When One Door Closes
by Dyna Dee
Returning to work the day after Christmas, Duo had no trouble losing himself in his job, where there was always plenty to do with ski season in full swing. During the hours he wasn't working, he skied, moving from two skis to a snowboard, and in the evenings he hung around the lodge where the steady flow of sociable tourists continued to distract him from his thoughts. The snow remained plentiful, powdery, and lasted until May. As the weather warmed and business slowed, Brian insisted he take some time off and refused to take no for an answer.
Duo spent his first day off cleaning his apartment from top to bottom. The second day he packed away all his winter gear and stored it in the corner of his bedroom closet. After that, he really didn't know what to do with himself. Having no desire to travel, he remained in town and decided to take a day to become better acquainted with Park City. There were the usual tourist shops and cafes in the small city, along with a great deal of art galleries. It seemed not only lost souls fled to the mountains to hide or find themselves, but also artists, who seemed to thrive there.
Having wandered into one of the many art galleries, he gazed appreciatively at the wonderful bright colors that were used in a landscape painting done with oils. It was a stunning piece, capturing the colorful mountains and forests surrounding Park City during the fall, when the trees were arrayed with orange and yellow leaves and the hills were covered in patches of green and a gold velvety brown.
"Like it?" a slightly amused male voice asked from behind him.
He turned around to see a man he guessed to be in his early thirties, looking down at him. Damn, he thought, this guy's as tall as Trowa. But it was predominantly Quatre he was reminded of when the man smiled at him and brushed his wavy blond hair away from his blue eyes. The man was handsome, with strong chiseled features that were put together very nicely, but it was his smile that was nothing short of stunning. At second thought, it was Milliardo Peacecraft he resembled more than Quatre, with his rock star good looks. "Yes, I do like it," Duo replied with a friendly grin. Noting that Adonis was wearing a blue dress shirt with a stylish tie and pleated khaki dress pants, he figured the man worked at the gallery. "I don't know much about art," he confessed, hoping to carry on a conversation with the salesman. "But I know what I like, and I like the brightness of the colors in this painting. It speaks to me of something new, of happiness."
The man seemed pleased by his simple statement. "James Denton," the taller man said, offering his hand.
"Duo," he replied, taking the other's hand in his own and noticing the softness of his palm as they shook.
"Are you a visitor to Park City, Duo?" There was a spark in the man's eyes that told him the salesman was interested in him as something other than a potential customer.
"No, I work at the resort. I've got a few days off and decided to see what there was around here besides snow."
"I'm glad you stopped by," the tall blond said. Duo noticed the quick once over the man gave him. He was definitely being checked out. "Is there anything in the gallery I can interest you in?" Duo paused to judge the other man's meaning, was it innocent or a come on. Then the taller man gave a saucy grin and a wink, confirming that he was indeed flirting with him. Without waiting for his reply, the salesman continued. "We have several artists featured here and I can tell you about their paintings or the artist themselves."
"You know them personally?"
"We're all local and take turns working the shop."
"Are you an artist?" It dawned on him that he probably was if he was working there.
"That's my painting you were admiring." The blond motioned to the bright picture of the mountains draped in fall colors.
"You're very talented." It was an honest compliment. "Wish I had the kind of dough to buy something like that."
"That you appreciate it is good enough for me," the blond said, and Duo had the idea he was being sincere in return. He guessed that most artists would like to have their labors appreciated. "If you're just checking out the city, have you tried the new bistro down the block? They have a great lunch menu."
It was obvious that Mr. Denton was cautiously exploring any possibilities with him, and Duo wondered if he was going to actually ask him out. Then he paused to ask himself if he wanted him to. "No, haven't tried that place yet. I don't eat out much. On a budget."
The artist nodded as if he understood. "Tell you what. I've just had a very good season and even sold a painting last night, so I'm in the mood to celebrate and make a new friend as well. Would you care to join me for lunch? My treat, of course."
