He was thousands of miles and half a dozen dimensions away from home. All he could see was water staining the carpet, fire raging up the stairwell. Beds were wandering the halls, unmade and filthy. Doors led one way, then looped back again. Whatever was outside this place was lost in white clouds and gray water. The lawn was unshorn, patchy. Muck had gummed up the fountains. It was all grime, depression, sorrow and anger.

The Pyro tried to make the best of it.

He spent the last hour dancing in the lobby with three princesses. Well, not all of them. It would have been too difficult for the one with a fish tail to dance on land. They spun in the center of a music box, swinging in circles like an unstopped cuckoo clock. Chimes clacked a delicate waltz out from inside of the device. The Pyro wasn't much for dancing, but playing in the front lobby was better than trying to make sense of the rest of this place.

He had spent a great deal of time wondering how he had gotten here. It couldn't have been from the lake. The last thing he remembered, he had been with the Engineer, storming Gray's skyscraper. This didn't look anything like that base. Not enough robots, for one. More troubling was how he was going to leave. There was nothing on the rooftops, no boats out. The earth itself dropped out past the back of the hotel. He was stuck here unless he wanted to swim his way out.

Maybe he could have the fish princess help him.

A screech came from behind the stairwell. The Pyro stopped, one foot still in the air. The clanking hadn't come from the music box. He waited, watching the shadows grow. Something massive was coming his way. He reached for his hammer, waiting to see what it was. For all he knew, it was a king-sized version of the beds upstairs.

He lowered his guard as he saw a familiar friend. "Officer Delta!"

The other man was shocked. He tipped his head, knocking his helmet into the stairwell's railing. "G.J.? What are you doing here?"

The Pyro's mask buzzed. "It's Pyro, remember? That's my name. Well, that's what everyone else calls me."

"My mistake," Officer Delta apologized. "Names can be difficult to remember."

"How did you get out here?" the Pyro asked.

The officer was hesitant to answer that question. It took him a few moments to come up with a satisfactory answer. Even then, he wasn't clear. "I'm on patrol. I have heard that a fugitive was going to come here."

The Pyro shook his head. "I don't know why anyone would want to hide here. This place is a mess. I'd probably have an allergy attack, if it wasn't for my mask."

"It isn't always like this," Officer Delta replied. "On a clear day, it is serene."

The officer glanced down at the music box. He studied the rotating figures, watching them spin on their pedestals. The Pyro went back to viewing the machine as well. Had his buddy never seen them here before? It was a neat toy. Maybe it was a little noisy, though.

"Charming, aren't they?" the policeman asked.

The Pyro agreed. "I like the fish princess."

That brought a low chuckle from the officer. "I suppose she suits you."

With a simple touch, the officer turned the machine off. He collected the three princesses from their places. They seemed so shiny and clean in his rough hands. He began walking towards the kitchen, pushing the door open with his nose. The Pyro followed him, wondering what he was doing. He laughed as his friend put the first princess with the apples in the pantry. That made sense.

"Is that where she lives?" the Pyro questioned.

"Yes," Officer Delta said. He paused, then gave the Pyro the fish princess. "She belongs outside. Could you put her there?"

The Pyro nodded. He took the small trinket, then went on his way. A fish princess would need water, wouldn't she? Throwing her into the rancid lake was wrong, though. He doubted anyone would ever find her there again. The dirty fountains would have to do. The Pyro placed her at the fountain's edge, just close enough to the water to admire it. Even if she wanted back in, he wasn't going to let her smear herself up. Didn't seem like the kind of thing a princess would do.

Going inside once more, the Pyro met his friend on the stairwell. "I put her on a fountain."

"Good choice," the policeman agreed. He tipped his head, then scratched his face. "Pyro? How did you get here?"

"I'm not trespassing," the Pyro replied. "I…well, promise not to laugh?"

Officer Delta bobbed his head. "You have my word."

The Pyro rubbed the back of his head, rubber fingertips leaving foreign sensations. "I was helping my friends, but I got shot. Then I died. And then I was here." Shrugging his shoulders, he tried to write off the seriousness of his demise. "I die a lot. It's not a big deal. But, usually I revive where I died. Not here."

