Author's Note: No, I haven't abandoned this story! Just been busy elsewhere. But for your consideration, here's a new (albeit short) chapter. This one is more of a gag than a full story.

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 6: A Little Less Conflagration


The Pyro did her best to straighten her spine, but between the weight of the flamethrower she was now shouldering and the heavy air tank hitting her right in the small of the back, the best she was able to do was a slightly less round-shouldered slouch. Thankfully, the Soldier didn't seem to notice; with her heavy suit and the innumerable straps actually holding all of her equipment to her body, it was generally difficult for anyone to pick out the exact line of her shoulders or back.

Besides, Pyro was much less of an interesting target than other, more French members of the team. She raised her chin slightly, accidentally bumping the edge of the filter against one of her nitro grenades, and watched with mild amusement as the Soldier attempted to shout the Spy into line.

"Zis is ridiculous," the Spy said flatly, flicking his cigarette case open. "We are not army men for you to move around in your little board games. Zis attempt at discipline will only cause more difficulties."

"SILENCE!" the Soldier roared. "This is AMERICA, and we don't take any lip from Frog Princes! You should be on your knees thanking God you have the opportunity to serve the Yew-nited States of the USA, not running around being all independent-minded like a goddamn Communist! STRAIGHTEN UP, MAGGOT!"

The Spy didn't straighten up. Instead, he selected a cigarette, carefully lit it, and then walked off the lineup. The Soldier gawked at him, flabbergasted, and the rest of the BLU team exchanged curious looks. None of them had ever actually just tried walking away from Soldier's lectures before. After a moment's hesitation, Scout, Sniper, Medic, Heavy and Demoman followed suit, leaving just Engie and Pyro to face the wrath of the scorned Soldier.

"TRAITORS!" the helmeted man bellowed. "COWARDS! DESERTERS! HIPPIES!" He foundered for a moment, momentarily lost for a truly devastating insult. "VEGETARIANS!" he screamed, veins in his neck standing out red and purple.

Engie stifled a snicker, and Soldier rounded on him, his face the color of well-cooked meat. "DO NOT THINK YOU'RE GETTING OFF EASY JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN LISTEN TO ORDERS," he added, because the Soldier took a little time to come down from top volume and if anything was worth doing, he saw it as worth doing all out. "LOYALTY IS NOT ENOUGH, SOLDIER! YOU MUST HAVE GUTS! IF YOU DON'T HAVE GUTS, YOU CAN'T MAKE SAUSAGE! MAN IS NOT MAN WITHOUT SAUSAGE! DO YOU GET ME?"

The Engineer nodded, manfully swallowing a guffaw, but Soldier didn't pay attention. He turned smartly on his heel and stuck his face into Pyro's. Pyro recoiled slightly as bulging red-veined eyes, overshadowed by a brim of badly-fitted helmet, filled her vision.

"AND YOU!" he shouted. His breath fogged up Pyro's eyepieces, and all she could see was a vague mass of Angry Person. The smell of aftershave and barbecue momentarily overwhelmed the mask's filters. "I DON'T KNOW IF YOU'RE EVEN A MAN, AND THAT SICKENS ME. HOW CAN I TRUST A SOLDIER THAT COULD BE EATING SOY BEHIND MY BACK? DROP AND GIVE ME TWENTY, PRIVATE!"

"Hokayh," Pyro said, because why not? She didn't have anything to burn right now. She carefully set her flamethrower down on the ground and went down on her knuckles, counting out twenty pushups behind her mask. After running around all day, every day with almost a hundred pounds of gear, twenty was easy.

The Soldier grunted, momentarily satisfied—or more likely, just not able to find immediate fault with anything. "DISMISSED!" he added, did an about-face, and marched off to the sound of his own different drummer. Pyro carefully collected her things and checked her flamethrower for damage, ignoring the Engineer's curious expression.

"Well, what d'you know," he said, removing his helmet and scratching his buzzcut scalp. "I thought we'd be here salutin' the flag all afternoon. Smart thinkin', Smokey Joe, doin' those pushups. I think he gets confused when someone doesn't argue with him."

