Title : The Killing Tide 21/21
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. (5/08/2)

It had not rained, as it tended to do in those melodramatic movies Duo occasionally rented, but the sky had a grayish cast to it, promising an early snow. Heero's gaze traveled back to the gaping hole in the earth before him, and he scuffed his boot along the top of the gathered soil, watching it patter on the shiny top of the casket below. The mourners had gone--all but him--and the men hired to fill in the grave would not come until the last person walked away. It was a matter of respect for those left behind. Heero could hear the thud of large feet in the background as the groundskeeper's teenaged assistant came and left with the same news he had given his boss for the last hour: "The man's still there."

Though his body still ached from the beating Noventa gave him, Heero purposefully took his time. He did not rush, because this was the only funeral that he would have a chance to attend. He had not been that close to Hilde while she was alive. She had been more Duo's friend than his--a friend of a friend, as some called it--but he had promised Duo he would come in his place, since the frantic activity within the spaceport put more stress on Duo's body than he would have liked to admit. Wufei would have come as well, but he had been taken hostage by the medical staff from Quinton. The doctors could not guarantee the success of reconstructive surgery, or the continued use of his feet, if they did not immediately take care of him.

Thus, Heero had stood alone among Hilde's gathered friends and family while the priest finished his words of prayer and the casket was lowered into the earth. Her mother, or an aunt, had placed an orchid upon the lid--a token of love, a gift of remembrance--and it reminded Heero of the item he had slipped inside the casket earlier. Duo had given him a wristwatch, one of those Everlast brands that boasts its durability, and had told him that it was Hilde's turn to watch the clock until he got home. Heero did not question his friend on the possibly drug-induced comment, but took the watch into his care with a "mission accepted," which brought a broad grin to Duo's pale face.

That had been some hours ago; the watch had been delivered to its new owner, and the funeral was over. Yet Heero remained at the site, alternately staring at the gray casket below and at the gray cloudy skies above. He had spent the time thinking on things past and on the people he once knew. There was another funeral, he was sure, that was in progress somewhere out past the grayness above. Quatre's family had taken his remains, as well as Trowa's and Catherine's, to the family mausoleum in one of the colonies. Quatre had previously willed that Trowa and any of the former gundam pilots were welcome to share the plots his family owned, since his friends did not have that luxury. Catherine, being the only family Trowa had, was taken to lie at their side.

A great many things passed through Heero's mind as he continued his silent vigil of the earth and sky, but he finally turned to speak to the man who had been quietly standing in the shadow of an oak. "You're late."

"That's the story of my life, kid." Hicks ran a gloved hand over his head and almost set his officer's cap upon it; just in time, he caught himself and kept the hat respectfully gripped in his large paw. He stepped forward to join Heero at the lip of the grave. "You want some privacy?"

Heero shrugged his indifference and returned his attention to a bulge in the squares of grass at the other side of the hole.

It had seemed Hicks had not come to talk, the silence settling over them once again, as he joined Heero in the absent study of the grave before them. After a few minutes, Hicks's low, gravelly voice rumbled out. "I lied to her."

Heero shifted his gaze from the grave to Hicks, but made no effort to encourage him to speak.

Hicks stared at the grave, but never seemed to peer beyond the waiting pile of earth. "She had mentioned once about being involved in the war of '95. I already knew that. I lied to her when I let her believe that I had no part of it. I was plenty involved with that war. Who the hell wasn't? They were taking as many able men and boys as they could. I was one of 'em, and I was there until I got injured and couldn't return. An old friend got me this officer gig, otherwise I'd be just another useless lump of flesh waiting to die."

Hicks moved away, and Heero thought he was leaving, but Hicks had only moved to avoid the gathered chairs as he made his way to where the headstone would later be placed. He stopped and looked inside the grave at the dirt dusted flowers. "Noventa was a damn surprise. From the first time I met him, I knew he was more than he showed, but I didn't care to find out how nutty the loon really was. I knew that boy was dangerous, and I didn't give a damn. Why the hell should I?"

Heero's hands dug into the warmth of his coat. "You're an officer of the peace."

"Yeah, I'm a damned peace officer. Ironic, ain't it?" The stiff cap began to warp within the grip of his wringing hands. "I take care of people, and then I take care of people," he muttered into the chill air, before he shifted uncomfortably and poked his folded cap toward Heero. "And you're just the same. Isn't much difference between us if you think about it, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you to consider it. And I'm damned uncomfortable. You came crashin' to this earth intent on destroying the very people you now work to protect. And I...well, I'm a peace officer who lost his peace." He paused. "What made you change?"

