Here we are...at the end...not much to say at this point, except a huge thank-you to Belphegor. who stuck through me with this monster of a story, and to all of you. Whether you enjoyed it or not...it's time to say adieu. :)
Epilogue: Machines Don't Bleed
From under the bridge Spy crouched, head tilted to the side as he listened to Sniper's carrying voice from far up above. He scowled and pressed a finger to his earpiece. "Lawrence," he hissed, "quiet! You're going to give away your position!"
A smattering of grumbles served as Sniper's reply. His shouts faded into silence.
Spy pressed himself further into the bank as both Soldiers thundered overhead, rockets flying. He tensed. "Any sign of the BLU Spy?"
"Not yet," Sniper muttered. "How about you?"
"Nothing. 'e might be after Medic—"
A sharp, shrill crackle rang through Spy's ear and he winced. Medic's dry tone echoed in his ear: "I hate to break up zhe party, boys, but there are seven other men on this team zhat require your sharp eyes."
"Uh, six fellas and Pyro, doc." Scout cut in, his breath labored from constant running.
"Hudda hudda hudda!"
"Pyro takes offense to that," Engineer muttered, the beeping of his sentry in the background. "He says that—ARGH!"
Something exploded and the Texan faded off into vehement curses. A little too late, Sniper exclaimed, "Watch fer the spook, Tex!"
"Very helpful, bushman." Spy rolled his eyes and stood to his full height once more.
Sniper scoffed. "And wot are you doing, huh? Sittin' pretty under the bridge?"
"Aw, c'mon on, man! Get into the action!" Scout jeered.
"I'm scoping out the enemy!" Spy snapped.
"From under the bridge," Sniper's deadpan voice returned.
"Yes, from under the bridge!"
Sniper's infuriating laughter rang throughout his head. Spy gritted his teeth, grip on his revolver quivering.
"Uh, hey, fellas? I hate to be the one to break up this bea-u-tiful friendship but we got bigger problems besides whether or not the Frenchie is a freakin' coward."
At Scout's words Spy bristled. "I am not a coward!—"
"Shut up, Spy!" Medic intercut, Heavy's roaring echoing in the background. "What is ze problem, Scout?"
"The—" A yip of pain escaped Scout and it took him a moment to continue "—the BLU Engie ain't the right Engie! They got a new schmuck workin' for 'em!"
The listening REDs were silent as they digested this new information. Spy shifted, wondering how the Administrator had gotten her hands on a new BLU so quickly. Whoever it was, he was probably just as deadly as the Engineer. He took a deep breath and glanced upwards. "Scout! Do not engage 'im!"
The only reply he received was a beep, a smattering of gunshots, and Scout's death cry served as his response. Spy huffed and muttered under his breath. "Sniper? Can you see the Engineer?"
"Sorta. He's towards the interior. I see the sentry…not him, though."
"I'm going in for a look."
He left his safe position under the bridge, into the water and towards the BLU base. Once he was by the tunnel entrance, he donned the disguise of the BLU Soldier and made his way inside.
The BLU base was alive with activity, as he suspected it might. The RED Soldier and Demoman had both blasted their way into the base and were now making a beeline directly for the intelligence. The vicious firefight between defenders and attackers made the entire base shake. Spy melted from the Soldier into his own counterpart, adjusting his tie as he did so.
"What the hell are you doin' here, Frenchie! Get a move on!" The BLU Scout zipped by, too preoccupied to notice anything off about the BLU Spy.
He simply nodded and made his way towards the entrance. He was guided there by an unfamiliar—although not entirely new—voice, one that bellowed curse after curse and pleaded with his teammates for back-up. It seemed he was receiving little, judging by the frustration and fear in his calls. Spy cloaked, studying the new BLU Engineer with narrowed eyes. He drew his knife, flicking it through his fingers easily.
His uniform was different from the overalls and kneepads he had come to expect from an Engineer. Nevertheless a faded yellow hardhat covered the new Engineer's features, forcing Spy to wait until he turned around to fix his wobbly machines.
"Hey, fellas! I need some help here….please! Has anyone seen the RED Spy?!"
Spy nearly lost his grip on his knife as Blake Porter spun on his heel, shoving his goggles up onto his forehead. The blond searched the area behind him with wide eyes, and when he saw nothing he swallowed hard.
