When One Door Closes
by Dyna Dee
"There you are. Mind if I join you?" Duo's head shot up at the sound of the intruder's voice and a feeling of dread filled him, sensing that a conversation he'd hoped to avoid was about to begin.
His surprise at Wufei's sudden appearance must have registered on his face because a satisfied smirk formed on the Chinese man's lips. "Aren't you missing a great party?" Duo asked as he shifted on the bench to make room for the other man as he stepped forward.
"I could ask the same of you," Wufei countered as he turned slightly to ist down, his eyes never leaving the American's face.
Exhaling with a long sigh, the braided man leaned back, his hands gripping the edge of the bench behind him. "Guess I'm not in the mood."
"You always used to be in the mood for a good party, as long as there was a lot of food, drink and at least three people. Quatre has plenty of everything today, so what's the problem?"
Turning his head to look at his questioning friend, Duo asked, "Did you become a shrink or something while I've been gone?"
Wufei's smirk made another appearance. "No, but I've learned quite a lot from observing the lives of others, and I know enough to sense that you are not happy. Why?"
Duo's eyes dropped down to stare vacantly at the stone walkway. "Too many memories here, I guess."
"Ah," Wufei uttered knowingly. After pausing for a moment he ventured to ask, "Good or bad memories?"
"Have you spoken with Heero yet?"
The last thing Duo thought he needed was another friend trying to pave the way for some kind of therapeutic closure between himself and Heero. As far as he was concerned, they'd had their closure when they made love for the last time and parted ways. What more could be said or done after that fateful afternoon nearly two years ago?
In a weary-with-the-subject tone he replied, "I've already had this talk with Quatre. Could we please just move onto something else?"
He could feel the Chinese man's dark eyes studying him, but he refused to meet that gaze until the other man quietly answered, "If that's your wish, then certainly, I'll drop the subject."
The tension that had built up between them was suddenly gone. Duo shifted on the bench in order to get a good look his friend before asking, "So how's things going for you? Still working for Preventers?"
He wasn't surprised to find that the former Shenlong pilot was indeed still an agent for that organization, but he'd been promoted from field work to training officers and giving lectures to new recruits. Duo counted himself lucky that Wufei wasn't his instructor, knowing his friend was tough, had high expectations and was highly disciplined. He would demand and expect the very best from any trainee under his command as well as any seasoned officer he worked with.
Wufei continued their conversation by telling Duo several funny anecdotes from his training experiences, confirming his suspicions that any rookie who found themselves under his friend's command would find their training a steep, uphill battle. Though he knew first hand that his former comrade could be won over by an honest show of hard work and dedication. If nothing else, Wufei was a fair and honorable man and would give anyone a chance to prove themselves.
Just as Duo was getting into his friend's stories, the other man deftly turned the conversation back to him. "Tell me, Duo, what is your current occupation? Are you with some type of security force?"
Duo scratched his head and hedged his answer. "No. I'm doing some freelancing."
"Freelancing?" Wufei looked puzzled a moment before his expression turned to a look of suspicion. "You're not some type of mercenary, are you?"
"Hell no," he chuckled, thinking that particular line of work was so far from his job at the lodge it was laughable.
"Some form of police work?"
"Far from it."
The Chinese man tapped his foot with impatience. He'd always hated it when Duo turned one of his questions into a guessing game. "Would it kill you to give me a straight answer?" he asked with an exaggerated frown.
"Yeah, it probably would," the American replied with a chuckle, and then with a grin aimed at the other man he added, "It's good to know some things never change, isn't it, Wu? I can still drive you crazy with little to no effort on my part." He finally got a small response from the normally stoic man, in the form of a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth
"You're still a brat."
"And a top notched one at that," the braided man laughed, his eyes shining brightly with amusement.
"You're not going to tell me what your line of work is, are you?"
Duo gave an insouciant shrug of his shoulder. "Would you be disappointed if I told you I'm basically Mr. Fix-it at a mountain resort?"
There was a long pause while Wufei studied him thoughtfully, and Duo actually found himself squirming under that scrutinizing gaze while waiting for his friend to answer. "Does this form of employment make you happy? Are you fulfilled?"
