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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Chapter Text

The sun beat down on Tuefort base as the daily routine unfolded as it had for ages. Both teams rose from their bed and performed their morning routines; the Red soldier made his bed with careful precision, the Blu scout batted another alarm clock into smithereens, Red Medic having awakened hours before was making a sandwich for later in the day, the Blu Engineer made last minute tweaks to his sentry, Red Sniper sat down with his first cup of coffee of the day, and the Blu Spy ironed the creases in his suit pants. At promptly at nine in the morning the two teams set about the business of killing each other.

It was a normal day by many accounts, bullets were flying, insults were hurled and blood was being spilled in seemingly endless quantities. RED was, as usual putting up a good fight, and the BLU Spy found himself having to be very careful if he didn't want to be riddled with bullet holes. He had managed to get through their lines and past their defenses, switching disguises often as needed to keep anyone off his scent and had managed to make his way into the RED base. It had not been very hard to fool men in the heat of battle with bullets and rockets blowing up around their ears. It was almost too easy to get his knife in someone's back and make his escape before anyone was any wiser to his presence. The stabbed would come out of Respawn mad and yelling and on the alert but he would be nowhere nearby when they returned to tell the others.

Creeping deeper in the base, he could hear the clamor and shouts of the conflict raging outside less and less. That didn't matter to him at the moment, he had his own battles to fight. A battle that usually involved more finesse and less explosions. Invisibly and silently he slunk through the corridors downwards towards the office, keeping an ear out for the sound of footsteps or machinery. The Frenchman had often thought himself clear of all trouble and would be just outside the intelligence office only to find himself on the wrong end of a sentry gun or wrench. Fooling men surrounded at all times by flying shrapnel and chaos was easy, fooling a man who seemed to do nothing but lie in wait and watch and plot....That was another challenge entirely.

Quickly switching on his disguise kit, Pyro for this occasion - a figure the American seemed to trust more than the others - he walked down the hall to the Office, trying to mimic the strange bobbing gait the of the RED teams masked maniac. Making his way around the corner he heard the faint beep of a sentry gun from behind the office door. He opened the door with all the fearless self assurance of a man who was exactly where he was supposed to be; half expecting to get shot at. Surprisingly, there was no shotgun to greet him, not even an acknowledgement of his entrance....He was almost insulted. From his experience he often found the RED engineer to be overly jumpy and paranoid and would shoot anyone, friend or foe. But not today. Even the Sentry chirped calmly at him, ignoring him in his disguise.

"Dammit"

Glancing over, he found the Engineer next to a half built dispenser, fumbling with a bolt or something. The man's back was to the door - this was strangely out of character but, he didn't see a reason to look a gift horse in the mouth. He snuck behind the man who seemed too absorbed to notice. One quick flick of his knife took care of the Engineer and a hasty dive to the floor out of the gun's immediate sight allowed him enough time to get a Sapper attached. The alarm sounded as soon as he picked up the briefcase from the desk and he chuckled strolling out the door. With all the commotion outside to keep the REDS occupied he didn't expect too much company. The cowboy would be delayed a bit before he came out of Respawn, that would allow him enough time to out of here with little fuss. As he shut the door behind him he heard the satisfying sound of the sentry exploding. He smiled and strolled down the hall with his prize.

~~~~

After a brief break for lunch and another journey into the fray the Spy found himself once again in the RED base. He again found the engineer at a disadvantage and more short work was made of his toys. He could hardly believe his luck, he fully planned to enjoy it while it lasted.

His luck, however, lasted for quite some time. The next day found the RED Engineer just as bumbling and his toys as quick to fail as the day before. By the third day, the RED's Pyro had taken to hanging around the Texan's creations. This complicated things a bit as he found himself scorched more often than he liked to admit. But soon the gas masked monster got bored and didn't stay around too much.

This went on...for a week. For two weeks. For three. The RED Engineer fumbled and floundered through his work like a man sleep walking and the Spy easily demolished and beat him at every turn. While the Frenchman's employers were supposedly impressed and happy with his seemingly improved performance he was not.

There was little satisfaction or joy to be had in defeating the Engineer anymore, it was getting rather pathetic. It was embarrassing how easily the Spy could work his way around the Engineer's defenses. It was getting monotonous.
The Sniper on his team once made a comment on how his marksmanship was actually atrophying at the lack of challenge that shooting people provided compared to his hunting days. At the time he hadn't really understood what the bushman meant, but he was beginning to. Much more of this and he was going to start wearing tap shoes just to give the American a sporting chance.

For a short time he took to bothering the Sniper in search of a more challenging sport, but that proved to be a dangerous mistake. Between the bushman's readiness to throw a jar of urine at anyone friend or foe, and BLU's own Sniper shooting at any moving thing that could possibly be RED's Sniper, he decided to let the imbeciles alone to shoot at each other.

Desperation finally led him to turn his attention back to the Engineer, he began to spend more time watching and observing the man before dispatching him and his machines. Before he had been annoyed and disappointed by the man's incompetence; now he was curious, if only for lack of anything else to do about this situation

That evening he mused he problem over in his mind as his own team ate their dinner. He tuned out the cajoling and loud exclamations from his seat at the end of the table, away from the rest of the team. Something needed to be done about the enemy Engineer, before he snapped from sheer boredom. But what could he do about the problem? The Engineer was clearly not at his best. The man looked tired, his face drawn and most of the energy or spark that had driven the man seemed dim. But if his contract was anything like BLU's, he was going to be here for quite a long time no matter the condition he was in... Unless the builder were to die permanently, but that idea didn't really appeal to him. Killing a man in the heat of a fight was alright, killing for orders was fine. But killing a defenseless man like a sick dog, that turned his stomach.

The man was having problems - but what they were or why the man's own team hadn't handled them when whatever plagued him started to interfere with his work, these were mysteries. Mysteries, he quickly decided, that were not going to remain unsolved.
After a bit of thought, it seemed there was only one real solution to this problem. It was simple and straight forward : solve the Texan's problems, and he would solve his own. Something was affecting the Engineer, distracting him, troubling him. If this distraction were to be handled, the man just might return to his full attention to his job and provide a challenge again.

He smiled to himself; figuring out and solving the Engineer's problems might even prove to be entertaining.

Chapter Text

After a week of watching the man on the battle field and observing his interactions with his other team mates, the nature of the RED Engineer's problem was still unknown. The man continued to fumble his job and only put on a half hearted attempt to socialize when his teammates approached him - the problem didn't seem to work oriented. His personnel file, which the Spy had acquired through rather dubious means, had little to no interest or value. The man's past was as unremarkable as his own team's Engineer, no past secrets or traumas to possibly haunt him like that of some of the other mercenaries in RED and BLU's employ. Just another trigger happy Texan far away from his precious cows and beloved range.

It seemed something more hands on would be required, though he was hardly complaining; as boring as the Engineer was, investigating his problems were still a break from the monotony.

The Spy had infiltrated the RED base multiple times, but never during the off hours. This provided much more challenge and entertainment. He decided Friday evening would be the best time to try this. With the weekend ceasefire both teams scattered to the four winds. This meant confusion to cover his tracks, less people to avoid and less members of his own team to miss him if his excursion took longer than expected.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Frenchman made his way quietly across the vast obstacle course turned battle field that marked the invisible boundary between BLU and RED territory. Darting from shadow to shadow - using his cloak to further ensure his passing through was not noticed - he crossed the field. To his relief the patch of forbidden territory was seemingly quiet and abandoned. Some summer nights, snipers from both sides were known to watch the area from their nests and fire warning shots at any civilians from the local town who got too inquisitive or too close. He had little desire for either of the sharpshooters to catch him out of bounds after hours.

Once crossed, getting inside the base was easy. The base's security system was state of the art, though it was as temperamental and easy to evade as BLU's own. Besides the Sniper's occasional devotion to duty, the rest of RED team also seemed to keep security as lax during ceasefires as BLU did. So it was simply a matter of picking a pad lock and entering through a side door he had used occasionally in the past to enter the base during daylight hours. The door led into a side corridor that housed various long forgotten utility closets and rooms of computers and equipment of mysterious purpose that none of the mercenaries had any business with or interest in. He snuck down the dim corridor to the main hallway.

"DO YOU CALL THAT A CLEAN POT? THAT IS THE SORRIEST EXCUSE FOR CLEANING I HAVE EVER SEEN!" Even from here the unmistakable rants of the RED team's Soldier could be heard quite clearly from the Mess Hall at the very end the main corridor.

"YOU KIDDIN' ME? LOOKIT THIS! I CAN SEE MY FACE IN THIS!" while not as practiced at shouting as the older man, the Scout's voice carried almost as well. "I DO NOT-" the young man's voice was cut off by a loud crash which set the Soldier off again.

"SON YOU BETTER STOP MUMBLING TO YOURSELF AND LOOK WHERE YOU ARE GOING. YOU LADIES ARE BOTH INSULTS TO THIS OUTFIT!"

Pressing against the wall, his cloak activated he crept down the main hall way. Placing his weight with care as he stepped so not to make a sound on the worn floorboards. He turned into another hall, that led into the wing which housed the living quarters. He passed the Armory, the large community showers and bathroom, and turned a corner to the sleeping quarters.

There was a faint sound of a record playing making its way down the hall -it seemed the Doctor had already retired to his quarters - as he slunk past the medics door he could hear the soft sounds of a conversation and the loud creak of bed springs above the chords of violins. So the Russian was accounted for as well and from the sound of their conversation they were settled and content and unlikely to part soon. He wouldn't be noticed, at least not for the moment.

Making his way down the hall, he passed the doors to each team members rooms, just like BLU, no names were on the doors just the symbol for their job. A couple doors down from the Medic he found the Engineer's room, trying the doorknob, he found that it was, quite sensibly, locked. The music stopped playing just as he pulled his lock picks out of his jacket pocket. He froze for a moment his hand on his watch activating his cloak, only to relax when the music resumed - a new song this time, someone had flipped the record over. He made short work of the lock on the door and he quickly slipped inside the door, shutting it behind him and switching the cloak off to allow it to recharge.

The room was dark, but he did not use the light switch since it would be seen from the hallway should anyone walk by. Instead, he pulled a small flashlight from his pocket and swept it across his surroundings. The furnishings were basic issue, nearly identical to furniture that Spy might find in any room of the RED or BLU base: a bed, night stand, writing desk, chair and wardrobe, all plain and unfinished wood, dating back to times no one remembered. No windows; glass cost money and windows were likely to be broken from any stray bullets or rockets. There were however some personal touches about the room, some framed photos hung above the desk, a quilt on the unmade bed, a well used guitar propped up against the wardrobe.

A quick glance at the contents of the wardrobe revealed no surprises: laborer's clothes, work boots, a pair of ridiculous pointed boots, and something that some people, -though certainly not him- might call a suit. The thing was a sickening shade of tan and brown, it was checkered and - he cringed - it had leather patches on the elbows. Turning away from the wardrobe in disgust, he investigated the desk. The chair next to it looked like something the man had probably built himself. It at least looked more comfortable than anything company issued. Careful not to hit the chair or move it he leaned in closer to study the photos above the desk.

Some men would hang up pictures of vacation destinations or places they intended to retire to, others hung up pictures of friends and family. It seemed the Engineer was one of the latter. The first image showed a group of people, the Engineer smiling among them, standing on the steps of a small white farm house. Judging from the resemblance between most of them it was taken at a family gathering. The second was an older, tattered photograph showing a much younger Engineer wearing an academic cap and gown and grinning from ear to ear; on either side of him stood an older man and woman smiling just as widely. Another photo showed smiling enthusiastically the Engineer gripping a fishing pole while another man, a friend the Spy guessed, stood next to him holding a large fish. There were a few other images; another of his parents, another photo involving fish, a photo of a group of young men, the Texan among them in, some military uniform, with large artillery guns in the background. Spy frowned, noticing the arrangement of the photos - they were all in precise rows, evenly spaced.... Except for a couple of spaces that seemed empty. There had been more pictures hanging here but they had been removed, and fairly recently he'd guess, since the man hadn't taken time to rearrange things.

The contents of the desk were plentiful if trivial. It seemed there had been some organization in place with trays to separate the mail and other paper work. But whatever organization had been in place was forgotten recently with most of the recent mail just thrown carelessly on the desk. He skimmed through several letters from RED's head office rejecting recommended upgrades or changes, flipped through a dog-eared scientific journal with various notes and equations scribbled in the margins correcting the articles, or at least he assumed they were corrections. At the bottom of the debris he found scraps of paper covered in half sketched devices that seemingly did nothing and finally a postcard from someone named Sam from exotic "Branson, MO."

But he found no sign of what could be troubling the man. He replaced the contents of the desktop, attempting to keep them in their original order- or lack thereof- and began opening the desk drawers. The top drawer had nothing more troubling in it than an old pocket knife and some pencil stubs. The second drawer was filled with more scientific journals and sketches of artillery. He finally found something of note in the very bottom drawer. In here on top of everything he found framed photos laying face down in the drawer. Picking one up and holding it up, he noted where it would have fit on the wall. He removed the rest of the photos from the drawer and examined them. In the first picture the Spy recognized to his chagrin the Engineer in his horrible suit and on his arm a disgustingly plump woman wearing makeup that was as thick as her waist. The same woman made an appearance in the next one, her short hair messy, and her smile too broad revealing gapped teeth. The next was the Engineer and the woman again arm in arm laughing at some inane thing off camera. As he moved to return them to the drawer he noticed the photographs had been covering a large envelope.

Setting the photos delicately on the desk he removed the envelope from the drawer, it had been torn open the return address indicating it was from a lawyer in Texas. He removed and unfolded the letter, noting the expensive quality of the paper even through his gloves, and as he read the letter's contents the reason for the Engineer's current condition became crystal clear.

He was disappointed by how mundane the problem was, the Texan had merely been having marital problems and was getting a divorce. He was disappointed but he couldn't say he was surprised. Mercenary work wasn't usually suited to family men, the distance and secrecy had a tendency to strain even the most loving of marriages - he imagined - his own relationships rarely lasted long enough to decide on breakfast much less a life together. He remembered last Spring when his own team's Medic discovered his wife had been sleeping with another man, the German had been seething. When it was revealed that the man she'd been seeing was in RED's employ the doctor had lost what grip he had on the situation and raged and screamed at everyone and everything in German until he went hoarse. Even now he seemed angry and bitter, snapping at everyone over the slightest of indiscretions.

The Spy's musings were interrupted by the sound of someone fumbling outside the door. Quickly tossing the envelope and photos back in the desk drawer he kicked it shut. Once the documents were back in their places he activated his cloak and glanced around the room for some escape, some exit. But none appeared or presented themselves. The Texan fumbled to get his key in the door, and the Spy dove under the bed, as the laborer finally hit his target.

Opening the door with a clatter, the man stumbled into the room with an ungainly lurch and smelling like a brewery. The Spy now unhappily covered in dust and sharing space with some stray socks, warily watched as the man wobbled further into the room, muttering unintelligibly to himself. He swayed awkwardly in front of the wardrobe and the Spy's vision from under the bed was limited to nothing but the man's scuffed up and filthy work boots . The Spy turned his gaze from the Texan to the bright patch of light behind him, the door that the Texan had neglected to shut in his drunken entrance - his exit. If only he could reach it. Leaning on the wardrobe for support the Engineer turned and shambled toward the bed landing on it roughly with a loud creak of the mattress.

The room now was silent except for the occasional mumbled words from the Texan. Taking the opportunity the Spy with his cloak activated slipped out from under the bed and resisting the urge to dust himself off slipped through the open door, letting it swing shut behind him as he crept invisibly down the hall.

Chapter Text

The evening was fading to night which was usually the time for all good honest farm boys to go to bed. But Engineer was miles away from home, on a base in the middle of nowhere and nothing and the concerns of farm life felt foreign to him. Normally he didn't feel homesick, but talking on the phone with his cousin tonight about the concerns of harvesting the corn and how the cows were going to be fed this winter reminded him just how far away home was. For the first time since his early college days he felt a cold clench in his stomach as he pictured the farm house back in Texas wishing for anything he was back there. With her.

The topic then changed abruptly from cows to more...personal matters. "No, I don't think this'll blow over. You don't know her when she gets like this." the Texan muttered into the phone lowering his voice when he heard someone's nearby footsteps. RED didn't offer much privacy for anything and phone calls were no exception. The company had provided them with a wall mounted phone in a corridor near the courtyard with not even a door or booth between the caller and the rest of the base. To further shame whoever dared to have a personal life outside of their job the only light in the corridor was right above the phone shining down like a spot light. He sighed thinking back on her words "we've been married for ten years and I've only seen you half of that time, maybe less."

He rubbed his eyes, leaning on the wall next to the phone "L-Look Sam, I appreciate you talking to me, I know it's gettin' late for you. It's just been hard for me to get a chance to call you any earlier."

Sam responded amicably, he understood, they must keep odd hours over there. It was alright, they were family after all and if you couldn't rely on family who could you rely on?

The Texan shivered and glanced over his shoulder, he felt so exposed out here. He had delayed the call in the hope that at this hour there'd be less chance of someone overhearing him on the phone. After all, this was his problem, his business, and airing it out in public was something he wanted to avoid. "I jus' wanted to..." he stumbled over his words a moment, collected himself, and tried again "jus' want you to keep an eye on things. On the farm. Evie ain't gonna" he said softly, "She was talkin' bout movin' on, maybe to the city." He swallowed thickly remembering the last conversation he'd had with her over the phone. Make up for wasted time, she had said, time wasted sitting around waiting for him to come home. "I've got the money to look after things, I- I jus' don' wanna see the place fall apart. Dad'd never forgive me."

Sam said it was fine, he'd look after things, no need to worry. With that the pair said their good byes and the phone was hung up.

The Texan trudged up the hallway. He could faintly hear the clamor from the mess hall. From the sound of things, someone, in all likelihood Scout, had interrupted one of Soldier's war stories and the two would probably come to blows if someone didn't step in and separate them. That was usually his job, but as it was he didn't feel like dealing with the other teammates, especially if it meant trying to talk those two blockheads into behaving like civilized folk. Someone else could handle it this time he decided as he walked on to the living quarters.

A niggling voice reminded him he should be back in the workshop - he hadn't been in there for weeks, he should be working. There were repairs to be made - adjustments to the sentries to be done, his shot gun needed to be cleaned. If he had any sense he'd be down there with a pot of coffee and back at those upgrades he'd started before....Grimacing, more memories flooding back, he unlocked his door and stepped inside, it didn't matter anyway.

The Engineer flicked on the light switch and kicked the door shut as the light bulb flickered into life flooding the room with a sickly light. Ignoring the unmade bed, walking past the half open wardrobe spilling dirty clothes on the floor and the desk with all its clutter he sank into his desk chair. The man's gaze drifted over the rows of photos and the offending holes in the collection. He'd taken down her photos but it hadn't really accomplished anything. The blank spots on the wall were just another reminder. When he closed his eyes he could still picture her: her smile, the way her nose wrinkled when she laughed, the constellations of freckles on her skin, her kisses, the way she'd hum to herself in the bath, the way his name sounded on her tongue.

Gone.

She'd left him and was never coming back.

When this contract was over he'd take the first train out of here, away from all the gravel quarries and cacophonous gun shots, and go back to Texas. And there would be no one there.

Just him, and an empty house.

Turning away from the photos he noticed his guitar resting against the side of the wardrobe. Trying to clear his head and busy his hands he rose from the chair and picked it up.

The guitar felt good in his hands, reassuring. It was an old friend. He had had it for years before he'd come here, before he'd gone to college, before he married Evie. Now sitting back in his chair he clung to it like an anchor, his hands automatically tuning it and half heartedly beginning to pick out a song. His fingers didn't fumble as they found the opening chords to the first song that came to mind.

"L-last Saturday night I got married" he sang softly to himself "Me and my wife settled down. " He swallowed before continuing " N-now me and my w-wife are parted, I'm gonna take me a little stroll down town."
"Irene goodnight Irene goodnight, goodnight Irene goodnight Irene I kiss you in my dreams"

"Sometimes I live in the country, sometimes I live in town." his fingers slipped missing the chords he had played countless times before as his tongue seemed to trip over the words, his throat tightened " S-sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown"

His voice sounded thick to his ears, "Irene goodnight Irene, Irene goodnight, goodnight Irene" he swallowed trying to dislodge the lump in his throat "G-goodnight Irene, I kiss you in my... dreams." The last choked words hung in the air as the guitar strings stilled and the Texan slumped in his chair as silence filled the room.

Chapter Text

The Spy stood in the Engineers dark room and waited. By now, he knew the Texan's habits like the back of his hand. Soon the man would be done dropping off his equipment in the workshop and would head back to his quarters for another night of sulking and avoiding people. The sad imbecile needed a change of routine and some fresh air. This was definitely doing the man a favor.

The sound of footsteps came up the hall and stopped in front of the door followed by the jingle of keys. The Frenchman stood up straight and remained very still as the door was unlocked and the American entered the room and turned on the light switch. He was sober this time, though his face still possessed the drawn exhausted features of one who had given up on life. The man shut the door behind him with a heavy sigh and slumped on the edge of his bed. Oblivious, he began untying his work boots, the floorlamp by his bed moving soundlessly nearer. The man spotted something out of the corner of his eye and turned his head, but he wasn't quite fast enough. The blackjack came down, delivering a sharp tap to the head and the man listlessly slid off the bed to the floor with a solid thud. The BLU Spy removed his mask and returned the black jack to his coat pocket.

Stepping around the Texan he opened the door a crack and peered into the hallway. Just to be cautious, he activating his cloak before walking down the hall. The base was quiet, there was no sound or sign of anyone around. All according to plan, the Frenchman smiled to himself. The RED team had conveniently and mysteriously received a letter and a voucher claiming they were the lucky winners of a contest for a free steak dinner for eight from a restaurant fifty miles away. While this was suspicious, it seemed that any concerns anyone might have had were outweighed by the promise of food that had not come out of a can or tin. Though it was a shame that they were not going to make it to the dinner, the Spy chuckled to himself picturing the mercenaries stranded on the side of the road due to engine trouble. They should have made it about fifteen miles out before the engine stalled, or at least he was fairly sure, they might make it to twenty if they were lucky.

With free run of the base the Frenchman retrieved a wheelbarrow from the courtyard. It had been laying on its side next to a wooden cow, a relic from when RED had been trying to pretend the base was a farm and not in fact a base of operations for a personal war. It had never seen a load until now. Returning to the personal quarters he tried to use the wheelbarrow to scoop the man from the floor though all he achieved was to scoot the man a few inches along the floor. Finally he with some effort managed to roll the heavy Texan into the cart - more or less - one of the man's arms seemed determined to hang out the side and his leg was at an alarming angle. Once the man was in the cart close enough to his liking the Spy wheeled his load out of the Engineers room, switching off the light and shutting the door behind him, and whistling as he strolled down the hallway.

The stairs down to the courtyard proved little difficulty. The Spy barely slowed down as he pushed the wheelbarrow in front of him, the Texan made involuntary little grunts as he was bounced down each step all the way down to the bottom. Once down, wheeled his the cargo out of the side gate and out behind a barricade of empty crates where his Vespa was parked out of sight so the gleam of the metal wouldn't attract any attention. He roughly dumped the wheelbarrow's prone contents into the rarely used side car. Or attempted to, at least. The Engineer, though unconscious was seemingly determined to protest his treatment. His legs refused to tuck into the side car properly, the Spy swore as he had to grab the man by his shoulders and - with much grunting and snarling of effort -straighten then twist him so he fit into the seat a bit better. When he was finished, one of the Texan's arms was pinned behind him he was slumped at an odd angle as he'd slid further down off the seat into the sidecar and the Frenchman was certain that his knee shouldn't be bent like that but at least none of his limbs were dangling in any way that could slow down the scooter.

Once satisfied with a job well done, the Spy leaned on the side of the scooter, pulled out his cigarette case and lit one. He breathed in the smoke, savoring the taste and enjoying the moment. There was a groan from the side car beside him, the night air began stirring the Texan. Quickly, before the man could fully come to, the Spy had his blackjack out of his pocket once more and conked the man over the head again. The silence returned again. Much better. Sufficiently being reminded of the task at hand he put both the blackjack and the cigarette case back into his jacket pocket and mounted the Vespa. The engine came to life after some sputters and the Frenchman and his load began to putter from behind the crates and down the road away from the base.

Chapter Text

The Engineer awakened to the sound of applause and whistles. Groaning, he slowly lifted his head off the table where his forehead had been resting as raucous music began to play. His head was throbbing and he ached all over. He rubbed the back of his head - was that a lump? His shoulder was throbbing like someone had tried to pull his arm out of joint and his right knee had a twinge. But after a quick check, it seemed there was no blood or sign of anything seriously wrong...besides the lump. He just ached. He was also in a suit. That was odd. Had he been drinking? He didn't remember drinking. Besides, when he drank he normally woke up in his room on the base. In his clothes, not a suit. And though his eyes were still having trouble focusing, this... didn't look anything like his room.

He was in a large open space, sitting at a table by himself. In a suit. There was an empty chair next to him and a half extinguished cigarette in the ash tray in front of him, a ribbon of smoke lazily drifting up to add to the general haze of the room. Glancing around the dim room he could make out tables and other people, who didn't seem to notice him. There was music, so he was in a club? A bar? He looked forward and noticed a stage. How did he miss that before? Was this a theater? Though, he thought to himself as his eyes focused, in most theaters the dancers tended to wear more clothes than just some fishnets and a few carefully placed sequins.

He was dreaming, he decided to himself, watching a girl sway across the stage and slowly peel off the strategically placed sequins revealing another patch of bare flesh . This sort of thing happened when you were on base too long without any ladies around. Why he would dream up what was probably a concussion was a mystery, but now the rest of it made sense. He had been alone for far too long. His last trip home had been months ago - and now he was dreaming about strange theaters and naked ladies. Perfectly normal. Though the fishnets were new. His subconscious didn't normally bother with niceties like fishnets or sequins. Or theaters. Or suits. His head still throbbed. Maybe he'd hit his head and this was a dream he was having while he was unconscious. He tried to shake the unpleasant thought and mental image of him laying on the floor of his quarters maybe bleeding out, with no one to help him. Spending his last moments... dreaming of naked ladies.

"Good, you're awake." an accented voice behind him interrupted his thoughts. The Texan looked over the back of his chair to see....The BLU Spy!? It had to be him, few people could get away with wearing a mask in public. Though, if he was dreaming why was this guy here of all people? Evelyn had accused him of being too obsessed with his work, that it was the only thing on his mind. She... might have had a point, given this. He briefly wondered if his Sentry was going show up soon. If it did, he could only hope it wasn't going to wind up on stage wearing garters.

The enemy Frenchman placed a drink in front of the Texan and pulled out the empty chair next to him and sat down. "Enjoying the show?" he asked as he set his own drink down on the table.

"The show?" the Texan repeated in confusion.

"Oui," the man said in a tone like he was talking to a child, gesturing to the stage with a smirk. "The show."

The Texan frowned - the dream was now asking if he was enjoying it? Unable to think of anything to say he turned his attention to the drink in front of him. He picked up the glass and examined it. The Spy had a martini, but the drink he'd placed in front of the Engineer appeared to be whiskey. At least it smelled like good whiskey. He sipped it cautiously. Odd, it even tasted like decent whiskey. Not amazing, but decent none the less. For a dream this was very detailed. Very realistic.
But this was very much a dream. Wasn't it? Surely, it was a dream. A strange dream, to be sure. An incredibly detailed, realistic dream. But a dream. It had to be a dream. If it wasn't a dream.... He set the glass gently back down on the table, and slapped the side of his face. Wincing in pain, he swore under his breath.

"Dare I ask why you did that?" the Spy asked, one eye brow raised. The Texan said nothing to the Frenchman who watched him in silence, cautiously leaning away from him in case he decided to hit someone else. The Engineer just stared blankly in front of him, not paying attention to the stage, processing this new information in mute horror. His face hurt, his head was throbbing, and he was pretty sure he wasn't dreaming. He was at a strip show. With the enemy Spy. And he was not dreaming. He was in a club. In a suit. With the enemy Spy. And he was not dreaming.... He needed a drink.

Reflexively, he picked up the whiskey in front of him and was about to take a sip when he noticed the Spy out of the corner of his eye. Watching him. He hurriedly slammed the glass back on the table before the drink could pass his lips.

"Bit late to be worried about poison," the Spy said still eyeing him suspiciously.

"What? "

"The drink, you are worried I put something in it. But you already drank from it."

There was an embarrassed pause as the Engineer gazed into the glass not wanting to see the pitying look on the other man's face.

"I didn't, by the way" the Spy smugly added. Now that the Frenchman brought it up he felt silly. Of course the man wouldn't drug his drink. There was no need to. What would he accomplish that he hadn't already?
"Where are we?" he asked uneasily looking at the Frenchman again.

"Off base." came the obvious sardonic, yet vague answer.

"How did I get here?"

"I brought you." the Spy said before going back to sip on his martini. The Texan hesitated, opening his mouth to ask why the man would do that in the first place, when another horrifying thought occurred to him.

"Why am I in this suit?"

"I refuse to be seen in public with a farmhand." was the withering reply.

"But this suit?" He persisted as he gestured at the lapels. The suit was a dark brown, well tailored - he hesitated to say stylish... he wasn't sure what was fashionable. It certainly fit him better than anything he had worn before in his life. It was also clothing he had never seen before in his life. "H-" he opened his mouth and closed it again trying to figure out if he wanted to ask exactly how the Spy had managed it. He suppressed a shudder as he pictured the possible answers, the possible actions the man could have taken to get his measurements, or to get him in the suit in the first place. Better not to ask. "B-But I have a suit" he finally managed to say feebly.

"Not anymore." the Frenchman said coolly as he pulled out his cigarette holder.

"What? What's that supposed to mean?"

"I burned it." he smirked as he lit his cigarette.

"WHAT?" he stood up from his chair, "You can't just barge into my room and- and burn my property!"

"It was a public service. An act of charity if you will." the Spy said with a sigh. "Now sit down-" he added sharply "you'll interrupt the show."

The Texan hesitated, glancing around the room, ignoring the odd looks some of the surrounding attendees were now giving him. If he walked away what would the Frenchman do? Would he follow? Maybe he could get away, get away and-

"Where would you go?" the Spy asked as if reading his mind. "Do you even know where you are? Where the base is from here?"

"I can figure it out" he shot back - in what he hoped would pass for a determined tone.

"Really? So tell me, how will you do that? Use the stars to navigate?"

"N-"

"-Or ask someone where you are?" the Spy cut him off, "What state you are in? Surely no one will think that odd."

"You're just messin' with me," he retorted as he stormed off, determined not to let the snake have the last word. He was lying. Bluffing. They couldn't be that far away from base. Could they? What sort of maniac would kidnap a man and travel miles away across state lines just to take him to a strip club? He realized that was a stupid question, he already knew the answer ....Had anyone back on base even noticed he was gone?
He angrily picked his way among the tables, towards the direction of what he assumed was the bar. It had bottles behind it at least. Manning the bar was an older, curvy woman. She was mixing a drink and talking to a large gentleman with a moustache. After handing the drink over to man she turned her attention to the Texan.

"Hey Sugar, what can I get you?" she asked with a wide smile. He opened his mouth to speak and tried to think of what exactly he was going to say.

"Uh..." I've been kidnapped by an insane Frenchman and was brought here and I have no idea where I am. Or what day it is. And I'm in a suit. But not my suit. This one's tailored. He was pretty sure he wasn't going to get even half way through that line before she dialed for the police. Or a white van.

"You alright?" she asked her smile had faded into a confused frown. He stood there in awkward silence.

"Never mind." he mumbled finally with a defeated sigh, and turned away from the bar to figure out his next move. He could ask to use the phone to call the base. Maybe get someone to come get him. But that would require knowing where he was. Besides what would he say? The same thing he would have told the woman at the bar? No one would believe him. Maybe he could find a newspaper somewhere, that might answer some questions. Though he would have to probably leave this place to find one, he thought bitterly to himself as he walked away.

"So, Monsieur," a familiar voice purred in his ear. The Texan froze in surprise - he should have expected the Spy to follow. The Frenchman materialized out of thin air. "Have you figured out where we are?" the man asked smirking over his shoulder. The only response he received was a glare. The Spy chuckled," Come now, this isn't so bad... is it?"

"Yes." he growled through grit teeth.

The Spy tsked, "Such a shame," he said shaking his head in mock concern. "Oh well, if you are hating it this much I'll take you back to your base."

"You will, will you?" the Texan frowned, turning to face the man - he felt uncomfortable with the snake at his back - he added, "What's the catch?"

The Frenchman smiled, it wasn't a friendly smile. It was the smile of someone who knew he was going to win no matter what cards were played.

"The catch, as you so crudely put it," the Spy answered rolling his eyes. "is that we go back to our table. You sit down, and enjoy the show. Then I take you back when it is over." Taking the angry silence for agreement he placed a gloved hand on the Texan's shoulder and forcibly walked him back to the abandoned table.

Back at the table the Texan was seething silently to himself. What was the Frenchman's game? He asked himself, staring ahead and not really focusing on the song and dance playing out onstage. Why had he been brought here? Why was the Spy so insistent that he "enjoy himself"? What business was it of his? Knock him unconscious, drag him to strange clubs, put him in strange, well tailored suits, break into his room and destroy his property. The Texan grit his teeth, glancing over at the side winder, who sat there cooly watching the show with that damn smug smirk on his face. When this was all over and he was back on base he was going to kill the man. Repeatedly.

Setting the man on fire, that might be an option he mused to himself. But Pyro tended to look after and guard his weapons, so getting a hold of those would be difficult. Maybe he could use a welding torch. Wringing that scrawny French neck with bare hands also held some appeal. That would be simpler. Though that might take a bit too long to happen in a skirmish. Provided he could catch the bastard, lately the Spy seemed to always find holes in his defenses. Or he could just beat the man senseless, that was simple enough and would almost be as satisfying as strangling.

"Cigars? Cigarettes?" A soft feminine voice interrupted his train of thought. Turning, he found himself face to...breasts. They had tassels on them. The tassels were red.

"P-Pardon?" He hastily moved his gaze upward and found himself looking up at the smiling face of a young woman.

"Cigars? Cigarettes?" she repeated. He frowned, he wasn't good at judging anyone's age but she was young. Too young for a man his age to be looking at her...tassels. . He squinted trying to hazard a guess of how old the girl was when he noticed with a pang the splash of freckles across her nose. Suddenly he was reminded of Evie. He shouldn't be here anymore than this girl should be here. He was a married man. Or something close to it anyway..

"Darlin' does your Daddy know you're here?" he found himself asking.

"Sir?" the girl frowned.

"How old are ya, darlin'? Ya in school?"

"Uh.."

"You're young, you can have a future. This ain't a place for any young lady like yourself."

"Erm-"

"You can do better with your life than just catchin' cold selling cigarettes to a bunch of rowdy menfolk"

"I'm not sure I-"

"Even if your grades aren't that good there's always trade scho-"

"Ta gueule " the Spy irritably cut him off "let the girl go about her business"

"I'm just sayin' th-" he began to turn to argue with the Frenchman when he suddenly felt something hit his head and everything went black.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Texan woke with a groan and slowly sat up, rubbing the back of his head, wincing as his hand hit the series of lumps. He glanced around his surroundings. It was his room back at RED base. According to the clock it was six in the morning, or at night. He wasn't quite sure.

At least it looked like his room. He was on his bed, with the old quilt from home. His guitar leaned against the wardrobe which was still spilling dirty clothes out onto the floor. The room appeared to be exactly as he left it. He would happily accept the whole thing as a dream. A strange dream of strip clubs and enemy Spies.

Sadly there was too much evidence to the contrary for him to ignore. The lamp by his bed was missing, his work clothes were folded into a bundle on his desk chair, with the address of a laundry service pinned to it. And he was still wearing the tailored suit... He would panic and dwell on that later. After he got something for his head which was now throbbing even worse than before. And then some sleep. Real sleep. Maybe he could wake up in the same room he fell asleep in.
He cringed as he hauled himself to his feet and walked out the open door to the hallway. The barracks were blissfully quiet for once. It made a nice contrast to the constant noise of the club. He'd go to the Infirmary for his head, he'd decided. He'd sleep after that.

Making his way to the Infirmary he began to wonder about the silence of the base. Usually there was some sort of clatter or noise. As he got closer to Infirmary realized he could hear the phone ringing.
One ring, two rings, three. Odd. Normally by now someone would have answered it by now. "Anyone goin' to get that?" he called down the hall. Silence was the only answer. Where was everybody? Surely not everyone could have been kidnapped by insane Frenchmen. It soon became apparent that no one was going to answer the phone. He sighed and trudged to the phone.

"Yea?" he growled into the receiver. There was a pause, "Speak up boy, I can hardly hear ya." The Scouts voice was hard to make out with all the clatter in the background. "I've been...busy." he hesitantly replied as the young man began yelling at him. Apparently they'd been trying to reach him for most of the night. "Wait...what happened?" He should have known better as the Scout started rambling on. "Alright, alright - never mind that now... You're calling from where?" he could not be hearing that right. "Whatdya mean you're ALL IN JAIL!?"

Chapter Text

It had been four and a half hours since the Texan had received the phone call. Four hours, a fifty mile drive, three aspirin and a long series of paper work. Bleary eyed and frustrated, he was now on the question portion of the bail out process, as he repeatedly assured the cop that yes, he really did want to release these blockheads from jail. Yes, all eight of them, yes even that one, and that other one. Yes, he knew the consequences. No really, he knew. The cop glared at him and finally, reluctantly handed over the last form to sign and disappeared to make him wait for another half hour. He fidgeted, trying to make himself comfortable on the hard wood bench. He really should have ignored the phone call and gone to bed. Or at least had some breakfast or coffee. It wasn't like any of them were going anywhere.

This was not the first time the Engineer found himself having to bail any of the team out of jail. Though having to bail all of them out was a first. At least RED had a procedure to handle it; there was a budget set aside for bail and a number to call and have Pauling handle any other complications like trials or sentencing. As long as they didn't exceed the budget or fail to show up for a skirmish, the company didn't seem to mind. The local police however did mind. They got more and more agitated each time RED paid off all the bails and fines, sweeping their employee's indiscretions under the rug with threats and greased palms.

The Texan had somehow managed to ignore the complaints of his sore joints and was just starting to doze off when he heard a clamor of footsteps and arguing up the hall. The jailbirds had been released. Grudgingly he got up from the bench as his team mates entered the room, with multiple police officers behind them ready to re-arrest them if they did anything stupid. Anything. The Texan felt his headache starting to return as the room echoed the sound of everyone talking at once.

"Alright-" he started to talk but no one heard him.

"-'m telling ya, this is the stupidest-"

"-ja ja -"

"-dissapointing-"

"finally out of there, took long-"

"-if ye had listened to me we could have-"

The Texan rubbed his eyes, his patience had long gone thin "ALRIGHT!" he bellowed over the chaos. The room went silent as the mercenaries finally seemed to notice him. Some of them were giving him odd looks but he was too tired to care. "Alright...now anyone want to tell me what exactly happened?"

The room exploded again.

"Schweinhunds! begann auf die schlagenden-"

"-we finally get to the frickin' place after his stupid van breaks!"

"Not sure what happened, she hasn't broken down sin-"

"we were late and these imbeciles-"

"-THEY SHOULD HAVE-"

"'m not the one who-"

"hudduh hurm huh!-"

"-hell , couldn' leave the bleedin' -"

"like babies-"

He really shouldn't have asked, he thought to himself massaging his temples. That had been his mistake. All the blows to the head, the exhaustion, it was bound to make him do something stupid.

"Forget I asked." he said turning to walk away. He had done his part. Technically he was supposed to make sure they didn't go do something else unlawful, he just didn't have the energy to care. He'd go find some breakfast and sleep.

"Truckie!" the Sniper called quickly catching up with the Texan. "thanks for bailing us out."

"Weren't nothin" he said reflexively.

"Never thought we was gonna get out of there! Was startin' to get a bit stir crazy."

The Texan grunted a reply, unable to think of anything much to say.

"Say...Truckie...you going somewhere?"

"Hunh? "

"Dressed like that...Thought you might be going somewhere."

Dressed like...he froze in his tracks. Catching a glimpse of his reflection in a nearby window he realized in horror that he hadn't changed out of the suit.

After a moment's hesitation he spoke, "No...no...I...uh...already went."

Chapter Text

People were so much easier to deal with on the other end of a scope, the Sniper thought to himself over dinner. Even if you weren't intending to put a bullet through their brainpan they were a lot quieter from a distance.
"That last performance out there was PATHETIC ladies!" Soldier roared as he stood at the head of the mess hall table. The Australian tuned out the man and tried to finish his meal.

Most nights the other occupants at the table might ignore the man's rants but tensions were running high. With no more bail money in the budget the Administration declared the mercenaries were not to leave the base unless they wanted their pay docked. While most of the team did normally spend weeks at a time on base without leaving, there was a difference between staying on base because you had to and staying on base when you knew you could leave whenever you wanted. The idea of being trapped on base made everyone stir crazy. If the Digger didn't go hoarse soon, the Australian thought to himself as he glanced around the table, this could get ugly.

The Doctor and the Russian were at their usual places at the end of the table glaring at the self-appointed general as he fumed about how they were failing at their jobs. The Scotsman clutched his bottle in one hand and unenthusiastically picked at his food with his fork in the other. The grip on the bottle suggested he was as likely to break it over someone's head as he was to drink from it. The Pyro wasn't at the table, the team had stopped setting out a chair for...him a while ago. Pyro would disappear with a plate of food and return with it sparkling clean after some time. That was all anyone knew. It seemed safer not to think about it too hard.

"I WILL NOT TOLERATE ANY MORE FAILURE!" Plates and glasses rattled on the table as the Soldier continued, punctuating his words by pounding the table with every other word to belabor the point. The Spy sat quietly, his food barely touched, his ever present cigarette forming a cloud of smoke over his head, watching the raving American. If he was contemplating murder, the day's events, or a new hat, Sniper couldn't tell, he rarely could read the man's expression. Scout's face, however, was easy to read. He glared at the man, seething, getting more and more angry the longer the Soldier raged on. If anyone was going to start something it was probably going to be him.

Sniper heaved a sigh, there was little point responding to Soldier's earbashing, it only seemed to encourage him to yell more. All he could hope to do was finish eating before things got violent. The Australian glanced irritably at the empty place at the table - the only person who could talk him down was Truckie but the Texan had disappeared shortly after today's battle. He'd probably locked himself in his workshop again, he'd been doing that a lot since he bailed them all out.

"NONE OF YOU ARE FIT TO WEAR THOSE UNIFORMS - YOU ARE ALL A DISGRACE!"

This was the final straw.

"DISGRACE? US?" the Scout shouted , jumping out of his chair. "That's pretty rich coming from the numbskull that got us in the clink!"

"I AM NOT THE ONE WHO BROKE AN AGREEMENT." the Soldier retorted, with all the conviction (and volume) of an innocent man.

"Ya pounded on their front door for forty five min-" Scout persisted.

"Lad, weren't you also-" the Scotsman asked in confusion.

"-THAT AIN'T THE POINT! THIS-" the Scout cut Demo off defensively ,jabbing a finger back in Soldiers direction and opened his mouth to continue. But now the rest of the team had decided to cut into the argument.

"-Zey thought you vere attacking them!"

"-maybe if Snipe's frickin' van wasn't such a frickin' junkheap-"

"THEY WOULD NOT OPEN-"

"-I'm telling ye, if ye had but listened to me and-"

"Dumbkoff! Zey were-"

"-ain't my fault they thought the Russians were invad-"

"-I was not going to hurt tiny-

"-was just trying to-"

"- they also thought Frenchie over here was a moles-"

"-let's not dwell on that."

"-IT IS NOT MY FAULT WE HAD UNRELIABLE TRANSPORT."

"-'e's right maybe if we had had a real car we might have gotten-"

While earlier he had been content to wait out the storm, the Australian now refused to sit there and listen to more insults against his van."Stop insulting my-" he tried to cut in but was, unsurprisingly, interrupted.

"We vould not have been spät if we had no-"

"OI! STOP INSULTING SHEILA!" Sniper yelled, jerking out of his chair his voice slicing through the din. All talking stopped and the Australian suddenly felt the gaze of eleven eyes looking at him. Judging him.

"Ya named your van?" the Scout barely managed before he erupted into hoots of laughter.

"That's not important!" he grunted defensively as the Spy and Medic joined in the laughter. "That's not the point. The point is..." he trailed off uneasily as the laughter continued. What was the point? He'd forgotten. He just wanted everyone to stop laughing at him. "What was the point?" he asked finally.

"The point, Private," the Soldier growled, he was rarely one to get side tracked once he had his sights in place. "is HOW YOU NUMBNUTS ARE ALL FAILURES! "

"Hey, don' yell at me," Scout interrupted having recovered from his fit of laughter "I am kickin' ass out there! It's Hardhat you should be yellin' at!"

Soldier froze and glared at the boy. "...WHAT WAS THAT, SHORTPANTS?"

Scout stood up, his face forming a sneer. "You heard me, go yell at Hardhat. He's the one always droppin' the frickin' ball! He's been doing it for weeks!"

Soldier frowned walking from the head of the table towards the Scout. "ACCUSING A MEMBER OF YOUR UNIT OF SHIRKING IS-A-PRET-TY SORRY EXCUSE FOR YOUR FAILURE!" he snarled glaring down at the kid.

Scout stepped back, tucking his head down and lifting his hands up in case this was going to go from verbal to physical sparring. "I'm just sayin' Old McDonald sucks, more than usual." He looked around stubbornly to the rest of the team daring anyone else to argue with him.

There was an awkward silence as everyone else stared down at their plates. The kid had a point, the Sniper grudgingly had to admit. It was hard to fight when your defense and support was falling to pieces. Which it had been lately. He had noticed, and judging from the silence that had spread around the table, he wasn't the only one. It was hard to miss, really. Truckie was barely around these days, and the few occasions he was out of his room or workshop he was withdrawn. Something was eating at the man. And his behavior had gotten even stranger after the morning he'd bailed them all out of jail. But it hadn't been the Australian's business so he hadn't pressed the issue let alone mentioned it. Neither, did it seem, had anyone else.

Soldier glared daggers down at the lad and was about to continue berating the kid when the silence was cut by the Spy clearing his throat.

"The boy is right. " the Frenchman said when he had everyone's attention. "The Engineer is clearly distracted."

The Soldier protested in defense of the absent man but his bluster was quickly fading. "Engie's always been a hard worker," he finally grumbled down to his boots.

"He vas," the Medic joined in, much to the Sniper's surprise. Normally, the Doctor and Russian kept to themselves, not getting involved in any of the other team's issues. "But now Engineer is slipping!"

"Aye," the Scotsman chimed in, "lad's got somethin' bothering 'im."

"Monsieur Sniper," the Spy said turning to the Australian, "You talk to the laborer, do you have any idea?"

"Me?" he sputtered, he had hoped to be left out of this. "No," he shook his head "Truckie hasn't mentioned anything."

The Frenchman frowned, "We need to find out what is troubling him. If we solve his problems we will solve ours."

The Spy looked at the Australian. He was going to insist he talk to the Texan, make him spill his guts. The Sniper spoke before the Frenchman could even phrase the request.
"Leave me out of this mate. I'm no stickybeak. If he don' wanna talk about it I'm not going to force it out of him."

"Dummkopf," the Medic sneered "Has the sun baked through your skull? His problems are now ours!"

Sniper stood up from his chair about to retort when he was interrupted.

"I WILL DO IT!" Soldier said suddenly taking the floor once again. "Engie is my friend and it is my job to see that this unit runs smoothly. I will talk to him and make him to come to his senses." He straightened, puffed out his chest, saluted and marched out of the
mess hall with the rest of the team staring at his departing form.

Sniper snorted , "Blooming idiot."

Medic and Heavy had already finished eating but remained at the table talking quietly to each other, waiting to see the result of Soldier's pep talk most likely. Scout likewise stayed in the mess, pacing and fidgeting. Demo had nodded off at some point and sat there snoring loudly at the table. Spy for his own reasons stuck around, and was lighting his third cigarette.

So here they all were hanging around here, burning with curiosity, like a bunch of old gossips. Even Sniper had to admit guiltily to himself that he was sticking around the mess for similar reasons. Monotony and repetition did that to you, turned you into a nosy git.

The Soldier returned after a while, more quiet than when he had left. All eyes in the room were on him as he shuffled in, shoulders hunched, his bluster gone. He made a half hearted salute to the room and cleared his throat. The silence in the room could be cut with a knife, Scout found his seat again and as one the mercenaries leaned forward waiting for an answer.

The military man cleared his throat again. The man seemed embarrassed. He cleared his throat a third time. Finally, he opened his mouth and spoke quietly.

"Engie is... uh," he trailed off and cleared his throat again, "Engie is... uh... having....problems." He paused and as the room was hanging on his next word, cleared his throat again, for good measure. "Having problems on the home front..." The man was greeted with a table of blank looks. "With the missus." he hissed, as it afraid of being overheard.

There was a long awkward pause as the man's words sank in.

"So wait...Hardhat's married?"

"Yeah," Sniper replied hesitantly. The Texan had mentioned her a few times, and shown off a few photos. Her name was Irene? Ivy? He couldn't remember. Didn't matter. So that's what was eating at the man? He and his wife were having a fight? He hadn't suspected they were having any problems, Truckie had always talked about her fondly. Then again the Australian hardly considered himself an expert on relationships.

"Gentleman" the Spy broke the silence and stood from his chair a self assured smile on his face. "I believe I can solve our problem"

"And what are you gonna do-" the Scout cut in determined to have the last word.

"The Engineer needs help with his woman, yes?" the Frenchman flicked some unseen dust off his lapel "That is my area of expertise" he walked to the Soldier who still stood there in embarrassed silence. "At ease, mon ami," he said patting the man on the shoulder "this should not take long."

And with that the Spy sauntered out the door.

The Soldier had barely sat back down in his chair, the pained awkward expression frozen on his face, when the Frenchman burst back in the room.

"I will not waste any of my time on that mongrel!" the Spy spat.

"What happened?"

"He threw a wrench at me."

The Scout snickered "Didn't like what you had to say?"

"I barely said anything." the Spy said with agitation, pulling out his cigarette case, " he threw a wrench at me and started swearing in Texan. I will not waste of my knowledge on that uncivilized bumpkin."

"That doesn't sound like something Truckie would do," Sniper said doubtfully "not to a team member anyway."

"Stress does strange thingz to the mind" the Medic said with a shrug "he might also be suffering from depression, maybe an operation on the strinlappen would help."

"Come again Doc?"

"The frontal lobe," the German explained calmly gesturing at his own eyes "itz simple, a long needle through the eye sockets separate the brain lobes and all the excess emotions, the depression, paranoia, all gone."

There was a long, horrified pause.

"Doktor. No." Heavy said quietly, finally breaking the silence.

"It's possible for someone to live a perfectly normal life after it!" the Doctor insisted.

The Sniper swallowed and stood up from the table, "M-Maybe it's better I go talk to him." he then quickly walked out the door before the Medic could go into further detail of why random brain surgery was a good idea.

This wasn't his business, he didn't want it to be his business. He didn't have the slightest idea what he was supposed to say to the man. He was bad at handling other people's problems. Hell, he was bad at handling his own problems. But talking to the man as awkward as it would be was better than letting Medic solve the problem. Not that the rest of the team would let it come down to the that. Surely.

Grumbling to himself he walked down the stairs to the basement and down the hall to where the Engineer's workshop was located. When he reached the door he wasn't terribly surprised to see, taped above the usual sign warning what would happen to anyone who smoked around the area, a piece of paper written in large bold letters "KEEP OUT ." Trying not to feel guilty for disturbing him, he was sparing the man brain surgery after all, he knocked on the door.

There was no answer. He knocked again, more loudly in case the man hadn't heard him. A moment later there was the sound of a deadbolt being pulled back and the door swung open revealing an annoyed Engineer brandishing a spanner.

"Can NONE of yah read a damn sign?"

The Sniper stepped back hoping the wrench wasn't going to be thrown at him. "Ya gonna throw that thing at me?"

The Texan peeled back his goggles and peered up at the taller man "Yah talked to Spy." came the rather sheepish reply. It wasn't a question.

"He was a bit cranky you know, having tools chunked at him"

"So what brings you down here?" the Texan asked suspiciously.

"Eh - Just wanted to talk. See how you're doin'..." before Medic does, he added silently to himself.

"Soldier sent you."

"That too, yea," He admitted with a shrug. There was little sense in lying, he was not very good at it. Lying was not a skill one practiced too much when living by oneself. Lies and fancy words rarely came in handy when shooting at dingoes or crocodiles. "Look, can I come in mate?"

The Texan hesitated, the spanner still gripped tightly in his hand. He gave the Sniper a long hard look, and to the bushman's befuddlement peered past him into the shadows of the hallway. Whatever he was looking for was apparently not there. Finally, Truckie stepped back from the door letting him inside.

"Yah sort of interupted me in the middle of something," the Texan said shutting the door behind them both. "Feel free to take a seat."

He had been inside the Engineer's workshop many times before in the past, but he seemed to remember it being a bit cleaner. He frowned trying to figure out where he was supposed to sit. Various mechanical scraps and odds and ends salvaged from destroyed sentries and dispensers were on all available surfaces. Usually these were sorted into various crates below the work table but apparently Truckie hadn't gotten around to it. The calendar tacked on the wall amid a sea of memos and over complicated blue prints was two months out of date. And the room seemed to have collected some dust and a cobweb or two since he had last been down here.

"So, what did Soldier tell you to say?" The Texan asked warily as the Australian cautiously picked his way through the room to the big overstuffed chair that sat in the corner by a beat up bookcase overflowing with boxes and various books. He moved a small crate out of it and sat down carefully. The Texan sat on a high stool at the only clean patch of the work table. It looked like he had been working on some plans for... something. Seeing Sniper's interest in it, the Engineer quickly folded them up and shoved them aside, out of sight.

"Eh..." the bushman hesitated as he tried to find the words.

"That I'm 'shirkin', slippin', losing my edge? That I need to 'man up'?"

The Sniper grunted noncommittally .

"It's alright. Ya can say it," the man's voice was tired and flat, "I knew this conversation was comin', in some fashion, anyway. I know I haven't been th' most helpful person to have around. "

The Australian finally managed to find his voice "Is everything alright?"

The Engineer frowned and turned his attention to the concrete floor. "...Not really," the man's voice trailed off again, "Ya know I was married right?"

"Yea..." he replied hesitantly unsure where the conversation was going. Of course he knew the man had been married. The silence stretched on as he waited for the man to continue his explanation. Then it clicked. A feeble. "Oh.." was all he could manage to say.

"Yep." the Texan said quietly.

"I'm...sorry." he said uncertainly. What else could one say in a situation like this? "I'm so sorry" he repeated for good measure. "W-what happened?" he blurted.

"I don' really wanna talk about it if ya don mind" came the terse reply.

"Sorry. Sorry." he said quickly. The awkward silence descended again. It was almost suffocating. "I'll just...go then." he said uneasily getting out of the chair and stepping around the clutter. All too eager to escape this situation. The Texan grunted his good bye as the Sniper made his way out the door.

The Australian sighed to himself as he walked down the hall to go back upstairs. He had little doubt they were still there waiting for an update, like vultures. Though what he was going to say, he had little idea.

What were they supposed to do? Sure, now they knew what was eating Truckie. But this wasn't something that one could just yell away. Not that he was an expert on relationships, broken or otherwise. None of the mercenaries were - the Doctor and Heavy didn't count. Soldier could yell and bully all he liked but he doubted there was much that anyone on the team could do for the Texan.

Chapter Text

Stretching and standing almost on tiptoe the Engineer managed to reach the light bulb hanging above him and with a gloved hand carefully loosened it - not enough for the bulb to come out of the socket, just enough for it to go dark. He stood in the hallway for a moment, letting his eyes adjust, then glanced around the hall and to the empty courtyard - there was no one around.

He reached for the phone receiver.

The receiver buzzed in his ear for was felt like an eternity before he hesitantly reached out to the phone and slowly, mechanically, began to turn the rotary and start dialing the number for home. He hadn’t wanted to call home. He had avoided it for as long as he could but it seemed now he had little choice. The workshop had been torn apart, as well as his room, but the tools he needed hadn’t turned up. He must have left them at home last time he’d visited.

His teeth met his lip as the call went through and he heard the first ring. His stomach clenched when the phone rang a second time. A third. A fourth. It was seven o’clock at night, where would Evie be this late? A niggling voice in the back of his mind offered a few suggestions he tried to ignore.

He was just about to give up and set the phone back on the cradle when he heard a click and a male voice on the other end of the line answer.

“Howdy.”

The Engineer slammed the phone back on the hook. The clatter echoed down the hall and he glanced around half expecting someone to appear to investigate the noise. When he was sure no one was going to show up and start inquiring about the light, or try to give him a pep talk, he picked up the receiver again.

It was the wrong number. Surely, he dialed the number wrong. In the dark like this, it was easy enough to read the rotary wrong. Even if it was a number he knew by heart, one he had dialed countless times before. He had made a mistake, he’d just be more careful this time.

He dialed the number again, muttering the numbers to himself. The phone only rang once this time.

“Hello?” - the man’s voice answered again. There was a man in his house. Answering his phone.

“Where’s Evie?” he blurted into the phone in bewilderment.

“Eve?” the man called, his voice slightly softer, as if he was talking to someone else in the room.

“Who is it?” The Texan could hear her voice in the background. There was a short, muffled conversation he couldn’t make out, it sounded like the phone was passed around and then, Evie ‘s voice came over the receiver, “Hello?”

His throat tightened, it had been so long since he had heard her like this. Their last conversations she’d been yelling or distant. He had wanted to hear her voice for weeks but had simultaneously been dreading it, knowing that it wouldn’t be the same. But now… he leaned against the wall in the darkened hallway and closed his eyes, picturing her standing in the kitchen, coiling her fingers in the phone cord like she always did when she talked on it. For this moment he could pretend that he could talk to her like he always had. She would laugh again and they could talk about their days. He would tell her about some upgrades he was working on, and she’d talk about how her garden was coming along and about the new help. And she would still be there the next time he called. She’d always be there. He opened his mouth; to tell her he loved her, needed her, that he was sorry, that he’d quit, he’d come home, he’d do anything for her. But no sound came out.

“Who is it?” the man from earlier asked in the background. The moment was over. The Engineer swallowed bile as his heart sank to the floor and he was dragged back to reality. Back to the dark hallway in the middle of nowhere. Alone.

“Hello?” she repeated, her tone irritated.

“Evie?” he finally managed with some difficulty, his voice almost cracking.

There was a hitch in her voice when she said his name, then it hardened, “So you finally found time to call?” He winced at the unfamiliar venom in her tone, face flushing with both shame and indignation.

“Didn’t take you long to find someone else.” He shot back accusingly, his voice louder and harsher than he had intended.

“It’s not like that!” she said, defensive. “He’s helpin’ me pack.”

“Helpin’ himself more like.” he retorted.

“Wouldn’ be none of your business even if he was.” she reminded him icily “Least now someone has a min’ to.”

He swallowed, unable to think of anything to counter this.

“So why did you call?” she asked stiffly.

“I…” he trailed off taking a moment to try to calm down enough to collect his thoughts and failed. He kept picturing their little kitchen back home with Evie standing there. With another man. Was he holding her in his arms comforting her even during this conversation? “I-I was….It doesn’t matter.” he managed to spit out and slammed the phone back in its cradle.

There was a man in his house. She’d replaced him. The Texan slumped against the wall, gritting his teeth, his mind whirling with images of Evie in the embrace of this stranger. Touching. Caressing. Kissing. Did he make her laugh? Did she say his name like she used to say his?…Had they slept together yet?

Blood started pounding in his ears. He strode quickly through the halls of the base as if he could outpace his own thoughts. He needed out of here. He needed to be somewhere else. He needed to be Home. But that wasn’t an option anymore. There was no point. He made his way to his pickup truck. The base was stifling, full of people he didn’t want to talk to. People who asked too many questions. People who only had beer and awkward silence to offer. He climbed into his truck and started the engine. It didn’t matter where he was going he decided as he pulled away from the base onto the dirt road, so long as it was far away from here.

He drove, his eyes not really focusing on the road, his mind’s eye was picturing Her. Another man touching her. Kissing her. Whispering promises in her ear. Her smiling in response and reaching for the man ‘s hand. Leading him to the bedroom. To their bed.

The truck sped up as he brought his foot down on the accelerator. He drove on for miles, the desert stretched out before him lit only by the stars and his headlights. How long he had been driving he wasn’t sure. The road signs around here were few and far between. He drove on, the monotony of the road providing little distraction against the thoughts and images burning themselves into his mind. Where was he even driving? He hadn’t thought about it, he had just driven by reflex. It wasn’t until he reached a sign helpfully pointing out the exit for the highway that he realized he was heading for Texas. Home. To Her.

He slammed on the brakes, bringing the truck to a violent stop. The road was deserted, the only sound was the idling of his engine. He stared at the sign in the glow of his head lights, his heart pounding. What would he even do if he went there? It was over, he reminded himself. No amount of begging, reasoning, or violence would solve that. He swallowed, his stomach churning. Sick with regret, he pulled the truck into a U turn.

The Texan was unable to go home but not ready in any way to go back to the base. Driving around aimlessly in the desert at night was a good way to get lost, he reminded himself. Desperate for escape, he found himself pulling up a dusty dirt drive to a roadhouse with a flickering neon sign.

The Texan turned off his ignition and climbed out of his truck. His boots crunched on the gravel as he opened the door and walked into the building.

The bar was not much to speak of; a big open cavern of wood panels and cigarette smoke, old posters and ads from days gone by that no one ever bothered to remove covered the walls. The jukebox was crooning with all the acoustic quality of a cat in a tin bucket. But it wasn’t his truck, and it wasn’t full of anyone who knew him or his business so it was preferable to the base.

The Texan perched on a barstool and ordered a beer taking in the place he now found himself in. It was nearly deserted except for a few locals chatting or playing pool and one man sitting alone by the jukebox, sniffling loudly into his glass. Engineer quietly accepted the mug the bar tender placed in front of him. He took a sip of beer, tasting nothing, and tried not to think about home. Tried not to think of Evie.

”Your baby doesn’t love you anymore” the jukebox sang. He frowned and took a longer sip. “Send falling stars that seem to cry, Your baby doesn’t want you anymore”

“It breaks your heart in two, to know she’s been untrue” The voice of Roy sang on as his hands balled into fists. His mind going back to picturing someone else kissing her, holding her. Undressing her…. His mind continued despite his wishes, continuing the painful slide show. She’d replaced him. The papers weren’t even filed and she’d already found herself another man. Had she even thought twice about it? Any regret? “But oh what will you do? When she says to you, There’s someone new, We’re through we’re through.” He took a long swig from his glass, needing it to fog his mind. How long did it take for her to forget about him? A day? A week? Replaced him and left him all alone. “All the rainbows in the sky start to weep then say goodbye, You won’t be seeing rainbows anymore” He finished off the mug, and having found little solace in the bottom of that glass, he ordered another.

“…But you’ll see lonely sunsets after all” It was all over and he was alone. In the desert. In the middle of nowhere. With a bunch of lunatics. The bartender put another mug of beer in front of him. “It’s over, it’s over, it’s oooooooveeeeeeer” the jukebox reminded him. The homesick Texan grasped the beer mug in his hand and drank until it was empty.

“Golden days before they end” People entered and left as the jukebox caterwauled again and the Texan fumed to himself. All alone. Stuck out in the middle of a desert. “…Whisper secrets to the wind, Your baby won’t be near you anymore.” What was the point of it all anymore? He asked himself irritably. Working with a bunch of blockheads, getting killed every day for a pay check to spend on what? Send to who? “Your baby doesn’t want you anymore, It’s over” He stared sadly into his mug but the dregs of his drink held no answers for him. They had been saving up for the future. Pay off the debts on the farm. Travel. “…But oh what will you do? When she says to you we’re through…” Now there was no point.They had always talked about plans, what they were going to do when his contract was done. If it ever ended.

Evie had often complained about the contract extensions, the lack of vacation and the lack of leave and his continuous absence. But he hadn’t been paying attention. He had just shrugged it off, assuming she was venting and that it didn’t mean anything. Looking back now he cringed at his own blind stupidity. “It’s over”

The jukebox wailed on “…All the rainbows in the sky. Start to weep and say goodbye…” How long had she been thinking about divorce? Had there been any tears? Any debate? Or had it been a clear cut decision?

“…Setting suns before they fall, echo to you that’s all, that’s all”

He buried his face in his hands. He should have been home more often. Not allowed the contract extensions. Requested - no - demanded more leave. Called more often. Never taken the damn job in the first place. He could have done something. Should have done something. Anything. But he hadn’t. Why hadn’t he? “It’s over, It’s over, it’s oooooooooooooooveeeeeeeeeeer!“

“Your baby doesn’t love you anymore” the jukebox reminded him. The words echoed off the walls as the song started playing once again. The Texan frowned, he didn’t remember this song being anywhere near this long. Maybe the jukebox was malfunctioning? He looked up from his empty beer mug to the jukebox. Sitting at a table next to it, was a hunched sullen figure with a couple of empty glasses at his elbow and a pile of dimes at his finger tips.

“Send falling stars that seem to cry” the song continued on. Reminding him. “Your baby won’t be near you anymore” He grit his teeth as the chorus repeated, “It’s over”

He could not take this anymore. He needed to do something to stop this. If he had to listen to this song one more time…. The Texan half stumbled off his bar stool and clumsily made his way to the jukebox. The beer had gone to his head a lot quicker than he expected. The other man sat back in his chair eyes half closed, the dimes clinking through his fingers as he mouthed along with the song.

“H-Hey” the Engineer said, trying to get the man’s attention. Lost in his own thoughts, the man ignored him. “HEY!” he said a bit more loudly over the music.

The man jerked up in his chair like a startled animal, blinking owlishly at the Texan.

“Whadoyawan?” he slurred.

As he looked at the man, the Texan found his words caught in his throat. The man was drunk, unshaven, his eyes were red, and he looked like he hadn’t slept in days- he looked about as bad as the Texan felt. Their eyes met and there was the briefest moment of shared pain, of being lost and having no idea what to do about it, knowing nothing would be the same. Another lovesick idiot he thought bitterly to himself.

“It’s over, It’s over, It’s oooooooooooover” the jukebox reminded just in case he’d forgotten why he had come over here.

“Could ya play somethin’ else?” he blurted. Something else. Anything else.

The man didn’t seem to understand or hear him. He lurched toward the jukebox, dime in hand. “Royunderstans” he dribbled “only Royknows” he said in a loud soggy whisper as his hand reached to feed the machine another dime.

Desperately, impulsively, the Texan placed his hand on the coin slot of the jukebox. At first the man didn’t realize - he mumbled some syllables of confusion as he jabbed the dime into the back of the Engineer’s hand instead of the slot. At last light slowly dawned on the man’s face as he realized the source of his problem.

”Geroff” he insisted trying to pull the offending hand out of the way. When that failed he tried to push the Texan out of the way. But the drunk, while persistent, didn’t have much success in budging the man. Not taking defeat easily, he resorted to jabbing a sharp elbow into the Engineer’s diaphragm. Leaving the Texan half bent over gasping for breath he tried to step around to reach the jukebox again.

“No yah don’” the Texan wheezed, shoving the man away from the jukebox and into a table. As both the man and the table fell over in a clatter of shattering glass and coins and the bar tender started yelling, it briefly occurred to him that he should feel guilty, but all he felt was satisfaction as the drunk staggered to his feet fists swinging. The man even when sober was probably no prize fighter and the sloppy punches were just hitting empty air and the trained mercenary grinned manically, easily sidestepping every swing… until he got careless. As drunk as he was the man was also lucky, and random punch managed to catch the Texan squarely on the chin. The force of the blow surprised him and knocked him back several staggering steps. Taking advantage of the Engineer’s surprise, the drunk landed another blow to the side of his face.

All the background noise faded and all the Texan could see or think was red. He reacted mindlessly lunging forward and punching the man in the nose - sending the drunk reeling backwards in a fountain of blood splatter. While the man was still disoriented he grabbed him by his stained shirt collar and pinned the drunk to the jukebox.

“That’s enough!” the Texan heard indistinctly and felt someone grab him by the elbows before he could hit the man again. He looked over his shoulder as he tried to shake off his captors.

“Grab him!” the other bar patrons held tightly to him, pulling him back from the jukebox and the other man, breaking up the fight.

He struggled to free himself and had just managing to shake an arm free of the grip of mediators when the sound of sirens outside announced the arrival of the local police.

