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The Lessons v2.1 - HOLY SHIT NEW CHAPTERS (21)

1 .

SO WHO REMEMBERS THIS RIDICULOUSLY LONG TF2 FANFIC THAT I STARTED WRITING LITERALLY YEARS AGO AND STILL HAVEN’T FINISHED YET? BECAUSE I FINISHED A NEW CHAPTER.

If you haven’t read the rest of this series, you can find it here: http://tf2chan.net/fanfic/res/657.html

You should probably read the other chapters first, or the stuff happening in this chapter won’t make a whole lot of sense. That thread stopped bumping ages ago because it went over the post limit, so here you go, have a new thread. Comment in this one, not the old one, or I probably won't see it, and that would make me very sad indeed.

Someone paid me to write this, I should mention. I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time but unfortunately I just haven’t felt as though I have time for anything that I’m not getting paid for recently, so if it wasn’t for the wonderful person who paid me real, actual money to finish a new chapter in this fic, it would probably never have happened.

I want to finish the whole thing - there’s at least one more chapter to come - but I don’t know how long it’s going to take for it to happen. I’m sorry for that. Things are getting better now, so I’ll do my best.

Just enjoy what I have managed to write in the meantime, okay? Thanks for being so patient, everyone, and if you want to catch up with me at all you can find me far more easily at drtanner.tumblr.com, or alternatively, at drtanner-sfw.tumblr.com if you prefer your blogging experience not to be full of men's asses and dicks and men kissing other men.

I love you.

*

When I was a little kid, I complained a lot. My mother was always telling me that even if I couldn’t have everything I wanted – which was a lot of the time, we didn’t have much at all – I should be glad for what I did have instead of whining about what I didn’t.

It was hard enough to do back then, when the most I had to worry about was not being able to get a hold of my favourite snack because my mom couldn’t afford it. It wasn’t until I was lying in that hayloft after the fighting was over that I really understood what real loss was, and how deep real loss can cut you. Being grateful for what I hadn’t lost was all that kept me going.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell victory and defeat apart.

CHAPTER 10 – PART 3: EACH OF THE SAME PRICE

I woke up, and panicked as soon as I realised I’d been asleep. Looking around, though, I saw that Demo was still here, and that Heavy and Solly hadn’t left us yet, either. I breathed a sigh of relief, but froze when I heard the sound of the barn door being pushed shut. The noise of it opening must have been what woke me up in the first place.

The speed that I flew over to the hayloft ladder at nearly sent me crashing down into the barn. My mind raced, trying to guess who else might have made it back, what kind of shape they’d be in, if they were gonna be okay now that they were here.

When I looked down into the barn, though, I thought I was seeing a ghost.

A tall white figure stood by the barn door, and it took me a couple of seconds to realise that it was a white coat I was looking at. A man in a white coat. A Medic. I gasped, and he must have heard me do it because he looked up at me, and my eyes widened. This wasn’t just any Medic; this was our Medic, and when I saw him for who he was, my heart leapt. I’d seen him dead in an alleyway only a few hours ago, hadn’t I? Was I dreaming? I had to be dreaming.

Medic was still in the same shitty state he was in when I’d stumbled across him on my way home. His coat was still torn and covered in his blood, and his face was still as pale as the face of any dead man I’d ever seen, but he was living and breathing, and smiling with the relief of seeing me alive, too.

I flew down that ladder so fast I might have been falling down it. I had to make sure he was real, that I wasn’t seeing things. I threw my arms around him and hugged him with all my tired, scrawny might until I heard him wince, but even though I’d hurt him Medic didn’t scold me. All he wanted to do was hug me back. I wasn’t dead, and that was all he cared about. Fuck knows what he must have been thinking, right from the second he’d lost sight of us; he clung to me like I was back from the dead.

“Mein Junge.” His voice was weaker than I’d ever heard it, hardly even a whisper. “Mein lieber Junge.”

I didn’t understand. I’d heard him use that word, ‘lieber’, or something that sounded like it very few times before, though. He said it to Heavy sometimes, quietly. I got the feeling it was a good word. He was happy to see me.

The others. I had to tell him about the others. Medic still carried his medigun and backpack on his back – the backpack that I realised must have kept him alive, must have healed his wounds enough that he was able to get back to the barn – and that meant he could help. It took me a couple of tries before I could make my voice heard over the lump in my throat but I finally got across what I was trying to say.

“They’re in bad shape, Doc,” I mumbled. “I thought they were gonna die, you gotta save ‘em, man.”

Medic didn’t need to be told any more than that. He needed my help to get up the ladder and he needed me to find his spare, clean set of tools for him, but I knew now that we were going to be okay. Everything was going to be okay now that Medic was here. No one was going to die on his watch. Medic wouldn’t allow anyone to die while he was there to tell them about it.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to see him head straight to Heavy’s side. Then again, Heavy was unconscious – Solly had heard Medic come up the ladder and was awake and, even though he hadn’t sat up to do it, he was watching. Heavy was the priority, and we all stayed dead silent as Medic went about his work, opening Heavy’s jacket and cutting off his shirt and then carefully removing bullets and shrapnel and cleaning up the wounds. Even as wounded as he was, Medic’s hands were as steady as ever. He never made mistakes in his work. We meant too much to him for there to ever be mistakes.

Once the medigun had been on him for a little while, Heavy came around just fine, and Jesus, was he ever happy to see Medic. I’d never heard him talk so much before. I’d never seen him cry, either, but there he was, a guy easily twice or three times my size, in floods of tears in front of all of us as he hugged Medic as gently as he could bear to.

Well, no one was about to laugh at him, were they?

And even though I couldn’t understand anything of what Heavy was saying – it was all Russian – and I didn’t understand much of what Medic said either, not being a whole lot better at German, I heard Medic say that one word again. He said it a lot.

