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Old Soldiers, Chapter 14: ten oh one oh one

[AO3 link]


"I would kill for a tissue sample right now," Angela said, looking over old, old notes.

Mei-Ling laughed. "Oh, I don't think you would!"

"No, but I would think about it." Dr. Ziegler leaned back from the screen. "At least I have some idea where to start. But there are so many variables..." She started a third batch of nanosurgeons, the variant least likely to have been in her lab at the time - but she couldn't rule it out.

A timer dinged, and Mei-Ling reached over to the results display. "First production batch is ready!" She looked over the properties data, comparing the theoretical characteristics against sampled. "Wow, it's been so long - these were so much less effective! But they match the old data very well."

"Thank goodness for offsite backups," said the senior researcher, leaning over to check the results herself, and nodding approvingly. "Let's hope the others match so closely."

"What's this other set of nanites over here?" Dr. Zhou brought up the other batch's synthesis input panel. "These are... very different! Much smaller!"

The medical doctor nodded. "And, at the time, highly experimental. If there's any way my work is causing what we've seen... it will involve those."

-----

Fareeha wandered into her wife's lab at oh-two-hundred, finding her exactly where she expected she would, after four days of work - out cold, asleep, at her desk. Mei-Ling, at least, had managed to make her way over to the couch, but did not look that much more comfortable. The rocketeer laughed a little, softly, and roused the environmental scientist.

"Dr. Zhou?"

"...wha...? Oh! Good morn..." She looked around, seeing the overnight lights. "uh... What time is it?"

"Two a.m. - otherwise known as the middle of the night, when none of you should be awake. I'm getting Angela to bed. You should go sleep in your own quarters as well, unless you enjoy neck cramps."

Mei straightened her glasses and blinked her bleary eyes. "Yes." She shook her head. "She was supposed to awaken me at midnight when the latest test run completed! I wonder what happened?"

Angela stirred at the desk, at most half awake. "'S running again," she muttered. "G'back t'sleep, Lena."

"...Lena?" giggled Mei. "Dr. Ziegler, this is Mei-Ling!"

"Please, Dr. Zhou," said Fareeha, "Go get some rest. I will take care of this blonde mess."

Mei laughed, sleepily. "Blonde mess? You're so mean!" She yawned, a very big, and very deep, yawn. "That is probably a good idea though. I will be back in the morning. Good night, Angela!"

"...what?" said the medical doctor, finally awake enough to know who was in the room with her. "Oh, hello, dear. Good night, Mei."

"Come to bed, wife. Now." Fareeha pointed towards their quarters, as Mei made her way sleepily out the door.

Her wife shook her head, no. "There is another test running, it will finish up around four..."

"And it can sit there happily until nine. You do this every time you get into a big project, and your work suffers for it, and you suffer for it, and I suffer for it. And we agreed, I do not have to suffer for it anymore."

"This is only the third day," she guessed, with faked confidence.

"This is the fourth day, and is when you made me promise to stop you."

"I did not!" she insisted.

"You are a terrible liar," said her wife, "and you know it."

"I'm not, really," the doctor said, with a little sad smile. "Except to you."

"Bedtime," said the flying agent. "Now."

"Oooooooh - fine, then. You are correct, the quality of my work does suffer." She rose from the desk, and stretched so tall. "And this is important. I should get some better sleep." She shut off the lights, leaving the systems running.

"Any progress?" asked Fareeha, as they walked out into the hallway together.

"I'm..." Angela sighed, frowning a little. "I'm afraid I think so. This refined test will tell me for sure. We were getting nowhere until Mei-Ling suggested that he'd probably thrown down one of his old biotic field grenades, and if he activated everything all at once... I can't anticipate all the interactions. But I can make some guesses." She yawned, hugely, and stretched her arm across her wife's shoulders. "Carry me."

"You know what? I will." And she lifted the doctor off the floor, in her arms, effortlessly, like she had three years ago, and the Swiss woman laughed, delighted.

"What was that about Lena, though?" asked the Egyptian, as she continued down the corridor, apparently unburdened by carrying her wife.

"What?"

"When you were still half asleep, you heard us, but you called Mei-Ling 'Lena.'"

"I did?"

"Yes," confirmed the rocketeer. "Are you still worried about her?"

"Honestly?" She put her other arm around Fareeha's neck, helping carry some of her own weight, or at least transfer it. "I am. I didn't know her so very well before, back in the sixties, but over the last year... she's done so much good, and yet, she's..." She fiddled with the words in her head, dancing around the simplest ones.

"An assassin," said her lover. "A political killer. Not the kind of career change I'd've expected, given her old records."

"It hurts, a little. I... I kind of adore her, when things are not so bad, when she's being Tracer and meaning it. Seeing her shift like she does, in the eyes, when she's set off..."

"The golden irises?"

"No. Those - you know, those are pretty. She's absolutely gorgeous, a person who is also an artwork - you haven't seen her accelerator when she's really showing off, artwork is the only word - and to me, the gold completes her. No," she shook her head, "it's the anger."

"Should I be jealous?" joked the rocketeer. "I can be angry, too."

"Never," said the doctor, smiling, patting her wife's chest.

"And her rage frightens you."

"It saddens me." She nuzzled her head up against Fareeha's neck. "We lost her once, to the Slipstream, and everyone mourned - I don't want to lose her again, to anger, to rage, or... to... whatever might kill someone in her line of work. I don't know if I could handle it." She let her eyes close, but tried not to fall asleep. "I can't accept death, not the way you do."

"I'm not convinced I can accept returns to life. You're handling her being back much better than I'm handling my mother's sudden return."

"Am I?"

"Yes."

"Well - I've had more time." She shifted a bit as her wife turned down the residential corridor. "I've become quite fond of Lena, you know. Even if I don't let myself show it."

"You do, to me."

"Of course! But to her - I'm her doctor, that's all I can be. It's all I should be, ethically. Anything else is just asking for trouble."

"And you never do that."

"Never," giggled the doctor. "Not ever."

"Well," said the rocketeer. "Here we are. If you'll open the door, I'll carry you across the threshold again."

"You are so good to me," said the doctor, smiling, and undoing the lock.

"I know."

-----

At 10:01 hours the next day, a mouse squeaked in tiny outrage as it suddenly lost an ear.

At 10:01:01, it had that ear again, as if never lost, and it blinked, and groomed itself, and, finding everything in place, went back to running around in its cage, as if nothing had ever happened.

"Well," said Mei-Ling, quietly. "I think we've found it."

"Yes," whispered Angela. "Now, all we have to do is... find a way to make it stop."

Also posted to ソ-ラ-バ-ド-のおん; comment count unavailable comments at Dreamwidth. Please comment there.

Tags: also on ao3, angela ziegler, everybody just be cute okay, fareeha amari, mei-ling zhou, phamercy, pharmercy, tracemaker, tracermaker, venom, widowtracer
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