Author's notes: Bit of a different style of chapter this time but hopefully a nice break from the action. All being well, the next chapter should us return into stuff going on with the Team launching their counter-offensive. As ever, thanks to GothicCheshire for being my beta, this chapter would be a lot worse than it currently is otherwise .
Updates will be whenever, still settling into university life.
Chapter 31: Home
It was risky. Nobody could deny it, switching from the guerrilla tactics of hit and run, moving from base to base...to this. To have a single base to call their own, to amass their power, to defend against their seemingly indestructible foe. Some people would call it crazy, but such people would also argue that the mercenaries themselves were even more insane.
They were relying on a lot of assumption and the chance of it all backfiring was certainly high. For this to work, they'd have to assume that it would be some time before they'd be discovered, that the Administrator wouldn't be able to waste too many resources attempting to destroy them, that any enemy forces that did attack could be defended against from this location...
Suffice to say, everyone on the team knew that they were gambling with their lives here. But...had they not had their lives as the only chip on the table for quite some time now? They could continue forever on the run, taking whatever materials they could and striking against TF Industries along the way, but that would be exhausting and would only wear down the Administrator's power very slowly. With her tightening her stranglehold on RED and BLU (and thus the entire world), time was not something they had much of. Sooner or later she'd be in a position of absolute power and they would be hunted down like dogs.
But, like dogs, Team Fortress have teeth, they can bark, they can bite, they can howl for all they are worth. And so it is here, hidden away in a sophisticated base unused in the RED vs BLU conflict, that they stand their ground. It is here that they will build; it is here that they will rest; it is here that they will launch their counter-attack, fighting tooth and nail, claw and fang, for their own freedom and the fate of the world.
Mostly underground, the small base is hidden in a desolate valley, sheer drops, a narrow path and nearby mountains serving as natural protection: to hide and to funnel foes into a choke point. But the base's natural defences are not what make it so worthy. Sensors around the valley warn of oncoming attack, powerful mounted turrets are hidden strategically in the nooks and crannies whilst anti-air missile launchers keep electronic eyes on the sky above. The bulk of the base itself runs underground and is reinforced to survive bombing runs and holds ample space for the rogue mercenary team.
All in all, a respectable base of operations, one that whilst strong, was undermanned and easily captured by the team. The small teams stationed there were unprepared for the sabotage of an expert Spy, which allowed the rest of the team to easily capture the location as their own. The troops were bored, taken by surprise, unable to even call for help or alert anyone to the attack.
It went as well as could be hoped for, but something felt amiss...
Nils had just finished unpacking the last box of medical supplies and was just finishing tidying up the infirmary to his liking when a distinctive whoosh of air followed by a screeching halt hit his ears. Resisting the urge to sigh, the doctor didn't even turn around, instead merely addressing the hyper-active boy fidgeting on the spot.
"Ja, Kevin? Is there something you needed from me?"
The Scout merely glanced around before stammering out a response.
"Ah...um, no doc, I'm fine. I was just uh, checking everywhere out. Later sawbones!"
And that was that, the boy was gone again, no doubt to run around and harass someone else. His behaviour was...strange, but the Medic thought little of it. Kevin was always a little restless in new places and the stress was getting to all of them. And so the doctor went back to fussing over his instruments, mind occupied and hands busy.
Ashley was simply sitting on their bed in their spartan room, playing with a lighter idly, head low. Mind lost in thought, of the war, of the Grey Pyro, of this new place they had found themselves in...it was forgivable that the fire-starter completely missed Dell walking past the open door, doubling back and entering with a knock. It was only when the Texan tapped the suited mercenary on the shoulder that Ashley realised he had been speaking and was in the room.
"I said, are ya alright there?"
The Pyro merely looked at him and shrugged, putting the lighter down to one side and gesturing to the near-empty room, then to their asbestos suit before finally leaning backwards and lying down on the bed with a sound not unlike a muffled sigh.
Dell looked thoughtfully at this, then nodded and left, closing the door behind him.
"I thought I would find you here, bushman."
If Jack noticed Gabriel, he didn't show it, continuing to look down his scope at the narrow path that led to the base. The pair was hidden away in a cave in the mountains, accessible via a path from near the base's entrance. The Sniper hadn't moved from this spot in hours and even with the sound of the uncloaking Spy, his words and the unmistakable smoke from his cigarette, that didn't seem to change.
"...You do know that we have equipment to alert us to any incoming threats, do you not?"
Still no response, the Australian lowering his scope for but a moment to sample the cold mug of coffee by his side before returning his gaze to the path, scanning across for any movement. It was only as the Frenchman considered turning around and leaving that the sharpshooter spoke.
"An' you of all people should know how easy those things are to trick, Spy."
Gabriel shrugged, dropping his cigarette to the ground and crushing it underfoot.
"Do as you wish, bushman. Just remember, you do not 'ave to prove your worth to us...and there is a bed for you back at the base."
With that he cloaked and walked away, footsteps fading away into the night.
Deep within the bowels of the base, in a room lit only by a single flickering bulb, two men lay slumped against the walls, chairs long since toppled and forgotten. Jane's hand lowered to the ground, dropping the empty bottle and allowing it to roll to a gentle halt alongside it's other consumed brethren. Ewan gulped down a final swig before wiping his mouth and placing his down firmly by his side, the small amount of alcohol still left swishing around before settling.
