"Ah, now this'll be perfect!" Duo Maxwell said, beaming around him as Quatre and the real-estate agent discussed the condition of the pipes. Quatre wandered off to run the water in the sink, just to be sure it would work; Duo was busy taking in the atmosphere of the place. It was an old house, Victorian, maybe, with lots of narrow windows and a marble fireplace. The parlor had rose-patterned wallpaper, and a dusky-rose carpet; the chairs and old-fashioned fainting couch were covered in watered silk the color of rich cream, a perfect complement to the antique lace curtains. There were frames, large and small, a variety of shapes, hung on all four walls, and a large one over the fireplace; each of these was draped in black cloth. Duo peeked under the drapery to discover mirrors, a wildly eclectic collection of mirrors in all shapes and sizes.
"How funny," he muttered. Well, once they moved in, those drapes would be the first thing to go! He couldn't wait to see how the parlor would look in its original glory, with candlelight and firelight reflecting off the mirrors... gleaming on Quatre's pale skin and gilding his hair... maybe they'd toss the sheepskin rug down in front of the fireplace and christen the room properly!
Duo wandered out into the hall, thinking happily lustful thoughts about christening the house, and noticed more black-draped mirrors all along the length. There was a large marble-topped table in the hall, on which the telephone rested, and a tremendous mirror with a heavy gilt frame above it. The black draperies fluttered as Duo passed by, making a dry, rustling sound like the pattering of leaves in an autumn wind.
There were draped mirrors all along the wall upstairs, and the hallway at the top. The walls in the master bedroom and bath were covered with mirrors. The fantasy humming in the back of his mind expanded to include Quatre in the huge four-poster bed, reflected in the dozens of mirrors, but before his thoughts could go much further a voice called, husky and sweet, so he bounded back downstairs, grinning, and headed for the kitchen.
"Whoo, this place must have some funky Feng Shui!" he said, noting that the kitchen, too, had black-draped mirrors hung on the walls, completely at odds with the cheery yellow walls and crisp white curtains. The kitchen window looked out over the small rose garden in the back yard, dark and dead-looking and covered with brown leaves. Soon it would be winter, and the unsightly mess would be covered in glittering white, and then in spring Duo would attack with rake and hoe and spade, and bring a semblance of order back to the weed-choked area. In his mind's eye, he could just see the garden all abloom, the little gazebo covered with flowering vines.
"Duo! Did you try the water upstairs?" Quatre asked him, smiling.
"No, I was going to but then I heard you call, so I figured I'd come see what was up."
"I didn't call."
"No? Huh. I could've sworn I heard you," Duo said. "I'll go play with the taps, and be right back!" The stairs were narrow; he took them three at a time, light as a cat, the mirrors all along the stairway gleaming as their drapes fluttered in the wake of his passage.
The sink worked just fine; the cold water was very cold, and the hot water, when he turned it on, was hot enough to raise a little cloud of steam. He even ran the water for a minute in the old claw-footed bathtub, which also worked just fine; as he turned off the tap and waited to see if he could hear the sound of water leaking, he glanced down into the stilling water, and saw the shape of someone behind him in his wavering reflection.
"Looks just fine to me, Q," he said. "No leakage or anything, and the pipes didn't so much as groan." Grinning, he reached over and pulled the plug, allowing the water to drain out, then stood and turned to face his lover.
There was nobody there.
"Q?" Duo asked, padding out into the hallway. "Quatre?" There was no sign of anyone, so Duo shrugged, and thundered back downstairs to find an unconvinced-looking Quatre with the real estate agent, who seemed to be talking very quickly in an earnest effort to sell the house before Quatre could back out.
"Hey, didja miss me?" Duo asked, crossing the floor to snake one arm around Quatre's waist and pull him in close. "This place is fabulous," he whispered. "Wait'll you see what I have planned for you..."
"Duo... I'm not sure..."
"C'mon, Q. The pipes are great, the building is solid as a rock, it's gorgeous and just wait till you see the garden in springtime! It's not like we don't have the money, right?"
"I just feel..."
"Look. Let's go ahead and get the place, and if you decide later that you don't like it, we can always sell it." The real estate agent had discreetly withdrawn to the hallway to let Duo try to sell the house for her; he took the opportunity to turn Quatre in his arms and kiss him hungrily, sliding one leg between the blond's thighs. "But I'll tell you this much, I'm going to make you love this place," he whispered huskily.
