Title: Crimson and Clover
Character/pairing: Scout/Miss Pauling , Spy/Scout's mother, ensemble
Summary: A week long rainstorm and the Administrator's absence leaves a lull in the matches, Scout sick and Miss Pauling stuck with caring for him. Time spent together, a found keepsake a tattoo and the appearance of Scout's mother bring along more realizations than she knows what to do with.
Author's note: longfic_bingo: minor illness.
From my RP partner: I think if Miss pauling found scout put in the cold rain I think she would scold him, take him in her house and wrap him up in a few blankets, and then scold him so more.
Instead of logging it, I wrote it like I do with almost all her asks, haha. About halfway through I stopped trying to figure out what Scout actually caught and just wrote sick scenes. Consider it a really hardcore sickness that only exists in the TF2 universe or something. I like to write illness hurt/comfort when I'm ill as well. It's comforting.
Minor edits due to suggestion by Multiversecafe.
She first dismissed the sound of stones as the wind. It never seemed to stop raining at sawmill, but the intensity had gone on further, until her work had been cut short simply for the need to take shelter. She had been flipping through a magazine when the noises started, but as they continued, she reached for her gun and began to inch towards the window. At first everything was murky, splotches of light across the rain spattered window. When she opened the window up, she could see just a hint of red through it all, bathed in the faint light from her apartment.
He was soaked and shivering, but his bleak expression brightened when he saw her.
"What are you doing down there?" Miss Pauling said.
"I found it!" he called above the storm. She could just barely make out what he said.
"I found it, Miss P!" He lifted up a fist containing something...she couldn't see from this far away.
"What? I can't hear you... Oh, come inside."
His hands were clenched, and he slowly opened them up, revealing a hint of silver. He was soaked to the skin, shivering as water dripped off of him onto the floor.
She lifted up the chain, which was a little worse for wear, but still easily fixable. The charm on it still intact. A little clover she'd had most of her life, scuffed and with only a hint of green left on the metal leaves.
"It's...my necklace. How did you find–"
"K-kept lookin'. Even when the storm came up. Thought for sure the lightning would kill me, but, it takes more than that to kill me."
What she at first took for nervous energy she discovered was shivering. He was so excited that he fought against the shudders. "See, see, I found it! I f-f-ound—" He broke off and rubbed at his head, with a groggy expression.
"How long have you been out there?" she said.
"D-dunno," Scout said. He stepped back and sneezed. "J-Jeez."
His skin was very pale, and cold against her.
"Ah, that–that's nice," he said, leaning against her hand.
"You've gone and chilled yourself to the bone," she scolded.
"A-ain't nothin'. I-I seen w-wicked noreasters w-worse than this."
" need to get warm right away. The bathroom is that way–I don't have any of your clothes here, but you can borrow my robe," she said.
It'd been raining since morning, and she'd lost her necklace yesterday. There was no telling how long he'd been out there searching. Even mercenaries used to Viaduct could falter in the face of that many hours in a cold rain.
He started to step and faltered. She quickly moved to keep him up.
"I-I'm okay, I just g-g-otta–"
"Shh," she said. "Just follow me."
"C-can't you just kill me?" he said.
"I'm not verified to do that right now," she replied.
"F-figures," he said.
She peeled off his shirt, which had stuck tight to his skin. His chest was lean, covered in scars, and quite a bit more muscular than the last check in she remembered two years ago. Even as his teeth chattered and his lips trembled, he tried to posture for her. She wouldn't expect anything less from him.
She leaned in just enough to turn on the water, testing it with her hand. He leaned on the side of the wall, leaving smears of dirt and wetness as he did. He tried to put on a facade of nonchalance, but the attempt was foiled by a sudden cough. It was a tight fit in the small bathroom, it took some maneuvering not to rub up against him just turning around.
"You're on your own with your pants," she said.
He tried to tip his hat to her, only to find that his hat had been taken off.
Wedged behind the door was a tiny closet filled with old soap, mothballs, towels and bath salts. Her robe hung on a hook
"I-t's kinda purple and silky for me," Scout said. He frowned some more as he tilted his head. "Kinda short, too. It'd be up to here on me." He touched his thigh to show the exact spot.
"It's also been right next to my naked body," she said.
He rubbed at his nose with the back of his hand. "You win," Scout said.
"Remember, don't take too long. It wouldn't do you any good to get electrocuted."
He smiled at this. "Worryin' about me already?"
"The amount of paperwork would be annoying," she said.
She stepped out to the sound of the shower running.
Quite some time later, he came out with a blanket wrapped about him, hooded over his damp hair to shade his face.
"Are you feeling any better?"
"'Course I do, with such a pretty gal like yourself around," Scout said with a lopsided grin.
Well, he was back to normal, at least.
"Are you hungry?" Miss Pauling asked.