Solly didn’t have nearly as much to say about it once Medic had patched him up. He seemed like he was more embarrassed than anything else, but he thanked Medic all the same, and we all knew how much that meant coming from him. He sat quietly in his corner of the hayloft after that, watching Medic fuss over me and Demo and make sure we were back in one piece. He wasn’t interested in resting until he knew for certain that we were going to be okay.

“… What in the world happened to you?”

“Huh?” The question surprised me. “What d’you mean? It was fuckin’ war out there, man! All kinds’a shit happened!”

“Your neck, Scout! Your throat is almost black with bruising!”

As Medic grabbed my chin and tilted my head back to get a better look, I suddenly became very, very aware of what he was talking about. I’d kind of got used to the dull ache around my neck while I’d been resting and forgotten about it but now that Medic was pulling me around, it hurt, and it hurt a lot. I didn’t dare argue with him or tell him to stop, though. I knew better than that.

“What happened?” he repeated. “No one was supposed to catch you!”

“They… they didn’t,” I said, finding it hard to talk with his hand under my jaw. “No one caught me.”

“Scout.” Medic let me have my head back, even if it was only to scowl at me. “Do you take me for a fool?”

“No!” I swallowed hard. It hurt. “Hell no!”

“Then stop lying to me. You have been strangled, Herr Scout, and that would never have happened unless you were caught. What. Happened?

I closed my fingers defensively around my throat, even though I knew I couldn’t ever hope to cover the marks, and squirmed under Medic’s glare. I didn’t know whether I should tell him or not. I wasn’t supposed to talk about… about that. He was going to know if I lied, though. I didn’t have a choice.

“… Frank did it,” I said, eventually.

As softly as I’d said it, everyone had heard me, and they were staring at me for having said it.

“Ye’d best not be lyin’, laddie,” said Demo. It made me nervous to hear him sound so deadly serious.

“… He isn’t.” Medic’s scowl softened to a stern frown as he looked again at my injuries. “Someone with terribly large hands did this, Herr Demoman.”

“Larger than Heavy?” asked Heavy, moving to Medic’s side to get a better look at me.

The next thing I knew, everyone had come to crowd around me and see what Medic was talking about. I could only guess that the bruises had only come up properly in the last few hours while we’d all been sleeping, or else they might have noticed them when I’d first turned up at the hayloft, because now everyone was looking at me like I was some kind of freak.

Heavy had always worked from the assumption that no one was bigger than him. I’d always assumed that he’d counted Frank as the exception to that rule but it occurred to me, as Heavy, with everyone watching him do it, put his huge hand gently around my neck, that he’d never actually seen Frank.

The marks around my throat dwarfed Heavy’s hand.

I knew because I saw the look on his face change as he realised just how big Frank really was, how true all the stories he’d heard were. He’d never doubted that Frank was real, I don’t think, but now that there was hard, physical evidence for all to see of just what a monster Frank really was, Heavy was spooked.

He wasn’t the only one, either, and I realised that I was going to have to explain what had happened. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to talk about it at all, and I knew, then, why even the mere mention of Frank’s name could kill a conversation in a second flat. No one who had ever seen or heard of or had anything to do with Frank at all and knew he was real wanted to talk about him. Frank was a living nightmare, and talking about him meant reliving that nightmare.

“C’mon now, laddie!” Demo’s excitement chilled me to the bone. “Ye cannae just come back wi’a battlescar like that ‘n’ not tell about it! Why didn’t ye say somethin’?”

“I don’t… I don’t wanna talk about it,” I told him, not able to look him in the eye.

“You said you saw Frank before and you talked about it just fine back then!” barked Solly. “Or were you and Pyro lying about that in the first place?”

“Don’t you dare say shit about Pyro!” I yelled, suddenly bristling.

Solly hadn’t expected me to turn on him like that. He didn’t flinch, but he didn’t say anything back to me. He was shocked. But, then again, he didn’t know.

Of course he didn’t. No one knew.

I was going to have to explain that, before I explained anything else.

“… Pyro’s dead,” I forced myself to say, after everyone had stared at me in silence for a couple of moments. “He ain’t comin’ home. He’s dead.”

“… What?” Medic’s eyes widened. “Wh…. How?”

Shit. I shouldn’t have just said it like that, not with Medic there. I couldn’t undo it now, though. I’d let the cat out of the bag and I was going to have to fix as much of the damage as I could as best I could.

“Well, see…”

I remembered it as clear as day, that wasn’t the problem.

“… It… I was…”

I just didn’t want to.

“… He…”

I was still wishing, in my heart, that it had never happened.

“… It… He…”

There were tears in my eyes already, now that I was having to face it and talk about it. Even as I tried to find the words I still couldn’t bring myself to just say what I needed to say.

“… I was… I wasn’t lookin’ where I was goin’,” I mumbled, trying not to meet eyes with anyone. “I wasn’t lookin’ and I, I ran straight into him, I didn’t… I didn’t mean for it to happen.”

“Who?” asked Heavy. “Who did you run into?”

Finally, I looked up at him. He was speaking softly, knowing he was gonna have to get the answers out of me himself. I choked down the lump in my throat.

“F, Frank.”

“And that is when he caught you?”

“No. No, he… he was gonna catch me, I thought I was dead, but then…” I curled up where I sat, and hugged my knees. “… Pyro got in front’a me.”

A murmur went around the hayloft. I didn’t have to say what had happened after that.

“Pyro saved my fuckin’ life,” I said, narrowing my watery eyes at Solly. “He stood in front’a that fuckin’ thing ‘n’ gave me enough time to get away ‘n’ plant that stupid fuckin’ bomb, okay? If it hadn’t been for Pyro none of us would’a been here now, so… so don’t you say a fuckin’ word about him, you fuckin’ faggot!”

