When One Door Closes
by Dyna Dee
A little over a month had come and gone since Duo left his home and job, and the deadline for contacting Director Une had passed. His friends as well as Heero, if he even cared, would realize by now he wasn't coming back. He felt guilty about ditching them like he had, but the pain from his breakup with Heero was still as fresh as it had been the day his lover had walked out the door. In his darkest moments, usually late at night when feelings of loneliness became more acute, he blamed his so-called friends for his wretched state; being alone and lonely on an endless road. His closest friends had meddled into his and Heero's lives and had talked them into separating. Yet in the light of day, with the cold February wind in his face as he guided his motorcycle down yet another new road, he knew he was deluding himself by casting the blame for his breakup with Heero on their friends. The real blame for their breakup he put on Heero, knowing full well that his former lover would probably blame him as well.
His leaving was for the best, or so he told himself every day as he hit the road once more. Perhaps if he kept saying it enough he'd actually start to believe it. He didn't want to think about how hurt Quatre would be after learning he purposely hadn't told him the full truth about his "vacation" and that he wasn't coming back. Trowa must be angry with him for not only hurting his lover, but for leaving him saddled with a new partner. Wufei was probably feeling quite justified in calling him immature and selfish. And Heero? Well, he didn't know how his former lover would react to his leaving. He'd changed so much during the past two years that it was difficult for him to predict his reactions. Heero might actually worry that he'd gone off the deep end. On the other hand, he might be relieved he hadn't stayed and caused an embarrassing scene or two. The two of them had already experienced more than their share of ugly moments, both private and public.
A rare smile drew up the corners of his mouth as he came over a hilltop and into view of the shipping port in Barcelona. There in the distance was a large familiar ship, looking for the moment like home away from home. The only person he'd contacted during his European wanderings had been Howard, and that message had only gone out a week ago, via an internet cafÃ©. His old friend emailed him back with language he hadn't used since their pre-war days together on the Sweeper's ship. Howard wrote a veritable tirade about his taking off without contacting anyone. He'd been contacted by Quatre and Wufei and Howard reported that they had very upset by his continued absence and silence. The old man also related that because there had been no trace of him, and considering the distraught condition he was in when he'd left Sanq, his friends feared he might have done something drastic, like killing himself. That was something Duo hadn't considered. It's true he'd been upset when he last talked to any of them, but he never dreamed they'd think he'd do himself in just because his love life was in ruins.
Howard agreed to his request for a lift across the Atlantic, letting him know that one of his ships was scheduled to depart from Barcelona in a few day, en route to Brazil. The old man said he was welcome to hitch a ride on the condition: that he explained what the hell was going on. Duo reluctantly agreed, but only with Howard's promise that he wouldn't tell anyone he'd hitched the ride. In return, the retired engineer made him promise that he would let his friends, waiting anxiously back in Sanq, know that he was still alive and kicking, otherwise there was no deal.
To satisfy Howard's condition, Duo called Une the night before entering Barcelona, not having enough nerve to call one of the guys. He asked her to relay the message that he was alive and well, but that he wasn't coming back. The Preventers' director expressed her regret and again questioned his reasoning, but in the end she promised to do as he asked. Though feeling guilty as hell for having caused undue worry over his well being, he remained unapologetic. For the foreseeable future he was going to answer only to himself for his actions and take charge of his life and happiness.
Howard's buddies received word ahead of time about his estimated time of arrival and welcomed him on board the ocean freighter named Stargazer without question. He didn't recognize any of the crew and guessed that none of them had been aboard the ship when Howard was its captain during the first war. Still, the gruff sailors accepted him simply as Howard's friend and guest and basically left him to his own devices when they returned to their work.
After eighteen days of rough seas and skirting transatlantic storms, Duo happily bid the Stargazer's captain and crew a grateful goodbye after the ship docked in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He'd never been to South America before and decided now was as good a time as any to explore that part of the world. He took a few tours and his sweet time traveling through Brazil south to Argentina and then turned north again through Chili, enjoying the warmer climate after having left the frigid European winter.
