“What do we do after things fall apart? Do we run to the familiar once again?
Do we attempt to numb the pain with distractions?
What do we do after things fall apart?”
October 12th, 1972
The insistent, rhythmic tapping was what spurred him, in the end, to look up from his work. It was a familiar sound, but not one that was expected today. There had been no arrangement for it.
He approached the window all the same.
Pushing it upwards with a soft grunt of effort, he allowed the bird to hop inside, allowing the window to fall back behind it. It gave a sharp thunk, and he winced. The creature - a small barn owl - seemed to jump at the sudden noise, and he offered it a gentle stroke in apology. This is a place of paranoia, he thought, where every sound could be the last you hear.
He didn’t blame it.
There was a note, tied haphazardly around its left leg, and he frowned. The doves are used for this, not an owl. Pulling it away, he unravelled the creased and dog-eared paper, scanning blue eyes over its contents. The note was scrawled in, it seemed, whatever could be found at the time - pencil, biro, crayon, an instance of a glitter gel pen. It switched even mid-word, painting a picture, a jigsaw of information, something pieced together across hours or even days. Something that needed to be kept secret.
“You shouldn’t be here.” he muttered, looking back up at the owl. “Go on, go, quickly. If zhey catch you you’ll be shot, do you hear?”
He pushed up the window once more.
The owl returned his look, head turning to one side, as if questioning him. Sighing, he lifted a finger to stroke at the feathers on its head. Satisfied, it chirped a little in thanks, before hopping onto the outer sill.
“Thank you, little one.”
It flittered off into the night.
This can’t keep happening, he thought, as he stepped away from the window. Settling himself back into his chair, he found himself unable to focus, the knowledge now cracking and burning in his mind.
Lighting a cigarette, the Spy took one long drag, and sighed.
He set the note alight.
October 15th, 1972
“Well, guys, you’re here! Sorry it was such a long trip, we had to make sure nobody was following you. Thanks for waiting!”
They’d heard very little of the woman’s chirpy voice during the drive, and the lack of windows in the van had made the trip unquestionably boring. They were all stuck in the back, like children. Miss Pauling had occasionally flickered onto the little screen for updates to their trip, but they were few and far between.
Normally the group would be at ease with travel - they’d been to many bases over the years - but such short notice, and an even shorter explanation, had set them all on edge. None of them knew where they were headed. The only thing to do was wait.
The Engineer had pored over blueprints in the flickering light of the van’s interior. Their Medic did the same with a scattering of notes, but sat away from the group, unusually quiet. He was distracted, withdrawn, tired blue eyes reading the same passage over and over again. He had been distant, lately, which was unlike him, but they had decided against questioning it. His silence was somewhat unnerving.
Scout, it turned out, had brought far too few comics for the journey, and handed them back and forth to Pyro with increasingly-glazed eyes. The group’s Russian companion, their Heavy, had amused himself in silence, with a precious and dog-eared novel titled “Преступлéние и наказáние”. The Spy was the only man to translate that of his own accord. His early, questioning murmur of Crime and Punishment? had rewarded him with an impressed smile for his trouble. They had exchanged a cryptic conversation on the novel’s themes, the struggles of its protagonist, and the differences between the original and its subsequent translations.
Needless to say, the other men had ignored them.
Their Sniper had slept through the journey, of course, given his uncanny ability to do so anywhere he pleased. He had been rather rudely woken by a sharp thwack to his stomach from the Spy. Piss off, ya bloody piker, he’d said. No change there, then.
Almost as soon as they heard the van come to a stop, the Demoman and Soldier had kicked the door open, knocking over some unfortunate helper in the process. Said unfortunate helper had ended up hidden beneath the body of the vehicle, and would hopefully wake up before someone drove away.
