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 22
by Dyna Dee

Something disturbed Duo's deep slumber. He was barely able to rouse himself when he felt a warm hand shaking his shoulder. "Shh..." It was Heero's voice and breath brushing his ear. "I heard something. It's probably nothing, but I better check it out. Stay here."

Some part of his mind knew he should be alarmed, but he was just so damn tired, so much so that moments after Heero's warmth moved away from him he was drifting back to sleep.

He wasn't sure how long he'd been asleep when once again he was awakened, but this time it wasn't because of anything Heero said but by the realization that his lover hadn't come back to bed. Forcing his eyes open, he looked around the dark room until his eyes fell on the alarm clock; it was 3:15 a.m. What time had they gone to bed? Hum... he couldn't remember, but he thought it might have been close to eleven. When did Heero get out of bed? He reached over to feel the area behind him only to find the sheet was cool to the touch. Though his eyelids felt ridiculously heavy, the need to go back to sleep weighing them down, his concern over Heero's absence gave him enough incentive to throw off the cocoon of warm bedding and struggle into a sitting position.

"Heero?" he called out softly, not wanting to disturb his uncle sleeping in the next room.

No answer. Worried, he stood up but then had to pause a moment when the room began to spin and his body swayed wildly. He pressed a hand to his forehead and closed his eyes until the spinning sensation eased. Man, what's wrong with me? he wondered. Taking a few cautious steps forward he found both his mind and body sluggish and slow, as if he hadn't slept in days. This is what he'd felt like the one time he'd taken two Ambien. Wait a minute... had he taken anything before he'd gone to bed? No, he was pretty sure he hadn't? But he did feel like he was under the influence of some kind of drug. But that was ridiculous. Why would someone slip him sleeping pills? He couldn't think well enough to sort this out, being that his head felt like it was filled with wet cotton. Despite how he felt, he need to find out if Heero was alright, and so he continued to stumble towards the front door.

Reaching the doorway felt like a monumental accomplishment. Turning the knob, he opened the door just enough to stick his head out and then listened. The house was quiet, which didn't seem unusual, given the hour. Try as he might he couldn't hear anything coming from the living room, or anywhere else in the house for that matter. So where was his missing lover? A warning chill crept up his spine and roused him a bit further out of his sluggish, near somnolent state.

"Heero!" This time he hissed his lover's name a bit louder. Standing in only his boxers, he felt exposed, vulnerable and cold and he wished he had something in his hand to defend himself with. Not being familiar with his uncle's home, apart from the front rooms, he had no idea where he would find a bat, cane or any other handy tool he could use to defend himself if he needed to.

Slowly making his way along the wall towards the living room, where it seemed a bit lighter than the hallway, Duo strained to hear any noise that would indicate the presence of anyone in the house. Shouldn't he be able to hear his uncle snoring? He vaguely remembered how Hank had been a horrible snorer in the past. As a kid, he woke many times in the dead of night to hear the most god awful sounds coming from his uncle and aunt's bedroom. He'd learned from his aunt that she wore ear plugs every night when she went to bed so that she wouldn't suffer from her husband's sleep apnea. Why wasn't Uncle Hank snoring now?

And then a horrible thought came to him. What if the killer followed them to this house?

All forward movement ceased as that thought took hold, bringing with it a rush of fear. No, that was impossible, he told himself as his knees threatened to give out. There was no way someone could have followed them from Heero's apartment. He flattened himself against the wall for support as another idea came to him. What if... if the killer murdered the man in the elevator as a means to getting them out of Heero's apartment, knowing they'd run as soon as the latest victim was discovered?


With a hand over his mouth to muffle his ragged breathing, Duo struggled to calm himself. Panicking would cause him to do something stupid and get him into more trouble. He needed a clear head in order to deal with the situation, if indeed there was something horrible going on. Please, he prayed, don't let Heero be dead. To have finally found the man he'd been waiting for all his life only to have him hurt or captured by the serial killer would destroy him. He'd just found Heero, he couldn't lose him, not like this.

Just as he was about to brave another step towards the living room, there came a faint sound from back down the hallway, in the direction from which he'd come. He couldn't tell what the sound was, but he was pretty sure it came from one of the other bedrooms. Maybe it was Uncle Hank.

Looking back towards the living room, he guessed the faint glow of light he now detected was coming from the kitchen. There was safety in a lighted room, he told himself. But once again that faint, odd sound came from behind him. What if it was Heero, or Uncle Hank, and they needed help? He almost jumped out of his skin when he heard the sound of a faucet running in the kitchen. Water, huh? Could someone be making tea? Maybe Heero couldn't sleep and had gotten up to make himself a cup of tea. Yeah, that made sense. After everything that had happened earlier that evening, Heero must have had a difficult time trying to sleep, and a soothing, warm herbal tea would probably help him settle down. Yes, that seemed a more rational explanation. He suddenly felt very foolish for all the horrible things he'd been imagining.

Okay, he thought, getting a hold of himself, if someone was making tea in the kitchen, he'd better man up and investigate the noise down the hallway. He turned around and focused on the four closed doors he knew were lining the hallway. The darkness in the windowless hall was such that he couldn't even see his hand in front of his face, and so he was forced to inch down the hallway with his left hand pressed against the wall to guide him.

