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No. 657
So I got asked to post this here after posting it on Hipster last night, after someone just asked if there was a link to the old Lessons. There isn’t, because I decided a long time ago that they were awful and very few people were willing to help me improve them. I knew they were shit - and a lot of people elsewhere seemed to know they were shit as well - but no one seemed forthcoming with the concrit I so badly needed to make them better. I removed them from the places I had them hosted and asked for them not to be hosted anywhere else. Frankly, I was ashamed of them. I could have done so much better.

It’s been a few years since the original Lessons were first posted. I’ve since gone back to them, older and (hopefully) wiser, and started to rewrite them. So, without further ado, here’s Lesson #1 v2.1, and here’s hoping it’s an improvement over the original.

***

Introduction

I want to start this story by telling you a bit about how it started. The things that I’m about to write – that you’re about to read – won’t make much sense otherwise. This isn’t a believable, sane story about believable, sane things, and I don’t expect everyone who reads it to understand or even believe it, but a little backstory never hurt anyone.

Let’s get one thing straight. I was a dumb kid.

I was such a dumb kid that when I realised I wanted to go to college, the thought of telling my family made my stomach turn the same way it would have done if I’d been telling them I was a queer. My older brothers, all mean, tough guys, would have never let me live it down. I’d always wanted to be like them, and back in those days earning their respect meant everything to me. At the same time, though, seeing where they’d ended up in life – in the gutter, mostly – made me secretly desperate to do better for myself.

That and some weird part of me wanted to make my mother proud.

But to go to college, a guy needs money, and money was something my family had never had. I needed a job, but not something my brothers would laugh at me for. What I needed was a job so incredibly bad ass that no one would be able to say a damn thing about it, even after I went and got myself an education.

So when the mercenary position cropped up in the newspaper, there was no doubt about it. And to think I’d almost missed the tiny ad at the bottom of the page. It was so small, I’d wondered how anyone was supposed to notice it. Oh well, I’d thought, there’d be less competition for me when I marched my ass over there to sign up. Sucks to be those guys who weren’t as observant or bad ass as me.

Being able to tell people I was a mercenary was just about the most bad ass thing I could think of in my stupid 20-year-old brain, and the money they were offering was more than I’d ever even thought of before. I signed up to join RED without a second thought.

It was like nothing I’d ever imagined in any of my wildest dreams.

Or my nightmares.

Chapter 1: THERE IS NO “I” IN TEAM

The outpost I was sent to after my training was done was pretty much just an average-looking red wood barn, a rundown hangar and a lot of dust and dirt. My new team and I slept in the hayloft, ate around an oil drum fire and did whatever we could to chase off the boredom when the action was scarce.

Our orders, which I didn’t understand but was told not to question, were to defend the position from the mysterious BLU team, who were shacking up in much swankier digs on the other side of no man’s land.

The BLU base was a concrete giant that cast a long, dark shadow over most of the ground between them and us. It looked like some kind of factory complex or a processing plant, but I was told that much more sinister things lurked under the surface there and that I should stay as far away from the place as I could. Our orders were to defend only; we had no business going over there unless there was reconnaissance to be done, and that wasn’t my job.

Between them and us there was about two miles of abandoned buildings, all weirdly lacking in any kind of colour, and all ruined. This was no man’s land, territory that belonged to neither RED nor BLU. As far as I could tell there was nothing and no one there; the whole place was wrecked and eerily quiet. We’d find trash but no bodies, like everyone who’d lived there had just up and left one day in a big hurry.

I often wondered what there was to defend in a place like this, and my team wondered too, but it wasn’t our place to question. Our orders were to kill BLUs if we saw them outside their base, nothing more, nothing less.

My team was made up mostly of Soldiers, but I never saw the Soldiers for the most part. They tended to stay in the hangar and keep themselves to themselves, and I got the feeling that the rest of us weren’t very popular with them. They were happy enough to help out when we raised the alert and it was time to get some fighting done, but the policy we held was not to mess with them otherwise as long as they didn’t mess with us.

The core of my team, though, was just a handful of men: a Heavy Weapons Guy, a Medic, an Engineer, a Spy, a Pyro, a Sniper, and now myself, a Scout.

And that’s what everyone called me. Just ‘Scout’.

I had name, of course I did, and so did everyone else, but names weren’t important out there. What was important was your job, what you did. Out there, your job was your name. Our Pyro answered to “Pyro”. Our Medic answered to “Medic”, Our Heavy Weapons Guy answered to “Heavy”, and I learned to answer to “Scout” before the end of my first day.

That was my team. The only other friendly human beings for miles and miles in what looked like an endless desert. I didn’t even know where I’d been shipped to. These people were all I had, the nearest thing to a family that I could afford – easily the most dysfunctional family I’d ever seen; even the poverty-ridden clusterfuck I’d left at home had nothing on this, but they were still a family. Better than a kick in the mouth.

We weren’t out there to play at being the Brady Bunch, though. We were there to kill BLUs, and we all had our own job to do, our own role to fill.

While the Soldiers in the hangar made up the bulk of our offense, the real punch in my team’s attack power came in the form of Heavy. I’d never seen anyone so big before, and he had to be if he was going to be effective with the minigun he carried around. The first time I met him he towered over me, more than a head taller than me and probably three times as broad, and it occurred to me pretty quickly that none of my brothers had anything on this guy.

Heavy didn’t normally talk unless he had to, I guessed because his English wasn’t so good. I spent a long time wondering if he liked me or not; he seemed kind of cranky a lot of the time and didn’t pay much attention to me. He lightened up pretty quickly when it was time to fight, though. There wasn’t much Heavy enjoyed more than fighting. It made sense, really. No one got to be his size unless they enjoyed beating people up.

While Heavy was scary enough alone, though, with Medic backing him up he was a real force to be reckoned with. Likewise, Medic wasn’t much of a threat by himself, but it wasn’t his job to go solo. Not that he couldn’t hold his own –more than once I saw Medic gut BLUs who came too near without a hitch – but the whole point of a Medic was to heal the wounded in battle, and Medic took his job very seriously.

In fact, Medic took pretty much everything very seriously. Everything. He was a stern man, not to be fooled around with, didn’t take any crap from anyone. Even Heavy did what he was told when Medic was the one telling him to do it, and for a good reason. Medic was smart and practical, and often remembered things other people forgot. He smiled at you when you followed orders (and hardly ever otherwise), but he and Heavy were solid friends and stuck together all the time, even when the bullets weren’t flying.

Sniper had tried to tell me they "fancied each other". I kicked him, but could never really look at the way those two acted around each other the same way again afterwards.

Sniper told me a lot of kind of shaky things, at those rare times when I actually got to see him. Sniper’s very important role in the group was to be our lookout. It was his duty to keep an eye out for BLUs and to tell us if they looked like they were heading out in force. It meant that he didn’t come down to the barn very much, he was usually sitting out on some perch somewhere in no man’s land, but he was great fun when he was around. If he wasn’t bragging about the latest head he’d popped, he’d be telling me some spook story or a dirty joke.

Most of what Sniper told me could be called stretches of the truth at best. One of the first things he said to me was that the barn was haunted by the ghosts of REDs passed who’d been killed defending the place and wouldn’t leave their posts even in death. I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe the stories Sniper told me about a monster called Frank that lived in the BLU base, either. I figured it was just talk, the sort of thing meant to dehumanise the enemy or whatever they call it when you say shit to make people look bad, but the looks my teammates gave me when I laughed him off, well. I didn’t say anything at the time, but part of me wondered which parts of Sniper’s stories were bullcrap and which parts weren’t.

Engineer – known as Engie to the rest of us – was especially sceptical of Sniper’s tall tales. He was a solid man of science, didn’t take kindly to nonsense, and built machines to do the jobs that men couldn’t, like keeping watch outside the base all hours of the day or night. Engie was a swell guy, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone friendlier, but the sentries he’d built in the abandoned streets leading up to our base made those streets a death-run for anyone passing through who shouldn’t be. He was also a damned fine planner, and a great storyteller.

