Disclaimer: Once again, I don't own these GW characters and make not even a dime from spending hours writing about them.

Warnings: AU, sexual situations, yaoi 1x2, 3x4, and various past relationship

The Pretender
Chapter 14
by Dyna Dee

Friday came much too soon. Excited and nervous would adequately describe Duo’s mood as he left the office at the end of the day. This was it; tonight he was going to have sex with Heero again.

His handsome date had arranged to meet him out in front of his office building at six p.m. And there he was, pulling up to the curb no more than thirty seconds after Duo had exited the building. The braided man took a moment to admire both the champagne Lexus convertible and the man behind the wheel, who was just as impressive dressed in a deep blue suit, pale blue shirt and a classic red tie. Duo thought himself appropriately dressed in black dress pants, a pale violet shirt and one of Charise’s chicken scratch ties that complimented both colors. They were dressed a bit formal for going out to dinner, he thought, and said so to Heero after complimenting the other man on his appearance.

"I made dinner reservations and then thought we could visit a club where our mode of dress is required," Heero replied. With a gleam in his eyes he added, "I think it’s time we go dancing, don’t you?"

Duo swallowed hard. "Dancing? Where?" Images of negative reactions, of dirty looks, snide remarks all passed before his eyes. His aunt’s words came back to him, that men openly shoving their deviant behavior into the public’s eye deserved whatever happened to them for going against nature.

"Duo, are you all right?"

Blinking, the braided man realized he’d been staring off into space. He pushed the negative images from his mind. They were definitely not what he needed to start this night out with Heero. "Sorry," he rushed to apologize. "I... I’m not sure I’m comfortable dancing in front of people who might take exception to two guys together on a dance floor."

"Are you embarrassed to be seen with me?" Heero asked with a frown.

"No!" Duo knew he was making a mess of things. Putting his hand on Heero’s forearm, he said with all earnestness, "It’s not you, Heero. Never you. But you see, my aunt used to say that gays should be more considerate of others by being circumspect about their relationship in public, that being overtly homosexual was, well, I’ll spare you her thoughts on the subject. I... I know she was just trying to scare me from "turning gay," but he prejudice has had some long-reaching effects on me. I’m just very cautious about public displays of affection or appearing openly gay."

Heero’s frown deepened for a moment, then eased into a look of understanding. "I promise to take you somewhere safe, where no one will mind if we dance together. Can you trust me on this?" The sincerity on Heero’s face was too much for Duo to say no. He wanted to trust Heero, in fact, he was pretty sure he did.

"Yes, I trust you." Heero reached out and grasped his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze before letting go. The restrained act of affection, while parked in front of his office, was appreciated by Duo and he chalked up another point to Heero.

The restaurant they dined in was a well-known eatery. Heero had made the reservation for six-forty five, and, lucky for them, they only had to wait a few minutes until they were escorted to their table. The tables in the restaurant were spaced nicely, giving diners some measure of privacy for conversation. The small floral arrangements and low lighting, aided by several small lit candles on each table, added an air of romance to the room. Duo felt himself relaxing with each passing moment, thoroughly enjoying being with Heero.

During the two hours they spent dining, they talked easily of their week, of politics, movies and music all the while engaged in flirting back and forth. They finally exited the restaurant and walked out into the balmy L.A. evening just as the last rays of sunlight gave way to the approaching night. Instead of returning to Heero’s car immediately, they spent another hour peering into store windows and discussing whatever piqued their interest.

By the time they returned to where they’d parked Heero’s car, Duo knew he didn’t want to be with anyone but the man at his side. The only question now was whether or not Heero felt the same.

The convertible’s top was up, from when they’d first parked in the garage, which Duo was grateful for once he sat in the passenger seat. For as he watched Heero settle behind the wheel, putting the key in the ignition, he had the sudden urge to kiss the man. Placing his hand on top of Heero’s to stop him from turning the key, he waited until those questioning blue eyes turned to him. Leaning to his left, he reached out and placed his hand on Heero’s cheek, gently guiding the handsome man forward until their lips touched.

It started out as a sweet, gentle kiss, an expression of gratitude on Duo’s part. But his need for Heero was suddenly so great that he couldn’t help himself from deepening the kiss, using his tongue to request entrance past those luscious lips. They parted immediately and Duo pressed his advantage, kissing Heero as passionately as he knew how. Before long, the urge to climb over the console was becoming too much of a temptation, so with great reluctance he pulled back, leaving a last, brief kiss on Heero’s cheek.

Now able to see Heero’s face, he was pleased to see the lawyer slightly flushed and smiling. "Wow!" Heero said with a touch of awe. "Maybe we should skip the dancing and go straight to my apartment."