"Where do I sign?" Quatre sighed, looking flushed and disoriented and deliciously fuckable.
"You won't regret this, Q," Duo said, and grinned as he went out to the hallway to look for the real estate agent.
They moved in the next day, and while Quatre was busy unpacking, Duo went about systematically pulling down the musty black drapes covering the mirrors. Once that was done, he cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms, scrubbing until the fixtures, walls and floors gleamed with cleanliness. He had meant to take a break after that, but ended up polishing the mirrors instead, until they, too, gleamed, tossing his reflection back to him from every angle.
Whoever had lived here before must have been an egomaniac, but since Duo was very fond of his reflection, he paused for a moment just to look. The mirrors, all of them, were situated in such a way that they reflected back upon one another... but if Duo moved to try to see his reflection mirrored back into the "infinity" effect, his own head blocked the view.
"Quit preening," Quatre said gruffly, and Duo jumped as he saw the blond's reflection behind him. "If you're done with the kitchen..."
"Yup, just finished a few minutes ago!" Duo said, grinning cheerfully.
"Then you can vacuum the carpets. If you can find the vacuum cleaner. I'm starting to feel a little stuffed up, and I don't want my allergies ruining our first night here."
Duo had been about to protest, but at the allusion to possible night-time pleasantness, he turned, kissed Quatre soundly, and hurried off to search for the vacuum cleaner. Quatre blushed and made his way to the kitchen to start unpacking, pleased that he hadn't lost his touch in the art of gentle persuasion.
Later that evening, as the two of them lay snuggling in bed, Quatre said, "You know... I don't love this place yet."
"Oh, no?" Duo asked, grinning. "That sounds like a challenge to me."
"Probably because it is one," Quatre replied, trying unsuccessfully not to grin back. "So what are you going to do about it, Mr. Maxwell?"
"Well, I promised to make you love this place, Mr. Winner," Duo said, rolling over to pin Quatre to the mattress. "And as you may know... I never lie." He leaned in to nuzzle Quatre's neck, nibbling at that tender little spot just below the earlobe.
Quatre gasped, and then murmured, "Mm... never..." as he arched his neck invitingly. Duo was just getting started when Quatre cried out, and the next thing he knew, Duo found himself on the floor, gaping up at Quatre.
"Where is he?" Quatre asked. "Where did he go?"
"What? Who?" Duo asked, climbing to his feet. "There's nobody here but us, Q!"
"I saw..." Quatre had the grace to blush, but he climbed out of bed and padded around the room, peering into the corners and out the doorway and even under the bed. "I saw a Chinese boy. In the mirror. And he was waving."
"You saw a Chinese boy." Duo echoed. Watching his lover pacing naked around the bedroom was entertaining, but not quite what Duo had had planned for the evening.
"Look, Q, it's Ok to fantasize about other-"
"No! Duo!" Quatre stamped his foot, irritated. "I SAW somebody else in our bedroom!"
"Q, I'm telling you, there's nobody here but us!"
"Help me check."
"Quatre!" Duo protested, sounding just the slightest bit whiny.
"I am not getting back in that bed until after we've checked the whole house," Quatre insisted. "I know what I saw."
"Fine," Duo said, discouraged, and pulled on his robe without saying another word of complaint. He didn't complain as they searched both floors of the house, checked and double-checked that all the doors and windows were locked, even peered into the attic. There was nobody else in the house.
All things considered, Duo figured he'd shown near-saintly forbearance in not saying, "I told you so." Finally, after one last check of the closet and under the bed, he coaxed Quatre back into bed.
"I'm sorry..." Quatre began, embarrassed, but Duo stopped the words with a kiss.
"Don't be," Duo said. "You saw something, so it was important to check it out. But now... I believe I owe you some falling-in-love-with-this-house inspiration..."
"Oh! Yes, please," Quatre said, hugging Duo gratefully. "I'm definitely ready to be inspired."
"If you see any Chinese boys, just wave back so they'll go away."
Quatre laughed, as he was meant to, and then as Duo bent to kiss him the laughter faded. If the Chinese boy appeared again that evening, Quatre was completely unaware of it.