Duo congratulated himself for having read the other man right. He could say no to his offer, and knew that if he did it would be the end of the pleasant chat and they'd both go their own way, no harm done. Or he could look at this as one of those opportunities life handed him, waiting for him to take a chance that might change his future once again. Did he want to take a chance on this guy? Could he really trust someone again? He'd made considerable progress with his shrink, or so the man told him, and had worked through some of his anger and insecurity issues that had developed from his less than ideal childhood. The doctor had been encouraging him to reach out to others, to try and form deeper friendships again, to learn to trust others while realizing that no one was perfect and that his trust in them would most likely be tested from time to time. Why the hell not? he asked himself. Heero had moved on and was probably married by now. It was time he got on with his life, too.
With a quick glance around the gallery, he could it was empty except for the two of them. "You can just up and leave this place?" he asked in a dubious tone.
"All I have to do is lock the door and put a note on it that I'll be back in an hour... or so," he amended with a grin.
Duo didn't know about the "or so" part, but he was willing to have lunch with the guy to see if there was maybe more than a physical attraction going on between them. "All right," he agreed. "Can you leave now?"
Pulling a set of keys out of his pocket, the taller man took hold of his arm and conducted him to the door. "Please, just tell me you aren't a vegetarian," James said as they walked out the doorway.
Duo couldn't help but laugh at that request. "Not a chance in hell, Jim. You don't mind if I call you Jim, do you?" he asked with a cheeky grin.
The man gave him a frown that eased into a warm smile, then in a teasing manner and another wink he replied, "That's definitely negotiable. You see, only my closest friends and occasionally a lover can get away with calling Jim."
That one-hour lunch proved to be the opportunity Duo thought it might be. James, or rather Jim, as Duo continued call him simply because he knew the other man preferred to be called by his proper name, proved to be a gentleman and a real charmer. He asked Duo about his life, where he'd come from and how had come to be in Park City and actually looked as if he was really interested. Duo hedged quite a bit, telling the artist it was a long story and that he wasn't really comfortable talking about his past, seeing they barely knew each other. Jim said he understood, then proved he didn't share that particular hang up when he began to tell Duo a bit about his own life, having grown up on the east coast, graduating from a notable art school when he was twenty two, and eventually found himself living and working happily in the mountains. Jim confessed, in a rather attractive, apologetic way, to not being a great outdoors man, but that he liked skiing in the winter and hiking in the spring and fall. Summer, he told Duo, was a time he usually dedicated to painting in preparation for the next winter season when Park City swelled with tourists.
After a very enjoyable lunch, Duo walked Jim back to the gallery where the other man asked if he would care to get together that evening, perhaps taking in a light dinner and a movie. Having enjoyed the artist's company that afternoon, he accepted, telling himself that he really didn't have anything else to do that night, so why not?
The evening proved to be as enjoyable as lunch had been, and for the first time in a very long while Duo found himself attracted to someone. With that realization came a glimmer of hope that he might finally be getting over Heero and ready to move on. Excitement, something akin to being the very first person tohit the untouched slopes after a fresh fall of snow, began to grow within him at the prospect of being close to someone again. In the year and a half since he'd left Sanq, he'd only had sex a couple of times, and that happened while he was on the road. Since his arrival in Park City he'd been preoccupied with work and his shrink. So out of necessity he'd put any thoughts of romance on the back burner.
The two men had their second date the following Friday. The sexual attraction between them grew quickly as they became more comfortable with each other. When Jim pulled his car up in front of Duo's apartment building, it seemed only natural to share a goodnight kiss. Duo had no intention of going any further, wanting to move cautiously and not to jump into a physical relationship before he found out if he and Jim were truly compatible. But after being celibate for over a year, it didn't take long before that one kiss led to a heavy make-out session, which had him pretty damn close to throwing away all his good intentions before Duo forced himself to pull back. Jim said he understood, and was willing to wait until he felt more comfortable. Duo appreciated his understanding and they made another date for the next night.
