Afterimage + Part 10 (cont)

"There's a shirt on the bed you can wear tonight if you want to get out of those clothes," he called out as he arranged a sheet on the couch.

Duo didn't say anything but shuffled over to the bed. Heero gave him enough time to change before he ventured over to the shoji screens.

"Duo? Did you get changed?" he asked before sticking his head inside.

"Yeah," he heard the braided boy mumble. Heero poked his head around the screen to see Duo sitting on the edge of the bed, looking very small in the oversized shirt. Heero walked over and sat down next to him, drawing the young man into his embrace.

They sat in silence for a long while, Duo nestled in Heero's arms. Heero never wanted to let go. He'd come to care about Duo so much in such a short while - and he'd almost lost him. His gut tightened in anger over the thought of another man laying his hands on Duo. He momentarily went blind with rage as he remembered the ugly cut on Duo's neck. He wanted to find that bastard and make him pay. He took a deep breath. He needed to calm down. There was nothing he could do about that right now. He had to be calm for Duo's sake. Duo needed him more at the moment.

He placed a kiss on the top of Duo's head. "You need to rest, koi. Let's get you tucked in."

Duo allowed Heero to maneuver his body into the bed. But when the older man went to draw up the covers, Duo latched on to his arm.

"Stay with me."

Heero hesitated. "Duo, you need rest. And I don't think..."

"Please?" the braided boy interrupted, violet eyes pleading with him to stay. "I don't want to be alone. I just need you to hold me."

Heero's eyes softened. He could not deny the young man anything - he knew that now. Wordlessly he nodded, gesturing for Duo to scoot over. He left the bed long enough to turn out all the lights in the apartment, then hurried back to where Duo was waiting for him. He climbed into bed next to the braided boy, wrapping his arms around him once more, drawing him close.

"Thank you," he heard Duo murmur in the dark. Heero kissed him gently on the lips.

"Sleep now, love. I've got you," he whispered back. Duo didn't reply.

Gradually Heero felt Duo's body relax, his breath evening out as he slipped into an uneasy sleep. He held Duo close, rubbing soothing circles along his back. Duo was so very precious to him - and he vowed to keep him safe, no matter what it took.

`I'll protect you, Duo. I promise.'

+

"No. Absolutely not," Duo glared at him from across the bar counter, clutching at his mug of coffee so hard his knuckles were turning white.

"Duo, it's for your own good..." Heero tried to reason but was cut off.

"I said no! I'm not going to move out of my apartment because some psycho with a knife is after me," he said, glaring defiantly at the dark-haired man across from him. He gripped his mug again but refused to let Heero see how nervous he was.

He'd woken up alone that morning, feeling much better but extremely embarrassed over his behavior the night before. It wasn't like him to just fall apart like that. And now, he'd done it twice with Heero.

His face burned with the memory. Heero must think he was so weak. Heero had been making a fresh pot of coffee when Duo awoke. The older man had smiled at him when he'd padded over to one of the bar stools, poured him a cup - and dropped his bombshell. He wanted Duo to move out of his apartment until the killer had been caught. Duo refused.

"Duo, if he's been following you, he knows where you live."

"And I know that. But I live above the clinic. There's a really good alarm system in the building. I'll be safe there."

"But..."

"Heero, please." He looked down, idly fingering the bandage on his neck. "I am scared. But I refuse to let him drive me out of my home." Heero didn't look convinced. "Please try to understand."

Heero sighed. "All right. Fine. But I'm placing a unit outside of your building at all times. I don't want you to go anywhere alone. And... I want you to keep a gun in your apartment."

Duo stared at him, then shook his head vehemently. "No way. I don't even know how to fire a gun."

"I'll take you to the firing range later and show you."

"Heero, I really, really don't want a gun. I don't think I could ever use one against another person."

"I'm not going to leave you unprotected. Take the gun, use it as a last resort." He grabbed a piece of paper from a notepad hanging on the refrigerator and scribbled something down on it. "Here's my pager number. If anything happens, anything at all, dial this number and hit `911'. I'll be at your place within minutes." He held out the paper, giving Duo a hard look. "It's either the gun or move out Duo. I just want to keep you safe."

