Title: How Do You Know?
Series: Team Fortress 2
Character/pairing: Scout/Miss Pauling, RED Spy/Scout's mom
Author's note: Thanks to Feral Phoenix for the beta.
Miss Pauling closed the door of her small, cramped office behind her. The frosted glass had Mann co. printed on it, but only offered the false illusion of privacy. Her arms were full of new paperwork to be done.
Smoke billowed up, and RED's Spy appeared seated in the chair, holding a folder in his gloved hands.
Miss Pauling had gotten used to a lot of things over the years, from the Administrator's mood swings, to Saxton Hale's peculiar hobbies, but one thing she had never quite grown accustomed to was sudden appearances of the spies.
He laid the file down. "For you, Miss Pauling."
She sighed, and set her own papers down on the desk beside it. "I'll get to it."
"Sit down, Miss Pauling. I think it's best that you go through this file right now."
His voice was firm, and yet there was a silky undertone which was far more an indicator of severity than raising his voice.
With annoyance, she sat down and opened the file. Now what was so damn important that she'd have to put aside notes from the Administrator herself...
What greeted her were several pictures. The blood drained from her face as she saw photo after photo of her and Scout, her skirt hitched up to reveal bare leg, the rest of her obscured in the locker she was pushed into. Her legs were wrapped tight around his, her hand cupping the back of his neck, and one of her heels lay on the floor, turned over on its side.
She snapped the file closed. "I fail to see what you'd gain by blackmailing me; you make far more than I do."
"You misunderstand me," he said.
He took out a cigarette from his case and lit it. She waited for his response, anger and anxiety filling her in equal amounts. She could lose her job for this. She could lose her head for this. Oh, this was not good at all.
"Both of us spies are commissioned to keep an eye out on the other mercenaries. Sometimes on our own teammates, sometimes on the opposing teams."
"And the other spy?" she ventured.
"Recently had a tragic and mysterious accident where his entire darkroom and film was covered with Jarate, rendering it all utterly unsalvageable," Spy said. "If he captured anything, you can rest assured that it is now no longer in his possession."
She was silent. He had to have an agenda, but she couldn't quite place it.
"These photos are yours to do with what you want. Keep them, frame them, destroy them, if you will. I suggest you do the latter," Spy said.
"Why are you doing this?" Miss Pauling said.
"I promised her I would keep her son safe, and so I will," Spy said.
"But you're on opposing teams. It's your job to kill him on a daily basis," she said. "How is that protecting him?"
"If I can kill him, then he is doing a poor job, and it will be a lesson for him to not be so lax next time," Spy said.
"Tough love?" She said.
"Something like that," he said.
She'd heard about the incident, though only in whispered rumors. A scandalous affair, of a RED employee romancing a family member of a BLU mercenary.
"Wait, you...didn't break it off?" She said.
He chuckled. "No, I did not, though the Administrator gave me an earful. She's yet to learn that the only side I am on is my own."
Or maybe the only side he was on was hers, this mystery woman who he was willing to risk it all for. It had to be a strong love if he'd choose her over whatever threats the Administrator could put him through. She'd disposed of the people who defied, angered, or were no longer useful to her; she knew all too well how fast she could join them.
"I'd advise you be more discreet in the future. She will not hesitate to exploit any weakness."
She'd seen the files on the spies. Neither of them had a single living family member or anyone close enough to threaten. They were impossible to control in that respect. She was beginning to see why the Administrator had allowed the relationship to continue. As long as he kept seeing Scout's mother, she would have a hold upon him that a single mention of a word or a picture left at his room could ensure no further subordination.
"You risked everything for her, and by doing so, you became weak," she said.
He trailed off, and his expression softened in a way that she had never seen before. She hadn't expected him to reveal himself like this, but perhaps this had bonded them in a way. They were now allies, whether they liked it or not, both connected by Scout.
He stubbed out his cigarette on the ash tray on her desk. She didn't smoke, but she kept one in case the Administrator came to call. It was a lot easier than having to arrange her supplies to cover up cigarette burns on the wood.
"I have things to attend to. Be more careful in the future. You never know when it might be the other spy, and he does not share my loyalties."
He turned. She cleared her throat. Simple gratitude seemed inadequate. He'd saved her from her own carelessness and asked nothing in return.
"Thank you," she said.
He nodded, but did not reply.
She put the folder under her arm and walked out the door.
