Title: Heedlessly
Series: TF2
Character/pairing: Scout/Miss Pauling
Rating: PG-13
Summary: When Respawn goes down, Miss Pauling goes on a mission to Mann Manor to try and find the lost notes of the late Radigan Conagher in hopes to fix it once and for all. When Scout joins her to deliver an important message, they join in a race against time to find the papers before dark–and the horror that lives within it awakens.
Author's note: longfic_bingo: ghosts.
Based on this gmod set I was doing. It was supposed to be a little snippet, but it decided to promptly not be small.

Takes a few minor liberties with gameplay for plot reasons, and mostly because I honestly remembered some things wrong from when I last went on the manor map. If you want to see the raw game data, check the last note.

.

Miss Pauling stepped inside the abandoned manor, the floorboards creaking beneath her heels as she went. She could hear faint sounds in the house: the sound of little feet, wings in the air. The place had to be infested with all sorts of vermin. However, she was never the sort to simply cower in the face of a mouse, or scream at a spider.

"What a horror show cliche," she said to herself.

She squared her shoulders and kept walking on. Miss Pauling had never paid much heed to the supernatural until circumstances forced her to admit that it did, in fact, exist. So telling herself that there were no ghosts wouldn't help much, considering she'd already driven past some on her trip here.

However, with no gigantic eyes or enraged wizards about, rats with rabies were a more likely worry. The best she could do was get to work, as the sooner she got finished, the sooner she would be out of here. Right now, the mercenaries were all scattered in hopes that they wouldn't kill each other before the Respawn was up and running, but they were awful fond of killing each other, and getting themselves killed, for that matter.

She was supposed to have a bodyguard, but a fight had sprung up just before, and whoever would've been her bodyguard had been assigned elsewhere. Not that she particularly minded; it was merely an abandoned house. The land had gone unsold and unused for anything but the very occasional matches for a very long time.

The library was deep within the manor, past the section of broken floorboards surrounding the capture point. It was also a great deal larger than she last remembered it. Sighing, she set aside her bag and started to sort. Book after book proved only dust and water-damaged pages. It was a shame to see such knowledge go to waste, but there was no time to pour through the books and transcribe the data. She only hoped that Engineer had already gotten these.

She fell into a routine, checking book after book and lost herself from the constant worry, until only her task was in mind. She'd had this calm before, when throwing herself into paperwork, into other jobs, but even this couldn't push away the cold of the manor.

She couldn't say how long she'd been there sorting books, only that she was knee-deep in a pile of books that weren't quite what she was looking for when she heard the voice.

"Miss Paaauuuuuling. You in here?"

She looked up. He'd made it through the mansion a whole lot faster than she had, but then, he had done a tour here once before. That, and Scout was noted for his speed. Still, she'd come by car.

"Lookin' good, good lookin'," Scout said. He grinned as if he'd made a spectacularly witty remark.

She didn't reply. Scout didn't take it as a deterrent. He never did.

"Anyways, got a message for you," Scout said.

He pulled down his messenger bag, and opened it up. In the process an empty can of Bonk rolled to the floor. After a second's sorting, he handed a paper to her.

"Engineer said to get this to you posthaste. Those were his exact words and everything," Scout said.

She held it close to her as she read, but he made no move to look over her shoulder. Instead, he began to survey the place. She quickly ran her eyes over the page. More details, and more bad news. No luck on fixing the Respawn on his side, but more details on what the drafting notes would look like.

Unfortunately, Engineer had mentioned that Radigan never left anything out in the open, so it was quite unlikely she'd simply stumble upon a book with Radigan's top secret plans—don't look! scrawled on it.

She tried to reach up for one of the books on the top shelf, but it was just out of her grasp. Before she could even turn to make her way towards the ladder on the other side of the room, Scout was there behind her. She could feel his chest brush against her back as he reached up. Her breath caught at the touch as he lingered there, using every chance to get near her.

"There you go," he said. He didn't pull away. She was the one who had to move out and away from him.

"Yes, thank you," she murmured.

She rubbed at her arm where he'd brushed, but it was still tingling. Despite the chill, she felt much warmer. She flushed and turned quickly back to the bookcase. She didn't have time for this.

"Change of plans, you're going to help me look. He said it might be hidden between the pages of other books, in the bookcase, behind the books, or it could be the book itself," she said.

"Well, that clears it up, maybe it's hidden under the floorboards too?" Scout said.

"I hope not. I wouldn't want to go into that crawlspace," she said.

"Yeah, I don't blame you. I did a stint down here. It ain't my choice of places to be. I'd rather freeze my ass off in Viaduct any day than go here again. I seen things I'll never forget down here."

"And?" she said. She looked back at him. He was pulling at the bill of his cap nervously. Just the mention of night arriving had made him far more anxious than before.

"And...it's just best we get out of here before dark, that's all I'm sayin'."

