Author's Note: This chapter should be blamed on RocketLawnchair, the excellent author of "Smoke and Mirrors." She got me thinking about the dynamic between the Pyro and the Scout, with the result that I decided to move up the Scout's chapter significantly. This follows right on the heels of the previous chapter.

I've been making some changes to how I write the Pyro's dialogue in this chapter, in order to make it a little more understandable to the reader. Unfortunately, wanting to accurately reproduce the sound of the Pyro's in-game mumbling and have the character be intelligible is pretty much a losing battle, but I gave it a shot.

Aspects of this chapter were inspired by the latest updates, including the Pyro's snazzy new hat.

"Mmphpry!"-Pyroese for "Victory!"

Disclaimer: Team Fortress 2 and all associated characters and concepts are property of Valve, and I derive no profit from this. Please accept this in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from this intellectual property.


Chapter 5: Burned Out

The Pyro blinked slowly as she awoke, automatically scanning the room for threats and fires. Though her head felt uncharacteristically fuzzy, one breath told her that she was in the Granary: that thick dry air was unmistakable. She sat up, feeling her head throb and rubbing her hands over her face as she tried to piece together the events of the previous day. She had the unsettling idea that she'd dreamed, which didn't happen often, and it tended to leave her a bit confused.

Fortunately, the blackened remains of her worktable reminded her of what had happened the night before. Her project gone wrong, the trip to the infirmary, the Heavy Weapons Guy being incomprehensible. She didn't like incomprehensible things, so she automatically reached for her lighter.

It was when she spotted it in its usual place—sitting neatly on her bedside table, next to the car battery that she'd never gotten around to properly rewiring—that she also realized that she was, in fact, in her own room. And maskless. She frowned a little, running her hands over her face again, trying to think. Last she knew, she had been in the infirmary. The Heavy Weapons Guy had come to see her. She had had something to drink and fallen back asleep, her mask still on.

So why was she in her room now? The Pyro clambered stiffly out of bed, kicking aside the red file folders that were littering the dank, musty carpet. The Medic must have given her something to make her pass out, she decided. Something in that IV. And then . . . he had taken off her mask?

The Pyro's fists clenched, and the cheap plastic of the lighter's casing squeaked under her grip. That rat. That, that, that cinder! She was going to find him and make him squeal like a Scout under a blowtorch. His beautiful blue coat would catch fire so easily. She could imagine it already, those cheap nylon ties he wore smouldering and melting before finally turning into a blackened crisp, the frames of his glasses warping, the glass pieces' soft tink, chink when they finally cracked. He would cool into a charred skeleton. Growling, she seized her mask, promising herself that he would shriek as she burned him for taking the mask-

-which was here, its filters screwed together and its buckles neatly tightened. Just like she always left it before she went to bed.

Oh.

Never mind, then.

Mmmphing softly to herself, the Pyro settled the mask on her head. Her stormy mood vanished instantly as the familiar hood slid into place: the Medic had not taken her mask, which meant her life was much less complicated and confusing than she had thought it would be only a few seconds before. Therefore, there was no reason to be upset. She briefly regretted the lost opportunity to roast a teammate . . . but oh, well. She could take it out on the RED Medic the next time they met.

The fact that she had fallen asleep in her own room (after neatly putting away her mask), but didn't remember doing so, might have been considered slightly troubling to a normal mind. The Pyro, however, hadn't been within spitting distance of a normal mind in years. Her brain often blanked out on the battlefield, when the tensions were running high and the fire was all around her. All the memory gap indicated was that some time between her hours in the Infirmary and her awakening, there must have been a really wonderful battle. That was a cheering prospect, even if her headache dampened the mood slightly.

Feeling puckish, the Pyro rooted among her collection of hats. In addition to the usual, there was now a slightly charred Mexican sombrero. When had she gotten that? Whenever she had, though, she liked it. The firebug jauntily placed the sombrero atop her mask and stepped out into the corridor, almost slipping on one of the red file folders as she did so.

The Granary was . . . quiet. The Pyro cocked her head, listening. Not just quiet in the normal Granary sort of way, which just meant no gunfire in the background, but actively silent. No whirring of the Sentries, no muffled footsteps of the Heavy Weapons Guy, no clanking as the Soldier banged his entrenching tool against the wall to get someone's attention. Just the rustle of the sparse plantlife and the whistle of the wind through the base.

For a moment the Pyro just stood still, listening. It was . . . pure, in its way. No human sounds, no complications. Just the cleanliness of natural forces. Simple. Perfect. Fiery.

At which point, during one of the firestarter's few moments of bliss, her musings were interrupted by a loud "BONK!"

No, not just the sound "bonk," but someone actively saying the word. Which, even with the Pyro's sometimes-shaky recognition capabilities, meant only one person. She frowned momentarily before turning, peering down the corridor at the source of the interruption. The BLU Scout was sauntering towards her, a can of his favorite beverage in one hand, the Sandman propped on his shoulder.

