Title: I'll Make A Gentleman Out Of You
Pairing: Scout/Miss Pauling, ensemble
Summary: Miss Pauling takes what could possibly be her hardest mission yet: turning the mercenaries into gentlemen long enough to undertake a mission to infiltrate a high class party.
Author's note: Fic_promptly: Author's choice, author's choice, undercover operative
/ longfic_bingo: spies and assassains. it was supposed to be just a short, flimsy excuse to get my OTP to dance together. Then the damn thing decided to have a plot, whoops.
Multiversecafe, who is awesome did art for the story. I can't link, so just check her tumblr for it. She was also kind enough to beta for me.
The whole plan was, as per usual, entirely without reason or any semblance of common sense or grasp on reality. Miss Pauling had learned to keep her gaping to a minimum when asked to do the impossible. Then again, she had seen firsthand the fallout of the Poopy Joe scandal, and the thought of Saxton Hale taking such a drastic measure afterwards wasn't surprising.
"Are you sure about this, sir?" Miss Pauling said.
"Well, I suppose I could kick in the door and take him out myself, but I have a tiger to fight, and you don't just reschedule a tiger fight!" Saxton Hale said, making a wild punching gestures with his muscled arms. She mentally made a note to have the windows replaced when he inevitably "took the manlier option" and jumped out the window instead of using the door like any normal person would.
"Of course, sir. This plan is obviously the way to go," Miss Pauling said from behind gritted teeth. Her smile was a bit too thin, but this was the norm when dealing with some of her superiors.
And as usual, he didn't catch the flat note in her voice, and simply barreled on.
"I'm glad that we see eye to eye! Now I expect you to take care of the details. Just make sure I get that document back and those senators dead!"
"That's it, sir?" she said.
"I pay you to do the thinking for me, Miss Pauling. Now go out there and make me proud!"
Without bothering to say goodbye, he dove out the window. Miss Pauling sighed and mentally added calling window replacement again. They were perhaps the only company which had door and window replacements on speed dial.
The best she could do was try and make sense out of this outlandish plot. She tried to remind herself that she'd done stranger things, although not many.
In no less than two weeks she would have to have teams primped, perfected, and calm enough to infiltrate the private mansion, take out multiple men and get an important document, and do it all before the clock struck twelve. And course, she'd have to have some papers forged in the process, and slip several guests onto the invitations list, which was nothing to sneeze at.
Pyro would have to be benched for this mission. There was just no chancing that he might go out of control during the mission, to say nothing of how much he would stick out, should he not immediately burn down the building. The other eight mercenaries, though, would have to be fixed up enough to withstand a night out in high society without drawing too much attention to themselves.
Spy would need no coaching, but he would need enough reliable backup to have a suitable diversion. She suspected Engineer could handle himself well enough, for he always had the most decorum of the bunch, while Medic's manners wasn't the issue, it was his bloodthirsty habits and medical experiments. Heavy could always be passed off as a bodyguard, she supposed.
That left Demoman, Soldier and Scout.
Demoman could be quite charming and solid when he was sober, but that was a rather rare occurrence. Soldier and Scout, however...
She was going to have a lot of work ahead of her.
The men were gathered and seated in back, while she set up the projector in the darkened room. Heavy and Medic were quietly chatting, while Soldier sat ramrod straight, waiting for every command.
She couldn't tell the state of Demoman's sobriety, but he was upright at the moment, and not taking a swing at any of his fellow members, so that was good, at least.
Spy, Sniper and Pyro were absent, given their particular roles—or lack of roles, that was.
Scout, however, was leaning on his chair, loudly chewing bubble gum and looking at places other than the projector. She dropped her pen and had to bend to pick it up, and to no one's surprise, she heard a whistle. Of all the mercenaries, eight were perfectly respectable towards her. She could be doused in water and one of them would probably lend her their coat. Scout, however...
She should've known better to look at him, because he only acted out worse to get her attention.
"I should give you detention for that," Miss Pauling said.
"You could spank me," Scout said.
Or, she could do one turn worse and ignore him. She pointedly looked back at her clipboard, over to the other mercenaries, anywhere but him. His bravado began to fade.
"Soldier, it's your turn," she said. She flipped the projector to a new slide, a photograph of Kickasso's IHunted In The Forest/I phase.
"Is that an original Kickasso!" Soldier bellowed.
"Indoor voice, Soldier," Miss Pauling said.
"Is. That. An. Original. Kickasso?!"
It wasn't so much annoyance at her, so much as Soldier's usual righteous patriotism that burst forth at all the inappropriate moments. She'd attempted to funnel it into things like soup spoons and salad forks, even trying to convince him that by doing this he was doing a great patriotic duty, but bringing Solider into the building could only lead to rubble and a ruined mission. Obviously there needed to be an adjustment somewhere.
"Change in plans. You and Demoman will be outdoors pretending to be drunken guests."
"Aye, lassie. It's what I'm best at," Demoman said.
"Pretending. I need you actually sober for tonight," she said.
Demoman gave her a solemn salute. "I can do that, wee lassie."
"If you get through this, I'll buy you a round myself," she said.
"What about me?" Scout said.
"You're still in detention," Miss Pauling said.
"Aw, don't be harsh, Miss P!"
"I almost thought I heard something. Must be my imagination. There's no wild Greater Assholes around here," she said.
Scout leaned back in his chair. "At least you're admittin' I'm great for once."
"Really, that's what you got out of the conversation? We need to have a talk about your comprehension skills," she said.
"Over dinner?" Scout suggested, with a mischievous grin.
Miss Pauling crossed her arms and sighed. "Scout, don't let anyone ever tell you that you aren't the best at something, because you will always be the biggest asshole I have ever met. And that's really saying something, all things considered," she said.