None of the men would talk about what had happened last time they visited the manor. Not even the more levelheaded ones, like Spy. All her attempts to delve into the issue had been met with them clamping down. It was too united a response to be something hidden like a murder. If anything, she sensed a great fear from them. And anything that could make nine of the most hardened trained killers that afraid was nothing to be trifled with.

It was already late afternoon, with the sun going lower into the sky every minute—not that she could tell from in here. The manor seemed to suck up all light inside, and be in a constant state of chilliness.

Scout looked through another book and tossed it aside.

"You read fast?" She said.

"I ain't botherin' to read 'em," Scout said.

Great, now she might have to check his work. She gritted her teeth as she pulled out another book, this one on cattle ranching. No secrets there. She tossed it to the pile. Scout had already pulled out every book on the top shelf of the bookcase, and was now working his way to the middle section. He hummed off-tune while he worked, proving that he couldn't even be quiet then. He stopped, and she heard the rustling of the papers cease as well.

"You sure it's here? What about the other rooms?" Scout said.

"I have to start somewhere. Engineer said that it would most likely be in here, and considering the state of th rest of the manor, had it been hidden anywhere else, it'd probably be too damaged to help us."

"Seems kinda odd, though. A sudden mission to the middle of nowhere, and everybody bein' assigned all over the place, matches bein' canceled...real weird.

"It's needed and—"

Scout interrupted her. "Lemme guess, classified?"

"Yes," she replied.

"Nailed it in one," Scout said. "That's always what you say when I ask you anythin'."

"Would you prefer I tell you and then have to show you the consequences of breaking classified info in TF Industries?" she said.

"Only if it's about you. I couldn't care less about the crap TF Industries gets up to as long as they pay me. You, though–" he said.

"Focus on the mission, Scout, it's important," she said, glad not for the first time that her back was to him, that he couldn't see the color in her cheeks.

He went back to humming. She could hear the constant drop of another bunch of books falling to the floor.

She tried to focus, though she felt oddly frazzled. His humming wasn't helping, though getting Scout to stop fidgeting and making noise was an impossible feat.

"Hey, wait a minute," he said. He dropped the book he had been holding and peered into the shelf.

She looked up. "What?"

"Somethin' is back here."

She quickly made her way over and looked. He was staring at a point between the bookcases, a hard to reach nook coated in cobwebs, and easily forgotten. In fact, given the state of the wood, it looked like the last match held here must have caused the bookcases to shift. However, it too dark to make out anything but cobwebs.

"I don't see anything," she said.

"On the panel. Here, feel–" he said. He took her hand and brushed her fingers against the back. Yes, there was definitely an uneven panel there. She tried to dig it free, with little success. Here was hoping it wasn't just warped wood, leading down another dead end.

"Here, I'll grab this side and you'll—"

"I've got it," she said.

Together they worked the panel free. There was definitely a compartment there, but it was too dark to see what lay within.

"It's dusty," Scout said, stating the obvious.

She reached in, feeling her way through to try and see if that wasn't a shadow, or if something really did lay hidden back there.

"Whoa, you sure you're gonna do that? Might be spiders in there," he said.

"I'm not afraid of spiders," she replied. She reached in deeper, and could just feel something papery and dry on the other side. However, the compartment was larger than she thought it would be, and she had to put her hand in further until she was all the way into her shoulder.

She flinched as she felt something crawl over her hand, but she didn't pull her hand back.

"Miss Pauling, I can do it!" Scout said, with a slight tremor in his voice. "Spiders don't scare me or nothin', Just—"

"Too late, I've already—" she grunted and pulled it until she finally freed the roll of papers. "—got it."

He was watching her wide eyed as she unrolled the paper and looked it over. Yes, this was exactly what she was looking for, just as Engineer had said. She brushed off the dust and cobwebs from her arm.

"Wow, check you out, dealin' with spiders like you just don't give a crap," he said, grinning like an idiot at her.

"We have to hurry," she said. She peered out the lone window to find it was much later than she had thought. The sun had set behind the hills, the trees and building turned silhouetted black in the overcast dark.

"Here, put it in my bag. That way it don't get lost," Scout said.

She complied, and he put the bag back on. They walked through the corridor, which was even more eerie in the dark. She kept reminding herself that fear was illogical and senseless. Keep walking ahead. Everyone needs you.

"You know, if you're scared or cold or somethin', you can come closer. I can put my arm about you to make you feel better," Scout said.

"I'm fine," she replied.

"All right, but my offer stands. Annyy time you wanna snuggle up with me, I'm game."

Just as they reached the door to the outside, there was the sound of very deep laughter. The sky had clouded over without a hint of stars or moon.

Scout looked about ready to climb a wall as he looked around desperately. "Son of a bitch, it's here—! It's here!"

"What?" Miss Pauling said. "What are you talking about?"

