Notes: Ugg...It has been a month and more since I've updated. If it isn't the SAT's, it's college applications...*sigh* But I'm finally done with them both so now I can spend more time writing. This makes me happy. Well um...I want to thank Krista Perry for giving me such good advice about how I should just write what I write, and not stress so much about pleasing my reviewers. (Hehe) I do *not* want writer's block...

Well, to all my reviewers, THANK YOU!! I can't adequately express how much I appreciate each and every one of your comments. I'm aware that I have little confidence in what I write, but your reviews have really helped raised the bar on my 'self-esteem' meter!

Now on with the chapter!!

WARNINGS: Uh...gore. It's actually pretty nasty. I never thought I'd write something like this...but hey. I'm trying new things all the time.^^;;

***This story is strictly 1+/x2 and 3+/x4. Gundam Wing does Not belong to me.

~~~Part Three~~~

Duo couldn't sleep.

The clock on the wall read four in the morning. His room was pitch black, and nearly completely silent but for the sound of heavy rain hitting the balcony outside. Yes it was *still* raining. Three consecutive days of non-stop rain was *really* getting on his nerves. He was tired, oh yes, he was *very* tired, but no matter how hard he tried to will himself into dreamless oblivion, all his efforts were in vain.

Images kept on running through his head. In his mind's eye, he could still see the hall, the slightly open door to her room, and the carnage inside that had caused him to lose everything he had in his stomach last night...which wasn't all that much. He had vomited mostly stomach acid, and even now he could still remember the feel of it coming up his throat and burning its way out of his mouth.

The blood-tinted air had smelled so bad...Duo could feel his stomach churn just to think about it.

After several moments of stunned silence, Heero had curled a strong, reassuring arm around his waist and hauled him away from the ghastly scene.

The other Preventers were immediately informed of what had happened, and the campus police had been called shortly after. There was much confusion, much questioning, and a very, very thorough investigation had taken place.

This time, the officers triple-checked every single room in the mansion and the surrounding forests within a ten-mile radius. Unfortunately, they didn't come across the murderer, but there had been loads of evidence found.

A team of scientists had also arrived at the scene of crime. They quickly set to work, analyzing the mutilated body, the gore painted on the walls, and the various bits of everything else that had been sprayed all over the carpet for evidence.

The identity of the body itself was impossible to decipher by looks alone, but after a few quick tests, the victim's DNA was found to be matched with the DNA of one Rereena Darvian.

No one was really surprised, since the mess had been found in her room after all.

Duo let out a tired sigh and rolled over onto his back. He pulled the thick silk covers up to his chin, and lay there silently, staring unblinkingly into the darkness.

What came next had been a shocker. During the investigation, a long, sharp cleaver and cheese grater had been found, stained with congealed streaks of Rereena's blood. Although this in itself wasn't extremely surprising, the fact that the weapon was discovered underneath Sarah's bed was.

At first, nobody honestly believed that Rereena's best friend was the murderer even though the evidence was extremely incriminating. Sarah had protested sorrowfully, her sky-blue eyes red-rimmed with tears. "Why in the world would I do something like this?!" She shouted out in anguish during her brief interrogation. The authorities believed her until they found her fingerprints on the blade's handle.

Sarah was ordered to be cuffed and led away to the school holding cell. She would later be transported to the small jailhouse in OaksTown, and then to the state prison if she was convicted guilty in court...which was a likely possibility.

The braided Preventer tried to suppress a cringe as he recalled how Sarah acted before she was taken away. The anguish from losing her best friend combined with the new charges of being the murderer had taken its toll on her, and she had cracked.

Sarah succumbed to a fit of insanity when the officers cuffed her. She refused to cooperate with anyone. Instead, her eyes had taken a wild gleam to them...and she had collapsed to the ground and thrashed about, screaming her innocence at the top of her lungs, completely heedless of the fact that saliva was foaming in her mouth and dribbling down her chin. To others, she bore a likeness to that of a rabid dog. Bony fingers clenched tightly around locks of her own brown hair, and she mindlessly yanked it out in tufts.

After a good fifteen minutes of trying to talk some sense into her with no avail, the campus police had finally been forced to tranquilize her using a dart from Heero's stash in the closet.

Sarah's unusual breakdown only convinced investigators and everyone else that she was indeed the killer. One individual among the team of scientists was a certified psychologist, and the unfortunate brunette was immediately diagnosed with a mental disorder, which accounted for the reason why she might have killed her friend.

The investigation continued long after Sarah was carted off.

Authorities didn't think anyone would want to use Rereena's room after what had happened, and so the scene of death had been cleaned up; the bloody walls washed and painted over in white, the stained carpet torn out, and every single piece of furniture in the room removed. All this was done in under an hour, and soon the only window and door to the room were sealed tightly shut, barricaded with iron bolts and thick sheets of steel.

Duo didn't really think all those restraints were necessary since no one in the right mind would want to enter Rereena's room anyway.

The violet-eyed Preventer was feeling extremely embarrassed for being so uneasy during the mysterious noises that occurred before Rereena's death was discovered. Eighty percent of him was now positive that the creepy pounding on the door and creaking of footsteps on the ceiling had been caused by a mentally unstable Sarah, who had managed to pick the lock to his door.

Duo had his suspicions that Sarah was the one who targeted him and Rereena all along. The innocent looking girl was most likely the reason for Rereena's dead dog, the letter addressed to him with black roses, and even for the time he found his sweater outside in the rain.

He believed that she planned to kill him first, but her plans had been thwarted by the fact that he was in Heero's room that night, and Heero had been there to protect him. So instead, Sarah had gone after her other target, and succeeded.

The Relena Peacecraft look-a-like was dead, and Duo couldn't help but feel sorry for her. Although the blonde had annoyed the hell out of the former pilots, she hadn't done anything remotely super-wrong...and so it was a shame she had been slaughtered even more grotesquely then her dog was.

