Always Have a Plan
a story by Dot
"Mission begins in five, four, three, two, one..."
The BLUs poured out of the briefing room, giving little heed to the Pyro using the suitcase as a makeshift chair, though the Scout did shout back a derisive "Have fun playing babysitter!" when he ran past.
When the sounds of running faded into the distance, the Pyro-or, rather, RED Spy disguised as the BLU Pyro-shifted his thumb just far enough to rest it on top of the dials that kept the briefcase locked. With just four digits to keep track of, he would figure out the combination in no time.
Meanwhile, the large display board in the office showed endless strings of casualties on both sides. Down the hall, the replacements for the fallen could be heard muttering expletives as they ran to catch up to the fighting. None of them took the route through the Intelligence room.
The Spy caught the latch of the case before it snapped open, pressing it shut with a gentle nudge and resetting the numbers again. He leaped off the desk, jogging down the hallway until he found one of the few precious blind spots unseen by the cameras. Making sure the area was deserted, he cloaked, then shed his disguise.
Phase One of the plan was complete. The next would have to wait until the ceasefire.
The BLU Scout had just enough time to register the sound of a cloaking device wearing off when he felt a small, cold blade press against his throat.
"I would ask you what is going through that tiny, empty head of yours, but you must be spectacularly stupid to think that you could sneak in here and look at classified material without anyone noticing." The older man tweaked the Scout's ear, eliciting a yelp. "You are lucky that the Spies on both teams have been accounted for, or I would have just eviscerated you without a second thought."
"Come on, man! Don't tell me you've never snuck a peek-ow! Let go already! I'm sorry, okay? I was just curious!" The Scout tried to shift his head so that the Spy wouldn't decapitate him "by accident", but the Spy's hold was firm.
"It is none of your business. Your job is to steal the enemy's intelligence and protect ours with your life, and nothing more."
"Nuh uh! No way I'm going out there without knowing what I'm fighting for! And don't give me the same bullshit the Soldier does about Victory, Peace, Freedom, or whatever the hell he likes to ramble on and on about!"
The Spy sighed and muttered something in French-the Scout guessed it to be some sort of insult, given the tone-before continuing in English. "If you must sate your curiosity, at least do not be so obvious about it. Attempting to steal your own intelligence was a bold plan," and here the Spy lifted the Scout's hat and ruffled the youth's wild hair before pushing it back down over his eyebrows, "but also just about the worst thing you could do." He indicated the cameras trained on every corner of the room, then with one well-practiced motion flipped the knife back into his pocket and gave the Scout a push. "Now, then, run along before I change my mind about letting you live."
The Scout flipped the bird in the Spy's general direction before storming off. He ran all the way to the back side of the base before just about tearing his hat off and smoothing his hair. "Stupid smug Frenchie, what was he thinking-" He paused as his fingers came across a small scrap of paper. 'When did that get there?' He looked around for his teammates or cameras, and seeing none, unfolded it.
The script was tiny, but legible. 'Wait in the air vent. Defend the intelligence, and then open the case. The combination is 2436.'
Figures. The coward wants to see the inside of that case as much as I do, but he's too chicken to try it himself. The Scout tore the piece of paper to bits, throwing it in the rain barrel. Well, I'll show him.
The RED Scout never saw his BLU counterpart's ambush coming, the former so intent on making his way back to the base that his feet still seemed to wheel in the empty air as the BLU Scout's bat swung and connected with solid skull. The BLU Scout gave the unconscious RED body a few more swings for good measure before turning his attention to the briefcase.
"Okay, letsee..." he turned it upright, his eyes landing on the dial. "Two...four...three...six...sweet!" He lifted the case open and - resisting the urge to waste precious time staring at the contents - grabbed a handful of the papers and stuffed it into his bag, then slammed the case shut again. He was just about to return the Intelligence back to his base when the RED Spy struck.