"An' I tell ya man, I 'ad their spawn door all covere' in traps. They stepped oot, and KABLOOIE, they're all bloodeh dead, haha..."
The Demoman wiped a tear from his eye before raising his bottle up and attempting to determine if there was anything left in it, something made difficult by the hiccups and blurred vision.
"You're good son, real good...maybe even the best. But..."
The Soldier paused, attempting to get up to get another drink only to fall back down against the wall. With a sigh he removed his helmet and stared off into the distance. Before long both men, drunk and in like-minded company were staring into their sorrows, the laughter forgotten, aware that no liquor could ease their pains.
It was by chance that Grigori and Isaac bumped into each other. The former was returning from the kitchen, a stacked plate of sandviches in his hand whilst the latter was running about the base, crates and toolboxes piled atop each other. They both fell to the ground with a startled cry and an almighty crash.
A single pair of eyes tracked the lovingly-made food fall to the filthy ground, forever ruined. A single pair of eyes watched as the carriers fell to the floor, spilling their delicate contents to the ground, where they shattered.
In an instant both men were up, rage burning in their eyes. Perhaps it was just the sum of worries and fear since moving to this base. Maybe it was the situation in general getting the best of both of them at last. Or it could have just been that they needed an excuse to vent their frustrations. Whatever the reason, the minor accident quickly lead to an exchange of blows.
The Heavy roared and charged like a raging rhino, as the former-RED Engineer merely sidestepped and span into a powerful backfist with his mechanical fist, pounding the Russian on the back. A cry, more of annoyance than pain and the Texan suddenly found himself flying through the air and into a wall.
Isaac slowly got to his feet, a crack in the wall behind him as dust fell to the ground. Grigori merely stood there, fists raised and ready for the oncoming assault...
Both men winced as Nils angrily paced across the infirmary, collecting and sorting his instruments, spewing vile curses at both in his native German as the rest of the team merely stood watching. The Texan and Russian at least had the sense to look sheepishly sorry from their respective beds. The pair were quickly released, shaking one another's hands, apologising to each other and the rest of the team before darting off, avoiding the other mercenaries gazes.
This was hardly a one-off incident, the whole team knew it. Everyone was tense and more confrontational as of late, but it wasn't until the next day that a solution was found.
"Mmph, mmph mph mmm hudda hudda huh! Huddah...mrsph!"
The Pyro, who had as of late been rarely seen and had mostly seemed depressed, appeared to have regained their fire and was gesturing wildly to anyone who would notice. The team exchanged glances and all turned to the two Engineers for clarification. Dell frowned whilst Isaac looked thoughtful. Eventually the pair looked at each other and nodded.
"I think Ashley has a point, it's worth a shot, I suppose."
"Yeah, kinda feel stupid I didn't realise it sooner, to be honest..."
Realising that the team's gaze was only growing more intense, Isaac gestured for his former-BLU counterpart to speak.
"Well, we're all stressed out and at each other's throats an' this place, whilst strategically very good, it well..."
Dell looked kinda embarrassed and was quite surprised when he found Kevin completing the thought for him.
"It just ain't home, right?"
Ashley nodded enthusiastically to this as the rest of the team just started at the Scout as if he'd grown a second head. Starting to feel uncomfortable, the runner leapt to defend himself.
"Hey, I mean, I was just thinking that the place seems a little dull, is all, not as if I miss the old BLU bases where we at least had a bit of an atmosphere goin' on or nothin'..."
"...I cannot believe we are actually doing this."
Gabriel's facial expression was priceless as he looked on at the old buckets of Mann Co paint and the flaky brushes in disdain. That Jack had already donned an apron and was happily painting away with a toothy grin on his face did nothing to help the Frenchman's mood.
"Ah, shove a cigarette in it mate then grab a brush and lend a hand. Ain't as if we got a hard job here."
Sighing and choosing the least-dirty apron, the Spy daintily selected a brush and helped the Sniper, ignoring the latter's laughter whenever a drop of paint somehow bypassed the apron and landed on his expensive suit.
Elsewhere, the rest of the team had gotten into the task with surprising enthusiasm, dropping their other tasks regarding base defences and battle plans instantly to help. With a new goal and everyone involved in something together, the place certainly brightened up just by attitude alone. It didn't matter whether you were painting, re-wiring the lighting, decorating your own room with personal items or just making snacks for everyone...it was a team effort.
In what seemed like no time at all, the dull base, whilst certainly not a work of art, felt a lot nicer to be in. Better lighting, a splash of colour, a few well-placed mirrors, better seating, comfier beds and an old-fashioned fireplace placed in an assembled common room of sorts to accompany the standard central heating went a long way. Indeed, even though everyone had now reverted to general maintenance and planning and otherwise preparing for future battles...everyone found an excuse to let the work wait for a few hours each day and come to the common room to relax together.
There was still stress, there was still tension, there was still some conflict between them...but on the whole, it felt right somehow. This place was no longer some base they had stolen, no longer some place to defend, to worry, to store weapons. These people were no longer mere allies, if they ever even had been.
Team Fortress was a family, and every family needs a home.