It was after Rereena's family was notified when the investigators uncovered one interesting aspect of the mansion that nobody had known before.

It had to do with attic. Since the door was locked, none of the Preventers had tried going in. There hadn't been a good reason to, since an attic was just an attic.

Instead of picking the lock as either Duo or Heero would have done, the authorities used an axe to chop down the attic door...revealing to everyone's surprise that a red brick wall had been built in front of the doorway, blocking the entrance to the attic itself.

This wall raised much suspicion, and for nearly half an hour, each brick and seam had been carefully poked and prodded to check for hidden switches or buttons that would somehow make the thing swing open.

Their efforts were fruitless. No amount of searching would yield their desired results, and in the end a new attic door had been used to replace the previous one. There was a good chance that somebody had built the wall in order to hide something, but the police team in charge of the investigation had dismissed the idea of tearing it down because they deemed it irrelevant to do so. After all, the murderer had already been caught.

He glanced at the wall again. Six o' clock. Had he really been lying here for several hours already? Duo sighed. He was still slightly upset over yesterday's events, but his feelings had cooled down some, and he was ready to work again.

Heero had finally given him his schedule last night, so he knew he didn't have class today. Getting up was a pain despite his insomnia. The mansion had a few drawbacks, and one of them was that there wasn't a heater or cooler system in any of the rooms. Individuals had to bring their own if they were easily affected by the weather. Like Duo was.

After snuggling in his sheets for a few more moments, Duo sighed and sat up slowly. His movements were sluggish. As he stretched his arms and yawned, the blanket slipped down to his waist, and he suddenly became aware of just how cold it was in his room. So cold in fact, he could see his breath mist in the air.

Grumbling uncomfortably, Duo quickly rubbed his arms in an attempt to get rid of the goose bumps that had suddenly risen there. When that didn't work, he hopped out of bed and dashed into the bathroom, turning on the water to his big luxurious Jacuzzi.

Ten minutes later, he was immersed in the hot steamy bath up to his neck, his long chestnut hair loose and billowing gently in the water. Much to his satisfaction, Duo noticed that lined neatly along the edge of the Jacuzzi was a long row of elegant glass bottles, each of them filled with a different colored substance. Bubble bath.

Leaning closer, he selected a swirly-shaped bottle, examining it slowly before pulling out the glass cork. Immediately the sweet refreshing scent of lavender wafted up his nostrils. It smelled good, so Duo dumped half the bottle into his bath, watching in interest as the water turned blue and soft foam began to bubble on the surface.

Pleased with results, he let himself relax into a reclining position and lazily dangled the half empty bottle of scented bubble mix in front of his eyes. The color, he noted, was a medium blue with just the lightest tint of violet. It was a pretty color, but Duo felt that it could never hold a candle to the intense cobalt of Heero's blue eyes. Come to think of it, he couldn't think of *any* shade of blue that could match, let alone beat Hee-

Wait a second. Why in the world was he thinking of Heero right now, let alone comparing his eye color with that of bubble mix?! Heero was his friend. During the war they were partners, and in the Preventers, they were often paired up as well. This was no surprise because everyone knew Shinigami and the Perfect Soldier worked well with each other despite obvious personality differences.

It was also common knowledge to anyone who knew them that Duo was loud and cheerful, a joker and prankster that despite his dangerous job, had a deep love for life and merriment that others couldn't begin to fathom.

On the contrary, Heero was the exact opposite. He was cold and calculating, not quite as cold as before, but certainly enough to make others wary of him and stay out of his way. He was a person that cared for little beyond his missions, and he rarely openly displayed his emotions.

With a sigh, Duo gingerly put the bottle back to its original place. His brows furrowed slightly as they always did when he was deep in thought. Heero. Everyone at Preventers Headquarters with the exception of Une believed that he was indeed a cold-hearted bastard, and Heero never did anything to assuage that image he projected.

If anything, he somehow managed to *enforce* it with his constant anti- social and unfriendly personality habits. Only around the other pilots did he act any different. Duo felt himself smile at the remembrance of last night's better moments. Despite the seriousness of the situation, he hadn't forgotten the deep concern reflected in his partner's mesmerizing blue eyes, or the way Heero had wrapped strong arms around him and pulled him into a secure, warm embrace.

Duo flushed in embarrassment at a sudden realization...he had been sitting on Heero's *lap* for gods sake! He had leaned against that hard, warm chest, and Heero had rubbed comforting circles over his back. Not only that but he could never forget the way Heero had carried him after his first run in with those thugs.

Swallowing hard, Duo sank lower into the hot steamy water until only the upper half of his head was peeking out. Come to think of it, never in all his life had he known Heero to act like that. It was true that the dark- haired pilot often cared more openly for his friends when he knew something was bothering them, but the most Duo had ever seen him do was offer a glass of water, or suggest some rest.

But last night...

Duo angrily scrubbed his cheeks in a half-hearted attempt to get rid of the blush that stained them. Geez...what the hell was wrong with him?! So what if Heero had deviated from his normal monotone offers. It didn't change a thing. Duo knew that he had been a wuss last night, too pathetic to be an ex-Gundam pilot and current Preventer. He had actually been *trembling* in fright! That was completely unacceptable. Maybe Heero only did what he did out of pity.

The thought made Duo's blush magically disappear. Grimly, the violet-eyed Preventer sat back up and reached for a tall bottle of the fruit scented shampoo he brought with him, and furiously began to lather his hair.

//No more weakness in front of front of *anyone*.// Duo silently promised himself. He was a Preventer. He was still Shinigami, and he had a reputation to live up to.

...But as he rinsed out his hair, the memory of Heero's protective embrace lingered in his mind, and Duo turned red again...this time with frustration.

