Author: Caroline
Rating: this part - NC-17
Disclaimers: don't own 'em. never will. 'nuff said.

Afterimage + Part 11

"His name is Alex Mueller." Heero blinked, not recognizing the name, but accepting the hastily typed copy of the preliminary report from Otto as Wufei continued speaking. "We took prints from the corpse and ran them through the database. Mueller's name came up rather quickly."

"He had a rap sheet, a rather long one," Otto added. "He'd been arrested for lots of different things, from possession to domestic assault and attempted rape. He'd been in and out of jail most of his life, at least up until a couple of years ago."

"We talked to his parole officer," Wufei continued, addressing Treize this time. "He said that Mueller had gotten a steady job as a late night loader on the docks and had managed to stay out of serious trouble for eighteen months. He said Mueller was small time hood, but he would never have imagined him as our serial killer."

Treize snorted softly. "They never do. It's always the person you least suspect."

"Yeah, well... we got Mueller's address and raided his apartment. He's our guy, all right." Wufei picked up some photographs and handed them to Treize, who flipped through them, grimacing, before passing them to the next person in the room. "We had a crime scene investigation team there all night sorting through his belongings. We were looking for any evidence which might tie him to the murders. We found it - in spades."

The photos were passed to Heero. He looked down, shuffling through them, frowning. The pictures were of a makeshift shrine in Mueller's bedroom. An entire wall was covered in newspaper clippings and photographs of the dead young men and women. Candles left burning on a rickety table surrounded a photograph of a young man with long dark hair. On the table in front of the picture, were several indiscriminate items. Heero didn't look at them too closely. Wufei's investigation team could cover that. He just wanted to know if his theories were correct.

"We found several items belonging to each of the victims. It seems this guy liked to take souvenirs of his victims home with him. Some were ordinary objects: a ring, a hair barrette, an article of clothing. But others were more gruesome. We found a finger and a - piece of a man's anatomy in a jar." Wufei turned a little pale when he stated that little piece of information. "We know who the finger belongs to, but do not yet know who the - other - belongs to. We suspect there may be as many as four bodies we have not discovered yet."

"Have you been able to determine why he was killing his victims?" another officer asked as Heero passed the photos on.

"We've got a profiler working on it. The most likely scenario she's given us is that he caught his lover, the young man in the photograph, cheating on him. We haven't been able to identify the guy in the picture yet, and he's not one of the bodies we've uncovered. She says the lover was probably cheating on him with a woman, hence why he went after both sexes. That's also why he attacked victims with long hair - seems to be a turn-on for him."

Heero shuddered at the thought of Duo in that man's hands. "And the teardrop?" someone else inquired.

Wufei shrugged. "You don't really need to be a criminal psychologist to understand that. The lover broke his heart. He was taking out his rage and frustrations on his victims."

Heero shifted impatiently in his seat, wishing for Wufei to get to the point of why he was there. He glanced at the clock. He wanted to be out of there and at the hospital in twenty minutes. But that wouldn't happen if Wufei kept yammering.

The conversation about motive and why no one had suspect Mueller continued for the next several minutes. Finally, unable to wait any longer, he interrupted the next question and asked, "What about Relena Peacecraft? Was there evidence of her being one of the victims in the apartment?"

Wufei looked at him steadily in the eye for a moment before replying. "No. There wasn't."

Heero leaned back, eyes closed in frustration, but not surprised. He could feel the others' eyes on him, no doubt looking from him to Wufei in confusion. But let them wonder. He wasn't about to discuss the Peacecraft case in front of them.

This was what he had feared, what he and Trowa and Wufei had suspected and had discussed with Treize. Relena Peacecraft had not been murdered by the serial killer. Whoever killed her wanted to make her look like just another random victim to throw off their investigation. He sighed. Things were becoming more and more complicated by the minute.

The briefing mercifully came to a close a few minutes later when it became obvious the other detectives weren't going to get any more information out of Heero or Wufei. The Japanese detective stood, wanting to get out of there as soon as possible. He'd almost made it to the door when Wufei's voice called him back.

"Yuy, a word, please."

Heero turned to face the other cop. "What?" he snapped, wanting to be gone already.

"How's Trowa?" the dark-haired detective asked, eyes softening in concern.

Heero's shoulder's slumped. "He'll be all right. He might have to go through some physical therapy, but he should have full use of his arm again in time. He has to stay in the hospital a few days, but he should be back at his desk at least by the end of next week."

"Aa. That's good to hear." Wufei shifted uncomfortably for a moment before asking, "And the kid?"

Heero's eyes slid closed at the thought of Duo. "He's... he's a bit shaken up. They kept him at the hospital overnight for observation. I'm heading over there now to pick him up."

Wufei nodded. "He's been through a lot." He looked at Heero. "I... I know you have come to care a great deal about him. Take care of him. Something like this... it'll be hard to get over."

"I will. Thanks, Wufei."

"Tell Trowa I'll stop by later to visit."

"Will do."

Wufei laid a hand on his Heero's shoulder. "Get some rest, Heero. We'll need to start looking into the Peacecraft murder soon." Heero nodded. "I didn't want to be right, you know."

