By: Cassima
Disclaimer: My life would be a dream if I owned them. Since I don't, I'll just have to dream my life away...
Summary: Duo, meet college life. College life, meet Duo. Duo, meet Wufei...
Pairings: 2+5
Rating: PG-13 for language.

If I Should Die... + Chapter Two
Sublimation

"Well, 'cause, you know, sometimes we do something that seems like a good idea at the time, like, say, invoke the power of a musical amulet. And it turns out, you know, not so much."
--Buffy the Vampire Slayer


*Was I out of my head,
*Was I out of my mind?
*How could I ever've been so blind?
*I was waiting for an indication;
*It was hard to find.
*Didn't matter what I say,
*Only what I do.
*I never mean to do bad things to you.
*So quiet that I finally woke up.
*If you're sad, then it's time you spoke up...

--"Out of My Head," Fastball 

+

Duo stood in his boxers, dripping and shivering in front of the token machine as it spit his creds out again, whirring spitefully. Slowly and purposefully, he fed the dripping card in again, watching as it whirred for a moment and spit it back out. "Just take the fucking creds," he hissed, two seconds from tearing it from the wall.

"It's broken," a male voice said from behind him. "It's always broken."

After taking three calming breaths that failed to calm him, Duo counted slowly to ten. "Fuck." His headache was getting worse and he was still cold, despite the ungodly warmth of the laundry room. A few girls passed in the hallway, giggling and whispering at the sight of him, still shivering and nearly naked, and he felt something inside him give slightly but not quite snap, under its maximum amount of pressure. "Why do they put the damn machine here if they're never going to fix it?"

"I have often wondered the same thing." The voice, pleasantly midrange, was slightly accented, and tinged with sympathy and dry humor. "I have extra laundry tokens, if you wish. I would be more than willing to share."

The raging explosion he'd felt building behind his eyes and in his fist lessened somewhat, and his cheerful mask settled more comfortably onto his face. In control again, Duo turned around and looked at the other boy for the first time. Short, Asian, athletic. Glasses. Stub of a ponytail. A contradiction. "You," he said clearly, meaning every word, "are a god."

"I know." His benefactor pulled out a glass jar full of tokens and handed Duo enough for the washer and dryer, refusing the limp, scraggly dollar Duo pulled from the pocket of his jeans. "Is that enough?"

"It's perfect, thanks." He stuffed his clothes and sheets in the machine, poured detergent over the load, inserted his tokens, and pressed the start button.

"You're not going to separate the lights and the darks?" the guy asked.

"Why would I want to do something like that?" Duo eyed him suspiciously.

His benefactor shook his head; a few strands of black, shiny hair slipped from his ponytail and fell in front of his ear. "Well, it keeps the whites whiter, for one..."

Duo rolled his eyes. "As long as they smell better, I don't care how fucking white they are."

The other guy laughed and glanced over at the dryers as the buzzer sounded, removing his glasses and setting them on the counter next to his open text book. He began taking the laundry out of the dryer one article at a time, folding his clothes neatly.

Duo sighed and told himself to play nice. "I owe you one."

He smirked and tossed Duo a set of sweats warm from the dryer. "You can owe me two."

Duo pulled on the pants and sweatshirt; they were a little small, but they were soft and smelled clean, and he was much more comfortable. His anger subsided a little more as warmth returned to his skin, and he smiled. "Duo Maxwell."

The other guy smiled back. "Chang Wufei."

Chang. Duo studied him for a moment. He looked a bit like Meiran--although that could have been just the whole Asian thing they had going on. They could be family, but since the destruction of L-5 had blown to smithereens any family Meiran had, it was unlikely that they were related. "Chang" was probably the Chinese version of "Smith" or "Jones." Besides, Wufei was taller, more muscular, and... smiling.

Yep, definitely not related.

"Don't you live in Fifth East?" Duo asked.

Wufei was still smiling, just a small, humor-filled smile. "Yes, in room 578."

"That's right across from me." The second the words came out of his mouth, Duo felt like an idiot. "Heh. Guess I'm not very observant, huh?"

Wufei finished folding his clothes and set the basket on the counter, nodding to the "out of order" sign on the wall next to the token machine. "Rough day?"

