Author's Note: For those of you who are familiar with my other story, The Indiana Jones/Ceasefire, you know that I am just as much about the story as I am the slash.
This story is no exception. It's a bit long and a bit cumbersome in the beginning, but hopefully you keep reading in spite of its rather slow beginning. I just felt I needed to establish the project and the storyline before any actual romance happened.
Anyway, a lot of people have a tendency to write "What if the Respawn System quit working?" so I decided to take respawn in a slightly different direction; How did the Respawn System come to be, and what psychological effects did it have on the mercenaries, at what cost was it developed? This story explores this question. I hope you enjoy it!
Team Fortress 2
Pairings: Sniper/Spy, Sniper/Scout
Soil kicks up and flings in linear, upward streaks of earthy daggers, sprung into motion by the momentum of Scout's shoes. The shoes, with the worn in grooves in the black-beaten-grey leather, and the white strips faded hueless, the peeling paint dissolved into obscurity with each crash of heel to ground. The shoes with the '67 style cut of the soles, celebrating their first anniversary of fashionable irrelevance, outdated. The shoes with the persistence of the aureate searchlight tagging the ground in dexterous pursuit seconds after Scout himself had contacted the parched dirt with cramped toes and searing ankles.
The voices behind him carried farther than the sight of the bodies to which they belonged; a mile stood between himself and BLU base proper, a distance covered by Scout in a mere six minutes. Hardly a feat, but a result of what was sometimes days' worth of training and scouting missions, the very same six minutes were enough to ensure the young man in the back of his mind that this time, freedom would be the only result of his attempted escape.
Sheds and barns speck the arid plains like wooden freckles, the New Mexico landscape growing more and more desolate the father one became from the gated premises of TF Industries territory. The lumbered sides of the buildings are charred with the effects of battle, the Administrator's claim that TeufortCity would find the presence of TF Industries unnoticeable was nothing short of a lie. Where Scout saw ringed burn marks and the black ash of destruction, Helen Ingram saw it all with the tint of dollar green.
Small lizards scuttle at his feet, invisible due to the dark blanket of sky, sensed only because he can feel the crush of their tender bodies under his heel. His breath settles in the gorges of his cracked lips, the sinewy ribbed pattern of the bruised skin a bloodless white, the peeling skin hardened on their fleshy edges.
Gone, lost, and untraceable in the dark stretch of midnight badland, his pursuers would assume he had taken the more obvious stretch, the paved road leading to TeufortCity. The researcb team had never held him for being clever. As he nears a shack, lifeless and still, his weighted heart and burning thighs pulsate with added fervor the closer the young man comes to the idea of temporary refuge. Farming tools, rustic and dull, lie discarded against side's planks, and as Scout flings himself inside with no regard as to what may lie behind the door, he suddenly registers the sound of his own breath; being alive did not surprise him.
He feels no blessing in being spared, he says no prayer to keep him alive, to see that he breathes and thinks, and that his blood swims blue in his veins, that his cheeks are red and puffed with air, and that his hair is damp and sweaty with the encouragement of his own fear. His breath is hot, and his ears are clogged with pressure when his lungs are no longer enough to house his flamboyant gasps. His voice bobs in his dried throat, and his lips swear with twinging pain as his teeth grind down against them again to chew anxiously upon them. His eyes adjust to the dark, alert and responsive, his nostrils flare, and his shins ache, his fingers tremble, and he finds no solace or comfort in his nerves being alive; he expected it. Death, for Lawrence, was neither a threat nor an option.
He stifles his gag reflex as dry summer air washes razor like along his parched esophagus. His chest takes in yet more great heaves of air, and like the bricks of oxygen that fill his lungs with the ease of cemented gravel, he wonders in heavy contemplation if he could simply stop breathing. Lawrence swears as his head grows light by the mere idea of asphyxiation; invincibility did not guarantee the absence of fear. It shows itself in the form of a swift arm movement, Scout bringing his scattergun to his chest, his shins folded to his knees. The silhouette of a scuttling reptile flashes in brief moments of perceptibility on the ceiling, closing his eyes as he can see the yellow spotlight brush shallowly across the shed outside. Voices, much to the young man's dismay, grow closer - he would still have to run.
By time he makes to start, Scout knows it is too late; dust swirls outside in lazy gusts, and the dull screeching of a vehicle halts in a dull rustle of treads upon muffling soot. He is surprised at the sound of his own whimper. It is only now he realizes his receptors of smell are being pursued by the scent of his own sweat. His breath displaces the stuffy air, and as weighted footsteps - a few of them - grow closer to the shed, he silently comes to terms with the fact that it would not be longer before he is found.