"Starved. What's on the menu, gorgeous? Is it you, because you'd be preee–ty tasty—" he broke off with a sneeze.
She held up a can for him to see.
"I was just figuring out which soup to heat up. Chicken Noodle, Minestrone, and Clam Chowder," she read off.
"Ugh, Clam Chowder from a can is no good. Gimme the Chicken," he said.
The rain had continued, and showed no sign of letting up. At least the power hadn't gone out. She poured the can out a saucepan and turned on the burner. Flames leapt up, and she turned them down to a low simmer. Behind her, she heard the sound of static as Scout turned the television on.
"Your TV's broke," he said, stating the obvious.
"It's been like that ever since the storm started," she turned the television off and went back to the striped loveseat. Miss Pauling kept her attentions back to the soup. It bubbled away in the small sauce pan, with only the occasional scraping to break the silence. Her apartment was small enough that the kitchen and living room were just off each other, sparsely decorated with cast offs she hadn't had time to improve. He'd leaned down past where she could see him on the striped loveseat. His legs still hung over the sides.
Time passed, and it grew surprisingly quiet. Too quiet, especially with him around. She left the soup to check on him.
He was curled on his side, sound asleep in his blanket cocoon. He kept mumbling something imperceptible. Leave it to Scout to even talk in his sleep.
For a moment, she considered leaving him, but who knew when he'd last eaten.
Waking many of the mercenaries was a dangerous. At any moment you might end up with a knife or a gun to the face. Quite a few of the staff had been lost due to that reason. Still, she took the chance and gently touched his shoulder. He groaned and turned over, nearly falling off of the little loveseat in the process.
"Don' wanna go to s'cll," he muttered.
"No school, just food. Wake up, Scout," she said.
He groaned again and turned back over. She was about to shake his shoulder again when the blanket came down. His eyes slowly opened, and a loopy smile came over his face. "What a view to wake up to."
"You should eat," she said.
He pushed himself up, the purple blanket still wrapped tight about him.
"I'm not going to throw you back into the rain, but you better behave yourself," she said.
"Behave myself, huh? What, do you think I'd raid your panty drawer and run through the storm with your bra on my head?"
She gave him a warning look.
"Rather have your bra and panties on the floor than on my head," he said, grinning all the while.
"Behave," she said again.
He gave her a toothy smile as he took the bowl of soup. "Thanks!"
"Don't sip it right away, you'll burn your—"
"YOW—holy frickin' cow!"
She let out a long sigh. "I'll go get some ice," she said.
She stirred her soup as the storm deepened. Winds rose up, causing the shutters to clatter.
He was already almost asleep in his soup again, the spoon tipped at such a tired angle that only a few droplets made it to his mouth. He must've been out there even longer than she thought, for he had the highest stamina of all the mercenaries.
"Mmmghn..." His eyes were half-lidded. He pulled up another spoonful of soup, only to drop most of it. The shivering had started again, yet he seemed on the verge of passing out.
Usually, she wouldn't let even a wounded mercenary stay near her. While they were usually polite enough to her—with the exception of Scout and his flirtatious way—they were still hired killers, some who could snap at any minute.
However, Scout looked like he could barely make it back to the couch without passing out. It'd do no good to put him back into the rain again. She supposed just this once, she could make an exception.
"I'll get you a pillow," she said.
She touched his shoulder when she returned, the pillow under one arm. He'd finished more while she left, leaving the bowl nearly empty.
"Maybe I shouldn't have woken you, if you're that worn out."
"S'all good," he said sleepily. He got up, and stumbled towards the couch. She placed the pillow beneath his head, and covered him up with a blanket all the way up to his chin.
With one last glance back, she closed the door to her room.
When she woke up, Scout was sprawled out on the floor, the blanket kicked off. He held the pillow, rather than slept on it. She couldn't move him up, nor could she pry the pillow from his grasp. With a sigh and a shake of her head, she pulled out her other pillow to put under his neck, and put the blanket back around him.
"You're going to have a stiff neck and back when you wake up," she murmured.
He shifted, but didn't wake.
The rain had worsened into quite the downpour. The mercenaries had grown moody and sullen without the outlet of battle to vent their aggression. As of yet, she hadn't had to clean up any deaths or explosions, so that was a plus. After putting in what would barely be considered a half day on her normal schedule, she returned with a duffle bag filled with his supplies. Extra clothes, a toothbrush, some shoes. She wasn't so cruel as to kick him out into the cold, but he couldn't wear her robe forever.
Her apartment was on the far side of the base, one of the old equipment buildings which had been remade to accommodate staff members. It was nearly indescernible from the rest, save for the purple floral curtains she'd installed to add some kind of warmth to the place.