Duo returned home the next evening, flung open the door and called, "Honey! I'm home!" He was a little disappointed not to be greeted by the smells of hot dinner cooking, since Quatre had come home two hours earlier, but the sight of his lover running to meet him was more than gratifying enough. Quatre flung himself into Duo's arms, and Duo felt him trembling slightly as they embraced.
"Looks like you didn't get as much unpacking done as you'd planned... hey, what's wrong?" Duo asked.
"Duo... I'm so glad you're here!" Quatre said, his voice filled with quiet urgency.
"Q? What's the problem?"
"I... oh, this is going to sound insane."
"What?" Duo asked a little sharply.
"Promise you won't laugh."
"I swear. Now will you tell me what the Hell's going on, already?"
"I... heard voices."
"Yes. While I was unpacking."
"Did you leave a radio on somewhere?"
"No, nothing was on."
"What about the TV?"
"Duo, are you listening to me?" Quatre snapped. "I'm telling you, I heard voices!"
"Well, what do you want me to do about it? Did the voices tell you to do bad things?"
"Look, if you're going to make fun of me, I'd rather you just went ahead and laughed," Quatre said, crossing his arms. Duo took one look at his flushed face and immediately felt guilty.
"Hey, look. I'm sorry," he said, pulling Quatre into his arms. "If you heard voices, you heard voices."
"You really believe me?" Quatre asked, grudgingly relaxing into Duo's arms.
"Yeah. But... what did they sound like?"
"Two boys. Or one boy, with his voice echoing; both voices sounded just alike. I couldn't understand anything they said."
"Where were you when you heard it?"
"Upstairs, in the bedroom."
"Let's go have a listen, then," Duo said, and led the way upstairs, the mirrors along the staircase throwing their reflections back upon each other as they moved. For several minutes, Duo and Quatre stood in the bedroom, listening.
"I don't hear anything," Duo whispered. "Do you?"
"Listen, Q," Duo said, pressing up against the blond suggestively. "It sounds to me like you've been under a lot of pressure lately, what with moving into the house and all. It's been a very stressful time."
"And yanno... I know a great way to help relieve stress..."
Quatre couldn't help but smile. "Do tell, Mr. Maxwell."
"Dr. Maxwell, if you please. And it'll be better if I show you," Duo said, and leaned in to kiss him, and Quatre jumped backward with a startled cry.
"Look! In the mirror!"
Duo turned, but the mirror showed nothing unusual.
"I saw it!"
"I'm telling you; I saw it, Duo!"
"Look. Listen," Duo said, pulling Quatre into his arms and hugging him tightly. "I believe you. Ok? But I'm thinking... if this little Chinese twerp thinks he's going to ruin our good time..."
Duo stopped the words with a kiss, and pulled off his necktie and wrapped it lightly over Quatre's eyes. "Now tell me. See any Chinese boys?"
Quatre laughed. "No, I can't see anything."
"If you can't see him, he can't bother you. Now... where were we?"
"I think," Quatre replied, blindly plucking open the buttons on Duo's shirt, "we were right about here..."
Duo shrugged off his shirt, and a slight motion at the corner of his eye caught his attention. He turned and there, in the large mirror over the dresser, he saw the reflection of a Chinese boy, about Quatre's height, standing right behind him and smiling. Duo turned, but there was nobody behind him; when he turned back, the Chinese boy's smile was bigger. As Duo watched, the boy lifted one finger and ran it down Duo's back...
...and Duo felt an icy cold finger running down his spine.
"Or maybe here..." Quatre was murmuring, deft fingers unfastening Duo's belt. When Duo looked back at the mirror again, the Chinese boy was gone. Duo made a face at the mirror, feeling stupid, then turned to pick Quatre up and carry him to the bed, resolutely not looking at any of the mirrors. There were no more icy fingers, so he guessed that the boy or ghost or spook or figment of his imagination had gone. That made it all the easier to focus his attention solely on Quatre, and his sweet, warm, eager body, and the particular brand of stress relief Dr. Maxwell prescribed.
After all, he had better things to do than worry about spooks.
Duo and Quatre both happened to have the afternoon off the next day, but much to Duo's disappointment, Quatre insisted on getting more boxes unpacked. They made good progress, and Duo galloped down the stairs with an armful of collapsed, empty boxes while Quatre finished the last of the unpacking in the bedroom.
