by Iniquity
Title: Ringu – Part 3 (of approximately 10, excl. Epilogue, Notes and Outtakes)
Disclaimer: GW still not mine. I don't own anything of The Ring eith-… wait, I have an illegally burned CD of The Ring… does that count?
Special Additional Warnings and other: UST! *snicker* and no phone calls in this part! YAY!
Thanks to Ryan for the beta and Agent Midnight for the talking when I was in my slump ^_~
No polar animal was harmed during the writing of this fic.

Ringu + Part 3

Duo stepped into the darkness and searched for the light switch. He found it nestled behind the curtain and flicked it on. The room was decorated nicely, the red furniture being a nice contrast to the dark wood of the walls, floor, and ceiling. Somewhere in here, he thought, he would solve the mystery. With a thud, he set his bag down and began to analyze the room more closely. The TV set with the VCR was on the left wall in front of the couch. On the small TV table was a leather-bound ledger. Duo flipped through the pages, searching for the teenagers' entry. Matô's son wouldn't have left any sort of noteworthy entry, but maybe the teenagers had. The hut didn't have many guests this season. The teenagers, in fact, had been the last to spend the night there. He flipped through the book until he came to the last entry.

"Only watch it if you don't have a weak stomach." Shaking his head, Duo suppressed a slight shudder.

He flipped through the pages, but there were no more entries that had anything to do with the video. Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was already seven P.M. The long drive had made him tired, and he longed for a soft bed. He scanned the room quickly, but other than a strange photograph of a tree with red leaves that looked like they were on fire, there was nothing peculiar. He looked out of the window before closing the curtains and saw the strange tree on a hill nearby. He imagined the way the sun would look and was sure that the picture had been taken from the veranda of the hut during sunset. The tree looked like a Japanese Maple to him, but he wasn't sure. The room held nothing else even remotely interesting, so he went for the last straw. The video rental. If there was no video there, he would just show his Preventers badge and search the whole place. There had to be something.

Duo left the room and went across the parking lot to the main building, where the library was located, to search for the video. The parking lot was flood-light, and he found his way easily to the door the receptionist had pointed out. The room wasn't even locked, which made Duo even more curious. He hated people who trusted too easily, simply because they were too suspicious. The room was lit, giving evidence to the theory that the housekeeper hadn't made his last round yet. The video rental cupboards were on the right, clearly marked as such. Duo flipped through the titles. 'Dancing With Wolves' gave way to 'Robocop' and 'Escaflowne - The Movie'. Shaking his head over the odd assortment of titles, he went for the more hidden boxes. In one of the lower cupboards, he finally found a video without any title or cover. The black cassette told him that it was for home recording purposes, so he picked it. Scanning the rest of the cassettes, he decided to take only this one, as it seemed the most likely. He hated the thought of having to go through all of them just to find the right one, or the embarrassment of having done all the work while the solution to the case wasn't in a video at all. He turned sharply and left the strange room quickly. It was only dimly lit and the strange feeling that had settled in his stomach as soon as he had entered the hut hadn't left yet. Nervous, and trying had not to show it, he jogged back to hut number fourteen.

Settling down in front of the TV, Duo shoved his glasses up onto his nose. He was naturally far-sighted and could shoot better than anyone at the range, but if someone gave him a menu at a restaurant he was helpless. Shaking his head ruefully, he took the video cassette and shoved it into the recorder. He picked up the remote control from the table behind him and flicked the TV on. The screen showed static, just like the receptionist had announced it would. The resort was in a static hole. This made Duo even more curious as to how the video had been recorded in the first place. It couldn't have been recorded here. He pressed play. At first he thought that the player wasn't working. Just as he was losing patience, he noticed that the static had changed slightly, more darkness or less white spots, something was different.

Suddenly, the screen went black and a white ring appeared on the display. The picture was slightly shaking, and the ring wasn't completely smooth but a bit smudged at the outer edges. The picture changed into water, or what appeared to be water. Somehow it was red. Bloody, red, angry, gurgling water.

