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Lola is strong. She has to be, no one grows up weak in the Banlieue and ends up anything but a victim. Lola has never been a victim, she has always been a survivor.

Lola is strong, but not even she can kick addiction with a shrug. But sewer rats don't get into expensive rehab clinics with stars and politicians, no matter what strings Damien tries to pull, and the cheaper options are almost as bad as being stuck with Taha.

Lola is strong, she can do this at home, with her brother as her only support. She is strong but he is stronger, physically, he can stop her when she tries to fight him, when she tries to hurt herself, when she tries to run away.

There are days he can't leave her alone, and they would starve if Damien didn't show up with food one day. They don't ask, and he doesn't berate them for not asking for help sooner. He just shows up with food regularly after that.

Sometimes he stays with Lola so that Leïto can get out, even for just half an hour, to run, to jump, to breathe air outside their tiny apartment.

Damien is strong, too, he doesn't give in to her no matter how she screams, hurls insults on him, bites and scratches and kicks; or when she tries to cajole, pout, and seduce; or even when she tries to pretend she's asleep to sneak out when his guard is down.

Lola is strong, she gets better. The pain and the burning recede, the craving mutes down, the memories lose their sharpest sting.

She has to remember her own strength now, go back to being a survivor instead of a victim, be self-sufficient again. She has to go out on her own.

Leïto fights her on it, of course, so used to looking after her letting her go anywhere alone now goes against everything he is.

Lola is strong, she can make even Leïto change his mind.

One day, six months after they saved the Banlieue, Lola packs a backpack and walks away from the District into a bus headed out of Paris.

- - -

Lola has been gone for two days when Damien shows up with food and he and Leïto sit down to eat it. It doesn't strike Leïto until later that the food isn't needed now that he can leave the apartment when he wishes, now that Lola isn't convalescing any more.

Damien shows up again, and Leïto doesn't point this out to him, doesn't ask. He doesn't really want to know if it's just a habit, or if Damien wants to be there even when Lola isn't.

This goes on, a week or two, until one day Damien tells him he might have to go undercover again.

“Let me know when you do,” Leïto says, almost casually, but the other man clearly hears it as the demand it is.

“I might not be able to...”

“Call me.”


“If Lola can deign to phone in once a week to let me know she's still okay...”

“How did you manage that?”

“She knows I know she can take care of herself. She also knows I worry.”

“It might be on short notice. I might only have time for one call in a weird time.”

“I'll get an answer phone.”