Disclaimer: I've never claimed to own Gundam Wing or its characters and I've never made a darn cent from my writing about them.

Pairings: Heero/Duo, plus each of them temporarily with a out of series character
Rating: R, mature readers only please
Warnings: Yaoi (male/male relationships) , angst and drama

When One Door Closes
Part 9
by Dyna Dee

Duo and Jim entered the long and narrow dining room to find it illuminated by hundreds of lit candles, giving the formal-looking space a cozy and intimate ambiance. Trowa shot Duo a concerned look before directing he and Jim to the other end of the very long table. They found their names printed on place cards, set at the top of the place setting. Duo was gratified after seeing Jim was seated to the left of him, wanting to be close at hand in order to steer any conversation away from revealing his past to the artist. They remained standing by their chairs, chatting together and with the other guests taking their places, while waiting for Quatre to enter the room, which he did a few moments later.

The blond walked calmly through the open doorway with Heero at his side. The handsome, dark haired man's face bore a much calmer expression than it had moments before, suggesting that Quatre had the situation well in hand. Trowa, still standing by the door, directed Heero with a gesture of his hand to the location of his seat, which happened to be at the farthest end of the table from where Duo and Jim were sitting.

Duo breathed a sigh of relief at Quatre's foresight regarding the seating arrangements. The significant distance between himself and Heero would no doubt make the meal a bit more pleasant than if they had been seated within shouting distance.

Quatre took his lover's arm and together they walked the length of the room, smiling at their guest and looking like they hadn't a care in the world. When they reached the head of the table and sat down, it signaled everyone else in the room to take their place. A bevy of hired help immediately emerged from the door leading to the kitchen. Large, nearly flat bowls filled to the brim with soup were placed in front of each of the diners. Duo sighed, a bit dismayed. This was going to be a formal meal after all.

Lifting the spoon towards his mouth for a first taste of the broth, Duo paused after sensing someone's eyes on him. He turned his head to glance at Jim and found the tall blond looking back at him, a perplexed expression on his face.


"I was just wondering how you came to know such interesting people. You're quite the mystery, Duo. I just realized that you have told me the most minimal information about yourself. It's as if you're purposely hiding something from me. Who are you, really?"

Duo set his spoon back in the bowl of soup and took a breath before beginning. "I'm afraid my past isn't a suitable topic for the dinner table, Jim. If you remember, I've already told you that I came from L-2. I don't know if I was born there or not, but it's where I was abandoned to grow up on the streets of that hell-hole colony. Now, please, I've said all I want to about that topic." At that point he turned his attention back to the bowl in front of him and resumed sipping the soup before declaring, "Um... it's good."

For a long moment Jim remained silent and unmoving, and Duo could feel his gaze resting on him. The braided man hoped his traveling companion took the not-so-subtle hint that he wasn't going to elaborate on what he'd already said about his past. A moment later it seemed his wish was being granted, for instead of pursuing the topic further, the artist turned his attention towards his own soup bowl and followed Duo's example by sampling the warm broth.

Quatre, along with Trowa, conversed with two of his sisters, of which one sat next to her brother and the other her prospective brother-in-law. Duo sat to the right of Patina, the eldest of the two, an articulate, well-spoken and cultured woman in her late thirties. The group of six managed to keep the conversation at the head of the table light and pleasant and generally focused on each other's lives.

Jim happily answered questions directed to him about his art: where he went to school, what influenced or inspired him and what had he considered his more interesting subjects? Of course he had to tell them about the day he took the picture of Duo at the lake, informing everyone within listening distance that it had been captured on their second date.

The artist managed to lure Duo into the conversation by gently cajoling him into describing the dramatic falls he'd taken while trying to water ski for the first time. He then proudly told everyone that Duo had tenaciously kept getting up on the skis and trying again and again until he was able to conquer both skis and water. Duo felt the heat rising in his cheeks at Jim's commentary. While it was true that the artist wasn't relating anything that was truly embarrassing, he just didn't feel very comfortable being the main topic of conversation.