He leaned on his hand and grinned up at her. "Your compliments are the best. They're like a slap an a kiss in one."
"Keep on dreaming," she said, collecting her things.
"Trust me, I will!" he called after her.
Even she had to admit that was a fairly good comeback. She shook her head as she left, a mix of exasperation and amusement filling her.
Leave it to Scout to make a commotion.
Being as they were going to be portraying drunken guests, Demoman and Soldier were exempt from the dancing lessons, and Sniper would likely be actually sniping, so he too was out.
Which only left Spy, Engineer, Heavy, Medic and Scout.
"Spy?" she said, poising her pen over a check box.
He simply gave her an annoyed IReally? As if you have to ask./I look.
"I'm fairly sure you've seen the photos. It was brought up against me again last month," he said.
She put a check in the box. Spy drew a match and lit another cigarette. At least he didn't throw his old cigarette inside the building again. He and Pyro were walking fire hazards.
"Engineer?" She said.
"I learned all my dancin' skills for my cousin's debutante ball. I'm a bit rusty, but I'll be fine," he said.
"I used to teach dancing," Medic said.
"Really? You couldn't have shared that little tidbit with us before we started?" Miss Pauling said.
"You never asked," Medic said.
"Consider yourself hired," she said.
Heavy looked down at his hands, frowning. "I do not dance."
"Come here, my friend. I will teach you all you need to know."
He took Heavy's large hands and led him to the floor. For such a massive man, he quite a bit of control and agility. He was slow, but not entirely uncoordinated.
"Watch and learn," Medic said.
She had to admit, Medic was a rather good dancer. Graceful, controlled, with a bit of flair. They worked seamlessly together, with the same cues and trust that kept them alive on the battlefield together.
Scout's chest was puffed up, and he looked extra smug today, which was saying something, as smug was his default emotion. Well, that and energetically flirting with any female within a ten mile radius.
"Oh man, can I ever dance. You would not believe how I can dance. In fact, you will be gapin' at the way I can cut a rug, just you watch!"
"Uh-huh. Can you waltz?" she said.
"Uh, not that one. I can jig, though! And jitterbug, and swing, and twist—"
None of which were actually helpful, unless they needed a diversion. Certainly Scout was her go-to man for diversions.
"Come here," she said. "First you bow."
He tried to comply, but humility didn't suit him. He was all too eager to take her hand, and slipped his other hand down her back.
"Hand on my hip,"
"Glad to," he said.
Well, he had good posture, at least. She looked over her shoulder. For someone who couldn't dance, the pair was faring quite well. They chatted amiably as they danced, with Medic quizzing him on etiquette as they went, and firmly guiding his every step.
Leave it to a Heavy and Medic pair to win the day. It looked like she wouldn't have to worry about training Heavy in etiquette.
"C'mon, we can't let Heavy and Medic beat us," Scout said, leaning in close to whisper. He grinned impishly. He was enjoying this far too much, of course.
"This isn't a contest, it's a learning exercise," she said with exasperation.
"Learnin', smearnin', don't mean it can't be fun."
Even if he didn't know the steps, he was quick, graceful, and most importantly, not stepping on her feet. In the corner of her vision, she could see the rest of the mercenaries.
"It'd be a good idea not to dip Heavy," Miss Pauling said sternly.
As usual, Medic paid her no heed, but no disaster happened. "See, my friend, you're a natural," Medic said with a smile.
On the far side of the room, Soldier and Demo did a drunken bar shuffle, each holding an empty bottle of beer.
She let out a eep as he lifted up her arm and spun her, causing her purple skirt to fan out. At the apex, he dipped her low and caught her in a way which was more tango than waltz.
"Dippin', you said?"
Leave it to Scout to not let the attention go from him for a second. Before she could scold him, he pulled her back up to her feet, holding tight enough to keep her from losing her balance.
"Just one of the services I provide," he said with a wink.
"Let's take that again from the top, everyone," she said.
There wasn't a single groan in the room. Each one eagerly stepped up for more, but none as eager as Scout as he took her hand again, brimming with happiness unable to stop grinning. It wasn't supposed to be a fun exercise, but as he spun her around, she had to admit that she was having fun. The giddy, breathless kind only found on early dates, where you were always on the verge of breaking into laughter.
"So, you convinced yet?"
"I wouldn't know what you mean, Scout," she said.
"That's all right, I'll just have to show you harder, I got all kinds of skills you don't even know about yet," he said.
"Don't break anything in the progress," she replied.
"Hey, I told you I wouldn't break your heart."
"That too," she said.
"Wait, what?" Scout said.
She'd never met anyone who showed emotions on their face in such a blatant way as Scout did. It was a good thing lying wasn't a key part of his job like Spy's, because whatever he felt would always shine through.
She bit her lip, on the verge of breaking into laughter.
"Miss P, your face—"
"Ah—I remembered something I had to do. Everyone, keep practicing, and I'll See you all tomorrow," she replied.
With an abrupt wave, she left the room and Scout without bothering to wait for their goodbyes. She held on only long enough until she passed a corner until she began to laugh. Clipboard hugged to her chest and one hand across her mouth to try and keep the laughter in, but it wasn't working. If anyone had seen her, they'd think she was just slightly mad, or possibly very drunk.
Oh, his face had been priceless. God, she felt as giddy as a schoolgirl. What would he say if he saw her here? Well, he'd be happy, probably make some comment about her being happy.
It was that thought that sobered her, stopping the laughter and the sudden surge of happiness. She hadn't meant to start, but that had come rather close to flirting. Dancing on a razor's edge close. Almost-flirting and thinking about what he'd think of her? That could lead to nowhere good. With an abashed look around the hall, she gathered herself up and went off back to work.
