He was in a hospital in winter, walking down aseptic white corridors and past people with faded faces, and he stopped to look at a door that knocking was coming from. It took Heavy a long moment for it to resolve and wake him up, the knocking on the door in the dream turning into knocking on the door in waking.
“Hey, come on, open up in there! Wake up, wake up, what’s you two even doin’ in there, lemme in!” Scout’s shouting was punctuated with more of his pounding on the door.
Medic groaned softly, propped himself up on an elbow. “What’s all the fuss?” he mumbled in German.
Heavy sighed and patted Medic on the shoulder. “Nothing. Is nothing. Go back to sleep, let me –”
“I know you ain’t sleepin’ so c’mon and just lemme in! Open the fuckin’ door already!”
Medic muttered under his breath. Heavy shook his head, slid out from under the covers and his Doktor into the warm summer night, crossed the room in three strides and threw open the door just as Scout pulled his fist back to hit it again, leaving him off-balance and stumbling for a moment. Headset and hat gone, handwraps still stained from the last of the day’s fighting hours and hours ago. Their side victorious, barely, and only for the day – it could all change again tomorrow.
“You cannot bother someone else?” Heavy growled.
“Hell no.” Scout managed to get both his feet planted on the ground and crossed his arms, defiant as ever, even this drunk – Heavy could smell the alcohol rising from his breath. “Soldier’d yell an’ slam the door an’ Hardhat’d gimme a lecture an’ then slam the door an’ you can’t wake Demo up for nothin’ when he’s all boozed up and Spy’d just shoot me an’ Sniper’d let Spy shoot me, an’ Pyro’s great an’ all but you just can’t talk to her ’bout some stuff.”
“Ah. So, with no one else, you come to bother me and Doktor again?”
“Nuh-uh,” he glared up at Heavy. “Jus’ you.”
Heavy glared down at him. “And if I crush your throat now and go back to bed?”
“Then I’ll respawn fast enough t’remember why you’d done it, an’ I’d just come back an’ keep on buggin’ you an’ Medic an’ it’ll be easier for everyone an’ ev’rybody if you just come on an’ lemme talk for a while.” He leaned against the wall across from Heavy and Medic’s room, smiling the smile of the utterly smashed. “An’ I can promise I won’t be talkin’ for long, I had like six of those todd-things.”
“Toddies,” Heavy said as he closed the door. Half scrumpy, half black tea, with a generous dollop of honey added at the end, they were Demo’s specialty for long nights – whether the night was long because the base was cold or because they had spent eleven weeks stationed at a base no matter how warm it was, there was no difference. There were more hours in a night than there should be.
“Yeah, those, an’ lemme tell ya they’re great at gettin’ the job done when all you want’s bein’ drunk.” Scout took a step forward, missed the floor and kept falling, and Heavy caught him and picked him up, carrying him like he’d carried his sisters when they’d been too weak to walk. Scout moaned, and Heavy shifted him to hold with just one arm, cradle him there through walking through the base to get outside to the cool nighttime breezes coming off the water, where he sat down on the concrete and settled Scout against his chest. He groaned as Heavy settled down. “I’m gonna be so hungover tomorrow,” he mumbled.
“It is deserved.”
“I know, I know.”
“And using respawn to be rid of it is a cheating way. Men should suffer the morning after.”
“Screw that, we got respawn, ain’t like I ain’t gonna use it.”
“True. But some things, maybe, should not be wiped off so fast.”
“Hangovers ain’t one of ’em.” Scout squirmed around, kicking at Heavy’s hand for a moment before settling back down, curling up in on himself.
“Why all the drinking tonight?”
“Because.” He rolled his head back, eyes closed. “Because.”
“Because is not reason.”
“Because I figured, why not, it’s not like it’ll matter tomorrow.”
“That is not a good reason.”
“People don’t need good reasons to get drunk, you crazy fattie. Hey!” Heavy jostled him once, hard, then settled back down. “You ain’t gotta –”
“People need good reasons to wake comrades in middle of the night, make them come out of bed, keep them awake when they should be sleeping.”
“Yeah.” He pressed his head against Heavy’s pajama shirt, rubbed his cheek against the pocket like a kitten on a pillow. “Yeah, they need a good reason for that.”
“I would like to hear this good reason.”
“Bet you would.”
Defiant to the last. Heavy sighed and looked up at cloudless sky and whisker of a moon, listened to the whispering of the water’s small waves, the low hum of Hydro’s hidden machinery. He leaned back, bracing himself on the arm not holding Scout. “I wake up for you, I come out here for you, I carry you, I ask why, and you say that is not too much to get answer for what I do tonight.”
Scout mumbled something that got lost against Heavy’s chest and was likely an insult at his heritage, parents, lover, shape, or all at once.
“That does not count as giving me good reason. But if tiny baby man has no good reason –”
“I got a plenty good reason, you moron –”
“If tiny baby man has no good reason,” Heavy continued, “then let him say so, and let me kill him tomorrow to punish for waking me at little hours.”
He tilted his head up towards Heavy’s face, eyes shut tight. “Yeah, you do that, an’ I won’t have no more hangover no more.”
