Chapter Twenty-Three: Epilogue
Monday, November 10th, 1975
A cool, quiet wind whistled through the arid, sun-baked badlands as the evening New Mexico sunset filtered through the pink clouds that streaked the violet sky. A supplies-filled cart on rusty train tracks stalled for a bit and began moving backwards, its metal wheels squealing against the rails. A young, omniscient-sounding female voice echoed throughout the barren land, narrating the events that unfolded before her eyes.
"Push the cart, BLUs, hurry! The RED team has the lead, the RED...and they've won! Disgraceful, BLUs, how embarrassing. And congratulations, excellent job REDs!" Ms. Pauling turned off her powerful microphone and sighed. Though she wholeheartedly enjoyed her job, lately, she found the duties of being the Administrator rather exhausting. How had her former boss done it for so long?
After the big reveal and assassinations that occurred on August 19th, 1972, Ms. Pauling found that the mercenaries no longer had a real reason to fight each other. But things never looked pretty when they weren't employed; many of them ended up with nothing else to do, or in jail, or responsible for the death of Tom Jones. Nothing good ever came of unemployed mercenaries, so Ms. Pauling had taken it upon herself to hold TF Industries together by keeping them on the payroll. Nearly everyone stayed on their teams and fought to transport items or capture points simply for the sake of fighting.
The BLU Spy and BLU Pyro, however, were granted ten million dollars each in severance per Helen's posthumous request (before she'd been murdered by them) and had gone on to live their own lives. Their teammates regretted seeing them leave, but their positions were more appropriately filled and no complaints had been heard since. Ms. Pauling was still rather bitter towards them, considering they'd turned the entire world onto their shenanigans and murdered her mentor. TF Industries had nowhere near the control nor power that it once held. However, Ms. Pauling still embraced her self-promotion wholeheartedly and was glad that she'd been given such an opportunity. Her job, however, had kept her from having any semblance of a life outside of it—social, romantic, or otherwise—for which she was a bit wistful. Her reverie was abruptly cut short when she heard a knock at the door.
"Uh, Ms. Pauling? Are ya busy?" The recognizably nervous tinge to the BLU Scout's voice betrayed itself. She, admittedly, liked him better than the RED one—they were both loud and cocky, but the BLU Scout seemed somewhat more caring, more genuinely interested in her. Though she'd repeatedly turned them both down over the years, she decided to take a chance and opened the door to the young man anxiously clutching his black baseball cap.
"Yes, Scout?" Ms. Pauling asked, letting him inside the cramped console room.
"Oh! I was just wonderin', ah, I know you're a really busy and important lady, 'specially nowadays, and I know that you wouldn't really wanna be seen with schlub like me, I understand that, I just wanted to know if there's any hope at all that I might possibly one day, maybe, I dunno, get to take you out somewhere, that—"
"That would be really nice, and somethin' I've been wantin' for a long time, but I dunno if you'd want that ever, I'm just askin' cus—"
"Cus, y'know, I don't want you to feel annoyed by all my pesterin' or whatever, and if you really, really just want me to shut up for good, y'know, uh, I can do that, I can—"
"Huh?" he asked, startled at sound of his own first name.
"Listen to me."
"Loud and clear, Ms. Pauling."
"Now, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. I, uh, I know I've turned you down a lot, but I want you to know that you're really not so bad. So, I'm giving you one shot. One. Get yourself together and woo me, here. This is your chance. Meet me here at 8, and don't blow it," she said, gathering a stack of folders from the small desk in front of her.
"I'm sorry, I'll never ask you ag—huh? What'd you just say?"
"I thought you said you were listening loud and clear," she chided, walking past him and opening the door to let him out.
"I-I-I was! Swear I thought I was, I was just so damn sure you was gonna say no! Holy shit, I hit the jackpot! Boo-yah!" he cheered, speeding out the door and down the stairs in a triumphant dash back to the BLU base. Ms. Pauling smiled as she watched the BLU blur run towards the horizon. Perhaps this would lead to something more.
"NO WAY, NOT GONNA HAPPEN. FOR THE LAST BLOODY TIME, WE DON'T SHIP TO HIPPIES. GET A HAIRCUT AND THEN CALL ME BACK!" Saxton barked, slamming the handset of his telephone down on its dock. The hulking man, now the CEO of both TF Industries and Mann Co., took his hat off and ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. Damn hippies.