For the most part Engie had the patience of a saint. He had to, considering how wrapped up in his work he’d get. There were terriers less determined than him; once he’d got an idea in his head, Engie wouldn’t let it go for anything. But, as long as his attention wasn’t focused on whatever machine he was messing with, he’d always be looking out for us and asking after us to make sure we were all okay. I’d never known who my father really was, there’d always been too many men in my mother’s life for me to be sure and I doubt if she even knew herself, but Engie filled the void pretty well. He was always there with advice or reassurance, if he had the time to be.

There was only one thing that Engie had no patience for, and that was Spy.

Engie hated Spies. Even our Spy wasn’t an exception, and I could understand why. Spy seemed to love being a pain in the ass. The job of a Spy, as I understood it, was to sneak into the enemy base and gather intelligence, but our Spy didn’t do much of that. Sniper said it was because Spy was afraid of Frank, the BLU base’s so-called Pyro monster, although he didn’t say it while Spy was near enough to hear.

Spy’s job, in that case, was to observe the enemy when they ventured into no man’s land and tell us what they were up to, or, if they were setting up to attack, where they’d be coming from.

It was hard for me to get to know Spy. He was pretty distant, more stuck up than quiet, and wasn’t interested in spending time with any of us but Engie, who he only seemed to want to annoy by teasing him and sometimes stealing his tools. If he wasn’t getting Engie’s nerves, which he did a lot as he found Engie’s machines boring and didn’t mind saying so, I could usually find him in the hayloft, or on the barn roof when the weather was good, reading a book. I did my best not to piss him off. I didn’t think he liked me very much.

Then there was Pyro.

Pyro’s flamethrower was usually enough to send an enemy attack force running for cover. He liked ambush tactics best, watching and waiting for the right time to strike before charging out of hiding, waving a big plume of flame around and laughing at the BLUs when they scattered. It made it much easier for the rest of us to pick them off once they were running around, panicking and on fire. Thinking of how badly outnumbered we were, Pyro played a really important part in keeping us all alive.

I felt kind of bad for Pyro, really. I guess that was what made me hang out with him as often as I did. For reasons I could never know, Pyro never took off his gas mask or flame retardant suit, even though they made his face impossible to read and his speech impossible to understand. Because they couldn’t understand him, the rest of the guys usually just ignored him, and Pyro was too shy to argue. He was genuinely thankful for my company, I could tell that much, and for that I couldn’t really bring myself to admit that I was just as confused by him as everyone else.

Even so, Pyro was easily my best friend in that place. Even without being able to understand him, I still got along with him really well. He was loyal and reliable, and always willing to lend me a shoulder if I needed one.

And I would need one, a lot.

Being as nervous of my new teammates as I was – they were all grown men, much older and wiser than I was, and tougher too in most cases – I was eager to prove that I was just as good as they were, and that I was worthy of their respect. It didn’t take me long to think of a way to do it. All I had to do was do the one thing that they all seemed scared of.

I’d go into BLU base.

All I needed was an chance to do it, and it didn’t take long for such a chance to turn up. The BLUs were being unusually quiet, we’d seen next to nothing of them for nearly two weeks, and it was making everyone edgy. They had to be planning something, but if they wouldn’t come outside, we had no way of knowing what it was.

The team’s anger was immediately turned on Spy. Going into BLU base should have been his job, after all. Seeing Spy looking less than happy about it, I stepped forward and offered to go in his place. The others looked at me like I was an idiot.

“Reconnaissance is Spy’s job, boy.” Engie frowned at me. “You ain’t got no business goin’ in there.”

“Aw, come on!” I protested. “I’ll run in and outta there quicker than anything you bums have ever seen!”

“And what purpose would that serve?” asked Medic, harshly. “For you to get shot? I think not. Stop being so foolish.”

“They won’t even know I was there!” I grinned, ignoring Medic’s hard stare. “Those assholes have gotta have their plans ‘n’ shit written down somewhere, right? All I gotta do is find their secret crap and bring it back here! They won’t even know what hit ‘em!”

The rest of my team grumbled and huffed at me, telling me what a stupid idea it was, that it was Spy’s job and not mine, that I shouldn’t put myself in danger unnecessarily.

Everyone except Spy.

“Tsch. Let the boy do as he likes,” he scoffed, eventually. “It can be his initiation, non?”

“Quit bein’ such a goddamned coward, Spy!” snapped Engie, sounding very offended just by the suggestion. “You want the poor kid to get killed!? He can’t go in there by himself!”

“You don’t seem terribly worried about me getting killed, Engie.” A wry smile crept over Spy’s face. “The boy is faster than I am. I am sure he can get himself out of any trouble he manages to get himself into.”

“Exactly!” I chimed in, much to Engie’s annoyance. “I can do this, no problem!”

It took a lot of arguing and a lot of name-calling, but my fellow REDs eventually let me take Spy’s place, if reluctantly. It was agreed that we‘d wait until nightfall, and under the cover of darkness I’d make a dash over to the BLU base. I was to be in and out as quickly as possible; as soon as I’d found something of value, whether I found physical evidence of BLU plans or just overheard a conversation, I was to return to RED base.

I agreed.

“Piece o’ cake!” I jeered. How wrong I was.

No sooner had I committed myself to running in there that very night, the weather took a turn for the worse and by the time the sun went down it was pouring with rain. The sound of the rain against the barn’s flimsy roof was deafening, the noise only broken up when a really loud roll of thunder roared overhead. The sky would have been completely black had it not been for the occasional flash of lightning and the darkness of night was that much deeper for the storm.

Still, I’d said I was going to do this thing and so I would, not wanting to back down because of a little rain. So, ignoring the arguments of my teammates, out I went. I headed for the lights outside the BLU base, the only source of light for miles, and tried to ignore the howling wind and the sting of the rain lashing against my skinny body. In seconds I was soaked to the skin.

It’d be strategic, I’d said. The darkness and the noise of the storm would work in my favour, I’d said. I’d be in and out before they even knew I’d been there, I’d said.

I cursed myself as I ran as fast as I could across no man’s land, keeping my gaze locked on those flickering lights on the outer walls of the BLU base. I muttered and growled at myself all the way, fuckin’ stupid, fuckin’ idiot, how’d I talk myself into this, and struggled to stay focused.

That was a point. The lights were flickering.

The storm must have been messing with their electricity, I thought. It happened all the time at home; if a really bad storm came down the power would usually go out and we’d all be sat in the dark until it passed. I didn’t like the idea of sitting in the dark in BLU base, especially not after all the horror stories I’d been told.

I don’t know how long it took me to get there, but by the time I did I felt as though I’d been fighting through the rain forever. My muscles were so cold that I hadn’t been able to run after a while and I’d slowed to a jog, then to a walk, and then finally to some kind of pathetic zombie shuffle before eventually arriving just as the numbness was really starting to set in. By that point I was actually happy to get inside the base, and it seemed as though the BLUs had similar ideas as there was no guard outside that I could see.

“I’ve made it to the enemy base,” I whispered into my radio, in a completely over-dramatic tone. “No bogeys. I’m goin’ in.”

“St... on y... ur toes...” The signal was weak because of the storm, but I just about heard Engie’s voice. “Good luck, son.”

Seizing the moment while the perimeter was unguarded, I slipped through a sliding door, checked the corridor I was about to step into for BLUs, and, finding none, gratefully went inside and closed the door behind me.

Even inside, the lights flickered with every roll of thunder. The rain belted the windows, sounding more like hail because it was coming down so hard. The corridor was lit with a nasty, artificial light and all around me I could hear the buzzing of the lamps. With no other sound but the rain and my own soggy footsteps, that buzzing quickly became deafening.

I didn’t get far before disaster struck.

With a sharp and sudden bang the electricity went out completely, and the building was plunged into darkness. My first hopeful thought was that this could work in my favour; obviously I’d be harder to see without the lights on, but that hope was crushed when I tried to open a door along the corridor. It was jammed shut and wouldn’t budge. These sliding doors, I figured out, must have been the electric kind, and with the power out they’d all been firmly locked in place.