I gritted my teeth, but I couldn’t stop that sob from getting out. Angry at myself for what I’d allowed to happen – even though Pyro and me had both known damn well that it was never my place to stay and help him – I grabbed my cap and threw it across the hayloft before burying my face in my arms. No one said anything as I sat there and cried as quietly as I could, unable to chase away the feeling that it was my fault. If only I’d been looking where I was going, it would never have happened.

I only lifted my head when I felt Demo sit down next to me and put his arm around me. Pyro had been his friend, too. The three of us had been our own little gang; it wasn’t going to be the same without him.

“’S all my fault,” I sniffled, hugging Demo as I did my best to stop crying. “It’s ‘cuz’a me, man.”

“Nah, it ain’t.” Demo hugged me back. “We all know ye’d never’a let it happen if ye’d been able to help it, laddie.”

It was a long time until anyone said anything after that. Even after I’d peeled myself away from Demo and dried my eyes as best I could, Heavy was still doing his best to comfort Medic. He’d taken the news hard, even harder than me, and I guessed it was because he hadn’t been there. He hadn’t been able to do anything to prevent it. Medic probably blamed himself for Pyro’s death just as much as I did.

“… Wait.” Solly finally spoke up, feeling as though he’d stayed quiet for a respectful length of time by then. “If Pyro stepped in so that you could get away, how did Frank catch you?”

He wasn’t disputing the fact that it had happened. The proof that I’d tangled with Frank and lived was there for everyone to see. Solly genuinely wanted to know. Everyone else would likely want to know, too. When I didn’t say anything straight away, Demo gave my shoulder a little shake with the arm he had around me. My friends were here with me this time. I didn’t have to be scared of Frank now.

“It was after the explosion,” I said, my voice still croaky from my tears. “There’s a… a big ditch full’a water out there ‘n’ he… he caught me out in that. I couldn’t get away.”

“And he did that to you?”

He pointed at my battered throat. I nodded.

“Yeah.”

“… What did you do? How in the name of Jesus H Christ did you get away when he had you by the neck, son?”

I took a few deep breaths, ready to tell another story. No one needed to know how I came to end up in that ditch – I’d told them that Frank had killed Pyro, and that was all that needed to be said. I’d spare the others the horror of what I’d seen. They didn’t deserve it, and I didn’t want to remember it.

“… I fought him.”

Another murmur went around, but this time it was a surprised murmur, excited, almost.

Without his helmet on I could see that Solly was staring at me, the disbelief written all over his face. He didn’t say anything, though. He had to believe me, because how would I have come back alive with bruises like the ones I had otherwise?

It should have been a great story to tell. I should have been happy about it. Telling the others about how I’d outsmarted the monster and used his own terrifying strength to slay him, driving that pole straight into his evil, black heart, should have made me feel like a hero. As I stumbled over the events, though, ending with finally seeing Frank sink to the ground and die right there in front of me, I just felt empty inside. The victory had come at far too high a price.

It didn’t look like anyone else felt any joy at the news that Frank was dead, either. Heavy muttered that at least Frank was dead now, and we could sleep soundly at night knowing that we would never have to see or hear of him ever again, but no one was happy about it. They, like me, felt like the cost far outweighed the benefits.

“Medic.”

I could hardly even look at him as I said it.

“… Get rid of these fuckin’ bruises already, will ya?”

There was a heavy silence after that. Medic counted up who was still left unaccounted for: Engie, Spy and Sniper. Heavy did his best to tell Medic that they’d show up and that we just had to wait for them, but Medic wasn’t convinced. He’d failed Pyro, and even though he didn’t say it out loud, he was only waiting, now, to hear who else he’d failed by not being there for them.

I lay down in my spot next to Demo, praying with everything I had that Medic was wrong.

It was light by the time anyone else turned up. The rain had eased to a light drizzle, and we’d only been out of the hayloft long enough to light a fire and eat some food and drink some shitty coffee when someone kicked the barn door from outside. We all stood up as Heavy opened the door, eager to greet whoever had made it home to us, but our smiles vanished when we saw him.

None of us said a single word as Engie stepped into the barn, with Spy cradled limply in his arms.

Straight away Medic went to step forward but Engie fixed him with a hard stare, and shook his head. There wasn’t anything Medic could do. Spy was dead. Engie had waited all night to be sure that it would be safe enough to bring him home.

It turned out, as Engie explained, that Spy had got himself killed saving Engie’s life. Just a little while after the blast, Engie had been cornered in the alley he’d been camping by a BLU Heavy. It shouldn’t have been a problem but the rain must’ve got into the sentry he’d been sat with because the fucker shorted out and jammed and wouldn’t fire, and Engie knew he ought to have been able to defend himself for at least long enough to get himself away, but it didn’t work out like that.

“… I just froze up,” he muttered, too ashamed of himself to look at any of us as he said it. “I froze up and I couldn’t move a muscle. I’m a goddamned coward, I ain’t used to gettin’ in trouble like that.”

It was true. Engie had never been the sort to get out on the front lines, and even if there was someone coming near who meant to hurt him, Engie had always had a machine between him and them to do the job for him. Without his sentry to back him up, Engie had suddenly found himself not knowing what to do. He got scared, too scared to think.

Spy had come to his rescue, though. It wasn’t Spy’s place to be on the front lines either but you better believe he appeared out of nowhere when Engie needed him and he jumped on that Heavy’s back and stabbed him in the neck real good. Spy never missed when he meant to make a killing blow – he never missed when he didn’t, either, we’d all seen that – and he’d hit that son of a bitch’s artery like a pro, but in the ten seconds or so that it’d taken for that Heavy to bleed out, he’d grabbed Spy’s ankle and slammed him into the pavement.

With the threat neutralised Engie had been able to get out from behind his sentry and grab Spy with the intention of getting him to a Medic but no one came when he called, and with gunshot and explosions still going off all over the fucking place it hadn’t been safe for them to go out and look.