The door opens, Scout does nothing to stop it. Sitting still with his back pressed against the wall, the young man does not start as within the door way crowd three men, his eyes do not open to dignify their physical presence.
Scout is breathless. In his defiance of internal will, he refuses to move, anchored as if magnetized to the dusty earth. He cannot name this new sense of paralysis, no image is there to appropriate whatever sensation it is that renders him immobile.
"He did not make it as far as we had assumed, I see…"
The moon is visible up above from the thin ribbons of space the men leave in between their compacted bodies. Slowly, Scout opens his eyes so that it would not be the only one to bear witness to the upcoming. A tall, portly man clad in a full rubber body suit the colour of a pale blue removes the rounded helmet from his stocky shoulders, revealing a head of thinning hair. Combed over in slivers of greasy strands, a single unruly one falls against his eyes and his hooked nose, which houses a single droplet of sweat upon which Scout focuses. The man's shaky breath hisses between his thin lips, Scout watching silently as the sweat finally latches itself off the tipped skin, losing physical recognizability as it clashes to the dirt, meshing with the ground.
"They hardly ever do! Get him already, would you? I did not accompany you all for entertainment," a handsomely dressed Italian scoffs somewhere behind the foremost figure and the tall, bespectacled German who stands partially visible in regards to the large doorway. "The test was not yet finished, or am I wrong?"
"No, you are correct," the rubber clad man chirps animatedly, removing the slick, charred gloves from his sweaty hands in a single fluid motion. With the limbs, the smell of petroleum jelly and lingering hints of acidic whiffs of chemical mixtures contaminate the quality of the already stuffy air. Setting them down against the ground, his knees crack audibly, coupled with a grunt in response to the aforementioned joints giving the portly man trouble. Silent seconds slip past the four unnoticeably; Scout sits calmly, breath subdued in anticipation.
"Why did you wear the suit, you look insane, Professor-"Dmitri sneers, eyebrows raised so high the small, crescent shaped bristles of hair strain at the follicles and tug at his olive skin. "Certainly reclaiming the boy does not require freak chic - it's a matter of retrieving him, not a concise depiction of science fiction,"
"If we had waited for me to change into something more appropriate we might have lost him!" Wallace whispers in a flustered, scruff of a retort, Dmitri eyeing the balding man who stands a head shorter than him in disgust, allowing the whole of his shadow laden upper lip to curl before his distaste subsides in lieu of further commentary. "Well if we just stand about like freaks and geeks much longer, I have no doubt he will get away, Professor!"
"These sorts of things require delicacy, Dmitri. Besides, we are blocking the door, there is nowhere he can run to,"
"He's a murderer, he's hardly fragile; grab him, drug him, batter him to damn near death if it speeds things along!"
"Nonsense, we must be gentle with him, we do not want him to struggle,"
"Let him, if that is how he wants it to be! Just take him and let's get back to the base, there are scorpions in here!" Dmitri snaps with moody finality, turning his back to the two men in his company, no longer visible from the doorframe.
"Would you rather wait in the car, Mr. Marino?" Wallace suggests calmly, gesturing for the German behind him to move upward so as to fill the newly vacated space.
"I'd rather not wait at all, Wallace," the Italian's voice quips from beyond Scout's realm of plausible vision. "The Administrator has granted you all with only so much as far as your research endowment is concerned; if she knew standstills between three powerful men and Scouts were part of the budget, she would most certainly redact the funding,"
"He's armed, Dmitri!" Wallace stutters, Scout careful to assure that the glare the Professor catches is one black with utter defiance. Instead he ends up capturing the attention of a slowly pacing Dmitri, whose indignant stalk leads him into the field of the young man's field of vision, blurred by scathingly narrowed eyes.
"So what? I dare him to shoot," the suited Italian smirks, flashing his green eyes over the rubber shoulder, challenging the huddled Scout, who does nothing as per his prediction. "Schmelzer, retrieve him."
The order is concise, and the silent German stretches his arms out before nearing Scout's figure against the wall. Like animated vines, Scout drops the firearm and grips tightly onto the thick knit the German dons, the forceful grip overpowering the larger man who means to capture him. With a racing heart and widened eyes, the middle aged Medic cannot help but fall prey to the muscular arms that bring the tips of their noses to meet like pristine symmetry. He gasps; their breaths rattle, gentle and refreshing against their sweaty faces, Scout's cheeks flushed with exhilaration of the imperative call to action. The moment, held upright upon a gaze of steel, by the tug of war their eyes maintain, remains completely unbroken for an entire two minutes as the two struggle subtly over physical control of the other. Crouched, and concealing the whole of Scout's body from the other two mens' perspectives with his broad back, Heinrich Schmelzer blinks rapidly as Scout leans in close, whispering desperately in his ear.