I struggled with every door I came across as I dashed back the way I’d come, and not one of them would move even an inch - including the one I’d come in through. I was trapped, in BLU base, in the dark. I panicked as quietly as I could.

I tried to reach my team via my radio but between the concrete and the storm, the signal was completely shot. I could just about hear Engie on the other end but I couldn’t make out anything he was saying and even though I tried to explain that the power had blown and that was I trapped, I didn’t think he could hear me, either. I caught a few snippets of people shouting, arguing. Someone over there was panicking as much as I was, or more.

Was that Medic? It couldn’t have been, I thought. Medic wasn’t the kind of guy who panicked. Before I could hear enough to be certain, however, the fragmented voices gave way to more and more crackling white noise until I couldn’t hear them at all. I was alone, I realised. Alone with Frank, my overactive imagination unhelpfully added.

Shut up. Frank’s not real. Sniper just made that shit up to scare me. Fucking dick.

I didn’t doubt that the BLUs had a Pyro, but I’d been told enough horrible crap about him that I’d passed it all off as spook stories, especially since I’d heard most of it from Sniper. Sniper was a huge bullshitter and it was smartest to take everything he said with that in mind. “Frank” was probably just a quiet little firebug like ours, but wearing blue instead of red and with a stinking attitude like the rest of his asshole BLU buddies.

The idea that there could be a flame-wielding monster the size of a fridge-freezer hiding around every corner still loomed large in the back of my mind, though. I trod very carefully as I started to look for some way out of the corridor I was trapped in. Might as well get what I came for, I thought, if I could.

To my relief, there didn’t seem to be anyone around. With the doors jammed shut, the BLUs must have been just as trapped as I was wherever they’d been hiding from the weather. I noticed the sound of my wet clothes dripping on the floor tiles as I went, and hugged myself. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been so cold and wet, and it was horrible. I mentally kicked myself harder and harder for ever having gone on this stupid goddamned mission and more than that, that I’d tried to do it alone. I should never have done it alone.

I was torn between hoping the power would come back on quickly and hoping that it wouldn’t. On one hand, as long as the power was out I’d be safe from the BLUs, but on the other, I couldn’t hope to get out of here until it came back. Every little noise made me want to leap out of my skin. I was terrified, and I would have admitted it to anyone who asked.

The longer I wandered through those corridors, feeling my way around in darkness so black that I couldn’t see my own hand in front of my face except for when the lightning lit up the windows, the less I cared about the intelligence I’d gone in to find. Before too long, I just wanted to leave. There was nothing else on my mind but escaping from that place before someone - or something - found me.

There was only blackness outside the windows. Through the rain I could barely see to the streets outside, let alone the RED base. I felt so cut off, so isolated, so incredibly alone, that I was just about ready to give up. I turned away from the window, and slumped against the wall next to it. There was nothing else I could do.

It was then that I heard the sound of steady footsteps moving down the corridor towards me. I froze in place, some primal part of me thinking that if I stayed absolutely still in this pitch blackness then whoever or whatever it was that was coming wouldn’t spot me and would walk straight past. My heart raced as I listened to those footsteps, trying to gauge their distance and who they might have belonged to.

They were slow and cautious, obviously belonging to someone as lost in the darkness as I was. I squinted, trying to make them out, and eventually thought I could see the outline of a figure twenty feet or so away from me. Surely if I stayed still enough...

A flash of lightning lit the corridor for one brief moment, and in that moment, I saw him. He was a Demoman. The big padded jacket was a dead giveaway. I’d never met a Demoman before but I knew what a Demoman looked like, and this guy was a Demoman, no mistake. But had he seen me? If I tried to make a break for it at this distance he would hear me and I’d blow whatever chance I had at remaining undetected, and as cold and numb as my legs were I wasn’t sure I trusted myself to outrun him. I stayed put.

He’d stopped. He’d at least thought he’d seen me, for sure. Slowly and silently, I stepped away from the wall, getting ready to turn and bolt in case I was about to find I had no choice. Perhaps if I was quiet enough I’d be able to put some distance between us and -

Another sudden flash from outside lit the corridor with blinding white and I saw that even though I hadn’t been able to make out the Demoman’s features in the darkness, I’d been looking him straight in the eye, and he’d been looking straight at me. Now that I knew exactly where he was, it was easier to make out his shadow in the dark. Once my eyes had adjusted to the low light again, I saw that he was raising his hands.

“Easy, laddie, easy, I dunnae want any trouble, now.”

He spoke softly and soothingly. He was scared of me, trying to keep me calm and stop me from attacking. I stood my ground, but didn’t know what to do otherwise. No one had ever been scared of me before, despite what I might have told my teammates when I’d first arrived, and I had no idea what to do. I just stood there dumbly, saying and doing nothing.

The Demoman stood his ground too, occasionally offering a few more words of reassurance, letting me know that he wasn’t interested in fighting me, that if I started a fight with him in this darkness and in this enclosed space we’d both end up regretting it, that there was no need for there to be any trouble.

There was an uneasy standoff until the lightning afforded us each another brief glimpse of each other. He must got a better view than I did, as he immediately sagged with relief.

“Oh, thank god! I thought you were one o’ them!”

‘One of them’? My heart leapt into my throat. Between the pitch blackness and the blinding white light of the lightning I hadn’t been able to see the colour of this Demoman’s uniform. I’d assumed he was a BLU because, well, here he was in BLU base, but now I realised that he was in the same boat as me. He’d obviously come here alone too, and had made the same guess that I had, assuming that I was a BLU.

“Aw, Jesus!” I sighed, overjoyed to have found a friend. “Am I glad to see you! I’ve been stuck in this fuckin’ hallway for hours!”

“Aye, me too,” laughed the Demoman, sounding just as pleased as me. “I was wonderin’ how long it’d take me to see a friendly face!”

It took us a while to find each other enough to exchange introductions and shake hands in the dark, but after a few more minutes of saying how relieved we were to have found each other, Demo told me that he’d found a warm place a little way down the corridor, away from the windows. I followed him gladly. With my clothes still clinging to my skin with rainwater, nothing could have convinced me to argue.

The place where we wound up sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, was even darker than the corridor had been, but it was a lot warmer. The building’s heating system had been knocked out with the lights, but while the heat had disappeared quickly through the windows in the outer corridor, back here it was still warm for now. Demo and I huddled together as best we could to cling to what warmth we had between us, and he even gave me his jacket to wear to stop my cold, wet clothes from getting the better of me.

“So how come I ain’t seen you before?” I asked, taking the bottle Demo pushed into my hands.

“I’m new here,” he replied, unhappily. “Only been here for a day, and already I’m none too popular wae anyone.”

“Yeah,” I sighed, taking a swig. “You ‘n’ me both, pal. I only got here last week ‘n’ I’ve already made an ass of myself. They’re are gonna think I’m a real tough guy now, right? Pussyin’ out because of a little rain. Pff.”

“Aye, well. There’s precious little we can do until the power’s back on and the doors open. Dunnae worry too much about it, lad. There’s time for each of us to prove ourselves yet.”

“I guess we’ll just have to wait this out, huh?”

“Aye, lad. We will.”

So we did, passing Demo’s whiskey back and forth between us. I’d never tasted whiskey before, and the first few mouthfuls were nasty enough to make me shudder, but I didn’t want to say anything in case I seemed like even more of a faggot than I’d already made myself out to be. It got better when I got used to it, though, and it did make me feel warmer, just like Demo had said it would.

Demo seemed pretty cool. I didn’t ask if he’d set himself the same mission that I’d set myself, mind you. I felt dumb enough for having failed so badly, and I figured that Demo probably felt the same way. I didn’t want to rub it in, and now we’d started talking we were actually kind of having a pretty good time. I didn’t want to ruin it by bringing both of us down, so I kept my mouth shut as far as how Demo might have come to be here was concerned and after the whiskey had been passed around a bit we were both laughing our asses off at each other. It would have been a shame to spoil it.

