When One Door Closes
by Dyna Dee
The soft click of the door woke Duo from his nap. Jim turned from shutting the door behind him and gave the man on the bed an apologetic smile when their eyes met. Sitting up, Duo rubbed the sleep from his eyes and asked in a groggy voice, "What time is it?"
"Four. You've been asleep for about six hours."
"Sorry," he said around a yawn. "Didn't mean to sleep so long."
"Don't worry about it. I had a good time with Quatre and Trowa. I had read some where that Quatre Winner was a charmer, but I never imagined he'd be genuinely nice. I can't tell you how impressed I am by him. Trowa is a very lucky man."
"Funny," Duo grinned at his friend's words, "but Quatre believes he's the lucky one. They're perfect for
"I can see that. They're to be envied."
Duo could only nod in agreement. "Did Quat say what time this shindig is tonight?"
Jim crossed the room to his bags sitting at the foot of his bed and answered, "The guests are arriving around six and dinner will be served at seven."
Yawning, Duo asked, "So, do you want to shower first or should I?"
Unzipping his suitcase, the other man glanced up to give the braided man an appraising once over. "I think that hair of yours demands you go first. I can only assume it takes a while to dry."
"Yeah, it does."
"Go on, gorgeous." Jim waved him off with a grin. "And wear something sexy."
Duo got up from the bed, grabbed his toiletry bag and carried it with him to the bathroom. "Do you have any idea who's going to be here tonight? Sexy definitely isn't part of the plan. Now cool, yeah, I can definitely aim for casually cool and on the safe side of drool worthy, but not sexy."
"Really? Who's coming to dinner?" Jim hurriedly asked just as Duo shut the bathroom door behind him. He didn't bother to answer the question, but turned on the shower instead, thinking he'd let Jim find out for himself the answer to that question.
The clock by the bed reported the time to be 6:15 p.m. If they left soon they would be fashionably late. Duo was dressed in tailored dress pants, a European cut royal blue shirt and an artfully wacky tie designed by some American rocker. It was dubbed Squirrel's Fantasy. He checked himself out in the full-length mirror and had to admit he'd achieved the look he was going for, the upside of casually cool. His hair was loosely braided, allowing several strands to frame his face, reminiscent of his carefree and happy appearance in the portrait Jim had painted of him.
With his thoughts returning to the portrait, he wondered what room Quatre and Trowa were going to hang it in. He honestly didn't know how to feel about having his likeness on canvas, much less that it was going to be hanging in his best friend's home, though Jim was correct in assuming that he'd feel uncomfortable hanging a portrait of himself in his own apartment. That seemed rather narcissistic. Depicting him from waist up left the viewer ignorant of the fact that he had worn long swim trunks on the day the picture on the beach had been taken and giving the impression that he was completely naked as he basked in the sunshine. His cheeks warmed with embarrassment at the mere thought of anyone believing he'd posed in the nude for James Denton. He could only hope the portrait would be displayed in some little used room. Really, he told himself, it wasn't something one would put in a prominent place in such a fancy home as this one.
"Are you done fretting yet?"
Duo turned to Jim who was sitting patiently on his bed, obviously waiting for him. "I'm not fretting."
"I'm just a bit nervous," he replied, resuming his pacing. "I haven't seen these people for over two years, including my former lover. I think it might have been a mistake coming back."
"Quatre and Trowa would be disappointed to hear that."
Duo's eyes narrowed. "What's with the guilt trip?"
"I've never seen you like this," Jim said, looking concerned as he rose to his feet. He walked over to Duo and put an arm around his shoulders. "Why are you so tense? These people are your friends, right? What's the worst that could happen?"
"You have no idea who they are or what they're capable of."
"Then tell me."
Duo shook his head. "I can't. It's too complicated. We're too complicated."
The blond man sighed audibly. "Complicated or not, we're late. I'll stick by your side and even pretend to be your boyfriend, if you want me too."
"Thanks, but I don't know if that's a good idea. Let's just play it by ear, all right?"
"Whatever you say, gorgeous." Jim kept his arm around Duo's shoulders while leading him towards the bedroom door. "Just remember that you look incredible tonight and I'm not too shabby either, so put a smile on your face and let's give all these mysterious friends of yours something to talk about."
