Disclaimer: Don't own any part of Gundam Wing or the characters, more's the pity. This is for fun...no profit involved.

Warnings: AU, yaoi, swearing, bigotry, some OOC

Pairings: 1X2 eventually, 3X4 also eventually

A/N: Sorry I have been so out of things lately. Starting to think I get that SAD thing in the winter. I had no energy for writing or life. But I'm recovering both lately, and I will make writing my priority again.

SMOKY HILLS

"I found the perfect place for my still, up where I used to play when I was just a boy. It'd be a cold day in Hell before any police or Revenuers could manage the hike, let alone find my operation. All I have to worry about is moving the merchandise, and I've got Jenny to help with that. I guess all those years I explored these hills as a child were well spent..."

excerpt from the private journal of Samuel Barton

Chapter Forty Eight: Searching for Answers

It was late enough when Heero left the police station that he decided to swing by the house Duo and Quatre shared to see if the mailman was home. And when he saw the familiar red Jeep parked in the driveway he smiled widely and pulled in behind it, grateful for another chance to see Duo without Quatre's watchful eyes on them.

His knock on the door was heralded with a "Just a sec!" from the other side, and then Duo pulled it open, looking a bit disheveled and holding a soda in one hand and a loaf of bread in the other. "'Ro!" he blurted, eyes widening.

"Is this a bad time?" Heero teased.

Duo looked down at the items in his hands and then up at the glimmering blue eyes. "Naw. C'mon in." He stepped back, heading for the kitchen as if expecting Heero to follow; so he did.

"I was just grabbing a snack," Duo explained, tossing the package of bread onto the counter next to a plastic-wrapped bundle of deli meat. "Long day at the post office, and I figure Quat won't be home until late, since he's going out to swap spit with your brother after work."

Heero blinked and then chuckled. "So he told you where he went last night."

Duo turned a devilish grin on him. "We have no secrets, Quat and me…"

"None?" Heero queried, stepping closer and lifting the can of soda out of Duo's hand, then setting it aside so he could pull the unresisting man into his arms.

"Well, not many," Duo sighed, looking up at him with a smirk. "And frankly, I think he already knows about you an' me."

Heero shook his head. "He guesses. But he has no idea all the things I'd like to do with you." He leaned in for a thorough and lingering kiss. But the mood was broken the minute their lips parted and Duo's stomach growled loudly.

Both men laughed, and Duo pulled back, rubbing his midsection. "I really gotta eat something."

"How 'bout I take you out?" Heero suggested, flicking a quick, disdainful glance at the soda and cold cuts. "For some real food."

Duo grinned at him. "Two nights in a row? You'll spoil me!"

"I'd like to," Heero assured him. "But tonight we don't have time for a long drive to a romantic getaway. How about someplace closer? Isn't there a diner here in town?"

"Sal's? Yeah, sure," Duo replied quickly. "The food's great, and the prices are reasonable." A frown creased his forehead. "But everyone knows me there."

"So?"

"So—they'll figure out we're friends, at the very least."

"And that's a problem?"

"Not for me," Duo insisted. "But what about you? Everyone knows you're a cop now, and that you're investigating Solo's death. Won't it look funny if we hang out together?"

"I don't think so," Heero disagreed. "For all anyone knows, I'm gathering information from you." He reached out to tug Duo up against him again. "It's not an entirely incorrect assumption, either, since I do have some more questions."

"And what if they think it's a date?" Duo pressed. "You'll end up outing yourself to the whole damned town."

"I already told you, that doesn't concern me."

"It concerns me. I've lived with these homophobes a lot longer than you have, and—."

Heero cut him off with a kiss. "And they'll never change. So you have two choices; hide from their small-minded scrutiny, or just stand up for yourself and tell 'em to fuck off."

"Heero—."

"I'm serious," said the Japanese man with a scowl. "I have no intention of sneaking around to see you, Duo. I'm not talking about making out in public," he added, thinking of their lapse of reason up on Beech Bluff. "But I expect to be able to have a meal with you and not answer to the busybodies and rumor mongers in this town!"

Duo sighed, pulling away and starting to pack up the sandwich meat. "Have it your way," he said with a shake of his head. "But don't blame me if things get ugly."

"I won't," Heero asserted. "And they won't. There might be some speculation about our relationship. But the people who are your friends won't care, and the rest don't matter."