Oh, this was going to kill Lawrence.
"Spook? Everything okay?"
Sniper, understanding the need for stealth, spoke in a whisper. Spy knew Sniper couldn't see him; he nevertheless shook his head. "It's fine."
"Then get that bloody toymaker and get out! What are you waitin' fer?!"
Spy opened his mouth to explain, but decided against it at last minute. "Nothing."
"Kill him and get movin'!
He didn't bother with a reply, just crept forward with knife at the ready. The BLU Scout sped by, dropped an armful of metal at Blake's—no, the Engineer's—feet, assured him he was doing just fine for his first day, and was off again like a shot. Blake—damn it, the Engineer!—bent down, shorting through the scrap metal for something he could use.
He produced it just as a blade went into his back.
The blond jerked and twitched as Spy's blade slid back out. He collapsed to his knees, heaving and screaming for help as blood coated his back. Spy scowled and brought his bloodied knife to Blake's neck, slicing it clean.
Spy dropped Blake's dead weight and stepped backwards, watching as he disappeared into Respawn. There was no rush of victory or satisfaction—only an odd hollowness, which expanded when Sniper demanded to know if everything was all right.
The rest of Spy's sentence was brutally cut short by a revolver's bullet.
"Hey man, you did okay today. Don't sweat it! We all sucked our first day. You'll get the hang of it…eventually."
With those half-encouraging words the BLU Scout patted the new Engineer on the shoulder and walked away, itching for a shower. The Demoman and Sniper both gave Engineer a faint, consolatory smile before moving on as well.
Blake sighed and peeled off his hardhat and goggles. He felt more tired than he ever had in his life. Every inch of him was covered in blood, sweat, and dirt, and that fact wasn't helping his current self-esteem crash.
He dragged a hand through his hair and glanced towards the Spy. "Not bad, right?"
The Spy scoffed and just shook his head. He disappeared on the spot, leaving Blake to fiddle with his hardhat and glance around aimlessly. When it became apparent that none of his other teammates were interested in getting to know him yet, his shoulders slumped and he stumbled out the door of the base, wandering towards the public payphone without having any proper idea of who to call.
Just as he reached it, a heavy hand clamped down on his shoulder. Nerves shot, Blake spun around and grabbed for the wrench at his waist, grip tight. "BACK OFF!"
"Easy, lad," the RED Sniper held up his hands in a gesture of peace, "s'off hours, I ain't interested in killin' ya."
Blake blinked and the wrench went clattering to the ground. "Mister Lawrence! I—"
"You 'ave a lot of explaining to do, boy." Spy materialized beside Sniper, expression grim. "So you 'ad best start now."
Blake took a step backwards. "Like…what?"
"Like, what the hell are you doin' here, for starters!" Sniper planted his hands on his hips, eyebrows arched.
Blake winced at Sniper's tone. "Well…after the, y'know, whole deadly robotic debacle, I was kind of…let go. Conflicts or interests and all that jazz, you understand. The former BLU Engineer wanted to go work for GI, and since he had been teaching me all about his work anyway…we kinda….swapped." Blake cringed. "That's it, that's all, I swear—URK!"
Spy had grabbed Blake by the collar and wrenched him forward. "And you expect us to believe that?"
While the boy nodded helplessly, Sniper cocked his head to the side, staring at him. "Why are you wearing my clothes?"
It was undeniably true. Save for the hardhat, goggles, and kneepads, the uniform Blake wore was more akin to that of a Sniper's than an Engineer's. He even had the fingerless gloves, which he tugged at nervously before reaching up to fiddle with the high collar of the vest he wore. "Vests are very fashion-forward," he said with a weak grin.
Sniper shook his head. He waved his hand towards Spy, silently indicating to let him go. "You're just here to make a paycheck, then?"
"Uh-huh, yes sir! I wouldn't lie to you, I swear!"
The older men rolled their eyes at Blake's earnest tone. "Startin' in thirty seconds, I ain't 'sir', I ain't 'Lawrence', m'the bloody bastard of a RED Sniper, and I expect you to treat me that way. That clear, boy?" Sniper leaned forward, poking Blake in the shoulder.
