4-1-2002

Title: The Killing Tide 9/?
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.
Special thanks to Nicole and Lilias for picking the bugs out! If any bugs remain, it's all my fault. (4/1/2)
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Heero didn't hang around to see the effect of his last comment, his feet immediately beating a retreat on the lot's cracked pavement. If it had been a living thing, the gray surface might have opted to shrink away from the human locomotive charging along on a wild rail.

Heero's first intention had been to circumvent Duo's escape, but his emotionally-stunned friend had unwisely taken the car. Duo and the VW were nowhere in sight, providing Heero's anger with a new outlet. Duo was in no mental shape to be zipping around as if he were piloting Deathscythe and not a run-down automobile with bald tires and a crack in the gasket.

With no easy way to track down the unstable Maxwell, Heero turned his solid step toward the outskirts of the town where the circus had raised its tents. Heero needed to confirm the truth behind Hilde's startling revelation, and he hoped Duo would have considered the same route and would meet him there. Heero could have returned to the apartment for his laptop and "acquired" the information more quickly and with less physical exertion, but he felt there had been enough destruction in the apartment. He knew if he returned now, before he could successfully squelch his anger, he would finish the pounding job Duo had begun on that cringing redhead who cared more for his photos than for their unfortunate subject.

Clenching his hands into fists, Heero became impatient and broke into something between a jog and a run. He dodged annoyingly slow pedestrians and their leashed pets, dashed across intersections with their crossing lights still blinking red, and trampled grass and flowers alike with no concern for their owners' time and care. Finally feeling an uneven play of ground beneath his feet, Heero raced down a rural route toward the fields that housed his goal.

A jogger came towards him on the pebbled road, her attention diverted from the blaring headphones over her ears to the wild-haired, handsome young man whose open uniform jacket slapped painfully against his heaving chest. Her aroused hopes of gaining a dashing new jogging partner were quickly doused as her dream partner passed her, gracing her flirting smile with a look that could wither the most stubborn weed.

The Preventers' stock footwear was not made for long distance running, but it kept up with Heero as he picked up speed, leaving the jilted woman far behind. Her cheesy smile had annoyed him, the ever-winding road annoyed him, his shortness of breath annoyed him, and that feeling grew as he continued. Finally, almost stumbling to a stop, Heero found the circus grounds. The tents popped up garishly from the flat field like misplaced sunflowers. A plethora of automobiles crowded the sides of the dirt road that lead toward the tents. Heero bent over, his palms flat against the top of his knees as he tried to regain his breath. His training chided him, telling him he'd get more oxygen if he put his arms above his head to open the lungs instead of hunching in such an ineffectual position. Heero ignored it, panting heavily as sweat dropped from his long bangs to the dirt below. He took a deep breath and stood up, assessing the scene before him.

The cars weren't parked in the usual orderly rows of typical circus-goers; they were left in haphazard positions along the dusty road, like cars gathered around a neighborhood garage sale. Further up, closer to the central area, Heero could make out the bars of red and blue atop county patrol cars. He started slowly up the side road, his eyes roaming the gathered autos for Duo's black Beetle, very aware of the lack of medical vehicles.

Youthful laughter and the babble of young boys' voices traveled through the space between a sedan and a Dodge Ram, making Heero pause. The innocent sounds jarred against the dome of bleakness that surrounded the area.

"I ain't kidding, I got all the way to the markers an' the cops never even seen me."

"N'ya didn't. Prove it."

"Liar."

"Naw, see I got this. It was on the front steps. I bet it's, like, evidence or somethin'."

"Aww, man, that's cow shit!"

"Stupid. It's too small for cow shit."

"Well it looks and smells like crap. That's no evidence. How stupid. Like, 'Duh, the robber killed 'em with crap, Mr. Cop.'"

"Shut up, Kevin. It is too evidence. I heard one of the cops say it was all over the dead guy, like he was sittin' in it or somethin'."

"Yeah, he was sittin' in his own poop!"

The laughter of the juvenile jokers rang out rather harshly to their eavesdropper.

"Yuk it up, dildo face. But I betcha I'm right."

"Well, I guess we ain't gonna be seein' that cool knife thing Dustin told us about."

"You mean that cool knife-throwing thing with the hot babe and the gloomy clown guy?"

"'Hot babe'--crap almighty, Donnie, you like girls or somethin'?"