"Idiots, the both of you," the Spy muttered over the two Scouts' bodies. If the BLU Scout had stopped to ponder why a teammate was able to threaten him with a blade, or the RED one considered the implications of the Spy - who otherwise didn't give him a second glance - offering a surefire way to steal the enemy intelligence, the Spy's plan would have been ruined. Fortunately, neither boy was the type to think first and act later. A quick rummage through the BLU Scout's bag produced the papers the Spy wanted, and he folded them into a hidden pocket in his jacket before hefting the case onto his shoulders.
"We have taken the Enemy intelligence!" The Announcer crowed in his ear; from the fallen BLU Scout's earpiece, an identical voice seethed.
Phase Two, success.
The BLU Spy gave a start as a hand emerged from the darkness to light his cigarette; he dusted off his suit, trying to play off the obvious fact that he had been taken by surprise. "What-" he began, then shook his head and tried again in French, "What was so important that you decided to use the old call sign?"
His RED counterpart shrugged. "Feeling sentimental, I suppose. There is no one for me to talk to."
"So you are also surrounded by idiots whose incompetence is only overshadowed by their suicidal enthusiasm." He inhaled, relishing the taste of the new brand that was recommended to him. "What else is new?"
The other man looked like he was on the verge of saying something, then shook his head. "No, I should not burden you with my problems. We are on opposite sides, now, after all."
"Bullshit. After all these years you still cannot shake the look of the Cheshire Cat whenever you have accomplished something you wish to brag about. Out with it already, we have no time for your silly games." He got a pout in lieu of a response, a childish display that did not fool him one bit. He rolled his eyes. "I insist."
"Very well." The RED produced a stack of papers from his jacket. "During the last mission, I took the liberty of, ah, acquiring some valuable Intelligence..."
He cocked an eyebrow as he accepted the offering, but said nothing as he thumbed through the pages. Once he finished, he pretended to adjust his tie before drawing his Ambassador. "What is this garbage?"
His rival raised his hands in mock surrender. "Whatever do you mean?"
"This is gibberish!" He threw the papers back, scattering them everywhere, "No code, no hidden meaning, just random fake Latin words jumbled together in an attempt to fool a naive mark! You are far too experienced to have fallen for such an amateur stunt!"
"So you were not the one who put those into the BLU Intelligence case, then? And here I was thinking you were being oh so very clever!"
He shoved the gun forward, so very tempted to shoot the look of feigned confusion from that face. "Stop speaking in riddles and explain yourself."
"You know me better than that. I never give anything away for free. What do you have to offer in exchange for my information?"
He ignored the sinking feeling in his stomach and put on his best poker face. "What do you want?"
The RED Spy was grinning now, showing a row of gleaming teeth. "A little bird told me that you and your Medic are quite well acquainted with one another..."
"Wagner? How terribly cliche."
The BLU Medic opened his eyes and glared at the BLU Spy, but did not stop waving his scalpel like a baton. "I do not recall summoning you to my quarters, which are private." Here he stabbed the air with the blade.
The other man offered an insincere smile, his eyes darting about the room like a caged rat. "No need to play coy, Doctor; I know your ways of saying 'come hither'." He began to toy with his sleeve button, a sure sign that he was nervous. "Though of course if you prefer me to leave you to your Valkyries-"
"And refuse to see my favorite patient?" The Medic rose. "Now, what reason would I have to do that?"
The Spy knew that he had lost the war of words-not that he ever had any chance of winning in the first place-but he kept up a front of bravado. "None," he agreed, turning on his heels and heading towards the examination table.
The Medic followed, closing the door behind him. This, and not the endless fighting that fell into the same predictable patterns, was what he lived for. He could ill afford to allow ennui dull his skills; he required-nay, demanded-proper stimulation.
And the Spy would provide, willing or not.
