Relena sat stone-faced at her desk, eyes glued to the small television on the corner of the great darkwood top. Dorothy stood just to the side of her chair, a faint unnerving smile playing on her lips as she watched the news caster in silence.
The story finished, and the bright-eyed reporter continued on to another babble of words concerning environmental issues in Europe. Relena turned the TV off and swivelled her chair slightly to stare at the person standing before her desk.
"A stray dog of some sort is going about tearing people's throats out," she said carefully, her face still neutral. "While I admit it's a terrible thing, and have every intention of having animal control put the creature down, I don't see why such a thing would bring you so far from home just to talk with me, Miss..."
"Phillips." The older woman spread painted lips in a wide, dazzling smile. Above the smile, her emerald eyes were cold. "Miss Phillips. Veteranarian." She gestured towards the television with a long-fingered hand. "Anyone who approaches this beast has been killed or injured. Some believe it's a wolfhound or a rottweiler. Pretty large for a dog-- especially one with rabies. It could have bitten other dogs by now. That isn't my only concern, however. My main concern is the people it has injured."
"We've had reports of those who survived and received medical attention," Relena said patiently. "Anyone who didn't bother to get a rabies shot after an attack no doubt hastened to get one administered after watching the news these past couple of days."
"Yes, I'm sure most were smart enough to visit a doctor," Miss Phillips agreed, moving her face into an expression of concern. Relena kept her gaze steadily locked with the other woman's, and noted internally that no matter the expression on that beautiful, painted face, the eyes remained forever cold and uncaring. "However, there is always the risk of some not receiving medical attention. By now, unless it's happened within a day or two, a simple rabies vaccination won't be enough to help them."
Relena felt her mouth tug into a frown. "Are you trying to say it's too late for them?"
"No. Not if I get to them first." The older woman pushed her long red hair over her shoulder and leaned in slightly as if to drill in the importance of her words. "There's a specific level of the vaccine they must receive for them to be in the all clear. If they come to my office, any of my staff will be able to administer the vaccine. If they don't get this shot, they will die."
Relena stared into the grave but cold green eyes for a long moment before flicking a glance towards the girl beside her.
Dorothy was watching the redhead with a strangely blank expression on her face. When she felt Relena looking at her, she gave a slight shrug. Relena sighed internally.
As a politician herself and the daughter of a politician, she had learned early on to read a person by their eyes, their body language, and their tone of voice. This woman seemed earnest and well-meaning, but Relena kept finding herself staring uneasily into those cold green eyes, puzzling over the instinctive feeling that the woman was up to no good.
She found herself suddenly wishing she had Quatre or Heero with her instead of Dorothy. Dorothy could usually tell when a person was overly ambitious or planning treachery; however, no one could read a person like Quatre, and Heero had an almost instinctive ability to sense malice in a person.
She shook that fleeting yearning off hastily. She was still angry with them for going against her pleas and commands and throwing themselves into yet another war. Relena jerked her thoughts away from the pilots and concentrated once more on the woman before her.
No doubt the mix of icy jade eyes and concerned expression was throwing even Dorothy off a little. In the end, Relena knew she would have to put her own niggling doubts aside and put the safety of her people at the top of her priorities.
Perhaps Miss Phillips had a knack for reading people, as well. She seemed to sense that Relena had made her decision, and drew a plain business card from her purse, tapping her plum-colored nail over the picture of a dog by her name: M.A. Phillips. "Here's my card. My office has the most ready supply of the vaccine these people are going to need. Please, if you could somehow get it out to the public..."
Relena pushed her unfounded doubts aside and accepted the card with a courteous nod of her head. "Of course." She rose, gesturing with her hand. "I appreciate your concern. Thank you for coming all this way to talk with me about this. Dorothy will show you to the door."
Miss Phillips nodded with a little smile on her face and followed Dorothy out of the office.