He finally managed to deflect the focus away from himself by asking his friends about the event taking place the next day. With a smile of happiness tha couldn't be denied, Quatre spoke briefly about the simple ceremony that was going to legally unite himself and Trowa. He paused a moment to give a significant look to his less talkative lover. Trowa gave an acknowledging nod of his head before rising from his seat, a move that immediately captured the attention of the twenty people seated at the long table.

Appearing composed, the tall brunette smiled fondly at those seated around the long table. "Quatre and I would like to thank all of you joining us tonight, some of you coming great distances to show us your support and love. Your friendship and our past and future associations mean more to us than words can possibly express." He paused from his speech to look down at the blond man sitting beside him. Quatre's eyes were focused solely on his lover, his eyes shining with open adoration.

With a similar gaze directed at his future husband, Trowa continued. "It's hard for me to believe that the ceremony we've both looked forward to is really going to happen. Every day I've spent with Quatre has brought me more happiness than I'd ever dared to dream of. From the moment I first met him, I was struck by his kindness, his sense of fairness and his ability to care for all those around him. He is a rare and unique person, and I will always wonder what it is that he sees in me. Whatever it is, I'm grateful, and I'm a better, happier man for having him in my life."

Everyone at the table watched as the tall brunet reached for and clasped Quatre's smaller hand in his own. "I could say that tomorrow will be the happiest day of my life," Trowa continued so softly that those sitting at the far end of the table had to strain to hear. "But everyday I've spent with Quatre has been ‘the happiest' day of my life." Trowa lifted his green eyes to his captive, smiling audience. "I can honestly declare that I'm the most fortunate man alive."

Everyone at the table began to clap their hands, including Quatre who jumped out of his seat to embrace his lover tightly. Being close to them, Duo could hear his blond friend tell Trowa that he was the lucky one and that he loved him more than words could ever say. Embarrassingly enough, Duo's eyes began to tear up. He was undeniably envious of his friends happiness, of the strong, supportive and loving relationship they had. He'd had that kind of relationship, for a short while at least, and a small bit of regret crept into his heart, knowing that he'd probably never have that kind of relationship again.

Jim leaned over and quietly asked, "What's the matter?" Duo guessed that the other man had probably seen something in his demeanor change, reflecting his mood change. With an apologetic grin, he answered, "Sorry. Guess I'm just feeling a bit envious."

The look of understanding on the artist's face let him know that he wasn't the only one who was disappointed with his love life, or rather the lack of one. "It's clear they've got what we're all searching for, that unique connection, where both acceptance and love are equally given." Jim's eyes shifted again to the happy couple and a wistful sigh escaped his lips.

Following the artist's gaze, Duo couldn't help but wonder if what Quatre and Trowa had was rare. Sure, people got married everyday, but how many of them had the kind of love his two friends shared? He'd experienced something akin to that with Heero, during the wars and just after. He'd been completely enthralled with the pilot from L1, knowing his faults yet looking past them because Heero was better than anyone or anything he'd ever known. Watching as the two lovers resumed their seats, he couldn't help thinking that, yes, he and Heero had been in love like that once, despite, or maybe because of their differences. And look at them now, he thought despondently, seated on opposite ends of a table with anger and regrets from the past creating an enormous gulf between them. Their heated love affair, which he thought would last forever, had been doused by the winds of change instead of being fueled by them. Duo hoped his two friends would be able to weather any changes that came their way, for change, he had learned, planned and unexpected, was inevitable.

Planting his elbow on the table, Duo rested his chin on his open palm as he gazed with a bit of envy at his friends. He couldn't seem to tear his gaze away from them as they sat with their hands clasped and love shining from their eyes. For him, their relationship stood as an example of what he wanted for himself, and he couldn't help but wonder if everyone must desire something like that at some point in their life. But perhaps the abiding love and respect his friends enjoyed was truly exceptional and the rest of the sorry world would have to settle for something less. If he ever settled down with anyone in the future, it would definitely be second best. He'd already found and embraced the great love of his life, and then lost him. Finding anything equaling what he and Heero once had was probably expecting too much. The odds were simply stacked against him finding love like that a second time.