It wasn't by any forethought that six months after leaving Sanq Duo found myself in North America. He'd met a lot of people, enjoyed a lot of interesting conversations and had a whole lot of time to think about his life. And somewhere along the way he slowly came to the realization that his shrink had actually been right about something. Because of his lack of role models and his unusual harsh and childhood he was pretty messed up and had a warped idea about what relationships were all about. That revelation wasn't much comfort, for after months of traveling his heart was still bruised and ached painfully each and every time he thought about Heero and their failed relationship. With time and distance he'd come to realize that Heero wasn't the only one who'd been at fault for things going so wrong, that he'd done his fair share of damaging the relationship as well. He'd been clingy, having felt threatened by the changes in Heero since he'd begun studying at the university and his association with new friends. He'd also been insecure and abrasive when Heero made any remark that closely resembled criticism. But that was all water under the bridge now, he sadly reminded himself, and here he was, a half year later, more lonely than ever and suffering from the worst case of homesickness.
Sitting in a booth at a truck stop located somewhere in the Midwest sometime around midnight one early summer night, Duo fought back the familiar wave of loneliness while drinking a strong cup of hot coffee before making the decision about whether he should go on that night or find a place to sleep. It seemed odd to him that even at that late hour the truck stop was filled with activity. There were men and women of various ages going in and out of the restaurant who made a living hauling a wide variety of goods in large trucks across the vast country he'd only begun to discover. The other coffee shop patrons had apparently stopped, just like he had, to revive themselves with some strong coffee and conversation.
He'd been sitting there for approximately twenty minutes or so, sipping his topped-off cup of coffee, when a tall and burly man with a bit of a paunch entered the diner. The man gave the busy establishment a once over before making his way toward Duo's booth. Looming over the braided man, the newcomer asked if he would mind sharing the table with him because there were no others seats available. Nodding his permission, Duo took another sip of his coffee and surreptitiously watched as the other man sat down across from him and immediately waved for the waitress to come to the table. She arrived with a cup of coffee in hand, took his order for a piece of apple pie ala mode, then left the two strangers to contemplate each other.
"Where ya headin'?" the large man asked in a friendly manner after taking a decent swig from his cup of coffee.
"Nowhere in particular," Duo answered, toying with his half-eaten donut, trying to decided if he really wanted to finish it or not.
"Ah, the young and restless," the older man said with a knowing grin.
Duo shrugged, not feeling very enthusiastic about carrying on a conversation that late at night.
The man gave a nod of his head, apparently understanding his reticence. "So if you're not running to something at your age, you must be running from something or someone."
"Both," Duo answered grudgingly, eyes focused on the dark fluid in his mug.
"A broken heart," he corrected, not about to discuss his sexual preferences with a complete stranger.
"You doin' this all on your own?"
"How long have you been riding the road?"
Duo was relieved to get off the other subject. "Six months."
The other man's eyes narrowed as he took another sip of his coffee. "Seems like a long time to put your life on hold."
"I've put it to good use," Duo told him defensively. "I've traveled through Europe, South and Central America. I'm now seeing North America for the first time, so I wouldn't call it wasted time."
The man smiled at him. It was a kind smile, Duo decided and he felt his guard lowering a bit more as the man continued. "I'm sure you've made some good memories, but isn't it about time you shared those memories with someone? Maybe someone from home?"
The braided head shook even as his heart constricted painfully in his chest. "There's no one," he answered morosely, ducking his head over the half empty cup.
Several moments passed in silence as Duo studied his reflection in the undoctored coffee. He was pretty sure the trucker was staring at him, trying to figure him out. Good luck, fella.
"Look, I'm heading west to Bakersfield and I've a long way to go. If you're interested in heading that way, how about hitching a ride with me for a while? I'll let you off wherever you want."
"I don't think so," Duo answered, casting a wary glance at the man, trying to judge the motive behind the invitation. He was obviously being mistaken as a hitchhiker. The man across from him appeared relaxed and his face displayed a hint of concern, his eyes looked kind. He might just be on the up and up. "Besides, I've got my motorcycle."
"You'll be doing me a favor," the truck driver continued to try and persuade him. "If you give me some company, talk my ear off so I don't fall asleep, I'll feed you and let you off where ever you want to hang your hat. Your bike's not a problem. I've got room in the back. So what do ya say? I can use the company and it looks like maybe you can too."
