This takes place near the beginning of the war, only a month or so after Wufei 'joined' the other Gundam pilots. As such, his friendship with the other four is not as strong as theirs with each other.
The bell rang, signaling the end of classes for the day. The door of room 121 opened, disgorging the twenty-seven students that were in Ms. Ionia Einstein's chemistry class.
Walking across the hall from their Comparative Literature class, Heero and Wufei met up with their two friends outside of the chemistry lab. They started walking down the hall towards their dorm, taking a circuitous route so they could pick up Trowa from his last period P.E. class.
"How was your class?" Quatre asked the two Asians.
Wufei snorted in disgust. "More Shakespearean drivel. To listen to Professor Williams, you'd think no one past the seventeenth century A.D. had written anything decent in the realm of literature."
Heero nodded in agreement. "How was your class?" he asked perfunctorily.
"We started going over the periodic table of the elements," Duo replied. "Ick. As if knowing the scientific names for all those different things is ever going to come in handy." He grinned maniacally. "I can make things go boom just fine without knowin' all that stuff."
Wufei huffed a laugh. "Just as long as it's not in class, Maxwell," he chided.
"We also got last Friday's test papers back," Quatre added, not noticing how Duo tensed when he mentioned it.
"What did you make?" Wufei asked.
Quatre blushed. "Ah, I made a ninety-seven," he said modestly. "How about you, Duo?" he asked, wanting to move the attention to someone else.
"What about me, Quat?" Duo asked tensely.
"What did you make on the chemistry test, Duo?" Quatre clarified, giving a smile to Trowa, who had just exited the gym. Trowa nodded back and looked curiously at Duo, obviously waiting for the answer.
Wufei snorted. "I bet the baka failed," he pronounced.
"I did not fail," Duo grumbled.
Wufei raised one raven brow in skeptical derision. No matter how Deathscythe's pilot proved himself in other arenas, Duo's lack of scholastic achievement branded him an idiot in Chang's eyes. "Oh?"
Duo grimaced. "I made sixty-five percent," he admitted grudgingly. At the looks he received from the others, he hunched his shoulders defensively. "It's a D," he said. "I didn't fail."
"Only by the slimmest of margins," Wufei said snarkily.
Heero shot his lover a look. "Duo, you know Ms. Einstein's policy on people who make bad grades."
Duo nodded in resignation. "They get assigned after school tutoring," he said unnecessarily. "And I can't afford to have my afternoons taken up because I might need them for mission prep," he said, making sure to keep his voice too low to be overheard. Though there was very little chance of that, as the hustle and bustle of the students around them was at the level of a dull roar.
"I could help you study," Quatre offered.
"Thanks, Quat." Duo mustered a smile for his friend. I don't think it will help much, but if worse comes to worst, I can always cheat, he thought in resignation.
"Tomorrow, then?" Quatre affirmed.
"Tomorrow," Duo agreed.
The next day, the five of them had gathered in Heero and Duo's dorm room. The former was relaxing – as much as he ever relaxed – by reading a book on particle physics. The latter was lying on his bed with Quatre, chemistry books and class notes laid out in front oft them. Wufei had been working on his Literature paper; he'd finished it half an hour ago and was now meditating in the corner – and occasionally shooting amused glances towards Duo. And Trowa was juggling his knives, as he was wont to do when he was very bored.
Duo and Quatre had been studying for over two hours.
Quatre sighed and dropped his head into his hands, massaging his pounding temples. "I just don't understand why it's so hard for you to get this," he said, confounded. "We've been working at this for a week, Duo, and you've only memorized twenty of the elements."
Duo knew, but wasn't about to tell him. "I'm sorry, Quat, I'm doing the best I can," he said, which was the truth.
Just not all of it.
Wufei snorted. "Figures the baka isn't smart enough to understand the advanced physics of his own Gundam," he sneered. "I'm surprised he even knows how to spell Gundanium."
