ChApTeR 8

"...It's a panic room," Trowa said after a moment in mild surprise, hand covering his nose to block out the stench that rolled over them both.

Lights had flickered to life at the elevator's arrival, and Heero's gaze swept the room as they stepped inside slowly. It was easily as large as Relena's bedroom, the concrete walls still clean and cool grey compared to the older walls in the basement. "A panic room?" he repeated skeptically, relaxing marginally when it was obvious there was no one waiting to jump them. He stepped further into the room, leaning over slightly to stare at the blank monitors of the three computers on a desk against the right-hand wall. "Looks like a small bomb shelter."

Trowa gestured to the steel bunk bed against the other wall. "I'm not sure it's far enough underground to protect from a direct hit from anything from above. This is a hiding place, plain and simple. Nearly impossible to get into. Solid concrete all around, with the only way in..." he nodded toward the elevator, "controlled, obviously, by remote." He gestured towards the steel door across the room. "And that must lead to the basement. It can probably only be opened from the inside." He moved over to shelves stacked with canned goods and MRE's. "There's enough nonperishable food here to last two people a couple of weeks."

Heero checked under the desk, then reached up and patted down the top bunk.

"Looking for this?"

He turned as Trowa swung a chair around from where it sat in front of a small television attached to the wall. The body propped in the seat tilted to the side a bit, staring back at Heero with wide glassy eyes.

Trowa stepped away from the body, nose wrinkling at the smell but face impassive. He poked the body with the muzzle of his gun. "Look-- gunshot wounds. And..." he plucked a piece of folded paper from the lap. "Another note."

He handed it over when Heero reached for it, inspecting the body clinically as Heero unfolded the note quickly, reading it with a faint frown.

"This one's different," he muttered, brows furrowing. He offered it for Trowa's inspection. "The others were hand-written. Sloppy. This one's been typed up." He stepped closer to the corpse, trying to breathe shallow to avoid letting the smell overpower him as he stared first at the face, then at the two bullet wounds in the chest. "And the others were mutilated, most likely with a blade. Why was this one shot?"

Trowa shook his head in ignorance. "Maybe this guy caught the killer off guard. Do you recognize him?"

Heero stared at the unfamiliar face. "...No," he admitted at last. "And he isn't dressed like a security guard. I can't even tell how long he's been down here."

"Ask Duo, he might be able to make an educated guess." Trowa put his hand over his nose again. "Though judging by the smell, I'd say several days at least."

Heero moved over to the steel door, running his fingertips over the keypad lock. "This might need a combination. Send Duo down here with my equipment."

Trowa nodded towards the corpse. "Should I call the police?"

"In a few minutes. I want to check the crime scene myself, first."

Trowa returned to the elevator, and Heero turned his attention on the monitors at the desk. He dragged a keyboard over and tapped the enter key. After a few moments the monitors fuzzed, but brought up no pictures. Frowning, he searched the walls and found a control box. Snapping open the cover, he studied the labeled switches inside. He flipped the one marked as surveillance, glancing over his shoulder towards the desk. He grunted in satisfaction as pictures appeared on the monitors, four per screen. He moved back to the desk for a closer look. They seemed to be showing mostly the same footage as the house's security cameras, probably wired into the same feed. The only ones different were one obviously located in the basement, showing Wufei and the guards prowling restlessly, and another displaying...

His bedroom.

He frowned, watching the miniature Relena on the screen as she served tea to a smiling Quatre. He'd left the cameras out of the bathrooms and their bedroom. It unnerved him a bit to know that there was a feed there, even if no one was watching it. And how had he missed the camera? He would have to search the room more thoroughly later. He memorized the angle of the camera so he would have a good idea of where to look, and glanced up as he heard the elevator hum to life.

During the search, he'd put aside his anger towards Duo. But now that the source of the mysterious smell had been found, he found his stomach churning with bitterness again.

