When One Door Closes
by Dyna Dee
During the next couple of weeks Duo gave Jim a bit more background information about his relationship with Heero, focusing on the events leading up to their breakup as well as his abrupt departure from Sanq, in an attempt to help the artist understand why returning to his former home was not easy for him. When Jim asked if his going back was difficult because he still loved Heero, Duo answered truthfully that he just didn't know. He'd pondered that question during the month of August without coming up with a definitive answer. He had very strong feelings for his former lover, but was he still in love with him? No doubt he'd get his answer once he came face to face with Heero once again.
At last the day for their departure had arrived. Duo had a new, moderate-sized suitcase with a week's worth of clothing packed inside, as well as a new suit. He couldn't help but laugh at the two very large suitcases Jim carrier out of his condo, holding enough clothing to last a month. He also carried a large case that contained the finished portrait of Quatre and Trowa. He'd gotten a glimpse of the painting a week before, and was literally left breathless by the uncanny likeness of his two friends. Seeing the sparkle of mischievousness in Quatre's eyes as well as the faint upturn of Trowa's lips brought the portrait to life for him, causing him to miss his friends more than ever.
A friend of Jim's drove them to the airport in Salt Lake City that afternoon where they boarded the plane leaving for Chicago. They caught the connecting flight, a red eye that landed them in Sanq's capitol at seven the next morning. Even though they'd traveled first class, compliments of Quatre, Duo felt worn and groggy when they met the chauffeur after exiting customs. The man - middle aged, short and stout with warm brown skin and black hair - was dressed in a black, smart-looking suit, white shirt and red striped tie and held a white board with D. Maxwell printed in bold red ink upon the surface. After introducing themselves, the chauffeur, Fernando, led them to the silver limousine, then went back inside the terminal to collect their luggage.
Jim's eyes were shining with excitement as he looked out the car's windows at their surroundings. "I can't believe I'm here, in Sanq, and attending Quatre Winner's conjugal ceremony."
Duo looked at him with a questioning expression. "Conjugal?"
"Conjugal. Conjoining," Jim replied. "Like a marriage."
That was a new word for him. "Conjugal," he repeated, trying it out. Jim smiled at him, then leaned over and kissed his temple.
"You're irresistible when you tilt your head like that," he said, grinning. He sat back again and asked, "So how are we going to play this? Do we act like the friends we are, or are we trying to convince them that we're something more?"
Duo had been debating that very question ever since he'd asked Jim to come along as his guest. "I don't know. I think it depends on Heero and how he reacts to seeing me, or how I react to seeing him."
"How will I know? I mean, what do you think he's going to do? Thrash or ravish you?" Jim's tone was teasing but his expression was serious.
The braided man couldn't help sighing before he answered, "Guess we'll just have to keep our eyes open for clues and play it by ear. Is that alright with you?"
"You can count on me to do whatever is necessary," Jim answered sincerely.
Turning in his seat, Duo unexpectedly embraced the other man. "You'll never know how much this means to me, Jim. You're a great guy."
"Yeah, I'm just great, in a friend sort of way, but not in your bed," the other man joked sarcastically. Even though Jim made light of the reason they were only friends, Duo knew it bothered him.
"Just because we didn't fit as a couple doesn't mean you won't find the right person, Jim."
"Maybe I could change," he offered with a half hopeful grin.
"You're willing to bottom?" he questioned dubiously while knowing that wasn't the only problem he and Jim would experience if they had tried to make things work between them.
He could see the answer in the artist's eyes. There was no way in hell Jim was ever going to let anyone top him. "Believe me, Jim, we're better off as friends," Duo said with a good-natured pat on the other man's shoulder, saving Jim from verbally answering. They had talked that subject to death already so there was no need to rehash it.
Movement at the back of the silver limousine alerted them to the fact that their chauffeur had returned with their luggage. After the trunk was closed, the uniformed man entered the driver's seat and turned to speak to his passengers through the open window.
"You'll find juice and croissants in the small refrigerator if you're hungry," he offered in a voice laden with Spanish accents. "Feel free to relax, watch television or listen to the radio or stereo system. The drive to the house is approximately twenty minutes." The window silently slid up, giving the two men in the back some privacy. A moment later the car started and eased into the early morning traffic.
"Nervous?" Jim asked, reaching towards the mini refrigerator and pulling out the juice and individually packaged croissants.
"If having my stomach tied up in knots is considered nervous, then yeah, I'm nervous."
"But they're your friends, right? They'll probably be thrilled to see you."
"Quatre will be, but I don't know about the others. They're probably not too happy with the way left."
"So what's the worst they can do? Raise their voices at you? Take a swing?"