"Enough is enough!" He shouted at himself and slapped the water with anger, causing clumps of pale blue foam to fly into the air and stick to the black marble walls. His fingertips felt shriveled and he realized that it had been quite a long time since the beginning of his soak.

He was turning into a prune.

With a long reluctant sigh, Duo stood up and turned to unhook a towel from the wall...just as the door to the bathroom swung open.

"Duo, I need to tell you tha-" Heero's voice suddenly died on him as he stared at the nude form of his partner. His cobalt eyes widened as he took in the glistening wet locks of beautiful chestnut hair that were plastered invitingly to milky white, flawless skin that looked too smooth to touch.

His throat became uncomfortably dry, and he suddenly regretted entering without knocking.

Duo yelped in surprise as a cold gust of wind accompanied the opening of his door. Yanking the towel off the hook, he quickly wrapped it around his waist and turned around. "Close the fucking door, Heero!" He commanded as he glared at his best friend, flashing violet eyes both startled and annoyed.

When that was done, Duo stepped out of the Jacuzzi and scowled at Heero who still stood frozen in the doorway. He grabbed another towel off the rack and began to wring the water out of his hair. "I *really* have to teach you to knock so you don't burst in like this next time Hee-chan. So what was so important that it couldn't wait until I was done with my bath? Did you find a lead to our mission?"

For reasons unknown, Heero couldn't tear his eyes away from Duo's enticing body. It wasn't that he had never seen his partner naked before. Contrary to belief, Duo wasn't body shy, and he had seen Duo naked plenty of times during the War. But that had been two years ago. Back then he had never really paid attention because completing the mission was his focus. But now, Heero wished he had.

Duo's body was complete eye-candy. His neck was long and smooth, with little trace of an Adam's apple. Firm muscles rippled gently underneath a pale layer of satin skin as two white arms reached up to towel off his hair. Those thin shoulders were lightly muscled, making him look deceptively frail...but Heero knew better. Shinigami could trick many people with his harmless appearance, but never Heero. Duo had killed more then enough soldiers with the help of those shoulders and arms.

Letting his eyes wander lower, Heero noted the slender, gently tapered waist that was so trim he knew he could encircle it effortlessly with just one arm. And there were those hips, smooth and narrow, lightly curved to perfection. Beyond that was the white bath towel that was so big it concealed everything else with the exception of Duo's small feet, but Heero knew that behind that towel, those legs would be long, supple, and beautiful, just like the rest of him.


He jerked his eyes up to meet Duo's quizzical gaze, and immediately recalled the questions he had been asked. Refusing to let himself be embarrassed, Heero cleared his throat and responded in his deep toneless voice. "I just wanted to tell you that Trowa, Quatre and I have class today. We will not be back until seven tonight."

Duo raised an eyebrow. "Uh...okay. What else?"

Heero clenched his jaw firmly, staring deep into the large violet pools of his partner's exquisite eyes. "Breakfast is waiting in the kitchen. That is all." Without another word, he turned and left.

The braided young man blinked in confusion as he deftly unwrapped the towel from his waist in order to dry his legs. Was it just him, or was Heero acting strange today? He had seemed distracted, as if something was bothering him. Well considering last night's events... With a tired exhale, Duo began to pull on his clothes. Whatever it was, he hoped Heero would be alright.

Heero quickly strode into his room and closed the door behind him. Letting out a soft exhale, he leaned back against the door and shut his eyes. Gods, what in the world was he thinking, looking at Duo like that?

He could admit to himself that he harbored hidden affection for his smaller partner, but this was going too far. So what if Duo was kind, funny, friendly, intelligent, caring, strong, and...impossibly beautiful like he just recently discovered? That didn't mean a thing. Duo was also stubborn, rude, loud, obnoxious, sarcastic, impulsive, and childish at times.

But even so, why couldn't Heero stop thinking about him? Why couldn't he stop worrying about him whenever they were apart? Why did he have to feel so goddamn protective all the time? And just when did he start feeling this way?

Lifting his head just so he could let it fall back against the door with a dull, lifeless thump, Heero opened his pained blue eyes and sighed. "Baka." He whispered to himself.


Breakfast was cold by the time Duo made it downstairs. Wufei was sitting at the dining table, dressed in a plain white robe. He held a cup of cooling tea in one hand, and a book in the other. The onyx-eyed Preventer raised an eyebrow as he watched Duo stare at his plate in disgust.

"I take it you do not like Swedish bacon and deviled crab eggs?" He asked dryly before taking a sip of his tea. Duo looked up and frowned, putting down his fork. His nose was wrinkled in distaste. "So that's what this is? Yuck..." He muttered and stood up.

Wufei watched as his friend dumped the plate in the sink before rummaging through the many cupboards in his search for something to eat. "I'm sick of this place..." Duo complained as he sifted through various cans and packages of 'caviar' and 'preserved turtle eggs'. "Isn't there anything *normal* to eat around here?! I'm *sick* of all this weird food!"

After ten full minutes of fruitless search, Duo finally came across a small pink box of something called Peace Flakes. Printed all over the box's surface were the words 'Good for Peace, Good for Life.' "What the hell..." He stared at the cover on the box incredulously before bursting into laughter. "Oh man...Wufei you hafta look at this!"

Duo thrust the box in front of his Chinese friend, watching with amusement as Wufei's eyes widened and he began to chuckle. "I've heard rumors that Relena was trying to spread more propaganda for peace, but Maxwell...who would have thought that she would do something like this!" Duo grinned widely and took out a glass bowl from the pantry. He nabbed the box from Wufei and opened it, pouring some of its contents into his bowl.

It was just as the cover advertised. Each crispy flake of corn was shaped either like a heart, chibi-Relena, Chibi-Heero, or both together holding hands. Wufei shook his head in disbelief. "I never thought that Relena's infatuation would run this deep..." Duo nodded in agreement as he poured some milk over the cereal. "Yup. Heero's gonna flip when he see's this."