"The night’s still young," Duo said, hoping to forestall going to Heero’s apartment just a little bit longer, at least until he had a better grip on his nerves. It was absolutely ridiculous, he thought, that as much as he wanted this, and after a week of gearing up for a night in bed with Heero, he was still feeling hesitant and somewhat jittery. "Besides, you promised to dance with me."

"I did, didn’t I? All right, let’s go dancing, but only for a little while. I don’t want either of us to be too tired to stay awake when we get back to my place."

"I doubt there’s any chance of that happening," Duo replied, his hands fumbling for his seatbelt.

Fifteen minutes later he realized where they were going, and his earlier case of nerves had morphed into trepidation. Unless he was mistaken, they were headed for the Palomino Club, where he’d had the disastrous visit only weeks before.

"What’s the matter?"

Damn, Heero must have caught a glimpse of him tensing and guessed there was something wrong. It was too late to give the excuse that he didn’t feel well and wanted to go home, especially when he’d been fine all evening. Besides, he was bound and determined to go through with his plan to go to bed with Heero later that night. It’s what he really wanted, and so he’d just have to suck it up and hope for the best when he entered the club, and pray to God that Wufei wasn’t there. "Nothing. I’m fine. Just a bit nervous about later, I guess."

Heero’s hand on his face gently turned his head until their eyes met. "There’s nothing to be nervous about, Duo. I care about you. I would never do anything to hurt you, I swear."

"I know. It’s just that I’ve built tonight up in my mind so much that I’m afraid I’m going to blow it somehow."

Heero chuckled and leaned forward to seal their lips together. The kiss was slow and non evasive, and when he pulled back Heero embraced him, though it was rather awkward because of their positions in the car, "We’ll just do what comes natural, Duo. I’ll give you a massage when we get to my place, that should help you relax, and then you’ll direct whatever happens after that, all right?"

Duo wondered if there was ever a man as wonderful as Heero. He seemed to understand him even though there was no way in hell he could know what was really going on in his mind. Heero was definitely a keeper, and Duo couldn’t have felt any more fortunate than he did in that moment. "You’re too good to be true, Heero," he said softly, wishing with everything in his heart that his relationship with this man would turn out to be all that either one of them needed. Yet he needed to proceed cautiously. Believing that he had already fallen in love with Heero, he knew that there was a great potential for his heart to be broken once again.

"I feel the same about you," Heero replied, and Duo didn’t know if it was those words or the smile Heero was giving him that made his body feel like it was melting, not to mention his heart.

"Come on, the sooner we hit the dance floor the quicker we’ll be out of there."

It wasn’t unusual in this part of town, mostly known for its catering to gay clientele, to see men walking arm in arm or even hand in hand along the streets of West Hollywood. So when Heero reached for his hand, Duo didn’t shy away. He clasped the offered hand just as firmly as they approached the popular gay club. Though he’d only been to the Palomino once before, it had not been his most successful attempt at socializing with gay men in public. He tensed as a feeling of dread nearly overcame him as a result of that memory. He looked skyward and silently pleaded, Please, don’t let Wufei be here tonight.

Heero was greeted by the doorman, they were allowed entrance into the club without the man even asking for his membership card, making Duo wonder how frequently his date came to the gay club. They quickly made their way into the bar where they stopped to enjoy a drink together. Finished with their drinks, they went to the door that led to the small corridor and the dance floor.

Loud and fast music greeted the two men as they entered the strobe-lit room hand in hand. Duo was pleased to see that the dance hall was filled to capacity with a swarm of bodies moving to the thumping rhythm of the bass guitar and drums. He liked the feeling of melting into a crowd,of being anonymous and part of a mass of energy that was contagious.

A fast song had been selected by the DJ, and with a nod to Heero’s inquiring look, they headed to the dance floor. Facing each other, he and Heero began to dance with their hands maintaining contact the entire time. Before long, Duo went easily into Heero’s arms and pressed their bodies together. Dancing cheek to cheek, he breathed in the scent of Heero and thought he’d never known a sweeter smell. Everything about the other man intoxicated his senses: the feel of him in his arms, the way he felt so safe and cared for, the way his body moved against his own, not to mention how the man kissed. Adding to that the kindness and sharp mind Heero displayed made up all the reasons he had fallen in love with him. He couldn’t seem to get enough of the man, nor get as close to him as he craved.

Tonight everything was going to change. He turned his face to place a warm kiss on Heero’s cheek as they continued to move their hips in time with the beat of the music. Tonight he’d make love with Heero, but this time it wouldn’t be a one-time fling, but hopefully the beginning of a wonderful love affair.

With more than a little reluctance, the two men parted as the song ended and without a pause the next one began. Heero asked if he wanted to dance to this one also, but a nagging necessity forced him to excuse himself to the restroom to relieve the pressure in his bladder from the drinks he’d consumed that evening. Heero said he’d for him at the bar.