The first door he came to was the bedroom he'd come out of moments before, so he carefully bypassed it, but then stopped as a wave of dizziness caused him a moment of disorientation. Was it being immersed in total darkness that had him feeling so unsteady? Now that some of the fear he felt earlier had subsided, he wondered why his mind and body was still so sluggish. Why were his arms and legs so heavy? Again, this feeling seemed familiar and it triggered alarms in his head, warning him that something horrible was about to happen. Fighting the urge to run and hide, Duo forced himself to take another step forward, telling himself that he was letting his imagination get the best of him. No matter how crappy or scared his felt, he was going to find out where Heero was or if someone was in trouble... and then he'd go back to bed.

With a shuddering intake of breath and a whole lot of determination, he took a step and then another. The bathroom, he knew, was across the hall from the bedroom he and Heero shared. He decided to bypass it until he checked the bedrooms first. The one adjacent to the one he'd slept in was the room he guessed belonged to his uncle, and Jason when he stayed over.

He felt the door frame under his fingertips and continued his search a bit further until he located the doorknob. Grasping it, he slowly turned it and was glad to find it unlocked. Poking his head in the door he whispered, "Uncle Hank?" Not only was there no reply, but there was no sound of any kind; no snoring or breathing in the room. Could he have gotten the wrong room? He didn't know for a fact that this was Hank's room; he'd just assumed that it was. He stepped inside the door and silently shut it behind him as he searched for the light switch. He found the plate and flipped the switch upward. The ceiling light came on, blinding him until his eyes adjusted to the brightness. He blinked several times and held his hand over his aching eyes as he scanned the tidy room. There was a large, empty bed in the center of the room, but the bedding, though made up, was slightly rumpled. On each side of the bed were tables and lamps, and on the left wall a dresser with several pictures of both Jason and Hank, individually and together, smiling for the camera. He blinked, wondering if he was seeing things as he recognized several pictures he'd seen years ago, of himself and Natalie. He swayed again as his mind lurched, causing him to reach out to the wall to keep himself from stumbling forward. God, what was wrong with him?

He blinked and looked around the room again. This appeared to be Hank's bedroom alright, but then why was the bed still made up? Hadn't his uncle gone to bed when he and Heero retired for the night? Something nagged at his memory, but for some reason he was afraid to figure out the reason for his discomfort. Instead of dwelling further on what was wrong, he reached up and turned the light out again then gave himself a couple of moments to adjust to the dark once more before opening the door.

The darkness seemed more oppressive than ever, yet refusing to stop his search, now for two missing men, he felt his way across the hallway to the last remaining bedroom. Again, he located the doorknob and it turned under his hand. But before opening the door, he looked down the hallway to the faint light at the end. To his relief, he could see no movement or shadow coming towards him. With that little bit of reassurance, he opened the door a crack and slipped into the room and, as he'd done before, he searched for the light switch and flipped it on.

This time the light on the ceiling didn't come on, but several smaller lamps set about the room. A sound, like a strangled gasp sounded from the floor before his eyes were able to adjust and focus, and when they did, they widened with disbelief and horror at what lay before him. On the floor, resting on top of a plastic tarp, was Heero. His lover lay on his side, dressed in the jeans and undershirt he'd worn earlier, his arms and legs bound together with duct tape. His body jerked and twitched sporadically, alarming Duo, but it was Heero's eyes, wide with terror, and the gag in his mouth that had Duo in a near faint. This couldn't be happening, he thought, but the evidence in front of him proved that his worst nightmare was coming to life; the serial killer had found them. A strangled sound came from his lover, shaking him out of his paralyzed state.

Throwing himself down on his knees, Duo quickly crawled his way to Heero's side and began to tug frantically at the bindings around his wrists. "Shit, shit, shit," he whispered as his fingers fumbled with the silver tape. Heero's muffled voice seemed to be trying to tell him something, but Duo's focus centered on getting his lover free so they could get the hell out of the house and away from the killer.

"How did he find us?" he asked. "Oh, God! What did he do to Uncle Hank?" He froze, his mounting fear making it impossible to think clearly. He glanced down at Heero who was shaking his head back and forth, and it sounded like he was screaming at him do something. The gag, remove the gag. He knew that was what he needed to do, but he couldn't get his hands to comply. He couldn't think straight, couldn't focus on what needed to be done to free Heero and escape this nightmare.

And just as he pulled the gag off his lover's mouth, a sound came from the doorway behind him and Heero moaned.

Jerking his head around, Duo froze at the sight before him. He couldn't have been more surprised to see his uncle standing above him, a large bowl in his hands and wearing an equally surprised expression. Frantic, but having enough sense to keep his voice down, Duo looked up at the older man with relief and whispered, "Thank God you're alright, Uncle Hank. We've got to get out of here. The killer's found us. Help me get Heero free and then we'll climb out the window."

Instead of jumping forward to help them as Duo expected, his uncle remained in place and simply smiled at him. It wasn't a smile Duo had ever seen before. There was no warmth, love or even humor to be found in the older man's expression, but something that could only be defined as malevolence. Shaking his head, Hank said, "You just couldn't stay asleep, could you? If you'd eaten dinner or swallowed more of your drink, you'd have slept until noon. Oh well," he shrugged, "it's not like I haven't improvised before."

Duo was cried out with surprise when the bowl of cold water was thrown into his upturned face. Before he could react, he was hit with a shock so powerful that he was stunned senseless.

