3-30-2002

Title: The Killing Tide 8/?
Archive: Kikotei's archive at http://kikotei_fic2.tripod.com
& Ais's Archive at http://www.dreamwater.net/mikaaislin/dalton/index.html
Author: Dalton (AngelDalton6@aol.com)
Rating: R
Category: AU only because 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.
*Note: I forgot to mention that Howard's presence in Chp.7 was inspired by Mobiusklein's Howie. I love her Howard fics!
Special thanks to Nicole and Lilias for picking the bugs out! If any bugs
remain, it's all my fault. (3/30/2)
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"Hilde, we're here."

Hilde made no move or response to show that she had heard or understood the comment. Her gaze remained fixed on the cracked maroon dashboard in front of her, her hands clasped tightly in her lap. She hadn't changed that position since she had accepted the charitable lift home from the circus grounds.

"Hilde?"

She blinked and looked out the front window to see her familiar gray apartment with its familiar white door and black numbers. Just to the left, in its allotted parking slot, was a familiar black car that faced a wall with a window that sported familiar red curtains. Everything Hilde saw told her she was home, but she could only stare as if it were a picture outside of herself; a moment of time that would instantly change the second she entered it.

A warm hand landed lightly, hesitantly, on her thigh, coaxing her out of her displacement. She glanced over at Joey, who looked uneasy, something out of place in his normally flippant facade. Joey. The old classmate was something to focus on, to take her mind off other things. "Yeah, I know, thanks for the ride."

She managed a simple smile, which he took with a grin. "Ya know, we gotta pick better places to meet. I can think of a great Mexican restaurant that has this happenin' mariachi band. 'K, so I don't know what the hell they're singing, but it's, whatever they call it, festive and stuff. What do you say?"

Hilde's brow creased; not quite sure she was really hearing what he seemed to be implying. "Joe, if you are asking me out, you have the worst timing of any unfortunate sap who's tried before." She lifted his hand from her leg and set it back on his own. "You haven't changed a bit."

His scorned hand made a self-conscious run through his red hair. "'N you're still the same Studebaker Schbeiker--the collector's item no guy's ever gonna nab."

Hilde winced at the old reference. "I always hated that nickname. That's two strikes in less than so many minutes. You should quit while you're ahead, Joe." She opened her door, not actually upset with her old friend, but deciding it was time to face the duty she had been dreading since they left the circus.

His hand found its way to her once again, this time gently attaching itself to her shoulder. "So I'm a poor hitter, but the game's not over till I strike out." His cheeky grin faded a bit as he looked out at her apartment, then back to her. "Hey, you want me to go in with you? No playin' around here--just friend to friend, like. I mean, that was a bad scene back there, and I don't wantcha to be alone. That's all."

Hilde slipped away from his hand and out of the passenger door. Bending back in, she gave him a brief smile. "Book a reservation with that mariachi band later this week. I'll talk to you then, but right now I've.... I've got to take care of some things. Thank you for the ride and everything, Joey."

"Hey, no problem! Anytime!"

His voice faded after she shut the door and turned toward her home. The Volkswagen was sitting in the lot, which meant Duo was home, and she'd have no grace period before confronting him. Considering Duo was good at running and hiding, Hilde figured she'd better set up a body blockade before the door while she tried to explain things to him. There was still something that nagged at the back of her mind, making her feel she had forgotten something, or had overlooked something that she should have paid more attention to. There was something she should have been able to see, to do, but she couldn't think. A light ache pulsed behind her right eye, and she pressed a finger to the inner corner as she let herself into the apartment. Most likely her brain was making up imaginary worries to distract her from the one that was most immediate and debilitating. She was willing to let her head do whatever it wanted, but once she stepped through the door, all coherent thought left her.

To say that the interior had been hit by a tornado would not have been quite right, though it would have created a similar result. Various books and magazines from her semi-organized bookcase were strewn haphazardly about the living room: spines dented, corners creased and pages bent. 8 1/2"x11 glossy photographs littered the top of the bar that separated the kitchen from the living room, one colored sheet dangling carelessly over one edge. Paper from the folders once housed in the drawers of her desk had been tossed about the room, mostly on the folded futon that had been pushed against the TV stand. Her desk had also been moved, just a foot away from the wall it normally was parked against, and bent over her active computer was Tornado Suspect #1. The intruder turned partially away from his work to acknowledge her presence with a cold ocular dart before he leaned back over the laptop connected to the bulkier PC.