"Fulfilled?" Duo looked at Wufei with disbelief. "Geeze, Wu, you know that sometimes a job is just a job. A lot of good people give up their days to a job that's not up to their potential just to bring home enough credits to pay the bills. But hey, my job isn't so bad, the people are nice enough. I can't really say what I do everyday is as worthwhile as my position in Preventers was. I can't even say it's fulfilling, but little in my life has been, so why break with tradition?"
A troubled look crossed the other man's face and Duo realized his flippant remark bothered his friend. When Wufei began again, he looked oddly unsure of himself as the subject matter changed once more, taking Duo by surprise. "I feel the need to apologize, Duo, for my part in yours and Heero's breakup. In hindsight, I can see that decision has led the both of you to further unhappiness."
Looking painfully remorseful, Wufei made a confession. "I was the one who encouraged Heero to move out of your shared apartment as soon as we returned to Earth from L4, believing at the time that swift action would help the situation rather than prolonging your obvious discord and unhappiness. If I erred in my judgment of the situation, I would humbly ask for your forgiveness."
"Keep your apology, Wufei," Duo snapped irritably. "Right or wrong, a lot of time has passed and I'm over it. Besides, what happened back then just doesn't matter any more."
"I beg to differ," the other man countered, remaining serious. "Being back here, even for a short visit, has made you unhappy once again. Based on that observation, as well as your continued avoidance of Heero, I can only conclude that you have not yet put your relationship with him behind you, despite your insistence that you have."
"Well, you're certainly entitled to your opinion." Duo stood abruptly from the bench, wanting this particular conversation to be over. Yet before he could step away he was stopped in his tracks when his wrist was suddenly caught in a tight, unyielding grip.
"Duo, please listen to me," Wufei spoke earnestly as his hold on Duo's wrist tightened. Without waiting for a response, the ebony haired man rushed to say what he felt his friend needed to hear. "Your absence has been difficult for all of us, especially Heero. He became... unhinged, for a lack of a better word, after learning you had no intention of coming back from what we were told was an impromptu vacation. At our urging, he remained in therapy, but he switched doctors. He became a patient of your former therapist, wanting to work with the woman, hoping, I suppose, to figure out what he had done wrong. He's changed, Duo. I think you would approve of those changes if you'd just give him a chance to show you."
Duo shook his head, obviously not buying what his friend was telling him. "From what I've seen so far, he hasn't changed at all. He's still uptight and angry and I can sense his disappointment in me. It's obvious I still don't measure up to his standards and, frankly, I just don't need that negative shit in my life anymore."
"No, Duo, you've got it all wrong," Wufei stated firmly, his expression troubled as he continued. "All right, Heero is wound a bit tight right now, but he hasn't seen you in almost two years and he can't seem to get you to sit and talk to him. I don't think he's angry with you as much as he is frustrated, and frankly, I don't blame him." Duo leveled his best glare on the man still holding him in place by the grip on his wrist.
"Please, sit down and hear me out," Wufei asked, his eyes pleading for Duo to agree.
"Alright. Let go of my wrist and I'll give you five minutes to get what ever is bothering you off your chest."
Wufei promptly freed his wrist and waited until the braided returned to his place on the stone bench. "Thank you." he said with the briefest smile. "For the moment, I'd like to briefly address the past. From Quatre, Trowa and my own perspective, your relationship with Heero was like watching two trains racing at breakneck speed towards each other on the same track, a horrible collision inevitable. You and Heero both share in the blame for the deterioration of your relationship, but let's address Heero's part for now.
"You've known him to be a man with very strong convictions and a clear sense of himself and of what he considers important. But his belief in himself and the his purpose in life were tested during his brief stint with Preventers and again as he ventured into the academic world. For some unexplainable reason, he allowed himself to be unduly influenced by his peers after he began studying at the university. After talking to Heero while he stayed at my place, I came to believe that he wanted so badly to fit in with his new friends at school, was desperate for the type of life he felt was "normal", that he allowed their thoughts and ideas to temporarily reshape his own opinions, including his image of the man he loved. The criticism of those so-called friends, ranging from your lack of education to the way you spoke or behaved, caused Heero to feel conflicted, and his feelings for you became even more complicated."