Having said goodnight a second time, Duo let himself into his apartment and sat on his sofa to think things over. He was horny as hell, having been so close to having sex. Still, he held back from letting Jim go any further than palming him through his jeans. Sure, he was attracted to Jim, and liked him... a lot, so what was the big deal about not getting down and dirty with the guy? Most single men, straight or gay, didn't usually turn down the opportunity to have sex with someone they were attracted to, even after a short acquaintance, or at least that's what he'd been led to believe. But he didn't think he was like most guys. Even though he'd already met and lost the one love of his life, he really didn't want to sleep with a bunch of potential Heero fill-ins before settling for someone who might never compare favorably to his former lover. Before sleeping with Jim, he wanted to talk to someone, hopefully another guy who knew something about healthy gay relationships. Unfortunately, his list of friends in Park City was rather limited, and as far as he knew no one of his acquaintance was gay. Without much forethought, his hand was on the phone and he found himself dialing Quatre's number.
It was morning on the other side of the world, which was lucky for him because he caught the blond executive at home.
"Hey, Quat. How are you? It's not too early is it?"
There was a moment of silence before a pissed off voice came over the line. He had to wonder if his friend would always be mad at him. "You said you'd email me. Why haven't you? I check it several times a day, every day since Christmas and never once did you write me. I thought we were friends, Duo. I thought I meant more to you than that."
Quatre had him there. He should have emailed him, but he honestly wanted to remain ignorant about Heero and how good his former lover's life was without him. He couldn't bear to hear that the man he was trying so hard to get over was deliriously in love and happy. He gave Quatre the easiest, most believable reason he could think of for not emailing him as promised. "I don't have a computer."
"You couldn't have gone to a library or cyber cafÃ© or something?" His voice still sounded angry.
"Guess I could have scouted around for one, but I'm busy during business hours."
"Duo." It was clear that Quatre didn't believe him, even though he spoke the truth.
Leaning his head back against the back of the sofa, Duo closed his eyes and said, "It was just too hard, Quat. After learning about Heero at Christmas, I just didn't want to hear about how happy he is. I know he's your friend and I'm sorry if I hurt you by not emailing, but I've got to protect my heart from being torn apart again."
There was a pause as Quatre considered what he'd said. "I guess I can understand that, but I do care about you and I don't want you to hurt anymore either. If my telling you about Heero being engaged pushed you away, I sincerely apologize, and you have my word that I'll not volunteer anything more about his life, good or bad, unless you ask me. I just miss you, Duo, and I don't want you out in the world by yourself hurting, not having anyone to turn to. You're my friend, my best friend. Did you ever think that I might need you? I don't even know where you are. If I needed you, how would I ever contact you to let you know? What if something happened to myself or the others? Are you so removed from us that you wouldn't want to know or help?"
"Of course not," Duo rushed to answer, horrified and remorseful after realizing how selfish he'd been. "I'm sorry, Quat. I've only been thinking about myself. Things got all screwed up during the last couple of years, didn't they? And here I've bungled another important relationship."
"I'm still your friend, Duo. I always will be." He could hear the emotion in Quatre's voice, that the blond man was as upset as he was. "But friendship is a two-way street. I want you to be a part of my life, yet your behavior has me wondering whether or not you want to be friends any longer."
"Of course I do," he answered quickly, his heart aching from having caused his buddy to doubt their friendship. "In fact, that's why I called. I need some advice and you're the only person I can turn to."
"Is something wrong?" Quatre instantly shifted into a worried mode.
"I've met someone."
Silence followed that statement and Duo wondered if Quatre was shocked or pleased by what he'd said. "I'm glad, Duo. Tell me about him."
Breathing a sigh of relief, Duo began to tell his friend about Jim, that he was a very talented painter whose blond good looks and charismatic personality reminded him of both Quatre and Milliardo Peacecraft. He explained how their relationship was quickly progressing, but that he was worried about having sex with him. Was he rushing it? Was it too soon?