The door swung open, and Duo entered with an exagerrated noise of disgust. "Good GOD!" He tugged his shirt collar up to cover his nose and mouth as he strolled into the room, carrying Heero's laptop under his arm. His eyes found the body quickly, eyebrows arching. "Nice place to stash a body," he admitted. "If the AC hadn't pooped out and made the smell more noticeable, we might never have found it. Who is it?"

Heero took his equipment from the other man, not even bothering to look at him. "John Doe," he grunted.

"Ah. Well, Tro said you needed the God of Death's expert opinion," Duo said cheerfully, moving closer to the body. "Lessie now...."

Heero turned his back on the other man, opening his laptop and moving over to the steel door. He rummaged in the laptop's leather case for the wiring and scanner he would need to decode the lock.

"...A week, at least," Duo declared after a minute or two, straightening and tilting up his head to free his face from his shirt. "Pew. Any longer and he would've gotten reaaaaal ripe." His fingers hovered over the bullet wounds. "No powder bursts on the clothes. Something high tech, or just a silencer, I guess. It could've been a silencer; that would mean it's possible he was killed on the grounds and no one even knew about it. Any charming little notes with this guy?"

Heero ignored him, watching his laptop's screen as numbers scrolled across the program he was running, searching for the right combination. It was an advanced system; it was going to take a few minutes for the computer to figure it out.

A moment later Duo was hovering over his shoulder, warm breath on Heero's ear. "Hellooo, earth to Heero."

Heero twitched his shoulder away, glaring at the screen.

"Christ, back to the cold shoulder routine, huh?" Duo gave a huff of impatience. "Grow up, Yuy. Face your problems like a man."

Heero turned his head at last to offer his old partner a cold look. "I'm not having this conversation again, Duo."

"Fine. We don't have to talk."

Before Heero could protest, Duo had plucked the laptop from his hands and set it on one of the nearby shelves. His arm shot up, blocking Duo's initial grab, but he'd forgotten how damned slippery the other man could be. Duo evaded his upraised arms quickly, seizing Heero by the shoulders and twisting him around. He shoved, and Heero grunted as his back hit the unyeilding door solidly.

Duo was pressed against him in the next second, grinning in his face.

"Duo--" Heero snarled in warning, one fist twitching up already in preparation for a blow meant to take the other boy down.

"You didn't want to talk," Duo pointed out, eyes wide in mock innocence. "I thought we'd deal with this another way." Heero jumped as nimble fingers-- too quick and sneaky for their own damned good --slipped around him and up his shirt so that warm palms were pressed against his bare lower back. "If you hate this so much... if it's so disgusting to you," Duo breathed, staring intently at him, "then hit me and tell me you hate me and never want to see me again."

Heero felt frozen, his limbs unresponsive as he stared into his friend's eyes. "I told you I'd kill you if you--"

Duo chuckled, deep and rough, and something in Heero twisted hotly at the sound.

"I been getting death threats from you since the day we met," Duo murmured. "Me 'n' Relena share that much in common, at least. Either put up or shut up, Yuy."


"Usually you're the one that follows your instincts when you're on the battlefield," Duo interrupted. "Has Relena really domesticated you that much?"

Heero flushed in renewed anger. "Don't bring her into this, you--"

"Why not?" Duo snapped. "This is about her, isn't it? To you, anyway. You think this is wrong because of her."

"There is no 'this'," Heero snarled, mentally shouting at his fist for refusing to connect with Duo's smirking face. "And an hour ago you admitted it was wrong."

"Ah, but we think it's 'wrong' for different reasons," Duo purred. "You're with someone, so it's kinda wrong. You think it's wrong because... well, for lots of reasons, most of them not ones that would occur to a normal human being. Because Relena's not a mission, Heero Yuy. You just think it's easier to put her in that category."

