When One Door Closes
by Dyna Dee
Duo got up the next morning and as he got ready for the day he pointedly ignored the orange light blinking on the phone, indicating a message on his answering machine. He had little doubt the message was from Quatre, but after the events of the evening before, he wasn't ready to talk to his friend, not yet. He grabbed a donut and coffee at the local bakery and then headed for the lodge even though he was scheduled to have the day off. With nothing better to do, he worked out some of his frustration by sanding part of the slope-side deck, preparing it for staining. It was good hard work that helped to keep his mind off his crappy love life.
After having lunch with his boss, Brian, they both decided to play hooky that afternoon by taking the other man's 4-wheel drive jeep and several rifles into the mountains for a little target practice. Duo found the diversion a great way to spend the early summer day and managed to forget for a time all about Jim and the message waiting for him at home. If the call was indeed from Quatre, he had to figure out if he should say anything to him about his and Jim's breakup. Knowing how intuitive his friend was, he didn't know if he could actually get away with saying nothing at all.
All good things come to an end, though, and so did his pleasant day. He returned to his apartment that evening with an bag of takeout for his dinner and to his answering machine which was still, predictably, blinking. He decided to deal with the call before eating his meal. As predicted, it was Quatre's voice on the recording and his friend sounded disappointed after discovering he wasn't home. He politely asked Duo to call the first chance he had.
Duo dreaded having to admit that he had failed in yet another relationship, though he couldn't really claim what he had with Jim was a relationship after only a couple of dates and not the most satisfying sex. Munching on his extra crispy chicken, cole slaw and biscuit, he contemplated what he should say when he called his friend back. Even though he'd probably wind up spilling his guts out to his friend about everything that had been going on, the last thing Duo wanted was for Quatre to tell the others that he'd suffered yet another failure in his love life.
Just as he reached for the receiver, having decided that it was in his best interest to quit fretting about what to say and just deal with returning the call and play it by ear. Just when he decided not to say anything to Quatre about his breakup with Jim, the phone rang.
Seeing the familiar, out-of-the-country number displayed, he picked up with receiver and said with an impish grin, "Fantasy hotline, where all your wildest dreams can come true."
"Hello, Duo," Quatre replied with an amused chuckle before he continued without a pause, obviously ignoring the strange greeting. "I called yesterday. Did you get my message?"
"Yeah, a few minutes ago. I was just about to call you back. How are you?"
"Fine. Just wanted to see how your week was. Were you out with Jim last night?"
He told his friend about the film festival and that they'd had a pleasant evening together, which was the truth. He fully intended to end with that comment, but then Quatre must have detected something in his tone as he nudged. "But?"
"No buts," Duo answered.
"I'm getting the feeling that you're not telling me something."
Damn, nobody warned him ahead of time about the drawbacks of making friends with someone who had empathic abilities. "Listen, Quat, I broke up with Jim last night and I really don't want to talk about it, all right? I also don't want you saying anything to anyone else about it, okay?"
"Didn't I just say that I don't want to talk about it?"
"You know you want to."
"No I don't."
"Did he do something to offend you?"
"He didn't cheat on you, did he?"
Snort. "No, of course not."
"Did he hurt you? You know, sexually?"
"If you won't tell me I'll just have to keep guessing until I pick up on something that tells me what's going on."
"We weren't compatible," Duo snapped back, exasperated by how his friend always managed to extract information out of him.
Frustrated, Duo replied a bit forcefully, "Dammit, Quatre, in bed, all right! Not only did he want to top all the time, refusing to ever be bottom, but he brought out a box of toys... including handcuffs. I got out of there faster than you can say Treize Kushrenada was a sissy boy."
Quatre giggled at that, as he always did when he used that line. He recalled saying that phrase once before, a few months after the war at one of Relena's parties, unaware that Milliardo Peacecraft was standing within earshot. Heero jumped to his rescue a half second after the former Lighting Count grabbed hold of his braid and attempted to wrap it around his neck. It was pretty well known in their social circle that no one but Heero dared to touch his braid. The consequences of Heero's knee-jerk response led to a demerit on his record at Preventers, but Duo made up for it after they'd gotten home from work that day. His memory was quite clear of an extended, amazing love making session that had been absolutely mind-blowing.
After Quatre quit sniggering, he sobered enough to say with regards to Jim, "I'm sorry, Duo."