The next course was brought in and dinner commenced without interruptions. During the remainder of the meal, Duo resisted the strong urge to glance down the length of the table at his former lover. His resistence lasted until dessert and coffee was served, and then he finally caved in and allowed himself a quick peek. To his consternation, Heero's head was turned towards the front of the table and his deep blue eyes were focused exclusively on him. Their gazes met and locked, and for a long moment it seemed as if the room and its occupants all faded away and that time stood still. Within Heero's eyes, even at a distance, Duo detected something that bespoke of pain or possibly regret, and then something else began to flare in those deep blue depths that he couldn't decipher. He found it almost impossible to look away from that gimlet gaze, and if it hadn't been for Quatre's sister calling his name, he probably wouldn't have.

As the final dishes were cleared away, the guests were directed back into the living room. Duo and Jim became separated after he was pulled aside by Rashid to rehash the good old days and one of Quatre's sisters wanted Jim to personally show her the paintings she'd heard so much about since her arrival that evening. It was a good twenty minutes later before Duo was free to follow the rest of the group into the living room.

As he walked down the hallway, he heard familiar voices coming from Quatre's study and an immediate feeling of dread overcame him. He paused outside the open door to peer around the doorframe to see that it was indeed Jim and Heero who were in the room... alone, and standing in front of his portrait. He silently cursed the situation and slipped unobserved into the room, hoping to overhear what the two men were saying to each other.

"You successfully captured the essence of him," Heero said while gazing thoughtfully at his likeness, now matted and framed and set on a blue-velvet draped easel. The light from a long and narrow fixture clipped to the top of the easel illuminated the painting, bringing out the vibrant colors of the blue sky and water.

"I knew I had to paint him after I saw the developed pictures," Jim replied, apparently at ease as he stood regarding at the picture with his hands clasped behind his back. "He's extremely photogenic."

Heero nodded. "But you cut out his best features."

"Well, I try to keep my paintings suitable for public showing," Jim smirked. "Besides, I didn't have a picture of his ‘best features', though I could probably have managed on memory alone."

Heero turned to glare at the taller man. "I was talking about his legs. Duo has great legs."

Jim put his hands up in surrender. "Sorry. I didn't mean to offend you. And you're right, he does have great legs. They just weren't necessary to capture the look of absolute contentment on his face." The artist turned his attention back to the picture and sighed audibly. "It's that look on his face that caused me to fall head over heels for him."

Duo wondered what the hell Jim was doing, saying something like that to his former lover. Then Heero shocked the hell out of him by saying, "It's like an aphrodisiac, isn't it? I saw a similar expression on his face during the war, after we first met. We were both hiding out on a Sweeper ship on the ocean and he was gazing up at the moon with that same look on his face. Something inside of me changed as I watched him that night, and all of a sudden I knew that wanted him, more than I had ever wanted anything before. It was a frightening moment for me, because the only thing I was trained to want was to perfect my skills to achieve my objectives. But as I watched him stare longingly at the moon, I forgot all about my training and my mission. All I wanted was for him to look at me like that, and for a time he did." There was a definite tone of sad regret in Heero's voice as he finished his reminiscing.

Duo stood at the back of the room with his mouth hanging slack with disbelief. He could not believe Mr. Tight-Lip Yuy was opening up to a virtual stranger, telling Jim some of his most personal feelings. Maybe Heero had too much to drink during dinner, he thought, trying to explain his former lover's unusual behavior. Or maybe the therapy Quatre said he'd continued to receive has actually done Heero some good. Frowning, he recalled Heero's references to the war and could only hope that Jim missed them.

"Are you talking about the war with the colonies?"


Heero's head gave a short nod. "Yeah, hell of a time to lose one's heart."

"What did the two of you do during the war? You were pretty young, weren't you?" Jim probed further.

Heero chuckled darkly. "Yes, by normal military standards we were considered too young to be fighting a war, but coming from the colonies we never really knew what it was to be children."

"On which side did you fight?"

Heero looked away from the portrait to Jim, and Duo could see him coming to the realization that the taller man didn't know much about anything regarding their past. For some odd reason, Heero smiled in a manner Duo could only describe as being wily. "We f ought on the same side, of course. How long have you known Duo?"

