FiveTail: CO-WRITTEN BY KAI WHO IS A FANTASTIC PARTNER-IN-CRIME.
SirKai: Working with FiveTail is awesome and you readers out there should be totally jelly
He had every reason to leave it behind.
The bird was no bigger than the size of his palm, crumpled in a heap on the dusty desert ground. The soft mane of cream-coloured down coating its neck was streaked red with blood. Its crooked right wing appeared to be fractured; its small cries were laboured and weak. And it was blue, no less.
He looked over at Pyro, who was crouching alongside him near the injured animal. Pyro motioned towards the small body, shrugging.
Turning back silently, Soldier took off his helmet and scooped the baby eagle into it (at least, it looked like an eagle).
Soldier had no way of knowing if it would survive, but he knew it wasn't dying here.
Scout exited the mess hall, following Soldier's lead. The older man walked briskly up the stairs carrying his still-warm dinner plate; he was never seen eating his meals outside the cafeteria ("Dammit man, sit at the table! Were you born on a farm?"), which made his actions, and motives, all the more transparent.
"Sarge-c'mon man-" Grinning from ear to ear, Scout jogged up to Soldier's side. "You seriously keepin' a freakin' bird up there?"
"There ARE no WOMEN on the premises, MAGGOT, so what MAY or MAY NOT be in my quarters is NONE OF YOUR CONCERN."
"No no-I ain't talkin' about a girl, I-" Scout scoffed and ran up ahead of Soldier, blocking off the top of the stairs. "I mean a bird bird, y'know, tweet-friggin'-tweet? Where'd you find it? S'it hurt as bad as everyone's sayin'? You didn't just put it outta its misery, didja? You-"
"Son, if you do not VACATE yourself from MY PATH within the next THREE SECONDS, this FORK will be responsible for figuring out whether your BRAIN is cooked MEDIUM or WELL-DONE."
Holding his hands up apprehensively, Scout moved aside without another word.
"WHAT is it any of YOUR business, Fritz?"
Medic steadied the beam of the Medigun on Soldier, the former trying harder than the latter to keep himself audible over the round's melody of explosions and gunfire.
"Now, Herr Soldier," said Medic, his voice stern. "I am only acting on vhat Pyro told me-I did not zink it to be true, but your reaction is making it obvious-"
"That smore-cooker?" Soldier chuckled. "Should've known better than to think he'd be able to keep his mouth shut about-"
"It is dying, correct?"
The grin evaporated from Soldier's face as he raced for the next capture point. Medic's assessment was straightforward, clinical, and perhaps worst of all, absolutely right. Soldier had harboured the wounded bird in his room overnight, watching over it while possessing no knowledge of how to care for it—even he could recognize its condition was only degrading.
Defeated, Soldier turned away and grunted in reply.
"Ach," Medic sighed. He pinched the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses. "Vhat were you planning to do vith a dying bird, anyway? Imagine how unsanitary it is, keeping a wild animal on-base-"
A familiar voice boomed over the speakers. "The control point has been captured!"
"THANKFULLY I don't remember ASKING for your PROFESSIONAL OPINION, doc," Soldier snapped back, bearing his Equalizer to render the Medigun useless before storming away for the next point. Medic flinched reactively and bared his teeth. "And if you expect me to SIT here and be SCOLDED like some kind of CHILD, you sure as hell have another thing coming."
Medic sighed, his words hanging in thin air as his ally sprinted ahead of him.
Soldier returned to his quarters later that afternoon, once ceasefire hit and the majority of the weapons were hung to dry for the day. He reached his door with an uneasy eagerness sinking in his gut: the dread of knowing that it was unlikely the tiny animal would have regained its health, stirred with the hope that it might just surprise him.
What he didn't expect was to find the brute of their team sitting on his mattress while cradling the baby bird in his arms, speaking to it quietly in a European tongue and dialect Soldier didn't know (and, quite frankly, did not want to know, for fear of soiling his heroic heritage).
"WHAT do you think you are DOING with MY RECRUIT?"
Heavy smiled as he traced his enormous finger across the soft surface of the creature's down. He did not even look up at Soldier. "Shh, just fell asleep."
Soldier charged forward (quietly) and tore off his helmet, offering it upside-down and expectantly in front of Heavy.
"Leetle bird reminds me of sparrow I once found, back home in Russia," he whispered, setting it carefully back down in its temporary home. "Only this time there is no snow. Or throwing knife. And is strangest sparrow I ever see."
