3-30-2002

Title : The Killing Tide 7/?
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. (3/29/2)
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It wasn't the light in the room, nor the ending clicks of the phone recorder that woke Hilde from her troubled dreams; it was the shrill, nail-curling laughter that filtered into and meshed eerily with her dream images. Crawling out of the murky bog, Hilde opened her heavy lids to witness a colorful barrage of pink happiness shining from the TV. Groaning, she turned onto her back, flinging an arm out to feel blindly for the missing channel changer within the bed covers. "Honestly, Duo, you are the only man I know who still watches morning cartoons."

Finding the blessed controller, Hilde tossed a click over her shoulder, ending the songs of joy, and curled up into the space her roommate had left open on the futon. The room was wonderfully silent, and Hilde smiled as she pulled the comforter up under her chin, snuggling into the promise of more sleep. However, the silence was too silent, and her eyes popped open as the realization tapped into part of her brain.

"Duo?" She sat up, fully awake now, and her ears strained for his tell-tale movements within the apartment. Unless he was "in business mode," as he would call it, Duo would never have been this quiet on purpose. It was then that she noticed the sheet of yellow paper impaled on their small peg-board with a rather large steak knife. Tossing off the covers, she walked over to the oddly displayed note and pried it free.

//Watch out Hilde! Someone's come in and replaced all the joys of a good sugar-coated breakfast with healthy things! But don't you worry, I'm off to the rescue! Will be back with donuts & choco-milk ASAP. PS. Use the knife to guard the fridge till I get back. The ice cream I bought yesterday may be in danger!//

The note dropped from view as she tilted her head skyward, sending a look toward the heavens that dropped the buoyant bundle named Duo Maxwell into her life. Her exasperated expression broke with a grin, and she shook her head, rubbing at the depressions her shirt buttons had made on her stomach. Making a mental note never to sleep in uniform again, she was heading toward the bathroom for a nice, hot shower when the door chimed. She sighed and changed direction, wondering who would be stopping by on a Sunday morning. The brief look she peeked through the side window made her brow crease, and she immediately opened the door for the disheveled, bony man who scratched at his goatee, deep in thought.

Howard blinked an uncertain smile up at Hilde. "Eh, hey ya, Hilde. Duo here?"

Hilde stepped to the side to allow for his expected entrance, but he continued to stand awkwardly on the dilapidated welcome mat, his hand moving from his beard to his head. Hilde woke up a little bit more at this odd behavior. Usually, Duo's business partner sauntered right on in, took a seat, kicked up his feet and gave a wink before the first 'How d'ya do?' left his mouth. "Howard, is there something wrong?"

The older man risked a peek into the room, and Hilde could see a change of mind slip across his face as he scratched at his temple. "Uh, I see, no Duo. Well, it's probably best this way. I'm no good at passing on bad news."

Hilde's heart plummeted to her empty stomach as the past night's events reacquainted themselves with her refreshed mind. It was good that Duo was away. There was a promise she had to keep, and Howard had somehow managed to get the news about Quatre before Trowa could tell Duo. She smiled softly at the uncomfortable man, who obviously was very worried about Duo and the damage his news might bring. However good his intentions, the task was not his to undertake; and she felt she needed to reassure him and release him from the burden before Duo returned. "I know, Howard. It's okay. You don't have to tell him."

Howard relaxed into a semblance of his former ways. "Ah, well, it's horrible, but I was hoping he'd already know. I'm not the best at things like this. I gotta admit, it's takin' me like a bad trip, so I can only imagine what the kid's gonna do; so I'm thinkin' we should postpone that Monday run. Give Duo a break and all, you know? I'm thinkin' I need one myself. Wouldn't be a bad idea."

"It's a perfect idea." Hilde felt a slight bond with the older man in his dismay, and was very glad Duo had a good friend in Howard. A pang of guilt brought out her next words: "Howard, Duo doesn't know yet. I haven't told him and I don't want you to, either, because Trowa really had wanted to break the news to Duo himself. I'll pass on your message about the run, but I'm going to wait for Trowa...."

"What?"

Hilde was a little taken aback by the confused and pained sound of that simple question. She suddenly became very still inside and fearfully repeated her previous comment; "Trowa wants to tell Duo...."

"Hun." Howard looked extremely uncomfortable again. "It's Trowa I've come to tell Duo about."