The firebug was expecting some kind of radical reaction from Officer Delta. He stayed motionless, studying the information he was given. The Pyro tipped his head back and forth, wondering if his friend had frozen up. After a moment, his friend nodded. He put a hand on the side of his nose, scratching his fingers up and down it.

"I get it now," Officer Delta said.

"Can you help me go home?" the Pyro asked. "I mean, can you drive me back to town? Or row? Guess I don't know."

"Even I am not supposed to be here. Not yet," the policeman murmured. He cocked his head, trying to figure out the best solution for his friend's problem. "Have you tried going back the same way you came?"

The Pyro cringed, shrinking up. "Nope. Didn't wanna kill myself. It's kind of a hassle."

Of all the sentences that should have shocked the officer, this one had no effect on him. People like the Pyro rarely did such rash actions to themselves. He grumbled, then gave a low groan. The quickest course of action was a bit unsavory, but it would work.

"Please sit down. Close your eyes," Officer Delta ordered. "I will send you back."

Most people would have run from such ominous statements. The Pyro did not. He folded his legs, then put his hands under his chin. This was an unpleasant task to ask his friend to help him with, but he thought the man would understand. He had cleaned up that poor dead woman, after all. He seemed to have the stomach for handling brutal cases.

There was a scratching from behind the Pyro. He didn't turn to look. "Sorry for the inconvenience."

The officer didn't sound offended. "This is just a part of my job."

"You've been a good pal, Adam," the Pyro buzzed. "Bye, buddy."

Officer Delta gave him one last farewell. "Goodbye, Pyro."

There was an uncomfortable second as the Pyro was forced off the mortal coil once more. It felt like sharp metal had gone through his chest. A strange way for a cop to send someone off. The Pyro relaxed, getting accustomed to floating through space once more. He watched his friend amble away as he hovered over his head. From up here, he found himself laughing at how his friend had a helmet twenty sizes too large for his head.

The Pyro felt like he was sucked through a straw as his body ripped into a black abyss. He fell backwards through empty space. Blurs of color moved around him, spinning in meaningless bands. He saw a thousand realities fly in front of his face before it spun into static. The Pyro closed his eyes, letting his body ride the travel out.

When he opened them, he was on his bed.

The Pyro sat up. It was just like a trick in the movies. He was in his meager dormitory in Hydro. The room had been dusted, freshly laundered sheets on his bed. He stood up, then looked outside. There were two colors of men on the front lawn, all hauling metal scraps and working on vehicles. The Pyro found himself smiling behind his mask. Finally, he was back with his teammates.

He went outside to greet the sunshine and the bright, clear day.

There was nothing but snow.

The Sniper landed on his face, nose shoved into a drift. He dug down with his head, trying to bury himself. The final stages of hypothermia, no doubt. The last of his feeble thoughts were curious, mad. He wanted to dig until he found permafrost, ice, a snarling bear. Something other than goddamn snow.

He had spent the past five days eating it. The cold water had done little to satiate his appetite. His skin was blue, fingers and toes black. Even so, he was stripped of his shirt, vest, pants and boots. He was so cold, but he was so hot. Two polar sensations were driving him crazy. Every last one of his thoughts were insane.

He closed his eyes. His body was shaking. He felt as if the drift was miles thick. He melted through the snowbank, his freezing body still the warmest object for miles. He fell for ages, water rushing past his drifting corpse. What would become of his body? Would an archeologist find him? Would they put him on display? What if he became someone's monstrous diamond?

He sank until he fell into a pile of quilts.

The Sniper's eyes burned. His skin flushed red and pink, sweat beading on his pores. He reached beneath sunglasses to rub his eyes. His fingertips were soft, free of frostbite. He studied his fingernails. They were evenly trimmed. Sitting upright, he banged his head into a tin roof. He yowled, but let the pain subside.

Okay. So, this was real. He was sleeping in his bed—in his van.

His van.

