When One Door Closes
by Dyna Dee
The tepid water felt incredibly good running down the back of the naked man's overheated body. With hands planted on the cold wall of the shower stall, head tucked down between his shoulders and his long and wet hair covering much of his back, he stared without seeing the water swirling into the drain below. Not more than five minutes ago he'd returned from his morning run, having gone an extra couple of miles not only to distance himself from what was coming next, but to give Heero some extra time to finish clearing out the last of his stuff. This dark day would probably haunt him in the future as a recurring nightmare, the kind you desperately want to wake up from. Unfortunately, he was not in the middle of a dream. Dammit, why had he allowed his therapist, Heero and their closest friends convince him that this was for the best? If breaking up was the only viable solution to their problems, then why the hell did it feel so wrong?
Heero had been waiting for him when he reluctantly returned home from work the night before with a suggestion for how they might spend the next morning together, their last. Without the usual arguing or emotional debating, they'd calmly discussed the idea. With all the fight gone out of him, he'd listlessly agreed to Heero's plan, but now he was beginning to question the wisdom of such an agreement. Farewell sex: the final closing of the curtain on a relationship that had been struggling for almost two of the past three years he and Heero been together. After all the arguing, disappointment, heartache, yelling and anger, they were calling it quits. Well, that's not exactly what Heero called it, nor their separate therapists. With reassuring smiles everyone referred to their breakup as a trial separation; but he wasn't stupid enough to believe them. When Heero set his mind to do something he went into it full throttle, no second guessing or looking back to question himself. When the Japanese man walked out of their apartment that afternoon, there was no doubt in Duo's mind that it would mark the end of their being lovers, and probably the end of their friendship as well.
No doubt Heero would be dating someone new before long. Perhaps someone from his precious click of friends at the University. And sooner or later Heero would settle into another relationship, one that might even stand a chance of turning out better than theirs did.
Picking up the bottle of shampoo, he poured a generous amount into his open palm then applied it to his hair, recalling the reasons for their breakup. Splitting up wasn't an idea they'd come up with on their own. After a year of not getting along, their closest friends held an intervention of sorts. Wufei, Trowa and Quatre each stated of their concerns about his and Heero's escalating arguing and obvious discord, and then a solution was placed before them. Quatre had made appointments with notable therapists for each of them, professionals recommended by one of his sisters. The three made it crystal clear that not attending the prepaid sessions could cause a serious breach in their friendship.
After several months of therapy, Heero's shrink made the sage observation that because the both of them had so much emotional baggage and suffered from post traumatic stress caused by their respective pasts, neither of them had the necessary tools to maintain a positive, nurturing relationship. The idea of a trial separation was first put into Heero's mind by his therapist. His lover then casually introduced the idea over breakfast one morning. Of course they argued heatedly about it. It wasn't as if he didn't know they had problems, but there was no way in hell he wanted Heero to pack up and move out. Breaking up didn't make sense to him. How could they make their relationship better if they didn't even live under the same roof?
Duo figured either Heero or his shrink must have said something to his therapist, (most likely asking her professional opinion as to whether or not he could handle Heero's leaving) because before long she was shoveling him the same load of shit, saying that it was probably a good idea to live separately from Heero so that he could work on getting his own life together before trying to merge it with another person, especially someone as emotionally challenged as Heero. Though the arguments for breaking up sounded logical enough, Duo just couldn't agree. He was in love with the pigheaded Japanese man, and surrendering before the battle was over just wasn't the way he did things. Without coming to an agreement, he and Heero continued to live together, despite the growing contention, which came to a peak a little over a week ago.
They'd traveled together with Wufei to L4 to spend Christmas at Quatre and Trowa's home. The holiday turned out to be the complete opposite of what he'd hoped for, which was spending time alone with Heero, away from the university and his so-called friends. Time and again the two of them wound up arguing over the same bloody issues: Heero's friends at the university and their opinions regarding just about everything, his nitpicking about anything Duo seemed to say or do, and burying himself in his books instead of spending any quality time with his boyfriend.
Between Christmas and New Year's Eve their arguments escalated, enough that their friends felt the need for yet another dreadful intervention. He was double teamed by Quatre and Trowa while Wufei took Heero aside. Evidently, Wufei learned from Heero about their shrink's recommendation about splitting up and immediately called a conference in the hallway with Quatre and Trowa. When his two friends returned to the sitting room where he'd been waiting, there was a new look of determination in their eyes that warned him they'd come up with a plan.
It took two hours before his friends wore him down with their arguments and managed to convince him to go along with the "trial separation" despite his serious misgivings. If he was honest with himself, it wasn't so much Quatre's logic or Trowa's concern that had influenced him into agreeing, it was his own weariness that defeated him; he was down-to-the-bone tired of arguing, of crashing against the wall of Heero's stubbornness and trying to hold together what everyone else called a dysfunctional relationship.