"Listen, Miss P, you gotta get out of here!" Before she could protest, he continued on. "I ain't sayin' you're helpless. Thing is, we went against that thing last year, and it completely tore our Heavy apart in one hit, and that guy can take some hits. I mean, you're great and all, but if he can't stand it, then you'd be toast. And you don't have Respawn to save you–I'll distract him. He can't do anything to me that Respawn won't sort out in the end."

"You don't understand—there was an error with Respawn. That's why we're here. If you die, you won't be coming back...it's for good," she said, her voice breaking on the last word.

Scout swallowed nervously, and looked back out the door. There was a sound of strangled breaths around them. He shook his head.

"It don't change nothin'. Besides, that sack of bones couldn't catch me if he tried."

Scout tried to put on a brave face, but she noticed the slight twitch, the tightness in the way he held to his Scattergun. He was terrified, but he was holding it together for her sake. He pulled off his bag and threw it to her.

"You take this back to hard hat and get everyone fixed, all right? I'll meet up with you again before you know it. Then you'll get a proper chance to snuggle up with me."

He tipped his hat for her and ran off towards the sound of the laughter.

"Hey, sideshow freak! I got a hankering for some pumpkin pie!"

Scout aimed and fired several shots into the dark, then he took off running in another direction, disappearing behind one of the abandoned buildings. She could see the creature now, a tall skeletal thing surrounded by purple glowing energy, with a pumpkin on its head. The fiend followed after him at a run, hefting a huge axe that didn't even slow it down. She heard gunshot after gunshot, and Scout taunting the creature, but the sound was growing more distant.

She kept reminding herself the secret motto of TF Industries was the mercenaries are always expendable. The faster she got this data back, the more likely was that she'd save lives and prevent the other mercenaries from blowing themselves up or killing each other by accident (or on purpose) again. She could always find another scout. This is what would be following the company's interests.

But something within her wasn't entirely focusing. Beyond the fear, the rush of adrenaline, was a reluctance. She'd killed off errant workers, directors, and messengers. But not him.

Never him.

She heard a scream. She gritted her teeth. Be professional. Be professional. Keep going. You can't go back. She clutched the steering wheel until her hands ached.

Like hell she couldn't. How many choices had her job made for her? She'd sacrificed her relationship with her family, her friends, she'd lost herself outside of work, even her innocence was on the slab. But not him. This one choice was the tipping point, the last one she'd refuse to allow herself to make.

She turned the vehicle around. His ammo and other guns were stored in the bag beside her. With one hand on the steering wheel, she managed to get out his pistol. She floored the accelerator, buildings turning into indiscernible brown splotches as she drove past them. Maybe there was still a chance, even a small one that he might be alive. Soon the creature was back in her vision, wispy purple clouds emanating from its skeletal body as it stood over something with his giant axe held high.

The sound of the approaching vehicle made the creature look up, just in time for her to slam into it. There was a crunching sound, and she couldn't tell if it was the creature, or the jeep. She was thrown back against her seat, hard enough to leave her momentarily dazed and her shoulder aching.

She grabbed Scout's bag and jumped out of the jeep, closing the door behind her. The creature had disappeared, and the dark, she could make out a body. Scout was on the ground, his red shirt easily seen in the darkness. She made her way to him, carefully looking around her as she did.

There was a thin gash across his chest, and his shirt was ripped and soaked through with blood. A crushed can of Bonk was still in his hand. Was he...?

"M...iiss Pau–lie... Yo...u ca...me fo..r m..e?"

"Shh, don't talk," she said.

She ripped at the skirt of her dress to make a makeshift bandage and tied it about his chest, but it was far too little to help, and the crunch of footsteps were returning.

A hoarse sound came out of Scout's mouth, but she didn't–couldn't–stay. Disembodied laughter came around her as the air went cold. Her finger twitched on the trigger as she looked around her.

"P—do...n't...lo...ok at the fa..ce..." Scout coughed several times. "Pro...mise—"

Scout had died plenty of times, but he wasn't going to, this time.

"Thank you, Scout," she said in a low voice. She wasn't even sure he could hear her.

The creature came out from the air, billowing purple smoke about it as it charged towards her. She got off a few shots to its chest, and barely ducked as it cut the air just where she had been before. The creature let out a sickening growl that echoed through the air. She didn't have Scout's agility, nor his battle experience, but she'd be damned if she'd go down without a fight.

Using the jeep as shelter, she quickly reloaded.

She felt a chill as it saw her and relentlessly came towards her with an unexpected speed. The creature swung its axe, just barely missing her, and embedded it within the ground. She emptied the pistol into the creature again, careful to not look at its eyes that glowed fiery from inside the pumpkin. Out of bullets and nearly out of time, she scrambled towards Scout's bag. He had to have something in there, something more powerful.