Wufei gave Duo a strange look as his braided companion picked up a spoon. "Don't tell me you're actually going to eat that!"

Duo shrugged and lifted the silver utensil to his lips. "Relax, Fei! Its just cereal. I don't care what shape it's in as long as it'll taste normal. You guys might not mind all this fancy stuff, but I certainly do." With that said, he shoved the spoon into his mouth and crunched.

"Mmmm cinnamon...not bad..."

Wufei rolled his eyes and finished off his tea. "Try not to eat too much, Maxwell. Lunch will be in two hours. You wouldn't want to spoil your appetite since I'm going to cook something good."

Duo nearly choked on a mouthful of cereal. "You?! You can cook?! Will wonders never cease!" His comment earned him a glare. "Of course I can cook." Wufei told him smugly. "Who do you think I am, you?" It was common knowledge that the braided pilot couldn't cook to save his life. Wufei and the others had several times tasted his version of scrambled eggs and meatloaf...and it didn't take them long to vow never to eat anything else Duo made. It was that bad.

With a short huff, Duo picked up his bowl and the box of cereal. "I'm going to watch some TV." He announced aloud before pretending to storm off. He wasn't upset at all that nobody liked his cooking, but it had become a quirky ritual for him to pretend to be when he really wasn't.

As he entered the living room, Duo couldn't keep the tired sigh from escaping his throat. Normally he wasn't one to complain, but this mission was really fraying his nerves...and they had barely just started! Already he was sick of the materialistic and artificial beauty of the mansion they were staying in. And the food too! It was too different for his simple tastes. Duo knew that he would never be cut out for this sort of life. He couldn't wait for the mission to be over so he could go back to his cozy one bedroom apartment in Sank.

Flopping down on the plushy couch, he picked up the remote and turned on the television. The welcoming tune of the Neo-Simpson's introductory song floated to his ears, and he smiled. Finally something that was familiar! He watched this show all the time, and Homer's idiocy amused him. Too bad this was an old episode.

Duo rapidly flipped through the channels, finding nothing good to watch until he stopped on HDO, one of the few movie channels.

"Up next is the classic film, Rush Hour 2." A voice announced, and the photo of a Chinese man and a Black man leaning against each other was displayed on the screen. Duo put down the remote in interest. It was little known to others that he had a thing for extremely old films.

He soon learned that Rush Hour 2 was a comedy, filled with cheesy yet hilarious situations that had him laughing in no time. The film was set in Hong Kong...a presently demolished and abandoned nuclear waste dump, but it was obvious from the film that there used to be a ton of people living there.

Duo was so enraptured that he didn't notice the time fly by. Before he knew it, the movie was over, his cereal bowl empty, and Wufei was calling him from the kitchen.

"Maxwell, lunch!"

With a satisfied sigh, he stood up and padded back into the kitchen with his dirty dishes. The moment he entered, his nose was immediately assaulted by the scent of savory meat and soy sauce. Wufei was currently bent over the open oven, thick oven mitts fitted snugly over his hands. The dark-eyed Preventer shot him a smug look over his shoulder. "Go set the table."

*30 minutes later...*

Duo released a satisfied groan as he leaned back in his chair and patted his aching tummy. "Oh geezus, that was a damn good meal..." He complimented.

Wufei imitated Duo in position and smiled, a content look on his face. The remains of his baked duck and rice masterpiece lay in the center of the table. It was a new recipe that he had come up with a few months ago. Cooking was only one of the several indications that post-war life had changed him. No longer was he the impatient, spiteful, and easily angered young man that had piloted the Gundam Shenlong. Without a war to fight and the revenge for his clan complete, he had allowed himself to take a new path in life.

Like Heero, Wufei devoted his life to the Preventers, though for completely different reasons. Heero needed the missions that came with the job to keep him sane, but on the other hand, Wufei did it only because it was an excellent way for him to keep upholding justice.

And recently, a secret relationship had been forming between Sally and himself, which was all the more reason to stay a Preventer.

/Ding dong//

The sudden loud chime of the doorbell drew Wufei from his quiet self- reflection. He attempted to get up, but his too full stomach twinged most uncomfortably. "Maxwell, get the door!" He commanded instead.

Duo shook his head apologetically. "No can do, Wu-man. I ate way more then you did and even breathing is hard for me right now." He exaggerated.

Wufei scowled and struggled to stand up. Duo did have a point...the baka had eaten twice the amount he himself had...and if he was feeling so full, his friend was honestly even more so.

Muttering under his breath, the martial artist managed to stand on his feet and waddle uncomfortably into the main hall.

//Ding dong...ding dong//

"Alright alright, I'm coming." The Preventer called loudly as he unlatched the lock and pulled the door open.

Surprisingly, there was nobody there to greet him.

With suspicious, narrowed eyes, Wufei peered into the gloomy weather, searching for the individual or individuals that had rang the doorbell.

Nothing. Only the constant pattering of rain and violent whistling of the wind. With a final glance around, Wufei shut the door and locked it securely. He walked back to the kitchen with a frown on his face.

Duo was in the same position as before. "So who was it?" He asked as he used a finger to trace idle patterns over the tabletop.

Wufei took a seat and shrugged. "I don't know. There was no one there." His eyes hardened. "I think I will install a security camera over the front door sometime later today. Just to be safe."

Duo opened his mouth to agree, but before he had the chance to...

//Ding dong, Ding dong//

The violet-eyed young man yawned and stood up unsteadily. "I'll get it." He said dryly. Wufei looked a bit wary, but kept silent.

This time it was Duo who walked out of the kitchen. His soft footsteps echoed loudly in the spacious hall. Strangely enough, he could feel his goose bumps rise underneath his clothes, and there were sudden chills that were going down his spine. Did the temperature just go down about ten degrees, or was it just him?

