"That broth is too thick." Cook pointed out. What was supposed be be the third attempt that week, the "energy soup" yet again ended up a flop. At first they thought they could replicate the Bonk brand's liquid spark, but realized that the drink only gave a very short spike of power, contrary to the long term results they desired. So far they made a curdled-like chowder that instantly healed Scout's leg, and a watery mess that made Sniper see new colors, but both nearly sent their digestive systems on overdrive.
This third attempt Cook knew to be a failure without even testing. The mix was much too rich, and would not only cause stomach upset, but also slow the men down in battle. When she expressed that much, Medic threw his hands up in frustration.
"Great, lovely, vunderbar! What's next, Engineer's microbots end up causing cancer instead of bursting arteries?"
"Hey, I said I'm workin' on that!" the man defended from the other side of the lab. A side project he had been working on for over a year, Engineer thought it would be a great opportunity to try out the tiny machines with food. With no luck.
Cook sighed in aggravation. She had worked with the two men in an overheated lab with every spare moment she had, and she began to wonder if she would ever breath fresh air and not hear them argue. Again. As Cook took a sample of the rejected concoction and cleaned up the smoking mess, she realized that she hadn't done either for over a week since the project started. No wonder they were getting antsy. After doing her part, Cook opened the small cooler in the corner, hoping to find a crisp, fresh soda to wash down her fatigue. Instead she found a shivering Spy Head. He looked more worn and tired than aggravated, his nose stiff and cold as an icicle.
"S-salut. It's been a while."
"Dammit, Medic! What did I tell you about this?" Cook snapped as she faced him, a finger pointed at the offended head. Medic merely shrugged.
"What about it?"
With annoyance, Cook took out Spy Head and set him on the now clear counter. She took out a hanky and wiped his runny nose. "What about it? I told you to stop stuffin' him in nooks and crannies!"
"The fridge is neither a nook nor a cranny. I kept my word."
The technicality did not please her, but she didn't want to drag on the argument. Once Spy Head was warmer, Cook took her worn out notebook and went over her notes. Details of the broth and her thoughts on it's rejection were written down. Spy Head read over her shoulder before showing his surprise.
"...No wonder you looked to have aged twenty years, mademoiselle. Every word you write shows more anger and frustration."
"You don't know the half of it." Cook replied. "Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber won't let me try adding other ingredients beside bone broth, grains, or oil. Or salt."
"Forgive me for cutting out your Empty Bowel Surprise Spice Mix." Medic sneered.
"Forgive me for trying to make it permissible for the palate." Cook snapped back immediately.
Engineer, who had given up for the day on his miniscule machines, walked between them with a cold beer. Greasy goggles were pushed up on his even greasier bald head and his eyes were dropping.
"Aw, drop it you two. I'm tired of hearin' ya'll bicker."
Notes were tossed into her designated drawer and was slammed shut by the heated cook. "I'm tired of having to bicker all the time. I think we've made better progress comin' up with insults than we have with inventing a new super food."
"And you call that a failure, Frau Cook?" Medic smirked. Before the woman could retort, Engineer came between them again. Each arm wrapped around the shoulder of the two, the grip preventing them from escaping his stained hands.
"How about we go out for a drink? Just somethin' to loosen up the nerves. Have some fun on the town!" Engineer suggested. Medic grunted, his nose crinkled, though Cook looked surprised.
"Really? You sure?"
Engineer grinned, releasing the two as he washed up his hands in the sink. "Why not? We're all gettin' stir crazy as is. Won't do nothin' productive either way."
"I dunno..." Cook admitted, wringing her messy apron between her worn hands.
"Whether you come along or not, I'm going!" Medic declared with a wild grin of his own. Red gloves were thrown into a biohazard basket. "A good lager to wash down the stress, what more reason do I need not to go?"
"The fact that our careers and lives hang in the balance." Cook put it dryly. Engineer laughed, giving her a hefty pat on the back.
"C'mon, just one drink at least. Ya earned it."
Cook found it hard to argue, especially when Engineer offered to pay the first round, so it was off to Tuefort's Lounge Bar after they all washed and dressed themselves. Despite wearing more casual civilian clothing, Cook and the others found it hard to not add red into their wardrobe. The woman herself donned a modest pale red blouse with crisp jeans and red flats, Engineer throwing on his best red flannel shirt. Only Medic wore a normal white shirt with slacks sans red, though Cook swore the color of their team radiated from him. He was a RED through and through, and he didn't have to wear the color to show it.
"It's kinda musty in here." Cook noted as they sat at the bar. Though the place had the air of being cared for, it was also worn, dark, and murky. People smoked their cigars and toasted and drank loudly, music from the jukebox playing subtly among the buzz of chatter. With a note of embarrassment, she also realized she was one of five women in the whole place.