She didn't have time to get tangled up in him.
She lifted up the salad fork. "Now, what do we call this?"
"Fancy smancy frickin' useless crap," Scout said.
Spy looked to his comrades and rolled his eyes. "A salad fork. It's not that hard," Spy said.
"For a snob like you, maybe," Scout said.
"And this," she held up the fork. She looked back to find that Scout not only was wearing the spoon on his nose, but had convinced Soldier to as well. "The boy was nice enough to give me a dinglehopper. This is no mere 'fork'—those utensils have been infiltrated."
Next to him, Scout was barely keeping in his laughter.
"...Scout, could you please stop helping along his delusions?"
In apparent Solidarity, Demoman's hat was lined with bent forks. "You too," she said.
Spy had a fork in his coat pocket, and snorted with laughter.
Miss Pauling threw her hands up in the air. "I give up."
She closed the door to the sound of the men's laughter and high fives behind her. Maybe Soldier was more keyed into the stupid prank than she thought. She never could tell how lucid he was at any given moment.
At least someone was getting some amusement out of this.
"Listen up, ladies! You better put on your prettiest dresses and your best dancing shoes, because we are going to kick them right up that dance hall. We are going to show them who wore it best!" Soldier bellowed, his voice carrying across the room and probably across the county as well.
"I always wear my dancin' shoes, they're called 'shoes' and I dance in 'em," Scout said. He was siting sideways in the chair, his legs hanging off the side.
Heavy bowed and pulled back a chair for Medic to sit in. He'd actually make a very good butler, come to think of it, as long as he didn't have to carry any china.
"Now, we're going to repeat the time from yesterday. This is?" She held up a salad fork.
"Perfect hands of a perfect girl holdin' a salad fork," Scout said.
"Technically correct, though not the answer I was looking for," she replied.
"It's entirely correct, though," Scout said. He leaned on the table.
"—Moving on," she said, talking over him. "We're coming into the final stage of preparing for our mission. I hope you've all been preparing, because a single mistake could reveal us, and then we'd have to fight our way out—"
Several of the men grinned eagerly at the prospect of violence.
"—and I'd have to do a whole lot of paperwork to try and cover up the situation, and keep your asses out of jail."
Less enthusiasm. More than a few of them had seen their share of jail time, some had even been rescued from there by the underhanded tactics of TF Industries.
Engineer put two cubes of sugar in his tea. He had the manners of the old time Southern rich, which lent even more accuracy to his new temporary identity as a widowed Texas Oil baron. Medic already had a refined air about him with his (former) medical degree and violin playing.
Soldier and Demoman were no longer an issue, but Scout still remained a challenge. She couldn't think of a way to frame his identity. He was too rough, too energetic, too flirty and uncontrollable.
She bit the eraser of her pencil as she considered the list. He was looking at her avidly, with this dreamy expression. It was a step above him having his dirty feet on the table, at least. A thought came to mind.
"Scout, jump," she said.
Without question, he leapt off the chair.
"Are you going to ask him to sit and play dead next?" Spy drawled.
"He needs to learn how to heel first," she replied.
Scout stuck his tongue out at Spy and gave him a one finger salute. However, he had no ire for her.
"So, my jumpin' skills are great, right? Ain't I somethin'? Just the coolest guy you ever saw, huh?" Scout said.
But would it work another time?
"Can you do a handstand?" Miss Pauling said.
"Ff, like you have to ask!"
Scout bent over and balanced himself up on his hands. His shirt rode up as he did, revealing a lot more abs than he had before when he'd last tried to peel off his shirt for her. He must have been working out.
"I can walk, too. See!" Scout began to walk about the room, bumping into the table with his thigh and making the china clatter.
Miss Pauling turned back to the other mercenaries. "Have you got your identities straight?"
"Ja," Medic replied.
Spy had no identity to keep straight. Soldier and Demoman both put a fist of drunken guest solidarity up together. Heavy nodded. Engineer had already lifted tea up to sip, and so paused before answering.
"It'll be as easy as Apple pie."
"Hey, hey, Miss Pauling. Look, I can walk with one ha–"
With a clatter of noise, he collapsed into a heap on the floor.
"You gave your mother a lot of gray hairs, didn't you, Scout?" Miss Pauling said.
"She keeps tellin' me that," Scout said.
Miss Pauling cleared her throat and picked up her clipboard. "The mission starts tomorrow. I trust that you all have your roles ready and will be dressed and prepared to infiltrate the mansion by sundown tomorrow. Remember, men, the success of this mission relies on your combined effort." With that, she pushed herself up. "You are dismissed."
The men talked around her as they went, Soldier and Demoman laughing over some joke, and Medic leaning towards Heavy across the table.
"We'll go over the cutlery tonight, ja? We haven't eaten a meal together in a long time, and it will be good practice. Excepting the times you shared your sandwich with me on the battlefield," Medic said.
She left before she heard Heavy's response.
Hours later with the last of her paperwork done, she headed towards her apartment. Moths and other assorted insects flew at the street lamp that rose high above the TF Industries square. Except for the sound of televisions and occasional laughter, the base had wound down for the night.
Except for him, that was.
Scout swayed with himself, with an occasional curse and a no. He kept trying to find the beat, waltzing with no partner, his arms stretched out to empty air.
"Keeping with your studies?" Miss Pauling said.
She stopped in his dancing and turned towards her. "I'm tryin', but it don't make any sense without you," Scout said.
"You seemed to catch on pretty well back there," she said.
"Yeah, because you were there. When you're not here...it don't make sense," he said.