When she returned, she found Scout curled up on the loveseat. His lanky frame was too big to stretch out, yet he hadn't slept on her bed while she was away. His face was buried in her pillow, his arms clutched tight about the purple pillowcase.
He looked up at her and smiled sleepily. "Best thing to wake up to," he said.
"There's more soup in the fridge," she said.
"Yeah, I ate it cold," he said.
"You could've heated it up," she said.
"I ain't allowed near stoves no more," Scout said. "What's with the necklace, anyways? You never show it off. The dragon lady got somethin' against you wearin' jewelry?
Miss Pauling clutched the hidden charm.
"Of course not, she wears jewelry herself. In fact, she's very hard on anyone who doesn't dress as she sees fit outside of the mercenaries," she said.
"Is it for good luck, then?"
"It's an old keepsake, that's all," she replied.
He began to tear at her bandages on his hands. She bent down, but by then he'd managed to free his wrist to reveal a black dot tattooed there. He held it up for her to see without explanation. She touched the skin, feeling his pulse beneath her fingertips and a faint warmth pulsing near.
"It reminds you of where you come from, right? That's why you keep it near to you all the time," he said.
"What is it? A... gang tattoo?"
"Nah, it's the Southie dot. We all used to get them, down on the corner with India ink and a needle somebody lit with a match. Hurt like a bitch to get, but it made one of 'em. You wear this, and everyone knows you're just a step away from family, and we don't let people fuck with our families."
"But, you cover it up?" she said.
He rubbed at his neck. "It keeps you safe around Southie, but go down to Roxbury and one of those will get your face mashed in. Anyways, if you don't wrap up when you fight someone, your knuckles are gonna get smashed. Ma wants it covered up, anyways. Afraid I'll get killed off in the clink or somethin', and man, you just don't wanna see her angry," Scout said.
"Ah, so you got your temper from her?"
"Hers is a different kinda angry. Me, I'll get up in their face and bash some skulls in. She's like...a steamroller. She won't let up. Won't forget at all. Sometimes she's all 'and then you tried to fly, it gave me ten gray hairs,'" he said. He mimicked her voice in a higher falsetto.
Knowing how much she had to keep Scout out of trouble on a regular basis, she could only imagine.
"You must really miss your family, huh?" Scout said suddenly. He was ever prone to coming to abrupt subject changes.
Sometimes she really did. But her family was far more distant and far less demonstrative than his passionate, violent clan.
"No one put a gun to my head and forced me to take the job. I knew that it would severely limit my free time, and took it anyways."
"That don't answer the question, though," he said.
She sighed. "Yes, I miss them sometimes."
"You think they'd let me give up some of my vacation time for you?" he said.
"It doesn't work that way," she said.
"It should, it really should," Scout said.
She kicked off her shoes, unwilling to continue the conversation. He was looking at her, his breath uneven from whatever illness had set in.
"Were the guys all askin' about me? I bet they could barely get by without me, the life of the party," Scout said.
None had asked, but she didn't say this. Instead she diplomatically inclined her head. "Ah, yes. I'm sure they do."
He grinned broadly, before he broke off coughing again.
"You gonna stay long?"
"No, I have more to do," she said.
"You had to check on me!" Scout said triumphantly. "Because you care about me like a carin' thing, right? Right?"
"I had to make sure you didn't set my apartment on fire," she said.
"Haha, that too. But I didn't touch the stove or nothin'!"
"Gold star for you," she said.
He grinned. Either he didn't get the sarcasm, or he didn't care and was just smiling because she was talking to him. She couldn't tell.
"Are you hungry again?" Miss Pauling said.
"I'm hungry for anythin' you'd give me. Especially—"
"Soup," she cut off, before he could predictably make some innuendo filled comment.
He pushed himself up, but faltered before he could stand up.
"Feelin' dizzy," he said.
She felt his head. His temperature had risen in the time she had been gone. The symptoms were irregular, not quite flu and not quite cold, either. She hoped he hadn't gone and caught pneumonia.
"What did you even catch out there?" Miss Pauling scolded. She leaned in close to him to feel his head, resting her own forehead against his.
"I don't know! I done worse at Viaduct and Well, I don't know why this one got me down!"
She stayed a moment longer than she should have, realizing just how close she'd gotten. She awkwardly pulled back.
"Free lungs to good home," Scout said hoarsely.
"While Medic would probably jump on the offer, I'm afraid you need them for running."
He groaned and leaned back on the couch.
"I have to go back soon—"
Whatever exuberance he'd had was long gone now, he just looked tired at the news, and tired in general.
"–but, I'll stay and make sure you get something to eat," she said.
"Soup?" he said.
"Soup," she replied. "Minestrone this time."
"Bring it on. I can handle all that stuff. I ain't afraid of a little soup."
He tried to puff himself up, but another coughing fit made him lean on an edge.
She knelt before him, the warm bowl in her hands.