He didn't know how long he'd been out of it, but a dawning sense of urgency nudged him to a more alert state. It took a moment before he could focus enough to determine his position. He was lying face down on a piece of plastic, with his hands bound behind his back, and before he took another breath, everything that had happened before he'd lost consciousness came rushing back. Tapping down on the panic that was rising within him, he cautiously opened his eyes, but just enough to peer through his eyelashes, hoping to assess the situation. A buzzing sound followed by a long moan drew his attention.

No more than five feet away from where he lay was a scene out of a horror movie. His uncle, devoid of all clothing, sat astride Heero, laughing as his lover twitched beneath him. Hank, who apparently had taken off his own clothes as well as Heero's sometime after he'd been shocked into unconsciousness, grinned with satisfaction at his lover's distress.

"You're so damn beautiful," Hank whispered as he leaned forward, hovering over Heero's body. "From the moment I saw you I knew you would be mine. I can't tell you what it feels like to know that I'll be the last person to have you." He then placed his hand over Heero's cheek and caressed it. Scared but defiant, Heero, despite his nervous system having been shocked, jerked his head away, showing how repulsed he was by the man's touch. "Now, don't be that way, Heero. I'm going to be extra nice to you because you're Duo's lover. I promise to kill you before I take my souvenirs. Or," he paused in thought for a moment before continuing, "maybe I'll wait until after I've spent some time with my nephew. Would you like to watch me fuck him, Heero? He has a great ass, but then you already know that, don't you?" Then straightening, the man Duo thought he knew added in a casual manner, "You know, he never really was yours or anyone else's. Duo has always been mine, from the time he first came to live with Helen and I. He was just one of my nasty little secrets. It took some time, but I taught him everything a bottom should know and kept him under my thumb, too scared to tell anyone about my visits to his room. It was just my bad luck, a fluke really, that Helen became suspicious and faked taking her sleeping pills. I should have killed her, pushed her down the stairs like I did Natalie when she found me with Duo, but the police would viewed her death too much of a coincidence, so I let her kick me out. You see, I didn't want to chance losing my freedom."

Listening, Duo's mind was thrown into a tailspin. No, good God, no! This can't be real. Pain shot through his head as his entire world was turned upside down as the door to his past burst open. Memories he'd not recalled two minutes ago came back in an overwhelming rush, and with them came hysteria and horror. With his eyes tightly shut, he struggled with the onslaught of nightmarish scenes flashing in his mind. He wanted to push them back where they came from, not wanting to acknowledge them as real.

The sound of Hank's voice as he continued to brag about what he had done to his nephew, served to snap him out of the mental maelstrom. Remembering that he and Heero were in danger of losing their lives, he tried to focus more on escaping than reliving the past. This wasn't the time for a meltdown or to lose himself in the overwhelming terror that was crowding in on him. He had to do something, and quickly, or Hank was going to do those unthinkable things Detective Dawson had described, rape, torture and mutilation, first to Heero and then to him.

"Ah, yes," Hank continued as he looked down on the helpless man beneath him. "One more jolt and I think you'll be ready for me to begin."

Those words, uttered by Hank, triggered another memory Duo couldn't repress. Though it was fogged, he heard an echo of his uncle's voice, whispering something similar into his ear. "There, now we're ready to begin. Remember, boy, not a sound." A phantom pain and the memory of something unwanted being shoved into him was re-lived, as was the mental scream of a child that echoed in his mind, and it was almost too much for him to repress that once suppressed, agonized cry for help. He pressed his lips tightly together, knowing he needed to contain the pain and the horror of his past as well as the terrifying reality of the present. Yet past refused to be dismissed when he heard his uncle chuckle and he was immediately transported back to a dark, terrifying moment. He was terrified, held captive, and Duo could feel the man's hot breath on his neck as he recalled Hank whispering in the dark, "You're mine, Duo, and you're going to be my bitch for as long as you live under my roof, maybe even longer. And if you breathe a word of this to your aunt or Natalie, I'll slit their throats and make it look like someone broke into the house. Then no one will be around to keep you from me."

The sudden buzzing sound and another muffled moan managed to jerk him out of his flashback. His body was trembling and he couldn't seem to catch his breath. He remembered so much of his past now, and was well and truly horrified. Fighting to control the feeling of panic building inside of him, Duo reminded himself that what he'd suffered at the hands of his uncle when he was still a kid had been terrifying, painful and unforgivable, but what he and Heero were about to experience at the hand of the same man was going to be even worse. How the hell could he have forgotten being abused by the man? It was obvious now that he'd pushed that time of his life to the back of his mind, pretended that it never happened. But why? Now that his memories had been freed, he clearly recalled the threats Hank had made against his aunt and cousin. If he said anything about what his uncle was doing to him, Hank would have killed them. No wonder he'd pretended the abuse hadn't happened. How could a kid deal with living in a constant state of terror other than to deny it was happening?

Focus, dammit! He couldn't afford to waste a moment trying to figure out the past when his future looked so bleak. He could fall apart after he got himself and Heero the hell out of there. Having broken out in a sweat when he'd had the flashback, or whatever the hell that was, Duo thought his wrists might be slick enough to wiggle his hands free from whatever bound his wrists together.

Another dark chuckle from Hank, most likely at Heero's expense, was more than Duo's sanity could handle. He opened his eyes and set his sights on the man who he now realized was the serial killer who had hurt and killed so many people, and he let his hatred fuel his need to act. Without forming a plan, he acted, rolling quickly onto his side and bringing his knees up under himself. He continued the movement until he was in a crouched position, then immediately launched himself at his uncle, sitting on top of Heero with the stun gun in his right hand.