Duo almost snorted at the other boy's words. You have no idea how long I spent thinking much the same thing, 'Fei, he thought desolately. "We can't all be perfect paragons of virtue and intellect, Wu-man," he said instead, a cocky grin his mask against his true thoughts. "And I understand how the damn thing works, I just don't get all these stupid chemical designations."
"At this rate, you'll only have sixty-two of the different elements memorized in time for the test," Heero noted almost clinically. But there was an undercurrent of worry in his voice that, even if Duo hadn't heard it, would still be proven by the fact that he'd actually spent time figuring out Duo's study schedule.
"I'll just have to study more, I guess," Duo said, sighing as he gazed down at the book in front of him fixedly. Not that it will do that much good. I need to practice this stuff verbally to really get it.
And he couldn't do that with the others around. They'd ask questions. Questions he really didn't want to answer.
"You know, Duo, I've noticed that you never have a problem learning the lecture material," Trowa offered.
"I guess I'm just an auditory learner, Tro," Duo said, forcing a smile. Definitely an auditory learner – if only Quatre would read aloud more, I might actually get something out of this 'study' session.
"Considering you only have problems when you have to memorize written words, one might think you were dyslexic, Duo," Quatre said in an offhand manner, flipping through the pages of the chemistry book to find the periodic table.
Duo froze and purposely made himself relax so as not to give anything away. "Y-yeah, one might," he agreed, unable to help his stuttering. Like me.
Heero shot his boyfriend a sharp look. "Do you have dyslexia, Duo?" he asked, sensing there was more to Duo's nervousness than just his normal dislike of studying.
Oh, shit. He is way too close for comfort. "What would make you think that, Hee-chan?" he asked, bravado covering up his anxiety.
"Perhaps the fact that you're avoiding the question," Trowa said, the quiet boy having observed Duo's behavior and come to much the same conclusion as Heero had.
"Who, me?" Duo scoffed. To all outward appearances, he was unconcerned, unflappable as always. Inside he was screaming. No! They can't find out. I only just got Heero to stop calling me a baka back when we were friends; I couldn't handle it if he started up again now that we're together. "Why would I avoid the question?"
"Much as you're doing now," Quatre observed. Giving the braided boy an empathetic glance, he asked, "Duo, are you dyslexic?"
Faced with that pointed question, Duo had no other recourse – he had to tell the truth. "Yes," he replied, stubbornly refusing to look away from his teammate's gazes. Dammit! This is going to undo all my hard work. It doesn't matter that I'm the best at what I do, and almost as good as the rest of them at some of the stuff they do… I'm automatically gonna be considered a 'risk,' he thought disgustedly, shoulders slumping. Fuck. Why'd I have to be mentally handicapped?
Wufei frowned. "Why didn't you ever say anything?" he asked accusingly.
Lots of different replies popped into Duo's mind:
"It never came up."
Duo sighed internally. True. But the guys won't accept that.
"Doc G said not to."
All right, that one is a blatant lie.
"I didn't want you guys to know."
True, and a bit too revealing.
"I didn't want you guys to think less of me."
True, and more than a bit revealing.
"You already think I'm a baka and I didn't want to prove you right."
Duo winced inwardly. True, and waaaay too revealing. "It didn't make any difference to the mission," he said firmly, knowing that answer was more for Heero than for the others. I run, I hide, but I never lie – and I can't hide from these guys, so I ain't about to run away from 'em, he decided.
Even if a part of him – that part which had kept his dyslexia a secret for so long – wanted to just make believe they'd never found out.
Heero appeared to give that serious thought, before finally nodding decisively in acceptance. Quatre appeared at a loss, but smiled brightly. It was obvious that he didn't like the fact that Duo had kept this a secret from his teammates. And while it was equally as obvious was that Quatre didn't think less of Duo, he was very uncomfortable with the revelation and unsure how to handle it.
Trowa looked implacable as always, yet somehow managed to project an air of calm acceptance, and vague approval for not letting this problem keep Duo from doing his duty.