The creature was gaining on her, close enough that she could smell the rotting corpse stench of it near. She pulled out a sawed off shotgun—Force-of-Nature, it was called, lifted it to her shoulder to steady it, and aimed. Two shots went off, and the impact was enough to push the creature away slightly. However, a sudden sharp pain came over her. She hadn't taken into account its own knockback, and what it would do to someone of her size.

She reached out towards the bag again. She couldn't use this one, but maybe another...

There was the sound of voices in the air, eerie and indiscernible. She looked up suddenly, and saw flickers of brightness in the dark. The creature was toying with her, perhaps even feeding upon her fear. She heard a sound and turned sharply to see the creature right in front of her, hands out, its face close to hers.

Don't look at its face. She quickly looked away as the sound of laughter and screams grew louder, louder, like a rushing storm in her mind. She tried to fire, but her hands had begun to tremble as she held the gun, her knees threatening to buckle.

If she gave into fear, they'd both be dead, and her mission would fail. She clutched tighter to the pistol, and tried to move, but found herself paralyzed with the fear which had risen inside her so suddenly. She was just an assistant, not a trained mercenary. She dared look up, and found herself staring straight into its flaming eyes. It had been waiting for her all along.

Everything was so cold. The air, her body, her bones. It was as if she'd been fallen through the ice, but this hit her deeper than she'd ever felt. She coughed and tried to push herself up, even as the overwhelming sensation made her body begin to tremble so violently that she could barely hold the gun up.

Suddenly the laughter and eerie voices became voices she knew, and drowned out every other sound.

You are just...weak

...worthless...

...useless...

Images came up from the purple clouds of ectoplasm that surrounded the creature. Memories of her as a child, memories of watching ones she loved desert her, choose others over her.

"She's not bad looking, I guess, but she's just so boring."

"She's so cold, I can't believe we ever liked her."

"It's okay, she won't mind—it's not like she has a heart anyways. I've never met someone so cold."

Cold.

Cold.

The creature didn't just want to kill her, it wanted to break her inside and out before it finished the job. The haze struck her, images coming up from flames. Her father turning away from her, her mother shaking her head quietly. She wasn't pretty enough, she wasn't good enough. The Administrator narrowing her eyes at Miss Pauling.

"Why do you have your head in a book all day? I swear, you'll never get a boyfriend that way..."

"You're such an embarrassment. I can't take you anywhere."

"I won't tolerate incompetence, Miss Pauling. You're trying my patience. You know what happens to failures. If you wish to have a future in this company—and in your life—I highly advise you to shape up. Do you understand?"

How could she ever think she could take on a monster and win? She was just an assistant, hardly a trained mercenary. Laughter rung in her ears. In the flames she saw person after person turning away from her, abandoning Miss Pauling to her fate. It almost seemed right in her pathetic state. She wasn't even enough of a threat for the monster to kill outright.

Scout appeared in the flames, looking cocky, and very unimpressed.

"Her? Hell, look at her! She's probably frigid. I wouldn't hit that if you paid me."

A thought came through the haze of her mind. The others had a note of truth to them, but this one was absurd. That would be the last thing he'd ever say, especially to her.

Absurd...?

Memories suddenly came up to her, him flirting with her, messing up her papers, grinning at her across the table, and a very clear one of him showing off his guns to her.

"See this baby? No kickback, and look at that shine! It's almost unfair to have this gun, considerin' that it makes me pretty much invincible in battle. I mean, I'm already unfair to the other team, but I guess they'll just have to deal with my freakin' great skills and incredible good looks. It's hard bein' BLU, but I just made it harder, ha!"

She quickly bent down and grabbed the first gun she could from the bag. The creature was already raising its bony arms, ready to strike down. She pulled out that ridiculous gun with the soda can attached to it. Just as she lifted it up, aiming straight at that horrific flaming maw of a head, the gun began to glow purple. She shot twice, each bullet hitting its mark and leaving large punctures in the pumpkin head.

The creature began to shiver, the laughter turning to shrieks and howls. The pumpkin head exploded, and that was all she saw as she shielded her gaze away from it.

All too soon, nothing remained. The voices had ceased, and now only the sound of wind was in the air. She was so relieved that she sank down to the ground. She'd done it, she'd really done it. But they weren't free yet. Even though her arms ached, she pushed herself up and limped towards where Scout had been.

"Scout," she said. "Scout, talk to me. Come on. Please don't be..."

His face was very pale, and blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth.

"Scout?" she said again. He didn't respond.

She bent and touched to his cheek. Still a bit of warmth, a slight rise and fall of his chest, but he was growing cold fast.

"I'm going to find you some supplies. I promise I'll be back."

There was nothing in his pack that could help, save for some bubble gum and beef jerky. She opened up the back of the jeep, but no health packs or first aid kits there, either.

During the battle, several key points had dispensers of ammo and health. Instead of dismantling them, usually they were simply shut off. The main switch would be inside the manor, though. But if she could just find one, she might be able to save him.