//Ding-dong, Ding-dong, Ding Dong!!!//

Feeling mildly perturbed, Duo quickly unlocked the door and opened it up a crack that was only big enough to peek out of.

Again, there wasn't anyone standing there. Grumbling in frustration, he swung the door open the rest of the way and scanned the darkness just as Wufei had done. Convinced that this was just some prank pulled by a snooty college youngster, Duo turned to leave when something caught his eye.

Lying on the doorstep was a small black box.

Wufei looked at Duo curiously as the braided one walked back into the kitchen with something in his hands. "What are you holding?" He asked.

Duo thunked the box carelessly in front of his friend. "Just this thing that someone left on the doorstep." He replied nonchalantly.

Picking up the box, the Chinese Preventer analyzed it carefully. It was a pretty normal looking thing as far as he could see. About the size of four soapboxes stacked together, and wrapped in delicate blue ribbon. Very inconspicuous looking...but Wufei couldn't take any chances. He held it to his ear and rattled it gently. There was no sound, but a small white piece of paper was accidentally dislodged from the underside of the box, and slowly began to flutter to the ground.

Duo easily caught it in mid air. "It's a note." He commented blandly as he handed it back to Wufei. "...Open it."

The Chinese Preventer couldn't help but feel slightly disturbed as he unfolded the innocent looking paper three times before laying it flat against the table so Duo could read it too.

"...Don't tell me Sarah broke out of jail..." Duo groaned aloud as he stared at the letter with disbelief in his eyes.

Wufei licked his dry lips and shook his head. He didn't know what to say. Written in hauntingly familiar crimson script were four eerie words.

//Proof of my love.//

Accompanying those words were several gleaming strands of long chestnut hair that had been delicately pasted to the inside of the paper.


"...Do you want to open it?" Wufei asked softly as he fingered the small box. His voice was strong yet hesitant at the same time. Duo drew in a shaky breath and slumped into the seat next to his friend. "No...why don't we wait until the others get back, k?"

Wufei nodded solemnly. "Of course, that would be the best thing to do."

There was a deep stifling silence. Both Preventers were lost in thought as they concentrated on the problem at hand. Duo's mind was going a mile a minute. There were so many possibilities about what lay in the box, who sent the box...and...wait a minute, how in the world had someone managed to get their hands on his hair?!

With that sudden realization, Duo shot up from his chair. "I've got it!" He exclaimed loudly.

Wufei raised an eyebrow and Duo managed to look serious. "You know, I seriously doubt that Sarah could escape from it can't be her. But I *do* know that the only people here who've come in physical contact with me other then you guys, are those idiots that keep hitting on me at school."

His nose wrinkled in distaste at the very thought. "When I got in a fight with them yesterday, some of my hair probably got pulled out. One of those guys was Rereena's brother, and so he's probably been told everything that happened in here by now. I'll bet he's the one that sent this..."

The black-haired Preventer didn't look quite convinced. "Uh...Maxwell, as brutal and uncouth as that man might be, I seriously doubt he would do this the day after his sister's death."

Duo looked contemplative. "Maybe it was his friends then..."

Wufei shrugged and stood up, He picked up the note, careful not to smudge it with his fingerprints. "Clean up the table here. I will go to my room and try to analyze this letter to the best of my ability."

No sooner were the words out of his mouth...the electric lights suddenly flickered and died out, plunging the entire house into an eerie darkness.

"Aww man...this totally sucks!" Duo groaned as he groped along the wall for the light switch. After a few moments, he reached it and turned it off, then flicked it back on again.


With a long suffering sigh, Duo stumbled over to where Wufei was standing. "Nope...doesn't work. I think the wind might've damaged the power lines or something."

Wufei narrowed his eyes contemplatively as he stared out the kitchen window. It was indeed a pretty dreary day. Outside, it looked like nighttime even though the clock on the wall read a few minutes past three. The rain was quite loud as it splattered over the drenched earth, and the wind was howling equally loudly, causing the mansion to creak and groan periodically. But come to think of it, the weather had been worse last night...and nothing had happened to the power lines then.

Without revealing his unsettling thoughts, Wufei turned to look at Duo who was also staring out the window. Those large violet eyes were darkened to a deep royal purple.

"Duo, come with me. I recall that Heero packed a few flashlights with the emergency supplies."

The braided young man was biting his lower lip, and Wufei noticed that he had both arms wrapped tightly around his torso as if he were afraid of the cold.

Cold? Onyx eyes widened and he involuntarily shivered. It *was* cold! could the temperature have changed so suddenly?! None of the windows were open.

Little puffs of delicate steam were forming in the air as they breathed.

"Must be a leak somewhere in the building." Wufei muttered to assure himself as he led the way out of the kitchen and up the stairs.

It was slow going because the staircases were so dark, each step had to be placed carefully in order to avoid tripping.

Duo winced as the next step he took caused a loud creak to reverberate throughout the silent mansion. For some reason, he wanted to stay as quiet as possible. Foreboding tension hung thick in the air, and it smothered him into submission. It made him feel wrong to make more noise then necessary.

As they passed the third floor, Duo thought he heard footsteps thudding lightly towards them from across the short hallway. Pausing in his ascent, he stared hard into the darkness and strained his ears to pick up more of the sound.

It was extremely faint, but he could here it. With jaw clenched, Duo tightened his grip on the wooden railing and furrowed his brow. Was there actually someone else inside the mansion besides he and Wufei?

He hoped not. The steps began to grow louder, faster. They were headed straight for the stairs, Duo realized uncomfortably. He wet his dry lips and tried even harder to see who it was.

Faster and faster, louder and louder came the strange footfalls. The person was clearly running now. Duo was torn between the desire to wait and see, or dash the rest of the way up the stairs.