~~~~~~~~~

The Engineer slumped down on the bench in the town drunk tank with a groan. The side of his face throbbed and the alcohol had begun to clear and rational thought was seeping through the haze.

The phone call home. Evie replacing him. Storming off base against company’s orders. Getting drunk. Picking a fight over a damn song on a jukebox. He buried his face in his hands as memories of the night came flooding back to him with embarrassingly clear detail. He weighed his options and tried to figure out how he was going to get out here. Those options were quite few, he realized. There was no more bail money in the company budget, he remembered , feeling guilty. Maybe he’d stay here, he thought sadly to himself. Stay here and not cause anyone anymore trouble.

He had just about accepted this plan when the drunk in the cell next to him stirred. The man had passed out in the police car on the way from the bar and snored loudly all through the booking process. But now he was awake and to the Texan’s horror and dismay, began to sing off-key to himself, “its ooooveer”

Maybe calling the base wouldn’t be so bad. Someone could bail him out and he’d pay them back later. But who would he call? He could call Sniper, he might help out… but after the awkward chat in the workshop they hadn’t spoken much. He wasn’t sure he could stand another awkward, stilted conversation as he tried to explain just why he had seen fit to run off, get drunk and pick a fight.

Soldier wouldn’t ask questions, to him getting arrested was something common place. But that was the problem, calling Soldier was far likelier to end with the other man somehow in the cell next to his. Then they’d have to call someone else to bail them both out.

Demoman might help, but he might not be sober. So he’d show up drunk and also be in the next cell. Pyro wasn’t allowed to drive after the incident with Soldier’s jeep, and the balloons. Not that the little firebug was supposed to be driving then either. It just made RED issue stricter rules about how closely everyone guarded their car keys.

The Doctor he always felt uncomfortable around. And lately even more so. Something about the way the man seemed to be sizing him up for… something set his teeth on edge. The thought of riding in a car alone with Medic… he shuddered.

Spy. The Texan frowned to himself. He had had enough of Spies….

He could call Heavy. The Russian and him got along alright. Not that they spent a lot of time together. But the man seemed unlikely to start any conversations about poor decision making. If only due to his limited English vocabulary. He wasn’t sure the man would help but, at this point, seemed the best option.

Or he could just stay here, he thought to himself nerve fading. Heavy probably wouldn’t help. He was probably better off staying in this cell, quietly forgotten.

“It’s over… its oooooooooooveeeeer”

The Texan winced as the drunk in the cell next to him keened in a pitch usually reserved for safety whistles.

“Hey, officer !” he yelled out over the slurred singing of his neighbor. “Officer! How ‘bout that phone call?”

~~~~~~

The phone had barely rung a second time before it was picked up, the Texan was hardly surprised to hear Scout’s voice on the other end.

“Hello ladies, you’ve reached RED Base. This is-“

“-Scout. What in tarnation?” he asked, cutting off the younger man.

“‘Ey- Hardhat!” the kid’s tone shifted gears without missing a beat “didn’ know yer workshop had a phone… “

He decided not to waste time correcting the boy ,” Can ya get Heavy on the line for me?”

“What d’ya want him for? Why ya callin’ anyway?”

“Just get ‘im on the phone!”

“Geez, touchy …” this was followed by the sound of footsteps fading away.

Silence and then a minute or so later the sound of the phone being picked up again.

”Why does Engineer want to talk?” he heard Heavy ask, and there was a pause before Heavy spoke again “Hello?” the Russian rumbled into the phone.

“Heavy I-“

“Hold on,” the other man interrupted, ” - why is it so dark here?” The Engineer cringed as he remembered his own tampering with the light fixture earlier.

“Just screw the bulb back in, it’s loose,” he said hastily hoping the Russian wasn’t going to ask for an explanation. “Look, Heavy I need a favor-“

“Ah! There is light now!” the Russian exclaimed, pleased.

“Heavy, I need you t-“

“Hey, Tex!” a voice from behind the Engineer cut in before he could finish his sentence. He turned to look over his shoulder, an officer came in carrying a clipboard. “Your ride’s here.”

“Why did you call?” Heavy asked through the receiver while the Texan stared blankly at the officer, unsure he heard correctly.

“You can go, your friend came and paid up. ” The man repeated tapping his clipboard.

“But I haven’t ev -” he frowned, now looking at the phone receiver.

“Engineer? Are you there? “

“C’mon I haven’t got all day. ” the officer insisted.

“Heavy I-I have to… go… now. ” Engineer said in quiet bewilderment. There had to be some mistake. Reluctantly, he hung up the phone, cutting the confused Russian off. Would they allow him another phone call when the mistake was figured out?

The Engineer followed the officer down the corridor from the cells to the front of the station. This had to be a mistake. Who would come and pay his bail? No one on the team knew where he was. Heck, he didn’t rightly know where he was. Was this some case of mistaken identity? Someone took him for some other Texan wandering around New Mexico starting bar fights? That seemed… unlikely, now that he thought about it. They would have had to have his name. Unless there was someone else with the same name. No one besides the folks at RED knew his legal name.

Except, apparently, the BLU Spy.

The Texan froze in the doorway of the station lobby gaping at the sight of the Frenchman in his crisp blue suit, leisurely dangling a his cigarette from gloved fingers standing at the front desk and chatting amicably with the deputy. The man looked up and smirked at him. What was he doing here? Why was he here? How did he find him? Besides that, why would he waste time and money bailing him out of jail? ”Bu-how-wha” he sputtered. “Are yah followin’ me!?” he asked in bewilderment trying to stop himself from yelling and failing.

“Ah, mon ami,” the Frenchman addressed him, happily ignoring the question “sha-“

”-Ah ain’t your friend.” the Texan cut him off, restraining the urge to lunge over the desk and strangle him. They probably frowned on murder in plain sight at a police station. “Are yah followin’ me?” he asked again.

The Spy exchanged looks with the deputy who shrugged , “I said ya might wanna wait a bit for him to sober up.”

“Ah am sobered!” the Texan retorted through grit teeth. “You’re followin’ me!” he snarled jabbing an accusing finger at the Frenchman.

“I was, as you Americans say, in ze neighborhood.” came the casual reply.

“You just happened to be here!?”

“Oui.”

“How did you even know where I was?”

The Spy merely shrugged in response.

“Why’d you bail me out?”

“You’re welcome.” Spy answered with self satisfaction, once again ignoring the question.

The Texan opened his mouth to retort when the deputy cleared his throat, cutting into the conversation. “Sir,” he said to the Spy, ” I think you need to take your friend out of here.”

“I do agree,” the Spy said quietly with a nod “He’z been in such a state recently. ” he added sadly to the deputy who nodded in understanding. The Texan opened his mouth to protest that he was, in fact, perfectly fine and that, moreover, he was standing right here, but the Frenchman cut him off before he could talk.

“Come along, Monsieur,” he said to the Texan, “If they decide to detain you again, I’m not paying. “

Engineer glared sullenly at the other man, briefly debating. He could leave now with the side winding back stabbing snake. Or he could go back to his cell. His cell, next to the other cell.

“But you won’t be seeing rainbows anymore!”

With the dying cat for a neighbor.

Finally, grudgingly, he walked past the doorway, past the deputy’s desk and his reproaching gaze, and past the smug Frenchman. The Spy followed, saying his farewell to the deputy, and the two stepped out of the police station into the crisp early morning air.

The Engineer continued walking, determined to leave the police station, the awful night, and the Spy behind, when a familiar smug voice asked, “I don’t even get a thank you?”

He turned sharply on his heel to face the Frenchman, “I didn’t ask yah to get me out!”

“Did you want to stay in prison? “

There was a stubborn silence, in which the Spy waited for a reply that the Texan refused to give. He hadn’t wanted to be in prison. The Frenchman bailing him out, suspicious as it was, had saved him the trouble of explaining things to his team. Probably spared him another batch of judging looks and awkward silences. But of course, he wasn’t going to give the man satisfaction by admitting it.

“You’re welcome.” the Spy said dryly breaking the silence.

“What’s your game?” the Engineer snapped suddenly. Bailing him out, kidnapping him, taking him to a strip club - the man wasn’t doing this out of the goodness of his heart. He had to have an angle. A reason. Besides trying to drive him insane. Though he had to admit, that didn’t sound too unlikely a motive when he thought about it.

“Game?” the Frenchman looked at him blankly like he was insane.

“What are you after?” he persisted.

“I don’t know what you are implying.” the Frenchman said coolly, walking into the parking lot. He should have known better than to ask. Spies, no matter which side they were on, never gave anyone a straight answer.

It was probably best to let the snake leave, he decided. There was no way he could make the man talk. No way that wouldn’t get him arrested all over again anyway. He could kill the man later. Even off the battlefield, one could hide a body easily out in the desert. These thoughts were interrupted by the sickening sputter of an engine trying to turn over. The Engineer gaped as the engine finally sputtered info life and he realized where the horrendous sound was coming from.

His team’s Spy owned an expensive European sports car. It was everything one expected a Spy to own. Fast, quiet, and sleek. He had never given much thought to what the BLU team’s Spy drove…but he never would have pictured a Vespa. Even if he had, the Texan wouldn’t have then imagined it to be yellow. He stared as the sickly sounding motor scooter pulled out of the parking space and away from the police station. It was only then that he realized that he had left his own truck at the roadhouse.… Ten miles away. He doubted anyone would be willing to give him a ride back to it.

Just as he was about to resign himself to a long walk back to his truck the Vespa turned sharply with a lurch and puttered back towards the station. The Engineer frowned in confusion as the Frenchman idled the poor abused machine in front of him. “I almost forgot,” the Spy said, slightly louder than usual to be heard over the clatter of the dubious vehicle’s engine. “they chained your machine up. The lot is on the other side of town.” the man gestured.

Engineer frowned opening his mouth to ask how the Frenchman knew this in the first place and in the second place, why he would tell him. But the Spy cut him off.

“You’re welcome.” he said smugly. At least he was trying to be smug. It was hard to be pompous and condescending when you had to yell over the noise of your own malfunctioning vehicle.

With that, the Frenchman and the Vespa puttered away again, leaving the bewildered Texan standing in a cloud of dust and blue exhaust. The French bastard really needed to have someone fix that contraption before it died and left him stranded somewhere. With the Engineer’s luck, stranded in this damn desert with him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It had taken a fair bit of arguing to get his truck out of hock but the Engineer had finally managed it without punching the owner of the impound lot in the face. Considering the night and morning he’d had, the Texan considered that a great accomplishment. But finally, in mid afternoon he had arrived back on the base.

He would have preferred for his arrival to occur without any notice or comment. But he found Soldier waiting for him at the door, this just wasn’t his day.

“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” the man demanded with a bellow.

“I don’t wanna talk about it.” the Texan said flatly as he got out of his truck and walked past the man, trying to sidestep the impending rant.

“YOU DISOBEYED ORDERS!” the man continued, yelling at the Engineer’s retreating back.

“Yea.” was the firm reply, the Texan wasn’t denying the accusations, they were true. He wasn’t particularly proud of it, but they were true.

“YOU WENT AWOL!” Soldier persisted - not sure how to react.

“Yep.” the Texan replied as he trudged up the stairs. If the blockhead wanted to continue this lecture he could just follow him. He, however, was going to go to bed, and hopefully wake up when it was another day. A day that he didn’t end up in jail, a day that didn’t find him indebted to some damn meddling Frenchman. What was the snake playing at?

“You abandoned your post!” the Soldier berated him, following the Texan up the stairs. The military man’s rants continued, but the Texan was too lost in thought to pay attention. How much did the Spy know about him? The man knew his name, and his suit size. While not really important information, it was troubling he knew even that much. It implied the man knew more.

“Hello, Engineer!” the Russian’s booming voice cut through the Soldier’s ranting. The Engineer waved a distracted greeting, his mind still whirring away at current problems. What was the Spy after?

“What were you calling for?” the Russian prompted after a hopeful pause.

“YOU WERE SHIRKING YOUR DUTIES!” the Soldier, refusing to stop his blustering for anyone, exclaimed.

“Hunh?”

“Why were you calling?” Heavy repeated to the distrait Texan.

“WHERE WERE YOU?” the Soldier demanded to know.

“I was…I called cause…” the Texan trailed off. In the middle of damn nowhere. In jail. “How did he even find me?” he muttered, walking up the hall to his room, leaving the men and their unanswered questions behind. The Soldier and the Russian stared blankly after the Texan as he unlocked the door to his room and upon entering locked it behind him.

Chapter Text

 It wasn't stealing, Engineer told himself prying the security camera off its mount on the wall. It was only borrowing. When it was working, the camera was supposed to be monitoring the base for intruders and security breaches.  It was reappropriating really, he tried to assure himself as he walked swiftly down the hall with the device tucked under his arm.

 The camera, which had been in one of the less frequented portions of the base, had been broken for months. The Texan had a few theories on how it could be fixed, but RED frowned on their equipment being tampered with so until now he had left it alone.  It was unlikely the camera would be missed until RED sent in a maintenance crew for the annual round of repairs and upgrades.  Even then, if its absence was noticed it could probably be blamed on a stray grenade or rocket. 

He took the long way to his workshop  to avoid anyone who'd ask questions like why exactly he had stolen- borrowed-  a security camera or what he intended to do with it. There was no lie he could devise that would provide adequate explanation for it. And the truth was ... he didn't really feel like explaining.

For reasons he would not even try to understand, the enemy Spy had taken an interest in him. He had originally thought that the night at the strip club had simply been some sort of strange prank.  A very elaborate prank by someone with a rather odd sense of humor, but still a prank. Something the Spy had done for… whatever reasons nosy French bastards do anything. Just a onetime joke and that was it. The Texan had been prepared to accept it at that, and take the knowledge that he'd been attacked by a floor lamp, dumped into a broken down scooter, dressed without his consent into a perfectly tailored suit, and hauled away to a strip club, to his grave.

  He had assumed- hoped, really -  that the Frenchman, having achieved whatever he was after,  would go on to… lurking in shadows, listening through key holes,  buying more expensive ties, spending small fortunes on cigarettes,  puttering around on arthritic Vespas.  Anything that wasn't bothering him.

Gritting his teeth, he stomped down the basement steps; but the Spy apparently hadn't finished with him.  What was the man playing at? Why bail him out? How had Spy found him?  Had the Spy followed him? Nervously, the Engineer glanced over his shoulder, was the bastard following him even now?

    The Texan unlocked the workshop door and slipped inside, locking the newly installed deadbolts behind him.  Stepping around the clutter, he placed the camera on one of the few clear spots on the table. Then he picked up a wrench…and swung it around the room,  hitting the various bits of scrap metal and equipment that were scattered about the place.  This achieved nothing but a tremendous amount of noise and the Texan stopped as abruptly as he started, feeling silly.  But at least now he was sure that he was alone to work without being watched.

Setting the wrench down, Engineer took a deep breath and relaxed, turning his attention to the work bench and the borrowed camera.  If this plan worked out he would hopefully have some sort of idea what the Frenchman was doing.  He removed the casing carefully and got a good look at the insides of the thing. And just as he expected, there was the broken motor drive.  Easily replaced and the camera would work again. He smiled to himself as he began to take the machine apart.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Three weeks being confined to base had left the RED team on edge and at each other's throats.  Outside of battle the mercenaries avoided each other unless they had no other choice. Meals were served with glares and stony silence, then everyone went off to their rooms or other corners of the base. But occasions like the weekly mail call were unavoidable, especially since the duty of passing out the mail had been taken over by the blowhard Soldier whose unwritten procedures would not allow the mail be handed out unless everyone was present.  

As the team grudgingly gathered in the mess hall the invisible BLU Spy watched from the rafters and congratulated himself once again. It was true he hadn't intended or planned for the team to get arrested and end up in this situation when he had stranded them out in the desert, but he was still the cause. More or less. 

The Scout came in with the Scotsman, rambling, the older man blatantly ignoring him as he sat down. The Scout didn't sit but instead remained on his feet still talking loudly to anyone who was listening- which was no one- about that one time he bashed someone's skull in.  The Sniper was already seated at the far end of the table, long legs propped up in the table, idly sharpening his knife of over compensation.

 The Texan's chair remained unsurprisingly empty.  After the man's rather pathetic night out he had stayed in his room or his workshop. Sulking. Though the whereabouts of the Engineer was not his concern at the moment.  

 The Heavy and the Medic strolled in, the German excitedly recounting some gory story of past medical exploits with the Russian, who'd obviously heard it before, chuckling at all the appropriate parts.  Not far behind the rest of the group came the Soldier with a sack slung over his shoulder with the Pyro following closely behind him like some masked lap dog.  But more importantly, there was no sign of the RED team's Spy. The Frenchman hadn't expected to find him here anyway.

Despite the orders RED had given the men, the RED Spy was disappearing;  going off, somewhere.  The frequency of the man's absence had caught the other Spy's attention.  He was beginning to suspect that there was a more interesting reason at play than mere restlessness. While the man was secretive naturally, he had lately grown even more so. 

The Spy was coming and going at odd hours, he had long, hushed conversations on the telephone.  Though the BLU Spy had yet to manage to catch more than an occasional word before the conversations were abruptly ended, it was fairly obvious something was being hidden. He had little clue what his rival Spy was hiding but should some of the man's mail happen to find its way into his hands, he might have some idea.

The older American stood at the head of the table looking over the room, counting slowly under his breath. He frowned when his count came up short. He counted again just to be sure.

"Alright Maggots, we are missing men!" he announced angrily, immediately placing blame on everyone else who had shown up.

"Yea, so?"

"WE CAN NOT PROCEED UNITL ALL MEN ARE PRESENT."

A groan of annoyance erupted from the table of mercenaries.

"Are ye jokin?" the Demo man fumed.

"WE ARE MISSING SPY AND ENGINEER," the Soldier insisted.

"Come on!" the Scout protested, "We don't have to wait for those knuckleheads, do we?"

"WHERE ARE SPY AND ENGINEER?"  was the only answer the half wit received.

"Can't we start withou' em?" the Scotsman cut in.

"NO. THAT WOULD BE AGAINST STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE." the Soldier persisted with all the flexibility of a brick wall and half the intelligence.

"So what are we supposed t'do? Sit around and see if they bother  t'show up?" the Sniper asked irritably.

"Like that'll be a change for ya," the Demoman retorted.

"Ya tryin' to say somethin'?" the Australian asked indignantly.   

"What? Say somethin' about ye just sittin' aboot while the rest of us are actually fightin'? Not 't all!"

"MEN - ARGUING DURING MAIL CALL IS ALSO AGAINST STANDARD PROCEDURE" the Soldier interjected but was ignored by the two.

The Australian sat up in his chair, "Least I don't show up on the field so off my face I have to be told who's winning!"

"Says the lass whose afraid to get her wee hands dirty in a real fight."

The Scout jerked back in surprise as the Sniper stabbed his knife into the table and got to his feet. "I'll show ya a real fight, ya wobbly drunk."

 "FIGHTING IS NOT ALLOWED DURING MAIL CALL!" the Soldier bellowed but his words fell on deaf ears.

The Demo snorted and rose from his chair, grinning, "I'd like to see ya try, ya bleedin' bawjaws."

The Spy leaned carefully to get a better view of the unfolding chaos.  The RED team seemed divided as to what to do. Scout, after his initial reaction had stepped out of the way and the Medic watched on with a manic gleam in his eye. 

"DO NOT DO IT MAGGOTS!" the American yelled again to no avail, the masked maniac behind him stood there mutely watching the proceeding with… something the Frenchman was hesitant to call curiosity. 

 "ENOUGH!" the Russian roared. The room froze as the giant stepped in between the two men, to Spy's disappointment. The Demo opened his mouth to protest but the man grabbed him and the Sniper by their faces separating them to much muffled complaint.  

"Sit down here" the Heavy ordered, shoving both of them roughly back in their chairs.

"NIETHER OF YOU DARE TO MOVE ANOTHER INCH OR I'LL HAVE YOU LICK THE LATRINES CLEAN!" the Soldier raged at them as if he was the one who had restored order.

 Heavy ignored the lunatic and silently glowered down at the Demo and the Sniper, he didn't have to tell them not to move to get them to stay in their seats.  The pair scowled at the interfering giant but remained in their seats, apparently realizing the futility of dissention against a man as big as an ox.  

"THE ENEMY IS OUT THERE! NOT IN HERE!" the Soldier roared oblivious to the BLU Spy's stifled snort.  "I WILL NOT TOLERATE ANY INCITEMENT IN THE RANKS DO I MAKE MYSELF CL-"

"Yo, CAPTAIN CREWCUT!" the Scout's voice pierced through the older American's ravings. 

The Soldier stopped for a moment frowning in confusion at the boy. "WHAT ARE Y-"

"WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO ABOUT THE MAIL?"  

"WE ARE GOING TO WAIT FOR THE REST OF THE TEAM TO ARRIVE."

"COME ON!" the Scout whinged. "My cookies are getting stale in that mail sack!"

"WE MUST FOLLOW STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE"

"Surely ve can work around su-" the Medic cut in haughtily.

"WE ARE NOT COMMUNISTS!" the Soldier interrupted the German's logic and continued his tirade. "THIS IS AMERICA AND WE FOLLOW THE LAWS!"

The Sniper tried to stand up but Heavy moved towards him so he sat back down "This is bloody jiggered!" he protested, "Get Truckie up here! " he muttered something that the Spy couldn't hear from his perch. The Heavy nodded in agreement.

The Russian turned to the Scout who was about to continue yelling at the Soldier. The Spy had to strain to hear Heavy over the Soldier's ravings.  "Get Engineer in here."

"What?"

"Get. Engineer. In. Here." the man repeated.

"But Hardhat's-"

"Now."

"Okay, okay! Jeez!" the Scout quickly left the room, the other American being too busy lecturing to see the boy slip out the door.  

The Spy shifted uncomfortably on the rafter and began to rethink his plan, he desperately needed a cigarette and it seemed the team was unlikely to get their mail or leave any time soon. Just as he began debating about dispatching the Soldier himself to shut the man up and move the proceedings along the Scout returned with the annoyed Texan in tow.  The Engineer looked tired, annoyed and bewildered, his wrench clutched in his fist as he watched the proceedings with a frown.  The Soldier who had his back to the door ranted on.

"THIS COUNTRY WILL COLLAPSE AND BE OVERUN WITH HIPPIES IF WE START TO CAST ASIDE RULES AND PROCEDURE!"

With a sigh the Texan walked further into the room, "So are we getting our mail now?"

Startled, the Soldier turned to face the Texan. There was a pause before the man blustered on, "W-WE WERE JUST WAITING FOR YOU AND SPY."

 "So I'm here, can we get on with it?" the Engineer returned calmly.

The Soldier frowned, his voice dropping back to more normal levels, though still his piercing voice carried, "We cannot proceed without all team members present." he hesitated then added ,"It's in the book."

 The idiot seemed almost apologetic? 

"Well, Soldier," the Texan said quietly glancing around the room, "I hate to say it, but it looks like this is everyone who's going to show up."

"But Spy is not here." the Soldier insisted.

The Engineer frowned at the mention of the other man, "We can go on without 'im. You can just slide anything he gets under his door." he explained reasonably.

"But…" the Soldier trailed off.

"You aren't gonna do anything to his mail."

"No.  I would not." the idiot replied, offended at the mere thought.

"Exactly.  So you just pass out the mail, and we'll set aside anything that - that Spy gets and he can pick it up when he decides to show."

 The BLU Spy smiled to himself, this worked out conveniently for him, the Soldier probably wouldn't notice if he borrowed anything set aside for the absent Spy.

The Soldier nodded, seemingly satisfied with this suggestion.  The room remained silent as he set the mail bag on the floor and opened it,  fearing that any interruption might cause the Soldier to suddenly realize what he was doing and close it back up again.   The Engineer, apparently deciding his work was done, went to the table and sank into his chair with a frustrated sigh.

The Soldier reached into the bag and began handing out the mail to the team members.  Medic received a small box covered in warning labels. He left the room with a barely contained laugh that made the rest of the company uneasy.  The Russian followed after, him shortly after his own mail in hand. Most of the team, eager to escape each other, took their mail and bolted. 

Some stayed to open their mail - like the Pyro who eagerly opened up a box to reveal several balls of yarn. The Frenchman frowned in confusion, what would the creature want with that?

"Fi-nally!" the Scout's voice carried to the rafters as the boy's mail was handed over.  Shaking his head to try to clear his mind from the horrific possibilities, the Spy tore his attention away from the Pyro, who was shambling out the door, and glanced back to the mail bag and the Soldier.

The Scout was trying to cram three biscuits in his mouth at once while the Texan silently received his mail, a letter or two, a catalog and a large official looking envelope. He stood there for a moment staring at the envelope, his head low so the Spy could not see the man's expression.

"Didn't think we got our tax papers this early." the Scout commented managing to still talk- albeit disgustingly - with his mouth full. The Texan gave him a brief pained look but said nothing.

"Aw shit…are those yer divorce…" the young man trailed off, miraculously speechless as he realized his faux pas. "Uh…" his eyes sank to the floor. The Engineer turned to leave, but the Scout suddenly reached into the box he was holding and handed the Texan a biscuit- Spy was less than surprised to see the biscuit boy gave was what appeared to be the only burnt one in the box.  

The Texan blinked sharply before accepting it with a nod and murmured turning  back to the door to make his exit. As he left the Soldier grimaced as if he wanted to say something but did not.  Turning back to the mail bag, the man pulled out the last few items. A magazine that he tucked under his arm, and a couple of letters.

"Those for Spook?" Scout asked, desperate to clear the tension.  The Spy cursed to himself, if the Soldier was by himself he could have attempted to steal the letters right out from under his nose. But the presence of the boy made this more difficult.  If he killed the pair, his meddling and presence would be known. Why was the boy still here?

The Soldier grunted the affirmative slinging the empty mail bag over his shoulder.  "I am going to slide them under his door." he said, sounding more like he was reminding himself than telling the boy as the pair walked towards the door.

The mess hall doors swung shut,  finally leaving the Spy alone. Alone and free to climb down from his uncomfortable hiding place. He needed to get to those letters. He also needed to stretch, get circulation flowing in his legs again.   But most of all he needed a cigarette.  He'd get the letters later, he fumed to himself, waiting a few minutes to let his cloak recharge before making his way back to his own base.    