"You sure you guys didn't want a guys night out? I coulda just stayed back on base."
"I never said such a thing and I never would." Medic told her bluntly as their tall, dark brews were slid in front of the odd trio. Cook leaned forward on her elbows, swirling a finger into the thick foam in her cup.
"Yeah yeah, I know, you don't like me." she droned in an unsurprised tone. "What else is new?"
"Your snark sure isn't."
"You know what would be new? If ya'll shut the hell up." Engineer said before taking a swig of his beer. "We came to relax, remember? Try and enjoy the night for once."
Cook couldn't help but giggle. It all just seemed so silly. Although a part of her felt sad that Medic still had not recognized her, and was not the shining hero she remembered him as, she grew to accept who he was: an egotistical, self-serving, blood-thirsty maniac. Well, almost accepted him; it took thick skin to truly enjoy the man's company. Still, Cook did her best to keep her heart open just as her Mami would tell her to do. The man who saved her family's lives surely had something good deep within him.
She eventually took a small sip of the beer. It was earthy and strong, a perfect match of the town that brewed it. Cook found herself taking larger gulps to better flow it over her tastebuds; beer fan or no, she could not deny it was tasty. A silly smile formed on her face once the beer was two-thirds gone into her belly. She looked over at her teammates, loosening up and laughing over a story of their younger days. The words were half-drowned out by the chatter all around them, as well as the jukebox's increased volume. In fact, the whole place suddenly appeared more inviting, and colorful. Cook downed another giant swig, finishing the entire mug, before standing up, wobbling a bit on her feet. She would have to apologize to Demoman for thinking the stuff was horrid!
"Hey...hey guys, Imma...I'm gonna get music I like." she slurred out to the best of her abilities. They nodded before returning to their chat. She asked for a bottle of the local brew and drank it as she continued onwards. The walk there wasn't hard, surprisingly, as Cook was well pass tipsy, though she managed to squish her nose against the jukebox window and started flipping through songs. The words were hard to read.
"Eh, nah, meh..."
Most songs were hits from her childhood, though nothing popped out to her; drinking more, she persevered and continued, wondering in her drunken stupor why people didn't like the classics anymore. A country girl who grew up on the land desired something familiar, homey, and, well, country. Not one single song so far even came close.
"Stupid new crap, tryna be...new...and stupid!" she grumbled under her breath. Cook found Loretta Lynn's name; she would have to do. Without bothering to look at the song, she clumsily pressed the button to play it. The records changed and in seconds an upbeat song blared out. Cook pushed herself away and began to wobble back with her half-finished bottle, thinking of buying herself and the boys another round, when snippet of conversation perked her interest.
"...but BLAK needs more territory before..."
Cook stopped dead in her tracks, almost tripping over her own feet and spilling a bit of her beer. The stumbling stopped quickly enough for her to catch a parcel of someone's response.
"...still need the samples..."
It was soft yet cruel, the voice of the woman who responded, rolling her "R"s. Her gut clenched like it always did before a battle, Cook's fighting instincts kicking in and urging her to catch more of those talking. As it turned out, the voices came from a closed off backroom, the rickety door allowing snippets of words to filter through the boisterous bar. She slouched behind a potted plant next to the door and listened as hard as her muddled mind would allow.
"...don't need the samples yet." a man argued heatedly. Cook recognized his accent as French, similar to her own Spy's dialect. However, he sounded much more nasally, and higher pitched. It could not have been her own Spy. "Besides, they can wait. What we truly need, madame, is a plan to outsmart them before they know what hits them."
"Ha!" the woman scoffed haughtily. "My husband is an impatient man. He could not get the records of the infected family from the hospital, and now he demands the samples that the Medic may or may not have. He will get what he wants, eventually."
Cook's blood froze, as thick as it was from the alcohol. Infected family? Medic? Samples? Yet her mind was swimming in alcohol, too cloudy to connect the dots; all she knew was that for whatever reason, Medic may or may not had been in danger. Perhaps this was the unknown danger the Administrator warned her team of. She shot up immediately and walked rather quickly back to the bar. Burning churns erupted in her stomach from the sudden movements but Cook did her best to ignore it. Something much more dire was at hand. Loyalty to her dear Medic drove her on without spilling the contents of her stomach.
"Engie, Medic! There, there's bad people!" she attempted to tell them secretly as she set down her beer with a clank. The stool almost tipped over as she took her seat again.
"Some guy messin' with ya?" Engineer asked, sobering a little at the threat. She shook her head.