//Great...I'm feeling scared again...// He thought disgustedly to himself, but he couldn't help it. Icy cold chills kept on running up and down his spine. He felt as if someone was trailing their freezing fingertips over the skin on his chest. His heart was thudding so loudly that he could hear it in his ears. And he was holding his breath for fear of drowning if he let go.

Too late. He couldn't make his decision in time, and so it had been made for him. The steps were upon him now. Just three more

"Duo?" Like someone had just uttered a magic word, the thick penetrating tension suddenly dissipated, and with it went the footsteps. He whirled around to stare at Wufei with wide owlish eyes.

His friend stood several steps above him, an impatient yet curious look on his stern face. "What are you looking at?" Duo released the breath he had been holding and sagged tiredly against the rails. "Oh man...Fei, you didn't...hear anything...did you?" The Chinese Preventer shook his head slowly. "Why do you ask?"

The slender Preventer swallowed hard. He looked slightly sick. "Uh...nothing then...I think. Just aftershocks of my concussion acting up again..." He joked in a hoarse voice.

His friend gave him a queer look but didn't comment, for which Duo was grateful. They made it to the fourth floor without any more problems.

"Dammit!" Wufei cursed as he tried the doorknob. "Heero locked his door. I don't suppose you have your lock picks with you right now, do you?" Duo swung his long braid around to the front and prodded at it gently before flashing his friend a sheepish look. "Uh...sorry. I must've forgotten to put them back in after washing my hair this morning."

Wufei shrugged, "No matter. I know that Trowa keeps some lock picks inside his room. I'll be right back." He turned to leave. "Er...wait!" Duo shouted, but was too late. Wufei had already gone down the stairs.

Sighing heavily, Duo leaned against the wall and slowly slid down until he was sitting on the floor. "Stupid." He whispered to himself after several silent moments. He had meant to ask Wufei if he could go with him, and was glad that he hadn't. It would only have shown how inept and childishly dependent he was.

Sarah was gone. He was imagining things because he was paranoid or something. Or maybe the concussion had damaged him some how.

"Just get your wits together, Maxwell." He murmured to himself with a faint smile. Glancing up, Duo squinted at the clock on the wall just as the long hand ticked, making the time exactly three thirty in the afternoon.

Three thirty. There were still a few hours before Heero and the others would get back. He wondered what Heero was doing right now...

With a loud frustrated curse, Duo brought his hands up to hold his temples. Dammit! Why was he thinking about Heero _again_!? //Just a friend. Just a friend..// He mentally chanted to himself. Yes. Heero was his friend. His *best* friend in fact. It was reasonable to think about him more often then he thought about others, right? Right.

Feeling reassured, Duo yawned and rubbed his arms absently. It had been ten minutes. What in the world was taking Wufei so long? He shivered. Was it getting colder in here? The braided Preventer logically looked up at the only window on the fourth floor.

Nope, the window was still shut, the old-fashioned latch strong enough to hold both glass shutters closed even though the wind was rattling against it rather noisily.

And as he watched, pale, spidery fingers slowly began to reach out from the heavy curtains surrounding the window.

"Holy shit!" Duo gasped and jerked back, not quite believing what he was seeing. The curtains weren't very long. There was definitely not enough room for someone to be hiding behind them. "Oh man I'm seein' things again." Duo whispered almost inaudibly. But he couldn't bring himself to look away.

The fingers were followed by a hand, then slowly, a wrist, and a thin arm. The arm was broken, Duo realized with no small amount of trepidation. Although it was dark, he could see that gleaming white bone was sticking out of it at a painful angle. The flesh on the arm sagged so much that he was afraid it was going to suddenly rot away. And it did.

With a soft plop, the meat on the entire bottom half of the arm fell onto the windowsill...and yet the appendage kept moving. Those bony fingers were splayed out widely, as if searching for something. The arm had over- extended itself, however...because with a sickening crack, the tendons ripped at the elbow, and soon the bottom half of the limb was dangling limply, supported only by a thin stretch of flesh still connected to the elbow.

Dark liquid gushed out of the new wound, filling the air with its stench.


The dangling limb began to spin slowly, around and around and around...

//Duo, wake up!//

Blood splattered against the wall with every slow turn, and the connecting strip of skin twisted tighter and tighter...


...Until it suddenly broke...

//Heero, he's not breathing!//

And in slow motion, the appendage began to fall...those thin fingers spasming, clenching at nothing in the air.

//Move out of the way!//

Duo felt something soft and firm press insistently to his lips, and a gush of warm air streamed down to inflate his lungs.

//Again! He's still not breathing!//

Quatre's voice? Was he hearing Quatre's voice? But they hadn't come back yet, had they? He wondered why he felt so numb. Another breath of air. Someone was applying pressure to the area above his stomach.

//Gods...Duo, don't do this to me! Please...//

Heero. That was definitely Heero's voice. But why had his friend sounded so desperate? Was it something he had done?

//Wake up...//

...And why was he lying on his back? Reality finally crashed over him like a wave, and he rolled to one side, coughing loudly and inhaling deep, gasping breaths of air. "Duo! You're awake!" He heard Quatre exclaim happily. "We were so worried about you!"

As he finally caught his breath, Duo looked up, seeing all four of his friends standing over him, each with varying expressions of concern on their faces.

"Hey guys..." He greeted weakly. "What...what the fuck happened?"

Heero tenderly reached out to brush a lock of chestnut hair from his face. His cobalt blue eyes were endless as he locked gazes with tired yet bewildered violet. "That's what we would like to know." He admitted in a deep, relieved voice.

The fragile looking young man swallowed hard as the image of the arm flashed through his mind for a split second. He fixed his troubled gaze to the fourth floor window, but there was nothing there. No sign of blood or rotting flesh, no arm at all.

"I think...I'm losing my mind." He replied hesitantly. "I...keep on seeing and hearing things that aren't there." To his surprise, everyone looked relieved. "Is that all?" Quatre asked, and strangely enough, he was smiling. Duo nodded and everyone exchanged knowing glances.