Duo flushed and tugged at the too-short sleeves of Wufei's sweatshirt. "The printer wasn't working, my computer's on the fritz, Doc Levin chewed my ass about a paper he thinks I plagiarized, I nearly got hit by a car that was fucking running a red light, I slipped in the mud and fell in Sigma Chi's stupid wading pool, and I have a bio test tomorrow at eight-fucking-AM and the prof won't tell us what's gonna be on it. And because I waited until the last minute to do laundry and then got all wet and muddy, all my clothes are in the wash, and the machine wouldn't take my fucking money, and... I've had better." His hands curled into fists, the only physical sign that he was close to losing his temper again.

Wufei winced sympathetically. "Your week sounds like mine." He nodded towards one of the washers. "Today, my roommate left his drunken girlfriend in our room and she vomited in my dresser."

Duo made a face. "I can't believe all the dick-heads out there." He rolled his eyes. "You seem to be pretty cool about the whole barfing thing."

Wufei nodded, a dry smile on his face. "It took about half an hour of meditation, but I did calm down enough to call her friends to take her home."

"Neat trick."

"Tai Chi."

Duo could believe it. Wufei certainly had the body of a martial artist. "Do you think it works on Biology?"

Wufei shook his head. "I've tried." Then his face brightened. "Bio 102 with Cavell, right? I've seen you around."

And again, Duo was embarrassed; he certainly would've noticed Wufei if his reflexes were still working like they had during the war. The last time he'd felt so dumb had been during a conversation with Meiran. "We've had the same class for how many weeks, now?" Duo felt a strange grin settle on his face, and he fought against another wave of hostility. Wufei had been perfectly friendly so far, and Duo didn't have so many friends that he could afford to pick fights with kind strangers. "We should study together." He meant to say it in a detached way, but Wufei's clothes were suddenly hot against his skin, and he ended up offering a weak smile.

Wufei's answering look was nothing but kind, and he put his glasses on and picked up the text book. "We have some time before the laundry is done. Shall we begin with mitosis?"

It was too late to back out now; Duo resigned himself to a long and boring study session and mentally checked it off as payment for the clothes he'd borrowed. Wufei settled on the counter, crossing his legs and resting the book in his lap, waiting patiently. Duo reluctantly hopped up next to him and drew one knee up to his chest to lean on it. "I think we'd better."

Something in Wufei's voice, deep and soothing, stirred some deep hurt. Duo ignored it, focusing on the gentle whirring of the washers and the thumping of the dryers, and the terribly monotonous rote memorization required for the test.

+

Two weeks later found them sprawled out across the floor in Wufei's room, surrounded by both of their open text books, class notes, lab notes, and various selections from the course pack.

"I hate this," Wufei said finally, throwing his pencil on the floor. "It just doesn't make any sense."

Duo pushed his bangs away from his eyes. "This lab is impossible. It's fucking insane that she expects us to get this all done. What, she doesn't realize that we have four other classes?"

"It is a lot of work for an intro class." Wufei removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "It's too much memorizing."

Duo stared at the book gloomily for a moment, finally knocking it to the side with his hand and scattering the papers. "Okay, we're done for the night."

"But Duo, it's only--" he looked at the clock, "ten."

"Ten-twenty-three," Duo corrected, and dragged Wufei to his feet. "Come on, Chang. Let's go paint this dead-ass colony red."

"Why would we want to paint it red?" Wufei asked as Duo pulled him out the door.

Despite Duo's wish to go out into town, they ended up staying in and playing pool. They were the only two people in the rec room; most of the other students were likely at the frat parties, guzzling down the free beer. Duo didn't think much of beer, and the good stuff--hard liquor--was saved for the dumb freshmen girls with "easy fuck" tattooed across their pretty foreheads.

Wufei leaned over, lining up his shot, and Duo found himself admiring Wufei's form. And his ass.

Good lord. Wufei's ass.

It was a nice ass, to be sure, and completely worthy of admiration, but it hit Duo in mid-ponder that his friend Wufei--his very male friend Wufei--had a nice ass, and that he, Duo, had noticed, and that he was probably not quite as straight as he'd thought he was.

Duo had slept with women before--a few during the war, and a few more back on Earth, after the war--but he'd never touched another man. Not sexually. He'd never thought about it before--not in strictly self-analytical terms, anyway, the way his contemplation of Wufei's ass was suddenly forcing him to--but he did notice those things that you notice about a person you'd like to sleep with, and not just with women either, and God, why had it never occurred to him that when Trowa was practicing acrobatics, it hadn't been the tightness of his jumps Duo'd been checking out?

