Title: Losing Sleep
Series: TF2
Character/pairing: Scout/Miss Pauling
Rating: PG-13
Author's note: hc_bingo: exhaustion.

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At this point, she'd lost track of how many cups of coffee she'd that day. She poured another freshly brewed cup, and hoped it would be enough to get her through a few more hours. The attack had been relentless; just as soon as they'd cleared out a wave, yet another would be descending on them. And unlike them, the robots didn't need to rest. The mercenaries at least were renewed with each Respawn, but that didn't help the rest of the staff. She'd been alone for the past few hours, trying to work out a plan of attack. Her head was throbbing, but she'd already taken her limit of painkillers for the day. She'd lost count of the hours she'd been up, but it was well past twenty-four at this rate. In the reflection of the glass she could see herself, and it wasn't a pretty sight. She'd been caught in one of the aftershocks of one of the giant robots, her bun was falling apart, and a few scratches cascaded down her arms from where she'd fallen. There was even some dirt smeared on her cheeks that she hadn't had a chance to wipe clean.

The coffee pot bubbled too slowly. She leaned on the desk for support. She couldn't nod off, not in the middle of an attack, no matter how much she wished for a reprieve.

She heard the door open, but didn't look up.

"Miss P, I heard you got hurt out there?"

He jogged over close to her, and it wasn't long before he was lifting up her arms to inspect the damage. He left a smear of red across her arm as he touched her. His bandages were peppered with bits of red.

"It's not serious," she said.

"Like hell it isn't serious, you look like you've been out there fightin' with us," he said.

"So says the one with a gaping chest wound," she said.

Scout looked down to his red-stained shirt.

"That? Thaat is just a flesh wound. I barely even feel it," he said. He puffed himself up, but winced in the process, ruining the effect of his attempt at being stoic.

"You've been waiting to use that line on me, haven't you?" she said.

"For years," he replied.

She faked a cough to hide the inappropriate laughter that threatened to reveal itself.

He reached out and patted her on the back. "You ain't chokin', are you? You hurtin' anywhere? Need a band-aid or something—"

"No, I'm—cough—fine," she said. "But, you shouldn't leave your comrades alone."

"They can hold up for a little while, when I heard you was in the blast range, I had to come see what happened."

He looked her over again, and let go to pull down his cap.

"Sorry," he said, without any of his usual bluster.

"It wasn't your fault," she said.

When he lifted his head, his gaze was intense.

"It was! I should've taken down that guy before he got so close. I don't know what I'd do if you got real hurt or worse from this and knowin' it was my fault!"

"Your tremendous ego aside, you aren't the only one fighting, nor are you capable of watching them constantly. You belong on the front lines, not defending the door. I shouldn't have been so close to the blast range, or moving so slowly," she said.

"It don't matter. I should've been there. I could've done somethin' at least," he said.

The coffee machine beeped, and she poured out another cup. There was a kink in her neck that she couldn't seem to get out, an aching weariness which she refused to let overwhelm her. She leaned against the table, feeling woozy for a moment.

Her hands shook as she tried to lift the cup. He pulled it away, spilling it over his hands, and downed it in one gulp.

"Jeez—shitdamncrap that's hot!"

"That's why I was blowing on it. If you wanted some, you could've just gotten your own," she said. He flailed some more, a stream of swearwords coming out so fast that she couldn't even tell them apart.

"Did you burn your mouth badly? Are you all right?" Miss Pauling said.

This got him to stop. He tried to put on a brave smile just for her sake.

"Yeah, but s'okay. Doc can fix me up. It ain't no big deal—unless you want to kiss it an make it better–"

She turned back to the coffee machine and started to pour another coffee, but he blocked her, and flipped the machine off.

"Scout—" She said warningly.

"You look like you can barely stand, and if you drink that, it'll keep you up."

"That's the point, Scout," she said. "Now, please—"

"Nope, sorry, Miss P. No can do."

She attempted to reach again, but he blocked her again.

"Deeenied," he said.

She rolled her eyes. "For Pete's sake...Scout, please can you just pack up go back? This is an important thing, and you'll be in a disciplinary hearing if you skip out on a mission like this."

"Not gonna happen. And Miss P, I'm sorry."

