Chilled bottle of wine in hand, Duo settled down onto the couch next to Heero, grinning broadly as his lover pulled him into a fierce embrace. "You do realize it's been six weeks since we were both home long enough to actually sit and watch a movie like this?"
One hand still tangled in Duo's hair, Heero growled, "Six very LONG weeks," crushing Duo another fraction of an inch closer, displacing that very last molecule of air that had separated them.
They made it through one glass of wine each and had just started to seriously make out, ignoring the rented movie it had taken them three hours to agree on, when the sound of a phone ringing made them both freeze. "Fuck," Heero said succinctly, as they each dove for their jacket. "Not mine," Heero sighed as he checked his cell to find it still dark and silent.
Duo nodded and winced, wishing it had been Heero's, since HE could tell his boss to fuck off, if he really felt like it -- it's not like he was ever short of software companies drooling at the thought of hiring him. Snapping open his phone, Duo snarled, "I was promised a goddamn night OFF, Weston."
"Tell that to the stiff we just found entombed in his wine vault," replied a distant, tinny voice -- everyone told Weston that his cell phone was a piece of shit, but he never got it replaced.
"... Fuck, man, why do they always dump the weird shit on us?"
Weston snorted, or so Duo assumed from the staccato burst of distorted noise that assaulted his ear. "Because, Mr. ex-Gundam pilot, ex-Preventer, God of Fucking Death, nothing fazes you, and I just happen to be your partner. Now get your ass down to the old mansion on Archer Hill."
Duo glared at the phone as he distinctly heard his partner hang up. "Fuck." Looking up, his gaze intercepted Heero's Glare of Messy, Painful Death. "Heero, don't look at me like that. We've got a dead body entombed in a wine vault, and if Homicide has been called in at all, obviously we're not talking a cave in."
Heero blinked, cocking his head to the side a bit. "... Wine VAULT?"
Shrugging, already slipping into his jacket, Duo mumbled, "Well, it's that old place up on Archer Hill. Y'know, the big-ass mansion? I guess someone that rich could have a vault full of wine. I'll tell you about it when I get home, okay?" They always discussed his weirder cases, though Duo sure as hell wasn't about to let the station know that. But Heero, or as Weston would call him, "Mr. ex-Gundam pilot, ex-Preventer, Perfect Fucking Soldier," understood security, and wasn't about to blab details to anyone. Duo stretched up onto his tiptoes to kiss Heero full on the mouth in apology. "I have to go, 'Ro."
"I know," Heero sighed, yanking Duo back in for a second, deeper kiss before finally letting him free to run out the door, pleasant evening alone together entirely forgotten.
His breath misted in the air of the vault as Duo navigated his way down to the bottom level. Vault didn't quite cover it, he decided -- the tunnels under the house had to be at least as spacious as the house itself, and wound around each other in mazelike twists and turns. It was cold as hell down here, too, and Duo had yet to spot any sign of artificial climate control. Just about all that made the atmosphere tolerable was that Duo was constantly passing other officers as they moved about the vault, until finally he came the crime scene, with its usual noise and bustle. Spotting Weston, Duo made his way over. "Has anything been moved?"
Shaking his head, Weston jerked his chin at the gaping hole in one brick wall. Odd, that -- every other room had had stone walls. "What? And risk offending our expert? Nah, other than breaking down the wall to get in, it's all just like it was."
Duo had to smile a bit at that, despite the circumstances. Technically, he was a junior officer with less than three years worth of experience on the force, barely even twenty years old, but he was already a detective and at actual crime scenes EVERYONE deferred to him. They respected his outside experience and his track record and they had the numbers to back him up to the top brass, too, which was something he sure as Hell had never had in the Preventers. That still burned, even three years later -- that an organization so full of talented, experienced people was being so choked by its sponsors. He and Heero had fled after the third time one of Une's decisions had been overturned by rich old men who thought they knew best because they held the purse strings.
At least here, while the precinct was under-funded, under-staffed and poorly equipped, laws passed after the riots of AC 86 made certain that no one could interfere in police business without a warrant from the top level of government and a damn good reason -- not the mayor, not the governor, not corporations, no one. Amazingly enough, the system worked, too -- the police knew they'd lose that autonomy if they abused it, and there'd been a few incidents in the last century that had driven that lesson home for most precincts.