~~~~~~~~~~~~

"What are ye doin'?"

The Texan looked up at the Demoman from his position, squatting in the dust and gravel behind his pickup truck. He shifted uncomfortably, hesitating,  and tried to think of something to say. Something that didn't sound overly paranoid.

"Jus' checkin' for… leaks," he replied at last.

"Leaks?" the Scotsman's eye narrowed in thought. "Wit' that?" he asked, gesturing as the modified hand held radio the Engineer held in his hand.

"….Yeah." he snapped defensively and went back to looking at his truck fender, running the device along it, listening intently for any change in the static crackling. 

"Leaks o' what?" 

"Well, ya see…" he tried to buy some time to think of an appropriate response that didn't sound completely paranoid. Unable to do so, the Texan cleared his throat and mumbled some long technical jargon occasionally throwing the word "frequency" around in hopes the man would go away. Thankfully, Demo decided questioning a madman was a waste of a perfectly good afternoon and went on his way.

Glancing up to see the retreating figure, Engineer straightened and put the radio back in his tool belt with an agitated sigh.  He was sure the modifications worked, but he had gone over and scanned every stitch of clothing he owned from his hard hat down to the soles of his work boots and found nothing.  The suit, which he hadn't quite had the heart to destroy, had been gone over twice. But no listening bugs or tracking devices had turned up. His pickup truck had been the last thing to go over. But after all that, he found no sign of anything the Frenchman could have been using to spy on him.

Unsure whether he should be relieved or disappointed the Texan stood up, dusted off his coveralls and headed back to the base.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Crouching in the dark barracks, the BLU Spy peered at the door and scowled in thought.  At first glance, the door looked normal,  like all the other doors in the silent hallway. But this wasn't anyone else's door, this was the RED Spy's door.  There could be any number of deterrents or alarms, just like the measures he kept for his own room. The RED Spy was bound to guard his privacy as closely as he did his own.

Peering intently at the door, careful not to touch it, he spotted a hair over the door jamb. This would be easy enough to replace and hide the fact he had even been here. But that could hardly be the only measure his fellow Spy would have taken for security.

Standing in the hallway, he turned the possibilities over in his head and tried to plan his next move. He could open the lock, but the man might have an alarm rigged. Or a trip wire.  It was possible that the-  His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of shambling footsteps echoing up the hall. Looking up, the Frenchman's eyes narrowed, recognizing the familiar sound of the mute arsonist approaching.  He cloaked reflexively, making himself invisible to everyone, but… that thing always seemed to see through it.  The Spy glanced around the hall for an exit, but the barracks was a dead end, the only way out of the hall would be through the maniac.

His mouth went dry as he heard the footsteps get closer.  Desperate, the Frenchman's gaze fell on the Engineer's door. The footsteps were now louder then ever and he could make out the shadow of the approaching figure. He bolted to the Texan's door and pulled a key out of his pocket. The copy had been made weeks ago,  he'd just step in the room long enough for the creature to move on.  The Engineer was a sound sleeper, he'd be none the wiser.  He shoved the key into the key hole but it wouldn't turn.  Mentally swearing and cursing, Spy struggled and tried to turn the key again. But it wouldn't turn in the door. Sweat began to bead underneath his mask. 

The key had worked in the past - why not now? Had the Texan changed the locks? -WHY WOULD HE? -Why now?  Crouched in the shadows he could now see the silhouette of the shambling figure up the hall. There was no time to focus on stupid, careless Texans, the abomination was coming.

The Pyromaniac shuffled up the hall, all squeaky boots and creaking asbestos, humming tunelessly to itself as it made its way to the room at the end.  Digging around in a pouch on its belt it finally pulled out a key and stopped humming.  It glanced up for a moment and gave the floor lamp a long hard look. There was another creak of rubber as the monster tilted its head and stared at the lamp, as if studying it.

 An eternity passed until the Pyro shook it's head and turned back to the door and shambled inside. The door swung shut leaving the floor lamp alone in the hallway once again to breathe a sigh of relief and shakily make its retreat back to BLU base.

~~~~~~

Engineer stifled a yawn slipping out of the mess hall at dinner with a piece of toast in one hand and the news paper in the other. The cross word had already been filled out incorrectly and forcibly by Demo, and the Sports page stolen by Scout days ago. Everyone on the team who cared to read it was finished with it. Probably.  Most likely.

Finishing off the toast in a few bites, he went to the recreation room and picked up the old magazines that had been laying around for the last few months.  Reading material, no matter its quality, was rarely thrown away on base.  Those that didn't end up feeding the firebug's obsession washed up here in the dim room with its threadbare couch, radio and useless TV set. The magazines accumulated to be idly flipped through by various teammates during cease fire. It didn't matter if it was last January's issue of Haircuts for Men or an issue of Mildly Thrilling Tales from two years ago, if a man was bored enough he'd read anything. Or, at least attempt to.   

The Texan slunk out of the rec room arms full of old magazines and began to make his way back to his room.

"ENGIE?"  Soldier's voice called from up the hall. The man seemed to have only a hazy grasp of what an indoor voice was.

 The Texan cringed, freezing in his tracks.

"Evenin', " he greeted sheepishly, turning to face his fellow countryman hoping the bundle of magazines and newspapers he was carrying would go unnoticed.

Soldier walked up the hall towards him. "How are you?"

"Enh… alright," he replied uneasily.  

The other man frowned at him, he adjusted his ever present helmet and squinted at him. Engineer took a step back away from the larger man, feeling like a bug under a microscope.  He was about to break the awkward silence and try to make his escape, when Soldier spoke.

"… Are…. you… on… point?" the words were slow, hesitant and quieter than the usual demanding tone.

"… What?" the Texan asked, taken aback by the Soldier's question.  The man was usually lost in his own world of battles,  perceived victories, and losses and rarely seemed to notice much else.

  "Everything ship shape?"

"In order?" he translated, his tired mind slowly trying to process the strange turn this conversation was taking. "Yea… yea..." He hadn't slept much in the last three days, he probably owed the enemy spy bail money, his wife had replaced him and he had just received the papers making it official the day before.  "Yea… 'm alright."

"Good." the lie seemed to pacify Soldier who nodded and repeated again sounding more like his usual self, "GOOD."

Engineer relaxed and was about to try to make his exit when the other man's gaze lowered to the pile of paper in his hands.  "Are… ARE YOU STEALING FROM THE REC ROOM?" the man asked his voice full of shock and horror.  

"No! No! I'm… uh… I'm" he sputtered as he tried to think of a suitable explanation. "I'm… using these for… uh… its… uh, a secret" he finally finished lamely.

Soldier frowned,  "SECRET?" he then added suspiciously,  "What sort of secret?"

Wrong choice of words, "uh… I mean a surprise" he amended.

"A surprise?"

" Yea… a surprise" maybe if he repeated it enough Soldier would be fooled.

"What sort of surprise?"  the self styled miiltary man persisted.  

"A… secret… sort of surprise?"  Lying had never been his strong suit. But the truth was too ridiculous to explain.

"Like… a…" his fellow country man fumbled for ideas before one struck him "like a surprise party?"

"… Sure?" he cautiously replied.

"Who is it for?" the Soldier pressed, starting to sound like a child at Christmas.

"I-if I told you, it wouldn't be a secret," he stammered awkwardly, hoping this would stop the line of questions.

Soldier, more than satisfied with this logic, patted him on the shoulder and walked on down the hall.  Relieved, Engineer hurried to the barracks to avoid any more questions.  When he got to the door to his room he glanced around the hall. It was quiet, no one around - so far so good.  The Texan unlocked his door, stepped inside and locked the door behind him.

He dropped the pile of papers on the floor next to his bed and sat himself down on the creaky mattress.  Massaging the bridge of his nose he resisted the urge to lay back and doze off.  The Texan leaned forward, took a magazine from the stack and tore off the cover. He crumpled it up loosely and tossed it on the floorboards, ripped the next page out and did the same.  And the next page and the next. The papers formed a pool on the floor around his feet, as he worked the monotony of the task doing little to distract him from problems weighing heavily on his mind.

The divorce papers were sitting on his desk. Lurking. Awaiting a few signatures in the right places to erase ten years of his life.  Not that the papers really mattered;  Evie had already replaced him. Hardly one horse gone and getting the saddle out for another one, he thought sourly to himself.  

Then he had got himself into a fight with a luckless drunk over a song on the jukebox. Wincing at the memory, he ripped out another page. Sometimes in the past he had let his temper get the best of him, but never over something so stupid.  His face flushed with shame again as his thoughts went back to that night.

To make matters worse, the enemy Spy bailed him out. He still hadn't figured how the Frenchman had found him, or what the man wanted. These mysteries ate at him at him along with everything else. Keeping him on edge, restless. This problem was only compounded by the fact he was pretty sure the snake had tried to get into his room last night.

Well, honestly, truth be told, he had heard someone desperately try to unlock the door. But he really had no proof that it had been the enemy Spy. Though he could think of few other folks who would have reason to break into his room at odd hours of the night.   But if it was the snake, and he tried again… the Texan was going to make darn sure he wasn't caught flat footed.

He glanced down at the growing mass of papers on the floor with satisfaction.  He had gone over several plans in his head; at first he had intended to electrocute the doorknob. But then he remembered the snoop always wore the leather gloves.  Building some complicated alarm or trap would have attracted the attention of his own teammates who'd want to know what he was doing, which would be as good as telling the Spy he was on to him.

When he was finished, the floor was carpeted with the paper and he could not move around the room without disturbing the paper, making loud crinkling noises. If anyone tried to get close the crumpling of the paper would alert him. Content with the evening's work the Texan started preparing himself for bed, hoping that with this problem solved he might sleep a bit more soundly.

~~~~~~~~~~

The stupid farmhand had nearly gotten him caught. The stupid Texan and his new door lock. The Frenchman fumed as he made his way up the hall of the RED Barracks once more.  What reason did the imbecile have to change the locks? The Engineer had no business doing that.  It was… very inconvenient.

Clearly, the man must be trying to hide something. Whatever it was, Spy was determined to figure it out. It was late and all of the team, even the monster, had gone to bed if the monster even slept - now was the perfect time to find out what the Texan was trying to keep hidden.

The new lock gave him a bit more challenge than its predecessor, but once the lock was defeated he slowly, carefully opened the door.

There was the Texan's room, even messier than the last time he'd seen it. He noted the crumpled paper all over the floor in the dim light. It seemed the man's cleaning habits had slipped even further. He stepped in, invisible, and pulled out his flashlight to get a better look.

 The Texan snored softly, unaware of his visitor.  Spy nudged one of the papers with the toe of his shoe and pointed the light at it. The man had covered the floor with… newspapers? And magazines? Had he lost his mind? The paper was literally everywhere crumpled into balls, with not even a square inch of floor space visible.

 This had to be deliberate.

But why?

He nudged another page with his shoe trying to figure out what the laborer was playing at. There had to be some logic, even twisted, to this. The paper was everywhere, if this was a normal mess there would be clear paths for walking. But the way the paper was,  it was an obstacle one could scarcely avoid walking on.

Unless that was the plan. An idea started to form in the Spy's head.  The man must have collected dozens of papers for this. Was this supposed to be an obstacle?  To create noise if anyone came in?  An obstacle for him?  

The Frenchman smirked to himself. The Texan really shouldn't have gone to the trouble.

~~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning a groggy hand reached out of the blankets to slap at the alarm clock. Engineer groaned, dreams of home quickly fading from memory, reluctantly he sat up rubbing the sleep from his eyes.  A quick glance around the room showed that everything seemed to be in place.  His lamp, his wardrobe, his guitar, all right where he had left them and no more than there should be. Maybe his plan had worked, he thought to himself, cautiously daring to hope.

Placing his bare feet amid the sea of paper he got out of bed with a loud crinkle from the floor and stood with another loud crinkle. Ignoring the noise, he stretched and turned to make his bed. That was when he noticed the note taped to his head board, right above his pillow.

Frowning, Engineer ripped it off the bed and unfolded it. It was expensive paper,  no identifying marks on it, but there was little doubt who had left it.  He unfolded it, in very neat precise script were written just two words; "Nice Try."

The Texan's eyes narrowed, growling low, he crumpled the note into a ball. Now the snake was just toying with him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The lock on RED Spy's door, to the other Spy's surprise had been even easier to pick than the Engineer's.  Uncertain if he should believe his luck, the Frenchman glanced up and down the abandoned corridor as the door quietly swung open.  Inviting him in.

A trip wire just outside the path of the door glinted in the beam of his flashlight. It was probably tied to some sort of alarm. Simple to spot, simple to avoid. The Frenchman scowled, too simple. Any idiot could install a trip wire. The RED Spy  was hardly an idiot. 

There had to be more here. The simple lock and the trip wire could be a ruse.  Have the intruder think that was the only obstacle in their way.  Make them careless and catch them with a more complex trap. There had to be more than this.

 Standing in the open doorway, not daring to step inside, the Frenchman reached into his pocket and pulled out a remote the size of a box of cigarettes.  He had ordered this from SpyCo ages ago, but rarely had a chance to use it. With a flick of the switch a green light blinked on the device, then it shut off and a red one replaced it as it detected a motion sensor in the room. That was more like he expected of a fellow Spy.  This would be difficult but hardly impossible to deal with.

Taking a calculated risk, he took one step in the room and very, very slowly shut the door behind him. The Frenchman relaxed as it shut without even an audible click and there was no sign to indicate the alarm had been triggered. He stood stock still behind the trip wire, as he moved his flash light beam slowly across the room.  He had dealt with these sorts of alarms before, as long as he moved in slight, slow motions the sensor wouldn't notice him at all.  Which was useful for crossing a room, but it would greatly impede his search.  He glanced around the room, there had to be an off switch, or device to deactivate the alarm.

The furniture was nicer than whatever RED had originally supplied, the bed bigger, the clunky desk was replaced with something sleeker with a book shelf.  For all the improvements the man had made to the room, there were no pictures on the wall, few trinkets or decoration. Like the BLU Spy's own room,  any personal details were out of sight, away from any prying eyes.  At least this narrowed down the possibilities of where the alarm control could be hidden.  He returned his gaze to the writing desk and its book shelf, that seemed the most likely place to start looking.  Gradually, he raised his foot to step over the trip wire and just as gradually he set his foot down on the other side of the wire.  So far, so good.

Taking deliberate care the Frenchman crept along at a snail's pace across the room. This was strangely reminiscent of how he had to creep through the Engineer's room and his silly newspapers. He wondered what the man had thought of his note. This was no time to get distracted, he reminded himself, he could not afford to let his presence be known.  With resumed focus he continued inching across the room to the writing desk.

 At long last, untold minutes later he was standing in front of the desk. He squinted at the titles as he  moved his flash light along the shelf.  They were a varied collection, a manual for the man's overblown sports cars, The Memoirs of Etienne Rambert,  How to Disarm a Bomb, a couple of foreign language dictionaries.  The Spy frowned, most of the volumes were the right size to be a control box. It could be any of them.  His gaze fell on an unassuming volume on the end named Silent Warning.  That had to be it. Self assured he grabbed the book off the shelf,  forgoing all the caution he had been exercising up till now.  

He opened it to reveal... pages. With ordinary words on them. He gaped at it in horror for a moment. He had probably thirty seconds before the alarm was triggered and the RED Spy would know someone had been in here. Panicked, he dropped the offending book on the floor and began snatching random volumes on the shelf, opening them and casting them aside. The control had to be here.  Somewhere.

Finally, he grabbed the Memoirs off the shelf - and to his relief it opened it to reveal a switch.  Flipping it off, he allowed himself to relax.  Now able to move freely, he bent down and began to pick up the books, trying to remember what order they had been on the shelf.  Only once the books were returned to their original places he was able to focus on the task he has arrived here for.

His search through the desk revealed nothing he wanted. In the bottom drawer he uncovered files on members from both teams. That was hardly surprising, he had his own copies.  There were a couple of trick pens,  one was probably an explosive, the other a microfiche camera. He had some of those himself. There were even some regular writing utensils.  A couple of catalogs, a manual for the cloaking watch, and that was it. No false bottoms in the drawers, nothing.

There was no sign of the letters, or any communications.  The Soldier was simple enough he probably, true to his word had given them to the Spy.  So the man had evidently read them and… what? Destroyed them? Hid them? Or he was carrying them right now, which would make reading them difficult. Best to exhaust other venues before coming to that conclusion.

Stepping back from the desk, the BLU Spy thought over his own hiding places. Turning his attention to the wardrobe he opened it, revealing an array of suits and tuxedos, the top shelf full of hats and a few articles for disguises.  Sliding the clothes back he tapped the back of the wardrobe with his knuckles and listened closely. Hearing a hollow thump he ran his hand along the back of the wardrobe until he found a very small catch. If one hadn't been looking for it it might have been mistaken for a knot in the wood. Pressing  the ball of his thumb down on the catch, the panel slid down to reveal a small compartment. Inside were several passports and various forms of identification, but no sign of the letters or anything out of the ordinary.  He frowned, putting everything back in place and hitting the button, so the panel closed again. He shut the doors to the wardrobe and walked to the bed.

The bed was large and fashionable. There were no bed posts, and hardly a headboard to speak of.  He lifted the mattress and ran his flash light underneath it, to reveal nothing. With little else to work with he knelt on the floor and ran his hands along the rails of the bed. His fingers quickly found a knot in the wood similar to the one in the wardrobe. Pressing on it, the rail of the bed slid out like a large drawer.  A smile spread across the Frenchman's face as he poured over the drawer's contents. There was currency from various countries, a spare disguise kit and watch,  a rather impressive arsenal of guns and knives including, something that actually took the Spy by surprise.

 An old Apache pistol. Reverently, he picked the weapon up. To an uneducated person it would look like a jumbled mess,  but the Spy expertly unfolded the brass knuckles handle from the gun and delicately ran a gloved finger along the folding blade.  It was in marvelous condition for its age, the weapon deserved better than to be hidden away in the RED Spy's room.  He was about to slip it into his own pocket before he reminded himself his purpose.  He had come in here to investigate the RED Spy and to leave no trace. Reluctantly, he folded the weapon back up and put it back.

With an agitated sigh he shut the drawer, having still not found anything that would tell him what the man was up to. Maybe the RED Spy wasn't up to anything.  He rose from the floor, debating about prying up floorboards when he spotted out of the corner of his eye a notepad on the night stand.  The top page was blank, but when he squinted at it in the beam of his flashlight,  he could see an imprint of the previous page on it.  Taking a pencil from his jacket pocket he lightly scribbled over the surface he smirked to himself as he words appeared on the page to make out an address in New York City, a time and the date "New Years Eve." He ripped the page off the pad and put it in his pocket with the pencil. It wasn't much to go on, he admitted to himself returning the notepad to the night stand.  But at least it was something.

~~~~~~~

The sound of hammering broke the silence of the late hour as the Engineer fumed in his work shop.  The Spy seemed determined to stick his damn beak into everything  and laugh at him the whole way.  He couldn't even sleep in peace in his own bed anymore.  After he angrily cleaned up the paper mess off his bedroom floor he had debated about setting up a cot and sleeping down in the workshop. Though the Frenchman would probably just follow him down there and…. Do what?  That was a troubling question he had yet to find an answer to.

 What was the bastard doing anyway? Watching him sleep?  Why? Or worse… if the man wasn't watching him sleep, what was he doing? Measuring him for more clothes? The Texan shuddered, forcing himself not to think about it and instead focus on the project at hand.  Things he understood, solder and metal, things he could handle.  Things he could fix.  Unlike other parts of his life.

He needed to stop thinking about that too, he reminded himself, hammering out another dent in the scrap metal before cutting it down to size.  Keep busy. Stay focused. Sometimes he managed to forget Evie, then something would remind him.  Or he would pat himself on the back for not thinking about her;  then his thoughts would be about nothing but her.

The Texan shook his head; he needed to focus on the problem at hand. The problem he could address.  He glanced over at his soldering iron to see if it had reached temperature.  If the snake was determined to poke and pry into everything, leaving him no shred of privacy, he might as well give the sidewinder something to pry into. Once the iron had reached the proper temperature he began to join the cut pieces of metal, forming a simple box.  He had debated about leaving a sentry up in the workshop to guard the place,but the Spy already knew how to handle those. And even if it worked and got the bastard; there might be questions about any mess left behind.  Traps: most of those were a nuisance at best and a double edged sword at worst.  Just as likely to backfire on him as any inquisitive Frenchman.  Engineer placed the iron back on its stand and examined his handiwork.  This, while not fatal, or painful, would be more entertaining.

Satisfied with the soldering job, the Texan set the box aside and got up from his stool to find the paint. A few finishing touches, an air compressor, and springs and he'd be done. Well, almost done, there was still the matter of the most important part….

~~~~~~~~~

   The locks to the Engineer's workshop hadn't been changed, the Spy noted as he let himself into the dim basement room. He pulled his flashlight out of his jacket pocket and ran the light along the floor. The same locks and no ridiculous obstacles made of trash; this seemed a strange oversight considering the man's recent actions.

Not that the workshop needed any more obstacles, the Texan's lack of cleaning skills provided enough as it was, the Frenchman frowned as he stepped over a box of scrap metal. He would have been ready to assume the man had just let everything pile up while he sulked, but there was some evidence to the contrary.

The contents of the work table had been moved around, and there was a bit more of the table top clear since the last time he had visited.  And there was a box. It was black and gleaming and more than stood out among the dust and the clutter of the space. It had not been here last time. He came closer to get a better look at it, but did not let his hands touch it's smooth surface. It resembled a strong box, except strong boxes were rarely square.  Whatever might be inside of it was a mystery. The lock on it looked simple enough to open.

This was a trap. That was the only explanation why the Engineer would leave it out in the open. All shiny and new. And locked.  He wanted him to open it. The farmhand  was a fool thinking that he would be stupid enough to fall for something so obvious.

Turning from the worktable and the ridiculous box the Frenchman glanced around the room looking for any more changes. The man had left the locks the same and added an obvious trap, what else could he have done?

Spy dragged the beam of his flashlight along the room over the out of date calendar, the cobwebs, the old blueprints and older bookcase when a glint on the shelf caught his eye. Stepping over more crates allowed him to examine it closer.  In the darkest corner of the room, on the top of a high shelf was something almost hidden by a box.  The Texan must have needed a ladder to reach it- the Spy noted with a soft chuckle, stretching to move the box aside to uncover… a camera.  It was one of the security cameras common to the base.  This certainly had not been here the last time he had come in, the Engineer must have added this recently. Not that it was going to do him any good.  With a snort he reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a sapper and soon the camera was a  useless sparking mess.

 Satisfied with a job well done he turned from the bookcase and glanced around the room one last time. There seemed to be little more to do here.  Glancing back he gave the box a derisive snort.  Activating his cloak the Spy left the workshop, and began to make his way up the basement steps.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pie crust should be simple, the Texan told himself, just flour and water. And maybe some other things… he really wasn't sure. Though looking at the contents of the mixing bowl he might have forgotten a few ingredients. Eggs maybe. He poked the glop warily with a spoon. Was this how dough was supposed to look? Like gravy?  Frowning, he poured more flour into the bowl , thumping the bag down on the counter causing some to erupt from the top before settling gently down on every available surface.  "Dangit" the Texan muttered to himself  as he watched the flour dance in the air. He'd clean that up later, he told himself and stirred furiously at the mixture. It's not like this needed to taste good. It just need to look right. Well… somewhat right. It was the principle of the thing.

Why RED bothered to stock the kitchen was a mystery. But they had provided a full set of pots, pans and various odds and ends of crockery and cooking paraphernalia that were strange and mysterious to most of the mercenaries.  Occasionally, someone might cook some eggs, or burgers, but no one really knew how to do much else. Or if they did, they were being very quiet about it. Most of the flour, sugar and other odds and ends were rarely used. The majority of the team's meals came out of tin cans and were merely heated and served without any actual flavor being added.  If one wanted real food they went out or went home. For those who had a home to go to.

Evie always made this look so easy, he thought with a frown giving the concoction in the bowl another examination. Now it looked less like gravy and more like mortar. Maybe that was an improvement?  Well it might be, the crust was like the foundation of the thing, wasn't it? Foundations needed to be sturdy.  Still dubious, he poured - attempted to pour- the mixture into an ancient pie pan.  Finally after much scraping he got the alleged crust to sit in the pan, in a big gelatinous lump.   This could work, Engineer told himself, he just needed to shape it, add the bananas, and bake it.  This wasn't so bad, he  assured himself weakly.  He could do it.

In the midst of hacking at the lump in the pie pan, he made the horrid discovery that the mixture was quickly drying out and setting up like cement. It chipped and cracked as he tried to dig out the center struggling to make it resemble a pie more than a mountain. Was a crust supposed to be flaky before you baked it? Somehow he didn't think so. Maybe some water would help.  Desperate to fix this quickly, he stretched to reach above his head to pull a measuring cup from the cupboard above his head. He fumbled and the measuring cup slipped from his fingers onto the floor where it shattered into pieces with a crash.    

 Maybe he didn't need the water after all…. Cringing, he stepped over the glass shards; he'd sweep that up later. Once he got this thing in the oven. Right now, he was sure if he stopped, he'd lose his nerve entirely and see just how ridiculous this was. He went back to stoically chipping the crust out of the pan,  the filling wasn't even in and already it was too big.

The Texan was too preoccupied with swearing under his breath to hear Pyro enter the room. It wasn't until he glanced up from the pie pan to reach for the meat tenderizer that he spotted Pyro quietly watching him. From about two inches away.  Startled, Engineer jumped back from the kitchen counter, nearly dropping the overburdened pie pan on the kitchen floor. Pyro tilted his head curiously eyeing the mess in the pan.

"Hud hih hah?" the firebug asked. At least Engineer assumed, he was usually pretty good at interpreting him.

"Uh… a pie?" he answered sheepishly.

The responding laughter required little translation.

"It ain't done yet!" he snapped defensively, but the muffled laughter just got louder.    "Ya think ya could do better?" he retorted as the pyromaniac's laughter subsided. There were a few raspy sounds from inside the suit as Pyro caught his breath and then nodded eagerly.

Engineer gave the masked asbestos suit wearing figure a skeptical look. He tried to picture Pyro cooking…  well cooking something that didn't end up destroying the building.

"Huh hah hudda" Pyro insisted, putting his hands on his hips.

"Son… I remember that time with the bacon," he pointed out, "an' the burgers last July." he added as some memories he had previously blocked bubbled up.  It had taken months for the mess hall to stop smelling like smoke and grease.  The stove was never the same after that.

"Hudda"  Pyro persisted.

Reluctantly, the Texan glanced at the pan and its rather lack luster contents.  So long as he kept the fire extinguisher handy… Pyro could hardly do worse than him.

"I…" he bit his lip, hesitating, "If ya wanna give it a shot… I …suppose…"

The pie pan was off the counter before he even finished his sentence. After some grumbles and mumbled words that might have been swears the offending attempt was scraped out of the pie pan thunked into the garbage.  The Texan stood there woodenly, watching as the firebug pulled a bowl out of the cupboard,  set it on the counter, shuffled to the fridge and began pulling out ingredients.   

Gently pushing the Engineer aside, Pyro stepped passed him and onto the broken glass with a crunch. Making a puzzled sound he looked down at the floor and back at the embarrassed Texan.  

"I'll sweep that up" he offered quickly. The firebug said nothing and with a shrug began mixing ingredients in the bowl.  Some flour, some butter, a pinch of salt, the Texan wasn't sure what all was being used or how it was being measured but he watched in amazement as the ingredients were mixed together and looked more like dough than anything he had come up with.

"W-where'd you learn ta do that?" he asked as Pyro took the dough out of the bowl and began to beat it flat on the counter with his hand. 

"Hudaheh."  the reply came with a shrug.

"Oh."   

The crust,  apparently done to satisfaction, was deftly pulled off the counter, dropped into the pan and patted into place.

"You know, my wife makes great pies," he commented filling the silence while Pyro carefully crimped and arranged the crust. "Best buttermilk pie in the whole county. Won a ribbon and everything."  His brow furrowed, he wasn't going to taste Evie's buttermilk pie again. Or any of her cooking. The silence filled the room again. He needed air.  "I-I'm gonna go get that broom now…" he murmured walking out of the kitchen.  

Slumping against the wall for a minute, he took a deep breath and did his best to think about anything else but Her.  Massaging the bridge of his nose the Texan took another breath and straightened. He couldn’t let himself get bogged down like this, he didn't have time for that, he really shouldn't leave Pyro alone for too long.  He paced down the quiet hall to the utility closet. Getting the dustpan and broom out of the closet he froze for a moment. He thought he could smell a whiff of… cigarettes? Engineer glanced around the hall, but there was no sign of anyone, no misplaced shadows or objects. No floor lamps.  Just a pathetic Texan alone with his memories. 

"Jumpin' at shadows," he muttered to himself and walked back to the kitchen. Hopefully the firebug hadn't lit something on fire yet.

Engineer opened the kitchen door and was greeted by…nothing on fire.  Pyro was pulling the golden brown pie crust out of the oven, inspecting it before and setting it on the counter. Looking up the gas masked figure waved a greeting to Engineer who just gaped.

"E-verything goin' alright?" he asked, trying to keep the surprise out of his voice.  There were a hundred questions he wanted to ask, but like most things about Pyro, he was probably happier not knowing. Even if he got an answer it would probably make no sense.

Pyro ignored him and began cutting bananas up , throwing them along with countless other ingredients into a clean bowl. 

"Haddada heah hoah?" Pyro queried, stirring the mixture together.

"What? yea… yea… that's what I ordered 'em for." Bananas were not usually part of their ration delivery, but he managed to get them added to the grocery list this week. He figured banana cream pie would be easier to figure out than coconut.

The Texan swept the broken glass and flour off the floor as the Pyro poured the mixture into the pie crust. To his bafflement the pie didn't end up in the oven again; it was being put in the fridge.  He opened his mouth to ask, but so far Pyro seemed to know what he was doing.

"Hee hih hih heah ho hahouh ho heh"

"An hour, eh?" well, he supposed that explained that.  "How are we supposed to keep anyone from eating it between now and then?"

"Hm?"  Pyro tilted his head to the side in thought, before turning to dig through the kitchen drawers. Pulling out a marker and a bit of wax paper the pyromaniac scribbled just one word on the paper. His name.  Confident, the firebug opened the fridge and put the sign next to the pie.

"That… that'll do it." the Texan nodded. Most labels in the fridge were ignored and all food was considered fair game, unless it was Medic's. But there were probably few folks who would dare to touch anything of the firebug's.

"Huh hih huou hah hih hoh?" Pyro asked.

"Oh? I was just cravin' a pie"

~~~~~~~~~~~

The work room was slightly cleaner when the Spy dropped in. There was no sign of the camera, so it seemed the Engineer had learned his lesson in that regard. But the box was still there. The Engineer had moved it out of the debris and onto a clear patch on the work table where it glinted in the dim beam of his flash light.  

Some lessons the idiot didn't learn easily.  Did the man still think he was going to fall for this silly toy? He snorted as he leaned over it;  the box hadn't changed, it was still metal, black, gleaming, and… cold? He frowned in confusion.  Gingerly hovering his hand in closer. Yes it was. The box was radiating a chill that he could feel even through his gloves.  

 His frown became an outright scowl. Why was it cold? The Frenchman racked his brain but couldn't figure it out. Was it generating cold? How was it doing that? What purpose would that serve? What was the Texan up to?

But he obviously wasn't going to open the box- this was an insult to his intelligence. It was a trap, that the Texan wanted him to open. But he wasn't going to.

 He turned his back on the work table and after a quick glance around, walked out of the room, snapping the door shut and locking it behind him.

~~~~~~~~~

The Texan whistled idly to himself as he unloaded his rifle, placing the rounds one by one into his ammunition pouch.  He frowned glancing up through the barrel he frowned- he really shouldn't have let it get to this state. He'd been raised to take better care of his guns than this.

Picking the wire brush off the table, he worked it down in the barrel, scouring the grime and dirt out of it. It was a wonder the gun hadn't backfired on him in this condition.  

The night was quiet, and he was alone in his room for the night. The fighting for the day had been marginally better than it had been.   The Spy was still a pain in the neck on and off and battlefield.  But he was patient. He could wait.

Setting the brush aside, Engineer picked up a rag and the bottle of gun oil.  Wiping down the gun with the rag, he cleaned away the accumulated blood and gore of the battlefield. When he was satisfied, he set the rag and the shot gun down. That really was an improvement.   

~~~~~~~~~~~

The box was still there when he entered the room. Existing. The rest of the workshop hadn't changed much. The crates of scrap metal were still obscuring most of the floor, he fumed as he stepped over and around them to make it across the room kicking another out of his way. There was nothing in the room of note.

Except that damned box.

Spy had tried not the think about it. But the questions kept bothering him. What was in the box? Why was it cold? How was it cold?  What could possibly be in there?

He glared down at the box, its lock gleaming in the dim light, taunting him. It would be easy enough to open. A simple tumbler lock, wouldn't take a minute. Lightly he placed a hand on the lid feeling the cold seep through his glove. Gently, he lifted the box and looked at it on all sides, just a lock and some hinges.  There was a slight weight to it, but no rattle or feel of anything loose as he slowly tilted the box in his hands.  He scowled, what was in it?

  Maybe he could open it, glance inside quickly and not set off… whatever trap the Engineer had built. There was probably a catch in the lid that controlled the presumed mechanism- those could be worked around.

He set the box back down on the worktable. He gave it a long hard look.  There was no way of knowing what was in the damnable thing. Not without opening it.

He pulled the lock picks out of his pocket. With delicate care he selected his tools and began to work. The lock took even less time than he had thought, it was barely an obstacle.  Which was because the Texan wanted this lock opened.  The Frenchman lifted the lid barely a centimeter and shined the flashlight into the pitch black of the box but was unable to find see any catch. 

He cautiously opened the lid another few centimeters but still couldn't make out anything of the boxes contents… He had to know. Finally he relented and snapped the lid up all the way.

There was a click as some spring was released and something flew towards the Frenchman's face. Something white and soft and round? Before he could identify it everything went dark.  And he tasted and smelled…  bananas?  

Somehow, when he had gone over the possibilities of what was in the box a banana cream pie had never occurred to him.  

The pie pan slid off his face and fell to the floor with a soft splat of cream. The Texan, he conceded, while spitting banana mush on the floor could sometimes be clever.  Despite an apparently juvenile sense of humor.  Grimacing the Spy pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe his eyes and mouth though it did little to clear the fruity smell from his nostrils. The mask, he realized as he feebly dabbed at it, was going to need a real cleaning, along with the suit.  

Where did the man even get his hands on a pie?

~~~~~~~~~~~

The workshop resounded with the sound of laughter as the Texan watched the camera footage projected on the cleanest wall in the room.  It had been a gamble setting up the decoy camera, he hadn't expected the Snoop to actually miss that trick. But somehow it had worked and the real camera, hidden in a crate, remained unmolested.

He chuckled again, taking another sip of beer and watched the pie smack into the Spy's face. Even with the hazy focus of the footage it was a beautiful sight to see the pie tin slide down off the Frenchman's nose and banana cream dripping onto that fancy damn suit.

 Smirking he reached forward and rewound the video cartridge to the point when the pie first splatted the smug bastard in the face.  The man's mouth had been open and everything , and he got a good mouthful of the bananas. Draining the last of the bottle, he grinned widely as he watched the footage of the snake desperately trying to wipe the cream off his suit with all the wounded air of a cat caught in the rain. Killing the man wouldn't have been this satisfying, or entertaining.

He should probably get to bed, try to get some rest.  There was going to be more work and fighting tomorrow….

