Duo was normally as self-controlled as any of the other pilots; Heero and Wufei wouldn’t have trusted him at their backs in the field if he wasn’t. There was a fair number of Preventers agents who felt insulted at the thought of being under the command of teenagers, former Gundam pilots or not, but Duo had met the snide criticism with flawless cool. When nothing was blown sky-high and Une could relax her eagle’s eye on the pilots, the discontent died down to the occasional mutter that the three young men ignored with ease. Duo in particular began to win over their colleagues with his easy smile, laidback charisma, and efficient work.
Then Preventers hired a new guy, still flushed with pride over the pretty piece of Academy parchment that granted him the right to play with chemicals, and as the resident demolitions expert Duo was naturally selected to oversee the new guy’s six-month training period. It wasn’t anything Duo hadn’t already done, so when he received his new assignment he just rolled his eyes and made the obligatory complaints about Academy newbies. Heero commiserated (he’d been manipulated into training younger cadets in hand-to-hand combat between missions) and Wufei (who’d escaped the teaching rap and still wouldn’t tell Duo how) just smirked smugly.
Unfortunately it became clear very quickly that the two got along about as well as their gunpowder and torches. Duo would go home with his shoulders tense enough to snap bone, and by the time Wufei managed to work out the knots, his own hands would be aching. Apparently the little hotshot thought that his certificate made him better than Duo, who hadn’t been trained in a carefully controlled environment but through the necessities of war.
“And I fucking know my theory, thank you,” Duo muttered, head bowed under the pressure of Wufei’s fingers against his shoulders and Heero’s open attention. “Mixing sulfuric and nitric acid and watching the results isn’t something you forget in a hurry. Just because I can’t draw the fucking molecular skeleton on a piece of Grade A, government-approved curriculum text…“
“The problem is that you have experience and no schooling,” Heero said softly. Duo’s snort turned into a groan when Wufei came across a particularly tender spot.
“No schooling my ass, there ain’t no better teacher than life, man. You stick that newbie in a situation where the timer has twenty-six seconds left and half a thousand lives on the line, he’ll forget his shiny aristocratic education real fucking fast.”
Heero watched Duo idly pick at the carpet with hands that were calloused, scarred, and sinewy from hard use, and wished he could argue.
The final straw came a few weeks later. Duo and his newbie had stopped by the pilots’ shared office to pick up some papers. Because Heero had been talking to Debra the Secretary by the water-cooler, later on he wasn’t able to say what exactly had happened. One moment he was discussing the finer points of stir-frying with a wok (no one had been more surprised than him when he discovered an enjoyment for cooking) and the next a minor explosion seemed to go off in the vicinity of the two demolitions experts. He heard words like ‘L2’ and ‘whore’ being shouted in the newbie’s strident voice, and then colleagues were either yelling in surprise or reaching for their weapons.
Heero nearly ran into Wufei as he rushed over, prepared to find that some terrorist organization had broken through their security or something, and instead found Duo pinning the newbie to the ground with a knee in the center of his back and a knife to his throat.
“The last guy that called me a whore, I was eight fucking years old,” Duo murmured icily, speaking with the harsh L2 twang that the other pilots hadn’t heard since the war. “Threatened t’ kill my best mates if I didn’t take it like a good little boy. So I slit his throat wit’ a piece of glass and used his wallet to get a proper knife.”
The hand that gripped the newbie’s hair tightened, pulling his head back farther and baring his throat to the blade. There was a terrified whimper. The moment stretched in which the infuriated pilot’s breath hissed between clenched teeth.
Then with a sigh of disgust, Duo released the terrified young man and stood back up, tucking the knife back into his boot as he moved. When he saw the horrified faces around him, he sighed again and held out his hands, wrists pressed together. He had pulled a weapon and threatened the life of a colleague, after all.
“You’re fucking insane!” cried the tear-streaked newbie, but it was Heero that broke in with calm logic.
“You did call him a whore,” he pointed out.
Wufei broke in with a brow arched in that superior way he had, glancing between the kid and Duo’s outstretched hands. “I see a rather clear case of self-defense here, Maxwell.”
“Yeah,” chimed in a nameless paper-pusher that had happened to be passing when the explosion happened, “that twit’s been annoying everyone, even Debra, and you know she’s got the patience of a saint.”
“Brought it on himself, really,” added another, and soon everyone was nodding along. Duo just gaped at his colleagues.
“I…I don’t understand,” he managed slowly, lowering his hands.
Wufei leaned forward and said quietly, “The kid’s shown that he doesn’t have the maturity to be a part of this organization, whatever his credentials. I’ve already spoken with Une about him, and this incident gives us the excuse to send him back to the Academy. We’re not going to put our people at risk because of an ego, and if came to a choice between you or him, then we’re all behind you, Duo.”
He glanced at Heero, who nodded in silent agreement.
“Aw, guys, you’re so sweet,” Duo grinned, wiping away an imaginary tear, but the gratitude in his eyes was sincere.