It was too tempting an offer to pass by. The road he'd taken had been a lonely one, and frankly, he was starving for some company. During his travels, Duo learned that there were people in this world he could trust, even if it was short term; but could he trust this guy? The man must have sensed he was about to cave in because he suddenly shifted his bulky form in his seat and offered Duo his hand.
"Name's Dwight Higgens. Every chance I get I hang my hat in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, where my wife and three kids carry on while I make my runs. I'm currently running a load of machine parts and imported crap. Ever seen California?"
Duo's smile came easy, sensing the man across from him was the real deal, an honest Joe trying to make a living. "Duo Maxwell," he replied, taking the offered hand and giving it a firm shake. "Guess our meeting is fortuitous because I just happen to be another import, just like the crap you're hauling. Guess I'll fit right in." The man threw his head back and gave up a belly laugh. Duo found himself laughing as well. He could already tell that he was going to like this guy.
Twenty minutes later the two men were armed with caffeinated sodas and a surplus of junk food and belted into their seats in the cab of the large truck that was turning onto the interstate. Of course Duo had been in a big rig before, having stolen his share of trucks in order to transport Deathscythe on the ground during the first war, but those state-of-the-art rigs had nothing on Dwight's homey interior, with pictures of his house, wife and family displayed on just about every available space. Thoughts of the big transport trucks he'd hijacked brought back the memory of his old buddy Deathscythe, which led him to feelings of longing for his former comrades. Even though the good old days had been hell, there were moments when he wished for them once again. The excitement and challenge of battle against a great foe and the comradeship that grew between himself and the other gundam pilots, not to mentions his then budding relationship with Heero. Yes, those were the things he missed the most.
The first fifteen minutes of the ride were spent with Dwight pointing out all of the pictures in his cab and more or less introducing Duo to his wife and kids. The younger man silently bet that Mrs. Higgens was a damn good cook because the whole family resembled Dwight, their appearance indicating they were well fed. Their fair hair and skin put him in mind of the people in northern Europe. Pale, hale and hearty.
After hearing about his kids, their interests and how bright they were, Dwight paused to glance from the road ahead to his passenger. "So this girl who broke your heart was pretty special, huh?"
He really didn't want to lie to the guy but neither did he want to be dumped in the middle of nowhere if he was homophobic, so Duo hedged. "The love of my life, I'm afraid." He expected Dwight to say something like he was too young to feel that way, that someone else was bound to come around and mean so much more to him, but he didn't. Instead, the older man replied in a sympathetic tone, "That's tough, kid. But the heart does mend, or so I'm told. I met Margie when we were in high school, and even though we didn't begin dating until we were seventeen I knew from the start that she was the one for me. Guess I'm one of the lucky guys because she felt the same way about me."
A moment passed in silence as both men thought about the person that made their existence bearable, or on Duo's part, unbearable. After all this time he still ached when thinking about Heero, but he had to admit that the pain was less than it had been a couple of months ago. "So, tell me about yourself," Dwight said suddenly, startling Duo out of his thoughts. Figuring he'd probably never see the truck driver ever again, he thought, Why the hell can't I talk about myself? Something inside of him wanted to open up to someone, and this guy seemed a decent sort, a good candidate for a heart to heart.
"I'm an orphan from the colonies," he began, and then proceeded to give Dwight a brief, very edited version of his youth, leaving out his part in the war other than saying he'd fought with a resistance group that opposed the occupation of the colonies. He told him about falling in love - though he omitted Heero's name and that he was a guy. He admitted that their personalities were not always in sync, but that they got along well enough until his lover began school, and then things turned sour rather quickly. The criticism began when the love of his life saw the differences between the boy from L2 and the more educated, sophisticated people at the university, and he was found lacking in comparison with them. The arguing escalated until their friends intervened and convinced to separate.
By the time Duo got to the point where he'd left everyone and everything to get his life together, the cab of the truck smelled heavily of tortilla chips, corn nuts and there were two sodas sitting in his bladder. Several hours had passed since they'd left the truck stop, so he didn't feel too bad about asking Dwight if he could pull over somewhere so he could relieve himself. He expected a rest stop, but Dwight found a turn out and Duo wound up using some poor bush as his relief station.