Exiting the bathroom not five minutes later, he looked around the room for his boyfriend, a term he hoped wasn’t too presumptuous in referring to Heero. As he neared the bar his steps faltered. He found Heero all right, but it was the person standing next to him that caused him to stop dead in his tracks. He was with the last man on earth he wanted to see tonight. He immediately recognized Wufei by both his build and the black hair pulled back into a short, sad excuse for a ponytail. Shit! What was Wufei saying to Heero? He could only imagine from his last disastrous encounter with his former boyfriend how the Chinese man might react when he learned who Heero’s date was. Would he tell Heero he was a cock tease, a frigid bitch, and a complete failure at relationships?

To his horror he watched Wufei’s hand settle on Heero’s shoulder, then slowly slide down his back and come to a stop upon reaching his soon-to-be lover’s perfect tush. Even from where he stood, twenty feet away and in dim lighting, he could see Wufei caress one rounded, cloth-covered swell and then gave it a squeeze that hinted of familiarity. Heero had said he’d been with a lot of guys, but only one since their first encounter in the hot tub. Had he and Wufei been lovers?

He was gripped suddenly by an overwhelming feeling of panic, his breathing and beating of his heart had accelerated, causing him to feel lightheaded. He just couldn’t deal with this at the moment. God, why was it so hard to breath? And suddenly all common sense fled him. Acting on impulse and the need for fresh air, he turned and bolted off the dark dance floor, through the dim lit hallway into the front bar and proceeded directly to the main door.

Once outside the club he paused for only a moment to take in a deep breath of air and decide whether to turn left or right. For no apparent reason he turned left and ran several blocks, seeing nothing or no one in his frantic effort to escape. As his steps slowed, he calmed slightly at realizing he’d put some distance between himself and the club. He finally slowed to a stop when he came upon a bus stop.

Staring mindlessly at the metal bench provided by the city for waiting passengers, he slowly calmed. He could breathe easier now, and with each breath his sense of reason began to return and his scattered thoughts coalesced to a more rational train of thought.

What an idiot, he thought, slapping his forehead. Realizing a bit late how foolish he’d been, running away like he had. Dammit, he was a grown man, and grown men don’t run away from their problems; they face them head on. Not only was he feeling regret for his rash actions, he was also extremely embarrassed. Shit, what the hell had he been thinking? How could he go back and face Heero now after running away like he had?

He could just imagine Wufei’s reaction he returned to the club shamefaced. The man would no doubt don that scornful, holier-than-thou expression he’d perfected years ago. He’d always hated that pompous expression.

Duo figured he had two options: wait at the bus stop and take the first available one and head towards home, or return to the club, make an excuse, apologize and go home with Heero; that is if Heero still wanted him. When he thought about it, there really was only one option, and that was to return to the club and face the music, so to speak.

He’d no sooner made that decision and turned to retrace his steps back to the Palomino, when he caught a blur of movement in front of his eyes. A scant second later an arm tightened around his neck. Before he could utter a sound of protest or react, he was roughly jerked backwards, nearly off his feet, and a blinding wave of pain shot through his body. Suddenly, he was drowning in agony, incapable of standing or thinking about anything but the pain engulfing him. It felt like he’d been hit by a sledgehammer, the pain was more intense than anything he’d ever experienced before. It was overwhelming. Through the pain he was vaguely aware of his body convulsing, and that was equally terrifying. Unable to stop or defend himself against his attacker, he was dragged off the street and into a dark walkway. Adding to his fear and terror, he threw up the contents of his stomach and lost control of his bladder.

He felt like he was dying.

Somehow, he knew that he had been set down on his back, laying on something cold and hard. He gasped for air as he inwardly sobbed from the pain and agony being inflicted on his body as well as fear over what was happening. Any sound he might have made was nearly completely muffled when something was placed firmly over his mouth, covering the lower half of his face. Then another horrific jolt of pain shot through his left leg, followed immediately by one to his right thigh, making both of his useless and throbbing. The same was done to his arms, leaving him helpless to even raise a hand. There was nothing he could do but endure the pain and wonder who would do this to him.

A narrow, bright light lit up the darkness, nearly blinding him as it was turned to shine into his face. In his paralyzed state he was robbed of the ability to turn away in order to protect his eyes from the harsh brightness. Beyond the light, he could just barely make out the shape of the head and shoulders of his attacker, and in spite of his terror and pain, he caught the scent of a citrus cologne.

The dark shape then uttered its first word, identifying his attacker as male who, by the tone of his voice, was very unhappy. "Fuck!" A large, clammy hand gripped his jaw tightly and turned his face to the left, then right and back again. His tormentor seemed to be examining his face. Though he desperately wanted to pull away from the man’s grasp, he couldn’t. In fact, he couldn’t do anything at all.

