There was a perfunctory knock on the office door, before the secretary pushed it open, stepping inside with a wry smile. Her heels clacked across the floor as she walked, stopping halfway between the door and the large desk that Iria sat behind.
“I’m sorry to interrupt ma’am. Master Rashid is here for his meeting with you.”
“Thank you, Chelsea, you may send him in,” Iria responded with a tired smile, setting the folder she’d been reading aside.
Chelsea bowed at the neck and turned back to the door, opening it wider for a large man to enter. Iria rose from her seat and gave him a smile, this one no less tired, but much happier. Rashid entered, filling up the space of the room with his energy. Reserved, but fiercely determined, and protective. He leaned down to hug her, placing a chaste kiss on her cheek, which she returned. Chelsea entered the room and set down a tray with a teapot and two cups, and all the fixings one could want for a proper cup of tea before she showed herself out of the office and closed the door behind her.
“Now, Rashid. What do you need? You never call me unless there’s a problem, and even then, we hardly ever meet face to face,” she queried as she added a bit of sugar and a dash of milk into her tea cup before stirring it, turning her attention to the large man sitting across the desk from her. Rashid took his own tea, the cup dwarfed by his hands. He sighed, the sound loud in the quiet of the office.
“I’m sorry to trouble you with this Iria, but it’s the young master,” Rashid finally answered after a long moment of silence.
Iria’s lips pursed into a thin line, and her face wanted to soften at the mention of her baby brother, but she wanted to curse his very existence in the same breath. Her brother was the biggest problem she had while she was running WEI. Their father had died two years ago, leaving the youngest of them, essentially an orphan. Oh, there were plenty of adults in his life, from all of his older sisters, to the staff that ran the daily affairs of the house, to Rashid and his men that were in charge of protecting the family, including the young boy. Zaid’s will stipulated that Quatre would inherit the company, and run it, like he’d been groomed to do since he was a young boy.
Unfortunately, laws prevented him from being allowed to take up the mantle of Winner Enterprises until he turned 21. Until that time, the oldest child would run things, which meant everything fell to Iria. She loathed business, even if she was savvy at it. She preferred being a doctor, helping and saving lives over lining the pockets of passive men who only wanted to reap the rewards off of others’ hard work. But, she was obligated to it as the eldest child. Iria didn’t trust any of the other girls to not run the company into the ground, and effectively end the Winner legacy. She persisted, but Quatre tested her patience, even though she loved him like he was her own child.
“What has he done now?” She asked tiredly, her voice letting the older man see just how much her brother troubled her.
“The other guards… They refuse to work with him any longer. He’s tested the patience of my best men, and I’m not sure what else can be done. I cannot guard him, and oversee the matters of the house at the same time,” Rashid admitted.
He was good, but he wasn’t Superman, and even he had limits, as much as his men liked to assume that he didn’t. They saw him as a human, but one without faults. Rashid hated admitting weakness, but in his admission, he knew there was strength as well. Strength of character to say that he needed help. Iria sighed and set her cup down. Unfortunately, she’d seen this coming from a mile away. Quatre was a spoiled child, and still acted like one even though he was 18 now.
“I knew this day was coming. I didn’t expect it so soon though. What are your thoughts about it? Do you have a suggestion?”
Iria knew what she would do, if she had total control. Despite the fact that Quatre was legally an adult, as the acting head of the family, and the only one who could relinquish control of WEI to Quatre when the time came; Iria still had final say in what things Quatre did. She wanted to ship him off to military school, just to be done with him, and let someone with more patience and skills than herself try to manage him. But, Rashid probably had something up his sleeve. He’d probably already come prepared. Probably the only reason that he was here, was because he had a plan that just needed her approval.
“He needs a permanent guard. Someone with him, that can be a buffer between him and my men, and that can tolerate his… Abrasive nature,” Rashid spoke, rolling his words around carefully in his head before he spoke them, knowing he had to tread lightly.
“You want to hire someone to be his shadow, and continue letting him run amok?” Iria queried with a raised eyebrow.
“Essentially, yes. Give him some time to adjust to a new face, and perhaps the right person can… Curb the young master’s recklessness. If things are not working as well as expected, after a trial period, then we can discuss other options. Though I expect that the list of options is growing shorter by the days, rather than longer,” Rashid admitted with a shake of his head.
“You have no idea,” Iria admitted, placing the fingers of one hand on her forehead with a heavy sigh. “Do you have any candidates in mind for this position?”
