Title : The Killing Tide16/20
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. (4/19/2)

"He did what?"

Relena looked up from the cards in her hand. She could feel Noin's foot tap against the leg of her chair, and wondered if the phone call had brought more bad news. Lately, it seemed every bit of information that filtered into Duo's hospital room was negative. Since she had taken up partial residence at Duo's bedside, Relena had gained some equally negative roommates. Both the Preventers and the police had sent people to hover around the unconscious man, and very few of them brought her any hopeful news about the investigation.

Noin moved the phone to her other ear, ceasing the unconscious tapping. "It's not the first time Heero's done something like that. You'd think we'd be used to it by now. No, I didn't think about that..." Pushing the card deck over to Officer Brunski, Noin stood from her post at Duo's bedside and made her way toward the door. "I do, and Wufei. Une, I don't understand what this has to do with anything. Dorothy Catalonia? What...? Yes, it does clear up things for Heero, but whose handwriting...?"

Noin stopped and placed a hand on the doorframe, her brow creasing as she listened. "No. I don't want to think of Wufei like that either, but what choice...?" She glanced up to meet Relena's concerned look, and nodded in reassurance before she turned away again. "No, he hasn't woken up. I don't see much chance..." The words faded away as Noin walked into the hall.

Brunski gathered the cards together. "Since we've lost a player, I think a new game is in order. Let's see if Miss Vice Foreign Minister can learn five-card stud."

Relena smiled at the officer, trying not to dwell on the negative aspect of Noin's last comment. "Please, Officer Brunski, call me Relena--or Miss Peacecraft, if you prefer. I haven't held the title of Vice Foreign Minister since Mr. Koga took over the position four years ago."

"I figured a title stuck to a person, like a President still being called President even after his term's up." The policeman winked at her from his side of the hospital bed. "But if you're dropping formalities and all that, then it's only fair I get the same treatment. Call me Jack."

Relena laughed. "A man on duty should always be called by his title. And you aren't fooling me with your flirting; I'm not showing you my cards." The man laughed, which made Relena smile. This was the first officer who had been pleasant during his assigned post at Duo's bedside.

Relena shifted in her seat to rest her elbows on the bed next to Duo's arm. Glancing past Jack, she could see that Noin had put away her phone, but was now speaking to another Preventer in the hall. Their conversation was low and confidential, and their short, urgent gestures and occasional glances into the room conveyed the importance of their subject.

Relena watched the two outside, trying to glean the gist of the conversation from Noin's actions. The woman was as calmly put together as she had always appeared, but she seemed less energetic, as though the light within her had dimmed. Noin's complexion had always been fair, but the fluorescent lights in the hall made her appear ghostly, accentuating the dark circles beneath her eyes. Relena could understand the woman's stress. They had lost so many people who had touched their lives--who had shared and conquered the trials of war--and now other friends, with the same close bonds, were under suspicion. Relena was not allowed to speak to Heero, Noin would not speak about Zechs, and Une was questioning everyone about Wufei.

As Brunski shuffled cards and prattled about the rules of the next
game, Relena blindly took his direction as she tried to follow the conversation coming from outside. She guessed the two Preventers were speaking of the recent deaths when she heard Quatre's name.

The male Preventer's voice filtered in and out: "...a Preventer visited...ner residence a day before the...The prescription wasn'..."

"He wouldn't lie..." Noin's words, when Relena could hear them, were tense. "Where...? Zechs hasn't spok..."

"...to me either, but...kept to himself...onder if I'm covering things for him when I...What should we../?"

"...safety first...Then I'll speak t...mation on where Wu...? I have to trust..."

One of them noticed her attentiveness and flashed a handsome grin her way. Noventa, William Noventa. Relena remembered him now. He had been the one that stayed with her and explained things when she first came to the hospital. He was a very pleasant fellow, always polite and smiling--a ray of light within the chaos. She returned his smile, and as her eyes returned to the card game she blushed slightly at the patiently-waiting officer.

"Oh, I'm sorry. We're showing the cards now, right?" At his kind nod, she placed her cards face up on the table: three Queens against his straight.

The officer whistled at her winning hand. "You've got some beginner's luck there. Good thing we're not playing for money. Come on, you've got to have a trick or a system. No one wins this many times even when they're good."

Relena blushed and glanced at Duo, lying completely still by her side. She had wanted to tell someone of the things she had seen him do, but was afraid she was seeing what she wanted to see--not what was really there. She sighed. The officer would not like the truth. "You'll think I'm crazy."

Brunski shrugged. "All in the eye of the beholder, Miss Relena."

"Duo tells me what to do." She smiled gently at his wide-eyed reaction, though it made the blood rise to her cheeks. She felt foolish, but continued. "I can't explain it very well, but when I ask him about my cards, he responds. He doesn't answer with words, but he'll answer with a twitch of a finger or his eyes will move behind the lids...."