Finally, his fists obeyed. Duo was expecting it, however, and ducked his head quickly to the side, missing the first one. He grunted as the second one caught him in the gut. But their close proximity and the door kept Heero from moving the limb enough to put much force into it, and Duo refused to retreat. He snagged the fist that had gone for his head and kept his other hand pressed hard against Heero's back, using it to force Heero's hips forward against Duo's own.

"See, for me," he breathed, mouth hovering by Heero's, "I think it's wrong that you're with that twit in the first place."

"Why?" Heero demanded, voice slightly strained with anger and confusion. "What business is it of yours--"

"It's 'wrong'," Duo muttered, "because you're not in love with her. You're just obligated, that's all. She doesn't even turn you on. You know how I know? Cuz you two don't hump like rabbits."


"Tell you what. How about you let me make my point, then you do your analzying soldier shit and find the truth on your own."

Heero just glared belligerently. The only thing keeping him from breaking one or two of the other man's limbs was their long-standing friendship. "What point?" he forced himself to snarl.

Duo flashed a smug grin. "That she ain't equipped to turn you on-- I am."

Heero opened his mouth for a retort, and found it gagged with an enthusiastic tongue.

"Hnnf-!" He yanked his free arm up and pressed it hard against Duo's throat, nearly choking him, and jumped in surprise when he was punished for the action by a quick nip to his bottom lip that almost drew blood. Duo's hand was digging into his back, keeping them pressed together, and Heero was two seconds away from biting off the tongue invading his mouth when--

Duo shifted roughly and then-- rolled his hips aggressively against Heero's own.

Heero drew in a quick, sharp breath through his nose, body going tight in surprise and affront. Duo took advantage of his temporary state of shock to move forward suddenly, smashing Heero up against the door to keep him still.

"God damn it, Heero Yuy," Duo panted against his mouth. "Stop fucking thinking about everything and just feel for once."

"Get off me," Heero gasped.

"Make me," Duo retorted, and smothered his arguments with another hard kiss.

In one corner of Heero's brain, he was using his full strength to shove the other man away from him. He was reaching for his gun and offering dire threats.

Then Duo's hips were moving again, creating rough friction, and the rest of Heero's brain scrambled in a panic as it tried to catch up to what his body was really doing.

Because he was getting hard-- fast. His breaths were quick and desperate, and he wasn't trying quite so hard to pull his mouth away. He felt something hard rub against his thigh, then against his own quickly-developing erection, and most of the blood that his brain needed to fight against what was happening made a hasty southward descent. The hand against his back shoved against denim and dipped into the back of his pants, and he realized his other fist must be free, because another hand was cupping the back of his skull. Heero's arm was still against Duo's throat, but barely, and his other hand was gripping Duo's shoulder hard enough to bruise in an aborted attempt to shove him away.

And Duo was still rubbing against him, hard and quick, and it was getting more and more difficult to remember... how to breathe...

Duo's mouth smiled against his in triumph, a breathy laugh escaping. "See? That wasn't so--mmph!"

Heero's hand found Duo's braid and yanked hard, twisting Duo's head to the side. Before he could give himself time to think about it, Heero had crushed his mouth to Duo's. He felt a shudder go through the body pressed so close to his own, and something like a restrained groan escaped the braided man's throat.

Beep! Beep!

It took Heero a second to recognize the sound. He reacted instinctively, shoving Duo back hastily with all his strength. Caught off guard, Duo stumbled back, staring at him blankly, face flushed and mouth still open as he panted for breath. His eyes were dark with lust again, and Heero could only stare back for a moment numbly, fighting for breath. His eyes darted towards the laptop. Only one number was still scrolling. Thinking quickly, he snatched the laptop from the shelf. He sat down in the only chair not currently occupied by a rotting corpse and had the computer in his lap, conveniently covering the bulge in his pants, when the final number flashed and the door swung open a few inches with a creak and a hiss.

"Ofuck," Duo hissed, and dove for the bed.

Strong fingers seized the edge of the heavy door and swung it open fully. Wufei stepped into the room, then came to an abrupt halt, face screwing up in disgust.