Engie had wanted to. He had. But Spy told him not to bother. He’d only get himself killed, and then what good would it have done? Spy knew shattered ribs and punctured lungs when he felt them – or more likely when he heard the sound of his own breathing, Engie said, knowing Spy – and he must’ve known that without the help of a Medic, he was going to die. So Engie did the best he could, getting Spy to a safe place where they’d be able to hide until it was quiet enough to get out and get him some help.

Spy had made Engie promise to stay with him. Engie might have been able to run out and find someone in time if he hadn’t. All Spy had wanted, though, was to sit with Engie and have a smoke. That was all. Nothing else. So that was what had happened. Even though every drag of his damn cigarette had made him wheeze and gurgle and cough blood and even though every word he said must have been torture, this was all Spy had wanted.

Even as he told us about it Engie agonised over the fact that if he’d only had enough supplies to get a dispenser built, it might have bought Spy enough time for Engie to go out and find him a Medic who could fix him up properly. If he’d only done this, or done that, or done any number of things that he hadn’t been able to do, it might have been enough.

Engie, like me, blamed himself for Spy’s death, and it was eating him up inside. The most intelligent, grounded, logical guy I’d ever known in my life was tearing himself apart right in front of my eyes.

No one could say anything to console him. He didn’t care about anything that anyone had to say. It was his fault, all his fault, and there was nothing else to it. It was just as if he’d murdered Spy himself, and Engie hated himself for it. Having to watch Spy fade away in his arms and being powerless to stop it from happening had wrecked him.

We did our best to comfort him but Engie wouldn’t let any of us even so much as touch him. He didn’t think he deserved it.

The best we could do, then, was arrange whatever excuse for a burial we could muster for Spy and hold some kind of funeral for he and Pyro. Out of what I could only ever describe as desperate optimism, we neglected to include Sniper amongst them in the hopes that he would show up on the doorstep alive. If we didn’t hold a funeral for him, we thought, he’d turn up not needing one.

As if we had any control over it at all.

By the time we’d managed to hack together something resembling a coffin for Spy and put him in it with whatever of his things we could find, it was sunset, and by the time we’d said our goodbyes and put him in the hole we’d dug for him at the back of the barn, next to the marker we’d made for Pyro, night had fallen.

We said our goodbyes to Pyro and Spy as best we could. It was only now that we realised what precious little we knew about them. None of us had any idea where either of them had come from or where they’d really hoped to go when this was over, or who might have been waiting for them there. We only knew what we’d seen of them ourselves.

That was all we needed to know about them, I said.

They were our friends who came through for us when we really needed them, and even though things hadn’t always been easy between us all, we loved them with all our hearts and we knew that they loved us.

Demo, Heavy and even Solly spoke up in agreement. Engie had no shame about sitting there in front of us with tears streaming down his face, but he nodded readily at what I’d said. Medic, though, had gone completely silent. From what I’d seen of him before, I knew that it wasn’t because he didn’t care. He cared as much as anyone did, maybe even more, but Medic struggled to deal with losses like these. He felt responsible.

We all did, really. We were meant to be a team, and now we were all finding it hard not to blame ourselves for not having been there for our friends.

With the rain and clouds having finally cleared, we lit the biggest bonfire we could at the front of the barn, and sat around it under the stars. Engie even dug out his guitar from somewhere in the back of the barn; I’d only ever seen him play it once or twice before, he normally had more important things to do.

The six of us sat in the warmth of the fire and said nothing, listening to the crackle of the flames and Engie’s music. I think he was playing more to soothe himself than anything else. We must have sat there for hours listening to him play, well into the night. It wasn’t like any funeral service I’d ever been to back home, but it was ours. This was how we did things out here. This was how RED did things.

I guess it was only because we were all so wrapped up in our thoughts that we didn’t immediately reach for our weapons when we heard someone trying to approach the campfire, as if they didn’t want to be heard.

The reaction was delayed. Even when we saw that he was wearing blue we didn’t get up straight away, and that was a blessing, I think. It gave me time to look the guy over – a BLU Medic wearing a tattered, muddy coat and with a hell of a black eye – and see him for who he was, and room enough to get in front of Heavy when he realised what he was looking at as well and got to his feet to chase our intruder away.

“No, no!” I shouted, running to block Heavy’s path. “Leave him alone! That’s…. that’s Spy’s informant. That’s Mud.”

“… Spy’s informant?” Finally, Medic spoke up. “Are… are you certain?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” I nodded. “There ain’t many Medics who walk around with a black eye like that, man. Why else would he come here unless he thought we’d know him?”

Mud had vanished down the hill and into the darkness, but I could just about see him, barely a shadow, looking back at me from the edge of No Man’s Land. Shit, he was fast. If he got spooked a second time he’d probably disappear altogether and we’d never see him again.

He’d been the one to show me where to go when I’d been lost in BLU base, though, and he’d been the one to put his neck on the line to give us information and keep us all alive. I owed it to him to make sure he got a warm welcome with us.

I came a little way down the hill and called after him, trying to sound as friendly as I could.

“Hey, hey! It’s okay, man! Come on, it’s okay. It’s okay.”

I had to talk to him for a couple of minutes before he’d even move. He’d frozen in place where he was hiding and damn if it didn’t almost work; I nearly lost sight of him a few times even though I knew I was looking straight at him.

“It’s okay.” I reached out and beckoned him towards the barn as he inched away from cover. “It’s okay. C’mon, Heavy just got a little scared ‘cuz he don’t know who you are. I know you, though, and you remember me, right? C’mon Mud. It’s okay. You know me. We’re friends.”

Saying Mud’s name seemed to help, just like it had done before, but it still took a long time for me to get him back up the hill and into the light of the fire, where everyone could see him. He knew me, but he was very much afraid of everyone else and had nothing to say to anyone. We all knew BLUs didn’t talk. I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised.