Leaving the room and making their way down the long corridor and the fancy staircase that led to the lower landing, Duo could hear voices drifting out from the living room and immediately his palms began to get sweaty and his heart began to race. His steps faltered and Jim gave him a quick glance to see if he was alright. He but didn't say anything nor did he halt their progress as he continued to lead Duo down the stairs to the party.
The two visitors walked into the brightly lit drawing room to see maybe a dozen people chatting and enjoying what looked to be champagne. Duo had little doubt that they were imbibing Quatre's favorite, a non-alcoholic beverage. His Arabian friend made an effort to adhere to the rules of behavior that had been instilled in him since he was very young. Unfortunately for the Winner family, who'd put so much hope into Quatre carrying on the bloodline and the family name, they hadn't counted on him being gay. Some of his sisters had apparently accepted his sexual orientation, but more than half of them had turned their backs on their little brother, not quite telling him he was a disappointment, but not accepting his relationship with Trowa either. Duo knew how much their rejection had hurt his sensitive blond friend, a pleaser by nature, who was unable to make peace with the people who were his family who couldn't accept him being homosexual.
With a quick scan of the room, Duo easily located his flaxen haired friend with Trowa glued to his side. They were speaking with three people he easily recognized: Wufei, Lucrezia Noin and Milliardo Peacecraft. On the other side of the room Lady Une appeared to be in deep conversation with Rashid, dressed in the biggest suit Duo had ever laid eyes on, while a couple of men he recalled as being Maguanacs were huddled a few feet away and snickering with amusement at some private joke. There were a couple of small groups of guests conversing amongst themselves and Duo didn't know whether to feel relieved or disappointed that Heero didn't seem to be present.
"Duo!" Lady Une had obviously spotted him, and suddenly the eyes of everyone in the room turned towards him. "There you are." The tall lady was walking towards him and he could only blink with surprise. He'd never seen her dressed in evening wear before and he was surprised to realize she was actually quite pretty. Her long brown hair, free from its usual confining bun that rested at the back of her head, was curling up slightly several inches below her shoulders. Though her eyes appeared much softer than her usual no-nonsense, gimlet regard, there was a warning in them that wordlessly demanded he not move an inch. Funny, he thought, he'd never really noticed her eyes before and wondered why. Ah... She wasn't wearing her glasses.
The Director of the Preventers stopped directly in front of him, her dangling earrings swaying back and forth. "Your little vacation turned into a rather lengthy AWOL, Mr. Maxwell. Does your appearance tonight signify a more permanent return? Your job at Preventers is still open."
Hoping to divert the question, Duo introduced his companion to Lady Une, adding that she was the Director of the Preventer organization. The two shook hands and expressed the proper niceties.
Jim studied the tall woman with a dumbstruck expression on his handsome face. "You were Duo's boss?"
"He was one of my finest agents," Une answered quite cheerfully, all the while grinning at Duo. The braided man realized she was having a good time at his expense. Her gaze then shifted back to Jim. "And you are the artist Quatre so highly praised. I'm very impressed by the portraits. You're very talented, Mr. Denton."
"Please call me James."
"Only if you call me Anne."
Duo could tell by the way his former boss smiled at his friend that she was definitely attracted to him, not that he could blame her. He decide to save her from embarrassing herself by looping his arm through Jim's, giving a clear signal that the other man was off limits.
Une's gaze dropped down to where their arms were linked and her eyes widened for just a moment before her cheeks turned a brighter shade of pink. "So, Duo." Her attention snapped back to her long-lost agent. "Are you back for good or not?"
"No, I'm only here for a visit."
"I see," she said knowingly, her manner becoming more serious. "Am I allowed to ask where you've been for the last year and nine months?"
"You may ask," he answered with a cheeky grin.
"But that doesn't mean you're going to tell me, are you?"
"I don't think so."
After a brief, disappointed sigh, she said, "Well, it's certainly a pleasure and great relief to see you again. I can now rest at night knowing you didn't drive yourself over some cliff on that motorcycle of yours. You know what they say about that mode of transportation don't you?"
"Sure. They're an accident waiting to happen," he replied with a shrug, having heard her voice that warning many times in the past. "But I'm still here, aren't I?"
One of her finely sculpted eyebrows rose as she answered, "You're still young, and supremely lucky."
"I prefer to call my superior driving abilities talent."