"Things can only get better," Quatre stated, trying to put a positive spin on things, but his expressive blue eyes told Duo his best friend had serious doubts about their being a happy ending.
"It will be a time to cool down, to take a breath and decide what you want to do next," Trowa added, unflappable as ever. But his own heart believed something different, as did his churning stomach. Not giving him a chance to change his mind, Trowa rushed to call Heero and Wufei back into the room and as a group they discussed the next step, which was Heero moving out of their apartment.
They returned to Earth on Monday with the plan for Heero to locate an apartment in his spare time, though there was no rush or deadline to meet. By Wednesday they were back to work and their lives returned to normal, or so it seemed to Duo. Everything changed later that day when Heero announced his plan to move his things to a storage unit on Friday and that he would be living with Wufei until more suitable living arrangements could be made. Heero argued that the speediness of his actions would make their parting easier than if they dragged it out. It seemed to Duo that his lover was in a mighty big hurry to get away from him, and proof of Heero's urgency came on Thursday when his lover returned home with their lease agreement in hand. He'd visited the property manager that morning and had his name removed from the lease, just in case Duo needed to find a roommate to help defer the cost of living there, or so that was the excuse he gave. Even if Heero's intentions were good, it was like a stab to his already bruised and battered heart
He worked late on Friday, purposely staying away from the apartment, knowing the moving van was arriving that afternoon. Earlier that morning he'd told Heero to take whatever he wanted, that he would keep only the T.V., one of the two lounge chairs and one of the end tables and its lamp from the living room. He also asked if he could keep the bed, basically out of spite because he couldn't bear the idea of anyone else sharing that large bed with Heero when they had been the ones to break it in. He'd offered Heero everything else, minus a couple of pictures he wanted. At first Heero balked at taking so much, but he'd managed to convince him that he really didn't need much and was happy for him to have it. Heero politely thanked him, yet didn't question his generosity any further. If he had, he might have suspected an ulterior motive, that by keeping just enough of the furniture no one would suspect Duo had come up with a plan of his own, where owning a bunch of furniture wasn't in the picture.
The water spewing from the spigot above was getting colder by the minute, causing his body to violently shudder and forcing him out of his melancholy thoughts. Backing away from the flowing water and pushing his clean hair away from his face with both hands, he knew it was time to get his shit together because he couldn't avoid the inevitable much longer. The inevitable being the man in the other room. Heero was probably in bed waiting for him to finish up. He shut off the shower and wrung the excess water out of his long hair, then wrapped it up in a towel so he could dry off the rest of his body.
With the blow drier set to low, he took his sweet time drying his hair and then brushing it until the bristles moved through it unhindered by even the slightest tangle. He wanted Heero to carry away with him memories of the softness of his hair, the scent of his shampoo and the orange-cinnamon spiced soap he favored. That's funny, came the saturnine thought, those simple grooming habits seemed to be the only things about him that Heero didn't find fault with anymore.
Looking into the slightly fogged mirror, he gave his reflection a critical once over. Regardless that his world was falling apart, the man in the mirror looked a bit sad but otherwise unchanged. The large eyes, pert nose and generous mouth all fit together in a pleasant way. And though he didn't generally like to dwell on his appearance, Duo knew he was considered attractive by other people. The openly appreciative glances he received from both men and women led him to believe that he might even be a bit out of the ordinary. He didn't really spend time thinking about it, being attractive that is, but he'd come to the conclusion that being endowed with a nicely put together face and trim body wasn't the be all and end all others made it out to be. It sure hadn't guaranteed him a happy life, had it? So he was left to wonder what good was it being handsome? Heero had once been highly attracted to his physical appearance and, considering his request that they make love one last time before he left the apartment for good, he probably still was. So given that his lover was still physically attracted to him, Duo could only conclude it was the person inside the attractive package that Heero was so desperate to get away from.
Turning away from his reflection, Duo wrapped the towel snugly around his waist, deciding to forgo putting on fresh clothing. He was about to enter their bedroom to make love with Heero for the last time, so why bother with putting clothes on just to take them off again?
He moved towards the bathroom door, but as he drew near his steps faltered. For a long moment he could only stare at the doorknob, unable to reach for it as the reality of the situation hit him full force. Reaching up, he grabbed hold of the doorframe to steady himself as his knees faltered and stomach clenched. Can I really go through with this? Resting his head against the doorframe for a moment, he fought to control his rapid beat of his heart and to make sense of what was happening. Along with all the emotions welling up within him: anger, fear, resentment, hurt and sorrow, came the urge to lean over the toilet and throw up.
Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he turned his thoughts to the one good thing in their relationship that hadn't soured. Sex. He and Heero had found many reasons for having sex during their time together. He'd always thought of it as making love, though from time to time he'd referred to it by a much cruder term when "love" seemed to be lacking in their relationship. But no matter what he called it, it had always been incredibly good.
In the beginning of their relationship they enjoyed new-couple sex as often as humanly possible. It was hot, wild and a hell of a lot of fun as they discovered each other and what sex was all about. They also had sex for fun, as stress relief and more tender love making on special occasions or when nightmares and painful anniversaries from their darker pasts popped up. There had also been more than their share of make-up sex and they'd always made love whenever he left on any extended assignment for Preventers. But farewell-to-our-relationship sex was a new and strange concept for him to wrap his mind around. Even though he'd grudgingly accepted what their therapists and friends told him, that their relationship was pretty much in the toilet, he never wanted to give up on it or the hope that he and Heero could work things out. Despite what Heero thought, he was willing to work and change in order to stay together, and he thought he'd proved that by going to the shrink Quatre recommended. A lot of good that did us, he thought bitterly. Look where we are now.
It was pretty damn clear by his recent actions that Heero had given up on them as a couple, had thrown in the towel. After all, hadn't he made the arrangements to move out of their apartment as soon as humanly possible after their return from L4? What was the big rush?
He glared at the door separating him from the man in the other room. Heero was probably sitting in the bedroom at that moment wondering what his damn problem was and why couldn't they just get this over with so he could get on with his life. It was Heero who came up with the idea that they make love before parting ways. He realized now that his estranged boyfriend must have seen the unhappiness and loss he felt when he walked through the door the night before and viewed the almost empty apartment. No doubt it had been an act of desperation on Heero's part when he came up with the suggestion they make love one last time. He'd accepted the proposal, reluctantly believing Heero's argument that having sex before he left would help them part on better terms. Sex, after all, had proven to be the great unifier in their rocky relationship.
When all was said and done neither he nor Heero could say they hadn't enjoyed their time between the sheets together. They were the perfect poster boys for sexual compatibility. No matter how hurt they were, how much they'd argued, ignored or belittled each other, when they finally cooled down it was off to bed they went, often without words passing between them. And it wasn't to sleep. The funny thing was that after sex they were both sated and mellow enough to be able to talk to each other without arguing. Yet in the long run not even great sex nor pillow talk could mend the cracks in the faulty relationship because before long they were back to arguing and pointing out each other's faults.
"Suck it up, Maxwell," he hissed angrily to himself. Straightening, he resolved to be a man about this. I will not get emotional or beg Heero not to leave, he told himself sternly. That's not what he wants. He's waiting in the bedroom for me with his bags packed and sitting by the front door ready to go. Resolved, he straightened, opened the bathroom door and shut out the light before stepping into the other room.
The first thing he noticed upon entering the bedroom was that it was fairly dark. The curtains had been drawn and the lamp standing next to his side of the bed was turned to dim. As predicted, Heero was sitting up on the turned-down bed and, from what he could see, he was naked with the sheet discretely draped over his lap. As always, there was a gleam of appreciation present in those deep blue eyes as they studied his near-naked body from head to toe. He turned back the sheet on Duo's side of the bed, a wordless invitation.
A lump formed in his throat as Duo walked towards the bed. I will not let him see that this is tearing me apart. He stopped just short of touching the mattress, pausing to drink in the sight of his lover. Heero was beautiful, in a completely masculine way. As his eyes feasted on the sight before him, Duo couldn't help thinking that this would be the last time he'd ever see Heero like this. With that thought, his own eyes betrayed his resolve to not show Heero how difficult this was by welling up with tears, blurring Heero's image. Quickly turning around and sitting on the edge of the bed, he kept his back towards his lover, not wanting him to see the tears. No, he sadly corrected himself, he couldn't refer to Heero as his lover any longer, not after today. Slowly unwrapping the towel from his waist, he let it slip off of his hips and felt a warm hand press gently against the cooling skin of his lower back.
"How far did you run today?" Heero asked, as if nothing was the matter and they were simply chatting about everyday things.
"I think something close to ten miles." Duo hated that his voice was thick with emotion.
"Are you too tired?" Was he too tired to have sex is what Heero meant.
He remained still, sitting fairly rigidly while Heero's fingers played with his loose hair, his warm fingers touching the skin of his lower back now and then. Heero had always had a thing for his long hair, always touching it, smelling the lingering scent of his conditioner, removing the elastic bands that held the braid together and then burying his fingers within its thickness. Duo had to admit that he loved it when Heero played with his hair. It made him feel attractive and desired. Yet in the last year it had also become one of the many trivial things they'd argued about. Clean your hair out of the shower drain, Duo. It takes too long to wash and brush out. It's always in the way. After today he would no longer hear those or any other complaints.
