Afterimage + Part 10 (cont)

+

"No! Let go!" Duo screamed, struggling as the man tied the terry cloth belt to his wrist. He kicked and screamed as he was dragged across the room back to the bedroom. He had to get away. He had no idea if his page had gone through or not. He might very well be on his own.

"Quit struggling, kid!" the man yelled as he attempted to bind Duo's wrists together. Duo leaned down and bit the man's hand. The killer screamed again, shoving Duo away. The braided teen scrambled up and rushed into the bedroom, the belt still tied to one wrist. He dove for the night stand, sliding on the floor, and yanked open the drawer. He pulled out the gun and a box of bullets. As he tried to shove the shells into the gun with shaking hands, he cursed his `brilliant idea' to keep the weapon unloaded. Never again would he make that mistake - if he lived through this one. More shells ended up on the floor than in the gun, but at last the weapon was ready. He raised it and pointed it at the door just as the man staggered through.

"Don't come any closer! I have a gun," he called out from the floor, trying to aim with unsteady hands.

The man froze, watching him warily in the dim light. Then he grinned and took a step forward.

"Ah, pretty. There's no need to be like that."

"I mean it! One more step..." Duo warned with a trembling voice.

"Or you'll what? Shoot me?" He took another step forward, then another. "You can't even hold that gun steady."

Duo swallowed nervously, shifting his grip on the gun. His palms were sweating so much he could barely hold onto it.

The man took another step forward. "Give me the gun, pretty - before someone gets hurt."

"I-I'll shoot," Duo said feebly, not sure if he could actually pull the trigger. His hands trembled, his fingers twitched. The man took yet another step toward him. Duo pressed his lips together, closed his eyes, tried to pull the trigger - and failed.

The gun was ripped from his grasp and flung into the shadows. A hand reached down and yanked him off the floor. His wrists were bound in front of him, but Duo didn't struggle. He was too numb. He hadn't even been able to pull the trigger, hadn't been able to save himself.

`Heero. I'm sorry. I couldn't do it.'

+

Heero jumped out of the car before Trowa was able to come to a complete stop.

"Trowa, go around to the back entrance. I'll take the side."

"Right."

Heero dashed to the side entrance of Duo's building. He swallowed hard as he realized the security pad hadn't been activated and the door was unlocked. He pulled open the door and rushed inside, nearly tripping over a body on the stairs. His eyes widened as he recognized the shock of platinum hair on the man.

"Zechs!" He knelt down to check for a pulse, relieved when he felt one beating fast and strong. He shook the other man's shoulder. "Zechs! Wake up."

The silver-haired cop groggily opened his eyes. "Wha-? Yuy?"

"Try not to move. We've already called for back-up. They'll be here soon," Heero said, anxious to get upstairs.

"Be...careful," Zechs said weakly as Heero turned to run up the stairs.

`Duo. I'm coming.'

+

The man threw Duo back down on the bed. The braided boy landed on his back, robe hanging almost completely off his body. The killer pounced on him, stretching Duo's arms above his head to fasten them to one of the spokes of the headboard. His legs were forced apart roughly. Duo turned his head away, tears streaming down his face. He heard the man pull down the zipper of his pants. Duo bit his lip, feebly attempting to brace himself for what he knew was going to happen.

"Police! Freeze!" Duo's eyes flew open. He knew that voice - Heero's partner, Trowa. Heero must have gotten his page! He had to be nearby! The man above him froze. "Get your hands up!"

"Don't shoot, officer," the killer said, complying with the order and raising his hands. "I'm unarmed."

"Move away from the boy. Slowly."

As the man obeyed, climbing off his body, Duo's fingers went to work picking at the knot in the terry cloth belt.

"Turn around, get down on your knees, and place your hands behind your head," Trowa ordered. Again the man did as he was told. Trowa approached him carefully from behind, pulling out a pair of handcuffs.

"You don't want to do this," the man said, still not moving.

"Shut up." Trowa hooked one of the cuffs onto the man's wrist. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will..."

Trowa never got to finish. The man spun around, knocking him to the ground. Duo managed to get one hand free as the two struggled on the floor. He was frantically working on the other hand when the loud *bang* of a gun being discharged startled him out of his skin, nearly deafening him.

Trowa lay on the floor, dazed, eyes half-closed, bleeding a shoulder wound. The killer stood over him with the detective's gun in his hand.

"I've never killed a cop before," the man drawled over his shoulder at Duo, "unless that one I clubbed downstairs managed to die. This might be fun." He cocked the gun and aimed it at Trowa's head.