“I have three men that I think would be an excellent addition to the team. But, I want to interview them with you. I have technical questions to ask them, and you know the young master just as well, if not better than I do, and can offer insight on that aspect.”
“You knew all of this before you even came in here, you sly devil,” Iria teased, a hint of relief overtaking her countenance, knowing that they had a plan in place, and were working towards a solution that could potentially save her sanity.
“I had Chelsea set up interviews next week, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. One a day, since I’m sure they’ll take a bit of time,” Rashid admitted.
“Very well. I hope one of them is capable of handling my brother. I really hope this works Rashid, because otherwise I’ll be the devil that Quatre will never forgive. He’ll hate me worse than our father, if I have to control him,” Iria admitted, voice quiet, filled with too many emotions to even try and name.
“I share that hope,” Rashid agreed, his own tone somber in return.
The first interview went smoothly enough. Though, Iria could tell just from the man’s… Less than stellar personality, his ten years in the service, and another ten of doing this type of work, he wouldn’t last a week with Quatre. He was an old school type, and a complete hard ass, in her humble opinion. Quatre would have eaten him alive with his bratty methods, and complete lack of respect for authority. No, Iria crossed his name off the list with a single stroke of her pen.
The second one was arrogant beyond comprehension. He strutted in like he owned the building, and barely greeted Iria, choosing to lavish his attention on Rashid. It set Iria off right away, and when Rashid had asked his questions, he directed Iria to take over. The man had the gall to barely answer her questions, instead interrupting her to ask his own questions. The biggest audacity was when they talked salary. Since the position did require a bit of sacrifice on the part of the guard, it did come with what both Iria and Rashid considered a generous salary, if the position held. But, this man had the arrogance to demand another forty-thousand. A million dollars to simply guard someone? Yes, it was a high risk, and high-profile case, but it was outrageous.
Iria had learned to school her features quickly in the time since her father’s death, and her new career undertaking. The only betrayal of her face at his desired salary was a double blink. Rashid was just as good, and merely made a noise that neither confirmed, nor denied the price. As he left, he refused to acknowledge Iria again, and left with a bounce to his step. Iria stood up angrily and marched over to a small cabinet in the corner of the office. It was mostly decoration, but this time she needed something. She poured herself a measure of scotch and added a splash of water, the liquid sloshing up the sides of her glass from the fine tremble in her hand. It mixed the alcohol and the water for her, and she took a sip. The burn was dulled, and she could pick up a taste of honey and a tiny dash of orange. She couldn’t even enjoy the flavor of it, she was so livid.
“I apologize for that Iria. I had no idea fame had gone to his head,” Rashid admitted, hanging his head in defeat, feeling like he had failed her.
“Not your fault. Many fields are still male dominated, and being a woman is a difficult slope to scale. I’ve encountered things like that before, but never that badly.”
She sat down with a sigh, like she now bore the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her eyes glazed over for a moment, like she was escaping from every responsibility that she had, the tumbler of amber liquid hanging precariously in her lax hand. Rashid was well trained, and allowed her the silence she desperately needed.
“I hope that the one tomorrow is better than today. I don’t want to put it out there publicly that I’m looking for someone. I wouldn’t say who, but it would be easy to figure out. I don’t want to resort to that.”
Rashid could only nod in agreement, aching to do more for the fractured, but proud and powerful woman across the room from him. All he could do was hope and pray that tomorrow wouldn’t be as much of a disappointment as the previous day, and today had been.
“Can I just cancel this?” Iria groused from her desk, looking over at Rashid pleadingly.
She didn’t want to go through this again. After the first two, she didn’t think it could get any worse, but the possibility was there. It wouldn’t have surprised her if this one was the worst of all of them. Rashid seemed to have more faith in the universe providing her with what she needed though, and he merely shook his head in a negative gesture, a play of a smile on his lips. He was about to speak when there was a knock at the door. Iria quickly schooled herself and fixed her posture, looking every bit the respectable and unapproachable businesswoman.
Chelsea poked her head in, knowing how much her boss was dreading this. She offered a small smile of reassurance. “Mr. Barton is here ma’am, sir.”
“Send him in please Chelsea. Thank you,” Iria replied automatically.