It took a moment before Heero looked up at the officer, who was looking at him as if trying desperately to figure him out. Heero glanced back down at the earth as he searched for an answer. He was not sure if he had changed. Often it had seemed as if his life swirled around in an ever-changing eddy, while he remained unaffected--simply sailing on its fateful tide.

"You got caught up in it, didn't you?" Hicks nodded as if answering his own question. "That damn tide carries one hell of current. It threw me for a loop. Knocked some sense into you. Knocked the sense out of me. And Schbeiker," the cap gestured toward the casket below, "she got lost somewhere in the middle. It's a damn pity. She was a smart kid--had a good heart. If things had been different, I would've liked one of my sons to have hooked up with her, but I couldn't stop any of those damn stubborn kids from doin' what they thought right, and well...." He drifted off for a moment, suddenly realizing his cap was losing its shape and attempted to prod it into what it once resembled.

Heero looked up from the ground and studied the man across from him. He had thought Hicks had begun his ramblings to lead into an apology, though Heero needed none, but the man was taking more time than supposed for so simple a statement.

Hicks looked into the open grave, not just raking his eyes over the adornments or following the flow of escaping earth above, and when he continued, his voice seemed to vibrate within the grave. "Death is a big damn son of a bitch. It's kinda like the ocean, coming in at different times, like the tides. It destroys whatever's in its path. Like those sandcastles my kids used to build when we'd stay at the shore. They'd start it at four and the damn tide would come in by six and destroy it. Made them cry every time. Even though I told them to keep away from the water, they kept doin' what they thought was best. Like in the war, they couldn't stay away from that, either--they didn't know what it could take from them. The killing tide came in, it took things away and it left little behind. It took my sons. A damn gundam took my sons. Well, now the tide's turned and taken your friends. And it's not finished taking yet."

Heero met Hicks's intense eyes with his own and saw the warning there before he saw the gun rise. Swiftly, Heero plucked his holstered weapon from beneath the crook of his arm to meet its twin across the grave.

"Which one of us is it gonna be?" Hicks calmly called out over the open ground. "By all rights, the tide should take one of us. Should it be you, for escaping its path, or me, for changing it?"

Heero moved the barrel of his gun slightly, sighting his target, but Hicks followed his move like a mirror. Both were trained to make killing shots, and both had equal chances of making a successful one now.

"I can kill you."

"I've no doubt, son." The threat did not faze Hicks. "Why'd you think I picked Noventa to go after you? I can shoot to kill, but there's gotta be power behind the blow. That boy was chock-full of power and bloodlust. He just didn't know where to direct it. I gave him direction, and he gathered speed. And a damned sense of humor."

Heero's arm didn't move. "The pig clues."

"Yeah, those fuckin' pigs." Hicks spat the words out, but did not waver in his aim. "I could never figure if he was laughing at me or settin' me up. Maybe it was both, the twisted little fuck. Well, he's gone now."

"So you're here to finish the job." Heero's finger tightened on the trigger.

A sad smile spread across Hicks's face as he shifted to the right. "No, I'm just following the tide."

Hicks's movement triggered a reaction from Heero, and the sound of two gunshots blasted through the cold cemetery.

Heero spun out of his twisted position on the ground, kicking at one of the folding chairs he had fallen into. Ignoring the throbbing pain in his left arm, he quickly redirected his aim at the man who had shot him, but he did not fire. With a grunt, he hefted himself up and cautiously approached the body that lay beside the open grave. Hicks's open eyes were staring blankly up into the gray above, his right arm flung to the side, and a bloody hole gaped where his heart should have been. Heero had been aiming for his shoulder in an attempt to disarm him and have the law deal with him, but not to kill him. Hicks's move had altered the path, sending Heero's bullet into his chest, and his own into Heero's arm.

Heero stared blankly at the body, feeling neither anger nor pity. But fear began to tap him on the shoulder. During the war, and as a Preventer, he had to fight those who would destroy peace--monsters that deserved to die. But the monsters could become ghosts--harder to erase, refusing to be forgotten--and as Heero walked away from the gravesite, he felt those haunting shades following close behind.
(The End)