"No, I mean...okay, so there's a chick, Italian or somethin', and she's...talkin' about somethin'. I don't know. But Medic!" Cook pointed at him urgently. On his third large mug of beer but not even close to tipsy, the older man quirked an eyebrow as she failed to warn him. "She and this guy, they want your stuff!"
"Fraulein, you need some pretzels." was all he replied with. "That drink is getting to your head."
"Order some for me too, will ya?" Engineer told the woman behind the counter. "One of us needs to drive back."
But Cook was having none of it. In frustration, she banged a fist on the bar as the barista set down some fresh, soft pretzels. The plate jingled a bit at the force of the hit, her bottle tipping over and spilling the dribbles of beer left; Engineer and Medic jumped a bit themselves from surprise.
"No! I'm not that drunk! Something about BLAK, and infect samples!...or something! Ow!" Cook rubbed her forehead, feeling a headache coming on. Hard as she might she couldn't put together what she heard. While Engineer calmed her down and offered her the snack, Medic straightened. His face turned from lightly jovial and amused to absolutely blank. He stood up.
"I'll be back in a bit. Restroom break." and before his teammates could reply he was off. First towards the jukebox where Cook had been, then around the back area where she would have walked. All he found was a backroom, the table as empty as the glasses left there. He touched the chairs; they were still warm.
"Excuse me sir, do you need a table?"
Medic did not bother turning towards the waitress as he continued to scrutinize the place. Was this truly where the Cook heard such things?
"Who was in here?"
"Sorry, can't tell ya. Confidential and all that. And even if I wanted to tell ya, I couldn't. I just started my shift."
"Hm." was all Medic could reply with. He brushed past the serving woman without a thought and returned to the bar. There he found Cook looking rather nauseous and fighting a growing migraine. Engineer was laughing at the sight.
"Coulda told me you were a light weight, kid!" he joked as Medic sat down.
"Shhh...you're too loud." she moaned as she waved her hand at him. Cook then looked up at the ceiling lights with squinting eyes. "That light bulb thing is too loud too."
"Perhaps we should return to the base." Medic offered. Engineer looked over, not expecting Medic to be the first to offer the suggestion.
"You sure? You were all keen on bein' here in the first place. I can just take her back myself and-"
"No, it's fine." he insisted. "I..I have thought of something for our project. So I need to be in my lab."
"Ha! See Cook? I told ya some cold ones would help us out."
"Yell at me when I'm sober, ugh..."
Cook was helped up, Medic paying for the food and Engineer the drinks. Engineer had sobered up well enough and so they returned to their base in one piece. Once the truck was pulled to a halt, Medic pushed out and nearly ran to his laboratory. He ignored the protests from his friend and pushed on. Once inside the dim room and surrounded by his usual equipment and doves, Medic rushed to his special freezing unit, the one that held his Fever blood samples. A sigh of relief escaped his lips when he saw them sitting inside.
It was possible that Cook heard something truly ominous...or perhaps she was merely drunk. Either way, Medic's desire to hide away his prized experiment increased tenfold and began thinking of a new hiding place for the vials.
Cook walked into her kitchen next morning, quite late; the men found themselves searching the back of the refrigerator and pantry as their usual hefty fare had not been made. Such a sight would have sent Cook on a rampage, kicking people out of her food stores, but her hang over was enough for her to handle already. Instead she pushed her way to the coffee maker, pouring the last dregs of the pot into her designated mug. Lukewarm and gritty, Cook downed it all in three large gulps. Shivers were suppressed as she threw the mug into the sink and grabbed a banana and leftover toast. She took a seat next to Engineer.
"I hate you."
"Good mornin' to you to, missy." he smirked. "How's your first hangover goin' for ya?"
"I still hate you." she grumbled, taking a bite out of her toast.
"Engineer, there is no time for jokes." Now it was Medic's turn to speak. He showed the two pages of formulas they had used so far, his own notes and thoughts in red in the margins; some was even written in German. "I went over these last night, and it seems we must start from square one...again. Trying to condense all of these nutrients into one form is overpowering. We have to split it up."
"Split it up? What do you mean?" Cook asked in confusion. Wincing, she wondered if she should be asking Medic for some aspirin. The other men were being boisterous as usual, enjoying the temporary lax of rules as Cook recovered in suffering silence. It was then noted that Soldier and Spy were nowhere to be seen.
"How am I supposed to know?" Medic huffed in impatience. Cook brought her attention back to her lab partners. She now noticed that his usual slicked back hair was slightly haphazard and sticking out in places, his eyes almost as droopy as her own and sporting a five o'clock shadow. He must have been up half the night trying to think of something to help their progress. Burning again, Cook felt silly for getting herself drunk instead of being useful like Medic.