Once they were on the road again, their conversation began to lag and the sound of country music dominated the cab. It wasn't uncomfortable, their sudden lack of communication, but more of a result of both men getting tired and thoughtful as the night stretched on towards dawn. Duo wondered what the down-to-earth man thought about him now that he'd heard the edited version of his life or why he even cared what a stranger thought.
When Dwight spoke again, his voice sounded thoughtful. "Ya know, Duo, I'm no expert or nothin', just an average guy on the road, but it seems to me that instead of running from your problems, why not settle down for a bit, get some new friends and maybe see someone about dealing with your past. Maybe you can't have the love of your life any longer, but that doesn't mean you can't find someone else to share you life with."
Dwight's suggestion made sense, but Duo had found it easier to just keep moving rather than taking on the onerous chore of finding a job, a place to stay and then people he could trust enough to consider friends. "Yeah, maybe you're right," he conceded. "But I don't know that I want to go to that much effort. Where would I go? What would I do? It's easier to just be a rolling stone that gathers no moss."
"A stone has a lonely existence," Dwight replied, and damn if Duo didn't know he was right. He was lonely and had almost given in to the need to call Quatre a week or two ago when he didn't think he could take the separation from his friends or the loneliness any longer. He got over that episode with the help of a handsome and talented guy he met in New Orleans, but one night stands weren't really his thing. They left him feeling empty and guilty an hour later, especially when knowing he'd never see the person again. He'd had a handful of those experiences during his travels, mostly to stave off the loneliness, but he wasn't in any hurry to repeat them.
"I think I might have a solution for you, that is if you're interested." Duo turned his head to look at the older man, wondering what he had in mind. "Now just keep an open mind, alright?"
Dwight continued with his eyes on the road. "My brother is the manager of a ski resort in Park City, Utah. It's a nice place, very popular in the winter, but there's something to do all year round in that area. He loves it there, loves the mountains. He told me once that he believed a lot of people moved to the mountains to escape something in their life. While you were talking, I thought the mountains might be a good place for you to pause in your journey and try something new. If you want to hang up your motorcycle helmet for a while, I'm sure with a phone call I can get you set up with a job. What do you think? Interested?"
There was definitely something about the proposition that appealed to Duo. The only time he'd been to the mountains was when Quatre had taken the five of them on a vacation a couple of months after the last war, just to get away together. It had been in the springtime, and the hills had been green and the wild flowers were in bloom, blanketing the tall mountainsides with yellow, blue and white. It had been a wonderful, healing setting. He and Heero hadn't formally been together as a couple for very long, so it had also been very romantic and a very good memory.
He was brought out of the memory by Dwight's voice as he continued talking. "I'm told the snow in Utah is great for skiing and people from all over the country go there during the winter. It's not a big place, kind of a small town, actually, and built mostly on a hillside. Still, my brother claims there's a lot to do around there. Movie festivals, hunting, lakes for fishing, boating, or water sports. Brian, my brother, is a real outdoor's man - you almost have to be if you're born in Minnesota, ya know - and he loves it there."
He trucker paused for a moment to see if his passenger had something to say. Duo was definitely tempted but still wary. "Can you give me a little time to think about it?" He didn't want to say yes right away but saying no could mean the end of an opportunity. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, Howard used to say when he was a runny-nosed brat.
"Sure," Dwight replied. "In fact, I think I'll be fine for a while if you want to try and get some shut eye. We can talk later, over breakfast, if you want."
"Thanks, Dwight," he said, then burrowed down into his jacket, folded his arms across his chest and leaned heavily against the side of his seat. He spent a good fifteen minutes contemplating the merits of accepting Dwight's offer. What do I have to lose?, he asked himself. Absolutely nothing, answered the small voice at the back of his mind. He'd already lost the one thing that meant everything to him and walked away from the rest and he was getting weary of the road, of being alone all the time. Maybe it was time for a change. With that thought in mind he let himself relax and a short while later he fell asleep to the sounds of a steel guitar and a male voice singing something about some woman loving his truck.
