Yeah, I don't have a good excuse for how late this is, I hope people are still reading it. I'm sorry its tardy.
Proofread by Shius.
~Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
~T. S. Eliot
Within a month my team turned into what I could almost sorta maybe call a family. It was after noticing how we put up with each other's shit day after day (some more than others), after noticing how we fought and then forgot it as if it was nothing, and how we worked together to bludgeon the enemy that I thought of them as friends. I realized they were a bit more than friends when one of them (Engie or Heavy) would point out I hadn't eaten in a couple of days, or when one of them (Scout or Demo) would take the time to try to include me in group conversations, when they would care enough to ask for my opinions and thoughts even though most of them wouldn't understand my answer.
That kinda stuff I didn't get in prison, or even before that. In prison we didn't get complimented or teased, we got singled out and tasered. I'll admit, the rest of the guys seemed to be closer to each other than I was to them, but we worked pretty well together considering none of them had ever even seen my face and I hadn't had a real conversation with most of them.
But for some type of almost-family we were pretty fucked up.
I'll never forget the day I woke up to my almost-family making enough sound to wake the dead at three in the morning. Somehow Scout got his foot stuck in a pickle jar and Soldier decided that we needed an immediate meeting on safety training to prevent that from happening in the future and Spy had somehow caught fire (was that from me?) while Demo got sooo drunk and his liver failed and Medic needed to replace it. Sniper accidentally poisoned the coffee and we all had a trip to respawn when we tried it and then we were smoked by the BLUs come daybreak.
I can't decide if that was the funniest or the worst night in Teufort.
Sometimes I could hear them talk about me behind my back. I could hear the whispering and it felt like poison. I've had people talk behind my back all my life.
Why should it feel any different now?
What really got me was when they started talking about my mental health behind my back. It was casual of course; Sniper mentioned how I had been mumbling at air earlier that day to Engie, who kind of seemed like the go-to guy for problems. He scratched his head and muttered something under his breath about it.
Sniper mumbled something back. "I'll mention it to the Doc," Engineer adjusted his hat and walked away, saying hi to me as he passed, like I didn't hear, or like it didn't matter if I heard.
"I'll mention it to the Doc," not "I'll mention it to the Pyro."
If someone had just asked about my rapidly augmenting hallucinations, if someone had just fucking asked "hey Pyro, are you seeing things?" or "hey Pyro, I noticed you're batshit crazy, what's up with that?" I would've told them.
I needed help.
Along with my frustration with the team, I added a new rule to my list. I was past the no talking to the hallucinations rule, I broke it so many times it was nothing but dust and ashes. I replaced it with the no yelling at the hallucinations rule. Yes, that needed to be a rule.
I always saw something, be it the greasy fucker, the funny candy colored balloon creature, or God forbid my firefighter. The greasy man wouldn't shut up, never. Every movement, every little mess up or thought or twitch he commented on.
"Don't slip sweetheart." "What did I say about butterfingers?" "You would only need one match for this whole place." "You fried him like you fried insert friend's name." "Doll, you can't best anyone from either team." "What, you're whining about that? That's like a splinter. You get shot at all the time."
And when I'd ignore him he'd get louder and more hostile.
"Bitch, I'm talking to you." "Honey, I'm always here." "Slut." "I don't know why you're getting so worked up." "Whore." "You're falling apart, and the funny thing is I'm not even real." "You're falling apart my dear, how much time do you have left?"
I could feel my sanity running through my fingers, just out of my grasp.
It got to the point where I'd scream at him to just shut up. Sometimes it worked, usually it didn't. It felt like the only option I had left was to put a gun to my head, but that wouldn't even work due to respawn. Which is good I suppose.
The only peace I got was in my sleep (and even that was awful).
It also made me cranky as hell and edgy. Cranky and edgy are never good things for a person used to burning things to avoid feeling emotions and carries a flamethrower.
These problems followed me into battle as well, even though the hallucinations were less there. I became trigger happy, and though that was fantastic for spy checking, I shot or set my teammates on fire way too often.
They were starting to notice this stuff.
