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 gifts of grace, ft. keegan
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The last time she'd caved and asked Keegan to tutor her, they'd been kicked out of the library for arguing. This time, with a physics exam looming, Cecily was piled miserably onto a desk in an empty classroom, her arms wrapped over her head as she groaned into her notes.

She needed help reviewing for this exam. It didn't mean she had to like it, especially since one of the best candidates every time was him.

"Ughhh, Cecily!" Hissing to herself, she sat straight up, pressing cold fingers into her angry cheeks as she pouted at thin air. "Get it together!" He'd be here any minute, and she'd rather be caught dead than agonizing over having to spend an hour in his company. His odious, dismissive, competely pretentious and stuck-up company.

She was good at words, at least. Physics was another story entirely, and as she flipped her notebook open in attempts to look productive she instantly made a face at the messy equations she'd copied frantically from the board last week. If she was lucky, Keegan would just teach her how circuits worked... but he was a dark void completely empty of empathy, so she doubted that. Strength and grace, Cecily.

Footsteps became audible down the hall and she snatched a pencil out of her bag, setting an elbow casually on the desk and looking studiously down as the door opened. Even if she didn't understand what she was looking at, she could pretend to, to avoid acknowledging him for a second more.

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nobody could resist keegan moon. the nerd looked at himself in the mirror, hand raising to the fix a stray couple of strands that were ruining his otherwise immaculate look. he was just so charming and smart.

like gaston, but a literate, less hyper-masculinist, misogynistic version. just the.. dashing and popular parts.

smugly satisfied with his appearance, keegan straightened his back and exited the bathroom. he checked his watch before entering the classroom, though – didn’t want to be too early. he wanted to make sure cecily was already waiting for him, of course.

when the door swung open, keegan paused at the door for a second, unable to suppress a quiet snicker at the fringe. “careful not to think too hard, don’t want to burst an artery, do we?”

he had to sit down with the biggest grin on his face. after all, what was he not supposed to be happy about, today? she had come to him asking for help. she. had come to him.

“well? what are we working on today?”

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She'd burst an artery alright. When he snickered she felt the distinct urge to snap her pencil in half, tempered only by the fact that it was in fact the only one she had left.

"Oh," she gritted out, looking up as Keegan sat down. Her face was arranged into as large a grin as his - she wasn't competitive by nature, no, not until certain know-it-all jerks entered the picture. "There you are, Moony." Eyes going dewy, she adopted an expression of simpering worry, managing to look genuinely concerned for all of three seconds. "I was worried you'd, you know, forgotten how to tell time."

He had "fashionably late" pinned down to an annoying level of detail. Her nerves were stretched out already, frayed from the necessary embarrassment of asking for his help.

And she couldn't even take a deep breath now because that would tip him off and he'd get even more insufferably smug. She settled for clenching her free hand under the desk, blunt nails digging into the denim of her jeans as she forced a nonchalant glance at her notes. "Circuits. I wanna get better at calculating all the stuff that's supposed to be on the test."

That she needed to pass in order to make it to a show went unspoken. She'd dig her own grave and starve inside of it before giving him an inch of her stage life.

"Like here-," she flipped a page and pulled a worksheet out from where she'd wedged it, smoothing a corner and turning it halfway so they could both read it. "It takes me really long to remember what formula goes with what. And, like, the really big combination circuits take me forever."

- - -
this week on "floss inadvertently forces everyone in the thread to learn via google,"
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keegan had to really resist the urge to roll his eyes at cecily’s backtalk. urgh. he placed his chin on his hands and settled into a smirk. “oh, no, dear wolfe,” he replied, just as saccharine-sweet. “I do apologize for my tardiness, but it’s quite difficult to juggle being a 4.0 student and varsity athlete… but hey, enough about me!”

circuits was what they were to be working on today, then. of course, the electrogmanetism units were the hardest ones in physics ii. of course, keegan had done a lot of review over the summer, so he had been quite prepared for this year’s coursework.

and for all his bragging and gloating, keegan was a skilled tutor. his parents had always impressed upon him the value of being able to clearly communicate. so, he nodded down at the worksheet, mentally reviewing how he usually solved these. “all right, are there any specific practice problems you’ve been struggling with? physics and math are all about practice.”

he flipped over the sheet and inspected her scribbled notes and scratch-work. “the more you practice the method, the easier it’ll be to remember the formulas, too. why don’t you show me how you’d do this one?”

keegan raised an eyebrow and pointed a finger at the first problem on the page, a relatively simple circuit problem with just two currents and three resistors.