"Can you hold this?" she said.
"And give up a chance to have you feed me?" Scout said.
She rolled her eyes, but lifted the spoon up and blew on it. He took the spoon from her hands and winked. "Ain't too hot," he said. He tipped the soup up and began to drink it. Soup spilled down his chin and onto his shirt, making quite a mess.
"You are without a doubt the most troublesome mercenary I've ever had to deal with," she said.
"I can't help it, I'm the best at everythin', even at bein' bad," he said with a shrug.
"Really? Everything? Even mathematics?"
"Math don't count. It don't count at all! God, I would kill for some ice cream, now!"
"Ice cream is the last thing you need," she said.
"Why does bein' sick always mean you gotta eat crap food?"
"That's the breaks of the game," she said. She lifted up the empty bowl and put it in the sink. She usually kept around some medicines, just in case. She pulled out a bottle of Nyquil, and a spoon. By the time she returned, he was avidly watching her again. He reached out as soon as he saw the medicine.
"Gimme it," he said.
He snapped the lid off and began to guzzle. In less than a minute, he'd downed the entire thing.
"The serving size was one teaspoon!" Miss Pauling said in exasperation.
He let out a burp behind his hand. "Then this frickin' crap virus is gonna get its ass kicked. Seriously, I chug down Bonk all day long. This medicine is gonna have to try harder to kill me."
"I don't even know how you managed to live to be twenty-three," she said with a sigh.
"It's the great mystery of life," he said.
Bidwell, two other orderlies and Saxton Hale himself looked at the phone as if it might explode. Though Bidwell kept his palm over the speaker, she could hear the tinny sound of a very loud, very angry woman on the phone. One with a very thick Boston accent.
"If you'll excuse me, I'd rather fight bears in a torrential rainstorm than face that woman again. She fights dirty!"
Saxton Hale leapt out the window as thunder cut through the air, a suitably dramatic escape as glass soared through the air. Bidwell rolled his eyes and opened a large umbrella over himself, the orderlies and Miss Pauling. Raindrops and glass rained down, but harmlessly fell off the umbrella.
Miss Pauling took the phone. Before she could even say a greeting, or anything else, the woman on the line began to talk.
"I haven't heard anythin' for days now, days! When I said he could work, it was under the strict order that he'd call home every day. For all I know you could be puttin' him under some experiment or have him buried out in the desert."
"With all due respect, ma'am, he's a grown man," Miss Pauling said.
"Ahahah, you ever have children, Miss—"
"Pauling," she said. "And no."
"Miss Pauling, you never stop worryin' about them. Doesn't matter if they're two or twenty-four or forty-three, it don't stop. And if you've spent more than a half hour around him, you know what kinda trouble he can get into. Do you know how many gray hairs this boy gave me? Dozens. Always tryin' to fly. 'Look at me, ma! I'm goin' to be back in the damn hospital again'."
"Put him on the line, he'll tell me what I need to know," she said.
From the shadows a red gloved hand appeared and took the phone.
"Mmmhmm. Oui. I will. Ma coeur, do not worry. I watch; I listen. I have not seen him since the day before, though. He has not returned to base."
He was quiet a moment. She could hear her voice reaching a fever pitch.
"Calm-toi," he said gently. "He is not dead. Miss Pauling knows what has become of him."
He handed it back to her.
"Miss Pauling, you there? He in jail again, or chasin' after some girl? God, that boy lives to just give me gray hairs—"
"Yes," Miss Pauling replied.
"Wait, he's in jail again?"
Miss Pauling shifted the phone to the other ear. "No, I was saying I'm here. Scout hasn't been incarcerated lately."
"Oh, good. Now, I know this is some big shot secret thing. He used to go on and say he was a Spy, but he don't say that anymore, somethin' about spies bein' all assholes."
She cleared her throat. "While I cannot divulge many things about his work, this is one thing I can talk without running into classified issues. He went searching for something lost for some time—I'm not sure the exact amount––and was in the rain for many hours. He, ah, caught a chill."
"Oh, god. He didn't go lookin' for some baseball in the rain, did he? I swear, that boy—"
"No, it wasn't like that. It was a necklace," she said.
"Oh, did he lose his tags? And he's takin' this all alone? Poor thing. He must be utterly miserable."
"I've been seeing to him. His duties are currently on hiatus due to a rain delay."
Scout's mother talked over her. "I'll be there before you know it. In fact, I'll get the tickets right away. I know a guy, he'll help me—Ah, there's so much to do. Anyways, goodbye—Frankie, put that vase down—"
A crash sounded and the phone cut off. Miss Pauling stared at the phone a moment before turning it off.
"She took on Saxton Hale and won," Spy said, with deep affection in his voice.
"I've heard," Miss Pauling replied.