Then the grip on his face eased, yet instead of feeling relieved, Duo’s fear intensified when the hand moved slowly downward down his neck to his shoulders. The light shifted from his face a moment before two hands moved to the collar of his shirt. In one unexpected move, the front of his shirt was ripped opened, the buttons flying off made a small sound as they hit the ground. The hands then pulled up his T-shirt and began caressing his chest. Despite his body feeling like his nerves had been shattered, Duo felt a hand move lower until it paused over his crotch. It examine, stroked and squeezed his limp member, covered by his now soggy trousers. If his attacker thought he’d get any kind of reaction from his efforts, he was going to be monumentally disappointed.

Duo tried to yell, to protest, but his strangled cry was muffled by whatever it was that covered his mouth. Tears of pain, fear and frustration leaked out of his eyes as the man continued to molest him.

And then suddenly his violator’s touch was gone and Duo, terrified over what might happen next, strained to see or hear what his attacker was up to, fearing the worst. He could hear nothing but a faint sound of footsteps running away. With a strangled sob of relief, he realized from the continuing silence that the man was gone and he had been left alone and helpless in that dark place. With the restraint covering his mouth and his body twitching uncontrollably and basically useless, he was helpless to call for help. The only sound he could manage was his muffled crying as fear, pain and terror took over.

He had no idea how long he lay there in pain and filled with fear when the sound of a cautious voice in the distance caught his attention. His fear escalated to near panic once again. Was his attacker coming back? Then sounding closer, an urgent voice calling of his name assured him he was no longer alone and that help had arrived.

"Duo! Oh God! What the hell happened to you?"

It was Heero. Heero had somehow found him. Relief flowed through him like a tsunami. If he wasn’t sure he loved the man before, he knew it with a certainty now. He was gathered up in the lawyer’s arms and his limp, twitching body was held against the warm chest. Heero was saying something to him. No, he was talking to someone else, someone behind him.

"Don’t touch anything," an unfamiliar voice ordered from somewhere in the distance. "You might destroy evidence."

Heero bent his head to whisper reassuring words into his ear, giving comfort by his mere presence. Duo’s only response was to break down, completely overwhelmed with relief that this nightmare was nearing an end.

Voices, lights and growing commotion grew around him. Then suddenly Heero’s warmth and arms were gone, and though he desperately wanted to protest the separation, he was unable to do a damn thing about it. God, he desperately wanted to rip off the thing that was covering his mouth. His mind began to clear like a fog being burned away by the morning’s sun, and the numbness and pain that had taken over his body began receding by small increments. The involuntary twitching of his limbs was still present but less than it had been, and as it decreased it was being replaced by a bone deep chill. It was then that his sense of smell kicked in and so did his humiliation as he smelled vomit, urine and the stink of fear on himself.

Someone seemed to be speaking to him, but he was too disoriented and distraught to make out the words. After a moment he realized the man was informing him they were going to transport him to the hospital.

He was gently lifted onto a stretcher and quickly wheeled from the dark alley he’d been dragged to a short while ago to the street, where an ambulance was waiting. Without a pause he was loaded into the back of the emergency vehicle. Immediately, two men, one in a blue uniform and another in a blue shirt and gray tweed sports jacket, followed him in and sat beside him as the back doors were closed. A moment later he felt movement and the siren began to wail.

Oh God, oh God, he chanted over and over in his head, the beginning of a prayer that he couldn’t quite articulate. Where was Heero? Why wasn’t he with him? Was he disgusted with him now? Between whatever Wufei’s derogatory comments had been, his running away and the physical assault, Heero would probably never want to see him again. But heaven help him, he wanted Heero at that moment, more than he’d ever wanted anyone. He felt safe with the lawyer, something he was not feeling with the two strangers sitting in the ambulance with him, despite the fact that they were doing their best to calm him down.

A sudden movement resulted a burning sting across his face. Duo gasped and realized that his mouth was free once again. He gasped again, desperately trying to take in a large breath of fresh air, but for some reason his lungs didn’t seem capable of drawing in enough air, which panicked him further.

"Mr. Maxwell, Duo, please calm down. You’re safe now." Duo thought it was the man in the blue uniform, an probably an EMT, who was talking to him, but it was hard to tell from the tears blurring his vision. "Breath in slowly. You’re breathing too fast I’m going to give you some oxygen to help, all right?" A mask was placed over his face and even before it was secured around the back of his head, he was breathing in the steady flow of sweet, life-sustaining oxygen.

Another voice, one lower than the first man, came from Mr. Tweed Jacket. "Do you remember what happened, Mr. Maxwell? Did you see the person who attacked you?" Duo wondered if the man really expected him to answer when all he could do at the moment tremble, gasp for air and fight the urge to cry.