"Bet he's got cooties."

"Shut up, I was just repeatin' what Dustin said."

"You think he did it with the knives?"

"Huh?"

"That clown dude. Think he got pissed and tossed those knives back at her? Crap, I'd get pissed if it was me."

"Bwahaha! Aw, dude--he's, like…a killer clown!"

"OOooOOoo! Killer clown's gonna getcha! OOooOOoo!"

"Killer Clowns from Outer Space!"

"Man, that's, like, an old movie. Older than my grandpa."

"So lame."

"Shh."

"You sshh."

"Shut up! Did you hear that?"

"What?"

The three boys scrambled out from between the two cars with youthful curiosity, dirt-smudged faces peering eager-eyed down the lane.

"Did that guy break his window?"

"No way. He's stealing a car!"

"Holy crap, that is too cool!"

Heero steered the shiny Buick swiftly out of its resting place, the wheels kicking up little angry clouds of dirt as they fought for purchase on the unpaved road. He sped away from the circus and the astonished little boys, no longer feeling the need to investigate that avenue. His knuckles turned white on the steering wheel, the blood-robbing grip only receiving a reprieve when another physical discomfort came to the fore. Feeling the bite of a piece of glass in his thigh, Heero reached across to the empty passenger seat to get something to put between him and the few shards he missed during his first sweep. Heero's questing fingers met the slick surface of a business folder and shook it free of stray fragments. As he shifted to slide it underneath him, he caught a brief glimpse of the item and pulled the folder back up for a better view. The familiar silver crest of the Preventers' logo adorned the top of the black folder.

Heero should have known the Preventers would have sent someone to the circus to investigate. Trowa wasn't officially listed as an employee, not like Heero and Wufei were, but he held a special position which very few knew about, and those who knew only employed him in extreme cases. An "on-call" post, some might have called it. Duo and Quatre held the same loose employment, choosing the freedom of a life beyond the wars of '95 and '96.

Heero tossed the folder to the floorboards with a jerk. He no longer needed the temporary protection; he had finally arrived at the Preventers' silver tower of reflective glass. Screeching into an executive parking space, because he currently didn't give a damn who would balk at the trespass, Heero discarded the stolen car and marched up the broad steps to the main lobby. As he made a bee-line to the lift, people got out of the way and chose another elevator, not wanting to spend the long ride up with someone who looked like a controlled hurricane.

The bottle-dyed blond at the receptionist desk on Level 12 didn't catch what more alert people had. She only spied a dark blur on the other side of her vid-com as she brought up a freshly painted nail to carefully disconnect her caller. "Hey...uh, wait!" She shuffled out from behind her desk as fast as it took her to slip on her pumps, but she didn't catch the human tsunami before he slammed Une's office door in her stuttering face.

Une glanced up sharply at the sudden interruption. She stood behind her desk, the rolling chair pushed off to the side, her palms flat on the teak surface as she leaned toward a black phone. Her eyes glimmered with momentary shock before they conveyed a weary acceptance.

"Hold on one second, Takaima." She managed to put the speaker phone on hold before her unexpected guest could disconnect the caller.

Heero's descending hand changed tactics, shoving the black box to the side so that only the desk remained between them. "I want answers."

Une had expected this visit, but not so soon. "Sit down, Heero, and we'll--"

"ONE:" Heero wasn't waiting for useless civilities. "I want to know why I wasn't notified immediately regarding the deaths of Trowa Barton and Quatre Raberba Winner."

Une wisely chose to give him answers before working on redirecting his anger. "The facts needed to be confirmed beforehand, Heero. You know that's department policy and practice. Calling you prematurely might have caused unnecessary stress…."

"And when would you have considered it necessary?" He didn't even blink at her subtle hint towards his current behavior, coldly pushing it back in her face. "I know you've sent someone to Barton's residence, and he has had more than enough time to confirm that he was looking at a dead body and not one of your catatonic employees."

Une nodded sharply toward the tilted phone. "Takaima's on the line now, and if you don't mind, since you already feel time has been wasted, I am going to finish with him. THEN I will attend to your list of complaints."

Heero glared once into the eyes of the former OZ colonel, making sure she understood his extreme displeasure, before he backed away far enough to let her reach the phone.

Une wanted to answer Heero's questions as much as he wanted to ask them, but she didn't need any interruptions and Takaima would definitely call back if she didn't take care of him now. "Takaima, take a cab at Preventer expense and file a report on the stolen car when you...."