Around the corner of a barn, she found an health and ammo spawning area. No health packs around. She dug at the ground with her fingers until dirt lined her nails, until her hands ached.

"Come on, come on..."

Scout's life could very well depend on this. She dug until she hit metal. Usually there was some kind of switch that could help if the mainframe went down. Some of the bases didn't have them, but she only hoped this one did. She reached around the side, and finally found what she was looking for.

"Insert code 456728, operation 9," she said.

She heard the noise of an engine revving to life beneath the ground.

Out popped a small bottle health pack. She waited a moment for another to appear, in case one wouldn't be enough. She couldn't risk anymore time.

"Execute emergency shut down operation 643," she said.

The whirring sounds abruptly stopped. She rushed back, and knelt beside him. He was much colder now, far too cold. She propped up his head and tried get him to take the drink, but most of it simply overflowed out of his mouth and down his neck. That was okay, the healing properties would work through his skin, though internally it went faster. Still, he couldn't seem to swallow at this angle. She pulled at the bandages just enough to pour the remaining fist aid bottle over his chest.

She tried to move him, but even as thin as he was, his body was limp and growing colder by the minute. Still, she finally dragged him to the vehicle, and with some effort, pushed him up and into the seat.

The jeep had seen better days. The hood had a huge dent where she had hit the creature, and the front end had been nicked by the blade of the axe.

She could only hope that it would still run.

At first, the engine simply turned over and over, just barely drowning out the sound of her swearing. Finally, it sputtered on.

"Oh, thank heavens," she said, slumping against the steering wheel in relief.

"Do...n't lo...ok a...t m..e..."

His breathing had taken on a wet, gurgling sound, and more blood came from his mouth as he coughed. A wet line of tears cut through the dirt and blood on his face. He must be in an unimaginable amount of pain right now. She wanted to touch him, to wrap him in a blanket until whatever salve or medigun could heal his wounds, but now wasn't the time. Now she just had to focus on getting back without breaking down in every sense of the word.

"Stay with me, Scout. Okay? Don't you dare leave me."

Scout didn't respond. All she could think to do was talk, to fill the silence with enough conversation to keep him conscious as she drove. What would keep his interest? What could she say to keep him?

Of course. Her.

"My name is Charlotte Anne Pauling. I'm twenty-six years old, my blood type is A, my birthday is August twenty-eighth–"

She tried to think of what else to say through the panic inside her.

"—I like skating and looking at gun magazines, and going to gun shows. I always thought I enjoyed the quiet more than anything, but ever since you crashed into my life, there's points where I just wish for noise, anything to break the quiet because it seems so strange now. I don't know how to just keep talking like you do, but I'll try for your sake. I know I've turned you down a hundred times or more, but I've never disliked you... it's just there's a lot of issues that you never consider and my bosses are always breathing down my neck about things like that—"

She chanced to look away from the wheel and to him. Was there more color in his cheeks now? She couldn't tell. She needed something else to keep him tethered here. Something, anything. In her harried state, it wasn't memories or hobbies that came to mind, but herself.

"I like order a lot, and hate messy rooms, I take my coffee with a little hazelnut cream, I like dark chocolate and dislike most other sweets unless they're on the bitter side. I like the color purple best, which is lucky with my job—And I... I...I'm wearing purple satin underwear and a matching bra!" She said desperately. She'd start listing her measurements and secret fantasies if it'd just keep him conscious.

"I don't know what I'll do with you gone, because this whole thing is making me realize things I was taking for granted, and I don't know how to keep you here, but only that you can't be gone, Scout. You have to live. I know it has to hurt horribly whatever you're going through, but live for your mother, live for the people who love you, live for me."

She drove on, talking about inanities, about worries, about anything, anything, just to keep him with her a little longer.

.

When she reached the base, she laid on the horn. She saw a black-clad orderly look out, and nearly drop the clipboard he was holding in surprise.

"Get the Medic! Now! Tell him to bring Heavy!"

She grabbed his bag and threw it over her shoulder. People were running out of the base, and in the commotion, Heavy was undoing Scout's seat belt and lifting him out of the vehicle. He raced out with surprising speed–perhaps he was wearing a weapon which boosted his speed? She was too tired to tell.

She walked inside the base. She felt so weary that she could just collapse and fall asleep right on the floor, but there was no time. She got the attention of one of the many black clad orderlies. She'd had to execute so many, she didn't even bother to remember their names anymore.

"Where's Engineer?"

"At the mainframe," he replied.

"All right," she said.

She leaned against the wall as she walked, her hands aching and bleeding. Orderlies and workers were rushing to and fro all around her, paying her no mind, though she must have looked a fright. She came to the nearest office which was thankfully empty and stepped in. She lifted up the phone from its base and put it to her ear "Extension five," she said. In a moment, she was connected.