"It’s too soon," the first man stated. "From what I can see he’s been hit with a type of stun implement in at least four locations. His muscles are not damaged, but exhausted. Speaking and voluntary movement at the moment will be very difficult, so your questions will have to wait."

The ride to the hospital seemed endless after than, and despite what he’d just been through and the fear and pain that still had a grip on him, Duo’s thoughts returned time and again to Heero, wondering if what had happened had ruined his chances with the man.

The ambulance’s arrival at the hospital and his being rushed into an exam room was pretty much a blur. Feeling exhausted, Duo’s nerves felt frayed and he was shaking uncontrollably, probably a reaction to everything that had happened that night. His mouth ached from where the silver duct tape had been pulled off and he could hardly follow what was going on other than his clothing had been removed and he was being turned, examined and prodded. He felt a needle going into his arm, and wondered from the sensation if he was getting better.

He’d been unable, or perhaps unwilling, to speak for a while, and when he did finally manage to get a few words out they sounded unintelligible, at least to him. It felt as if the muscles in his mouth were refusing to work together. Unfortunately, his taste buds were functioning quite well as he recognized the foul taste of vomit in his mouth. Damn, it was awful. Considering that he felt almost too tired to manage even a swallow, he knew he wouldn’t be getting anything to drink for a while.

Putting yet another discomfort aside, he looked to the doctor, hoping the man could read in his eyes that he wanted to know what was going on before he fell asleep. The doctor must have been working in the emergency room for a long time to understand what he was asking, because almost immediately he began telling him he was in shock as well as suffering from the effects of having been stunned repeatedly. Other than the twelve, small and round burn marks, which would heal in time, he would suffer no aftereffects from being stunned. What he was feeling now was muscle exhaustion, caused by multiple electrical charges. Then the stern looking doctor’s face softened and he urged Duo to rest for the next few days. He also warned him that the police were anxious to have a word with him as soon as possible.

Feeling wrung out and exhausted, it didn’t take more than a few moments after the doctor left before he dosed off. It seemed only a short while later that he heard his name called. With a great deal of effort he managed to force his eyes open once again. Two men, one in a police uniform and the other in the vaguely familiar tweed sports coat, stood by his bedside, each wearing the same look of grave concern.

"Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Maxwell," Mr. Tweed Coat began. Duo recognized him as having been one of the two men in the ambulance. "But it’s important I talk to you while your memory is fresh. Are you able to talk?"

"I... I think so," Duo said, finding his voice as unsteady as his emotional state. He really didn’t want to talk much less think about what had happened to him, but realized it was important to cooperate with the police so that they could catch the creep who had assaulted him.

Holding out his badge, he introduced himself. "My name is Detective Randall Dawson, and this is Officer Petty," he motioned to the uniformed man standing behind him. "Can you tell us what happened tonight, starting from the time you left the Palomino?"

Guilt flared within him as he recalled leaving Heero at the club after panicking at the sight of Wufei talking to him and touching him in an overly friendly way. "Where’s Heero?" he croaked out.

After a slight pause, a light went on in the detective’s eyes. "I believe he’s waiting in the emergency room waiting for us to interview him. He’s the one who found you, correct?"

"Yeah, I... he w... w...as." He didn’t know if his stuttering was because of the aftereffects of being hit several times with some kind of stun gun, or if he was just too shaken up to make his mouth move.

"The person who called the 911 dispatcher identified himself as Heero Yuy. A few minutes ago, he spoke with Officer Petty and claimed to be your boyfriend and that the two of you were together at the Palomino earlier this evening. He also said you’d excused yourself to the restroom and then he’d heard from one of the staff that you were seen running out of the building. Did someone scare or threaten you in the club, or did you and he have an argument of some kind?"

Duo shook his head. He really didn’t want to tell the two men about his insecurities or the reason why he’d run out of the club.

"Why did you leave the club, Mr. Maxwell?"

"I.. I saw an old friend of mine spe...aking with Heero and it upset me. I r..r..ran out of the club on impulse and didn’t think better of it until I was standing at the b..bus stop." Just thinking about what happened next caused a feeling of panic to spring up inside of him. He tightly clutched the blankets covering him in his fists and brought them to his chest, reliving the feel of the man touching his body while he writhed in agony.

"I know this is upsetting, Mr. Maxwell, but I need you to recall everything that happened from the first moment you were attacked. From what the doctor told us and by the way you were attacked, I’m lead to believe that the serial murderer is responsible. But unlike his other victims, you were spared. We’re hoping you’ll remember something about him, any detail, whether it seems important or not, that might lead us to find the sick bastard and arrest him. We want this man off the streets and in jail."

Duo silently agreed. He wanted nothing more than to get the sick-o who attacked him into prison. "I’ll try."