She pulled off her raincoat, and hung it to dry on the coat rack near the door. Her briefcase of things to attend to for the night and ready for the next day was slung under her arm. The whole thing was nearly heavy enough to make her topple over. She set it aside near the door; it wasn't as if it'd likely get stolen, anyways.
She stepped quietly in, just in case he was asleep. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him up and about. He attempted to turn on the TV, then the radio, but found nothing but static in return. He groaned, and sat down on the loveseat. He had to fight for breath, a sudden violent cough coming up. He clutched the blanket tighter about him.
"TV is still broke," he said. "Everyhin's broke. It sucks."
It might not have even been the storm, though she didn't mention this. She rarely had enough time outside of work to catch an episode of television, so when things broke down in her rooms, she never bothered to fix the non-essentials.
He coughed, and let out some particularly foul curses. "God, I am so sick of this bullshit cold crap. Are you sure you can't just put a bullet in my head and reset me? It'd save us all a whole lot of frickin' trouble," he said.
"I'm sure," she replied.
He wasn't even trying to hit on her this time, given that he was far too miserable to even toss out one of his trademark bad pick up lines.
He sat down on the couch and leaned against her.
"Please don't kick me off this time, okay. I feel like shit and I'm bored as hell. But here, I'll feel a little better because I'm around you, at least."
He coughed and pulled the blanket over his head, but she could see him peering hopefully out at her. There was something endearing about him, despite it all. In the end, she just couldn't say no when he was giving her that puppyish, hopeful look.
"All I've got to read is a pamphlet on energy."
"Go on," he said. "Dunno about that crap, but your voice is nice."
"On the conservation on energy, the third reactor, hereby referred to as 3r will always remain in motion—"
He laid his head in her lap. She paused in reading to survey him, but didn't stop. It wasn't until she'd read the whole pamphlet that she laid her hand on his forehead.
"You're still awful warm," she said.
"Yeah, when I got the feelin' like crap bug, I had to get the whole package. Ain't the same until I've got a fever, too," he said.
Fever, fever...what was it that cured fevers again? Were you supposed to starve them or feed them? He racked her mind, but nothing came up. She could at least try and get his temperature down, though an ice bath might do more harm that good at this point.
"Can you get up for a second?"
Scout pushed himself up, and she made her way to the kitchen.
She laid the wet rag over his forehead.
He reached out and entwined his fingers with hers. She didn't draw back or push him away.
"Do you want me to read more?"
He didn't reply, but he didn't let go of her hand, either.
"I ain't a sissy," he muttered.
"I never said you were," she said.
"I'd do the same, you know," he said. "I—I just don't wanna be alone when I feel like crap. Ain't nothin' wrong with that," he said with a defensive edge.
"What, you'd hold my hair back while I vomit?"
"Sure, anytime," he said.
She caught herself before she said the one thing which had been eating away at her for months, for years, even.
I get lonely, too.
"Do you want more Minestrone this time?" she said.
"More soup?" Scout said. He made an exaggerated. disgusted expression underneath the cover cloak.
"I haven't stocked up on much else," she said.
"I ain't turned into some feeble old man," Scout protested. "I can chew! I can chew like a real man!"
"I'm sure you can," she said. "I'll tell you what. I'll ask Sniper to pick everyone up some takeout."
"Really? You'd do that for us? Oh, you're the best, Miss P!"
"I try," she said.
"No tryin' necessary, you already hit all the top marks!"
She stepped out only to place the call, and authorize permission. He was rather levelheaded, so she was fairly certain he could manage a simple task without causing her a great deal of covering up and paperwork to do.
When she turned back, she found him staring at her. "You're bein' real nice lately, 'specially to me," Scout said.
"You're sick right now, though I still might throw you in the pond if you don't behave," she said. Yet, there was no harsh edge to her words.
Scout snickered. "You wouldn't."
"I would," she said.
"Dunk a cute face like this? It's like kickin' a puppy! A really handsome puppy who wins all the matches and crap!"
"All dogs go to Respawn, if they're bad," she said.
"What if they're badass? Does that count, because I rock that like none other—"
"I should throw you in the biggest mudhole there is," she said.
"I can't even think of any sexy comebacks to that," Scout said. "Anyways, You'd have to catch me, first."
"Oh yes, that'd be difficult. You'd forget your were running from me and jump right in if I asked," she said.
"Heh, if it'd get a grin out of you, then sure. Bring on the mudholes, I'm gonna wallow like a pig in crap!"
She hadn't spoke up, or even admitted it to herself, but it was nice to come home to more than an empty apartment with nothing but old soup cans and paperwork to spend her nights with.
"Your egotism has gone up quite a bit, you must be feeling better," she said.
"Nah, still feel like crap, but you're here, so the day ain't that bad."