Leaning forward, his friend placed a comforting hand on his arm as he said with conviction, "He loved you, Duo. I know that because he told me so. But having you verbally picked apart by the group of people he admired pushed him to try and remedy the situation by attempting to improve you. Unfortunately, he chose to accomplish this change by the use of constructive criticism, which I know you didn't take very well. Thus the arguing began and continued until we, your friends, felt the need to say something. Obviously his unwise but well-intentioned plan backfired and the only thing he accomplished was hurting you, hurting the both of you."
Duo put his hands up, hoping to stop Wufei from going any further with his speech. He'd heard enough. "Why are you trying to defend him to me now, Wufei?" he demanded. "We're over, nearly two years over. Water under the bridge and all that. Making excuses for Heero's behavior back then isn't going to change things between us now."
He blinked at the other man, wondering if Wufei was kidding or not. "Because it doesn't matter any more, that's why not."
"If he doesn't matter to you anymore, then why are you hiding from him? If things were truly over between the two of you, you'd tell him to go to hell and you'd be back here, living and working where you belong. Quatre, Trowa and I are your friends, Duo, and we miss you. Are you so angry with our part in your breakup that you're punishing us staying away, the same way you're punishing Heero and yourself."
"What the...? Duo sputtered, his eyes wide with disbelief. "I'm not punishing anyone."
"I beg to differ."
Duo grit his teeth before saying in a stern voice, "I didn't leave Sanq to punish anyone. I left because I couldn't watch Heero fall in love with someone else, which is exactly what he did, didn't he?"
"No, he didn't."
"What?" Duo asked, incredulous. "He was engaged, wasn't he?"
Wufei frowned. "It's a complicated story, one you should hear about from Heero, not me."
A peculiar gleam appeared within those dark eyes a scant moment before the Chinese man changed the subject again by asking, "Quatre didn't tell you about what happened after you disappeared, did he?"
"He tried, but I stopped him. I just didn't want to hear about Heero's moving on after I left." The frown on the other man's face caused Duo's curiosity to crack through his wall of pride, but instead of coming out and demanding to know what had happened, Duo forced himself to sit still and patiently wait the other man out. If Wufei felt he needed to know something, he'd tell him straight out and not pussyfoot around it, like Quatre would.
Wufei shifted his position on the stone bench while his gaze transferred from him to stare vacantly at the rose bush across the garden path. After a moment, he began again. "Heero came to my place after leaving your apartment that day, looking like he'd lost his best friend. Little did we know that he had. He wouldn't tell me about your parting, only that you..." He paused, and then in a low voice he added, "That you cried. He was shaken by that, saying that you never cried, and it worried him. I tried to console him, saying your separation was only temporary, that you would adjust just as he would, given a couple of days.
"When you didn't show up to work on Monday, I went to Trowa to inquire about your whereabouts. He reported that Quatre had spoken with you by phone and that you'd taken some time off to leave town with the intent of pulling yourself together. Knowing that running and hiding was a pattern for you, my worry for you eased somewhat. Later that night, I informed Heero of what Trowa had said and he asked when you were coming back. I'd forgotten to ask, so he called Quatre, who told him he didn't know, only that you'd taken all your vacation and sick time. Heero figured you could be gone as long as a month and was persuaded by the three of us not to worry, that you'd be back when you were ready.
"With some urging and reassurance from us that everything would be alright, Heero resumed his studies and continued visiting his therapist. Even though he was living with me at the time, we rarely saw each other because our busy schedules conflicted."
"I can only imagine what else he was busy doing," Duo interjected sourly. "Heero always seemed to find time for hanging out with his university chums instead of spending time with me." The feeling of resentment for being last on Heero's list of importance during their last year together welled up inside him again, which he figured was pretty pathetic after all the time that had passed.
Wufei glanced aside at him and frowned after detecting his acerbic mood. He rushed on to the next topic after Duo glanced down at his watch, reminding his time was limited. "As for the office, Trowa was given a temporary partner, Dale Huffsteder." Duo raised an eyebrow at that bit of information. Dale was a good man, but an average agent, not one he'd have chosen for Trowa the risk taker. "Neither of them were exactly pleased by the pairing, but since it was temporary they dealt with it, until a month passed and you didn't return. Trowa called me mid February to tell me Une had made Huffsteder his permanent partner, that she was under the impression you weren't coming back.