Though his body felt numb and jittery, Duo's aim was true. His head butted into the older man's side, toppling him completely off Heero with a surprised "Oof." Quickly, before the older man could get his bearings, Duo bent himself into a ball once again and, as quickly as he could manage, forced his body through his arms, bringing his bound hands to the front of his body. He was suddenly very grateful that he hadn't taken the time to put his pants on before leaving the bedroom, knowing he never could have been able to free his arms if he'd had his jeans on.

Hank must have hit his head on the desk to his left, because he was slower to respond than Duo anticipated. Spying the stun gun on the floor, Duo instinctively dove for it. His uncle must have realized his intent because he also dove forward and grabbed for the weapon at the same time. Duo felt triumphant when he actually got his hands on the stun implement first, but that feeling ended when his uncle's hands closed around his and tried to jerk it out of his grasp. The two of them commenced wrestling for control of the small disabling device. They twisted, turned and then rolled over Heero who, in his stunned and bound state, merely grunted as they tumbled over and then off of him. Duo's back hit the floor and he used the momentum to keep rolling, pulling Hank with him. Tumbling over several more times, both men fighting to get the upper hand, they knocked a standing lamp over, causing it to crash with a long bang against the lone window in the room.

"Why?" Duo asked through gritted teeth as the weapon came close to his face. It surprised him how strong the older man was. Then again, having a desk job probably hadn't done anything to add to his own wrestling prowess either.

"Why what?" Hank questioned in a strangled voice as he pushed Duo down on his back again, having gained more leverage on the gun.

Anger and pain gripped the braided man as he struggled to speak about the abuse he'd suffered at his uncle's hand. "Why everything? Why did you kill Natalie? Why rape me? How could you have done those things to me?"

"You were simply too tempting to ignore, too ripe for the picking," the older man said with a grunt and sneering grin. "I wanted you from the moment you walked through our front door, and there you were, innocent and more than available, snuggled in your bed every night while your aunt slept soundly next door, thanks to the earplugs and prescription sleep aids she used every night. As for Natalie, she must have heard something, and she walked in just as I was about to come inside you. She turned and ran, but I caught up to her by the staircase. The rest is history. But you somehow forget if all didn't you?"

Again, memories from Duo's past overwhelmed him, they were proof of Hank's confession. Once again he felt the fear, pain, betrayal, grief and shame he'd experienced as a young teenager. With both the memory and the weight of the man on top of him, the past intermingled with the present. The threat Hank posed and wresting for the object in his hand, which would seal his and Heero's fate if he let go, kept him in from falling into despair. Giving up now meant he and Heero would die.

There was pain and a coppery taste on his tongue, and he realized then that he'd bitten either his lip or tongue as the struggle to keep the small stun gun away from his face and neck continued. With Hank practically laying on top of him, Duo could only think of one thing to do. He bucked upwards, momentarily surprising the other man, and shifting him just enough so that his knee, jerking upward forcefully, hit its intended target, causing Hank to let go of the weapon as he doubled over, his hands covering his vulnerable, now bruised parts.

This was his chance, maybe his only chance. Duo pushed himself up and ran for the closed door on wobbly legs, the stun gun clutched tightly in both bound hands. His instincts screamed for him to get the hell out of there and get some help, yet despite his panicked state, he stopped in his tracks, torn between helping Heero and escaping the horror that was his uncle. He looked at the black implement in his hand and came to a decision. He turned it around so that the end with the two prongs faced outwards, a difficult maneuver to manage with his wrists bound together by nylon rope.

"I'll kill you," Hank grunted from the floor. It took everything in Duo to turn around and walk back towards the older man struggling to gain his feet and clutching his bruised family jewels.

Duo depressed the button and was satisfied when the device in his hand buzzed and power discharged with in the space separating the two prongs. Stepping quickly, before Hank could straighten, he lunged forward, his hand still on the button, ready to shock the bastard to kingdom come. Yet before the tool touched the older man's arm, Hank surprised him by dropping down and sweeping his leg out and around, successfully knocking Duo's feet out from under him. He fell to the floor with a hard thud. Before he could get up, a bare foot connected with his jaw, knocking him down again. Another kick landed on his bound hands, which successfully removed the stun gun from his grasp.

Hank dove for the gun. Despite the pain in his face, Duo lunged after him. If he didn't keep going, he and Heero were doomed. Digging his nails into the older man's back, Hank yelled with pain before turning and defending himself. Once more the two of them were wrestling across the floor, each trying to reach the stun gun before the other. One by one the lamps on the floor were knocked over as they continued to fight. Items on the desk fell over when they bumped into it, and Duo received several blows to the head and stomach from the demented man trying to escape his grasp. With his hands still bound in front of him, Duo was incapable of doing much damage to Hank, other than using his fingernails and teeth. It was all he could do to keep the older man from reaching the stun gun, especially when the wiry man had only skin to grab hold of. He didn't want to think about Hank's nudity, fearing what other memories were waiting to be released. It was easy to put those thoughts aside when he was too busy fighting for his and Heero's lives to worry about anything else.

