disclaimer: disclaimed.
dedication: to nora, bc she brought me to this hell
notes: AKA the college AU that no one asked for
notes2: except i need it okay also Ahiru's got Stalhbaum as a last name bc the nutcracker

chapter title: break it down, breathe it out
summary: This is not a big deal. He's just your TA. Put on your pointe shoes, Ahiru, you can do this. — Ahiru/Fakir, Rue; AU.

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"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"

She skidded into her Lit lecture with her dance duffle slung over her shoulder, already ten minutes late, a whirlwind of flyaway red braids and mascara smeared beneath blue eyes. Ahiru clattered to her seat, trying to ignore that the entire room was staring at her, and, none-too-quietly, flopped down.

"Ah, Ms. Stalhbaum, how kind of you to join us. How are the five-to-sixes, today?" Professor Kot stared over the top of his glasses at her, thick whiskers twitching with disapproval.

Ahiru blushed all the way up to the roots of her bright hair, her shoulders pulled up around her ears.

"We're getting ready for a recital, sir, they're very—"

"No matter," he sighed. "See me after class to hand in your report."

"Yes, sir," she said, mortified. She sunk down, dusty-blue corduroy whispering laughter against her back, and tried to melt into the floor. This lasted all of three minutes, until the dark-haired girl on her left nudged her gently with an elbow.

"Good job, loser," Rue murmured, eyes twinkling, lashes crinkled up at the corners with her amusement. "I left after you did! Did you get lost on the way again?"

"I didn't mean to!" Ahiru whispered miserably. "I found a bird with a broken wing, and I couldn't just leave it like that. It was in pain, I had to do something!"

"Did you run all the way to the vet clinic?"

Ahiru nodded, head tucked down to her chest.

"I got you covered," "Rue said, lips bowing upwards. She sighed out a silent laugh that tasted something like exasperation or maybe fondness, and without another word she handed Ahiru her water bottle. "Drink that, you're probably dehydrated from all the running."

Ahiru, being Ahiru, flailed and nearly dropped it and only managed to still at the last moment. She sat there clutching at it, stainless steel slick and cool beneath her fingers, some kind of high-pitched bird noise hiding in her throat. She wasn't about to make more noise, but—

Rue waited patiently. "I mean it, Ahiru. Drink that, you'll feel better."

Ahiru chugged it. It was lemon water, and it was cold.

"Qua—!"

"Ms. Stalhaum? Do you have anything to say to the class?"

"Um, no, I'm—sorry, Professor Kot, I just—"

He looked at her, whiskers twitching, the piece of chalk in his hand the only indicator of his rage: he'd crushed it to fine white dust, and it was getting all over his clothes. His maroon pants were streaked all over. "If you have nothing to add, could we perhaps turn back to the matter at hand? The Marriage of Figaro was Mozart's—"

"You could have warned me," Ahiru said softly after their mad scientist of a prof turned his attention back to the blackboard. "He's going to drop me a letter!"

"If you're lucky," Rue murmured, a smirk pulling the corners of her perfectly red lips up. "He might try to marry you off again. He was ranting about it earlier."

"I'm pretty sure that was a joke," Ahiru said. "I'm pretty sure!"

"I wouldn't count him out," Rue said lowly. She brushed dark curls out of her face, examined her nails. "He really wants you to stop coming to class, if marrying you will shut you up, you never know…"

"Please don't," Ahiru mumbled, tucking into herself again. Melting into a puddle of sadness on the floor was looking more and more lucrative every minute. There were stories about Professor Kot, after all—they said when he set his sights on a girl, she either left the class in tears, or ended up engaged to whoever he'd picked for her in advance. It was a horrifying thought, and not one that Ahiru was particularly keen on.

She wanted to teach ballet until she died. Marriage was about as far away as the moon.

"—chapter four to chapter six. There may be a quiz. Now, off with you, I have better things to do!" Professor Kot clapped twice, and the class rose as one to shuffle towards the lecture hall doors. "Ah, Ms. Stalhbaum?"

Ahiru turned back towards him, dreading everything.

"Your paper?" he said, staring at her over the tops of his glasses.

"Um," she said. "Right. Who should I—?"