"You already said that—"

She was cut off as he lifted her up, bridal style, and started to carry her away from the coffee pot. He was slowed because of his injury, yet he managed a fairly quick pace, considering.

"Scout—! The hell—?"

"Usually you make the best damn decisions, but I gotta just speak up here. What if you push yourself until you collapse somewhere? What if–what if you fall asleep outside or near somethin' dangerous, huh? What then?"

"I'm not going to suddenly fall asleep in the middle of the reactor!" she said with exasperation.

"Well, you could!" Scout protested. "You wouldn't be anywhere near the blast zone if you was in a good frame of mind. You don't make dumbass mistakes like that—that's my job! You clean up everythin' and don't even get your hair dirty in the process. You don't get winged and almost get yourself killed. You just don't. It's really got me worried—"

It hadn't exactly been one of her finer moments. Had she been a few inches closer, she might not have survived.

"And where exactly would you be taking me?" she said.

"...didn't think that far," he said sheepishly.

Of course he hadn't.

"I'll make a deal: take me to the nearest storage and I'll put some salve on your wound and I'll overlook this. When it comes up that you were missing for this period of time, I'll vouch that this was why, and not you getting in the way of my work. Now, go left," she said.

"M'kay! The ride is taking a sharp turn, all passengers should keep their hands inside the car at all times! Oh yeah, and enjoy the ride."

He made some kind of noise—she supposed it was a theme song he was humming of some kind?—he was so ridiculous that she had to stifle laughter to keep her composure.

He pushed the door open as he reached it and she found herself in a familiar room full of white cabinets full of extra ammo and health packs. Saxton Hale had avoided installing more in the front, though some of the health pack and ammo distributors were still kept working outside.

He set her down, and for an awkward moment he was holding her steady as she regained her footing. It was almost like dancing, her hands on his shoulder, his on her waist. She lingered too long, and then awkwardly stepped back. He pulled out the lone chair at the back of the long, white room, while she plucked up a few small bottles, and turned back to him.

"Do you need more ammo, while I'm at it?"

"Sure," he said.

She set the bottles down, and pulled down a box. Of course, she'd have to subtract the cost from her expense report, but she hardly minded. He went through ammo fast...and she didn't want him being left without any bullets...because of work, of course. She put the bottles inside the box and pushed it close to Scout's chair.

He eagerly peeled off his shirt. His thin chest was covered in white marks of old scars. She really should be used to this, by now, especially with how often he tended to pull off his clothes. She wasn't an awkward, inexperienced schoolgirl any longer. She mentally chastised herself. Ifocus on the mission, focus on fixing him up./i

She first rubbed some peroxide in the wound on his side to clean it. He flinched slightly, and bit his lip. The peroxide bubbled up white over his skin.

"You're awful quiet for once," she said.

"Oh, I'm always quiet. I take my fixin' up like a man, you know me," he said. He leaned back a little, smug and brash as ever.

"Oh, really? And then all that screaming I hear after the matches in the Medic's infirmary..."

"Sniper. He's a real loud one," he said.

She poured out salve and began to rub it in her hands without looking up at him. She gently began to rub it in, and the wound began to close up almost immediately. Technically, she didn't need this much touching, given that most of the men just tossed it on out in the battlefield, but she still stayed, her hands warm from his body heat. There was another large injury up his chest, and she took a deep breath and pushed her salve-soaked hands up. Where she moved her hands, scrapes and marks healed over. She could feel rough patches of scars beneath her fingertips, lean muscle under her palms. It'd been a very long time since she'd touched anyone like this, and she found her breath catching and her cheeks turning hot. It came to her that she could've made him put it on himself. Maybe she was too tired to think straight... And maybe she was enjoying this a little more than she should.

"Aww, yeah, you're blushin'!" he said.

"I am not. The room is hot," she said.

"Yeah, that's just me. Natural handsomeness, and all."

"Yes, I know you think you're God's gift to women," she said flatly.

"'Think?' I think not! I know it!"

"Uh-huh," she said.

He tilted his head. "You must be real tired, you didn't even give me the 'Scout, you are a dumbass' look. You get—"

She cut him off. "No, I didn't get to sleep. There was a security issue I had to deal with, and then...this. Thus, coffee."

"That's no good. That's no good at all," he said.

He rubbed a bit of the salve from his chest on his hands. For a moment she thought it was for a wound of his that she'd missed, but he leaned forward and rubbed the salve across her arms very gently.