The fighting was always a feverish hell, and over the days it all sort of blurred together into one big battle. Dying became a normal occurrence for me. I died at least four times a day and I started growing numb to the idea of being shot at. I was getting distracted easily, either by real stuff or my own imagination.
I couldn't always remember where I was supposed to be going, or why I was fighting, or what the objective was. Sometimes it was bad enough that I had to stop in the middle of a fight to remember how I got there. When it got really, really bad and my senses were filled with smoke and color, when my head hurt so bad it almost stopped thinking and when the memory gaps were the size of football fields, I'd just follow the balloon creature and forget everything else.
I ditched my fear of Sentries. After running into them enough, you grow numb to the idea of dying to them too. I learned that the best way to deal with them is to go around them, hit them with the flamethrower from around a corner or at a safe-ish angle, or charge them and hope you can take care of it before it takes care of you.
They're not as painful as they look because nine times out of ten they'll kill you quickly, that's why I wasn't really afraid of them. They're quick. I was nominated the best guy on the team to distract a sentry for someone else, and the best guy to charge at them for suicide runs. Yipee.
At the end of the day we'd finish and the others would head off to the showers (I wouldn't) and then we'd debate about whose turn it was to cook dinner. It was never my turn to cook, after the first time where I gave everyone bran flakes and lit Scout's bowl on fire, they decided that I wasn't the best choice to cook meals.
Usually Heavy, Spy or Engineer would man up and make something but more often than not we'd find our own meal.
Scout and I would then park in front of the tv and watch the Twilight Zone, or something of that sort. He had a taste for real garbage TV shows, but luckily I did too. He started giving me weird looks, but I couldn't tell what they meant, or if I was making them up. Whenever I would start to notice he would stop.
I put it in the back of my mind.
After that I'd either go seek solitary time (which wasn't very solitary anymore), or go and find Engie and sit in his workshop with him. We usually didn't say anything to each other past hello, but Engineer pinned it down pretty fast that I wasn't the talkative type and the topics I wouldn't even touch were avoided. Engineer had been giving me some looks too. Hard to tell what kind because of his damn goggles, but it bothered me a bit more than Scout's staring.
I asked him about it. "Do I have something on my freaking face" (dry humor) "or are you just staring for the hell of it?"
He set down whatever the hell he was working on and pulled down his goggles to reveal his eyes. He raised an eyebrow. "...Pardon?" His voice seemed oddly cold, but I had been rather rude.
I repeated myself, and made sure to enunciate.
He pretended he couldn't understand me and dodged the question by changing the subject to how Snipers van wasn't working and how he couldn't find the Allen wrenches. Oh fuck no, that wasn't going to slide.
He is the best one on the team when it comes to deciphering what comes out of my mask, he heard me fine. It was the way he had hesitated, and the way he forced eye contact that told me he was lying, and he was damn good at it. Or, maybe, I imagined that too and I was simply full of shit but I really don't think that was the case.
The feeling of being lied to never settled well with me. It's an awful taste in my mouth that no amount of toothpaste will ever wash. I glared at him. It didn't do any good. Nothing showed through the mask. I adjusted myself on the crates I was on and crossed my arms defiantly. I said something.
He raised an eyebrow back.
I don't remember what happened next -memory gap- but it couldn't have been anything groundbreaking because I left and we acted normal the next morning. Like it never happened. I can't prove it ever really did.
On most days, after I'd leave Engie's workshop I'd go to bed. Sometimes I'd play with matches, never anything bigger. Then I'd wake up. And then I'd go fight another fucking day, each one less lucid than the last.
And thus my days at Tuefort fell into a routine.
Memory is deceptive because it is colored by today's events.
It was fucking hot. Every day, all day, it was hot.
It was even hotter due to the fact that I carried a fire spitting machine and wore a thick rubber suit. By the noon of every day, if I hadn't died recently I'd be on the brink of a heat stroke. The suit would stick to me in funny places and sweat would drip out of my mask. Sometimes I found it easier and quicker to just send myself through respawn than to find one of Engie's dispensers and sit comatose against it for twenty minutes.
