4-21-2002

Title : The Killing Tide17/20
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. (4/21/2)
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The man had waited outside the Preventers medical building till dusk. The hidden post even awarded him a view of his objective's self-appointed guardian as she was chaperoned to a waiting car. Apparently Relena had protested her sudden removal; worry was clearly etched over her flushed face as she got into the car. Eventually the automobile and its occupants drove away, allowing free admission to the patient three floors above.

The waiting visitor spared one more glance at the window above, reviewing its placement among the other dark windows, before he moved. Fifteen minutes later, as the sun left a ring of color around the lip of the world, a stout braided cord slapped once upon the targeted window. In the failing light, a human shadow shimmied down the rope, pausing once before coming to a rest in front of the desired panes. With the tips of his toes braced upon the tiny ledge, the stealthy spider spent a second or two on the lock before the glass portal opened in silent welcome.

The muffled pat of bare feet upon linoleum, the retrieval of a silken cord, and the gentle click of metal against chrome were the only noises to herald the sleeping patient's new visitor. Note was immediately taken of the condition of the man upon the bed. The rhythmic cadence and mesmerizing display of the monitors arranged about the room earned only a brief moment of attention before the patient's statistical sheet was taken from its place at the foot of the bed. Looking up from the clipboard, the man followed the hills and valleys of hidden legs and torso, to the naked arm and smooth brow of the bed's occupant.

Though pale, Duo Maxwell looked relatively well. His chest rose and fell without breathing aids. The bruised marks that spotted the patient's skin seemed like odd shadows made by the falling sunlight. The watcher, with cord coiled over one shoulder, made his way along one side of the bed, trailing a hand up to a taped patch that secured two thin, dripping tubes to the patient's arm.

There were few choices, none of them satisfying, on how to take care of Duo. Unfortunately there was no longer time to consider options and do things properly. Duo had to be removed.

Alarmed by an odd noise from the window, Heero paused. He could feel the steady drip of blood and nutrients through the IVs beneath his gloved fingers--one jerk and he'd be nearer his goal--but another sound at the window made him release them. He backed up, crouching into the darker shadows between the monitors, and watched with dangerously glittering eyes as the window he had just come through opened to admit a new intruder.

A dark figure slipped in and down swiftly, yet awkwardly, letting in a cold draft of equally intruding air. The new guest didn't rise immediately after his amateur entrance, but betrayed his exact position with a soft gasp and a hissed curse. The clumsy fellow had not yet moved from beneath the open pane, and Heero, hidden within the recesses of the shadows, intended to keep him from going any further.

Laying the cord quietly to the side, Heero rested his weight on the balls of his feet, his thigh muscles tensing in preparation. As soon as the newcomer rose, Heero sprung, vaulting over the bed with the aid of its protective bars, and tackled the intruder. The two men hit the floor hard. A foot, arm and head struck the wall in the process, but neither made a noise louder than a grunt of pain or a hiss of surprise. They struggled on the floor, each caught tight in the other's unbreakable grasp, before one recognized the other.

"Yuy!"

When Heero heard his name spoken in a familiar, though unusually hoarse, voice, he took hold of the dark mane under his jaw and yanked the man's head to the side. Wufei's sloe eyes almost mirrored Heero's as their surprise shifted quickly to mistrust.

Heero didn't hesitate as his fist tightened its grip, reversed its pull, and slammed Wufei's head against the floor.

Despite the pain and blinding stars the blow caused, Wufei flung Heero off and pulled a knife from his belt. "If you plan to become a hindrance, Yuy, I will stop you. Do not interfere!"

Heero avoided the knife's slice, but missed the kick that made contact with his shoulder, knocking him back. Oddly enough, the resulting hiss of pain came from Wufei, not Heero. Slashing the blade out before him, Wufei created some space between them and kept Heero from rising.

"You'll have to stop me." Darting his hand out, Heero caught Wufei's ankle and pulled, returning his enemy to his level. "I'm not letting you finish what you've come here to do."

"If that's the way it must be..." Wufei's knife whistled through the air, barely missing Heero's face.