"You didn't have to do that. They're just scratches," she said.

"I didn't want you hurtin', even if it's just a little," he said with surprising tenderness.

For a moment the tiredness got to her. Her eyes nearly closed, and she fell forward slightly before she caught herself. She leaned against his thigh, too weary to push herself up for that moment. She needed to regain her strength, but she couldn't seem to find it, no matter how hard she pushed herself. Over twenty hours without sleep was catching up with her.

"Just, let me stay here a moment, please..." she said.

For once, he didn't try and flirt with her, or make some ridiculous innuendo. He leaned over, pushed her hair out of her face where it'd fallen.

"You work real hard for us," he said. "Too hard, really."

"...There's no such thing as working too hard," she said.

"Jeez, you would say that, you frickin' workaholic. Dunno how you do it. I'd have slacked off long ago, but you just keep goin' and goin'...I mean, how do you do even do it?"

"Magic, obviously," she said.

"I knew it," he said. "Though, I gotta say, Miss P—"

The Administrator's voice came over the intercom, cutting off anymore conversation they might've had. Protect Mann co!

"Son of a bitch, there's another wave comin'," he muttered.

She lifted her head up and groggily looked up to the intercom. He put his hand on her shoulder as she tried to make a move to stand up.

"Just leave it to me, Miss Pauling! I'll kill all those robots, kill em dead. You don't gotta worry a bit!"

"If I go to sleep now, I won't be able to watch you work and see all your thrilling escapades," she said.

"Aw...you're right. You can always watch me later— I'll be extra amazin' just for you next time," he said. He winked at her.

Get going!

"Jeez, I'm comin', already, you friggin' dragon lady!" He tipped his cap to her. "Yeah, yeah, I gotta go kick some robot ass."

"Singlehandedly, or with the rest of the mercenaries?" Miss Pauling said.

"Oh sure, they'll help," Scout said. "Promise you'll get some shut eye? We can't do this without you, Miss Pauling. And by we, I mean me, of course."

"It's not a case of me avoiding sleep for the hell of it. This is war, and contractually, I don't get to just say when I quit," she said.

"Tell the boss lady I wouldn't cut it out, tell her I was a gigantic ass and deserve to have my pay cut, tell her I locked the friggin' door for all I care. I'll take a dozen disciplinary hearings if it means you'll just take a break for once. Seriously, just point them my way and I'll take the blame, take it all. Just...don't hurt yourself, all right?"

He wasn't looking smug or flirtatious. In fact, there was a rare vulnerability to him she hadn't seen before. He didn't even press her for attention in recompense.

"You'd really do that for me?" she said. She titled her head, looking him over.

"Well, yeah! 'Course I would. I'd do all of it and more," he said.

Despite his ego, his loudmouth ways, there was something surprisingly earnest about him. She couldn't help but find it rather...endearing.

"You aren't goin' to give up, are you?" she said.

"Hell no, not when it comes to you, never when it comes to you," he said.

"And you'd really risk it all for me?"

"Yeah, I would," he said. "I'd risk it—give it all up–for you"

Through it all, she felt that they weren't just talking about her sleeping habits anymore. They were getting into an entirely different territory. She shook her head. What an idiot. Showing her a softer side and trying to take care of her, showing off his chest and making her blush like some giddy schoolgirl. How on earth was she supposed to just rebuff this?

"...All right, I promise. Now, go before you get in anymore trouble," she said.

"Bye, Miss Pauling! Sweet dreams—bet they'll be even sweeter if they're of me."

He ran one way, and she limped down the corridor towards her quarters. She got the password to her door wrong three times, almost having to do a complete reset before she got it. Her hair tangled as she pulled it free of its bun, and she combed her fingers as she pulled the last bobby pins out. As she undressed, the full extent of her weariness began to hit her. She felt a little dizzy, and nearly tripped down, as she contemplated leaving her clothes on and simply falling face first into the pillow. Contract or not, she was in no frame of mind to make important decisions.

Still, she pushed herself a little further and made herself get undressed and into the first t-shirt she found. Finally, to the sound of fighting in the distance, she climbed under the covers.

Finally, she could rest.

A gunfire lullaby intermixed with memories of him, and the hint of a new glow of happiness that hadn't been there before.