There was a slight, chilly breeze as Duo wrestled the flattened boxes out the back door and into the garbage can, and once he'd finished he paused to breathe deeply of the crisp, clean air. The rose garden beckoned to him, and he padded out to the little gazebo, planning out all the pruning and tying and fertilizing he'd have to do to restore life to the weed-choked roses. The gazebo itself was dangerously rotted; as Duo stepped up to test the bench, thinking the whole thing could use a fresh coat of paint, one foot crashed through the floor of the gazebo with a terrible splintering groan.
"Oh, Hell!" Duo muttered, struggling to pull his foot back out. He was caught; his boot was snagged on something under the floor, and he couldn't pull it free. He was just drawing breath to call for Quatre when he heard it...
...in Chinese. Harsh, angry whispering. A sudden sense of panic seized him, and Duo wrenched free of the splintered wood and, leaving his boot caught under the floor of the gazebo, tore back into the house, yelling for Quatre.
There was no answer, and blind with fear for reasons he couldn't begin to understand, Duo raced up the stairs. The sound of running water drew him to the bathroom, where he found Quatre, fully-clothed, completely submerged in a tub full of cold water. Duo screamed, and pulled Quatre out, wrestling with his dead weight. Quatre had never felt so heavy; icy water gushed from his water-logged clothing, and plastered his pale hair against his skin. With a soft whimper of distress, Duo tilted Quatre's head, pinched his nose shut and blew air into Quatre's mouth.
"Breathe, Quatre, breathe!" he whispered, harshly, and turned Quatre's head to the side as he pressed on his belly, bringing up a gout of cold water from his lover's slack mouth. Frantically, Duo felt for a pulse and found one, faint but there, and he went back to breathing for Quatre, forcing the air into his lover's lungs. He had never been so conscious of the mechanics of breathing, the muscles of his abdomen forcing the air from the bottom of his lungs outward. "Breathe, Quatre, breathe!" he chanted, and checked periodically to be sure the pulse was still there, and the sheer terror he felt at the sight of Quatre, drowned and pale as a fish belly, felt like a gnawing, freezing agony inside him.
After several minutes, Quatre suddenly choked, and Duo turned his head to the side for him as more water gurgled out, and then Quatre was opening his eyes and breathing on his own and Duo broke down into tears and just held him, crying.
"Jesus, Quatre, Jesus, don't scare me like that again!"
"They tried... to kill me..." Quatre gasped.
"We'll leave," Duo said. "We'll pack our shit back up and get out of here and find some other place. I'll work a half day tomorrow, and take the next day off, and we'll just move all our shit to storage and go back to the Hilton until we find a new place."
"Can we... go now?" Quatre was so pale, and Duo himself was still so terrified at what had almost happened; he nodded, and helped Quatre down the stairs.
If the Hilton staff were surprised to see the two of them soaking wet, and Duo wearing only one shoe, they were too tactful to mention it.
The next day, Duo returned from his half-day of work to find a note from Quatre in the hotel room, saying that Quatre thought it was safe enough during the daylight hours to be in the house by himself, and he'd just get a head start on the packing. Duo gasped, and raced back down to his car, and sped across town to the house. He raced up to the front door and flung it open to find Quatre gasping at the foot of the stairs.
The paramedics weren't able to tell him much, but after they'd gotten to the hospital, Duo was informed that Quatre had suffered several broken bones in his "fall" down the staircase, and that the extent of the damage to his spine couldn't be assessed yet. Quatre was resting comfortably; Duo held his hand for a while, listening to the reassuringly steady beeping of the monitors hooked up to the blond's body; eventually, one of the nurses kicked Duo out.
Duo went back to the hotel room, miserable, and spent the long, miserable night trying to pace a hole into the Hilton's plush carpet.
Quatre was still groggy and drug-fuddled the next day; he opened his eyes and tried to smile for Duo, and whispered, "mirror images..."
The nurses assured Duo that it was perfectly normal, under the circumstances, for Quatre to say things that didn't make any sense.
By the time morning rolled around again, Duo was a nervous wreck. Paranoid, he hired a crew of movers to pack up the house and take all their things to storage; Quatre would pitch a fit over the expense, but Duo decided it was worth it just to know that the house was cleared out. He spent the last of the daylight hours covering all the mirrors with black fabric, and whispered, "rest in peace" as he closed the door and locked it behind him.