Duo followed the line of Wufei's neck as it emerged from his shirt and became hidden at his hairline: smooth skin, creamy and tan and strong and Duo told himself he wasn't really checking Wufei out, he was just noticing. There was nothing wrong with noticing. It was what he had been trained to do. And as Wufei stretched over the table, the hem of his shirt rose over where his jeans rested, and Duo could see a hint of Wufei's back, strong and--

Wufei cursed softly and stood back up. Duo felt obscenely relieved and nervous, all at once--maybe Wufei knew what he was thinking. Maybe Wufei could feel the eyes boring into his ass. (God! "Boring into his ass?!" Duo fought a blush.) This wasn't some unobservant Joe, it was Chang Wufei of the Mysterious Everything, Bio Study Buddy. Hall mate. Amigo.

Duo tensed, but Wufei walked over to the other side of the table and pulled the cue ball out of the corner pocket. "Scratch." His tone was rueful, and Duo only caught the ball out of reflex when Wufei tossed it to him.

"Your turn."

Duo's mask was back up, luckily, and he was able to reply casually. "Thought you were going to clear the table all by yourself."

Wufei rolled his eyes. "Asshole." But it was fondly said.

"Yeah," Duo said, and lined up his next shot. "Yeah, I know. Red stripy one in the corner pocket."

+

The next day found Duo beating the shit out of a preppy tight-ass freak who'd tripped him in the cafeteria. The kid hadn't apologized or pretended to notice. Duo found great satisfaction in the fight, and, waiting in a room in the Campus Safety office, felt some sluggish instinct rouse itself. He didn't feel good, necessarily, but somehow it was right.

Comfortable.

Safe.

Campus Safety let them off with a warning and a lecture on the evils of primitive macho displays of testosterone; Duo could see them chalking their fight up to youth and temporary post-war madness, but he knew why he'd fought.

Sub-li-ma-tion.  He knew how to spell it.

+

His fourth fight after that was held outside the Natural Sciences complex with one of the athletics majors, ostensibly over Duo's attitude towards the guy's girlfriend. Duo circled the guy carefully, keeping an eye out for said girlfriend, who looked like she would pummel him to the consistency of oatmeal if he won. The fight wasn't quite as exhilarating as the last few--maybe a result of the monotony, maybe boredom--but he let himself feel grounded and cool: he was an ex-Gundam pilot who'd regularly fought and kicked ass next to Heero Yuy, the best ass-kicker Duo'd ever known; he was the sole survivor of his gang back on L-2; he'd lived through things in the war that he hadn't wanted to. He wasn't going to let a dumb jock and his girlfriend take him down.

But God, was he tired of fighting.

Duo launched himself at the guy. His speed was his greatest strength--always had been, even in Deathscythe--and he utilized it fully, ducking under the guy's arm and getting in a few good hits before slipping back out of range. Duo wasn't as muscular as he'd been once, but he'd managed to keep somewhat in shape; the jock, skilled enough, was overmatched, and Duo toyed with him, goading him.

"Come on, you asshole! Or should I just take on your girlfriend?"

"Rick, for God's sake, just let him go!" She sounded more impatient than concerned.

Rick growled, swiping at Duo and getting a good hit on his nose. "Sharon, stay out of it."

"Just walk me to class, Rick." It was a warning to both of them.

Duo popped Rick in the mouth while he was distracted. Rick cried out in surprise, hands rising to cup his face while Duo hit him again and finished it by sweeping Rick's legs out from under him.

"That's enough," a cold voice said from the building's entrance.

Duo wiped his bloody face on his arm, obediently stepping back from the body. He watched Rick stare up at him with an expression that was both incredulous and malicious, and felt a small twinge of satisfaction. He allowed a smirk, but wished he could keep hitting him without Professor Cavell glaring at him only a few feet away--and Cavell really could kick his ass.

"Mr. Maxwell," she said, holding the door open with a cool look. "I'd like to have a word with you in my office."

Without a word, Duo scooped up his backpack and followed.

+

Professor Cavell's office was cluttered and messy. Books were piled everywhere, with stacks of miscellaneous papers--both student assignments and not--strewn about the floor, table, and desk. The small couch was covered with more books and strange artifacts; Duo wondered when someone had last sat there. Two of the three chairs were useable, and Professor Cavell settled herself in the padded one by the desk.