Looking skyward, Wufei continued, "I debated about how to break the news to Heero. As I said, I hadn't seen very much of him and he didn't appear in a rush to find a place of his own. I waited up for him that night, knowing he'd show up sooner or later. It was a Friday, and he came in very late and slightly inebriated. I sat him down with a cup of coffee and gave him the news that you weren't coming back."
With a turn his head, Wufei met the American's gaze, allowing Duo to observe his heartfelt feelings of sadness and regret as he continued. "Heero's expression that night reminded me of how his appearance when he arrived at my apartment the day you two separated. He was in hurt and sad, but this time he was also angry. He surprised me by flying into a rage, blaming me and the others for interfering in your lives. He insisted that if we'd kept our noses out of your business, you and he would still be together. I was quick to remind him that the two of you had been at each other's throats and, with the way things were going, one or both of you were eventually going to be hurt, and badly.
"Over the course of the next few days, his unhappiness became more pronounced. He went back to the apartment the two of you shared only to find it had been leased out to someone else and that your landlord didn't know where you'd gone.
"A week later, his anger erupted. He was furious with you, me, Quatre and Trowa. Again he blamed us for your leaving and Trowa tried to reason with him, as did we all, but he was so hurt and angry that he wouldn't listen to reason. He moved out of my place the next day, while I was at work, and it was weeks later that I learned he'd rented a room with one of his friends from school, a woman named Daphne DeFranco."
Duo's mouth fell open with disbelief after hearing the woman's name. He knew her, and after leaving Sanq two years ago, he'd made it a point to never waste a moment thinking about her. Until now. She had been one of Heero's so-called friends from school, and one of his foremost critics. He'd overheard her himself when he'd reluctantly attended one of their uppity parties at Heero's insistence. The memory of that night was not a good one. He remembered standing around in some stranger's house feeling completely out of place while listening to the pseudo-intellectuals flaunting their knowledge of the dictionary while discussing the merits of one professor over another, their views on politics as well as their idealistic solutions to current world problems. He certainly didn't gain any points with them after he'd openly dismissed their ideas as impractical and too farfetched to be considered as viable solutions.
The majority of the students present that night got sloppy drunk, sipping French wine from long-stem glasses while creating a cloud of smoke above the room from their constant puffing on long, thin and dark cigarettes. And that Daphne chick, a bonafide snob as far as he was concerned, and the worst of lot.
While she didn't exactly hang on Heero's arm or his every word, he had glimpsed a look of open admiration in her eyes whenever she looked at him. She had definitely been checking out his lover. She had been tall, waif thin and had straight, midnight-colored hair that fell to her shoulders. With pouty, red-tinted lips she had spoken with a slight French accent, which had somehow added to the air of superiority she'd projected. Most would have considered her attractive, those who weren't the object of her scorn.
When at last she lowered herself to speak with him, she'd asked, in an elevated voice that drew the attention of everyone in the room to her, about his occupation and what activities he enjoyed when he wasn't slaving away in a fascist government job. Her condescending tone reminded him of that Dorothy chick Relena used to hang out with. His response had been to laugh in her face. He then advised her to look up the word fascism again to see that it in no way applied to the government or Preventers. The evening pretty much went downhill from there. He survived a total of two torturous hours before he'd had enough and informed Heero he was ready to leave.
Then, while in the process of reclaiming their coats, he'd overheard Daphne's accented voice coming from the open door of another room. He had no idea who she was talking to but he couldn't resist leaning in a bit closer to catch what she was saying. To this day he could still clearly hear her saying, "Granted, he's gorgeous, and I can certainly see why Heero is attracted to him. All that hair, those eyes and a great ass are no doubt wonderful in the bedroom, but looks fade eventually and then what do you have? An uncouth, uneducated little man. Mark my words, our Heero will be bored to tears with him before long. He thrives on gaining knowledge and is drawn towards people of intellect, and I'm afraid pretty little Duo can't claim either of those qualities."
"My sentiments exactly," Wufei said loud enough to startle Duo out of his thoughts of the past and back to the present.
"What?" he asked, blinking with confusion. He was pretty sure he hadn't said anything about what he'd been thinking out loud.