The RED Spy descended down the staircase hidden behind the bookshelf of the BLU Medic's office, keeping his footsteps light and careful despite the seeming lack of security at the very heart of the enemy base-or was it just the opposite side of his own encampment? The mental map he had of the space being occupied by the feuding companies seemed to suggest that he was nearing the center of both sides. If the BLU Medic was in on whatever scheme the Fearless Leader was hatching, how could the Spy believe that the RED one was any more innocent?
He slowed to a stop as his progress was balked by a thick, heavy door and what looked like an intercom. Now what? He could not masquerade as the BLU Medic, as the man was already accounted for on the cameras, and it made no sense for him to impersonate the RED version. And depending on what was on the other side of the door, complete honesty might be a one-way ticket to total annihilation.
As he was deliberating, a buzz sounded and the door swung open. The RED Spy felt his heart drop into the pit of his stomach when he saw a BLU Sniper emerge from the maw of darkness, sub-machine gun pointed at him.
"Took you long enough." The Sniper jerked his head in the direction of the door. "Come on, she's expecting you. And no dirty tricks."
The RED Spy obeyed. He kept a calm facade, but on the inside his mind was calculating the odds. All that he had at his disposal now was his silver tongue and the dim hope that his BLU counterpart was more competent than the man made himself out to be.
Fuck, I'm going to die. The panicked thought flashed through his mind, and he suppressed it. Stick to the plan. Trust your instincts. The truth is worth whatever happens next.
It had better be worth it.
The BLU Spy willed his body to collapse in an inelegant slump without aggravating his injuries any further when the Medic released him. His tormentor petted his cheek like one might a favorite dog before he returned to his office, locking the door behind him. The Spy stayed there, waiting, counting the seconds. The sounds of Wagner stopped at last, replaced by the plucking of strings.
As the Medic tuned up his violin, the Spy forced himself back on his feet, picking up his clothes as he did so. He ran a finger along the inside of the beaker next to the examination table and smiled to himself when he confirmed that the Medic was getting complacent at having such a cooperative patient and slathered what he could over himself.
He dressed in haste-ignoring the sting of pain as the cloth drew over the still closing wounds-and strode out of the examination room, not bothering to close the door behind him. A complete circuit around the base later, using a combination of cloaks and blind spots so that the cameras lost sight of him, he strode back into the same room he had left disguised as the BLU Heavy.
"Medic!" He shouted-the voice modulator in his mask giving a perfect imitation of the large Russian-and pounded the door with ham-fisted urgency. "Big problem! Big!"
The violin playing stopped, and the grumbling Medic unlocked the door, throwing it open with more force than necessary. "What do you want this time?" he snapped.
The disguised Spy shoved the Medic back inside, closing the door behind him. He scanned the office one last time to make sure that it contained no cameras, then stabbed the Medic in the heart before the other man could react. As satisfying as it would have been to strangle the Medic with his bare hands, the Spy decided that could wait until the next time the Medic respawned. He disguised himself again, this time as the fallen Medic, and made a beeline for the bookcase.
The fists pounding into the RED Spy's torso stopped, and his head dipped towards his chest as he attempted to regain his bearings. A large hand grabbed his hair and forced him to remain seated upright. The Spy squinted into the light, trying to make out the features of the vague shadow sitting at the desk, but all he could make out was the outline of a feminine hand holding a long cigarette holder.
"I suppose," the imperious voice of the Announcer began, "you were expecting me to engage you in witty banter while you attempted to bait me into revealing classified information."
All he could manage in reply was a weak groan, his tongue feeling like cotton in his mouth.
"I should complement you in being able to get this far. Your previous incarnation never made it farther than the Intelligence case."
She was bluffing him. She had to be. He remembered his life before he even heard of RED or BLU, when the BLU Spy was still just an occasional competitor and not an outright, constant enemy. He remembered his confusion when the BLU Spy emerged intact after having his head blown off by his own team's Soldier-it had happened before they implemented the shield against being able to harm one's own allies (except when the Medics decided to deactivate it for their amusement). He remembered his dismay when the other man claimed to have no recollection of the event, nor anything of his Cold War exploits for that matter. He remembered the copious notes he took to ensure continuity between his own respawns, notes hidden in places no one other than himself had any chance of finding.