Duo chuckled. "You are so—."

"So what—?"

"Cool," Duo finally muttered, turning to face him. "I've never made a big secret of my preferences—there was no point after Solo and I got together. And I don't care about getting harassed for it. But somehow I didn't think a newcomer like you would want that kind of—notoriety."

Heero grinned almost wickedly. "A little notoriety never killed anyone."

Duo snorted skeptically as he put the food away, and then glanced over his shoulder. "Since we're on the subject—how'd it go today?"

Heero frowned in confusion, and Duo rolled his eyes. "You said notoriety never killed anyone, an' I'm thinkin' that Solo might not agree with that. Just wondering if you have any leads."

"You know I can't talk about it," came the firm answer. Heero picked up the soda and headed for the refrigerator, only to have Duo swoop in and pluck it from his fingers, taking a long swig and smirking over the edge of the can.

"I know you can't tell me any details," Duo drawled in a coaxing tone. "But everyone knows you talked to Otto an' Trant."

Heero rolled his eyes and sighed. "You have the biggest-mouthed cops in this town!"

Duo laughed at him. "Damn straight," he agreed. "Hell, the police station is 'gossip central.'"

Heero scowled at him. "It's not funny!"

Carefully repressing his mirth to a simple smirk, Duo gave a shrug. "Sad, but true?" he hazarded.

"It really is."

"So—?"

Heero raised an eyebrow.

"Otto? Trant? Any thoughts on whether they did it?"

The Japanese man gave a frustrated huff. "I can't talk to you about it, Duo. You're too close to the case."

"That's why you should talk to me! I need to know what happened to Solo. Don't you know how important this is to me?"

"I do. And I won't let you compromise my findings by prying like this," came the very serious reply.

"What compromising? I just want a clue; that's all."

"I don't have any yet," Heero said firmly. "I interviewed Richter and Clark today. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. I've got several more people in mind to speak to over the next few days. And while I have lots of suspicions and plenty of gut feelings, I haven't got anything concrete, so I'm not going to speculate—especially to you. I don't want you to think the wrong thing."

"I already think fuckin' Trant and Otto had something to do with it," Duo said darkly. "I know it. In my gut, I know it!"

Heero managed a wan smile. "Your gut won't convict anyone, Duo. No matter how much you want it to." He reached out and caught Duo's hand, taking it in a firm grip. "Just give me time and let me do my job."

"Yeah," Duo conceded weakly, his gaze dropping to the warm hand holding his. "I'll try to be patient, 'Ro. Really, I will."

"Good." Heero tugged on the hand to pull Duo closer so he could kiss him.

When their lips parted, Duo smirked slyly at him. "Is that my reward for being patient?"

Heero shook his head. "That's just a down-payment. For your continued patience, you'll get a whole lot more." He watched in fascination as Duo's eyes widened, and a flush crept up his cheeks.

"Yeah?" Duo asked breathlessly.

"Want a preview?"

Duo nodded, and Heero pulled him into his arms for a much more thorough kiss—accompanied by full-body contact and a provocative grind of his hips.

The braided man moaned appreciatively, arms wrapping possessively around Heero's waist.

He looked breathless, flushed, and a bit frustrated as Heero pulled back. "Hey—!"

"A preview," Heero repeated. "You don't get the whole show right now."

"How 'bout the trailer, at least?" Duo urged, smirking wickedly at him.

"How about a late lunch?" Heero asked, poking him in the stomach until he flinched away. "Oooh—ticklish?"

"None a' your business," Duo grumbled, putting the food away and downing the last of his soda before throwing the empty can like a basketball, into the recycling bin in the corner. "Ha! Nothing but net!" he said triumphantly.

Heero just shook his head with a bemused smile on his lips. "C'mon. Let's get you some food before that nasty soda eats away your stomach lining."

Duo grabbed a sweatshirt off the back of a chair. "I've been drinking soda for years, Yuy, and it hasn't killed me yet!"

"Do you even know what's in that crap?" Heero demanded, leading the way to the door and holding it open.

Duo narrowed his eyes as he preceded Heero out onto the porch. "Holding doors again?"

"Habit. I told you." Heero narrowed his eyes back, though they sparkled with mirth. "And stop changing the subject. I'm going to convince you to drink something healthier for you than sugar-filled, artificially-colored acid."