Heero struggled to pin Wufei beneath him. "What did you do to Sally? I know you took her from her hospital room. Where is she?"

"Where you can't get to her!" Another slash came up, stopping just inches from Heero's collarbone. A bead of sweat played along Wufei's cheek as his hand, enclosed in Heero's grasp, trembled with exertion. Trapped within Heero's two-fisted grip, the blade began to reverse its direction.

Almost too late, Wufei shifted his upper body to the left, pulling Heero down as the knife struck the linoleum and scraped along its surface.

Switching tactics, Wufei swung his arms up, clutching the bed frame above his head. As the body beneath him began to slide, Heero shifted to straddle Wufei's waist and retard the feeble escape, but Wufei's legs suddenly swung up, cinching Heero like a vise. Thrusting his lower body up, Wufei slammed Heero head-first into the steel-ribbed bedside. A tremor shook the bed as both men rolled away from it: one clutching his bleeding head, the other rising awkwardly to meet the next attack.

Heero's cut did not delay his response, as he sprang at his unsteady opponent. Wufei had not been prepared and ended up over Duo's lower body, with Heero finishing the human sandwich on top. The sudden pressure from the heavy landing increased the tension on one of the IV tubes in Duo's arm leading to a hanging bag above. As the IV found freedom with a harsh rip, the thin metal contraption on its other end lurched, barely keeping its vertical position.

"Kisama!" Wufei's enraged whisper was punctuated with a hard shove, as he tossed Heero off his back.

Heero lost his position, but not his speed, and reclaimed the fallen knife during his return. As soon as Wufei rose from the bed, Heero's hand had a solid grip on his neck. Slamming him against the wall between humming machines, Heero let the sharp blade press a warning underneath Wufei's upturned chin.

Wufei did not flinch, but the fire within his dark eyes flared despite his pain and exhaustion.

Heero spared a quick glance toward Duo and the freely-swinging tube, before he addressed his captive. "You will be dead before you touch him again."

"Then kill me, and do it quickly." A deep breath pressed Wufei's throat against the threatening blade, but he did not shrink from its touch. His eyes stared into Heero's with steely determination. "There is no honor in an act of cowardice. What I have come to do...if I should fail... It would be better to die."

A thin trickle of blood slid beneath the knife, staining Wufei's white collar. Heero held the blade steady, but did not move it any further, as something small suddenly stung his arm and face. Both men froze in wary confusion; Wufei cautiously moved his hand up to check the fresh cut on his cheek. Heero glanced down at the piece of metal that had gouged his wrist, then took stock of the damaged monitor to his right. The machine had been hit with a bullet, but there had been no sound before the shards flew. The weapon had a silencer, and the weapon's master had been just as silent.

"Step away from Wufei, Heero."

The surprised look on Wufei's face was enough to tell Heero who the shooter was before he heard the familiar voice.

"Duo."

Heero took a small step back to look at the man upon the bed, but he kept the knife firmly in place.

Duo's posture was as lax as if he had still been sleeping, but his head was turned toward them, and in his left hand was a gun. "You know I missed on purpose; don't make me get it right. Give me the knife."

Heero reluctantly began to ease the blade away, but as Wufei reached up to take the knife, he pushed Wufei roughly against the wall.

"Nuh uh uh." Duo shook his head with the warning, training the gun on Wufei. "Heero drops the blade on the bed, right here, and you don't move a muscle."

"Maxwell--"

"Blade first. Talk later." The look on Duo's face was not to be argued with.

Heero shot Wufei a distrustful glance as he finally stepped away from the man, gently removing the blade from his adam's apple. He knew better than to toss the knife upon the bed, so he cautiously set it on the rumpled covers, his eyes never leaving Duo's as the barrel of the gun focused on him. Moving back, Heero casually placed his hand on his hip, slowly following the waistband of his pants to the back, where he had tucked the gun he took from the police station. His eyes went wide; his hand encountered nothing but empty belt loops and a firm backside.