Most of what Duo recalled was wave after wave of pain and fear. After a half hour of careful and meticulous questioning, the two officers helped him to recall more than he thought possible. He remembered how he was grabbed, the excruciating shock to his body that he now knew came from some kind of tazer. He relived the pain, fear and panic he’d felt as he was dragged backwards, unable to do anything about it. He recalled to the officers the one word spoken by his attacker, indicating that he was definitely male. There was also the faint scent Duo remembered, thinking it came from the other man, a citrus-based cologne or after shave. It was a haunting scent, bringing back memories of his father, dressed up in a suit and going somewhere Duo couldn’t remember. That memory was almost always triggered by the scent of that particular cologne, Nino Cerutti, even after all the years that had passed. And that memory had been the basis for his selecting a similar fragrance for his first cologne.

He could still recall liberally splashing it over his face, neck and chest before going on a date with Katie Sorenson while in high school. The pretty girl wrinkled her nose up after getting a good whiff of his cologne and promptly dragged him into her home and bathroom with an order to wash it off. It had been an embarrassing moment, but one in which he learned that girls don’t always like the same things guys do. He now leaned towards a musk-based cologne, similar to the one Heero favored.

Despite recalling a good deal about his attack, Duo just couldn’t remember seeing the man’s face or clothing or anything identifiable about his attacker, and his failure to do so was a disappointment to the two policemen.

Closing his notebook and tucking it into a pocket set within the lining of his tweed jacket, Detective Dawson returned his gaze to the man lying on the bed. "Thank you for letting us take your statement tonight, Mr. Maxwell. It really is better to speak about the attack while it’s still clear in your mind."

"Are you s..ure that the person who attacked me was the serial killer?"

The detective glanced at the uniformed officer for only a scant moment before moving closer to the bed. "What I’m going to tell you is confidential, and I want your word that you won’t repeat it to anyone, especially to the press."

"The press?" Duo’s eyes widened with alarm. "Do they have to know about this?"

"We would be hard pressed to keep this latest attack from them. This murderer has been terrorizing the gay community here in L.A., and the press is needed to keep the citizens informed about anything concerning it, within reason, of course."

The idea of having his name in the paper and that he had been attacked and assaulted by the would-be murder was horrifying. "There’s no way to keep my name out of it?"

"You’re an adult and the victim of a crime that concerns the community. Several people from the Palomino and surrounding businesses witnessed you being brought out of the alley. Sooner or later the press will find out who you are, if not through those witnesses than by other means, especially if we go to trial and you’re called upon to testify against your attacker. In my opinion, it’s better to give them one statement and then refrain from any other further comment."

"Oh God," Duo moaned, not wanting to even think about the many ramifications that would come after having his name put in newspapers or on the broadcast on the nightly news. Everyone would know he’d been assaulted. His aunt, Charise, his co-workers, even Trowa and Quatre. Would they assume he’d been raped?

"Listen," Detective Dawson caught his attention by speaking in a firm voice, "I can see how upsetting this is. I’ll do what I can to keep your name out of the papers for as long as possible. That will give you a chance to inform your family and friends about what happened before it becomes public. In spite of any embarrassment you might feel, I hope you know, Mr. Maxwell, just how fortunate you were tonight. I’m assuming you know something from the news about this killer?" He waited for Duo to nod his head before continuing. "And you’re aware his prime target is gays?" Another nod. "Then you probably also know that each of the victims was sexually assaulted before they died."

"No. I didn’t know that," Duo said, then went on to explain. "With the long hours I put in at my job, I don’t always have a chance to keep up with the news."

A feeling of revulsion swept though him as he realized that stunning him was just the beginning for what his attacker had intended to do. Twice along the spine, which he didn’t realize until the doctor had told him, and once on the inside of each of his thighs and upper arms. Each hit was obviously designed to disable him. Unable to control motor movement or to defend himself, he had no doubt the man would have done his worse while he was incapacitated.

"Before I say anything more, I want your word that you won’t repeat what I’m about to tell you to anyone else."

"O... okay." Duo answered hesitantly. He had an idea he wasn’t going to like what the detective was about to tell him.

"Not only did the killer stun his victims repeatedly and then rape them, but he also mutilated their bodies. His one deviation for his normal pattern, up to this point, was the woman he attacked. We don’t know if he targeted her because she was a lesbian, or for some other reason. He committed sodomy on her before repeatedly stabbing her chest 26 times" The detectives expression was grim as he continued. "This fucker is angry, and it’s obvious his anger has something to do with gays. Whether he’s some religious freak or a jilted lover, we can only guess. The only thing we know for certain is that he’s going to do it again. You were unbelievably lucky tonight, Mr. Maxwell. For some reason you were spared not only the torture and murder, but also the rape. My question is, why? Do you remember anything that might account for why he didn’t do anything but grope you?"