The Sniper flopped out of his bed. He bustled about his van, looking through its contents. This was it! His heart raced as he dug through old photos, worn books, clean clothing. Someone had washed his uniforms. The Sniper stumbled on eager feet, rushing towards the back of his van. He fumbled with the latch, then threw himself out.

This was Hydro. Not where his van had last been, but it was certainly the garage in Hydro.

He wobbled forward. With one great sniff, he took in the scents around him. Desert air. Running water. Metal. Fresh oil. Sun-baked wood and gasoline. Grilled meat. His stomach punched him for his negligence. The smells of life were all around him, and it was an overwhelming cologne.

There was a jingle from the back of the garage. Someone had attached a brass bell to the top of the workshop's door. Probably to give its workers an alert. The Sniper's eyes glanced down, finding the face of a confused handyman. The shorter of the two snapped his goggles up, his thick jaw hanging open. He approached the Sniper with small, timid footsteps. The Sniper held his place, nerves buckling.

His friend took the sunglasses off his nose. Both men stared at each other in disbelief. The shorter man reached out, feeling the Sniper's gut and spine. He was whole, unharmed. As soon as he had made that deduction, the shorter man snapped his arms tight. The Sniper returned such power with his own. He lowered his head against the Engineer's bald scalp, his face pain-wracked, joyful.

"Took you long enough," the Engineer grumbled.

The Sniper nodded but said nothing. It felt like an eternity since he had been so safe. He wanted to beg forgiveness for dying, for abandoning his friends in their hour of need. He felt like nothing, just bundles of straw and an empty brain. Helplessness took his backbone and inner fire.

He felt his words choke on the way out of his throat. "I'm sorry. I…"

Whatever sorrow and loathing he had burned away. Warm, thick lips pressed against his cheek. He closed his eyes, sinking further. His scar went cold when they left. Bones shook, skin shivered. He was such a mess. And yet, he was still wanted.

"You saved my life, Mick," the Engineer murmured. "Ain't nothin' to apologize for."

The Sniper couldn't find the strength to pull away. He chuckled, stomach and shoulders moving so little. "Could've done a better job of it."

The Engineer patted his back. "Hindsight's twenty-twenty. 'Course, you know all about that."

Stamina flowed through the Sniper's weary body like slow lava. He pulled up, then regained his composure. "So, mate. We won, yeah?"

"Yep," the Engineer nodded. "Put ol' Gray on ice for a spell."

The Sniper shook. "Oh, don't talk to me about goddamned ice."

That got a chuckle from the Engineer. He nudged the Sniper in his ribs. "Bad respawn, huh? Take it you'll want a warm beer, then."

"Take what I can get," the Sniper agreed. He smiled, then looked back at his van. "You found her."

"Out in the Badlands. Untouched. Well, save for a pack of raccoons and an owl that were livin' in it," the Engineer said.

The Sniper lifted his shoulders. "Long as they weren't crappin' in it."

Both men grinned once more. There were so many words they wanted to share, pain and joy behind cold, blue eyes. All they could manage were smiles. The Engineer rubbed the Sniper's spine once more, feeling where his vertebrae poked closed to the skin. The Sniper chuckled as the robotic digits went over his back. That was the feeling of the Engineer's old robotic hand, thick and rough.

"Suppose we've got a bit of work left to do," the Sniper beamed.

The Engineer confirmed his suspicions. "Got a lot of robots to bust up. But, I reckon between all eighteen of us, we'll get it done. Then, we can get onto the next thing, whatever that is." The Engineer laughed, then squeezed the Sniper around his arms. "'Course, there's one thing we could do before then."

The Sniper lifted an eyebrow. "Yeah?"

"Never did test your van out," the Engineer snickered.

In all fairness, he had brought this upon himself.

Gray had been furious for the first five minutes he spent in his new location. A year's worth of work had been blown up and incinerated by nine children. His tropical paradise was razed. Hundreds of thousands of his machines were being torn apart. Mann's lands were left for the coyotes to rule. Worst of all, he was melting in his suit.

He couldn't blame the Engineer for sending him to hell. He had wanted to throw the Texan in it, after all.