As soon as she was gone, Relena sank into her chair, staring blankly at the little card in her hand. She sighed quietly, setting the card carefully in the center of her desk, on top of papers already signed. "I suppose we might as well make some sort of public announcement," she murmured thoughtfully. "Miss Phillips may seem a little strange, but her intentions are good."
"Yes." Noin appeared from the balcony just behind the desk, pushing the drapes aside. Her uniform, as always, was freshly pressed and crisp. As Relena turned in her chair to look at her bodyguard, she secretly noted for the umpteenth time the dim sadness in the back of the pretty woman's eyes. She had tried more than once to get the older woman to talk about what was troubling her, but the most she'd been able to get was something about Milliardo. Relena could understand that much. She, too, missed her brother. They had been overjoyed to discover him alive and well... and then he had abruptly turned his back on them and joined the Gundam pilots in their fight against the new Oz faction. Not even Noin could talk him out of it. She'd stopped talking about it weeks ago; Relena knew it was a painful subject for the both of them, and rarely brought it up. Though a part of Relena had been surprised that Noin had opted to stay with her instead of helping the six fearless soldiers in their cause.
Relena was careful to keep her poker face in place, not allowing the other woman to see the sudden sharp pain she felt thinking about Heero. The fact that he had so callously brushed her off when she'd begged him not to drag the nation into war had hurt her deeply. She'd tried a direct order to cease and desist, which Heero had of course ignored. It made Relena want to strangle him. She was tentatively working on peace treaties with representatives of the mysterious leader of the new rabble; didn't Heero and his bone-headed friends realize that they were only making things worse?
She'd thought she'd be able to get through to Quatre Winner, at least, and had met with him once. Noin had told her of the Arabian's gentle heart and keen mind, and she'd been sure she'd be able to talk some sense into him. He'd been attentive and almost.. sympathetic of her reasoning, but had been adament in his decision to fight alongside his teammates. He'd tried to tell her their viewpoint on it, but she had tuned it out when she'd realized with growing frustration that these five young men were unable to see any other solution to a problem other than to battle their way through it.
Heero was against her. It seemed to her now that, even with the majority of the population of earth and space backing her determined efforts for a peaceful conclusion, she had never been so alone. She needed Heero to be there to back her up and help her. Most of all she needed a friend. There was Noin, and maybe Dorothy, but she was unable to confide in them completely. Noin was older than her, and still a soldier at heart. Dorothy... well, her love for wars was no longer what it had once been, since it had cost her the lives of friends and her cousin Treize, and very nearly taken Zechs away from her. But she still reminded Relena of a poisonous snake hiding under a rock, waiting for her chance to strike.
Relena shook herself out of her inner musings and focused on the older woman. "Could you please make sure the information for Miss Phillips is made known to the public?" She handed over the little business card. "Have the news casters run this about every hour."
"Hai." Noin took the card, nodded shortly, and strode from the room.
Relena gave a little sigh to herself and hunched forward over her desk, steepling her fingers and gazing unseeing at the stack of petitions and notices by her elbow. After several minutes of gazing into space and musing, she rose abruptly to her feet and reached for her jacket. She pressed her intercom and leaned forward to speak into it. "Pargan, could you bring the car around to the side? I need to get out of this office for a little while."
"Of course, ma'am."
"Maxwell, you have exactly ten seconds to get off my doorstep."
Duo arched a brow, glancing over the stiff swordsman's shoulder at the empty apartment behind him. He looked back over his friend, at the half-buttoned shirt and the loose-fitting pants and forced back a grin. "What's wrong, Wu-man? Catch you and Sally at a bad time?"
Wufei continued to glare heatedly at the unwanted visitor just outside his door. His grip on the dishrag he was holding tightened slightly. "Maxwell.." he started in a warning tone.
"This'll just take a sec," Duo blurted, dodging the irritated pilot and darting into the room.
"Maxwell!" Wufei slammed the door and turned on his heel.