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Don't hit him. Don't hit him. Cecily Wolfe, you were raised to be polite, and that included not cold clocking a nerd in the mouth when he got too smart for even his stupid pedigree to justify.

(She was wearing an excellent ring for the task, though.)

Acting not on instinct but out of a sense of preservation for her grades, she brought her free hand up to the desk instead and leaned on her elbow for support. "Yes. Enough about you." Were her teeth gritting? No, not yet.

Electromagnetism would have to serve as her distraction, though her spirits fell further as she looked at the worksheet again. "... Ugh." The complaint slipped out ever so quietly, and she circled a problem number with more force than was necessary to cover the sound. "Th...this one." It was a weighty paragraph of of a question, adding complexity to its process by way of asking the student to translate the text in to a diagram on their own; in the margin, there were the clear marks of a messily erased attempt on Cecily's part, the remnants of a battery symbol still visible.

The sheet was whisked from her fingers and she resisted the urge to shift nervously, as Keegan examined her writing. Mistakes were a part of learning, mistakes were... horrible gaps in her defense, when it came to Keegan's incorrigible need to be better.

In spite of that, his advice made a regrettable amount of sense; and as soon as she gave him the benefit of the doubt by thinking that, he returned her to the first problem. That she'd clearly already done.

... But did that mean she'd done it incorrectly?

She took the worksheet back slowly, breathing out before muttering as she set pencil to paper. "Um. Okay." Another beat of hesitation, as she glanced at what the question wanted - total resistance present in the circuit. Alright.

"S...so, these two are in - parallel, which means their," she tapped helplessly at the two resistors she'd indicated for a second, itching to flip to the cheat sheet she'd made but knowing the risk. "Their total resistance is... um, the inverse of..."

Slowly, she started to write out the right formula, uncertainty dogging her thoughts as she went.

- - -
YOU CAN DO IT CECE AAA
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keegan chewed his lip. on quick glance over the work cecily had already done on the first problem, he could clearly see she was struggling with the fundamentals.

as with most math and science problems, the bulk of the points came with setup, and if she was having a hard time with the easy, more straightforward problems, there’d be no point in attempting to tackle the more complex word problems.

of course, he made no effort to spare her feelings. when keegan saw something to criticize, he criticized. “look, you’ve got to get down the setup right the first time, and fast,” he lectured, “you can’t waste time just trying to remember the formulas.”

keegan frowned, watching cecily scratch out the formula shakily. “okay, at least you’ve got the right one.” he had to concede, “but if it’s really hard for you to remember, write down all of the formulas at the top before you begin. then you can just find the one you need for each problem as you go.”

he looked at her sideways, noting the look of discomfort that might be from the problem or just from his excellent, clearly superior company. “c’mon, don’t be nervous. it’s only your physics grade, high school gpa, and future on the line.” keegan waited for her to finish calculating the resistance before looking over her work and nodding. “all right, you’ve got the first step done. now, since we’re looking for the current through each resistor, what do you do now?”

they're monaco and hamptons bound but we don’t feel like outsiders at all
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It made theoretical sense to her to break a problem into smaller pieces - any song was a sum of its parts, after all, and she surely had experience in that sense. In practice, of course, it fell apart: nerves made her hesitate, blocking out the setup that should have been so simple.

She visibly winced, when he seized on her painfully slow start. "Right, I know." Tongue between her teeth, she quickly scribbled a few lines of formulas onto the top of the sheet, pulling them at random from her memory. "That... makes sense. Okay."

The cheat sheet she had in her notebook would have served the same purpose, but she swallowed the protest down in favor of getting through the hour. Ignoring the scratch work already next to the problem, she started filling in variables in the formula she'd written, chewing on her lip as she went. Having done the worksheet a week or so ago, she'd already forgotten most of the actual calculations, making the exercise a rather worthwhile review-

"-only your physics grade, high school GPA, and future on the line."

Pain prickled in her lip as she bit down harder, growling as she took the reciprocal. "Wow, like, no pressure or anything. Like we all need flawless electromag skills to survive." Circling her result, she finally glanced at the answer she'd already had written down, exhaling softly when they matched. Keegan's questionably helpful presence aside, she at least had gotten a problem right.