A fierce blow to the side of his head had Duo seeing stars, and his grasp on his opponent slackened. And then a jolt of burning pain struck against his neck and had him writhing in agony but unable to do anything other than moan. And as another punishing shock was given to his abdomen he threw up, spewing stomach bile onto the floor. Hank stood over him, gasping for air and swearing a blue streak about what he was going to do to him. Duo was unable to defend himself as his uncle bent over and grabbed his braid and used it to drag him across the floor until once again he was laying next to Heero on the cold plastic tarp.

"Now that you've had your fun, it's my turn," Hank announced with a lecherous smile and madness shining in his eyes.

The nightmare etched in his mind ever since he was attacked on the streets of L.A. returned as Hank used his stun gun to immobilize his arms and then his legs. With tears being the only way to express his outrage, Duo was helpless to stop what was happening as his uncle ripped off his boxers and stared down at his naked body.

"You're as lovely now as you were as a boy, Duo, and I'm going to remember this night for, well, probably the rest of my life. Too bad you won't be able to reminisce with me, but I'll be sure to take pictures." Moving to the table, the older man reached for a camera and brought it up to his face. The flash of bright light was proof that he took a picture of Duo, lying naked and helpless on the floor. Putting the camera back down, Hank reached to take something else off the table.

When the older man turned around he had a knife in his hand and the look on his face could only be described as evil. Duo's eyes strayed to Hank's bruised penis, which remained limp and swayed slightly as he approached him with the knife held at his side. He wanted to plead with his uncle, beg him not to do what he intended, but only a gurgle came out of his mouth when he tried.

Hank bent over him once again and Duo closed his eyes as the knife was raised. His bound wrists were jerked up, and after a ripping sound his arms fell limp and useless to the floor "I don't need you bound now that you're properly numbed up," Hank explained, sounding satisfied.

His eyes shot open as the older man stepped over and straddled him, giving him a clear view of Hank's entire body. Looking down, the older man said, "Since you interrupted my plans for your boyfriend and seeing that it will take some time for me to recover, I guess it's only fair that I start with you, dear nephew, and let Heero watch." Bending his knees, he slowly eased down until his bare ass was sitting on Duo's lower stomach. Unable to blink, fearing what was about to happen, he watched as Hank set the knife on the floor, then proceeded to slowly move both hands over his chest, sides and arms. The feeling of being inspected, mapped out, quickly changed when those calloused hands began to stroke and tease his body, pausing only to pinch his nipples. What the hell was the man doing?

He was trembling uncontrollably now, and not simply from being stunned repeatedly but also from being scared out of his mind, angry beyond measure, repulsed, sickened and hurting. Detective Dawson's description of how the serial killer's victims had been abused and mutilated kept coming back to him, like he was reading the coroner's report regarding his own death. Though his uncle seemed to be trying to arouse him, his body wasn't cooperating. After enduring several minutes of Hank's touch, the man above him frowned at not getting the reaction he'd hoped for, so he tried something else. His touch became rougher, pinching and slapping him, though he honestly couldn't feel very much.

Unable to lift even a finger to defend himself, Duo opted to take the only escape available, shutting out what was happening, a task he'd proved quite adept at. With his returning memories, he now remembered how he'd escaped those nightmarish hours with his uncle.

It had been his childhood toy box.

In his darkest hours he'd pictured the toy box that had been in his bedroom, in the home he'd lived in with his parents. It was his safe place, a quiet, secure hidey-hole where bad men and pain couldn't follow. Once again he pictured it in his mind, seeing the rectangular oak box his father had made for him when he was a toddler. He even saw the familiar dent on the left side, made by his remote control fire truck when he was five. He ran his finger tips over the smooth wood surface and opened the lid and smiled. There, tucked in the corner, was his blue blanket and Bob, his childhood friend, a stuffed and worn, bunny rabbit. They had been waiting for him all this time. He'd just begun to climb into the box when a sound from his left penetrated his mind, instantly bringing him back to the here and now.

Heero. If it wasn't for him, his lover wouldn't be here. How could he escape into his box and leave the most important person in his life to face this nightmare alone?

Hank was now pulling hair out from his underarms, obviously trying to get his attention, and his cry of pain came out in the form of a gurgle, which seemed only to please the sadistic bastard. Frantic to distract himself, he wondered who would miss him. Charise, of course. Trowa would, but Quatre would probably be relieved he was out of the picture. No, that wasn't fair. Quatre had never really been mean spirited. If he had a second chance, he'd forgive the blond, hell, he'd give him a big sloppy kiss if it meant he was going to survive. His Aunt Helen would definitely mourn him, and no doubt she would blame his horrible demise on his being gay. That left Heero. He tried to turn his head, but the jolt to his neck had made it impossible to accomplish such a simple task. He turned his eyes, and could just barely see his lover lying next to him. Heero had also been hit numerous times with the stun gun and appeared unable to move.

Having detached his mind from what his uncle was doing, Duo realized he'd already resigned himself to his inevitable death. He consoled himself that at least he'd known what it was to love and be loved. If he had one regret in life, it was not having more time to be with Heero. God help him, he loved the man. A tear leaked out of the corner of his eye as he watched his uncle reach for the knife he'd set down earlier.

His eyes, blurred with tears, still managed to follow the knife's path from the floor and his fear rose to new heights. His uncle was staring intently at his chest, as if deciding where to begin. "It almost seems a pity to mark such perfection," the older man said as he ran his free hand over Duo's chest. "But every masterpiece begins with a blank canvas."