The base was empty. As far as I knew, I was the only one in it. I was covering defense while most of the others offense- it was a good day for us. I believe Demo was in the intel room and Engineer might've been in our sewer, but other than that it was just me. I liked that. It gave me a moment to breath, to think.
And I had a lot of things to think about.
I patrolled the hallways quietly, looking for any BLUs but at the same time not really looking. I squirted a bit of fire in a couple of corners for the spy but didn't expect to see him. I expected all BLUs to be hung up on their own defense.
Then I heard it. A shallow faint rhythm. A song, a melancholy melody that seemed so familiar I would be able to hum it myself. I spread a circle of fire around myself, but of course it wasn't a spy. Where was it coming from? I strained my ears.
I couldn't find the source.
For a minute I thought it was coming from inside my skull.
I wandered around the halls a bit. When I found what was making the noise my hands grew clumsy and I nearly dropped my flame thrower. It was the other Pyro, the BLU one. And he (or she, or it) was a mean motherfucker.
I've seen him tear up my team out there, like a dragon would.
Before I continue, I need to tell you something I've noticed. Over the month I'd been at Tuefort I noticed the rivalry between my team and our BLU counterparts. No one talks more trash about BLU's Scout than Scout, no one feels the need to backstab more people than BLU Spy than our Spy, and no one felt the need to outperform the BLU Pyro like me.
But whenever we came face to face I either got my ass handed to me or I chickened out and recruited a teammate. I avoided him. I think he avoided me too.
He (or she or it but I'll call the pyro him) was a bit bigger than me and that allowed him to carry a heavier more powerful flamethrower, and he had more of an 'attack others head on and wail on them till someone falls down' tactic towards fighting, and it worked well.
That tactic didn't work for me.
He was half humming half singing a little melody that most would find joyous but to me only sounded pensive and so brain splittingly familiar that if felt like I at one point knew the whole thing by heart. Like the lyrics were on the tip of my tongue.
The sound lost clarity and echoed through his mask, and he kept humming along, oblivious to my presence.
"..." My heart hammered in my ears like a drum. Blood turned to ice and then began to boil. I breathed adrenaline. I always got like this when I faced the other pyro.
I stared at the other, his back was turned. He didn't notice me, not yet anyway. I did my best to try and sneak up on him, doing my best impression of a spy. My axe was in hand and I had it raised over my head.
I suppose that when you're singing and have a layer of silicone over your ears it's easy to get snuck up on, but even so my plan failed.
I didn't bring the axe down. I could've, but my feet stopped a few paces short and stuck to the floor like glue. Internally I cursed at myself for not taking my chance and ending him. Maybe I cursed at myself out loud because he noticed and whirled around with a feral growl. The humming stopped.
He froze for a second, just as confused as me as to why I hadn't killed him already. I tried to lunge at him with the axe again. Even though my limbs felt heavy and unresponsive just a minute ago, I felt ready to tear him apart. I was lightheaded and I couldn't figure out why.
I suppose he assumed that I hadn't killed him yet because of the song- which was kinda right. Then he asked me either 'you like mooses?' or 'you like music?', I'll assume the latter but man, the mask made it really hard to tell. He had a painted mask.
I swung at him madly. He air blasted me away and I hit the wall. He nailed me with the shotgun and the air left my lungs like it does a popped balloon. Adrenaline kept me from feeling the pain where the shell hit. I took a second to breathe and managed to get back on my feet and shoot a few rounds at him. One hit, and he fell to his knees.
The dragon was down. I remember when I used to be the dragon but the title fit the other pyro so much better.
He spewed a wall of fire at me but hey, that's what I wear the suit for. It didn't touch me and he tagged me with the shotgun one more time as a last effort. I screeched in pain. No one was else around to hear. I managed to finish him off with the ax. He died with a shuddering painful groan.
I looked to the gaping hole in my abdomen where he hit me with the shotgun.
Damn that hurts like bitch. I fell over and withered by his corpse as my insides tried to spill out of my gut. It's one of the most painful occurrences I've ever withstood, but I could say that about most accidents in my line of work. At least I never have to deal with them very long.
I was bleeding out. The easiest and most practical thing to do would've been shooting myself in the head.