Her face vanished from the doorway, and the door opened wide, a tall man dressed in a crisp dark grey suit entered the office. He closed the door behind him, walking confidently across the room. He didn’t strut, merely walked. As he got closer, Iria could tell he was former military, but he’d obviously adjusted back to civilian life at some point. Iria stood up as he approached the desk, and he shook her hand, his grip firm, but not over bearing.
“Good morning Iria. Rashid,” he greeted, turning towards Rashid after Iria, shaking his hand as well.
It was a breath of fresh air after their previous encounters.
“Please, take a seat Trowa. I hope you understand why this interview is a bit untraditional,” Iria opened with.
Trowa merely nodded in reply, folding one leg over the other as he settled in his chair, waiting for them to begin. Rashid started.
“We’re looking for someone with a unique skill set. We have a difficult person we need to be protected. This is more of a trial thing, at first. If you can mesh well with them, then we’ll make the position permanent. Is that alright with you, before we continue?”
It was the first and only chance for an out. If they were upfront right at the beginning, then they knew what they were getting into right off the bat. When Trowa agreed with those terms, Rashid pressed on.
“This position requires a large amount of sacrifice on the guard’s part. Traveling with person in question, threats from outside and inside the family. Lots of media coverage. Think of guarding a celebrity, but with more… Instability.”
Trowa mulled it over for a minute before he spoke. “Please, allow me to talk about myself, and my qualifications for a moment?” He queried politely.
Iria and Rashid nodded for him to continue.
“I’ve served in the Marine Corps for five years. I have three more years to go, in reserves, which should not interfere with possible duties, if I’m chosen. I have medals for hand to hand combat, weapons training, and service. I was deployed overseas twice, and served. I have worked in this industry for just over a year now. While I haven’t had clients as high profile as what this position offers, I have worked with clients who have been in the public eye.”
“How about technology? We have access to quite an array of tools and devices at our disposal, for various uses.” Rashid quipped.
“I’ve used many things, both in the service, and in civilian life. Anything I haven’t used, I can pick up rather quickly,” he responded.
They went back and forth for a bit, Iria watching the entire exchange without commenting. She was observing how he interacted with Rashid. If he could get along with Rashid, then he’d fit in like a missing puzzle piece amongst Rashid’s men. No, she was evaluating Trowa to see if his personality could mesh well with her brother’s. So far, she was slightly enamored with him. Besides his polite manner of speaking, and the soothing lilt to his voice, his looks were devastatingly handsome. If Iria wasn’t already married, and probably at least half a dozen years older than him, she’d have been willing to take him out on a date. He was tall, at least 6’1”, and broad in the shoulders. He filled out his suit like it had been custom made for him, and he probably had one hell of a tailor. And, she could only imagine what his body looked like underneath it. From time in the service, and of course he had to upkeep it if he was in the reserves, so she was sure he looked like one of those statues that the Greeks had carved out of marble.
“Did you have any questions Iria?” Rashid asked after a moment, looking a bit ashamed at himself, since it seemed that they’d let their discussion carry them away.
“How’s your patience level?” Iria asked, folding her arms onto the desk, looking at Trowa with a careful eye.
“I like to think I have it in spades, ma’am,” Trowa said with an honest shrug.
You had to have patience, leaning how to try and shower with a group of men. Dining with them, marching and training. It took a lot to learn to not snap when someone screwed up something simple, and it took even more control to not snap and scream when the entire group was punished for what had gone wrong. That was just in the military. Never mind working for a B-list celebrity, who insisted on doing her own thing, and constantly putting herself out there for free press, either good or bad. No, Trowa was thankful that Relena had gotten a big break, and needed a larger security team. Trowa had gracefully bowed out to the larger group, claiming that Relena needed more than he could offer. She’d been upset, and very handsy at their parting, and he was thankful to have other men around to attest to the fact that nothing happened, and his hands had never strayed beyond her shoulders.
He talked about where he’d used patience in the military, and with his past clients. Starlets were notorious for being difficult, so Trowa spoke about that as well. The conversation with Iria moved onto other things, including the possibility of driving, of moving into the house if he found the demands too much – they’d pay to keep his apartment current so he’d always have a place of his own to go back to, which he was grateful for. When they’d both run out of questions, Iria stood up and thanked him, shaking his hand. Rashid did the same, and he showed himself out, Iria promising a phone call tomorrow.
Once he was gone, they both sat down and shared a knowing look. It wasn’t rocket science in the slightest. There was no question who they were going to extend the offer to. Iria didn’t want to deal with calling them. Especially the one that had ignored her. No, she delegated the task of informing the losing candidates to Rashid. She’d call Trowa herself, first thing tomorrow morning.