To pass the time until the lights came back on, Demo even taught me a drinking game. It was called “I Have Never”, and Demo explained that the rules of the game were that we should take it in turns to make a statement, like “I have never run down the street naked”, and if either of us had done it, we had to take a drink.

Now, to begin with, we’d been pretty sensible in the statements we were making, saying things like “I have never worn a lady’s underwear” or “I have never eaten dirt” (the latter being one that I had to take a drink for; having seven older brothers who were all a lot tougher than me made the likelihood of eating dirt pretty high). But it wasn’t too long until we started fooling around and coming up with stuff like “I have never walked” or “I have never breathed air”. In the end the point of the game was less about each finding out what embarrassing shit the other had done and more about each trying to come up with the thing he could possibly have done the most in order to guarantee drinking for both parties.

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life.

Eventually though, the drink caught up with me. Being as skinny as I was, I wasn’t nearly the same calibre of drinker Demo was, and I caught myself slumping against his shoulder a few times before I finally dozed off leaning on him. Demo mustn’t have minded very much, because he didn’t disturb me or try to move me. I guess he must have been just as grateful of my presence as I was of his.

I can’t even start to explain how much better I felt for his being there. When the radio had cut out I’d thought that that was it, and part of me had thought in some childish way that I was going to be stuck in there alone forever. Then Demo had appeared in my hour of need, and he’d made the wet, the cold and the silence disappear. Most importantly though, he’d made it so that I wasn’t alone anymore. I fell asleep quite happy in his presence, knowing that together, we’d both be safe. When the lights came back on we’d head back to RED base, and he and I were going to be great friends. I knew it. I could tell.

It was going to be so awesome.

So awesome.

***

The lights blinking in my face woke me. I stirred, and over the sound of Demo snoring next to me, I could hear that horrible buzz of the base’s lamps cutting in and out. The electricity was coming back on, or trying to. I opened my eyes to see that there was daylight streaming in from somewhere further down the corridor, where there were windows. I could see where I was, and as I tried to clear the fuzzy head the drink and the sleep had given me, I realised that if the power was coming back on, it wouldn’t be long until the BLUs would be able to get out of whatever rooms they’d been shut in. Demo and I had to get out of there, fast.

“Demo!” I hissed, shaking his shoulder. “Demo, wake up! C’mon, move! We gotta -“

I stopped dead, mid-shove as I saw something that terrified me.

Demo’s uniform. It was blue.

Instantly my blood ran cold and I realised my mistake. Demo had never been able to see the colour of my uniform, either. He’d made the same guess that I had, that I was a friendly, that I was trapped away from the rest of the BLUs just like he was. My mind reeled; but he’d said ‘one of them’, what had he meant if not what I’d thought he meant? What was I supposed to do now?

Shit, shit, he was waking up. As drunk as he’d been it was taking him a while but Demo was definitely waking up. I staggered to my feet, taking off the jacket he’d given me, and stumbled back a few steps. I had to think fast. I liked him a lot, for the last eight hours or however long it had been, Demo had been my best friend. But now, he was a BLU. That changed everything. That meant I had to kill him.

But I didn’t want to. I liked Demo. When I hadn’t been able to see the colour of his uniform and he hadn’t been able to see mine, he’d seemed just as human as me. We’d made the best out of a bad situation, even enjoyed it, together. Maybe I didn’t have to kill him, I thought. He was hung over and sluggish, I could run a mile before he could even get to his feet, I was sure.

However, I couldn’t trust him not to raise the alarm when he realised that I was a RED even if he couldn’t catch me himself, and I knew it. There was no guarantee that he’d have the same moral dilemma that I was having, and I’d never be able to defend myself successfully if he managed to attack me, which was very likely if I couldn’t escape before he caught up with me.

Physically I was no match for someone his size, not in this enclosed space where I couldn’t force him to chase me, and I would certainly not be able to fight him if all his buddies were with him. There was no way I could risk gambling my life on it. The cold, hard logic my training had drilled into me was starting to show through, tactics and calculations running through my mind, guessing at my chances. My chances, logic told me, were not good.

Not unless I killed Demo, keeping him from attacking me or alerting his teammates. If I neutralised the threat he posed to me, my chances of survival were dramatically increased.

As much as I hated it, as sick to my stomach as it made me, I eventually concluded there was nothing else I could do. I was going to have to kill Demo, my rescuer, my friend, before he had the chance to kill me. Every way around it I tried to come up with ran into a dead end. There was no other way, no other choice. It was the only option I had; I had no choice. No choice.

My hands shaking, I drew my pistol.

With all my might I fought to remember more of my training, to tell myself that Demo was a BLU and that it was not just my job but my duty to kill him, that it was what I was supposed to be doing out here and that not killing him would be the same as directly disobeying orders. He wasn’t a RED, and therefore he wasn’t my friend, or anything else I’d thought he was. There was nothing else to it, that was the bottom line. Demo was the Enemy.

“Wh, what’s the matter?” Demo slurred, coming around. “’S the power back on yet?”

Just do it. Just pull the trigger. Just get it over with. Just kill him. It’s a war out here. You’re gonna kill a lot more guys than just him. Just do it. He’s a BLU. He’s the Enemy. He’s gonna kill you when he sees you’re not what he thought you were, you’ve gotta kill him before he gets the chance.

Urging myself to think with my head instead of my soft, stupid heart, I gritted my teeth, narrowing my gaze and taking aim. If I made it a quick kill, it’d be easier for both of us. I’d been taught how to kill quickly. It was a Scout’s role to kill quickly. A bullet in the brain was all it would take. It would be easy, I said to myself. Simple. Killing a BLU was no big deal. All in the line of duty, just doing my job, playing my role, serving my purpose. I’d be a traitor to my real teammates, my real friends, if I didn’t kill this man.

But still my finger wouldn’t squeeze the trigger.

The lights flickered overhead, trying to come back to life. I was running out of time. I kept telling myself, just do it, just pull the damn trigger, just do it, but then Demo finally shook himself awake, and turned to look at me.

Recognition crossed his features just the same way it had crossed mine as he, too, realised his mistake.

I swallowed hard, my mouth hanging open as I tried to think of something to say. Demo stared at me in silence, past the gun pointed at his head. I stared back, urging myself to pull the trigger, do the job I came here to do, to remember my training, but my hand just wouldn’t do it. Suddenly, with him looking me in the eye, that logic drained out of my head and I was left, once again, with my soft, stupid heart.

It was either me or him, I reminded myself, if I didn’t kill him then I would end up dead, and I didn’t have the luxury of time to fool around like this, but I just stood there, feeling sick, a lump forming in my throat.

Then the lights blinked on, and stayed on. That was it. Time was up.

Once more I froze in place, every inch of me tense with the agony of indecision. I knew I had to kill Demo, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to. The knuckles in the finger I held around the trigger began to ache with the strain of staying so completely still, and I stared, eyes wide, frightened and confused, at the man in the blue uniform at my feet, the man who only minutes ago had been my best friend in the whole world.

Suddenly I was terrified of him, more terrified than I could begin to describe, because I knew I couldn’t trust him. I didn’t know what he would do, and if I misjudged him, it would cost me my life. I was going to die if I screwed this up, and within moments blind terror was flooding my mind.

Demo watched me carefully, a grave look on his face, saying nothing. I couldn’t focus enough to read his expression more deeply than that. I wished I could tell what was going through his head but couldn’t think clearly enough to figure anything out and I quickly convinced myself that he was planning to kill me.

Perhaps if he’d moved a little less suddenly I wouldn’t have flinched and pulled the trigger.

The shot rang out through the concrete passageway, sounding deafening to me. Someone was sure to have heard that, said logic, raising its head again now that the moment when I really needed it had passed. I ignored it for the time being, though - I hadn’t meant to shoot Demo, it was an accident, and though I knew, really, that the shot had been a killing one, I didn’t want to believe I’d done it.