The good lady gave a snort of amusement. "Come by my office when you're ready to take on a real job again." She then surprised him by leaning forward and kissing his cheek. "It really is good to see you again, Duo. Don't be a stranger." She smiled again, then turned to Jim. "It was certainly a pleasure to meet you, James. I hope to see more of your work one day."
The artist thanked her and again stated he had been delighted to meet her. Still smiling, the good lady turned to leave, revealing none other than a pissed-off looking Wufei Chang, who had apparently been standing behind her, most likely listening in on the whole conversation.
"Hello, Wufei. How've you been?" Duo asked, sounding calmer than he felt, his smile turning nervous. His former comrade made a sudden move and Duo's arms automatically came up in a defensive pose, thinking the other man was about to strike him... only to find himself being embraced.
"You idiot," Wufei hissed even as he squeezed the daylights out of the braided man. He held him for a long moment then let go abruptly and stepped back. "Are you back to stay?" he asked.
"Ah... no. I'm here at Quatre's request."
Wufei shook his head, obviously disappointed with his answer. "You had us worried sick, you know. After not hearing from you for so long we wondered whether or not you were lying dead in some ditch because you didn't have the sense to get off that damn bike of yours when the weather turned foul."
"It wasn't my intention to worry you, Wu," Duo said in a contrite voice. "And I did contact Director Une and asked that she deliver the message that I was alive and well."
"We thought she was just saying that to put our minds at ease," Wufei said, still frowning. "Heero was understandably beside himself for months."
A derisive snort escaped Duo after hearing that statement. Heero was beside himself? That was pretty damn hard to believe. "You doubt my word?" Wufei questioned, one black eyebrow rising.
"Heero left me, Wufei. Why the hell would he be â€˜beside himself'?"
Instead of answering the question, the Chinese man asked, "Why did you run, Duo? That was definitely not part of the agreement between Heero and yourself."
He was referring to the agreement made during the intervention that happened during the last holiday they'd spent together at Quatre and Trowa's place. As far as Duo could remember, their friends helped Heero to convince him that his moving out was the only solution to their problems. What he did after that never really came up for discussion. He gave Wufei a careless shrug as he answered his question. "I considered my options and leaving the whole damn situation behind seemed to be the best thing to do. Besides, you know running is what I do best."
Those dark, slanted eyes narrowed further as Wufei answered. "That was your motto when we were kids fighting a war, Duo. You're a grown man now, and as such you're expected to act like one."
Duo shrugged again. "We each have our own coping mechanisms, Wu. Running away might not have been the choice you'd have made, but I did what I had to in order to protect myself."
His former comrade continued to frown as he asked, "And who exactly were you protecting yourself from? Me? Quatre and Trowa? Was there some hidden abuse by Yuy that you hid from us and caused you to be afraid of him?"
"Whoa, hold on there." Duo shot back while putting his hands up to stop Wufei from going any further with that train of thought. "Let's not get carried away, all right? Heero didn't physically hurt me, he only broke my heart."
Wufei's intense gaze remained focused on the American. Then, with a curt nod, he accepted Duo's statement and those dark orbs shifted to Jim who'd been standing silently next to the braided man, taking in all that was being said. "Who are you?" Wufei demanded as he made a slow head-to-toe assessment of the artist.
"He's with me," Duo answered for his dumbstruck companion. He had to force himself not to laugh out loud at Wufei's haughty attitude. It seemed his friend hadn't changed all that much. Jim, in response to Wufei's question and attitude, stood stiff and silent next to him. Meeting his four friends was definitely going to be something the artist would never forget.
"Oh, the artist."
Wufei had made the delivery of snide and judgmental comments into an art form when they were still teenagers. The way he would sneer the word "onna" often sent women into a rampage who didn't even understand the meaning of the word. With the tone Wufei had used in speaking those two words that described Jim's profession, he'd proven he was still master of disdain by successfully rendering the tall, normally over-confident artist into someone who suddenly looked insecure and uncertain of himself.
"Ah lay off, Wu. Jim's a good guy." Duo said while turning to his companion and clapping a hand to the taller man's shoulder. "James Denton, meet Wufei Chang. His snooty attitude is almost as bad as his sense of humor, but he's a great man to have at your back." Jim looked at Duo with confusion dancing in his eyes.