"Come here," Heero softly entreated.
The sigh that escaped him while easing himself down onto the bed was one of resignation. Swinging his legs up, he slid them under the sheet then pulled it up to his chest, twisting his mass of hair to lay it on the outside edge of his pillow. Heero immediately leaned over him, looking down and into his eyes. "Are you sure you're all right with this?" he asked, concern lining his handsome face. Duo couldn't help but wonder why Heero looked and sounded like he really cared now that their relationship was over, considering that during the last year the other man had said enough hurtful things to crush his heart. Not that he'd behaved any better, he reminded himself. He'd always been pretty good at shoveling back whatever shit Heero sent his way, and it had became a matter of pride that he wouldn't back off until he saw the same intensity of hurt he felt simmering in his tormenter's blue eyes. Those eyes weren't projecting any hurt or anger at the moment, instead they were filled with passion and, strangely, Duo resented it. Why now, at the end?
"How do you want to do this, Duo?"
How do I want this? He wondered if he should take Heero hard and fast, the way the other man liked it, or did he want this to be more than just a fuck? The answer came easily to him. "I want you to make love to me, Heero," he replied, his voice remaining thick with emotion. "And I want you to make it good, the best we've ever had so that the memory of today will last a lifetime."
Heero didn't move at first, and for a long moment he appeared thoughtful, as if trying to figure out what was going on in Duo's mind. Finally, with a curt nod, Heero agreed to his request, and lowered himself down onto his elbows so that their bare chests were pressed together. Duo slid both hands up and over Heero's back and shoulders, his open palms soaking in the warmth and strength of the man he loved. He'd mapped out his lover's body with his hands more times than he could count, and yet he never grew tired of it or the thrill he got when touching and holding Heero and knowing his lover had enjoyed it as well.
Heero's fingers are quite amazing, he thought as a hand gently brushed over his chest to his left nipple, instantly hardening the tender flesh. Those hands had bruised his arms when out of sheer frustration Heero had grabbed hold of him, trying to make a point of gain his full attention. They had also clenched to make a fist that once knocked Duo unconscious when it connected with his stomach. Yet those less desirable moments were swept away like dust under a rug when Heero tenderly stroked his face, neck and throat. His touch was so gentle that it felt as if he was memorizing each angle, curve and line of him, at least that's how Duo chose to see it. In the remaining moments marking the end of their time together, it was almost painful having Heero treat him so incredibly gentle, like he had at the beginning of their relationship.
This is the last time, the choked voice in Duo's mind cried, and damn if his tear ducts weren't purposely trying to betray him. A single tear escaped the outside corner of his left eye, and even though the small droplet moved quickly, it's presence hadn't gone unnoticed by the man above him. Heero's finger intercepted the teardrop before it managed to slip into the curve of his ear, and he wore the look of being perplexed as he stared at it. He'd been brought to tears many times by Heero, but the other man never had the privilege of seeing him cry. No, any crying he'd done had been behind locked doors, in the shower, into his pillow and once in the back of their closet. His tears were something he vowed never to show Heero, and yet here at the very end his traitorous eyes were doing just that.
"Duo?" That note of concern was back again.
He didn't answer, but hastily wiped at his watery eyes, clearing them enough to see that Heero was still hovering above him, worry etched on his face. He wasn't about to tell the other man he was okay because that would be a lie, so to escape any unnecessary talking he grabbed hold of the back of his lover's neck and pulled him down into a consuming, desperate kiss. After a startled moment Heero returned the kiss and began in earnest to make love to him.
To his credit, Heero did everything in his power to fulfill his request, putting everything he had into their lovemaking. Taking his time, the Japanese man touched him everywhere with either his fingers, his lips or tongue, causing the long-haired man to moan and writhe with the familiar growing, aching desire Heero always brought out of him. And though his body felt incredibly good, Duo couldn't shut out the thought that this was the last time Heero would caress his face, tease his lips with his own and join their bodies together in this most intimate way. Those thoughts plagued him throughout their lovemaking, as did his gloomy vision of life after Heero walked out the door, a future he could only imagine as bleak and lonely.
At long last Heero began to prepare him, taking extra care and much longer than usual. Duo wasn't about to complain, wanting this goodbye to last as long as possible. He lay still, holding his breath as Heero pressed forward and eased past the loosened ring of muscle. Like always, it felt unbelievably good to be joined with Heero, and his body soon became like a taut wire, ready to be sprung. Heero paused a moment to let him adjust and Duo squeezed his eyes closed, hoping to hold back his tears. Despite his best effort, they couldn't be stopped this time, and one after another the teardrops began leaking out in a steady stream.