I looked, but wish I hadn’t.

The image of Demo slumped against the wall, the inside of his skull strewn across the concrete behind him and his blood streaming down to pool on the tiles beneath him, was instantly burned into my mind with horrifying clarity. I would never, ever forget it.

“What was that!?”

A voice from somewhere further down the corridor brought me back to reality.

“I heard a gunshot!”

The BLUs were out, and they were coming for me. I bolted, making a mad dash for the door I’d entered through as fast as my legs would carry me. As scared as I had been of getting lost, I found that door surprisingly fast and, somehow, without running into anyone. I can only guess that I was really, really lucky, and the run back across no man’s land to my home base seemed much, much shorter than the journey over had been.

I didn’t care about anything but getting away, getting back home, back to my team. I did not stop, I did not slow down. With no other thought in my mind but finding myself safe and amongst friends, I ran through the empty streets until I finally charged through those barn doors and back into the waiting arms of my teammates.

Or into Heavy’s arms, at least, when I ran straight into him. He’d heard me coming and had tried to greet me at the door but obviously hadn’t expected me to be in quite as much of a hurry as I was. The commotion drew the attention of the other REDs, who quickly come to find out where I’d been, what had happened.

Before I could even begin to explain what had gone on, though, the small crowd was forcibly parted by Medic.

“Where have you been!?” he snapped. “We thought you were dead! Are you hurt!? Put him down, for god’s sake, I have to see him!”

Medic did not leave me time to answer any of his questions until he had made sure that I was alive and unhurt. When he saw that I was in one piece, he settled down a lot, which was a great relief to me since I’d thought he was angry with me. He’d sounded very angry, but he’d just been worried. Medic obviously cared a lot more than I’d thought.

Eventually, I scraped together the courage to tell my team what had happened. I told them about the power outage, the locked doors, and the dark corridors. And I told them about Demo, how I’d made a friend of him until I’d seen him in the light, and what I’d done.

My clothes had dried a long time ago, but I still found myself shivering, hugging myself, unable to meet eyes with anyone or even lift my head. I felt like a murderer, and for a long time, no one said anything.

It was Heavy who finally spoke up.

“What is problem!?” he roared. “You killed a man! That is what you are here to do!”

I flinched at his voice, unable to find my own to answer him, but mercifully, Medic came to my defense.

“Were you listening to anything he said!? What is the matter with you!?”

“Of course I was listening! We are here to kill BLUs! So little man kills a BLU and he cries about it, and you ask what is the matter with me!?

“You have some nerve saying that, Herr Heavy, how dare you -“

I hung my head as the pair argued around me, and looked at the floor. Things were already bad enough, I hadn’t been able to mention that I hadn’t even meant to kill Demo yet. Before too long, though, Engie came to my rescue and put an arm around my shoulders to gently steer me away towards the hayloft.

He offered a few words of sympathy and understanding, but I couldn’t bring myself to say or do anything but sit there and hug my knees. Down in the barn, the Heavy vs. Medic war raged on. It didn’t help that I could still hear them both clearly.

“How dare you even think about calling Scout a coward! You can’t afford to accuse him of anything and you know it! Unless you have already forgotten that -“

“I have forgotten nothing! And you will keep that to yourself! It has nothing to do with any of this!”

“Oh no? It seems to me that it has a lot to do with it, Herr Heavy, so why should I!? Perhaps you should keep your comments to yourself as well!”

Heavy grudgingly threw in the towel after that. Whatever cat Medic might have had in the bag, Heavy definitely wanted him to keep it there.

“Heh.” Engie chuckled. “Heavy oughtta know by now that no one wins an argument with the good doctor when he starts throwin’ that ol’ ‘Herr’ prefix around. That’s when you know he’s got his dander up.”

I smiled, but before I could say anything, there was a shout from somewhere outside, and I looked out of the hayloft window. In retaliation for my killing their Demoman, the BLUs had launched an attack on us and were charging on our position. I raised the alarm and we quickly mobilised to go out to meet them, and thankfully they were driven into a retreat pretty quickly. The assault had been a rushed one and poorly planned; they hadn’t thought much about their strategy and were scattered easily.

As we returned to base, Spy, who had wisely stayed well away from the earlier argument between Medic and Heavy, caught me and took me aside. I asked him what the problem was, but he wouldn’t tell me until we were up on the barn roof and well out of earshot of everyone else.

“There is a reason,” he said, lighting a cigarette and leaning back on his elbows, “That Monsieur Medic and Monsieur Heavy are so very up in arms about this. And I will tell you,” he added, “But you have to keep it to yourself. I did not tell you any of this.”

“Right, right.” I nodded. “I won’t tell anyone, I swear.”

Spy gave me a hard stare.

“I mean it.”

“So do I!” I protested. “I promise I won’t tell no one!”

“You mean you won’t tell anyone,” he corrected me, firmly.

“Yeah, anyone, whatever. I won’t tell.”

Satisfied with this, Spy took a long draw of his cigarette, and blew the smoke over our heads.

“A few years ago,” he said, “When we first came here... Well, to make a long story short, Heavy came here with the same silly attitude that got you into so much trouble last night, and he did the same silly thing that you tried to do, and it happened exactly the same way. Almost. You see, he did not kill the BLU he met. Monsieur Heavy convinced him to defect, and brought him back to us. He did not have the heart.”

I stared.

“No way.” Although, as unbelievable as it was, it would explain a lot. “... Didn’t anyone else... I mean, didn’t any of you guys mind about him bringin’ a BLU back here with him?”

“Oh, no. In fact we were all very pleased. We had needed a Medic for a long time, you see.”

It took me a few moments to put two and two together.

“... Medic? You mean our Medic?”

Spy gave me a sideways glance and a knowing smile that almost bore teeth.

“He is not ‘our’ Medic, Monsieur Scout. He is not our property. He does not belong to us.”

“Yeah he does.” I grinned. “He’s ours.

Spy’s shoulders shook as he gave a silent chuckle, and he reached into his pocket for his packet of cigarettes to offer it to me. I raised my hand, shaking my head.

“Nah, man. Medic says smokin’ is real bad for you. ‘Specially for someone like me.”

“Psch.” Spy’s balaclava twitched, suggesting a raised eyebrow. “What does he know?”

“Fuck’s sake, man. He’s a Medic.”

“Pah. Details.”

I laughed and leaned back on the roof as Spy lay there, blowing smoke rings. I wondered if it was worth becoming a smoker just so he could teach me to do that, but thought better of asking him. I’d done enough that I regretted already.

Later, Heavy would come and find me and apologise for telling me off, if kind of reluctantly. I pretended not to have already heard the story when he told me how he’d met Medic and brought him back to us, and I told him not to worry about it.

When I told him what Demo had said, though - “Oh, thank god! I thought you were one o’ them!” - Heavy was able to tell me what he’d meant. The BLUs, he said, had a number of Scouts in their ranks, but two in particular were big trouble, not just to us REDs, but to their teammates as well. Between the two of them they constantly harassed and abused their own teammates. Everyone had seen their fair share of them, and Demo must have been scared that I might have been one of those two.

It made sense, the way he’d tried to pacify me when he’d seen me. He hadn’t wanted any trouble, not from me, but from those bastards. He’d thought I was one of them. If someone else had been with me, they would have known that, and none of what had happened the previous night would have happened at all.

I wished so hard that I could have undone it all somehow.

I’d made a terrible mistake before I’d even entered the BLU base, though. Going alone would never have impressed anyone, even if I’d come back with the goods. Working alone wasn’t the point, it never had been and never would be. I’d been too ready to prove my own worth and be the Big Man, and it had cost me.

At the same time, though, while I had been grateful for Medic coming to my rescue when Heavy had tried to rip into me for caring so much about killing that BLU Demoman, Heavy was right, in a way. We were here to kill BLUs, and while Demo had seemed just as human as me - the only difference between us had been the colour of our uniforms - I couldn’t afford to be so sentimental or being here would drive me crazy. I had to grow up, get a backbone.