For one wild, insane moment, Heero was sure Wufei knew.

But no, he was reaching up to cover his nose, eyes already seeking out and finding the body. He muttered a Mandarin curse and turned his gaze on Heero. "Christ, Yuy. Who the hell is it?"

Heero shook his head once in ignorance, not quite trusting his voice just yet. He stared down at his fingers, hovering over the keyboard. His hands were shaking minutely.

And he was still painfully, frustratingly hard. He glanced towards the bunk beds out of the corner of his eye, shifting the laptop slightly to make sure he was covered.

Duo was sprawled on the bottom bunk on his stomach, looking bored and casual. "Heero doesn't know him, and hell if I do," he said to Wufei, acting as if everything was perfectly normal. "Been in here a week, is my guess."

Wufei walked over to the body and leaned over to inspect it, careful not to touch it. The guards were clustered nervously in the doorway, holding their hands over their noses. After a few moments Wufei tugged a handkerchief out of his pocket and used it like a glove to dig carefully into the corpse's pocket.

"Robbing the dead," Duo teased. "How tacky, Wuffers."

"Shut up," Wufei snapped absently. He gave a tug, and turned to hold up his prize-- a wallet. "Let's see if this John Doe has a name." He tossed it on the desk and flipped it open. He bent over to stare at the ID inside for a moment, then glanced over his shoulder at Heero, frowning slightly. "Tobias Cutter. Ring a bell?"

Heero wracked his brain. Duo sat up carefully and came over to join Wufei. He seemed to have gained control of his nether regions. He, too, peered at the ID. "Lemmie see that." Wufei handed the handkerchief over wordlessly, and Duo used it to tug out the ID. "Oh-ho..." He pulled out a business card and held it up for display, reading the heading aloud. "Winner Corporation." He arched a brow at Wufei, who stared back in surprise.

"Toby," Heero blurted in sudden understanding. They looked at him, startled. "Quatre mentioned a 'Toby' he'd sent ahead," Heero explained. "He was supposed to let us know Quatre was coming."

"Tobias Cutter," Wufei read from the ID again. "It must be him."

"Maybe someone didn't want you to meet," Duo drawled, tossing the card back onto the table. "Though if Quat's calling him Toby, I don't think he's going to take the news very well."

"That doesn't make any sense," Wufei insisted. "This man was innocent. He had nothing whatsoever to do with the Bill."

Heero's hardness had calmed down, and he set his laptop aside, rising to his feet. "None of this makes sense." He held up the note. "The MO is similar, but not exact to the other murders. The note was typed instead of written, the victim had no connection to the others, and he was killed with a gun instead of a blade." He scowled at the note. "It doesn't add up."

"Maybe he got lazy," Wufei suggested.

"No. This man-- or woman," Heero corrected with a glance towards Wufei, "enjoys what they do too much. This was cold and impersonal. It doesn't fit."

"You already call the cops?" Duo asked.

"Trowa should be doing that."

"Anyone got a camera?" Duo waved a hand at the corpse. "We should get pictures for ourselves before the cops clear everything out. Especially if they're going to take all the evidence. You said it yourself; they're not going to give you any more info on the case."

"Go get a camera," Wufei ordered one of the guards, who hastened to obey. The others looked just as eager to get away from the grim scene. Wufei glanced at Heero. "You should get Quatre. Let him get a look at the guy first."

Heero gazed at him steadily. "You don't want to get him yourself?"

Wufei couldn't quite hide his flinch. Duo looked at him in curious interest.

"I'll get 'im," Duo volunteered. He clapped Heero on the shoulder as he passed, grinning when Heero echoed Wufei's flinch.


Thirty minutes later the mansion was swarming with cops. Quatre was sitting in the den, staring listlessly into a cup of cooling tea while Relena sat beside him and rubbed his shoulder in sympathy.