"Bonk!" he shouted again as he drained the can and, almost too fast for the Pyro's eyes to follow, chucked the can in the air and batted it away. "Yeaaahhh! Line drive to deep left centah field. The crowd goes wild!"

"Rrrouhh!" the Pyro called out. As usual, the name was mangled by her mask, but most of the BLU team had learned to at least guess at the content of her mumblings by now. The Scout spotted her, and a huge grin lit up his face. He jogged towards her and, to her great surprise, flung an arm around her shoulders.

"Pyro! Dude! I just wanna say, I'm real sorry I called you a bib-wearin' dope that one time. You're cool, bro. Wicked cool." The Scout was grinning, and he still hadn't taken his arm off her, which was beginning to make the Pyro antsy. "How ya feelin'?"

"Uhhmm . . . " A response that needed no translation. "Hokay."

"How's the head? I figger yer gonna have a headache for 'bout another hour or so, 'til it all finishes wearin' off." The Scout let go, thankfully: the Pyro's lighter finger had begun to twitch. "Ya gotta take it real slow and remember, don't make no sudden movements or go chasin' after anybody that wasn't here yestaday."

"Hokay," the Pyro said again. She had frankly no idea what the Scout was talking about, but he was correct about the headache; there was still a dull throbbing ache in the front of her skull, as if she'd clonked herself with her own air compressor. How he knew, she couldn't guess. Had he ever died of smoke inhalation? Her memory was spotty at best.

The Scout, as usual, seemed unable to sit still. He was swinging his bat, grinning as broadly as ever and keeping up a one-man monologue about . . . something. The Pyro, frankly, was in the dark.

"I swear, dude, it was legendary. Like Mickey Mantle on acid or somethin'. We were all like 'yaaaaaa!' and they were like 'oh, shit, dude, no!' and then it was all like FWA-KOOM!" The Scout made an enthusiastic hand gesture. Judging by the expansiveness of that gesture, he was referring either to a massive explosion or the "Ladies of BLU" calendar's Miss October. "And afterwards, 'course, Fritz gave me a huge lecture about 'ya shouldn't go givin' dangerous substances to crazy people,' but I was like 'no way, deutschbag, my pal Pyro can handle it.' Huh?"

"Mmmmph," the Pyro said neutrally. She still had no idea what the Scout was talking about, but evidently yesterday's skirmish had left him with a lot of energy to burn off. Well, good for him. But normally he had other things to do—bother the Medic, bother the Spy, bother the Heavy, bother the Demoman, that sort of thing. "Rrouhh?" she said. "Hwherr hiih heveryhonn?"

"Where-? Oh, they're hidin'." The Scout swung his bat again, rattling it against the concrete wall. The Pyro winced and clamped her gloved hands over her ears, making the Scout look guilty. "Oops. Sorry, dude, I forgot. But yeah, Medic put everyone on lockdown until we were sure ya were back to normal. I'm supposedta be in my room too. But, I figger ya needed to hear from someone else who'd been there, y'know? Make sure y'were recoverin' okay. Plus, I was feelin' kinda bad about that 'bib-wearin' dope' thing." He broke out into a laugh, startling the Pyro. "Plus, I just hadda tell you. Spy's spooked. He ain't never gonna get that gasoline smell outta his fancy suit."

"Uhhh . . . hokay." That was the Pyro's word of the day, it seemed. "Hwhhyy theyh hidinhh? Bahhle hgo bahh?"

The Scout snickered again. "Ya could call it that. You scared 'em good." Then his exuberant stride faltered, and for a second, he glanced down at the Pyro with a faint expression of surprise. "Everythin' okay in there, dude?"

"Hhyeah," the Pyro said. She shrugged exaggeratedly, attempting to convey confusion. The Scout didn't get it.

"C'mon, bro. If they're all too chicken to come outta their rooms, that means we get first crack at the dispensers!" He grabbed her arm and yanked, jolting the Pyro off-balance. Nobody ever grabbed her, least of all the Scout, and she was too startled to object as he hauled her down the hall towards the common room. "I got first dibs on all the sandwiches, though. Tons-a-Fun hoards those things like they were goin' outta style. C'mon!"


Half an hour later, the Pyro did indeed have to admit that being almost alone in the base had its privileges. She and the Scout (mostly the Scout, with her tentatively following his lead) had raided the various vending machines and dispensers, then promptly co-opted the most comfortable sofa in the common room—the one most often occupied by the Medic and the Spy. The Scout was chomping his way through his third sandwich, discarding the toothpicks and flinging the olives at the wall. The Pyro had unscrewed a filter from her mask, and now she tentatively sipped Blu Streak through a straw and nibbled on a square of Dalokohs bar.

The Scout was chattering again. The aftermath of the battle yesterday seemed to have put him in a good mood—so good that whatever fear of the Pyro he had previously held had vanished. After a few minutes, the Pyro had begun to learn to tune it out. With none of the other normal sounds of base life to interrupt her thoughts, the Scout's yammering faded into agreeable white noise.

" . . . KABLOOEY and it just goes up . . ."