"What are you doing?" Hilde felt overwhelmed by the disaster that demanded an explanation. Unfortunately, the only one who seemed to be around to answer any questions was the one man who won the crown for evasiveness. True to form, Heero Yuy remained silent--hunched over the two computers, furiously typing--as if her presence were the intrusive one.

A discarded piece of paper crunched behind Hilde, heralding a new arrival. She didn't know if she was pleased or not to see that Joey had followed her despite her wishes. "Woooah." Sounding like the surfer he was not, Joey surveyed the mess and whistled. "What's up with this?"

Before she could respond to the second uninvited guest, a sharp bang sounded from her bedroom. The violent sound of a dresser drawer being slammed shut made no apparent dent in the dark-haired hacker's concentration; neither did the sound of Shinigami returning to the room.

Duo stopped short in the bedroom doorway, his chaotic movements briefly freezing as he noticed Hilde standing at the edge of the crooked futon. The stunned expression on her face didn't change, but his did a complete shift from a destructive fit of rage to a dangerously misleading sense of aloofness. His cocked arm leaned against the doorframe casually, a folder swinging between two hanging fingers, and a grin that Hilde had never seen before curved ferally over his white teeth.

Hilde didn't like that smile. She carefully repeated her question: "What is going on here?"

"Hilde." The suave sound of her name clashed with his eerie grin. "I was wondering when you'd get home. Was looking forward to it...."

The monotonous clicking of keys at the desk paused. As Duo dropped the folder from his fingers and took a step into the room, Heero acted fast, moving between the two friends.

Recognizing a gun in the dark blur of movement, Joey grabbed Hilde's arm and was ready to bolt; but Hilde shook out of his grip and took a step forward. "Duo...."

Duo paused, glaring past the barrel of Heero's drawn weapon to the steady blue eyes behind it. "Get out of my way."

"Back down." Heero seemed unaffected by the threat of Shinigami's rage, now turned upon him. "I won't tell you a second time."

There was a moment of tense silence while Heero waited for the acknowledgement Duo refused to give. Duo seemed to sag slightly, the fight of reason over rage wanting to dissolve into exhaustion, but he wasn't ready to back down. The reckless grin returned as he put a hand over the gun's pointed muzzle. "Wanna bet?"

Joey didn't want to find out who won that bet. "I'm calling the cops."

"I ~am~ a cop."

The nervous man resisted the urge to wave his arms in the air to urge her on. "Well, do a cop thing--pull your gun or something--christ, Hilde."

"I can't, " Hilde closed her eyes briefly, wanting more than anything not to be the one always explaining things. That didn't help the fact that she had to admit to a fault. "He has my gun." She cringed inside as she berated herself for carelessly leaving her weapon on the counter like a first year cadet.

Heero seemed satisfied with the altered gleam in Duo's eyes and shifted the gun away from Duo's daring palm. He fingered the safety on before discarding it like a toy on the futon. "You carelessly leave important things where others can find them." As he spoke to Hilde, he sent Duo a glared warning before returning to work at the desk. He felt those two could quibble the details of the situation without his input. He had his own little problem: trying to figure out why Preventer headquarters had changed his classified password and locked down on accessible data. It was vexing enough to give him a headache.

Hilde felt a headache gathering behind the throbbing pressure beneath her eye. "Duo, I would really like to know what is going on."

"You and me both, babe." A bit of the old, comfortable Duo was coming back, but it was strained. He remained stiffly immobile on the opposite side of the room from Hilde, his hands clenched into tight fists at his sides. "Do me a small favor and think..." He held his breath, pushing his fists against his thighs. "think, Hilde. Was there something you forgot to do yesterday? Something you forgot to say? To me?"

Hilde's eyes widened as she remembered. She blinked dumbly in the space that collected between them, the understanding striking her momentarily mute.

Duo could tell that she remembered, but he wasn't expecting her continued silence. With all his soul he wanted Hilde to say something to take away the horrible doubts that had built against their friendship since he found out about Quatre; doubts that had ransacked his mind as he had ransacked her property. Her silence was killing him. "Maybe it wasn't that important... At least...not to you."

She could see it now, the pain wanting to cry out behind the blind fire in his eyes, but it was suddenly gone, and she realized she had made another mistake by hesitating. Before she could act or speak, he was moving toward her, his arm rising in unison with a growl that thundered deep in his throat.