Duo chuckled, the sound a bit rougher than usual. "You finally noticed it's gone. I was wondering if you'd forgotten you had a gun, since you didn't use it on Wu. So I thought I'd borrow it. Wasn't too hard to lift it, with you two doing belly flops all over me. You just can't let a dead man rest in peace, can you?" Duo shifted, grimacing as he moved his right hand around to take possession of the discarded knife. "Now why don't you sit down, Heero. No, wait. Let Wufei have the chair. He looks like shit--no offense, Wu buddy. Sit down and stay there."

A little of Wufei's defiance returned. "I will not be told what to do by a bed-ridden idiot...." But he obediently tucked his behind into the room's only chair, unsuccessfully trying to deny the relief it offered.

Heero crossed his arms, standing at the apex of the triangle they presented. Duo's behavior was frustrating in its naive persistence. If Duo thought he could fend off either man in his condition, he was greatly mistaken. "You've got our weapons. What do you plan to do now?"

"I plan on getting a drink of water. If we're going to have a nice little 'no killing anybody' kind of talk here, I want a drink. My throat hurts." Duo's right hand swept out from under the covers, where it had safely stashed the knife, to take a pitcher of water from the bedside table. As he tried to raise it, some water spilled onto his shaking hand.

Heero's hand suddenly closed over Duo's, steadying the pitcher. Duo growled in irritation, "Dammit, Heero. I'm a big boy. I can get my own water."

"Shut up, Duo." Heero easily pried the pitcher from the weaker man's hand and replaced it with a half-filled cup. "You should be dead."

"That's right." A weary version of Duo's typical grin flashed across his face. "You blew my cover, Ol' buddy ol' pal. If you're expecting a thank-you, you're going to be waiting a long time. Back off before I shoot you for being an idiot."

Heero stood back from the bed as Duo gained control of his shaking enough to handle the cup. Duo's eyes flipped from Heero to Wufei as he took a careful drink. Speaking into the cup, he said, "So. Wanna tell me who's the enemy here?"

The room went silent except for the hum of the working machines.

"Uh huh. I can see this is going nowhere fast." Duo rose painfully to a full sitting position, setting the cup within easy reach. "Both of you are damned suspicious, sneaking into my room armed like you plan some dirty business." Duo's hand flexed over the handle of the gun. "So if you'll tell me who plans to kill who, I'll shoot the bastard and get back to sleep."

"Duo--"

"Ah, thanks for offering to explain first, Heero. But it's not your deal yet. I pass the deck to the man on my right." He looked at Wufei.

"Someone wanted you dead, Maxwell." Wufei folded his arms, looking sideways at Heero. "I came here to make sure that would not happen."

Duo turned his attention to Heero who was glaring at Wufei. "Your turn, Superman. What were you here for?"

Heero grunted. "Your relocation. I don't trust the security of this institution."

Duo looked like he was going to laugh, but he erupted into a coughing fit instead. When he had stopped and taken a sip of water, his eyes gleamed with humor. "You were fighting over who gets to be my hero? You guys are too much. I swear someone needs to make you name tags that say 'enemy' and 'ally.' Take some free advice and stop jumping each other long enough to find out what's really going on." Duo coughed out another laugh. "All this stress over a misunderstanding..."

Heero was not convinced the matter was as cut-and-dried as that. "Don't assume he's innocent because he's a friend. Operation Meteor may not be the last time Wufei chooses to be our enemy."

Red flared up into Wufei's face, and he barely maintained his seat. "I do not lie, Yuy. I did not come here to harm Maxwell. You should explain your presence and stop questioning mine!"

"Hey!" The others turned back to Duo, who held the gun once again. "No speaking out of turn, Heero. I believe Wufei, so leave him alone."

Ignoring the gun, Heero took a step toward Wufei. If the three of them were going to play Duo's "truth" game, it was Wufei's turn. "You were supposed to be in Tehran, but you never made the conference. It's been almost three weeks. ~Three weeks~. What have you been doing? While our friends have been dying, where have you been? You want us to trust you, to believe you are here to help..." Heero could barely maintain his anger. "You are always speaking of honor, but this deception has none."

Wufei rose from his chair so quickly that he would have flown straight at Heero if his hands had not kept their grip on the metal arms. "I will sacrifice my honor by my own hand, Yuy! Belittle none but your own questionable worth."

