authors: Mel &
minor scene change (from person to person at the same place, someone waking
up from a dream, etc): ----------
major scene change (at another place, some time later, etc): * * * * *
flashback starting or ending: ~*~*~*~
electronics (phone, TV, intercom etc): <<Tadah!>>
+ Chapter 16
"It's all right, Wufei,"
Sally said calmly, reading Duo's temperature off the digital thermometer
and making a note.
"All right?! Woman, how can you say that?!" Wufei demanded.
"He's coughing his lungs up, he can hardly breathe--"
"But if he weren't already run down, he'd barely notice this bug,"
Sally pointed out. "It's just a relapse. I warned you this sort of
thing could happen, and I promise you, it's not as bad as it seems.
His temperature isn't dangerously high."
"Not as bad as it seems?!"
"Get a grip, Chang, and stop repeating what I say," Sally said
dryly. "Now could you please let go of Duo long enough for me to
get a blood sample? I think this is the same bronchial infection flaring
up, not a new one, but I need to make sure."
In between coughing fits, Duo made a noise that sounded suspiciously like
While they were waiting for the blood test results to come back, Sally
handed Duo an inhaler. "Here, this will help your breathing. Take
two puffs now; in future, take one when a coughing fit starts."
"Why didn't you give him that before?!" Wufei demanded.
"Because he didn't need it before today," she said sweetly.
"You were concerned about not overmedicating him, weren't
you? I only prescribe Albuterol when a cough is bad enough to interfere
seriously with someone's breathing."
He blushed slightly. "What's it do?"
"Calms and relaxes the bronchial passages," she said, handing
him a large bottle of something syrupy. "This will loosen
the phlegm and make it easier for him to bring it up. Congratulations,
Duo," she said cheerfully, turning back to the braided boy, "you're
going to be spitting green and yellow for a while."
"Oh, yay," he wheezed, giving her a dirty look. "My
"See, the Albuterol is working already!" she chirped, smirking
at him with a sympathetic glint in her eye. "Five words in a row,
with no coughs in between."
There was a knock on the door. "Sally?" Une's voice sounded
worried. "I saw Chang's Blazer in the parking lot, and the security
guards said he brought Maxwell back in... is something wrong?"
Sally rolled her eyes at Duo. "Your Valentine is here. Can she come
Duo snorted with laughter, coughed, winced, and nodded.
Duo waved the inhaler at Lady Une as she poked her head in the door, but
had other things to think about than saying 'hello'. "Sally,"
he croaked, making a face, "this stuff tastes like shit."
"I know. It means that people hardly ever overdose on it. Good afternoon,
Une; nothing serious, just a minor relapse."
Wufei scowled at the 'nothing serious' and 'minor' comments, but managed
not to say anything out loud.
"Sally," Une said dryly, "your idea of 'minor' frequently
differs from your patients'. How minor?"
"Oh, you mean the way your idea of 'overwork' differs from everyone
else's? Well, it depends a little on whether this is a new infection or
the old one coming back, but--" Sally's computer beeped as the
test results came back. "--Good timing! It's the same bug. Wufei
should probably stay home tomorrow to monitor Duo's condition, but I expect
him to be improving again by tomorrow afternoon. 'One day, miserable but
not life-threatening' sort of minor."
"Well, in that case..." Une borrowed the computer for a moment,
bringing up a staff roster. "Hm... I can switch your rostered day
off to Tuesdays, Chang... I have someone who wants to change to weekends.
That gives you tomorrow off. It would mean you'd have to work on Christmas
Eve, but Christmas Day is a holiday and you'd have Saint Stephen's Day
"Saint Stephen's Day?" Wufei asked, confused.
"Boxing Day," Une, Sally and Duo chorused, smirking.
Wufei looked down his nose at them, crossing his arms over his chest haughtily.
"Hn. It's unjust to flaunt in-jokes at other people."
Sally's and Duo's eyes widened; Une raised an eyebrow. "Major Po,"
she asked formally, "would you be so kind as to check Chang's
temperature next? I think that was a joke."
"Woman, don't even think it," Wufei warned, abandoning
his pose and backing away as Sally advanced on him with a thermometer
in her hand and a glint in her eye. Duo snickered softly, ducking his
head to hide the grin.
"I told you I was a bother," Duo said ruefully as Wufei
started the Blazer's engine.
"Oh?" Wufei quirked an eyebrow at him. "Are you saying
you did this on purpose? You decided to have a relapse?"
"Well then," Wufei said calmly, driving out of the parking lot.