After all, my team would need to depend on me just as much as I would depend on them.

END
180 posts omitted. Last 50 shown.
>> No. 3423
I just discovered this fic today, it's currently 2am in the morning, and WHERE THE HELL IS THE REST OF THE STORY? D:
>> No. 3454
I'd just like to point out that I found myself playing a Pyro on the BLU team today and all I could think of was this fic and why aren't the other team fleeing in fear from me? Also there were 2 scouts on my team, so that didn't help. (I then proceeded to utterly annihilate my previous record for points while playing pyro, so make of that what you will....) *waits impatiently for the rest of this story*
>> No. 3485
I just read this whole thing in one sitting and I'm biting back tears... looking forwards to an update soon!
>> No. 3569
Let me preface by saying that I read the original version of these stories and I did enjoy them a lot. I was also very disappointed when i went to reread them and they had been taken down. I also remember your complaints from back then, that no one would offer any critique. The sorts of things that you have improved upon since then, most notably your characterizations, were things that, personally, I would have suggested were the question "what would you do differently" as opposed to "how can I improve". I think I was not alone in thinking that suggesting you change something that would need to be reworked through the entirety of your story wouldn't have been all that helpful. Knowing now that you were, in fact, willing to do such a monumental overhaul on the entire thing, I regret not having said so.

I don't have any gigantic suggestions for you this time, only a small and perhaps overly pedantic one. But it is one I had considered giving back then too. Except this one seemed too small.

In the chapter about Spy and Engie's relationship, you make a reference to Cats. Specifically, you have Engie refer to Scout and Spy as Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. Now, Engie's a pretty learned feller, but I don't necessarily believe he reads T. S. Eliot in his offtime. And I'm not really convinced that Demo or Spy would know who those characters are either. Now, I like Cats as much as anyone and I don't think a nod to people who like musical theatre and people dancing around dressed as animals (IN A TOTALLY NOT FURRY WAY, GUYS) is completely amiss. For example, you also made a reference in an upcoming chapter to the border of a certain character's coat being "stained with sand". That's fine in a number of ways that I feel the other reference is not. Firstly, it's in the narration and not the dialogue of characters. Secondly, it's a little strange for wording, but unobtrusive in that a person who wasn't familiar with Cats or its originating poetry would have to stop and wut at it. Lastly, because it's narration, it's not anachronistic.

The first time around, Scout stated somewhere (I don't recall if it was the beginning or in the epilogue) that this all takes place some time in the 60's. In the source material, Rumpleteazer was not female. She was written as female only in the musical adaptation, which did not exist until 1981. I realize it fits very nicely into that joke Spy makes, but even if we believe that Engie loves T. S. Eliot, even his silly whimsical shit, AND we believe that Demo and Spy have at least read it too, it's still 20 years before Spy's comment about Scout being "the girl" would be true.

Like I said, it's small and technical and I mention it just in case you are interested in that kind of shit too. You can take it or leave it.

Also, re: shit I'd like to see, you've already said you are planning to rewrite Spy's time in Frank's care and how Heavy and Medic met, I also wouldn't say no to a new version of Spy's going to see Mud after Scout's encounter with Frank.
>> No. 3575
>>185
Next time, PLEASE use 'sage' in the email field. I, and I'm sure others, thought this story had updated again when, obviously, it hasn't. Thank you.
>> No. 3576
Hehe yeah I totally fell for it. Stilllll waiting.
>> No. 3582
I really want to see this update too... it's the only story I come back for... it's been months... can't... wait...
>> No. 3584
>>185 ... Oh the pain you inflicted on me, now my hopes are dashed again!
>> No. 3585
So like guys. I apologize for you getting your hopes up. I really do understand the disappointment.

However, I deliberately didn't sage so that if Dr. Tanner happens to stroll by, he will see that his thread is being commented upon and, beyond that, someone responded to his story with something besides praise or begging for updates. I ain't so vain as to believe he would give THAT much of a fuck about what I think of his Cats references, but he might at least be amused that someone else ruminated that much about their effect on his story to write him a dissertation about it.

Specially since his complaint last time around was that no one would say anything about The Lessons besides that they loved everything about them.

Now, Like I said, I get your disappointment here. I hate when people don't sage just to toss off a quick love note about a fic too. But if I was writing a story on here, a bigass post fulla paragraphs would be a lot more enticing for me to check up on my own thread than a bunch of little ones complaining about the lack of sage and updates, you know?
>> No. 3586
It's cool :) at least new people can see this story and get hooked on it too!
>> No. 3611
Huh, I was pretty sure I actually had red the end to this... maybe it was before it got taken down for revision...

I still cry like a bitch about Pyro and Solly. Keep up the good work, Tanner.
>> No. 3935
Dear god, I'm crying like a baby. I read this through in a day and. Wow.
This is well written, characterized and
basically everything asked of a fic, except the fact that it's not finished?
I'm not going to whine about that, just wanted to give you a huge Kudos for making me cry over a fic.
>> No. 4005
Crying all through that chapter T~T
Please don't let the rest of them die!
It was bad enough hearing about how scared Medic must have been when he died, that and Pyro,Heavy and Solly! T~T
Your too good at writing to stop this fanfiction, we need an ending!
>> No. 4006
Jesus fucking christ 194
Way to get everyone's hopes up
>> No. 4016
[Fuggin wow, 194. Way to break my heart.]

I'd been looking for this for a while now. It's safe to say that this is, hands down, THE best fiction I've read--to the point where I would probably prostitute myself and sell my soul for the next chapter. I don't mean to be pushy, but if the author of this wonderful tale reads this comment, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, finish it! Je ne pense mon cœr peux prend l'excitée! [Look, you even have me going french.]
>> No. 4038
Oh my God. I just...oh my God.

I have never actually cried over a fanfic before. This was the first piece of fan writing that has ever had me in tears, and I've read a lot of well-written tragedies and sad fanfics in general.

This piece of writing is truly a beautiful work of art, and I am not saying this lightly. Tanner, you have incredible skill. I never read the original post of this, but the story is absolutely amazing. I would pick specific things, but this is so well done that I honestly cannot pick out specifics. The story flows and breathes and god damn it I am too upset right now to type coherently, but please know that this is truly the best fanfic I have ever read out of any fandom.
>> No. 4116
Please finish this story ;_;

All I can think about is what will happen next! This is the best TF2 fanfic ever written. Please upload the last chapter!
>> No. 4117
Please sage. Just type 'sage' with no apostrophes in the email section. I thought this was updated. :(
>> No. 4118
God fucking damnit
>> No. 4121
I came into fanfic for the first time in forever, and saw this at the top of the list, and prayed 'dear god, please let it be a real update, and not someone just bumping it up'.

I cried. You have no idea how badly I desire an update for this story.
>> No. 4153
Please, PLEASE update this fic!! I need to see what happens at the end!! :'(
>> No. 4180
HEY GUYS IT'S ME, I THOUGHT SINCE I'M COMING HERE WITH AN UPDATE ON HOW THE STORY'S GETTING WRITTEN THAT YOU WOULDN'T MIND IF I BUMPED IT A BIT. SORRY FOR GETTING YOUR HOPES UP. THE NEXT CHAPTER ISN'T HERE YET. BUT I'M GOING TO TELL YOU A BIT ABOUT WHY.

Basically I've had this final chapter (might end up being two chapters, depends how long it winds up being) sitting here for months and months and months. I know how I want it to pan out and I love the shit out of the ideas I have. The annoying thing about it is, though, that the second I sit down to write it, it always seems like something that sounds really similar to the idea I have crops up, and in my stupid mind that means I can't post my idea because then it'll seem like I've lifted it directly from the other thing that technically came after I had the idea but has been released before my idea gets posted.