“I kill him after hangover is gone,” he said, rather sensibly. “Will be no trouble to me, but for you…”
Scout groaned, and rolled his head around for it to land on Heavy’s arm. “You wanna know why?”
“It would be nice to know. I could beat stuffing out of you, if you do want to do hard way.”
“No, man, that’s isn’t it, you gotta offer the easy way an’ then the hard way, you don’t start with the hard way, that ain’t how it’s done.”
“All right. You tell me now, or I beat stuffing out of you and then you tell me.”
“Yeah, that’s how you do it. An’ I’ll take the easy way.”
“Jus’ gimmie a minute.” He squirmed again, wriggling all of his tiny little limbs, tensing and relaxing and moaning a small, high sound. “Fuck, I want another drink.”
“And when we go inside, you can –”
“It’s just, we just, I, we been here almost three months, and it ain’t ever been three months before, and we been doin’ this almost nineteen years, an’, it’s nineteen years since we started, an’ we ain’t ever had t’do it three months, but maybe it’s good we ain’t out there and we’re here, you know, like we ain’t gotta deal with not doin’ this when we’re doin’ it, like – when we’re doin’ it it don’t matter we’re doin’ it, we’re just here and we gotta do what’s right there for us t’do, an’ it don’t matter doin’ it’s like all we gotta do anymore unless we’re out there not doin’ it, an’ maybe we should just stay here an’ not do anything that ain’t doin’ it.”
He made a snuffling sound, then another, then started hitting his head against Heavy’s chest. It didn’t hurt, and it was almost entirely out of surprise that he didn’t stop Scout. He’d never seen him do that the few other times this sort of night had happened, or any time Scout had been drunk. He watched Scout keep going and then stop with a low whine and hunching in his shoulders. “I mean, maybe it’s good for her. Maybe she won’t get so lost, you know, where’s your ma, I mean mine gets lost an’ she’s sittin’ right there, maybe it’s good I ain’t ever gonna be anythin’ but nineteen when I’m doin’ this, she still knows me, she don’t know some of my brothers anymore, but I’m still someone she knows ’cause I’m the same every fuckin’ time I see her anymore.”
“My mother died almost six years ago. They gave me leave for funeral. The same for Demoman, four for him.” Heavy shifted his weight on his arm to cross and uncross his legs. “The first time I see my sisters since we leave Russia.”
“Half my fucking life,” Scout mumbled, more to himself than Heavy, who looked down at the little boy in his arms and watched him wipe his face with his handwraps, eyes still shut tight, as though that was all he needed to keep the monsters of the world away. At least for tonight, such a tactic might work, so long as he was drunk enough to believe such things.
Heavy wondered, for a moment, what it was that Scout had decided to give up, and what it was that he hadn’t wanted to leave behind. But that was not something to ask – no one, not even his Doktor, especially not his Doktor, ought to be asked such things.
“When I saw my sisters at her funeral, with all their children, we all knew there was no explanation to give for me,” he said in Russian, as softly and quietly as he could manage, knowing Scout was drunk enough his meager vocabulary of Heavy’s native language would be gone. He looked back up at the sky, at the distances between the stars. “It was difficult, to say the least – but I was so far gone from them, there was little reason to give one. And their children knew less, so they did not even know to ask. My sisters – they know about myself and Medic, and they know I fight in this tiny, endless war, and beyond that, very little about my life as it is now. There is much I do not tell them, that they still do not know. In some ways, that made it easier, that I am so far removed from them, of course it makes sense that I haven’t changed since this war began. And in others…it has me wondering if it would be easier if they did know, so that I could speak to someone who isn’t fighting in our war about the life we lead. Perhaps. Perhaps.”
He looked back down at Scout, who made a sorrowful sound that told Heavy he was halfway to sleep. There was nothing to do, then, except sigh and take Scout inside and lay him down on his bed and let him get the rest of the way there by himself. When he returned to his and Medic’s bed, he didn’t bother to get under the covers, just to sit down. Medic mumbled something from a dream too quiet for Heavy to catch when he leaned in and smoothed Medic’s hair back from his face. Kissed him gently.
Out of his pajamas, back into his regular uniform, for there was no reason to lie to himself, Heavy went back outside to watch the morning slowly arrive. If Scout was to be believed, and in his condition he had been too drunk to lie, their base was his alone for a little while longer. It was too early to be late, and too late to be early, the strange part of the morning which didn’t belong to the day or the night. Sunrise was just a promise, with light sneaking over the horizon before the sun arrived.
They had been triumphant yesterday, and the day before, but this mission was hardly decided so quickly: the previous week had been defeat for them and victory for BLU, and the week before that, it had been BLU as the losing side. Eleven weeks, with no end in sight, regular reports from their superiors and contacts about the importance of their current mission, what it meant for the company, but even with such reminders, even though there was still the glory of the fight, it was difficult to remember.
The sun finally came up past the horizon, and Heavy shielded his eyes from the light before moving to the shadows to watch from there.