Duo looked around quickly, then suddenly turned and stopped Wufei's tirade by seizing him by the shoulders and staring at him full in the face.
Wufei jerked back instinctively, then stared in confusion at his friend and the uncharacteristic somber look on his face. "Maxwell, what the hell-"
"Sally's not here?" Duo asked, flicking a look over Wufei's shoulder towards the door. "When's she supposed to be back?"
"She's getting groceries, presumably," Wufei said slowly, frowning and trying to step back. "Let go of me, Maxwell. What the hell's the matter with you?"
"Oh, yeah, personal bubble thing." Duo released him and turned away with a flip of his braid, striding quickly towards the couch. "Have you seen Quatre?"
Wufei crossed his arms and peered suspiciously at his partner. "I thought he was with you and Barton. Speaking of which, shouldn't you be in bed or something?"
"I'm fine," Duo insisted, flopping onto the couch with a sigh. "It was five days ago. I'm no Heero Yuy, but dammit, I'm not made of porcelain. Anyway, Tro gave me a clean bill of health yesterday."
"And you're looking for Winner here because..?"
"He left the day after Tro took us to his hidey hole. While I was asleep." Duo began to fool with the end of his braid nervously. "I asked Tro where he'd gone, but he wasn't sure."
"Maxwell, what's all this about?" Wufei demanded in exasperation.
Wufei narrowed his eyes a little, waiting for an explanation. "Dog?" he repeated when it became obvious he wasn't going to one.
"You've heard about that crazy dog that's been running around tearing people's throats out, right? Well, Quatre got bitten by a dog the other night post-mission," Duo sighed, picking at a thread on the cheap couch. "We didn't think too much about it, and Tro gave him a rabies shot. But now Perfect Peacecraft is showing this little thing on the news every hour about some miracle vaccine or something for people that have been bitten."
"That's for people that didn't get a rabies shot, Maxwell," Wufei pointed out.
Duo squirmed. "Yeah, well... rabies isn't exactly something we run across too often in our line of work, is it? The stuff Tro had wasn't exactly..er.. fresh." At Wufei's strange look, he muttered, "It's not the best stuff on the market, OK? It's for very mild cases, more like a 'just in case'. I should know, I got it from Howard and passed it on to Trowa a couple years ago."
Wufei sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "So, what, you're afraid Winner has full-blown rabies?" he demanded. "It's unlikely-"
"Obviously you don't know squat about rabies," Duo interrupted, clenching his fists on his knees and looking up at him earnestly. "Rabies shots-- even as a 'just in case' --are supposed to be given in increments over a period of a few days. Q only got that one shot. Look, all I'm saying is it'd be a lot better if he got this 'miracle cure'. Better safe than sorry, right?" (1)
Wufei turned and walked towards the small kitchen area. "Why did you ask if Sally was here?" he asked suddenly.
Duo got to his feet and trailed after the warrior. "Didn't want her to panic or anything," he said with a careless shrug. "Though I was hopin' you could wheedle a favor out of her. Maybe she can get her hands on the medicine."
"I doubt it," Wufei said, opening the fridge and reaching for the juice. "For a 'miracle cure', it's being very tightly controlled. That doctor on the TV wants to take care of every patient herself, or at least let her personal assistants do it."
Duo frowned. "If I didn't know any better," he muttered, "I'd say the Doc is keeping an eye open for something."
"Someone," Wufei corrected, pouring two glasses of juice and glancing sideways at his partner. "Perhaps someone too far gone, who knows?"
Duo took his glass of juice and gulped it down before Wufei had even taken a taste of his own. "I dunno," he said, setting the glass back down with a clunk. "This is all really weird, Wu-man."
"Don't call me that," Wufei retorted automatically, his voice hollow against the rim of his cup.
Duo smirked at him. "Anyway," he continued, turning away and wandering back towards the couch, "if you hear from Quatre, could you send his ass packing to the clinic? And have someone go with him." He frowned thoughtfully to himself. "I have a weird feeling about this Doctor and her miracle drug."