Wufei snorted derisively, said, "Idiots shouldn't be soldiers," and walked out of the room.
Duo flinched at the scorn in those onyx eyes.
Sighing heavily, Quatre pushed himself to his feet. "I'll go talk to him," he told Duo, though the reassurance fell flat since he couldn't look the braided boy in the eye. Wufei could be more stubborn in his views on…everything…than Relena was in her pursuance of Heero, and none of them held much hope for Wufei becoming less close-minded anytime soon. "Coming, Trowa?"
Trowa nodded and followed his lover out of the room, sending Duo a sympathetic glance on his way out.
Heero watched them leave, and then locked the door behind them before going back to his book.
While inwardly relieved that Heero, at least, appeared to not be treating him any differently, Duo knew it was only the calm before the storm. I give it seven days, he decided as he went back to studying – though he knew nothing would sink in, even if he could practice aloud. By then, they'll all either have accepted this…or driven me crazy.
Or both, was Duo's thought one week later as he entered his dorm and trudged wearily down the hall towards his and Heero's room. One thing about being new transfer students was that he and the other guys almost always ended up rooming together. A good thing, in his opinion, except for that time he'd ended up rooming with Wufei for three weeks. They'd nearly killed each other, and that was before the Chinese pilot had found out about his dyslexia. Quatre and Trowa are okay with it – though Heero has been conspicuous by his absence anywhere near me – but Wufei has just been…insufferable!
The normally fair and just Chang Wufei had taken to insulting Duo about his intellect – or supposed lack thereof. He'd always teased Duo about his low grades, but with his new knowledge, he'd taken the needling to a whole new level and was being downright nasty. Chang obviously hadn't done his homework – some of the brightest minds in history had been dyslexic. Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Marshall Noventa… Hell, even the original Heero Yuy!
And worse…his Heero was avoiding him. Every time he saw the other pilot, Heero was on that damned laptop of his. He knew they didn't have that much homework – all five of them were in practically all the same classes, just different schedules! – and there was a lull in the war lately, with a dearth of missions, so Heero's laptop use didn't have anything to do with that.
But Hee-chan hasn't really been acting any different towards me, Duo consoled himself as he neared his dorm room. He's just been…busier. He snorted. Probably tryin' to figure out if and how he should act any different around me. Failing to understand how to apply the appropriate behaviors to correct his lack of skill in social situations, Heero had taken to following stereotypical patterns whenever applicable. When they'd started 'dating', it had taken an hour of shouting for Duo to get it through Heero's Gundanium-hard skull that he didn't really like flowers or chocolates, and he could open his own doors.
Heero, having been unable to find any dating manuals for homosexual couples, had gone with ones for heterosexual couples, and had unwittingly ended up treating Duo like 'the girl' simply by following the male role.
"Tadaima," Duo announced himself softly. It was a little ritual he and Heero had gotten into when they'd discovered that they both knew how to speak Japanese. They were the only two pilots who did, and once Duo had discovered this commonality, he'd exploited it ruthlessly in his early campaign to get Heero to be his friend. He never would have guessed that Heero would end up being his koibito.
But he wouldn't change that fact for the world. Heero Yuy, despite his taciturn, mission-oriented mindset, was the brightest star in his life.
Heero looked up from his laptop and blinked the fuzz out of his eyes. "Okaeri," he said after a beat. He'd been so absorbed in his personal research project that he had only peripherally noticed Duo entering the room. If it had been anyone but Duo – even one of the other pilots; he was used to the others' presences, but not as much as he was to his boyfriend – it would have snapped him out of his daze.
Though, after seven months working alongside the other pilots, Heero wouldn't have pulled his gun on them automatically.