Even without saying anything, though, he was looking around at all of us, and it wasn’t hard to figure out what, or rather who, he was looking for. We were going to have to tell him. There wasn’t anything else for it.

“… You came here to find Spy, didn’t you?”

Mud looked at me as I said it, still too nervous to sit down with us, and nodded, ever so slightly. Now that the fighting was over he’d come here to meet up with Spy, where he knew he’d finally be safe. Maybe they’d had plans, who knew? It was anyone’s guess. There was no way anyone was going to know, now.

“Gee. I, uh.”

Everyone watched me as I stood there dumbly, trying to find the right words.

“Mud, I, uh… Well, y’see…”

It didn’t feel any better for me to say it.

“… Spy didn’t make it, man. I… I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.”

Still, Mud said nothing. He just stood there, and for a while I wondered if he’d understood me. Eventually though, I heard the quietest whimper come out of him, and he shook his head, despair finally starting to show on his face through the fear.

“I’m sorry, man.” I didn’t know what else I could tell him. “… C’mon,” I said, reaching out and offering him my open hand. “I’ll show you.”

I hadn’t expected him to actually take my hand. Looking back on it, though, I don’t really know what I’d expected.

I lead Mud around to the back of the barn, and showed him the newly-filled grave and marker. There was nothing else I could do.

Again, it was a good while before Mud finally reacted. It was hard to know what might have been going through his mind at all. Someone as frightened as him – frightened and almost completely silent – had to be at least a little nuts. I didn’t want to imagine the things he’d had to see and live through to end up like that.

Finally though, Mud sank to his knees. I wasn’t sure what to do. This was only the second time I’d ever met the guy, but I felt like I should try to offer some support somehow. I’d just told him we were friends, after all, so I knelt down next to him and put my hand gently on his shoulder as he hugged himself, and rocked. I saw his tears but he didn’t sob, or sniffle or anything at all, and as sorry as I felt for him, I couldn’t help but notice how strange it all was. Was this what Frank did to people? Maybe now that Frank was dead, Mud would get better.

I don’t know why I thought that. When someone gets fucked up in the head, nothing can fix them overnight, and I knew it. But somehow, at the same time, I felt like maybe, without Frank’s influence, whatever sickness he’d cursed poor Mud with would be able to cure itself.

Poor Mud. Everything he’d risked so much for had just come crashing down around him. Spy must have been his only friend in the world, and he’d come here only to find him dead. I wasn’t surprised when Mud finally found his voice, and the wailing started. It wasn’t like the voice of any man or animal I’d ever heard, but I doubted if Mud knew any other way to express his grief.

I stayed with him, and with a little time, Medic made his way over from around the barn and came to kneel with Mud, too. Medic, the one person who’d hated Mud more than anyone else before he’d seen him or met him. Maybe it was different now that he realised how much Mud had done for all of us, or maybe it was just that Medic knew that this was what Spy would have wanted. Maybe it was both. Mud was one of us now. He was part of the family, even if Spy wasn’t here for him anymore.

Mud stayed there and howled for a long, long time. I don’t know how long. I couldn’t blame him.

In the end, though, the fire died out, and Mud finally got too hoarse to wail or howl or cry anymore. We invited him inside, and offered him some food and a safe place to sleep. He was still frightened of us, but now, with no one else to turn to, he had no choice but to stay with us. He was more afraid of what might happen to him if he went back outside and tried to make it on his own.

He wouldn’t take our food, though, and he wouldn’t sleep in the hayloft. There was nothing we could do but leave him down in the barn with some rations he could eat if he decided he wanted to and some blankets.

As we were bedding down, I turned to Medic, and did my best to keep my voice down.

“… Shouldn’t we, y’know, keep an eye on him?” I asked. “He’s a mess, Doc. He might do somethin’ stupid.”

“I know,” sighed Medic. “I know. But I wonder if watching him might make him nervous. We need to show him that we trust him.”

“Never thought I’d hear you say that,” I said, and then immediately cursed when Medic clipped my ear for it.

I didn’t sleep very well. I wasn’t exhausted enough to crash like I had done the night before, and all I had were my thoughts and my grief. Still, I reminded myself that a handful of people I thought I’d lost were still alive and with me, and we’d even gained someone.

I listened out for Mud at those times when I noticed I was awake, but everything was quiet down in the barn. I figured if he was gonna try to off himself, there’d at least be some noise to give him away.

In the morning when we all came down into the barn to find ourselves some food, there was no evidence of suicide, but at the same time, there was no trace of Mud, either. He’d up and disappeared. Our first thought was that he’d left the barn, but the padlock was still securely in place on the inside of the door, right where we’d left it. He was still in here, somewhere. But he was very good at hiding. I knew that much. He’d be around somewhere, and I told the others I’d find him while they fixed themselves breakfast.

Easily the best hiding place in the barn was in the gaps between the crates under the hayloft, behind the ladder, and sure enough, that was where I found him, with the blankets, and what was left of the rations we’d given him. It made sense that he hadn’t felt safe sleeping out in the open, considering where he’d come from.

“Hey, Mud. Hey.”

I stayed well outside of the little space Mud had himself holed up in, figuring it would be best if I didn’t crowd him. He watched me, but still didn’t say anything. He was wide awake, but clearly had absolutely no intention of coming out of his hiding place.

“C’mon, man. You don’t gotta hide in there like that, it’s okay. Ain’t no one gonna mess with you here.”

