Freedom is a beach.
Ocean waves lapping against warm, fine sand, a bright sun high in the sky and barely a whisper of clouds up ahead. Such paradises do exist - but they are rarely empty.
That went for this beach as well, despite it being towards the end of the season. Clouds drifted by sporadically, the waves crashed in just a bit rougher, and neither sun nor water was as warm as a mere few weeks before. That didn't really matter; it was still a safe haven for one Quatre R. Winner; heir and business apprentice to Winner Enterprises, a reasonably successful holding company based in the city but a stone's throw or two hundred from the beach Quatre was currently relaxing on.
As almost every morning, he'd spread out his towel near tower fourteen, his bag placed to rest beside him. He'd removed his colorful Hawaii shirt and extra layer of shorts, folded them and put them into the bag. He had applied sunblock and sunglasses to himself and laid down on the towel to soak sun, closed his eyes and allowed his mind to drift like the rare cloud high above.
For a few hours every day, this was his escape from destiny.
It was a few hours he greatly treasured - usually the only time he could live without the burden of his future hanging overhead. His father's public profile was reasonably noticeable, but his own was nowhere near as well known. That small blessing was what allowed him to come here in the first place. Their chief of security - the burly and stubborn man that was Rashid - would undoubtedly have insisted on a full, armed escort otherwise. In fact, Quatre was surprised Rashid even permitted this much. While Quatre couldn't blame the man for doing his job, he often wished Rashid was a little less effective.
On the beach, that did not matter. Being boss - or just boss-in-training - allowed for flexible hours. This whole summer had been great that way.
Of course, he didn't just come for the sun, or for a daily dip and swim - he could have done that in the large indoor pool back home. The people had much to do with his coming here. The chance to mingle with regular people rather than the so-called elite his duties to the family business often demanded was something Quatre greatly appreciated. Helping kids build sandcastles and joining informal beach volleyball games felt oddly liberating.
There was also the fact he'd learned how to fake dozing off while observing the world from behind his cheap, dark sunglasses. One trick was to make sure it was your eyes that moved, not your head. There was much to behold on a beach; much that was covered in far less.
He might not fool a careful observer, but most of the scantily clad and often rather attractive bodies that passed close by did not seem to care about being watched. Being a looker didn't bother him much, either - after all, spread out on his big towel wearing only a pair of dark blue speedos, he was giving just as much back to the flesh feast as he got from it. It wasn't as if he hadn't gotten some glances of interest this summer.
There weren't as many to ogle now, though. The summer was coming to a close, and businesses and schools were emerging from their mothballed state. A mild gust passed Quatre, brushing sand against his tanned skin. He sighed, tried to get a bearing of the time by checking where the sun was. It looked like his allotted time was running out again.
He put his sunglasses away in the bag, tossed in the cheap paperback novel he'd skimmed a few pages of and zipped the flaps closed. Standing up, he brushed traces of sand off himself, much of it sticking to remainders of sunblock and traces of sweat.
That could easily be fixed. With a grin, he shuffled down to the water, then out in it. For the first few steps, a shiver went up his spine. The water wasn't too cold yet, but it was not as comfortable as he'd gotten used to. Last weekend had seen heavy rains, and there hadn't been enough sunshine to warm up the ocean again afterwards.
Even so, he dived in as soon as depth allowed, making sure to soak himself entirely. Once under, he burst back to the surface, shaking his blond, wet hair like a dog would. Then he started doing laps, going from tower fourteen down towards tower thirteen and back again.
Not until he was satisfied - and his body started growing numb - did he decide to call it quits.
Dry sand leaped up to cling to his feet and ankles as he came out of the water. It didn't bother him; the tickle of sand between his toes had grown on him. It was still a bit irritating if it stuck there the entire day, though. Once too often he'd discovered fine, dry sand as he took off his socks for the night.
Quatre didn't head back for his towel right away. Instead, he made a detour for short line of public showers, intent on washing the worst remainder of saltwater, sand, sunblock and sweat off of him. He put the water on, turned his back to the wall, arched his head back to soak his hair thoroughly, slashing some of the cool water over his face as well.
He glanced out over the sparsely populated beach. This morning, fast growing on lunch, there were barely three or four dozen people scattered across the wide stretch of sand - at least the part within sight. Perhaps yesterday's less than perfect weather report had deterred the rest. It was okay, though. While it left less to peep at, it also left less crowding to, from and in the water - not to mention the shower stalls. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been the only one to take advantage of the five hose-down showerheads.