He leaned forward and hit the rewind again. Just one more time. 

Chapter Text

It had been over a month before RED finally lifted the ban that had been keeping the mercenaries on base. The desert air was almost a bearable temperature in the early evening. The sun was setting and the shadows were growing longer. Eager to be free most of the men disappeared for the weekend, leaving the base deserted and quiet. Quiet except for the odd banging that echoed around the base's courtyard.

Scout slunk out of the barracks, his hands jammed in his pockets as he walked to the courtyard to investigate. In the middle of the courtyard was a large open shipping crate spilling packing sawdust on the ground. Looking up from the crate, he squinted to make out two silhouettes on the roof against the dimming sky, the Texan and Pyro. They were wrestling with... an overgrown radio antennae? The pair were so focused on their work they didn't notice they were being observed. Currently, the Texan was holding the antennae while the Pyro fumbled with something against the gables of the second story. "No, no, that goes there." the Texan's voice echoed across the courtyard, "hold this," he said, hastily taking the wrench from the other figure and switching places. A wind started to pick up and the antennae swayed drunkenly, "Steady, can't have this stuck up here crooked now."

The masked accomplice asked something that couldn't be heard from the Scout's position. The Texan sighed, his voice carrying farther than the mumbles of the other teammate, "No, we can't just 'hit it with a wrench.'"

Finally unable to keep quiet, the Scout called up, "What are you knuckleheads doin' up there?" Pyro called out a muffled greeting and eagerly waved down at him, then quickly replaced it's grip on the swaying antennae.

Engineer glanced over his shoulder to the ground and called down to Scout, "Replacing this wireless antennae. Thought you left base with everyone else."

The radio was the main source of outside entertainment for the base. Outside of killing each other. While the base did have a television - the management had installed it a good half year ago - it was useless. They were so far out of range of any broadcast that no matter how much tin foil they had attached to the apparatus, the best the box could manage was a ghost of a signal that might resemble an image. So until someone got a broadcasting tower a bit closer to Tuefort, if anyone wanted any sort of entertainment or news the only option was the radio.

"What was wrong with the old antennae?" the Scout asked, ignoring the Texan's comment.

"Not much, besides being used for target practice." the older man called down irritably.

"It wasn't that bad," the Scout said defensively, almost guiltily.

"We could hardly pick up a signal from twenty miles away, much less anything else. The range on it was terrible, even before you and Soldier got to it."

"That wasn't me!"

The Texan ignored the young man's indignant claims of innocence and straightened from his task. He grinned and patted Pyro on the shoulder, giving him a thumbs up and saying something cheerful that couldn't be heard from the ground. Pyro gingerly relinquished its grip on the antennae which remained firmly in one place. Punching the air in victory, the figure disappeared from view and Scout faintly heard the hum of the teleporter. The Pyro then appeared from around the corner and the Texan soon followed.

"I'll check the radio and see if it's angled right. Though everything should be good." Engineer said to the arsonist, "You can go on and git, I'll clean this up later"

The gas mask nodded, clearly pleased with itself. Shambling towards the barracks it mumbled something amiable to Scout and disappeared inside
.
" …Yea," Scout replied uneasily to Pyro's back, "…you too."

"Honestly, I don' care which one of ya'll broke it." the Texan commented as he walked to the barracks himself. "As long as whoever wrecked the last antennae leaves this'un alone. Waited for months for it to be shipped. Thought it wouldn't be delivered in time."

With little else of interest going on, the young man followed, "In time? In time for what?"

"Thanksgiving?" the Texan prompted incredulously as made their way inside. Pyro had already disappeared to do... whatever it was that the arsonist did when off the clock.

"Yea... what about Thanksgiving?"

"The Game!" one could hear the capitalization in the man's voice. The importance. The enthusiasm bordering on reverence.

"What game?" Scout gave the man a baffled look, "The World Series is over."

"I ain't talkin' about baseball." Engineer snorted disdainfully as they walked down the hall towards the recroom. "I'm talking about football!" he persisted, "The Thanksgiving Game!"

"And I still. Have no freakin' clue. What you're talking about. You did all that," Scout asked, "just to hear a football game?"

The Texan stared at the young man as if he had just said something blasphemous, "Just a football game? Son, I thought they was civilized back east… I'm talking about the Aggie - Longhorn game."

"The what-the-hell game? "

"A&M and TU?" the Engineer asked. The only response Scout gave him was a blank look. The more the Texan spoke the less sense he made. "They're schools in Texas." he explained awkwardly with the confused air of someone who had to explain how wheels worked. "They fight it out every Thanksgivin'"

"Why?"

"'Cause- cause its tradition!"

Enlightenment was starting to slowly dawn on the young man's face. Football wasn't something he knew or cared much about but he knew team rivalries quite well and the Texan's babblings had all the earmarks of one.

The phone rang - interrupting the Texan's excited explanation.

"I'll get it!" Scout exclaimed, swaggering to the phone before the Texan could reach it. "Heya," he said into the receiver.

There was an awkward cough on the other end of the line and then a man with a thick Texas drawl spoke "Excuse me, is this the er…" his voice faltered as it sounded like he was reading off the name, "the… Reliable… Excavation Demolition office?"

"Yea this is RED base, what's it to ya?"

"I… uh… need" the man cleared his throat, "to talk to someone…-" there was another cough. At this rate he was going to die of old age before the man spat out what he wanted.

"You want Hardhat," Scout guessed cutting him off before he could waste any more time with his drawn out drawl and long pauses. Covering the receiver with his hand he leaned out and yelled down the hall, "Hey! Old McDonald! Phone for ya!"

The Engineer came up beside Scout and took the phone from him. "Howdy," the Texan answered the phone, there was a pause and then a wary reply "Speakin'…Who's this?" The Scout lingered just in ear shot, Engineer was too distracted to notice.

"John? John McAlister? How are ya?" There was a long pause, the man on the other end was probably clearing his throat between every word. "Why ya callin'?" After an even longer pause, the Texan's easy going smile faded, "Pardon, ah musta-".

"Y-you think I should -" the Texan stiffened, his mouth pressing into a thin line , "Ya think I need tah-" There was another pause, "W-what business is it of yours?"

"D-did Evie p-" Engineer's eyes narrowed as the unknown speaker apparently cut in. "Oh, for her sake? Well ain't yah just th' good Samaritan!" he spat into the phone "-stickin' yer nose where it don't belong. What gives yah the right? Callin' a man up and tellin' him what tah do! Sniffin' after someone else's wife!"

"It ain't your business what ah do- or when ah do it!" Yanking the receiver from his ear, the Texan slammed it down onto the hook. It missed the cradle sliding down the front of the phone. There was a quiet moment before the Texan exploded, beating the receiver in his hand against the phone. Deciding it was best to leave now before he was noticed Scout slipped down the hall and around a corner.

Scout listened on as again and again the Engineer beat out a frustrated staccato until the receiver fractured with an audible snap. He dropped the broken receiver letting it clatter. "Damnit," he spat.

Curiosity forced the Scout to cloak and peer around the corner in time to hear the Texan swear again and slam his fist into the phone, shattering it into pieces.

Damnit…" the man slumped against the wall. The Engineer looked down at his now bloodied hand and hissed. "Shit." the profanity echoed down the now empty hallway.

Still cloaked, the Spy made his way up the hall to make his exit, thankful that the Engineer had been too absorbed to realize he'd had an audience or that said audience had faded into thin air.

Stupid cow. The Spy fumed as he crept through the base and slipped through a side door. All he wanted was to investigate other things on base but once again found himself waylaid by the ridiculous cowboy. Stupid cowboy and his stupid cow wife. Thanks to her and her paramour the farmhand was going to be useless. Again. Even now the Texan was probably locking himself back in his room to cry over his guitar, wallowing in self pity and cheap beer.

After all the trouble he'd gone through, the Spy fumed. All that hard work just undone by one phone call. He wasn't going to stand for it he decided, picking his way across No Man's Land back to BLU base. A plan was slowly forming in his head, it would take some work but he wasn't going to let some stupid woman and her inbred queutard win.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Herr Engineer - how did you come to blows with our telephone?" Medic asked conversationally as he dug around in the Texan's hand with a pair of tweezers.

The phone, ancient and long suffering in the desert heat, had shattered easily enough. But not without leaving bits of wire and shards of plastic in the Texan's fist as reminders. While a dispenser could heal any cut or wound in seconds - there was the danger of any shrapnel or debris healing into the wound as well. During a skirmish with respawn running it was hardly a problem. But it was a weekend and it seemed overdramatic to shoot himself over a busted hand. So with hung head and grit teeth Engineer went looking for medical help.

Medic looked up at him from his work, patiently waiting for an answer. An explanation. The Texan faltered, he didn't feel like talking about it. Especially not to this man. There didn't seem to be a way to word what had happened without making himself sound like a damn fool. Well… more of a damn fool.

The doctor's expectant silence stretched with the Texan nervously drumming the fingers of his uninjured hand on the edge of the table. Avoiding the question. Suddenly the tweezers twisted, hitting nerves and he bit back a swear.

"Sorry," the German purred with an unpleasantly pleasant smile, "hand slipped - now what were you saying about the phone?" he prompted helpfully.

"… I wasn't." came the cautious reply. While no one could doubt the doctor's experience or his... enthusiasm, Medic's bedside manner left a lot to be desired. It was a widely accepted, yet rarely voiced fact among the team members that the older man had a taste for inflicting pain. No one was sure what he could or would do to any of the team who got on his bad side. No one really wanted to think about it.

The sharp pain in his hand that jolted all the way up to his elbow was the immediate answer to that question.

"Dad-Gummit!"

"Oops!" Medic chuckled "Silly me! I'm all thumbs today."

It seemed he wasn't going to get out of here unless he talked. Or lost his hand. Why couldn't anyone mind their own damn business and leave him alone?

Maybe losing a hand wouldn't be so bad. BLU's Engineer had designed himself a decent prosthetic he mused, trying to distract himself from the pain. Surely it wouldn't be too hard to build something similar. Or better.

Mental blueprints were disrupted by a quiet plink as a shard of plastic was dropped into a bowl by the doctor's elbow.

"I didn't hear you - why did you destroy our telephone?" the German asked again, voice soft, casually holding the Texan's hand down on the table as he moved his tweezers in closer to work.

He realized he would probably need to use both his hands to build a decent prosthetic. Provided Medic let him go. He didn't think that the man would seriously hurt him for not talking. But it occurred to him that Medic might have a different definition of "seriously injured" than he did.

Engineer bit down on his lip as the tweezers dug around among the tendons and bone of his hand. Awkward, but only slightly painful. For a moment his eyes met Medic's. Probably soon to be more than slightly painful unless he missed his guess. His guess was quickly forgotten as sudden pain shot up his hand to his shoulder.

"God dammit!" Thankfully, no ladies were present to hear the additional cursing. Reflexively he tried to jerk his hand back, but the older man's grip was stronger than he expected.

"Nien! I'm not finished." Medic insisted, keeping his firm grasp on Engineer's hand. He was about to try to get up to leave when he saw Medic's face. The gleam in the man's eyes told him that if he tried to get up and leave now the man would easily fix it so he couldn't. Swallowing his protest, he nervously sank back in his chair. He didn't ask when Medic would be done, no sense wasting his breath.

The tweezers went digging again and the Texan gripped the side of the chair with his good hand as another spasm of pain traveled up his arm. There was no feigned apology this time, only silence and… a smile. Glancing away from the alleged doctor his gaze wandered around the room, trying to find a distraction. His eyes traveled uneasily over the clean bare desk, the Medigun propped up in the corner, the locked medicine cabinet, the mysterious medical devices on the shelf. Devices for uses he didn't want to think about. Finally, his gaze rested uneasily on the skeleton and its permanent grin hanging in the corner. There were many rumors passed around about that skeleton; who it was and where it came from. That it had been a victim of the doctor's tinkering, or a patient that made him mad. Whoever the poor bastard was he currently hung in the corner of the room serving as a grim warning.

The skeleton smiled on as Engineer felt another shot of pain race up his arm and spread.

"Shit!" He groaned as the pain lingered.

Medic dropped another shard in the bowl. "Not done yet."

"Damn… sadist." he spat looking back at Medic. He could possibly fight his way out of here. He could also possibly end up drugged on the floor. Being unconscious wasn't something he wanted to do again anytime soon.

"Don't be such a baby" the German tsked, shaking his head "You are the vun who-"

"-Yeah yeah!" he snapped, cutting the doctor off, "Ah punched the phone! No need tah remind me."

"And why did you?" Medic prompted quietly his tweezers poised and ready to go to work again.

"I got a phone call from- from home." The words tumbled out before he could let himself swallow them. This wasn't a conversation he wanted to have, not a person he wanted to have it with. But apparently it was talk or suffer. "Not from home." he corrected himself. "From her new- new -" he rubbed the bridge of his nose as he found himself struggling for words. There was some pain as the doctor went back to work, but nothing compared to the last jolt.

"My replacement!" he blurted with a wince.

Medic's eyebrows shot up but offered no comment as he dropped another scrap into the bowl.

"Damn bastard, I went to school with him!" Engineer found himself rambling. "Callin' me- callin' me tellin' me to sign th' papers. So he can help himself." he spat bitterly. He had been ignoring the papers, letting them lurk on his desk while he focused on other things, other problems while Evie found someone else to take his place. He let himself be distracted. Let himself forget them. "Damn fool."

"All finished." Medic announced smugly, dropping the last scrap of the telephone into the bowl. "Kopf hoch, Engineer" he soothed with feigned cheer rising from the table. The Texan, eager to be free, scooted his chair back and moved to stand.

"No no, let me heal zat."

Engineer hesitantly stayed in his seat. True he could have wrapped up his hand and go down to his workshop and patch this up himself, but this was easier.

Medic dropped the bloody tweezers in the bowl with the unlikely shrapnel and walked to the corner of the office where the medigun rested on a wheeled stand. "You need to get your mind off of zis. Go out for some drinks." The older man insisted as he wheeled the apparatus closer. "Take Soldier with you," the machine hummed loudly as Medic switched it on. "A man shouldn't go drinking alone."

There was a moment of warmth while the medigun did it's work and the pain was gone. The Texan gave a relieved smile as he flexed his now repaired hand. Murmuring his thanks through grit teeth he stood from his chair to make his exit.

The Medic switched off the machine and, to Engineer's horror, patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. "Maybe if you are still upset afterwards, Sniper can help you with your problem. He is a man good at handling these sort of... problems."

The Texan stiffened "Problem? How could Slim help with…" he glanced at the Medic's face trying to see if he was joking. Was he suggesting… "Murder?" the question ended in a horrified whisper. It was less horror at the German's suggestion and more at the fact that he was almost considering it. Lord knew he had imagined Evie's new beau dropping dead of something unpleasant plenty of times already.

"Mord? " Medic froze as if realizing that whatever capacity he was expected to fulfill did not include suggesting homicide to a teammate. He gave the Texan's shoulder a few more unreassuring pats. "Kill someone? Nein! No!" he protested loudly and jovially. "Was only joking! Joking!" he insisted, his wooden grin spreading from ear to ear but doing nothing to mask the crazy glint in his eye.

"Right.... " Engineer said uneasily sidling away from the man and towards the door. To freedom. Safety. "Thanks again for the assist." he said quickly, "I'm gonna try to see what I can do about the phone." Before the Medic could say anything else he slipped out the door and was it everything he could to not bolt down the hall.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The day before Thanksgiving Engineer was hauling his gear back to his workshop, taking the long way around the building to avoid the rest of the team. After the call from Evie's new lover and the following destruction of the phone.... The rather furious reactions from the rest of the team just made it worse. He got up and ate his breakfast before everyone else, kept himself out of the way during skirmishes, and remained on the edges of the base. Most of the team had taken one look at the wreckage of what had been the phone with awed trepidation, so he wasn't too concerned about anyone actually throwing a punch at him. He just wasn't in the mood to deal with anyone

Hopefully, everything on base would cool down in a week or so, which was about when RED said they would send the replacement. At rather inflated expense to the Texan's paycheck of course. But after all the trouble it took for him to reach home base and inform them of their communications problem he didn't see a point in arguing. It wasn't like he was sending his money home to Her anymore.
No sense thinking about that, thinking about Her. It was over. Officially. The papers were signed and sent off. It was over and out of his hands.

It just didn't feel over.

The Texan shook his head. He needed a distraction. Thanksgiving couldn't come fast enough.

While not everyone on base was American, there was usually some sort of attempt to celebrate the holiday. Mostly to convince Soldier that everyone on this base was American and not infiltrating Communists. Though the rest of the team didn't need much convincing to celebrate a holiday devoted to stuffing yourself silly. A half day of fighting seemed to be the agreement between the two teams, and then a tactical retreat to nap for the rest of the day. Dinner was usually provided by Scout's mom who somehow managed to send a hot roast turkey and all the trimmings through the United States Postal Service. He had never figured out how she'd accomplished this feat, but her efforts were appreciated by all the team who ate it with good cheer and lots of alcohol.

The sudden sound of an engine starting echoed through the courtyard cutting through the evening silence. The Texan froze at the noise, the hairs on the back of his neck lifting, his eyes narrowing in recognition. If someone, probably the kid, thought they were taking his truck out for a joy ride they had another thing coming. Dropping his gear to the ground, he took off at a sprint across the courtyard. He made his way to the far end of RED grounds, beyond the old shed where all the cars were parked out of the line of likely fire.

"Stop where yah are yah gutless horse thief!" he pulled the pistol from his belt and stalked among the cars. There was Soldier's jeep, Spy's fancy red sports car, and there was his truck. Idling, with no one behind the wheel. Warily, he scanned the area. No sign of anyone; just rocks, vehicles and sand. Cautiously, still holding on to the pistol, he placed his other hand on the door handle and opened it. He definitely remembered locking the truck up last time he'd gone out.

Someone was messing with him, he decided. There was no one in the cab, not a sign of a person or out of place lamps. Warily, he climbed in to undo whatever hot wiring or meddling that had been done to his truck..

"Whoever did this better hope I don't find them out," he muttered to the empty air, settling into the driver's seat of the pickup. And promptly slumped over unconscious.

Once he was sure that the Texan was truly out commission, the BLU Spy uncloaked and climbed out of the back of the truck. He brushed the dust off his suit and strolled to the driver's side of the truck, simultaneously pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket. He wiped the knock out drug off the door handle before climbing in; the Engineer roughly shoved out of the way as the Frenchman tried to squeeze behind the wheel.

After much squirming and grumbling the seat was finally adjusted to accommodate Spy's longer legs. He reached up and tilted the rear view mirror to suit him, tsking at the sight of himself. That wouldn't do. Pulling his disguise kit out of his pocket, he soon looked back up in the mirror to see a perfect facsimile of the Engineer's face.

Much better. The Texan in the mirror wore a smirk that was out of character.

The real Engineer was quickly covered using an old blanket that had been left so thoughtfully in the cab.

The truck jerked and squealed as Spy shifted it into gear and started towards the road. This was much easier than the wheelbarrow.

Chapter Text

With an inaudible sigh of relief the Spy turned the key and killed the rumble of the truck's engine. Opening the door, he slid out of the driver's seat to stand in the parking lot and gratefully stretched his legs.  

Texas was too large, Spy fumed to himself.  He was used to America being overgrown and sprawling, taking up more land than anyone had any business with. But Texas was ridiculous. He'd been driving for hours, through an eternity of wide open fields and cows. But at least the drive was over. 

The Frenchman took one last drag of his cigarette before grinding it into the concrete. He walked around the truck to survey the clamor and bustle of the crowd. The Texan's old truck, as ridiculous as the Frenchman found it, didn't seem at all out of place in the sea of cars and press of people. The parking lot was filled with various trucks and such in various states of beat up filth. There were some nicer cars, expensive and shining, but they looked out of place. Perhaps the drivers got lost. He had taken the man's antiquated vehicle for convenience but it also seemed quite suited for camouflage.  Blending in hadn't been a concern for this particular trip, but it could never hurt.  And if he couldn't find the Engineer's truck again he could always hotwire another one.

 He frowned across the cab to the unconscious Texan in the passenger seat.  The man had slept soundly all the way here without requiring any assistance remaining that way. Though he had assumed the Engineer would have awakened by now.  Climbing back in the truck, he casually reached over to the inert man and pressed two fingers against the inside of a wrist. The Texan mumbled softly as the Frenchman counted. His pulse was steady.  Spy released his grip and the Texan, still out cold, pulled his arm back.  So he was alive. Good.

"Monsieur," he shook his shoulder to little avail. The ungrateful lump didn't respond. 

 He pulled the keys out of the ignition and slid back out of the truck, slamming the door shut and walking to the passenger side.  Jerking the door open, Spy prodded the man which earned him a grunt but no sign of movement.

"Reveillez-vous!"  he demanded, roughly shaking the man's arm. The Engineer jerked it back but showed no sign of actually waking. There wasn't time for this.  He glared at the crowd of people, streaming past the truck and heading towards the stadium.  Where they needed to be going!

 Previous experience had proven the Texan rather difficult for him to transport. He was beginning to regret not bringing the wheelbarrow along for this. Spy doubted anyone here in this God forsaken state would bat a grubby eyelash at someone being wheeled about in farm equipment.

He had no wheelbarrow, no cart, no moving dolly.  But he refused to be beaten.  Straightening his tie, taking a deep breath and reaching up into the truck cab, he leaned the sluggish Texan forward. He braced himself as he pulled the man out of the cab.  If he supported the man he could stand, though it was rather awkward and uncomfortable. Gingerly, he shut the truck door with a hip and began to stagger with the lethargic farmhand towards the stadium. Thankfully, with a crowd this size it was unlikely anyone would notice anything overly unusual. 

As they walked, the Texan began mumbling incomprehensibly and started trying to stumble along. It wasn't much, but it lessened the strain on Spy's back as he hunched to haul the man along with him. 

"Hey hoss," a large, unshaven man asked in concern, "Your friend alright?"

"He's just had bit too much to drink," Spy answered easily with a disarming smile.

"Started the celebrating' early?" the man asked, chuckling and not waiting for an answer before he walked on. 

At the stadium entrance he told the same story, no further questions were asked, the tickets were taken and they were directed to their seats. Now the Engineer just needed to wake up and everything would be going according to plan.

The path to their seats was blessedly short and soon the Texan was dumped onto the metal bench.  The man voiced a protest that might have almost been words but they were lost in the noise and clamor of the frankly, massive crowd.  With a stretch, Spy sat down next to the unconscious Engineer, ignored the noisy cretin sitting on his other side, and lit a cigarette.

He exhaled the smoke slowly, leisurely enjoying the taste as he surveyed the large stadium and the mass of people.  It looked like everyone in this backwards state was here tonight.

There was a bleary mutter next to him. It seemed the man was waking up just in time.

"Wha-where?" 

Spy smirked over at the Engineer who was grimacing and rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands.  Quickly, the smaller man took in the field and the packed stadium, staring ahead in confusion and then rubbing his eyes again.  He grunted something that sounded like a swear and groped at his shirt and pants as if checking for a tie and cufflinks. He visibly relaxed once he apparently realized he was in his own clothes.  Looking to his side, the man spotted him and narrowed his eyes. 

"YOU." The man seethed, grabbing Spy roughly by his lapels, "YOU!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!"

Just then the band started playing, the Frenchman thought he recognized the opening bars of the American anthem, and the crowd reverently rose as one to their feet.  "Show some respect!" Spy hissed in admonition. The Texan froze, his grip loosening as he turned to the field in bafflement.

The Engineer, apparently recognizing the decorum required, hastily shoved the Frenchman aside, nearly into the others sitting on the bleacher.  Spy, in turn, rose calmly to his own feet and straightened his tie and lapels as the American stood at attention, saluting the flag.  At last the anthem finished and the teams began to line up on the field. The Engineer exclaimed something but was cut off by the loud cheers and whoops that erupted on all sides.  Spy warily glanced over at the Texan to see if his jacket was going to come under assault once again, but the man appeared too busy gaping at the field as the players ran out onto the field to a fanfare of bands and the cheer of crowds. 

Turning his own attention to the football field, Spy frowned, now able to get a good look at the players. They were wearing padded armor and… helmets?  What was the purpose of that? Now that he was paying attention, the field was also strange; marked off in strips and numbersand no goal box, just two strange structures on either end of the field.  This didn't resemble football at all. At least no version of the game he knew.

Cheers erupted from everyone in the stadium, including the Engineer as the one team grouped on the field and the other stood back. A strangely misshapen ball was placed on the field. There was a moment of reverential silence as one man rushed to kick it and then an explosion of noise from the crowd and an onslaught of men on the field as the ball sailed up in the air. For just a moment: and then one man was ploughed into by half of the other team, slamming him and the deformed ball to the ground. Then the rush stopped and the two teams lined up on the field again. Spy raised an eyebrow, assuming the Americans were going to kick the ball again. Instead they… didn't. They crouched in rows and then the ball was passed off to someone else - they were touching the ball with their hands and it took him a second to register this. There was another swarm as both teams pushed into each other and another man was dragged to the ground.

 Well… that explained the need for the padding, he mused as the teams regrouped and crouched again.  Was this all there was to the game? Lots of crouching and rolling around in the grass and a frantic amount of violence? He glanced to the Engineer who stood there in rapt attention.  Spy snorted; he supposed if you grew up with nothing to look at but cows and tractors and watching corn grow this sort of thing would be stimulating entertainment. With nothing else of interest to see he was about to sit back down when he noticed no one in their section was sitting. He had a feeling if he did he might not survive. He turned back to the field just in time to see one of the players bolt across the field out of reach of the other team - causing the Engineer and others around him to roar and whoop.  The deafening celebration was cut blessedly short as the man was jumped and thrown to the ground just like the end of every other round. 

Spy lit his third cigarette and blankly watched as the players pushed and chased and crouched around their half deflated ball. He lost count of how many times the players moved and regrouped. It seemed he had been there for hours, but his watch told him barely twenty minutes had passed. He still couldn't make much sense out of the game but he was at least starting to see a general pattern. One team was trying to push the other team to stop them from gaining ground.  He flicked some ash off his cigarette and congratulated himself on making this much sense from the chaos.  A player in burgundy had the ball and started running and dodging around the field - the crowd again began whooping and hollering, and flapping their arms about madly.

"GO GO GO!" the Engineer roared next to him, nearly into his ear. His instructions, however, were lost in the swell of noise generated by the rest of the crowd.

 Spy gaped in confusion, why was everyone cheering? "He's going the wrong way," he said quietly at first. "He's going the wrong way!" he said more loudly. This made no sense! "HE'S GOING THE WRONG WAY!" he insisted, despite the roar of the crowd.  The player made it to the end of the field and the crowd erupted in whoops and boos punctuated by the brass band beginning to play.

"What was that?" the Texan asked still grinning from ear to ear, turning to him as the cheers started to die down.

The Frenchman sputtered, "He went the wrong way." He didn't care about the game, but the least these simpletons could do was be consistent.

"No he didn'," the Engineer looked at him confused,  "It's the second quarter." Spy silently glared at him, refusing to admit ignorance. "They switched end zones." the Texan explained.

"Quoi?

A look of realization passed across the Engineer's face. "They don' have football in France, do they?"

"This, is not football," he hissed. "This is nothing like football!" Football had goals and you kicked the ball, you didn't use your hands, you didn't toss it around.  "Football makes sense," he added irritably. 

"This makes sense," the Engineer said defensively, "Aggies just got a touchdown, so they are trying for an extra point by kicking a field goal," the man pointed his sausage like finger at the structure at the end of the field and at the players grouping on the field. "They also could have gone for a two point conversion by trying to run the ball across the end zone."

"That's ridiculous," Spy blurted, unable to contain his opinion.  "It's simple!" the Texan insisted, leaning closer to be heard as the crowd erupted in more noise. "Okay there - that's the line of scrimmage. At the twenty yard line." he said, pointing out to the field. "Well, now it's at the twenty yard line," the man amended, "it moves around when-"  a player on the field ran with the ball and was run over by another player who grabbed the ball. "Now UT has the ball and Aggies are on defense." 

The players repeated their dance on the field but despite the Engineer's insistence it still made no more sense than it did ten minutes before.  The ball was passed, kicked, dropped, and thrown around with the Texan haphazardly narrating the events.  The explanations got more and more abrupt, interrupted with cheers and exclamations of surprise. Finally, after a long series of attempts for the teams to gain ground and failing a player in burgundy managed to kick the ball though the end posts and the Texan and the rest of the row made a jubilant yell. The narration trailed off after that. The game went on and Spy's feet had begun to hurt from standing in one place for too long and he was fairly certain he was going to be partially deaf from all the yelling and screaming.

After an eternity of idiots roaring and cheering and clamoring over the events unfolding there was a whistle blow, and the armored madmen on the field filed off to the side lines. Nearly dropping his cigarette in surprise, there was no way the game was over. Could he be that lucky? Spy gaped as a marching band came out on the field.

Was it finally over? He dared to hope as he noticed some of the people walking towards the stairs.

"It's halftime," the Engineer explained helpfully, cruelly shattering his dreams of freedom,  "Gotta take a leak, I'll be back."  With that, the Texan quickly disappeared into the crowd. Gratefully, Spy sat down on the cold metal bench and smoked his cigarette, resting his aching feet. The band on the field marched around and played and until it was replaced by another. People started returning to their seats and finally the Texan came back holding a partially eaten frankfurter on a bun and wearing a burgundy baseball cap.

"W-what are you wearing?" he asked in horror. The hat was even more ridiculous than the overalls the man normally wore.

"I got it at the souvenir stand!"  the Texan explained with a smile, missing the Frenchman's disgust as he sat down. "Can't go to a game and not wear any maroon. 'Specially this one."

"Mmhmm,"  Spy murmured noncommittally, exhaling a cloud of smoke.

" I got yah one too. Help blend in." the Engineer said pulling another one of the ridiculous hats out of his pocket. The farmhand was deranged.  Did he think he was Scout?

"I am not going to wear that… thing," he spat.  What was the man thinking?

"You're the only one here not wearing a team color," the man insisted.

"So?"

The Texan leaned in, "A lot of folks get riled up at these games, a lotta drinking folks, might start trouble if they think you aren't on their side." 

Spy snorted, rolling his eyes, "I can take care of myself  Monsieur." The imbecile shouldn’t need reminding of his skills since he was the on the receiving end of them majority of the time.

"How good are yah against a lotta drunks?"

Spy fumed under his breath, snatching the offensive object from the Texan's hand and grudgingly placed it on his head.  He shot a withering glare at the Engineer, which was wasted on the man since he was occupied eating his "meal". Spy frowned at the concoction oozing ketchup and onions on the paper plate. It looked like an unappetizing mess and smelled even worse.

The man took another bite out of it before he noticed Spy watching him, "Did you want one?"

The Frenchman cringed in reply.

"Suit yourself," the smaller man shrugged then began to devour the rest. Cautiously, Spy continued to watch him, but the sedative apparently hadn't affected his appetite or stomach any. The man didn't seem to be ill, at least not yet.  

Wiping the ketchup and relish off his mouth with a napkin, the Engineer sat back and looked around the stadium at the spectators making their way back to their seats, "How did you get these spots anyhow?" 

"Hm?" Spy flicked some ash off his cigarette.

"These seats… this game…" he hesitated, "Did…did you… kill someone?"  he whispered horror creeping into his voice.  

"Did I murder someone for tickets?"  he arched a sardonic brow. "No."  Killing was so messy; blackmail was much easier and often accomplished more.

"So why are we h-" the Engineer started to ask, but was cut off by the roar of the crowd as the players jogged back onto the field and the game began again. The Texan, the question cast aside for the moment, jumped to his feet and yelled with the rest of the enthusiastic crowd as the players lined up in their strange formations and the deformed ball was kicked into the air again.  With a sigh, Spy stood back up and pulled another cigarette from his case. With any luck, he would still have some cigarettes left before the game was over. 

 As the game went on, the Engineer would occasionally remember him and try to explain the plays. Strange words like "turn over", "safety"  and "downs" were used and rather than try to make sense of them, Spy simply nodded. Soon enough something would stir the crowd up again and the Texan would forget about him.

But for all his ignorance of the game, the score boards were at least the same.  By process of elimination he was able to figure out which was the home team and which was the away. The score was close, nearly a draw. Then a player in orange made it to the end zone. All around Spy furious hissing erupted and the home team went up a few more points.   

The minutes counted down and the Spy burned through more cigarettes as the game went on with the spectators becoming increasingly excited. Players were slammed to the ground, others stopped in their tracks. A burst of mad cheers as the ball was thrown through the field goal was shortly followed by hissing as another player fumbled the ball. The time on the clock was running out and judging from the disappointed look on the Engineer's face his team was losing.

The clock was down to two minutes and the tension in the air was nearly palpable. The Frenchman didn't have to know the game to sense the anticipation. This would have to be the last play of the game. The yells and whoops and cheers rose as the players crouched on the field and the ball was handed off.  The noise increased to a fever pitch as the player ran for the end zone.  The ball passed off again. And again. Just out of reach of the other team.  Diving out of another opponent's attack, the player in burgundy dashed to the end zone.  A deafening roar erupted from the stadium.

 The Spy was jostled violently, suddenly finding himself standing in the middle of a sea of cheers, whoops, and tossed hats.

 "HOOWEE!" the Engineer whooped waving his ridiculous hat in the air. "WE WON!" he turned to Spy grinning madly.

"Yes, yes they did," Spy said, not sure what else there was to say.

 "WE WON!" the Texan repeated gleefully, grabbing the Frenchman by the shoulders and shaking him so hard his teeth rattled.  "WE WON!" he exclaimed and suddenly jerked Spy forward in a spine cracking hug, squeezing the breath out of him before he could protest or process what was happening.  "WE WON!" the Engineer repeated, dropping the Spy to his feet as abruptly as he'd been scooped up.

Spy sputtered to catch his breath just in time to see the drunken lout to his right turning to offer him another celebratory embrace.  Too winded to speak he glared at the man, and however many beers he had had, the drunk was not too far gone to recognize the eyes of a man who would not hesitate to slit his throat. Turning quickly away, the man went down the row to molest someone else. 

 Everyone around him was celebrating and congratulating themselves as if they were the ones who'd been on the field.  Spy decided to take this opportunity to sink down onto the metal bench and light another cigarette and wait for the revelry to die down so that they could leave.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When they finally started heading back, exiting the stadium proved a perilous task in and of itself. Spy could have easily slipped through the crush of people himself but that would mean losing the Engineer. Finding him again in this crowd would be trying to find a needle in a hay stack. As a last resort he grabbed the man by a strap of his overalls so not to be separated from him. The man was in too good a mood to notice or protest.

The sea of people flowed through the gates and parted into different directions in the parking lot. Once out of the tight press of the crowd the Frenchman let go of the Engineer and began leading the way to where he had left the borrowed vehicle. The smaller man spotted it before he did, somehow able to recognize it among other farm vehicles in the rows.

 As they approached the truck, Spy dug in his pocket for the truck keys. Engineer moved in front of him, glaring reproachfully, the Frenchman froze in his tracks.

"Give me th' keys"

"What?"

"Give me th' keys"  the farmhand repeated firmly, blocking the driver side door, one hand on his hip the other held out in expectation. Spy scowled, about to protest when the man cut him off.

"It's my truck, and I know these roads better than you do," he insisted, stubbornly jutting out his massive jaw.

He could resist, but in close quarters the Engineer was stronger than him and they both knew it. It was a plain fact that had been illustrated on the battlefield many times.  Weapons would give him an added edge but there was no respawn to fix any… fatalities that might occur.

There was a moment, a tiny eternity, as he debated his options; he could knock the man unconscious again -a drugged needle waited in his pocket for the right opportunity. But he didn't really want to haul the man's heavy frame around again. Additionally, hauling around an unconscious man was bound to attract attention, making stopping for anything on the road precarious, and he needed to eat soon.  Finally, grudgingly, he dug into a jacket pocket and produced the truck keys. They dangled from a fingertip before he reluctantly dropped them in the Texan's open palm. 

"Thank you."  Engineer replied tersely. The man turned to unlock the truck door and squinted over his shoulder at the Frenchman. "Ya gonna git in the passenger side?"

Spy straightened his tie and briskly walked around the truck to the passenger side, covering anything that might be misconstrued as hesitation. He opened the passenger door and climbed inside, suppressing a chuckle at the Engineer grumbling and adjusting the seats and mirrors before starting the engine up. 

The rumble of the engine and the silence in the cab was abruptly broken by excited blather about the game from the Texan. This touchdown, that play, and that final touchdown.  With a team this good they might have a chance to go on to one of the championships.  And the final touchdown! Having nothing to add to the conversation, Spy remained silent and tried not to think about how hungry he was. His stomach growled but the noise was lost under the chatter of the Texan. When was the last time he'd eaten? He'd had a cup of coffee at the last gas station - that had been hours ago.

He looked out the window at the city as they crawled forward, caught in the current of truck, cars and more trucks leaving the stadium. Many of the buildings were dark and closed up, no sign of activity. No sign of a place to eat.  Spy grimaced, imagining the long drive back to Tuefort on an empty stomach. Suddenly, he spotted a café that looked open. He was dubious of what Texans might call food, but the parking lot was full of cars. That seemed a promising sign.

"Pull over there."  he demanded.

"What? Why?" 

"So I can eat something." Spy answered irritably. Why was the farmhand asking stupid questions?

"Yah know, you could have just gotten a hot dog at the stadium,"  the Texan countered annoyed.

"I do not eat garbage." the Frenchman snapped back, his lip curled at the very suggestion.

"Woulda been easier than drivin' out after the game on Thanksgivin'  - that place'll be packed to the gills, starve to death before yah get served and then they'll be out of everything when they serve ya." the Engineer grumbled speaking with a tone of experience. 