Duo scowled. "Ok, what are you guys keeping from me?" He demanded. Wufei looked slightly embarrassed. "Well you see, we all agreed that you needed more rest because of yesterday's I put a dissolved sleeping pill into your portion of lunch this afternoon."

The braided Preventer was livid. "I don't want you guys to baby me! I can take care of myself just fine..and shit, didn't you remember that sleeping pills have no effect on me? I took so many during the War that I'm practically immune to them now!"

Trowa nodded. "We remembered that Duo, so we gave you a slightly altered version of the pill." Wufei chuckled. "Who would've known that it would cause you to have hallucinations instead?" His comment was far from appreciated as Duo shot him a dark glare.

Heero looked serious as he spoke next. "Hallucinations were part of the unwanted side-effects, yes. But it should not have caused you any sort of difficulties in breathing. You should not have passed out."

//Gods...Duo, don't do this to me! Please...// Duo couldn't stop the smile that spread across his face. How could he ever forget the way Heero had sounded? He cocked his head to the side and looked up at his partner inquiringly. "Hee-chan, were you worried about me?" Heero stiffened at the use of his pet name in public. Duo *never* called him that unless they were alone.

Nevertheless, the dark-haired Preventer reached out and covered Duo's small hands with his own larger ones. "You have no idea." He answered truthfully, a rare smile gracing the corners of his lips.

Duo fought to keep himself from blushing at the affectionate gesture, but didn't pull away. " what happened?" He asked again. "And how come you guys are back so soon?" Trowa leaned against the wall, arms crossed nonchalantly over his chest, but Duo could see that he was tense.

The emerald-eyed Preventer looked at his smaller friend with worry in his eyes. "If you don't know, then we don't know. BlackCedars has canceled the rest of class today because the weather has been steadily getting worse. That is why we are back earlier then we should be. As we entered, Wufei was yelling upstairs and so we went to see what the problem was."

The blonde Arabian who had been silent until now moved to sit down next to Duo. The look in his eyes was an exact replica of Trowa's. "You were lying on the carpet...not breathing and not moving. We thought...we thought you were dead!"

Duo paled slightly. "But I don't understand..." Was his hallucination the cause for everything? He bit his lip, troubled. Hopefully not...and yet...

He didn't know what to think.

With a forced smile, Duo slipped his hands from under Heero's and slowly staggered to his feet. His knees were weak and they threatened to give out under his weight, but Heero was there, gently holding him up by the elbow. "Do you want me to carry you?" The cobalt-eyed young man asked softly. Duo shook his head and shot him a grateful look. As great as that sounded, he didn't think it would be a good idea considering the fact that he wanted to get Heero _out_ of his mind. Being in his arms would only cause the opposite effect.

As they made their way downstairs in awkward silence, Duo suddenly realized two things; the electric lights were on, and it wasn't cold anymore. He decided to ask Wufei about it, and the Chinese Preventer shrugged. "Apparently it was only a temporary black out." He explained. "The lights came on just as I made it to Trowa's room." Wufei didn't have an answer for the cold, and Duo sensed that his friend was slightly disturbed because of it.

Duo was disturbed too, though he tried not to show it. In fact, he was disturbed about a lot of things lately...and the list seemed to keep growing longer and longer. The image of the arm flashed through his head again, and he sighed heavily. //Just a pill-induced hallucination.// He mentally reminded himself. Just that, and nothing more. He had to stop dwelling on it. There were a lot more important things to think of right now. Like the mission...and...of course! How could he have forgotten!?"

"The box!" Duo suddenly exclaimed. "Holy shit, let's go open the damned box!" Quatre shot him a curious look. "What are you talking about?" He asked, and Wufei proceeded to tell them everything, including the card.

Heero had been less then pleased to hear about the strands of Duo's hair. "Show me." He had commanded stiffly, eyes hardened into chips of blue ice.

As they finally reached the ground floor, Duo quickly dashed into the kitchen and grabbed the box with both hands. He was in such a hurry that he didn't notice the bottom of the thing was sopping wet, and moisture was leaking all over his fingers.

Wufei was talking quite rapidly when he entered the living room. All of the Preventers were sitting down and passing around the note that had accompanied the 'present'. Trowa was the first to notice him, and as the uni-banged Preventer stood up to look at the box...his green eyes widened, and he froze.

One by one, everyone else turned to look at Duo, and each of them soon had different forms of shock or horror on their faces. Duo stared at them in surprise. " I have something on my face?" He joked nervously as he walked over to the coffee table.

Quatre shook his head mutely, the look in his eyes was *strange* that Duo's uneasiness increased ten-fold. He began to get slightly annoyed. "Um...guys?" He asked slowly. "What is it? You're seriously freaking me out here."

Trowa cleared his throat. "Duo. You are not...injured, are you?" The braided Preventer shook his head. "Nope... not unless you count the brawl, insomnia, hallucinations, and suddenly passing out and not breathing. I'm fine. Why do you ask?"

Before he could be replied, the box in his hands suddenly moved a little...or rather, something inside of the box caused it to move. Duo was so surprised that he dropped the thing, and it landed on the coffee table with a wet sounding splat.

"What the-" Duo stared down at the thing in mild surprise. His breath caught in his throat. Were those...droplets of blood staining the coffee table? The box suddenly moved again, and Duo swallowed hard. How come he hadn't noticed before? The entire thing was practically *soaked* in the dark red fluid. Then that meant...Duo raised his trembling hands into his line of sight.

Covered. The front of his shirt was too. "Great...and this was the only day I decided to wear my only gray shirt..." He heard himself whisper. How come he was feeling so faint? The room was suddenly spinning before his eyes, and for a brief moment, he felt like he was falling. Visions of the arm came back, but they were mixed in with new ones he had never seen before. His eyes slipped shut.