Quatre turned around slowly, making sure to wash off chest and arms, as well as bend and reposition to douse his armpits and other places the faucet had trouble hitting directly. He put his hands on his head, squeezed flat palms across his blond curls, letting the scattered spray rain against his face again.
"Excuse me? Sir?"
Startled, he turned to face the voice, the water still drumming against his chest. He wiped a hand down across his brows and eyes, blinked. A young man leaned casually against the end of the shower wall. Quatre wasn't sure what struck him first - the man's hair; a large patch of brown that fell down across nearly half his face - the man's bare, moderately muscled chest, where Quatre's eyes lingered for just a second - the richly traditional red trunks that marked the man as a lifeguard - or the man's seductive smile, the far corner of which was somewhat obscured by his brown bangs.
He blinked again, gulped, cleared his throat. "Uh... yes?"
A shiver raced Quatre's back as he felt the lifeguard's eyes sweep over him, top to toe and back again, just a bit too slowly to be entirely casual. The lifeguard's smile shifted towards a smirk. "You really ought to protect your valuables better..."
That cold shiver turned decidedly warm by the time it reached Quatre's face. Was this guy-
The lifeguard raised his hand, twirled something around his index finger - a set of keys on a tight rubber band.
Quatre immediately glanced at his wrist, clasped it, realizing it was entirely naked - which it had not been when he left his towel.
The lifeguard tossed him the keys. Quatre did his best to catch them, succeeding on the second attempt, just before they could clatter against the finely meshed drainage. Briefly, he grinned, before it dawned on him he'd bent over, pretty much showing the lifeguard his-
He straightened up, his cheeks warming up more than ever. The lifeguard's partially obscured smirk didn't help his embarrassment the slightest. He quickly applied the rubber band around his wrist, his car and house keys back where they belonged; close at hand at all times. "Thanks, you're a real lifesaver."
Immediately, he felt like slapping his hand to his face - especially as he saw the grin before him.
So - in moderation - he did it, momentarily covering his eyes with his right palm. "Please tell me I didn't just say that..."
Quiet chuckle. "I'm afraid you did..."
"Damn..." Quatre muttered, hesitantly making eye contact again. "I'm sorry - thank you. Don't know what I would have done if-"
"You would have searched for a long time, I'd imagine. Don't worry - you're welcome." The lifeguard pushed away from the wall, gave Quatre a nod. "Enjoy the rest of your stay." Flash of grin. "But like I said, be careful with your valuables. You never know when someone might try to make a grab for them."
Quatre couldn't think of a comeback before it was much too late.
He finished rinsing himself off and headed back for his stuff. He toweled himself reasonably dry, put on his loose Hawaii shirt, the baggy Bermuda shorts, a pair of sandals also made in China and tucked the towel away. He jingled the keys on his wrist, rocking them up into his palm, clasping them.
It was time to head back to the office anyway, with perhaps a brief stop at home to change first.
The mental image of a partially obscured smile stuck with him for most of the day - as well as the face and body attached.
It was only with mild anticipation - and a touch of hope - that Quatre returned to his usual place near tower fourteen the following morning. He certainly wouldn't have minded if the lifeguard from yesterday would happen to stroll by while he was relaxing behind his cheap sunglasses.
Quatre spread out his towel, grinning to himself. He got the definite feeling the lifeguard had been interested in him - and, in retrospect, Quatre couldn't deny he liked what he'd seen too.
As he began applying sunblock to his arms and chest, he did not give much odds to them meeting again, though.
Soon enough, he wished he'd bet his entire inheritance.
"Is this spot taken?"
A bit startled, Quatre turned to look, mouth already open to give a polite - perhaps a trace sarcastic - reply, given how the beach was far from crowded, at least not here. However, the partially veiled smile from yesterday momentarily robbed Quatre of the ability to speak.
Slight chuckle. "I take that as a no, then." The man unrolled his straw mat next to Quatre and put down his light beach bag.
"You're - you're the one from yesterday," Quatre was finally able to say. "The-"
"Lifesaver?" the man finished for him. Quatre could swear the half-obscured eye winked at him.
His cheeks were warming up nicely, too. "Uh - yeah." Sheepish grin.
"I'm off-duty today, though," the lifeguard answered, tugging at his black shorts. He reached out his hand. "I'm Trowa."
Without thinking too much, Quatre extended his right hand to meet Trowa's, and just as he said, "I'm Quatre," their palms met with a squishy sound. It took but a second for Quatre to notice, glance at the bottle of sunblock in his left hand. Inwardly, he cursed, pulling his hand back. "Damn - I'm sorry, I didn't think-"
Trowa just looked at his hand, grinning. "No big deal, it's only sunblock - right?"
