by Cassima
Disclaimer: Wishes aren't horses, so I must walk. In other words, look elsewhere for ownership of the characters in this fic.  "Prayer of the Children" was written by Kurt Bester.
Series/Sequel: Yes. Chapter 3 of the "If I Should Die" series.
Warnings: Angst, blah, blah, blah, AU, blah blah blah... And a scene that highly resembles fluff somewhere in the middle...
Pairings: 2x5, 1xR.
Summary: Duo and Wufei work through some issues just in time to run into some *new* issues. But it's okay, because Wufei's a stud.
Author's (friggin' long) Note: Chapter 4 picks up with Wufei and Duo, shortly after we left off. ^_^

I may be inventing the layout of L-4. That would be the lazy artist's license. ::g::

'Serpentine Warriors' is, as far as I know, a fictional film. It's kind of a pun on something my mother always laughs at--"running serpentine." I don't get the joke, and I'm not sure where it's from, but this is for you, Mom, if you ever read it. ...gosh, this was the long way to say that I just made up the stupid movie...

THANK YOU to Kat, who supports me in everything I do, and Bronze, who reminded me that desks can't talk. Also, a shout out to Nekktarinka, who rants at me at least four times a week. ^_^;

If I Should Die... + Chapter Four
Revelations 20:13

"I mean, can't you look into my eyes and be all intuitive?"
--Buffy the Vampire Slayer


* Never made it as a wise man.
* I couldn't cut it as
* A poor man stealing.
* Tired of living like a blind man.
* I'm sick of sight without
* A sense of feeling,
* And this is how you remind me,
* This is how you remind me
* Of what I really am...

--"This is How You Remind Me," Nickleback

+

The night air was colder than usual. At first Duo appreciated it--the chill felt nice against his overheated eyes and cheeks, still a bit swollen and red from crying--but after a few minutes he began to feel it scraping the moisture from his already dried-out skin. He settled his hat more firmly over his ears and pulled his jacket tighter, carefully not looking at Wufei.

Wufei's silence was less unnatural--he was always quiet. After Duo's breakdown in the church, Wufei'd been nothing but gentle, letting him sob until there was nothing left and everyone else had gone. Wufei'd finally bundled him up and taken him down the steps and out of the chapel; Duo didn't know where they were headed, and he couldn't gather his wits enough to ask. He wasn't even sure he really cared.

Duo folded his arms over his chest and tucked his gloved hands out of the wind as best he could.

"They're having a few problems with the central air system," Wufei said. It was the first either had spoken since leaving the chapel. "They said something in the filter was clogged--nothing dangerous, but it'll be cold. There was a news report before the service. We should have warmer air again in a day or so."

Duo didn't say anything.

They walked in silence for a bit longer, pausing at a crosswalk to wait for the light. Duo glanced around, noting somewhat distantly that they'd walked pretty far downtown. He finally let his gaze slide to the man next to him, shame again washing over him as he remembered how he'd broken down. Some Gundam pilot.

Wufei's sights were fixed in the sky somewhere. "I don't know how people on Earth can live with nothing between them and space," he murmured, staring at the blur of the stars through the clear plastic bubble that enclosed L-4. "How can they stand it?"

"I don't know," Duo replied just as quietly. "I've never understood it, either."

The light changed, and they crossed the street. "You're not from Earth, then?"

Duo shook his head. "I'm colony-born."

"So you fought with the rebellion?" Wufei's voice was wistful as he led Duo into the coffee shop.

"Yeah, sort of." The amount of heat that poured over them as they entered the coffee shop was, at first, unwelcome, but after Duo shed his hat, gloves, and coat, he found it actually quite pleasant. Wufei bought two large mugs of some kind of sweet, hot beverage from the woman behind the counter and walked Duo over to a small, soft couch next to the rustic fireplace. They sat there, sipping their drinks, and Duo began to feel life inch back into his feet. He almost regretted it; the pins-and-needles sensation hurt.

The coffee shop was mostly empty. Two students sat over at one of the tables talking through some project, their words barely carrying over the soft jazz playing over the speakers. The woman behind the counter had a crossword puzzle book out, and was biting her tongue as she hesitantly moved to fill in another word. The only other person in the place was an older man sitting by the window, reading the paper. Duo and Wufei were, essentially, alone.

"You were no ordinary soldier," Wufei finally said.

Duo fixed his gaze in his mug, staring at the swirl of cream against the dark brown of his drink. He could feel Wufei looking at him. "What makes you say that?"

Wufei's voice was warm and affectionate. "Nothing about you is ordinary." He took a sip from his mug. "Besides, the colonies didn't really fight in the war."

Duo felt the way the ceramic mug sat in his hands, heavy and warm, and rubbed his thumb across a dip in the handle. His face felt too large and puffy for his head, and his throat hurt. "I was a Gundam pilot," he whispered, and waited for Wufei to react.