"A couple of months."

"You're not sleeping with him, are you?"

Jim frowned and Duo was becoming very uncomfortable. "I don't think that's any of your business," the artist answered, sounding rightly offended. A dark chuckle came from Heero again. "What?" Jim asked, looking affronted.

"Are you some sort of ploy manufactured by Duo to make me believe he's got a lover? I can't believe he would go to such extremes to deceive me."

Duo had enough at that point, and just as Jim was about to deny Heero's charge, he let the two of men know of his presence. "No, Heero. Jim's no ploy." Both men spun around at the sound of his voice. Stepping forward, he continued. "He's my friend and he came here as my guest. If you think I've got some ulterior motive, then that's your problem." He grabbed hold of Jim's arm and quickly pulled him towards the open door.

"You and I need to talk, Duo." Heero called out after them.

"If you'll remember, talking never one of our strong points," the braided man shot over his shoulder as he rounded the corner, Jim in tow. He didn't stop moving until they were in the midst the other guests once more. In a low voice, Jim apologized, saying he found himself more or less cornered by Heero and had no choice but to speak with him.

"Just stay away from him if you can," Duo advised, hoping he wouldn't have to answer any more questions Jim's little talk with Heero was bound to bring up.

Duo spent the rest of the evening keeping Jim by his side and avoiding Heero by purposely keeping them surrounded by the other guests and involved in the conversation. Two hours after dinner Duo congratulated himself after seeing Heero take his leave of their hosts. He had successfully avoided the private chat Heero requested after all. So why, he wondered, did he suddenly feel so sad?

Later that night, as he and Jim settled into their beds after the lights had been turned out, Duo was disappointed to find his roommate couldn't do him the favor of just falling asleep.

"What did you do during the war, Duo? Heero said you fought, but he wouldn't say which side you were on. Weren't you both a bit young?"

Duo sighed as he rolled onto his back. "I don't want to talk about it, Jim. Please, don't ask."

"I don't understand." There was hurt and confusion in the other man's voice. "We're friends, or so I thought we were. Why can't you tell me? Is it that you don't want to or that you don't trust me. Or are somehow forbidden from talking about it? You said you came from L-2, and I know it's a poor colony, so you really can't blame me for being curious about how you came to know someone as rich as Quatre Winner, Relena and Milliardo Peacecraft and some of the other well-known people that were here tonight."

"Goodnight, Jim," Duo said firmly, letting the other man know that he wasn't going to answer any of his questions. An exasperated sigh was Jim's frustrated reply, and after a long stretch of silence the artist eventually settled down and fell asleep.

It took much longer before Duo's heart and mind began to calm. Every time he closed his eyes he saw Heero, as he had looked earlier that evening. Damn but he looked good tonight. Heero could wear a three-piece suit like no one else. Well, maybe Trowa, who had also looked great in his suit, but then so did Quat. Wufei's Chinese styled suit was certainly classy. And Zechs... He let his thoughts wander where they would, hoping he'd eventually drift off to sleep.

But no matter how he tried to distract himself, Duo's thoughts eventually drifted back to the image of Heero and he rehashed the entire small bit of conversation they'd had several times over. He didn't show it at the time, but he was surprised by Heero's statement that he never intended them to be apart for long. Why didn't he ever get that message? He clearly recalled how quickly Heero had arranged to move out of their apartment, and even though he said their separation was supposed to be temporary, Duo hadn't believed him. And his remark about Heero getting engaged had been right on the mark, as far as he was concerned. If Heero really loved him and had wanted him back, he wouldn't have gotten engaged to someone else.

It was just hours before dawn before he finally calmed down sufficiently enough to fall asleep, and when Jim attempted to rouse him at eight, he found the normally reasonable man he believed Duo to be had an entirely different side to him than he had ever seen before. Cantankerous was not an admirable trait.

Still feeling cranky and out of sorts from so little sleep, Duo stumbled bleary eyed down the staircase, wearing his best blue jeans and a Ski Utah T-shirt in order to locate some much needed coffee. The ceremony was to begin in a couple of hours and he had to wake up. Fortunately, there was a full pot of freshly brewed and strong coffee along with a wide variety of Danish pastries set out. Unfortunately, Heero was sitting at the table, calmly sipping a cup of tea while his eyes followed him as he walked further into the room.