"It's in Merquise's space outside."

Une lifted a perfectly-shaped brow at her glowering visitor before she spoke again. It was not surprising, and was rather fitting, that the ex-terrorist had stolen a car, and a company one at that. "Forget the report, Takaima. Just get to the Kaffis Lab as soon as possible and we'll discuss it later."

The call was hardly disconnected before Heero started in on her again. "I know what the police are reporting and they are wrong. I want to know what you plan to put on record."

Une's exhalation was audible as she related what she had heard too many times that morning. "That Trowa Barton died of a self-inflicted head...."

"No!" Heero's fist slammed on the varnished desktop, spilling paper clips from their tray. He blinked, clearly as surprised by his outburst as Une. He continued with less force but with as much conviction, angry that he had lost control so easily. "I want a thorough investigation before you put on record that Trowa Barton committed a murder/suicide, or that Quatre died from…." Heero had to stop himself as the open statement affected the steadiness of his voice. "Quatre died from a massive coronary brought on, not by food poisoning as originally filed, but by drug and alcohol abuse. Drug and alcohol abuse?" The last phrase rose in disbelief as if begging for a more plausible excuse.

Une opened her mouth to speak, but Heero wasn't finished. "I want to be assigned the head of any further investigation. That's not a request. I want reports, pictures and lab data to be reviewed and re-reviewed till I am satisfied. Takaima's efforts are barely acceptable. He's an inadequate agent whose Preventer history has never gone beyond the confines of his desk and...."

"You are as stubborn as a damn mule, Yuy!" Une yanked her chair out of the way as she moved out from behind her desk. She was beginning to feel penned in. "Two of our people--our friends--are dead, and another's in an unresponsive state, and you want to quibble over Takaima's faults as a Preventer?"

As Une leaned back against her desk, rubbing the bridge of her nose, Heero finally realized she might be feeling the loss as deeply as he was. He took a step back from the desk, physically easing the tension between them. His voice took on a less accusatory tone, though it was no less to the point. "Po is my next concern. She's no longer in the state hospital under police custody. Where is she?"

Grateful for this more civil, though still insistent tone, Une flipped a page up from her desk. "I had her removed to a safer institution, free from press and police proddings. We can't help her under those conditions. She's at Quinton."

Heero nodded, recognizing the name of the Preventers' own medical facility. Satisfied with her answer, he brought up his last complaint. "Someone has deleted my pass codes...."

"I will take full credit, or blame, for that."

Heero turned at the new voice. Zechs Merquise stood just inside the office, a puff of air from the shutting door disturbing his long platinum hair. Heero felt a rush of adrenalin. Shields instantly came up as offensive and defensive plans raced through his mind. It was automatic. There had always been an immediate distrust of the man who had been one of his major opponents many years ago. The aid Zechs had lent them during the second war did little to change that old feeling.

Heero turned his steely gaze back to Une. "I want my access reestablished and unhindered while I am directing this investigation."

"I'm afraid that isn't possible." Zechs took three steps further into the room, fully aware of the dark-haired man's tense shift at the interruption. Heero stared straight ahead, to the left of Une's pensive visage, as the former count continued, "Neither of those demands can be met."

Heero rounded on the calmly polished Merquise. "You have no authority here, Zechs."

"On the contrary." Zechs met Heero's glare evenly, carrying no overtly malicious intent behind the wash of cool blue. "I have more than you know."

Une chose to take things back under her control as she straightened from the desk, sternly catching the attention of the two instinctively combative men. "There is a place and time for cockfights, and, let me stress, my office is not that place and this is not the time." She leveled her gaze on Zechs, and he could almost see a ghostly pair of glasses resting there. "I will take one visitor at a time, and although I know you would not have come in here unannounced unless you had something extremely important to relate, I'll have to ask you to with-hold it for the moment. If you please...." She gestured toward the door with a look of entreaty rather than command.

"I would like to know what he meant by that comment." Heero's set profile stated clearly that he wasn't going to let anyone leave the room until he got an answer.