Horrified, Duo could hardly put two word together to answer the man’s question. Knowing now the full extent of what had been in store for him was to appalling to think about. If his attacker had followed through with his plan, he would be dead right now, murdered in an utterly horrible manner. Putting a hand over his mouth, he moved to get out of the bed, needing to reach a sink or toilet, but his body was still twitchy and his muscles too weak to support him. Unable to escape the bed, he had no choice but to lean over the railing and throw up the bile from his stomach onto the floor.

While he coughed and gasped for air, he sensed movement in the room, and suddenly a nurse was by his side. How embarrassing, throwing up in front of a couple of policemen and having someone else pick up his mess. His embarrassment was forgotten a moment later, having been replaced by a fierce headache. Laying his forehead against the cool metal of the bed guard, he closed his eyes and concentrated on calming his body.

God, what a night. He couldn’t shake the images from his mind of what he might have suffered at the hands of the man who’d attacked him only a couple of hours ago.

"I think that’s enough, gentleman," the red-headed, middle aged nurse said sternly as she helped ease Duo back onto his bed. "Mr. Maxwell needs rest. I’m sure whatever else you need from him can wait until tomorrow."

The two men grudgingly nodded, but before they left Detective Dawson stepped forward. "I apologize. I certainly didn’t mean to upset you further, Mr. Maxwell. I thought it important for you to know how fortunate you are and that it’s imperative we catch this bastard. If you recall anything else, please call us." He took a card out of his wallet and placed it on the bedside table. "Otherwise, we’ll be in touch with you if we have any more questions. Goodnight."

Duo watched through half-opened eyes as the two officers of the law left the room. "I’m sorry," he told the nurse, who had just finished calling housekeeping to come and clean up his mess.

"Don’t worry about it," she said with a sympathetic grin. "There’s really not much here to pick up. Besides, this happens more times than you can imagine."

"It’s something I’m not in the habit of doing. I’m sorry someone else has to clean it up."

"It’s what we get paid the big bucks for," she chuckled, obviously trying to sooth his embarrassment. She worked at tucking him in and then with a look of kindness and sympathy she asked. "Rough night, huh?"

"Worst ever," he replied, closing his eyes and wishing for the whole world would go the hell away.

"Do you think you can swallow some water?"

"I’d sell my soul for a drink of anything right now," he whispered tiredly. Even though the water tasted like tap water and came from a pink plastic cup, Duo didn’t think he’d ever tasted anything so wonderful.

"By the way," the nurse began as she took the cup from him, refilled it and put it on the tray, "there’s a really good looking guy in the waiting room who keeps asking if he can see you. Are you up for a brief visit, or should I tell him to come back in the morning?"

He could hardly believe Heero was still there. "What time is it?"

"Almost two a.m."

Maybe there was some hope after all for Heero, after, seeing he’d followed him to the hospital and stuck around, even after Wufei and everything else that had happened that night. "I’d like to see him, but can you help me clean up first? And I really need to brush my teeth."

The woman smiled knowingly, then quickly set about to helping him freshen up, washing away the lingering smell of vomit and urine and producing a toothbrush and paste.

Two minutes after she left him Heero peeked his head around the edge of the door before fully venturing into the room, and although Duo had never been more glad to see anyone, he was well aware that the lawyer looked like he’d been wrung out and left to dry. The man walked slowly to his bedside wearing a weary yet anxious expression.

"God, Duo. Are you all right?" The man’s knuckles turned white as they gripped the bed rails.

"I’ve been better," he replied, unable to force a smile. But then the words of the police detective came back to him and he added, "but I guess I’ve got nothing to complain about, considering I could be dead right now."

Heero shifted, then began wringing his hands together, looking both agitated and uncertain as his eyes shifted, taking in the contents of the room, looking anywhere but at the man in the bed. Duo could only guess that the successful lawyer wasn’t used to being in a hospital, or having someone he was dating in this type of situation.

As the silence between them grew, a feeling of tension did also. He wondered if Heero had followed him to the hospital and remained only because it seemed the right thing to do before he high-tailing it out the front door and his life. After what he’d just gone through, he didn’t think he could stand another emotional upset, like Heero calling things off between them. He really couldn’t blame the other man, though, considering how their pleasant evening had turned into a horrible disaster.

From somewhere inside he drudged up enough courage to say what needed to be said. "You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to," he whispered despondently, barely holding onto his emotions.

Heero blinked as if he hadn’t understood. "What do you mean?"

Unable to look at the other man any longer, feeling his heart beginning to break, Duo replied, "I understand if you want to walk away. I won’t hold it against you if I don’t hear from you again."