"What is taking so long, doctor-"
"Doc, Doc please," Scout pleads quietly, Heinrich's thin lips a pursed line of regret and pity as he looks his youngest comrade in the eye. "Please - don't let them take me back -"
"Every second you stall is a wasted dollar, Schmelzer!" Dmitri calls impatiently, lighting a cigarette in the midst of his nonchalant lean against the doorframe. "Now do it already, the longer we waste time here, the longer the rest of the test will take and he will not be fit for battle in the morning!"
The hands on Heinrich's biceps dig into the flesh of his upper arms with a predatory clench that suggests a madness swells within the young man with a fierce resilience, Medic biting down on his lip as he feels Scout's fluttering heart through the thickness of their shirts. The German's eyes waiver, the Bostonian's hands trembling in their grip just as fervently. He can feel the throbbing, synchronized ticks of their blood pressure, and his lung expands with the breath of Lawrence, slipping jaggedly from between his horribly dried and cracked lips. In a homage to his childhood, Scout yelps and thrashes as the powerful hands hold him down, forcing him to stay put against the wall, his scattergun well beyond arm's reach.
"What are you waiting for, Schmelzer?! Subdue him if you must!" Dmitri roars, producing a revolver from his breast, forcing himself past the stationary Wallace who watches his subordinate struggle with the Scout below.
"Nonsense, Dmitri, we don't have to shoot him! Check to see he still has the chip, Mr. Schmelzer," he commands quietly, Heinrich whispering a soft "Sorry, Junge," before bringing a thick forearm to press non lethally against the young man's throat. Scout's eyes water as the German adjusts his round glasses, avoiding his glance as he pinches at muscled skin along the middle of the young man's bicep. Blood rushes to the surface, leaving yet another bruise to bejewel the young man's worn flesh like biological treasure, studded along the surface of his body in sea greens and sickly puces.
Scout slumps wearily, lopsided and askew like disheveled, forgotten chaos. The longing in his unfocused eyes fool the middle aged doctor into believing the young man succumbs to physical ineptitude. Instinct and a scathing sense of loathing, consuming all of the energy of awareness Lawrence could hardly claim to possess, leave him knowing full well it is resignation that allows him to let his comrade do as he pleases.
"Then use it," Dmitri whispers to the contemplative Wallace beside him, who produces a rectangular contraption from a leather satchel at his side. A meaty finger flips a thin silver switch upon the metallic instrument, and Heinrich's body shakes at the sound of Lawrence's desperate screams, the roar of Scout's panting, excruciated cries and twisted face forcing the man to shut his eyes should he be able to continue holding his thrashing body down. Working as a conductor of the current used to bridle the already submissive Scout, Heinrich can taste an almost liquefied energy in the back of his heated throat, the short hairs of his neck standing on end like ghostly blades of erect grass, a meadow of death. The shocks of harmful voltage stop only after Scout ceases to show audible reactions to the electricity. Like clockwork, Heinrich learns to predict the turning on and off of the device by timing it with Lawrence's writhing. Like charred dinner ruined on a solemn evening, his nasal passages constrict at the smell of burning, a reflex spawned from the German's childhood.
"I zink he is dead…" Heinrich whispers tonelessly, opening his eyes only after a whole minute's silence. Sure enough, the body in his arms is lifeless, Scout's cheeks still warm from the heated methods used against him.
"Think?! You are a doctor, Schmelzer, there should be no question," Dmitri spits venomously, Heinrich furrowing his brow before regaining a sense of confidence, and bringing the pads of his fingers to lie gently against Scout's long neck.
"I do not feel a pulse…"
"Well that is good news, no? It means that he didn't try to tamper with the chip during his pathetic attempt at escaping. Honestly, I've seen cockroaches put up a more impressive chance at fleeing than all five of this child's tries," Dmitri tosses his cigarette, wiping his gloved hands and giving the figures a nonplussed eye roll. "Though I will admit his attempt to escape with the laundry wasn't so bad. In any case, it is nice to see that Miss Ingram's investment in your technology was not a folly in which Builders League continues to persist,"
"Hardly at all, I think you will be very impressed with the progress we've made once you have a chance to hear over our results more thoroughly! that is if the young Scout would cease in giving us so much trouble,"
"Well he is dead no? Why not use this opportunity of peace to show me that what I intend to see instead of dragging me around over such minutae,"
"He has three minutes," Wallace nods, the German who still kneels against the ground careful to bring the body of the runner gingerly into his arms. "If the results of last week's trials are to be taken into account and presumed to serve as an accurate model,"
"Well," Dmitri sighs, raising his arms in mock resignation. "Let us get going then. I have no business here."