Oblivious to his emotional struggle, Heero's mouth captured his once more, and as he began to move in a slow, primal rhythm, Duo was torn between feelings of completeness, being physically joined with his lover, and empty, knowing their love making marked the end of their relationship. As Heero released his mouth, he forced his tear-filled eyes open to watch the man above him. His image was slightly blurred as he watched Heero work to keep the pace of his thrusts slow and steady, unknowingly fulfilling Duo's second, unspoken request for him to draw this goodbye out for as long as he could possibly manage. Sweat glistened on Heero's bronze skin, his sleekly sculpted chest and arms were warm and moist under Duo's roaming hands. He wondered how something that felt so incredibly good could also make him feel absolutely wretched. His body, as always, responded eagerly to Heero, and he purposely kept his mouth busy, kissing any part of the bronze skin his lips could reach in order to keep himself from begging Heero to stay and never stop loving him.
The rhythm Heero set kept them from coming too quickly, but despite his best efforts, Duo knew they couldn't keep going for much longer. When the pace suddenly increased, he knew Heero was nearing the end, their goodbye was almost complete. Acknowledging the inevitable, all desire for that completion ebbed away from him. I don't want this. I don't want to say goodbye. I don't want us to be over.
Heero's body jerked forward one last time as he reached his climax with an accompanying low, guttural moan. He remained poised above Duo for several long moments before he recovered enough to open his eyes and looked down at the man beneath him. Knowing he hadn't come, Heero's right hand moved between their bodies, intending to bring him to completion also. But what that hand found when it reached its goal had those deep blue eyes widening with surprise: Duo's member was completely limp. It was the first time anything like this had happened to them. Imagine that, Duo thought with wry amusement, something new at the very end.
"Did I hurt you?" Worry was etched on Heero's face.
Hell yes you've hurt me, time and time again, he wanted to yell. Instead, he shook his head, even as more tears broke loose and streamed down the sides of his face.
Heero gently slipped out of him and eased his body down to rest close by the long-haired man's side. He pulled Duo into his arms and held him in a comforting embrace that broke the long-haired man's heart even more. "It's just a trial separation, Duo. It doesn't mean it's forever." But Duo knew that it did. If Heero truly believed it was possible to salvage their relationship, he wouldn't for a moment have entertained the idea of moving out of their apartment and leaving him alone. "We'll still see each other, still be friends and maybe even more once we get ourselves sorted out."
Duo didn't say anything in return because he knew Heero was only trying to comfort him in order to make his leaving that much easier. "Are you going to be okay here by yourself?" he asked. Why was Heero showing more concern for him today than he'd displayed in over a year? "If you want, I can ask Quatre and Trowa to come by and keep you company."
He shook his head and managed to choke out, "I'm a big boy, Heero. You don't need to worry about me. I'll be fine." Duo could hear the other man's sigh of relief. Guess that's one less thing for him to feel guilty about.
"How about I call you in a couple of weeks and we'll get together, shoot some pool or something?"
"If you want," Duo answered unenthusiastically, slightly surprised by how detached he sounded. All of his mental faculties were now being centered for the final act to come, Heero's actual departure. I wonder if he'll tell me he loves me before he leaves. If he does, I'll confess that he's my world. Finally working up enough courage to return Heero's gaze, he drank in the sight of the other man through watery eyes. Heero appeared thoughtful as he gazed back, and Duo realized that his former lover was studying him also, either memorizing his face or trying to figure once again what was going on in his head.
"I'm sorry this wasn't good for you," Heero said softly, sounding honestly contrite. It's one of the few apologies Duo had gotten from him in a long time.
"Not your fault," he replied, his voice gruff as he struggled to salvage some small measure of dignity.
After several moments, Heero leaned down and kissed him tenderly and Duo recognize the action for what it really is, the final goodbye. He was pretty sure he could hear the definitive crack of his broken heart as he pulled away and fought back the impulse to grab hold of the other man and beg him not to go. Heero paused for only a moment to brush away the new stream of tears from off his face.
"I should go," he stated, and Duo nodded, unable to speak.
He lay sprawled on the bed, unmoving and with Heero's body fluids leaking out of him and watched as his former lover rolled over and sat on the edge of the bed. With eyes blurred by tears, he wondered what Heero was thinking as leaned his forearms on his thighs and let his head hang down. He couldn't bring himself to say anything, fearful of losing the frail hold he had on his composure. The time for words had passed, he realized as Heero reached out and grabbed a tissue from the box on the bedside table and hastily cleaned himself off before standing and going to the nearest chair that held a neat pile of folded clothing. He methodically began to dress, keeping his back to the inert man on the bed. When he finished buckling his belt, Heero asked without turning, "Are you going to see me to the door?"