//Creak...swish...the body swung as it dangled from the chandeliers, a line of blood streamed steadily onto the shiny dining table.//


//She ran down the hall screaming...her body was on fire. Skin boiled and blackened, slowly melting away there was nothing left but charred bones.//

Hands grabbed him roughly by the shoulders. "Not again...Duo, please!"

//The was the arm again, except this time there was a shoulder too, and with the shoulder came a head, and a torso. It was a woman, dressed in a sleeveless nightgown. Her face had no eyes but a mouth. As he watched, the mouth suddenly split into a wide, eerie grin... and as she reached for him with her broken arms, her rotting breasts detached from her chest and slid to the floor. //

Duo wrenched open his eyes and gasped loudly. His eyes were feverish, his pale skin flushed. Distantly he realized he had been pulled into Heero's arms, and the his much larger friend was rocking him back and forth, those deep blue eyes filled with so much emotion that Duo would've been struck dumb if he had seen them in any other situation.

"No...more pills, okay? I keep on hallucinating...damn I think I'm gonna pass out..." Heero tightened his grip on Duo as those jeweled amethyst eyes slipped shut, and the slightly trembling body became limp. Alarmed, he quickly checked for vital signs, and was relieved when he discovered Duo was still breathing. For a split second, he had been afraid this was to be a repeat of what happened earlier.

Glancing up, he noticed the other three looking at him strangely. "What?" He growled, seriously displeased. Wufei looked away. " just seems that you...never mind." Heero narrowed his eyes but kept silent.

Quatre cringed as he glanced at the box on the table, then at the stains on Duo's hands and shirt. "I'll go get a towel." He murmured before walking off into the kitchen. Trowa sat back down and Wufei followed suit. All three of them alternated between staring at the box, and at Duo.

Trowa was the first to break the silence. "Duo looks very young when he is not awake." He commented in a soft voice. Heero nodded hesitantly in agreement as he shifted the body in his arms so that Duo's head was leaning against his chest, and the rest of his body was lying horizontally across Heero's lap. It was obvious that he wasn't planning to relinquish his hold any time soon.

Wufei frowned as he noticed that although unconscious, Duo had a troubled look on his face. Taking a deep breath, he exhaled slowly and crossed his arms over his chest. "What do you think keeps causing him have these episodes?" He asked quietly. "Is it the hallucinations?"

Heero looked grim. "I don't know." He finally replied, "Maybe he has a health problem that we do not know of yet."

Trowa shook his head. "That doesn't seem likely. Duo was fine until we got here. Personally I think his condition is caused by the stress he has undergone these past few days." His emerald eyes softened slightly as he noted the dark circles surrounding Duo's large eyes. The color contrasted noticeably against his pale white, almost sickly skin.

Looking away, Trowa turned his attention back on the bloody box that still sat untouched in the middle of the coffee table. "I'm almost afraid to see what's inside it." He confessed honestly. "Judging by all that blood, it is definitely not a good thing."

The Chinese Preventer leaned forward and placed both hands on his knees. "There wasn't any blood when we first got it." He said absently. "The blood must have seeped through the box when we were upstairs."

Quatre reappeared from the kitchen and immediately went to washing the gore off of Duo's limp hands. "Don't forget that it's moving." He reminded nervously. "There's probably something alive in there..." The box twitched again.

"Why don't we just open it and see what it is." Heero muttered impatiently as he helped Quatre maneuver Duo out of his stained shirt. The braided pilot was wearing a gray tank top underneath it, and Heero couldn't help but feel relieved when he saw it, though slightly disappointed as well.

With a distasteful look on his face, Wufei reached for the box and gingerly began undoing the elaborate knot on the very top. When that was done, he took off the ribbon and lay it on the table.

Then he easily took the cover off the box, careful not to touch it more then necessary. Inside was a bloodstained plastic bag. Wufei grimaced and covered his nose with one hand as a nasty stench filled the air. "It stinks!" He cursed and sat back. "Trowa, you finish it!"

The uni-banged young man shrugged and with one hand, grabbed the plastic bag and pulled it out of the box.

There was a stunned silence that lasted for several long moments.

"Oh my..." Quatre finally whispered, finding nothing else to say that could accurately convey the emotions he was feeling.

Nobody else said anything. They didn't need to because it was evident from their reactions that they were all thinking the same thing. Someone was seriously out to get Duo. Someone other then Sarah. This wasn't a game anymore, because inside the bag...

Inside the bag was a freshly removed heart, half-submerged in dark red fluid. There was a hole in the corner, which accounted for the leaks. A steady stream of blood dripped onto the tabletop, forming a small crimson puddle. But that wasn't all.

The heart was still beating.

Notes: I seriously can't wait to finish this story and get it off my hands. I'm not pleased with how my chapters are turning out *at all* and it totally sucks. Well, I've already started on the next part, and hopefully it won't take as long to write as this one did.

***Here are some clarifications:

How can a heart beat after its been taken out? ~I don't know, but I *think* I've heard that it was possible. So...I wrote it in. Yup.

The box moved? What's that all about? ~It was the heart beating. Yeah I know...that was kinda poorly planned, but I was in a hurry!

Do sleeping pills cause hallucinations? ~Lol, probably not, but as I said, they're 'altered' pills...

Why does Duo keep on blacking out? ~Because I like it that way. I'm not saying I'm a sadist, but it just seems to work out that way. Besides, he gets more 'Heero time' like that. I'm writing it all as I go along.

What's with the gory 'hallucinations?' ~Erm...again, I'm not too sure, but it *will* lead to something.

~Well, you see, I really have no idea what I'm writing...(lol....) but I won't abandon this story (like I'm abandoning my other one I think...).

**Please Review!*** I loooove feedback! Please tell me how I'm doing, what I should change, what you liked, and what sounds good in the future!***