Title : The Killing Tide 5/?
Author : Dalton (AngelDalton6@aol.com)
Rating : R
Category : AU only in the fact that this takes place 10 years after Endless Waltz
Warnings : Swearing, angst, violence and death.
Disclaimer : Gundam Wing is the property of Sunrise, the Sotsu Agency, and Bandai. No infringement is intended upon their rights. (3/25/2)

"Hilde Schbeiker?"

Hilde turned, losing sight of the disappearing circus performer, and found herself clasped in a quick bear hug by a young man with short red hair.


"Yeah, thought that was you." Joey grinned as he released his old academy friend. "You headed home? Wanna share a cab? Catch up on the insanity of our career choices?"

"Uh, I'm..." she stammered as her mind wheeled, trying to rejoin the commonplace reality Joey represented. "I'm still on duty."

"No. You're not." Hicks's gruff voice broke into their midst. His tie hung loose from an unbuttoned collar and he looked very tired. "I'm highly suggesting you clock out. So, unless you want me to get the chief's opinion involved, you better take this guy up on his offer. Go home, Schbeiker."

Hilde took offense at the demands of her overbearing partner. "If this is your idea of punishment, I don't deserve it. I haven't done anything wrong, anything against the 'terms' you set for me earlier. And if this somehow comes out of concern because of my association with these two people, I don't want your pity, either."

"Christ almighty, Schbeiker!" Hicks was too tired to put up with her nonsense. "I don't give a rat's ass what you think or how you feel. All I know is that this has been one fuckin' long day and I don't want to be stuck babysitting you when I can be home in bed. We've done enough overtime, and nothing else is going to happen tonight worth having our weary butts around. Just do me a huge favor and go home. I need a break."

Hicks returned to the station house in the wake of Hilde's stunned silence and Joey's bray of laughter.

"You were always the one to react before thinking," he chuckled as he shifted his camera pack on his shoulder. He held out his arm to hail a taxi.

"I do think before I act." Her response was indignant. "And stop laughing. It's not funny. It's been a really bad day."

He let loose another chuckle as a cab finally pulled over in response to his wave. "Never thought I'd see you pass up an opportunity to go home early. Bad day, huh? Whatcha expect when you decided to be a cop?"

The two of them piled into the back seat of the cab and gave out their desired destinations. Hilde gazed silently out the side window, which bothered her old classmate.

"You're not kidding about the bad day." He adjusted his equipment on the floor between his legs. "Haven't you ever been to a crime scene before? I saw you at that upper-crust home earlier, but that scene was nothing compared to the shots I've taken of other places. You wouldn't believe..."

"You were there?" Hilde's gaze turned to her cab partner. "There was no homicide--why were you taking pictures?"

"Possible poisoning." He winked as if he knew something she didn't. "There's always a chance the poisoning wasn't accidental; and with a death involved, someone's sure to sue and request police evidence for the trial."

"That's not... we weren't taught that..." Hilde couldn't believe what he was saying. "God, Joey, you sound like an ambulance chaser. You're not accepting money for doing stuff like that, are you?"

Joey just shrugged in answer and leaned back in his seat. "I see it as helping out. Pictures are very candid. They don't lie. Can I help it if I like to share my talent?"

"Joey, I remember enough from our photography courses. You aren't fooling me with your selfless display." Sighing, Hilde decided to take a chance on an old friendship and bend her own rules. "I know I shouldn't be asking you this after all my talk, but... Can you get me copies? Of the Winner scene. It's...it's important to me." She didn't know why she was asking, but she felt that if she could offer Trowa some answers to Quatre's unnecessary death, she could be helping somehow.

"That's against code. I could lose my job." Joey frowned, darting a glance at the silent driver. His gaze traveled back to Hilde with an old twinkle in his eye. "But, you know, life can't be too daring for me. I've got a darkroom at my studio. I'll whip you up a batch tonight if I'm not called off for another 'ambulance chase.'"

Hilde smiled for the first time that night. "I forgot how impish you could be, Joe. I missed you guys."

"We missed you too, Hilde." He punched her arm. "We still do. Couldn't figure out why you dropped photography for the blue suit, though. You had a good eye for the camera."

Hilde rubbed her sore arm, remembering another reason why she left the class. "I needed to take a more active role than just hiding behind the safety of a camera lens. You can't get results that way."

"You think what I do is safe?" He snorted. "Hey, I'm in the same place you cops are when things go wrong. Only I don't have a gun to protect me. Like that guy you had at the station tonight. I swear, I thought there was gonna be a situation for a minute there. Sure, his pal got a bad deal on some old meal, but sheesh! He looked like he was going to murder someone, and it just as well not be me."