Blake nodded quickly. "Crystal clear Mister—Sniper." He gulped, eyes flicking back and forth between Sniper and Spy.
Sniper inclined his head slightly before walking away, back towards the RED base. Spy glared at Blake before following his teammate's lead. His dignified walk was cut short, however, when Sniper suddenly stopped.
The Aussie turned around once more to look at Blake. The blond shuffled on the spot, eyes downcast. Sniper's expression softened. "Oi, toymaker!"
At the nickname Blake looked up. Sniper doffed his hat and smiled. "You did all roight out there today. And tomorrow you'll do even better."
Spy kept his comments to himself until they were well inside the RED base. He shoved his hands into his pockets, a frown tugging his mouth downwards. "I don't like it."
Sniper waved a nonchalant hand around. "He's harmless, Phil. Leave him be."
"'e might be…but those who employed 'im aren't."
Sniper lowered his aviators to stare at Spy. "Yer the one who said we should stay outta this."
Spy's face contorted as the urge to get involved overwhelmed him. He glanced at Sniper once more and nodded. "As much as it pains to me say this…you're right. But I will be keeping an eye on your fan."
Spy cocked an eyebrow. "'e practically worships the ground you walk on, Lawrence."
"Yeah, well…" Sniper gave him a cockamamie grin, a spring coming into his step, "at least I have fans."
"Play it again."
Bianca did as requested, rewinding the security footage for the umpteenth time. She stifled a yawn, rubbing at her tired eyes. Giancarlo sat beside her, unmoving. His robotic arm clenched and unclenched, seemingly of its own accord. He paid it no heed. In the back of the room sat Delmond, smoking a cigarette and staring at the floor. A bag stuffed with rolled-up blueprints rested by his feet.
The only one who paid any attention to the security footage was Gray.
He watched the two REDs move and slice through his clunky army of robots with grace, poise and (he dared admit it) superior fighting skills. Why? He mused. What made these two men—flawed, fallible, and clearly terrified humans—better than his machines?
The question had puzzled him so for days now. It was part of the reason why he had sent Blake back in Delmond's place—the boy was an idiot, but a loyal idiot, who could follow orders. And he had his orders.
The answer to this ultimate riddle hit him as the Aussie dragged the wounded Frenchman to safety.
"Mister Delmond, if you would be so kind." He stuck his hand out, waiting patiently as the Texan stood and handed him the blueprints. Gray unrolled one, eyes roving over the robotic designs in a calculating fashion. "We are going to start from the top."
Bianca spun in her chair. "Sir?"
"We are going to analyze those men and their teammates. How they move, how they communicate, how they react under pressure. These men—the REDs and BLUs—are what some might call the best in their fields. We are going to take these warriors, and we're going to make them perfect. We will make them our ultimate weapon…for our ultimate purpose."
At this Giancarlo glanced up. "And how do you propose we do that?"
Gray passed the blueprints to him, a glint in his eye. "We are going to blend man and machine."
A strange fire came into Gray's eyes. He looked back to the security footage, drinking in the image of the two assassins battling their way through a metallic menace. "Men have cunning and instinct, and that makes them great warriors. But machines…machines don't know panic. Machines don't know fear. Machines have no sense of pity, or mercy, or hesitation. Machines—"
His rising rant was interrupted by a fit of furious coughing. Gray bent double, pressing a handkerchief against his mouth to suppress the sign of his mortality. For several long moments his gathered minions watched, silent and unmoving, as Gray heaved into the cloth.
When he finally straightened, the first thing he did was pull the handkerchief back from his mouth. He stared at the flecks of dark red blood on the pristine white cloth, the filth that had corrupted the beauty. As he spoke again, his voice was soft and faraway, dazed, as if he had just come to an earth-shattering revelation:
"Machines don't bleed."
To Be Continued
If my calculations are correct (and they never are), Part 3 should be up and running by December. The next few months are gonna be resting, recharging, and working on other fanfiction-related things. And no, you don't get a hint to what Part 3 is called, I just spelled it out for you right there.
Well...I hoped you enjoyed I'll Be Home for the Holidays. It was quite the ride, and quite the exercise too. But now we can put this old girl to rest. :3
Ciao for now!