Heavy looked strangely despondent as he rested his hands on his knees and stood up from Soldier's bed (the giant creak of stress relief broke the silence), lumbering his way back out the door.
"Soldier, please take good care of bird. I do not like digging graves."
Soldier made sure Heavy was out of earshot before bringing his helmet close to his face and delivering hushed whispers to his patient.
"Don't listen to whatever Communist agenda that pinko started feeding you. You are my private taken under my wing and that alone makes you American."
For the fifth time that night, Soldier's door rattled with small, rushed knocks, with Scout's voice following through from time to time in hushed murmurs.
Eventually, Scout knocked one time too many, and the door flung open to reveal an enraged Soldier holding a newly-sharpened shovel in his raised hand.
"Woah, woah, woah-JEEZ, RELAX!" Scout cowered, throwing his hands up in front of his face. "I CAN HELP THE STUPID THING!"
Soldier froze in place, weapon still raised.
"Permission to continue speaking GRANTED," he snarled.
Realizing he hadn't been beaten to pulp yet, Scout opened an eye, looking up at Soldier as he doled out his explanation.
"I was in the scouts when I was younger, alright-we learned all this bullshit on the field!" he said quickly. "I got my freakin' 'Animal Friend badge, man! Just thought I should get in here 'fore the thing freakin' dies on you!"
Before Soldier could interrogate him further, Scout swung the bulk of his messenger bag to the front of himself, unzipping the length of it and holding it open in front of them both.
"I-I gotchya some supplies, too-snatched 'em from the doc's office for ya an' everythin'."
With visible reluctance, Soldier lowered his raised arm. He opened the door wider and moved aside to let Scout in.
"That's more like it," Scout said, brushing himself off. "Now howsabout some freakin' appreciation?"
"You should be more GRATEFUL that I don't send you to Respawn with my FIST embedded in your SKULL."
"Alright, alright! Jeez."
The reason why Medic took his work so seriously was becoming less and less surprising to Soldier, seeing as there really was an odd sense of pride in nurturing the eagle back to health. It was during the first stages of the bird's recovery that Scout was the most adamant about changing the bird's bandages.
"You gotta change 'em every day," he insisted.
The commando would simply stare. Scout performed the ritual with deceptive, careful grace; Soldier would watch in silent admiration at the kid's skill and unexpected passion for taking care of the animal.
"See," Scout gloated as he leaned back, presenting the neatly wrapped series of white bandages. "It ain't so hard. You wanna do it next time?"
"Huh?" Soldier asked, snapped out of his tunnel vision from watching Scout tend to his recruit.
"Jeez, I was askin' if you wanna change his bandages next time. I'll show you how to do it. It's easy."
Over the next few days, Soldier became accustomed to Scout visiting the bird; the boy would stop by once a day for a few minutes while the animal slept, always bringing freshly pilfered supplies from the infirmary along with him.
Today should have been another one of those days, yet when Soldier heard a series of knocks and marched across his room to swing the door open, he found himself staring into the glaring eyes of a certain RED field surgeon.
"Doc! What are you-"
"Let me see it," Medic ordered.
When Soldier refused to move, Medic shouldered his way through the door frame and reeled in towards the helmet lying upturned on the bunk.
"You DISRESPECTFUL blind GRAVE ROBBER! I did NOT give you clearance to ENTER THE PREMISES! Your TRESPASSING is DELIBERATELY DISTURBING my Recruit's SLEEP-"
"If zhis animal is being treated vith my stolen equipment, I deserve to at least check its progress." Medic knelt down in front of the bed and peered inside the helmet at the resting creature, lightly brushing his gloved fingers across the bird's mangled wing. "Besides," he continued, ducking his hand into his coat pocket. He retrieved a small vial of clear fluid, wrapped in a finely-printed label. "I keep zhe antibiotics locked up."
The explanation was all it took for Soldier to comply, scooping up and relaxing the Recruit on his (now sterilized) desk.
Medic clipped off the bandages and lightly swabbed the bird's down with bits of damp cotton, cleaning the blood and wound. "Scout's procedures are admirable, but keeping zhe patient clean is integral to avoiding infection."
The bird stared back up at the doctor with gaping, darting eyes. His twitching beak let out an excited, high-pitch chirp at frequent intervals.
"Shh," Soldier comforted. His heart sank, feeling the bird's tiny muscles fidget and rebel beneath his bare fingers as he held the Recruit still and forced the damaged wing open. Each pleading chirp shook his gut.