Duo took the paper and sighed. "All right. I'll let you show me how to use a gun, but I doubt I'll be able to actually use it against another person."

"I'll feel better just knowing you have it," Heero said. "Now go get dressed. I'll take you to the firing range, then I'll take you home."

+

A week passed with not so much as a whisper from his stalker. Another body had been found - an older one this time. It had been found under one of the docks at the shipyard and had apparently been there a while before anyone found it - her. But this one was different. This time, someone remembered the young woman talking to a dark-haired stranger just before she disappeared. The details were sketchy, but at last they had a solid lead. The subsequent investigations kept Heero very busy, but he managed to find time everyday to stop in and check on Duo.

Duo resumed his work at the clinic. Quatre and Iria kept strict watch on him as did the plainclothes police permanently camped outside the building. He had done what Heero had asked - he hadn't ventured out alone. He'd even gone so far as to stay home Saturday night instead of going to the orphanage like he always did. He hadn't wanted to, but Father Maxwell and Sister Helen had insisted he stay home for his own safety. Duo had reluctantly agreed, but he was getting real tired of being confined to his apartment when no one else was around. But Heero had been adamant. Still, the evening hadn't been a total loss.

Heero had come over and they spent the night watching old movies and cuddling on the couch. Duo could only wish for more evenings like that - only without the price of giving up his freedom. The only thing Duo didn't do was carry the gun Heero had given him around with him. He kept it unloaded in the top drawer of his night stand and absolutely refused to take it out. He hated guns and didn't want it around.

The door to the clinic opened, startling Duo out of his reverie. He looked up to see a familiar figure walk through.

"Hello, Zechs," Duo said, giving the man a small smile. "What brings you here?"

"Good evening, Duo," the platinum-haired man replied, giving the teen a warm smile. "I'm on guard duty tonight."

Duo blinked. "You? But I thought you worked in narcotics."

"I do, but I owed someone a favor and since the department is a little short-handed at the moment, here I am." He sidled up to the reception counter to lean closer to the braided teen. "And how are you doing? I see your wound is healing nicely."

Duo involuntarily reached up to trace the scarred ridge on his throat. In a few more days, it would be healed completely. Quatre thought it wouldn't even leave a permanent scar behind.

"Thanks. And I'm fine. I'm a little frustrated about being cooped up all the time, but I'm otherwise okay."

"Ah. That is good to hear."

"Duo?" Both men looked up to see Quatre come through the waiting room door looking concerned. "I thought I heard you talking to someone out here. Who's this?" he asked coolly, looking Zechs up and down with a critical eye.

"This is Officer Zechs Merquise. Zechs, this is my friend and my boss, Dr. Quatre Winner," Duo introduced. "Zechs works at the same precinct as Heero and is playing guard duty on me tonight."

Quatre stuck out his hand. "Nice to meet you, officer. Sorry for acting so suspicious - it's been a trying time for all of us."

"I understand," Zechs replied. He reached out to brush an errant lock of hair away from Duo's face. "But if it's to protect something so precious, it must be done."

Duo blushed furiously, drawing away from the older man's hand. "Um, thanks." He shook his head to clear his mind. "Anyway, what are you doing here now? I thought Mark and José were out there at the moment," he said, nodding at the window through which an unmarked car could be seen sitting across the street.

"On a first name basis with your watchers?" Zechs teased.

Duo blushed. "Well, they are sort of risking their lives for me should anything happen. They've been here nearly everyday since this whole mess began."

"I understand. Anyway, another officer and I are supposed to be relieving them in about twenty minutes to take the night shift. I came in early to see how you were doing - and to see if I could get your doctor friend to spare a moment of his time."

"Of course," Quatre replied, "what did you need?"

"I've been having some sinus trouble lately. It always happens this time of year - I get this nasty drainage that makes my throat all sore and raspy. I wonder if you could take a look at my throat and maybe recommend something I could take because the over-the-counter stuff just isn't doing the trick."

"Certainly. Why don't you come into one of the exam rooms in the back and I'll have a look at you. Duo, I know it's about time for you to get off, but don't go anywhere yet. This shouldn't take more than a few minutes."