His finger twitched. Duo didn't hesitate - he flung himself at the man, knocking the gun away as it went off, narrowly missing Trowa. The gun sailed to the floor as the two went tumbling to the ground. Duo's limbs got tangled in his robe. He tripped, landing flat on his back, giving the man time enough to climb on top of him and wrap his fingers around Duo's throat.

"Damn kid!" he yelled as his fingers tightened, cutting off Duo's air supply. The boy clawed at his hands, desperate for air. "You're more trouble than you're worth, pretty. Say goodnight."

"Goodnight," a familiar nasally voice intoned from the doorway of the bedroom before the sound of gunfire reverberated through the air. For a moment, everything appeared to happen in slow motion. The man's body twitched above him, fingers loosening their grip as he fell forward. Duo lay still, unable to think, unable to move, gasping for air, until time resumed its normal course and the man's dead weight began to crush him. He pushed weakly, unable to roll him off.

"Heero? Heero! Help me. Get him off me!" he cried out, panicked. He could feel his attacker's blood seeping onto his skin. He wanted out, wanted to get away. It was too much... too much. "Heero!"

+

Heero knelt briefly at Trowa's side to make sure his partner was all right. "Trowa?"

"I'm okay," his partner said in a pained voice.

"Clean shot I think. That kid - he saved me."

Heero nodded gratefully before Duo's startled cries drew him away to the boy's side. He pushed the now dead body off his young love. He gathered Duo in his arms, helping him to stand. He could feel Duo trembling - or was that himself? He'd almost lost Duo. Again. He glared down at the dead man. At least now, it was over. In the distance sirens could be heard blaring down the streets towards their location.

"Help is on the way, Duo," Heero said, pulling the boy's robe closed. "Are you hurt?"

Duo shook his head mournfully. "I'm sorry. I couldn't shoot him." He peeked over Heero's shoulder to look at Trowa. "Your partner - is he... is he going to be okay?"

"Aa. Looks like a clean shot. He'll be fine."

Heero moved back to his partner, keeping Duo close. He grabbed a sheet off the floor and wadded it up, pressing it to Trowa's shoulder to staunch the bleeding. No one spoke a word until the back-up police units and EMT personnel arrived. Duo was relieved to hear that Zechs would be all right, as would the other officer who had been found slumped over the steering wheel of the unmarked patrol car, rendered unconscious by a blow to the head. Trowa's injury was the most serious, but he had been right. The bullet had passed cleanly through, missing everything vital. The EMTs looked Duo over, and aside from some bruising, they pronounced him fit. Heero nearly sagged to the floor in relief when he heard that. His Duo was going to be all right.

Wufei showed up at some point, followed closely by the coroner who had come to collect the body. Heero let go of Duo, who was now wrapped in one of the paramedic's blankets to keep him warm in case shock set in, and walked over to his fellow detective.

"Heero? Is it true?" Wufei asked. "Did you get him?"

"We won't know for sure until all the investigations are complete but - yes, I think we got him."

Wufei closed his eyes, shoulders sagging with relief for a moment. He took a deep breath, then righted his posture. "Where is he? I want to see him."

"In the bedroom." Heero led the way, Duo shuffling along behind everyone, not wanting to be left alone.

All the lights in the apartment had been turned on. They crowded into Duo's room, mindful not to step in any of the pools of blood on the floor. The coroner and crime scene investigators were just finishing up their preliminary reports.

"Is he really dead?" Duo asked in a small voice, averting his eyes.

Heero moved closer and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, drawing him near. "Aa. He can't hurt you anymore."

"Turn him over," Wufei ordered when the coroner was done. Two officers reached down and rolled the body onto its back. The body hit the ground with a squishy thud. Heero felt Duo tremble against him, eyes still averted.

No one spoke for a long moment as they all stared down at the face that had held a city in terror for months. Heero shot a questioning look at Wufei who shrugged and shook his head. The Japanese cop gave Duo a tight squeeze.

"Duo? I need you to look at him."

Duo shook his head and buried his face against Heero's chest. "I don't want to."

"Please, Duo. I need to see if you recognize him."

Duo swallowed. Slowly he turned his head and looked down. For the first time, the long-haired boy got a good look at his attacker. The man was tall, or would have been had he not been lying in a pool of his own blood. He had short, dark hair and nondescript facial features. His upper body was built, as if he lifted weights and had done so for an extended period of time. His hands were surprisingly small for the body type. Overall he looked like an average guy - almost attractive even.

Duo felt like he was going to be sick.

"Do you recognize him, Duo?" Heero asked.

Duo shook his head. "No. I've never seen him before in my life."

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