The words he said were the words she couldn't say. The realization just skin deep which had been there all day, or perhaps much earlier. She just hadn't been listening.
This day would've been horrible, but then I saw you, and it wasn't so bad.
She turned to hide the smile that came without meaning to. He'd gone and made her happy without even thinking of the consequences. Wasn't that just like him. He held the pillow, leaning his chin against it.
She had to admit, he was pretty cute. Not that she'd tell him that, though. The last thing she needed to do was feed his ego.
She was just finishing through afternoon lunch period, she heard the door open wide, and in stepped Scout's mother. She held a blue umbrella which she shook the droplets from just outside the door.
"Well, that's some storm, does it ever stop raining here?"
"If it does, then I've never seen it," Miss Pauling said.
"Oh, you're Miss Pauling. I remember you, I just forgot your name, is all. You were the one at orientation back then."
"Where is he?"
"Living room," Miss Pauling said.
"Sweetie, no need to fear, your ma is here," Scout's mother called.
The thunder let up, but it was still raining pretty hard. She put her dishes in the sink to soak. Scout had already eaten, but he'd sat at that tacky Formica table and chatted away, anyways. She collected her umbrella and started back towards the base.
She was only halfway through the base when she realized she forgot the briefcase. Miss Pauling made her way back, her waders sinking deep into the muddy ground as she made it back. Leaving her clunky waders at the door, she came in as quietly as she could, not to disturb them, and had just clutched the briefcase to her chest as she heard Scout's mother begin to talk.
"–And about her, she the one you been talkin' about?"
"Yeah, she's the one," Scout said. He coughed so violently that she reached for the door, but drew back.
"Oh, baby," Scout's mother cooed.
"I ain't a baby," Scout protested.
"You'll always be my baby, even when you got grandchildren, you hear? Always," she said. "So tell me about this girl. Is she your girlfriend? You gonna marry her?"
"Nah, I've been tryin', but no luck," he said.
"You mean she's been turnin' you down," Scout's mother said.
"Yeah, but I—"
"Oh, sweetie," Scout's mother sighed. She heard the sound of heels on the floor again. "I thought somethin' like this might happen. Love ain't like tryin' out for a team. You either do or you don't, you can't practice until you force it through. Don't tell me you've been doin' that."
"I-It ain't like that–" Scout protested.
"Did she say no?" Scout's mother said firmly.
"–Did. She. Say. No?"
"Yeah..." Scout said. He sounded absolutely defeated, with no trace of cockiness in his voice.
"Sweetie, if she doesn't feel the same then she doesn't feel the same," Scout's mother said in a soothing tone.
"Don't you even start. I know a bit more about ladies, livin' as many years as I have," she said.
"You don't understand, ma! I just can't stop thinkin' about her! She's special above all the other girls I ever met, I just feel so high whenever she's around. It–It hurts, and I don't know how to Inot/I like her because there's literally nothin' about her that I don't like. I got sick because I went after her necklace she went and dropped. Even after it got cold and dark and wet and I couldn't feel my fingers no more, I kept searchin'. It didn't matter if I felt awful because I knew it'd make her happy and it'd all be worth if it'd make her smile. If I could reach her like that, even though I couldn't feel nothin' anymore, even though it made me feel awful and I could get hit by lightning, I'd do it. I ain't never felt like that before...how can she not feel it, ma?" His voice broke at the last word, and he coughed.
"Oh, honey..." His mother sighed, and she heard footsteps on the floor again. Miss Pauling leaned against the wall, electric with this new knowledge.
"Honey, that's the way love is. More often than not, it won't work out. They won't like you or you'll like them more than they like you. And then, that's not even takin' into account if the whole thing falls apart later. But in the end, you keep tryin' to find that person, because I didn't raise you to be a quitter."
"I would. I really would. Not even the cheap, I'll be back kind. I'd take a bullet for her in a heartbeat," Scout said.
"I know, sweetie. I know. Now don't go throwing away your heart for nothing. You always were a fighter, in every sense of the word. One day you'll find a girl who appreciates all that, but she just ain't that girl. The best thing you can do is get back to your own bedroom. Your ma is here, and I'll make sure to take good care of you."
"Do I have to? I mean, It hurts, it hurts right here and I don't know what to do about it, it's like bein' on a see-saw and goin' up and down, up and down—Every time I see her it's this rush and then just bam. I'm free-fallin'," Scout said.
"It's for the best," his mother said.
Miss Pauling tiptoed out, and waited a moment for her heart rate to settle, and for the sound his mother. She could walk on and pretend like nothing had happened. It'd be the least troublesome choice. Her life would go on as it had. A little lonely, a little empty, but she would fill the hole with work like she always did. Knowing him, he'd move on soon enough to other girls. He'd go and fill their lives up whether they asked or not, go and make them smile.