"To be a bother you'd have to be annoying, and you're not. To really
be a bother, you'd have to be annoying on purpose. I'm not worried."
Back in Sally's office, Une turned away from the window. "I see you're
back to being called 'woman'," she commented.
Sally snorted, putting things away. "So long as Duo is happy with
the way he's being treated, I could care less what Wufei calls
"How is he?" Une asked seriously. "Really?"
"I wasn't lying, Une. I'm not particularly happy about his relapse,
but I'm not worried, either. He's still better than he was to start with;
Wufei's taking good care of him. Emotionally..." Sally smiled. "The
Duo Maxwell we knew -- and were exasperated by on a daily basis --
seems to be on his way back. He's talking a little; he's appreciating
jokes; he can't be still acting completely paranoid about Wufei
being separated from him, or Wufei would have refused to come back to
work. Of course," she added, "he could be concealing
a lot... pretending to feel better, for Wufei's benefit. There's no way
to tell without doing a proper psychological study, and I sincerely doubt
either of them would cooperate with that idea."
"You're so reassuring."
Sally looked sympathetic. "I find that sort of thinking just as annoying
as you do, Une, but I've got to consider it. Most likely the truth is
somewhere in the middle; Duo's making some progress, and faking a little
more to make Wufei feel better. I'll settle for that... for now."
* * * * *
Sally's prediction that Duo would be improving by Tuesday afternoon was
correct, but the cough hung on stubbornly. The coughing fits were fewer
and less severe, but they kept happening, and he tired far too easily
for Wufei's peace of mind. When Wufei mentioned that he planned to ask
Lady Une for more time off, though, Duo turned stubborn again.
"I'll be fine," he insisted, sitting up in bed. "It
was only a problem yesterday because it was a surprise and I didn't have
anything to take for it. I'll sleep lots and drink lots and eat when I'm
supposed to. Go back to work."
It was shock at the length of the speech, more than anything else, that
convinced Wufei to do as he said; and Duo was all right without
Wufei there in the mornings.
The next four days passed quickly. Work took on a new dimension for Wufei;
he found new sympathy for some of the agents he'd previously scorned for
being 'clockwatchers'. Only some of them, though. Now that he had someone
to return to, a reason to go home on time, he understood how someone could
insist on packing up and leaving on the dot and still be a good agent.
The ones who took off to go clubbing and get drunk, on the other hand...
He was mildly disappointed when Leah stopped publicly berating offenders
against filing etiquette. It had been amusing, but she didn't have to
any more; people started taking her threats seriously after she 'accidentally'
broke the arm of one of the worst offenders during an unarmed combat practice
session. (Sally was heard to say that she felt rather sorry for Agent
Torg; he was a nice guy and a good agent, but there seemed to be a fundamental
connection missing from his brain when it came to paperwork. He didn't
hold a grudge, though, and his friends had to admit that nothing less
drastic would have worked on him.)
Keeping this in mind, Wufei was careful to water his fern on a regular
He also bought a second futon, setting it up on the floor of the lounge
room every night and folding it up in a cupboard during the day. He didn't
get any use out of it, of course, but it stopped Duo from worrying about
him sleeping on the too-short couch.
Leah continued to keep an eye on Ray Anders and his friends, but although
she was sure they were up to something, she couldn't get any concrete
information about what it was. It was blatantly obvious that they were
discussing something important at every opportunity -- usually clustered
around Anders' desk or at a back table in King O'Malley's -- but it's
not easy to eavesdrop on a group of people when they're talking quietly
in the middle of a large room with no cover. This is especially
true if they know and dislike you.
The back of my neck prickles whenever I look at those jerks, Leah
thought, frustrated. I know they're not just goofing off; they're
far too serious for that... but I can't exactly go to Lady Une and tell
her 'I don't like those guys and they make my skin crawl, therefore they
are up to no good and should be investigated'.
"Tomorrow's the day, guys." Anders smirked. "It's Christmas
Eve and Sunday; it'll be perfect. I got a look at the rosters.
Une's finally approved some leave, so HQ will be running on minimum staff,
and Chang's rostered on that morning. He leaves at twelve on the dot;
we know where he's going to be and when... there's no better time for
Finally, you little prick, you're gonna get yours!
* * * * *
As Wufei walked into Preventers' HQ on Sunday morning, his mind was more
on future shopping plans than work.
Perhaps I should ask Sally Po, he mused, walking towards his desk
and absent-mindedly acknowledging a couple of Merry Christmases. She
might know where I can find a good tiramisu for Duo... that or 'Death
by Chocolate', I know he likes that as well.