"Have a seat," he said, as Duo turned from the sideboard with a cup filled with the steaming, aromatic brew. He didn't think Quatre would be pleased with him traipsing through the house with a full cup of potential carpet stain, so he reluctantly took a seat on the opposite side of the table from his former lover and a couple of chairs down. He proceeded to give the cup of coffee his full attention, trying his best to ignore the other man. Despite the cream and sugar he'd added, it was too hot to drink. He had no choice but to pick up his spoon and stir the living daylights out of it. In the silence that filled the room, the sterling silver clattered loudly against the sides of the fine china cup.

"Creating a whirlpool?" Heero smirked.

Duo slowed the stirring to reach for a raspberry Danish and shoved a good portion of it into his mouth. He heard Heero sigh and prepared himself for a lecture about his uncouth eating habits. He was surprised when the other man simply asked, "Why, Duo?"

"‘Cause I'm hungry," he answered with a mouthful.

He could feel Heero glaring at him. "Don't play at being obtuse, you know what I'm talking about."

Duo finally looked up at him with anger sparking brightly in his eyes. "Obtuse? Are you flaunting your higher education again, Heero, or pointing out my lack of one?" He abruptly stood from his chair, no longer needing the coffee to wake him up, and turned to quickly move towards the doorway.

"What are you talking about? No, Duo, wait." The sound of a chair scraping across the floor signaled to the retreating man that Heero was standing up, but Duo didn't stop, in fact, he quickened his pace and raced towards the staircase.

"Duo! Stop!"

The American never had been very good at obeying orders. Reaching the staircase, he scaled the steps three at a time until he reached the top landing where he quickly dashed down the hall and into his assigned bedroom. Jim, standing in his suit pants and buttoning up his dress shirt, looked at Duo curiously as he slammed the door behind him and turned the lock. He waited there for a tense moment, wondering if Heero would have the audacity to knock and demand he open the door. When no sound came from the other side of the door, Duo released the breath he'd been holding and eased himself away from it to move towards the closet where his dress clothes had been hung.

"What was that about?" Jim asked.

"I ran into Heero downstairs," he explained a bit breathless, his eyes darting to the window to calculate how fast he could make an escape through it if Heero should decided to knock down the bedroom door.

"I see." The tone of disapproval in Jim's voice that caught his attention.

Turning to look at the taller man, Duo asked, "What?"

Jim shook his head. "It might be better to just sit down and talk to him instead of running away. It's actually considered healthy to get everything out in the open. It's called closure."

Irritated, Duo replied, "Listen, Jim. I can handle Heero. I just don't want to, not here, not now."

The blond put his hands up in a sign of surrender. "Understood, loud and clear. I'm butting out."

"It's not that I don't appreciate your concern," Duo said, not wanting the other man to take offense. "It's just that there's a lot of shit between Heero and I. You couldn't possibly understand."

"Maybe I would if you'd tell me."

"I can't." The room fell silent and after a moment both men turned their attention to getting ready for the ceremony that was to take place in a little over an hour.

Duo could honestly say that whatever preconceived notions he'd had about two men becoming legal partners was revised by the so-called wedding ceremony. The thirty or so invited guests, close friends and family of the two men, were seated in the garden at the back of the house. The day was bright and beautiful, with only a few feathery, white stratus clouds streaking across the early autumn sky.

Quatre and Trowa were dressed in light colored linen dress pants and white shirts. Quatre's had ruffles, similar to the shirts normally worn with a tuxedo, while Trowa's was a fitted dress shirt that Duo was sure cost a hell of a lot more than the one he bought on sale at a outlet store in Park City. Their marrying couples' lack of neckties had him quickly pulling his own off. He certainly wasn't going to wear a fancy version of a noose if they weren't.