"Need help with your back?" Trowa flashed his palm. "I mean, I'm already greased up and ready to go."
The urge to play ostrich and hide his face was tremendous. The sand was probably cool and refreshing just a bit down. "Uh..." Brain kicked in again and he nodded, trying his best to wipe the silly grin off his face as he handed Trowa the bottle, laid down and rolled over on his stomach.
His heart beat faster still as he felt Trowa straddle his hips. He heard the cap come off, felt the cold strip of sunblock be poured along his spine.
Trowa put the bottle aside, rubbed his hands together and applied them to Quatre's shoulder-blades, tentatively moving his palms in circles, spreading a thin layer of sunblock on Quatre's skin. He swiped his fingers over Quatre's shoulders, brushed fingertips against his upper arms before slipping down, repeatedly crossing the fine line he'd painted along Quatre's spine. Slowly, as his hands wandered down, Trowa spread the sunblock out evenly, making sure not to neglect Quatre's sides either.
There was a brief pause when Quatre let go a content sigh, dangerously close to a moan. For that short moment, Quatre tensed up, wondering if he'd been wrong after all. Relief was great as Trowa's hands worked his back again, closing in on the boundary of his speedos.
When he got that far, Trowa made sure to slide his palms down Quatre's sides, the weakest of grips against Quatre's waist. "Want me to do your legs too?"
"Yes, please..." Quatre breathed out contently. If Trowa simply asked, he'd consider letting him do more than just his legs...
The pressure against his thighs vanished as Trowa shifted to kneel next to his knees. Trowa reached for the bottle again, poured small specks at Quatre's calves and got to work. With the same steady motions, he kneaded the sunblock in, long since abandoning pretence he was merely smearing it out. He was certainly rubbing it in - and Quatre didn't mind the slightest.
Calves tended, Trowa's palms went upward, massaging Quatre's lower thighs, cautiously pressing on.
Without being asked, Quatre spread his legs a bit, wondering for a moment just how far Trowa would dare go. He was glad he lay on his stomach, though. There was no question Trowa's touches were affecting more than just his breathing and heartbeat, and his blue speedos could hide only so much - which was really nothing at all.
Evidently, he needn't have worried about Trowa's audacity. He felt Trowa's warm hands rub the sides of his thighs, progressing up all the way until they reached the thin, blue fabric, fingertips following the curve of blue in over his buttocks as the last of the sunblock was applied.
Not that Quatre cared much about protection from the sun at that point.
"Okay, all done..."
Oh, no, we're not... Quatre thought, sated. Still, they were in public, and he barely knew Trowa's name. It was a bit early to jump the man and propose far naughtier things than this simple... favor. Instead, he made sure to turn his head and give Trowa a brief, unsatisfied pout, soon mellowed over in a truer, content smile. "Thank you..."
Trowa sat down on his mat, the thin, partly obscured smile again there to drive Quatre crazy. "You're welcome..."
"Oh," Quatre suddenly thought. "Do you want me to do your back?"
Saddened grin. "That's okay - I buttered up before I got here."
There was no hiding the disappointment in Quatre's voice, nor on his face. "Oh..."
Trowa cocked his head. "Well, I didn't know I'd get a hot blond offering his services, now did I?"
That helped lift Quatre's spirits. So did the quick spiel of Trowa removing his white cotton T-shirt. The brief moment when the T-shirt went over his head was much too short. Quatre made sure to ogle Trowa's chest as much as he could while he remained unobserved. He added a few appreciative glances afterwards too, just to give Trowa the right idea.
Trowa reached into his beach bag for a pair of sunglasses matching Quatre's, donned those and laid down on his back. He folded his hands behind his head, making sure to maintain just enough of a tilt to allow for eye contact with Quatre.
They exchanged looks only for a while, neither sure where to start. In the end, Quatre swallowed some of his pride. "I... I really appreciated your help yesterday. Thank you."
Trowa shrugged. "Don't worry about it."
"How long have you been a lifeguard?"
Trowa looked up at the sky, his sunglasses and the off angle of the sun ensuring no damage to his eyes. "I went through training this spring. I'm not a full-time lifeguard, I've only been through rudimentary training. They needed people to fill in during the summer season, and the pay was good, so I signed up for a part-time job here. I'm still studying, and I have to cover expenses somehow. This seemed like a good job." He tilted his head to give Quatre a wink. "Not just the pay. The beach provides plenty of perks."
Faint snort. "...but you wouldn't abuse the... uniform... like that, would you?"
soft chuckle. "Of course not... That's why I approached you today, and not all the other times you've laid here like the devil's temptation..."
Flagged brow. "Other times?"