"As amusing as your antics have been, I'm afraid it's time for them to come to an end." The sound of a rubber glove snapping could be heard from the woman's right, and the BLU Medic emerged from the shadows, wielding a syringe with the longest needle the Spy had ever laid his eyes on. "Next time, I will have to remember to make sure to quash that infantile need to know everything."
The Medic's large hand fell on the Spy's shoulder. "Hold still; this will only take a moment."
But instead of burying the needle into the primary vein in the Spy's neck, the Medic stabbed the Sniper standing at attention beside the bound Spy.
If the woman was surprised when the BLU Spy emerged from the dissolving disguise, she made no show of it. "Impressive, but what do you hope to achieve?"
"At the moment?" The BLU Spy reached down and untied his RED counterpart, steadying him. "I'm partial to heroic rescues myself. It has been a while since he has owed me one, instead of the other way around."
"I see." The sound of a button being pressed was heard, and the real BLU Medic materialized in the room. "A shame I will have to neutralize the both of you, but you leave me with no choice."
The BLU Spy seemed to bristle with terror, but his steady grip on the RED Spy told a different story. The Medic advanced towards them, oblivious to the subtle interplay of the other two men.
As soon the Medic came within reach, the BLU Spy grabbed his throat, squeezing with a vice grip. The Medic gasped and clawed at the Spy's hand, repeating a word in German-some kind of command phrase, no doubt.
The BLU Spy sneered. "If you had bothered to read past Freud, my dear doctor, you would have realized that hypnotic suggestions only work on the willing." Guiding the RED Spy to lean against his side, the BLU Spy brought his other hand to the Medic's throat and began to throttle him in earnest. "And you also forget that I am a Spy, trained in torture resistance techniques."
The Announcer did not move even as the BLU Spy strangled the life out of the Medic, and neither did she speak until the Medic's body fell to the ground with a thud. "You have yet to give a reason to let either of you leave this room alive."
"Because not even you have complete control over the respawn process; the fact that both of us were able to find our way down here is proof of that." The BLU Spy helped his RED counterpart to his feet and slung the other man's arm over his shoulder. "It would only be a matter of time before we return to our colleagues, rally them to put aside their petty differences, and unite against a common enemy. And no matter how many times you kill us, we would keep on doing whatever it takes to end this nonsense once and for all, even if it means we perish as well."
"What makes you think that your colleagues are unaware of the truth?" The Announcer asked. This time, the RED Spy knew for sure that she was bluffing.
"If they were, you wouldn't have bothered to threaten us." The BLU Spy nodded to his RED counterpart, and they began to head towards the exit marked with the BLU logo.
"Stop! This is a direct order! Your Supreme Leader so wills it!"
Both Spies kept walking. They were well on their way up the stairs back into the world above when the Announcer's voice was heard again, soft and mournful.
"But I made cake..."
On the monitors in the basement below, the cameras showed two Spies emerging from the BLU Medic's office, the black and white display making it difficult to tell just which man belonged to which side.
"I will be fine," the RED Spy (disguised as the BLU Spy) hissed as his counterpart (disguised as the BLU Medic) tended to him in the BLU Spy's room, his attempts to fend off help going unheeded. "I do not need help, least of all from you."
The BLU Spy pulled his face in a mocking imitation of the other man's infamous pout, and the matching expression on the disguise made it look all the more comical. "Have some faith in my abilities, would you? I promise that my bedside manner is excellent."
The RED Spy grimaced as the BLU Spy applied the healing tonic to the largest bruise on his chest. "That isn't what I am worried about."
"My team knows better than to bother the Medic when he is on his rounds." Finished with the torso, the BLU Spy began checking the RED Spy's limbs for serious trauma. "Besides, the real Medic has just learned that he never had any hold on me. It will be a while before he will be able to work up the nerve to even look in my direction."