The group finally emerged from the van, stretching tired muscles, and more than a few clicks escaped from abused joints. A couple of the ragtag band made quiet complaints about the journey. It was not surprising, really - they had all lost count of the hours they’d spent in the stifling vehicle, and nobody had been willing to keep track. A sudden burst of sunlight brought a chorus of curses into the air, and after looking around, they all quickly had a feeling they were not in Teufort anymore.
Their surroundings were now leafy, forested, the climate cooler and more temperate. The October air even held the dampness of a recent rain. They had been released into the looming shadow of a huge, white building, one with far too few windows to be normal, and it looked modern, specially built, untouched.
It looked wrong.
“Welcome to your new home, boys!” they heard, the woman’s voice suddenly lacking the static of the communicator. “The Administrator arranged for you all to stay here permanently from now on. Hopefully it’s nicer than other places you’ve had to stay in.”
Miss Pauling - now here in the flesh - turned to the ivory doors, and beckoned them to follow.
“Welcome to The Facility.”
As expected, everything was largely the same.
The Facility, it turned out, was a sprawling building, but for now the Team had been restricted to the eastern block. The other areas are off-limits, Pauling had said, but for once that’s an absolute rule. The Administration have been very clear on this. That means you as well, Scout.
They’d each been given a room, as expected, and were permitted to make themselves comfortable. It all seemed new, almost clinical, never lived in. Dedicated areas had even been set aside. A kitchen, a common room, an infirmary for Medic to use, a small room put aside for the Spy and his work. It was as if it had been made for them.
It did not make it home.
They had dispersed almost immediately into their respective places, just like they always did, but there was much more of a silence than before. Spy had retreated to his room, as had Medic, and others were scattered around the common room and kitchen. Every so often someone would move from place to place, offering the rest a distracting glance, but it did nothing to ease the quietness they enforced.
It wasn’t awkward, per se.
Eventually, Scout spotted someone in the corridor, gave a nod, and hurried away to follow them. He returned ten minutes later looking as neutral as before, tapping the next man on the shoulder, before slumping back into his seat. His insistent point to the corridor got the message across to Soldier - eventually - and the American wandered away as well. So it continued, in something close to silence, until they finally figured out that Medic had been calling them away. Just for a check-over, the returned ones explained, you know how he is.
“Th’doc wants ta see ya, Mick.”
The Scotsman’s statement had been expected, of course, but that didn’t mean it was wanted. He’d been waiting for it ever since the Scout had left, knowing the doctor far too well for his own good. The Sniper gave a short hum of response to the man, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, and simply stretched out from his façade of slumber.
“...tell ‘im oi’m busy.”
“But, Sniper, ya can’t-”
Louder, now, frustrated. Legendary patience worn down to the bone.
“Tell. Him. Oi’m. Busy.”
The Demoman sighed, and shrugged, and stepped away. There was no fighting a tone like that, especially not from the Sniper. The quiet ones were always the scariest. He’d slumped back down in his chair, pulling the brim of his hat down over his eyes, and seemed well-intent on resuming his illusion of sleep.
After everything that had happened, they let him.
It took a few minutes for the doctor himself to appear at the doorway, hands held behind his back, and for his clear German voice to break the stony silence.
“Herr Sniper, I vould like to see you.”
That name, that way of addressing him, formal, professional. So unlike how it had been before. How it had been when everything was normal.
“You are not immune to routine.”
The gunman gave an almost growling sigh, shifting his hat back up with one jerking motion, and stood. He didn’t even offer the Medic a blue-gazed glance as he strode past him.
After a deep breath and a tired look, the doctor followed.
By the time the Medic entered the room, the other man was already seated. Perched on the edge of the cold steel table, the Sniper’s expression was sullen, and his precious hat took pride of place beside him.
He knew what the doctor wanted. He’d already shed his jacket, allowing it to pool behind him, and had begun to unbutton his shirt with steady, calloused fingers.
Once upon a time, the sight would have excited the Doctor. Would have drawn up a burning heat into his core. Would have promised some time to themselves.
Now it was simply cold.