He awoke to the sound of the large truck's engine downshifting as Dwight slowed the truck with his brakes before pulling into another truck stop. Duo sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes, then noticed that the sun had risen.
"Morning," he yawned. "Sorry I slept so long."
"Only a couple of hours," Dwight said, and his smile assured Duo he wasn't upset that he hadn't kept him company. "Ready for some breakfast?"
"Sure. Where are we?" he said with a quick look outside the window. "Denver. We're about to go over the mountains. It's a beautiful sight and not a road to drive while tired. I think I'll grab a couple hours of sleep in the back of the cab. If you want to get your bike out of the back, you can do a little sightseeing until noon."
Together they went into the restaurant and, after using the facilities and freshening up, they sat down and ordered breakfast, consisting of bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast slathered with grape jelly. It was good, but Duo thought he enjoyed it more for having someone to talk to.
"So have you come to a decision yet?" Dwight asked after taking a drink of his coffee, his eyes fixed on his traveling companion.
"Yeah, and I think you're right. I should stop for a while, see if I can get my life back on track."
"Good!" The man beamed him a toothy grin. "So I should call my brother?"
"Yeah. And thanks, Dwight."
"I'll do that right after breakfast. With any luck, we'll be in Park City in the morning."
Duo felt both excited and anxious about the upcoming change in his life. He'd been on the road for so long he couldn't help but wonder if he would be able to stop for more than a couple of days without getting the itch to get back on his bike and ride off. Would he like the place Dwight had described? Would he enjoy the job and the people? Could he find a portion of normal in a small town in the mountains of Utah? Hell, he wasn't even sure where Utah was, but he thought it was close to California.
He got to thinking about this opportunity, and how his life had been a series of events and people who led him to the next step or phase in his life. Meeting Solo had given him an opportunity to be a part of a gang, to have a place in a throw-away society of misfits. His friend's death eventually led him to Father Maxwell and Sister Helen. They had provided him with the first real home he'd ever known. They had cared for him, gave him an education and showed him a different way of life from that of the streets. Their deaths and the destruction of the church and orphanage had caused him to flee L2, and that's when Howard had found him stowed away on his ship. Howard, in turn, introduced him to Professor G who gave him Deathscythe and all the education and training he needed to pilot the menacing black war machine. Deathscythe brought him to Earth, gave him the means to fight for the colonies against their oppressors, no matter what name his enemies called themselves. Deathscythe inadvertently led him to Heero, and he had ultimately brought him to Dwight, his big rig and to an opportunity to once again seize life by the horns and ride it. Hadn't Quatre said, "When one door closes another one opens?" He never realized before just how true that idiom was in contrast with his life.
Immediately after breakfast, Dwight had called his brother while Duo stood at the truck driver's side, waiting to see if there was indeed a position at the resort for him. Putting his hand over the mouthpiece, Dwight asked what skills he had, something his brother obviously needed to know. He told him he could fix just about anything mechanical, that he was adept at computers and could get along with anyone if he put his mind to it. As Dwight relayed his answer to his brother Brian, Duo couldn't help but wonder why he hadn't used his people skills to get along better with his own lover. Why had they fought so often and damaged what they meant to each other? He didn't have the answers, but knew that if he didn't want that to happen again in some future relationship, he needed to get some help, and he resolved to do just that... if he got the job, that is.
Dwight hung up the phone and smiled. "All set!" he declared. "I'll take you to his place of work when we get into town tomorrow and introduce you. He says he even has a place for employees to stay temporarily and charges only a minimal rent until they can get something more permanent. Sound good?"
"Sounds great!" Duo replied, and it did. Now if he could only get over the feeling of butterflies fluttering around in his belly, he'd be fine.
Brian Higgens was the younger of the two brothers, he had the same fair skin, eyes and nose of Dwight, but that was where the family resemblance ended. While Dwight's physique was a clear result of sitting in a truck for hours and days at a time and eating restaurant food three times a day, Brian was tan, lean and fit looking. His light brown hair was neatly cut and he had the appearance of a business man. It was obvious the two brothers were fond of each other by their interactions, warmly embracing each other and asking about their families. Duo was introduced and Dwight made his excuses for leaving, telling his brother he'd stop by in a couple of days, after unloading his run to Bakersfield and picking up a new one in Fresno. Duo only had time for a quick goodbye and a sincere thank you before Dwight told him they'd meet again soon. Then the man was gone and Brian was ushering him into his office with forms he needed to have filled out.