The RED Spy submitted to the other man's ministrations at last. "You will not let me live this down, will you?" he mumbled, shifting into a more comfortable position.
The BLU Spy chuckled. "I'm sure I can think of some way for you to repay me."
Life soon settled back into predictable sameness. Certain relationship dynamics changed, of course, at first in subtle ways, but over time the differences became plain for all to see.
The stress of battle began to show on both Medics' faces, though the BLU Medic's sanity seemed to deteriorate faster. He, and then his RED counterpart, attempted suicide within a week of another-much later, it would be revealed that the method was identical down the tiniest of details-and a month-long ceasefire was called while the Medics were sent away for "treatment". They returned to their respective posts with all indications of never having suffered a nervous breakdown, but even the Scouts began remarking on the slight, for the lack of a better term, "off-ness" of their respective doctors.
"It's like he's always on drugs now or something," the BLU Scout remarked one day, practicing pitches against the back wall of the base.
The Engineer shrugged. "Well, he does have enough pills in that office of his to start his own pharmacy. Who's to stop him from nicking some of them for himself?"
Another perfect fastball thudded into the concrete siding. "Whatever makes him happy, I guess."
Meanwhile, the two Spies became even more cheerful and irreverent than before-to the growing irritation of enemy and ally alike-as if they were in on some hilarious joke that they refused to share with anyone. While they were as ruthless and efficient as ever on the battlefield, they became master pranksters during ceasefires. Sometimes they roped the other classes-the Scout was a favorite recruit-in on their elaborate schemes.
Once, they even managed to convince the other sixteen men to try out a "new sport" that seemed to be some sort of diabolical mix of cricket, tag, ultimate frisbee, hopscotch, and tiddlywinks with no rules except whatever either Spy deemed convenient to impose so that their team could gain the advantage. After the chaos, both sides swore up and down that they would never, ever play this so-called "Calvinball" again no matter how much the Spies attempted to bribe, beg, or threaten the others.
It seemed that the status quo would continue ad infinitum.
"This was a triumph! I'm making a note here: huge success..."
The bleary-eyed members of both sides poured out of their respective bases, confusion evident on their faces as they stared at each other across the tiny bridge that marked the division between RED- and BLU-controlled territories. From the speakers over their heads, a mechanical voice that sounded nothing like the Announcer continued to sing a most unnerving little ditty.
The BLU Engineer was the first to speak as he noticed the RED Spy. He pointed an accusatory finger at the other man. "Is this your doing? What's going on around here?"
The RED Spy shook his head, hands held out in mock surrender. "I am just as bewildered as you are, my hard-hatted nemesis. The workings of the Announcer's control panel is one of the few areas that neither myself nor your team's Spy has been able to...penetrate," he asserted, for once appearing to be sincere.
The BLU Spy himself took the opportunity to make a dramatic entrance, uncloaking at the very center of the bridge and holding the strangest weapon any of them had ever seen. "Gentlemen."
The sound of sixteen weapons being drawn and primed ready for fire was nothing to sneeze at, but the RED Spy looked just as unimpressed at the Mexican standoff, jogging forward to meet the BLU Spy on the bridge. "Well, what did you find?" he asked in English, loud enough for both teams to hear over the infernal singing.
The BLU Spy pretended to adjust the cuffs of his sleeves before pointing the weapon in front of his feet. Seeing the nervous reactions of both sides, he clicked his tongue. "So eager for bloodshed. Will you not wait for a few moments before beginning yet another pointless firefight? Are you not curious as to what I hold in my hand?"
The standoff continued, with neither side making a move. Meanwhile, the music blaring from the speakers fizzled to a stop at last, an uncomfortable silence taking its place.
Then the RED Soldier lowered his rocket launcher, muttering that this had better not be a trick. Surprised, the BLU Soldier mirrored him, and one by one the other classes of both sides followed suit.