Une shot a glance at Zechs, warning him to remain silent, before she answered. "I've placed Preventer Wind in charge of everything involving Trowa Barton and Quatre Winner." She held up a hand at Heero's expected protest. "He is more than capable of doing a thorough and professional job without the hindrance of personal feelings, and with the background to fully appreciate how much this means to all of us. If he wishes to include you on his team, that is his decision. I will not alter the arrangement. Though you should know that I strongly feel neither you, Wufei nor Duo should get involved. If I have to, I'll post you all to distant assignments: the Machavian project on L3, for instance. Anything to keep you from interfering. Is that clear, Yuy?"

At the beginning of her explanation, Heero understood he was not going to get what he needed from this department, so he schooled his features into a believable facade of dutiful acceptance. He briefly considered her suggestion to work with Zechs, but that was instantly tossed out. Heero would work under no one else's direction with this. As he had in the past--before the Preventers, before the war ended, before he allowed himself the luxury of friendships--Heero would work alone.

Une was still waiting for a reply, which Heero provided by turning for the door, dismissing the whole affair. Hand on the doorknob, Heero paused and his eyes shifted to the side where Zechs stood reservedly attentive. "I want those pass codes."

Zechs's sigh was barely audible. "I will look into it, but I cannot promise they will be available today. Noventa uncovered a breach in security and is working on restoring all data. A censor was needed to prevent further trespass and to allow freedom for repairs. I apologize for the misunderstanding. This has all happened at the same time, and miscommunication was inevitable. Nothing was purposefully being kept from you or the other gundam pilots. Believe me, Heero, I don't relish this task I've been given, but if you are not averse, I would appreciate whatever you could contribute."

The grainy surface of the door held more interest to Heero than Zechs's polished generosity. "I'll let Maxwell know you need help. I'm not interested."

The door Heero was opening suddenly closed as Zechs pressed a strong palm against it, barring the shorter man's exit. "You know where Maxwell is?"

The suddenly insistent and animated attitude from the formerly calm Preventer caused Heero's mood to shift to a klaxon call of curiosity. He let go of the door handle. "Why do you want to know?"

Une also picked up on the blond's change. "Wind?"

"I just came from the computer lab where Noventa was helping research something I sent him from this morning." Zechs looked from Une back to Heero, his weight shifting to release its pressure against the door although his hand remained there. "Did you or any of the other gundam pilots use each other's weapons? Borrow or loan for whatever reason?"

Heero's frown deepened. "The media incorrectly exhibits us as an interdependent group. We are individuals. We follow our own missions and we use our own means to accomplish them. I'd expect you to know that."

Zechs let this affirmation settle, then he moved away from the door, sliding a slip of paper from his coat pocket on to the desk next to Une. As she quizzically fingered the slip toward her, he explained, "This is the number I took off the gun found near Trowa Barton's body. The weapon is a Preventer-issued Browning HP, and it belongs to Duo Maxwell."

Heero brought his bent head up sharply as Une froze mid-perusal to give Zechs a surprised look. She waved the paper at him. "Are you sure of this?"

Heero's defense overlapped her question. "That's impossible."

Zechs took the paper from Une and read the neat script: " 'Register #P65349 : A black Browning HP issued to Preventer employee #22, 5-8-203, 2:53 pm, Location 6.' Noventa is already downloading the registration signature from New York. I'm not making any judgments until I speak to Maxwell...."

"The hell you are." Heero stepped forward, his hands clenched so tightly at his sides that he could feel the nails break skin. "Duo has nothing to do with this and you are ~not~ getting him involved."

Zechs slipped the information back into the recesses of his overcoat. "Neither you nor I have that choice. The detectives for the state have jurisdiction in this affair and access to everything the police uncover. It will only be a matter of time before they find out the same information. And I'm sure, when they do, they will look for Maxwell."

Une was already pulling the phone across the desk, her fingers punching numbers. "Then we take advantage of this early discovery and talk to him first." She spoke into the phone. "Diez, I need you to find all the phone numbers we have on file for Duo Maxwell....Yes, I know the system is down. Do it manually. We do have a file room with actual paper files....Good. And Diez, switch him to my line when you reach him."

"You won't get him that way." Heero's voice trailed after him to the two remaining Preventers. "I'll find him."

Zechs waited to speak until the befuddled secretary closed the door after Heero's hasty exit. "Do you think that was wise?"

Une rubbed a hand over her forehead, closing her eyes briefly to the rising headache. "He needed something to do. Let him alone, Wind. He doesn't know how to grieve, only how to act."

"You never regret your decisions, do you?"

Une pulled her hand from her face, her expression firm. "Never."