"Mr. Meyer will collect your paper," Professor Kot said, and swept off towards the door without another look in her direction. Ahiru let out the breath she didn't realize she'd been holding. The fluorescents burned brightly overhead, stretching out the room into something unreal, and a shiver did its level best to pirouette down her spine. She was pretty sure she had just escaped a fate worse than death, but also it kind of felt like someone had just walked across her future grave—wait, was that how it went, was it her future grave or her mother's grave, or—?

"Give it here," came a brusque voice, shaking her of her reverie.

"What?" Ahiru blinked, as she came back to herself.

"I need your paper," the voice said again. It came out of a boy a couple years older than she was, and he was standing in front of her, hand extended. "'Course, I could always just go home."

"I—who are you?"

"Your TA," he said coolly. And then "I'm leaving."

"Wait, wait, wait—!" Ahiru went rooting through her book bag for the paper. It had been the bane of her existence for the last week and a half, and she had not forgotten to print it off after she'd finished it, for once in her life. She fished it out to hand to him with a brilliant smile. "Thanks!"

"Don't thank him, Ahiru, he's being an ass," Rue said, dispassionately.

Oh boy, Ahiru thought, this is gonna get ugly.

Because the thing was, Rue was kind of. Protective? Like for no reason? It had something to do with the fact that she had grown up with very few friends, the kind of very few that left a person scraped raw on the inside with a need to keep loved ones close. Ahiru understood, and never held it against her, but the protectiveness sprung up in situations like this one, and Rue would get real defensive real fast.

"Oh," the TA said, dead in the eyes. "You."

"Me," Rue said. She had yet to move from her seat, and she returned the TA's flat stare like it was nothing. Ahiru's best friend appraised him with a practised, bored eye—it was the same deconstructing gaze that had even the most well-respected dances shaking in their expensive leather boots, the same dead dressing down that she used to terrify her students into behaving.

(There was a reason that Ahiru took most of the young students, these days; Rue didn't have the temperament to deal with many small children for long periods of time.)

Ahiru looked nervously between them. She couldn't say quite what it was, but there was something in the air that had her shuffling her weight back and forth, caught between launching herself at one of them and also retreating into a tiny ball of high-pitched keening and falling on her face. For all that Ahiru was a ballet dancer, she wasn't very graceful when she wasn't in her pointe shoes.

"Mytho wants to have dinner, sometime," Rue said, at last, deliberately casual. She unwound herself from her seat, uncoiling like a snake poising itself to strike.

"No," said the TA. "I'll call him."

"Aww," Rue smiled. It wasn't a nice smile. "Aren't I invited?"

"Do you want to be invited?"

"I suppose not. You'll want to talk about man stuff. Killing things. Right?"

There were layers to this conversation that Ahiru didn't really understand. The TA held her paper in white-knuckled hands; he wasn't shaking, but it looked like he was close to it, like he wanted to yell but couldn't find the words. And Mytho—Mytho was Rue's boyfriend, who was the sweetest person alive and also funny, to boot. Once upon a time, Ahiru had had the world's worst crush on him. Now, she couldn't look at him without thinking of that one time she'd dropped spaghetti all over his shirt and he'd grinned dopily while Rue had cleaned it up for him.

(He was also in South America, and had been for the last two months. The only dinners he and Rue were having were Skype ones. Something was so up.)

"Yes," said the TA. There was a muscle twitching in his jaw. "Killing."

Rue tapped her mouth with a manicured finger. "It's too bad—oh, that won't matter to you, I guess. Shouldn't you be off marking papers, or something?"

"I—yes," he said. There was something wind-up mechanical to his voice. Ahiru knew a death blow when she saw one. Rue had delivered it, but she couldn't quite tell when. "I'll see you later."

"You'd best hope not," Rue smiled. Again it was that not-nice smile. "Have a nice day, Fakir. Or don't, your choice."

The TA whirled, a flash of dark black-green eyes and dark green-black hair, and stalked off. He had a spectacular ass, especially when he was stomping like that, because he was totally stomping. It would have been funny, had the situation not been so dire—

"Who was that?" Ahiru asked, definitely not thinking about his ass.

"No one you need to worry about," Rue said, eyes narrowed, and began to shepherd Ahiru to the doors. "Sorry, I didn't mean to go off. Just—yeah, you know what, I'll tell you later. I need coffee. Maybe even cake."

"Wow," Ahiru said. "He really gets to you, huh?"

"You don't even know," she said, darkly. Rue held out a crumpled sheaf of papers that she didn't remember giving to her. "Oh, here."

