Author: UtopiaDoesn'tExist
see part 1 for notes, warnings, disclaimer

Low + Part 2

Duo realised that although he had lived most of his life on Earth now, he still wasn't used to the rain. It was unpredictable here, you couldn't do that countdown he had always done on L2 before the first drops started. That was why he was staring out of the window, with a desk full of designs in front of him. He chewed on his pencil for a while, watching the rain bead on the window, then splatter shadows across his desk.

They were good preoccupations, nice and ordinary.

He forced himself to concentrate back on the plans, and saw that, while the individual pieces of paper were close together and nearly falling off the edges, the actual work on them was sparse.

Well, what ever else you could call him, you couldn't call him productive.

He remembered he hadn't refilled the rat poison and went to put that right. If the mice were stupid enough to eat it, it wasn't his problem. He'd tried reasoning with them, but they were mice. Come on. Anyway, he didn't need to justify himself. He filled up the plastic tub and left the bag on the bench, in full view.

He tried to motivate himself back to work, but the notepad he picked up had been written in by Trowa, which effectively put an end to any thought of it. Trowa always used undue force when he was writing, so he left behind a set of indentations, like Braille. Duo managed to catch himself win the middle of rubbing a spare conte crayon over it, and crunch up the blunt, round letters. Trowa had done that sometimes when he picked up a piece of paper, just to stop his mind languishing, he supposed. Formulas and complex, plotted-out bullet trajectories from little scribbled circles of enemies, and an asterisk marking one safe spot, and across that, there'd be weird facts about lions and whatever other animal he'd had to deal with, brief thoughts about how man emulates nature...

Duo's kitchen didn't provide much in the way of comfort food, but considering that just vanilla ice cream made him gag, that probably wasn't such a bad thing. He settled for hot, bitter coffee, amazed there was actually some left and settled down on the sofa with the TV...etc on. He'd got through two sitcoms, a news broadcast, a documentary on the history of the cauliflower, a gameshow, what was apparently a serious drama and was mentally drafting angry letters to TV executives in his head when the phone rang.

When the hell did he get popular? he thought, getting up to push the 'received call' button.

If it was that fucking double glazing company again-

"Hello," said Wufei.

Duo grinned. "Who glued you to the phone?"

The grin had more to do with his appearance than the unexpected call. Wufei looked like a sexy secretary, with his glasses on and his hair all tied back and glossy like that. He wondered how man stab wounds that comment would earn him.

"I talked to Trowa."

Duo felt an unruly tab of annoyance. "And why the hell did you think you had to check up on me? The day I slit my wrists, look out window, Hell'll have frozen over and God'll be taking a big, steaming piss on it, okay?"

"I admit that I don't make a point of keeping in touch with you," said Wufei calmly. "And I thought it would be appropriate to show my face now. Even if I don't habitually call you, I don't want to neglect you."

"Look, it's just a bit fresh now. I'm sure I'll appreciate it once I get over the idea that you'd think I can't deal with this on my own. Agh. Sorry. I do, I appreciate it, okay. I just..."

Wufei nodded. "Understood."

"So how's work?"

"Painfully boring or altogether the former, depending on the day. Yours?"

"Safe. Indoors. Lucrative. Can't complain. 'Seen the rest of them lately?"

"I see Heero often enough, even if it is only when I have a bullet wedged somewhere or a lib facing the wrong direction. At the end it'll be a tug of war between him and Sally over who owns my immortal soul."

Duo smiled, but only in acknowledgement of the joke. He thought Heero's phD was inversely proportional redemption, buying his way into whatever heaven he believed in life by life. Not that he blamed him.

"You busy?" Duo asked.

Wufei shook his head. It kind of surprised him how long they talked, about the wars, about Wufei's office, Preventers' missions, Preventers' pay, how Duo was not, under any circumstances, going to join the Preventers, about stuff that should be patented (Wufei suggested an automatic witness-beater), about why there would be a documentary about cauliflowers, small talk (who knew Chang Wufei could do that?). until Wufei had to go because he'd started beeping madly.

Despite having been up since six and having watched hours of crappy TV, he felt motivated gain.

He even managed to get some work done. Even worked solidly until the doorbell rang.

A small, soaked-though blonde boy stood on his doorstep with a bust lip.

+

"What the hell happened?" Duo asked, helping Seb towel off his hair.

Further assessment had revealed ripped trousers, where they must have shredded on the ground, judging by the grazed knees, the beginnings of an impressive bruise on his cheekbone and palpable embarrassment.