Duo nodded, watching as Quatre led Zechs into the back. He sighed and busied himself with tidying up the waiting room. Zechs was nice - but there was something about him that made him squirm - and not in a good way. Though maybe it was just because he came on so heavily. Had he not been with Heero, he probably would have been flattered by the attention.

Quatre had been correct. The exam did not take longer than a few minutes. Zechs walked back into the waiting room, followed a moment later by Quatre who had been turning out the lights to the exam rooms.

"Just give me a moment to lock up, Duo, then I'll walk you up to your apartment."

"I can escort Duo to his door if you'd like, Dr. Winner," Zechs offered smoothly, moving to stand closer to Duo. A little too close. Duo took a step back.

Quatre looked at the braided teen. "Do you mind?"

`Yes! I mind!' Duo wanted to shout, but shook his head instead. Zechs had been nothing but nice to him. He didn't want to be rude in return. "No, I don't mind."

"Great! I'll see you tomorrow then."

Duo nodded. He turned to Zechs. "Shall we go?"

"Lead the way."

Duo led Zechs out the front door of the clinic and around the building to a side entrance. Zechs stood behind him as he punched in the code on the security pad to open the door. A flight of stairs immediately inside the door led to the upstairs apartments. Though there were several apartments above the clinic, Duo was currently the only occupant.

"How did that relationship you were telling me about at the pub work out?" Zechs asked from behind him as they mounted the stairs.

"It's working out rather nicely," Duo replied, not wanting to mention Heero by name for some reason.

"Ah. That's too bad - for me that is." They reached the landing and Zechs opened the door to the hallway for him. "Hm, this hall needs better lighting," he remarked as Duo led the way to his apartment door.

The younger man shrugged. "I'm the only one who lives up here at the moment. I don't mind."

"The only one? Why?"

"Quatre's having the other apartments completely renovated. He owns the whole building. My place was the only one fit to live in when he bought it to open up the clinic downstairs a couple of years ago. He wants to rent them all out eventually."

"I see." They reached Duo's door. "Would you like me to come in with you?"

"Um, no. I don't think that'll be necessary," Duo replied hastily. "But thanks for walking up here with me. It can feel a little scary sometimes all by myself."

"I can imagine." He brushed his fingers along Duo's cheek. Duo fought the urge to flinch. "My partner should be here by now. I'm going to check out all the entrances and exits in the building. Call downstairs if you need anything. I'm assuming they gave you the cell phone number?"

Duo nodded as he unlocked his door. "Thanks Zechs. See you around."

"Pleasant dreams, Duo."

The braided boy hurried into his apartment, quickly closing the door behind him. Something about Zechs's attitude was giving him the willies. He heaved a sigh of relief, then looked at the clock. Heero would probably be stopping by in about half an hour. That should leave him enough time to grab a quick shower.

He moved through his apartment, switching on the lights as he went since the sun was in the last stages of setting over the city, casting deep shadows around the rooms. He grabbed a robe from his closet and headed for the bathroom. Shedding his clothes, he turned on the water and stepped underneath, allowing the warm water to wash over him, relieving him of some of his tension. He'd been a lot more stressed out lately, murderous stalking psychos aside. It had been nearly two weeks since the article about him had been in the paper. Since then he'd had to have his phone number changed to an unlisted number as reporters and other curious people had kept his old number ringing off the hook. The patients in Quatre's clinic still asked him questions but fortunately, most of the odd and suspicious looks had stopped as most of them had known Duo for years and knew what a good kid he was. But the hounding attention had gotten to him - he was just thankful people seemed to be losing interest.

He quickly washed and rinsed his hair and body. With a reluctant sigh, he turned off the water and stepped out of the tub. He dried off and slipped the robe on, tying the belt loosely around his waist. As he began brushing and drying his long chestnut hair, he idly pondered what clothes to put on. He wanted to look good for Heero's visit, even if the older man only stayed a few minutes. Flipping off the hairdryer, he heard a noise from somewhere in the apartment beyond the closed bathroom door. Smiling to himself, he realized Heero must have let himself in. He'd given the detective a spare key a few days before. He liked the idea of Heero being able to come and go as he pleased. Of course, it would be better if they actually lived together, but as they were still getting used to the relationship, giving one another a spare key was the next best thing. He finished tying off his braid and reached for the doorknob. Warm light spilled out of the bathroom as he opened it and stepped outside into the darkened bedroom.