I hate the feeling that I've copied something - even when I haven't - or the feeling that other people will think I've copied something. It's completely irrational, I know, but I'm sure at least one or two of you will know the crippling paranoia I feel in my heart every time I see something that undoubtedly folks will assume has inspired me if I posted my stuff while it was still floating around. So, every time it happens, I feel like I've got to wait until this new thing blows over, and then my idea - even though it came first - will seem original again.

You don't understand at all how this KEEPS FUCKING HAPPENING with this fucking final chapter. It's so frustrating. Every time I think it's "safe" to work on it again and consider putting it out here, some other fucking thing pops up and I swear to god it means I just have to sit here and wait for it to go away before I can get on it again.

I really hope things will be better once Halloween is over.

Ugh.

Again, sorry to get everyone's hopes up. I really do want to get on with this but I just don't feel like I can at the moment because shit keeps stealing my fucking thunder and I really don't want to put this out just to have people read it and go "OH WOW IT'S JUST LIKE [X]!!". I fucking hate that, even when someone says it in praise.

So, yeah.

There might be a bit of a wait but it is coming eventually, I promise. Everything just needs to stop happening so much. ._.
>> No. 4181
Dr Tanner, I am so happy that it is you and not an anon. You have no idea how much I was worried that you had forgotten about this and were never going to finish. Take all the time you need.
>> No. 4185
Dr.Tanner, I have been WEEPING over this fic for months and months and months. With all the anon bumps, I was yelling at my various screens and screaming obscenities into my sweater/pillow/keyboard. The mere fact that there /is/ an ending to my heartache gives me such relief.
It is never easy to come to an ending, especially after having tried to create one for so long. But please know that whatever ending you give us--no matter how heart-wrenching or nail-biting or happy-tear-jerking, will come as a balm to both those who pick up this beautiful story, to those who have travelled with you down this weary road, and to you. And when you press reply for that one last time, I hope that you simply flop back into your seat and know that you have created something truly wonderful.
Never listen to those who compare. This fandom is not a contest. It is not a cloning facility or genetics lab. It is not a drama factory. Those people do not understand that comparing stories is simply ridiculous. Originality at this point in time is simply an impossibility--there will be more than one instance of anything, anywhere.
In order to best disregard this, chuck out all other eyes and ask yourself what YOU would like to see. The only satisfaction you should ever endeavor to seek is your own.


Hope to see an ending soon. <3
>> No. 4189
Yo.

Love the story. I've never seen someone created a Scout who cared about his teammates without making him so out of character to the point that I'm reading about the eight classes and Elmo. The feelings of it being a real war were pretty incredible. You have managed to keep fights from mundane, and given it a clear
affect on Scout and the readers.

When I first started reading my biggest gripe was the large amount of Soldiers. Each class is a unique personality, so in my headcanon there's only one of each. I kept trying to ignore the multiple Soldiers because you had enough merits that the story was still very readable for me. Then Chapter 5 came out. I didn't think you could do it, but you did. You got Soldier, believably, into the story. And every time he popped up next he was the Jane Doe I'd believed it, and it was glorious. The seriousness of the war combined with how Soldier's canon life revolves around it makes for a breathtaking result.

Pyro. My god. I never see anyone actually explore Pyro or keep his/her gender a secret without turning the grammar into swiss cheese and making the story unreadable. You did both. You made Pyro a person, not just a being. You saved that for Frank, and made him an awe inspiring beast. After wondering for so many chapters, the first encounter with Frank was intense.

I'm just glad to see Demoman being a part of the story. He's having believable relationships with his teammates, and he's A PART OF THE STORY. That already makes your Demoman better than 90% of fanfic writers' Demomen.

You managed to make Heavy's relationship with Medic serious and not constantly interlaced with homosexual implications. I kind of miss his jovial personality, but I imagine it would be hard to work into a war like this. I like what you did with his personality, I'd never thought of him having a large ego that would keep him from admitting he was wrong, but you made it fit.

Engie is great. Composed and patient. Technical, focused and good at his job. Perceptive.. I think I'll stop listing what you already know now. You did a fantastic job of portraying his Good Ol' Boy personality.

Your Medic is fucking adorable. I love him. His attempts to be cold and distant are disproven the instant they're brought up, he frets about his teammates well being if he doesn't know where they are and he forgets how to speak English when he's drunk. Adorable.

I hate you Sniper. It just feels like you took a resentful stab at him. It's not the rare showings and his lack of any relationships. That's actually pretty believable. It's the immaturity. Jar based karate aside, canon Sniper is at the very least a composed and goal oriented person when he's not on the battlefield. I'm not telling you "this is all wrong! redo it!", I just don't agree with the direction you took.

I enjoyed your Spy. He still cares about his team and his friends but he's reluctant to show it. That and he's clearly a little off his rocker. It makes sense, when your job is getting the enemy to believe you're on their side and then completely screwing them over you have to end up a little more sadistic than the rest. He's also mischievous. Chapter 6 has me grinning the whole time, and I genuinely burst out with laughter when Spy hit Scout over the head with flour.

I just wanted to give you something a little more than "This story is indescribably fantastic." It is though, I still feel like I haven't covered everything that makes this story a good read. You've certainly given me something to daydream and ponder about. Hell, when you've got a story good enough that I develop my own headcanon about what I've come to call YOUR character and not Valve's, you've got a good story. I'm looking forward to your ending, I know it's going to be powerful.
>> No. 4291
I have been reading this in a marathon for like 9 fucking hours and wow it has been fun... I hope you complete it by the end of this year... best fan fic I've read since RotD
>> No. 4331
;_; will this ever get the finale it really deserves? I wish I could have read the original ones so I know what will happen to this story, but I guess I have to wait. I have been out of the first time in the first time I was a great way to go back in the world of the first place of birth and wow it so I was in the past few months ago from a kindle is to calibrate a kindle is in the first time since I know I am a great deal with it was the first place of the first time since the world of birth club is the past two years later and a marathon is not responsible to the past year old girl and her mother is not the first time in the first time in a great way for like the past year and her husband was in the world is a kindle and wow that the world
>> No. 4354
Just gonna... gonna just sit and wait for this to update
I didnt read the original either so Im just kind of waiting patiently

where are you tanner
we miss you
>> No. 4381
Tanner where are you?

*Cries in corner*
>> No. 4402
SORRY THIS ISN'T AN UPDATE GUYS

But I wanted to let you all know that I haven't abandoned this and that I do plan to finish it - hopefully in the near future - partly because I'd kind of like to send it to Valve and see what they think of it. Is that a good idea? I don't know. You tell me.

I'm still thinking about what I want to do as a writer - I get paid to write now! I'm actually a real, professional writer! - and finishing this is going to be an important thing for me. Is this good enough to send to Valve? WHO KNOWS. They've probably received worse things than this.
>> No. 4420
Sorry in advance for the non-sage, but I don't think people saw Tanner's post.

Yes! This is good enough to send to Valve! It'll probably be among the *best* things they've received.
>> No. 4421
Dr Tanner,
I just finished all the chapters you have written here, and I have to tell you that this has been the absolute best story that I have ever read. Through all the novels, comics, games, and even other fanfiction this stands at the top of everything. I'm loathe to even call this wonderful creation a fanfiction for fear that others will get the wrong idea. Yours is not like others, it is a creation that can stand on it's own without need for prior knowledge. It does not fill a need but creates one. Though, I'm sure you've heard this all before, but I wanted you to know that I have never been more attached to a character than at this moment. To have been in his head for all this time, to feel what he feels exactly as he feels it, I just, my heart is broken and beats for him.

Everyone is dying, I, I'm happy that he said his goodbyes, at least he has that to help him grieve. Did Spy survive? Engie? What about Sniper? I haven't realized how small their group was, before we started counting heads. I would have written more for this, but my head is in shambles, I can barely pick up the pieces.

You have set a new standard for the stories I read, a new standard has been set for all who have read this. I will have to search out other hidden gems like this one, because I now have a newly found need, for what exactly I'm not sure, but in time I suppose I will find out. Though, for now, I am at peace. There has never been a time before that I have been satisfied in my need for the written word, but I have found myself happy and full, no longer hungering for something more. I am happy to have been able to witness the friendship between all these characters, and it's not going to leave my mind anytime soon. I'm positive that their interactions will stay in my head forever. Replaying over and over throughout the years.