"And Duo can be a babbling buffoon," Wufei stated in return, still looking serious. Yet Duo knew that if one looked closely enough, the small twitching at the corners of the Chinese man's lips was fairly easy to see. Duo's own grin was hard to contain as their eyes met once again, and suddenly time seemed to reverse itself and they were comrades in arms once again.
"It's really good to see you again, Wu," he told his friend with great affection.
Wufei gave him a small smile in return, and Duo observed a glint of honest warmth in those dark eyes. "For me too," his friend replied. "And I must say, I'm relieved to find you fully clothed. After seeing the portrait of you in Quatre's study, I was afraid you'd joined some nudist colony and had taken to worshiping the sun."
"Quatre showed that to you?" Duo asked, embarrassed that something so personal was being viewed.
"Not personally, but he's invited all his guests this evening to view the portraits you presented to them on the occasion of their union. He's quite enamored of them, you know, especially your portrait. You'll have to be careful that Trowa doesn't become jealous." Wufei then turned his attention back to Jim. "You're talent is impressive, Mr. Denton."
Duo gritted his teeth and definitively declared, "I wasn't nude. I happened to be wearing swim trunks when that picture was taken."
One black eyebrow rose. "Something your friend conveniently left out."
"Swim wear wasn't necessary to capture the essence of Duo's expression," Jim answered, defending his work.
"I think I need to see Mr. Generous Winner and put a halt to the open viewing." Duo declared while scanning the room for Quatre. While searching out his friend, he caught sight of movement by the doorway and witnessed Heero walking into the room with none other than Relena Peacecraft holding onto his arm.
"Damn!" Duo hissed just under his breath. His eyes zeroed in on the handsome Japanese man and his heart skipped a beat or two. Why did Heero have to look so damn hot in a perfectly-fitted black suit and tie?
Wufei turned his head to the direction of Duo's obvious discomfort. Seeing Heero he said, "If you'll excuse me, I think I hear someone calling my name." With a quick nod of his head to Duo and his guest, the Chinese man made a hasty retreat.
"Liar," Duo muttered accusingly. "Never knew you to be such a chicken-shit, Wufei."
Over his shoulder, the Chinese man gave him a parting grin, saying, "A wise man knows when to make a strategic exit. I'll see you later, Duo. Mr. Denton."
Giving his parting Chinese friend an murderous glare, Duo then checked back to see where Heero was. Much to his dismay, Heero left Relena at the door and was walking with purposeful strides across the room, heading in their direction. Duo hoped that mayhem wasn't on the Heero's agenda tonight. That observation was immediately followed by a quick, appreciative once-over of the approaching man, followed by the thought, Damn, but he's hot. "Shit!"
"Is that him? Your former lover?"
Duo gave a nod in answer to Jim's question, then under his breath hissed, "Quick, hide me."
Jim chuckled somewhat nervously and put a protective arm around Duo's shoulder. "It's a little late for that. What's the worst he could do?"
He didn't have the heart to tell Jim that the arm set around his shoulders, an act of protection on his friend's part, would be ineffectual against Heero if the former gundam pilot decided to clock him. He kept those thoughts to himself, however, because despite the artist's ignorantly foolish move, Duo couldn't help but be proud of his friend for wanting to stand up for him, acting like his protector against the formidable looking man bearing down on them.
Duo cast a quick glance back to the approaching menace. Heero's step faltered momentarily when Jim pulled him flush against his side. Deciding to make the best out of a potentially bad situation, the braided man straightened his back and squared his shoulders just as Heero came to a full stop in front of them. Those penetrating blue eyes remained fixed on Jim's hand, still cupping his shoulder.
Time to break the building tension, Duo thought. "Hey, Heero. Long time no see."
Jim's hold tightened while Heero's gaze shifted to his face. His former lover's gaze was so intense that Duo thought the man might be trying to read his thoughts. He hoped to high heaven he couldn't because then Heero would know exactly how much his nearness was affecting him. Looking into Heero's eyes and standing close enough that he could smell his former lover's familiar cologne, he felt a resurgence of all the feelings he'd tried so hard to suppress for the past year and a half. He'd forgotten what a heady experience it was, standing close to Heero. Touching him skin to skin had been even better, and making love with the sexy, blue-eyed Japanese man had been the best feeling to date that he'd ever experienced.
He wasn't really surprised by Heero's lack of greeting, nor the tight and clipped tone when he finally deigned to speak. His former lover always did cut right to the chase. "Where have you been and why the hell did you run, Duo?"