Trowa had been thrilled, and had accepted the temporary position without missing a beat. Iria invited him over to the house for the afternoon, knowing Quatre would be home. She wanted to be there when they met, hoping to try and steer past any land mines that might crop up right away. She hoped that Quatre would accept the newest change, and that she wouldn’t have to put her foot down, and be the evil big sister turned guardian. Trowa agreed to meet her at the house, and after the tour and meeting, they’d go over the contract and other paperwork for Trowa to sign.
Of course, the law of the universe dictated that because she had plans and wanted to do damage control, then things would go wrong. She got stuck late at the office, eyes glued to her watch, the seconds and minutes roll past, with no regard that she needed to be somewhere else besides work in that moment. When she finally pulled up outside the house, she parked in front of the door, behind an unknown silver sedan that looked like it had some speed behind it. It had to be Trowa. It wasn’t flashy, but it wasn’t depilated either. He’d clearly done decently for himself. Opening the door, she was about to call out when she heard voices from around the corner. Rashid came out of one of the spare rooms followed by Trowa, the pair talking animatedly about something as they entered the foyer.
“Iria,” Rashid greeted her with a smile, moving to kiss her cheek. “I was told you were running late, so I gave Trowa a tour of the main floor, along with the panic rooms, and the armory.”
She let out a chuckle of relief. “I’m sure the stock pile of things stored in our armory is laughable compared to the Marines,” she retorted, shaking Trowa’s hand again. “I’m so sorry for being late. Emergencies like that don’t usually crop up at the end of the day.”
“Accidents happen. One of the first rules of life. Whatever can happen, will happen.”
Iria was grateful that Trowa was understanding. It wasn’t the greatest first impression outside of the office, but it would have to do. She’d wanted things to go smoothly, because she knew Quatre was going to be a brat, and was going to push the brink of her sanity.
“Let’s head upstairs. Quatre should be up in his room. We’ll enroll you in his classes this week, so Monday you’re ready to start,” Iria chattered as she led the way up the stairs to the second floor and the bedrooms.
Down the hall at the end, she stopped in front of a door. Steeling her nerves, she knocked and didn’t wait for a reply. She could hear him yelling, probably at another video game again, and she pushed open the door, revealing a typical teenage room, in a sense. It was huge, compared to a normal room. Quatre sat on a small couch at the foot of his large bed, fingers working over a video game controller on the projection screen that took up an entire wall. The room was dark blue, the furniture dark wood, ornate, and heavy-looking. There was a desk along another wall, with a door near it, which Trowa assumed to be a closet.
“Quatre. I need to talk to you.”
“What do you want?” He shot back, fingers never leaving the controller, scenery running by, Trowa figuring it was probably the newest Call of Duty game.
Iria sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. At least Trowa would see firsthand how the boy acted, so he’d know what he was getting himself into for next week. She shot Trowa a sympathetic look that screamed ‘I’m sorry, this is what you’re getting into’.
“I told you the other day. We’re changing your guard. I’ve brought him to meet you. Like I said the other day.” Iria did her best to keep her tone neutral, though her sentences were clipped short.
“I don’t know why you decided to add in another guard. We have enough with all of Rashid’s men, I don’t need some random guy following me around like a puppy. It’s not like I need protection. You’re just paranoid Iria,” Quatre spat, rolling his eyes at his sister.
Iria snapped. She’d had a short fuse after the incident at WEI, and now this. She was over his snarky attitude, and she wanted to let him know it. Snatching the remote off the back of the couch, she powered off the projector. Quatre shot off the couch, exclaiming with indignant rage at her performing such an action, yanking his headset off, as he ignored the enraged shouts of his teammates. The blonde looked so young, with roundness to his face that would probably melt away as he got older. His eyes were a brilliant blue that right now bristled with rage. He took a speculative glance at Trowa before he turned his rage on his sister. All Trowa could do was bounce his gaze from one to the other as they started lashing out at each other in perfect French, Quatre leading off the argument.
“I don’t need another guard! We have plenty on staff already!”
“None of them will work with you! You drive them all mad with your immaturity!”
“Sorry I’m a child living their life Iria! Or did you forget that I’m 18?”
“You’re mature beyond your years in some ways! This was all Rashid’s idea. He fears for your life Quatre! If Rashid is fearful, then I trust his decision!”