A man like Gray, who spent his life buried in experiments and conquering tracts of land, hardly had the time to spare wondering about what hell was like. Now that he was here, he found it more boring than loathsome. Perhaps it was one of those dull, psychological hells. Less pecking of livers and rolling rocks up endless hills, and more sitting around in the time-out corner. Sure, the black, crackled lava pools and jagged rocks had been intimidating at first, but now they were just garish.

The technician did what any man in hell would do. He tried to kill himself a couple of times. Once that didn't pan out, he began to scheme. There had to be some other life here. If not, there were still minerals. He could dig up iron veins and try his hand at smelting. What would it matter if he failed, after all? All he would do was die again.

He approached a crooked, dilapidated tower. It was hardly the kind of building he would have expected to see in hell. Wooden, lopsided, boarded up windows. It looked like a rejected tenement hall from Munchkinland. It was the closest thing he had to a base around here. If nothing else, it was worth securing.

He stepped one foot inside and groaned. Squatted on the rotten floorboards were the decaying, living bodies of his brothers.

Death had not changed their goals. They were busy drawing lines inside the building, slathering ectoplasm in lines along the floors. Neither man had the impressive set of mercenary forces that they once commanded. Now, their wars were fought with little more than a couple of gravel hunks and bug husks. Both were trying to choke the other one out, but neither was having any luck.

"Gentlemen," Gray greeted his idiotic brothers.

Redmond was the first to release his brother's neck. Blutarch's head flopped backwards as the scarlet twin began shouting at Gray. "You son of a bitch! What are you doing here?"

Gray narrowed his eyes. "Is that any way to talk about our mother?"

"You're the one that killed her," Blutarch wheezed through his broken trachea. He snapped his neck up, his wounds healing instantly. "I was going to have the decency to wait until we were eighteen."

"Look, I think we can all agree that we were mutually responsible for our mother's death," Redmond cut his brothers off. "I, on the other hand, was the one that infected our father with twenty-three of the thirty diseases that killed him. So, I claim victory over that one."

Gray glanced down at the heap of garbage the two men were squabbling over. "So, this is how you spend the afterlife?"

"Figured it's how we spent most of our lives. Why change?" Blutarch shrugged.

Redmond nodded. "Besides. Hell is boring."

"I agree," Gray replied. He rolled his head to the left, then asked a moronic question for his stupid brothers. "I suppose you haven't tried escaping, have you?"

Redmond shook his head. "Nope. The devil's not interested in letting us out yet."

"Yet?" Gray asked.

Blutarch shrugged his shoulders. "Well, there's always next Halloween."

Gray shook his head. Was he going to have to wait long for his revenge? Did time pass here in the same way it did on Earth? He could be as rotted and disgusting as his ghastly brothers by then. It was going to be quite a bit more difficult to build robot armies with undead, oozing limbs. Still, an opening was an opening. Perhaps his brothers were right about one thing, for once in their lives.

Figuratively speaking.

Sitting down next to his brothers, Gray decided to wait for their revenge. "May I join?"

"Why the hell not?" Redmond grumbled.

Blutarch opened his right hand in Gray's palms. He dumped half a dozen paper clips and a stub of a pencil's eraser into his hand. "There's your army. Red's gravel, I'm the bugs."

"Fine. What are we fighting over?" Gray asked.

For once, neither of the three men knew. It didn't stop them from going straight back to battle. Gray sat quietly as his brothers threw dice carved from the skulls of mice, watching them tear at each other's throats once more. While they were busy killing each other again, he began moving all three pieces around. If he was going to engage in this idiotic game, he was going to get the best rocks and bugs.

They continued playing in hell, waiting for their day of revenge to come.

A heavy cloud of cigarette smoke and booze floated from outside. Eighteen men were sitting across two picnic tables, red and blue uniforms mixing with each other. There were still violent outbursts, the occasional insidious cackle from the RED Spy, the BLU Soldier leaping down people's throats. Still, it was as close to a kinship that both teams had ever had. Even former enemies and broken-hearted friends had made a tentative peace. The RED Sniper was still irritable around the BLU Spy, and the BLU Medic jumped in fright every time the RED Pyro approached him, but it was better than during the Gravel Wars.