There were always more, of course. At his next question she sat straighter, remembering one of the key phrases drilled into their heads over the last unit of classwork - "Ohm's Law! So for this resistor," she chose the resistor in series and wrote out the formula, solving and picking out one of the two resistors in parallel next. "... Um, and this one. Has. A different... voltage, so."

She relented and pulled the cheat sheet from its place in her notebook, sighing. "Okay, so I have the process written down here." A quick look at the bulleted list in the corner set her back on track, and she managed to solve for the other values in a few minutes, fingers of her free hand tapping nervously on the desk.

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keegan rolled his eyes a little bit. typical. that’s what all the kids he tutored usually said – blah blah blah, will this ever be useful? “that’s not the point. the point is, can you solve problems when given a set of tools? can you analyze and apply information you know?” he retorted.

luckily, cecily was at least more motivated than some of the other students the school made him tutor. she solved most of the problems on her own, with keegan occasionally butting in to point out quick arithmetic errors.

while she was working her way through the second problem, keegan leaned over and moved his pencil to tap at the equation she was working with, pointing out an earlier step. “here – if you move the numbers over like this and flip the reciprocals in this step, it’ll be easier to do the division later.”

he scrawled a couple numbers onto the page, grinning smugly when they ended up much neater than cecily’s decimal-ridden ones.

“see, every time you get to this step and this is what your math looks like, but you know you’re going to have to take the reciprocal later, do it before you substitute the values in,” he instructed. poor, messy arithmetic ended up being a majority of the silly mistakes his tutees complained about – and they could be easily avoided, if you could recognize the patterns in the solutions.

then he scanned the rest of her work, mouth quirking slightly upwards as he did. “well, at least it looks like you’ve got the concepts down. and that’s most of the points. do you think you can do some of the less straightforward word problems now?”

they're monaco and hamptons bound but we don’t feel like outsiders at all
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It hadn't been one of her best comebacks, and she grumbled quietly as he summarily shot her down for it. "Yeah, but I still don't like it. I can do it with other stuff," she stopped short of whining, curbing her tone into something more manageable as she tapped her pencil in a quick percussive pattern on the desk.

Tools she had no shortage of, considering the pile of music equipment in her corner of the garage at home. What mattered, unfortunately, was that the tools she was given in this case were terribly abstract, and sounding them out didn't work how it did with music.

She pulled her pencil away as Keegan leaned close, tensing instinctively as he commented on her process. "So I gotta do the reciprocals earlier?" At least she was still asking questions, focused on the worksheet for the most part. All things considered, this was working out to be one of their more successful tutor sessions, though the satisfied tinge to his voice as he explained was never not grating.

A particular lecture on the virtues and subsequent downsides to calculators surfaced in her memory, and she narrowed her eyes down at her scratch work begrudgingly. "I guess I get... impatient," she said carefully, crossing out half a line and going back a step to the variables she'd been using. "Like, my first instinct is to just put the numbers in." It often felt more like grasping at straws than she would prefer, but it was how she'd approached math for a while now, especially when a problem wasn't structured simply.

Pushing the paper up to look at the word problems, she resisted the urge to make another face and propped her chin on her hand instead, pencil dangling from her fingers. "Uh. I'm gonna try to." The look she shot him clearly said she wasn't anywhere close to confident, though she took a breath and refocused on the worksheet regardless. "Ugh, okay. If four resistors," she squinted almost instantly, recognizing the type of problem and feeling a flutter of nerves. "Four resistors are in a circuit with a total resistance of..." Looking at the values given, she started puzzling through the possible arrangements of the resistors in their circuit, heel tapping softly against the floor as she worked.

That problem went relatively well; the one three numbers down the page, though, went pear-shaped, ending with Cecily staring befuddled at an answer that was several decimal places away from what it should have been.

Having taken ten minutes to arrive at a blatantly disastrous answer, then another eight to rework it with no change, she found herself fighting off the chill of a cold sweat that only ever manifested when she was studying. "H...how."