Duo snorted. "Others have tried," he said solemnly. "And failed." He gestured towards Heero's car. "We driving to Sal's, or would you like to walk? It's a quarter of a mile or so."

"I've been cooped up inside all day," Heero said with a grimace. "Walking sounds nice."

They set out on the sidewalk at a steady pace, slow enough for talking and yet fast enough to get them where they wanted to go.

"Hey, by the way," Heero spoke up. "What's this I keep hearing about you running over a statue?"

Duo blushed a deep shade of red and ducked his head. "That was a long time ago. An' who told you about it, anyway?"

"Aside from eavesdropping on that chat you had with Ralph, I read the police report, and one of my interviewees brought it up in conversation." Heero shook his head, a bemused look on his face. "Want to tell me about it?"

"I was pissed. So I took it out on the statue of Harry Richter, one of the Founding Fathers of this goddamned town."

"What were you pissed about?"

Duo scowled and looked away. "Just bullshit stuff."

"When Ralph and you were yelling about it that day at the police station, I heard something about the orphanage."

"Don't miss much, do you?"

"Well, I am a cop."

Duo paused, turning to face Heero. "Look—it was just after the fire at the orphanage, okay? Father Maxwell and Sister Helen and all the other kids were dead, and when the church higher-ups approached the town council to ask for help in rebuilding because the insurance money wasn't enough, they turned 'em down flat. They said it was up to the church to scrape up the funds to build another orphanage. And then they said the new place would have to conform to current zoning regulations and stuff. It was gonna cost a fortune!" Duo shook his head, turning and resuming their walk. "The church administrators decided they couldn't afford to build that kind of facility way out here; so they put the money into one of the city orphanages instead."

"Where'd that leave you?" Heero wondered.

"I'd have had to go to wherever the church folks decided to send me, except Howard offered me room, board and a job at his place, and talked the Archbishop into letting me stay there. I was almost eighteen anyway, and I'd have been out of the system in a few weeks." He picked at the hem of his sweatshirt as he walked. "I got fucking wasted one night and drove my pickup truck over the statue on the town green." He looked up a bit sheepishly. "It seemed like the thing to do at the time."

Heero laughed outright. "I think maybe you're right," he admitted. Then he sobered. "Not that it helped your situation any—."

"My 'situation' in this town was fucked up from the get-go," Duo said wryly. "Running over ol' Harry Richter just gave the cops an excuse to pull me over for the least little infraction for the rest of my natural life—especially when I was driving anywhere near the town green." He gave a lopsided grin. "If you wanna screw with Ralph sometime, I'll walk up to the new statue and you can watch him have a fit. I dunno what he expects me to do to it, but it's a surefire way to yank his chain."

"Thanks, but I'll pass," Heero said with a smile. "You don't need that kind of trouble."

They resumed their walk, enjoying the warmth of the summer afternoon, and reached Sally's Diner in just a few minutes.

Duo pointedly darted ahead to open the door for Heero, smirking as the Japanese man rolled his eyes on the way past. "Unlike you, I have no problem with someone graciously opening a door for me. Thank you."

"You're welcome," Duo grinned back, following him inside. "Hey, Sal! What's the special?" he called out in greeting.

Sally came from behind the counter, grabbing up some menus on the way. "Got your favorite," she said with a smile. "Fried shrimp." She paused in her stride, realizing who was with Duo. "Mister Yuy?"

"Just Heero, please," he requested.

She eyed him up and down. "I'm Sally, in case it wasn't totally obvious."

"C'mon, 'Ro," Duo urged, nudging him forward. "Quat and I usually take that booth by the window. Let's sit there."

Sally tagged along, her curious gaze taking in the way Duo's hand lingered on Heero's shoulder, and the warm little half-smile Heero gave him as they slid into the booth.

"Soooo—," she drawled, placing menus in front of them. "What's up, Duo?"

He looked up sharply, catching the arched eyebrow and the knowing smirk. A stubborn gleam entered the indigo eyes. "I think I'll start off with a soda, Sal." He shifted his gaze to Heero. "They've got tea—hot or cold."

"Sounds good," Heero acknowledged. He smiled politely at Sally. "Iced tea for me—unsweetened."