She sighed, and took his hand. He put his other hand on her hip as they went without a tune to guide them, making the steps up along the way as they did. Despite his misgivings, he was a fast learner, and matched her steps.
"One, two three turn. One, two, three turn. Is this becoming clearer for you now?" Miss Pauling said.
"I don't know, I think I'll need a lot more practice," he said.
"You did this on purpose," Miss Pauling said. It wasn't even a question, considering that it was Ihim./I
"Nah, it just sort of fell into place. Pretty night, huh? Pretty night with the classiest girl I ever met. Can't get much better than this," he said.
"Flattery will get you nowhere," she said.
"And the truth? What about that?" Scout said.
His grip on her hand tightened. There was something very intense about him. He was all passion and fire, and for every time he said she was the only girl in the room, a tiny part of her wanted it to be true.
That didn't change anything, though. She began to pull away from him, the lightness and laughter gone with all the facts, popping all those happy moments like bubbles.
"And what do you want from me?" she said.
"Wait, you bein' serious? Really?" Scout said. He leaned in closer to whisper in her ear. "Everythin'."
For a moment, they just stayed like that. His hand entwined through hers, paused and waiting for the other's next move. His wrist was close enough to feel the pulse and heat. He was staring at her slightly parted lips with obvious intent.
Everything about dating a coworker, let alone a mercenary could lead to a train wreck of problems. She couldn't trust her future on a fleeting feeling.
She looked away from him and all the promises she couldn't let herself believe in.
She cleared her throat and awkwardly stepped away.
"...Ah, don't forget to continue your studies. You'll need every bit of practice you can get. And, ah, goodnight."
"Good night, Miss Pauling," he said.
She didn't look back. She didn't want to see the disappointment so evident in his voice.
Most of the mercenaries wore matching tuxes, save Sniper, who was clad in black, with only his trademark vest left from his usual attire. Spy and Eingeer were already perfectly neat, while Demoman and Soldier needed no correcting in their take on the tuxedo—which could only be described as 'just rolled out of bed after a night of drinking.'
Medic was on tiptoe to fix Heavy's bow tie, and Scout looked half dressed, with his coat open and his bow clumsily tied.
She wore a dark purple satin dress, that was both strapless and with a low back–a reasoning she questioned, but she wasn't the one paying for this mission or the dress. Her heels could've doubled as weapons, and meant that she actually cleared five feet for once.
Her hair had taken a good half hour of hairspray and application if several flowered white bobby pins to get it just right. Miss Pauling had never been one for lots of primping–a simple bun and a bit of lipstick and she was good to go. She thought the effect was rather nice, and so did Scout apparently, given that he was struck dumb by her appearance.
"To review the instructions, Soldier and Demoman will be working at the doors to cause a diversion and keep the guards on the left side. Before ten, Spy will make his way through."
She nodded towards him.
"Naturally," Spy said.
Heavy, Medic and Engineer will be on the inside making sure everything goes well, and to make a diversion as well."
"Sniper, you'll be on the nearby building, as the back up plan in case things go bad."
"Yep," Sniper said.
"Scout, you're with me," she said.
Still no response.
"I think ye broke his brain, lassie," Demoman said.
"He hardly had one to begin with," Spy said.
Three whole minutes of speechlessness. This had to be a new record. She waved her hand in front of his face, not even a faint register on his dazed and happy expression. She'd wanted to look to die for, but she didn't mean to send him back to Respawn in the process.
"We should keep her as a good luck charm. 'Bout the only thing I ever saw that could shut him up," Sniper said.
"You should give him a minute to let the blood go back to his brain, lassie," Demoman said.
"I'm—what?" Scout said.
"...I'll brief you on the way there, follow me."
He was only too happy to comply. For once, he didn't even make any jokes about 'briefing' or other innuendoes. Probably because he was too distracted by her backless dress.
Demoman and Soldier leaned on each other, singing drunkenly and very loudly. With that distraction underway, she made her way up the grand steps. She had to lift up her skirt not to trip as she went.
"You know, I could just carry you," he said.
"Some other time," she replied.
Spy had presumably, already slipped in. Medic and Heavy were just going in, and behind her, Engineer talked with one of the women at the gate.
"Scout, are you paying attention?" Miss Pauling said in an undertone.
A sudden thought of all the things he could get into came to her.
"Ehh–wha? Yeah, you got me."
"Your job is to stay near and to watch my back. Understood?"
"Wait, so you're tellin' me that you want me to check out your ass?"
"...I want you to ensure that someone isn't following us, and that no one is putting a knife in my back," she said.
"Oh, thaaat kind of watchin' your back. Got it." He tried to tip his hat to her, but found it gone. He puffed out his cheeks in irritation. "Not used to this stupid fancy livin'."
"In a couple hours, you'll be out of those clothes, and I won't have to wear these shoes anymore," she said. Already her toes were aching and the night had only just begun. "All you have to do is behave for a while. Even you can manage that for a little while."
"I could behave for hours," Scout said. "Seriously, hours and hour sand hours, I'm a champ."
"Mmmmhmmm," she said.
And pigs could fly.
"Really!" Scout protested.
"Indoors voice," Miss Pauling said. She tugged at his coat, and straightened his tie. Already he'd gotten some lint on his shirt.
"Just stay close, and no wandering off to flirt with women," she said.
"You're cute when you're jealous. And always, but especially when you're jealous."
She glowered at him. "Scout—"
"Cross my heart and hope to die, you're the only girl I'll flirt with tonight. Ain't any of them compare to you, anyways."
"Miss, the ticket—"
She reached purple purse and pulled out the new identities for them. For a breathless second, the woman searched the list, her wrinkled brown furrowed. "Let's see here, Kerling, Kerling..."