"Well, we can't split up a soup...what food can we split up but eat all in one?" Engineer continued. "We could a cheese and cracker combo."
"Nein. It would be hard to carry and make on the field." Medic immediately shot down. Cook, eager to finish the dreadful eating that made her stomach church, wrapped her small banana into the rest of her toast, eating it like a burrito with loud chewing. Medic rolled his eyes.
"Really, fraulein, must you at this time?"
"I'm eating my toast banana sandwich and I don't care what you think." she shot back with a full mouth as crumbs spilled out. Engineer's eyes widened.
"Hey, sandwich! Why not try makin' a sandwich? It's light, we can carry it in our pockets, and hell, it's easy enough to eat." he put forward. Cook stopped mid-chew, her tired mind thinking over the idea; Medic looked over the formulas and chemicals again before writing down possible ideas for splitting them between the bread and other possible ingredients. He looked up, grinning.
"I think we've got it!"
Soldier hated calling off battle days. No matter the reason it simply just felt cowardly. He didn't care that the BLU Soldier wanted to speak. It didn't matter that their Spies agreed that the meeting was necessary. He was a fighter, not a diplomat!
But here he was, in no man's land on the bridge over the measly creek that divided their territories. The overhang blocked the ever-increasing heat of the sun. The two Soldiers and Spies sat at around a well-worn wooden table; RED on one side, BLU on the other. There was a moment of silence before the BLU Soldier coughed awkwardly and took off his helmet.
"Well, despite knowing you hate my guts, I think it's fair to say no one is killing anyone today." he started, laying his helmet next to a small briefcase.
"Give me one good reason why you think I won't! I'm wasting a perfectly good battle day for this!" RED Soldier demanded. The BLU Spy flipped the front of the briefcase towards himself, opening it, and handing his RED counterpart a few photographs.
"I've got a few good reasons. All of them from BLAK." the younger leader answered. "They've been a thorn in BLUs side, and they are slowly surrounding RED points as a result."
Spy and Soldier looked over them together. One was a tall, olive-skinned woman. Rather gorgeous, Spy mentally noted, with an oval face, slim nose, and full lips. Long dark hair hung down her curvy frame. She wore a long, back trench coat as she walked through a laboratory setting. Another showed two black-clad men - twins, from what they could gather from their covered faced - sneaking around the corner of a BLU facility. The last was grainy, hard to make out, but they could clearly see the outline of a tall, muscular man. He had a small dark beard, and a strong face, but they could not make out the rest. He appeared to be leading a battle, though the smoke around him obscured other details.
"We believe the last one to be their leader." the BLU Spy explained. "The woman is obviously a scientist of some sort, and the two men Spies. But what they are planning, we can not say."
"Hm." the RED Spy mused over. "They are a problem for you then?"
"And for you." the BLU Soldier answered. "Even you can't ignore this threat. I'm sure you heard something of them already."
The two REDs shared a glance. Indeed, they had, though they weren't about to share details as of how.
"We're looking for...an alliance, you could say." the BLU Soldier continued. His green eyes looked uneasy now, fearing the likely rejection of RED. Despite the shade from teh bridge's overhang, he began to sweat from his light brown hair in the heat. "We can't stop fighting, but we need a deal to fight together should BLAK overrun the both of us."
"RED and BLU? Together?" Spy asked, wondering how the BLU Soldier could claim representation for a whole company.
"No, just the two of us. BLU points have been dropping everywhere but here, and RED's best team resides just next to us. We could be formidable allies if we could-"
"I won't allow it!" the RED Soldier interjected. "Keep fighting? Yes! But I do not trust anyone with the color of blue on their backs!" His Spy nodded, though reluctantly.
"BLAK may be a threat, but I can not trust teaming up with the enemy if we are still enemies." he continued. "Perhaps you wasted your time sitting here with us instead of coming up with a more brilliant plan of yours."
BLU Soldier stiffened. He expected this, but he still didn't have to like it. He looked over to his Spy, and he nodded solemnly: it was over. There was no more use in talking. They were alone in this. The Soldier sighed, Spy closing up the photos into the briefcase again, and standing up together.
"My offer is always open." BLU Soldier told him. The REDs stood up as well.
"Then you'll be continually rejected!" was his response. "I'll see you tomorrow on the battlefield, and don't think I'll go soft on you maggots!"
"I wouldn't dream of it, sir." BLU Soldier said with a grim smirk. He gave a half-hearted salute as he and the Spy left for their base. His team of ten looked to be alone in fighting this shadowy enemy.