But in order for Duo to keep the respect HE had, he had to actually do his job, so he shook himself out of his reverie and stepped carefully through the jagged-edged hole in the wall before him.
There was barely enough room in the space beyond the wall for Duo, the station photographer and the body itself. Avoiding the corpse for a moment, Duo looked around the tiny space, seeing now the original stone wall, perhaps six feet back from the newer brick wall. Sunk deep into the stone were two steel spikes, from which dangled solid-looking chains and a pair of manacles that were fastened around the wrists of the dead man. The body was remarkably well preserved thanks to the cold, but clearly not quite fresh as the wounds visible on the wrists and arms had long since stopped bleeding.
Gesturing for the photographer to get out of his way, Duo got a little closer to the corpse, frowning darkly. The man's wrists were rubbed raw and had likely been horribly bruised before gravity drew the body's no-longer-pumping blood down to his legs and feet. Aside from those and other clearly self-inflicted wounds, there wasn't a mark on the body, and from the looks of it the man had simply died of dehydration and starvation. "Shit."
"Yeah, that's no way to go, fuck." Weston squeezed into the space the photographer had vacated. "We'll need an autopsy to be sure, but the look on your face pretty much confirms what I was thinking. I was hoping I was wrong, you know."
"You weren't," Duo replied grimly. "Someone chained this guy to the wall and then walled him up in here while he was still alive." Something was off in the scene, though. Something aside from the horrible way the victim had died. Finally, it clicked in Duo's mind. "How'd you find out about this? The body's too well preserved to smell much yet, and we're seriously deep underground here, anyway."
"This guy was reported missing about three days ago, and of course they did an ordinary search of the house to see if he'd fallen or had a heart attack or something. They even searched down here in the vaults, but never got THIS deep, from the looks of the report Missing Persons sent over. There's certainly no mention of a brick wall where no brick wall should be. Then today we got an anonymous tip. A very specific anonymous tip." Duo's partner scowled and kicked at a loose piece of brick.
"Shit," Duo repeated, finding the word a little inadequate to sum up how he felt. A detailed, anonymous tip about a spectacular murder no one would have known about... it had probably been from the killer himself, and that meant he WANTED people to know what he'd done. "Fuck! We don't need a fucking sicko serial killer, Weston. We can't DEAL with that kind of shit, we don't have the manpower."
"It could be just an isolated incident," Weston tried, not sounding particularly convinced.
"Could be," Duo piped in agreeably, then snorted and shook his head. "But unless the fingerprints turn out to belong to a repeat offender we've been keeping tabs on, we're going to be seriously short on leads, with no neighbours within a mile of this place."
Weston sighed and raked a hand back through his thinning blond hair. "I know. Fuck, but I know."
It was nearly midnight by the time Duo finished going through what evidence there was with a fine-toothed comb. He'd called the few neighbours and friends that the late Mr. Greene had been known to have, and come up with nothing more than had been given in the original missing persons report. He'd called the cleaning service that came in once a week to clean the mansion and found that everything had been normal the last time they were in, and that they weren't due to go again until the next day. He told them not to bother. He'd read through the missing persons report seven times, he'd spoken to every cop who had been on the scene, in addition to reading their actual reports, just in case they left out any personal impressions that might be more help than they realized. He'd found out that Mr. Greene's heir and beneficiary was in Caribbean and had been for two months now. He'd the listened to the tape of the 'anonymous tip' over and over and over again until he could still hear it in his head word for word at any given moment. The tipper had been speaking in a whisper, but somehow that voice was still eerily familiar, a fact which was disturbing Duo to no end, as he couldn't place why it gave him such deja vu. The fingerprint angle had come up empty, as there hadn't even been any that didn't belong to the dead man, so now there was only the autopsy report to wait for. And what did he have to show for all this work? A whole heaping pile of nothing. So he was heading home, dead tired, frustrated and feeling vaguely ill for no reason he could really pin down.