"In proper care, zhe subject can recover from such an infliction quite easily, but he vould have almost assuredly died in zhe wild."
"Hah! This cold-blooded killer? He wouldn't go down THAT easy!" Soldier brushed a fingertip along the side of the single feather sticking up from the bird's crown. "No, you're going to make it JUST fine, Recruit. Just fine."
A warm, fascinated smile spread across Medic's face while he continued to service his patient.
The bird healed surprisingly fast, being capable of flight in just under a week-yet, even when Soldier and Pyro tried releasing it back into the wild from whence it came, it remained on the ground as it turned back to stare at them, tilting its head and chirping innocently.
So it stuck around.
Everyone had their own moniker for the base's new denizen, and though it reacted to them all (favoring Heavy's and Scout's nicknames "Обоснованные конкурс" and "freakin' bird", respectively), it preferred Soldier's call of "Recruit" above all others.
In the beginning, Sniper found the idea of healing and keeping a wounded animal from the wild a waste of time, effort, and not to mention squandering the opportunity for a perfectly good dinner. Over the following short few weeks however, even Sniper began warming up to the idea of having it around, and insisted that if it were to remain on base, it might as well earn its stay.
Soldier wasn't surprised upon learning how easily trainable Recruit turned out to be-the bird belonged to him, after all.
At first, Soldier gave him simple commands: teaching him to peck only on cue to keep him from snapping at people, to stay hidden in the basement corridors and out of crossfire during rounds, using field mice and stray lizards to show the difference between using its talons to land and using its talons to attack. Recruit became wonderfully apt at finding and retrieving various objects, enough to have the team regret not being able to bring him to help out on the field (if only because Respawn wouldn't register his death). One night, the team discovered he could even produce a strange, shrill call that chilled everyone to their bones.
Perhaps the most noticeable change of all was that, without the proper tools to groom it, its talons grew sharp enough to prevent safe landing on any wrist or shoulder, and more than enough for its hunting attacks to slice its prey to ribbons with barely a single swipe.
Yet, it was still the same bird that went to Scout to be pet but visited Heavy to be cradled to sleep; the same bird that cleared up the bugs collecting in Sniper's various nests, and the same bird which came to fall asleep in Soldier's upturned helmet every night.
Until the day it changed.
A great, white flash lit up the entirety of the outdoors, pouring into the RED building from outside and waking nearly everyone. Those still firmly asleep were harassed out of bed by Scout, as eager and wide-eyed as a kid on Christmas morning.
"C'mon-outside-the freakin' bird, y'gotta come look at the freakin' bird!"
Soldier was the first one outside, and the first besides Scout to get a look at it.
And the freakin' bird was magnificent.
In an instant, like magic, it had evolved into a much larger creature, clearing Heavy's height by at least three feet. Its wingspan had become so wide, a force that could only be described as a slight gale was produced whenever it took off. It was an eagle alright, but not an eagle the likes any one of them had ever seen. Its underside was blanketed with navy feathers, while the plumes of its top coat shone a dark red, tapering at the end of its enormous tail feathers in bands of yellow and blue.
The rest of the team gathered around the fantastic sight, groggily, one by one. Scout was all over the place, spitting out excited exclamations whenever he caught a breath, while Demoman kept his eye on the bird while keeping his mouth to his bottle. Engineer scratched his head beneath his hardhat, whispering a reaction along the lines of "Well, I'll be".
Abandoning all rationale, Soldier charged straight for the great creature.
The beat turned its dark eyes on him, and with the way it flapped its wings and squawked excitedly, he could tell the recognition was still there.
The bird nuzzled against him, its head alone nearly the length of Soldier's entire body.
"You've done me proud, Recruit." He patted the side of its beak, chuckling. "I knew you had it in you."
Posture impeccably straight, Soldier stood in front of the door to Engineer's workshop, his bare knuckles knocking against the wood with an urgency to that would likely skin them raw.
"Dagnabbit-I'm comin', I'm comin'!" Engineer called from inside.
Even so, Soldier's feverish knocking wasn't interrupted.
Finally, Engineer swung the workshop door open, face beet red and brow furrowed from frustration. The RED commando's hand was almost left rasping the thin air from repetition.
"What?" demanded the Texan. "What the hell is it?"
"I need you to build me a saddle," Soldier said bluntly.
"A SADDLE! YOU of all people should KNOW what a SADDLE is, Engie!"