Ahiru moaned.

He'd dropped her essay.

"You will have to speak to Mr. Meyer."

"But Professor Kot—"

"I have made my decision. Mr. Meyer or nothing, yes?"

Ahiru winced, and nodded at last. He'd drawn the line in the sand, so to speak, because she'd pushed too hard—well, at least this was a failure she deserved. Rue hadn't told her much, but she wasn't stupid. The only way this paper was going to get graded was if she went and talked to her TA herself.

That was going to be a fun little tête-à-tête, oh yeah.

"His office hours start in fifteen minutes, Ms. Stalhbaum," he said, clearly uncomfortable with the kindness. "I do not wish to have to fail you, so do try to be on time."

"I—thank you, Professor," Ahiru said. She stood there awkwardly, all elbows and knees, tugging on the hem of her sweater-dress as though that would somehow make the situation less strange. She'd never been good at this part, because excusing herself abruptly was rude, but goodbyes were simply not her forte unless she was running out on them.

Not for the first time, Ahiru wished she could be as easily nonchalant as Rue was. It would have made for better conversation, anyway.

(She was too bright, too loud, too off-balance. Grace had never come easily except when she was on stage. Ahiru had grown up a blur of carrot-orange hair and scraped-up knees and knuckles: knees from falling off her bike, knuckles from breaking up fights. She just didn't want people to fight—there were always better ways to deal with it, even if it meant she got hurt in the process.)

"Well?" Professor Kot said. "Are you just going to stand there? Off with you! I am a busy creature, Ms. Stalhbaum."

Ahiru bolted, because, well, what else was she supposed to be? He'd given her an out and a second chance, which is more than she'd hoped for. He hadn't failed her on the spot, and she wasn't about to ask for more than that.

It just meant she was going to have to do precisely what Rue had told her not to, and confront TA Jerkface herself. She took a deep breath in to settle her proverbial feathers, and hitched a ballerina's smile on. She danced on wooden blocks, put her whole weight on the bones of her toes on a fairly regular basis. Smile through the pain, always.

This is not a big deal. He's just your TA. Put on your pointe shoes, Ahiru, you can do this, she told herself.

Besides, she had fifteen minutes. That was all she needed.

It was a clean clear day outside the Social Sciences building, that crisp bright warmth that Ahiru had always associated with springtime. The trees finally had leaves on them, unfurling a luminescent green where the sun shone through. The air felt like rainbows bouncing through a pyramid of just-cleaned glasses, fractured into colours that she didn't have names for. It solved into something crystal, and Ahiru breathed in once, twice, and then finally, finally felt a little more like herself.

Okay, she was going to have to talk to TA Jerkface. Still, life was better than she'd been expecting; she had a class to teach in a couple of hours, and just the thought of those sunshiney small faces sent a wave of happiness through her. She had the whole lesson already planned out, and her muscles tensed—plié, plié, rélevé, plié.

(And that was how Ahiru knew that she was doing what she'd been born to do. No matter how long it had been since she'd last danced, it was always too long. Even when she'd just finished and her extremities were all noodle-ey, it had still been too long.)

TA Jerkface was still definitely a thing, though.

Well, Ahiru reasoned, there wasn't much he could do to really ruin her day. She wasn't going to give him that power. She'd give him her paper—avoid telling him off for dropping it in the first place, because she did have some sense of tact, regardless what Rue thought—and then she'd go to the studio and dance until her limbs couldn't hold her aloft any longer.

As plans went, it was pretty solid.

And, just as plans were wont to do, it went entirely awry.

"What do you mean, you won't take it?! Professor Kot said—!"

"Professor Kot," TA Jerkface said slowly, "forgets that I have classes of my own."

"That's—but you—you dropped it, we both know you did, and to spite Rue, too, which was really mean now that I think about it but whatever, that doesn't matter. Why can't you just—?!"

"I did not drop it on purpose," he said, and wow, that was so rude, he was a lying liar who lies! And right to her face, too, who did he think he was?

But Ahiru couldn't get the words out. She was painfully reminded of the previous day, of his white-knuckled hands. She stood there feeling foolish and ten years old and, mortification of all mortifications, like she was going to cry.

This was her only justification for what she did next, and she was sticking to it.

Ahiru slapped her paper down on his desk, whack, and all but shouted "I-gave-it-to-you-it's-yours-NO-TAKEBACKIES!"