" . . . I swear they were shittin' their pants. Goofy-ass pants, too, stupid shit to wear in the middle of a desert. Mexico's in the desert, right? . . ."

" . . . and when he just got that look on his face! I swear, dude, if ya were a chick I'd've married ya after that, no homo . . . "

" . . . so I'm probably gonna be on dish duty for the next billion years. The Administrator was hoppin' mad . . ."

" . . . ever seen a six-hundred-pound Russkie cry? 'Cause now I have. And it. Was. Bitchin'! I wish I had a camera, would'a been a great thing to write home to Ma about . . ."

" . . . never did find out what happened to their briefcase, though. Prolly got burned up, huh? . . ."

Briefcase? Oh, that was a good sign. "Hwe gohh briehhcahh?" she said, sitting up. "Mmphpry!" She liked it when they got the briefcase. Good guys won, bad guys lost, and fire scorched the earth clean of the human infection. It was a nice feeling. She flicked the straw away and finished her Blu Streak in one gulp, ignoring the fact that the Scout had stopped chattering. It wasn't until she had lowered the now-empty bottle that she realized he was looking at her with an odd expression on his face.

"You sure you're okay, mumbles?" The Scout scratched his ear, confused. "I'd'a thought ya'd be a little happier about all that . . . y'know, considerin' how wild it was and all." As the Pyro set down the empty bottle, his face cleared. "Oh. Oh. Ya don't remember, do ya?"

The Pyro shrugged. "Hii all a bihh hof ha hblanhh," she admitted. It took the Scout a moment to puzzle out the word blank (probably because, whether it be a wall or a round, few things were blank in the lives of the BLU team) but when he did, he nodded as if having some great scientific hypothesis confirmed. Which was frankly weird for the Pyro.

While the Scout was almost as simple as the Heavy, he was simple in different ways. The Scout was all about himself, a concept the Pyro didn't really understand. His victories, his defeats, his stash of porn and energy drinks—his world revolved around himself. Having him look at her with what appeared to be understanding and—was that sympathy? She really didn't know—was downright creepy.

"Yeah, prolly shoulda guessed," he said, putting down his half-eaten sandwich and sprawling backwards on the couch. "Normally ya can tell when they got that kinda problem, but no offense, big guy, your face ain't the easiest to read, y'know?" He picked a bit of mystery meat out of his teeth. "Ya mean y'really don't remember anythin'?"

The Pyro shook her head, still mystified.

"Huh. Well, yeah, that definitely explains some stuff." The Scout's head lolled back. It surprised the Pyro how well the Scout could sprawl; she had never seen him so relaxed, not when she was around, but now he seemed perfectly at ease and was consequently taking up an alarming amount of space on the couch. She scrunched away from him. "I mean, evrabody gets it a bit different, right? It's one a' the reasons Medic got his panties in a bunch after the battle yesterday. Goin' on and on and on about how good results ain't worth a battle turnin' into a bigass clusterfuck, and how civilians don't respawn and all, and how oh yeah, it was my fault and I was gonna have to dig graves for the whole band." He huffed out an irritated breath. "But I didn't know you were gonna go cuckoo for Crit-a-Cola, did I? I was just tryin' to be nice. A can or two always cheers me up when I've got real fucked up."

It was at that point that the shoe—an exceedingly battered shoe, stained with mysterious substances and bearing several marks from the fingernails of the people whose throats it had been planted on—dropped for the Pyro. She turned to the Scout and pointed to him before laying a hand on her chest. "Yhoo," she said slowly. "Yhoo gahhv mhe Bhonnkh?"

"Yeah. Day before yestaday in the infirmary, remember?" The Scout grinned a little.

"Dhayy befohh yehtadaa?" The Pyro rubbed one gloved hand over the back of her mask. The poignant gesture of confusion was somewhat spoiled by the high-pitched squeak of rubber-on-rubber. "Whaa happenh?"

"Dude, it was wicked. I still ain't sure what really went down, y'know. But around the time you threw the first dead mariachi at 'em, those RED pussies were runnin' scared. I was gonna ask where the heck ya found a mariachi band out here, but dude, seriously, I been where you are right now." The Scout thumped his chest. "I'm with ya on that one, bro. Bonk amnesia is brutal."

For a moment, the Pyro felt faint as she glanced around the room. The near-deserted base, with everyone marooned in their rooms. The charred sombrero. The mysterious, official-looking red file folders all over her floor. The lack of Sentries, even . . . She groaned and dropped her face into her hands. She suspected that her life was about to become very, very complicated.

"I . . . uhhh . . . di'int dho hanythin htupidh, dhi I?" she mumbled. The Scout frowned.

"Well, ya kinda dry-humped the Spy."

"Whaaa?"

The Scout shook his head. "I wouldn't freak about it, man. He's French. I think he was just pissed that you got gas all over his suit."

At which point the Pyro, whose headache was not being improved by the knowledge that her particular brand of sociopathy apparently did not combine well with sugar and radiation, put a couch cushion over her face and said some very bad words.