"How do you feel about him, Duo? Do you love him?"
"I didn't think I had to be in love to have sex with someone," Duo replied, trying to sound casual about a subject he felt was anything but casual.
"I didn't have a physical relationship with Trowa until after I knew I loved him and that he felt the same way about me. I haven't slept with anyone other than Trowa, so I'm not sure I can be objective about what you're asking. How old is Jim and has he told you about his past partners?"
"He's thirty one and yes, he's had his share of boyfriends and has had two serious relationships. He says he's looking for a long-term relationship, hopefully one that will last a lifetime." He paused before adding in a more thoughtful tone, "I want that too, Quat. I don't want to do the gay club scene or sleep around until I find someone who means something more than just a good time in bed. I just never envisioned myself to be that kind of person, I guess. Jim seems like a good man. He's kind and he treats me like I'm good enough and he acts like he's happy to be seen with me. After only two dates he's done a world of good for my self esteem, which had pretty much hit rock bottom by the time Heero left me. I realize I've only known him a short time, but I think I could be happy with him."
"Are you trying to convince me you're ready to go to bed with him, or are you trying to convince yourself?"
"I hate it when you do that," Duo snapped irritably, realizing that Quatre had avoided giving his opinion by throwing his question back.
"What?" Quatre asked, sounding innocent.
"Really, Quat. What should I do?"
"Trowa told me he'd once been given very good advice, to follow his heart. I think that's what you should do, Duo."
That hurt, knowing the conversation his friend referred to had been between Heero and Trowa. Quatre knew that too, so the blond couldn't help but understand who he was asking about when, despite his best intentions not to inquire about his former lover, he asked, "How is he?"
"Do you really want to know?"
He paused to consider that question. Did he really want to know about Heero? How would he feel knowing his former lover was living happily without him? Would he be miserable knowing that? Maybe he could finally move on and make a life, possibly with Jim, if he knew without a doubt that Heero was completely removed from the picture. "Yeah, I want to know."
"He and his girlfriend broke up just after Christmas." Although Quatre was normally discrete and careful about not repeating gossip, when the opportunity was appropriate he gossiped better than an old lady at her weekly hair appointment. Now, having received his permission, he could tell that Quatre was bursting to tell him everything he knew. But first...
"Girlfriend!" For some reason that possibility had never entered his mind.
"You have to understand that Heero was very upset when he found out that you weren't coming back," Quatre rushed to explain. "He cut us out of his life for awhile, blaming us for your leaving. Wufei saw him more than Trowa and I, and he told us Heero was in a dark place, that he was reacting out of anger and hurt. After graduating from the university, most of his friends at school moved away to jobs in other countries, leaving Heero basically floundering. I can only guess that he became lonely because he initiated contact with us again. He told us he had moved in with one of his university friends and that he'd landed a job at a local high school teaching history, just as he planned. We found out about his being engaged on Christmas Eve, just before your phone call and apparently a day after his proposal. I'll never forget the dazed look in his eyes when she made the announcement."
"Moving that fast doesn't seem like Heero, does it?" Inwardly, Duo was shocked by what seemed to be rash behavior on Heero's part. "We danced around each other for most of the war before we even had our first kiss. I knew when we broke up that he would eventually move on, but I don't know, considering this is Heero we're talking about, he seems to be moving rather quickly. We were together for a couple of years and marriage was never brought up."
"He changed, Duo. Restless, or perhaps lost is the only way I can think of describing him during the first year you were gone."
"I know those feelings too damn well," he admitted. "They're what kept me on the road for so long."
"But now you're settled?"
"For the time being. I like it here, but who knows what tomorrow will bring."
"Or how things will turn out between you and Jim, right?"
Duo scratched his head a moment, suddenly feeling uncomfortable speaking about the guy he was seriously contemplating having sex with. He wondered if he felt that way because he'd just finished talking about Heero. Why did it suddenly feel like he was being disloyal to his former lover when contemplating having sex with Jim? Was it because Heero was once again free? He was just about to lecture himself on the ridiculousness of that idea when his friend on the other side of the phone line continued.