Duo nodded, not that Heero could see it with his back turned, and wondered how much more emotional torture the other man was going to put him through today. Rising slowly from the bed, he grabbed a tissue and quickly wipe away the unctuous body fluid and lube from his backside before telling Heero to lead the way. With his long and loose hair falling over his shoulders, his only covering, he walked with reasonably steady steps behind Heero as he left the room. Without looking back to see if he was following, Heero moved towards the apartment's front door. He bent to grab his suitcases, opened the door and then finally looked over his shoulder at Duo, standing in all his naked glory behind him. He frowned disapprovingly. "Dammit, Duo, don't you have any sense of propriety? Anyone passing by in the hallway could see you." Propriety, or rather his lack of it, his outgoing nature, flippant attitude, sarcasm, the way he dressed, talked and flirted with coworkers or waitresses he deemed "safe", all seemed to irritate Heero as their relationship deteriorated. He couldn't seem to do anything right anymore, nor did Heero ever think himself in the wrong. We're too different from each other, just as Heero keeps telling me.
Since Heero began studying at the university, he'd often made him, the former L2 street brat, feel as if he weren't smart or even clever enough to be included in his growing list of intellectual friends. Sure, his education was somewhat lacking, but he'd been smart enough to survive living on the streets of L2 when thousands of others hadn't, and even managed to escape that hell hole of a colony. He'd also been smart enough to help build and pilot a gundam and fought in not one, but two wars. He was even considered smart enough to have a valued and respected position with the Preventers organization. Somehow, Heero seemed to forget all of that when he got together with his new friends at the university. It was still hard to imagine that Heero, the boy who saved the Earth, who accomplished impossible feats through sheer determination, had become strangely impressionable. With the help of his newfound, pseudo-intellectual friends from the university, who were, in Duo's opinion, self deluded egotists who believed they had the answers to all of society's problems in their puffed up, over-inflated fat heads, Heero had slowly turned from his sometimes annoying detailed-oriented lover into an insufferable, intolerant yet educated snob. One more reason for us to part ways, I suppose, and his last parting comment before he closes the door is his final message to me that I'll never measure up to his standards.
Raising his eyes to look squarely into Heero's disapproving gaze he whispered a final, "Goodbye, Heero."
The room stilled, and for just a slight moment something flickered in Heero's eyes. Is that regret I see, or longing? Duo wondered. Guess I'll never know. "I'll see you around," Heero replied soberly, and Duo watched as he turned around and walked out of the door and his life.
He stood there for a long, painful moment, hearing a slight thump against the wall before he found himself surrounded by complete silence. Any shred of hope that Heero would change his mind died with each passing moment. With wooden legs he stumbled back to the bedroom, the bed and his pillow. Throwing himself down, he proceed to let out all the grief and anguish in his heart, knowing that no one was going to hear or come to comfort him.
He wasn't aware of how much time passed while he mourned the loss of not only Heero, but of the dream he'd once had of the two of them living their lives together, but he sensed that at least an hour had passed before he was startled by the phone ringing loud and clear, interrupting his crying jag. He let the answering machine get it only to have the damn thing ring again a few moments later. After the fifth time, he stumbled from the bed and headed towards the vid phone, located in the front room, with the intention of answering the stupid thing and getting rid of the irritating caller. He checked the caller I.D and was filled with dread after seeing it was Quatre who was calling.
Sniffing back the last of his tears and throwing his long, loose and tangled hair over his shoulders, he hit the button that allowed sound only. He couldn't chance Quatre seeing him and the evidence of his heartbreak.
Clearing his throat, he managed a decent sounding hello.
"Duo? It's Quatre. Are you all right? You sound like you're coming down with a cold or something."
"No. I'm fine. Heero just left."
"Oh." Several long and silent moments passed before the blond cautiously asked, "Are you all right?"
"No. But I will be."
"This really is for the best, you know." No, he didn't know, but blondie sounded so wise and sincere that he knew Quatre honestly believed what he was saying. "With this separation you and Heero can work on your own issues and, given time, you'll be able to heal and maybe even appreciate each other again."
He wondered if Quatre had spoken with his therapist because that line sounded like the same pile of crap she dished out to him on a weekly basis. "Sure. Whatever."
"Did you two fight again?"
"You parted on good terms?"
"If you'd consider having farewell sex â€˜good terms' then yeah, we parted on good terms," he reply snidely. It had to be pretty clear to Quatre by now that he was not handling this very well.
"I think Trowa and I should come over and keep you company. How about we bring dinner?"
"Thanks, but I don't think so. I already made plans to keep myself busy."
"What are you doing tonight?"
"Quatre, you're not my mother nor my damn brother," he snapped, irritably. He was more than a little put out with the blond as well as his other friends. "I can take care of myself, so don't worry about me. Besides, I think you've interfered enough, don't you?" He didn't usually take that kind of attitude when talking with his well-meaning friend, so it was no wonder that the other man sounded worried when he replied to that last comment.