"You have no idea," Duo answered while pinching the bridge of his nose as a headache began to form from the lack of sleep the night before. He was definitely going to need a nap once they reached the house.
Jim lifted his left arm and wrapped it around Duo's shoulders, then tugged him closer to his side. "Don't worry. I'll keep you safe." The braided man couldn't help the snort of disbelief. Jim had no idea he was about to face former gundam pilots, and if it were humanly possible, he'd make sure the artist didn't find out. That information had the potential for ruining the friendship they'd developed. Instead of replying to Jim's offer of protection, Duo kept his mouth shut and leaned against the taller man's shoulder while closing his eyes and enjoying the warmth and closeness he offered. He'd been alone for far too long, he decided.
If he hadn't been so nervous, Duo would probably have fallen asleep. Still, it didn't seem long before the chauffeur-driven car came to a complete stop. He opened his eyes in time to see the driver roll down his window and look directly into a retinal scan which activated the large iron gates in front of the car to open. Sitting up straight, Duo felt his heart speed up with anticipation as the vehicle proceeded up the driveway. He was anxious to see Quatre and Trowa but understandably wary of the unavoidable reunion with Heero and Wufei, not knowing how either of the Asian men would react to his return.
The car stopped in front of the stairs leading to the double door entrance of the large, imposing home. As he exited the car behind Jim, those impressive doors flew open and Quatre Winner came flying out. Duo didn't know how his friend had made it down the stairs so quickly, but before he could blink Quatre had him enveloped in a tight embrace. He fought down the lump in his throat as he hugged his friend back just as tightly, the sensation of being home nearly overwhelmed him.
"Oh, Duo. It's so wonderful to have you home again. It's the best gift anyone could ever give me," Quatre said in a voice so soft that only Duo could hear.
"Missed you so much, Quat."
The slightly taller of the two pulled back to take a close look at his long lost friend. His blue eyes searched Duo's face, then scanned his entire body from head to toe. "Seems the mountain air agrees with you," Quatre said with a grin brightening his face. "You look better than ever, older even. In fact, you could pass as being nineteen."
"Har har," Duo said with a roll of his eyes. "That's pretty much calling the kettle black, isn't it?" Sticking his chest out Duo boasted, "I look every bit of twenty-two. And you look like you're..." Duo paused to return the blond's appraising gaze, then smiled and said, "happy."
"I am happy, and now that you're here everything is going to be perfect." The blond's smile convinced Duo that his friend spoke from his heart. Quatre then stepped back and turned to Jim, and with warmth and sincerity he said, "Welcome. You must be Jim. I'm Quatre Winner. Pleased to meet you."
Jim managed to smile and look only mildly star struck as he clasped hands with Quatre and stammered out a not too embarrassing reply. "James Denton, nice to meet you, too."
"The pleasure is all mine," the famous blond grinned. Meanwhile, the chauffeur had gotten their bags out of the trunk, including the large case that held the painting. The bulky object caught Quatre's eyes and he looked to Duo questioningly. "What's that?"
"A gift celebrating your getting hitched," he announced, giving his artist friend a quick wink.
Quatre turned to Duo with a look of worry on his handsome face. "You didn't spend a lot of money, did you? You know I don't expect you to buy anything for us. As I said, your presence is the best gift of all."
"Nah, I actually didn't spend a dime, though I probably shouldn't tell you that."
"Now I'm intrigued." He could see the gears turning in Quatre's mind noted and the sudden, suspicious narrowing of his eyes. "This isn't some kind of gag gift, is it, Duo? It's not going to explode during the middle of the ceremony, right?"
"No." Duo couldn't help but laugh. He'd played a few practical jokes during and after the war, just to loosen everyone up. He would probably never outlive those few stupid jokes. "I promise it's something you'll like. In fact, I hope you'll love it."
"Can I open it now?" the blond asked with excitement lighting his eyes.
"Only if Trowa's here."
"I am," a pleasant tenor voice said from the top of the stairs. Duo looked up to see the auburn haired man standing on the top landing. He was as tall, lean and handsome as ever. It was easy to see why Quatre had fallen head over heels for the guy when they were teenagers, but as a man, the former circus clown was eye candy. Trowa's fine bone structure softened his otherwise masculine features. No one could ever say that Trowa wasn't handsome, and they wouldn't be wrong in saying aside that he teetered on being beautiful. His hair was cut shorter in front than it had been during the war, giving everyone a good look at his stunning green eyes that noticeably softened as he gazed down at him. Duo had only witnessed such a tender expression from Trowa before when he caught him looking at Quatre. "Aren't you going to say hello, Duo?" the auburn haired man asked with a smile teasing the corners of this mouth.