"Yeah, me too. He really is a great guy, otherwise." He silently wondered why things never seemed to work out for him.
"What?" his friend asked.
"Just wondering why I can't seem to find someone who is as compatible personality wise as they are in bed."
"I thought you had that with Heero, at least in the beginning."
"Yeah, Heero and I were good in and out of bed for the first year or so, but everything went to shitsville after he started attending the university. He claimed to see life from a different perspective. His... I don't know what you'd call it... discontent or unhappiness with our lives came on gradually. His nitpicking at things I said or did was followed by dismissive comments about how I just couldn't understand something from a lecture he told me about from one of his classes. Shit, I'm not college educated, Quat, but I'm not stupid either. You know I'm a learn-as-I-go kind of guy. Besides, I'm a lot more savvy when it comes to life than any textbook they force feed you at the university."
"You're not stupid," Quatre firmly agreed. "And Heero knows that. He just wanted to fit in so badly, to find out what it was to be ‘normal' in contrast to being a soldier. That's the reason he gave us when he chose to go to school rather than pursuing a career with Preventers. It could be that your being a Preventer reminded him too much of his past, of what he was trained to be. It might have been the crux of the problem between the two of you. I don't think he was so much finding fault with you, but with your job and what you did every day, which you no doubt talked about at night. Your work, which was a significant part of your life, represented what he was trying to put behind him. Heero's goal was to eradicate the perfect soldier so that he could be just another functioning member of society, just another guy going to school, and that end clashed with the person you were and the life you lived."
There was a long drawn-out pause as Duo considered his friend's words. He vaguely recalled a rather poignant conversation the night Heero decided to quit the Preventers and go to school. They'd just finished a particularly grueling day with Heero being partnered on an assignment with Wufei while he'd been paired with Trowa on another. When Heero came back to the office to fill out an incident report, he was aloof, his back rigid and his face a mask of stone. When Duo moved to go to him and find out what had happened, Wufei forestalled him by gripping his shoulder.
Shooting him a questioning glance, Duo could tell by the Chinese man's troubled eyes and the shake of his head that their assignment had gone badly, and that meant Heero would take it as a failure, his failure. The former Wing pilot never dealt with failure very well. He internalized it, let it fester and tried to make it right, even if it cost him his life. The incident during the war proved that point, when he'd mistakenly shot down the pacifist's shuttle and then tried to atone to their families by offering up his life to them.
Wufei had been right, of course. When Heero was in the kind of mood he was displaying, it was always best to leave him alone for a while to work things out in his mind. Duo knew by the time they got home his lover would more likely be able to talk about what had gone wrong and eventually let him offer support and comfort.
The case Duo had been on that day had also turned out less than stellar. The informant he'd cultivated for three months had been found dead with a note of warning carved into his exposed back as a message that his death and obvious torture was proof of what happened to snitches. The image of that man's naked body, lacking fingers, ears, tongue, eyeballs and genitals haunted him for a long time.
They left the office together, got into their shared car and silently made their way home. Neither of them had any appetite, so they'd settled on eating a couple of bananas just to fulfill Wufei's parting order for them to eat something.
The apartment had remained relatively silent while they took turns showering, both of them still caught up with thoughts of the day's events. It wasn't until they lay in bed that night that he'd turned and reached for Heero, needing his warmth and strength. Feeling his touch, Heero immediately turned and pulled Duo's unresisting body to lie on top of his chest, where he held onto him like something was going to physically tear him away from the embrace. Duo held his lover just as tightly, and even after all the time that had passed since that night, he could still remember the smell of his lover, the warmth of his skin and the way his body trembled under his own.
"Wanna talk about it?" he'd asked.
"Not about today," Heero answered, his voice a deep whisper. "But I would like to talk about the future. I'm quitting."
Duo recalled the fear that had swept through him at the mistaken assumption that Heero was talking about quitting him and their relationship, but his next words put that worry to rest. "I've decided to attend the university. I don't want to carry a gun or kill anyone ever again." That pretty much told him what had happened that day. Heero always fell into a dark pit of self recrimination when he was forced to shoot someone, even if it was justified.
"I think that would be good," he told him.
"Really? You're not disappointed in me?" There had been a trace of worry in Heero's voice when he asked that question.
"Disappointed? Why would I be?"
"You fell in love with a soldier, Duo. I don't want to be that any more."