"I know. But we'll catch whoever did it. Now... go pick up your boyfriend. We've still got a lot to do here and we don't need you around to do it. I'll see you bright and early tomorrow."

"Aa."

+

Heero hurriedly pushed open the door to Duo's hospital room, half- growling with impatience and frustration. The briefing had run over, traffic had been terrible, and he'd gotten hung up at the nurse's station signing all the paperwork in order to check Duo out. He'd had all the paperwork and bills put in his name the night before when Duo had been brought in as he knew Duo couldn't pay for it all himself. He didn't mind - taking care of Duo had somehow become his number one priority. But he cursed all the bureaucratic red tape he had to wade through before Duo could be released. He was anxious to get his little love home, and had nearly scared the on-duty nurse senseless glaring at her as he slogged through the paperwork.

He was worried about Duo. The boy hadn't said much the night before after being unable to identify his attacker. The paramedics had taken him to the hospital along with Trowa, afraid the braided boy was going to go into shock. Heero hadn't wanted to leave him there overnight, but after seeing the condition Duo was in - not speaking, eyes blank - he'd relented. But he wasn't going to leave him there alone for longer than absolutely necessary. He was going to get Duo home and take care of him. They could worry about everything else, including Relena's murderer, later.

He stopped abruptly upon entering Duo's room as he saw the bed was empty. For a moment his heart stopped as his mind started to overreact. Had something happened? Had he left by himself? Waves of panic began to wash over him as he imagined Duo wandering the streets alone after what had happened. But then a slight movement next to the window caught his attention. His shoulders sagged with relief as he saw Duo standing quietly next to the window, already dressed and looking down at the street, fiddling nervously with his braid. Heero hurried over and laid a comforting hand on Duo's shoulder.

"Duo? Are you all right?"

The braided boy turned silently, wrapping his arms around Heero and placed his head on the older man's chest. "You're late," he murmured, burying his face in the crook of Heero's arm.

"I'm sorry. I got stuck in..."

"I want to go home," Duo interrupted, not looking up.

Heero squeezed Duo a little harder and nodded. "I just want to check on Trowa, then I'll take you to get settled at my place."

"No. I want to go home - my home."

Heero closed his eyes. He'd been afraid of this. "Duo, love - you can't go back there. It's a crime scene now. There are bullet holes in your walls and - and the blood hasn't been cleaned up yet."

"I want to go home," the braided youth insisted.

"Duo..."

"No! I want to go home. I can't - I can't let him win. If I leave my apartment... if I run away... he's won." He sniffled against Heero's shirt. "I can't let him win."

"You have won," Heero said, holding him closer. "He's dead. He can't hurt you anymore. But - you need to come stay with me. At least for a little while until we can get your place cleaned up. Okay?"

Duo didn't say anything for a minute. Heero held his breath, afraid Duo would press the issue, but he let out a sigh of relief when Duo nodded. "Okay."

Heero gave him another brief squeeze before releasing him. He took hold of Duo's hand and led him to the door. "I'm going to stop by to check on Trowa, then we'll go."

Duo nodded again and followed along silently behind. Trowa was on a different floor than Duo. The two rode the elevator up to the seventh floor where Trowa had been moved to a private room earlier in the day. Heero put his hand out to open the door, but paused when he felt Duo tugging on his arm.

"I... I think I'll wait out here," he said, dropping Heero's hand.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. I know your partner... doesn't like me very much. Waiting out here would probably be for the best."

"All right. I won't be long," Heero promised, dropping a kiss on Duo's cheek. He left Duo standing just outside the door. He entered the room quietly, not wanting to disturb Trowa should he be asleep. He peeked around the corner to see one emerald eye glittering at him.

"Hey Heero."

Heero stepped fully into the room. "Hello, Trowa. I'm not disturbing you am I?"

Trowa shook his head. "Can't sleep. Shoulder hurts too much and those harridans they call nurses won't give me any more pain medication."

Heero smirked and put on a fake Jersey accent. "You want I should go beat some out of 'em, boss?"

Trowa snickered. "No. I'll be fine. I can take the pain. It's Marie's incessant worrying over me that's hard to bear."

"Where is your lovely wife anyway?" Heero asked, glancing around the room. Already he could see Marie Barton's touch by all the flowers and little decorations scattered about the room.

"I sent her to the cafeteria. She hadn't eaten a thing since she got the call last night and rushed over here." Trowa's expression grew serious. "How was the briefing?"

"We got him, Trowa. We got the bastard that's been killing all those kids."

The green-eyed detective closed his eyes. "Thank God. That's one nightmare over." His eyes slid back open. "What about..."

"We were right," Heero replied softly. "Relena was murdered by a copycat."

"Shit," Trowa said vehemently, wincing as he overextended his injured shoulder. "Any leads then?"

"None yet." He gave his partner a small smile. "That's why you need to heal quickly so we can get back to work."

"Ah HA! I knew it! I am the brains of our operation," Trowa teased. A moment later his expression turned serious once again. "How's the kid?"