Trowa nodded towards tower fourteen. "I've been stationed there for most of the summer. You seem to really like this spot - I've seen you here almost every time I've been on duty."
Quatre gave a sullen frown. "You've been here all summer? How come I didn't recognize you? If you've been here all the time, I must have seen you dozens of times. I'm pretty sure I would have remembered you..."
Trowa flashed him a grin, considered his reply for a moment, then rolled over on his side, his back against Quatre. "Does this look familiar?"
Quatre was lost in the search for a good reply. His eyes couldn't quite focus either, his gaze drifting down along Trowa's spine, lingering briefly at the trunks - which were sadly not very revealing - down thighs and shins, before reaching Trowa's heels and backtracking all the way up to his neck. He certainly saw plenty, and appreciated it - but what Trowa was getting at was beyond his skill of observation.
He tried not to show disappointment when Trowa rolled back over, facing him again. "See, we're usually out on the railing, scouting for trouble - either that, or out patrolling the beach." He glanced over at the tower. "From this angle, I suppose you'd see my back more often than my face."
There was no questioning the appeal of either view, Quatre decided - but answered with a simple nod. It was a fair enough reasoning. It also wasn't as if he spent his veiled glances towards the tower, either. There was far more flesh to feast hungry eyes on at ground level.
Like now. Whenever Trowa's smile became too much, his sight wandered down. That Trowa obviously noticed didn't make it easier when they faced again. Quatre tried to concentrate, think of a way to turn the tables. It wasn't as if he was the only one having less than innocent thoughts. "...you took a chance, being so carefree with your hands earlier..."
Trowa tilted his head, his bangs tipping a tad further in over his face, almost masking his mouth. He flickered his brows. "Did I?" The smile curled a tad. "But you enjoyed it, didn't you?"
Quatre didn't answer right away, simply returned the slight grin.
That was more than enough for Trowa. "I figured if you were opposed to the idea after all, you'd just deck me as soon as I straddled you." Grin obvious now, Trowa continued. "But do you know how many straight men wear speedos on a public beach?"
Quatre shook his head, accepting the implication - it was true, and Trowa already knew. "From what I've seen, I'd say too damn few..."
Soft laughter, warm smile. Trowa stretched himself out again, weaving his fingers behind his head. "Exactly."
For a few moments, neither spoke. Quatre digested what he'd learned so far - what he'd told Trowa so far. Perhaps - just perhaps they could become friends - or better yet, something more. Another not-so-innocent thought came to mind, and he struggled to entirely suppress the scene from playing before his mind's eye. "Uh - you said you were a student - what are you studying?"
Trowa gave him a glance, looked up at the sky, took a deep breath. "Please don't take this personally - I've grown to loathe that question, that's all. You'll think I'm weird."
Another quick glance, lopsided smile. "Fine... Starting this fall, I'll be studying political theory, mathematics and aquaculture at Hobbs College."
Quatre's brows furrowed, and he tried not to be one of the crowd. "Well... that is a rather strange combo, I'll admit - what's your major?"
Trowa shrugged. "None, really. Whenever I get the course lists, I just pick the things that sound interesting." Flash grin. "The really funny thing is that with those three classes, I'll still get a degree in the end - a jack-of-all-trades sort, I think." He tilted his head again, tried to blow his bangs out of the way, failing. "I'll keep the rest of my eclectic education a secret for now, if you don't mind."
Brief headshake. "Still... aren't you worried you'll end up with a complex education that isn't really worth anything?"
"Not really. As long as I enjoy myself, I don't really care. Part-time jobs like here at the beach helps offset my costs. Some savings, a scholarship and a small loan covers the rest." He sighed. "This will be my last carefree year as a student, though. I'm not really sure what I'm going to do after that. Maybe I'll apply for a permanent job here, or something." There was a brief pause before he glanced at Quatre again. "What about you?"
Quatre smiled defensively, not sure how much he wanted to tell. If Trowa didn't know who he was yet, he didn't want to lead him to find out - not this soon. "I... I guess you could say I'm apprenticing for the family business."
"Oh? Sure that's what you want to do? The same thing your parents are doing, I mean?"
In truth, that was a thought that had never really occurred to Quatre. He'd been raised to value traditions, treasure the family, lend support to his own supporters whenever they needed it. Ever since he was a kid, that was the future he'd been painted - and one he hadn't considered straying from. At least not further than this beach. Not until now. "I... I suppose it is. I haven't given it much thought."
Trowa's forehead furrowed. "You suppose? You mean, you're planning to live your entire life according to your parents' wishes?"
Shrug. "Maybe - I don't know yet."