"Sir, can I get you a glass of scotch?" Mr. Bidwell asked, glass and bottle in hand.
"THAT WOULD BE WONDERFUL, THANK YOU," Saxton said, plunking his hat back on his head with a sigh as Mr. Reddy walked into the office holding a spreadsheet.
"Sir, both RED and BLU have received their ammunition shipments this afternoon."
"I also headed a call from Olivia Mann just now. She is in hysterics...says the company is rightfully hers and is threatening to take you to court over it."
"AND WHAT DID YOU SAY TO HER?"
"Nothing. We've since changed your fistfight policy to prevent any other small girls from taking over Mann Co., but I wanted you to handle the call. She's on hold right now." Saxton Hale picked up the phone, eagerly awaiting the exchange.
"HALE HIMSELF SPEAKING!"
"Saxton Hale, I've had it about up to here with you!" a small girl's voice piped loudly, forcing Saxton to move the handset away from his ear.
"I ASSURE YOU, LITTLE GIRL, I'VE NO IDEA WHAT YOU'RE ON ABOUT!"
"Oh, I know you have an idea! You've changed your fine print, you killed my father—"
"WELL, NOT QUITE, YOU SEE. I WASN'T THE ONE WHO KILLED YOUR DROWNED RAT-LOOKIN' FATHER. THAT WAS A FRIEND OF MINE. BESIDES, YOUR FATHER PUMPED ME FULL O' LEAD BECAUSE HE GOT IT IN HIS MIND THAT HE WAS ABLE TO KILL THE GREAT SAXTON HALE! WHAT A JOKE!"
"Even worse! Cough up the company, you bastard! I won it fair and square!"
"HOW OLD ARE YOU AND HOW DO YOU KNOW THESE BAD WORDS?" he guffawed. "GO BACK TO WATCHIN' THE TELLY AND PLAYIN' WITH YOUR TOYS, LITTLE ONE. I'LL EVEN SEND YOU A SAXTON HALE ACTION FIGURE, FREE OF CHARGE. THAT'S RIGHT, YOUR VERY OWN SAXTION FIGURE, COMPLETELY FREE. THANK YOU AGAIN FOR CALLING THE OFFICE OF SAXTON HALE!" With that, he hung up and slammed the phone on the dock again with raucous laughter.
"Excellent handling, sir," Mr. Reddy remarked.
"EXCELLENT, INDEED," Saxton said, thoughtfully stroking his moustache. "HM. BLOCK THAT NUMBER FOR ME, WILL YOU?"
"Right away, sir. Right away." The phone rang once again and Saxton picked it up with gusto, still heated over the last two calls he'd received.
"HALE SPEAKING, SELLIN' PRODUCTS AND GETTIN' INTO FIGHTS!"
"Sax? Is that you?"
"MAGS?" he asked incredulously, in utter disbelief that his sweetheart from their youthful, panther-punching days was on the other end. "IS THAT YOU?"
"It's me, all right. I was just wondering what you've been up to nowadays."
"OH, BOY, YOU DUNNO THE HALF OF IT!" he said, hoisting his beefy legs up onto his desk and twirling the phone cord around his fingers. He began detailing his escapades to her, blissfully reliving his more adventurous days.
"Sweetie! Another sandwich, please. This one was absolutely marvelous, as usual."
"Why thank you, Don. You do know how I pride myself in my abilities," Barbara said with a smile, cradling her slightly swollen stomach on her way to the kitchen. She and Donald had already had two children together, but they were very excited to welcome a new little addition to the perfect family.
"Would you like mayonnaise, dear?" she asked, poking her head out of the kitchen.
"Just a touch, sugar cake," he replied absentmindedly, flipping a page of the newspaper in his hands. His son and daughter sat in front of him on the carpeted floor, parked right in front of the television set. Barbara brushed a lock of straightened hair out of her face and longingly looked out the kitchen window into the frosty autumn night, reminiscing upon the life she'd led years ago. She was such a brash, rough woman then, but she'd since blossomed into a truly proper lady. And she was happy. Happy with her house, husband, and children. Happy with her decisions. There was nothing wrong with knowing her place in the house and taking her husband's lead.