"Duo's fine... I think. He's waiting outside for me at the moment. I want to get him home as soon as possible and get him into bed. To sleep," he added, giving his partner a mock glare. "I don't think he's slept at all since last night."

"I understand. But do me a favor? Send him in here before you go."

"Trowa, I don't think..."

"Please. I'm not going to say anything bad to him. I just want to thank him."

Heero looked at his partner for a moment before nodding. "All right. But be quick. You both need your rest."

"Yes, Mother."

Heero walked back to the door and stuck his head outside. Duo looked surprised to hear that Trowa wanted to speak with him. He didn't want to go in, but Heero grabbed his arm and dragged the unwilling boy into Trowa's room, pushing him into an empty chair next to Trowa's bed. The braided boy wouldn't look Heero's partner in the eye. He simply sat in the chair, hands folded nervously in his lap.

"I'll leave you two alone. I'll be back in ten minutes," he said.

"Thank you, Heero," Trowa replied before focusing his attention on Duo.

+

Duo stared down at his hands, unable to look Heero's partner in the face. The man didn't like him - could barely stomach his presence in fact. Why on earth did he want to speak to him?

"Duo, please look at me," the soft baritone commanded, softly but firmly.

Duo swallowed and looked up, determined to take whatever Trowa had to say to him without breaking down.

"What did you want to speak to me about, Mr. Barton?" he asked, hoping his voice didn't waver too badly.

Trowa held his gaze for a long moment. Duo could feel himself start to shake under the injured man's scrutiny. He was about to look away again when Trowa finally spoke.

"Do you love him?"

Duo blinked. "Wh-what?"

"Heero. Do you love him?"

"I...I..."

"A simple yes or no will do."

"Yes!" Duo blurted out, eyes widening in surprise as he slapped his hands over his mouth. He couldn't believe he'd just said that. He hadn't admitted it out loud before. But... he decided he liked the sound of it. He felt Trowa's gaze still on him and winced.

"Good. I don't want to see him hurt."

If Duo had thought his eyes couldn't open any wider, he was wrong. "I could never hurt him," he replied, shuddering at the thought.

"I hope not." Now it was Trowa's turn to look uncomfortable. "Anyway, thanks."

"Thanks? For what?"

Trowa looked at him incredulously. "For what? You saved my life! You got free. You could have used his distraction to run to safety - which is what you should have done! - but instead you put yourself at risk and kept that bastard from putting a bullet through my head."

"O-oh." Duo bit his lip, not quite knowing what to say. "You're welcome."

"I also want to apologize," Trowa continued. "I shouldn't have treated you the way I did. It was unprofessional of me, and you did nothing to deserve it."

"That's okay," Duo said hastily, squirming under Trowa's gaze. "I get it all the time..."

"It's not okay." The injured man sighed and looked away. "Look, I don't believe in psychic powers. My sister... when her husband died she was taken by a con artist claiming to be a psychic who could let her talk to him. She lost everything. I've had an inherent mistrust of so- called 'psychics' since then. And when you came along... I thought you were looking for something too. But I know now that you are not."

Duo blinked rapidly as his eyes began to sting. "I... I just wanted to help."

"I know. And I thank you." He gave Duo a small half-smile. "You'd just better take care of Heero or else I'll come looking for you. And I know of several good places to hide bodies."

Duo let out a little laugh. "I'll be sure to remember that. You really care for him don't you?"

"He's my best friend and the brother I never had. And I'll admit that makes me just a tad overprotective of him. I just want to see him happy," Trowa said. "That's another reason why I was so hard on you. I could tell you were attracted to him. I didn't want another annoying lust-struck fool following him around all the time."

"Yeah, he told me about Relena pursuing him," Duo replied, amazed to find himself warming up to the older cop.

"Pursue? Try full fledged stalking. I know it's wrong to speak ill of the dead, but Relena Peacecraft was one psychotic bitch."

"But... I thought..."

"I don't know what Heero told you, but he probably didn't tell you the whole truth. Relena chased him relentlessly. She'd show up at work with flowers and baskets of muffins, wearing the skankiest outfits you've ever seen. She'd follow him to the pub and hang all over him. When he told her he wasn't interested, I think that made it worse. I don't think anyone had ever told her no before. That just made her even more determined to have him. Her pursuit know no bounds. He even came home one night and found her naked in his bed."

Duo sat stunned as he listened to Trowa's story. He'd had no idea it had been that bad. "What did Heero do?"

"He politely shoved her out the door and told her if she showed up like that again, he'd have a restraining order placed on her." Trowa snorted. "If it had been me, I'd have kicked the crazy bitch out, buck naked, and had her arrested for breaking and entering. But you know Heero - ever the chivalrous type."

"Did she back off?"

"For a while. But then it started up again about two weeks before she disappeared. She started calling Heero at all hours of the night. He didn't get much sleep. I was about ready to kill her myself when she went missing."

The venom in the older man's voice made Duo shudder. He wasn't at all sure Trowa was just joking. He looked up as Trowa's emerald gaze caught his again.

[cont]