He wouldn’t budge. I figured it wouldn’t do either of us any favours if I went in there and dragged him out. He’d just have to learn to trust us in his own time.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been right to say that the rest of us went about our business, because with the fighting being over there wasn’t a whole lot for any of us to do. Engie called HQ and told them that BLU base was trashed and that we’d won, but since there wasn’t any threat to us, I guess they figured they didn’t have to hurry to pick us up. Engie came back up from the basement telling us that they’d be sending us an evac in “a couple of weeks”, and we all knew that HQ didn’t give a shit when they were vague like that. I tried to see the brighter side of it, saying that it’d give Sniper time to show up. The others smiled when I said it, but I don’t think any of them believed that Sniper would come, not now. I don’t think I believed it, either.

There was nothing for us to do but sit around and wait for them, but while we would have been excited about having so much spare time on our hands before, none of us had the energy to make the most of it now. I didn’t even have it in me to fool around or prank anyone, and we all just wound up sitting around, feeling sorry for ourselves.

Maybe that was why Mud came out of hiding, in the end. It was quiet, and it must have been weird for him to see us all being together without tearing each other’s faces off, to see people talking. We didn’t have it in us to raise our voices at all, not even to laugh, and the barn was just dead quiet, all day long. It must have seemed like it was safe, because of that.

It was while we were sat around the oil drum eating what I guess might have been dinner – it was getting real easy to lose track of time, not having anything to keep ourselves occupied with – when Engie spotted him over my shoulder, watching us from somewhere behind the hayloft ladder. We’d called him before we’d sat down to eat, but he hadn’t been brave enough to come out until the rest of us had sat down, and even then, he was too scared to actually come over and join us, and with all of us turning around to look at him now, he was starting to look like he regretted showing himself at all.

With my mouth too full of shitty processed meat to say anything, I settled for waving at him to beckon him over. There were plenty of empty spaces around the fire for him to sit in, after all.

Mud didn’t react straight away. He just stood there, watching me from behind the ladder, wondering whether to trust me or not, whether to trust us. I did what I could to encourage him, I showed him the rations we’d got out and put aside for him, I told him – once I’d swallowed – that it was okay, that we wanted him to come and sit with us, but it wasn’t enough to convince him, and eventually he began to back away towards his hiding spot, just a couple of paces at first, to see what we’d do, and then turning and disappearing between the crates again when it didn’t look like we were going to beat the shit out of him for doing it.

Demo gave me a pat on the back and congratulated me for trying, but I was disappointed. We all were, thinking that we’d made a friend but finding out that he was too scared of us to even eat with us.

We left Mud’s share of the rations on one of the haystacks we sat on next to the oil drum when we were finished eating, and then went away to let him come out and find them while we were gone.

It was three whole days before Mud ever came any closer to us than that, eventually getting up the guts to come and sit down with us for breakfast on the fourth day, and when we didn’t tear his face off for sitting in the wrong place or for eating before we were done, he stayed. He didn’t say anything or look at anyone, but he stayed.

I figured if he wasn’t ready to talk, I wouldn’t push him. It was hard, having him sat next to me like that and knowing that I shouldn’t try to say much to him, but I was afraid of scaring him off. I think we all wanted Mud to learn that he could come and spend time with us and that it would always be okay, and when nothing bad happened the whole time he sat and ate his breakfast with us, it was a bigger deal for him than it was even for us. He knew he didn’t have to be afraid of us after that.

He was still nervous of us and didn’t like to get involved with whatever we were doing straight away, but it wasn’t the same kind of fear that it had been before. All Mud was doing now was watching us to find out how stuff worked before joining in himself to make sure that he was doing it right and that he’d be welcome. Maybe he was still worried that we’d turn on him if he made a mistake. I got the feeling mistakes weren’t allowed where he’d come from.

Suddenly, with that, we all had something to do again. Mud was interested in us, and we all had things to show him and teach him, so that he could learn to be a RED.

It didn’t surprise anyone that Mud was still pretty scared of Heavy, but seeing him and Medic sitting and polishing their boots together might have made him seem less big and frightening, because he came to join them, after watching for a while. Nothing Heavy said could have been as scary as Medic’s reaction when he saw Mud’s boots, though. They were a damn mess, and we all heard about it, all over the barn.

“Mein Gott! Scout! Fetch some water!”

You better believe I’ve never carried a bucket so fast before in my life.

Of course, now that Medic was looking at people’s boots, it meant that he noticed that my shoes were pretty trashed, too, along with my whole damn uniform. I’d been rolling around in mud and rainwater in it a few days ago and hadn’t really had much of a chance clean up properly, but with everything that had happened, it hadn’t even occurred to me to wash my clothes. Now that he was getting a good look at all of us, Medic was noticing that it hadn’t really occurred to anyone else, either, and he wasn’t happy.

In a lot of ways, it was a big relief to see him getting mad at us for being untidy. It meant that he was feeling more like himself, and even though he still had to be hurting pretty bad, he was carrying on with his usual “duties” (that being making sure we took care of ourselves and glaring at us until we did what we were told), which could only be a good sign.

So we had ourselves a wash day right then and there, scrubbed our uniforms as clean as we could get them with lukewarm water, and washed our boots so we could polish them to a real good shine later, all together. Medic took Mud’s coat and stitched up all the torn parts, and even though it was never going to look like new ever again, he did a great job on it, just like he did on everything, and Mud looked real smart once he was all clean and patched up. I think maybe he might even have smiled a little, and with that black eye fading, he looked almost like a whole different guy.

As we all sat around the tub, we talked so much. Like, actually talked. We had conversations. Mud didn’t have anything to say, but we expected that, and he sure did listen to everything we were talking about. We hadn’t had conversations since before the big clash with BLU, and for the first time since I’d come back to the barn, it felt like maybe things were going to be okay. They weren’t perfect, I was always going to miss the friends I’d lost, but now it was starting to feel easier to be grateful for the ones I had left, and the new friend we’d gained.

Mud must have felt like he belonged with us, too, because when we got done with washing our uniforms and sat around the oil drum for dinner, he was right there with us. He knew that he was safe around us, that we were here to help him. After all, we were the people he’d risked so much to help. He’d always been one of us, really.