"One more thing—How did you know?" Miss Pauling said.
"I presume you mean Scout's mother?" He opened his case and considered it.
"Yes. How did you know when it was worth it...when it was real?"
Real enough to risk everything, his career, his reputation, his life.
He looked back and considered her a moment before finally replying. "The moment she first made me a lunch to take on the train and told me that she missed me. She made me feel different...as if I'd come home for the first time. Does that answer your question?"
She shook her head. "No. I'm the only one who can answer that," she said.
"You already know the right choice, you only have to make it," he said. He said nothing more, and the door closed quietly behind him.
Coming from him, what did that mean? He was a man without a face, who had for years had no traces to anyone, and who had risked it all–and by all means, succeeded, for he had lived through the Administrator's wrath and kept his relationship intact.
She opened up the folder again. She remembered the moment well, the thrill of almost being caught, of having her hair and life all messed out of place by Scout, the heat of that final climax which she'd had to silence with a kiss. She always felt like she was just on the verge of falling when she was around him, as if they were standing on the precipice of certain doom. All of her earlier romances had been quiet, barely noteworthy; had never made her lose her composure or shook her life up in any way. She'd never had gotten caught sneaking into a locker room, and she'd certainly never had to question whether this affair would lead to her messy demise.
Always there was a nagging voice in the back of her mind: this is a bad idea. You have given yourself a weakness. But then he'd tease her and lean down to kiss her and she'd forget about all the reasons she shouldn't be doing this.
But was it enough? A bit of lust was one thing, an enjoyable romance another, but to put your life on the line for anything...that was just foolishness. She couldn't see her face in these pictures. She almost wished she could, as if this could be the divining rod to tell her. If she could see a reflection of even half the affection she'd seen on Spy's face for Scout's mother, then she'd know this was worth it.
Yet, she could only see the faint lines of herself, curled fingers and white thighs wrapped around Scout's waist. Animal lust, made even more intense by all the danger. She had heard so many times when you find it, you'll know, but she could only assume they didn't have her in mind whenever this adage was created. Miss Pauling had never met something she couldn't question, or otherwise show great cynicism towards. Love was no exception. Even the thought of having a madcap passionate love affair which could threaten everything seemed preposterous in her mind. Half the time she could barely even remember how she'd gotten here. A kiss, a touch, a momentary weakness in her will and everything after that was a blur of skin and secret meetings.
She stepped into one of the bathrooms and put the pictures in the sink. She pulled out a lighter she kept for things like lighting the Administrator's cigarettes, or disposing of the occasional body when quicklime wasn't available. The flames burned away the evidence, and a picture of his hand on her thigh crumbled into dust.
She watched until all the photographs became nothing but ashes, and then she washed them down the drain. She could destroy what they had together just as easily. A few cold words, hiring someone else to take her place. It wouldn't be easy, but it could be accomplished. She'd done harder feats.
Something stopped her. The same thing which made her get into this tangled mess in the first place. It seemed she had a heart after all. It was very bad for her job; the Administrator would be disappointed should she ever find out.
One last picture fell out. She hadn't seen this one, as it was smaller than the others. Unlike the snapshots of passionate moments, this was a pastoral scene, and far more telling and intimate. Scout was sitting on some of the woodwork of sawmill, his hands spread out in the air as he told some story. In this one, she could see her face, and in response to him. She remembered that day, before they'd slept together. While it didn't show in the picture, she had a messy bunch of yellow wildflowers on her lap. It was the first gift she'd accepted, knowing full well what this could lead to, knowing full well that she was falling and this was the point she could stop it all, break him once and for all.
She could've lied, said I don't like you at all or I love someone else but in that moment she'd allowed herself to care, allowed him in.
And she hadn't. Something in his smile had charmed her out of her better sense and made her stay. It brought a smile to her face now as she lifted it up out of the sink.
Despite it all, he was always bringing smiles to her face.
All it would take was a flick of the lighter and it would be gone. One flick of the match, and with it, her decision. She knew with the picture, so would go their relationship. She held it up to the light. Never had she looked so happy in a picture before, whether caught unaware or a posed portrait.
Maybe it showed more than she thought, like a glowing from the inside. But love was too muddled with fantasy to tell the beginnings of, and she was too cynical to tell a tale from truth.
And yet, she had a heart; she knew.
She put the picture in an inner pocket in her shirt, nestled near to her heart. Spy was right; she already knew the answer all along.