Trowa studied Quatre's face intently for a moment, then returned to stare at the flimsy clouds far above. "Well... It's never too late to change your mind, you know... I mean, you're still young - and I bet you'd have an easy time in college or university."
Quatre shook his head, studied the vaguely shifting sands before his face. "I've already been there."
Soft nod. "Two years of basic economics. After that, dad suggested I learn the rest in the 'real world'."
Trowa unlocked his fingers, shifted up on his elbows. "Your father is a business man?"
Indeed, that was putting it mildly, Quatre thought, grinning, very glad Trowa didn't know who he was yet. He cursed his little slip - perhaps he should have lied about his topics of study, or at least averted that bit. "Something like that," he casually answered, trying to brush it off.
He could almost see the next question forming on Trowa's lips. He didn't mind letting Trowa know the truth, only not right then, not there, not like this. He did not want money to matter.
Hastily, he got up on his knees. "I think I'd like to go for a swim. Care to join me?"
Trowa raised a brow in silence. They'd barely laid down to soak sunshine, and a bath now would go a long way in ruining the job he'd done earlier. Still, that meant he could perhaps make the offer a second time - and let Quatre return the favor. His face shifted from mild suspicion to acceptance. "Sure."
Like Quatre, he put his sunglasses aside with the rest of the belongings, started following Quatre to the water. By the base of tower fourteen, he paused, shouting up. "Hey, Ralph!"
Quatre turned to look, started for just a second as Ralph came into view. For a moment, he thought he'd seen his father. Ralph, obviously another lifeguard, looked very much like a younger version of the Winner patriarch. "Yeah?" Ralph answered back.
"Could you keep an eye out for our stuff?" Trowa pointed at their meager beach belongings.
Ralph followed his hand, glanced at Trowa, to Quatre, back to Trowa again. He grinned. "Yeah, sure. You two go have fun. And don't worry, there aren't many thieves left operating the beach, anyway. Too few people."
Trowa nodded. He knew as much. He resumed his pursuit of Quatre, and as sand gave way to water, he ignored the prickly feeling the chilly water gave him.
Water is good for one thing; playing. While they started out innocently enough with just swimming beside each other, Quatre soon became tired of always losing their informal races. It hadn't surprised him, but still bothered him. Whenever they reached their pre-appointed mark, he'd find Trowa standing there, smirking at him through the wet bangs draped across half his face.
It was Quatre who'd done the first tackle, diving in and going for Trowa's legs, pulling him under, soaking them both thoroughly.
It wasn't to be the last wrestle.
Tag is so much harder in water - and so much more fun, as long as you aren't too concerned with hand placements. Water hides most of what happens beneath it, at least at a distance. Their game proved a good excuse to touch, however innocently, without arousing the suspicion of others. Themselves were another matter, but fortunately, the cold water was a good dampener.
Quatre briefly regretted his revealing choice of beachwear, but not so much for the flesh factor. Had he been timid about that, he'd never have gone with speedos in the first place. No, at that moment, it was the fact it was so tight-fitting, easily allowing Trowa's palms to make grabs for his buttocks or graze the entirety of his hips - and at one particularly adventurous streak brush across his crotch. Judging from Trowa's startled look after that, Quatre understood that had been accidental.
The other touches sure hadn't been - but Quatre hardly cared about that. Not against them, at least.
While it was easier to slip fingers across tight-fitting fabric than loose garments, Quatre's retaliations at more than one occasion came close to pulling Trowa's black shorts off - but never succeeded. Because of that - or perhaps in spite of it - Trowa took it with a grin.
On the flipside, it was tougher for Trowa to tag Quatre back without being much too obvious of his intentions. Quatre could at least fake an accident as he brushed his fingers along Trowa's back, casually hooking one or two inside the hem of Trowa's shorts, swiping his rear.
Quatre had long since lost track of time by the time his body started protesting against the cool water contrasting his heated insides. Reluctantly, he told Trowa he'd had enough for one day. Just as saddened, Trowa agreed. It was with some satisfaction Quatre observed the goose bumps along Trowa's arms.
They made their way across the beach up to the shower stalls. Today too, they were all vacant. Indeed, the beach appeared even less crowded than the day before. Fully wet-suited surfers made up the bulk of today's guests. That made sense; the weather report had mentioned the wind and waves would pick up later today.
Back at their stuff, the breeze was definitely growing noticeable. While fairly warm still, it was clear enough sunbathing between the drifting clouds would not be as comfortable. Loose, dry sand had already begun drifting in over Quatre's towel and Trowa's straw mat.