The woman scratched a pencil at the side of her white permed hair.
"Ah, there it is. Here you go, two tickets."
Miss Pauling took them, affecting nonchalance as she did.
Scout offered his arm.
"Come on, Miss Gorgeous, let's get in there."
With only a slight glance back to the elderly ticket taker, she took his arm and went inside.
Couples milled at the floor. If they weren't careful, there'd be far more casualties for her to cover up. Over the balcony she could see well over the room, festooned in white drapery and little fairy lights. Attendants in black and bodyguards dressed in similar tuxedos were almost as common as the guests, and nearly as indiscernible. Delicacies were set out on a table, which Heavy had already found. Medic was surrounded by quite a few admiring women which he was avidly chatting with.
"I gotta admit, the old guy's got game," Scout said.
"Mm," she replied as she looked into her purse.
"Soooo, that means you ain't charmed by him? And maaaybe instead you're charmed by some really handsome awesome guy you work with—"
"Medic? He isn't my type," she replied.
"Oh man, it's like Christmas and a birthday all in one—ooh, you know I don't know my way around a scalpel? I couldn't steal your organs if I tried, though I'm tryin' for your heart, but not literal carvin'. Metaphorical! Well, literal but not literal literal—"
She leaned in and put a finger to his lips. "Indoor voice," she said.
He looked down to her finger which was just brushing his lips and quieted instantly.
She filed that away for next time he decided to talk for five hours straight.
Without a word, she motioned him to follow her past the dance floor. He mutely followed, seemingly just as brain frozen as the time he'd caught sight of her from afar.
True to his word, Scout hadn't looked away from her once. She hit a button hidden under the flower tied at her wrist. Heavy looked up, and for a moment, they exchanged a look. As subtly as possible, she motioned towards the table.
He nodded, and allowed himself to fall forward. In the crash and clatter, bodyguards came rushing to see what had triggered the scene.
"Nice one," Scout said.
Miss Pauling just smiled as they breezed on past bodyguards on their way to the first floor restroom. She had obtained a very recent map of the place, complete with locations of all the many safes. She had poured over said map and kept a digitized copy on a device in her purse, which now hung from her shoulder with a deceptively thin line which was actually anchored to her with several invisible and very strong wires. Even if she had to make a run for it, she wasn't taking any chances of leaving it behind.
Engineer and Bidwell had perfected a device to cause problems with the radio system between the guards, and the house didn't have anything as advanced as the extensive video surveillance of TFI, but that didn't mean a single misstep couldn't undo the entire plan.
She bent down to adjust a device at her thigh. To save them time, Engineer had built a scanner which could penetrate the safe to find just what they were seeking and save time. The little metal device was shaped like a pen, soundless and yet incredibly high tech. Sometimes she felt a bit like she'd stepped into a James Bond movie. Though, if that happened, she'd be M, not the agent in question.
The room seemed cluttered with wealth. A salmon colored settee showed that he may have been rich, but the good senator certainly didn't have taste. Shelves were stacked with a garish show of antiques picked haphazardly, while a grand piano had been forced in, making the room hard to walk through without running into one of the poorly chosen furniture. Large red velvet curtains that clashed horribly with the spread not only over the too-small window, but over a great deal of the wall as well.
She clicked the end and a red beam shone over the wall, past the still life of a fruit bowl. A classic safe place, though perhaps a little Itoo/I expected.
She furrowed her brow as she looked over the readout, her finger tapping the curved edge of the pen with frantic insistence. Gems, pearls, but no paper.
Of course it wouldn't come so easily.
The door behind them began to creak. It was the only door out of the room, and there was a shiny black grand piano that would have to be pushed aside to reach it. They each glanced in a panicked rush, all but throwing themselves towards the curtains.
She pulled the thick luxurious red curtains in front of her. The guard was coming nearer and he didn't show any signs of pausing. Her mind was racing as she bent down and hiked up her skirt enough to get to her gun. There was no time, no time, and she didn't want to have to dispose of a body. Just before she could reach it, he pushed her to the wall. She could feel the weight of him, the heat and the feel of his lips on hers. This wasn't the time, but oh it felt good. Surprise yielded to a fleeting moment of forgetting. She ran her hand up his chest, slipping past the buttons to touch skin. He moaned into her lips—so much for being quiet—his hands wandering down her back as he deepened the kiss.
She heard the curtain being forcefully yanked back, and a muttered curse as a light was shone on them both.
"C'mon, buddy, can't you see I'm a little busy, here?"
"This area is off-limits."
"Was it? How the hell should I know, I can't focus on a damn thing but her dress. See, her ma wants to pretty much lock her up night and day away from a boy like me, but I just can't stay away."
Miss Pauling smiled nervously. Her smeared makeup and flushed cheeks must have really helped along the farce. The fact that she hadn't moved her hand certainly helped things along, too.
She flattened her hand against him, getting one last long feel of his stomach before she let her hand drop to her side. The man muttered some more curses. He was talking into his earpiece now, receiving some kind of orders. This could only lead to trouble. She motioned with her shoulder and hoped to get his attention, that he wouldn't be too dense and distracted to read her. He caught her gaze and nodded.
"Come on, baby. We better get out of here before your mama finds us. She's about the scariest thing I've ever seen."
He held out his arm and she took it as they walked out. To her dismay, her dress was falling down, and it wasn't the only thing. In just a few minutes, he'd managed to completely undo all her work at putting her hair up.
"Zip me up, would you?"
She heard a sharp intake of breath as he touched her back, lingering at her shoulder blades a bit too long. He ran his fingers along her back as he pushed up the zipper, and all the while, he didn't say a single word. She looked over her shoulder to find him flushed, his hand still at her upper back.