Rapidly, the picture changed. It was clear that the rest of the video would mostly be black and white, because any color was absent from the scenes. A chair in an empty white room. Suddenly, the screen seemed black but thick white streaks moved from the upper to the lower half. When the camera moved farther away, the picture cleared up and it showed a woman brushing her hair in front of an oval shaped mirror, smiling at the viewer. Just as her expression changed into a more serious, almost shocked, look, the view swerved to the left and revealed the picture of the same mirror, showing a small figure with long black hair in a white nightgown. The first and the last image seemed to overlap and the woman turned, now smiling at what had to be a child in the left mirror. The video showed a grim-looking man watching the viewer from a first story house. The man suddenly vanished as the video cut. Only the traces of a slightly moving curtain showing that the man had stood there just a second ago. Next, the video showed a maritime scene, a shockingly realistic fly crawling across the screen, giving the viewer the compulsion to touch the screen to see if it was alive. The next scene was a horrible close-up of a monkey coughing something up. A calm, big eye relieved the terrible picture before. Another scene showed a finger, voluntarily breaking skin and nail by pressing a hard steel nail through it. Suddenly, the display was filled with maggots crawling over each other, changing into a mass of people writhing and crawling in a sea of mud. After that, the chair appeared again in the empty room, but this time, it was concealed by a table. The scene was followed by a tree, seemingly burning, sharply contrasted against an almost white background. The camera cut to an oversized bug crawled out from under the table, pushing the chair away with its impressively large body. After that, the woman was shown again, brushing her hair in the mirror, smiling at the viewer, a scene that was followed by a ladder leaning against an abstractly white wall. The video cut to the sight of bodies of dead horses swapping onto a beach at sunrise. Nearing the end, the scenes changed faster: a woman, obviously the same who brushed her hair before, jumping off a cliff, and the ladder falling onto an equally abstract white ground. The last scene showed an uncovered well in the middle of a meadow, surrounded by trees. The well was a circle made of white chalk stones about two feet high.

Then the video ended with more static. Dazed, Duo put his glasses onto the TV table and reached for the remote. He flicked the TV off and pulled the video out of the recorder. His mind was full of the pictures, each of them etched into his memory. What the hell had he just seen?

+

Heero raced through the woods surrounding the hotel area, cursing himself for being too slow. He had asked the officer at the toll gate for the way, showing his Preventers badge. The man had immediately remembered the American man he had seen passing through just short of an hour ago, and advised Heero to take the same entrance to the resort. Half an hour later, he found the little path the officer had shown him, and he followed it further into the woods. The alley didn't have a concrete surface, and Heero got thrown around in the driver's seat, wishing for a Jeep like Duo's. After another curve he suddenly found himself in the parking area of the resort. He could see the main building but didn't park there; instead, he searched for his partner's black Jeep while driving through the rows of cars. There weren't many, but the darkness didn't help at all. Heero had almost given up any hope of finding it when he saw the reflection at the far end of the parking lot where the dim floodlight didn't reach. A quick glance at his watch told him that it was already seven thirty. The uneasy feeling in his stomach grew, and he sped the car up, parking it neatly next to Duo's black menace, as he had once heard WuFei call it. He grabbed his cell phone and jumped out of his car. Surprising himself, he didn't even check the car's security lock, simply clicking the button on his key holder and not sparing it another thought.

Hut number fourteen was the only one lit. Heero decided that this had to be the one Duo was in. Running toward it, he tried to think of a way he could explain to Duo why he was so upset, but found none. Quickly, he crossed the few steps up the veranda and knocked.

"Duo!" After the warning that it was him and not some stranger, he opened the door only to see Duo sitting in front of the TV, captured by the static.

"I-" Duo began slowly, his ghostly face turning toward Heero. "I'm not sure what I just saw." Heero moved toward his obviously dazed partner and lay his hand on Duo's shoulder. The video lay on the ground, Duo's fingers still around one end.

"Come, sit on the couch and explain." Heero tried his best to not show the uneasiness he felt, but comfort instead. Duo let himself be lifted by the strong hands gripping his shoulders and stood up, only to sit down on the couch behind him. Suddenly, the telephone rang. Duo jerked his head violently toward the screeching sound.

"Duo? Does anyone-"

"No. Probably the receptionist." Confused, Duo picked the receiver up and listened. Heero watched his partner's eyes widen and suddenly the longhaired man yelled into the receiver. "Who the fuck are you?"

After Duo had put the receiver down on the hook, Heero looked at him questioningly. "Who was that?"

"Seven days" Duo stated flatly. "We have seven days to find out."

"Duo, what did the caller say?" Heero's voice seemed to bring Duo out of his strangely shocked state and he continued analytically.

"A child's whisper. Give me a few children's samples we have at Preventers and I can tell you if it's a girl or a boy. Only said 'seven days'. I assume that even means the same hour. Time is 7:34. Date, September 15. On September 22, 7:35 you have to take over the case if I don't make it." Duo paused and looked directly at Heero. "Don't look at me like that! It is possible.