"I have what you need," she said. She paused a moment, but heard no response. "Engineer?"

"How is he?" Engineer asked. The line crackled.

"I don't know. Last I saw Medic was taking care of him," she said.

"You don't sound so good yourself."

"I'm just tired. We had some company and we had to fight it off," she said.

She heard a sharp intake of breath over the phone. "You don't mean, you saw the ghost? He usually only comes out on full moons. I didn't want to send you out alone, but the doggone fight that broke out–"

"Don't worry about it," she said cutting him off. "I'm alive. I only hope that Scout will recover."

"You shouldn't have to be walkin' to me, though. Where you at?"

"I'm in an office..." she peered around the desk to catch the name on the door. "Number 31134, first floor."

"Much obliged. I'll be there in two shakes of a lamb's tail."

"All right, meet you in a few."

He cut off, and she laid the phone on the desk. She was relieved that she'd have a moment's rest, and wouldn't have walk down the winding halls to the mainframe. Especially considering that she wasn't ready to give her report yet, not with how she looked. The Administrator never did take kindly to unkempt workers in her presence. She looked at her cracked and dirty nails. They were split and bleeding, though she was at a state of such tiredness that she barely even noticed the throbbing pain as anything other than background noise. Her mouth was dry from all the talking she'd done to try and keep Scout from slipping away. Even now she couldn't tell if it'd mean anything, if he could even hear her.

She closed her eyes and let herself sink into the chair. Soon enough Engineer would be there to take away the notes, but for now, she allowed herself a bit of peace and respite from the constant worry, and the weariness overtaking her.

.

With the Respawn issue addressed, Miss Pauling went off for a shower. Her hair looked even worse than she thought, tangled and covered in cobwebs and dirt and blood from trying to hoist Scout up into the Jeep. The less said about the remains of her dress, the better. The warm water ran over her body, relaxing her muscles, but inside she was still as tense as a taut coil.

Newly dressed, and somewhat more presentable, she returned to the infirmary.

Medic was washing his hands, his vest soaked with blood. Like a silent guardian, Heavy stood at the edge of the room, waiting for orders. The red beam of the medigun was trained on Scout's chest.

"How is he?" she asked.

"Well, his body wounds have healed, however, he hasn't regained consciousness."

She nodded, and walked over to the ethereal light of the medigun. His chest rose and fell with each shallow breath, but his eyes were closed.

"Did you see what happened to him?" Medic asked.

"We came across the fiend that lives within the manor," she said quietly. "I didn't get there until after he was hurt."

Medic frowned. "He shouldn't have survived that. None of us could."

"He was holding a can at the time," she replied. "I'm not sure how it affected him, but apparently enough to keep him alive."

"Hmm, interesting," Medic said. "I should study this further."

"Please keep your maiming to a minimum until Respawn is back in operation," she said.

Medic wiped his hands on his pants, leaving a few more smears of blood he either hadn't managed to wash off, or he'd managed to accrue in just that period of time. "I'll try," he said, entirely too genially for the subject matter.

She stepped closer to Scout, her back turned to Medic.

"Would you give me a moment alone?" she said without looking back.

"Ja, of course."

She waited until she could hear the sound of two pairs of footsteps receding, and the swing of the infirmary doors closing.

She took Scout's hand in hers. "I'll never forgive you if you don't wake up," she said.

There was only the sound of the medigun, of the beeping of machines and devices, some of which Scout was attached to.

She wetted her lips. "I didn't think I'd miss your voice, but I do. I don't want to be the one to tell your mother that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't save you in the end. So...come back already, Scout. ...Don't leave me like this. Please."

She pulled her glasses off, and laid her head down on his chest. Even if at this angle hurt her back, she didn't care. She could feel him breathing here, feel him alive and yet so far away. If she closed her eyes, she could just see so many moments. The day he stole her glasses, him constantly getting her drinks and staying so close to her, adoration in every glance. She'd done nothing but push him away. It was too complex, it was a bad idea, she could get in trouble. But she was so tired of shutting everyone out for the sake of a job.

She hadn't realized how much he'd intertwined himself into her life until he was silent. The thought of going every day and not being interrupted, of not running into him in hallways and having treats and compliments passed her way made her chest feel like it was closing up.

"I don't know what I have to fight to get to you, but I'm not giving up. Do you hear me? Can you even hear me wherever you are? Even if they try and take you off or kill you, I won't let them. Because...Because I..."

The beeps grew sharper. The door suddenly opened, and she looked back towards the noise. Medic rushed over to the monitor.

"This! Do you know what this is?" He said.

She reached for her glasses and put them on again. "No."

"It's a brain monitor. Well, that's a more untechnical term for it. The technical term is—"

"The point, Medic?" Miss Pauling cut in.

"—he isn't brain dead."