Duo relaxed into the other, slouching in his seat. "What can I do for you, Teach?" Unobtrusively, he wiped his hand across his nose; the bleeding had stopped.

"I can't help but notice, Mr. Maxwell, that you have been rather--overly assertive lately, especially in class. I've seen your downright nasty attitude towards your classmates, and this fight makes me wonder if you know what the hell you're doing." She crossed her arms over her chest and stared at him through her glasses; she was almost more intimidating than some of the Oz officers Duo had encountered.

"Well, Doctor," he drawled, putting his hands behind his head, "I'm just a helpless example of the violence inherent in the system."

"You're going to be an example of the violence outside of the system if you don't get it together," she bit out, and turned, shuffling through a pile of papers while she continued to talk to him. "What are you here for?"

"Oh, Doc, why are any of us here?" he asked, studying the ceiling. "When's the last time this office was painted? Your paint's chipping something terrible."

"I meant, what are you here to study?" She pushed her bangs away from her eyes. "You're pre-med, correct?"

He nodded, still comfortably relaxed in the chair, and put his feet up on a stack of books.

"You might as well stop coming to class. There's no way you can become a doctor. I don't see any reason why you should waste your money here."

He looked up at her, incredulous, and sat up in his seat, putting his arms down. "That's such bullshit!"

Dr. Cavell finally pulled his latest lab report out of the pile. "Duo Maxwell. Your grades are superior. You're extremely intelligent. You simply don't have the character. You are consistently cruel. You deliberately go out of your way to cause others pain." She put the papers down and removed her glasses. "Mr. Maxwell, you don't have a doctor's temperament."

"I--" Duo began, finding himself strangely at a loss.

"Do you know the Hippocratic Oath?" she asked him, voice still hard.

"The Hypocritical Oath?"

"The Hippocratic Oath," she answered, and softened a little. "'I will prescribe regimen for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment, and will never do harm to anyone.'[1] Mr. Maxwell, all I've seen you do is harm others."

Death is your gift.

It hit him like a cold wave. He crossed his arms and shifted against the hard plastic of the chair. "You don't know what the fuck you're talking about," he told her stiffly. His hands felt suddenly numb, and something inside him began to shake. He kept himself steady, distant. Tried for detached and bored, but felt himself fall short. "You don't know me."

"The war was a difficult time, Duo," she said quietly, "but it ended two years ago. You have to move on."

I'm trying, he almost said, and bit his lip. He couldn't think of anything else to say, and he didn't think he could speak around the sudden lump in his throat.

"If you need to talk, my door is open," Dr. Cavell said, and sighed. "If I catch you fighting again, I'll report you to the police. Think on that."

"Okay," he said, feeling abnormally reserved, and took it for the dismissal it was.

As he walked back, bag slung over his shoulder, he wanted to be angry at Cavell. She didn't understand him. She didn't know how it was. She didn't know what it was like.

And then he remembered lying on his bed in the dingy hotel, knowing that the only thing he was good at was war and refusing to accept it.

And then he wondered if he'd really changed as much as he thought he had.

It took Duo a while to fall asleep; when he did, his dreams were half-memories from the war, dark and perverted. He dreamed about Treize, and Zechs, and Noin; he dreamed about the chamber where they'd cut off the air, except this time he was alone; he dreamed about pressing the self-destruct button, the panic he felt when it didn't go off, and the desperation and despair of being left stranded in enemy territory in space, short on air and injured; he dreamed about killing a family.

When he woke, still shaking and pale, he put on his shower sandals and headed for the bathroom. On the way back, he noticed Wufei heading down the hallway and, rather than brave sleep again, decided to follow. They made their way to the large common area, deserted at this time of night, and Duo watched from behind the door as Wufei took off his shoes and sweatshirt, leaving only baggy sweatpants and a tank top. Wufei cleared the furniture from the middle of the room, centered himself, and began the first fluid movements of his kata.

Duo gave him some privacy for a few minutes, but finally slipped into the room and sat down on the floor, against the wall. Wufei acknowledged him briefly with a nod of his head, and Duo just watched.

+

[1] Interesting note: The often quoted "First, do no harm" ("Primum non nocere") was never part of the original Hippocratic Oath; Hippocrates wrote in Greek, not Latin.

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