The BLU Spy flicked away his cigarette with a smile. "Thank you." Reaching down, he pulled the trigger of the gun and fired at the exact center of the bridge.
Even the RED Spy stared as a large blue hole appeared on the ground and a pale, slim hand reached up and grabbed the BLU Spy's outstretched arm. A young woman-she couldn't have been much older than either side's Scout-emerged blinking from the hole, brushing the dust from her orange jumpsuit as her eyes adjusted to the harsh light. Then she saw the men around her and nodded at them.
"Hello," she greeted in a hesitant voice, as if she was not used to speaking. "My name is Chell."
After the "field trip" to the Announcer's secret bunker and long-rambling explanation from Chell-with occasional interruptions for questions and clarifications-both teams stood silent, not knowing what to say or even how to react. The RED Spy didn't blame any of them; after all, how was one supposed to handle this level of existential angst?
"I know it's a lot to take right now," Chell was saying, running a hand over the Alarm-o-Tron, "but you have a right to know the truth. What you do with it is up to you."
"What will you do?" The BLU Scout asked.
"I don't know. I've heard that there's something weird going on at Black Mesa, too, but..." Chell trailed off and shrugged. "It's a big world and I haven't seen any of it yet."
"God, I need a drink," the RED Demoman mumbled, peering into his empty bottle with his good eye.
"I'll bring the Scrumpy," his BLU counterpart offered.
For his part, the RED Spy wasn't worried in the least. Whatever decision he came to, he was certain that there would always be a need for someone of his skillset. Of course, he would have to do his research first, since his grasp of the geopolitical situation was now a good forty years out of date.
But the others? The Spy couldn't imagine what they would do with their lives. Despite everything, the Spy had developed feelings for the men he fought with-and even against-for so long, and he couldn't quite bring himself to imagine a life without them.
Well, all right, the Medics could go hang themselves again for all he cared. But what about the Scouts, who were in all likelihood younger than any nephews or nieces-or even grand-nephews or grand-nieces-they may have by now? Or the Soldiers, who had more or less earned themselves a one way ticket to the nuthouse even before they'd ever stepped foot in RED or BLU? Or the Pyros, who by now couldn't survive without their suits? Or the Demomen, who never seemed happy unless something was blowing up? Or the Heavies, who didn't even know what to call their homeland anymore thanks to the Great Politics Mess-up? Or the Engineers, whose expertise was limited to hitting things with a wrench? Or the Snipers, whose parents weren't even alive to tell them that they were crazed gunmen for decades now?
"I, for one-" he began, drawing attention from all present; he'd been rather quiet during the whole thing, letting the BLU Spy do all of the talking. "I wouldn't be averse to holding, what is it that the Engineer calls it? When he tries to get us all to make something and have a picnic?"
"A cookout?" the RED Engineer offered. "There is an old, rusted-out grill in my workshop somewhere; maybe I can scrape the gunk off, and we do have more propane than we know what to do with."
"I'll see what I can rustle up in terms of grub." The BLU Engineer looked thoughtful. "At the moment we're kind of down to canned, well, everything, but I'm sure I can still make it all taste passable."
The Snipers muttered something about the local wildlife before stalking off, the BLU one pausing to give the two Spies a glance that could almost be interpreted as apologetic.
The rest of the group broke off into various groups at this point to prepare for this so-called 'cookout', and as the RED Spy left the room he could hear the two Scouts talking about hitting baseballs out into the wilderness.
"Hey, we could even form teams and stuff! I mean, there's nine of us, right? And Miss Chell could be our umpire!"
Unnecessarily Long and Tiresome Authoress' Notes:
This kind of turned out to be a bit more epic than I intended, but thanks to my lovely new Beta we worked out a pretty good story. I don't have any plans to expound on this premise, but if anybody else wants to they're free to write their own continuation as long as I get proper credit.