Instead my mind somehow thought that sitting up would help. I didn't shoot myself. I looked around. Everything was already getting fuzzy, my vision was fading and I was at that phase of dying where everything goes numb. I've learned to like the feeling of numbness.
The other pyro's corpse hadn't been picked up by their respawn yet. Both of our weapons lay scattered across the dirt floor and I tried to identify the difference between our equipment. We had similar axes and nearly identical shotguns, though he also carried a flare gun.
Our flamethrowers were different and as soon as I looked at his, really looked at it, I was overcome with an anger so great I forgot I was dying and reached for it with bloody hands.
God. Fucking. Damn.
I took in the heavy and heavy-burning flame thrower with a dragon shaped nozzle and puked a bit (either from having to remember shit I didn't wanna or because I was dying). I had the blueprints for this very machine hung on the walls in my shed as a teenager. The very same design, right down to the tubing and the dragon teeth. I couldn't forget that. This was my design.
How in fucking hell did the other pyro get ahold of it?
I bled some more though I couldn't feel it anymore and didn't care.
I looked to the body and kicked at it weakly as if it would come back to life and tell me. Mumbles even I can't decipher fell out of my mask and the other pyro was picked up by respawn. His flame thrower was too, it disappeared from my hands.
And I died.
That night RED was celebrating an extra big win and I was so livid and hung up on the BLU Pyro's flame thrower that I didn't even find celebrating worthwhile.
Demo handed me a beer with a straw. "Maybe ye can squeeze the straw past yer filters." I didn't hear him and set the beer down.
Who had been in my shed to get that blueprint?
Engineer picked up his guitar and played while Scout told everyone how he beat in some number of skulls with a bat.
I was always so careful about who I let in my shed. My parents barely knew what I did in there.
Sniper cleaned his weapon. Spy offered a few of the guys and me cigarettes before lighting one of his own. I use to be such an addict but I didn't feel my nicotine addiction and turned down the offer.
It's impossible that it was stolen, my shed was never robbed, and they would've taken a lot more than crappy blueprints.
Medic rambled about his days in Germany to Heavy, who had consumed a monstrous amount of alcohol yet seemed fine and completely coherent. Soldier congratulated us on our win, said us newbies pulled through and stammered on and on and on.
There's only one person who could have them.
I had to stop and think for a few moments to check if all of this was real. To make sure I wasn't making up memories and extra details. I could've been hallucinating that whole fucking thing.
No, no, I'm not that crazy yet. That was real.
Apparently I was speaking my inner thoughts out loud. Demo reprimanded me for speaking to myself (drawing attention to the fact that I was). "Boyo, you've been sooo grumpy lately, stop broodin' off in 'pyroland' and join us, aye? Lighten up lad." He handed me another beer, even though I hadn't touched my first.
There was only one person who had ever seen the inside of my shed, and only one person who could've taken blueprints.
I had to meet the BLU Pyro again.
Who do you carry the torch for, my young man? Do you believe in anything? Do you carry it around just to burn things down?
That night I set the base on fire.
And I think it was on purpose.
I left the little celebration early because I just couldn't take it anymore. Too much noise.
The lock on my door clicked shut, I double checked it just to be sure. The mask came off in seconds and the suit followed. Even nighttime in New Mexico is hot. If felt fantastic to finally get rid of the extra layer.
I went to bed and fell into a fitful sleep.
And then I dreamed of dragons. Of fire that cleansed and raged. Of explosions with screaming and white hot pain and burning. I dreamed of drowning and nasty looks and other things I hadn't dreamed of since I was a kid. I dreamed of my best friend.
"I'm a monster." I sobbed out.
He sighed. "Yeah, well, if you're a monster I probably am too."
"I don't care if you're a monster." He pulled me into one of those awkward one armed hugs and ruffled my hair in a big brotherly way. "I also don't care what you look like, that your mother is a bitch, or that you have a slight tendency to curse excessively."
Such a charming conversation turned into a nightmare I couldn't wake from. The old discussion played in my head like a broken record. How long had it been since I heard my friend's real voice? When I finally pried my eyes open I was standing in front of a wall of pure turbulent fire.