Once everyone was seated, the two men for whom the ceremony was being held, moved forward to stand before the assemblage. Quatre, with Trowa by his side, politely thanked their guests for coming to share this special day with them. Then turning to carefully remove his violin from the open case sitting on a small, white cloth-covered table, Quatre raised his instrument to rest beneath his chin, then paused while Trowa, his flute in hand, brought the mouthpiece against his lips. Setting his bow to the strings and with a nod of the blond head, the two men began to play, performing a beautiful, perfectly in tune duet, with each instrument taking turns at the lilting melody while the other accompanied with an intricate harmony of their own. Duo had no doubt that the music and performance was meant to symbolize the couple's relationship: of the give and take, the leading and following, as well as the highs and lows; all of which was accomplished in melodic harmony. Duo thought the music was perfect and suited the occasion beautifully.

As soon as the last note was played, a distinguished looking man in a black suit, someone Duo had never seen before, stood up from a chair in the front row. Studying the man while everyone waited for Quatre and Trowa to put aside their instruments, Duo noted the gentleman sported a round protruding belly, a wide, clean-shaven face that looked both friendly and serious at the same time. And what little bit of hair the man had on his balding head was white as snow. He smiled gently at the two men in front of him as they turned to face him, and requested that they clasp each other's hand. Duo understood then that the man in the suit was a magistrate of some kind.

To his relief, fearing at first that the man might be long winded and that they would bake in the warm morning sun before he finished, the judge, as he'd introduced himself to be, said only a few words about the solemn commitment the two men were about to make. In a no-nonsence manner, he asked first Quatre and then Trowa if they were willing to pledge themselves to meet the physical, emotional and temporal needs of each other and to legally commit themselves to the other man for the remainder of their days. After receiving a firm reply from each of the young men before him, the judge directed them to sign the paper that rested next to Quatre's violin case, which they did while the silent audience watched.

Finishing that task, the officiator turned and happily announced to the gathering that Trowa Barton and Quatre Winner were now legal partners and that the both of them, by their own choosing, would henceforth share the last name of Winner-Barton.

The newly married men enthusiastically embraced each other, and from Duo's close proximity he could just barely hear them whispering to each other, words he could only imagine were further promises, meant only for their spouse to hear. The ceremony proved to be a short and simple one, but it was just enough to make Duo long for something similar for himself.

Immediately, beautiful classical music filled the air, and while the guests rushed to congratulate the two, the fine, white linen covered tables off to the left and in the garden area were quickly filled with wonderful, aromatic food.

Duo was aware of Heero's presence to the left of him throughout the ceremony, but purposely kept his eyes directed elsewhere. He didn't want the other man to see how much he'd been affected by the simple ceremony and the show of love their two friends had for each other.

For the most part, Jim remained close to his side. He guessed the other man could tell something was bothering him, but for the life of him he didn't know why his older friend bothered with him. He'd been lousy company for him since their arrival.

Quatre must have seen the change in Duo as well, for he sidled up to him during the reception, pulling him aside in order to ask if he was alright.

"I'm fine, Quat. Envious as all hell over what you and Trowa have together, but don't get me wrong, I'm happy for the both of you."

His friend gave him a rather sad smile, and Duo knew his empathic friend could feel the hurt and longing he'd tried for so long to hide. "Was I asking too much for you to be here?"

Duo shook his head. "No. You're my best friend. It's the least I could do. Besides, it's good being you and Trowa again and to see for myself that you're happy."

"I am happy," Quatre said with an expression of bliss on his handsome face. "I've loved Trowa for so long, and now he's truly mine."

Duo nudged his friend's shoulder with his own. "He's always been yours, you dork."

The blond laughed, and it was wonderful sound to Duo's ears. "I know, but now it's legal." Quatre then sobered and looked his friend in the eye. "Now, how about you? What can I do to make you happy?"

"Nothing," Duo answered truthfully with a shake of my head. All the money in the world couldn't erase the last couple of rough and lonely years. "Just be happy knowing you're no longer a part of the fumbling-through-life, not-so-lucky bastards still looking for love." He'd been joking, kind of, but by the look on Quatre's face, it was clear he didn't believe him for a moment.

Clasping his upper arm gently, the blond said, "I don't like seeing you so down, Duo. Have you had a chance to speak with Heero? He told me last night he had every intention of speaking with you, to sort things out."