The tip of the knife was lowered slowly until it came to rest in the middle of Duo's sternum, the point digging into his skin. "Blood is such a beautiful color, don't you think?" Hank asked as he pushed the tip just under the skin. "The color of love." Duo closed his eyes, unable to watch the man enjoy torturing him to death. He felt the tip of the knife begin a slow journey down the middle of his stomach, not deep enough to cause serious injury, just pain and blood flow. The tip was pulled out once it reach his navel. "Ah, lovely."

Hank shifted down to sit on his thighs before the knife was again carefully placed, just below his navel, and Duo tried to prepare himself for more pain as he fought to control his rising terror. He felt the tip of the knife poke into his skin, puncturing it and then move slowly downward. Still twitching as a result of being stunned several times, Duo didn't know whether he should hope Hank would go slow enough that he'd have time to figure out a way to escape, or if he should pray for a quick end. If he could thrust his body upwards, the knife would plunge into his lower abdomen. Oh hell, on second thought, that probably wouldn't bring a quick death either.

The knife was suddenly lifted, and to Duo's horror his uncle leaned over and, with his tongue extended, began to lick the bloody trail left in the knife's wake. That was sick! He frantically tried to move, to yell, to do anything that would stop what was happening. His fingers twitched but his arms remained unmovable. He tried to move his arms and legs, but they were still useless. The only place on his body that was sensitive was his torso, but Hank had probably figured that in his plans. He was very much aware of the sting of the knife cuts and the wetness of the perverted man's tongue.

Unable to turn his neck, Duo could only turn his eyes towards Heero, hoping for a last glimpse of his lover. He'd waited so long for the other man to come along and felt blessed that he'd finally found someone he could trust enough to love completely. But now it was all coming to a horrible end. If he could speak, he'd tell Heero how much he loved him, and with his last breath he'd thank him for loving him back.

Hank leaned back once more and took a moment to admire his work, blood covering his lips. He must have been pleased because the corners of his red mouth inched up. The knife was lifted once more and Duo moaned with dread. His breath hitched when the tip of the knife came to rest close to his left nipple.


Heero's shout was unexpected, startling both Duo and the man on top of him. As if he'd just realized that he had control of his lungs and voice box again, Heero took a deep, audible breath and let out a blood curdling scream that was sure to wake up someone in the neighborhood. His lover's single attempt to help them escape came to an abrupt end when Hank picked up the stun gun, lunged to the side and hit Heero in the ribs with another charge.

Duo filled his lungs and let out his own cry for help, but his voice didn't carry nearly as well as his lover's, having been more recently stunned.

"Nice try," Hank smirked as he resumed his position on Duo's thighs. He picked the knife up off the plastic tarp to resume his torture. "Now, where was I?" He asked himself, though the look in his eyes told Duo he hadn't really forgotten. "Oh yes, I was about to cut off your nipples. I already have quite a collection of them, you know. All flattened and dried in a book of Shakespeare's complete works."

Duo trembled as the tip of the knife moved in the direction of his left nipple once again. He closed his eyes, unwilling to watch the grinning man above him take pleasure in mutilating his body.

An abrupt and startling bang shattered the silence the room, coming from his right. Hank jumped and then suddenly the weight on top of Duo's legs was gone and the sounds of fighting filled the air. Duo's eyes flew open and he tried to make sense of what was happening when two bodies, one clothed and another naked, tumbled over Heero's body before slamming into the shelves against the wall. The two tangled bodies rolled back and then proceeded to plow over the two unmoving men again. Grunts and snarling obscenities came from both of the fighting men. Duo's eyes couldn't follow the two, or identify the newcomer as he could only track them by the sounds they were making. He prayed that Jason had returned early and was as shocked and surprised as he and Heero had been by his uncle's hidden nature. The dark clothed man was but a shadow at the edge of Duo's vision, but he was able to see him successfully pinning Hank beneath him and then striking him hard with his fist. Duo counted the number of times he heard flesh slamming into flesh and bone. Seven times he imagined a tightly clenched fist hitting the downed man's vulnerable face. Kill him, kill him, he silent urged.

And then there was silence, well, except for three people breathing harshly. The shadowed figure stood and moved quickly towards the two naked men lying stunned on the plastic tarp. Duo looked up, his vision still blurred by tears he quickly tried to blink away. His rescuer then bent over and looked him in the eyes.

"Fuck, look what that shit's done to you. Are you all right?" Shock, confusion and overwhelming gratitude filled the injured man as he recognized their unlikely savior. He tried to speak to the man above him, but only a squawk and a gurgle managed to escape his throat.

"I called the police before I broke into the house," their rescuer explained. "They'll be here any minute." The man's attention then turned to Heero, and the look of concern that had been on his face while looking down on Duo intensified. He stepped over Duo's trembling body and knelt next to Heero, his hands immediately searching his body for any wounds. With deep concern and something more he asked. "Are you all right, Heero? Did he hurt you?"

"I'm fine. Help me." Heero answered in a weak voice as he struggled to move, to turn towards Duo. "Thank God you came in time, Wufei. How the hell did you know we were in trouble?"

Seeing what Heero's intention was, Wufei leaned forward and helped him turn to his side and, with a hand to his shoulder, held him in place so he could face his lover.