The hosts for the victory celebration were finishing up the last touches on their hairdos. They threw a curling iron back and forth, catching it each time by the plastic handle. They both applied lipstick for the first time in months, doused themselves in the best perfume they had around. Miss Pauling wore one of the last dresses both men had seen her in—a cotton lilac skirt with a silver belt. She left her hair flowing free, pinning only a wild strand back with a metal barrette. Even her cat's eye glasses were decked out with tiny faux gems. The Scout's mother took a little bit of old and new. Her blue dress was dusted at the collar with a small amount of powdered concealer, which she brushed away. On her feet were the white boots her paramour had chosen for her.

"Ready?" Miss Pauling asked.

The Scout's mother agreed. "You bet, kid."

They unplugged the curling iron and shut off the lights, closing the bathroom door behind them. Both giggled as they caught sight of the horsing around outside. The RED Heavy and BLU Demoman were finishing off two bottles of cheap wine, drinking with arms locked while the men cheered them on. The Demoman gagged on the liquor, but the other Heavy kept going. When he finished, there was a rumble and a roar at the table. He patted his former enemy on the shoulder, then grinned.

"Dhey really are a bunch of idiots, aren't dhey?" the Scout's mother laughed.

"Yeah, but they're our idiots," Miss Pauling said. She lowered her gaze, then smirked. "And Helen's."

The Scout's mother patted her on the back. Poor kid couldn't let the loss of her boss go. "Hey, you'll find her. You found everyone else, right? And until dhen, you'll have dhem under control. I mean, look how dhey're actin' already!"

Miss Pauling blushed. "W-well. I wouldn't say that's stellar behavior."

"No one's dead yet," the Scout's mother laughed.

Both women stepped outside. They watched with curious eyes as the men mingled. The BLU Sniper and Engineer were sitting together, sharing absinthe as both Pyros babbled nonsense behind them. The BLU Spy patted the Scout's mother on the shoulder, then went off to make her a drink, the RED Spy glaring with a tinge of anger at his counterpart. Her son was too busy playing catch with the other Scout, both kids raucous and laughing. The Medics were chasing after wild animals. They caught each other's birds, then herded the RED Soldier's raccoons back to their general. The RED Sniper kept the furthest from the pack, watching the sun set. Even he was taking time to converse with the BLU Heavy, sharing stories of past rivalries. Each man with a bare face was flushed pink, happy and a little inebriated.

"Glad to see dhose boys use all dhat booze up," the Scout's mother smiled. "Drinkin' got me into trouble, anyway."

Miss Pauling shrugged. "I suppose that's one way to look at it. But without it, we wouldn't have this."

"Ain't it funny how a mistake can change so much?" the little mother laughed.

Nodding, Miss Pauling agreed. Her calculations had lost both her teams and her boss. They had lost time due to the logic of safety, cowering to a madman and being pets to machines. Perfect contraptions were broken by weak, human flesh. Men were rescued at the loss of others. Even with such pains, it had been worth it. Standing beneath a powerful dam, watching two teams fight and meld into one, both women felt proud.

Mistakes had saved them all.

Author's Note

I hope you don't mind the ending running a little bit long.

There was a time where I thought about deleting this story. If you would have told me that it would go on to be the most reviewed story I've got on this site, I would have been shocked. It's hard as hell for me to write more domestic story lines like this. Even worse was the advent of Ring of Fired. Because damn, right? Way to fly in the face of canon!

Writing for two months straight has been painful. I'm not going to lie—it was two to three hours of my night, every night. On top of a full-time job and family issues. You guys made it worthwhile.

I'd especially like to give thanks to PyBun for her artwork. This story would have disappeared if she had not made that first image. Couldn't let something that wonderful go without a story! I'd also like to thank Smokin' Tacos for catching typos on the fly. Hopefully, you won't have too many to find this last chapter.

Thank you. You made even my worst days worth this pain.