And then she went sprinting for the door, because of course she did. Her flats were better than heels, but not by much because they kept slipping off her ankles, and she'd never been much for running, anyway.

He caught her before she made it to the hall. The door was closed at her back, and she tipped her face up to look him in the eye. If Ahiru had been the kind of girl inclined to vulgarity, she would have sworn loudly and furious, possibly in several languages. As it was, she levelled a bitted-eyed glare and a decidedly unattractive pout in his direction.

TA Jerkface stared down at her, and didn't say anything at all.

Ahiru set her jaw to keep her traitorous mouth shut. If he wanted something, he was going to have to use his words like a normal person and not just glower darkly at her, which is exactly what he was doing. For all that it was kind of hot, it was going to get him nowhere.

Wait, no, that was not hot at all. Bad libido, bad! You know better than to make eyes at Rue's probably-exes! Bad!

He kept frowning at her. There were no words forthcoming. This did not strike Ahiru as particularly helpful to anyone involved, and his eyebrows were threatening to engulf his whole face.

"Are you going to let me go? Ahiru asked lightly, when she realized she really was going to have to be the one to initiate all the talking.

"You left something in my office," he said.

"I—I said no take backs," Ahiru squawked, actually squawked. Oh god, this was not her day. She'd been so hopeful, too, when was she going to learn that TA Jerkface was the reason they were not allowed to have nice things. "It's yours now!"

"How old are you, five?"

Ahiru bristled. "Try twenty-one, buddy. I'm old enough to drink, it says so on my license."

"Someone gave you a license? Did you bribe them? Were they drunk? They must have been, you're a child—"

"Oooooh, you know what—" and Ahiru, caged between the door and TA Jerkface's body, went diving through her purse to find her wallet. She had no idea what was going on; she felt hot and bothered and annoyed and small, but there was also a tiny little thrill in arguing like this. Normally by this point, Rue would have intervened, and frightened whoever it was bothering off, not because Ahiru couldn't take care of herself, but because Rue was a warrior princess and revelled in terrifying people who deserved to be terrified. Fighting her own battles was a novelty.

Something told her that if it was anyone else, it wouldn't be this much fun. TA Jerkface bore down on her. They were breathing the same air.

Ahiru shoved her license in his face. "See? Twenty-one! So there!"

He plucked it from her fingers, studied it for all of two seconds, and then tucked it back into her bag.

"Fake," he said.

Ahiru gasped. "How—how dare you—!"

Her hands came up to his chest, wound into the lapels of his shirt. Who even had lapels, what a pretentious ass, who even was he? She yanked on him, pulled him down until they were nose to nose. "Who do you think you are?!"

"Your TA," he said, smoothly, and then they were kissing.

It was a violent thing, all clicking teeth and biting lips, the metal tang of blood hazing across her tongue like particularly fine wine. He kissed her viciously, like he wanted to take her apart. His hand spanned the length of her face. His hips bit into hers. She wanted to shred into him, bite him, mark him up dark with bruises and worse. She wanted to put a stamp on him, mine, rip him apart, destroy him—

Time went warpy. It happened sometimes, when Ahiru concentrated very hard.

It was easy to concentrate on this.

His knee slid up to the cradle of her hips, and she spread her legs. Ahiru didn't want to think about how she'd ended up riding TA Jerkface's thigh. A tiny little whimper passed her lips. She said into his mouth, "You're the worst, you know that?"

"Shut up, Ahiru," he murmured, dragged his fingers through her hair.

Her name sounded like honey off his—wait, he knew her name? How did he know her name? The incongruity of it startled her into coherence, and she realized that her sweater-dress was hiked up past her hips, and TA Jerkface was skimming his thumb along the lace of her underwear.

Oh god.

She shoved him off, blushing like a fire hydrant. She literally didn't even know his name, she'd been calling him TA Jerkface for the last day and a half.

"Wha—?" he sounded punch-drunk. She had to work very hard not to flush harder at how rode hard and put away wet he looked. God, god, she'd pulled his hair out of its horsetail. She was going to hell. "Wha's—?"

"Just—my paper. I don't even—I'm, um—I should. Um. I'm gonna—bye!"

And with that Ahiru swung out the door, tugging her dress down as she went.

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tbc.

notes3: this is a two-parter, awhoops.