"You..." Wufei froze next to him. "You were a Gundam pilot?" There was something in the way he said it that made Duo want to cry--a kind of bitter amazement and confusion Duo'd never wanted to hear from Wufei.

Duo closed his eyes, feeling the way his eyelids kind of stuck together, and opened them again. They were cut off from the fire in the fireplace in front of them by the thick pane of glass on the front of the mantle. Everything wild and natural was put behind glass on L-4, and everything wild and natural was just in-your-face unrestrained on Earth. Duo wondered if there was some sort of middle ground, where you could be allowed to feel the heat from the fire without the danger of it raging out of control.

The mug in his hands was trembling; he gripped it tighter, and it stopped.

"You were a Gundam pilot," Wufei finally repeated a bit woodenly.

"Yeah," Duo said, and the words came hoarsely. "Yeah, I was." He chuckled a little, realized it wasn't funny, and laughed a little more.

"Duo," Wufei said. He sounded a little lost, and a little hurt, and a little pleading. "Duo..."

"You wanted to know my trauma," Duo said, still chuckling, not feeling anything remotely related to humor. "Well, now you know. Happy?"

"You were..." Wufei exhaled slowly. "That must have been... hard." There was something sincere behind whatever was in his voice, and when Wufei put his hand on Duo's arm, Duo couldn't help relaxing a little.

"Yeah. Hard." But he stopped laughing.

Wufei looked relieved. "I'm not upset." He looked affronted when Duo snorted. "I'm just surprised."

"What, I don't strike you as the violent mass-murdering type?" Duo considered drinking some more of his coffee, but he wasn't sure he'd be able to swallow against the cotton in his throat.

Wufei's hand tightened on his arm. "The Gundam pilots weren't murderers. Not any more than any soldier is." His gaze was intense enough to draw Duo's eyes from his mug up to Wufei's face; Duo could feel the force of Wufei's eyes as a shock deep in his chest.

"You sure about that?" Duo asked. He needed something--reassurance or comfort or Wufei's hand on his face or another coffee or something--and he held his breath, unsure of which he was about to receive.

Wufei didn't smile. "I've met worse."

Duo was suddenly very aware of Wufei's grip on his arm, not really loose but not really tight, either, with the thumb smoothing small circles on his upper arm. "You're really something, Chang Wufei."

Wufei's lip twitched. "Yeah?" The strands of hair that had come loose from his ponytail framed his face, gentling the sad expression in Wufei's dark eyes.

Duo felt the sudden urge to drive the sadness away, and raised his hand to cup Wufei's jaw, stopping just short as his nerves got the best of him. Wufei's eyes were unreadable, and Duo froze, wanting to comfort and be comforted, needing to touch.

He realized he'd leaned forward after it was too late to pull the motion, and his lips finally touched something--whether skin or mouth, he couldn't be sure--just as the "abort" command finally clicked in his brain. It was too late to go back, though, and he let himself kiss Wufei, very softly and very timidly.

Because it was too late to go back.

Wufei inhaled sharply when Duo pulled back, and Duo retracted his hand from its hovering position. Wufei's fingers were digging into the muscle of his arm almost painfully; Duo didn't think he could look him in the eyes, so he kept his own closed, anticipating the next moment with an air of resigned dread.

The silence went on between them. Wufei didn't move, didn't make a noise. When he could bear it no longer, Duo finally opened his eyes and looked.

Wufei was staring at him, eyes almost black, pupils dilated, mouth slightly open. He didn't move, and Duo wondered for a brief moment if time had stopped.

And then, Wufei leaned in and kissed him, without a breath or warning, and Duo felt himself and his concerns fade in the overwhelming presence of Wufei. As it became apparent that neither of them was about to bolt, Duo brought his hand back to the other man's cheek, resting it half in the black, silky hair.

They both pulled away after a moment. Wufei seemed startled to realize he was still clutching Duo's arm, and Duo knew it'd been that good for both of them.

"So," he said; even though he'd spoken softly, his voice was shockingly loud. "Yeah."

Wufei's smile was easy, chasing the innermost cold depths away. "Yeah." A bit husky; Duo felt a tingle travel down his spine.

"Yeah," Duo responded, because that seemed to say it all.

Yeah.

+

Sitting on the ratty carpet in Wufei's room, Duo concluded that Wufei's choice of movies sucked.

"Shh!" Wufei hushed through his laughter, nudging Duo with his elbow.

The man dressed completely (predictably) in black on the television screen ducked behind a bush as two armed guards chatted about girl troubles, and Duo crumpled up the empty bag of popcorn and tossed it in the direction of the trash. "'Fei, you've got this entire movie memorized," Duo returned, making a face as the bag bounced off the rim and rolled in front of the door.

"This is the good part," Wufei insisted, trying for a straight face.