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keegan rolled his eyes. “excuses,” he stated, matter-of-factly. “if you know that’s a problem you have, then fix it.”

he wasn’t just being harsh because he could. cecily could explain her mistakes all she wanted, but the thing about math and physics was that there was one right way to do things, and a million wrong ones.

and okay, maybe it was also just satisfying to see her less-than-confident side.

keegan sat back in his seat and smirked once he’d issued his challenge – one of the more complex problems on the sheet. it was kind of funny how cecily had to sound out the concepts aloud, though maybe that was just an effect of their tutoring situation. he gave occasional nods when she got on the right track, and noticed with a pleased grin that she seemed to have caught on.

at first, anyway.

that self-satisfied smirk slowly fell, as cecily struggled more and more. impassively, keegan began to lean over her again, slowly checking her work down the page even as she erased and scribbled.

keegan was smart, and he got good grades, but even he couldn’t do problems of this complexity all in his head. frowning, the nerd looked away and grabbed his backpack, flipping through the contents until he found his physics folder. he pulled out the same worksheet, his already finished, and laid it down on the table next to hers.

going back and forth between the two sheets, he finally found where their solutions diverged. keegan pulled the sheet away and circled the area, tapping it lightly with his pencil.

“there. why did you set the currents equal to each other? the loops might go through the same battery, but that doesn’t mean the currents are the same. it throws off your whole system of equations.”

they're monaco and hamptons bound but we don’t feel like outsiders at all
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Her expression had relaxed slightly as she'd started working, but by now there was a persisting, dull ache in the corner of her lip, as she'd worried at it with her teeth as the minutes wore on. The gentle tick of the clock and the imperfect scrawl of her pencil only wound her up further, making her jiggle her knee in small, nervous motions - if this was the exam, she'd be losing precious time.

Would she just skip this question, then, if it was for a grade? Partial credit was good enough if she could get to the other questions, wasn't it?

The flat line of Keegan's mouth when he looked at her scratch work said no. When he went to retrieve his own work, Cecily took the chance to prop her chin in her spare hand, turning her face down until the lower half of her face was hidden in her palm.

Her numbers got more cramped as she reached the end of her second try, squeezing into the last corner of the worksheet as she muddled her way to the wrong answer. Nail tapping on the enter key of her calculator, she grumbled one more time, holding back a swell of warm frustration that began to bubble when Keegan picked up her worksheet.

"What?" It was terrible form to ask it so blankly, but she took the sheet back and read over the circled equation again, eyebrows furrowing. "Wait, so I..." Trailing off, she mumbled a few more steps as she looked them over, eyes flicking nervously to the circuit she'd drawn every few seconds. When realization set in she pouted, feeling the frustration crystallize into something more dejected, and flipped her pencil over. "Oh."

It was the currents, "obviously." More than that, she now had to erase an entire margin's worth of work, and as soon as she pressed down the corner of the worksheet ripped off under her eraser.

She set her heels on the floor and pushed herself away, her chair scraping on the floor as she put a few inches between her and the desk. "Okay. I need a break, or I'm gonna go crazy."

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the longer this took, the impatient keegan got.

impatience was a weird feeling. and it was frustrating for keegan, because one of his very best traits (aside from being exceedingly handsome and good at everything) was his sheer persistence when it came to tackling homework or extracurriculars or whatever it was that his parents signed him up for.

no, the frustration came when others were slow to catch up.

keegan stopped his hand’s nervous rapping that he hadn’t noticed he was doing, nodding down at his own page for cecily to double-check. she was… trying, that much was clear.

just… not hard enough clearly.

he breathed heavily out of his nostrils and leaned back, frowning lightly at cecily. “a break? we’ve only done two problems.” keegan sighed. “but all right, if you insist.”

keegan rolled his eyes and pulled out his phone, thumbing idly through his messages, tone taking a falsely casual direction. “y’know, this stuff isn’t easy, but it’s all perfectly doable if you work for it. lord knows how much I study for my grades. but if that’s not something you want to work for, y’know, that’s fine too.”

they're monaco and hamptons bound but we don’t feel like outsiders at all
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There were no breaks when Keegan Moon was present.

She focused on brushing the eraser shavings to the corner of the desk, molars grinding slightly together as the nerd sighed. "They were multi-parters, give me a little credit at least." She doubted she'd get it, but she made little habit of curating her words before they left her. It worked most of the time, given what she hoped was a decent moral compass and a well-meaning heart.

She felt perilously close to surly, though, here in an empty classroom after hours with only an unimpressed tutor to talk to. When he pulled out his phone she turned away in slight relief, picking up the torn scrap of her worksheet and smoothing it out - then slowing, carefully, when Keegan spoke up again.