“Thank you,” he murmured, but it fell ignored. “I vanted to see how your stitches are holding up, if I may.”
Again, no response.
He had no choice but to take it as consent. If the Sniper was unwilling, he would have known about it by now, perhaps even violently. Stepping forward, he inspected the great train-tracks of scars that crossed the other’s body. His eyes roamed old wounds, faded with time and the burning sun, ones he’d seen and traced and kissed. Ones he knew well. Too well.
But now there was professional coolness, detachment, simply playing the observer, not the lover. Not now. Gloved and steady hands that once held tight now pulled at new sutures to replace the old. Breaths that had whispered sweet nothings now just warmed the space between them.
Those blue eyes were not on him anymore.
Since he had been resurrected, the only words the Sniper had spoken to him were those of anger. After he had escaped the room and reunited with the Team, he’d said nothing to the doctor at all.
He’s a quiet man, he’d reasoned at first, he needs his own time. Death itself is no easy thing to get over.
But the days had melded into weeks, with not a word in his direction, before he finally realised it was purposeful. Sniper had been sullen and irritable with everybody, as unwilling to speak as he ever was, but he at least spoke to the others, politely or otherwise.
Not so with the Medic.
Mick - the Sniper, he corrected himself - was not a petty man. He was not a child, not one for petulance or simmering anger. He was not silent to punish, to get a reaction, to force a grovel for forgiveness.
When oi’m silent, he’d once explained, it’s just b’cause oi don’t know what ta say.
There were no words for what he’d done.
The Medic knew that, long ago.
He didn’t blame him for his silence, in the end. They had each had their reasons, to go or to stay, and whether or not to accept them was simply down to choice. Sniper was an honest man, a trusting man, but he felt with every fibre of his body, more intensely than the Medic had ever known. He felt angry, and betrayed, and hurt by what his lover had done. To walk away, without so much as a goodbye, to a group that would spell his demise.
It was a feeling no apology could pacify.
He could not control the other’s mind. Nobody could. That was the one area of research he had vowed never to touch, never to meddle with.
But here, pushing the final stitch through flesh that showed no pain, he wished he could. He wished, as the other dressed, that they could go back to the way they used to be.
“Du hast noch mein Herz”, he said.
The Sniper stood, and walked away.
There’s a good Nurse…
Oh, Gott, not again, not again. Please, not this, not again-
It’s so much better for you here, ain’t it?
Nein, nein it’s not, let me go, let me go-!
Now you can be useful.
The shout made him lurch upright, panting, the pain of screaming still burning in his lungs. He curled up into himself, clapping a hand over his own mouth, not knowing whether screams or sickness would escape it first. He felt strong arms envelop him, drawing a shudder of fear across his skin, but they remained gentle. It was Heavy, his Heavy, not the great oafish brute he had been forced to stay with. This was safety. Safety, and warmth, and-
“Doktor was screaming, again.” A statement of the obvious, at first glance, but imbued with weeks of worry. “This is third night running. These nightmares are not good for you.”
An euphemism, at its core. It had changed again, re-formed again, made something different every night. It was not a nightmare, and never had been - those were fiction, fairy tales, the products of an unsettled mind.
These were not nightmares.
These were memories, fused with the rawness of imagined panic, every nerve and every synapse alight with a sensation that screeched and spat throughout his body. They were inescapable.
He rubbed at his raw, red eyes with angered vigour, frustrated at the weakness he saw in himself. When he spoke, it sounded more pitiful than he ever wanted to.“I-I vill be fine, kuschelbär. I have to get used to them. If they disturb you, I am happy to sleep elsevhere-”
“No, Doktor.” came the gentle murmur, a voice so soft and quiet for a man his size. He leant back before he spoke, pulling the Medic onto his great chest, and held him protectively close. “Stay here. We are team, Doktor, no matter what. You are great man, Klaus. You deserve to be protected.”
“...thank you, lieber.”
“Всегда, мой голубь.”