Spy was about to balk when the Texan continued. "Let's get further down the road. I know a place, they should be open."  

~~~~

They had driven nearly out of town when the Engineer finally turned off the highway to a small squat building with a flickering neon sign.  Spy stood next to the truck giving the establishment a wary look. It didn't look like much, there were few cars in the lot and the building looked it had been here for decades. He'd eaten in worse places, true, but only when he had no other choice.

The Engineer snorted as he walked toward the door. "I thought you were hungry."

"I told you I don't eat trash."

"And I ain't makin' ya eat any," the Texan insisted indignantly, "Used to stop here on the way back from the fair."

He didn't have much choice at this point, the Frenchman realized; it was this or starve.  Tossing his cigarette on the pavement, he ground it into the worn cement with a grumble before following the farmhand inside.

The inside was clean and the floors and counters well scrubbed. That was at least reassuring. The jukebox was in the corner warbling some nonsense song.  There were a few people seated at the counter but for the most part the restaurant was empty.

"So… uh, anywhere you wanna sit?" the Engineer asked awkwardly. Now that the game was over it seemed the fact that he was taking the man who regularly, literally stabbed him in the back, to dinner, was starting to sink in. Before the man could think too hard about it, Spy gestured to a table in the corner. From there he had his back to a wall and a good view of most of the comings and goings in the diner. This was mainly habit, he didn't expect any sort of trouble or attack, but he felt more comfortable taking these precautions.

As they settled in the table, the Frenchman glanced around taking assessment of the entrances and exits to the room.

"Good evenin', ya'll," a girl's voice caused him to turn back to the table.  The waitress was a rather willowy girl in her late teens, if he had to guess, just starting to grow into her looks. "What can I do for ya?" 

"Howdy," the Texan smiled warmly at her, "I am I-I just -" he suddenly remembered his manners, " I mean we," he hastily gestured to include Spy in this statement, "we just came in to see the game.  We're on our way out of town and need some grub."

"Well yah came to the right place," the girl chirped giving a lopsided smile as she handed them menus "What can I get ya'll ta drink?".

"Sweet tea,"  the Texan answered without any hesitation.

"Coffee, if you please."   

The girl grinned and left them to get their drinks and an awkward silence descended on the table.

"So…" the Texan finally spoke, "Why are we here?"

"Because I needed to eat and you were being difficult." Spy replied offhandedly as he skimmed the menu. The man had needed to get out. Stop being useless. But there was no sense in telling the Engineer that. It would only upset him, causing him to lose his temper and thus defeating the whole purpose of this trip.

"I meant why are-"

"Here yah are," the waitress, cutting him off without realizing it, cheerily set their drinks on the table. "Have you figured out your order?"

  Giving the menu one final disparaging look, Spy sighed, "I'll start with a salad and..." he looked back at the menu before closing it. "Just the salad."

"Just a salad?" the Texan frowned skeptically across the table at him, "Thought yah said you were hungry." He turned to the girl, "Please forgive 'm, he's not from around here. He'll also have the chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes-"

"Pardon-" Spy cut in irritably.

"If ya don't like it you can eat your salad. But yah can't come to Texas and not eat some of the cookin'." the man insisted.

"Our chicken fried steak is good." the waitress joined in helpfully, "The best in the county."  

"Alright. For you mademoiselle, I'll try it." Spy said with a false smile, too hungry to argue.

"I'll have the same," the Texan added with a wide grin.

The girl took the menus and went to check on the other customers at the counter.

"So why did you take me to the game?" the Engineer persisted once the girl was out of earshot.

"I couldn't go to a game by myself could I?" Spy responded cooly, taking a sip of his coffee.

"A game that you hated."

"Nonsense, I love football."

"You were confused the entire time."

"That was not football," the Frenchman grimaced. "That was an insult to football."   

"If that wasn't football, then just what is football to yah?"

"Real football is a sport for gentleman, not a bunch of buffoons in padding crouching around a field tossing a ball around."

The Texan's mouth became a thin frown, "So what do gentlemen do in this real football?" he asked icily. 

"Move the ball across the field without using their hands to get it in the opponents goal." he explained irritably. It was a simple concept, what sort of idiots couldn't get that right?

"Wait…" the disdain in the Engineer's voice was replaced with confusion, "are you talkin' about… soccer?"

"What?"

"That's not football you're talkin' about, that’s soccer."

"That's ridiculous, why-"

"Alright here we are!"  a chipper voice cut him off and steaming plates of food were placed in front of them. 

"Thank yah, miss," the Texan said with a smile. Spy nodded own his thanks as he cautiously prodded contents of his plate with his fork. Potatoes were simple enough to recognize, the meat, however, was buried under a layer of thick gravy and breading.

"Is everything alright?" the girl asked in concern, watching the Frenchman grab his knife and cut into the food with a critical eye. He was loathe to admit, it smelled appetizing. It looked more promising than the salad that sat limply on its plate. Though he was so hungry, nearly anything would look good.

"He's fine," the smaller man insisted waving a hand. "Can you get me some more tea?" he asked, sending the girl away to fetch the pitcher. "It ain't poisoned," the Texan said rolling his eyes at the Frenchman. "If I wanted yah dead I woulda dumped ya on the side of the road and not bothered to feed ya." Deciding not to allow his own meal to grow any colder, the Engineer started cutting into his steak..

Spy took a dubious bite of potato and was surprised to find it tasted like food. He had eaten at five star expensive restaurants and gourmet places that a man could wait months to get into; this wasn't as good as those. But now, in this moment, none of that mattered and this was the most delicious thing he'd eaten. He swallowed his first bite, realized how hungry he was, and quickly ate the rest of the potatoes.

"Told ya it wasn't garbarge," the Texan said smugly as the girl refilled his tea glass.

The Frenchman took a sip of coffee, "How did you find this place?" he asked curiously. 

"Stopped here one time after the fair, ages back. The woman who owns it is real nice, I helped fix their jukebox last time I was here.  Used to make a point to stop here when I was in the area with Ev-" the name crumbled in the air and the Texan trailed off, sawing his steak like it had suddenly developed the texture of shoe leather. 

“I ended up stranded in Prague, beautiful city, I found an amazing bistro there .” Spy said quickly changing the subject, “Their steak tartare was a masterpiece. I would stop there whenever I found myself nearby.” At least until the last time he was in town, the owner ran him off with a shotgun after catching him in bed with his daughter.

“What were yah doin' in Prague?” the Engineer asked despite himself. While the man was still visibly disheartened he at least was allowing himself to be distracted.

“Business.” he answered vaguely, not offering any more details.

“Well shoot, the farthest business ever took me was California.” the Texan chuckled wistfully, “Spent six months in Bakersfield looking after pipelines.”

“Sounds exciting.” Spy remarked dryly.

"It wasn't running around in fancy suits murdering folks, but it was decent work.” the Engineer stated defensively.

"I'm sure it was." the Frenchman replied in a tone that bordered on mocking.

"Always figured I'd get to travel and see the exciting parts of the world when I retired, but…" he trailed off again.Spy cleared his throat trying to think of another topic when the young waitress came back.

"You findin' everything alright?" the girl asked, picking up the empty plates.

"Yes!" the Texan recovered quickly with a false smile "delicious as always."  As she picked up his clean plate Spy was surprised to realize how much he had eaten.  He supposed it was due to not having eaten for so long, but the meal had been quite good. Not that he was going to tell that to the Engineer. 

"Glad to hear it, ya'll save any room for dessert?"

"Of course we did," the Engineer added, shooting Spy a glare before he could protest. "They make some of the best pies here."

 "Well tonight, since it's Thanksgiving we got sweet potato pie, and pecan."

"We'll take two of each."

Spy snorted but said nothing, no wonder the man was so chubby.

"It's Thanksgiving,"  the Engineer pointed out irritably as if reading his mind. 

 Their order was taken with another cheery smile and soon the girl returned with the desserts and they were placed on the table. 

"Oh, I forgot to ask," the Texan said to the girl before she left. "How is the jukebox working? Been givin' yah any trouble lately?"  Spy studied the pies dubiously before taking a small bite of one.  He instantly picked up the strong taste of pecans and sugar.

The girl frowned, "The jukebox?"

"Last time I came in here it had a short in it and kept skippin' around. Was wonderin' if the fuse I replaced was workin' out"

"Oh, you're the one that fixed it this summer!" the girl's smile returned "No, it's been workin' great  since then, no problem at all."

"Glad to hear it."  the farmhand beamed as he started eating one of his own slices.

"Yea, it's so nice having it working again. We kept trying to get someone to come out here and fix it for us but they kept wanting to charge us extra for the trip. Nan didn' wanna, said the jukebox wasn't necessary." Wonderful. It seemed once the girl had started talking there wasn't much hope in her being quiet.

"It wasn't any problem at all, I happened to have the parts handy." 

Why was the farmhand encouraging her?

"Now if only I could get Nanny to get some new records in there! I tried to get her to get some of The Doors in but she said 'no'. Said it was too racy. " The Frenchman tuned her out as the Engineer kept talking to her. At this rate she was going to prattle on all night and they wouldn't get back to base until tommorow night.

Spy cleared his throat, cutting through the chatter, "Pardon moi, if I could get some more coffee?" he held up his empty mug.

"Oh, of course!" the girl said taking his mug form him and then paused "Say just where are yah from anyhow? I can't place your accent."

"France."

The girl blushed and goggled at him, "Really? you're from France? What are ya doin' all the way out here? Could...yah say something in French for me?"

"Oui, que tu es bete, Mademoiselle!" he purred, offering his most charming smile.

The girl blushed brighter, giggled and cheerfully left to refill his coffee. Turning his attention back to his dessert, he paused when he saw the Texan glowering at him.

"What?"  he asked in mild interest before taking another bite of pie.

"That wasn't very nice," the smaller man said quietly. 

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Maybe the girl don't know a lot, but she doesn't deserve you insulting her like that."

The Frenchman furrowed his brow, trying to figure out what he was going on about. Glancing up, he spotted the girl behind the counter refilling his mug, blissfully unaware.  He had been perfectly civil, it's not like she spoke any French or understood what he said.  How did the Engineer know what he- horrified, he looked back to the annoyed Texan.  Did the man speak French? 

"Tu parles français?" he asked incredulously. How had he missed that? He had gone over all the man's information,  how could he not know this?

The Engineer hesitantly cleared his throat and then in grammatically correct French;  "[We are not all stupid hicks in Texas.]"  Grammatically correct, however his Texas drawl warped every word. 

Spy gaped at the man for a moment before collapsing into half-choked laughter, slapping the table while he tried to breathe. "Your accent!,” he snorted, "Mon Dieu!" he broke down laughing again. 

"Are yah finished?"  Engineer asked dryly, his face turning red, but he received only more chortles in response. "Ah don' laugh when you speak English."

 "My accent is charming," he insisted, wiping a tear from his eye, "I don't murder innocent words like you do." He chuckled again. "So tell me," he inquired as the young lady handed him his refilled coffee mug, "Where did you learn to torture my language?"

 "Had to take some electives while working on the PhDs." the Texan replied with a hasty shrug.

The Frenchman remembered the surprisingly long list that had made up the man's educational record in his file. He had tried to read it, but gave up after one page and hadn't even bothered to skim the rest. It occurred to him now that he shouldn't have been surprised that he had missed this somewhat important information.

"Did you learn any other languages?" he asked, curiosity getting the better of him. 

"Just a bit of German," Engineer said with a sudden hint of unease, "i-it comes in handy reading schematics. "

Spy was tempted to ask the man to say something for him, but his glare informed him that would be unwise.  Instead he settled for taking another swig of coffee and finishing up the pie on his plate.

Engineer nudged the empty pie plate to the end of the table with a satisfied sigh and glanced at his watch . His smile faded, "We best be leavin' if we want to get back." Spy checked his own watch and nodded in agreement. Tossing a large bill on the table for the tab he drained the last dregs out of coffee from his mug and stood up.

Saying their good byes to the waitress, they left the diner and got back into the truck to start the long tedious drive back to Tuefort. 

It didn't take long for the flickering sign of the diner to fade in the distance behind them. Ahead of them the road stretched on into darkness - marked only by a few lines of paint and the occasional sign counting down the miles they had gone from civilization and the miles it would take to find it again."Your state is too large," Spy grumbled as they past another sign citing how many hundred miles until they reached the next city. 

"It ain't that bad," the Texan replied stalwartly defending his bloated homeland.”Any other state that slice of pie would have been half that size.”

"I've driven through countries smaller than this." the Frenchman complained, suppressing a yawn.  The coffee hadn't kept him as alert as he had hoped and now he was glad that he wasn't the one driving. Not that he would admit that.

"We used ta be a country."

"Hmm?"

"Back before the Civil Wars, Texas used to be its own country."

Apparently taking the Frenchman's silence for interest, Engineer started going into a detailed explanation of the history of the oversized cow pasture he called home.  Spy leaned his head against the truck window fighting to keep his eyelids open. The rumble of the engine with the combination of the man's voice started to lull him to sleep.  He tried to resist the temptation to nod off, but found little of interest out of his window to focus on and soon he shut his eyes. Just to rest them…

~~~~~~~~

"Spook." A strong hand on his shoulder gently shook Spy awake. Groggily, he opened his eyes, rubbing them to mask his confusion. When had he fallen asleep? He shouldn't have done that. Falling asleep in a car with someone, that was foolish - sloppy. Left him vulnerable, it was as good as turning your back to an enemy. In this case it was literally turning his back to an enemy. A beginner's mistake.

Sitting up, he looked out the truck window to see the edge of the town of Tuefort.  It was still early, the sky just barely showing the first hints of sunrise.  How long had he been asleep?

"This is as close as I dare take you," the Texan said quietly.  This was a good quarter mile away from No Man's Land and the bases. A sensible place to drop him off - away from prying eyes - just inconvenient. "Don' suppose you left that uh- scooter of yours anywhere nearby." he added hopefully.

Spy opened the truck door without answering. His Vespa was where he left it, back at his base. It looked like he was going to have to walk back.  At least it was still early and the fresh morning air was cool.  With a stretch, he slid out of the cab and readjusted his jacket.

"Hey Spook," Engineer blurted, causing the Frenchman to turn back. "Why di-wh-" his words trailed off as Spy yawned. "Thanks," he said finally.

"[You're Welcome]" Spy nodded and shut the door. Suppressing another yawn, he watched the truck drive down the dirt road.  Longfingers reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his cigarette case only to for him to discover it empty. "Merde," he swore, covering his face with his free hand only to find that he was still wearing the silly hat. "Damn," he muttered taking the absurd item off his head and tucking it under his arm as he set out down the dirt road to his own base.

Chapter Text

"I'll have a blue Christmas without you..."  Elvis’ voice warbled over the radio, echoing across the base, filling the silence as best as it could. The Texan glared briefly at the radio before turning back to his work, carefully soldering wire into place.

Swissmas Eve had come to the base and only Engineer was around to mark it. This year RED had remembered to give the mercenaries the holidays off.  Most of the team had made arrangements and left town before head office changed their minds.

"I'll be so blue, just thinkin' ah-huh-bout you..." Elvis persisted, despite static.

 "Shuddup," the Texan growled through grit teeth as he soldered another connection down. With everyone off base for the holidays he had hoped to distract himself with work.

"…Decorations of red, on a green Christmas tree…"

Clean his guns, tune up the brakes, change the oil in his truck, sort his science journals, pick up the mail (the Christmas package from his Ma included), go through the maintenance check list for the base, finish up old projects, write a long note thanking Ma for the new sweater which he was wearing, install new alarm systems. Do anything but feel sorry for himself. "…Won't be the same dear, if you're not here with me.."  The list of chores he had written up to pass the time turned out to be a lot shorter than he'd have liked.

" And when those blue snowflakes start falling…"  

At first the holiday had been good for him. He kept busy, had been fairly content and hadn't really been lonely despite the silence of the base. He'd been neglecting his workshop for months; the spiders living there had been more industrious than him. So the first few days of the vacation had been spent cleaning and re-organizing everything, clearing up the clutter, dust and cobwebs that had collected over the months. The workshop looked much better once he was finished but the job had taken up a lot less time than he had hoped.

"That's when those blue memories start calling.” the radio crooned on and he restrained the urge to throw a wrench at it. If he broke it he'd just end up repairing it the next time the quiet started getting to be too much for him. Staying on base had initially seemed like a good idea, but he hadn’t realized how much the silence would get to him.

You'll be doin all right, with your Christmas of white…"  

No matter how busy he kept himself, the silence and emptiness seemed to seep into his thoughts and eat away at him.

What was Evie doing for the holidays? Spending time with her new beau, no doubt. Had she spared a thought for him, or was she too busy? Last year, he'd been one of the first men out the door to go home when vacations were given. Last year, he had someone to go home to. This year he was avoiding it. Nothing waited for him but an empty house and more silence.

"But I'll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas."

Fine job he was doing not feeling sorry for himself, he cursed under his breath.  Pinching the bridge of his nose with his free hand, he placed the soldering iron back on its stand and tried to focus on the task at hand.  If he was correct, that oughta be the final connection he needed to secure. Now he just needed to test it.   

The plans for this project had been sitting around his work table for months, but they hadn't come together properly until now. While cleaning, he had stumbled upon a bit of inspiration in some previously discarded and long forgotten notes that helped wrap this up. Connecting a few wires in the proper places, he hooked up the power supply and pressed the button. The radio's crooning was cut short and dissolved into pulsing static and the dispenser in the corner of the room sputtered violently before finally shutting down. He grinned widely and chuckled, light glinting off his goggles, his spirits lifting.  

Pressing the button again cut power off to the device, the radio resumed crooning and the dispenser soon returned to its steady reassuring hum. Still smiling to himself, he began piecing together the casing and screwing it all down. The remote was impractical for the battlefield, and RED would never approve it. But if the Spook was determined to try and get the jump on him in off hours, he wasn’t going to let the man get the better of him again.

He had just tightened the last screw on the remote casing when a low alarm went off. Squinting at a small grid screen on the edge of the work table, the Texan's smile drew into a smirk as he watched a small blip move along the edge of the monitor.

With most of the team gone, RED had decided to conserve energy, turning Respawn and a few other non-essential systems off but leaving the basic alarms and security running during the holiday. This was supposed to keep out nosey locals, but did little to keep out other, more slippery bastards. So Engineer had made his own temporary additions to the building security. A few strategically placed warm body indicators here, a few motion sensors tucked around a corner there, all remotely tied to a small grid screen. Just sensors; no sentries, no turrets - it was the holidays after all. He didn't want to murder the man.

The dot moved down one of the corridors- looked like he came in one of the side doors. Now the Texan was sure that it was the BLU Spy- anyone else would have set the main alarms off by now.The bastard had proven time and time again that the alarms didn't slow him down. So the snake was on base, but where was he going? What was he up to? Down the corridor, round the corner, into the barracks, round another corner and the blip disappeared.

The Texan rapped a finger sharply against the monitor but the screen remained blank.  The Spy had either gone out of the limit of the sensors or found a way to sabotage them. Engineer rubbed his chin thoughtfully, Spy hadn't stopped anywhere long enough to tamper with anything. It would be more likely he had gone out of range.  Somewhere that hadn't seemed important enough for the Texan to put sensors down. That would place him around… the mess hall? What would he be doing in there?

Sliding off his stool, Engineer grabbed the new remote and slipped it in his pocket. If he was quick he might have a chance of getting the upper hand for once.

 Up the stairs and into the cold deserted base, the Texan climbed, cringing when a stair groaned under his weight. The Spy probably, hopefully, hadn't heard that if he was in the mess hall. Stealth had never been a skill he was good at. Warily, he glanced around the halls listening for any sound of an ambush. But all was quiet and there was no sign of anyone.

Inching down the corridor, he noticed a light streaming from crack in a doorframe - from the kitchen. Now he was really mystified, why was would anyone break into the base's kitchen? Surely Spy wasn't starving and desperate for a can of beans. Engineer suppressed a snort at the unlikely image.  As he crept closer to the door, a floorboard suddenly creaked under his foot. Well, if the bastard didn't know he was out here, there was little question now. With the element of surprise gone, he jammed his hand into his pocket and pressed the button on the remote. Through the door came a faint pop and he entered the room in time to hear a fizzling sound. The Frenchman faded into view standing next to the counter on the far end of the kitchen. The man remained frozen for a few moments frowning and looking at his own arm like it had offended him.   

"Gotcha," the Texan chuckled, grinning widely and smugly displaying the remote.

"Bonsuir," the sidewinder replied smoothly, turning to face him- and suddenly froze. "What... what are you wearing?" he squawked with a disgusted grimace.

"What?" he nearly caught himself tilting his head to check, but didn’t dare let the Frenchman leave his sight. "-Don't change the subject!" he protested, brandishing the wrench in front of him.

"It's even worse than your hideous suit." he went on with a shudder.

The man was revolted by his sweater. "My Ma made this!" he shot back defensively. So it was a rather bright shade of red, with reindeer and snowflakes on it. Lots of snowflakes. It was warm and festive. "Wait- that's not important." he reminded himself, "What are you doing here?"  he demanded, still holding the wrench in front of him in warning.

"Aren't we past violence?" the masked man asked, giving the wrench a weary look.  

"No," Engineer snapped. He finally got the jump on the bastard and the least he could do was acknowledge it. "What are yah doin' poking aroun-" it was then he realized he was smelling food. He cautiously sniffed the air. Real food.  

For a second he glanced down at the counters, for just a second, before snapping his attention back to the Frenchman. Not quite grasping what he saw, he looked again. The Texan had been expecting the snake to try something, but somehow he hadn't expected the Spy to show up with a basket of food.

"What is all this?" he asked, feeling bewildered and silly. It looked like Swissmas dinner, there was no other reason for an elaborate meal with a small chicken, and more garnishes than anything had any right to, but why was it here?  His mouth watered. He had neglected to eat much today. Or yesterday. He hadn't really been hungry. Until now.

"I'd assumed that would be obvious," came the sardonic reply, "or do they not celebrate Christmas in Texas?"

"Swissmas, " he corrected quietly, trying to keep the Frenchman in view while still gazing at the food on the counter.  There was a bottle of wine, potatoes, some sort of vegetable dish covered in glaze, and dinner rolls.  "Renamed… after the Reindeer Riots…" he trailed off- there was even what looked like dessert.  A real cake, that had never seen a cellophane wrapper in its life. He tried to remember the last time he'd seen a cake.

"Swissmas dinner or whatever you Americans call it then." The Frenchman relented, with an exasperated sigh.

It looked great and smelled even better. It was probably poisoned. Or drugged. If he ate it he'd probably wake up and find he'd been dragged off somewhere else.  The North Pole or something. As much as he hated to admit he'd enjoyed Thanksgiving, this sort of thing- the constant stalking kidnapping -he couldn't let it continue.

"I ain't in need of charity." he snapped, firmly ignoring the sudden hunger pains as he tried to work out what the Frenchman was up to. It seemed highly unlikely that the man had delivered Christmas dinner out of the goodness of his heart. But why go to all this trouble to drug him? He certainly hadn't bothered in the past.

"No? So what were you going to eat? Some trash out of a can? Beans? Crackers?" Spy smirked.

The Texan chewed the inside of his lip, not willing to admit the man was right. He wasn't very handy in the kitchen and had been surviving on canned soup and military ration tins for the past few days. Either the snake was making very educated guesses or he’d been watching him. Neither option would surprise the him at this point.

"Really Monsieur..." the man tsked,  "It's Noel, entire wars have been put on hold for this day, surely we can do the same."    

The Engineer hesitated, this had to be a joke or trick. But it was the season for miracles, and the offered spread looked miles more appetizing than one of the MREs in the pantry. It would be a shame to waste all that food…There had to be a catch.

"I'm simply returning the favor from Thanksgiving." the man insisted, "You shared your cuisine with me. Now I am sharing mine."

"That's very …civil of ya." he murmured cautiously still not convinced.

"There are children starving in Africa. You are really going to let this go to waste?"  

Those were words he never expected Spy, any Spy to say. Incredulously the Texan opened his mouth to retort but closed it again.

“In that case, I’ll leave you to your meal.” the Frenchman turned to leave, taking his silence as acceptance.

"You ain't stayin'?" he blurted, startling himself. It wasn't that he liked the man. But he was the only source of conversation around. If Spy left, he'd be back by himself. Just him and Elvis. On Swissmas Eve.

"I was merely delivering this,"  the man said with the smile of a saint.

The bastard' s smile made him suspicious. Nothing good ever happened when a Spy smiled. On the battlefield it meant something was about to explode or a knife was going into someone’s back, usually his own. The food had to be poisoned, drugged, something. The snake wasn't doing this out of the kindness of his heart. This had to be a trick.

"There's more than enough here for both of us," he commented, attempting to sound casual and failing. If Spy ate with him, he'd know for sure the food was safe. It would also keep the bastard where he could see him. "Food tastes better shared." he insisted. 

The Spy gave him a quizzical look.

"It's somethin' my Ma says', alright?" he said, raising his shoulders in an embarrassed shrug.

"You suspect I drugged it," the Frenchman deadpanned, seemingly unbothered by the accusation.

"...I can't imagine why I'd get an idea like that," he countered with a snort.

"Very well, Engineer, if you insist,” Spy said with a reproachful sigh. “I would hate for all of this to go to waste."

"I’ll find some plates.”

“You’ll only need to find one place setting”

“Eh?” he looked among the food and saw that indeed the man had provided a plate. It wasn’t incredibly fancy, though it was an improvement to the beat up tin plates in RED’s kitchen cupboards. But there was only one.

Digging in the cupboards produced an extra plate, battered and beaten but serviceable. Extra flatware had been dug up easy enough, though they were as battle scarred as the dishes.

“You can take that set,” the Texa said nodding towards the china plate.

“Nonsense, I’ll use the other one.” the Frenchman insisted.

“I don’ wanna be a bad host.”

“I did bring this meal for you.”

“But we’re in my base…” Engineer faltered, it seemed rude to have Spy eat off the old plate. Common rules of courtesy never covered situations like who got the nice plate when a stalker brought you a meal. At least if there were rules for this, no one ever shared them. “How about a compromise?” he held up another beat up plate for the cupboard.

A second set of silverware was easily found and some old mugs were rustled up in lieu of wine glasses. Now they were even, and no one could say otherwise. If the Spy had any complaints about the beat up place setting he kept them to himself as they settled down at the small table in the kitchen. The table was smaller than the long dining table in the mess hall, but was just about the right size for two people to sit at.

The Texan watched warily as Spy sat down across from him, waiting for the man to take a bite of the meal. This might be the second time he was having dinner with Spy, but he still didn’t trust him as far as he could throw him.

The Frenchman said nothing, merely sighed and served himself a small helping of everything. Then one by one he took a bite of each, chewed and delicately swallowed.

"And I’m not dead.” he observed, smugly taking a sip of wine from the beat up mug. ”Now are you satisfied I’m not poisoning you?"

“Yah can’t blame me for being suspicious,” he retorted defensively. Slowly, he picked up his own knife and fork and began eating. Taking the first bite he began to doubt this was, in fact, chicken. The meat was more tender than any he’d had before, and melted in his mouth. He hadn’t expected this to be any good, food from some restaurant in town in the middle the desert. He thought he’d eaten at all the places in Tuefort worth mentioning, few as they were.

“Where’d you get this?” he asked curiously as he took another bite.

“I got the cornish game hen and the zucchini shipped in, the rest I got from the supply shipment.”

“Wait… y-you cooked this?” he gaped.

“Where else was I going to get a good meal in the middle of nowhere?” Spy sniffed.

"It's delicious." He mumbled sheepishly before lapsing into silence, his throat tightened as he swallowed. He hadn't expected the man to go to the trouble of cooking him dinner. Hell, all he’d planned on having for Swissmas dinner was some canned soup and crackers. He glanced from his plate, across the table Spy picked at his plate, not paying him any mind. What was the man playing at? Why had he gone to the trouble?   

"Tell me, why exactly are you here alone for the holiday? Why not go back to Texas to that massive family of yours?"

Engineer was hardly surprised to find the spook seemed to know about his family. The man knew his name, suit size and where he kept his keys - why wouldn't he know about his family? He took another bite to keep from having to answer. Staying here, as maddeningly lonely as it turned out was less painful than going back home.  Back to the empty house, the empty bed, the cold kitchen.

Worse than that was his family. The sympathetic silence, the pats on his shoulder telling him he'd find someone else, the reassurance that everything would be alright... Sam had offered to let him stay with him and his wife, he had declined. He couldn't face that, spending holidays with the happy couple. He just wanted to be left alone.  

"Why aren't you off to… wherever you're from? Go see your family for the holiday?" he countered, breaking the silence.

"I don't have family."  

"None?" Engineer blurted before he could stop himself.

"None worth mentioning," the Frenchman answered carelessly as he took another bite. He said it casually. As if it didn't matter to him at all. Though, now that the Texan thought about it, being an orphan would definitely account for some of the Frenchman's peculiarities.

"I'm… sorry to hear that,"  he said, realizing he meant the words more than a reflex courtesy. Unsure of what to say his gaze drifted back down to his plate.  

"I'm not." Spy shrugged.

"Where are you from anyway?"  he asked impulsively.

The Frenchman raised an eyebrow, he didn't need to say anything. He was being stupid asking questions he'd get no answer to. The man was his enemy, and a Spy to boot. He'd have better luck asking the sky for rain or Medic for mercy.    

"Aw hell," he pressed, unsure if it was the wine talking or if he had lost his mind, "You probably know damn near everything about me, even the odds a bit."

"You're not as intelligent as I thought, Monsieur," the Frenchman said with a frown.

"You can lie, m-make it up, I'm just tryin' tah make conversation. Not like I'd know the difference," he added quietly before trailing off.  

"Very well,"  the masked man purred, a smile playing on his lips. "I'm from Toulouse I suppose. I was found as an infant there on the side of the road by gypsies."

"Gypsies  huh? Why not raised by wolves?" the Texan asked with a laugh.

"Don't be silly, Cowboy," Spy rolled his eyes. "There are no wolves in France. We are too civilized for that."

"Of course, shoulda known better. So you were raised by traveling gypsies?" he inquired, playing along.

"I grew up in a painted wagon, gypsy violins were my lullaby."

"Wagon? Like with horses? Live horses?" he tried picturing Spy anywhere near a real horse and failed.   

"Wagon? Pardonne moi," the Frenchman apologized, eyes twinkling "I meant to say I grew up on a vineyard. My family owned a vineyard near Treyes."  

"Owned?"

"Tragically lost during the war," he explained, humor draining from his face.  Just when the Texan was starting to wonder if he was supposed be sympathetic, the man added, "We lost it in a game of cards. My father was always awful at bluffing."

"Your father was a gambling man?" the Texan asked, feeling like he was following the cue of a second rate comedian.

"Terrible. No stake was too high, he once tried to use my little sister as stakes in a game."

"So you have a sister?"

"Of course not, where did you get that idea?" Spy sniffed disdainfully.

"Not a clue where I would have gotten that notion."

"I am the only child of wealthy nobility." he corrected. Engineer suppressed a chuckle as the man began weaving another tale. "At a young age I discovered a taste for espionage, to my parents horror. They do not approve of my line of work. It's not what a viscount should be doing, you see. So when I came of age they disowned me and cut all ties."

"Is that why you wear the mask? Cause your parents made ya?"

"No, I wear it because it's comfortable."

"Mm-hmm," the Texan murmured in between bites.

"It also hides the acid burns inflicted upon me when I was thirteen."

"I suppose you went to live under an opera house after that incident," the Texan joked.  

The Frenchman shot him an offended look across the table, "No- it was then that the government discovered my talents and took me in for training."

"What was that like?"

"Oh, it was grueling." Spy answered melodramatically. "A dozen of us boys, stripped of names, all issued identical suits, masks, and called by numbers."

"Sounds like the army."

"They taught us how to kill, how to infiltrate a building, what style of suits to wear for what occasion, how to seduce someone in ten words or less."

"… not quite like the army then." Engineer amended as he poured himself more wine.

"Non, we were much better dressed," Spy said with a laugh holding his empty mug out.

"So, what were they trainin' yah for anyway?" he asked, topping off the Frenchman's cup.

"I could tell you, mon ami," Spy smirked, "but then I would have to kill you."

"Well, dying wasn't really on my schedule for this holiday..."

"And killing you wasn't on mine." the man countered lazily, leaning forward to serve him a slice of cake.

"Glad we agree on that at least." Engineer chuckled as he took a bite of chocolate cake. The frosting was rich and dissolved on his tongue. The pastry tasted as amazing as it had smelled. It had been far too long since he’d had a good cake.

“So, yourself?” Spy asked, interrupting his revery.

“What about me?”

“I’ve shared my life story, what about yours?”

“Not much to tell really,” he quietly took another bit of cake. “I wasn’t raised by gypsies or anything excitin’. Spent most of my time helpin’ my family on the farm, in school or tinkering around.”

“You have any brothers or sisters back in Texas?”

“I gotta cousin or two who are good as. I grew up with them. But no siblings.”

“What did you and your cousins do growing up?”

“Yah mean for fun? Usual kid stuff I guess… playin’ cowboys and indians, football, real football mind yah-”

The Frenchman snorted but kept his disdain to himself.

“fishin’, we’d shoot off fireworks every fourth a July and New Years, or whenever we could get away with it.” Trailing off, he smiled to himself, losing his mind in the fog of warm childhood memories.

“How do Texans celebrate Chr-Swissmas?”

“Nothing too different from most folks. We all get together, all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and all the kids and all their...everyone.” All their spouses, their families.

“And what do all of you do when you are together?” Spy prompted gently.

Engineer helped himself to another piece of cake, “We exchange presents, we sing some songs, eat a large dinner, sometimes play some games depending on the weather.”

“And wear tacky sweaters?”

He glared across the table at the smug Frenchman, “It’s festive.” he said icily.

“If you say so Monsieur,” Spy smirked, primly finishing off the last bite of cake.

"So why did you do this? - All of this?" Engineer asked, taking a last swallow from his mug.

"Hm?" the Frenchman looked up from his plate.

The wine must be going to his head, because he pressed the question again, "The strip joint, bailin' me out, the game- this dinner- what are you after?"

"After?"

"Don' play dumb, we're both too smart for that. What are you doin'?"

There was a pause as the spook sipped his wine, "You were boring."

"Pardon?" his brows furrowed. He had to be drunk, he could not have heard that correctly.

"You used to provide an interesting challenge. Gave me something to anticipate. Past months- your mind has not been on your job. It's been very frustrating. Going against an opponent whose distracted. Boring."

"Past months- yah mean…" the gears in his mind started turning, "… since the divorce. Yah- You've been…" his mind stumbled around for the words. This whole thing seemed almost ludicrous. As time had gone by, Engineer had gone over the possibilities in his mind. What would be the motivation to drive the Spy to shadow him, what was he doing? He had never suspected…" You're trying' tah cheer me up?"  

"Get your mind off personal matters," Spy corrected.

"Tryin' to distract me-so I'd get back to work?"  

"Oui."

The Texan sat there in silent incredulity- his brain processing the data. It made sense, twisted sense, true, but sense. The Frenchman was trying to… help. He'd been such a wreck, the enemy Spy saw fit to intervene. Kidnapping, stalking, destroying his property, stealing his truck, all in some odd attempts to help.

Engineer swallowed feeling hot shame creeping up his neck, he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to thank the man or punch him in the damn nose.Nervously, he fidgeted with his sadly empty mug trying to figure out what to say. The team had expressed their sympathy, at least pretended to.But when he had been at his lowest no one had done much but provide awkward silence. The only person who had gone to any great effort to help him had been an enemy.

The Texan swallowed before finally asking, "So, was this the finale?"

Spy frowned, "What do you mean?"

"Your ‘project’, tryin' to get me back on point… was this dinner the end of it? After this yah leave me alone?"  

"Well, I would be hard pressed to out do this." the Frenchman pointed out, gesturing at the table and the remains of the feast.

The man had a point there. This would be a hard act to follow. Plus, Spy wouldn’t admit it, but there had been occasions recently where it was the Frenchman that ended up in Respawn not him.He opened his mouth to say as much but what came out instead was a yawn.

“Sorry,” he apologized automatically. When was the last time he had slept?

Spy looked at his wristwatch and frowned, then reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a pocket watch. Glaring at the Texan he tucked the pocketwatch away. “It’s getting late, I should be going.” he got up from the chair.

Engineer glanced at his own watch, it was half past midnight. He hadn't realized how late it was. Sliding his chair back he stood up. "I should get to bed myself. Thanks for the dinner- and the company" he added quietly.

"Joyeux Noel, Engineer "  

"and a Merry Swissmas to you," he grinned. Spy turned with a smile and walked out of the kitchen, the door shutting silently behind him.

With the Frenchman gone, yawning again his gaze fell on the table, covered in dirty dishes. Of course, the spook left him with the clean up. He chuckled quietly and shook his head. He could leave this mess for the morning, and just add to the base’s mouse problem. That wouldn’t do at all. The leftovers, few as they were, would be much appreciated for the next few days. Humming to himself, he started picking up the dirty dishes. His bed would still be waiting for him when he was done.






Chapter Text

Suppressing a shiver, the Texan zipped his coat up and threw more kindling on the firepit. In winter, the cold desert nights normally kept him inside, but cabin fever had begun to set in. Besides, staying inside tonight seemed just wrong. He glanced at his watch. Fifteen minutes to midnight. Fifteen minutes till the new year. Odds were this one would be better than the current year. Then again he was hard pressed to think how it could have been worse.

Leaning closer to the fire, he checked the bacon sizzling in the pan and was satisfied. After dumping the hot greasy slices onto the metal camp plate he paused, hesitated, and threw a few more slices of bacon in the pan to cook. He pulled a beer out of the small cooler by his feet and opened it, tossing the bottle cap into the flames. The first mouthful was bitter and crisp, but not unpleasant and he let the cold drink rest on his tongue for a moment before swallowing. The Engineer glanced at his watch again. Ten minutes to midnight.

He popped a piece of bacon in his mouth, crunching it noisily between his teeth, and pulled a remote out of his pocket. Looking over his shoulder, Engineer flicked a switch and the sentry set up behind him chirped to life. The stocky man craned his neck, glancing around the fire and the space behind the RED base. There was not much out here; just the firepit, some crates that had been converted to seating, rocks, dust and scraps and odds and ends from decades of private wars. Turning back to the fire, the Texan reached with a pair of tongs and pulled the can of black eyed peas off the flames. He examined the can, unsure if they were done. There was steam coming out of the vent holes, that was usually a good sign…. With a shrug he set it down to cool for a bit.

The fire crackled and popped, spit out motes of cinders into the blue-black sky while the Engineer sat, alone but at ease. “Should old acquaintance be forgot…and never come to mind….” Engineer began to sing quietly to himself. He had been humming for a good half a minute before he realized he didn’t know the rest of the words. With a frown he looked back down at his watch. Four minutes until midnight. He took a swig of beer before setting it aside and removed the frying pan from the fire, dumping the bacon onto the tin plate.

The plate rested warmly on his lap as he leaned back. He took a breath of cold air and looked up at the stars, mentally naming all the constellations he recognized. He had few good things to say about the desert, but he had to admit that the view of the night sky was beautiful out here. He’d never really liked cities with all the hustle and bustle and lights that blotted out the beauty of the night sky.

There was a beep, jerking him from his stargazing. He looked at his watch. Less than a minute to the new year. The sentry beeped again, marking off ten seconds. It lifted its barrels up to the sky. Nine seconds. Eight seconds. The sentry locked into position. Seven seconds. Six seconds. Five seconds. Four. Three. Two.

Midnight.

There was one last beep as the rockets shot off into the air. They screeched like hawks as they flew, before finally exploding - the sound bouncing and echoing off the walls of the base - into a torrent of sparks and colors. Engineer raised his beer in toast as the second round of rockets whistled into the sky before bursting, adding their colors and sparks to the fading display.

Finally, the last rocket fired, leaving the smell of gun powder heavy in the air. Soon the smoke began to clear and the spots began to fade from his eyes. The Texan smiled to himself, sure people had seen and heard the show for miles around. He chuckled, reaching for the cooling can of black eyed peas. Took an experimental bite and seared the roof of his mouth.

Swearing loudly, his curses probably heard from miles around as well, he grabbed his beer and took a cooling sip. Oddly he remembered these tasting better.

Engineer took one last look at his watch. Three minutes past midnight. If anyone, who was going to remain nameless, was going to show up tonight they would have done it by now. Not that he had been expecting the man to show up.

Ah, well. He took another drink of his beer. More bacon for him then.

Chapter Text

 Henry Saltzman sighed, took another sip from his drink and turned to the Sports page. Irritably, he tapped a finger on the invitation he had set on the bar. He had a few hours to kill before the party and had decided to spend it at the hotel bar. He didn't want to wander around a city he didn't know on New Year's Eve and was sick of being cooped up in his hotel room.

"Mr Saltzman?" a polite voice made him glance up from the paper. Henry noted the bellhop uniform before the envelope was shoved under his nose. "Telegram for you, sir."

"Thank… you?" he replied uncertainly as he took the envelope. He reached into his jacket pocket to find something to tip the man with, but when he looked back up no one was there. It was as if the man had faded into thin air. With a mental shrug, he turned his attention to the telegram. A moment later he leaped from his stool and rushed for a cab to drive him to the airport.

Spy ducked into a service elevator and decloaked. Quickly shedding the bellhop jacket and hat, he tucked the stolen invitation into his pocket. By now the man would be rushing home to see his wife, who, according to the telegram, was in the hospital after a tragic house fire. The woman had only survived due to their dog who nobly sacrificed himself to save her from the burning rubble of what had been their home.  By the time the man got home to his healthy wife, their very-much-alive dog and intact home, the party would be over. It would be a shame he couldn't make it, the event was the social highlight of the season, if not the year. Anyone who was anyone would be there. But at least his invitation wouldn't go to waste.

--------------------------------

The masquerade was just coming to life as the Spy strolled into the ball room.  He surveyed the layout of the room, adjusting his bowtie and domino mask. The band was lively, the champagne was cold, the dress code black tie masquerade. In his element, Spy smiled to himself, straightening his boutonnière, careful of the micro camera hidden in it.

He had not been certain what he would find at the address he found months ago in the enemy Spy's belongings. A secret pay off, a liaison, a briefing, a high stakes baccarat game perhaps. But it hadn't taken him half an hour in the city to hear all about the New Year's Ball hosted by an eccentric writer, it was the most anticipated social event of the decade in one of the most fashionable hotels in the city. Exclusive, invitation only, just the sort of place he would expect to find the RED Spy.

 Most people had taken the masquerade to heart, wearing bright glittering masks, representations of animals they wanted to be like, carnival masks probably imported from Italy or classic domino masks. No one took any notice of Spy, elegant and statuesque in his well tailored tux he looked like he belonged here, and with his simple mask he didn't look ostentatious enough to draw attention.  The RED Spy could be anyone at all.

But what business did the the other Spy have at this event? A meet up? A heist? Even if his target had no ulterior motive for being here, this was a welcome change of scenery. Champagne was rare, even nonexistent in Tuefort, good music and charming company even more unlikely. Here was a room filled with business men, politicians, literati, movie stars, lower nobility; even in masks the identities of these people were obvious. Civilized people. Sane people. People who knew what napkins were for and didn't chew with their mouths open.  People who bathed regularly. He was fairly certain no one in this room pissed in jars. Tonight the damn gravel pits and all the imbeciles were far away. He could ring in the new year as it was meant to be, in a refined crowd, with good drink, and hopefully getting the upper hand on an opponent. 

 Taking a champagne glass from a passing serving tray, he sipped it and glanced around the sea of masks.  He would be getting the upper hand, if he ever managed to find the RED Spy in this crowd. Surreptitiously, he checked his cigarette case, the disguise was working and everyone at the party would see him as an older, well groomed gentleman. Satisfied, he slipped the cigarette case back into his pocket.  He'd had to ask his own team's Engineer to fix the damage the damn cowboy had done to his equipment on Christmas. Said damage had been difficult to explain away but everything seemed to be working again.  

Walking through the crowd, he looked for any sign of his target taking in snippets of conversation, listening for anything that could be useful.

"Do you really think we might  make it to the moon?"

"Better us than those kangaroo-punchers-" 

"-so the role needs to go to-"

"-Robert has got a bill in the works that should be quite-"

"-Oh, Audrey doesn't need to know about us-"

"-worth it's weight in Austrailium -"

Spy took a hors-d’oeuvre from a passing tray and made his way to the bar. He leaned against the bar briefly catching the eye of another party guest. Turning away he sipped his champagne and tried to eliminate who in the crowd would likely not be his target. He was sure no matter what the RED Spy's reasons he would not be the elderly dowager in the back corner, the owlish looking man with the coke bottle glasses sitting awkwardly at a table looking lost, or a member of the wait staff. It was also highly unlikely he was the host, the fussy man who was fluttering around the room greeting the more important guests and simpering for their approval. RED Spy seemed to have too much pride for that. He hadn't quite ruled out the enemy Spy disguising himself as a woman if he had need to, Spy himself had been in such situations. It was part of the job. That narrowed the search down, if only by a few.

Glancing back to the bar his eyes again met the man at the bar. Seeing he had Spy's attention again the man slid down the bar to him.

"Good evening," the man smiled, his teeth bright beneath his sequined orange fox mask. 

"Good evening," he returned the greeting and took another sip from his drink.

"This is quite a party, New York hasn't seen anything like this in a while. Good way to start the year with a bang."

"My thoughts exactly." Spy said quietly, noting with interest that the man was leaning closer to him as he talked. They were almost elbow to elbow.

"I expected some of my friends to be here but seems they didn't get invited. So it looks like I'm here, by myself." He tilted his head with a smile meeting Spy's eyes again. "How about you? You know anyone here?"

The man's intention was clear if yet unspoken.  He looked at the him appraisingly, the man's jaw line under the mask was strong, under that mask he was likely handsome and his well cut suit highlighted the svelte figure underneath. At another time perhaps… when he didn't have a mission. Taking the man up on his offer would limit his movements. He was trying to stay inconspicuous and two men on the dance floor would attract attention.

"Sorry," he apologized, and meant it, "You're not my type," he lied. The man looked slightly crestfallen as he left, but the night was still young and the crowd seemed decadent enough, he probably wouldn't be alone for long. Spy finished his glass watching the slim figure disappear into the crowd with more than a hint of regret. But he was working and wouldn't allow himself to be distracted or to attract attention. Only tempted to. 

He left his empty glass behind and walked from the bar Making his way through the crowd, he surveyed more party goers.  In passing he ruled out the annoyed movie star fuming in the corner, the nosy reporter skulking around, cultivating any interesting tidbit of gossip, and the loud, noisy drunk dancing haphazardly on the dance floor as possible identities the RED Spy would take. Taking another glass from a passing tray, he noted a few men in simple black tuxes and masks working their way through the crowd. They, like him, were trying not to attract too much attention; probably hotel security looking for party crashers. They shouldn't pose a threat to him. Not too much of one at least. He kept an eye on them, in the unlikely event he got caught his cloak wouldn't be too useful in this setting.  

The drunk was swiftly collected by one of the security guards before he could do too much damage but the rest were still on the search for anyone without an invitation.

There was a ripple in the crowd as a late arriving opera diva, her escort and her lap dog arrived. Too flashy, too many ostrich feathers, it seemed unlikely  RED Spy would be any of them.  

"Thank you, darlin'" a nearby woman's dulcet drawl made him turn his head. He looked over to the nearby tables to see a voluptuous blonde woman in a golden cat mask taking a champagne flute and hors d'oeuvre from a waiter. He recognized that quaint Texan accent easily by now.  What was someone from that bloated cow pasture doing at this party?  She sat alone, sipping her drink and irritably tapping a well manicured nail of the other hand on the table. He watched her for a moment as she set her glass down to pull a cigarette case out of her handbag.  He took the opportunity, he slipping into the empty chair next to her and offering his lighter. "Allow me, signora." 

The woman momentarily blinked surprised but reflexively holding out her cigarette for him to light. "Well, thank yah," she put the cigarette to her lips and leaned closer until the end caught light. "You're too kind," leaning back, she exhaled the smoke into a cloud around her.

"Anything for a beautiful lady," he insisted, pulling a cigarette out of his own case and lighting it. Out of the corner of his eye he could see a member of the hotel staff still trawling the room.

"Do ah… know you?" she asked, her red mouth forming a delicate frown. But her tone was one of intrigue rather than concern. 

"Oh! No!" he held his hands up ,"Forgive, Signora, I merely saw a lovely lady sitting by herself on New Year's and thought that such a magnificent creature shouldn't be alone. Unless," he sheepishly added "she wishes to be."

"Alone? Ah ain-" the woman let her words trail off, eyes narrowing at a group of men two tables away wrapped up in a heated debate. She pursed her red lips, for a moment a perfect portrait of a woman scorned, "Ah suppose I am alone. Or… I was." she purred, deliberately leaning closer to him, her neck line slipping to display a generous amount of cleavage. "Ah didn' catch yer name, sugah."

"Oh forgive me," he chuckled, "I am Lorenzo Auditore."

"Pamela Riggs," the woman extended her delicate hand.

"Piacere,he murmured, taking her hand and pressing a gentle kiss on the back of it. The woman giggled girlishly and reluctantly extricated her hand from his.

"Yah ain't a local boy, are yah, Mister Auditoree?" she asked coyly.