Wufei lifted his eyes skyward for help as Duo, obviously deciding the serious moment was over and done with, flopped onto the couch and began rooting for the remote. "Maxwell," he started through his teeth.
"What did you mean by 'presumably'?" Duo called over his shoulder, digging his fingers in between the couch cushions.
"When I asked where Sally was, you said she was 'getting groceries, presumably'. You two have a little fight or something?"
Dammit, did the boy miss anything? "That's none of your business, Maxwell," he said, suddenly feeling tired. He put the juice away and the two cups in the sink.
"Lovers quarrel?" Duo sang teasingly from the couch.
"We're not lovers, Maxwell," Wufei said firmly.
Silence from the living room.
A few moments later the TV came on, and Wufei began to wash some of his dishes in resignation. The only way to get Duo out of his house would be a threat against his life or physical force, so sometimes it was easier just to ignore the boy and his chatter and his annoying channel surfing.
And though he feigned indifference in front of the other boy, he reminded himself mentally to check with Sally about the serum.
Luther Drake was not sitting at his desk, he was lounging.
Feet propped up on the desk's surface, getting dirt on the paperwork there, hands clasped behind his head, he leaned back in his creaking leather chair and glared balefully at the hapless, dithering idiot before him.
"What do you mean you haven't found them yet?" he demanded slowly, his lips barely moving. "You are telling me that a couple of high school brats managed to sneak past security, plant some homemade bomb, and then give an entire squad the slip? After killing six of them?"
The man on the other side of the desk swallowed visibly, unable to take his eyes from the wicked looking knife sitting on the desk just by Luther Drake's expensive shoes. "Sir, there's no way they should have been able to get past us," he squeaked. "It was like they were ghosts! And that bomb wasn't your run-of-the-mill pipe bomb, either--"
"Enough." Luther's growl was enough to silence the terrified soldier immediately. "I didn't call you in here for your excuses. I called you here to tell me how those two little shits got past the guards and managed to escape."
The pitiful soldier opened and shut his mouth helplessly, unable to provide a satisfactory answer. Luther's eyes rolled thoughtfully towards the knife, and his subordinate almost lost control of his bladder in a sudden pang of terror.
Just then the doors burst open, making the soldier jump. The man who strolled inside was wearing a shit-eating grin, his eyes alight with mischief and satisfaction.
"I don't remember sending for you, Caspian." Luther's voice was quiet, but his eyes were hooded and dangerous.
"Hey, just got a little good news for you, that's all. No need to get all huffy." The lean man collapsed in a chair beside the quaking soldier, still grinning from ear to ear. He blew wayward dark bangs out of his face and fixed his leader with an intense stare.
Luther glanced towards the soldier and flicked his hand imperiously. "Get out of my sight. You have twenty-four hours to bring me the heads of those two idiots or give me a decent explanation for what happened."
Grateful to be alive, the soldier saluted hastily and all but ran from the room. Caspian watched him go with amusement until he felt the older man's bright eyes boring into him.
Luther slid his feet from the desk and rose to his feet slowly. "Just because you are my cousin," he murmured, "does not give you leave to come rushing in and out as you please. You have already caused me enough damage these past few days."
The younger man looked affronted. "Hey, I'm just doing what you told me to do, boss," he snorted.
"I did not tell you to be so open about it," Luther growled quietly, green eyes narrowing dangerously. He set his palms flat on the desk and leaned forward slightly. "This had better be good."
Caspian could tell there would be no more teasing, and sobered up a little. "You remember how you thought that perhaps that Peacecraft woman had what you were looking for? But that it would be too difficult to get to her and the chances were slim anyway?"
Caspian couldn't hold back the triumphant grin as he gazed up at his scar-faced cousin. "We've found her brother."
(1) I got attacked & bit by a dog and had to get rabies shots, which is the only reason I know this. -__- It sucked the big one.
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