Duo dropped his backpack on his mostly-made bed and draped himself over the back of his boyfriend's chair. Heero had automatically blanked out the computer screen when he'd come near, so he couldn't see what Heero had been so enthralled with working on. Duo was very curious; normally, Heero only got that caught up in mission details, but the only one that had come in this week had been for Wufei. "You busy, Heee-roo?" he trilled in a singsong voice, making his eyes go beseechingly wide. He batted his lashes comically, pleased with the small ghost of a smile he got in return. He'd made it his mission in his (most likely) short life to get Heero to truly smile and laugh one day.
Snorting at the other's antics, Heero shook his head and powered down his computer into sleep mode.
"I hate to say it, but I'm almost glad Wufei got that solo mission," Duo said gloomily, his tone doing less to indicate his displeasure with the absent pilot than the fact that he hadn't used one of his habitual nicknames when referring to the Chinese boy. Duo only gave nicknames to people he liked.
Heero grunted in answer. Chang's mission was not inherently dangerous – no infiltration, just another mobile doll factory to blow up, and a small one at that – but circumstances dictated that even one Gundam would have a hard time getting close enough, and the potential for Chang's being caught was high.
"Was he really that insulting?" Heero asked after a moment, seeming to realize that more was required on his part. Idle conversation was not his forte – and that was an understatement of the highest degree! – but team dynamics were important to the mission.
And he didn't like it when Duo wasn't happy.
Duo snorted. "'Fei wasn't being all that insulting – he was just being as condescending as all hell. The prick."
Heero nodded to show he'd understood. Chang had always looked down on Duo for not being as studious as himself. The Chinese pilot had had a very strict upbringing, and was even more stringent in his beliefs of right and wrong than Heero. He himself knew there were many shades of gray; Wufei was too caught up in his world of black and white. This revelation about Duo's dyslexia had upped only Wufei's arrogance. Chang apparently did not realize that having dyslexia did not automatically translate into having low intelligence. In fact, from the research he'd done, Heero knew that most people with dyslexia had above average intelligence – as if he didn't know that already from Duo – they just utilized that ability in different ways. Not better or worse, just different.
Until he'd met Duo, Heero hadn't even known it was possible to make a bomb out of cough syrup and banana chips.
Knowing that there was nothing he could do to change Chang's mind, Heero opted to do the only thing he could do to change the situation – try to make Duo feel better. "Hopefully, Wufei will eventually realize that he's wrong," Heero said. Even as he said it, he knew it was a lame attempt at reassurance – but it was the only such comfort he had to offer.
Duo gave him a look that silently expressed his doubt of that assertion. He then sighed and smiled at Heero for the effort to make him feel better. His boyfriend was trying. And maybe he was right.
And maybe Hell would freeze over.
"I'd like to think you're right, 'Ro, but…" Duo shook his head in frustration, unable to come up with a single word to encompass how much Wufei royally pissed him off. "Wufei is just a…a…a laxative!" he burst out.
Heero gazed at his boyfriend in uncomprehending bemusement. "Nani?"
Duo grinned ferally, liking this train of thought more and more. "He irritates the shit out of me," he explained.
Heero thought about that for a moment, and snorted.
Once his laughter was spent, however, Duo deflated, flopping down to sit on his bed. Too much tension in too little time left his normally cheerful demeanor feeling rather ragged around the edges. "Always insulting me, and acting as if he's so much better than me… Wufei didn't even bother to find out what dyslexia is – he's just decided to slap me with the stupid stick and have done with it," Duo growled.
"Chang doesn't like to admit when he suffers from a lack of knowledge," Heero offered. He himself didn't like it, either – but he didn't let his pride get in the way of correcting that lack. His laptop had been helpful in his quest to learn more about dyslexia as a whole, but he knew that if he wanted to learn specifically about Duo's dyslexia, he'd have to go straight to the source.
He just wasn't sure how to approach Duo about it. He never had been good at handling emotional situations, and Duo seemed to be very emotional about this.
"Wufei just likes to think he knows everything, you mean," Duo corrected, bringing Heero out of his thoughts.