Pyro shrugged. What else was she supposed to do? Combat wouldn't resume until tomorrow morning, and Medic had threatened to sedate her if she set any more of the base on fire; she might as well follow Soldier's orders as anything else. She liked it when his face turned all red and purple. "Juh borehh," she said, tightening her air compressor's straps. "Hwhyh hoo sayhh?"

"Why did I stay?" Engineer said, after puzzling out her syllables for a moment. Pyro nodded. "Well, I'm not saying I wasn't payin' attention to our teammate, but I might've just had a successful test of these fine puppies." With a grin, he popped a couple of little rounds of metal out of his ears. "Filters, carefully calibrated to eliminate all non-essential sounds. Pop in a couple of these babies and even the Demoman's snoring won't keep you awake."

"Hoh," Pyro said, because there didn't seem to be anything else to say. "Hat's nihh."

"Ain't it?" Engie said. His grin widened, making Pyro think of her own face in the mirror. He was happy. "I really love my job, little buddy. I really do."

He did, Pyro had realized some time ago. And it worried her.

Oh, not very much. Engie wasn't a broken gas tank, or a nasty Spy, or anything else that would really cause her trouble. And he created dispensers and helped keep all the little things around the base fixed, which was very helpful of him.

But to be honest, he was a little . . . crazy.

Pyro understood simplicity. She craved it and thrived on it, enjoying the beauty of the straightforward solution and the ease of life. The simpler things were for her, then the happier she would be, because that would be more time she could spend basking in the warmth of her most favorite thing of all. All the other members of the team had their little obsessions about things that were so useless in her opinion. Did it really matter if your clothes were stained? They would still cover you, wouldn't they? And who cared how food tasted? It was just fuel. Did fire complain about the kind of things it ate?

And of all the complicated people with their complicated little obsessions, Engie was the most mixed-up of all. He burned in his own way, like a flame that was leaping from one thing to the next and just gobbling up everything it saw: always moving, always working, always munching up raw resources and spitting out . . . things. New robots, new weapons, new this and that and the other thing. It made Pyro's head spin.

She'd been in his room once, looking for a spare screwdriver, and been thoroughly disturbed by it. The walls were packed with shiny creations that did all sorts of things. One was laundering Engie's clothes, one had perched in the windowsill and was installing some kind of filter over the screen, and one was knitting a sweater. They were things that did things. Things that made complications, because Engie couldn't just leave well enough alone.

Fire was beautiful. Why should she try to make it better? A hand was a hand, so why should he chop his off and stick a gun on the stump? What was the point?

Sometimes he meddled where he didn't belong. She had caught him building fireworks once, and that was all right, but then he set them off and they made pictures in the sky and wrote words in explosions of color. She'd watched silently and calmly, and then when he went to bed, she broke his neck and set fire to his room and wound up burning the entire dormitory down and everyone else died too and then the Administrator was extremely angry because she had to arrange respawns during offtime and Soldier had made her do so many pushups that her arms had even begun to hurt.

Engie didn't make fireworks any more. She was glad he respected fire now.

She supposed he believed in what he did. The others certainly did. They all thought sideways in their strange little ways, with the Spy believing in nothing but the mission and Heavy in Sasha, and the Medic in his research that made him stay up late and occasionally shoot her sharp sideways glances in the hallways. (Was it really her fault that isopropyl alcohol burned? No. No, it wasn't.) But none of them tried to make their lives as complicated as he did, or added special things that would complicate it for others as well.

Sometimes there were good days. Engie seemed to be fond of her, in some strange way. On the good days she would curl up by the fire in what he called the 'tinker shack,' out on the edge of the base where stray explosions or suddenly-sentient robots wouldn't cause too much damage. She'd make herself comfortable and Engie, playing with a puzzle in one hand, would read to her from a book. He had a nice voice, all deep and smooth and calm, and he almost never yelled. When he read stories about aliens and hydroelectric fusion capacity and Australian Christmas to her, the fires inside dimmed themselves to a calm glow and smoldered without fear of water. They'd eaten enough, and could wait to break free and devour everything in their paths.

But really, that man was crazy.