When Duo opened the apartment door, he was greeted with the sight of a room dark save for the flickering light of candles. The wine bottle was re-corked and sitting in a bucket of ice on the table, right between the two impeccable place settings of their best china. Off in the distance, the oven light was on in the kitchenette, and Heero was sitting on the couch with a rose in one hand. "I don't care if it IS midnight, I had that dinner cooking all day, and we're eating it, damn it."
In an instant, the entire horrible evening was wiped away as Duo found himself in Heero's arms before he could even get his jacket off. No one had ever accused Heero Yuy of being subtle, but somehow his mere presence still worked the most intricate of magics on Duo. "Thank you."
Shooing Duo towards the table while he went to get the food he'd apparently been keeping warm all night, Heero shouted over his shoulder, "And while we eat, you can get whatever's bothering you about this case off your chest."
The chicken was, admittedly, a little on the dry side after being reheated God only knew how many times, but Duo wasn't about to say anything about it. Instead, they chatted about the case, the fact that they were talking about corpses and murder not disturbing their appetites at all. It was a sad thing to be so jaded at twenty, Duo supposed.
"Huh. Walled up in a wine vault..." Heero toyed with his fork, a thoughtful look on his face.
Duo immediately felt a little spark of hope. "Do you know something? Anything?"
"Well... I might." Heero seemed unusually hesitant, but Duo was desperate enough to grasp at anything that might help, so he urged his lover to continue. "There was a killing like that in a story I read once. It's an old, old story, but the author wrote a lot of others, as well, and someone ALWAYS dies in them."
"You know, now that you mention it, that DOES sound kind of familiar. Did we study that story at one of the schools we were at during the war?"
Heero nodded, still frowning. "Yeah. It was a story by Poe... 'The Cask of Amontillado,' it was called."
Nodding, Duo rose from the table, starting to look through the closet to find the box all their old textbooks were in. "Right, right. I definitely remember it now. Some guy lured another guy into his wine cellar and walled him in there in revenge for some insults or something. So it could just be an isolated revenge killing by someone who has read the story and is unstable enough to be proud of copying the main character's MO."
"Or it could be the start of a series of killings based on Poe's stories. Except that most of Poe's murderers tend to get CAUGHT at the end of the story..."
Finding the right box, Duo dug through it until he found the English Literature textbook from what he thought was the right school. Flipping through it, he hmmed. "On the other hand, the details aren't EXACTLY right, really... this stiff was walled up in his OWN wine vault, not someone else's. So, either we're totally off base on this..."
"Or the killer is willing to change details to suit his purpose. Not good. It's always easier to catch them when they're totally, obsessively hung up on the details of their MO."
Duo was about to reply when the phone started to ring.
"Let the machine get it," Heero shrugged.
"Right. Anyway... it's still not a sure thing that this IS a would-be serial killer." Duo had to let himself believe that there was hope that it wasn't, or he'd go nuts.
"You have reached the Yuy/Maxwell residence. We're not here. We're never here. If you're calling this number, that means we don't consider you important or trustworthy enough to give our cell phone numbers to, so while you can leave a message if you want, don't expect an answer. *beeeeep* Really, Duo Maxwell, what WOULD the precinct think if they knew you were sharing case details with a civilian?"
Both Duo and Heero's heads snapped up, staring at the answering machine as if it was about to explode. After the first moment of stunned immobility, Duo leaped to his feet and hit the speakerphone button. "Who is this? How did you get this number?"
"You know who this is," that familiar voice whispered, "And your number is listed, Duo. Now, as I was saying, you've been naughty, but I can understand why. He's very sharp, your lover. Figured it out faster than even I expected. Well, it will make the chase more interesting. Let's see how many die before you find me, Duo Maxwell." Then there was a soft click and the whine of a dial tone.
Heero wrapped his arms around Duo tightly, growling deep in his throat. "This apartment is NOT bugged. I'm sure of it, I still check..."
Leaning back against the solid muscle that was his lover's chest, Duo asked softly, "So how the hell did he know what we were talking about?"
"... I don't know." Heero tightened his grip on Duo, sounding at once angry and even a little afraid.