She darted a glance from Heero to Duo, her curiosity an almost palpable thing. "Okay then. Be right back." She walked briskly away, scribbling their orders onto her note pad as she walked.

"She will, too," Duo said glumly. "And she'll just keep getting nosier and nosier."

"That's about par for Smoky Hills, isn't it?" Heero shrugged. "I told you, Duo. I don't care what people think about us."

"Well maybe I do," Duo retorted.

"Are you embarrassed to be seen with me?"

"You know that's not it," Duo growled back. "If we weren't surrounded by homophobes stuck in their Puritanical mindsets, I'd be bragging my fool head off about the fact that a guy like you is interested in me."

Heero graced him with a warm smile. "You would?"

Duo realized what he'd irritably blurted out and ducked his head. "Well, yeah. Duh! Have you looked at yourself in a mirror lately?"

"Have you?" came an almost husky purr.

Duo's eyes shot up to Heero's face, catching a downright predatory look directly squarely at him. But before he could fumble for a response, Sally arrived back at the table with their drinks.

She set down the fizzing soda in front of Duo, and the dark amber iced tea in front of Heero. "So what'll you two have to eat?" she asked, tapping her pen on her pad at the same time as she was studying Duo's face searchingly.

"Shrimp," Duo said flatly. "Rice on the side, ranch dressing on my salad."

"And for you, Heero?" Sally asked, her keen gaze now on his face.

"I'll have the grilled chicken salad."

She gathered up their menus and paused just long enough for Duo to know she was hoping for a bit of information, but when he calmly sipped at his drink and looked away, she gave up and moved off.

Heero chuckled quietly. "If you'd like, I can tell her I'm questioning you about Solo. That will satisfy her curiosity and explain our being here together—."

"No," Duo said with a sigh. "I don't want you to have to lie, 'Ro. And I want people to know we're—together. At least, eventually. I'm just—." He shook his head. "Maybe I'm not quite ready to share you just yet."

"Share me?"

Duo mustered up a small smile. "Well—you'll see how it is pretty soon. Around here, it's usually me an' Quat, and sometimes Hilde hanging around together. Sally's kind of a friend, too, as well as a couple of other people. Like you said back at the house, my friends will accept our—relationship—without a problem. But at the same time, they'll want to drag you into the group." He looked up a bit shyly. "I guess I'm afraid once it's out in the open, I'll never have you to myself."

Heero actually laughed aloud at that, causing a couple of heads to turn their way. But he ignored any onlookers and lowered his voice. "You will definitely have me all to yourself, Duo. Hopefully soon."

Duo couldn't help smirking in response, squirming in his seat a bit. "Tease," he accused in a whisper.

"So are you," Heero replied unrepentantly. He sobered then, frowning a bit as he ran a finger down the condensation on his glass. "But all that aside—we really do need to talk some more about Solo."

Duo narrowed his eyes. "But when I asked you about that stuff, you said you couldn't discuss it."

"I can't discuss my investigation. That doesn't mean I don't still need information from you."

"About what?"

"Well, for starters—." Heero broke off in mid-sentence when Quatre and Trowa walked into the diner. "What the heck are they doing here?"

Duo turned in his seat and waved to Quatre. "Hey, what's up? Thought you were gonna be late."

"I was," Quatre told him as they approached. "But I had to tell you what we found out!" He held up one of several leather-bound journals clutched in his arms. "Samuel Barton stashed something valuable on his property!"

Duo moved over to let Quatre sit next to him while Trowa slid in next to Heero. "That's old news, Quat," Duo pointed out as his friend plunked the musty journal down in front of him. "Everyone knows the Barton clan had a secret stash."

"Yes, but he gives clues," Quatre insisted, opening the book and pointing to a passage describing a hidden root cellar.

"Hm—." Duo glanced over the page, a slight frown creasing his brow. "Thunder Ridge? There's no Thunder Ridge around here."

"There isn't?" Quatre asked, looking crestfallen.

"Nope. Believe me; I've hiked every trail, ridge and hollow in the State forest. Never heard of a Thunder Ridge."

"But if it's on the Barton Farm—," Quatre suggested.

"It'd still be on the topographical maps of the area. And I've got 'em all." Duo shook his head. "Never once have I seen anything labeled as Thunder Ridge."