The knife whistled between the two men, striking the wall next to the window.

Duo hissed between clenched teeth. "You guys will keep it nice and quiet, or I'll go back to playing dead and let the people you attract here deal with your bickering." When Wufei eased back into his chair and Heero backed off, Duo continued, "I don't know what the hell has been going on while I was out, so right now we are going to deal with this situation one step at a time--"

"There's no frickin' time for this crap!" Heero moved swiftly, giving Duo no time to do more than blink, and twisted the gun from Duo's hand. "Nine people, maybe more, have lost their lives. I want this person stopped. If Wufei can't explain himself, he'll be treated as an obstacle and removed."

Duo's gaping mouth closed, only to open again. "Damn, Heero. Who taught you to curse?" He held up a hand as Heero glared at him. "Whoa, buddy, just give me a moment to process this. It's hard returning from the dead."

Wufei's face had already been an unhealthy color but managed to pale further. "That many involved? I had thought..." He looked troubled and tired as he absently brushed a wisp of loose hair from his face. He looked at Heero, his weariness trying to hide behind a serious expression. "I was aware of less than half that number. Who else has died?"

Heero frowned. He was not sure if Wufei was constructing a facade of innocence or if he was truly concerned. "Five of the Maguanacs, Quatre, Trowa and his friend Catherine," Heero glanced warily at Duo, "and Hilde."

Wufei's head dipped down as if his thoughts were bricks. "Why only three?"

Heero watched Wufei carefully. The question was confusing, but it was spoken by a confused man. Heero's doubts about Wufei began to fade. Even during the last battle for peace, Wufei had stubbornly clung to his beliefs, never showing a trace of doubt. When Wufei had realized his mistake, he behaved as if he had just changed his mind--acting as directly as he had before. Heero didn't think he had ever seen the man hesitate from self-doubt or confusion.

"My God, Wufei," Duo suddenly burst out, leaning forward to peer down at the floor beneath Wufei. "What did you do to your feet?"

Heero looked down. The floor was streaked with bloody smudges, but the area beneath Wufei's feet was dark with it. "I didn't--"

"Nothing." Wufei interrupted, ignoring their stares as he rose and began to search the cabinets. "This happened before I came." Wufei took two extra pillow covers and returned to his chair, where he began to tear them into strips. As the old bandages were removed from his feet, the cause of the blood was revealed.

"Your toes..." Duo paused, seeing the discomfort in his friend's pinched face, and tried to lighten things up. "Whatcha doin', Wu, downsizing? Yeah, I guess five toes to each foot's too many, but..."

"They were taken from me." Wufei spoke without looking up from his work, his tight voice betraying the shame he felt. "I've been kept...I've been a toy for a madman. No food, no water…. You said three weeks? I wasn't aware of time." He tied the makeshift wrap tightly, glancing briefly at the mess on the floor. "I was meant to join the dead."

Wufei's eyes blazed with anger as he shifted his focus. "I knew of three others who were expected to die. When I got free, my first intention was to protect the ones who were still alive. I took Sally to Mariemeia's private doctor, and I intended to take Duo there as well." He looked up at Heero, "I did not think you were truly an enemy, but your actions confused me."

"Who is it?"

Both Wufei and Duo seemed puzzled by Heero's question, but then the meaning dawned on them.

Wufei frowned, curling his hands into fists on his lap. "I don't--"

"That's right!" Duo spoke over Wufei's words. "You should know who's doing this. Who the fuck is it? Get your hand off me, Heero, I'm not staying in this bed. I'm gonna help kill the bastard. Dammit, I'm ~owed~ that much. Wufei, tell this control freak to get off me so we can get down to business."

"I don't know who it was!" Wufei snapped in frustration. "If I knew, I would have killed him instead of wasting time trying to save your worthless life!" Wufei threw his old bandages at the trash can. "I was blindfolded. I never saw him!"

Heero frowned, releasing Duo's arm. "Could you identify him by voice? Did it sound like Zechs?"