Duo giggled, much to his dismay--which only made Wufei laugh harder. "You say that every scene!"

"You're ruining my favorite movie, Duo," he said in a tone that contradicted the statement.

"Hmph!" Duo responded, dramatically flopping down in Wufei's lap. "I can't believe you're obsessed with bad kung fu movies!"

"'Serpentine Warriors' isn't bad kung fu!" Wufei mock-glared down at Duo.

Duo reached up and pulled off Wufei's ponytail holder, watching the black hair swing loose to frame his face. With his hair free and his glasses on, he reminded Duo of a model. Of course, Duo would be the first to admit to his bias; ever since they'd kissed in the coffee shop and Duo had let himself really look, everything about Wufei was attractive. Wufei smiled; something in Duo relaxed every time he saw it.

"Just watch the movie," Wufei told him.

Duo met him halfway for a kiss, and then resettled himself in Wufei's lap to watch the rest of the movie.

"Wufei," he said after a moment, as the hero of the movie flew up the side of a building. "What are you doing after finals?"

"Well," Wufei said, "I've always wanted to go to the zoo."

It was weird, but Duo'd heard stranger things come out of Wufei's mouth. "The zoo, huh? There's an entire colony that's a zoo, isn't there?"

"It's silly--" Wufei began, but Duo cut him off.

"Let's go."

Wufei's surprised and grateful pause was all the more endearing. "Thank you."

They watched the movie for a bit, and Duo noted the hero's resourceful use of the convenient gardening equipment. "I'll have you know," Duo said, fingers running along Wufei's leg, "that I don't watch 'Serpentine Ninjas on Wires' for just anyone."

"'Serpentine Warriors'," Wufei corrected, lightly smacking Duo's hip before stroking Duo's hair. "And that's because anyone else would kick you out. You're a horrible person to watch movies with."

Duo leaned into Wufei's hand. "Just because you have bad taste in movies..."

"If it was up to you," Wufei responded, "we'd be watching 'Gone With the Wind', so I don't want to hear about poor taste."

"Touché."

+

Duo was supposed to be doing homework, but he'd been distracted by the archaic game of Pong on his computer. It wasn't fun, exactly, but it was better than going over his biology notes or doing his math. He leaned back in his chair, slouched a little, and put his feet up on the corner of his desk.

"Where's Wufei?" Jordan asked from his desk on the opposite side of the room.

"Study group for psych tonight," Duo said. "Why do you ask?"

"No reason," Jordan said, opening a giant bag of potato chips and popping a few in his mouth. "It's just strange for you to be back so early."

Duo didn't answer. He preferred to study with Wufei, true enough, even if they were studying different things. Even now that Wufei was a distraction Duo could touch and kiss...

When the phone rang, Duo let Jordan answer it.

"'Lo." Jordan paused. "Yeah, hold on." He passed the phone to Duo. "It's for you."

"I've been looking for you," a warm voice said in his ear.

"Lena?" He took his feet off his desk and sat up a little straighter.

"I always knew you were the smart one," she said. "It's been so long, Duo!"

"Yeah. How've you been?" Duo asked, still a bit shocked.

"Very well, thank you. How are you? Enjoying school?"

"Yeah, it's great. I'm in the premed program," he said. He really couldn't think of anything to say--or maybe he had too much.

"You'll make a great doctor," Relena said.

"Yeah, thanks." Duo paused, and finally blurted, "How'd you find me here?"

"You'd be surprised the connections you make when you're Queen of the world," she said mysteriously, then laughed. "Or maybe you wouldn't. You know most of them."

"Oh." It was slightly weird, talking to Relena after so much had happened. He wasn't quite sure how to respond, other than, "So, I hear you're getting married."

"Hey, who told?!" she exclaimed and laughed again. "I suppose the cat's out of the bag, then. Yes, the wedding is the sixth of January."

"Congratulations," Duo responded, feeling a smile creep up despite himself. Relena was just so... Relena. "So you and Heero have been busy planning."

"Yes. Well, no, I've been busy planning." He could almost hear her rolling her eyes. "You might not've guessed it, but Heero is not exactly a first-class diplomat or master of the subtle."

Duo laughed outright at that. "Well, Heero's about as subtle as Wing Zero ever was."

Relena chuckled her agreement. "He's a good man, though. And I love him very much."

"I'm happy for you two," Duo said.

"We want you to come back for the wedding," Relena said. "Please? Heero wants you to be one of the groomsmen, and I could really use you around during all the pre-marital craziness."

"I... don't know." Duo frowned. "There's... I've got this friend, and..."

"Oh, a friend." Relena leaned into the word with a laugh. "Invite her along."

"No, not like... I mean..." Duo found himself suddenly, inexplicably at a loss for words.

Relena's chuckles continued. "Well, then, invite him."