"Maybe on an older map they called a ridge by that name," Heero spoke up, tugging the journal around so he could read the description. "There are a lot of ridges out there. Maybe it's one that doesn't even have a name any more."

"Well that'll make finding the place a lot harder," Trowa said dryly.

"Not necessarily," Heero argued. "He's very detailed in his description of the land. And actually, he wrote it as Thunder's Ridge. Didn't that ancestor of yours named Ephraim have a dog by that name?"

"As a matter of fact, he did," Trowa replied. "I wonder if Samuel named the ridge after he buried Ephraim and Thunder there—or if he chose the place because of the name."

"Buried who?" Duo spoke up.

"Ephraim—the first Barton," Trowa explained. "He died in a blizzard, along with his dog Thunder, and Samuel buried them in their favorite place."

"Thunder's Ridge!" Quatre said brightly. "Oh, I'll bet that's it! He buried them there, and later used it as a landmark when he chose the spot for his secret stash." He squeezed Trowa's hand encouragingly. "I'm sure we could figure this out."

Heero looked at his brother quizzically. "You're trying to find buried treasure?"

A faint blush crept up Trowa's cheeks. "No."

"Yes!" Quatre contradicted him.

All eyes turned to the blonde.

"Well why not?" he demanded. "Samuel wrote about his 'secret source of income,' and how he'd only accept silver dollars or gold coins for payment."

"Ah—the moonshine business!" Duo said brightly.

"You don't know for sure that Samuel was a bootlegger—," Quatre said defensively.

"Actually, it was pretty much common knowledge," Duo insisted. "Even Howie said so, an' he heard it straight from ol' Dekim himself."

"Besides," Trowa added. "Samuel more or less admits it in his journals." He looked apologetically at Quatre. "You haven't read some of the later ones."

"Oh."

Duo waved a hand airily. "It's no big deal, Quat. That was so long ago, it's not like anyone would get in trouble over it." He glanced at Heero, as if seeking confirmation, and the Japanese man smirked.

"I'm sure the statute of limitations on bootlegging has long since expired."

"So—if we found a stash of 'shine, we could have a wild party," Duo added mischievously.

Trowa grimaced. "Would you really want to drink some home-brewed concoction a senile old man hid in a root cellar seventy-five years ago?"

"Well-aged," Duo deadpanned.

"Toxic," Quatre warned.

"Vile, at the very least," Heero concluded. "Like that soda Trowa bought for you, Duo."

"You bought me soda?" Duo asked, beaming at the green-eyed man.

"Well, yes," Trowa replied with a smirk. "Didn't I say I would the other day?"

"Yeah, but—." Duo grinned and ducked his head. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. I'm sure you'll be stopping by soon to enjoy it." He eyed his brother. "Right, Heero?"

"As I said, he's always welcome."

Duo's smile warmed as he looked across into the deep blue eyes, but before he could come up with a reply that didn't sound either coy or just plain lame, Sally showed up with their salads.

"Well isn't this quite the gathering?" she noted, taking in the two new additions to the table. "Dare I ask what the four of you are up to?"

"Eating, Sal," Duo said with a warning scowl. "And just to finish off the introductions, this here is Trowa Barton, of the infamous Barton clan. Happy now?"

She smiled slyly. "Don't worry, Maxwell. I'll squeeze all the details out of you sooner or later. You like my shrimp dinners way too much." With a teasing wink at him, she turned her attention to the new arrivals. "What can I get for you two?"

"Cheeseburger," Trowa said quickly, before Heero could insert some crazy request for a healthy meal for him. "Fries." He darted a defiant glance at his brother, and then sighed. "And milk. I may as well have one thing that's genuinely good for me."

Quatre ordered his usual salad and drink, and Sally went off to the kitchen.

"So, where were we?" Duo asked, nibbling on a leaf of his salad.

"We were discussing how we're going to find Samuel's hidden cache of silver dollars," Quatre piped up eagerly.

"You've got to realize, it's highly unlikely we'll find it," Heero pointed out.

"But you said his descriptions are very detailed."

"Yes, but several decades old. The land could have changed. And even if it didn't, the root cellar could have collapsed from age, or trees could have fallen in storms. It's really a literal needle in a haystack."

Trowa gave a half-shrug. "Still—it's kind of fun to think about trying."