"No, I'm not your mother, but I'm your best friend and I'm concerned. I know how hard this is on you, Duo, that this isn't the way you wanted things to happen."
"Sorry to burst your bubble, Quat, but you know diddily squat about how I'm feeling. Your relationship with Trowa is nothing like what Heero and I had, and thank God for that!"
"I promise you, Duo, things will get better. Just take it a day at a time. When one door closes another one opens. In a couple of weeks, if you're up to it, Trowa and I can set you up with a couple of friends we know that are dying to meet you."
"Thanks, but no thanks, Quatre," he snapped back. "That's the last thing that I need. I'm not about to do this again anytime soon."
"Can you turn on the camera so I can see for myself that you're all right?"
Duo chuckled at that. "If I did, you'd see more of me than Trowa would be comfortable with. I was about to get into the shower when you called."
"Oh!" He could hear the blond blushing over the line. "How about we come over for lunch tomorrow?"
"Listen, Quat, here's the thing." He mentally winced after using that innocuous expression. Heero often remarked about the phrases he habitually used, too frequently for his taste. "Here's the thing," happened to be one of them. "I talked to Old Iron Pants yesterday and arranged to use up some of my vacation time. I'm getting the hell away from here for a while to try and get my head on straight."
What he didn't tell his friend was that he also asked his boss for all of his vacation and sick pay as well. Une had looked at him with that gaze of hers that made him feel she was every bit as empathic as Quatre. She didn't have the ability to read his mind or sense his emotions, as far as he knew, but it was pretty eerie how she could use her female intuition to guess what was going on with her agents. "Are you coming back, Mr. Maxwell, or should I assign a new partner to Mr. Barton?" she'd asked with one finely shaped eyebrow raised. He told her to give Trowa a temporary partner for a month, and if he wasn't back by February tenth, she was to make it a permanent placement.
To be honest, the boss lady took it better than he thought she would. She stood from her desk and came towards him with her hand extended. "I've heard about your imminent break up with Heero," she'd said in her out-of-the-office voice, her eyes filled with compassion. "Running away isn't always the best way to deal with heartache, Duo. You have friends here. They can help you get through this. Do you really believe this is the best way?"
"I can't bear to watch him get over me and move on," he'd replied with uncharacteristic openness, unable to look at her while feeling like his insides were being wrung out to dry.
"I understand," she'd said, and in such a way that he believed she truly did. He'd heard that there had been a romantic wrestling match between her and Zechs Marquise over Treize Kushrenada. Maybe it wasn't just a rumor and that she truly knew what it was to lose someone. She saw him to the door and he extracted her promise not to tip anyone off that he most likely wasn't coming back. If anyone asked, she would tell the truth, that he took his vacation time and left town.
Quatre's voice was filled with concern as he asked. "Are you sure that's what you want to do, Duo?"
"Yeah. I think getting out of this apartment and experiencing something new is gonna help me face the fact that life will go on past this shitty day."
"Would you like to go to one of my places? You know you're welcome to stay at any one of them and it would save you money."
"Thanks, but no. I've already got something planned and I think I need to do this on my own, realize a bit of independence, if you know what I mean."
"I suppose," the blond replied softly, but Duo could tell his friend was still worried.
Then he suddenly realized this could possibly be his last conversation with Quatre, his good and caring friend, maybe for a long time, if ever. Quatre had always looked out for him, often treating him like he was his ignorant, wayward little brother. Duo recalled not having been particularly nice to the blond during the holidays because of the so-call intervention, and now he regretted it. "Hey, Quat?"
"You're the best, you know that?"
"You're like a brother to me, Duo," he replied softly, his fondness for Duo evident in his voice. "When you hurt, I hurt. The same goes for happiness."
"Yeah, that empathy thing sucks, don't it?" Duo chuckled darkly. Then on a sad note he added, "Don't hinge your happiness on my bad luck, buddy, it'll only bring you the same." Softening his voice, he said with all sincerity, "You're like family to me, Quat. Thanks for putting up with me." He could feel himself begin to waver, knowing that if he needed him, his friend would drop everything to come to his aid. He didn't know how he'd ever earned such a friendship, but he did value it.
With his emotions rising to the surface once again, Duo knew he had to cut things short or he'd give away his plans for escaping not only the city of Sanq, but his entire way of life. "I better go and get that shower before I catch cold. Take care, buddy."
"You too, Duo. You'll contact me to let me know you're all right from time to time, won't you? And call when you get back?"
"Check your email," he told him, trying to get out of an answer that would be construed later as a lie. He still had a problem with lying outright, deciding years ago that he was a better person for practicing honesty. He was certainly walking on a thin line with that principle today, however. "Goodbye, Quatre."