Heero smirked. "Well, I was trying to exercise tact." It wasn't exactly his forte, but he had been trying.
Snorting, Duo said, "You should stick to being blunt, babe, it's what you do best."
Eyes narrowing at this newest nickname, Heero said, deadpan, "I thought you said that kissing was what I did best."
Duo blushed, taken aback. "Well, maybe I did, at that," he admitted in a strangled tone of voice. Clearing his throat, he performed a less-than-deft change of subject to take the conversational focus off of himself – and his embarrassment. "Wufei really needs to have some sense slapped into him. He acts like he knows everything about dyslexia, when in reality he doesn't know anything. And anyway, it's not like I suffer from all the different symptoms of dyslexia," Duo pointed out.
Heero gave an inquiring, "Hn?" He was willing to let Duo get away with changing the subject; after all, it sounded as if Duo was going to be giving him the information he wanted, without him having to ask for it. Ninmu kanryou.
"I may be rather disorganized, but my sense of direction is impeccable," Duo declared with a little huff of indignation.
"And so is your memory," Heero agreed. He only barely managed to keep the envy out of his voice – Duo had a near-photographic memory, something that seemed to come naturally to his boyfriend. No matter how stringent his training, Heero's memory was not nearly as good. "And you have a very vivid imagination." And an unrestrained sense of curiosity, but Heero wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Duo started to smile his thanks, but then his eyes narrowed. "How do you know so much about the symptoms of dyslexia, 'Ro?" he asked with amused suspicion.
Heero shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and then looked Duo straight in the eye. "I did a little research," he admitted, almost guiltily.
Ah, for 'the mission', of course, Duo thought in fond resignation. Heero never could stand not having all the facts. Though he'd better know better than to suggest I can't do my job… Even Heero wasn't that dense. "And?"
"It's a lot more complicated diagnosis than I thought," Heero replied.
Diagnosis. Very…neutral, Duo thought, suppressing a smile. Heero could be very blunt – almost criminally so (Ha!) – when he was forced to explain things on demand, but when he had time to prepare, he was actually pretty eloquent.
Heero still had occasional moments of way too undiluted honesty, but he was getting better at expressing himself. "How so?" Duo prompted.
"Dyslexia doesn't seem to be one problem, but a lot of them combined." Heero frowned in thought. He'd found a lot of different symptoms of dyslexia – some of which seemed to contradict each other – and while a lot of them applied to Duo, some of them were completely wrong. He didn't know what to think. "It's very confusing."
And Heero doesn't like being confused. "I think of dyslexia as being like a Gundam," Duo said, and grinned at Heero's nonplussed look. He went on to explain, "I mean, Deathscythe without the stealth systems wouldn't be nearly as cool – and dyslexia without one of its components wouldn't be nearly as troublesome – but it would be still be a Gundam."
"But the stealth components by itself aren't a Gundam," Heero pointed out.
Duo quirked a wry half-grin. "And dysgraphia by itself, or any of the other 'components' of dyslexia, aren't dyslexia," he returned. "It's all integrated together, and that's what makes it a 'diagnosis.'" He grinned for real this time, poking fun at Heero's word choice to show he wasn't mad. Shrugging, he added, "Compared to some people, I'm only mildly afflicted. The training I went through with Doc G eliminated most of my problems." Not all of them, obviously, or else the other pilots would never have found him out.
Heero frowned, catching a word he didn't understand, and hadn't run across in his search for more information on Duo's diagnosis. "Dysgraphia?"
Seeing that a little more explanation was in order, Duo explained, "Dyslexia is basically a syndrome of related learning disorders that make it hard to process language correctly. These disorders are typically manifested in a lack of proficiency in reading, spelling, and writing." He knew he sounded like he was reciting a dictionary definition – and he was. He'd memorized every damn word in every damn book having to do with his 'diagnosis.' "Being unable to write legibly, and/or writing the words wrong, like with letters switched around, is dysgraphia."