"Sure!" Duo piped up. "Considering how ol' Dekim never seemed to run out of money, he must have had access to the cash. So it's gotta be somewhere even an old man could get to."

"Speaking of Dekim," Trowa said slowly, pulling another volume out of the stack Quatre had placed between them on the table. "There's some stuff in here you need to read, Heero."

"Me? Why?"

Trowa and Quatre exchanged a long look, and the blonde shook his head almost imperceptibly. But Trowa plowed on anyway. "Dekim made reference to something that happened on his property—something he was afraid folks would find out about. And the time frame matches—." He paused, swallowing uneasily. "It seems to be around the time Solo was murdered."

Duo went rigid, his face paling. "What?"

Heero took the journal from Trowa, and opened it to the page indicated by a bookmark.

"Out loud," Duo said in a too-hoarse voice.

"Duo—."

"C'mon, 'Ro. Just do it."

Heero shook his head, but read the passage anyway. "Had that nightmare again…the one about that day. I haven't been back to the hollow since—but I keep wondering if someone will find out. Will this dark secret haunt me to the end of my days?" He looked up at Duo with a frown. "There's no reference to Solo there," he said carefully. "We shouldn't jump to any conclusions."

"Kind of hard not to," Trowa said quietly.

But Duo didn't seem to hear either of them, his gaze fixed on the condensation running down the sides of his glass as a sudden memory flickered through his mind.

He looked out the window of Howie's just in time to see Dekim Barton pulling up to the gas pump in his old pickup truck, two big coon hounds milling about in the back. The dogs bounded over to the driver's side as the old man got out and hobbled towards the pump.

"Ah, crap," Duo muttered, feeling an odd surge of pity for the rickety old man. "Howie! I'm goin' out to run the pump!" he called.

He trotted outside before Dekim had reached the nozzle, calling out a cheery greeting. "Hey there, Mister Barton. Why doncha let me do that for you?" He forced a smile, despite his unease around the crotchety old man. "The ol' pump can be a bit tricky."

Dekim paused, looking him over, and then nodded and leaned back against the door of the truck.

Duo felt like a bug under a microscope, aware of the stern gaze watching his every move.

"You used to hang around with the Stevens boy, didn't ya?" Dekim asked gruffly.

Duo flinched, both at the sudden burst of conversation from the taciturn man and at the subject matter. "Uh, yeah," he said without looking up.

"I 'member he used to trespass on my place pretty regular—."

Duo glanced up briefly. "I s'pose he did," he admitted. "Lot of us kids did, when we were young and stupid. Me included."

"Hm." The bushy eyebrows drew together in a thoughtful scowl. "Some still do," he grumbled.

Duo eyed the gas pump, wishing it would go faster, and wishing he hadn't given in to the urge to help out an old man.

"Not you, though," Dekim added, his tone a bit softer. "An' not Stevens any more."

This time Duo couldn't hide the pained wince, and he looked directly at the old man. "Solo's gone," he said flatly.

Dekim nodded. "I know."

"Yeah," Duo said bitterly. "Everyone does." He breathed a quick sigh as the pump clicked off, and busied himself hanging up the nozzle and securing the gas cap.

The dogs rushed to his side of the truck, leaning over to swipe at his face with eager tongues, and he couldn't help but chuckle, fending them off and scratching their ears at the same time. "Easy guys!"

He turned back to Dekim, who was holding out a twenty for the gas, as well as a couple of dollars extra. "Thanks young fella."

Duo took the twenty and tucked the other bills back into the man's gnarled fingers. "No need to tip me. Howard don't allow it. He expects me to help out the regular customers any time I can."

Dekim nodded and climbed back into his truck. But when he'd started the engine, he paused to look over at Duo with a somber expression on his grizzled face. "Sorry 'bout your boyfriend."

He drove off before Duo could do more than gawk blankly at him.

"Goddamn!" muttered the braided boy, his heart pounding. He'd always figured Dekim Barton was pretty out of touch with reality—not to mention the local gossip. But apparently the old man was sharper than he seemed.

Duo frowned in thought, replaying the conversation from several years ago in his head. "He said 'sorry about your boyfriend,'" he recalled in a whisper. His eyes flashed in sudden realization, and he looked at Heero in dawning horror. "One day at Howie's, I ran the gas pump for Dekim, and he talked about Solo being gone. He said he was sorry about my boyfriend." His frown deepened. "Why would he say something like that? He knew something had happened to him, didn't he?"