"Been avoiding him like the plague," he admitted with a bitter laugh. "I just don't see the point of a heart-to-heart chat." Quatre didn't smile, which sobered the American some. "Why reopen wounds that have never really healed?"

His good friend suddenly embraced him, holding Duo tightly, as if he could shelter him from any further hurt. Duo patted Quatre on the back, appreciating the warmth and comfort the blond always tried to give him, whether he was receptive or not. When Quatre finally released him and stepped back, it was easy to see the unshed tears in his eyes. "Will you be here when Trowa and I return next week?"

He'd forgotten they were going on a pseudo honeymoon. He shook his head. "I don't think so."

If it was possible, Quatre looked even more unhappy. "Don't worry," Duo rushed to reassure him. "I'll keep in touch. It's not like we won't see each other again."

The blond seemed to take some comfort from that reassurance, but didn't manage a true smile until Trowa's hand slipped around his waist and placed a kiss on his husband's smooth-shaven cheek. "What's up?" he asked, looking from his lover to Duo.

"Nothing," the braided man answered easily. "So where are you two going on this trip of yours?" Changing the subject to a more pleasurable topic lightened the mood considerably. After chatting about the Fiji Islands, their honeymoon destination, and sharing brief words of farewell coupled with promises that he'd stay in touch, the newly married couple moved on to speak with the rest of their guests before their scheduled departure.

Jim approached Duo with two drinks in hand. After delivering one to the braided man, he excused himself to find the nearest restroom. Duo took a sip from the cool liquid and made a quick scan around the area to make sure no one was looking his way. He took the opportunity to slip off into the gardens, needing just a few moments to himself. He strolled unhurriedly down the paths he'd been down many times before, but the lush foliage and the heady scent of blooming roses, hibiscus, azaleas and other beautifully blooming plants didn't give him the distraction he'd been looking for. He found himself preoccupied by memories of this familiar garden, when he'd walked these same paths with Heero. With a smile on his face he vividly recalled the two of them sneaking out of Quatre's many parties for a little make-out session. His smile faltered as those memories brought about a painful ache of longing and loss deep within his chest.

This was the very reason he'd run away, he grimly reminded himself. Everything in Sanq held some memory of his and Heero's past relationship, of both the good times and the bad. Running away had, more or less, allowed him to shove those memories and some of the hurt to the back of his mind. But being here again was causing all those repressed memories and pain to resurface. All those wonderful memories of the two of them when they were happy together, as well as the wrenching heartache he'd suffered when things turned sour, were back, and it hurt, both emotionally and physically. The old ingrained need to start running again in an effort to elude those feelings once again was kicking in. Escaping into the garden was a temporary solution, placating his need to run for at least a little while.

The gardens behind the mansion were vast, as expected with someone of Quatre's wealth. Duo had always loved his friends' home, not so much for its lavishness, but because of the space it provided. He and Heero made a habit of getting lost in the back gardens for hours without anyone being able to track them down. He was counting on getting lost now as he strolled towards the very back of the garden, leaving the sounds of the reception behind him.

At last he came to a stone bench, situated under a fragrant, rose-laden arch, and he sat down for a moment to contemplate the beauty that surrounded him and how different his life was from that of his best friend. Quatre was used to all this luxury, all the excess land and property that his family's money could buy without a dent in their seemingly endless bank accounts. How was it even possible they were such good friends? No wonder Jim had questioned their relationship. Duo thought of himself as the social and financial opposite of Quatre Winner. In comparison to their pasts, his was dark and filled with depravation while Quatre's childhood was filled with just the opposite. And today he was despondent and gloomy in contrast to Quatre's sunny happiness. He shook his head, trying to dismiss his dismal thoughts. He didn't want Quatre to sense his continued downturn of mood, apparently brought on by his and Trowa's enviable happiness and seeing Heero again.

"There you are," a calm and collected voice called out. "Mind if I join you?" Duo's head shot up at the sound of the intruder and a feeling of dread filled him, sensing that a conversation he'd hoped to avoid was about to begin.

on to part 10

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