Quatre’s face softened for a brief moment. Trowa thought that perhaps Iria might have won. But, Quatre didn’t stay quiet or that gentle looking for long.
“I didn’t ask for this life Iria! And I certainly didn’t ask for him!” Quatre yelled, still in French, even as he gestured at Trowa.
Trowa cocked an eyebrow up, and tipped his head to the side, wanting to jump in, but they seemed to have gotten the ball truly rolling. They kept going, the claims growing more and more outrageous, their volume rising as they kept up their verbal tennis match. He was getting whiplash from trying to watch them both. They eventually slowed, though they both still looked angry, their faces red, Quatre’s chest heaving with the force of his vocalizations. In the lull between, Trowa finally decided to dive in.
“I’m here on a trial basis Quatre. Feel free to do your worst, and if I can’t hack it, then you’ll be back to how it was before. Fair enough?” Trowa asked them both, in heavily accented, but still perfect French that could have rivaled either Quatre or Iria.
The shock on their faces, knowing that Trowa had understood every word they had said about one another, and the fact that their relationship as siblings was strained to a breaking point. Iria laughed, covering her mouth with a hand, her entire body shaking with it, while Quatre’s face turned pink, from his ears to his neck, and he looked away from both of them.
“Fine, but I won’t be easy on you,” Quatre muttered, back to English.
“I’m a Marine Quatre, I relish the challenge,” Trowa practically purred.
It hadn’t been exactly disastrous as far as meetings went, in Trowa’s opinion. They’d left Quatre alone after that, and Trowa could only assume he fired the game right back up to try and work through some of his other frustrations. Iria finished the tour of the upstairs, including the room just across the hall from Quatre’s, that was going to be his. It was bigger than half his apartment, and it was a single room! He half considered giving up his apartment if this whole trial gig thing worked out, and Iria decided to keep him on staff. Despite the older woman’s reservations about the blonde boy and his attitude and how well Trowa would manage, the brunette found himself signing the contracts and the non-disclosure agreements easily, with the same gusto and flourish he’d signed his paperwork for the Marines with. It held a certain measure of pride, knowing what he was doing, and that in some way, he was doing something positive. Even if this time, it was just for a single family.
Iria sent him home that night with a folder full of things. He was expected to be there Sunday with his things, so he could commence with staying there, so he would be around when Quatre needed him. He didn’t look at the folder that night. No, he saved it for the following morning, Friday. As he wandered through his apartment from the bedroom to the kitchen in a pair of jeans, unbuttoned and barely hanging onto his hips, he started the coffee pot. Dragging fingers through his sleep-tousled hair, he knew he was just making the crazy spikes in it from sleeping even worse. He didn’t even want to see his reflection, knowing how frightening his clown hair could be. When he had an extra-large mug filled with coffee, fixed just how he liked it, he settled himself at the pub-style table he had in the kitchen and pulled the folder to him, taking a deep breath before he dove in.
It started off innocuous enough. Basic information on Quatre that he needed to memorize in the event of an emergency, like birthday, blood type, etc. He turned the page as he sipped at his coffee, knowing his eyes went wide as he took in the content. With a sigh, he set the mug down and scrubbed a hand across his eyes, as if that would lessen the shock of what he was reading. It was a background information sheet. It glossed over certain things, but had what he needed to know. Both of Quatre’s parents were deceased, which he knew. He didn’t know that the mother had gone when Quatre was an infant. That wasn’t… He shook his head. There was information on the sisters, all of them. The father had been Muslim, and had kept several wives, though Quatre had been the only son. After the father died three years ago, there had been all out war between the sisters over the legacy of the father. Trowa assumed that some of it also came from the older sister were married, and the husbands wanted the fortune that came from the family last name.
That unrest had only deepened the fissures in the family when the will had been read aloud. There had probably been even more of an uproar, at a now dead man who couldn’t answer any demands as to why he’d done what he’d did. It was after that announcement that things had taken a dire turn. Sure, there had been kidnapping attempts, even murder attempts on the youngest Winner child. Who wouldn’t want easy money from a large, influential family. But, they had stepped up after the will. More attempts, many of them serious, on a fifteen-year-old child. A teenager, who couldn’t even mourn the loss of a parent, because of desperately greedy family members. A teenager who had to grow up too quickly because of the family he’d been born into. It had turned the boy into a spoiled child, who got his way. Though, that had probably started when he was younger, being the only male son in a family overrun with girls.