This reminder of Trowa's outburst pulled Hilde back into her slump. She was thankful when Joey dropped the subject and moved onto his numerous adventures as a crime scene photographer. She was also lucky that he took her silence as attentiveness, and she was able to escape putting up a smiling false front.

The ride was short, and she soon found herself standing outside her ground floor apartment, keys hanging unused in her hand. A blue light flickered like a dim neon sign from behind the curtained window. That meant Duo was still up, and she had been hoping to avoid him altogether. She stared at the door, a thousand different excuses for not staying up to chat running through her mind. If she had to talk to Duo, he would know something was wrong and try to weasel the truth from her. She couldn't do it. She had promised Trowa.

Taking a deep breath and choosing an excuse, Hilde slid the key into the lock and let herself into the darkened apartment. The TV was the only light in the room, but its sound was down, or on mute. Duo lay on his futon bed before the 12-inch shrine, the clicker resting loosely in his outstretched palm. She silently shut the door behind her and bent to remove her work shoes. She was relieved that Duo had fallen asleep, but didn't want to risk waking him as she passed on the way to her room. She thought she was going to make it, when his warm hand clasped around her ankle.

"Late night?" His groggy voice was accompanied by a tug on her pant leg. Heero always spoke of Duo's ability to sleep through anything, but Hilde never saw proof of that. There was something that kept him from dropping off completely whenever she had been out late. She figured his over-protective behavior was a result of her actions at the end of the '95 war which landed her in a hospital bed for months afterward. He had called her a fool, but she knew he blamed himself for not being able to help her sooner.

"Yeah, late night. I'm beat, so I'm just going to go to bed. Okay, Duo?" With a small smile, she bent down and gently removed his hand. His heavy-lidded eyes were tinted a deeper purple by the TV's light.

"Not so fast, lady of the night." His hand let go of her ankle but grabbed her wrist, pulling her down onto the futon with him. "You left me alone all night after two weeks of lonely trucking and no one to talk with. I was starting to think that if you or Heero didn't show up, I was either going to kill myself or hunt down Wufei, who would probably kill me for bothering him."

"Don't say that."

Duo lifted one eyebrow and rose to rest on his elbow, looking more carefully at his roommate. Hilde groaned inwardly. She shouldn't have said a word, but she couldn't stand hearing him joke about death in the wake of an event he knew nothing about.

"A late night and a bad night, I see." Duo pulled her down into his arms and spooned against her back. "I was going to ask for that cuddle I mentioned this afternoon, but I think you need it more than me."

Hilde stared into the flickering images of the TV screen as Duo's body began to warm hers, but it couldn't quite smother the tension in her muscles that refused to relax and let her defenses slip. Duo could feel it, and tried his best to make her comfortable, pulling the coverlet up around the both of them. Hilde couldn't take it. She couldn't lie in her best friend's caring embrace and not feel the ache her secret was burning into her.

"Duo...." She twisted in his arms to look at him, but that was the wrong thing to do. The concern she met in those amethyst orbs broke her resolve. A tear almost escaped her tired eyes as she fought to regain control.

"Hey, you busted your lip." His thumb brushed over the puffy crack. "What the heck happened to give you that? Lady, if you wanted fuller lips, I would've given you the money for a more professional job. You can't go on slamming your mouth into things just to have the latest Hollywood look."

His joke did the trick, and she laughed, cracking open the split in her bottom lip as she did so.

"Oops, sorry. Bet that hurts."

"Yes, it does." It wasn't her lip she spoke of, but the pain of keeping a secret she knew would go unforgiven.

As he moved to place a friendly kiss on her cheek, her mouth betrayed her and the beginnings of an explanation slipped out. "Trowa...."

"Ouch." Duo pulled back with a mock look of hurt. "I kiss away your boo-boo and you call out some other guy's name? Oh, that one went deep, Hilde. I don't think I'm going to recover." He chuckled, burying his face in her shoulder. "I think I'm going to sleep now to forget you ever said that, and if you're lucky, I'll forget to tell Trowa, too."

She opened her mouth to correct the misunderstanding, but felt his breathing deepen against her neck. He had crashed back into dreamland before his smile had a chance to fade. She put a hand on top of his arm, which draped across her, and lightly petted the warm skin. It was for the best that he had drifted off just then, but she had a feeling she'd not be joining him in restful peace for quite sometime. The coming day was going to be something she was in no hurry to wake up to.

"I'm sorry, Duo," she whispered, caressing his arm while frowning at the shadowed ceiling. "I'm really sorry."

The mute TV continued to flicker, useless and forgotten.