Even Weston suggested, gently, that maybe Duo was working too hard, after all, when he brought in print-outs of Edgar Allen Poe's collected works and told every cop in the station, homicide or no, to read them and look out for crimes matching any of the scenarios in the short stories.
A week later, when an as-yet unidentified body turned up deep in a wealthy family's crypt, her teeth removed and placed in a small metal box atop the coffin, they believed.
Three days after that, a house burned down with its owner trapped inside, and only the fact that a black cat was found hanging from a tree just outside clued anyone in to the fact that this, too, was part of the same pattern. And they were still no closer to finding the killer than they had been that first night.
The taunting phone calls to Duo continued, but he found that he couldn't tell anyone. Something still nagged at him about that whispering voice, and while that alone wasn't enough to silence him, the disturbingly personal barbs the killer kept delivering most certainly were. Every attempt to trace the calls got them either nowhere at all, or to a long-abandoned pay phone.
"You're not even trying, are you, Duo?" The latest message hissed, the killer's tone more angry than mocking, now. "You keep looking in all the wrong places. You know how to find me. You know where. You know who I am, every time you close your eyes."
With an angry snarl, Duo threw the answering machine at the wall, watching it shatter into a tangle of wires and jagged bits of plastic. The bastard even knew about the dreams -- the dreams of his hands carefully laying bricks in a wall, while an old man screamed from his prison, his hands lovingly removing the teeth from a once-beautiful girl's mouth, his hands striking the match that would burn a man to death. Not even Heero's assurances that he would have bloody well noticed it if Duo were sleep-walking off in the middle of the night to kill people or his very logical explanation that it was probably guilt over not being able to find the killer putting these images into Duo's subconscious could make Duo feel any less like he was going crazy.
The first waking dream had happened that day, and it frightened him more than just about anything else in his relatively short life ever had. There he'd been, standing in line at the bank and for once actually succeeding in NOT thinking about the case, mostly because he'd been so busy being annoyed at the idiot in front of him who couldn't figure out how to use the ATM, when suddenly he was watching a slender figure walk into an old, dilapidated warehouse. It had been so REAL... just like he was there, especially when the figure turned to look RIGHT at him, a smile on his horribly familiar features, his violet eyes glinting as he whispered, "You see? The answer's all right here."
He came to lying on the floor of the bank, a small crowd surrounding him and murmuring amongst themselves.
And now this message... he was losing his mind. He had to be. Except that Heero had listened to most of the messages, too, and while the man had never been exactly STABLE, hallucinations hadn't ever been one of his problems, except when ZERO was involved, but that was a whole other matter. So the killer was real, the phone calls were real, that taunting, whispering, goddamn familiar voice was real...
Hand shaking, Duo picked up the phone, a hunch hitting him with the force of a blow. Dialing his own cell phone number, he waited for the voice mail to kick in, then he whispered into the receiver, "What's happening to me?" and hung up.
Taking a couple deep breaths, Duo dialed again, this time accessing his voice mail. As he listened to the message from himself, he recognized that insidious whisper; it was his, and it was the killer's, and nothing made sense anymore! He'd spoken to the killer himself, Heero had been there, it COULDN'T be him!
Dropping to his knees, Duo screamed it now, "WHAT'S HAPPENING TO ME?"
His shift that night passed in a vague blur of misery, and he was eventually sent home by his very worried partner.
The apartment was still dark and empty when Duo got home, which wasn't really anything unusual for this hour, but he'd been hoping that Heero might have gotten home at a decent hour, too -- he could have used the solid comfort of his lover. "Maybe some TV will help," the American murmured to the empty air, the silence suddenly seeming oppressive.
And even as the sheer weight of the stillness became apparent to Duo, the phone began to ring. There being no machine left to answer it, Duo picked up the phone. "... Hello?"
There was a soft sigh at the other end of the line, then that too-familiar whisper of, "Duo, you're really being difficult, you know. You have everything you need to find me, and still you deny me... well. How's this for motivation?"