"Will you tell me where you live, Duo?" Quatre's question succeeded in bringing him back to the conversation. "You obviously have a phone, will you give me your number?"
He knew that to refuse him would make Quatre feel badly, and he didn't want to hurt him any more than he already had. "Got a pen?" He gave him his address and phone number after securing his promise not to give it to anyone else.
After profusely thanking him for the information, Quatre's voice turned regretful. "I hate to do this, Duo, but I have a meeting I have to attend in forty minutes. Can I call you tonight, or rather in the morning your time?"
"There's a good chance I might not be here if you call after eight, I have to be at work by then."
"What do you think you're going do about Jim?"
Duo considered for only a moment before suddenly making up his mind; he was going to stay the night at Jim's. He liked the good-looking artist, was physically attracted to him, and without too much effort he could envision them becoming closer, maybe even falling in love and wanting to spend their free time in each other's company. Surely those were good enough reasons to have sex with the man.
He had to wonder if Quatre could sense his thoughts over the phone line when his friend asked, "So you're going to go ahead and sleep with him?"
"I really like him, Quatre. I might not be in love with him yet, but with the healthy dose of lust between us, I'm sure my feelings for him will grow."
"Be careful, Duo. I know that when you set your mind to something you're as tenacious as a thirsty camel heading for water."
"You mean as stubborn as a mule?" The braided man chuckled, knowing his friend was right about him in that respect.
"Look how long you hung onto your relationship with Heero, even after it began to fall apart."
It took the braided man a moment to respond to that, shocked by his friend bringing up that painful period in his life as an example of his stubbornness. "Wouldn't you have hung onto Trowa just as desperately if you thought you were about to lose him?"
The conversation had taken an uncomfortable turn for the both of them. When the man on the other side of the world replied, it came in a more somber voice. "You're right. I would do everything in my power to keep Trowa by my side. He's the love of my life."
"That's the way I felt about Heero."
"Do you still love him, Duo?"
He took a deep breath to think about it, knowing there was nothing to consider. He knew the answer as well as he knew his own name. "Yes. But I'm trying my best to put him behind me."
"You love him and yet you're still going to sleep with Jim?"
"Listen," Duo began with a huff. "I may still love Heero but that didn't guarantee us a happy ever after, did it? We started out happy, but somewhere along the line I wasn't good enough for him. The longer he was at the university the more I seemed to embarrass him, and then he tried to change me which led to all the fighting, well, that and our stubborn natures. For some stupid reason that I can't even begin to understand, I still love him. But what good is that? I'm tired of being alone, and with Jim I might have a chance for good relationship and someone to share my life with, like I did with Heero in the beginning. Why should I put that aside for a past, defunct relationship, one that Heero walked away from?"
There was a pause before Quatre said in a more serious tone of voice, "I hate to break it to you, Duo, but you were the one who walked away."
Blue-violet eyes blinked with surprise. "No, he left me, moved out of our apartment as soon as he could. It was pretty damn clear he was done with me, with us."
"Is that what you think?" There was surprise as well as a hint of anger in the blond's voice. "By the colonies, Duo, you're an idiot."
"I thought you had a meeting?" he reminded the blond, put off by his friend's sudden change of attitude and not wanting to get a lecture from him on a subject that had been decided long ago.
"We need to talk about this, Duo. Don't do anything with Jim until we talk again, alright?"
"Unless you can call back by eight in the morning my time, don't hold your breath."
"I'll call, but it might be evening rather than the morning. Just answer the phone when it rings."
"You better get moving or you're going to be late. I'll talk to you later."
Their goodbye was rushed, as he was sure Quatre was when he undoubtedly flew out the door to make it to his meeting on time. The blond businessman was meticulous about so many details in his life. If he had a big meeting, he would not only want to look confident and at his best, but be completely prepared, and getting there looking flustered wouldn't help in giving that impression.