"I am from Verona." he answered easily.

"Verona…yah mean Verona, Italy?"  her eyes widened, he noted that behind the mask her eyes were a dazzling blue.

"Si," he answered, his smile widening at her awed expression,"I'm here, as you say, on business."

"Must be some mighty important business that brings yah all the way out here!" 

He laughed warmly but offered no further details. She didn't seem to want any.

"Ah suppose I'm sort of here on business mahself," she said with a shrug of one smooth bare shoulder. "Ah came here with my boss from Waco." she nodded to the table of frenzied discussion and flicked some ash from her cigarette. "We're in the oil business."

"Waco?" he asked feigning ignorance as she fidgeted with her mask.

"Waco, Texas," she clarified, finally pulling the mask off altogether. "Don' suppose anyone will mind too much, silly thing's driving me crazy." As she readjusted her hair, Spy took in her heart shaped face, as pleasing to the eye as her curves.

"You are from Texas?" 

"Yes…. you ever been to Texas, Mister Auditoree?"

Texas. The land of mad men, ridiculous made up sports and cow pastures as far as the eye could see. "I've never been. But I have seen all the cowboy films!" he added with an innocent smile.

She giggled again, wrinkling her delicate nose,  "Well sugah, Ah hate to disappoint yah but Texas ain't quite like the movies."

"Few things are." he agreed with a shrug.  

"Ah've always wanted to go to Italy, see Rome"

"Maybe you will someday."

"If ah do, maybe you could… show me around." she suggested batting her eyes at him.

"It would be an honor," he replied silkily. 

"Yah got any family back home?" she asked moving her chair closer.

"Oh yes," he lied glibly, "Five brothers and sisters. I am the oldest."  

"So tell me, Lorenzo," Pamela asked, uncrossing her shapely legs. "Is there a Mrs. Auditoree?"

"I'm not married," his lips quirked up in a smile as he felt the brush of her high heeled foot against his leg. He flicked some ash off his cigarette and glanced down at his watch. It was a quarter past eleven; he was supposed to be looking for the enemy Spy and still had no idea where he was. He certainly wasn't going to find the man sitting here.

"Signora Riggs," he stood up, bowing slightly to her and offering his hand, "Would you care to dance?"

"Why, Mister Auditoree, I would love to!" 

-----------------------------------------------

They joined the crowd of couples dancing,  just another pair ready to ring in the new year. Glancing around the room while they danced Spy noted the hotel security seemed to have finished their jobs and disappeared. One less concern. Now, if only he could find the person he came here to find.

The pair made their way around the dance floor, the music slowing, taking on a sweet sentimental note as the hour of midnight drew closer. He made idle mindless chatter with the girl as she held him close, warm cheek against his shoulder, and he looked over her shoulder at the party guests around them.  He was beginning to doubt he'd ever find the RED Spy in this crowd.

Finally, just as he was about concede this night to failure, a spot of red flashed in the corner of his eye. Spinning his partner around abruptly, he got a clear view of a couple on the other side of the dance floor. There at last was the RED Spy - wearing his normal red balaclava with a painted carnival mask over it. His hands held protectively onto his slender dancing partner in a simple, elegant blue dress.  There was a familiarity,an intimacy between the couple that suggested this was more than a simple fling.  The woman smiled as the man whispered something in her ear. She adjusted her mask, briefly revealing her face.  Spy nearly froze in mid step as he placed her from photos in his dossier files.

He had hoped to catch the RED Spy in a compromising situation- something he could use as leverage against him, but this was unexpected. This was even better than he had hoped for. It had never occurred to him the man would be courting the mother of an enemy team mate. And there really was no doubt who the woman was, the family resemblance was quite strong. He chuckled to himself as he imagined what sort of reaction Scout would have if he heard his mother was dating the enemy Spy.

"What's so funny?" his own partner asked raising her head, her hand tightening on his shoulder.

"Nothing - Tesoro," he answered automatically, watching, tracking every  movement of his objective. He needed to get pictures of this. He needed proof.

As if in response, the woman pressed closer. He bit the inside of his lip as he felt curve of the woman's breasts rub against him, drawing his eye irresistibly to her lovely expanse of cleavage between them. His charming company was starting to be an interference. He'd have to get these pictures taken quickly before he forgot his mission altogether.  Gently, he guided his dance partner closer to the target for a better picture.  Now if only he could pry the girl off of him long enough to get the photos.

Waiters came around offering trays of champagne to the guests. Midnight was fast approaching and could not be faced with an empty glass. Keeping a cautious eye on his targets, he quickly shrugged out of Pamela's arms and took two glasses from a passing server.

Passing a glass to the girl with a smile he took a sip of his own, slipping his free hand into his jacket pocket where the cameras shutter release was. Leaning away from his partner he glanced past her to see the RED Spy and his paramour leaning closely together still dancing. He snapped a few pictures as he sipped his champagne.

The crowd excitedly started counting down.

"FIVE!" 

Spy glanced quickly from the stage back to the RED Spy with his arm around the woman's waist. With a squeeze of a button his camera recorded the moment on film. 

"FOUR!" he slipped an arm around Pamela, the woman exuberantly leaning into him.

"THREE!"

"TWO!"

"ONE!"

The room erupted with cheers as the band began a lively rendition of Aud Lang Syne.  Spy leaned down and kissed her. He was about to pull away but she gripped his lapel tightly, a smile playing on those red lips her hand moving towards his face. To remove his mask. Gently batting her hand away, he untied it himself to reveal his face. Pleased with the illusion, she kissed him again. This time with an undeniable  heated insistence. His pulse quickened as the woman pressed closer to him, her hands finding their way past his jacket, tugging on his tie. Her eager kisses made him promises he fully intended to hold her to.       

“Order us a bottle of wine for my room, darlin'.”

-----------------------------------------------------

The room was dim, lit only by the city lights that streamed in through the half drawn curtains.  It was that ugly time of night when it was too late to bother with sleep and too early to be properly awake.  This was normally a time Spy slept through unless he had business that called for otherwise. And yet, here he was resentfully awake.

His evening, all things considered, had been a success. The party had been more civilized than his usual surroundings and the job had been more challenging than outsmarting a group of half-mad imbeciles on a battlefield. Not only that, but he had finally learned the true manner of the RED Spy's trips, and the identity of his paramour. Valuable information he could find good uses for.  An excellent start to the new year.  He should be pleased with himself. But he wasn't.

The girl turned over in her sleep, muttering something softly. His gaze turned to her and his eyes slowly traced the curves of her body, apparent even obscured by the blankets. That was something else Tuefort didn't offer him.  There was plenty of sand, plenty of explosions, plenty of idiots but no suitable bed partners. The girl, her name had currently slipped his memory, stirred again. She was attractive enough, but something about her grated him. Lately, he'd been restless, some craving or other had been bothering him. He had hoped the sex would get it out of his system, it had been far too long since he'd slept with anyone. But it seemed he was still unsatisfied. The girl's attributes, charming as they had been during the party, had worn thin and now he was tired of her.

Sitting up, carefully so not to awaken his bed partner, he reached for his cigarette case and lighter.  As an afterthought he picked up the ash tray as well. Fluidly he lit a cigarette and exhaled the smoke with a sigh before settling back down on the pillows. He folded his arms out behind his head and glared in near accusation at the ceiling, trying to relax enough to doze for at least a little while.

The Frenchman puffed irritably on his cigarette, unable to clear his head. Despite his successful trip he felt he was missing something. But what? He went over all the possible options in his head, nothing had been forgotten or over looked. All his tracks had been covered, all his false names unnoticed. The night had gone off without a hitch. And he ended the night in arms of a beautiful woman. What more could he want? Sleep was going to elude him, he might as well get back to work. Grudgingly, he began picking his clothes up from where they had been thrown on the floor as they had made their way to the bed earlier. He redressed in the dark, a skill acquired from years of practice. Pulling his jacket on, he quietly picked up his cigarette case and lighter from the night table, cast one last cursory glance around the room. Certain that he had left no trace but the fading scent of cigarette smoke, he slipped out the door to the hotel corridor. The girl slept on none the wiser to his leaving.

--------------------------------------------

A shower and fresh clothes had done a bit to lift restless Spy's spirits. And the contents of that roll of film would do more to lighten his mood. Taking his tuxedo jacket from the back of the chair where he had left it, he began unpinning the miniature camera and shutter release from his suit. The camera, when removed from his jacket was the size of a walnut. But tiny as it was it had been one of his most expensive purchases from SpyCo to date. He had taken to wearing it fairly regularly, though whether it was preparedness to take a picture at a moment's notice or simply to justify the amount of money  he'd spent on said tool, he wasn't going to admit to himself.

He unlatched his suitcase, careful not to set off the tear gas bomb and began pulling out the equipment he would need. A bag of what looked like and were labeled as soaps, aftershaves and colognes, along with what looked like a metal thermos. Everything he would need to develop film while traveling, all designed to look unassuming and unsuspicious.

 The small camera was slipped in his pocket and the bag and thermos were taken in the bathroom. He shoved one of the plush hotel towels into the crack in the door and placed the bag and thermos on the counter. Taking the lid off the thermos he twisted it on an unseen seam in the middle and it opened another compartment. He arranged this parts precisely on the counter making notes of their location.  With a flick of the light switch the room was pitch black.

 Dexterously, Spy removed the camera from his pocket and flicked open the back of it and carefully pulled out the tiny spindle of film. Uncurling the long celluloid strip it into looser coils he dropped it inside the thermos and screwed the whole thing back together. Once the film was in the light tight canister the light was flicked back on.  Through the top of the thermos he filled it with tap water, added the contents of a small "shampoo" bottle, put the lid back on the top of it and shook it to mix the chemicals.  Now there was little to do but wait. With a sigh he walked back into the hotel suite, lit himself a cigarette and leaned against the doorjamb of the bathroom, exhaling smoke impatiently waiting for the film to develop.

He flicked some ash off his cigarette and looked at his watch, ten more minutes.  As enjoyable as the trip had been his holiday was rapidly coming to an end.  Too soon he'd have to return back to the desert, back to the base, far away from civilization. Back to the same repetitive conflict, with the same imbeciles and maniacs. Little of challenge or interest to him. Well, besides the pay check. Though the Engineer had provided some entertainment for a time. 

He wondered idly what the cowboy had done for the New Year. Probably nothing, if his lack luster celebration of Noel was any indication. He pictured the silly little man in his workshop fuming at his crippled radio and eating out of a tin can. If the man bothered to eat at all. The Frenchman tsked, turning the film canister over in his hands, that was no way for a person to live. What the man needed was for someone to drag him out from his hermitage, away from his machines and drawings and out into the world. Maybe dress him better while they were at it.

He froze; why should it matter to him what the man did? The American was kilometers away, and he had no obligation to him. None whatsoever. The Texan had been, after all, nothing more than a project to pass the time.  An opponent in what had turned out to be a deliciously elaborate game.  The Texan could starve to death in his little mouse hole and he would not shed any tears or lose any sleep. He would regret only the passing of a challenging opponent, nothing more. Irritably, he thumped the canister on the counter and removed the lid.

Besides, he reminded himself, the game was over. Pouring the developer out of the tank into the sink he refilled it with water, added a few drops from his chemical bag and shook the mixture together. He had no reason to worry about or deal with the man anymore. There hadn't even really been reason to visit the man at Christmas. With or without his help the Engineer seemed to have gotten his head back into his work. Cooking the man a meal had been unnecessary. Frowning, he rapped the tank on the counter. He was allowing himself to get sentimental. That was a dangerous luxury afforded only for widows and orphans. Not men in his line of work. He'd learned that the hard way.

The game with the Texan was through. The tank hit the counter with a loud thunk as he rapped it again. Finished. He had other concerns to deal with. Concerns that didn't involve some silly, trigger happy American. He glanced at his watch and gave the tank one final shake before deciding it was finished.

Smiling to himself, he unscrewed the middle of the tank and pulled the film reel out and un rolling the film he wiped the liquid off with his hands to peer at the negatives. His smile collapsed as he squinted at the images "Quel bordel…" he swore under his breath. The pictures were unusable. "Bordel de merde." Spy ran the narrow film through his fingers desperate to get an image, any image. Something. Every exposure was ruined. Cloudy. Fogged. Frantically, he ran over in his mind the possibilities. What could have gone wrong? The chemicals were fresh, the timing perfect, the film was new. He had just put it in his camera before Christmas….

Christmas. A possibility occurred to him. The camera had been in his jacket that night on the RED base. Had whatever the Texan done to sabotage his equipment ruined his film? It was the only real explanation he could think of.

Leaning against the bathroom counter, Spy let the useless film slide out of his hands and flutter to the ground. He might be through with the cowboy, but it turned out the man had last laugh after all.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Take that, ya bloody sneak!" 

Spy bit back a swear and dove out of the way of a rather inconveniently aimed jarate.  Returning to the desert and the routine after New Year's hadn't been as bad as Spy thought it would be, it was worse. The jar of urine missed him and splashed down the wall a meter away.

He ducked around a corner and with a push of a button he faded from view. Pulling his knife from his pocket he listened carefully for footsteps to hear if the Sniper was in pursuit. What he heard instead was a muffled swear and a beep followed by an explosion. The Sniper had other problems right now. He departed from the scene quickly, no sense waiting around to be noticed. He stalked down the hall, deeper into the base. The sounds of the explosions and gunfire faded as he made his way down the stairs into the office, where the intelligence- and the cowboy almost certainly- was.

Sure enough, he could hear the beep of the man's machines as he reached the base of the stairs. Peering around a corner he found the Texan and his toys. The man was alone tinkering with a dispenser, there was no sign of the Pyro around. Slipping around the perimeter, Spy pulled a sapper from his jacket and attached it to the side of the sentry and quickly stepped away from it, ducking behind a filing cabinet. The hiss and pop of the sapper alerted the Texan who immediately whirled around, looking around in tense suspicion, but unable to see the Frenchman silently sidle up to him.  The sapper was knocked away and the Texan glanced around again before starting to repair the damage.

He plunged the knife into the man's back, there was a quiet raspas the Engineer slumped to the ground like one of his out of commission machines.  He stared down at the man's motionless corpse on the floor as the blood from the wound soaked through the man's clothing. Distracted, he'd forgotten about the sentry gun slowly coming back online. He didn't realize his mistake until he heard the beep and the bullets cut through him. 

The next thing he knew he was squinting into the bright light of the Respawn room, his head buzzing. Rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand he tried to clear his head of the image of the dead Texan burned into the backs of his eye lids.

His mind went back to the image of the cowboy laying on the concrete like a broken machine. This was a very inconvenient time to be developing a conscience. He was too old to be rethinking his career now. The day was far from over and he had a job to do. Angrily, he straightened his tie and walked out of the Respawn door.  How dare that stupid Texan make him feel bad for doing his job, he'd go back to the RED base and give that damn cowboy a piece of his mind.

-------------------------------------------------

Working his way back into base this time had been easier. BLU had broken RED front lines and chaos ensued as both sets of mercenaries clamored for the upper hand . No one noticed the Frenchman slip through the mess, helping add to the confusion as he made his way deeper inside the base.  The halls of the RED base echoed with explosions, and he guessed Demo had gotten inside. He crept past a rather messy blood splatter on a wall and walked down the stairs to the office and the Texan.  He paused, footsteps and the squeak of rubber echo up the hall alerting him to the coming of the enemy Pyro rushing to no doubt the same goal. He caught the monster smoothly by the elbow snapping him around. Before the creature could react he met the back of it's neck with his blade slicing through rubber and skin and bone. If there was any in there to cut, it was hard to tell though all the asbestos. He released his grasp on the maniac's arm and the figure collapsed like a puppet with it's string cut. He grit his teeth as his cloak flickered back on and he made his way down the stairs.

Down the hall was the sound of another explosion, gun shots and a body hitting the floor. He walked on silently, stepping over the body of his team's demo man and the mess that used to be the Scot's head.

Engineer was in the corner of the room near his smoldering dispenser, a quickly healing gash on his shoulder and his shotgun clutched in his hands. The Sentry was in scorched pieces and Spy had to tread carefully not to tread on the rubble and alert the Texan of his presence.  Walking around he made his way to finish the Texan off.  

He stood poised ready to kill the man, a quick stab in the back and the man would be finished. He hesitated.  The image of the man's dead body laying on the floor flashed in his mind.  It was just a moment but it was long enough. The Texan flexed his healed arm and stepped back  - bumping into the Frenchman. Spy froze, horrified.  The stock of the man's shotgun had swung into his diaphragm before he could react. He gasped, his cloak sputtering and he found himself face to face with the angry Engineer. The man swung again - acting on instinct, Spy stepped back and the gun whistled past him, missing him by mere centimeters. He countered, slashing at the man and dodging another swing. Stepping sideways he tried to evade another swig. Stars exploded in his vision when the Texan's blow managed to slam into his eye socket knocking him backwards.

The Engineer swung again but Spy managed to grab the rifle and pull the man closer.  A quick jab to the man's kidneys and it was over. Panting, the Frenchman pulled the knife back out letting the man sink to the floor in a heap, groaning his last. 

Blood soaked into his mask, plastering it to his forehead. Gingerly, Spy's fingers grazed the cut, he winced.  Painful but not serious, he could feel the start of a black eye that would swell up if he let it, minor injuries.  Wiping the blade and placing it back in his jacket he stepped over the Texan's rag doll corpse, unable to make himself look at it. The man would be out of Respawn soon enough and he did not intend to be here when he returned.

--------

The day wore on as Spy made himself useful in the skirmish. Stab the Medic while pretending to be wounded Scout, shoot the drunken Scotsman as he stumbled his way out of Respawn, invisibly tripping the Abomination down the sewer stairs. It was getting late in the afternoon as he climbed, up to where the RED Sniper was shooting from. The man was in rare form today and causing considerable trouble for BLU's renewed assault. Taking care of him shouldn't be too difficult and would help end the day on a more pleasant note. He hugged the wall as he rounded the corner and nearly ran into the Texan with his toolbox slung over his shoulder. Why was the man out here? 

He watched the man walk along the ledge - probably looking for a strategic place to build…whatever it was he came out of his hole to build. Spy hesitated and was about to turn and find something else to do, someone else to bother, when the blue dot caught his eye. The scope of his own team's Sniper, lining up a shot. The cowboy hadn't noticed at all. He'd walk right into it.

On impulse,  he stretched his fingers and got a grip on the man's coverall straps. With one firm tug, he managed to pull the man off balance and the Texan stumbled back a few steps, behind cover.  Breaking from Spy's grip the cowboy whirled around, his free hand slamming into the Frenchman who appeared out of thin air. His eyes were obscured by his goggles but that didn't make Engineer's fury any less obvious.  Spy's mind fumbled for a word, an action, a reason, but failed to find anything. He didn't even notice the Texan shift the toolbox off his shoulder, only briefly saw the box swing at him with a speed that seemed impossible and felt the impact as it slammed into his head.   

Back in Respawn with his head aching his heart pounding, Spy had the impression that he'd been hit by a truck. That had been foolish, he hissed to himself as he pulled out a cigarette. Stupid. Impulsive. Sabotaging a teammate - breaking cover to help an enemy. Stupid. Illogical. He massaged his temple gently, soothing his phantom headache. Why had he done that? He had nothing to gain from saving the Texan and less than nothing to gain by sabotaging a member of his own team. He had nothing personal against the BLU Sniper and little reason to mess up the man's shot. In fact, he'd a lot to explain if someone realized what he had done.

What had possessed him to do such a stupid thing?  It was almost as if he'd developed a soft spot for the silly little man. But that was ridiculous, he told himself. Laughable even.  Cold realization washed over him, freezing him to the spot. He should be laughing at such a notion, he insisted.

"You alright, Frenchie? I saw yer head fly off - musta been like twenty feet." Scout asked jostling past him.

 Spy mumbled an inaudible response, unlit cigarette dangled from his lips. It was a joke.  Men in his line of work didn't develop attachments to their mark. That was unprofessional. Sloppy. A rookie mistake. He should be laughing. His mind went back to seeing the Texan slumped on the floor like a broken toy.  The more he thought about it, the more he realized he wasn't laughing. His knees buckled and he sank onto the bench behind him.  Feebly, he pulled his lighter from his pocket and after a few tries managed to light his cigarette.

"Merde," he muttered quietly, his mind tuning out the bustle and explosions of the conflict outside the room. He puffed on the cigarette holding the smoke in before releasing it in a long slow sigh.  "Mon Dieu."

--------

Miss Pauling leaned back in her chair and enjoyed a peaceful moment with her cup of coffee. Ignoring for a moment the beeping monitors and mountains of paperwork that never seemed to shrink no matter what she did. She leaned into the mug enjoying the aroma and feel of the steam on her face.The moment was rudely interrupted by the shrill ring of the phone. She glanced at the desk. The phone rang again, a blue light on the dial flashing with every ring. She should probably answer that, someone had probably exploded again, or been arrested. With a resigned sigh she set down her mug and picked up the receiver. 

"Builders League United," she answered brightly.

"Miss Pauling."  a familiar accented voice purred into the phone.

"Spy - she answered brusquely.

"Ah, Miss Pauling, how ar-"

"What happened?" she asked, cutting the Frenchman off, envisioning the disaster that must have unfolded for Spy to call the main office.  

"Nothing you need to worry about. Everything here is running smoothly. Well as smooth as can be expected."

"So why are you calling?" she asked cooly.

" Merely a personal matter, I'm afraid I need to take some leave."

"You need leave?" she asked incredulously, "Just after Swissmas?"

"Alas, I find myself with a family emergency."  

"A family emergency." she repeated flatly.

"Oui - my beloved Grand-mere died. It was very sudden."

"Your… grandmother."

"My last remaining relative, she was sick for a while but just when they thought she was getting better…" he trailed off theatrically, "Tragedy. I am inconsolable," he added in a tone that suggested he was far from it.   

"So you want time off to attend her funeral." she stated seeing clearly where this conversation was headed.

"She was very dear to me." Spy insisted again. "I need to make the proper arrangements, lay her to rest and sort out her affairs."

The story was a fabrication, there was no doubt in her mind otherwise.  But if she pressed the issue she also had no doubt that Spy would present any number of documents insisting that he did indeed have a dead grandmother who needed to be buried. And while he was at it, probably a note from a doctor explaining scientifically just how bereft and grief stricken he was.

"So how long do you need to handle these 'family affairs'?" she asked.

"Three weeks should be enough, there's the family estate to handle, the vineyards, the polo-"

"Two weeks."

"Very well, I shall try to wrap everything up and be back here in two weeks."

"You will be back in two weeks." she insisted firmly. The unspoken threat of what would happen to him if he failed to appear remained unsaid.

"Mm, two weeks then."

"Good. Now if you'll excuse me, I have work to do. And you have a funeral to plan."

"Yes indeed. Good bye Miss Pauling. I'll be back before the end of the month."

"Good-bye" she sighed, putting the phone back on the receiver. 

____

Spy hung up the phone with a mute sigh of relief. His story had not been believed, but it had been accepted. It made little difference if Miss Pauling had believed him,  he had never expected her to.  As long as they accepted he was leaving.

Turning on his heel, he walked down the hall to the barracks to pack. The rest of the team was eating dinner and wouldn't notice his departure. He'd leave a note explaining the death of his beloved grandmother and his subsequent absence. Which sounded much better than the actual truth of the matter.

 He needed to get off this base. Away from this town. Away from silly Texans  and all these bad decisions.  Get away,  get some distance from everything. Surely that's all he needed. Clear his head, get his mind off things. And people.  A couple weeks traveling, some much needed rest and recreation and he'd be back in the game. That's all this was. He was tired and his mind was playing tricks on him. He was going soft. A change of scenery, that would help get his edge back.  

It was quarter to six, he noted glancing at his watch, he would need to hurry if he wanted to catch the train out of Tuefort tonight. He would make arrangements for a jet once he got out of this blasted desert.  To Florence,  Paris, or maybe the Côte d'Azur. He would figure that out later.  The sooner he was away from here the better, he fumed unlocking his door. He quickly stepped over the trip wire shutting the door behind him, and shoved a picture aside flicked a switch to turn off the alarm.

His room was fairly plain, no open decoration or momentos. Unlike his RED counterpart he hadn't seen fit to replace the furniture. He'd stayed in worse places and the battered furniture was serviceable enough. This was a job not his home.

 There were few personal mementos to see. He'd traveled lightly over the years keeping everything to the essentials. Just clothes and his equipment. There'd never been much of material value he'd grown attached to.

 He took his suitcase off the top of the wardrobe and tossed it on the bed. Delicately, he opened it without setting off any traps, and began throwing clothes into it. Socks, clean shirts, boxers, ties, slacks, tuxedo, and some false beards. He tossed in his micro camera and the toiletry bag, just in case.  His trench coat was pulled from the wardrobe and placed on the bed. Reaching up on the top shelf he felt around for his folding umbrella gun. As he pulled the umbrella down a flurry of hats slid off the wardrobe shelf, raining down over his head. Grumbling he scooped them off the floor, fishing his fedora out and setting it aside he pitched the rest back in the wardrobe with little care, he froze as he picked up the last hat off the floor. The stupid burgundy cap from Thanksgiving. His lips quirked into a smile before he could stop himself, his mind going back to that night. The Frenchman swallowed, his throat suddenly tight. He flung the hat inside the wardrobe as if it had stung him.

He tossed the umbrella in the suit case and stalked across the room to the desk, opening the bottom drawer. Removing the false bottom, he pulled out a packet of cash and a handful of passports and identifications. Perching on the edge of his desk, he flipped through them mulling over names and cover stories. Not thinking about the cowboy's smile, not thinking about the man's incandescent joy, the warmth of the man's arms around him. He was not going to think about that at all.

 Finally, he settled on a passport and set of papers. Placing the rest back in the drawer he replaced the false bottom and slammed the drawer shut. His travel papers and money were tucked inside his jacket pocket, he should only need the one identity for this trip and he'd get more money from his accounts if he needed it. He glanced at his watch again and grimaced, right now he needed to leave.

A note explaining his absence was quickly written up, he'd hang it on his door on the way out. After making certain he had everything he needed, the suitcase was snapped shut and his trench coat slung over his shoulder.  He slipped his hat on and walked to the door. One switch turned the alarms back on, and another turned the light off as he slipped out the door.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Engineer heard a noise and looked over his shoulder to find… nothing. Nothing and no one. Frowning, he went back to tightening the bolts on the Sentry. Hearing footsteps down the hall he looked up again to see Pyro entering the room.

"Heya, pardner," he said quietly, patting the firebug roughly on the shoulder. His hand rested on rubber and asbestos, and Pyro looked just the same as he always did. No disguises.  Pyro stood there patiently - long used to the Texan's paranoid habits. Once assured that Pyro was in fact Pyro he turned back to tightening the bolts that probably didn't need any attention.

It had been a week since he had seen the BLU Spy. The damn Frenchman hadn't been around in days. Not that he missed him. He just found the snake's absence odd. Unnerving. The first few days he wondered if this was some new strategy. Lull him into a false sense of security and just when he didn't expect anything… pop up again like a weed and stab him in the back.

Except Spy hadn't appeared to stab him in the back. The Spook hadn't  shown up at all.

The talks and grumbles around the mess hall at meals revealed that no one had seen hide nor hair of the man.  Not since the last time Engineer had knocked his head across the base. At the time he had been rather pleased with himself for a job well done. The snake's head had achieved a rather nice arc as it sailed over the skirmish. But now he thought back with a stomach churning worry. Had he killed the man? Permanently? It was possible he supposed, that there had been a Respawn glitch and the man had died.

It wasn't that he liked the man. The smug bastard was always prying, causing trouble, plaguing him. Even Spy's few acts of kindness had been acts of pity. To show him how pathetic he was. No, he definitely didn't like the man. But neither did he hate him enough to want to murder him. Well not forever anyway.

Though the rest of BLU team acted just the same. If there had been a glitch he would have expected some caution or hesitance on the other team's part. A day off for a system's check. Revenge. Mourning. Something. Some sort of reaction.

Maybe none of them liked the bastard enough to mourn or care. Horrible as it was it didn't seem unlikely. He tried to calculate how upset his own team would be if certain members died and never came back. It was an unsettling equation in values that one couldn't put into numbers and he quickly abandoned it before he came to any unpleasant answers.

Besides if the man was dead, wouldn't BLU send a replacement? Mercenaries were easily replaceable, RED's own management was fond of reminding them. But no there had been no sign of a new hire.

Logic insisted the man was probably not dead. Spy had probably gone off… somewhere. Wherever it was he went when he wasn't sneaking around shadowing him. Though if the man had gone somewhere he could have said something. Told him.

He froze in embarrassed confusion, why would the man tell him? They weren't friends. They were enemies, or near enough to it. The man had no reason to tell him his travel plans anymore than Engineer had any reason to know them. If it had been him going off on leave for… whatever reason, he certainly wouldn't tell the enemy Spy about it.

Though he suspected if he did go on leave, Spy would know without being told where he was. Or if he was alright. Or even alive.

-----------------------------------

Spy leaned back on the plush hotel pillows taking another drag from his cigarette half listening to the lulling sound of his handsome bed partner's voice. He couldn't remember the man's name, but that hardly mattered. In the morning they would go their separate ways  never to see each other again. It had been a wonderful night, he hadn't thought of the Texan once.

"-You know that scooter of yours." the man paused waiting for his response.

"Hmm?" he replied noncommittally, unsure where this conversation was going. His companion had proven to be a very enthusiastic lover, he was willing to tolerate some eccentricities at the moment.

"It sounds terrible."

Spy bristled but listened in silence as the man went on with his unlikely pillow talk.

"I'm surprised it runs. I could look at it for you. "

"You're a mechanic?" he asked with a frown, sitting upright in the bed. 

"No, no," the man laughed warmly. "I'm an engineer for Aerospatiale, I design rockets.  Fixing up cars and engines is a hobby."

The evening had been going so well. Good food, good wine, enchanting company and he hadn't been reminded once of the damn Engineer. Until now. 

Spy stared at the man, previously a handsome diversion, a pleasant stranger for an idle evening. But now all he could see were the ways  the man wasn't like the damn cowboy.  Tall where the Texan was short, bold instead of soft spoken, slim rather than stocky. The differences suddenly seemed jarring, disappointing.

"A vespa should be no problem after dealing with rockets all day." the man insisted. But Spy wasn't hearing him, his mind was reeling back to the desert and the idiot he left in it.

"Get out," Spy said. He was supposed to be forgetting the man not seeing him in every stranger.

"What?" the man laughed in disbelief,. "Why?" 

"I said get out." he repeated coldly.

"You're serious?" the man's smile faded into confusion which quickly turned into anger when he realized Spy wasn't joking, "You're serious." he repeated.

"Leave."  he pointed the incredulous man to the door.

""Crazy lunatic!"  the man spat at him climbing out of the bed.

"Asshole," he fumed on as he found his trousers, yanking them on. He raged on as he slipped on his shirt, muttering about Spy's unlikely parentage as he buttoned it up.  "You can go fuck a cow."

Spy, sat wordless and motionless on the bed, watching the man get dressed.

"Offer to be helpful and the bastard throws me out." The man snarled to himself while he pulled on his shoes. Finally, he picked up his jacket from the back of the chair where and pulled it on over his rumpled clothing.

"You can go fuck off to hell on that broken scooter of yours," he snapped as he slammed the door leaving Spy alone in a cloud of cigarette smoke. Burying his face in his hands he sighed, “I need a drink” he muttered to the empty room.

-----------                                                 

I get along without you very well. Of course I do,The tinny radio on the counter warbled, providing background noise for his thoughts. Except when soft rains fall. The Frenchman ground another cigarette stub into the ash tray and with a gesture ordered another drink from the bar tender. After he  had thrown the blasted engineer out he found himself restless. And drip from leaves, then I recall. The thrill of being sheltered in your arms. The hotel room was stifling with nothing there but his suit case and his thoughts. Though going to the bar hadn't done much to clear his head.

Of course, I do. But I get along without you very well. He hadn't been in the mood for any of the noisy tourist bars and had ended up in a small, quiet local establishment that reeked of smoke, beer and disappointment.  This suited his mood just fine.

I've forgotten you just like I should. This was pathetic he fumed, knocking back another drink. Without prompting the bartender refilled it, experienced in the wordless language of miserable, fed up men. Of course I have.He had traveled halfway across the globeto forget the silly Texan but he seemed to be failing at that endeavor. Except to hear your name. Or someone's laugh that is the same.  Even when he wasn't comparing recent lovers to the man he found little things reminded him. It seemed impossible but even in France, his home, an ocean and what might as well be another world away, he would still find reminders of the Texan.  But I've forgotten you just like I should. A farm truck on the road, a guitar player on the street corner, a construction worker with his hardhat tucked under his arm.All of these were enough to send his mind back to the Engineer.

 What a guy, what a fool am I. The few moments when he didn't think of the man he'd notice and congratulate himself on not remembering him and suddenly his thoughts would be of nothing but. The sound of his voice, his smile. To think my breaking heart could kid the moon.

What's in store? He took a sip of his drink and wondered idly what the Texan was doing right now. He glanced at his watch, back at Tuefort it would be the middle of the afternoon and the fighting would be resuming after lunch. The cowboy had probably noticed he was gone. Did he care? Did he miss him? Would he wonder where he was? Likely not, he told himself. They were enemies after all. If Engineer felt anything about his absence it would be happiness. Relief. Should I phone once more?

Angrily, he lit another cigarette exhaling smoke and frustration and adding both to the miserable haze of the room. No it’s best that I stick to my tune. One thing he knew for sure, the Texan wasn't suffering like he was. How had this happened to him? This entire situation was ridiculous. It should never have happened.

Never get involved, never get attached. Make acquaintances not friends. Trysts not affairs. Basic tenets he'd learned a long time ago and lived by. Tenets he should have followed. He should have left the man alone. Alone to sulk and moan and weep over his broken marriage and lost cow wife. 

 But he hadn't left the man alone to his misery, had he? He had to go meddle and get involved. At some point, he couldn't figure out when exactly, he started caring. Maybe after the game or at the diner, or Noel. Or the drive back to the base. Or any other little moment. It didn't matter when, the damage was done and he found himself caring. Caring. A foolish and treacherous enterprise he reminded himself, staring at the last traces of his drink at the bottom of his glass.

 It wasn't just the caring, it was getting attached to a silly little farmer. A cowboy who talked like a character in a western. A laborer who smelled like engine grease and dressed like a classless buffoon. An enemy whose work he was supposed to undermine and destroy. Who would destroy him and had done so on the occasions he'd been too careless. The whole notion was ridiculous. And dangerous. Conflict of interest would barely begin to describe this,  he buried his face in his hands and debated ordering another drink when the jukebox changed its tune.

 He peered from his hand in mute horror as he realized he recognized the opening  guitar strains. "Your baby doesn't love you anymore." The language was French, but the song was horribly familiar. Gritting his teeth he thought back to another night in another bar where this song had played endlessly. That night months ago, when he had followed the Texan off base and, in disguise, witnessed the man start a drunken fight and get arrested. Engineer had asked him what his intent was when he bailed the Texan out of jail. At the time the plan seemed straightforward enough. Now. He mused looking down at his empty glass, there was no plan. He had no idea what he was going to do now.

Golden days before they end. The radio warbled on. No, he wasn't doing this. He wasn't going to sit around a bar drinking and sulking while listening to ridiculous songs. Certainly not this ridiculous song. No. He was better than that. He had dignity. Self respect.

Reaching into his jacket he pulled out a large bill and slapped it on the bar. He slipped on his hat and was out of the door before the ridiculous torch song could reach the chorus.

Spy stepped into the evening air and paused to light a cigarette. He took a drag from his cigarette, his hands jammed in his pockets, he walked down the narrow sidewalk with no real destination in mind. He wasn't ready to go back to the hotel. There was nothing for him to do there but sleep and pace the floors.He'd had enough of pacing and his mind was too restless for sleep.  Finding another lover for the night might pass the time, but the idea left a bitter taste in his mouth. All his attempts at distraction had proven pointless, he'd be fooling himself to think another try would work.

His vacation would soon be over and he'd have to go back. Back to the desert, all the explosions, the idiots. And the cowboy.  He couldn't avoid it. He might manage it for a month or so but BLU wasn't the sort of employer you walked away from. Not that he was going to let some silly mechanic chase him away from a job, he was a professional after all. 

He stepped across the narrow street so lost in thought that he hadn't noticed the first few raindrops fall on the pavement.  First a few, then more followed until the rain poured down and Spy found himself in the middle of the sidewalk standing in a deluge. Spy hunched and turned up his collar and thought wistfully of his umbrella, back at the hotel where he left it, dry and useless. He swore under his breath as cold water dripped off his hat brim and down the back of his neck.  He sprinted along the sidewalk through the rapidly forming puddles finally stopping under an awning for shelter. He tossed his waterlogged cigarette into the gutter and pulled another one out of his damp jacket to light. The flame of the lighter was a brief warmth on his face and his soaked mask.  Irritably he puffed on the cigarette and peered from under the canopy at the storm in vain hopes it would let up soon. A young couple jostled past him laughing as they huddled under a newspaper for cover, seemingly oblivious to the cold and wet. Turning his back on the street he looked idly in the shop window behind him and froze.

The store whose awning he was currently huddled under was apparently a small toy shop. The window was filled with a display of toy airplanes, dolls and other childish trinkets.  Propped up against a toy car was a plush bear in goggles, and a hardhat. Resting his hand on the glass Spy chuckled softly to himself as he noted it was even in red overalls. He turned away from the window to look at the falling rain that was starting to let up. Cautiously he stepped out from under the awning and started to walk away from the store. The jingle keys caused him to turn and look back over his shoulder at the shop. An old man had stepped out and was locking up for the night.

“Excuse me, Monsieur,” Spy, seized by impulse, called out to him, “How much for the bear in the window?”

 

Chapter Text

It was still early in the day, the front lines had yet to break and the Engineer found himself alone, as he had been for the past week and a half.  After the first few days of quiet Pyro had apparently decided he could take care of things without help and had gleefully gone off lighting people ablaze elsewhere. He did miss the company in the echoing corridors but there really was no sense in just keeping the firebug here. Not with the BLU Spy still absent from the skirmishes. It was starting to seem the snake was never going to turn up again.

The Texan sighed and looked at the sentry scanning the room, beeping cheerily to itself. It should be alright for a while he decided, picking up his tool box. He was just going to set up a dispenser closer to the front lines and come back. Might as well try to be useful instead of standing here gathering dust.

Walking up the hall he could hear the faint sounds of explosions and gun shots from outside. But the chaos would soon break the lines and press further into the building. He caught a whiff of smoke as he climbed up the stairs, the fighting must be closer than he'd originally thought.

There was a sharp yell and the Texan froze on the landing as a rocket roared past his nose, missing whatever it had been aiming for, and sailed on down the hall. Moving quickly, he ducked behind the nearest outcropping that provided some cover. He had begun setting up the Dispenser when Demo dove behind the same partition.

"Did anyone slip past yah, lad?"  the man panted through grit teeth while reloading his grenade launcher.

"What?" Engineer looked up briefly from his work. "No - I didn't see-" a sudden outbreak of gunfire cut him off. 

Demo peered around the corner and shot off a grenade - it bounced down the hall and went off with an explosion, yells and a rather moist splatter. He ducked back behind the outcrop as the Texan put the finishing touches on the dispenser. The machine came to life with a reassuring hum.  Leaning cautiously out of cover, Engineer glanced up and down the hall and was just about to make a break for it when the Scotsman grabbed his arm.

"Watch yerself," the man rasped, leaving the the strong scent of liquor hanging in the air, "Backstabbin' snake's out there."

"Oh," Engineer swallowed, his mouth going dry. Was the bastard back? Had BLU replaced him? Not that it mattered, of course. These were stupid questions. "I'll keep a lookout." he said in what he hoped was an assertive tone.  Making a break for it, he pulled his pistol from its holster and bolted for the stairway before more shots were fired.

"YE WEE LASSES READY FOR SOME REAL FIGHTIN!?" the Scotsman's battle cry echoed off the walls before being drowned out by the sound of battle. The Texan quickened his pace down the stairs, no sense waiting around for trouble to find him.  Not when he could face it under better circumstances.

Once at the bottom of the stairs he glanced up - in time to see a baseball bounce down the stairs unattached to its owner. It seemed Demo was holding off the onslaught on his own. Satisfied his assistance wasn't needed, Engineer made his way back to the intelligence, to his sentry. He had already turned the corner when he realized he wasn't hearing the beep of the sentry. Someone had gotten past him. 

"Dammit!" the Texan jogged down the corridor, knowing that he was probably already too late to save his handiwork. Skidding around the last corner he spotted his sentry. He scrambled to it, wrench in hand and fumbled to knock the sapper off, but the gun exploded in his face. Bits and pieces of fizzled wire and metal scraps fell around him. With a sigh he looked up from the wreckage and saw that the briefcase had already been taken.

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I love Irene, God knows I do, the radio crackled, I'll love her till the seas run dry.

"If she ever loves another, I'm gonna take morphine and die" Engineer sang idly along with the tune on the radio, kneeling on the workshop floor.  He sorted through the crates of salvaged parts looking for that one perfect piece, he remembered seeing it the other day.  It would be just right to repair the damage to the sentry's barrel. It was either that or he would have to machine a whole new one.

He hadn't seen hide nor hair of the saboteur after the attack this afternoon; but the grumbles from the rest of the team indicated he had been busy causing trouble for other folks.  From the familiarity the attacker had with everyone's strategies and habits, it seemed likely this was the Spook and not some greenhorn replacement. His sudden absence and reappearance had caught RED flatfooted as they had just started settling into the idea that their teammates might not actually be assassins in disguise.

But where had Spy gone?  And why? It wasn't his business, he had no reason to know. That didn't stop his mind from gravitating on the mystery. The Texan hummed a little louder as he sorted through the metal scrap, intent on trying to focus on the task at hand and not let himself get side tracked.

 Goodnight Irene,  Goodnight Irene, I'll see yo-. There was an audible click and suddenly the room was silent. Engineer jerked his head from his work to see Spy standing next to the radio. 

"You!" he blurted, scrambling to his feet, scrap metal in hand.

"Monsieur Cowboy" Spy replied with a smile that seemed less smug than usual. Though he could have been imagining it.

"Where have yah been?" the irritated question tumbled out of the Texan's mouth before he could catch it. It was a stupid question, not worth asking. The French bastard wasn't going to tell him. Chewing the inside of his lip he looked down at the sentry on the workbench.

"I've been away," came the expected vague answer. Engineer glared as the snake continued. "My Grand'Mere died you see, and I had to go pay my respects and-"

Engineer snorted, "Just say yah ain't goin' to tell me instead of lyin'." he coldly cut the no doubt elaborate story short. He wasn't in the mood for stories or games.

Spy gave him a look of wounded surprise and started to reply, but the Texan pushed furiously on before the man could get a word in.

"Ah know we're enemies. Ah know that. But yah coulda' at least given me the courtesy of knowin' yah weren't dead. Ah knock your head off and don' see yah for weeks! Are yah alive? Are yah dead? Was there a glitch? Did yer contract end? Ah don' know-" His mouth had run out of steam and his mind had begun catch up with his words. "Ah just-"  he trailed off awkwardly uncertain what to say.

There was a long pause and Engineer crossed his arms, preparing for the inevitable laughter at his foolishness.

"…You were worried about me?" the Frenchman asked his voice husky. The expression on the man's face was hard to read but it looked almost...what? Thoughtful? Hopeful?