Duo kissed him soundly before pulling back long enough to answer, "I fell for you, despite your being a soldier." He traced his finger over Heero's strong jaw line. "While I'll admit that your soldierly skills impressed the hell out of me, it was your winning personality and body that won me over completely." He'd given his lover a cheeky grin as he searched for Heero's hand and clasped their fingers together before bringing them to his lips to kiss the back of his lover's hand. He held back any worries he had about what Heero's going to the university would do to their relationship, how it would no doubt change things. Naively, the foremost worry at the time was the dent in their income when Heero left work to pursue his education, making it harder to pay the bills. He'd comforted himself at the time by thinking that if Heero was happy it could only make their relationship even better, and that any problems they encountered could be worked out. How stupid he'd been, thinking money would be their only problem.
"Ya know, Quat, it's all in the past and I don't wanna talk about it any more, all right?"
His friend was noticeably subdued when agreed to let it go, then brightened when he changed the subject completely. "So, do you want to hear about the ceremony?" Of course he was referring to his and Trowa's legal partnering. Great, now he had to figure out how to handle going back and facing everyone on his own. Then again, he had the whole summer to not only get the balls to return to Sanq, but to also find someone who wouldn't mind accompanying him to see Quatre Winner get hitched to his lover. Piece of cake, right?
He half listened to his friend as Quatre excitedly detailed all the arrangements he'd made for his and Trowa's big day and how great it was going to be to see him again. Duo wished he shared his friend's excitement, but managed to feign enough enthusiasm to assure his friend he looked forward to the day as well.
Life, as did the summer season, marched on. The Fourth of July came and with it the opportunity to celebrate in the good old American way. Workers as well as guest from the resort gathered together for a barbeque, volleyball and other outdoor games, including the biggest balloon Duo could have imagined. It was a fun day, and Duo really enjoyed himself and made a few more friends. As the sun began to set, they set off fireworks someone had bought in Wyoming. He shook his head at the observers who ooh and awed the showy display. The exploding blooms of color were nothing compared to some of the pretty impressive explosives he'd and set off during the war. There was nothing quite like destroying a munitions depot to light up the night sky.
Together the group of friends watched the city's firework show while some of the workers' children twirled sparklers. Afterwards, they sat around Brian's kitchen table swapping stories of childhood adventures and mishaps. Duo listened carefully, glimpsing what life was like for people he considered normal, compared to himself anyway. These were everyday folks that he worked for and hung around with, and it was impossible not to see the wide contrast between his life on the streets of L2 and the lives his coworkers had lived.
Shuffling back to his apartment, his way lit by the slight crescent sliver of the moon hanging low in the southern sky, he shared the sidewalk with other holiday revelers making their way home as well, and a stream of cars that moved slowly towards the highway. A car pulled up to the curb next to him and a horn honked. "Duo!" He turned to the sound of a familiar voice to see Jim smiling at him from behind the wheel of his car.
"Hey," he answered a bit warily as he stepped over to the car and leaned into the passenger window. "You out celebrating?"
"Yeah, I had a couple of friends from the gallery invite me over tonight. It was nice," Jim answered. "How about you?"
"I hung out with my coworkers all day. It was fun."
Jim nodded. "So, need a lift?"
It was only a few blocks to his place, but he felt strangely reluctant to let go of the opportunity for company, regardless that he'd been around people all day. He just hoped that accepting the ride wouldn't lead Jim to assume there was going to be something more in it for him. He'd already made up his mind about the other man and he wasn't going to budge. He climbed into the car just as Jim asked, "Feel like going for a moonlight ride?"
"Jim..." His voice held a tone of warning.
"I know," the blond sighed. "I promise, just a drive and talk between friends."
Duo relaxed into his seat. "All right." True to his word, Jim drove out of the traffic and into the countryside while they talked and classical music floated gently in the background on the car's excellent stereo system. Jim returned him to his apartment around two in the morning and they parted with a friendly kiss before he saw the artist off with a wave and a smile. He had enjoyed the hours they'd spent talking and it was a relief that Jim seemed to accept his decision to end their physical relationship without trying to coerce him into rethinking his reasons. He really did like the artist and was glad they'd managed to maintain a friendship, regardless of the fact that they didn't fit as lovers. For the first time in a very long while he fell asleep feeling rather content.
