped it. See? He spoke to Duo even in his thoughts. I waited until the actual day.

It was a slim, elegant silver neck chain. Very understated which was maybe a symptom of Duo's lack of funds, or maybe an indication of his very sound understanding of Quatre and his straightforward tastes in the things that really mattered to him.

Quatre ran the cool links through his fingers, and then reached up to fit it around his neck. He'd never received such a gift in his life; he'd never cared for one as much, either.

He wasn't sure how the hell he was going to sleep in peace tonight.

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