We still had a lot of work to do with him, though. He still wasn’t brave enough to come up to the hayloft with us that night. The dark was probably a lot more frightening to him than it was to the rest of us, considering who he’d lived with. Frank was a night terror if I’d ever seen one, and whether Mud knew he was dead or not – we’d continued with our policy of not talking about Frank, especially since we’d all been having such a good time – he probably felt a lot safer if he knew that he was hidden while he was sleeping. I sure would have felt the same way if I knew that a monster like Frank was lurking around.

We’d have to tell him that he didn’t have to worry about Frank anymore in the morning.

It still upset me to look at the empty places in the hayloft, those flattened patches of hay where Pyro and Spy had slept. Sniper had never really had a spot up here, but I was feeling his absence a lot more than I would have done if I’d known he was alive. At the same time, though, having a good time with Mud that day left me with the idea that we had a future now, something to look forward to. We could help him get better. We might even get him talking.

I fell asleep that night wondering what his voice sounded like, if he had an accent like Medic’s, what he’d talk about. I wondered what he liked, if he even knew what he liked anymore. We were gonna discover it all together, though. Mud was one of us now, a RED, no matter what colour he was wearing, and REDs did everything together.

Maybe it was because I’d fallen asleep so happy that I overslept so much. When I woke up, it was because Engie was shaking my shoulder.

“Nnh… Wh, what is it?” I squinted at him with the eye I wasn’t trying to rub the sleep out of. “We gettin’ attacked or somethin’?”

“No, son, we ain’t.”

He sounded way too quiet for this to be an attack, and as my brain started to wake up too and catch up with my mouth, I realised that the chances of BLU launching any kind of attack on us now were somewhere between slim and none. Of course we weren’t getting attacked.

Engie just sighed, his shoulders sagging, and when my vision cleared enough for me to look at him straight, the look on his face was not the look of a man who’d just seen the enemy on the horizon. It was the same look he’d had on the day we’d buried Spy, and when I recognised it, every last trace of that good feeling I’d fallen asleep with just drained out of me.

“… What happened?”

“Just…” Engie turned away, unable to keep looking at me. “… Just get downstairs, son.”

It took me a while to follow him down the ladder from the hayloft and into the barn. Something awful had happened and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to know what it was, as if not knowing about it would somehow make it like it hadn’t happened.

There was noise down there, but it was a quiet murmur, the rest of my team talking to each other in lowered, saddened voices, and I knew by then that it could only mean that someone was dead.

Once I’d made my way down the ladder, feeling sicker with every step I took, I saw what had happened pretty plainly. The crates under the hayloft, the ones that made up Mud’s hiding place, had all been moved, and now Heavy was quietly pushing them back into place. Engie, Solly and Demo were stood around near the oil drum, watching him do it, none of them saying anything. Going to join them, I forced myself to ask the question, my voice coming out weak and scared.

“… Where’s Mud?”

Neither Engie nor Demo answered me, although Demo tried, but couldn’t find any words. Solly, though, so much better than they were at just saying things, replied as gently as he could.

“Mud’s dead, son.”

He said it matter of factly, but the disappointment and grief still hung in Solly’s voice the same as it would have in anyone else’s. I guess it must have shown on my face when that same disappointment and grief came crashing down on me, but the hand he placed on my shoulder to comfort me didn’t do much to help.


“I’m sorry.”

“But I thought…” The lump was forming in my throat already. “… But I thought he was okay.”

“Aye, laddie,” sighed Demo, sadly. “So did we. Seems like he might’ae been sicker than he looked.”

“Medic said somethin’ about a… a heart attack or somesuch,” said Engie. “But… I don’t get it. Why? He seemed like he was fine to me.”

Engie didn’t like it when he couldn’t understand things, and even now he sounded frustrated as well as everything else. Mud had been Spy’s friend, some way for us to feel like we hadn’t lost Spy completely, and now he was gone, just like that, for no reason that we could figure. I could understand why Engie might take it hard. I sure as hell felt cheated, and at the same time almost responsible, as if this had happened because I’d dared to go to sleep that night thinking that things were going to be okay.

It wasn’t fair.

We hung around, not saying anything more than that, until Medic appeared from the basement. The first thing he told us was not to go down there, before he gathered us all around the oil drum, knowing that we’d be expecting him to explain why Mud had been taken away from us before we’d even had time to get to know him.

Mud had suffered a massive heart attack during the night, Medic said. He explained, as professionally as he could, that when people come out of stressful situations, sometimes their bodies have a kind of ‘let-down’ response after holding up for so long. Your body doesn’t give a shit if you get sick as a dog later, so long as it can work hard enough to get you out of trouble right now, but then when you get time to relax, it just kinda crashes, and you can get sick. Most people only get a cold or the flu, Medic said, but Mud had been living in such shitty conditions, scared for his goddamned life the whole time, that the let-down had literally killed him.

There was nothing that any of us could have done. When he didn’t come out for breakfast, Engie went to look for him, and found him already dead. They’d had to move the crates to get him out of there because the rigor mortis had set in, and Medic had taken him down to the basement, out of the way, to examine him and try to figure out what had happened. This ‘let-down’ thing was the best explanation he’d been able to come up with; it was the only thing that made any damn sense. The difference between his old life and this had just been too great, and his body hadn’t been able to take it.

We’d expected that we might not arrive at the end of the fighting together. We’d known that we might lose some of our friends when we went up against the BLUs, it was something that came with fighting wars. People died, and sometimes they were people you knew and people you loved. But this? None of us had expected this, to be hammering together another coffin, digging another grave, burying another friend, after the fighting was over and had been over for the better part of a week.