Quatre shook his head, picked up his towel, flapped the sand off of it. He sighed. "I guess that's it for today. Might as well head back early." He started towelling off.
Trowa rummaged about in his beach bag, came up with a towel of his own. "Quatre?"
"I was wondering... Could I buy you lunch? That is, if you don't have any plans..."
Quatre smiled. "No - I'd like that, but... I don't have a set of spare clothes with me."
Trowa grinned between the wet strands clinging to his face, made another quick sweep of his head with the towel, brushed the remaining damp bangs aside. "That's okay - I was thinking of a small place right over there," he said, nodding to a spot right beyond the parking lot. "I keep a tab there. It's nothing fancy - They don't keep much of a dress code, either. You wouldn't have to change at all."
Quatre glanced down, looking at his speedos. Meeting Trowa's eyes again, he grinned. "I don't think I'd be quite comfortable with that... But the place sounds nice."
"It's a date, then."
Quatre chuckled, shrugged. He could live with that. He dried himself off as best he could, donned his colorful shirt and shorts - but for Trowa's benefit, he left the shirt unbuttoned.
Trowa didn't have it that easy. He had no spare shorts with him, obviously counting on drying in the sun and air rather than by towel. Still, he did as best he could before slipping his white cotton T-shirt back on.
Quatre smirked, glad to see it stick to Trowa's damp skin. This time, he would be the one with the baggy outfit, while Trowa would be in the almost skin-tight, revealing one.
There was definitely something alluring about that.
The place Trowa brought them to was indeed somewhat shabby. Adjusting to its location, the chairs were all plastic, as were the tables. The dining chart was a small step above fast-food - but that made all the difference. Like the beach, there was no crowding whatsoever. They picked a table on the terrace, leaving them alone for five tables in any direction. The food was decent, but the drinks were too warm. The staff gave a quick excuse involving a faulty cooling unit.
Of course, neither of them had come for the food.
Quatre coaxed Trowa into telling more about his experience as a lifeguard. Whether because Trowa was modest, or because he'd had a quiet summer, Trowa didn't have all that much to tell. Reality was not quite like Baywatch - albeit, Quatre wouldn't have minded ogling Trowa as he ran down the beach in his fairly skimpy uniform - nor would he mind being a rescue victim.
In return, Trowa asked more traditional questions, asking for interests, favorite colors, more details on Quatre's family. Quatre was very careful in providing information on the latter, but answered the rest easily enough.
Things were going well - right up until Trowa asked a set of rather dangerous questions. "So... I'm assuming you're single right now..."
Chuckle. "Would it be a good sign if I wasn't, yet wanted to get to know you better?"
Trowa shrugged, grinning. "I suppose we could all be... flexible."
Quatre snickered again, shook his head. "No, I'm not seeing anyone."
Trowa downed the last of his soft drink. "With your looks, I bet you've had quite a few suitors already..."
Impish grin. "Would you believe me if I said I'd gotten more proposals than you could count?"
Trowa simply snorted. "Quit bragging, Raberba. Tell me the truth, or don't tell me at all."
Quatre started at hearing his middle name. "What did you just call me?"
"Raberba," Trowa repeated. "That's your full name, isn't it? Quatre Raberba Winner?" He grinned. "Rubarb?"
Flash frown. He'd heard that nickname enough in grade school. There was a reason he stuck with just the initial now - if even that. Still, that still left the matter of- "Uh, Trowa... I never told you my full name..."
Color seemed to drain from Trowa's face. He realized he'd just made a mistake, and tried to think of ways to fix it.
"Where did you pick up my name, Trowa?" Quatre asked with some frustration, sighing as he understood that also meant- "You know who I am, then..."
"Uhm," Trowa started. "Well, when we met yesterday, I couldn't shake the feeling that your face looked awfully familiar. At first, I thought you were just a student at Hobbs College. When I got home, I came across your picture in a finance magazine, purely by chance."
Quatre scrutinized Trowa's face, leaned in a bit to look deep into Trowa's green eyes. There was definitely something fishy about Trowa's explanation. He hadn't been his father's apprentice for this long without learning how to recognize fear and uncertainty. He opted to go on the offensive. "Which magazine was it?"
Trowa shrugged. "I don't remember - it was just one that was lying about the place."
"Was it a recent edition? It must be, if-"
Trowa shook his head. "I told you, I don't remember. Look, I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"
Quatre didn't relent. "Why did you buy a finance magazine in the first place? Were you studying economics before the summer?"
Trowa started to answer, but the words didn't leave his open mouth. Instead, he just shook his head, then hid his face in his palms for a moment. He took a deep breath, gave Quatre a faint smile. "I bought it for the comics?" Sheepish grin. "Fuck... I'm sorry, Quatre. I really blew it now, didn't I?"