She looked to Scout's face, scarred and buck toothed with a crook in his large nose where it'd been broken long before he ever came to TF Industries. His eyes were still closed.

"Scout, can you hear me?" she said, her voice growing desperate. Were his eyelids flickering, or was that just wishful thinking? "Scout?"

Heavy had come to stand opposite Medic. "Little man waking up?"

"Not yet," Medic said. "But perhaps...Heavy, go to the other side. Up on that shelf. No, not that...there!"

Several doves flew away from their perches as Heavy reached up to the shelf, and extracted a small gray box of meshed together wire and metal with several wires draping down.

"And this is?" Miss Pauling said.

"Something I developed. I haven't had a chance to quiiite test it, but the theorem was sound," Medic said.

"And if it doesn't work?" Miss Pauling said.

"He'll die," Medic said with a shrug. "Quite painfully, I might add." He was entirely too flippant...but it was Medic, and thus not a surprise.

She suddenly noticed that those were electrodes hanging from the box Heavy was carrying.

"Wait, you want to do electroshock therapy on him?" She said.

"Not electroshock therapy per se. It uses the same technology as the medi-gun and the ubers, but applies it more directly, thus the electrodes."

It was a steep chance, but one she was willing to take.

"All right. Do it," she said.

"Keep talking to him, it seems to have a good effect," Medic said.

Her mind blanked. What to say? There were many things she could say, but none of them with an audience—especially not anyone who worked for TF Industries.

Medic attached electrodes to Scout's head, and attached the machine to the medigun. He held to her other arm simply to have something to hold onto, because she couldn't hold onto him now.

Red flared about the room, energy floating around the air and gathering around the beam.

"Come on, come on..." Medic said.

The machine grew louder as it powered up, until she had to yell above the din. "This is for your own good!"

His body twitched as the flow of energy came into him. She had to shield her eyes from the brightness, and Medic laughed. "It's working, it's working!"

"You have to come back to us, to me," she said, for once not even caring who heard her above the noise.

She kept talking over the noise, about coffee shops and brownies and tea, about anything her mind could think of. She wanted to take his hand, to feel his breath, but she clasped her hands behind her back instead.

The red abruptly stopped, and she heard the sound of powering down. She could smell a faint hint of smoke, and coughed as she tried to see. There was a groan, but she couldn't tell if it was Heavy, Medic or Scout.

"Jeez, doc, what the hell are you doin' to me?" Scout coughed, and lifted up his hands to push himself up.

"Well, he isn't brain damaged, at least any more than usual," Medic said cheerfully.

"The hell I am," Scout said, rubbing his eyes. "I was in this white place and this thing was chasin' me. But then Miss Pauling started talkin' about her panties, and I started to remember life again."

Miss Pauling flushed bright red at this.

"He had major hallucinations, interesting..." Medic said.

"Hawhatnow?" Scout said.

Medic just ignored him. "Help me carry that, would you," Medic said. He motioned to Heavy, who helped him lift the contraption up and out of the infirmary, leaving them alone.

When she was sure they were alone, she pulled at his shirt. "You're such an idiot."

"What'd I do this time?" Scout said.

"Making me worry like that. You almost didn't make it." She gripped his shirt tightly, bunching it up in her hands.

"Didn't have no choice, babe. Well, we got out of it, I think. I get blurry about what happened. You take that thing down?"

"No. We did," she said.

"Wait–You finished that bastard off?" He sank back down into the gurney. "I'm not sure I can handle this amount of hotness, Miss P. You know that makes you the toughest mercenary on base?"

"I had help," she said, with a faint smile.

"You know, I'm startin' to remember more stuff. I Just there was this point where I said to myself 'you're are not going to die a virgin.'" He stopped abruptly. "...did I say that out loud? I mean, hell, I'm not a virgin–not at all– I'm about as not virgin as one man can be, I was just kidding—"

"It's pretty obvious," she said, cutting in. "But that's okay, I don't mind." She leaned in closer to whisper to his ear. It just means I get to have my way with you.

He just stared at her, adoring and gasping for breath. "Miss P?"

My, my. She'd broken his brain. She tugged hard on his shirt and pulled him down to her level to kiss him. It was a brief kiss, not deep and lingering, if only because of the awkward angle. Still, it brought a flood of warmth and happiness to her. He was here, he was alive. The minute she stepped back, he pulled her close again. For a few moments he just stared at her in wonder. He brushed his hand against her cheek and pushed his fingers through her hair.

"You're making a mess of my hair," she said, but there was nothing but fondness in her voice.

She didn't even care that metal was pushing into her stomach. He was alive. He was alive.

"Wait, that stuff all actually happened?" Scout said.

"Yes, it did...provided you didn't actually hallucinate, like Medic suggested," she said.

"Huh. I remember your voice, though it kept blippin' out. Some of it sounds like it was underwater. Some is clearer than others, but I remember you talkin' to me. It kept me aware, kept me here. No matter how much the white blanked me out and the thing chased me about, I always heard you."