Joey hastily backed away as Duo snatched something up from the bar counter behind him. He tossed a photograph at Hilde, who barely caught it in her shaking hands. Her eyes settled on a colorful picture of blonde hair, blue lips and dead eyes....

Duo began to sift through the collection, wincing when his fingers encountered a particularly painful image. His mouth formed the beginnings of several words, until his mind fell on a sarcastic mode of speech: "It really was a shock finding these on the doorstep. I didn't figure you for the kinky type, collecting autopsy pictures…" his voice began to shake, losing its mocking tone. "What else is there that I don't know about?"

Too late she found her voice. "Duo, I…."

"Goddammit, Hilde!" The grin and attitude were swept aside with the rest of the photos. Duo's hand struck the wall at the end of the violent sweep, but he didn't seem to notice; his hard eyes never left her face. "That was Quatre. That WAS Quatre. Quatre…shit. Why the hell didn't you tell me? You had a chance to tell me last night and… why the…? God help me, Hilde, I am so close to losin' it. I just don't… How can I trust you if you can't even tell me my best friend died? I had to find out from a little surprise package that was left on our doorstep!" He thrust a torn manila envelope and a few pictures into the air and hurled them into the kitchen.

Joey didn't understand what was going on, but he recognized the photos as they fluttered into the sink. "Hey, Jack, that's my work you're tossing around." He was about to gather the remaining pictures on the bar when a strong hand yanked him around and slammed him against the wall. A small picture frame clattered on its nail beside his surprised face.

Duo bent menacingly in toward the pinned boy, his shackled rage eager to be unleashed onto a stranger rather than a friend. "What did you say?"

The sharp words seemed to strike Joey like barbed darts, and he winced childishly.

Duo pulled the boy away from the wall only to pound him back up against it; both his hands gripped like talons into Joey's T-shirt. "Are these your pictures?! You little piece of--"

"Shit, man. It's my job!" Joey whined, in a desperate plea for mercy from the hands of someone who clearly belonged in a padded cell with the rest of the world's most dangerous nutcases.

Hilde's voice caught Duo's attention where Joey's did not, "He's a crime-scene photographer, Duo. He had to take those pictures. Let him go. I'm the only one you should be mad at. I asked him for the photos."

Duo slammed the guy against the wall one more time because it felt good to do it, but his anger still was not sated. He released Joey's torn T-shirt and spun on Hilde. "Dammit, Hilde! Heero had to hack into police records because you didn't…. Dammit all to motherfucking hell! Why didn't you tell me!?"

"I couldn't." Hilde's voice was so low that he almost didn't hear her. The clacking in the background stopped as if admitting curiosity.

Duo pressed his fist against his mouth, his breath coming heavily through his white knuckles. "Don't…don't give me bullshit excuses."

Hilde stared at the wounded person who had lost faith in her friendship, and she tried hard to say the name her mind stubbornly refused to release: "Tr…. Barton asked me not to."

Duo blinked. "What?"

"Barton knew about this?" Heero sent an annoyed look Duo's way as he moved between the pair to reach for the hanging phone. Neither one of them had thought to contact the others with their discovery until after they had more information, but it seemed if they had done so, they would have saved some wasted time getting the complete story. Ignoring the redhead slumped in wounded pride against the wall; Heero picked up the receiver.

"Don't do that." Half-pleading, half-demanding, Hilde watched with a hint of horror as Heero began punching in numbers.

Duo tossed his hands up in defeat and stalked across the littered room, then stopped as if unsure what to do or where to go. His eyes squinted, trying to process the new information. "Tro didn't want me to know? I don't believe that. If he said that, he's a fool, and you're one, too, for agreeing to something that stupid…. Nah, he didn't say that. Go on, Hilde, pull another `cause I'm not buying that excuse….unless…."

Heero paused mid-punch to glance at Hilde. There was something about her tense posture that made him wary. His eyes automatically reassessed the room and the situation, but his fingers completed their mission. The only thing in the room that seemed to have changed was Duo's anger.

The long-haired man was now more confused than mad; but that, too, changed as his hands paused their rubbing beneath his unruly bangs. Duo looked up at Hilde, whose eyes were riveted on Heero and the phone. "He wanted to tell me himself, didn't he?" His face was full of emotion. "Well, where the hell is he? He had no right keeping this to himself! Telling you not to tell me…. That idiot." He started moving again--kicking absently at the trash on the floor--and loosed a round object that had been trapped beneath two couch pillows. Absentmindedly, Duo picked up the mini-basketball and squeezed it between his hands.