You have created a story that finds its way into your readers hearts, never to be forgotten.

I wanted to thank you for making this beautiful piece of literature, I have greatly enjoyed it throughout all these hours. There has never been one moment in which I wanted to stop or take a break. You really should send this to Valve.
I'm certain that they'll love it and find themselves in tears along side the rest of us. I have a new found respect for Scout, and there's nothing that anyone can do to change that.

You have inspired me, See when I went to school this morning, I had an epiphany. A story can be ruled by a relationship or it can be defined through them. Your story has defined itself with through the interactions of the other characters, and I have never seen it done like this before. That may stand to be an indication of the quality of the stories I read but even in those store produced popular novels, I haven't seen a story sewn together quite like this before. This is your personal touch, and it is beautiful. You have renewed my dream to be a writer and because of you I'm going to double my efforts to become better, because one day, I hope to be able to write a story as beautiful as this one.

I'm happy that you have become a professional because you deserve it. Congratulations! When you publish a novel I will be sure to buy it and read it, because I will have a need for stories with your personal touch to them. Thank you, I'm positive you will become a well known author with many, many adoring fans. I being one of them.

Sincerely,
The Inkwellgoat
>> No. 4429
OF COURSE you should send it to Valve! They'd love it!
And I'm with Ink in saying that, whenever you do publish a book independently, I'll jump at the chance to buy it! You just have such a way with writing, it's amazing!

Now that you've even mentioned showing Valve, I'm holding out hopes they'll love it enough to make it into an actual book. On real paper and everything. Or kindle. Who knows!

We're all happy with waiting, though that post you made on tumblr the other day about wanting to finish certainly made my day, and I'm just wanting to read it. :)
>> No. 4430
Wow, I've just finished reading this and I am extremely high of endorphins, serotonin, and various other drugs you've made my brain secrete in response to your heartwrenching writing. I was initially hesitant about reading this--"2.1" sounds like some kind of sequel, and I can't abide spoiling things for myself--but I am so, so glad I did.

I only have a few minor problems with the story, and since you're asking for criticism I'll charge ahead!

My biggest issue is with your depiction of Sniper. Throughout the story, with equal parts action and dialog, you subtly characterize everyone into humanity--they're all flawed, yes, very flawed with some of them, but in the end you show them to be, above all, human, and worthy of liking.

Spy's a prankster and prickly and he's got PTSD up the wazoo, but he pranks because he cares, is loyal, and does all he can to help Mud despite the risks to himself. Soldier's like some kind of feral animal half-tamed but still liable to bite your bloody arm off, but shows a genuine if stiff willingness to change himself to become part of the TF2 pack.

With Sniper, though, he comes over not as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold but as a Jerk with a Few Small Gold Filings Floating Around There Somewhere, How Did They Get There It Must Have Been Some Kind of Accident.

And not only does it make me sad (I admit readily he's one of my favorite characters) it doesn't seem to fit with the little moral tales you ran with the other characters.

With all the other characters, there's a strong theme of redemption--that everybody does stupid asshole stuff once in a while but once you come to your senses and realize how idiotic you've been you can apologize and make it up to everyone and you will be forgiven and life can go on, better than before because you're knit together the stronger for it.

But not with Sniper. He's got the offending part down pat, but not the reconciliation, and it's a shame, really, that we don't get to see any kind of character development. He's a sleazy, odious human being less a part of the family and more wandering in and out of it like a stray tomcat, with few to no endearing or redeeming qualities. He's not likeable in the least, and that makes him stand out from the rest of the family in a bad way.

And this strikes me as off. Canonically Sniper's a loner, yes, but he's still very much part of the team--and as the fic currently stands he's a random guy who wanders into the barn once in a while to mess relationships up.

You do a great job making these characters loveably human despite their flaws, and it's a pity you couldn't do the same for Sniper.


Oh, and during the fight with Mud/the Twins (shudder)/Medic/Heavy/Scout, why wasn't Sniper popping off shots? He might dismiss a lone scout from consideration, but the sound of gunfire would certainly attract his attention. I mean, you could make them fight inside a building or that the Twins move around too fast to hit or have him just wing one or something and have the fight end the same, but it seems bizarre that he's ignore what was going on.

And I agree with what someone earlier said, that it'd be better to have Frank (shudder)'s radio jammer mentioned earlier as a Chekov's Gun than have it turn out to be a Power As the Plot Demands.

Don't let my whinging hide the fact that I truly, truly enjoyed this fic to bits, and that I will doubtlessly read it again (and again and again). Thank you for it, and I hope what I've said will help!

Now let's see if I can do this mysterious "saging" thing right...
>> No. 4431
Holy sheee-ut this is amazing <i>amazing</i>.

Amazing, I say!
>> No. 4499
ok it took me about a week on and off to finish this (feelings breaks, i have to function in an academic sense and i can't do that if i'm lying on the ground thinking about how adorable and perfect the character dynamics are). it was well worth the read, i gotta say.
in terms of the more recent chapters... man you got me tearing up and i read homestuck. i'm like 99.999% sadness-proof when it comes to character deaths because i've dedicated years of my life to a story that kills characters you love often and heart-wrenchingly. but THE FRICKING SOLDIER'S DEATH had me tearing up.
dr... you are an amazing author. if what you're writing for a living is anything like this, you deserve every cent you get and then some.
>> No. 4506
I stayed up til 2AM reading this to the end just because I wanted to finish it. I have this page bookmarked and I check back at it every once in a while to see if the final chapter was posted yet haha.

Dr. Tanner, I love this story so much. Unfortunately, I never did read the original Lessons, so I don't know how it ends. I can't wait to read the last part!

I really want to read more of your writing :D Few stories can keep me interested for literally hours at a time.
>> No. 4543
WE LOVE YOU KEVIN
>> No. 4550
Demanding an update because DAMMIT I KNOW I AIN'T THE ONLY ONE OUT THERE WISHING THE SAME THING. God. I read everything that's been posted in one f-ing sitting, and if you'd like me to be specific, it's from 11 PM to 4 AM. That's how much I like this story. C'mon man, I know it could come off as annoying when readers pester you for an update, but this is downright CRUEL. We haven't lost hope, so you better not make us waste that hope.

Eagerly awaiting your next chapter,
just another reader
>> No. 4554
this needs to be updated, i need to know how it ends :(. I'm sitting here literally soaked with tears because i read the last chapter.
>> No. 4559
one day this will be finished...
>> No. 4560
captcha-surgeon heygone
I am crying rivers and please, finish soon
>> No. 4564
:(
>> No. 4579
Just stopping by to state that you are not forgotten!! As soon as you feel comfortable (and are able), I'll gladly read whatever ending you have in mind, Dr. Tanner!
>> No. 4585
Well this was a wondeful journey of ups and downs. I hope you'll finish this, it's really a lovely story! (:
>> No. 4591
this story has actually been updated here: http://drtanner.tumblr.com/post/61411407386
>> No. 4594
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.
>> No. 4597
HOLY FUCK IT'S HERE
IT'S FINALLY HERE
I love you Tanner, and I love this story, and I love the ending, and I love everything. Thank you for writing this beautiful story <3
>> No. 4602
So the poster above wasn't actually me and they posted that new chapter here without my permission.

I shouldn't need to tell you why that was extremely uncool.

However, for anyone still looking for updates to the story, I've started a new thread here: http://tf2chan.net/fanfic/res/4588.html since this one isn't bumping anymore.

Now you don't have to dig through heaps of other threads to find updates that are actually posted by me.

Seriously. Don't do that again.

Never post anything of mine without my permission. I swear I will walk to your fucking house and I will make you eat your fucking teeth.
>> No. 4761
Tanner, you glorious bastard. I'm gonna re-read all this all over again!
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