"Heero, how was your..." His words trailed off as he looked around the dark room. Funny - he could have sworn he'd turned the lights on before he'd gotten into the shower.

An eerie feeling crept up his spine. He shivered, all of a sudden feeling scared to be in his own apartment. His instincts were screaming at him to get out. A movement from the far side of the room startled him. He bolted for the door only to have a familiar pair of strong arms wrap around his body.

"Hello again, pretty. I told you I'd come back for you," the gravely voice that had been haunting his dreams whispered into his ear. "I've been thinking about you all week. Ready for some fun?"

Before Duo could struggle, or even scream, he found himself being launched into the air to land on his bed. In a flash, the man was upon him, straddling his hips and pinning his arms above his head. "Remember - scream and I go after the nun and all those kids at the orphanage," he attacker rasped, pressing his body against Duo's. Duo wasn't even sure he could scream. His whole body seemed to be paralyzed with fear. Even if he did manage to scream, he doubted anyone would be able to hear him. He was all alone in the building and the two cops were outside... Duo blinked. How had the man gotten past his guards? He suddenly feared for Zechs and his partner's safety.

The man held his wrists to the bed with one hand while he moved the other to yank at the belt of Duo's robe, untying it. He pushed the material out of the way, exposing the boy to his gaze. Duo stared up at him, frozen. He still couldn't see the man's features clearly in the near darkness. The only light came from the bathroom; Duo's attacker was silhouetted against the light, masking his features. Wandering hands groped at him. Duo whimpered and turned his head away. The killer grabbed his chin and forced his head back up. He swooped down and attacked Duo's mouth, forcing his tongue inside. Duo sucked in his breath, gagging at the putrid taste of him. He lay frozen for a moment before regaining his courage and desperate need to get away. He bit down hard on his attacker's tongue. The man reared up, roaring in anger and pain. The moment Duo's hands were free, he rose up, shoving the man on top of him hard enough to knock him off the far side of the bed. Duo scrambled up and ran full tilt for the living room and the phone.

He grabbed the phone off the cradle, almost knocking the whole unit off the wall. With shaking fingers he punched in the number to Heero's pager.

"Come on, come on!" he whispered impatiently as he waited for the beep to continue. As soon as the electronic noise sounded in his ear, he hit `911'.

Just as he completed dialing, a hand slammed down onto the cradle, breaking the connection.

"You little whore!" the raspy voice hissed angrily into his ear. "You're all alike, always running to someone else. Well guess what? Playtime's over." He grabbed Duo's wrist with one hand and yanked the belt off his robe with the other. "It's time for the real fun to begin."

+

"So what do you want to do for dinner tonight?" Trowa asked as he slid behind the wheel of his car. "I'm thinking Thai."

"Isn't Marie expecting you at home for dinner tonight?" Heero asked, settling himself in the passenger's side.

"No. She's got parent-teacher conferences until eight which means I have to fend for myself this evening." He started the ignition and pulled out of the space. "So there's this new Thai place downtown..."

"As much as I would like to burn a whole in my stomach with your spicy Thai food," Heero interrupted, "I can't. I need to get home and get some paperwork done."

"You are no fun, Yuy."

"So I've been told," he replied dryly. "I need to swing by Duo's place first to check on him." His request was met with stony silence. "Trowa? Did you hear me?"

"Why can't you just call him?" his partner asked tersely.

Heero resisted the urge to sigh. He thought they were over this. "I just want to check on him, Trowa."

"You do too much `checking' on him." Heero could hear the sarcasm and bitter resentment oozing from his voice.

"I can't help it, Trowa. I lo-" The buzzing of his beeper interrupted him. Heero dug it out of his pocket, turning pale as he saw Duo's number followed by the `911' code.

"Shit!" He reached down for the flashing police light and stuck it on Trowa's dashboard.

"Heero, what-?"

"It's Duo. He's in trouble. I have to get over there. Now!"

Trowa was wise enough not to say anything as he stepped on the gas.

+

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