Something flashed through Hilde like white, cold lightning and all she could do was stand still until it finished its debilitating course. Howard didn't look any better as he watched the way his comment caused the girl to turn deathly pale. "I said I wasn't good at stuff like this. Look, I think I could be wrong, but I heard it over the broad-band com we set up to follow the local legal activity, so I took a little trip to the camp and saw for myself. Well, actually, I just saw proof that the cops were all over the place, and Trowa's pad seemed to be the main focus. You know, they don't give details over the broad-band, but...." Howard paused, afraid that he had caused the girl to collapse, but she had only dropped to one knee to hastily put on a boot.

"Take me there." That was no request, but Howard wouldn't have objected anyway. The girl was a pal of Duo's and a cop. If she could help him clear up the uncertainty about the harried events around the clown-kid's hang-out, then he was all for it.

In a single-minded rush, Hilde left the apartment without her jacket, without her badge and without her gun. She even forgot to collect the lumpy manila envelope she had noticed sitting against the outer wall by the door. Those forgotten items all tripped back into her whirlwind thoughts as she shivered like a frozen popsicle on the back of Howard's roaring Harley. The chill wind whipped at her face, driving the smell of Howard's leather jacket sharply into her sensitive sinuses, so she buried her face against his back, trusting entirely in his driving abilities. The cold, the wind and the smell were all assaulting her beyond normal acceptance, and it wasn't much of a relief when it was traded for the animal smells of the circus once they arrived. She swung a leg back and got off the cycle but was a bit confused when Howard remained seated, one foot propped as leverage on the ground.

Knowing she'd ask, he ventured an explanation. "I been thinking that someone should work on diverting Duo from this mess till we find out exactly what's what. If you can do your cop thing here by yourself, I'm gonna see if I can't find the kid and drag him to the Market for inventory or somethin'. Keep him busy. You go on and get the details and call me. You got that number?"

Hilde nodded. The Market was just a tradesman's term for the docking bay where couriers and truckers housed and loaded their transports. The number would be available through a simple information call if she couldn't get her frozen mind to recall the numbers when needed.

Howard took a moment to frown at the grouping of tents and trailers and seemed to want to say something else, but only shook it out of his head with a follow-up scratch to the thinning hairs at his temple.

"Go on, Howard. I'll get back to you soon." She turned her back on him and started to walk toward the circus area. She was at the first mobile home before she heard the Harley kick in and thunder away.

It was only yesterday that she had last stepped foot on these grounds, but so much had happened since then that it felt more like a week, or longer. It was still too soon for her. She was amazingly calm as she moved through the gathering crowd toward Trowa and Catherine's mobile home. As Hilde passed the carnies, she caught bits of their worried babble and heightened gossip. A few of them were none too pleased to see yet another cop enter their twice-defiled home.

A man whose face rippled with swirls of exotic tattoos spat into the dirt as she passed, daring her to respond to his obvious distaste. She ignored it, but the man's tiny buddy caught her attention sharply as his gravely voice raked out a comment that directly referred to Trowa. She paused, her mind scrolling over the "unwanted trash" commentary to the more important "nothing but a cold-blooded killer" part. Seeing that Tiny's mouth had affected the little lady cop, Mr. Tattoo snorted in derisive agreement. He was disappointed if he expected a rise out of her for she only squared her tight shoulders and finished the trek toward the hub of activity.

At the radius of spectators and actors, Hilde found she could go no further; not because she was refused entrance--her uniform provided her with the perfect backstage pass--but because her legs refused to respond. She didn't push them, and let her mind take in the mystery event as its clues unfolded before her. A few EMTs stood to the side, their gear waiting at their feet as they conversed with one of her fellow men in blue. Their medical assistance obviously wasn't needed, but they were waiting for something.

The number of policemen was a bit more than expected for a minor occurrence; but the sudden interruption of a high-heeled woman and her equipped cameraman explained why the extra officers were there. It was a little bit of crowd control to waylay the press, as well as the carnies and curious others who would be attracted by the activity. An official state cameraman backed out of the trailer with his gear and was followed by a couple of somber men whose rubber gloves snapped loudly as they were plucked off sweaty hands. The EMTs seemed to take this as a cue to enter, carrying a stretcher with them. A vein throbbed painfully in Hilde's temple as she searched the crowd for Trowa and Catherine, but the only person she recognized was a long-haired man speaking softly to a CSS agent just left of the camper's entrance. The process of trying to figure out where she had seen him before took second to her now-functioning feet, which propelled her toward the open door.

A new obstacle, in the form of a tall, inquiring officer, made her halt just outside her goal. Annoyed, she looked up into the blinking eyes of Hicks's friend, Coleman. His dark brow furrowed above chocolate eyes as he sought to put a name to the young policewoman he recognized. "Schbeiker, isn't it? You're Hicks's new partner, aren't you?"