The new job wasn't as easy as Duo thought it would be. He made the mistake of giving Dwight his real name, one that didn't match his fake passport. Brian hired him despite the discrepancies, taking Duo's word that he wasn't running from the law. His job description was that of a maintenance worker, to be paid under the table for the time being because he lacked the official working visa. Business, he was told, though rather slow during the summer months, would pick up dramatically after the first snow fell in November. Meantime, there were repairs to make and general maintenance to keep the resort in top shape.
Being paid under the table and staying in the provided low-rent room allowed Duo time to acquire the papers that would allow to work legally in the U.S. The fake passport he'd used to get into the country, with the name Dominic Mazel as his I.D. It was close enough to his own name that Brian and his co workers could easily believe Duo was his nickname. He make a quick check of the background information he'd tagged onto the name, making sure everything would check out if he was ever investigated. After a couple of weeks he managed to get a green card and then a regular paycheck, with all the taxes required by the government taken out. Sadly, the total amount on his pay stub was a fraction of what he'd made as a Preventer.
Dwight had been right, there was a lot to do in the area surrounding the little mountain city. Duo soon fell in love with the area, the mountains, green valleys and surrounding lakes. The young people working at the resort, handling the summer tourists, were friendly and outgoing. They gladly accepted him into their group and together they explored the surrounding mountains and made good use of the outdoors. He learned how to ride a jet ski for the first time in his life, rode a mountain bike on rugged trails, and in the fall he went hunting with a couple of the guys from the lodge. He liked being outdoors and the excitement of the hunt, but decided after his first kill that he wasn't fond of shooting helpless animals. It seemed this group also liked to paintball, so he was able to impress them with his superior shooting skills in a completely safe, non-lethal manner. Life was good and his more natural and easy smile had finally returned.
By the time the first snow came, he had become familiar enough with the resort to be the lodge's answer man. If there was a problem, he not only knew the answer, but how to fix it. Brian, impressed by his many skills, gave him a raise in salary which made it possible for him to get a small apartment in the valley just below the hill on which the small city sat.
Snow was something he wasn't overly familiar with, and it amused his fellow workers to see him fall on his ass time after time before he finally got the hang of downhill skiing. As predicted, business soared as the snow depth increased, and before he knew it, the holidays were upon him.
Brian invited him to join his family on Christmas Eve, but Duo politely declined the offer. The one year anniversary of his breakup with Heero and leaving his job and friends was coming up, and with it came years of memories and more than a few regrets. He came to the decision sometime mid December that it was time to call Quatre. He'd been seeing a shrink for a little over a month, and his well-paid therapist thought it was a good idea for him to open the door to his past, letting his closest friend know he cared enough about him to put his mind at ease. The call's purpose was to ease any worry his friend might have about his well being, where he was or what he was doing.
Christmas Eve morning found Duo sitting on his cheap sofa with his new phone in hand, trying to dredge up the courage to follow up on his vow to call his best friend. Would Quatre be angry with him? Would he even want to talk to him at this point? He couldn't really blame him if he didn't, but still, he hoped his friend would forgive him for not contacting him for almost a year.
He'd already dialed Quatre's phone number several times and hung up just before the phone rang as panic overtook him. After calling himself every kind of stupid he could think of, he dialed once more, determined to get through his doubts and anxiety.
"Winner residence." Duo didn't recognize the female voice on the other end of the line, and could only guess that Quatre had hired some help. There were voices in the background as well, but he couldn't make anything out.
"May I speak to Quatre?"
"He's busy at the moment. If you'll leave your name and number, I'll make sure he receives your message."
He hadn't considered not getting through to Quatre, especially on Christmas Eve. "I really think if he's there that he'll want to speak with me. It's a family matter." He figured that reason would do the trick in luring Quatre to the phone. After all, his friend had an extensive family that he cared deeply for.