Wufei and Trowa were on opposite ends of the couch, keeping a healthy distance between them and refusing to make eye contact. Duo prowled the room restlessly, playing with a butterfly knife.

They all glanced up as Heero entered.

"Heero--" Quatre rose to his feet anxiously. "I don't understand. Why would somebody kill Toby? He never did anything wrong!"

Heero shook his head to show his own ignorance. "The police wanted to know the same thing. They're going to question the rest of you, too-- especially you, since he worked for you." Relena hurried over to him, and his arms wound about her automatically as she clung to him for comfort. Over her head, he met Duo's eyes. The braided man stared back, the faintest hint of an unhappy smile on his lips.

"I'll talk to them," Quatre said quietly, setting down his teacup carefully. "Excuse me." He drifted out of the room. Trowa watched him go with his eyes a little softer in sorrow for the other man's pain.

"Oh, Heero," Relena whimpered against Heero's chest. "I wish all of this was over with. I don't think I can take much more of this."

"I need a smoke," Duo said abruptly. He closed his knife with a flick of his wrist and headed for the door, avoiding looking at either Heero or Relena.

"They don't want any of us leaving the house until they've spoken to everyone," Heero said.

Duo snorted. "They can bite me. I didn't know the guy anyway."

Relena stiffened in Heero's arms. "You have no right to turn your back on what's happening just because you didn't know the poor man," she exclaimed. Heero knew she was just getting angry because of her fear, but when he tried to murmur to her to calm down, she shook him off and stepped away to glare at Duo's back. "That man had nothing to do with the Bill, but he was butchered anyway by this madman! And he was Quatre's friend! Don't you have a compassionate bone in your body?"

Duo had stopped in the doorway, but didn't bother to turn and face her. "Lady, I'm in no mood for one of your sermons right now," he said slowly. His voice was light, but Heero recognized the underlying steel in his tone.

"You can't just turn your back on all of this!" Relena said hotly. "We need to cooperate with the authorities, to help bring this criminal to justice--"

Duo spun on his heel and flashed a wide, cold smile. "In case you're forgetting, missy," he said in a voice of silk, "I'm just a guest here. I offered my help. And I can take it back just as quick. You're scared; I get that. But if you wanna throw a little tantrum, do it in your bedroom with lover boy. I'm not engaged to your ass, so I don't gotta listen to it."

Heero groaned internally as Relena's face went blotchy with restrained anger. Her nerves, which had been strained over the last few days with all the mayhem, were near the breaking point. "What goes on in that bedroom, Duo Maxwell, is none of your business. And as you are a guest, I'd ask you to keep a civil tongue--"

"Oh, give me a break," Duo interrupted with a short bark of humorless laughter. "Just cuz you're not getting any, don't take it out on me."

Relena gasped sharply. Trowa and Wufei exchanged a quick look, but wisely kept their mouths shut. The tension that had been simmering between Duo and Relena looked ready to reach a head. Heero stepped up behind Relena and clasped her shoulder firmly. "Enough," he said shortly. "Relena--"

"How dare you!" Relena was sputtering, face crimson as she glared at Duo. "That is none of your business! And you have no knowledge of-- of what goes on between me and Heero! Don't take your jealousy out on me!"

Duo had been turning to leave, but came to a screeching halt at that last declaration. Wufei's eyebrows shot up close to his hairline. Trowa turned his attention on a pattern in the wallpaper as if it fascinated him.

Heero could only stare blankly at the top of Relena's head, mind a frozen blank.

Slowly Duo turned around, a chilling smile pulling at his mouth as Shinigami peeked through his eyes darkly. "And what," he murmured, "is that supposed to mean?"

Relena hesitated, sensing she'd crossed the line.

"Now who doesn't know what they're talking about?" Duo demanded, voice still eerily quiet and calm. "Something on your mind, princess?"