"Temporary partner," she brusquely answered. She didn't mean to be rude, but she was in a hurry to find out what was behind door number three.

"I didn't expect he'd come out on this one. He seemed anxious to get rid of the circus case. Where's that temp partner of yours hiding? I've got a few questions about this." The man didn't figure that Hilde had come sans-Hicks until he finally took stock of her wrinkled uniform and rumpled hair. His curly hair ate one of his eyebrows briefly as he reassessed her purpose for being there. Hilde wasn't paying attention, her gaze riveted on the trailer behind him, until she felt a strong, but gentle hand on her arm. She glanced up quickly as he pulled her aside. "I'm taking a leap and guessing this is another surprise visit like the one at the Meadow View residence last night. Am I right?"

Hilde tensed, feeling the walls move in around her once-promising career. The look in Coleman's eyes promised an unexpected kindness, so she risked the last shreds of her self-control to take the precious time to explain herself. She paused, trying to pick a comprehensible phrase out of the mess in her head, then gave up and just spilled it out. "Technically, I'm off duty--so, no, Hicks isn't here and no, he doesn't know I'm here and yes, it's related to last night. But I swear," Her eyes pleaded with him not to stop her. "I'm not here to get in the way. I'm connected to this--not directly, but I need to know what's going on for the sake of a good friend. A couple of good friends. And, if it matters, my sanity--which is about to go the way of my little patience no matter what training I've had in the past."

She took a breath to continue, but Coleman put up a palm to stop her. "Hicks mentioned that you were like a racehorse before the starting gun, but I never understood that till now. Just step back and listen: you're going to be a good cop--I can tell, so can Hicks--so you need to take a good look at your next steps here. I'm not going to help you knock down your hard work by letting you on that crime scene if you don't think you can control yourself. Seeing that you say you are somewhat connected... Well, I have my gnawing doubts, but my help is better than none. If you want details, I'll give them to you off-book, but that's the only access I'll grant till I get confirmation you won't put your job on the line."

Hilde had to slow down and force herself to consider Coleman's words. These people weren't gathered here to follow up on an animal abuse call; and the need to find out the real reason was becoming more urgent and insistent, propelling her to act recklessly. Her job could go to hell--it wouldn't have been the first time she had second thoughts about her choice in careers and turned against her previous convictions. Her self-doubt was most likely the reason why she could never stick with any particular group or career. She never could trust the people she worked for, nor the purpose behind the job. However, here was a person who looked at her as earnestly and honestly as Duo had way back on that shuttle outside the moon base. Perhaps what Coleman suggested would be the better course to take. Hilde had just about convinced herself of that when the EMTs appeared at the trailer door with their burden.

A murmur went up from the gathered bystanders and a bulb flashed a few times before a police officer stopped future media shots. Hilde's frantic heart-beat paused as the shroud-covered stretcher made its way toward the waiting ambulance. A human body was outlined beneath the stained sheet, and the lack of hurry from the men on either end said more than any words that the load they bore no longer needed their services. The covered head should've been Clue #1, but Hilde never relied on first appearances.

The man leading the stretcher missed the last step from the trailer, and his jerky movement tipped the stretcher slightly to the left. He was swift, though, and settled the burden without fuss, so that the only thing to show was a slender arm, which had escaped the covering sheet. Magenta-painted nails dangled toward the ground as if languidly waving at the onlookers.

Catherine. It was Catherine beneath that sheet. The realization jump-started Hilde's slack heart, and her eyes jolted up to scan previously ignored crowd. A wave of platinum hair flowed in line with a gray overcoat as the man she had tried to recall slipped behind the moving EMTs to enter the trailer. His presence unnerved her more than the recognition of those brightly-painted fingernails; and in a sudden rush, Hilde took the trailer steps in two bounds, leaving Coleman and his wisdom behind.

She ended up getting what she came for: to be inside the trailer and to know what terrible secrets it held. The presence of the man from the Preventers--she had finally remembered that much about him--and two other policemen made the small trailer seem even smaller, but the way to the back room was temporarily clear. Trying to smooth her strained appearance, hoping Coleman wouldn't come bounding into the trailer to stop her, Hilde turned straight for the bedroom. The police glanced once at her but didn't think twice about her presence there. After all, she was a fellow officer. The Preventer, however, kept a steel-blue gaze locked on her back as she peered into the room.

What she saw was death in its cruelest form: a hand; a gun; and a hole in a forehead kept pale by the bang that had once sheltered it. The auburn locks had been moved aside, probably by someone inspecting the point of entry, and remained out of the way, glued in place by blood and other unpleasant fluids.

She got what she came for, and she didn't like it one bit.