...on second thought, not 'Death by Chocolate'. It might be
a bit too much right now, even by Duo's standards! He still isn't over
that damn relapse.
Wufei stopped short, staring in surprise. What's Quatre's assistant
doing here... and in Preventers' uniform?!
On closer inspection, it wasn't Ninke Assink that was standing
talking to Leah McKenzie, but there was certainly a startling resemblance.
Tall, slender, with short white-blond hair and Nordic good looks... not
to mention the nametag, 'N. ASSINK'.
"Good morning, Chang," Leah said, noticing him staring. "Can
I help you with something?"
"Ah, I beg your pardon, McKenzie, no. Forgive my rudeness,"
Wufei said, flushing slightly as he turned to the man, "but... are
you related to a Ninke Assink? He works at Winner Enterprises..."
The man grinned. "He's my little big brother! I'm Nicklaus; pleased
to meet you." They shook hands. "I just transferred in from
"'Little big brother'?" Leah asked quizzically, raising an eyebrow.
"He's two years older than me, but I'm two inches taller than him,"
Nicklaus explained. "It's a bit of a family joke."
"...I see," Wufei said dryly, looking up (and up) at
him. Which would make Ninke about... six foot four. Very little.
After a few more pleasantries, Wufei made his way to his desk, clutching
a mug of bad coffee.
That was... surreal, he thought, sitting down and turning on his
computer. I've got to get more sleep; for a moment there, I
had a weird feeling that if I turned around, everyone behind me would
have turned into Assink clones.
His vidphone beeped. "Chang here," he said curtly, glancing
up at the screen as he hit 'accept' -- then froze.
<<Good morning, Mr. Chang. I'm from Foreign Minister Peacecraft's
"Let me guess," Wufei interrupted, staring at the screen in
horrified fascination. "Your last name is Assink."
The familiar-looking man blinked. <<Why, yes, sir. Karl Assink.>>
"I've... met Ninke and Nicklaus," Wufei said slowly. "The
family resemblance is... um..." At least this one's name doesn't
start with 'Ni', he thought, then had to hide a sudden grin behind
his mug as he remembered an old comedy film Duo had dug up from somewhere
during the war. The knights who say 'Ni!' were all Assinks! he
thought, suppressing semi-hysterical caffeine- and fatigue-induced giggles.
Maybe I should offer them a shrubbery...
<<Yes, we all look alike, sir. They're my big brothers.>>
"Older or just taller?" Wufei managed, voice a little strained.
<<Both, sir.>> Karl grinned. <<I'm the baby and
the runt of the family.>>
"Big big brothers, then." Shut up shut up shut UP!
Oh gods, I'm going to laugh in his face...
<<I see you've definitely been talking to Nicklaus, Mr. Chang;
he loves that joke. I didn't call to inflict my family's running jokes
on you, though, sir. Miss Relena is on her way to a meeting right now;
before she left, she asked me to call you and confirm what hours you're
"Nine to twelve. Why?"
<<I believe she and some of your mutual friends are planning to
visit you at work to ask your opinion of the presents they've bought for
Mr. Maxwell. If they have time, of course; their schedules are
"I'll be leaving right on twelve, no matter what," Wufei warned.
"I have plans." Like finding Duo a good tiramisu and getting
home before he has time to worry!
<<Miss Relena understands that, sir.>>
Yeah, but does Heero? Wufei thought sourly.
<<I'll pass the information along. Thank you, and Merry Christmas!>>
"Merry Christmas," Wufei echoed automatically.
He sat back, staring bemusedly at the blank screen; then he leaned sideways
and peered between a bookcase and his fern, looking across the room to
where Leah was showing Nicklaus to an empty desk.
How big is that family? he thought, sitting back and reaching
for his cooling coffee. And how many more of them are going to show
up?! Do the women all look alike too, or are they cloning ridiculously
tall blond men somewhere in Holland? At least they have different-coloured
eyes; Ninke has blue-grey, Nicklaus has grey, and Karl has blue... maybe
that's how they tell each other apart? That and the height difference.
Wufei snorted softly. Little' brother, my left foot...
The rest of the morning passed without incident. No more Assink siblings
(identical or otherwise) turned up; the only problem Wufei encountered
was the nearly uncontrollable urge to mutter 'Ni!' under his breath whenever
he went past Nicklaus. He managed to suppress it, though, probably saving
himself a lot of explanations.