“What have I gotten myself into?” Trowa asked, looking over into his living room at the large bowl he had there, with a lonely blue and yellow betta fish, like he was expecting it to jump out of the bowl and answer him.
He took a break from reading to finish his coffee, letting his mind wander away from him. Now that he had some of this background information, he could see why Quatre acted spoiled. Now he could try and figure out a way to work on it. It wasn’t a requirement of his employment, but just by the fact that he’d driven so many adults to the point of being unable to be around him… Well the Marine in Trowa was screaming that he had to do something, and like he’d declared in front of Iria, and Quatre… Trowa relished a challenge.
In true Marine fashion, he showed up on Saturday afternoon with all of the things he’d need. Clothes, toiletries, his own personal weapons. And his fish. He couldn’t leave it behind to die, even if he felt silly with a duffle bag over one shoulder and a huge fishbowl tucked into his other arm. Rashid hadn’t said anything when he opened the door to let him inside. He’d merely offered to send a couple of guys out to grab the rest of his bags. What had taken five trips outside by himself took two with the help of a couple of the extra guards. They’d left him to get settled, and he’d put away his clothes, found a spot for the fish and stowed all his luggage away in the back recesses of the closet.
When things were settled as much as they could be, he laid himself on the bed, staring blankly up at the ceiling. Monday would start his new job, and he had to wonder if he was really up to snuff for everything that was going to happen. Quatre had been through thirty-nine men. Rashid made forty, but he could still work with the blonde, for some reason. The remaining men had been divided up, into guards and other staff. Half did guard work, while the other half took care of tasks like driving and household duties. Some of them were even parceled out to some of the other sisters, that Iria liked. There were so many that of course there was bound to be infighting. So, Iria protected those whom she loved, and knew supported Quatre, leaving the rest to fend for themselves. At any time, in the ‘main house’, or Iria and Quatre’s domain, there were at least ten men on staff at any time, and usually a handful more in reserve. They preferred around the clock coverage for the oldest and youngest children, even with security systems in place.
The last time he’d been included in such a huge operation had been when he’d been shipped overseas, and selected for a rather sensitive mission. There had been briefings for the briefings, and enough equipment to fill a small third world country. He really didn’t think Quatre’s situation was that dire, in his opinion. He honestly thought it was just Iria and Rashid being too over-protective of a young teenager, who happened to be rich, and thus, spoiled.
Trowa was proved just how wrong his assumptions were Monday morning at breakfast. Rashid handed him another folder with his information for classes. What he hadn’t known was that Quatre had skipped two grades, and at eighteen, was already a sophomore in college, and they’d ‘enrolled’ Trowa into his classes as well. Money always talked, so he knew they’d just pulled some strings to get him to be in each class. But, that wasn’t his business. He was drinking a cup of coffee and chewing on a bagel when Quatre came downstairs, dressed in jeans and a polo shirt. He was awake, but he didn’t look like he was anything higher than a barely functioning ghost.
Thinking he was going for the coffee, Trowa grabbed an extra mug from the table beside him and went to hand it over. Quatre shook his head in silence before he dropped his face to the cool marble of the countertop. A handful of moments later, the door swung open again, revealing a shorter man with a thick black moustache. He had a bright smile and a booming voice.
“Good morning Master Quatre!”
Quatre grunted in reply and merely held out his hand, picking his face up off the counter, fixing the man with a bleary look, like all he wanted was to go back to sleep for the next three years. The man gave the boy a smile and handed over a slim vial of liquid. Trowa wasn’t really paying attention, but it looked mostly clear. The man quickly bustled around, fixing a mug of tea which he placed beside Quatre.
“This is the worst part of my day Ahmed,” Quatre grossed, waiting for the tea to cool.
He took a small sip to make sure he wouldn’t scald his tongue and removed the teabag, dropping it onto the edge of Trowa’s breakfast plate, despite Trowa’s muffled indignant noise.
“I know Master Quatre. But, it must be done,” Ahmed replied softly, fixing the blonde with a gentle look, almost like a father figure.