Things hadn't worked out as well as she'd hoped with the Spy. Despite their utterly remarkable spark and chemistry, they were different...far too different. He'd had trouble committing to their relationship, she'd had trouble trusting him. They constantly argued until one day they'd had enough; they'd simply broken it off and never spoke to the other again. Donald Watson saw his chance and soon showed up in her life again, picking up the broken pieces; they fell in love and married shortly afterwards. His dream came true as he held his wife's hand at the altar on that blessed day.
"Dee-earrr! Sandwich!" Donald called, snapping her out of her daydream.
"Oh, yes, right away!" Barbara quickly finished preparing the sandwich and removed her apron, fluffing up her long skirt. She dutifully brought the plated sandwich out to him.
"Thank you, darling," he said, patting the space next to him. Barbara took her seat to watch TV with her family, but once again her thoughts wandered. Though she enjoyed being a loyal housewife, she pondered what would have become of her had she stayed with that handsome rogue. Sure, they'd had their differences, but perhaps they could've worked them out.
I wonder what would it be like if I stayed with Antoine, she wondered.
Oh, wait. Silly fuckin' me.
Of course I did.
Barbara groggily opened her eyes as the ring of the doorbell resounded throughout her spacious mansion. That stupid nightmare had plagued her again, most likely because of those old 50s sitcoms she'd watched late at night. She looked to her right and noticed that her husband, far more of a morning person than she, had already risen from their sizable bed and gone to his study. She slid out of bed, put her bathrobe on, and she headed down the grand staircase and towards the double front doors. A peek through the glass revealed a curly-haired woman rapping on the glass.
"Hiiiii, how're ya doin'?" Nadine cried, bursting through the door and letting in a gust of the brisk air of the East Hamptons. She suddenly threw her arms around the older woman.
"Uh, fine," Barbara yawned, rubbing her tired eyes and closing the door. "Didja get a canary up your ass or somethin'? Why so peppy?"
"Someone isn't a morning person!" Nadine huffed.
"You never were either, I dunno what happened to you," Barbara muttered, leading Nadine into the living room and seating her on one of the plush sofas before taking a seat next to her.
"I've changed. I've bloomed. I've become a woman," Nadine said brightly, batting her eyelashes.
"Yeah, and I'm still just a little girl who hasn't had her Bat Mitzvah yet," Barbara said, rolling her eyes. "Anyway, how're you doin'?"
"You're fantastic, huh?"
"Then what the hell are ya doin' in my house at eight in the goddamn morning?"
"Well, ya mom keeps askin' me about when you guys are gonna start spittin' out kids, ya know."
"She does, huh? Spittin' out kids. What does she think I am, a spring chicken? I'm gettin' old, here. I dunno if I can still even have 'em."
"Well, you're young enough," Nadine assured, patting Barbara's knee. "No sense in not tryin'. I need more babies to hold."
"Yeah, well, we'll see," she said, entertaining the thought of producing minions of her own.
"Great, perfect. Well, the reason why I'm here is...I've got another question for ya."
"Can I bring Schlomo ova tomorrow? He wants to see ya new place."
"Thanks. Can I bring my dad, too? He wants to—"
"Tight. So can I bring my uncle Jeremiah, too? Oh, and your parents wanna drop by, you know the deal. Ya sister wants to come too, and she wants to bring her boyfriend. And how about—"
"You know what, Nay? Fuck it, just bring the whole giant conglomerate family that's half of Rego Park. Why not."
"Whoa, wait, you'd do that?"
"Look at this place. Do you think we don't have the room?"
"BARB! Oh my God, this is gonna be awesome!" Nadine screeched, clapping her hands together giddily. A door opened nearby and a man in a waistcoat stepped out from his study. He made his way over to the source of the commotion and observed the sight in front of him.
"May I ask what is going on here?" asked Antoine with a drag of his cigarette.
"Nadine wants to invite both of our families here tomorrow," Barbara answered, trying to suppress her laughter.
"Both of your families...here...all at once?" he said, lowering his reading glasses skeptically. "Are you two trying to set the stage for some sort of wacky, slapstick comedy movie? Because you are off to an awfully good start."
"Oh, come on. It'll be fun!" Nadine pleaded.
"I am not so certain about 'fun'."
"You've barely seen most of them since the wedding! Don't you wanna subject yourself to another round of cheek-pinching?" asked Barbara with a snicker. Antoine shuddered at the very thought.
"Absolutely not. I'd like my cheeks to remain intact, thank you."