Truth be told, she'd been happier in these few days than years of coming in too late to call her family and having nothing but the static of a broken television to keep her company though the night.
She pulled the necklace from its hiding place and cradled it in the palm of her hands. His fingers had gone numb, but he'd still kept searching, just to make her happy.
Maybe I had you pegged wrong. You're still an asshole, but not a complete one, I suppose. She smiled to herself, imagining him countering that, flirting back with all his might.
"What a troublemaker," she said under her breath.
She turned to the sound of a throat clearing, and saw his mother leaning in the doorway.
"Oh, there you are. Thank you for taking care of my son—I might've been a bit short with you. It's just that I worry so much, you know," she laughed at this, hand to her ample chest."He always was the one who got into the most trouble of my boys, and believe me, he had competition. You don't have to worry any more, though. I'm going to take him back to the base and see to him myself."
"That really isn't necessary—"
"You're a busy woman, just like you said, and I don't want your superior lady to come down on you, so, I'll just...get him moved. Don't worry, there's not much to do. I already talked to the big guy, and he offered to help."
With only seconds left to make her choice, she tightened her grip about the charm for just a moment, before she let it fall free back to her neck. The necklace was the one solid connection to her past, to the memories of a bookish girl who never bothered with dances and fairs, who spent her days in libraries and working on the student council.
The last tenuous connection to family and friends she had barely time to talk to these days. She'd lost many things when she came to TF Industries, but they'd yet to take her memories.
She grabbed the phone and stepped outside. "I have to get this—" she said, but Scout's mother wasn't listening. She quickly dialed in the numbers. The person on the other line picked up on the first ring.
"I need you to distract Scout's mother, and I need you to do it right now," she said.
"Hmmmm. I don't take jobs related to her," he said.
"It isn't a job, it's not official. Off the books—I'll owe you," she said quickly.
Realizing that an unspecified IOU could be deadly, especially with him, she continued on.
"I'll provide the same service. He'll listen to me if he's bothering you again. I can convince him to leave you alone."
She heard him exhale smoke across the line. Her jaw twitched in irritation. He always toyed with everyone around them, pushing them to their utter limits.
"Difficult, but I think I can manage," Spy said.
The phone call ended without any further formalities.
She dialed another number. It took three rings until a thickly accented. IYes/I came across the line.
"You're on scouting duty," she said.
"But, Scout mother asked—"
"Who is your superior, Heavy? Who do you have to work with every single day? Who reports to the Administrator?"
"Little women will be the death of me," Heavy said with a deep sigh.
"If she finds out, just say I made you change," Miss Pauling said.
"I will do the scouting duty," Heavy said.
"Good," she replied, and turned the phone off.
When she returned to the apartment, Scout's mother was gone, and so was her umbrella. Only a faint wet spot on the floor where her shoes had been remained.
"Jeez, ma, I'm almost done, no need to yell at me," Scout said from the other room. She walked towards him, slowly, but with purpose.
"Ma, you don't gotta go get the big guy, I can friggin' walk—" he broke off as he saw her. First he smiled, then a more pained expression came over his face.
"Oh, hey. Thought you was my ma." He rubbed at his neck. "So, I guess this is goodbye, huh? Thanks for everythin', and I'll...see you around. And, Miss P—"
"—What you said, did you mean it?" She said.
"Yeah, I can walk," Scout said.
She shook her head. "Before when you were talking to your mother. Did you mean it?"
He coughed. "You heard that?"
"Yes, how inconvenient for me to be in my own apartment," she said. "Did you mean it?"
"Yeah. Every word," Scout said. He smiled sadly at her. "You probably think I'm a fool, huh?"
She shook her head. "That's the last thing I think you are."
She took a deep breath and continued on. "When I first came to work here I was read off a contract which had ten pages alone dedicated to the non-fraternization clause. Every time you make a pass at me, I get called into her office."
"Yeah, 'bout that...can't say I'm sorry. Sorry they do that to you, but I–I'll stop it, now. Ma gave me an earful."
He seemed about to say more, but didn't. "It was fun," he said finally.
"It was," she said.
Just a flicker of hope showed across his face. "Miss P?"
"I only have to ask...why weren't you saying that Ibefore?/I Why the lines if you felt like that?"
"My lines weren't bad," Scout protested.
"No, they were horrible, like something out of a bad joke book. Moreover, you used them on any woman you could find—"
"I get it, I get it," Scout cut in. "'sides, those were two different times. Can't really compare the two."
"Two different times?" Miss Pauling said.
"It didn't happen all at once," Scout said with a shrug. "That was before I got hit in the face with all this feelin' stuff."
She stepped a little closer. "You meant it," she said again.
"Every word," he said.
"You really do think the world of me," she murmured.
"And the stars, and the universe, and infinity and stuff," Scout said.