Like a wave, another waking dream carried Duo under, and he was standing in a room all of gray concrete and steel, bits of chains and old machinery littering the edges of the massive empty space. At the very centre of the cavernous room was a flat table of dull metal, with something thin and pale stretched out on it. The whooshing sound of something moving quickly through the air drew Duo's attention upwards; high, high up near the ceiling, the dim light caught on something, and after a moment it became apparent what it was -- a massive blade, looking much like a modified axe, honed razor-sharp and swinging... like a pendulum.
Duo's attention snapped back down to the table, and the white bundle that lay atop it. Without noticing any movement, Duo was suddenly standing right beside the table, staring down into Heero's face. Bands of metal were clamped over his wrists and ankles, pinning him to the table as the bladed pendulum hissed by overhead.
"Solid Gundanium," whispered the killer's voice, and Duo realized that, even as he stood there, he could still dimly feel the cool curve of the phone in his hand. "I wasn't taking ANY chances, of course -- he's very feisty."
Choking back a shriek of rage, Duo reached out for Heero, his hands passing uselessly through his lover's figure, and then he was standing back in his living room, alone except for the voice on the other end of the phone line. "Damn you! Why are you doing this?"
"I'd say he has about five, six hours before the pendulum reaches him. You'll be here by then, won't you, Duo?" The strange, longing tone of the killer's whisper sent chills down Duo's spine, but before he could reply the line went dead.
Five hours. He had no clues, except that one vision of a warehouse, and even that was nowhere near enough to figure out which empty warehouse in which nearby city was the one he needed. So conventional means were out...
Putting the phone down and feeling to make sure his gun was still in its holster at the small of his back, Duo closed his eyes and tried to clear his thoughts. "Come on... you want me so bad, you bastard, tell me... show me the way..."
A powerful ache hit Duo square in the chest, a pull that made his pulse rush and his breathing grow ragged. This way, this way, it said, dragging him inexorably along the instant he acknowledged it. It was all he could do to slow his steps to a walk as he made his way down to the street, and his car.
Every time he reached a red light, Duo was greeted with a brief vision of Heero, of the progress the pendulum was making, of the rage and, yes, fear in his lover's eyes... and right as each light turned green, the visions vanished, leaving only that insistent tugging.
No time now to wonder at this, no time for questions, Duo just drove, knowing now exactly where he was going, and not caring just yet HOW he knew.
The warehouse looked exactly as it had in the vision at the bank. Duo drew his gun as he cautiously approached the open door, ignoring the little voice that asked him what good a gun was going to do against someone who seemed to know his every thought, and had a very valuable hostage, to boot.
Everything was the same inside, too, except that during the long drive the pendulum had lowered far enough that it was about head-height on Duo -- less than three feet above Heero's chest, as he lay strapped to the table.
Duo moved slowly to the foot of the table, looking around warily. "Heero... you okay...? I mean, relatively speaking?"
Heero nodded jerkily, but his attention was on the shadows behind him, not Duo. After a heartbeat, before Duo could do anything to free Heero, out of those shadows stepped another figure. He, too, held a gun, though he kept it aimed at Heero's head, not at Duo.
Even though, on some level, Duo had expected to see what stood before him now, he still felt his blood freeze in his chest, and the world tilt ever so slightly on its axis. Because the person standing opposite Duo was, to all appearances... Duo. Twin sets of violet eyes regarded each other warily, identical braids lifted slightly in the breeze left in the wake of the swinging pendulum, which raced between them width-wise on each swing, cutting the air with a sharp hiss.
As his twin made a curt gesture with his gun, Duo lowered his own, not willing to risk Heero's life. How soft he'd gotten, after all these years...
"Soft? God, that's as pathetic as when you were calling yourself 'evil'. You don't know the meaning of either word." The other Duo sneered, his whisper both angry and derogatory.
"... Who are you?" Duo finally asked, as the pendulum cut between them once more, temporarily blocking Duo's view of his twin.
"You still don't get it! All this work! Making you read those stories, leading you here... and you still don't get it! You still deny me, cut me off, block me out!" Somehow, though his voice never rose above that same whisper, the other Duo's rage seemed to fill the room with booming thunder.
The mention of reading the stories, however, knocked the last piece of the puzzle into place for Duo. "... William Wilson."