"This," Trowa gestured. "Us. I'm sorry I lied to you, I shouldn't have done that. I didn't want you to know-"
"Know what?" Quatre cut in, agitated.
Trowa looked at him for a few moments, then sighed in defeat. "Quatre... I know Rashid."
Quatre's jaw dropped at that revelation. It wasn't quite so coincidental that they met, then. That much, he'd figured as soon as he heard Trowa say his middle name. Still, there was some reassurance in Rashid being involved. That lessened the possibility of Trowa being a gold digger - or worse, a reporter sniffing for a scoop. Of course, it still left him feeling betrayed.
Looking slightly away from Quatre's scrutinizing glare, Trowa continued. "I am a lifeguard here - everything I've told you is true - except for this last bit about learning your name." He sighed. "I first saw you this spring. You were easy to notice, since you always came back to the same spot, conveniently close to my tower." He smirked, added a mumble. "I liked what I saw, too..."
Quatre did not allow that to distract him. He kept his unwavering glare at Trowa.
"I also noticed another guy always picking the same spot - about three hundred feet away from you. He never struck me as a typical tourist, and he was always following you around, at a distance."
Quatre briefly pinched the bridge of his nose at this revelation. It would appear Rashid had sent a bodyguard escort after all, then - or at least a watchdog. He quietly promised himself to have a long talk with Rashid upon his return home.
"I approached him once, while you were heading out for a swim with him in tow. He hesitated, but it was easy to see he was tempted to push me aside and resume stalking you - that was his job, after all. He didn't, since that would have attracted a lot of attention."
Trowa nodded, finally daring to face Quatre again. "The guy briefly explained his purpose, but I wasn't sure what to believe - I mentioned getting the police down here to straighten all of it out, but he urged me not to, and used his cell phone to call Rashid down here. The three of us had a quick meeting while you were standing in line for the showers. To cut a long story short - Rashid figured that if a total stranger could spot one of his men working undercover, you would do the same soon enough, and he said you wouldn't be pleased if you did."
Quatre scowled at him. He did not like his freedom limited like this - no matter how imagined it was. "Damn right..." he muttered.
Trowa pursed his lips, thinking of the best way to phrase the rest. "That's when he offered me an extra job. Rashid figured I was fairly observant, if I could spot one of his best men in a crowd like that - so, he promised a small paycheck just for keeping an eye out for you." Trowa tried his seductive smile again, but it was laced with sadness. "As if I didn't have an eye for you already..."
The come-on was shot down cold by Quatre's glare.
Trowa looked away with a sigh. "I'll admit, at first I wanted to turn Rashid down. The way he went on about you, he made you sound like some spoiled little rich brat out slumming on a public beach."
Snort. "Gee, thanks..."
"That's not what-" Pause for reconsideration. "If I hadn't watched you before - seen how you played with the kids, building sandcastles, or how you joined people for beach volleyball games or Frisbee tosses, how you quietly read a book..." Smile. "How you ogled people from behind your sunglasses..."
"I do not-"
Soft laugh. "Let's both be honest from now on, okay, Quatre?"
Hesitantly, a grumpy nod.
"If I hadn't watched you - seen how you acted - who you really were, I might have turned Rashid down."
"But you didn't."
Trowa shook his head. "I didn't." He met Quatre's glare again, glad to see it had weakened. "I'm sorry, Quatre. I never meant to deceive you. I wanted to tell you, but... I wasn't sure how. I'm sorry I didn't come forward right away, but I was afraid you'd be really upset, and-"
"I am," Quatre explained. He sighed. "But it's okay... Rashid is always looking out for me like that. He means well, but I need some space to breathe too. It makes perfect sense he'd put you on the payroll and-"
"I've never done anything more than I would have anyway, Quatre..."
Quatre cocked his head, the last of his anger starting to fade away. "What do you mean?"
Trowa gave a weak grin. "Watching you... Until yesterday, that was all I did. You're damn good looking, Quatre - and you're not even afraid to show it." He rested his chin in his palm. "The only times I wanted to intervene were when someone tried to make a pass at you." Quick chuckle. "Luckily, they were all girls - and you turned them away, very politely. That got my hopes up." He straightened up, shook his head. "I still felt my heart in my throat every damn time, though - and once, there was a guy who looked at you so intently I almost took a swing at him."
"Trowa, if you've been attracted to me for so long, why didn't you say anything until now?"
"I... I don't know," Trowa began. "I suppose I wanted to keep my bargain with Rashid - and I figured attempting to seduce you wasn't part of the job description."