He paused for a moment, but only to try and pull her a little closer.

"Scout, there's bars in the way," she said.

"Stupid things. So, Charlotte, huh? It's a good name, real nice. And if you miss the sound of my voice so much, I'll be sure you never get a chance to miss it again," he said.

He was grinning now, his hands behind his head as he lay back. Metal to her stomach was not exactly comfortable, and she had to keep leaning in even to get near him. It kept going through her mind, churning within her. I could have lost you.

"So, Miss Pauling. Purple satin panties?" He raised his eyebrows suggestively.

"That's what you're asking about, out of all of the things?" She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "I have horrible taste in men."

"Correction, you have amazin' taste in men. In fact, you have the frickin' best taste in men there ever was." He patted the gurney. "Come on, I promised I'd get you close before I left. Wouldn't wanna break your heart to miss out on some of this."

She shook her head, but it wasn't a refusal so much as equal parts exasperation and fondness. She pushed the stool up enough to use it as leverage to climb on. The bed wasn't exactly very large, but neither was she, for that matter. He eagerly pulled her into his arms, and it felt nice. It'd been a very long time since she'd been held, and after the events of the day, it was a comfort just to relax against someone.

"You mean it? The stuff you said? You really mean it?" He said.

"You mean you actually managed to think about something other than getting into my pants for two seconds?" she said dryly.

"Babe, in case you haven't already figured it out, there's no stoppin' point between my brain and my mouth. I'm a dumbass sometimes, just yell at me and we can move on with this. Besides, what can I say? I'm not apologizin' for how hot you are, okay. If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?"

"Yes, I would hold such an awful line against you," she said, but she couldn't help but laugh.

"Hey, I got you to laugh," he said. "I wanna do a lot more of that. So, you finally gonna go out with me?" he said.

"I nearly got myself killed fighting off a hellish creature to save you. What do you think?" she said.

"I'd say I was the luckiest guy around, but you're pretty lucky to have me, you know?"

"I'm sure you'll remind me of that at every possibility," she said.

"Oh, hell yeah. Wouldn't want you to forget. So, you like dark chocolate and coffee, eh? I know a place that can help with that. This nice little bakery near the edge of Teufort. Been there a couple times. They got the creamiest coffee, great chocolate stuff, though I've only had the cookies so far. Bet you'd love it. C'mon, Miss P. You need a break more than ever."

Fighting a monster and surviving gave her a whole lot more perspective. To say the least, the prospect of going head-to-head with some of her superiors didn't make her feel as uneasy as it once had. Facing death had made her take stock of her life. For now on, nothing was going to get in the way of her happiness, even if she had to fight for it.

"Just let me check my schedule. I'll alert you as soon as I have a free period. I have to warn you, though, I never get more than a few hours at best, and most days I have even less when you take into account necessities."

"S'okay, you're worth waiting for," he said.

He was so charming in his own way once the stupid lines were stripped away. He took her hand in his and squeezed it. "I like this? Can we do this?"

"Preferably not on Medic's gurney," she said.

She remembered jobs, things to do, reports to file. She was so tired that she just wanted to fall asleep on his chest, but there was no time.

"I have work to do," she said. She moved out of his arms and pushed herself up. She'd have to redo her hair and make sure her dress was in a better state before she went back to the Administrator's office, that was for sure.

He got out of the gurney, and had just begun too move towards the door.

"I'll be waitin' for you, Charlotte, even if I have to wait up all night," he said.

She turned back and gave him a little wave. "I hope you will. It will give me a reason to stay up."

"I'd be glad to be your reason," Scout said.

You already are.

But she didn't say that. Instead she just smiled as she walked out of the room, back to her job. She was still weary, but she the knowledge that someone would be waiting for her made her feel that much stronger.

.

Note: The Headless Horseless Horsemann will have only 3400HP when only two people are on server, though apparently it takes like 8 people to actually make it spawn. Since I couldn't go raw facts in prose, the explanation is thus: for the sake of this story, we're going to assume that coming out when the moon isn't full cuts its powers and HP in half. Scout was able to whittle it down to not a lot of HP before he got nicked coming out of Bonk, the lingering effects of Bonk was enough to keep him alive after being hit, but not enough to stop him from being seriously wounded. I remember reading that the reason why the HHH does instant kills is that the axe steals your soul. I don't actually know if this is legit, but for the sake of the story, I assumed this.

Her hitting it with the jeep took off a bunch more HP, meaning she was able to take it out just barely with the remaining weapons.

Technically, it isn't affected by mini-crits and I don't think it's affected by knockback—Merasmus isn't–but these are liberties I took for the sake of the story.

(Mostly I'm putting this down as a note to myself when plotting, leaving it up for anyone else who wondered about the gameplay reasoning going on here.)