Heero looked over at Trowa, who shook his head apologetically. "Sorry—but that journal picks up after whatever it was had already happened. My grandfather only mentions 'that day' or makes reference to a secret he's afraid to share in later entries."

"Where's the previous journal then?" Duo asked breathlessly.

"It's damaged," Trowa explained. "All the pages are completely stuck together. At some point he must've stored the journals under a leaky roof."

"Fuck!"

"Don't give up, Duo," Quatre urged. "Trowa and I are making the trip this weekend to take the damaged journals to Rashid. He's going to try a new restoration technique."

"You mean we might be able to read 'em some day?" Duo asked hopefully.

"That's the goal," Quatre said carefully. "He's going to explain the process to Trowa and me, and then demonstrate on old scrap pages to show how safe it is. We can't chance damaging the journals. But if the process is safe, we'll give it a try."

Heero gently placed a hand over one of Duo's. "Don't get your hopes up. Even if Dekim was involved in Solo's death, he might not have come right out and said so. It might be nothing but veiled references."

"But he said he had nightmares," Duo pointed out. "If he didn't have a guilty conscience, why—?"

Heero squeezed his hand to get his attention. "You don't even know that his guilty conscience had anything to do with Solo. He could be talking about anything."

"Yes, but then why would he say what he did at the gas station?" Duo's face darkened. "The things he said—if he caught Solo trespassing, who knows what he might've done?"

"That's just it," Heero said sternly. "We don't know. And we may not ever know."

"But we have to find out!" Duo asserted. "There's got to be something that would prove he did it. I mean, you found the remains on Barton land!"

"That doesn't mean a Barton killed him," Heero argued patiently. "It still could have been almost anyone, from a vagrant to someone who knew him very well. Hell, an hour ago you were convinced Otto and Trant were to blame."

"An hour ago I didn't know Dekim Barton was hiding something besides moonshine on his farm!" Duo retorted. "It all makes sense now—the way he talked to me that day at the gas station." He shook his head. "We could be totally barkin' up the wrong tree suspecting Otto and Trant."

"Maybe," Heero said with a shrug, unable to shake his gut feeling that the two thugs were involved.

Duo's eyes narrowed. "You don't sound too enthusiastic. You really like Trant and Otto for this crime, don't you?"

Heero couldn't help smirking. "I like them for it? Been watching cop shows, have you?"

Duo blushed and ducked his head. "Well isn't that the way they say it?"

"Sometimes. And obviously on whatever crime drama you're into, they do."

Quatre reached over to poke Duo in the ribs, but directed his words at Heero. "I think he only started watching that stuff since a hot Asian cop moved into town…"

"Shut up!" Duo hissed, glaring at his roommate. "I did so watch it before!" He forced a nonchalant expression onto his face. "Don't flatter yourself, Yuy. I've always had a fascination for law enforcement."

"I'll bet you have," Heero grinned back. "Considering the statue incident, it was probably important for you to know your civil rights, and exactly how much you could get away with."

"Statue incident?" Trowa asked.

"I'll tell you later," Heero replied, seeing the storm gathering on Duo's face. "Meanwhile, here comes our food," he pointed out, grateful for the distraction.

He'd been wondering how to shift the conversation away from Duo's new found obsession with Dekim Barton as a suspect, and Sally's arrival provided a perfect opportunity, as she set out dishes and checked to make sure everyone had what they needed.

The moment they were left to their own devices, Heero looked over at Quatre. "So, tell me more about the clues to the hidden money." He hoped the blonde would run with it, and keep Duo from brooding about Dekim's damaged journals and the secrets they might contain.

"Oh, sure!" Quatre quickly launched into a summary of the clues they'd found so far in Samuel's journals, which along with comments from Trowa lasted until they were finishing the final bites of their meals.

But even as Quatre started to suggest they go back to their place to compare the notes to some of Duo's maps, the door to the restaurant opened and a young woman walked in, the faint music of bells jingling at her ankles.

Duo glanced up at the sound, and his eyes widened. "Oh holy hell," he muttered darkly. "What the fuck is she doing here?"