"Your view of the DeFranco woman is clear by the expression on your face, and I am in complete agreement, though I've only met her once," Wufei answered with a slightly conspiring smile.
Looking at the other man's grin, Duo suddenly realized how much he had missed his friend. Having been made partners at Preventers once, when Trowa had been injured, had more or less forced the two of them to get to know each other better. Sure, they worked briefly as gundam pilots, but Wufei had been somewhat of a loner back then and had distanced himself from the other gundam pilots until the end of the war. Working together, they'd gotten to know each other quite well and Duo found he liked Wufei Chang despite his seeming to be stiff and formal. Surprisingly, at some point in time, the other man had come to like him as well.
He took a moment to digest what Wufei had said about Daphne, and then a horrible thought came to him. "Don't tell me she's the one Heero was engaged to." He didn't know whether to laugh or throw up after seeing his friend's expression, confirming his worst nightmare.
"Unfortunately, taking advantage of someone's moment of weakness to get what you want isn't a talent limited to gundam pilots nor to wars," Wufei said. "I'm convinced, however, that Heero's engagement to her was as much a surprise to him as it was to everyone else."
"What makes you think that?"
"The shell-shocked expression on his face when she announced the engagement to us at our annual Christmas gathering."
"I can't believe he was engaged to her," Duo said, his nose wrinkled with distaste. He was having a very hard time believing Heero had chosen that woman over him. "What happened?"
"Why'd they break up?"
He looked up at Wufei and nodded his head, his curiosity piqued.
"He didn't love her. In fact, he quickly came to the conclusion that he really didn't even like her. I spoke with him a week after he informed us the engagement was off and that he'd moved into an apartment of his own. He confessed to me that he'd moved in with her only because he'd been so very angry, having placed the blame on us for your leaving. He turned to his university friends for support during that difficult time and Daphne was ready and willing to jump in and fill the void in his life. He realized quickly that she was two-faced and manipulative. She was the one who announced their engagement, with Heero sitting by her side looking absolutely dumbfounded."
"Well I guess Heero got his just desserts," Duo mumbled, but he was honestly surprised to find he really didn't feel that way. "Even with all that happened between us, I never wanted him to be unhappy."
Wufei nodded. "Though Heero has never one to display his emotions for all to see, it's been clear to those of us who know him best that he's been miserable without you. You really need to talk to him, Duo. Hear him out. Then maybe the both of you will get the closure you need in order to heal your hearts and move forward."
The braided man scowled at his friend. "Hey, I've already moved on and it looks like Heero is doing alright."
"Again, your hiding out here in the garden and refusing to speak with him is evidence that you haven't moved on."
Duo didn't know how to reply to that. He was avoiding Heero, though he wouldn't admit that to his Chinese friend, nor the fact that he wasn't over his former lover, and probably never would be. In was painful seeing Heero again and not being able to touch him, to hold him close like he craved to do.
It had been a mistake to come back.
He hadn't wanted to admit it, but after seeing Heero again he was beginning to want things that were beyond his reach. The more he thought about Heero, the more he physically and emotionally ached because of the irreparable breach between them. He longed for the kind of love that Trowa and Quatre had, and he missed his friends and wanted some semblance of the life he'd had before the proverbial shit had hit the fan.
A grim, fleeting thought crossed his mind that he might spend the remainder of his life wanting the things he couldn't have.
Again Wufei brought him out of his thoughts by saying, "Your friend seems nice and his artistic talent is noteworthy."
"Ah... yeah, Jim's a nice guy."
"Is he your lover?"
Duo looked up at his friend and saw no sign of judgment in his friend's dark eyes. "No."
"But you were lovers at some point, weren't you?"
"Why would you say that?"
"The painting. The way he depicted you. I don't think someone could create a piece of art like that unless there was some emotional connection between the two of you. I have also observed him looking at you with undisguised longing."
"The portrait came from a picture he took of me at a lake," Duo quickly explained. "We went water skiing with some friends of mine. We tried getting together as more than just friends, but quickly found out we aren't compatible."
One finely arched black eyebrow rose with curiosity. "To all appearances he seems amiable, attractive and the two of you appear to get along very well."