During the unusual stretch of silence that followed, he wondered if his empathic friend sensed what he was about to do, but then the blond replied. "Be well and stay safe, Duo. We love you."
The line went dead, and Duo pressed the cut-off button on his machine. His heart felt weighed down, more than ever before, but he didn't have time to grieve the loss of... well, everything. A brief shower took care of any remaining traces of Heero, and as he braided his hair into a tight weave, he wondered for a brief moment if he should just cut the damn thing off. It had been his signature, a part of who he was: an orphan, street brat, survivor and gundam pilot and Heero's lover. It held a hell of a lot of memories for him, good and bad. He shook his head at his reflection in the mirror. Heero had already taken so much from him, his self confidence, self esteem and the belief that he was okay just as he was. He'd be damned if the other man's leaving was going to take his braid away from him, too.
He quickly dressed, pulling on his well-worn jeans and a long-sleeved shirt over his thermals and gained momentum as he grabbed a box of junk stored in the closet and moved it into position on the floor so he could stand on top of it in order to reach the highest closet shelf. Reaching up, he found and pulled down his old black duffle bag from the war. He wasn't planning on taking all that much with him, intending to travel as light as possible.
He packed several pairs of jeans, T-shirts, one pair of dress pants, a dress shirt and tie, a pair of sweats, tennis shoes, boots and dress shoes. Satisfied that it was enough, he moved to the dresser Heero had insisted he keep and pulled out a week's worth of boxers, socks and a couple of white t-shirts. Several small pictures of Heero and the guys were also packed along with a fragment of Deathscythe that he'd recovered after he'd blown his gundam to smithereens. His knife was secured in its sheath against his leg, just above his boot, and his gun and license to carry it were tucked into his shoulder holster.
Zipping the black duffle closed, he straightened and realized that he was all set to go, both physically and mentally. He bent to the stack of books, set under his side of the bed, and located his handy hollowed-out book. He opened it and removed several passports, each with a different alias. He'd set them up as verifiable covers over the years he'd been working at Preventers, never knowing when he might be called upon to act as someone other than himself. No doubt it was a residual action from the war that he was always prepared with papers and a false background check that would look legitimate to anyone inquiring, even law enforcement agencies.
He shuffled through the passports and papers and removed the ones he thought appropriate. The rest went back into the hollow book which he then placed into his smaller back pack, in a specialized compart designed to foil x-ray machines and physical searches. He then filled the rest of the pack with toiletries. It took him only a couple of minutes to get everything else together, including his camera, a book he hadn't finished reading and a couple of protein bars from the bread drawer in the kitchen.
After pulling on the cold weather jumpsuit over his regular clothes, which would protect him from the frigid cold winter weather while riding his bike, there was nothing left to do but say farewell to the place he'd called home for the past three years. He took his time gazing over the apartment, trying hard to remember the good times rather than the bad. And there had been good times, he reminded myself, plenty of them. It was only after Heero started school two years ago that things had begun to sour between them.
He forced himself not to think about the arguments and scuffles and turned his thoughts back to the first Christmas they'd shared in this apartment and of the first time their friends had come to visit them shortly after they'd moved in together. With a slight grin he recalled the disastrous dinner he and Heero had attempted. The result of their cooking had been embarrassing, but made for a good laugh and memory. Yet now, in the stillness of the place he had once viewed as a haven, he could hear the faint echo of laughter that had come from Heero and their friends. He held onto that memory as he pulled his backpack over his shoulders then picked up his old, beaten-up duffle and walked out the door of the only home he'd ever known, other than the orphanage.
After a quick trip to the manager's apartment, giving him the keys and recently amended lease with his two week notice attached, he told the older man to either donate the furniture left behind or give it to some renter in need. As a late Christmas bonus, he told the manager to keep the deposit. He didn't want to leave any loose strings that might help anyone to track him down.
After that, he made his way to the parking garage and retrieved his motorcycle. He was going to make his way across Europe on it, sightseeing all the way. He hadn't lied to Quatre about getting away and seeing new places and things. On Monday, after the banks opened, he planned to have his savings and checking accounts, including his newly deposited vacation and sick-time pay, transferred to an untraceable account in Zurich that he'd set up during the war and never closed. After reaching Switzerland, he'd cash out his roughly twenty thousand credits and decide where to go from there. He was a man with a small amount of luggage, a whole lot of emotional baggage and a vague plan for his immediate future; the perfect description of a vagabond.
He secured the top of his winter jumpsuit, put on his cold-weather gloves and ear warmers before slipping on his helmet and prayed the good weather would hold for a couple of days. The engine of his bike started with a roar and with no effort steered it onto the road and towards an uncertain future with only a quick, regret-filled glance over his shoulder at the life he was leaving behind.