"Relena!" Duo cried, not sure if he was more scandalized by her tone or by the amount of time it'd taken her to see through his facade of heterosexuality.

"Duo, please," she said, suddenly serious. "I'd love to meet your friend, and I'd really love it if you'd come to the wedding. Will you think about it, at least?"

Duo nodded before remembering that she couldn't see him. "Yeah, we'll talk about it. Thanks."

"Thank you." He heard her yawn. "I'm terribly sorry--it's three in the morning here. I should really be getting to bed."

"Go get some sleep," he told her, his head spinning. "Talk to you later."

"Let me give you my number first," Relena said, and he dutifully wrote it down.

"Sleep tight," he told her.

"You, too," she said. "Call me."

"Right. Good night."

He hung up and handed the phone back to Jordan, still a bit shocked.

"What's up?" Jordan asked.

"Old friend. She wants me to go back for her wedding," Duo said.

"You going?"

Duo stared at his game of pong. "I don't know. Neither Wufei or I have any family, so we were going to go to one of the outer colonies for break."

"A lot of people who went home for fall break had that problem."

"What?" Duo asked, turning around.

Jordan tipped his chair back a little and spoke to the ceiling. "You know... college is supposed to be this whole experience where you get to create a new identity for yourself, to see if you can break away from what you used to know. And then when you go home, you can't be who you really are any more--because you've changed. Grown."

Duo couldn't remember the last time he'd been who he really was with the other pilots.

Jordan took a few swallows of his cola before continuing. "A lot of the people who went home for fall break already had difficulty reconciling who they used to be with who they've become. And then they find themselves play a role around their family and friends, just to keep up the pretense." Jordan contemplated his drink for a moment. "We try to pretend we haven't changed because we're afraid that people won't accept us if we're different. Meanwhile, everyone's pretending to be something they're just so... not."

He seemed to be done, so Duo sighed and turned back to Pong. "You are such a Psych major."

Jordan snorted. "And a damn handsome one, too. The droves of ladies huddled outside the door tells you a thing or two about my studliness."

Duo rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right."

+

Duo was in the rec room waiting for Wufei to show up for his morning exercise by five-forty-five, curled up on one of the couches, exhausted and unable to sleep. Jordan (damn the man; every psychology major thought a few classes made you an expert) was right. Duo was afraid to go back.

It'd been awkward those last few months during the war; the Gundam pilots had been a practically inseparable team not out of comaraderie, but out of a single, unifying purpose and some orders issued by some damn scary scientists. Those last few months, Duo'd seen how Quatre'd begun to avoid him, and how Heero and Trowa'd ignored him even more, and how Meiran had nearly strangled him and kissed him within half an hour of each other. Could he go back without expecting that treatment again? Could he go back without them seeing him exactly as he'd been during the war?

Was he any different than he'd been during the war?

He spent the forty-five minutes in an anxious half-doze, more asleep than awake but not able to rest or relax, either. Did he need to go--some sort of closure thing?--or was this letting go of his past? Was he able to let go of his past? Would this be something he should do in order to let go of his past, or was this running away? Was running really such a bad thing?

Had running worked so far?

He jumped when the lights flickered on. He hadn't even noticed Wufei coming in.

Wufei was standing at the door, blinking blearily. "Duo?"

Duo blinked back, just as blearily.

"How long have you been in here?" Wufei still stood over by the door.

Duo shrugged. "Couldn't sleep." He just wanted Wufei to start his kata; he knew he'd be able to sleep while Wufei was practicing his form.

Wufei frowned. "Are you okay?"

Duo nodded, even though he didn't even think he was convincing. "Just do your Tai Chi, Wu."

But Wufei came over to the couch and sat down next to Duo. With so much tenderness that Duo thought he'd break, Wufei pulled him close and held him, rocking him gently.

Wufei was a strong presence against him, comforting and warm like he'd forgotten people were--could be. Every time Wufei held him, Duo was reminded, suddenly, of his humanity, and his mortality, and the privileges of both. Wufei's hands were tight against his back, rubbing small, warm circles next to his spine, patting him gently. He exhaled into the embrace and relaxed, letting his heavy head rest on Wufei's shoulder.

The edge of a shiny pink scar was visible when the neckline of Wufei's shirt pulled just the right way; Duo absently traced it with his finger, feeling the way it curved under his shirt and along his back. Wufei tensed a little, but only held him tighter, rocking them both.

"I am a gay man," Duo thought to himself. "I am a gay Gundam pilot who has a wonderful boyfriend."

With a little time and a little Wufei, he could deal with that.

"I am a gay Gundam pilot with a wonderful boyfriend who is going to hang out with all his Gundam pilot chums and attend the wedding of one of his best friends, whom he hasn't spoken to in years, and the queen of the world."

Magic eight ball says: Try again later.

He sighed and went to sleep.


[chap. 3] [chap. 5] [back to Cassima's fic]