"I know what a saddle is, Rocket Boy!" Engineer took off his hardhat and ran a calloused hand over his shaved scalp, and sighed. "The question here is why. Why in tarnation would you need a-" The shorter man halted, and gaped up at his teammate in disbelief. "No," he pleaded. "You don't-I mean, you ain't plannin' on-"
Soldier's stoic expression remained constant.
"You're interruptin' my blueprints to have me build a riding saddle for a goddamn bird?"
"He is not a BIRD, he is my TRAINEE, and BY GOD, I WILL MOUNT HIM AND FLY HIM FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, AND ONE WAY OR ANOTHER I WILL MAKE YOU BUILD ME THE NECESSARY EQUIPMENT TO DO SO."
"Well now pardner, is that so?" Engineer had a hearty chuckle at Soldier's expense, turning away for a moment to fling his helmet onto his workbench. "You and what army?"
Engineer turned back to the entrance, only to be faced with the feathery chest of the great bird itself, the tall neck exceeding beyond the height of the door frame. Soldier stood his ground next to it, disgruntled behind his firmly folded arms.
Incredulous, Engineer slowly released his breath, and trotted back into the depths of his workshop, leaving the door wide open.
He returned with a weathered red toolbox atop his shoulder.
"What're you waitin' for? Hold him still." Engineer unravelled his measuring tape. "None of these measurements'll come out right if he keeps squirmin' around like that."
Soldier gently stroked the soft feathers along Recruit's neck; the enormous bird closed his eyes and leaned in towards the RED's touch. Even the Engineer's damning expression was loosening into a smirk at the sappy sight. Recruit maintained its docile, charming state as the Texan spread and and tightened the measuring tape all across the avian torso, stomach, and neck.
"Well, the damn thing won't be simple to put on, but I reckon it'll work at least," Engineer said, dropping the tape measure into the large front pocket of his overalls.
"Good work, Engie!" Soldier congratulated, giving the bird a firm pat on the side. "I'll be back at 0800 SHARP to check up on you. No time to waste! Isn't that right, Recruit?"
The bird adjusted its wings, giving an affectionate sort of caw.
Engineer groaned as he snatched his toolbox up and shuffled back into his workshop.
Eight REDs watched from the sidelines, waiting for Soldier to make his first move. Heavy peeked at the scene through his fingers.
"Ach," Medic scoffed, keeping his arms crossed. "I do not have a good feeling about zis... Engineer, are you sure ze equipment will hold?"
Engineer clicked his tongue. "Sturdy as it'll ever be, doc."
"And Sniper, ze bird himself, he..."
"Mate, that feathered mongrel listens better than the Scout we got right here."
"Eat me, y'freakin' hippie," Scout cursed back, flipping him off for good measure. "You guys worry too friggin' much, stop bein' such killjoys an' enjoy the show." He cupped his hands around his mouth. "Yo, helmet, y'gonna get off the ground anytime soon? Somma us got POINTS t'cap later!"
The leather straps were wrapped, taut and warm, around his fist.
The great bird shook its head and squawked, movements restless as it tread in place to adjust to the unfamiliar weight hinging on its back.
The saddle was a perfect fit, but Soldier expected no less from Engineer. For the first time in perhaps years, Soldier's mind was free of destruction, violent lust, and indiscriminate hostility. There was only the ground, the sky, and the space them left to conquer.
Soldier tilted his helmet forward and tugged on the leash; the fidgeting Recruit immediately perked his head up to attention.
He slid his Shovel out from its holster, specially sewn into the harness near his knee. Solder's breaths were heavy and deliberate. He lightly scraped the blade of the shovel alongside his seasoned helmet, savoring every scratch and dent.
"Ready, Recruit?" Soldier asked.
The bird bellowed a valiant cry in response. The REDs reflexively snapped their hands over their afflicted ears. Soldier smiled, basking in it like it was a warm shower.
With a final breath, Soldier waved the reins, tapping his ankles once against the bird's body.
And Recruit began running.
It was a struggle for Soldier to steady himself on the back of the charging beast, but soon enough they were perfectly in time; he could hear the uneven gallops of its talons clawing against the ground, feel the sharp gusts of wind from the flickering flaps of its wings.
Soldier pounded his loose helmet with several vicious strikes from the broad length of the shovel's blade.
Instinct took over, trainer and trainee alike; Soldier gave a final, trusting tug at the leash, and they were no longer on the ground.
Final Note: We were both very aware of Wargle's canon size, but exaggerated for effect.