With a sigh loud enough to have woken Sleeping Beauty from her coma, Quatre carefully opened the cap on the vial and tipped its contents into his mouth, swallowing it like a shot of alcohol. He didn’t gag, though the grimace he made was rather priceless to look at. He carefully replaced the cap and handled the tube back to Ahmed, smacking his lips in an attempt to try and work the taste of it from his palate. After a few moments, he finally picked up the mug of tea and sipped at it, using it to wash the nasty taste from his mouth. Then he took his mug and an apple from the fruit bowl and turned, leaving the kitchen as quietly as he’d come in. Ahmed sighed, making sure the cap was secure before he tucked it into a pocket on his jacket.
“What was that all about?” Trowa queried after he’d finished his mouthful of coffee.
Ahmed fixed him with a sad smile. “That’s right, you don’t know… Every morning Quatre has a bit of… We’re building up his tolerance to poisons. He has a small dose of a different one every morning, so that in the event he’s actually poisoned, he’ll have a higher rate of survival, until the antidote can be administered, if there is one.”
It struck home. The reality of the situation that Quatre was in. A young man like that, willingly ingesting poison, on the off chance that someone would actually poison him. Trowa knew his eyes were probably as wide as saucers in complete bewilderment.
“It’s common in large families, where large sums of money, and legacy are on the line. At least in the culture that Quatre’s father grew up with.” Ahmed prattled on, Trowa listening dutifully, filing away the important pieces of information.
A short time later, Quatre came back down with his bag slung over one shoulder, and headphones firmly fixed in his ears, head bobbing in time with a tune that Trowa couldn’t hear. He dumped his bag on the table next to Trowa’s and headed out through the garage door without even sparing a backwards glance at the brunette. Ahmed laughed at Trowa’s shocked expression and merely shook his head.
“That’s Quatre. Welcome to the team,” Ahmed said, clapping Trowa on the back before heading out of the kitchen through the back door.
Sighing, Trowa grabbed both bags and headed out for the garage, both bags in his hand. He tossed them into the back seat of the car, right next to the blonde before he climbed into the driver’s seat and started the car. The drive to the college was done in silence, Quatre never looking up from his phone, and Trowa stone-faced silent in the front seat.
Arriving, Trowa managed to find parking, though Quatre wasn’t helpful with where he needed to park. So, they wound up halfway across campus from the building where most of Quatre’s classes were. It wasn’t Trowa’s fault that the boy was silent and lost in his cellphone. At least this time, the blonde carried his own backpack. Trowa followed him at a discreet distance, but still within easy reach should something happen. He honestly didn’t think anything would happen at the college, but with a kid that drank poison every morning, he wouldn’t put it past scheming family to pay off a struggling and broke college kid to try and off a fellow student.
The first class was boring. Even by Trowa’s standards. It was an advanced business class, with quite a few terms even the brunette had never heard of. He pretended to take notes, watching Quatre from his seat in the back. He’d gone a row over and a couple seats back, again, so it wouldn’t appear too obvious to the casual observer. Then again, if anyone was following the car, they’d know who Trowa was, and what he was doing. Shrugging it off, he tried to focus on the lecture. Only a day in, and he had too much information to keep straight. He flipped a page in his notebook and started making notes on everything he’d learned from the Winner family, and from Quatre himself. He was so focused, that when the class ended, he was jolted out of his thoughts by the professor calling his name in his nasally voice. He could almost feel the smirk emanating from the back of Quatre’s head. He gathered up his things, and tried to signal Quatre, but the blonde was gone like a puff of smoke.
“Yes professor?” Trowa asked, slinging his bag onto his shoulder, looking the professor in the eyes, giving the man the respect he was due.
“I know why you’re here, with Mr. Winner. The dean informed his professors, so we could keep a weather eye out,” he said, waving away Trowa’s look of confusion before he rolled on. “The Winner’s have paid for you to be in classes. In my class, I highly suggest you do the work. You’re taking the classes, you may as well get the credits. Never know when you could use them towards a degree. I know I’ll be grading you, and I’m sure some of the other professors will offer you the same suggestion,” he finished, brandishing a copy of the syllabus at Trowa.
Trowa nodded, taking the paperwork, thanking the professor for his suggestion. Internally, he cursed. He didn’t need the added stress of homework on top of watching out for the blonde! It would be too much, even for a man of his talents. Now, he had to locate his wayward charge, as he thanked the professor again and headed out the door of the classroom, into the flux of students all trying to make their way somewhere.