"All right," said Duo/ "I can work it out. So why?"

Seb gave him a look that indicated the answer was very, very obvious. "I'm a nerd," he said.

"Come on, you're not a nerd."

"I can't throw. I can't catch. I spend all my lunch breaks doing homework. I have actually had my head flushed down a toilet. It's not just a story to scare the first years. And I have a brace."

"The brace is cute."

Look at that, Seb had inherited Quatre's blush.

"I'm still a nerd."

"Nerd's just another name for the people who are gonna be more successful than the people flushing their heads down the toilet."

"No it isn't. They're in my class. They get better grades than me. And they aren't cowards either, standing up to them doesn't do any good."

"Then I'm afraid you've encountered the unjustified bastard. Not a rare personality type by any means, but he's got a superiority complex that means he knows he can't move mountains but there are plenty of people to do that for him. Everyone else is so low on the ladder that they might as well be ants. Some people'll bullshit you about how it's about inadequacy or parental issues, but here in the real world we know some people just need a few minutes with a Desert Eagle."

"What's a Desert Eagle?"

"A gun. Want me to take them out?"

"Yes," said Seb bitterly, pinching one of the rips in his school trousers together.

"Does your dad know about this?"

Seb shook his head. "Please don't tell him," he pleaded. "He'll make a big deal about it and go into school and it'll be twice as bad."

"Please?"

"All right. But isn't he gonna notice when you come home like that?"

"No I'll get home before them and change."

"Right. You can probably explain away the lip, but what are you gonna tell him abut the bruise?"

"Bruise?!"

Seb flung the towels and Duo's hands aside and dove toward the bathroom mirror.

"Crap! What am I going to do?"

"Only let them see your left side?"

Seb only continued to stare horrified, and prod the developing bruise.

"Make up?" Duo suggested.

"Do you have any?"

"Actually, it's in my purse."

+

"This isn't really yours, is it?" Seb asked, with an orange splodge on his cheek.

"Nah. It's Hilde's. She left it here last time she stayed. Here," Duo smudged the make-up with his thumb.

"Why do girls do this?" Seb asked. "It must take them hours."

"It takes Hilde about ten minutes in the mornings. 'Takes her about four hours when she goes out though. She gets me to curl her eyelashes, help her wax her legs, dry her hair, I'm probably a qualified beautician by now."

Although the last time that happened was probably closer to a year ago.

"I bet you don't tell Wufei that," said Seb.

"I dunno. Wufei's hair shows signs of being regularly conditioned. Trowa was the one who- You're still soaking, come on, I think there's a hairdryer somewhere."

Seb scowled at him while he dried his hair. "Did you fall out with Trowa?"

"Nah, we're fine. So, who's giving you trouble?"

"Ben Drinn and Thomas Green. They, you know, they're sporty and sociable. And can punch straight."

"What do they look like?" Duo asked, committing those names to a memory like a steel trap.

"Don't do anything," said Seb.

"I won't. I'll just look imposing."

"I don't want anyone to sort this out for me...Can I just start coming here for lunch instead?"

"'Course."

Seb smiled brilliantly. Nah, he didn't fit in with Duo's definition of nerdy at all. He wasn't greasy enough. He had a couple of old spots on his chin, but nothing near acne and he was a teenager after all. And he was damn cute. If he had a grandma, she'd be knitting him socks right now.

"Thanks!" he said. "Now I've got to get back to school before the car gets there-"

"Which school is it?I'll come and pick you up tomorrow. Twelve right?"

"Really? St. Matthews, and yep. Twelve. Thank you! I really have to go, the driver'll tell dad if I'm late."

"Right. Um, no more skipping school, okay?"

Seb gave him a sort of apologetic smile and ran for it. St. Matthews, huh? He might not be as hot as Heero at the hacking, but he had to be a close second. He found their website and was well into the secure files within ten minutes. Teachers thought their passwords were so well-protected... It looked like St. Matthews was an all-boy's school from the names. Well, he wasn't gonna let a couple of sexually frustrated bigger boys beat up his, uh, his friends' son. Ben Drinn and Thomas Green were gonna have detention for months. For smoking, and masturbating in the boy's toilets, he added, in a stroke of genius. The principal was female, she wouldn't be able to contest that.

He had a grin on his face when he went back to work. Not just because those two were gonna get what they deserved. He felt a slow trickle of pride. Seb had been beaten up and he'd looked pretty upset about the whole thing, but he hadn't cried.

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