None of us said a word as we lowered that shitty, knocked-together coffin into the ground, next to Spy, and it was only after we’d shovelled the dirt back into the hole and placed a marker there that Demo finally spoke up to say that wherever they’d gone, he hoped that Spy and Mud had managed to find each other. The rest of us nodded and mumbled solemnly, then hauled ourselves back inside the barn to wash the sand and the soil off our clothes, for the second time in as many days, although much more quietly and without half as much of the energy as we’d had the first time we did it.

We wondered, again, each of us silently and just to ourselves, whether or not to make a marker for Sniper. We didn’t. This time, though, it was more out of sheer desperation than any kind of hope or optimism.

There was no sleep for anyone that night, all of us lost in our own thoughts, but for me it was because of the stab of guilt I got, along with everything else, for being so fucking selfish. How could I complain about how unfair this was for me, when Mud had been treated so much more cruelly by fate than any of us? He’d spent years putting his neck on the line to help Spy, to help all of us, and he’d suffered so much, only to die when he’d finally thought that he’d found some safety, a little comfort amongst friends. That was all he’d wanted, but he hadn’t even been allowed to have it. Bullshit was what it was, and I found myself full of grief, guilt and anger all at once.

I was afraid, too. Who else might suddenly be stolen away in the night? The fact that the fighting was over was no longer any source of comfort. Anything could happen. The world could always find new and inventive ways to shit all over people. There was no such thing as “fair”.

Maybe that was why, when we heard that huge rumble and felt the ground shake so hard that it rocked the whole barn around us, we didn’t look outside straight away. It was too dark outside, we told each other. We wouldn’t be able to see anything at this time of night even if we did look. But we were scared, all of us, I knew. After everything that had happened, we were all scared of what other new and awful things we could be about to witness, and we wanted to hide from it.

When the sun rose and there was light, we’d go out, and we’d look together.

We were safe together.

Of course we were.







TO BE CONTINUED

2 .

me! i remember! and came back to the chan for the first time in approximately eleventy years just to read it and holy shit i am glad i did. tanner you are still the best writer to grace this fandom.

so seeing an update to this naturally made me happy, in an "i am pleased this is a thing which exists" way. and sad, in a "wow that was an emotional one-two" kinda way.

one of the things i loved the most about the original Lessons was your refusal to write a happily-ever-after, and i am pleased to see this trend continues. equally, i love this is more than just rewriting the old plot, but actually changing things which not only improves the rewrite but also means that fans of your previous work are kept on their toes as well

and basically what i am saying is that this is great and i am super pleased to see you writing again!

3 .

I do believe that Christmas came early this year

4 .

Wow I almost thought it was a joke that this wonderful fic finally got updated. I'm so glad to get some resolution to this story

5 .

Holy crap, I saw the title and thought:... "I remember that this fanfic was pure epic... but what was it about..."
I read the first few words and then I practically bounced around the room screaming!

Awesome awesome awesome update again and again! <3

6 .

I had the other thread bookmarked and I would check every once in a while, never losing hope..
Today I realized I hadn't checked in a few weeks, so I loaded the page and scrolled down. then i cried
Thank you for writing this amazing and inspiring story <3 <3 <3

7 .

I am just... so glad to see this updated
And Ill admit this got a few fat tears from me

Im horribly tempted to go reread the rest of the Lessons now, but I dont know if I can handle all that heartbreak in one go

8 .

can't wait for next part! good work so far!

9 .

This is an AMAZING story. Sad that it's been an entire year since the last update. Also, sorry if anyone confused this for a new update, as I don't know how to use the sage thing.

10 .

I sincerely hope this will get another update soon. Literally cried multiple times reading all of this.

11 .

I sincerely hope this will get another update soon. Literally cried multiple times reading all of this.

12 .

11
The last update was in '13. Don't necro an old thread.

13 .

So who will be the one that pays Tanner 100 dollars to finish the story?

Anybody?

14 .

>>13

From what I've seen, Tanner's pretty happy focusing on Dark Souls right now. I don't think they're even into TF2 anymore.

15 .

>>14

That sucks. This story was really good. We're left at a cliffhanger too!

16 .

What I wouldn't give to at least know where this story had been going. I don't even care about getting a full chapter, I just want to know what became of everybody in the end.

I wish he'd come on just for a second to tell us. I've almost considered sending him an ask on his Tumblr, but I really don't want to be annoying.

Uuuugh... I'd like it if I could at least find the original place he posted the old version, that would work...

Not saging because there's no point anymore.

17 .

Honestly if we all got together and paid him $100 to finish this... i would definitely pitch in the money.

18 .

Ayy! I asked Tanner about it on his tumblr, and he replied!

"Anonymous said:

I'm sorry if this comes off as annoying, or you get asked this a million times a day, but.. What happened to your TF2 fan-fic, The Lessons? You left us at a cliffhanger, and it wouldn't hurt to provide a small update on TF2Chan. At least tell us how the story was supposed to go.."


"Hey there! I actually don’t get asked this a lot, and to be honest, I’m always a little surprised when people send me messages about Lessons because I’d assumed that no one was interested in it anymore - hence the lack of updates.

However! Since a few folks have enquired politely over the last couple of weeks, I do intend to finish it in the near future, if I can, and I’ll be hosting it on AO3 at any rate, since some have asked if there’s somewhere other than TF2chan for them to read it.

I’ll keep you posted!"

19 .

The last time i was on it was 2011 but i'm so glad i found my way back to read this.

20 .

Hey just want to let ya know that I'm lovin' the story, yeah it's been a long time I know. But just wanting to let ya know that there are still many people (like my friends and I) who came back to read this amazing story. It would be great if you could finish it :)

21 .

Hey just want to let ya know that I'm lovin' the story, yeah it's been a long time I know. But just wanting to let ya know that there are still many people (like my friends and I) who came back to read this amazing story. It would be great if you could finish it :)

22 .

We still remember this story and I would love to see it completed someday.
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