Quatre didn’t have a second class right after his first one. He had an hour break before his second class, at least today. Trowa looked everywhere. The student union, the library, the quad. He couldn’t find the blonde anywhere, and the irrational part of him was starting to panic. His first day on the job, and he’d lost Quatre at the school. He’d be fired, and The rational, military part of his brain kept his outside appearance as cool as a cucumber though. He needed to think. The only place he hadn’t checked was the immediate area outside of Quatre’s next class, so he headed there next.
Sure enough, when Trowa strolled up, looking every bit the casual, but slightly older student than half of the student body, there he was. Quatre was tucked into a corner, with his back and right side pressed against a wall. Tactically, a bad position. He couldn’t move two ways because of solid brick walls behind him, and in the front, he was boxed in by an older male. The other guy had shaggy brown hair that fell almost artfully into his face, with icy blue eyes. He was close to Trowa’s height, though he wasn’t as muscled, he still looked like he took care of himself, and like it would be no problem for him to manhandle Quatre around, if he were paid to do so.
Trowa remained at a distance, carefully observing their interaction. Quatre obviously liked him, in some manner. He was leaning towards him, body language open, despite having on arm crossed in front of his chest, clutching a text book. His eyes were bright as he listened to whatever the brunette was saying, nodding along enthusiastically. The brunette reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind his ear, giving Quatre a full-faced smile, listening to his reply. Quatre’s voice was alive with excitement, though he seemed to be giving more to the conversation than the other guy. Quatre was flirting hard, even if he didn’t realize it. All Trowa saw was a weakness. If his family found out about his crush on this other man, they’d try to get to him.
Trowa waited until the end of the day, after lunch in the cafeteria to talk to Quatre. Specifically, he waited until they were in the car, and he was driving to confront Quatre about his little crush.
“You know that liking him is dangerous, right?” Trowa asked, eyes darting to the rearview mirror to see if Quatre heard him, despite the headphones.
Quatre pulled one out, fixing him with a glare that Trowa had only seen on upper military men, who could hand your ass to you with a single command.
“Everything is dangerous. Everything I do is dangerous. Just being who I am is dangerous.” Quatre retorted, voice dripping with ice.
“Yes, but I wonder if your family won’t try to use the fact that you have a crush on him, against you. People are so easily bought with money, especially college students. It wouldn’t take much for him, since he’s so close to you,” Trowa rambled on, eyes darting every now and then from the road to the mirror, to watch Quatre’s face.
Quatre ripped out his other headphone, his face flushing red with anger, his voice rising to a fever pitch.
“You think I don’t know that?! That anyone I talk to is a potential risk? That any one of my so-called friends wouldn’t jump at the chance to make a shit ton of money, and in the process, screw me over? Don’t you think I worry about that? That I don’t know it’s not a real possibility every waking moment of every fucking day? Should I just be alone, for the rest of my life? Alone, friendless, loveless? A perpetual hermit who lives in the world but has no connection to it?!”
He paused for breath before he started right back up, his voice so loud it echoed in the car. He had to be screaming, but without outside now, Trowa couldn’t tell.
“My sister and Rashid hired you to be a body guard, not Jiminy fucking Cricket to my actions. I don’t want or need your counsel, and you’ll do kindly to keep your opinion to your own head. I will NOT sacrifice normalcy because of who I am, and what could happen. I will not live in a state of perpetual fear and ignore my life! I will not stop seeing my friends, or seeing Heero. He’s a classmate, and if I can play my cards right with him, down the road he’ll be a more valuable asset to me than you and your meagre skills ever hope to be.”
The car had pulled to a stop at the house, without either of them realizing it. Trowa hadn’t put it in park yet, but Quatre had thrown the door open so hard it bounced backwards at him. He caught it with his hand and practically tumbled out of the car. He left the door hanging wide open and stormed inside, slamming the front door hard enough to make the windows in the main room rattle with the force of impact. Trowa threw the car into park and rested his forehead on the steering wheel, resisting the urge to knock his head against it harder. His first day and he’d royally fucked up several times. If he kept going this way, he’d be fired before the trial period was up.
Iria hadn’t been kidding when she told him that Quatre was a bratty child. He didn’t want advice, and he wanted to do things his own way. Trowa couldn’t fault him for wanting to be independent, and experiencing life, but it was going to make HIS life difficult. He’d have to strike a balance between helping and doing his job, and it was going to be an art form once he was able to do it. All he could do was hope that this Heero guy wouldn’t hurt Quatre too much, because he didn’t know if he was qualified to help the young blonde pick up the pieces of an unrequited crush.