Thinking back over the few things he'd seen Duo write, Heero came to a startling conclusion. "You don't often write in English."
Duo shook his head, lips twitching up of their own accord. It was just like Heero to not have wondered about that before it had been brought to his attention. It didn't impact the mission – adversely or positively – so the soldier part of his mind disregarded it. "Not if I can help it."
"But your Japanese is impeccable," Heero continued.
Duo couldn't help the flush of pleasure at the rarely-spoken – though becoming less rare as of today – praise. He knew the other boy didn't think he was an idiot, but it was nice to hear a compliment every once in a while. Especially such a sincere one, delivered with such disingenuousness, almost as if Heero thought there was no need to belabor a point that was obviously true.
"Why?" Heero asked, brow furrowing in confusion.
"'Cause I don't have a problem deciphering kanji, only the Roman alphabet," Duo explained, shrugging. He'd never been able to understand it himself; it was just a quirk of his particular set of learning disorders. "Comes from English being the first language I learned to read, I guess. I'm much better at Japanese and Chinese."
"You can read Chinese?" Heero asked, blinking in bemusement.
Duo nodded, lying back on the bed. "Not as well as Japanese, but they use the same basic alphabet." He fiddled with his braid, eyes focused on the ceiling. "I don't get to use it very often – 'Fei never lets me borrow his books," he said sadly. Not even the ones in English – says he won't have an idiot desecrating his 'tomes of knowledge'.
"Chang is very…focused on what he believes to be right and wrong," Heero said. "And he is unable to admit when he himself has made a mistake."
Duo nodded automatically, his mind on other things – namely, his boyfriend. It was eating away at him, and he just had to know. Heero didn't seem to think less of him, but then he'd never thought Wufei would be so cruel.
And Duo couldn't stand to let himself become even more attached to Heero than he was already, if Heero was only going to betray him. "Why…" Duo stopped, swallowing hard against the fear in his throat. "Why are you being so accepting of this, Heero? None of the others took this as well as you." Quatre is still avoiding me; he doesn't know how to act around me. Trowa and I never spent all that much time together to begin with, and Wufei hates me even more. As if I can help the fact that I have dyslexia – it's not like I could change my genetic structure.
As if I'd want to. Most people saw dyslexia as a problem to be overcome, but Duo just saw it as something else he'd had to deal with all his life. Doctor G had thought it was extraordinary that even with no training, he'd been able to read and write fairly well; but to Duo it was just how he was. He'd never known any other way. It wasn't extraordinary to him; it was ordinary.
"I know you better than they do," Heero said simply, coming to sit next to his koibito.
Sitting up, Duo turned so that he was facing Heero. "And it doesn't matter to you…at all?" he asked, finding it ironic even to himself that he wanted Heero to say yes. He wanted to matter to Heero – he just didn't want Heero to treat him differently because of his dyslexia.
Heero paused, that expression coming over his face that Duo knew meant he was mentally ordering his words. When it came to emotional situations, Heero needed time to prepare what he was going to say; otherwise, it tended to come out rather garbled. Duo had learned quickly to stay silent and allow Heero the time he needed.
"It doesn't matter to me how smart you are…or how beautiful…or what an amazing sense of humor you have," Heero said quietly, and Duo found himself simultaneously pleased and flattered at the unintended compliments, and disappointed that Heero didn't think of them as attractive qualities. "Or even that you have dyslexia. None of that changes how I feel…about you." He faltered a bit on the next words as he said softly, looking into Duo's wide eyes, "All that matters to me is that you…are you."
Mouth dropping open in awe at his lover's words, Duo said, "Man, Heero, you sure do have a way with words."
Smiling that almost imperceptible smile that no one but Duo ever saw, Heero said, "Only because you can understand what I'm saying."
Duo grinned and kissed him softly. "I love you, too, Hee-chan," he said as their lips parted, proving that in gleaning the true meaning of Heero's words, he was a genius.
And that true intelligence lay in accepting people for who they were.