"We do, but there are other aspects of a relationship that don't always mesh. Watching Heero and I should have taught you that." Damn, that touch of bitterness was back in his voice again.
"What wasn't compatible?" Wufei hedged with a puzzled expression on his face. At this point Duo wished to be any where other than in the garden with Wufei and his probing questions. Yet recalling that Wufei, in the role of a concerned friend, would push until he got whatever information he was seeking out of him, he decided cut to the chase and be truthful, knowing that the Chinese man to be a bit of a prude and the topic would be uncomfortable for him, thus shutting him up. "In bed, Wufei. We weren't sexually compatible." He glanced up from the ground to see the other man's reaction. Wufei looked like he'd swallowed his tongue.
"But... you're both homosexual, right?"
Duo's eyes widened with disbelief. "Damn, what rock have you been living under, Wu? Really, you need to start dating, my friend, then you would know for yourself that it takes more than being gay and attracted to someone to make a relationship work. Again, Heero and I stand as an example."
Looking back down at his feet and the smooth round stone he'd been shuffling back and forth he added, "It's rather ironic, don't you think? Heero and I were perfect in bed together but not so good out of it; and it was just the opposite with Jim." Seeing that Wufei was blushing with embarrassment and at a loss for words, Duo decided to give his friend a break, even though he felt like mercilessly teasing the other man for being so dense. "Besides, I'm beginning to think that having friends is preferable to having a lover. It lessens the potential for getting hurt again."
At the touch of Wufei's hand on his arm, Duo looked up. There was in his expression an earnestness Duo had rarely been witness to. "I consider myself your friend, Duo, and I hope you believe me when I say I never intended to cause you so much pain by encouraging Heero to move out. I just couldn't watch the two of you hurt each other any longer. As time went on and the arguments continued, you seemed less and less like the Duo Maxwell I'd known and more like a desperate and angry stranger. Please believe that I just wanted the fighting to stop so that the two of you could get the proper counseling you obviously needed."
"It wasn't really your fault, Wufei, but I appreciate you acknowledging your part in our breakup."
Laughter coming not too far away seemed to punctuate the end of their conversation. Wufei seemed to sense the end also for he stood up and brushed off his suit pants. "You should come into the office tomorrow. I'm sure everyone would like to see you."
"I don't know," Duo hedged. "I don't have any definite plans, but I'll need to consult Jim. It's his first trip here and I promised to show him around."
Duo could see the wheels churning in Wufei's logical mind. Even if the other man guessed what he was about to do, he didn't make any effort try to change his mind other than to say, "Just promise me that you'll speak with Heero, and if you leave before we have a chance to meet again, please stay in touch."
"I'll email you," Duo answered. The other man frowned at him but didn't call him on sidestepping his first request.
The American rose to his feet also, even though he didn't feel ready to return to the party just yet. He was startled to suddenly find himself being embraced by the Chinese man. In fact, he was so surprised that it took him a moment to wrap his own arms around the other man and return the hug. When Wufei stepped back, he offered a warm smile. "It was good to see you again, Duo. I'm glad we had this time to talk."
"Yeah, me too. Take care of yourself, all right?"
Wufei gave a nod, then without another word he turned and left Duo standing alone in the garden. The braided man waited until his former comrade disappeared down the path before sinking back down on the stone bench and wrapping his arms tightly around his waist. The ache of loss inside of him was nearly overwhelming and if he was going to hold himself together and save face, he had to get out of there as soon as possible. With his emotions so close to the surface, talking to Heero was definitely out of the question. Before coming here, he had honestly thought that time as well as distance had helped him cope with having lost Heero, but it obviously hadn't. He wasn't ready to deal with Heero, maybe he never would be. The only way he could maintain his dignity and to avoid any further pain was to hightail it out of there without seeing Heero again, closure be damned. Heero had his closure that last afternoon they'd engaged in goodbye sex. For himself, he didn't think he'd ever want to hear from Heero's lips that he didn't love him any longer. It might be the truth, but it wasn't real until Heero told him himself.
"Time to go," he mumbled to himself with as much conviction as he could muster. Getting to his feet once more, he began the trek back to the house, no longer aware of the beautiful surrounding garden he walked through as he mentally began to plan his escape from Sanq, again.