"What?" Heero’s voice resounded loudly in the small room. "You think that because you were attacked I wouldn’t want to see you any more?" The man looked insulted by the suggestion.

Duo merely shook his head and kept his eyes averted from the man he’d fallen in love with, unable to look into Heero’s eyes for fear of what he might see in them. "You look like you want to be anywhere but here," he mumbled. "And honestly, but for you, that’s exactly how I feel."

The sound of bed railing being lowered was the only warning he got before he was scooped up by a pair of strong arms and awkwardly held against Heero’s chest. "Idiot. Where else would I be but by your side?" Then with a deep sigh, he said, "You scared the shit out of me tonight, Duo, disappearing from the club like that. I chased after you only to find you in a dark alley with duck tape over your mouth and your body trembling uncontrollably. I’ve never been so damn scared in my entire life, especially after I realized you’d been attacked by the serial killer everyone is talking about."

There was a pause, and in that moment of silence Duo, with his ear pressed against Heero’s chest, could clearly hear the rapid beating of his heart as well as his ragged breathing. With emotion straining his voice the lawyer added, "I almost lost you tonight, Duo, and that scared me most of all."

Those words instantly calmed his worry. Heero wasn’t going to walk away, rejecting him like so many others had. He lifted his weak and shaking arms to wrap them around Heero, beneath the arms holding him tightly. Somehow, he managed to cling to the other man. "I was so afraid," he confessed in a whisper, only slightly ashamed to find himself crying against the other man’s shoulder. He had been terrified earlier over what Wufei might have said to Heero about him, and to top that off, he’d been grabbed off the street and assaulted. Even a few moments ago he’d been afraid that Heero was about to walk out of his life. What an enormous relief it was knowing that Heero was still there, holding him now when he needed it the most.

"But you’re here now, safe and sound, and I’ll do anything to keep you that way."

They sat there for the longest time, just holding each other, grateful to have the opportunity to do so, considering Duo’s attack and his miraculous, unaccountable survival.

Finally, because his back couldn’t take the angle any longer, Heero eased himself from their embrace and slowly stood at the side of the hospital bed. He looked and felt like he’d been without sleep for a week. "I’d like to talk to you more about what happened tonight, why you ran from the club and about what happened before I found you, but I think the both of us are too tired to get into it tonight. The nurses wouldn’t give me any information, so I don’t know if you’re going home tomorrow or not."

"I don’t know either," Duo said as he lay back on his pillow, his exhaustion becoming almost overwhelming. "I can’t see why they’d keep me. Other than weak muscles and a burns from being zapped by a stun gun a couple of times, I wasn’t hurt."

"You weren’t raped?" Heero asked, looking surprised.

"No!" Duo’s eyes widened. "Did you think I had been?"

Heero closed his eyes as he answered. "I thought... The news reports said all the victims had been sexually assaulted, I just assumed..."

"He stopped," Duo said, sparing the man from explaining further. "I don’t know why, but he stopped. Maybe he heard someone coming."

Heero frowned. "That could be, but you were pretty far back from the sidewalk. I found you at the far end of a walkway, between two buildings. I probably wouldn’t have found you at all if I hadn’t heard a sound of distress and thought I should investigate. Thank God I did."

If Heero hadn’t investigated, he might still be there, Duo realized. With a lump in his throat he looked up at the lawyer and said, "Thank you, Heero, for coming after me. I hate to think about what would have happened if you hadn’t."

The Japanese man reached out and took his hand, lifting and bringing it to his lips and placing a kiss on the back of it. "You’re welcome." Then with a weary sigh, he placed Duo’s hand back on the bed. "I’m beat. I better go home and grab some sleep. Are you going to be okay here by yourself?"

"I’m surrounded by people, so I guess I’m safe enough," Duo replied, though he dreaded Heero leaving.

"I’ll call around nine to see if you’re being released. If you are, I’ll come and give you a ride home."

Since he couldn’t think of anyone else who could pick him up, (although he could always call Charise in a pinch, but then he’d have to explain why he was there in the first place) he was grateful for Heero’s offer and told him so. After a gentle farewell kiss, he watched Heero turn and leave the room.

Five minutes later he was wheeled out of the emergency room and into a another room for the night. Unfortunately, he shared the space with an elderly man who had been admitted after complaints of chest pain. Thankfully, the old man didn’t want to talk and fell back to sleep minutes after the nurse took their vitals. In spite of the sleeping and pain pills he’d been given, Duo was fairly sure that between the old guy’s snoring and the memory of the night’s events, he wasn’t going to be getting much rest that night. Eventually his eyes became too heavy to stay open, so as they closed he thought of Heero, and he felt like the luckiest man alive to have someone like him in his life. Regardless of what he’d been through that night, he dozed off with his thoughts centered on Heero and a small, contented smile on his face.

on to chapter 15

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