"Was it really necessary?" she said.
"Had to be convincing," he said, rubbing at his cheek as he grinned.
Scout spoke up in an undertone. "If you wanna hit me, you're allowed. Just, not the face. And not the nads."
"You saved us, so I'm not about to be hitting you," Miss Pauling said.
He had lipstick smeared over his lips, ending in a red smudge at the corner of his mouth.
She pulled out a handkerchief from her bag and leaned up just enough to wipe off his lips.
"That desperate to destroy the evidence?" he said.
"It'd make you even more memorable than you already are," she said.
"You think I'm memorable?" Scout said.
"Extremely so. There's no one in here who'd forget a loudmouth Boston boy in a well-cut suit."
And by extension, they'd be sure to remember her as well.
"Especially not you?" he persisted.
"Yes, Scout, I think you're memorable," she said.
She checked herself in a mirror at the side of the hall. Beneath it was one long mahogany table, presumably free of vases because of guests just like Scout and Demoman. She reapplied her lipstick as quickly as she could without smudging it. Even if it cost them time, it wouldn't do to have her coming out with smeared lipstick. It'd make her even more memorable, and that was the last thing she wanted.
She'd just have to give up on her hair. It'd take far too long to fix all the damage he'd done.
In the reflection, she could see Scout non-too-subtly checking her out. She turned around and cleared her throat. He shrugged, not even remotely sheepish at being found out.
Not exactly a surprise.
She motioned him to follow her back through the long hall. She would've preferred carpet to wood, which gave creaks and groans beneath even their quietest footsteps. They were getting close to another one of the safes. Spy had mentioned this one in particular as a dangerous room, something that caught her eye.
"Hey, Miss Pauling... You kissed back."
"All part of the act," she replied smoothly.
"You're a damn good actress, then."
"And you're a damn good kisser," she replied, smiling at him for once.
He brightened considerably and stayed near her. As they arrived at just the door she was looking for, she pulled out a pin from her hair and worked it into the ornate lock. It took a bit of maneuvering—she hadn't quite mastered lockpicking, yet–but after a moment, the lock gave way.
"Maan, you're somethin'. We should join forces someday, just think of the heists we could pull off."
"You're too loud to do heists," she said. "They require finesse and stealth, neither of which you're particularly good at."
"Well, I'd let you gag me, if you wanted."
She raised one eyebrow. How tempting.
"Hey, I don't just let anyone gag me. But, you're special, and you got special rights when it comes to me."
"That's...something," she said.
"Damn right, it's somethin'. We could be a great team, you know. Bonnie and Clyde all through the countries. Nobody would be able to stop us with your brains and my amazin' runnin'."
"Bonnie and Clyde died, Scout," she said.
"But we don't have to," Scout said. "You're pretty good at not dyin', and if we can just find some Repawn to take with us, I'll be invincible. We could be rollin' in dough, and buy ourselves some island mansion. We could own half of the place up, and live like friggin' kings."
"That's a lot of ifs," she replied.
"Yeah, the kinks still gotta be worked out," Scout said. "We could do it, though, we totally could."
"Don't you think it's a bit early to be planning for our future already?" Miss Pauling said. Especially considering that she hadn't even gone on one date with him yet.
"Not even close," Scout said.
Well, that was unexpected. Still, she didn't have time to think on this. Thankfully, Scout's attention span was very low, and he had already switched gears.
"Hey, don't you think they'd have more security than this?" He looked around the rather plain room, without the ornateness of the others. The safe was in fact easily found, on the far wall behind a couch.
"It could be a ruse. The other safes could be a red herring. There are less guards here, but Spy said it was quite deadly. From the reports, it seems if we make a wrong move, we'll be breathing in poisonous gas for this room. That's what makes me think it's the real one. Besides...he'd need to access his papers, so it might not be as deeply hidden as other important things," she said.
"Poisonous gas? Damn...This is real high security stuff," Scout said.
"Tell me about it. I need you to be lookout. Watch the door for me, let me know if anything goes off," she said.
"Listen, if things go wrong, just take my coat and get out of here. Don't worry about me," he said.
"Hopefully it doesn't come to that," she said.
She pulled up her skirts and pulled out the safecracking kit she'd attached to her thigh, right next to the guns, knives, and other assorted pieces of other equipment she'd brought along.
There was a sharp intake of breath. "So that's where you keep your guns. I wondered, since you don't always got your purse around–"
"Scout, you're supposed to be watching the door."
"Sorry, but I'm a breathin' male here. Have I mentioned that you are seriously hot today? And really, safecrackin' too? Anything you can't do?"
"Some things," she said.
"Can you fly a helicopter?" he said.
"Yes," she replied.
She worked the dialer on the electronic front. There was a whooshing sound as it connected, and a small beeping sound as it began to go through. Numbers went through. These could take hours, but she didn't have hours.
"God, you're sexy."
"Eyes on the door, Scout," she said.
"I'm just sayin'!"
"Say it a little more quietly, please, unless you want us botching the mission."
That shut him up for a few seconds.
"If they caught us, we could do that again—" Scout said.
"We already used that ploy," she said.
"We'll tell 'em we're newlyweds. Can't keep our hands off each other. I bet we could pull it off," Scout said.
"I'm sure they'll take no notice of the broken safe," she replied.
"Like they'd notice somethin' like that with you in the room."
"Not everyone is as...focused as you are," she said.
"Yeah...I'm half surprised and half glad that I don't gotta fight the whole frickin' world for your attention. I'd do it, though," he said.
The safecracker let out a loud beep. Almost as loud as Scout's indoor voice. She'd have to get Engineer to fix that. She leaned in and pulled out several papers. Just the transcripts she needed, and more. A blackmailer's dream.