Trying for an air of nonchalance, Duo shrugged and calmly answered, "Here and there. You know, just getting my shit together."
Heero snorted in reply, though his gaze remained riveted on the braided man. After a few long and awkwardly drawn-out moments passed, it appeared that Heero was going to simmer in his juices and wait for him to say something. Duo, feeling suddenly like there was no one else in the room but he and his former lover, was unable to stand the strained silence and without thinking blurted out, "I hear you've been busy since I left. Congratulations on your engagement. No wait, scratch that," he rushed to correct himself. "That happened shortly after I left. Sorry I missed all the excitement, by the way, but I'm sure you understand."
"The engagement was a mistake," Heero stated quite stiffly, and it seemed to Duo that he'd definitely struck a sore nerve. Then, just as he began to enjoy Heero's reaction to his not-so-subtle teasing, he recalled his shrink telling him that his need to "get one up" on whomever he was verbally or physically sparring with wasn't a healthy way to communicate or build a relationship. Damn, he was backsliding, especially in light of the fact that he'd been doing so well in Park City with the people he associated with on a daily basis. He had to wonder why Heero seemed to bring out the worst in him. With that in mind, he let go of any stinging retorts powering up in the back of his mind and tried for some neutral ground.
"I assume you graduated from the university?"
Heero actually blinked at the abrupt change of topic, and Duo wondered if he had been gearing up as well for a good round of arguing.
"I did," he replied, deadpan serious. "But you're avoiding answering my questions. Why did you run, Duo?"
And here he'd been trying to be pleasant. "You left me, Heero, or did you forget our last afternoon together? Our farewell fuck? It really isn't any of your business why I left or where I went after you walked out the door, and I can't imagine why you even care. You made your choice and I was left to make mine."
"We agreed to a trial separation," Heero stated with a flicker of something in his eyes that Duo couldn't quite figure out. Whether it was it a hint of hurt or remorse he didn't know. "I never intended for us to be apart for long."
"Becoming engaged after I'd been gone for only a few months shows that you didn't miss me all that much," Duo shot back, his ire rising. He had to force himself not to take a defensive action when Heero took a step forward and grabbed hold of the lapels of his jacket. With a rough jerk Duo found himself pulled close to the angry man, their noses mere inches apart. With his hands gripping Heero's, Duo opened his mouth to demand Heero release him, but before he could say or do anything the insistent ringing of the dinner bell sounded, surprisingly loud and frantic, as if the person ringing it was trying to end a round of boxing.
"Duo! Heero!" Quatre got the attention of both men by anxiously calling out their names as he rushed towards them. The blond stopped once he reached Duo's side and motioned with his hand for Heero to let go of his jacket. Duo was surprised to find himself immediately released as Heero complied with Quatre's unspoken demand. "Dinner is about to be served," the blond continued, nonplused. "Come now, let's not keep everyone waiting." It was obvious that Quatre was trying to keep them from causing a scene. Duo glanced over the blond's shoulder to see that Trowa was busy ushering everyone else out of the room and directing them towards the dining hall.
Quatre looped his hand through Duo's arm and forcefully pulled him several feet away from Heero before he looked to Jim. "Would you please escort Duo to the dining room, Jim? I'd like to speak to Heero for a moment."
Duo had forgotten about Jim. A quick glance confirmed that the artist was feeling like a fish out of water, which made Duo feel like a complete heel. The poor guy could probably sense that Heero wasn't just some ordinary guy, but he had no idea that he was dealing with the very formidable pilot of the gundam Wing Zero. Duo decide that getting himself and Jim out of there and away from Heero as quickly as possible was probably the best course of action at the moment. Taking the artist's cold and stiff hand into his own, he pulled him towards the door.
"Who the hell is that?" Duo heard Heero snarl as they made their hasty retreat. Quatre answered in a low tone of voice that made it impossible for the retreating pair to hear his reply. He could only hope Quatre wouldn't over exaggerate Jim's place in his life.
Jim didn't say a word until they reached the doorway, where he paused for a moment to look back over his shoulder and then visibly shuddered. "Damn, Duo. Your friends are nuts."
"Yeah, they take a little getting used to," he replied while continuing to pull Jim towards the dining room where he hoped they would find safety in numbers.