Duo went to bed a short while later feeling tired but restless. His conversation with Quatre had kept sleep at bay for a long while. He thought about what his friend told him about Heero. It seemed his former lover was having a bit of trouble after all in finding the happiness he sought after walking out their apartment door. He couldn't gloat over Heero's situation, but it was a bit of a relief to know he wasn't the only one having a hard time moving on.
He woke up thirty minutes late the next morning. His tossing and turning from angry and erotic dreams filled with both Heero and Jim had disrupted his sleep. He was rather glad Quatre hadn't managed to call because he really didn't have time to talk or he'd be late for work. Regardless of being tired, he rushed to the resort and hoped the day would pass quickly.
Since speaking to Quatre about Heero the night before, Duo couldn't seem to get his former lover out of his mind. He tried to shake the haunting memory of Heero from his thoughts, but found himself thinking about his former lover off and on throughout the day.
He planned on going home to freshen up before his date that evening, even as he continued to wrestle over whether or not he should have sex with Jim. His date wasn't necessarily expecting tonight to be the night, so he didn't feel pressure from Jim's end, but with his thoughts turning more frequently towards Heero he was more determined than ever to remove them, or at least push them back into a more comfortable corner of his mind until they were but a dim memory. What better way was there to accomplish that than to launch into a new relationship? He'd replace memories of an old lover by building new ones with Jim.
The idea came to him that maybe he should talk to his shrink about this very important decision, but he already knew what the man would say. "Are you clear about your reasons for moving this relationship forward? Are you rushing into a sexual relationship for the right reasons? How will this relationship factor into your plans for your future? Of course he'd thought about those questions, but he was also lonely, horny as hell, and had a hot, interesting guy as a potential partner who wanted him as well. He would be an idiot to pass up this opportunity, wouldn't he?
He drove home, shaved, showered and dressed with care. The phone rang a few minutes after seven. He glanced at it and debated whether or not he should answer the call. Quatre wanted to talk, and for some reason he was apprehensive about what his far away friend had to say. The blond had a habit of questioning his judgment and motives whenever he disagreed with him. He'd already made his mind up to sleep with Jim and he wasn't going to be deterred by his well-meaning friend. Talking about his past with Heero wasn't going help his mood or change his decision about having sex later that night, if Jim was willing, and all indications showed that he was.
He held himself back from answering the phone, but moved close enough to hear the message when the answering machine picked up the call. Quatre's irritated voice came over the machine loud and clear. "Duo, you said you'd pick up the phone when I called. If you're there, pick up." The man on the other side of the planet waited a moment before continuing. "Listen, before you do anything, we need to talk. I think you've got things twisted around in that beautiful head of yours. Heero didn't want to leave you, he just wanted a break from the fighting. He knew he was hurting you but didn't know how to stop. You were right, he was feeling pressure from his friends at school to find someone more to their liking. I don't know why he felt their opinions were so valuable, but I do know they contributed to his actions and how he made you feel. He's unhappy, Duo..."
At that point Duo fled the apartment, not wanting to hear about how Heero was feeling. He already knew that Heero had been influenced by his friends at the university and their negative view of him, believing he wasn't good enough, smart or... civilized. Jim didn't seem to be bothered by anything about him. The educated, talented artist accepted him as he was, not even knowing that he'd been a gundam pilot or Preventer agent. Jim only knew him as the handyman at the local resort and was still interested in pursuing a relationship between them. That was the kind of acceptance he'd craved from Heero. Maybe he wasn't head over heels in love with Jim, but because he was strongly attracted to him, enjoyed his company and genuinely liked the man, he was convinced that it was enough to pursue a relationship with him, and hopefully, in time, love would come his way again.
Blocking out Quatre's words and promising myself to call the man back in the morning with an apology, he put on his jacket, got on his motorcycle and drove to Jim's condo, excited and nervous about what the night would bring.