July passed quickly and soon it was August and only weeks away from returning to the place and people he'd run away from. He made the decision to invite Jim to be his guest at the wedding and dropped by the gallery when he knew the other man would be watching the shop. Duo felt unaccountably nervous when he spied the familiar artist through the glass door. He was talking to a potential buyer when the chime above the door sounded, signaling his entrance. Jim turned and smiled at him before giving the hand signal to wait until he was finished. He nodded, and began to stroll around the studio, studying the more recent additions to the gallery that he hadn't seen before.
While gazing appreciatively at a bright landscape, he heard Jim's pleased voice as he came up from behind. "This is a pleasant surprise. What brings you to this side of town?"
Duo turned and was once again impressed with Jim's natural good looks. His warm smile and amused eyes were a welcome sight. He knew a moment's regret that he'd already decided the two of them could only be friends. After the customer took up a brochure and walked to another part of the gallery, Duo approached the artist. After exchanging pleasant greetings he said, "I came to ask you something."
"Really?" There was a spark of playfulness in Jim's eyes.
"See, I've got a couple of friends who are doing the equivalent of tying the knot and they want me to be there for the ceremony. The thing is, they live in Sanq, and when I left there almost two years ago, I ran away from not only my life, but everyone who meant anything to me. I really don't know what to expect when I show up after all this time, so I was wondering if you would like to come with me and help me face my past as well as my friends?"
"And former lover?" Jim asked, his demeanor having turned serious.
"Yeah, him too, I guess." Duo couldn't believe how clumsy he felt asking Jim to go with him, like a school boy asking for a first date or something. But he fervently hoped Jim would accompany him, otherwise he didn't know if he had the balls to go by himself.
"So, is the happy couple straight or gay?"
Duo grinned, forgetting he'd left that part out. "They're guys, and one of them is my best friend, Quatre Winner."
It was almost comical to see Jim's eyes slowly widen as Quatre's name sunk in. "The Quatre Winner, from colony L4?"
"That's him." Duo's grin remained in place even after the other man's amazed expression turned doubtful.
"You're pulling my leg."
"How in the hell did you come to be best friends with Quatre Winner?"
"We're both colony brats," he answered simply.
The skeptical look remained. "Is this some sort of practical joke?"
"Nope." He was prepared for such a response, having brought the invitation he'd received two days earlier. He pulled the six by four inch card out of his pants' pocket and handed it to Jim. He gave him a moment to read the scripted print. When the blond man's head lifted, a look of awe had settled on his handsome face. "Oh. My. God," was all he could stammer.
"So what do you think? Can you get away and go with me? All expenses paid," he added as an incentive.
"Are you kidding?" Jim gasped. "Of course I'll go. I'd be an idiot to miss this opportunity. What's he like? Quatre Winner, I mean."
Duo smiled with fond remembrance of his friend. "To tell you the truth, Jim, you remind me a lot of him. He's kind, caring, strong willed, smart and generous to a fault. He's been a good friend to me, even after I took off without much warning."
"I look forward to meeting him, as well as his lover." Jim's smile was sincere, and Duo could see he was now thinking of Quatre as someone other than just a famous bazillionaire.
"Okay, it's all set then," he said with a grin while rubbing his hands together. "Now all I have to do is think of a gift for the guys who have everything."
"How about something personal," Jim suggested with a knowing grin.
"How about a portrait? If you have a picture of the happy couple, I'll attempt to ply my talents towards painting them."
"You'd do that? I thought you were more into landscapes and abstracts."
"I took hours and hours of art classes. I know how to paint portraits, trust me."
"No freaky Picasso type pictures, right?"
"No, nothing like that, but given that I'm limited on time, it will have to be a more simple portrait."
"Well, all right. That sounds great. I'll gladly pay you for your work."
"How about we just consider it our gift, since I'm going as your date. Really, I insist."
Duo stepped forward and hugged the taller man, noting that he smelled really good. "You're the best, Jim."
"Yeah, that's what they all say before they turn and walk away," the artist answered with a droll chuckle.
And so it was settled that Jim was not only going to be his backup, but the bearer of gifts, lifting two burdens from Duo's shoulders. After he returned to his apartment, Duo promptly emailed Quatre to let him know that the second airline reservation was going to be used and supplied him with Jim's information for the ticket. He felt enormously relieved at having everything fall so neatly into place, though his worry continued for the next couple of weeks about what would happen once he came face to face with those he had once considered comrades, friends and lover.