"Yeah, well, they all love ya. They think you're the epitome of style and class."
"They are correct," he said, straightening his tie. "Now, Ms. Nadine, isn't there somewhere you have to be? Don't you have a store to run?"
"Look who's tryna get rid of me," she scoffed mockingly. "All right, all right, I know when to take a hint. I'll see you two lovebirds later." Nadine rose from the sofa and left through the front doors; when they shut, Barbara turned to her husband and laughed.
"I cannot believe you said yes to allowing your entire family here tomorrow," Antoine muttered, rubbing his fingers against his fully-grayed temples.
"Did I really do that?" Barbara asked innocently, curling up onto the couch.
"Oh, you most certainly did," he said, hands on his hips. "You did, and you hadn't even consulted me. Now, I'm going to have to hear Uncle Morty talk my ears off about the newest grill that he's gone and bought. Or last week's positively riveting New York Giants game. Or perhaps the hilarious story about how he knocked over the lit menorah during Hanukkah and nearly set his apartment on fire."
"Heh. That is a funny story, though, you gotta admit."
"Oh, surely. Still quite a knee-slapper...the twenty-sixth time around." The former spy let out a deep and frustrated sigh and sat down next to his wife, putting his arm around her and snuffing out his cigarette in the crystal ashtray that sat on the coffee table. The stress of working towards what he'd always wanted to do was catching up to him.
After they'd received their severance pay from BLU, both the Pyro and the Spy forfeited their job titles and continued a relationship with each other. Though they'd had their disagreements and differences, it made for an interesting dynamic in which one always learned from the other, keeping them on their toes. Eventually, they married in a quiet ceremony and decided to pursue things that they'd always wanted to do; for example, the Spy undertook a degree in law. He resigned from his life of masked espionage, though still refused to leave his house unarmed. The Pyro returned to her pre-BLU occupation as an expert pyrotechnician. The fire-specialist did everything in her power to stay near those wonderful flames, including organizing fireworks shows, coordinating concert pyrotechnics, and setting government-controlled fires.
The couple eventually moved to a large mansion in the Hamptons once they'd realized that they had more money than they knew how to spend. In terms of her appearance, the Pyro, Barbara, hadn't let herself go nearly as badly as she had during her years at BLU. She made herself look presentable, but still left herself mostly natural.
The Spy, Antoine, never minded in the slightest.
"Aw, c'mon," Barbara cackled. "Ya know the twenty-seventh time's the charm."
"Most definitely. I await the twenty-seventh telling of the menorah story with bated breath."
"Now that's the spirit!" she said, pecking him on the cheek. He pulled her closer to him and they kissed deeply, the same feeling surging through them as the one that did the very first time their lips met. They slowly broke apart and sat next to each other on the couch.
"You do not have any work to attend to today? No fires to set?" Antoine asked, glancing at his watch.
"Nope, nothin' today," Barbara answered, running her fingers through her wild hair.
"Superb. Absolutely superb," he said, standing and straightening his clothes.
"Are you off somewhere?" she asked with a quirk of her brow.
"I may be. I might ask you to accompany me."
"And if I say no?"
"I don't see why you would. Why, there are so many pleasant activities in which we could be partaking right now. I've got a particular one in mind that would be quite enjoyable."
"Hm. Well, then," she said, rising. "Maybe I'll give it a shot." Though both of them walked slowly together at first, once they'd reached the staircase, they bolted upstairs, scrambled into their bedroom, and slammed the door. A short, uniformed house cleaner with a duster in her hand emerged from a closet and gazed up the stairs as a butler came out of the kitchen next door.
"Again?" asked the butler.
"Fourth time this week," answered the cleaner.
"It's a Monday," he replied incredulously. She shrugged, and many minutes of silence passed before Antoine quietly came down the stairs and entered his study—oblivious to the two employees standing around doing nothing nearby. He reached into his pocket for his cigarette case, only to find emptiness.
"Barbara," he called, "where the devil are my cigarettes?"
after over three years, i am finally done with this story! thank you so much to EVERYONE for sticking by me and reading this story. seriously, it means so very much to me. thank you so much for your support over the years. i truly appreciated every bit of feedback and every bit of readership this story has accrued.
p.s. i had no idea how to end this so i pulled another my fair lady reference
in the meantime, i've got some TF2 satire stories coming up soon if you wanna check em out. until next time!