I was close enough I felt the heat dancing across my face.
I didn't have a mask on.
I backed away from the flames and checked over myself. I had my suit on, though it was covered in soot. A flame thrower sat in my hands, the nozzle still smoking and the pilot light was flickering the way it does when I'm out of fuel. My mask wasn't in sight and I was coughing.
What had I done?
In front of me was the RED base burning with the ferocity I knew it would if someone ever dropped a match. The gut wrenching feeling of guilt was overwhelming and it felt as though I was drowning in it.
What if my teammates died? What if I already fried the respawn room? I was so fired.
"Nice job honey." And suddenly he was there, just making matters worse with his knowing smirk and taunting words. The greasy man stood near the flames, but of course he didn't feel the heat. Smoke flowed right threw him. "Your toll's up to ten friends and a father."
I ignored him. It was a lot easier to ignore him when my own art stood in front of me. "Then again, they are trained mercenaries, this wouldn't kill them. They're probably walking around right now looking for you."
The hallucination lost interest in talking to me and settled with just staring and watching the base burn down with me. My face was painted with shock and his with satisfaction. It made me sick because he was a figment of my imagination-he was me. Inside I was almost proud. I looked at him again and spit.
"You've wanted to set this place on fire sense the first night you came."
If I could kill that fucker again I would. "Shut up."
"Your team's gonna come around and catch sight of that mug of yours, better find your mask to hide behind. "
"...Yeah." I agreed and looked around for it, though I probably left it in my room and my room was nothing more than a burning skeleton of a building made of two by fours.
In the distance I heard someone calling my name. The greasy man disappeared. I considered walking into the fire.
Someone called my name again and this time it was clear to me who it was. A silhouette of a man was running towards me, maybe from about thirty yards away and I looked down to the ground and closed my eyes. I tried to think of what I'd say but my mind drew a blank and when I opened my eyes Engineer was right next to me. He was covered in soot and his trademark helmet and goggles were out of sight. I didn't have my mask.
He looked mad.
He was saying words. I didn't hear them.
He repeated himself. "Did you do this?"
And I nodded my head.
"Damn Smoky..." And we fell silent. I could tell he was holding back everything he wanted to say, and any minute the dam was going to break and questions would spill out.
"Didn't your mama ever teach you not to play with matches?"
"I'm sorry." I meant it. I hope he knew that.
He cursed. "...Damn it Pyro." I couldn't tell what he was thinking or how he felt.
He looked at me, really looked at me and it occurred to me this was the first time anyone's seen me without a mask on in however long. I felt exposed and I turned my head to look away. My face itched and tingled. The fire roared. Engineer sighed.
I guess I looked just bothered enough by appearance, enough so that he felt the need to say something. "Don't get all coy with me, yer face ain't that bad. I thought you'd be hidin' the deformation of the century under there."
"Damn it son." He said as he looked to the fire again.
I was so going to be fired.
The flames reflected in Engineers eyes as he watched them. "The team made it out, but we can't afford any more accidents because respawn ain't no more. Everybody's around here, around Snipers van I believe. I went out to search for you."
"Are they okay?"
"The Doc had enough sense to bring his medigun and he's fixin up whatever minor burns the fellas got. You got any?"
I couldn't feel anything fresh so I just shook my head.
"Now the BLU team is parked out front. I'm not sure if they're here to help or to hurt but Scout was swearing up an' down that the BLU Pyro saved his life."
"Sounds like something he would do."
"How long had the base been... burning?"
"Thirty minutes tops. You, you made quite a mess."
"I'm sorry, I know, I know, I just... lost it I suppose."
And then we spent our time in silence for a bit. And when Engie started walking my feet followed. "I saw yer mask round here," he announced and within minutes he was handing me a char covered gasmask with a broken filter that was half covered by lumber. I must've deserted it when the filters broke. I put it on and we continued onward.
It was harder to breath with it but not impossible. I preferred slightly hindered breathing over showing my face.
I closed my eyes for a minute and remembered just how tired and exhausted I was. My flame thrower suddenly felt so heavy, way heavier than I remember, and suddenly we were met by the rest of the team and we were by Sniper's van, a safe distance away from the still smoldering base. All the van's doors were open and the other seven members sat within or outside it.