He took the wide granite stairs two at a time and almost tackled his much taller friend, but Trowa caught him easily, his step faltering only slightly as he held Duo close to his chest with the braided man's face buried in his shoulder. "Welcome home," Trowa said warmly, and Duo felt an enormous amount of relief that his friend and former partner wasn't angry with him for taking off as he had.
Giving the other man a couple of manly thumps on the back, Duo mumbled, "Missed you, man."
Trowa pushed him back in order to give him a chastising look. "Leaving the way you did wasn't right, Duo. We were worried about you. Give me your word you won't do it again."
Duo's smile faded as he considered Trowa's request. Could he promise him he wouldn't take off again?
"Trowa," Quatre's tone was a gentle rebuke to his lover. "Duo only did what he felt he had to do."
"He hurt you."
"Yes," the blond admitted, putting his hand on his newly returned friend's shoulder. "But the fact that he's alive and well, rather than dead as we feared, makes it easy for me to forgive his thoughtlessness. I don't think he'll do it again, will you, Duo?"
The braided man now had both of his friends looking at him questioningly. He studied them in return and saw hope flicker in Quatre's eyes and uncertainty in Trowa's. He'd unintentionally hurt them once and didn't think he could do it again. Besides, he had missed them. With every intention of keeping his word, he answered, "No, I won't disappear again without telling someone where I'm going."
As they stood talking at the top of the stairs, Jim carried his case holding his painting up the stairs and was met on the landing by someone who, by his mode of dress, looked a lot like a butler. Grinning, Quatre grabbed both Duo and Trowa's arms and propelled them both towards the open doorway, calling out for Jim to follow along. The door was being held open by another proper-looking man in a suit, who was directed by Quatre to have their luggage delivered to the blue guest room. Duo and Jim then followed the other two men into the drawing room. Duo stopped short after passing the doorway, taken aback by the large display of wrapped gifts that filled the tabletops, chairs and floor alongside the walls.
"Holy shit, Quat," he gasped, guessing that he was looking at hundreds of beautifully wrapped presents and wondering how his own gift would compare next to those of all the wealthy people Quatre knew. He figured only a few of the gifts had come from Trowa's more humble-in-the-pocketbook acquaintances, with the majority coming from Quatre's family and their business acquaintances. He glanced worriedly at Jim, who merely smiled confidently.
"I can't wait," Quatre declared. "Let's open Duo's gift now." Quatre set about clearing gifts off the sofa. Jim immediately placed the case against the back of the furniture and suggested one of them to open it by unzipping the sides. Trowa stepped forward and performed the task with Quatre standing at his shoulder, excitement radiating from him.
Watching from the side of the sofa, Jim stood close enough to Duo for their arms to touch and shifted to sling an arm around the shorter man's shoulder. "They seem like great guys," Jim said in a low voice.
"They're the best," Duo said, looking fondly at the two as they worked together at unfastening the case and pulling out the contents. "Think they'll like it?"
He glanced up at Jim to see a spark of... mischief in his eyes. "Oh, I think they'll love it. And just to make sure I put a little something extra in with the original painting that's going to be frosting on the cake."
"What?" This was news to him.
At that moment the case was opened and Quatre began pulling at the layers of bubble warp to expose the protected gift. Once the plastic sheets lay in a pile on the floor, the two men each took a rough-framed canvas and turned it around to see what their gift was. Three audible gasps were heard as two paintings were revealed. Quatre's eyes were wide with appreciation and surprise while Trowa's pleasure was seen by the slight upturned corners of his mouth. Duo gazed in shock at the added gift.
It was a painting of him.
"You painted these?" Quatre asked Jim.
The gifted artist simply nodded his head in acknowledgment, looking pleased. When Quatre's attention went back to the pictures, Jim leaned over to whisper in Duo's ear. "I captured your likeness from one of the pictures I took at the lake, that day we went out waterskiing with your friends from work." Duo looked back at the picture, noting the familiar hills in the background as well as the lake. His image, or at least the top third of his body, was pictured in the center of the canvas, looking both tan and healthy. Jim had obviously taken his picture when he'd closed his eyes and raised his face to bask in the warm sunshine. The painting portrayed him as some kind of a sun worshiper, his pleasure-filled face tilted upwards, his chest bare and arched forward with his long braid resting over his shoulder, looking a bit messy after the day spent in the water. If it had been anyone else but him, Duo might have said the portrait was beautiful. Jim had perfectly captured what he'd felt at that moment: peace and utter contentment.
"They're beautiful," Quatre gushed, turning to the two of them. "You have an amazing talent, Jim. I don't know how to express my appreciation and gratitude. I'm... overwhelmed."
Trowa nodded his head. "Thank you," he said sincerely. "You not only captured us perfectly, but Duo's portrait is stunning. I assume by the look on your face, Duo, that you didn't know about this painting?"