Scout suddenly quieted.
"You hear that?"
The plan had gone smoothly. Too smoothly. In her experience, there was always a hitch somewhere, and the later it came, the more likely everyone involved was to let their guard down, thinking they'd won.
A sound like air running in. She strapped the papers to her leg and rushed out as the sound grew louder. He tried to open the door to no avail.
There was one adjoining room, and perhaps their only hope.
"The door–the friggin' door is locked!"
A chill went through her as she heard a sound like air being let into the room—or to be more precise, noxious gas. She fumbled for her pins and tried to open it, but some sort of emergency shutdown was at work. Alarms had started to blare outside, a commotion rising up. Heavy's roar of anger and plates crashing could be heard above the noise, never a good thing.
Scout pulled off his jacket. "Put this on and pull it over your head."
He threw himself against the glass, which gave with a loud crash, triggering another shrieking alarm.
His jacket was very loose on her, enough that it wasn't hard to lose herself in it. She circled her arms about his neck and he lifted her up. Her face was buried in his shoulders at this position. It wasn't an unpleasant space to be.
"Miss P, no matter what happens, keep your head down and don't let go. Got that? Okay, here we go!"
She heard the crash of glass, and clung tighter as she felt the free fall, and then the lift again as he was jumping. The coat fell away as he clutched the ledge. She clung tighter than ever as he scrambled up.
"You afraid of heights, Miss P?"
"No, I just have common sense, unlike you who seem to thumb your nose at gravity at any given opportunity," she replied.
On the other side, a door opened. There was a scream rooms away, the breaking of glass. Two guards in black tuxedos. She just barely worked free her gun from her thigh-holster and fired. The man fell, collapsing with streaks of red down the wall. She shot upwards, hitting the sprinklers and firing straight through a lightbulb. She plucked something out of her thigh holster and threw a small gray ball. A heavy cloud filled the air, and he stepped away from the window.
Another guard rushed through the door. She fired, hitting him squarely in the face as he fell to the floor writhing in agony.
"Whoa, a face shot. Remind me not to piss you off," Scout said.
"Too late," she replied.
"Good thing I got my tons of charm and boyish good looks to save me," he said with a laugh.
Two other guards in suits appeared. Overall, this was becoming far and far more complicated for her taste. She had hoped to get out without any bodies piling up, but now it was time for plan B.
"We have to get out of here," she said.
"We just got to make it to Snipes, all right? So told on tight."
"There isn't room—"
Her protest was cut off as he took a running start across the narrow ledge. He leapt once and just barely caught the stream of white pennants hung between the mansion and the belltower beside it.
"Jeez, that's a whole lot easier to do with my hands wrapped. You know, I used to do it all the time with clothes lines between the houses. Used to drive my ma up the wall, I'm tellin' you—"
She lurched forward, gripping the bell tower, still dizzy with flight. Scout was unaffected, too used to heights and daring jumps to view it as anything but a routine danger.
"Hey Snipes, unless you wanna be toast, you better start packin' up. I'm takin' Miss Pauling and gettin' out of here."
She heard the sound of a shot, and looked up. Sniper held his gun in position, and the break in the glass and spray of blood showed he hadn't missed. That would make at least one of three of their targets gone.
"Come on, Miss P. We're goin' flyin' again. It's messy down there."
She heard an angry roar of screaming eagles! and a series of Scottish Gaelic curses even above the screams of terrified party goers. Far beyond the fence was another guard tower, with a flat top and without the enclosure of the first.
"Trust me, I ain't goin' to let you fall," he said.
She took his hand as he hoisted her up on his back, piggyback so she could hold on tighter. There was even less room to get a running start here, but he didn't let that stop him. He charged on, apparently unaffected by her weight or the seeming unsurmountable task in front of them.
He took a leap over the expanse, and they were careening through air rushing all too fast. The pennant was just out of his reach. They began to fall, his hand outstretched towards the one thing that might save them. Cold air and stars, that'd be her last view.
As they began to fall, he jumped again, just high enough to catch the line of pennants with one hand. She'd seen it in action of course, but never actually been there for the feat.
"What the hell are you?" she said.
He laughed. "You just figurin' out now that I'm awesome? I've been tellin' and tellin' you. Basically, I'm the most handsome super hero that ever was and ever will be," Scout said.
"Uh-huh, that doesn't explain anything," she said.
"I can explain it over dinner if you want," Scout said.
"This isn't the kind of time to be discussing dates!"
"No time like the present!"
There was a tug on the line, and they looked back to see Sniper with his Kukuri giving one final hack to the line. Before they could protest, she saw the guards begin to ascend the tower. He tipped his hat to them before she saw him disappear into the shadows.
With one last lurch they swung down, the sound of Scout's yell drowning out the sound of gunfire from the tower. Scout slammed against the last watchtower, his hands trembling as he held on. They were just close enough that she could step towards the window.
"Go on," he said. There was blood at the corner of his mouth dripping downwards.
He pushed her towards the ledge, and just as he did, the stones began to give way. He looked down once, but it wasn't with fear. She held on tighter and pulled him in.
"You're goin' to frickin' fall–"
"Oh no you don't! We are not going on without you." She said between gritted teeth. She clutched at his hand, pulling him up with all his might.
"By 'we' do you mean 'you'?" he said.
"Yes, now stop being a jackass and get up here!"
He scrambled up until they were both sitting against the wall on yet another tiny ledge. She inched her way into the window, refusing to let go of his hand for a moment.
She looked out through the watchtower window and found that the mansion was in flames. So much for subtlety. Then again, she had a feeling The Administrator would approve of the message being sent: cross TFI them and there would be no body left to bury and no family left to mourn.