And they started talking.
I couldn't tell what they were talking about for the life of me. Scout showed some joy that I was alive, apparently they couldn't find me and thought I was trapped in there for a bit. I ignored Scout because his voice really was on more of the annoying side.
And I was dizzy. I slid to the ground against the van and tried to think of what I would do.
And they continued talking. I realized they were talking to me when Demo knelt down and handed me a water bottle with a straw. "You don't sound too good lad." I was breathing heavy.
The straw was easy to manipulate through the broken filters and the water felt nice for my throat. I silently thanked Demo.
Spy, who was only half-clad in his usual suit, blew on a cig and turned to me with tired eyes. "Did you do this?"
And everyone got real quiet. I slurped water with the straw.
And everyone stayed silent. I've always loved silence but here it was just deafening. Deafening. Overbearing. I had to break it. "I lit the fire."
"You tried to kill us, non?" A few of the guys tried to butt in. They didn't think I would try to do that.
"I didn't wanna hurt anybody. "
~A lie told often enough becomes the truth.
Twenty minutes later and we had already deducted that I was screwed. RED would come to pick us up soon, and they would demand to know what happened. They would be told. And I would be fired. The thing is, from the little snippets of conversation I cared enough to pick up, I was led to believe that getting fired was a little more than what it sounded.
How do you fire a sociopathic homicidal pyromaniac that's an ex-mercenary? With a bullet to the brain.
I knew it and most of the guys knew it too.
And they cared. They kept on talking, and talking, and talking and sometimes to me. I didn't answer. I could tell by the way sweat stuck to all their faces and by the way Demo wasn't getting drunk on Sniper's emergency supply of booze that they were nervous. They had nothing to be nervous for, they didn't do anything wrong. They were nervous for me.
Heavy's thundering voice interrupted all others and demanded attention. "We must get story together. RED will be here soon."
"Yes," Medic began. "Lets see, vhat shall we say zhis time?"
I looked to him. "Hmmm?"
"We could say we left a burner on." Sniper piped up.
Scout, who had been silent for the first time in his life till now, spoke up. "Fellas, what're ya sayin?"
"What do you think. We come up with lie." Heavy said as if it was plain as day.
"You know what RED could do to Pyro if they find out the truth? We'd all suffer. It's easier this way boy, we jus' gotta keep the fib straight between all of us."
"Wait, we're actually gonna like, really make a cover story up?"
"No- we're going to plan a thanksgiving with your mozher. What do you think we're doing?" Spy snapped back sarcastically. You could see the stress cloaking him.
"Alright, cool, just uh, you old farts bettah be good at lying, I'm a pro, I got seven brothers that taught me but-"
"Shut up and we'll get this done in time."
If there was ever doubt in my almost-family, it dissipated now.
"Okay, one more time, this is the story. It started in the laborer's workplace," Spy eyed us all as we huddled around Sniper's little table that we brought outside of the van. He blew a puff of smoke. "Bushman, Engineer and I were playing cards."
"I was workin on getting Scout an' Pyro drunk." Demo stated, clearly happy with his role.
"I was with doktor helping with experiment, then we go to bed."
I said something incoherent to make it look like I was contributing.
"I was asleep." Soldier stated proudly as if it was the most important part, and he probably thought so.
"We were passed out." Scout said, speaking for the both of us.
"An' the best I can figure, it was an old teleporter. Who knows, maybe if we play it right they'll send some money to replace some of our machines."
"Yes well, we'll be lucky enough to pull this off laborer, don't aim higher or we'll miss."
The story was hardly believable, most improbable, and completely asinine but I was praying it would work. It simply had to work, I couldn't be fired now. When only hours earlier I found out about the other Pyro, and I needed to see him.
"Don't be so tense son." Soldier slapped my shoulder, "I've done this twice by now."
If you are completely lost when they started talking about the BLU Pyro's flamethrower, than I suggest you skim over chapter five again.
Thanks for reading. Please drop me your opinion of this chapter and have a wonderful weekend.