Quatre snorted, a faint smile on his lips now.
"Yesterday, after we talked - after seeing you look at me like that... I couldn't wait anymore. The season is almost up too, so I knew I wouldn't have many more chances with you. So, I switched shifts with Ralph and decided to tempt fate by making a pass at you." Tentatively, he reached his hands across the table, touched Quatre's. "For what it's worth - I'm sorry I didn't tell you this right away."
Quatre shook his head, shifted his hands to grasp at Trowa's. "No, it's okay." Lopsided smile. "I suppose... we could give it another chance."
Nod. "That sounds good. I like you, Trowa. I... haven't had that many suitors - and hardly anyone that fall within my... preferences."
"Do I?" Trowa asked, his voice a bit too hopeful.
Chuckle. "Would we still be talking if you didn't?"
Grin. "I suppose not..."
Quiet descended upon them again, lasting for nearly a minute. A concern broke the moment. "Trowa..."
"I was wondering... about my money... You know who I am, so you know my family is wealthy, right?"
Trowa nodded. "Among the richest in town, I've heard."
Sigh. Again, an understatement. "Yeah... Do you think - will my money be a problem for us?"
Trowa's grip on Quatre's hands tightened. "Don't believe for a moment I'm going after your money, Quatre. I'm after something far more valuable than that - you."
Slight snort. "Flattery will get you nowhere..." Smile. "But I admit I liked the sound of that."
Trowa's faint smile returned, hitting Quatre with full force. "If you don't believe me, I'm willing to sign a pre-nup..."
Quatre flagged a brow, grinning. "Now you're being forward."
Shrug. "I want you. I hope you want me. Why delay the inevitable?"
Any number of familiar and social obligations came to Quatre's mind. He sighed, looking away for a moment. "I could think of a few..."
Trowa hesitated, not sure what Quatre meant. Still, he drew his own conclusions. "Quatre... Does your father know?"
He didn't have to ask the full question. Quatre could guess the rest of it. He flashed Trowa a weak grin. "That I wear speedos on a public beach?"
Trowa chuckled quietly.
Quatre nodded. "Yeah, he knows - but that doesn't stop him from insisting on family heirs. I'm not sure he thinks I'm serious."
"Well, we'll show him," Trowa begun. He smirked. "And we could always adopt."
Quatre choked on his breath, trying not to laugh. "You're thinking way too much ahead there, Trowa."
Smirk toned down to thin smile again. "Sorry."
The quiet returned. Quatre glanced up on the far wall, checked the time on the great clock there. "I'd better get back..."
"When can I see you again?"
Quatre grinned. "What about at our usual place, tomorrow morning?"
"Tower fourteen?" Trowa cautiously asked, just to be safe.
"I'll have to change shifts again, then - or quit a few days early."
"You're quitting your job?"
Quick nod. "Classes begins in a few weeks, and I have to get a few things in order - like the books. The season is almost over here, anyway - and I was only hired for the summer. I'll have to look for another part-time job once I've gotten a bit into my studies."
A thought hit Quatre, and he struggled not to smirk - or blush. It was a bit embarrassing to ask, but the potential reward more than weighed up for it. "In that case, I might have an idea... See, we have a large indoor pool, and I fully intend to take advantage of it during the winter - but we don't have anyone to tend it right now..."
Trowa raised a brow, but didn't loose his smile. "Oh?"
"What do you say, Trowa? Want to be my pool boy?"
He looked like he was about to laugh, but instead, he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well... I'm not adverse to the idea - I like water, even chlorinated water. I admit I don't know much about pool maintenance, but I can probably find some reading material on the topic - I'm a quick learner."
"So, you'll accept?"
Trowa reached over the table, tentatively touched Quatre's cheek. "I'll... consider it. I bet the job would have its perks."
Quatre arrested Trowa's palm, trapping it against his cheek. "Maybe it does."
"...and if your pool boy goes beyond the call of duty...?"
"Like in sappy romance novels?" Quatre chuckled. "Well, I certainly wouldn't mind... Not so sure if Rashid would, though..." Reluctantly, he let go of Trowa's hand, and stood up "I'm afraid I couldn't pay you extra for that, either."
Trowa smirked. "That's okay. I think that would be its own reward..."
Quatre only smiled for an answer. "Well, I'd better go - bye, Trowa. See you tomorrow?"
Trowa straightened up, listening intently.
"Thank you - without you, I think the winter season would have become very bleak and boring."
Grin. "What can I say? I'm a lifesaver."
Quatre rolled his eyes, and left.
Summer had been good. Winter would be better.