She reached out to touch his shoulder, but he didn't make a move, for once.
"I'm kinda gross, though. I ain't showered or brushed, and I been coughin' up a storm," he said. He pulled the blanket around him tighter. Despite everything, he really was rather cute—something she never thought she'd be saying about a homicidal mercenary who she'd had to bail out of numerous troubles.
She pulled up the blanket and took his head in her hands, going up on tiptoe to kiss him on the forehead.
"Gimme a sec—"
He rushed out, nearly tripping on the blanket in his haste. She heard some gargling in the other room, and muffled swearing. He returned a few moments later, his hair sticky and slicked back.
He was noticeably more minty than before, with blue liquid still dripping off his head.
"You poured mouthwash on your head?"
"I was aimin' for my mouth, but I missed," he said, with a shrug. "Got it the second time, though!"
"...Go wash up," she said, shaking her head. He rushed off, and she heard the distant sound of a crash. She followed in, nearly slipping on the puddle of water across the wooden floor.
"Scout, are you all right?"
"I just slipped–" he said.
He peeked out from the spotted shower curtain. Green shampoo dripped from his head down his neck and shoulders. His face was noticeably redder, in what would soon turn into a nasty bruise.
"I turn my back for two seconds and you're already getting yourself hurt," she said.
"It'll feel better if you kiss it," Scout said.
She rested her hand on his chest, and kissed the corner of his mouth, tasting a hint of mint.
"I don't have time to be sick," she said.
"I'll take care of you if you do," he said. "Scout's honor."
"Uh-huh, and how are you going to manage that when you can't even turn on the stove?"
"I'll...buy take out! And get some Clam Chowder from ma," Scout said. He seemed so proud of himself for this compromise. Then again, he was always proud of himself.
"Finish washing yourself up, before you get pneumonia," she said.
"Aye, aye!" he replied, pushing the curtain back.
When she returned to the kitchen, she found Scout's mother sat at the table, a steaming faint blue cup of tea in her hands. She didn't look up as Miss Pauling came into the room, instead considering the tea as she began to talk.
"I see you went and took a stand. And you got my man into it, too," she said. She surveyed Miss Pauling with a critical gaze. "I'd be lyin' if I said I'm not a bit impressed, but you shouldn't make a habit of messin' with my boys, you hear?"
"I'm his superior. They're contract bound to obey my commands," Miss Pauling said.
"Is that what they call it these days?" Scout's mother smiled, but there was a veiled threat behind it. "I'd like to think that he'd fight for me, even against his bosses. Maybe I need to have a little talk with him."
"He already has," Miss Pauling said.
"Hmmm, maybe," Scout's mother said. "Why don't you sit down?"
Miss Pauling did, but ignored the tea in front of her.
"Life ain't been too kind to him, but he's a fighter. It's all he knows how to do. He's clueless and pig-headed, but he's special, too. He cares a lot, even if he don't always show it right. Don't you go breakin' his heart, you hear?"
"I can't make any promises of that kind. We're bound to hurt each other, and maybe we won't even make it in the end. I will say, however, that I have no intention of toying with his affections," she said.
"Well put," Scout's mother said. "You sure got a good head on your shoulders." She took a sip of tea and considered Miss Pauling across the rim.
"I expect to see you around Christmas, I bring back all my boys for the holidays. You should meet them! It's a noisy place around then, but I think you'll deal with it well, considering how you manage up here."
"I'll have to decline, I'm afraid. I already used more than my allotted free day this year," Miss Pauling replied.
"Free day? Just how hard are they workin' you?"
"I have one day of free time a year," Miss Pauling replied.
"Wait, wait did I hear you wrong? One day a year?" Scout's mother said incredulously. She touched her hair and tsked. "That is downright unacceptable."
She pushed herself up, and started towards the door. "And I am not just going to sit here while they work you to the bone."
"That really isn't—" Miss Pauling protested.
But she had already stepped up and made her way to the door. The Administrator was absent, but Saxton Hale was around. He'd returned from his last scheduled bear activities, and should be stamping his I'm coming for you, you son of a bitch! letters at this time of day over his lunch steak.
She heard laughter beside her, and then a snort, and looked over to see Spy sitting at the table. She hadn't even noticed him come in, but that was ever his way. Maybe she should have paid more attention to the other cup of tea set out.
"He won't even know what hit him. She's the fiercest woman I ever met," Spy said. His voice almost took on a dreamy quality to it.
"She's...something," Miss Pauling said.
"Enjoy having her for a mother-in-law," Spy said with a smirk.
"We haven't even gone on one date," Miss Pauling said in annoyance.
He laughed with a snort, as if he knew something she didn't as he disappeared into the air again.
She peered outside, and to her surprise, the rain had finally let up.
"What do you know, it does stop raining in Sawmill after all," she said.