The headache behind her eye was making her eyelid twitch now, but Hilde couldn't move from her frozen stare on Heero and the phone. She screamed silently at herself to say something before he finished the call. They had found out about Quatre on accident, and she couldn't let them learn about Trowa the same way, not when there was nothing to hold her back this time.

Heero's hand fell away from the touch pad, and Hilde heard a familiar smack on the wall behind her as Duo let the ball fly. His mouth had never stopped in its rant as he caught the rebound. "What the hell was he thinking? Heero, if you get him on the phone, don't forget to give him to me, too. I want my fair share of tearing him a new--"

"No one's answering." Heero's terse words revealed carefully-covered emotions that would have equaled Duo's if they had been allowed expression. To Hilde's relief, he moved to hang up the phone, but a noise on the other end caught his ear before he could do so. Heero's brow suddenly furrowed, and he growled into the receiver, "That's none of your business. Who are ~you~?"

Instantly, Hilde was across the short distance to Heero, slamming her fingers down on the phone and breaking the connection. Though it was too late, Heero's hand slapped over hers, accompanied by a threatening glare. Hilde met those eyes and held them, not wanting him to miss words she didn't want to repeat. "Trowa isn't home, Heero. He won't be home, he's dead."

Joey seemed to be wisely keeping his mouth shut, and Duo had stopped his ranting, but Hilde didn't have the inner strength to take in more than Heero's startled reaction. Eyes widening in shock, then slitting to disbelief, Heero fought the urge to strike a mouth that dared utter such painful words.

Hilde almost willed him to react, to lash out at her and punish her for what she thought she deserved. So much had gone wrong that she wished she could have somehow altered, but now she could only stand back and watch others suffer while she offered weak explanations: "I was with Trowa last night at Quatre's when…before he died. We weren't allowed to stay, so when we found out later that Quatre didn't make it, Trowa got upset. I would've told Duo, but Trowa wanted to be the one to tell him. He looked so upset--I was stupid, I shouldn't have agreed, but I did."

Duo's voice barely cracked out between his parched lips. "Why?"

Not sure if she understood his question, Hilde thought it best to just keep talking. "I don't know why. He was upset. He…he went off alone and--I swear, if I had any idea what he was planning, I wouldn't have let him go alone like that. I swear, Duo, but…. They're saying that Trowa…they're calling it a murder-suicide. I don't believe it; I can't believe it, because he wouldn't have hurt Catherine. But they're saying it wasn't a fully loaded chamber--as if he knew he didn't need more than one shot each…."

Hilde sucked in a bit of air as Heero jerked back, the phone's receiver striking the wall where it dropped. Hilde dared a glance at Duo who had remained quiet. He stood stock-still, his eyes large and frozen.

"You guys all knew those two?" Joey was proving to be the most unwanted guest in history. "That sucks."

Duo closed his eyes slowly. Joey's comment managed to break his fugue, but not his feelings. It was too late to save them. "Yeah, sucks to be me." There was no humor behind the soft comment.

"Duo…."

"Look, I'm gonna take a walk." He couldn't look at her, and his words seemed so hollow. "I'm just…gonna take a walk."

Hilde wanted to stop him, wrap her arms around him and do or say anything to take that look out of his eyes; but she let him go, like she had let Trowa go. She only hoped that he would talk to Heero later if he couldn't come back to her.

After the door shut, Heero spoke. "If any of this is untrue, I will kill you." Within seconds, the ex-gundam pilot was gone, the slamming front door marking his exit.

Joey eased away from his uncomfortable position against the wall, more than a little relieved the other two had left. "Why is it that all your friends make me feel they are going to blow a major gasket and take a few people out along the way?"

"Shut up, Joey."

He began to pick up the strewn photos. "I've seen some wired cops before, but these guys take the cake. Sure, death ain't pretty; I'm not applauding their loss, but talk about being the bearer of bad news. They sure didn't need to go berserker on us. This was my favorite concert tee, you know…."

"Joey."

He tapped the stack of pictures on the bar before laying them down. "Huh?"

"Get out."

He blinked in confusion, so far removed from the emotional backlash of the situation.

Hilde walked toward her messed-up bedroom, the tears already beginning to course down her cheeks. She wasn't staying to show him the door.