"Zechs?" Wufei shook his head. "Perhaps...I don't know. I haven't been assigned to work with him since his return to the Preventers. Why do you believe it's him?"

"A hunch." Heero was reluctant to admit to more than that. There were still a lot of questions that needed to be answered before he could be sure who was responsible for the deaths of his friends.

"Whoa, whoa, my brain's been rattled enough already. Nothing's making sense here. You think Zechs is doing this? Come on, there's got to be a better explanation than 'a hunch.' I know Noin sounded edgy whenever Zechs was mentioned--and maybe she had the same idea. But I don't think Tall, Blond and Stuffy would fight dirty like this." Duo leaned wearily against his pillow. "Maybe Wufei picked up some information that can help out. What was that you said before about three-somethin', Wu? If you were talking about the people who died, forget it. It doesn't add up."

"Yes it does." Heero broke from his musing. "If you consider the gundam pilots only." He leaned against the wall, stuffing his hands in his pockets as he thought out loud. "Everyone else was an obstacle, or a stepping stone, to the main targets. I'm sure that was the case with Catherine and Hilde's deaths. Though I think Hilde was also killed because her investigation was a threat. Sally--"

"Sally was used against me," Wufei growled. "If I tried to fight or escape, she would die. I was told that much."

"It would have been easier to lie to you." Heero didn't think Sally had been used for insurance alone. He remembered the recent lock-down on Preventer computer files. Either someone had tried to break in, or they had tried to cover their tracks.

Duo's voice broke into Heero's thoughts: "Then why Abdul and the gang? I'm sorry, Wu, but if I was after Sally, I'd just take her. I wouldn't risk the time to chop up five guys. What kind of sick calling card is that?"

Heero's head popped up, mirroring Wufei's startled emergence from his own thoughts. Five Maguanacs murdered at the Chinese restaurant, four people poisoned at Quatre's, three sheep butchered at the circus, Duo and Hilde at the Market.

"A countdown?"

"Five, four, three, two: Myself, Winner, Barton and Maxwell."

"You lost three toes--one for each pilot's death."

"He's a dead man." Duo's face became red with anger, as he began to rip the remaining tubes and attachments from his body. "The bastard was ticking off his kills on Wu's toes, like counting piggies. That fuckin' sick motherfucker is going to die."

Heero had sprung from his post against the wall to stop Duo, but paused as his mind latched onto something that had been said. Suddenly tearing through his coat like a man possessed, Heero searched for the library book he had tucked away. Yanking the book from the deep recess of a pocket, Heero shoved it, and a rising Duo, onto the bed. Heero ripped through the pages, keeping Duo down by using his chest like a desk top. Heero finally stopped his frantic search, taking a step back after reading what he found. There, on page 39, was the rhyme that Heero had passed when he was thumbing pages back in the cell.

//This little piggy went to market...//

Heero paled, taking the book off Duo's stomach, and reread the passage. "It was here... Telling me how and where..." He moved to the window, berating himself for missing something so important. The book hung in his hand as he stared out at the darkness. He still had a chance to find the killer, if he could figure out the last riddle. "'...all the way home'. Where does he want me? Where is home?"

Duo groaned a little as he tried to sit up, grabbing Wufei's helping hand. "You live at Preventer housing, right? Then that's where we go."

"I'm doing this alone." Heero shook his head at Wufei, who had turned in complaint. He knew the ex-Shenlong pilot would disagree until he was blue in the face. "Neither of you are in a condition to confront this person. If you want to help, stay here--out of the way." Heero turned away from them, tossing the book upon the bedside table. "I wouldn't call Preventer housing my home, but it's a place to start."

"Space."

Heero glanced back at Wufei.

"When returning to your origins, where would you go?" Wufei crossed his arms and nodded toward the darkness outside the window. "My home was in the colonies, as was yours. Nothing on Earth can be called our home."

"You're right. I'd return to the colonies--to space." Heero picked up the rope he had brought and opened the window. "There's a bomb scare at the spaceport--a convenient distraction. He'd expect me to go there."

"Heero." Duo's face paled. "Noin took Relena to the spaceport."