"I… uh…" he fumbled for a reply, "Uh… Ah suppose. So what are yah doin' here?" He asked, abruptly changing the subject.

"I just came to say bonjour, and to give you a souvenir."  Reaching into his jacket pocket the man pulled out an object and handed it to the Texan. Woodenly, he accepted it still unsure what was going on.

Looking down at his hands he found himself staring at a teddy bear. Somehow he hadn't expected this. Not that he had expected the Spook to bring him a souvenir. But if he had, he wouldn't have expected a toy bear. Something useless perhaps, like a silk handkerchief, or something expected like a knife in the back.  Not a child's toy. It was wearing a hard hat and goggles. And red overalls.

He stared blankly at it, at a loss for words, then glanced back up at the Frenchman who seemed outrageously pleased with himself. He looked down at the bear again. Was this a joke? A trick? A bomb? A trap? Was it poisoned? Drugged? That seemed more likely. The toy was drugged, and he had accepted it with his bare hands like an idiot. Any minute now he was going to pass out and find himself dragged off to who knew where. Or the snake was going to laugh and reveal some sort of plot that he'd been hatching for months.

There was a moment or two and he found himself still lucid and undrugged, the bear hadn't started ticking and the Spy hadn't begun cackling.

So this was a joke.

"Tryin' to say somethin' about me?" The question came out sharper than he intended. "That ah 'm soft and stupid?"

"Soft an -" Spy trailed off, seemingly baffled at his offense. "Non! No, no Monsieur nothing of the sort! I merely was-" there was a pause as the Frenchman appeared, oddly enough, at a loss for words. "I meant… you see - I was in Toulouse and… well… it was- raining and-well … the bear… and the goggles... helmet-" the man gestured at the bear with an almost desperate expression.

"Ah see," he finally said, cutting off the strange explanation. He felt like he was supposed to say something even though he didn't understand what was going on. "Thank yah" he added quietly, staring back down at the strange gift. When he glanced up Spy was nowhere to be seen. "Spah?"

As if in response his waste bin fell over with a clatter, spilling its contents all over the floor. Setting the bear down on the table, he rushed over to pick up the mess. He was so absorbed collecting discarded drawings and picking up old screws and shop rags he didn't hear the workshop door shut with a soft click.

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That could have gone better, Spy cringed, creeping invisibly up the basement steps. He wasn't quite sure what he'd been hoping to accomplish.  But there was no doubt that whatever he had intended, it could have gone more smoothly. More coherently at least. With less stumbling. It had been a fool's errand to begin with.  Why had he even bothered to come down here?

But he had wanted to see the Texan in a setting where he didn't have to fight or kill him. Wanted to speak to him, hear his voice, see his face. See if the man's pull on his thoughts had lessened. Instead he found himself tongue tied and uncertain of what he had wanted. Or expected. They were enemies after all. The Texan had knocked his head off the last time they faced each other on the battlefield. Trying to do anything with this was ridiculous. Hopeless. There were so many factors and reasons he should let this go. Try to forget, move on. Eventually this would fade. It would have to. It would be for the best.

Footsteps echoed up the hall, and Spy ducked into a storage closet, hiding himself in the dark while he waited for the figure to pass.  But the cowboy had missed him, he suddenly realized. Grinning to himself, he leaned on the door to listen for sound.The man had missed him and wondered where he'd been. Worried about him!

He glanced back down to his watch, the cloak was fully charged and the sound of footsteps had passed beyond earshot.  Taking a breath, he suppressed the smile and tried to focus on the job at hand, it wouldn't do to get distracted now. He had other things to worry about. He pulled his disguise kit out of his pocket and after a moment's hesitation selected the best mask for the job.

The Engineer came out of the closet and hurried on down the hall towards the barracks. The real Texan was busy in his workshop so there was little chance their paths would overlap and raise alarm.

Once in the barracks he went straight for the phone and pulled a screw driver out of his pocket. After a bit of fumbling he managed to get the front panel open revealing a mass of wires and connections. He didn't recognize much of the phone's innards but at least knew enough to install a simple wire tap.  Glancing around the hall, he made sure no one was around  as he pulled the listening device out of his pocket.

It was late evening and most of RED had settled down into their rooms most of them would never even know he'd been here. If they did, they probably wouldn't pay attention to the sight of the Engineer tinkering with the phone.

Removing one of the wire connections to the receiver he carefully began working the wires of his bug into the cables.

"'Ey, Truckie," the RED team's Sniper called to him strolling up the hallway. It was a moment before the Frenchman realized who the man was talking to.

Spy looked up from his work and feigned a smile, "Howdy," he congratulated himself on his perfect impersonation of the cowboy.

"Blower's clapped' out again?" the man asked conversationally.

Spy chose to grunt in response as he went back to the mass of wires, trying to remember where the other connection he needed to make was. The Australian apparently took his grunt as an invitation to talk.

"How long do ya think it's gonna take?"

"Hold yer horses, pardner," he mumbled. It had been far too long since he had done this sort of job. And the man hanging around wasn't helping his concentration at all.

"'S me mum's birthday." Sniper leaned on the wall, pulling his cigarette pack out of his vest idly tapping one out. "'Said I'd give 'er a ring." he said holding the cigarette between his teeth. Digging around in the pocket of his trousers he flicked out a cheap lighter.

It occurred to Spy that the Texan would probably say something in response to this, but he wasn't sure what. The man was cordial and polite to most of his teammates. It was only him that the Engineer snapped at.

"Ah said hold yer horses. Ah'm doin' this as quick as ah can." this was probably a bit brusque, but the bushman was too busy lighting his cigarette to notice. Spy glanced up to examine the man for a moment before returning to his work. There had been a time when he would have climbed that man like an exotic tree, if only he didn't smell like a public toil- "Ah-HAH!" the Frenchman smirked to himself as he finally found the elusive wire. 

"So ye got it patched up?"

He grunted an affirmative, deftly connecting the wire tap and tucking it behind the wires. He couldn't hide it, but he could make its presence less obvious. Unable to test it with the Sniper in front of him he began to reattach the panel. He'd have to return later to check it. But now, the bushman was watching and the smell of the man's cigarette was reminding him of how long it had been since he'd had his last smoke. Regretfully he couldn't remember seeing the cowboy smoke, and it wouldn't do to attract attention and destroy his disguise.

He snapped the panel back on, lifted the phone receiver and was relieved to hear a dial tone. "It's all yers," he grinned and stepped back.

"Thanks Truckie, ya sure you don' need it?"

"Nah, I'm fine." he said ambling his way up the hall, turning invisible once out of the marksman's sight. He needed out of here, away from the barracks, away from the base. Eagerly, the Frenchman slipped out the side door of the base and into the safety of evening.  The job was done and he badly needed a cigarette.

------------------------------

The metal detector went over the bear without any sort of beep or reaction.  The same thing had happened when the Texan checked it over for tracking devices. Or listening bugs. Neither was it radioactive, conductive, or as far as he could tell explosive or poisonous. It smelled of nothing more suspicious than Spy's cologne and cigarettes.

He had debated about running the thing through an x-ray machine but that would require talking to Medic. To all surface tests the gift looked to be exactly as it appeared. A simple child's toy. But it seemed so strange for the enemy Spy to give him a child's toy without some sort of ulterior motive. Only one way to be sure.... He stretched the bear out on a clear patch of the work table and pulled a utility knife from his tool belt.

With a frown the Texan poised the blade over the bear's stomach to gut it. The bear looked up, smiling at the ceiling, oblivious to the horrible fate that was about to befall him. The blade faltered.

It was a stuffed toy, Engineer reminded himself. Given to him by the enemy Spy. Fabric and fluff and probably a nasty surprise inside. He brought the knife against the toy's stomach, ready to slice the victim open. Fabric and fluff. And only the snake knew what else. The light glinted off the bear's little button goggle eyes, the bear smiled blissfully on. 

Fabric and fluff.

"Dammit," the Texan set the knife aside with a sigh. He was a grown man, and it was an inanimate object, no matter how cute. There was no reason to feel guilt, or attachment. "Dammit."  He picked the bear up prodding it roughly, there certainly appeared to be nothing inside the bear but stuffing. For whatever reason the Spook had given it to him, it seemed to be harmless enough.

He dropped the bear on the table and massaged the bridge of his nose. He had other things to do, a sentry to rebuild, a skirmish to prepare for in the morning. He should have just dumped the bear, not spend all this time checking it over for threats. Looking back at the work table, he sat the bear up properly and straightened it's little hardhat.

"Well Teddy, if yer gonna stick around ah'll need to put you someplace." Examining the room his eyes finally rested on his modified dispenser in the corner, peacefully humming away. He set the bear gently on top of the dispenser, next to his coffee mug and radio.

"That'll do, I suppose," The Texan said with a faint smile before turning back to his work.

 

Chapter Text

Spy settled in the chair and took in the scent of gun oil and engine grease, smells of its owner. The hideous plaid thing was more comfortable than it had any business being.  His unwitting host the Engineer was upstairs playing cards with his Pyro and Sniper and wouldn't even know he was here.  Now settled in the tacky cushions of the chair the Frenchman pulled a radio receiver and ear piece out of his pocket and slipping the ear piece on began scanning through the channels.

He could have picked up a signal from the bug anywhere around the base.  The rafters of the mess hall, the work shed behind the main building, any of the ignored storage closets. But the Texan's workshop was the most comfortable,  certainly the warmest, and he knew the man's schedule so that any chance of being caught in the act was unlikely.

He frowned as he adjusted the ear piece's receiver looking for the phone's signal. At first he picked up distant radio stations, some small town news, that damnable music station the Texan listened to, he scowled beginning  to suspect the phone tap wasn't working.  He was sure he'd seen Scout on the phone when he snuck in, the loudmouth had looked like he was going to prattle on for ages. Surely he wasn't finished already.

-'m tellin' yah Ma, they dun make a move without me round here." The Scout's voice started coming in loud and clear and Spy grinned. The listening device was working as intended.

"So is dad gonna get out of jail this month?" the young man asked, and Spy snorted, hardly surprised to learn that the boy's father was incarcerated. Spy listened idly as mother and son prattled on, the chatter moving on to the status of the rest of the brood  the Scout was part of. His bothers, his uncles, and their various goings on. But the activities of this Scout's family was barely of any interest to him.

The loudmouth and her son finally hung up leaving the Spy in the dim of the Engineer's workshop with nothing but the soothing hum of the dispenser and electronics for company.  To keep the bug unnoticed he had made the transmitter for it very weak. Unless someone knew exactly what frequency to look it up on they couldn't find it, the down side was the range was also very limited. If he left the base the signal was too weak to pick up so he stayed down here in the security of the workshop listening to the various team members call their family and loved ones and telling himself that he was only in this room for the convenience. 

His oblivious host had not appeared this evening, which he grudgingly reminded himself was better for the task at hand, no matter how he might have felt otherwise. The wire tap was a shot in the dark, he knew the odds of actually catching the prey he sought were slim. The man he was trying to eavesdrop was as underhanded and cagey as himself.  He lit a cigarette briefly lighting the room up with his lighter. As he exhaled a cloud of smoke he debated about calling it a night and going back to his own base. Though there wasn't much waiting for him back there  and the workshop was warm, so he half closed his eyes. He could stay for a bit longer.  The caller he was hoping for would probably wait until later anyway, if he used the public phone at all.

He had almost drifted off into a doze when a chime on the headset woke him up.  He sat up quickly in the chair " - the time of the beep the time will be 10:32 and 15 seconds" the headset informed him. Muttering to himself he jerked the headset from his ear and shoved it and the receiver in his jacket pocket. Foolish, stupid, he shouldn't have let himself get too comfortable in here. This was still the enemy base and it would be quite difficult to handle should the Texan find him in here.

Glancing around the room he made sure he left no trace of his presence and made his way out of the workshop back to his own base.

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"What happened to… zis?" Medic asked distastefully holding up the severed head of the teddy bear off the table.

"Enh - it was an accident." the Texan murmured glancing down at the table to what a day on the battlefield had done to Teddy.  It had been stupid to have the bear with him during a skirmish. He had been getting his gear together that morning and had stuck the bear on his tool belt on a whim. The toy had actually survived most of the day until a run in with the enemy Demoman had torn it apart. Respawn could repair and replace many things, but plush teddy bears were not in its repertoire. 

The German gave him a critical look before looking back down at the bear, which was in two mostly large pieces. The doctor prodded the remains of the bear saying nothing but still the Texan could feel he was being judged. 

"I-t was just an accident, an accident." Engineer  stammered. "I-I'd fix it myself but m-my handiwork ain't as good as yers Doc."  He'd hoped flattery would distract the man from asking more awkward questions. He had picked up sewing out of self defense from public indecency but most of his stitches tended to be crude and rough if serviceable. Though the look the doctor gave him over the rims of his spectacles made him start wishing he'd tried that first.

"Where did you-"

"I-it's a gift for my niece!" he blurted loudly, cutting Medic's inquiry off. He cleared his throat as his mind raced to fill in the rest of this story. "I got this for my niece- and it got…damaged- in my workshop."

"-What was it doing in-"

"I hadn't gotten to send it yet." the Texan rapidly cut Medic off again. "Send it to her…  My niece."

"I… see," something about the man's tone implied he didn't quite believe him.

"Can you fix it?"

"It's certainly fixable." Medic said examining the pieces "Despite the damage all the pieces seem to be here…It will take some time…were you trying to get this to your niece in time some for some occasion?"

"Uh…. no. There's no rush."  the Texan said with a nervous smile.

----------------------------------------

Spy grimaced and cursed under his breath in the dark as he repositioned himself on the crate he was sitting on trying to find a less uncomfortable position. The cowboy was tinkering in his workshop tonight so the Frenchman had to work in a cold abandoned storage closet.

 <"Our supplies should last us for quite a while."> - Spy mentally translated the Russian woman's speech as she went on about how much bear meat they had dried and stored. He suspected if he listened to the Russian's conversations for any length of time he'd end up knowing more about cooking bear meat than he ever dreamed possible. Irritably he pulled a cigarette out of his case and began idly tapping it on the crate.

 <"Your sisters liked the books you shipped in last month. Though they are already through with them.">

<"I'll try to send some more when I can.">

<"-Tell Michsa to send some different ones this time! Something more exciting than those dull epics. Something with some romance in it!"> a young woman's voice cut in on the conversation. One of the Russian's sisters Spy presumed as he lit his cigarette.

<"I-I'll see what I can do."> the Heavy replied clearly uncomfortable<"Are all of you at the supply depot?>  the man sounded worried.

<"We'll be alright. Stop worrying.  So tell me how you are doing in America with your exciting job.">

The conversation droned on, with the Heavy giving accounts of his more brutal recent kills. The man laughed as he mentioned catching the BLU Spy and snapping his neck. <"He thinks he is clever. HAH!">  Spy grimaced biting his cigarette in half.

In the dark, plotting revenge Spy listened to the man describe his day with honest lurid detail. His family seemed unsurprised or shaken by the knowledge of what he did to put bread on their table. Though the one thing the Frenchman noticed, was utter lack of mention of the team's doctor.

 Not a word was said about how he spent his off time or, more importantly, who he spent it with. Possible black mail material if the need arose.

Finally realizing that the man was going to be on the phone for a while, Spy got off the crate with a hiss. Stretching his legs he turned off the headset and decided to call it a night. It was late and as fascinating as that phone call was he had been looking for other sorts of information not twenty different ways to dress bear meat.

He pressed his ear to the door listening for any sounds. When he was certain it was all clear he slipped invisibly out the door and made his way back to his own base.

------------------------------------------

Putting Teddy back together had taken the doctor a few days but in the end the stitches were so precise and small one could barely see the damage. The results had been worth the wait, though maybe not worth the judging smirk Medic had worn giving it back to him. Engineer gently placed the bear in it's proper place on the dispenser with a wan smile. "No more battles for yah," he  informed the toy.

Hopefully, Spy wouldn't notice the bear's new battle scars when he came around again. Though thinking back on it, the Texan realized he hadn't seen the Spy since the night he'd given him the bear. Oh, he'd seen the snake on the field, exchanged a few blows with him, dealt with his sappers, heard other folks complain about being stabbed in the back; but they hadn't exchanged words. He hadn't visited, hadn't left any notes. Nothing for weeks.

It occurred to him, maybe the bastard wasn't going to come around anymore.  It had been a few months since that Swissmas dinner and Spy talked about his project. His attempts to make him stop sulking. Maybe the project was over and the snake was done. Done with him and not coming back. He should have been relieved about that. Glad to be rid of the snake. Instead he was… he wasn't sure.

Had the bear been a farewell gift? A stuffed toy seemed a bizarre choice for that occasion. What sort of person gave you a travel souvenir and then didn't say anything to you after the fact?

Well there was that one time, Aunt Mildred got upset because the thank you note he had sent got lost in the mail.

 The Texan frowned, was that it? Was Spy mad at him? Was he supposed to send the snake a thank you note? That seemed rather ridiculous, but then again so was this whole situation. His frown deepened as he tried to remember if any of his French classes had covered etiquette. Even if they had, it seemed unlikely they would have covered this particular scenario.

--------------------------------------

He turned from the work table when the dispenser caught his eye. It was humming along as it usually did when left to it's own devices. Nothing about it had changed, the Texan's silly radio was still on top of it, the man's chipped coffee mug next to it. And Toulouse.  Spy couldn't suppress a smile as he tapped the toy bear on the nose. After the man's reaction to the gift he had half expected to see it dissected or in the garbage instead of out in the open at a place of honor.

The smile on his face lingered on as he pulled a headset receiver and recorder out of his pocket and sat down in the arm chair in the corner of the workshop.  Spy stretched his legs and leaned back in the tacky chair taking in the familiar smell of the workshop, thankful that the Texan had gone to bed early tonight. He hadn't wanted to spend the evening in another storage closet. Pulling the headset on he turned the receiver on. 

"-I FILLED OUT ZE PAPERWORK!" the German was already ranting on the line. "IF IT'S AN ISSUE OF MONEY I ASSURE YOU CAN GET MORE!" Spy winced as the man's voice pierced his ear drum, he lifted the headphones away to spare his ears the pain.

"Sir…Sir," a rather exhausted sounding woman replied. "It's not a matter of payment sir. It is a matter of safety, we can ship you a few grams of the material for educational purposes. Not the amount you-"

"A few grams… a few kilograms…vat is the difference?"  the doctor's voice was beginning to develop that manic tone that was often heard on the battlefield. Usually when he put a bone saw through someone's limbs.

"Weight and a dozen international safety regulations, sir.”

"Regulations," the German snorted. "Who pays attention to those?"

"Sir, just what organization did you say you worked for?"

"Are you questioning my credentials?"

"This is not a matter of credentials. We are not able to send you 500 kilograms of plutonium, sir."  came the tired but firm reply.

"How about we make it 250 kilos?"

"Sir, we are unable to send you 250 kilograms of plutonium. "

"Maybe 200? I can pay double your asking price."

"It's not a-"

"150 then?"

"No." the reply was firm, all sense of customer service beaten down.

"I DEMAND TO SPEAK TO YOUR MANAGER!" Spy cringed again.

"If you have a complaint with our services," the exhausted woman said as if reciting from memory, "you can call during normal business hours a file a complaint."

"So you refuse to assist me?"

"We are unable to, sir."

"Very well, I shall take my business elsewhere!"  the doctor's proclamation was punctuated by the sound of the phone slamming back on the hook. Spy sighed and took this opportunity to enjoy the peaceful hum of the workshop machines and the even more relaxing sound of no one screaming. 

The silence stretched on as the Spy idly flipped through one of the Engineer's catalogs not really reading it so much as glaring at the pages. Finally the sound of the phone dialing again. There was a ring and silence as the call connected, Spy sat up in the chair straining his ears to hear anything. He could make out the sound of the caller's heavy muffled breathing.

There was silence and then a chime; "At the beep the time will be 9:45 and 25 seconds" this was followed by a beep.  Then a pause and another chime and the recorded voice played again "At the time of the beep the time will be 9:45 and 35 seconds." And again the promised beep.

With a heavy sigh Spy slipped the earpiece off his head for a moment and rubbed his temple, wondering if there was another way to do this. He'd been keeping an eye on RED's mail, the RED Spy was receiving no personal correspondence to intercept. The man was currently spending most of his days on base, so there was no place to trail him to. If he was going to get any evidence of the Spy's affair his best bet was going to be the telephone.

With a sigh the Frenchman put the ear piece back on, "-the time will be 9:47 and 16 seconds."    

-------------------------------------------

It was the Texan's turn tonight on the rather haphazard rotation to do the dishes, and Engineer was clearing the table. Most everyone else in the team had finished their meal and left. Except for Spy who was settled at his usual end of the table, away from everyone else, reading a newspaper, a cloud of cigarette smoke drifting over his head. 

Collecting the dishes, he worked his way toward the end of the table. He awkwardly cleared his throat as he came to the Frenchman. With out a word the man shoved his plate towards him. "Say, uh… Spy?" he asked quietly.

"Hm?" the man looked up in agitation from his newspaper. Suddenly, the Texan found himself realizing just how little he had talked to his own Spy compared to the BLU Spy.

"Uh," he coughed, "Just a question…."

"Yes?"

This was a stupid question.  He was dumbfor asking it. "J-just what is the French-the French etiquette on-er thank you notes?"

"Thank you notes?" the man looked at him with an unreadable expression.

"Yea…if someone gives you a gift or somethin' are yah suppose to  write them a note?"

Spy snorted "Only if you aren't a crude imbecile." he flicked some ash off his cigarette. "Why?"

"Just askin" Engineer mumbled as he quickly picked up the man's plate and shuffled away to throw these in the kitchen sink.

"If this about me saving your neck last week you're welcome!" the Frenchman called after him.

----------------------------------------------

The workshop door opened with a creak, Spy dropped the duplicate key back in his jacket pocket and flicked on the light switch.  Last he saw the Texan had been heading for his room which meant he was likely to be undisturbed tonight. The room was messier than it had been the last time he'd been in here. A half built sentry was spread out, taking up most of the work table. Pieces of scrap metal were scattered around like the Texan had been trying to construct a giant murderous jig saw puzzle.  Spy walked past the worktable and sat down in the now familiar plaid chair to prepare for another evening of listening in on conversations.

Time passed sluggishly and he was beginning to think no one was going to use the phone tonight when he heard the click of the receiver pick up. Sitting up in his chair he listened carefully as the person on the phone dialed the number.  He slumped back down in his seat in disappointment when he heard a man's voice answer,  he was about to turn the headset off when he heard the Texan's voice on the other end. He froze- finding himself unable to turn the ear piece off.  Of course he should not have been surprised that the man would use the phone.  Not that it made any difference, of course, the cowboy's conversations were no more sacred than anyone else's. He swallowed his surprise and listened intently to the two men talk. Silly useless things spoken by silly useless men he told himself. But  the gentle lull of the Engineer's voice kept him listening.

They spoke of people he didn't know, of planting seasons, cattle herds. Talk of a peaceful world and home and family that the Frenchman would never understand and if he let himself admit it, envied just a little. 

As the conversation went on the words faded away and he just let the cadence of the man's voice wash over him. Eyes half closed Spy could picture the man as he talked. That lop sided smile as he chuckled, how he bit the inside of his lip when he was thinking about something.

He idly began imagining the man was talking to him like this. No wariness, no hostility, no second guessing. The only recent time he'd let himself see the cowboy had been on the battlefield. Even then they only exchanged blows and he'd kept the encounters as brief as possible. No sense letting himself get distracted in a skirmish and give the Texan the upper hand. 

The conversation was coming to an end, Spy listened on as the two men said their good byes and planned their next phone call,  then the receiver was hung up leaving Spy with just the hum of the workshop and the dial tone for company. With a quiet sigh Spy jerked the headset away from his ear and stood stiffly up from the chair. It was getting late, he told himself, it was time to leave here and go back to base.  Sentiment was something only fools and the elderly could afford he reminded himself as he stalked out of the room  turning the lights off behind him.

-----------------

Engineer sat at the dinner table away from the rest of the team members mindlessly poking the peas around his plate with his fork. Scout at the other end of the table was loudly talking to anyone who'd listen about some impossible feat he had done today.  The Texan tuned him out, his mind on other things.

He probably shouldn't have, but he'd sent Spy, the other Spy, a note, thanking him for the bear. It was courtesy after all, even if the man was an enemy. No sense being rude. The fact he'd been curious if the man would react had nothing to do with it.

He probably shouldn't have done it, but he'd dropped the letter in a post box in town and it was already well on it's way. Heck, by now it should already have arrived a few days ago. That is if their wasn't another mix up in the mail, or another mishap at the post office like last spring. But he hadn't heard about any post office explosions, so surely the letter had arrived. He just hadn't heard anything back.

Not that he should have expected any of course. That was ridiculous.

"Hello Engineer," Heavy greeted him sitting at the chair across from him.

Engineer's train of thought derailed. "Uh, Evenin'" he looked up from his plate at the Russian. It was odd to see the man at the dinner table without the doctor. "Where the Doc?" he asked curiously.

"Doktor is on the phone." Heavy replied with a shrug.

"Ah see." he trailed off looking back down at his plate of neglected peas and picked at canned ham.

"So Engineer," the Russian prompted "did your niece like little toy bear Doktor fixed up?"

"Niece? " the Engineer repeated confused.  "I don't have a -" he trailed off as his mind processed the rest of the sentence.  "Oh yea, mah niece, mah…" he trailed off fumbling for words. He didn't have a sibling either. "Yea, mah niece, she loved it" he smiled woodenly hoping that the lie didn't seem as flimsy as it sounded to him.

"Good…good." Heavy trailed off giving him a puzzled or concerned look before turning his attention to saw at the meat on his tray.

"I'm finished." Engineer mumbled standing quickly from his chair to take his plate to the kitchen.

---------------------------------

Spy sat huddled in the storage closet as he listened to the phone dialing, there was a click and then an answer.

"Wiz Bang Toy Company how can we help you?

"Ja," the RED Medic enunciated carefully "I am in need of uh- refills for one your products."

Spy sighed and flicked some ash off his cigarette as he could already see where this conversation was going to end up.

"And what product will that be sir?"

"I need 500 hundreds more samples for the, uh" there was the sound of shuffling papers then the Medic recited carefully "The Atomic Little Genius Science Kit." 

"Pardon me, could you repeat that sir?"

"The Atomic Little Genius Science Kit," he repeated, his patience was clearly thinning "I need 500 samples of plutonium for it."

The receptionist remained quiet for some time.

"Hello? Are you still there?" Medic demanded irritably.

"Yes sir."

"You can help me ja?"

"Sir…." the receptionist spoke warily, "We have not stocked or made that particular kit in over a decade."

"So vat are you saying?"

"I'm saying we are unable to supply you with the materials."

"There is no expiration date on the order form!" the German protested.

"I am sorry for the confusion, sir."

"I demand to see your manager."

"Very well sir, if you like you can leave a number and someone will get back to you."

There was the sound of a receiver slamming down on the hook and then just the dial tone. 

Spy massaged his temples and puffed on his cigarette. This had been a ridiculous endeavor, it had always been a long shot but he was starting to realize just how slim a chance this whole operation had been. He should just quit, call it a night, maybe bother the Texan on his way out. Go back to his base and rethink his options, anything had to be better than listening in on idiot's phone conversations.

The phone was picked up again and there was the sound of dialing and a ring. Spy frowned preparing to switch the head phone off when the call was picked up.

"Hello?" it was a woman's voice.  He froze with bated breath, maybe, just maybe this was going to pay off.

"Bonsoir, ma petite chou-fleur"   "Oh, so now yer callin' me? It's been weeks." the woman pouted. "Je suis désolé, ma petite. I've been busy."  Spy smirked to himself as he hit the record button on his receiver. He finally had his evidence and maybe a further lead. All he had to do was make sure not to cross paths with the Engineer so the cowboy wouldn't destroy this bit of evidence.

--------------------

It was one of those elusively peaceful nights in the RED barracks. Scout and most of the team piled into Soldier's jeep and sped off to the drive in movie several miles away. Shortly after that Medic had gone off on some ominous errand followed quickly by a concerned Russian. Engineer had stood in his door and watched Heavy rush breathlessly down the corridor swearing loudly in Russian, he had gone back in his room deciding it was better not to ask.

Chasing after insane doctors and watching ridiculous movies where people screamed a lot didn't really sound like a good time to the Texan so he had settled down in his room to catch up on his reading.  Leaning back on the pillows he flipped back to his place in the mystery he was reading quickly got absorbed in the story wondering how Marlowe was going to solve this situation when there was a quiet knock at the door. He had to be imagining it. There was no one on base to come knocking. There was another knock on the door, louder this time.  There was no mistaking it now.

"Just a minute." he called out as he got off the bed to answer it. "Hold yer horses," he grumbled. The Texan frowned as he crossed the room, trying to figure out who would be bothering him at this hour. He opened the door and froze. It was Spy. Standing at his door in his blue suit, bold as brass. In the RED barracks.

"Bonsoir," the snake greeted him with a warm smile. "I hope I didn't come at a bad time."

"Uh…" the Texan's mind whirred for a moment processing the situation.

"I got your note," the man held up the wayward envelope by way of explanation.

“Come in.”

 

Chapter Text

Spy glanced at his watch for the fifth time in nine- wait- ten minutes. He straightened his tie and looked around the restaurant. It was a quiet night and there were only a handful of people besides the servers. Nervously, he drummed his fingers on the table, staring at the clock on the restaurant wall. It was seven o’clock and still no sign of the Texan.

He glanced down at his watch again then back at the clock. The time was correct. Was Engineer not going to show up? Maybe he hadn’t received the note. Spy was sure he’d put it where the man would find it. Maybe someone else had intercepted it. But he would have expected more trouble by now if that was the case. Maybe the cowboy had found the note and decided not to come. That was always possible, he supposed. They were enemies.

However, Engineer hadn’t protested when he had dropped by that night in the barracks. The Texan had invited him into his room, and they’d chatted. They hadn’t talked about anything important, but still, they’d talked. Civilly. Almost like friends. Surely, the cowboy would accept his invitation tonight. Surely.

Resisting the urge to look at his watch again, he settled instead on distracting himself with the wine list. Though it was so dismally short that calling it a list was generous, which he supposed was to be expected. This was the most expensive restaurant in the desert, but it was still far from actual civilization. They considered hanging a stuffed bull’s head on the wall proper decoration.

Spy glared at the menu as if he could make it longer or more acceptable. But alas it remained both meager and pathetic. He’d have to make do ordering something else with dinner.

"Sorry ah’m late." A familiar voice drawled, Spy nearly jumped. "There was a fire on base- not one’uh Pyro’s," the Texan added as he pulled the chair across the table out, "had to help."

"No worries, Monsieur," he smiled warmly looking up from the menu, "I was just about to…" he trailed off, mouth agape.

The cowboy was wearing the suit, the one he had fitted and purchased for him all those months ago.

"What?" Engineer frowned.

"I was just looking at the wine list." Spy said quickly, turning back to the menu and trying to suppress a smile. He glanced back a moment, he had seen the man in the suit before, but hadn’t noticed how good he looked in it, how the color suited him. His eyes darted from the menu back to the Texan, he really did need someone to dress him properly. And destroy his current wardrobe.

"Don’ lookit me like that," the cowboy frowned. He fidgeted defensively with his tie. "Yah burned mah suit and I wasn’t about to show up here in overalls."

Spy grimaced at the memory of the checkered nightmare and its leather elbow patches. The man had probably worn it with a bolo tie. It had gone up in flames nearly the instant he lit the match near it. “That was not a suit, Monsieur. That was a crime.”

"Who asked yah for your input?" the Texan shot back.

Spy was about to retort when he was cut off.

"-What can I get you gentlemen to drink tonight?" As if on cue, one of the waiters came to the table.

"A whiskey, no ice."

Spy took one last disappointed look at the wine list before handing it to the server. “I’ll have the same. Oh, and this will all be on one check.”

"Alright, I’ll be back with your drinks." with that the man disappeared.

The Texan looked at him uneasily, “That’s right decent of ya.”

"It is only fair, Monsieur," Spy insisted. "I invited you out here tonight."

"Still haven’t said why you did."

"I only hope this establishment is as good as it claims to be." the Frenchman quickly interjected all the while glaring at the prices on the menu.

"Supposed to be a good place." the Texan murmured, looking around the room. "I think this is the joint the guys got kicked out of."

"I do believe I saw pictures of them by the host’s stand." the Frenchman added casually. The idiots were, in fact, banned. There was no sense in the cowboy finding out that Spy had more than a slight hand in the events that led to RED team’s disgrace. It might ruin the mood.

"I still can’t get a straight answer out of any of ‘em what happened that night." Engineer sighed, turning his attention to his own menu.

Spy remained smugly silent as the waiter gently set their drinks in front of them.

"Can I ask what the occasion is?" the Texan asked after the server took their order.

"Occasion?" the Frenchman repeated quietly.

"Why are we out here?"

Spy debated for a moment before replying, “Celebrating.”

"May I ask what we’re celebrating?”

"A personal victory of mine." he replied with a shrug as he took a sip of his whiskey.

He had managed to trail the RED Spy on his recent jaunt to meet his paramour. The negatives were in a hidden pocket in his jacket. The images of the man and his lover were clear as day and twice as damning. He hadn’t figured out what he was going to do with them, or when he would use them but their acquisition was definitely something to be celebrated.

"A personal victory?" Engineer echoed, raising an eyebrow. "Yah care to enlighten me? Or just going to leave it a mystery?"

"But monsieur, I thought you liked mysteries."

"Ah like mah mysteries in books. Where they belong."

"Speaking of books, how are you enjoying Chandler?" Spy asked quickly.

"Chandler?" the Texan frowned.

The Long Good-Bye, you were reading it last we talked.” he had seen the book on the Texan’s bed the night they’d chatted.

"Oh," the man seemed taken aback that he’d noticed. "I’m enjoying it alright." he replied cautiously. "Think I liked his others a bit more."

"I have to say I’m surprised-" Spy took a sip of his drink, "I expected you to read books about cowboys and horses and lone rangers."

"I read a bit of everything, honestly." Engineer answered with a shrug. "You? You read about European secret agents?"

Spy snorted “Hardly.” Though he got the man’s point. He hesitated, personal information was still personal information no matter how trivial, and not to be shared carelessly. “I’m fond of crime novels.” he admitted.

"So Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie?"

"I prefer Lupin."

"You changed the subject, and still haven’t told me why you called me out here."

"Yes, I did." Spy protested. "I told you we are here celebrating-"

"Celebratin’ somethin’ yah refuse to explain- yes." the Texan cut in, "But why did you invite me? Why not celebrate with someone on your own team?"

Spy took a sip of his drink, he had been hoping to avoid this question. Except the cowboy was not a fool. He was going to ask sooner or later. It had been inevitable. “There isn’t anyone on my team I care to share my time with.” he answered simply, and let his words hang in the air.

The cowboy ‘s brow furrowed, he was quiet for what felt like an hour before breaking the silence, “But somehow, I’m someone you want to spend time with?”

Oui." Spy replied with a shrug. "You’re a good conversationalist." he added defensively. "And you have basic table manners and are less likely to get us thrown out." And looked rather good in a suit and had that silly Texas drawl he could listen to for hours.

"Oh… well, uh…" Engineer’s words trailed off uncertainly, "Thank yeh?"

This wasn’t the most positive reaction Spy could have hoped for, but it wasn’t hostile nor was the Texan angry at him. So he decided to take this as progress. Any occasion when the man wasn’t threatening to hit him with a wrench was progress.

Je t’en prie." he answered.

The Texan took a sip of his whiskey, then suddenly froze, quirking an eyebrow. But he remained silent as the server placed their plates in front of them and refilled their glasses. Distracted by steak dinner the man turned his attention to his meal.

Spy looked down at his own plate appraisingly. The food smelled appetizing enough, he sliced the meat down the middle and prodded it.

"Is everything alright, sir?" the server asked with a frown. The steak was cooked correctly, like he’d ordered it. Spy nodded and gestured the man away.

"Do yah always dissect yer meals before you eat them?" Engineer deadpanned. Spy took a bite of his steak, deliberately chewing, not giving him an answer.

The cowboy cut into his own meal and held a piece on his fork, giving it a wary eye and sniffing it curiously.

"It’s not drugged." Spy huffed. He had rather hoped the man would at least trust him enough to stop second guessing dinner. "And you criticize me for examining my food."

"Can’t blame me for bein’ cautious." Engineer insisted before finally taking a bite.

"Don’t be so dramatic. I only drugged you once.”

And beat me unconscious. Twice.

Spy rolled his eyes and chewed another mouthful of steak.

"Yah know, Spook-" the Texan said cutting another bite. "You keep changing the subject. Y’still haven’t told me what this ‘victory’ of yours is."

The man really was too smart for his own good, Spy cringed inwardly as he swallowed. Finally he spoke, “I’ve had a bit of a… side project.” He continued, choosing his words carefully, the cowboy would probably not take too kindly to the idea of blackmailing a teammate. “A project I have been pursuing for a while, and I finally got results.”

"A side project?"

"I’m sorry Monsieur, but if I tell you anymore, I will have to spoil this lovely meal and kill you." he intoned gravely. He presumed that the man would respect that reason enough to stop hounding him for information.

The corners of the cowboy’s mouth tightened and his eyes narrowed.

"I can promise you, however," Spy added soothingly, "that it does not involve you." He wasn’t sure if the man would accept any promise from him, he could only hope.

The Texan opened his mouth as if to protest but shut it again after a moment or two. He seemed to relax slightly and took another drink from his glass. If the man accepted his word he wasn’t going to admit it, but miraculously, he wasn’t openly rejecting it either.

"So how is your dinner?" he inquired, steering the conversation on to safer subjects.

"Pretty good," the man replied with a lop sided smile, "been a long while since I’ve had a decent steak. How’s yours?"

"Not bad." Spy tersely admitted. "However, I have tasted better."

"Of course yah have." Engineer rolled his eyes while the server filled his glass again, "I suppose you are going to say that only Frenchmen know how to cook steak?"

"Nonsense" Spy snorted, "I’ve had some amazing ones in New Yor-"

"New Yorkers wouldn’t know what to do with a cow if one came up and bit ‘em." the Texan interjected. "You haven’t lived until you’ve had a Texas steak."

"Is that so?"

"Just the God’s honest truth."The cowboy insisted with a shrug, "We raise ‘em in Texas, only stands to reason we grill ‘em the best."

Spy smiled, “So do you cook, Monsieur?”

"Do I cook?" the man asked incredulously.

"Do you cook?" he repeated. He had seen the man scrounge in the cupboards of RED base, eating crackers, prepackaged military rations, canned soups, but hadn’t seen the man cook. Though, if this was from lack of knowledge how to or just determination not to he had never been able to figure out.

"Ah can grill." Engineer corrected. "Steak, burgers, pork ribs, potatoes…" he grinned. "Give me some charcoal and a flame and I can grill anythin’."

"Is that a promise?" Spy teased, curious if he could keep the Texan talking so enthusiastically. To Spy’s delight, he could, the Texan took another sip from his glass and started reminiscing about cookouts and having to feed himself on oil fields.

The night wore on and they had continued chatting, the plates cleared away, their dinner long eaten and their glasses topped off. The waiters had started stacking chairs on the empty tables, prowling around the room, making not so subtle indications that they would very much like the pair of them to pay their bill and leave.

Spy left a few bills on the table to cover the tab and leave enough for a large tip. Normally he wouldn’t have bothered, but tonight, ah tonight, he could afford to be generous.

"Well, uh… thank yah for dinner." The Texan said as they stepped out the door into the night air."It was a nice change from canned soup and sandwiches." The man fidgeted with his collar leaving his tie crooked. Spy resisted the urge to straighten it.

"You’re welcome." He leaned against a doorpost and pulled his cigarette case out of his jacket pocket.

"I better get back to base before anyone starts wonderin’ where I got to." The cowboy walked to his beat up truck. "Have a good night."

"Bonne nuit, Monsieur." Spy answered as he attempted to light his cigarette. For some reason he found he was having a harder time doing so than he ought to.

Engineer paused at the driver side door and looked at him, “Yah alright there Spook?”

"Hm?" he looked up from his task.

"You going to be able to make it back to base?"

The Frenchman snorted, “I’m fine.”

"Yah sure?" the man persisted.

"Why wouldn’t I be?"

"Normally it doesn’ take yah ten tries to light your cigarette."

"Nonsense!"

"Yer holdin’ the lighter three inches away from the tip."

Spy awkwardly pocketed the lighter and glared at the unburnt cigarette.

"Ah think you’ve had a bit too much to drink." the Texan said quietly.

"That’s ridiculous." Spy insisted. He didn’t get intoxicated. Schoolboys and fools got intoxicated.

There was a sigh as Engineer walked around the truck and pulled down the tailgate. Grumbling to himself, he began unbuttoning his jacket and tossed it inside the truck.

"What are you doing?" Spy asked baffled, watching the man roll up his shirt sleeves.

"Gettin’ yer little moped in the truck bed. Ah barely trust yah to drive that down the road sober much less drunk."

"I’m not drunk!" he insisted.

"Tell that to me when yah ain’t leaning on a doorpost for support." the cowboy retorted wheeling the scooter towards the truck.

With a snort of derision, Spy straightened and stepped from the doorway. He gestured for the Texan to see but the man wasn’t paying attention. He was pushing the Vespa next to the old farm truck. He was about to ask how Engineer intended to load the scooter but the engineer had already set his stance, getting his hands under the vespa and side car, and lifted. Spy could see the engineer’s biceps tighten and bulge through his dress shirt as he raised the Vespa onto the truck bed. Pushing it further on Engineer slammed the tailgate shut.

Spy’s throat made a dry clicking sound when he swallowed.

"What are yah standing there for? Get in the truck."

Seeing no reason to argue with the man, Spy walked to the passenger side door and climbed in, he might have stumbled slightly but that was due to the dark. Not at all due to the amount of whiskey he had consumed. He was no schoolboy.

Engineer climbed in, turned the key, and the engine roared to life. 
"Just for the record, I ain’t droppin’ you off at your front door."

"Of course not."

"Be dang hard to explain if anyone saw this." The Texan murmured as he pulled onto the road. "Heck, not even sure I know."

"Just claim you didn’t realize it was me." Spy suggested as he dug in his jacket pocket for his cigarette case and lighter. "I pretended to be some demoiselle en détresse." He chuckled and lit his cigarette. "When you finally saw through my masterful deception, I held you at gunpoint."

"Yah’d think I’d have been curious what a pretty little thing was doin’ in the middle of the desert on a moped."

"I was very charming."

"Of course, when ain’t ya?" the Texan chuckled, and Spy thought he could almost make out a smile on the man’s face. "So yer arthritic scooter finally died and yah had to-" the cowboy quickly turned his head as if just realizing something, "are yah smokin’ in mah truck?"

"Yes?"

"Well stop it!"

"I’ve smoked in your truck before."

"I wasn’t conscious last time yah did, now put that out!"

Non!”

The Texan leaned over, the truck swerved with him as he tried to grab the cigarette.

The road had become much rougher, bumpier. Spy glared out the window and gaped. That was not a road. Roads tended not to have cacti in the middle of them. They weren’t on the road. "Putain!

Turning his attention back to the wheel Engineer grabbed hold with his other hand and sharply veered out of the way almost colliding with a rock outcropping. Panting, he slammed on the brakes, the truck squealed in protest as they lurched to a stop.

There was a long moment as the engine idled and the pair sat in silence, catching their breaths.

"I think, Monsieur Cowboy, you’ve also had a bit much to drink." Spy said with a laugh.