"Damn, I want to kiss just all over your face," he said.
Her lovely dress was covered in rips and blood. She checked herself, but no marks and no pain, so it couldn't be her blood.
"Scout, are you all right?"
He coughed. "I've felt better."
He was covered in cuts and gashes on his face, arms and chest. His shirt had a few deep red stains on it.
"I think I—" He tried to move and winced. "Yep, definitely broken ribs. God, I hate those. They hurt like a bitch."
"You'll get all patched up when we get home," she said.
The descended the steps together, the stars and orange glow of the fire fading past the brick. No guards met them as they walked, not ran into the night.
She reached down to her thigh holster and found an empty place where her gun had been, Oh, right. She must have lost that in the flight. He was too hurt to take another burst of speed, so they limped on through the dewy grass, past the shadows of topiary. No more screams could be heard, but the flicker of fire still lit the night.
"You all did excellently today. You'll find your bonuses in your lockers."
Each scarred up and bruised man gave her a salute. Even if raising their hands up looked painful, they gave her that respect.
"I'd heavily advise you all see Medic before you have your celebrations. In fact, that's an order."
"Ja, ja...follow me," Medic said, sounding more than a little weary.
Scout didn't follow after them. He tried to stand tall, even though he looked about ready to double over in pain, he tried to fake a smile.
"Did you miss the part about it being an order?" Miss Pauling said.
"Aw, it's just a flesh wound, I can barely even feel it," Scout said.
She touched his cheek and he flinched back.
"Can barely even feel it, huh," she said.
"Follow me," she said.
Medic was treating Heavy on the table, sewing up a gaping wound.
She went to the cabinent of medical supplies without asking, and pulled a few needed implements out. On the far side of the room with a pair of cooing doves above them, she set to work.
She lifted up the tweezer and turned his face to the light.
He recoiled as metal touched raw skin. "Geez, cripes—that hurts."
"Naw, go on," he said.
She continued on, removing the pieces of glass. He reached out and gripped her other arm. She looked down, the tweezers poised to pluck up another jagged piece.
"Sometimes you just don't want to hurt alone, you know? It's comfortin'," Scout said.
"I see," she said.
Heavy was a quiet patient. Apparently, they were too tired after the work to chat as loud as they usually did while Medic worked on him. Their voices were a low background murmur to mix with the cooing of doves.
"You know, I never did get to dance with you at the party, even after all that practicin'," Scout said.
"I'm sure all that practice will come in handy one day," she said.
"Sure, I'd take you out right now if I wasn't dead tired," Scout said.
"Honestly... I'm a mess, and you've got broken bones. Now is hardly the time to go dancing," she said.
"You kiddin'?" he said.
He reached up, brushed a stray hair and tucked it behind her ear.
"Any girl can be pretty, but you look even better all messed up, 'cause it's just your battle scars. It shows just what a smart, strong, amazin' girl you are. And that's why I— why I... is why you're great, you're really great," Scout said.
"Thank you, Scout," she said.
His gaze was downright tender, filled with the sort of adoration that people went their whole life wishing they'd find someone to look at them that way.
"I meant it back there. We could be a great team once this whole TF industries thing pans out. You plan the heists and I'll take them out. Bam, boom."
No matter what, he hadn't given up on her. Am I the girl of your dreams, Scout?
Even the most cynical part of her couldn't refute the proof of the way he gazed at her.
"I'll think about it," she said.
Medic loudly clapped Heavy on the shoulder.
"There, my friend. As good as new. Next!"
"There's your call," she said. She rose up from the chair. He reluctantly let go of her hand.
"I'll expect you back in the commons room after you're healed. There's still quite a few bonuses to be dolled out," she said.
"You got it, Miss P," he said.
Demoman had already gotten into his new case of freshly made beer from the still Engineer had helped make, and Heavy was happily devouring his new brand of sandwich she'd provided, complete with recipe. Soldier had earned new medals, and a certificate saying he was an absolutely real soldier (and anyone who said otherwise could eat his gun).
Medic had some new birds to add to his ever growing flock, and he seemed in a state of near delirious happiness as he petted the cockatiel.
Engineer was given a large amount of rare Australium ingredients for his machinery, something that was such a thrilling prospect that not even decorum or tiredness could keep him from his workshop.
Because it felt wrong to leave Pyro out, even if he hadn't technically been there, there was a small colored ball that lighted up—she'd had to ask Engineer for help on that one.
Sniper got some brand new guns from the new Mann vs Machine line.
And Spy got the most precious bonus of all: extra time off. She had even taken the liberty to book him two tickets to Boston.
As the men each returned to their respective rooms, Scout remained. He peered all over, getting into outright comical positions as he tried to look under the locker, on top and even in the corners for hidden panels. He looked about ready to turn over the entire set of lockers.
She cleared her throat and he turned to her, breaking into a huge crooked grin at the sight of her.
"Look under your ear piece," she said.
He plucked up the piece of paper and looked it over.
"That's just numbers and dates...Wait, dates... date?"
She nodded. "You do owe me some dancing, after all. As it happens, Medic is going to be giving a dancing class in his spare time, and I need a partner."
He just stared at it for a moment, as if his brain was still rushing to catch up. He suddenly grabbed her wrist and spun her with him. She held tight to him, through the dizzying moment until he abruptly stopped and lifted up his arm in a cheer.
"First a dance partner, then the world!"
"You aren't supposed to reveal your plans so soon," she said, a bit teasing as he twirled her for a second time.
"You know how I am with secrets, especially when it comes to you," he said.
"Yeah, it's pretty obvious," she said.
Even when he couldn't say the words, she knew very well what he meant.