The paper crumpled instantly again in her grip, as she turned a faint scowl on him. "I have been working for it?" Gesturing at the desk with her pencil, she tried to be reasonable and promptly failed, her voice coming out more rashly than she wanted. "Like, how I was studying wasn't working, and to be honest," and she took a breath, reluctant but caught up in momentum, "your tips are helping, but your delivery really isn't."

Even having gotten something right, and at a better pace than when she'd tried alone, she felt worse. Reflection would tell her that it was embarrassment, in a sense, and a reluctance to be seen struggling so fruitlessly by someone apparently so versed in the topic at hand.

Prior even to that was the fact that she'd bitten the proverbial bullet and asked him to help in the first place, knowing full well the toll it would take. Half an hour of work so far had netted her a few tips and a tight, uncomfortable buzz of nerves in her head, a premonition of test anxiety magnified by his condescending tone.

Not that communicating that was easy. "It just-," Cecily paused, hooking her foot around the desk's leg and pulling herself reluctantly closer. Pencil still gripped in one hand, she crossed her arms and looked slightly down, studying the worksheet rather than meet his eye. "It takes me longer to get the math stuff down. And the tests are timed, so I end up with partial credit."

Partial credit can be enough anyway, the thought went unspoken, and she took another breath in attempts to calm down as she stared at her incomplete scratch work.

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hey, keegan didn’t care about what cecily did. wasn’t his grade, after all. he was only offering to tutor out of the kindness of his heart (and maybe some self-satisfaction), but really, how she did on their next exam wouldn’t affect hi at all.

so he didn’t care.

keegan’s knuckles tightened as cecily’s voice rose and became more petulant, and he had to fight to resist the urge to visibly roll his eyes.

unfortunately, he lost, and the nerd let out an audible sigh in addition. keegan trained one eye on the blonde, even as she looked down. “well, I don’t need to be here, you know,” he said, rather sulkily.

and while he disagreed with cecily’s motivations – for keegan, partial credit was never good enough, you should always be striving to do more – he supposed he wasn’t there to judge her for those things.

keegan was quiet for a few moments, playing with the pen in his hand as he tried a better approach to the issue. even if he stubbornly refused to believe he wasn’t fulfilling his job as a tutor, well, wanting improvement wasn’t exactly admitting imperfection.

“well, look, you’re a musician, right?” he finally spoke up, tone surprisingly level-headed and reasonable. “how do you get good at music? you practice. there’s a difference between reading a piece of sheet music and knowing how to play the song and actually being able to do it.”

keegan shrugged. “look, it’s up to you as to how much you care about this class. but sometimes, when things are hard, you just have to keep going.”

they're monaco and hamptons bound but we don’t feel like outsiders at all
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"You seemed really happy to be," she groused back, feeling only a flicker of satisfaction at calling him out for it. In other circumstances she might have even been smug, seeing his mood slip from his initial swagger. Seeing as she was more or less the cause of it, though, and as it was her stumbling that was holding them both up, she couldn't feel too triumphant for too long.

She was still tired, what with having to hold up a mental wall against his snide tone in addition to her own insecurities. The crumpled, torn-off corner of her worksheet fluttered as she exhaled, keeping shy of a sigh mostly out of willpower; though she reached out and snagged the little piece of paper before it could fall off the desk, smoothing it out with her fingers and making a wary face down at the remnants of an equation that were still visble.

When Keegan opened his mouth again Cecily tensed, though her shoulders lowered a bit when he shifted the topic to a more familiar one.

"... Yeah, alright," she said quietly, willing to give him empty support mostly to keep the conversation from being one-sided. Metaphors aside, she had a clear advantage in music, to the point that she'd much rather actually be reading music than trying to master a handful of electromagnetism equations.

She didn't have a choice, in the end, even if Keegan made it sound like she did. That was probably what irritated her the most - the mandatory irrelevance of the topic, of having to prove that her personal intelligence matched up to an inter-industrial academic standard.

(She really did feel more comfortable with words.)

"Hmgh." Making as neutral a sound as she could, she scooted closer and retrieved her pencil, tapping it against the desk in a quick series of triplets before flipping to a clean page in her notebook. "You're right, but I'm not gonna be happy about it."

Her tone wasn't quite as surly that time, but she kept her lower face hidden in the heel of her other hand as she redrew the circuit she'd been working on, concentrating until the battery and resistors had been marked down. "Does that mean there's some things you have to just keep going at?"

She started to plug numbers into her first equation and paused, before grimacing and continuing to manipulate the variables instead.

- - -
she... she's learning!
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