"You don't wish to give me your name?"
"I'd rather not, if you don't mind. Please tell him, and him only, that it's an old friend calling."
The other side of the phone went still as the woman considered his vague message. "If you'll hold the line, I'll deliver your message."
He waited for three minutes, and began to worry whether or not he could afford the price of the international call. Glancing down at his watch, he decided to give Quatre another minute to answer before hanging up, when suddenly his friend's familiar voice came over the line. "Hello?"
There was a shocked pause before the blond whispered his name, having recognized his voice, as he knew he probably would. "Yeah, it's me. Sorry it's taken so long for me to get in touch."
"A year, Duo." There was anger in the other man's voice. "I've had a whole year to worry about you, wondering if you were alive and well or rotting in some gutter somewhere. How could you do that to me, or to the rest of the guys for that matter?"
"I'm sorry, Quat." Duo rushed to say as soon as he took a breath. "I just wasn't ready. I know you're mad at me, and you have every reason to be, but I just wanted to call to let you know I'm alright and to wish you and Trowa a Merry Christmas. I'm sure it's a lot better than it was last year."
"Duo." A long sigh came from his blond friend, and he wondered if he should just hang up. "Where are you?"
"In the U.S."
"Are you purposely being vague?"
"Have you got a job? A place to stay?"
"I'm not a complete incompetent, despite what you guys think. I have a job, an apartment and I've even made some friends."
"Anyone special in your life?"
"Only my shrink," he chuckled, thinking about the man he met with at least once a week. "But I'm not so sure he's happy I walked through his door. I think he's the one having nightmares now."
Quatre's voice gentled further with sincerity as he said, "I'm glad, Duo. Are you going to be coming back soon?"
He really wished his friend hadn't asked that particular question. "No, not soon."
"I'm just not ready."
"I miss you, Duo, and so do the others. They'll be so relieved to know you're alright. Everyone is here tonight, do you want to talk to them?"
An immediate feeling of panic welled up inside of him after hearing that bit of information. "Heero's there, too?"
He honestly couldn't stop himself from asking, "Is he with someone?"
The pause this time was longer, giving him the answer he dreaded more than anything. He hadn't intended to ask any questions about Heero, not ready to deal with it. However, he had asked, and Quatre felt he had to answer. "I'm sorry, Duo. But Heero's engaged."
"Don't say anything else, okay," he blurted out, anguished by the knowledge that Heero loved someone more than he had loved him. He never once suggested to him that they make their partnership legal. "Listen, I gotta go. I don't make a lot of money and I really can't afford this call. Wish everyone a Merry Christmas for me."
"Wait, Duo," Quatre rushed to say before he hung up. "Listen, call me collect next time. I want to keep in touch with you."
"I don't want anyone else knowing where I am, Quatre. You're my best friend and all, but I've still got a lot of healing to do."
"Then email me. I've kept my old email address in case you tried contacting me that way. Write to me about your life, your new friends. Let me know if there is anything you need, anything I can do to bring you back to us again. I'm not exaggerating when I say we all miss you, Duo. Even Heero. He went ballistic when he found out you never returned from your vacation. He even searched for you until Une got wind of it and convinced him that you didn't want to be found and that he should leave you alone to sort things out for yourself."
"And now he's engaged." Duo couldn't help the bitterness from creeping into his voice, in fact he was surprised he could speak at all considering the lump of emotions stuck in his throat. "I'm not all that surprised he got over me so quickly. Guess our relationship was more one sided than I thought."
"Duo, you can't..."
He cut off whatever his friend was going to say, not wanting to hear about Heero, his fiancee or how he got over him so quickly, especially when he was still pining over the other man. "Stop, Quat. Like I said, I gotta go. Merry Christmas." He abruptly ended the call and stood for a moment with the phone gripped tightly in his hand, stunned by the news of Heero's engagement. In an act of frustration he threw down the phone onto the sofa and stomped into the kitchen to grab a couple of beers. He was sorry now that he ever made the call. This had to be the worst Christmas ever, he decided, even surpassing the rotten one the year before. Holidays like Christmas were made for families, not for people like him who were all alone and lonely.