"I followed you from work," the Chinese man answered. "I wanted to talk to you before you left work, but didn't catch you in time. I saw you, but you were too quick getting into your car and driving away. I followed you home and parked my car out on the street in front of your apartment building, but by the time I reached the parking garage, you were pushing the elevator button. The elevator door opened and you gave out a shout and jumped away from what was inside the car. I guessed something was horribly wrong, especially when you high-tailed it up the stairs." With a slight tremor to his voice, Wufei continued. "Before the door closed, I caught a glimpse of the dead man and the puddle of blood in the elevator. I ran all the way back to my car. I figured it was the serial killer who'd killed that guy and it scared me shitless, wondering if I was going to be the next victim."

The sound of distant sirens getting closer caused Wufei to pause with his explanation. "I left the front door open so the cops can come in."

"Hold on, love," Heero said to the man lying naked and wounded on the floor, just out of his reach. "Help's almost here. Is he all right, Wufei? Shit, his entire chest is bleeding."

"The cuts seem superficial, Heero. He's going to be okay, and so are you."

"Hank?" Heero ask with fear in his voice. He tried to look to where the earlier commotion had taken place, but his neck still wasn't cooperating.

"You mean the guy I took down?" Heero nodded. "He's unconscious."

"Make sure he stays that way. He'll kill all of us if he can."

That comment finally diverted Wufei's attention away from Heero as he turned to study more closely the unmoving man not ten feet away. "He's still out."

"How did you know we'd left the apartment and that we were in trouble?"

Wufei paused, and he looked as if he was debating over what to say. Taking a deep breath he said, "After you and Duo ran from your apartment, and seeing that the cops hadn't shown up, I guessed you were in trouble. I.." The Chinese man looked embarrassed as he confessed to what he'd done. "You have to understand, Heero, that I was desperate to know why you dropped me so suddenly and if you were as serious about Duo as you said you were and not just handing me a line, so I contacted a private investigator and purchased a couple of tracking devices. The night I showed up at your apartment unannounced I attached a tracking chip to your jacket before heading to your bedroom. I put another one on your car one night, while you were working late. Between the two devices I was able to follow you here. I really hadn't planned on hanging around all night, once I realized you weren't going anywhere, but I couldn't make myself go home knowing you were in trouble, so I stayed to make sure no one came after you and to see what would happen in the morning."

"Why would you go to such lengths?" Heero asked, disturbed by his friend and former lover's confession.

Wufei looked directly into Heero's eyes as he confessed, "Because I love you, regardless of the fact that you never seemed to reciprocate my feelings." When Heero didn't say anything, he added, "For the longest time I held out hope that one day you'd realize you cared about me too; but then Duo came into the picture. I convinced myself that you were just using him, but there was something in the way you looked at him that told me I'd lost you. I just didn't want to believe it."

Duo listened while Wufei explained his actions to Heero, though the conversation seemed muted, clousded by some kind of barrier in his mind. It was odd, he thought, that he really wasn't shocked by Wufei's confession of his feelings for Heero, though he was surprised by his determination to insure that Heero was safe.

He was distracted from the rest of their conversation by a sound in the distance. The longer he listened to it, the more distinct it became. It took a moment before he identified the sound as a siren. No, make that sirens. Help was on its way, it seemed. He could hardly believe that he and Heero were going to survive this nightmare. Somehow, by luck or miracle, they had sidestepped a horrible death tonight.

He still couldn't move his numb, unresponsive limbs, but his body, or perhaps it was his mind, was beginning to react to night's ordeal. With each passing moment he became more aware of the painful cuts on his chest and the burns on various parts of his body from the electric shocks, but more than anything, he was unbelievably, teeth-shattering cold.

Heero, who had kept an eye on his lover during his short conversation with Wufei, witnessed the moment Duo began shaking uncontrollably. "Duo? What's wrong?" And then more urgently, "Wufei, do something, I think he's going into shock."

"Police!" came a shout from the front of the house.

"In here!" Wufei stood and went to the door to show the arriving law enforcement where they were.

Before he reached the door, a large black man dressed in a blue police uniform burst into the room, his gun held in both hands in front of him, ready to use. His dark eyes quickly took in the two naked men on the floor, the unconscious man off to the side and then the unharmed Chinese man dressed in dark clothing. He promptly turned his gun on Wufei. "Hands up," he ordered sharply.

Wufei quickly raised his hands. "I'm the one who called for help," he explained as two more officers appeared in the doorway. He gave a nod of his head in the direction of the man who lay unconscious on the floor. "That man over there was assaulting my friends when I came through the door. We fought and he lost."

"His name is Hank McGuire." Heero added as loudly as he could manage. "He's the serial killer the LAPD has been looking for. He hurt my partner; please help him."

With another assessing glance at the wounded man, the officer turned his head to those behind him. "Get a blanket from one of the bedrooms. Make that three," he quickly amended.

The house came alive with policemen and questioning voices. The three naked men were wrapped in blankets and the call for an ambulance was made. A police woman crouched down between Heero and Duo, and stayed with them as they waited for the paramedics to arrive, uttering assurances that everything was going to be fine. Meanwhile, Hank had regained consciousness and had been propped up against the wall with a blanket thrown over his shoulders. Two grim-looking police officers flanked him. Hank's face was battered and bloody, his expression varying between glowering and brooding, resulting from either pain or the reality of facing a very grim future. He hadn't spoken a word since Wufei's trouncing, even after he was read his Miranda rights.