"I'm not stupid, you know," she blurted, blushing but still indignant. "He'll never-- I've seen how you--"

Duo held up a finger in the air, cutting her off short. "I'd be very careful what your next words were, if I were you," he said softly, staring her down. "You have no room to go casting stones in your little glass palace. Any idiot who pays enough attention can tell that the other night was the first time you've gotten any in quite awhile. You know what that says to me? It says 'wham, bam, thank you ma'am'. I hope he left you enough money for a cab."

"Maxwell," Wufei snarled, startled and affronted. Even Trowa turned a disapproving stare on Duo.

Relena could only gape at him for a moment, face pale. "Did- did you just call me a whore?!" she demanded breathlessly.

Heero moved around her and strode over to Duo, face dark. Duo fell back a step, realizing belatedly that he'd gone too far. Heero seized him by the elbow and hauled him from the room, struggling to keep his own dark temper in check.

"Hey," one of the cops called as they passed, "don't go anywhere--"

"We need some air," Heero snapped over his shoulder. Before the policeman could argue, he was shoving Duo ahead of him out of the side door. Duo stumbled a bit, then turned to face Heero warily as the other man slammed the door behind them.

Heero could only stare at his old friend for a long moment, face hard as stone. "What the hell was that?" he demanded in clipped, icy words.

Duo flinched, running a hand through his bangs in agitation. "Sorry," he muttered. "It just slipped out... We've never gotten along, and, uh--"

"I'm not the one you should be apologizing to," Heero pointed out, voice still hostile.

"I know, I know," Duo muttered, digging a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. He lit one with hands shaking slightly. "But damn, that felt good--"

Heero snatched the fancy black papered stick from his friend and threw it aside, getting right in Duo's face.

"All right!" Duo practically yelped, holding up his hands quickly in expectation of a blow. "I fucked up! You think I don't know that? But she wasn't exactly being Miss Congeniality herself."

"What is your problem with her?" Heero demanded angrily. "You two have been butting heads under the surface every time you talk."

Duo lowered his hands and gave his friend an incredulous look. "Oh, don't act daft, Heero," he snapped impatiently. "You heard what she just said. Even if you were retarded enough to not know before, she shoulda lit a lightbulb in your head by now. Women's intuition or whatever the fuck-- she knows, Yuy. And she knows I know."

"Knows what?"

Duo offered a quick grin. "C'mon, Yuy, use your head. Haven't you ever seen girls get catty before when another chick moves in on their man? She knows I want you-- a part of her has probably known it a long time. You never figured it out, but she did. Or haven't you noticed how half our arguments are about your relationship with her?"

"My relationship with Relena is none of your business!" Heero shouted, his tight grip on his temper slipping for a moment. "It has nothing to do with you! You're not even in the equation."

Duo's eyes narrowed suddenly, mouth tightening. Whether it was in hurt or anger, Heero couldn't tell. "Oh, fuck you, Heero Yuy," he snarled. "Don't give me that shit. It sure as hell wasn't her you were thinking about when you were all hot and bothered an hour ago--"

Heero hit him.

He put most of his considerable strength into it, right across the other man's jaw, and it sent Duo stumbling back. He would have fallen if his back hadn't met the wall. He reached up to cup his jaw, wincing and glaring at Heero wordlessly.

Heero pointed at him, shaking with restrained fury. "Stay away from Relena," he said slowly and coldly. "And don't talk to her except to apologize. And if you ever touch me again, I'll kill you."

Even a death threat couldn't stifle Duo's impudence. "So you've said before," he muttered around a rapidly swelling jaw.

Heero offered one last death glare, and turned to go back inside.

"Hey, Captain Denial," Duo called after him. "You wanna prove me wrong? Next time she's in the mood, see if you can even get it up for her."

Heero whirled around. "Get out of this house. Don't come back."

"Don't be stupid, Heero," Duo said quietly. "You need me here, and you know it. You need all the help you can get."

Heero ignored him, stomping back inside and slamming the door hard enough behind him to wrench a hinge out of place.

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