"YES, William Wilson!" the other Duo snapped, balling his free hand into a fist. "Didn't you ever wonder, when you were reading it, what would happen if the wrong twin grew and lived in ignorance? If the corrupt William had gone his entire life without guidance, without check, because it was the good one who never once realized he was only half a soul?"
Duo just shook his head, the world slipping another degree sideways. This. Could. Not. Be.
"I hated you, from day one. I watched everything you did, through your eyes, and begged for you to notice me. To hear me. But you wouldn't! You shut me out! Like I didn't exist! Like I wasn't part of you! And you went through your life, believing yourself to be evil, the god of Death, a thief and a whore and a thousand other awful things, except that you always, always did it for the good of others! Your motives were disgustingly pure, and you still hated yourself! How could I not hate you, when I was living the life of crime and cruelty that you THOUGHT you were?" That whispering voice was slowly growing louder, even as Duo's knees began to go weak, his vision gray out at the edges.
"All you had to do was notice me. That's how it was supposed to be. You were supposed to find me, like in the story, and tell me what to do. Save me from myself. Save us from me. But you didn't! You never felt the way I did! Never even knew I was there! Do you see how far I've had to go for you, Duo? To make things right? It'll be just like in the story... and then I'll be free... Free of you, and your sickeningly good heart..."
Like in the story... Duo saw his twin start to raise the gun and now it was a situation he understood again. He was going to die.
The weakness vanished and his own gun was in his hand again. Even as the pendulum shrieked past them, he squeezed the trigger. The crack of a shot being fired echoed throughout the room and pain blossomed in Duo's chest, a deep, tearing pain. Howling, he dropped to his knees, only to see out of the corner of his eye that his twin was doing the same, and then continuing to fall, sprawling back on the concrete floor with a gaping hole in the left side of his chest.
Looking down, Duo saw a faint trickle of smoke curling around the muzzle of his gun, and blood soaking his own shirt. While the room spun around him and the pain hammered at him, all he could think was how stupid it was that he'd shot himself, and been shot by himself, except that he was two different people...
The hiss of the pendulum's swing filled Duo's ears, and he staggered to his feet. Heero. Right. Stop the damn blade, then fall down. One foot in front of the other. Someone was talking to him, yelling at him to stop, but he had to do this. Still owed Heero too many lives, and besides, he loved him. So. One foot in front of the other, again and again, until he reached the lever that he somehow recognized as the one that held the pendulum's chain secured to the ceiling, though he'd not even seen it until just now.
Falling against the lever more than actually pushing it, Duo heard a horrific shriek of tortured metal as the pendulum was freed at the very apex of its swing, sending it flying into the far wall with terrible force.
There was that voice again, yelling, and a loud, high-pitched wail. Sirens. Sirens?
Everything went black.
Weston was very clearly a bundle of nerves as he tried to sit beside Duo's hospital bed, only to keep getting up again to pace. "Everyone back at the station is totally freaked, partner. I can't say I'm not... even his FINGERPRINTS matched yours, and that's not POSSIBLE..."
Duo wanted to laugh, and he wanted to cry, but the bandages wound tight around his chest reminded him how much that would hurt, so instead he tried to put into words the vague understanding he'd come to. "In the story 'William Wilson' there are two men by that name, you remember? One is the narrator, and the other keeps turning up in the same places, and stopping the narrator from doing terrible things. In the end, the narrator snaps, and kills the other William Wilson... only then he knows that he's going to die, too, because he... I don't know, I never really understood that part. It seemed like... they were the same person, really. I'm not sure if it was supposed to be a psychological thing, or what, but... that guy... the... the other me... he thought that we were like the story, two parts of the same soul." Shoving the memories of seeing through another's eyes to the back of his mind, Duo whispered, "He was crazy."
Weston was silent for a long moment, before putting his hand on Duo's shoulder, just above the bullet wound on the right side of his chest. "But that's the freakiest thing, Duo... ballistics checked the other guy's gun, and it was never fired. Wasn't even LOADED. The only bullet in that room was the one from YOUR gun, in HIS chest."
Lifting a shaking hand to touch the bandaged hole directly opposite his heart, Duo felt cold all over. Only half a soul...