The policeman who'd initially come through the door, approached once again and introduced himself as Officer Davis. Heero judged him to be in his thirties and physically fit, looking like a guy who had nothing better to do on his down time than lift weights. After assessing the two victims, he turned to back to Heero and began questioning him about what had happened.

Duo, still on the floor but now snugly wrapped in a comforter from off of one of the beds, was in the process of shutting himself off from the confusing chaos going on around him. The voices and commotion around him provided more stimuli than his traumatized brain could handle. It was too difficult to follow the conversations when his body was shaking uncontrollably and the visions of his newly revealed past kept flashing in his mind.

"Please," he heard Heero say. "Help me reach Duo. He needs help."

"I'll help you," Wufei offered. After receiving a nod of permission from Officer Davis, he bent to the task. With extreme care, he gently lifted Duo from off the plastic tarp covering a good portion of the floor. With the trembling, non-responsive, long-haired man in his arms, Wufei hesitated. "Maybe we should put him somewhere warmer until the ambulance gets here. The floor is too cold and drafty and he's obviously in shock."

Fading in and out of awareness, Duo was lost to what was going on, though he realized something had changed when he felt himself placed on a soft, yielding surface; a bed, his muddled mind provided. Other than the tremors that shook his body, he lay limp and oblivious of the two paramedics who had arrived moments before and were now in the process of unwrapping the blanket covering his body in order to check on the severity of his wounds.

Squeezing his eyes closed, Duo tried to pretend that he was somewhere else, anywhere else. He was desperate to get away and forget everything that had happened that night. All he wanted was to go back to his apartment with Heero and never leave. The need to escape this hellish nightmare and the resurfacing memories of being molested by the man he'd called uncle, who somewhere along the line had become a sadistic serial murderer, was overpowering. He could leave it all behind if he really tried, he knew he could. After all, he'd done it before, completely forgotten the horrible things his uncle had done to him when he was just a kid. A faint, reasonable sounding voice from the back of his mind whispered, Isn't forgetting the past the reason we found ourselves at Hank's mercy? If he hadn't pushed the memory of his uncle's abuse down so deeply into his subconscious, pretending to perfection that it hadn't happened, he wouldn't have put himself and Heero a serial killer's hands.

No wonder he'd had trouble with intimacy. He might not have remembered being abused, but some part of his brain had, and his inability to have sex was no doubt a manifestation of his troubled mind. He'd spent wasted years hiding from the past and putting the blame for his problems on his aunt. Well, she wasn't totally blameless, but he owed her an apology. Damn it all, if he'd remembered his uncle abusing him, he'd have had him arrested or at least told the man to get the hell away from him, to stay out of his life. He never would have accepted his invitations or gone running to him like he and Heero had the night before. He was a damn fool, so gullible, so incredibly stupid.

And then more pieces of his fragmented and forgotten past began to fit together, and the only thing that kept Duo from screaming his rage was his need to understand. Blocking out external sounds and movement, Duo found new clarity of thought. His uncle had orchestrated the murder at Heero's apartment complex, timed it so that his lover would see the tortured body and run back to the apartment to warn him. No doubt Hank had counted on them running. His uncle's call, which had come while driving away from the crime scene, had been perfectly timed to intercept their flight, and under the pretense of a caring relative he'd lured them, unsuspecting, right into his clutches. He felt sick knowing how perfectly he'd fallen for his uncle's manipulations.

"We need to get him to the hospital," declared the paramedic looming over the unresponsive victim.

"All right," Officer Davis said as he entered the bedroom wearing a grave expression. He looked to Heero. "I was waiting for LAPD detectives in charge of the stalker case to show up, but I'll radio and tell them you're headed to the local hospital." He walked up to the edge of the bed and looked down on the two who presented their best hope for sending the sick murdering bastard in the other room to hell. "You'll be safe with these guys," he said with a nod in the direction of the paramedics. "They'll get you to the hospital swiftly and safely. Detective Dawson, I'm sure, is barreling down the freeway like a bat out of hell to meet you there. Meanwhile, we're going to search the premises for more evidence. "

Heero gave the officer a small yet sincere thank you and watched as the paramedics began to prepare Duo for transport. Soon the room was buzzing with activity as the transfer from the bed to the stretcher commenced.

Through all the commotion, Duo was only vaguely aware of some jostling because he was again contemplating the interior of his toy box, including the blue blanket with the polar bears on it and Bob the Bunny. It seemed so inviting. He could rest, safe and sound for a while. A voice momentarily distracted him as he stepped into the box and settled down on the soft, fuzzy blanket. As if from a great distance he heard Wufei asking if he could ride along in the ambulance, explaining to some unseen person that he was the closest thing Heero had to a family. That statement, spoken rather passionately and with a hint of desperation, should have upset Duo, especially since Heero didn't refute the man's claims, but he was pulling the lid of the box closed. He was just far enough into the safest corner of his mind that the Chinese man's words didn't mean anything, they couldn't hurt or offend him anymore.

The ride to the hospital was a blur of fragmented sounds, as was his emergence into the emergency room. Duo was remotely aware of activity going on around him, but tucked inside a safe place of his own making, he couldn't bother trying to figure out what was going on. Hands poked and prodded, a needle pricked his arm and his chest burned, but he didn't care. Before long, he tired of the whole thing and completely closed the lid of his toy box, which sunk him into a dark oblivion that was wholeheartedly welcomed.

on to chapter 23

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