"I was in on the portrait of you and Quat," he answered, giving Jim a incriminating glare, "but I had no clue about the other one."
"It's something I worked on during the summer but held off giving it to you, not knowing if you'd like it or not. You didn't seem to be the kind of guy who'd be comfortable hanging your own portrait on your apartment wall, and I guessed you wouldn't be happy with me putting it up for display and sale in the gallery either, so I thought giving it to your good friends was the perfect solution."
"And I'm so glad you did," Quatre said, lifting the simple framed picture of Duo and placing it against the back of the pale green chintz sofa. Trowa set the portrait of the two of them next to it and the two lovers stood back to admire their gifts. "Wonderful, aren't they, Trowa?" Quatre asked, slipping his arm around his partner's waist and placing his head against his shoulder.
"Absolutely. I don't think we'll receive anything as personal as this."
Jim nudged Duo with his elbow. "Mission accomplished," he said with a grin.
The once familiar phrase, spoken often by Heero during the war, startled the three former gundam pilots. "Ah.... yeah," Duo answered after a slight delay.
Jim's smile began to fade. "Did I say something wrong?" he asked, his eyes shooting from Duo to the other two.
"No, of course not," Duo answered quickly. "It's just that a friend of ours used to say that a lot."
An uneasy smile returned to Jim's face. "From the way you guys reacted, it must have been an old lover."
"Ah... yeah, it was," Duo confessed, quickly looking down at the carpet so that Jim and the other two wouldn't see how much talking about Heero still hurt.
"You must be tired after your journey," Quatre spoke up, and Duo could have kissed him for changing the subject. "If I recall correctly, Duo never sleeps well on airplanes."
"Yeah, I'm wiped out," Duo confessed. "Do you mind if I take a nap?"
"Not at all. Let me show you to your room, and if you're not tired, Jim, Trowa and I would be happy to drive you around the city, show you the sights."
"I'm good," the artist answered with a grin. "I'd appreciate the tour."
Trowa led everyone out of the room while Quatre nabbed his returned friend by the arm and pulled him along. "I can't thank you two enough for the paintings. I'm touched by both of them." He looked over to Jim and added, "You captured Duo perfectly. I'm going to have both paintings properly framed this afternoon and have them hung by dinner. We're having a pre-ceremony gathering here tonight, so you'll get to meet Duo's other friends."
There wasn't anything else Quatre could have said to make Duo feel more uncomfortable. There was little doubt that Heero and Wufei would be showing up, and he had to wonder how they were going to react to seeing him amongst the guests. "Do they know I'm here?" he asked.
"Of course." The blond's head turned sharply to Duo's direction, his face a picture of alarm. "I wasn't supposed to keep it a secret, was I?"
Shaking his braided head, Duo replied, "I guess we never discussed it, so I guess it's alright. How much did you tell them about me?"
"Only that we emailed and talked occasionally. I didn't say where you were, other than North America."
Duo didn't know why he felt so relieved by that bit of information, but he did. "It's alright," he reassured his friend, wanting to put his mind at ease. "I'm just a bit nervous about seeing everyone again and I don't really how I'm going to answer their questions."
Trowa stopped suddenly and turned to address Duo in front of a doorway. "In the past you made it a point to never tell a lie. I think answering everyone's questions honestly is the logical course, that is unless you've changed."
"I suppose I have changed, but not that much," he replied. Trowa simply nodded, then turned the doorknob and motioned both of their guests into the room. Duo recognized their baggage sitting at the foot of the beds. Yes, that's right, beds. He hadn't spoken with Quatre about the sleeping arrangements, and he'd only given a fleeting thought about the possibly of sharing a bed with Jim, so it came as a relief to him that the room had two twin beds, both with matching pale blue satin comforters that seemed appropriate for Quatre's home, but utterly decadent to Duo's more simple tastes.
"I hope you'll be comfortable in this room," their blond host began. "If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask either Trowa, myself or any of the staff."
"Looks great, Quat," Duo said, unsuccessfully stifling a yawn. He really was looking forward to getting some shuteye and the bed was more than a little inviting.
"We'll let you rest," Trowa said, taking his lover by the arm and propelling him towards the doorway. "Make yourself at home if you get hungry, Duo. We'll probably be back before you wake up."
"Have fun," he called out with a wink aimed at Jim. The taller man returned the grin as well as a wave of farewell and then disappeared out the door after the other two, gently shutting it behind him.
Duo made a quick trip to the bathroom, then stripped off his clothing and climbed into bed, which happened to feel just as good as it looked. Despite his worry over that evening's get together, he fell asleep within moments after his head fell onto the sweet smelling and wonderfully soft pillow.