They were teased, now and then, with a month of nothing here, seven weeks of nothing there, just long enough to consider that nothing might be left for them. Long enough for restlessness to settle in and then start to settle down. Finding the meaning of the war had become a fight itself. There was hope yet unspoken it would return. It would never be banal, never boring, but there were times when there was a longing for the beginning, when it was newer and fresher and there was no reason to hope for an end. Heavy could not hope to speak for all of his team – and would never wish to – and he would never question what this war had given him, though there were times he found himself with the strange feeling of hoping for something once more to hope for. There was no clean way to speak about it; there was only thinking of what had come before, and wondering what was to come yet.
When he began hearing noises from the base, the little ones that marked the start of the working day, he went back inside, right for the kitchen as though nothing more remarkable than him waking first had happened. There was no order or pattern for kitchen duty – if someone wanted to cook, everyone else was more than happy to let them – but what nearly always happened was that the first one awake would try to make something for the morning, even if it was just the coffee. Heavy measured out the grounds and set water to boiling, and as that went, he put some kasha on to cook before searching through the cupboards for where Demo had left the honey.
“You failed to join me in our prescribed morning training routine. Has there been a change in the schedule I was not informed of?”
“Just some trouble with sleep. Will be fine for it tomorrow.” The little bear had been stuck behind the breakfast bowls, for a reason that Heavy guessed had made sense while drunk.
“Excellent. See you – ahh, buckwheat grouts, hearty fare for simple needs…” They were nearly done, and Soldier gave them another stir before putting the cover of the pot back and pouring himself a mug of coffee. Heavy poured himself one, then another, which he set on the table to wait for Medic. He was just sitting down to it with his porridge, topped with a generous drizzle of honey, when Sniper and Spy joined them.
“Good morning,” Heavy said in French.
“And good morning to you as well, good morning,” Spy replied in French, then German, pouring himself some coffee while Sniper spooned some kasha into a bowl and skipped the honey. He sat down, took a sip and switched to English. “I trust that Scout was not too much of a nuisance last night?”
“Little hooligan doesn’t know when to quit with the drinking,” Sniper grumbled as Demo added more honey than Heavy knew it needed, though he said nothing.
“That verdammt troublemaker – I can’t help but think if this country would stop dictating morality, then – no, Soldier, I didn’t mean it like that.”
“You’d better have not.”
“I’m sidin’ with the Doc here,” Demo said. “He says this’s th’only place he really gets t’drink, and it’s too easy t’go crazy wi’somethin’ forbidden.”
“Not like he’s willin’ to learn, third time he’s done it this time out,” Sniper said.
“Ah, give the lad time.”
A pistol’s shot rang through the base, just as Heavy had expected – this early in the morning, before any fighting, there wasn’t anything to obscure or distract from the sound.
“Never mind ’bout that, I think.”
“Cheater,” Heavy muttered in Russian, shaking his head.
“You invented it, what the fuck do you need me for?” Pyro asked Engineer while she got her coffee.
“Twelve-seventy-five sixty-five. And next t’me, you’re the best mechanic we got ’round here, and I’ll be needing someone who knows their way around a blowtorch.”
“There’s no way upgrading your hand’s a good idea.”
“Great idea, you mean.”
“Just let me know when you’ll need me.”
“Say, you got the time t’take a look at my van later?”
“Yeah, but seriously, I keep telling you regular maintenance – listen for once. Oh, hey there sleepyhead, what kept you?”
“Nothin’, just a hangover.” Scout plunked down on the side of the table opposite her, looking like he always did – everyone always looked like they always did, one of the tricks of respawn, always putting them back where they’d started. All of them, together. He glared at Pyro over his coffee. “Had t’skip my morning run, had to freakin’ shoot myself t’get rid of it, and don’t you say anything, miss four-beers-I’m-done.”
“I know I’m four beers and done, you don’t.”
“Hey, I can hold my booze just fine, Demo, I had how many an’ was still walkin’ and talkin’?”
“Hah, see? Seven.”
“Yes, walking and talking and waking your team in the dead of night,” Medic said.
“Aw – oh, jeez, sorry, I really don’t remember much after the fifth one. I didn’t do anything too stupid, did I?”
“Nyet,” Heavy said, smiling and meaning it. The whole team, with everyone here and filling up the quiet. “Just a lot of sound and fury, then falling asleep.”
“Phew. That’s a relief, I got worried for a minute there.”
The middle of their fifteenth week at Hydro, a cease-fire was called, both teams losing and neither winning – a mad scramble to leave within the day made all the more frustrating without even a decisive reason for it. Thankfully, they didn’t have long to wait, just seventeen days before they were called upon for another mission, straightforward intelligence capture, that promised a definitive outcome. There were times Heavy felt even a certain defeat was better than a mild truce.
“Sometimes the conflicts are settled in the offices before you finish them on the field,” Miss Pauling said, tiding up the papers on the table. “We weren’t expecting it, either, but they had some very good lawyers.”
“I assume that is joke.”
She chuckled softly. “I suppose, yes.” Then, more seriously, “We’re sorry it had to take so long to wrap up in any case. We know it’s important for the team to – anyway. You all managed fine?”
“Da. A little bothered with not winning, but yes, we managed fine.”