The officer sitting on the other side seemed slightly uncomfortable. "I don't mean any offense, Miss Relena, but if anyone were to walk in here and see you talking to him like that...I mean it just doesn't look very good for you. I'm not saying it's weird, but it is."

Relena's smile shrank, but did not lose its warmth. "I understand what you're trying to tell me, and I appreciate your concern, but I refuse to sit in this room and behave as if Duo weren't here." She glanced down at her cards. Every time she spoke to Duo and found a change in his condition, it made her hopes of his recovery grow. But no one else seemed to notice the little movements, or they did not try to pay attention, and she felt it cheated him somehow. "He's responding. If he's responding, he's recovering. He understands what's going on around him."

Officer Brunski looked at her, but did not speak.

"Relena..." Noin stepped into the room, breaking the uncomfortable silence. "I'm sorry, Officer, but I need to talk to her privately."

Brunski smiled, picking up the card tray and setting it on the side table. "That's perfectly all right. I was thinking about getting some coffee anyway. Would you like some?"

"No. Thank you." When the man had left the room after a polite nod to Relena, Noin continued, "Do you have all your things? Or are your bags still at the hotel?"

Relena frowned. "I think my things are still with Pargan. Why?"

Noventa stepped up behind Noin and suggested, "We could send for them later. We should go now."

Noin nodded and took Relena's coat from the closet, holding it out for her. "We'll call him on the way." When Relena didn't take her coat, Noin paused. "Relena?"

Relena's hands tightly gripped the low rails of the bed, her jaw set in determined disobedience. "Where is it that you think you're taking me?"

Noin folded Relena's jacket over her arm. She looked tired--the stress of the recent events beginning to imprint permanent lines on her brow. "Home. I have permission to use the private plane at the space port, so we can keep this as secure as possible. Relena, please...."

Noventa took the jacket from Noin's arm and walked around the bed to place it gently over Relena's shoulders. He made no move to release her defiant grip on the bed. "Miss Peacecraft, we will not force you to leave if you truly feel you shouldn't. However," William placed a gentle hand on Relena's arm. "We cannot assure your protection if you decide to stay here."

"What do you mean, `my protection'?" Relena's hands relaxed on the bed rail as she looked up at him. "Am I in danger?"

Noventa shook his head. "Not directly. We are most concerned about Mr. Maxwell. If there is someone targeting him, any person connected to him could be at risk as well. Ms. Noin, myself and the people sent here to guard him are well trained and armed to deal with that possibility, but you haven't had our training. What protection could you offer him, and what protection could you offer yourself? Your intentions may be good, but we could not risk your life by allowing you to stay here. I'm sure your friends would want you as far from danger as possible. Don't you agree?"

Relena had to acquiesce to the gentle logic Noventa presented. She would be a burden to everyone if she remained where it was not safe, but if she left she was afraid no one else would see that Duo was trying to recover. She set her hand on top of his, feeling the comforting warmth from his palm. She did not want to leave without making sure someone who cared would be around for him. "I'd like to see Heero before I go."

Noin looked at Noventa. "He's with him, isn't he?" After receiving a nod, she shook her head at Relena. "I don't think that would be best right now. I wish I could offer you an alternative, but I don't have one. I'm sorry."

"Then my brother." Relena had not seen Miliardo since she had first come to Quinton, when she had run into him almost by accident in the hallway outside Heero's temporary room. He would not deny her the answers she needed. "I want to speak with him--"

"No." Noin's refusal was unusually curt. Without looking at Relena or Noventa, she turned for the door. "Zechs is not... There is too much confusion within Preventer operations now. Please, let's just do this one simple task. Do it for me, Relena, if not for yourself."

Relena glanced down at Duo, torn between obeying her friend and obeying her heart. She squeezed his hand, hidden beneath hers--and it seemed to move, the fingers opening as if releasing her. Relena's heart leapt in hope and fear; she hoped Duo's silent farewell was not a sign of defeat.

Noventa gave Relena's shoulder a comforting squeeze and smiled gently at her. "My car is at the entrance."

Two minutes later, Officer Brunski rushed into the quiet room; Hicks's voice crackling over the mobile com-unit. "I don't care if you've been posted there or Timbuktu. The man's not waking up anytime soon, so get your butt down to help Murphy with things at the terminal. The bomb you should be worried about is the one I'm going to light under your ass if you don't get moving."

"Damn, Hicks, I said I'm on my way!" Brunski grabbed his uniform jacket. "What the hell am I supposed to do when I get there? I have no experience with bomb threats." His voice disappeared as the door shut behind him, leaving Duo alone with nothing but humming equipment for company.