He was so weary by the time he made it to the hotel, he half-slept on the elevator ride back to the room, and barely managed to drag himself over to the bed.
It was probably two a.m. when he remembered...
His boot was still under the gazebo. He still hadn't left the house...
"Maxwell, you're being a superstitious moron," he mumbled to himself drowsily, trying to convince himself to go back to the sleep he so desperately needed. There was a soft little whisper of sound, and Duo opened his eyes. In the gloom of the darkened hotel room, he could just make out the dressing table... and in the mirror above it, he saw his own reflection, wide-eyed and startled, and the Chinese boy perched on the bed beside him, smiling maliciously.
"No!" Duo whispered, horrified, and the Chinese boy turned towards him, and he felt icy fingers wrapping fiercely around his throat as the ghost's reflection throttled his, and his eyesight started to go dim.
Somehow, he wrestled the boy down onto the bed, pried the cold, dead fingers away from his throat and held the boy's wrists down against the mattress. He didn't need the mirror now; the Chinese boy was as solid and real--and dead--as could be. He thrashed wildly under Duo for a moment, then seemed to acquiesce, going limp and giving Duo a coy little smile.
"Now, look," Duo rasped, "I don't know if you can even understand me, but I'm trying to leave everything just as it was. I'll go back in the morning, and take the boot away, and you'll have everything back again, just the way it was! We didn't mean to disturb you, and we'll just go away! Do you understand?"
The boy smiled, and just as Duo was starting to relax a bit, thinking everything would be fine, he felt a second pair of cold fingers around his neck, strangling him from behind, and he realized...
and he knew that they understood, but that there would be no forgiveness for disturbing their sleep...
"Quatre, are you sure you want to do this?"
"Yes, Heero," Quatre said. "Please. I have to do this, or I'll have no peace." Heero sighed unhappily, and pushed the wheelchair carefully toward the overgrown gazebo. After Quatre had almost died in the hospital, Heero had gotten used to meeting his friend's completely illogical demands, from covering the shiny chrome fixtures in the hospital room and painting over the shining chrome of the wheelchair, to this.
The gazebo's wood floor was rotten, and there was a place where a long, slender foot had broken through. Heero carefully lowered himself to the floor, distributing his weight as evenly as possible across the fragile surface, and reached into the hole.
If he were a more excitable person, Heero would have pitched a fit when, instead of a slightly water-logged boot, his questing fingers found a long bone, large enough to be human. As it was, he muttered "Christ!" and tried again, placing the bone back where it had come from, and this time he found the boot.
Covering the hole was easy enough; the patch wouldn't hold up to human weight, but Quatre was determined to maintain ownership of the property, and fence it off to prevent unwary visitors from disturbing the place.
"It was Duo they were angry with, all along," he whispered. "Duo..." He hugged Duo's boot to his chest, and blinked rapidly; by the time the urge to cry had subsided, Heero had finished patching the hole and was ready to push him back to the car.
Heero. Quatre knew that Heero hoped to be more than just a friend some day, but he also knew that it could never happen. Heero had moved in with Quatre shortly after the funeral; the apartment Quatre had rented was handicapped-accessible in all the most important ways, but it was much easier having someone with a hale body to help out, and Heero was happy to do so.
He was terribly relieved that Quatre hadn't insisted on his blunting or painting over all the chrome in the new place; it would've been a real chore. But then again, Heero didn't know what Quatre knew; he would never know the odd things Quatre had discovered while mewed up in the hospital, when there was nothing to keep him occupied but the mystery of the house.
Heero didn't know about the two Chinese boys who had lived in that house. He didn't know that they'd been identical twins--mirror images of each other--and that they had disappeared mysteriously one night, and never been seen or heard from again. Their guardian, who was reputed to have been quite mad, had built the gazebo and planted the roses himself shortly after their disappearance, but Heero didn't know anything about that.
And Heero didn't know about the mirrors.
Quatre smiled softly as Heero wheeled him into his bedroom and left him alone. There was a standing floor mirror, draped in black, right next to the closet door; as soon as Heero had gone, Quatre pulled the drapes away and sat, looking into the mirror, his fingers curled around Duo's boot.
It didn't take long for the violet-eyed man to appear behind him in the mirror, smiling, and Quatre smiled back, even as coldly-reflected fingers wrapped tightly around his throat.