"I will have to analyze the cassette and watch it again a few times to get all the hints. It's very disjointed and I don't think I got it all. We'll go back tomorrow. I need some sleep and you don't look that awake either."

"Okay." Heero looked at the ground. What else could he answer to that determined speech? He looked at Duo closely and could almost see the gears going in the other Preventer's head. For the first time in their partnership, Heero saw the real Duo Maxwell underneath the young man's 'devil may care' attitude. A mastermind who had earned his place in the elite of the Preventers organization. Heero realized something else. He was glad that he could work with Duo on this case, because that was the only way that they had a real chance to solve the case before the 22nd . Suddenly, Heero was reluctant to lose his partner. He sat down beside Duo on the couch and just looked at him.

"What is it?" Duo didn't like the way Heero was looking at him.

"I- I want to apologize." Heero looked frustrated at his own loss of words, and the surprised look on Duo's face didn't help at all.

"For what?" Duo was puzzled. This behavior was strange for his partner, at least as far as he could remember, since he didn't know the other man very well.

"For my hostile behavior. I didn't trust you. I never have since that incident with Relena. Now, I'm not s-"

"It's okay Heero." Duo smiled, a bitter farce of the smile he usually wore. "Everyone would believe a damsel in distress. I don't mind you having prejudices. As long as you trust in my skills to solve this case." Duo paused for a moment before continuing. "Trust in my skills as a Preventer, that's all I ask."

Heero was surprised as he heard himself reply. "Yes, I do trust you. And not only because Lady Une told me to do so."

Duo smiled, this time a real smile, and Heero was astonished at the difference that little detail could make. Duo's whole face seemed to lighten up; the half-lidded eyes, the slight wrinkles around his mouth. Heero could only answer the smile with one of his own.

Duo's next words surprised him. "You look nice when you smile." Obviously he had stopped though, because the next words Duo uttered were of deep distress. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have- I'm probably really tired." Quickly, Duo stood up and moved away from Heero. "I'll see you tomorrow then, alri- um, are there even two bedrooms?" Duo looked around, searching for another bedroom door, but found none.

"There are two queen sized beds in this one, so may I invite you into my bedroom?" Duo smirked, and waved at Heero. "I'll go to bed. Don't watch the video. I want us to have at least ten hours, if possible more in between."

"How did you-" Heero mumbled and raised an eyebrow, surprising himself with the question. He had just betrayed himself.

"Because that's just the way your brain works." Duo offered with a smile. "I can't keep you from watching it, but try to wait until we're back in Tokyo. If I die and you die half an hour later, our deaths serve no cause. If I die and you can find the solution in the next twelve or twenty-four hours, then the deaths will be done justice. If that helps any." Duo yawned and walked into the bathroom to brush his teeth and change into his night clothes, as far as one could call his training sweater and sweat pants 'night clothing'.

When he walked out a few minutes later, Heero still sat at his spot on the couch, staring at the wall. Duo slowly approached him and nudged Heero's shoulder. "Are you coming? I'm tired."

Heero had almost wanted to smile at the, for their usual correlation, uncommon gesture as he felt Duo withdraw his hand quickly as if burned. He turned, but the other man had already turned his back and retreated into the bedroom. Left on the couch, Heero suddenly felt very alone. He quickly followed his partner who had already dived under the covers as far as he could in the dark of the bedroom. He watched from the doorstep as Duo turned in the bed to face the window, drawing the bed sheets and the cover blanket over himself while he did so. A long rope of hair lay on the pillow, almost draped over it to show off its beauty. Heero was stunned. He had never really watched his partner's hair before but if the fluorescent light from the hall could put that many different shades of red into it, he didn't want to imagine what it must've looked like unbraided in the living sunlight.

Quietly, he switched the lights off and crept into his own bed to sleep. Soon, he lay on his back and listened to Duo's shallow, if ragged, breathing. Yes, the other man was definitely asleep. So calm, so incredibly quiet even though he knew the date of his potential death. Heero had expected Duo to do anything, any vigorous, nervous, or immature thing that would come to his mind, but not that calm demeanor. Didn't he fear death? Didn't he want to live? Heero let his eyes wander over to the faintly illuminated figure in the other bed and couldn't help wondering what made Duo so... different from all the other people he had met. Irritated by his own train of thought, he tossed and turned toward the wall, his back to the window. He had to concentrate on sleeping, or else he would be tired in the morning. Angrily, he kicked and shuffled the quilts until they were down at his feet. It was too hot in this room! Why did Duo make it look like the temperature was below thirty? Finally, Heero fell asleep, caught by his dreams.

+

[cont]