Wordlessly, the Texan turned the engine off and opening the driver’s side door hopped out. Spy followed suit watching the other man produce a flashlight from somewhere in the cab.

"Doesn’t appear to be any damage." the cowboy called out after a quick look around outside the truck. "The road is some ways off that way," he gestured with the torch. "Probably." He added guiltily. "We shouldn’ be that far off.”

Spy squinted off into the direction indicated, unable to see a trace of the road in the dark. There was hardly any light except for a sliver of the moon and the stars. There was little good about the desert, but he would make an exception for the stars.

"Pretty night." the cowboy murmured. Well- there might be another good thing about the desert the Frenchman mused, turning his eyes back to the truck and the Texan. "What time is it?"

With the flick of a button Spy could make out the dim glow of his watch “Almost 2 in the morning.”

"A good few hours until sunrise."

"What are you suggesting?"

"Probably be better to maybe get some shuteye-sober up’a bit. Wait for daylight at least."

"I don’t know Monsieur, I have heard cacti can be vicious in the day."

"Just shuddap and help me get yer Vespa off of here." the cowboy grumbled, trudging towards the truck bed.

"What for?"

"I ain’t sleepin’ next to a scooter."

"You are going to sleep in the back of a truck?” Spy asked incredulously.

"It’s above the snakes and scorpions and has more room than the cab." the Texan answered with a logical shrug as he lowered the tailgate. "There’s space for you too, or you can try to squeeze in the cab."

Spy was about to protest and take his chances in the cab when he realized what he’d be rejecting. “How do you want me to assist?”

——————————————————

Sleeping in the back of the truck was a better idea conceptually than it was in execution, Engineer realized as he shifted on his side trying to find a better position. He’d done this in the past, but he didn’t remember it being quite this uncomfortable. Then again, he’d at least had something for a pillow, as it was he found he needed his jacket for warmth and couldn’t spare it as a cushion. He folded his arms and rested his head on them with a glare at the snoring Frenchman.

Despite the snake’s protests about sleeping in the back of the truck he’d dozed off quickly enough. Or at least Spy looked like he was asleep, Engineer wasn’t really sure. The snoring seemed fairly accurate. But he never really knew what to think when it came to the snake.

A cold gust of wind cut through the air, and the fabric of the Texan’s jacket. With a shudder he tried to curl on himself for warmth. Clamping his eyes shut he tried to count sheep and will himself to sleep. He hadn’t gotten to the tenth lamb when he heard a murmur. Opening one eye, he glanced over to the Spook, the man was still asleep but huddled against the wheel well, shivering. Spy might be feigning sleep, but that looked like real shivering.

After a moments debate he slid closer to the man, “You better not be pullin’ my leg.” He muttered darkly as he laid himself back to back with the man. The Frenchman stiffened like a startled cat, ready to spring up and attack. Suddenly, he was reminded of the time Scout learned what happened if you surprised Sniper in the mornings. The kid nearly lost an eye before Slim ever even realized what was going on.

"It’s gettin’ cold," Engineer mumbled feebly, not really sure that would pacify. There was a pause but the Frenchman finally murmured something incoherent and relaxed again. Gingerly, the Texan settled at the man’s back, it was a bit warmer this way. Soon the Texan went back to counting his sheep and eventually nodded off.

—————————————————

The stars were fading from view and the sun was rising, streaking the sky with yellows and oranges when Spy opened his eyes. He yawned, his eyes darting around, taking in his surroundings and inventory of himself. He was dressed, on a farm truck in the middle of the desert. The events of the night before were a warm haze but he remembered enough; he met the cowboy for dinner, they had tried to lurch back to their homes and ended up stranded.

He stretched and felt a weight pressing against his back. Something warm and soft. Carefully, he turned onto his back to see the Texan soundly asleep, curled up next to him. He vaguely remembered the night before, the man saying something to him. Something about being cold?

His face broke into a smile that thankfully no one was around to witness. He turned to a more convenient position, pausing to make sure the man hadn’t awoken. The cowboy grunted but made no further sign of stirring. He shouldn’t do this, he reminded himself as he settled against the cowboy, pressing his face into the man’s shoulder, feeling his warmth, listening to his breath. Even now, the man still had that faint smell of gun oil on him. He let a hand settle on his arm, delicately so not to disturb the Texan and shatter the moment. If the man awoke he’d feign sleep and deny everything if pressed.

This meant nothing, he reminded himself. They were barely friends, they were more civil opponents, really. Though the previous night made him hope that they might be able to at least be friends, regardless of their professional ties. To spend time with him, he assured himself, would be enough.

Spy closed his eyes, taking in every detail of this moment. This would be enough. This would have to be enough, he told himself.

———————————————-

The Texan woke up to the smell of cologne and cigarettes. Groggily, his mind began to piece together facts. He was in the middle of the desert, the sun was on the edge of the sky. It was probably a bit past sunrise. He was in the back of his truck and he was a lot more comfortable than he would have expected all things considered. Certainly warmer. His head was resting on something that was definitely not the boards of the truck bed. He opened his eyes and immediately shut them again. He re-opened them slowly, first one eye and then the other, but the scene hadn’t changed.

He tried to tell himself he wasn’t seeing what he was seeing. This wasn’t happening. He wasn’t resting his head on the enemy Spy’s arm. Nope. The Frenchman wasn’t pressed into his back. Nope. This wasn’t happening. That wasn’t the other man’s hand on his side. And that was a flashlight or gun he was feeling at his back. Clearly. One or both of them had probably gotten cold- colder- while they were asleep. These things happened.

However he tried to lie to himself he found he was unable to ignore the growing discomfort of his pants, which weren’t as perfectly fitted as they had been just moments before.

Engineer inhaled and slowly exhaled, feeling the tips of his ears burn. He was a grown man. These things happened. Nothing to be ashamed of. It was a reflex. Cautiously, he tried to slide away from Spy, get some distance between them. But he had barely moved an inch when he heard a sharp intake of breath and felt a gloved hand tighten on his jacket.

"Qui?" Spy grumbled. The Texan tried to pull away, but the man’s grip on the edge of his jacket complicated manners. After a few tugs the Frenchman released him. Once free, the Texan slid the remaining six inches over to the other side of the truck bed.

He sat up and began moving towards the tail gate avoiding eye contact.

"Bonjour" Spy greeted him, stiffly sitting up.

"Mornin’." He answered, not turning to look at the man. "Sorry ‘bout…" He trailed off, not sure what to say. He rubbed the back of his neck, wracking his brain and trying to remember if he had dreamed about Evie that night, whether that would have made the situation even more awkward. " … it got cold." He finished lamely.

"Yes it did." the Frenchman agreed. There was a long pause that stretched on and on as Engineer waited. Waited for some joke, some insult, some comment. Instead the man asked, "How far off the road are we?"

"Oh?" the Texan craned his neck and looked towards the horizon away from other man, grateful for a topic change. “‘Bout a quarter mile, looks like. Just as well we didn’t try to find the road in the dark."

"Agreed." the Spook edged towards the tailgate and climbed down, the Texan looked away to avoid embarrassment. Whether it was the snake’s or his own, he wasn’t sure. Landing easily on his feet, Spy dusted himself off and made his way to his ramshackle transport.

Engineer hopped off the back of the truck and slammed it shut without a word. The silence went on as neither dared to look at the other or comment. At this point, all he wanted to do was get in his truck and pretend this never happened.

The Frenchman’s Vespa sputtered and wheezed until the engine finally turned over. The Texan opened his cab door and started to climb in.

"Oh Monsieur cowboy," Spy called out to him.

Engineer looked over his shoulder at the man. “Yea?”

"If you like, I can recommend an excellent dry cleaner."

"A dry cleaner?"

"For your suit. They also do repair work."

The Texan looked down at his sleeve, the suit was rather rumpled and worse for wear. “Oh? Are they affordable?” he found himself asking.

"The work is worth the price." the man insisted, "You take those clothes into them, they’ll be good as new."

"Is that right?"

"Like this night never happened."

"Uh… Thank y-" he was cut off as the scooter sputtered and rattled off into the desert towards the road.

It was a wonder that damn thing still worked, he thought to himself as he watched the dust trail bounce away.

"Ah hell," he muttered to no one in particular, climbed into his truck and turned on the engine.

———————————————-

The problem with a good night out, Engineer had learned early in college, was the morning after. Now that he was older he found the problem multiplied. Last night had been an enjoyable night out, surprise cactuses and near accidents aside. The food had been good, and the snake had been pleasant company and surprisingly easy to talk to. Admittedly that might also have been the uncounted glasses of whiskey.

The Texan parked his truck behind the work shed and killed the motor. He slumped onto the steering wheel and winced as the morning sun bounced from the side mirror into his eyes.

His mouth felt like sandpaper and his back ached. Shower and bed. That was the ticket. Get out of this suit and pass out in his comfortable bed. Cringing, he climbed out of the truck and trudged his way to the base.

Maybe he could get back to his room without anyone noticing. It was still early, it was a Saturday, maybe everyone was still asleep. Maybe everyone had left base for the weekend. Maybe.

Somehow, he doubted he’d be that lucky.

"Where have you been?" a familiar voice called to him. With a flinch, he looked up and saw Sniper sitting in the doorway to his camper drinking what was probably his third cup of coffee.

"Eh… out," he said gesturing vaguely with his hand, hoping that Slim didn’t ask for any more details.

"All laired up like that?"

"Yea…" he looked down at his clothes. The suit, while more than a bit rumpled and dusty was still undeniably a suit and not his usual attire.

"So have yerself a ripper of a night out eh?"

"No - it was… enh…." Anything was probably better than admitting the truth. He had gone to meet the enemy Spy for dinner, at the restaurant the team was banned from. And spent the night in a truck bed huddled with said saboteur for warmth. His mind slowly cranked looking for an alternative story. "Dinner!" he blurted.

The Australian frowned, his brow quirked above his aviators. “Yah went to dinner dressed like that?”

"Yes?"

"By yourself?"

"Yes."

"And yer just now are getting back?"

"Yes."

"All rumpled like?"

"… Yes."

Sniper took a sip from his coffee, his sunglasses hiding his eyes that were judging by the tilt of his eyebrows, were no doubt skeptical.

"Well, I’m gonna wash up…" the Texan decided to take this lull in the interrogation to flee "I’ll see ya later, Slim! We’re still on for cards tonight right?" he babbled as he made his escape.

"Hey Laddie!" Demo exclaimed as Engineer walked up the steps. He grumbled a response, his mind focused only on getting to his room. "Rough night, eh?" the Scotsman asked with a knowing chuckle and a wink.

He quickened his pace down the hall to the sleeping quarters, his eyes on the floor trying not to make eye contact with anyone. A shower could wait. All he wanted now was his bed. Bed and peace. And for people to stop getting the wrong idea. He was down the hall, he was almost there.

"Hudduh!" he heard the familiar greeting and the creaking of asbestos, looking up he saw Pyro looming in front of him.

"Mornin’ firebug," he answered, reluctantly.

"Hud huh huh?"

"Sorry pardner, I’m a bit tired." he explained sheepishly. "I had a late night, I’ll talk to you later."

"Huh hi huh hooh hih?" the firebug asked, head cocked like a curious puppy.

"Yea…" the Texan answered with a faint smile, "Yea I suppose it was a good night."

"Hooh!" Pyro clapped him on the shoulder and gave him a thumbs up.

"Thanks pardner." he smiled and unlocked his door. The door shut behind him as he stepped into the room. Shedding his jacket on the floor he collapsed on the bed and was asleep before he hit the pillow.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Yah really need to take better care of your equipment."Engineer lectured as he walked down the basement steps. "Son, this is the fourth time in three months."

"I know, I know," Scout rolled his eyes trailing after him. "can yah fix it?"  

"Probably can, but I dunno why I should."

"Isn't that why yer here? To fix stuff?" the young man bounded around the Texan and running on ahead of him.

"I got better things to do than fix your guns over and over again. I keep tellin' ya routine ma-"

"Hey Hardhat," the younger man cut him off, "did ya leave your light on?"

He frowned, catching the light under the door. He usually didn't leave the power in the room on. But he had the sinking suspicion he knew who had. He hoped he was wrong.

 He reached mechanically in his pocket for his keys, his mind racing to figure out a solution. If He was in there, it was too late now to turn back. Keeping the kid out of the workshop at this point would be suspicious.

His hands fumbled, the keys hit the ground with a loud metallic clank. He was about to grab them when Scout scooped them up and shoved them into his hands.  Reluctantly he unlocked the door and the barged in ahead of him.

"Do you smell smoke?" Scout asked.

Cigarettes. Not the smell of smoke. The smell of cigarettes. "M-musta left the soldering iron on," he stammered quickly.

"Gettin' forgetful in yer old age hunh,?" the kid snorted.

 The Texan ignored him, his mind elsewhere. He was right, Spy, the other one, must have been in here. Hopefully he wasn't still in here, that could prove problematic. "Now leave me yer gun," he said holding his hand out for the damaged weapon resisting the urge to nervously glance around the room, "and I'll get to work on it. "

The kid handed over the rifle and to Engineer's dismay walked further in the room instead of leaving. "Why yah got a teddy bear?" Scout asked with disdain, jabbing a finger at Teddy on top of the dispenser.

"N-never you mind that" he exclaimed, his ears burning as he placed the gun on the table; why wasn't Scout leaving? If Spook was still in here…. There wasn't a lot of room to maneuver, odds were pretty good the two idiots would bump into each other. He wasn't sure what would happen but he didn't want to find out.

"Hey, what's this lamp doing here?" the kid asked, walking to the back corner. The Texan's heart jumped in his throat, there wasn't normally a lamp in here. Trying not to cringe he turned to see Scout pointing at a rather out-of-place looking floor lamp. He recognized that lamp.

 "Don' touch that!" he barked.

Scout gave him a strange look.

"I-it's uh…defective. I was fixin' that for…" he hesitated, "Pyro." He hated dragging the firebug into a lie but odds were good Scout wasn't going to bother to fact check.

"Defective?" Scout repeated with a snort. "Yah sure the lightbulb ain't just burned out?" he reached a hand to grab the lamp shade.

"Ah said don' touchit!" he snapped, rushing over from the work bench and grabbing Scout by the arm.

"Ow! Hey what's th'matter with ya?"

"When I say don' touch somethin', ah mean leave it alone." he grumbled dragging him away from the light fixture before either of them got hurt.

"ALRIGHT! Alright! Just leggo already!"

"Do ya want me to fix this for ya or not?" the Texan grumbled, gesturing at his workbench, hoping to distract the kid from other things in the room. And that other things in the room would continue to remain inactive.

"Yeah. How long will it take ya?"

"I should get it done by this weekend."

"But that's days away," Scout protested.

"And I've got other things on my dance card, son."

"What am I supposed to use until then?"

"You've got other guns, use them, or borrow somethin' from the armory. It ain't like we gotta shortage."

"Are ya kidd-"

"-Now git outta here." the Texan cut him off abruptly. "I've got work to do." And company to deal with.

"But-"

"Git outta here before I decide that gun a'yers will take until next week!" Engineer said, herding the kid to the door.

"Ow! Watchit!"

"I got work ta do."

"What the hell is-" Scout's complaint was cut off as the Texan slammed the door. With a relieved sigh he bolted it shut.  Leaning against the door, he breathed a sigh of relief.

"Kay Trouble, kid's gone." he grumbled, turning from the door. There was a pop as the floorlamp disappeared and turned into a nosy Frenchman. "Now, yah mind tellin' me just wha-" the words froze in his mouth when he saw the man gracelessly slump in the arm chair.

He expected the man to snap at him - or make some smug remark. Instead the man mumbled a greeting he could barely make out.

The Texan swallowed, trying to figure out what to do. He'd never seen the man like this, something was eating at him and he had no idea what to do about it. Finally, he cleared his throat, "Erm- y-yah alright there?" he asked hesitantly.

"I'm fine," came the petulant reply.

Engineer snorted, "Pull th' other one, even I can tell yer lyin'."

The Frenchman wordlessly lit a cigarette. The Texan was about to object but then decided to save his breath. "Yah want some coffee?" a mug of coffee seemed a poor solution to whatever was ailing the man, but it was all he had to offer.

"Oui." came the soft reply.

The Texan took the coffee pot from the modified dispenser and filled it with water from the workshop tap.  He turned to Spy as he poured the water into a panel on the dispenser, "So what brings ya down here?"

The dispenser hummed on, and the coffee maker gurgled as it started working. Finally the man spoke "<I had a bad day.>"

"A bad day hunh?" he repeated. "Ya wanna talk about it?"  

 But Spy remained silent. As soon as there was enough coffee the Texan took his mug from off the dispenser and filled it. "Sorry, ah don' have any cream or sugar down here." he apologized, passing the mug to the Frenchman who just held it in his hands, staring down into the steam.

"My project…" he started and trailed off.

"Yea?" he prompted gently.

"The personal project I mentioned… it did not have a…" the man froze, hesitating on the words. The Texan could hardly believe he'd lived to see the man short for words more than once. "successful conclusion."

"Ah" he said quietly, taking a spare mug off a shelf and pouring himself a cup. That had probably been a hard blow to the man's pride, no wonder he was skulking around like a wounded dog. After a moment's pause he gingerly patted the Frenchman on the shoulder. "I've had a few projects and designs blow up on me." Sometimes literally, but he decided not to add that. "It's always rough when you ain't expectin' it."

 "I certainly was not expecting this." Spy agreed staring into the mug of coffee as if looking for answers, his cigarette burning down to a trail of ash.

"Yah know… Spook, ah can't do much if I don't know what's goin' on." He rubbed his neck nervously, "Yah wanna tell me about this project a'yours?" He wasn't really sure why he was asking, odds were he wasn't going to get much an answer.

The man took another sip from the mug before speaking up quietly. "Exactly… what is your opinion of your team's Spy?"

"He's a self absorbed ass." like some other people he could name, "Stop changin' the subject."

"I wasn't." the man replied simply with a wounded air taking a drag from his cigarette.

"What does this have to do with Spah?"

"It has everything to do with him." the Frenchman replied, sighing out a cloud of smoke.

"Oh?" he asked warily "Care to explain?"

"That was my project…" Spy paused before asking again, "You aren't friends with him are you?"

"What? Nah, we barely talk." He realized sheepishly he'd spent more time with the enemy Spy than his own teammate. True, his team's Spy didn't drug him and kidnap him, but it still was an odd thing to admit to himself. "Why?"

The Frenchman paused and finally after another sigh replied in rapid French "<Because I was blackmailing him.>"

After a moment Engineer's mental translation caught up and processed, "Ah. And that didn't turn out well I take it?" he found himself asking.

Spy stared up at him as if expecting more of a reaction before shaking his head "Horribly." he slumped deeper into the chair.

"What happened exactly? I-if you don' mind my askin'?"

Spy took one last drag on his cigarette before stubbing it out on a long forgotten plate by the chair that hadn't made it's way back to the kitchen.  Quietly the snake pulled another cigarette out of his case tapping it on the arm of the chair. For a few moments it seemed he wasn't going to answer, it wouldn't be the first time the man avoided a question. He should have known better than to ask, he was lucky to get what information he had. Then, to the Texan's surprise Spy answered, his voice thick as the whole story poured out.

The RED team's Spy had been away a lot, that had been common knowledge on base. But the team had long accepted this and the man's desire for privacy and figured they'd never know. It never occurred to Engineer that someone would be nosy enough to find out where the man was going. Now that he thought about it, it seemed obvious that Spy, the other Spy, would investigate.

"…the Scout's ma?" he asked incredulously, cutting into the Frenchman's narrative. His outburst was silenced with a sullen glare as the story continued.

Spy had been industrious and finally got proof of the man's liaisons and had been waiting for a good opportunity to use them. Apparently today had been that day. RED Spy had infiltrated their defenses, and Spook had decided this was the time to show off his evidence. In front of his teammates, including Scout himself, he revealed the pictures exposing the other Spy and his affair. But his victory was hollow, the enemy Spy had been a few steps ahead of him and he had lost the photos, his dignity, and probably his pride.

<"He was right there and I handed the knife right back to him like an imbecile"> Spy growled, <"I should have seen it, how could I have missed it!?">

"Ya certainly ain't the first person to fall for those disguises." Engineer said trying to soothe him. "And ya won't be the last." He tried not to think too hard about how often he himself had fallen for those disguises, how many times the Spook had pretended to be someone else.

"I'm not supposed to be that easily fooled! Not by a fellow spy!" the snake insisted vehemently. Then Engineer understood the situation, he felt like an idiot for not realizing it earlier. The man had a rivalry with the other Spy, much like his resentment of  BLU Engineer. It was one thing to be beaten by someone else, it was another thing entirely to be beaten at your own damn game.  

With his tale over Spy slumped in the chair,  puffing a cloud of cigarette smoke around his head. Engineer sat quietly processing the story."So… why are you telling me all this?" he finally asked.

"My team thought I was the enemy and shot me in the face!" Spy hissed miserably, "I haven't got anyone else to talk to."

Spy had mentioned at their last meeting that he didn't want to share time with any of his teammates, but it hadn't really registered with him.  So the man really didn't have friends or anyone to talk to? It made sense he supposed, he was hard to get along with. That didn't stop him from feeling more than a bit sorry for him. No one to talk to but an enemy. Sounded like a damn lonely way to live.

Engineer thought for a moment, biting the inside of his lip before finally speaking "Well, I got some work ta get to… But if you want to hang around, uh…" he hesitated,  "Uh… yer welcome to."

Spy looked up at him in quiet... was that surprise? Shock? Whatever the expression, the Texan found himself clearing his throat nervously. "Y-you'll have to be gone by suppertime, but until then-"

"-Merci." the man cut him off, a faint smile on his face.

<"No Problem">  Engineer replied in his own awkward French, returning the smile.

Spy laughed "Your accent, Monsieur!" he exclaimed in mock horror.

"Yea, yea laugh it up." the Texan replied, quickly turning back to his work bench, the tips of his ears burning. "I-I got work to do." he grumbled,  though relieved to see the man in better spirits. He hadn't been sure what to do with the man in the state he'd been in. Watching the man sulk felt… wrong.  

Engineer forced himself to focus on the task at hand and started to strip down Scout's rifile, the Frenchman watching him intently. With a frown he noticed it was still loaded. "Damn kid needs to take better care of his things." he grumbled, removing the unspent shells, his mind whirring back to the Scout. The BLU Scout. His mother. With RED Spy.

He didn't necessarily like his team's Spy. They barely talked. True, he had thrown a wrench at the man's head. But they hadn't really gotten along before that. They just happened to be on the same team. He'd never really been around much to get to know. Though he now knew there was a reason for that.

"Yah think he's gonna be sore? Spy I mean."

The Spook blinked as if startled out of a daydream "Hm?"

"Enh…nuthin… " he shrugged sheepishly, "Probably jus' bein' paranoid." The lever wouldn't even come off, it looked like something had junked up the release. " Could you hand me that bottle?" he asked, pointing to the shelves next to the chair.

"Certainly." the Frenchman leaned over, passing the bottle of gun oil next to him.

"Thank ya," the Texan said adding a few drops of solvent and tried again, but it was still sticking. Grumbling under his breath he added a few more.  

"Didn't you tell the boy you were going to work on his gun later?" the snake asked, peering over his shoulder.

"That was more to try to teach him to take care of his own weapons." the Texan explained as he finally managed to remove the lever from the gun stock, "Can't have him thinkin' I'm here just to clean up his mistakes." From the looks of the situation, the whole thing would need a good cleaning and an oiling, and probably some minor work. "Besides, it seems sort of counter intuitive to have ya hang around while I repair the equipment you destroy," he added with a chuckle.   

"Why Monsieur, I have no idea what you mean." the man answered with mock innocence as he pulled up a drafting stool and sat next to him at the workbench.

"Sure ya don't." Engineer muttered rolling his eyes, "Just don't take any offense if I work on other projects right now."

"No offense taken."

"Glad ta hear it."  

---------------------------------------------------

After Spy left, Engineer started cleaning up the workshop. Scout's gun was placed in a crate under the workbench, out of sight until he was ready to give it back to the kid. He whistled to himself as he put his drafting stool back where it belonged, swept up some shavings and cigarette ashes and put his cleaning tool back where they belonged.

He was halfway through scrubbing out the coffee mugs when he stopped mid whistle, realization of what he'd done came crashing down on him.

He had aided and abetted the enemy.

 Spy, who sabotaged him every day. The man who killed him and his teammates on a regular basis. The man whose job description included "deception" and "backstabbing." He'd just made him coffee and invited him to stay.

The Spook was doing his job he tried to tell himself. Just like he was doing his. It was just a job.

But the man's job was to sabotage and assist his team. There was nothing in his job that meant he needed to spend his personal time stalking and shadowing an enemy teammate. He'd done that because he wanted to. He'd enjoyed it. Engineer suddenly remembered the pride in Spy's voice as he explained what he'd done, the lengths he had gone to. He had gone out of his way to blackmail an enemy just because he'd been bored and wanted to prove a point. He'd wanted a challenge.

"Dammit." he muttered, remembering the conversation at Swissmas "You were boring." "You used to provide a challenge." He'd been the focus of one of the snake's projects himself. Used to be. At least that's what the Spook had told him. Was he still one of the man's 'projects'?

Spy could have easily been lying about that, he never could tell the difference between the man's truth and lies. Was this just another game, another project? If this whole thing was another game, what was the goal? What did the man want? How much was truth, how much was a lie?

"This is ridiculous," he muttered to himself shaking his head. Truth, lie, it didn't matter. Whatever the reason, he couldn't let this continue. Shouldn't let this continue. He was in too deep already. He should never have let himself get this deep. Why had he let this continue?

If he had any sense he would have thrown the man's dinner invitation away and spent the evening in his work shop. Alone.

 He should have tossed him out when he came in with that stupid bear. Kicked the man out at Swissmas.  Him and his cornish game hen.

As ridiculous as this situation was he should be have told someone after Thanksgiving. Hell, he should have said something when he got dragged off to the strip joint in the first place.

 But he hadn't, had he?

At first, he hadn't wanted to tell because it had been so ludicrous. The situation had been so unbelievable that he figured no one would take him seriously. Or worse, if they had, he would be humiliated.

But now he didn't want this to be discovered. If the situation was discovered…. He remembered what had happened when Demo and BLU Soldier's friendship had been revealed. The actions the Administrations had taken, the public shaming. That would be small potatoes to what would happen if anyone found out he'd been spending time with the enemy Spy. Demo had never had the BLU Soldier on base,  and the Soldier had posed little threat to the operation of the team. Spy had been on base, and he'd never reported it. He was betraying the team with his silence.

It was too late to take anything back, but this couldn't continue. It'd have to end. And he would be left to his own devices. Alone. Again.  

But logically, he reminded himself, logically, this had to end. It had gone on too far. He shouldn't have let it begin.

"Dammit." he hissed, beating his fist on the edge of the sink.

 

Chapter Text

It had been a long few days since his humiliating loss at the hands of the enemy Spy. The BLU Scout had heard about the photos and had pounded on his door demanding the copies and negatives. Spy had of course refused but the boy persisted in hounding him constantly. Both him and the RED Spy, it seemed, had become outlets for the idiot's frustrations. 

After a few days of this he was quickly running out of patience and hiding places on base he decided to seek sanctuary with his cowboy.

He slinked down the RED basement steps and strolled to the workshop door, ignoring all the signs against smoking and trespassing. He tried to open the door but found it was locked. Strange. The man must be having trouble with his own teammates. It took only a moment for the Frenchman to unlock the door and let himself in.

"Good evening," he announced himself quickly palming his duplicate key.  

"Ah had that door locked for a reason," the Texan grumbled, not glancing up from his work bench. The man seemed to be reassembling the sentry he'd destroyed earlier that day.

"Monsieur Cowboy," he greeted the man with a smile, though Engineer was too busy to notice it.

He strolled further in the room, letting the door latch behind him. "When was the last time you went to the cinema?" he asked as he settled into the arm chair. "I mean a real film, not that beach monster nonsense."  The nearest actual movie theater that wasn't showing Attack of the 50 ft Hippy or whatever the latest tripe was nearly halfway across the state, but that meant a long drive with the Texan. A weekend away from base, actual civilization, good company and entertainment that probably didn't require 3d glasses. Maybe by the time they got back Scout would lose interest of forget and he could be left in peace. He looked up at the Texan to gauge interest in the prospect, the man hadn't seemed to be listening. "Or we coul-" he warily began thinking of another suggestion. 

"A-Ah think you should…" the man hesitated, looking up from his work but not meeting his eye. "Think yah should stop comin' around here." 

"What?" Spy tensed, the smile on his lips rapidly evaporating, he had to be hearing that wrong.

"I'm askin' you nicely."

 "Qu’est-"

The Texan cut him off. "I - I think it's really for the better. If we stop… this…" the man shook his head, "whatever this is."

What was happening?  Why was this was happening? The last time they'd met down here the cowboy hadn't protested. Hadn't thrown him out. Hadn't turned him away. Even kept him safe from discovery by a member of his own team. He'd given him coffee. Invited him to stay around. Even after he had told his story the man hadn't protested, hadn't thrown him out like he'd expected. What could have changed?

"Give me a reason."

Engineer glanced at him before turning back to the broken machine on the table. "Ah never really figured what you're after. Comin' around here these days. Ya bored? Lonely? Why are you down here right now?"

"I came down here just to chat." A deceptively simple answer that didn't even begin to cover the truth of the situation. He had come because he'd wanted to. He enjoyed the man's company, his voice, his smell. The man's workshop had become a refuge of sorts for him as much as its owner had become a habit for him.

"How do I know yer not playing me for a sucker? That yer not just biding your time and one day I'll find you blackmailing me for your amusement?"

"Black… mail…?" he repeated woodenly, not quite believing what he was hearing. "You think I'm… using… you?" The notion was ridiculous. Preposterous. How could the cowboy think that?

"You shadowed a teammate o' mine, took dirty pitures of him with a woman, and showed them to her son. -"

"-to be fair, he turned out not to be Scout." Spy pointed out feebly.

"An' that's supposed to make it better? You skulk around here, followin' me, poke your beak around in my property and my business" the Texan jabbed an accusing finger at him "the only logical conclusion I can make is you're settin' me up for somethin' like ya did Spy!"

"I am no-" Spy's hands clenched into fists, how dare the Texan suggest that.

"Then why do you keep hangin' around here?" the Texan asked again.

Spy gave no reply, his stomach churned. After all this time. After everything. After he'd come clean about his plans, after he'd told the man the truth. There were few people he'd been open with. And even fewer, if any, who still lived. He had hoped, rather foolishly he could see now, that Engineer might at least be a friend. But the man still thought he was the enemy. Accusing him even now.

He ignored the urge to yell, speaking carefully through grit teeth , "I can assure you Monsieur that I woul-"

"Yah can't assure me of anythin'." The Texan said firmly, crossing his arms across his chest. "Yah can say anything yah like, that doesn't make it any more honest." 

"Mon ami-"

"We. Are. Not. Friends!" Spy cringed as the man added, "Yah probly don' even know what the word means!"

For once, Spy found himself at a loss for words. His mind reeled, going through all possible options, all possible angles. Something he could use. Something he could say to change the man's mind. Anything.

"Now I'm askin' yah nicely to leave. Leave and not come snoopin' round here anymore."

 Not come back. Then he'd only see the cowboy in skirmishes. Never talk to him again. Never to see that smile again. Only fight him. To be enemies again. The thought was more painful than he'd realized.

"Please Mo-"

"Spare the crocodile tears." Engineer glared, jabbing a finger at the door. "I'm askin' ya once, leave before I make you."

 Spy was rooted to the spot, unwilling to move, the image of the man bleeding out on the floor resurfaced in his mind. That would be the only way he'd see him. He swallowed, his heart seemed to have leaped from his stomach to his throat.  "Non." he answered finally looking the cowboy in the eye, daring him to move him.  

The Texan held his gaze for a moment before glancing away. "Leave!" he demanded, his voice cracking. 

"No," Spy repeated firmly, unsure what he was hoping to gain. 

"I am done askin'," the Texan grabbed him angrily by the lapels, pulling him up from the chair and onto his feet.  The Engineer's fist moved before he had a chance to dodge, hitting him squarely in the mouth. Staggering backwards into the workbench, Spy massaged his jaw and chuckled. The cowboy stood before him, teeth bared, fire in his eyes, nostrils flaring, his large hands clutched into fists. Rarely had he seen the man like this, his usual calm demeanor slipping to show the intensity he was capable of. But now all that fire was focused on him. Spy's smile widened.

"What do'ya find so funny?" the Texan demanded swinging another blow.  Spy stepped to the side, avoiding the man's fist. With more speed than the Frenchman expected Engineer grabbed him by the shirt collar and roughly pinned him against the table breathing heavily as he raised his fist again.

On impulse, Spy leaned closer, feeling the man's breath on his face. Blood pounding in his ears he leaned in, bridging the distance between their mouths and kissed him.

 It wasn't a long kiss, or even the most passionate. By his standards it was chaste. It had just been a moment's impulse. But it was enough to stop the cowboy in his tracks.

Spy held his breath for what felt like an eternity. Stupid. Stupid. He shouldn't have done that. He should have done anything but that. Fighting back, or allowing himself to be beaten, or killing the man. All of that would have been less dangerous than this.Engineer stood there woodenly his grip on Spy's collar loosened.

Spy's heart threatened to jump out of his throat as he waited for the man to protest, complain, panic. Hit him. Anything. He'd just made this situation worse. The man's face was unreadable. He waited for the Texan's inevitable repulsion.But there was only the sound of the cowboy's rapid breathing.

He was trying to free himself from the man's grasp  when the hand on his collar tightened. Then to his shock,  Engineer yanked him forward. For a moment Spy wasn't sure what was happening, the kiss was clumsy, awkward, but made up for it in intensity. Spy felt a shiver of both surprise and delight as he reciprocated, leaning deeper into the kiss answering the man's intensity with his own. Then another and another, the cowboy seemed to gain more confidence with each kiss, barely giving Spy time to catch his breath.  The Frenchman pulled at the man's coveralls, pressing closer feeling the man's body against his own, taking in the smell of sweat and gun oil. He felt the Texan's strong arms, he'd often remembered the brief feel of them around him that night in the back of the truck, but hadn't let himself hope he'd experience it again. Nuzzling Engineer's neck, he nipped it experimentally and was rewarded with an excited moan. Strong hands began deftly unbuttoning his jacket. Obligingly, the Frenchman shrugged off the garment and let it fall to the floor.

He put his hands on man's straps to unfasten the man's overalls but the catches seemed to fight Spy with every tug and pull. He growled under his breath, roughly grabbing at the straps which refused to give up. Spy could feel the rumble of the Texan's chuckle under his fingertips as the man's nimble hands unfastened the straps letting them fall loosely. 

 Niether of them spoke, their mouths too busy for words. Spy grinned as he cupped the cowboy's growing erection through worn denim. The man wanted this as much as he did.

He eagerly ran his hands along the man's chest feeling the cowboy's heart racing as fast as his own. He'd started to unbutton the shirt, when Engineer grabbed him by his tie and yanked him in for another hungry kiss.The Texan's mouth traveled from his lips along the mask down to the bare skin at the base of his neck. Spy murmured involuntarily as the cowboy lingered on the sensitive skin there before unbuttoning Spy's shirt.

As the Texan's calloused hands grasped his waist pulling him closer and Spy felt himself get hard. His own hands explored the geography of the man's back, feeling muscle shift and flex beneath them, but still dressed in leather he couldn't touch skin.

Spy turned his gaze to the Texan's face, watching him as he tugged his leather gloves off with his teeth, as he let them fall to the floor. The slight motion along the column of the man's throat as he swallowed was too tempting to resist and he brought his mouth to the pulse point just under the Engineer's chin. Engineer jerked and uttered a muffled curse, and Spy slid his hand into the Texan's without lifting his head, interlocking their fingers together. When he squeezed, Engineer squeezed back. His heart was pounding. He felt the sandpaper texture of the Engineer's stubbled jaw as he grazed his teeth across it. At that point that his dear cowboy decided he would no longer play a passive role.

The Engineer pulled out of his grip. Sturdy hands found his hips, grinding them up against the Texan's solid frame and as simple and brutal as that manipulation of his body was, it sparked an electric jolt through him that threatened to unhinge his knees. He breathed out and gripped the edge of the work bench, leveraging himself up against the other man. Someone groaned, a resonant and gutteral sound, like some creature in heat. Was it the Engineer? Himself? He didn't know. And didn't care. He could still taste the other man on his tongue, the faint bitterness of the beer he must have had earlier. Spy swiped his tongue across his lower lip, tender from exploring the Engineer's throat. He had to have another kiss, had to have him on his tongue again. The man's name tumbled from his mouth, so quiet it was almost without voice.

The Engineer rocked him up against the table again and he pawed at the man's broad back, felt the raging heat of his skin even through the work-worn denim. He moved his hand to the back of the Texan's neck, and kissed him again, hungry and open-mouthed. Engineer made some wonderful noise and he swallowed it down into himself. He couldn't wait anymore. This clumsy rutting against one another wasn't how he wanted it. And it wasn't enough, not nearly enough. His free hand first cupped and then lightly gripped the other man through his clothing, ran his fingers down the front, searching... Grâce à Dieu, there was a zipper at least, and no complicated strap contraption impeding him from what he wanted. At last, at last his fingers closed one by one around the rigid steel of the Engineer. The Texan melted against him and the sheer delighted satisfaction this naked response elicited made him chuckle even while he struggled to keep the two of them upright. Very carefully, he eased his hips back against the work table again, letting it bear his weight while he slid the zipper of his suitpants down, fingered the button free from its hole and reached in to take hold of himself. The feel of his own hand gripping hisaching erection made him sigh. As best he could, he shifted the Engineer in his grasp and wrapped his fingers around both their members. The Texan had regained his feet by then and was watching the hand he had around the both of them with feverish desperation. He continued to watch as Spy began to stroke the both of them, his hand moving as slowly as he could bring himself to, squeezing a little on each upstroke. Engineer watched and Spy found his gaze incredibly arousing. The Engineer watched his hand, but his own eyes were on the man's face, his hand settling into a practiced rythm. On more than one stroke he rubbed his thumb up just beneath the corona of his shaft. The sound of each ragged breath was embarrassingly loud to him. As if he were some overeager virgin. But his dear Texan was in no better condition. The man had settled a heavy hand on his shoulder to keep himself steady, his chest and forehead dotted with sweat. Spy leaned back in for another kiss, and at last Engie lifted his head to look at him. He felt the Texan reach his peak, his come spooling out of him and over his arm and both their clothes, his moan surprisingly quiet against his mouth. He didn't last much longer, stroking in quick, rough jerks until his own orgasm burst sweetly behind his eyelids and over his knuckles. "Très bon... "

 The Texan's breathing started to even out and Spy felt his heart slowing down to normal. Pulling a hankerchief out of his pocket he began wiping his hands. Glancing down at the Engineer he smiled "Well Mo-" then stopped when he saw the man's face….

The man gaped at him, his face red, his eyes wide. The look in his eyes wasn't sated bliss as one would expect, he looked distraught, confused.

"Eng-" he spoke again, hesitantly reaching a hand to the man's face, the cowboy pushed him back into the table. Stepping away, the man turned his back to the Frenchman and quickly began buttoning his shirt.

Spy's heart sank, the man had kissed him back, true he had initiated but Engineer had reciprocated. He had returned the kiss, hadn't protested, hadn't stopped him. Hell the cowboy seemed just as eager as he had been. What had happened?

"Damnit damnit damnit," he heard the man mutter under his breath as he fumbled with the button. 


The man had kissed him back, Spy reminded himself, and held him.  Nothing in his actions implied he had been unwilling.


Too much. Too much, too fast he realized as he shoved the hankerchief back in his pocket, swallowing a lump in his throat. The Texan was inexperienced, he should have slowed down. Should have talked to him. Instead of charging on. He was an imbecile.

"I…" he trailed off before starting again, "I -" he hesitated, "…are you alright?"

Engineer had finished tucking in his shirt and was refastening his coverall straps, "'m fine," he said without looking back at Spy.

"We should-" he began, but the cowboy cut him off again.

"-'m fine." he insisted sharply.  He glanced over his shoulder but avoided looking him in the eye, "Ah- ah… jus'…" he trailed off, pacing quickly to the other side of the room and placed the workbench between the two of them. "Ah jus' wanna be alone."

Spy frowned, if he left… what would happen? Sweep this under the rug? Pretend this never happened? It wouldn't be the first time that happened to him. But it would probably be one of the few times he didn't want that.

"Monsieur-" he started again.

"Please…


Without another word,  Spy picked his jacket off the dusty floor and brushed it off. Buttoning it up he examined the state of the rest of his clothes, thankfully once he was invisible no one would see the stains.

He stepped out the door, almost turned to say goodbye to the cowboy, but changed his mind and only the sound of the door latching behind him marked his exit.

-----------------------------------------------------

Spy had left a while ago, slipping out the door and fading into the shadows of the base. The Texan walked around the room, mindlessly picking up tools and setting them back down. He took a sip from the beer on his work table, it had long since gone warm and flat. Woodenly, he set it down on the workbench, next to the bits of the sentry he'd been repairing before… the sentry Spy had destroyed, he reminded himself. Spy…

"Damnit,"  Engineer muttered, stomping to the sink. Turning on the taps, he grabbed a rag and scrubbed at the stains. Clean up the evidence, can't be seen like this. He had managed to get it out of the overalls easy enough but his shirt… that was going to need to be washed properly. 

After dropping the rag in an empty bucket he shoved his face in the cold water. He turned the faucet off and toweled off with a semi clean shop rag.  He wasn't sure what had happened. Well, that was a lie, he told himself. He wasn't innocent, he wasn't naïve. He knew what had happened. It was the why that plagued him.

His face burned with shame, it took two to dance and he was just as responsible as Spy. He hadn't been coerced, Spy hadn't forced him. He could have stopped at any moment. Resisted. Protested. Fought. He could take the man easily in an unarmed fight. Heck, he could have snapped him like a twig if he wanted. But he hadn't….

He hadn't been thinking clearly, he'd gotten caught up, lost in the moment. In the sensation. He shook his head trying to clear his mind, as the recent memories started bubbling up. The feel of Spy's mouth on his neck,  his hand on his back. He rubbed the back of his neck, his thumb idly lingering where the snake's lips had been not too long before, the skin there was still a bit sensitive. He jerked his hand away, jarring himself from the memory.

"Shit." He needed to get out of here. The air was stifling, the walls which normally provided him with security felt like they were closing in. Spy's scent clung to him, pervading his nostrils. Clear his head. Get a shower. Clean up, go to sleep and forget anything ever happened.

The Texan walked stiffly up the basement steps, adjusting his shirt collar along the way and trying desperately not to look guilty. Hoping, praying he wouldn't run into anyone.  The last thing he wanted was for any of the team to see him like this. Or smell him. He smelled like… well to be blunt… he smelled like sex and cigarettes. Sweat and French cologne. It was late -surely he wouldn't run into anyone. Just as he assured himself there was nothing to worry about he saw the imposing shape of Heavy as he rounded the corner.

"Engineer," Heavy greeted him with a quiet wave. There was no way he could pretend he hadn't seen the Russian. He was sort of hard to miss.  Engineer nodded a greeting, hoping the man would go on his way.

"You are… wet?" Heavy rumbled as if just now noticing the damp patches on the Texan's clothing.

"Eh…" his brain froze in horror, unable to answer."Uh…" he added, in an attempt to explain himself.

The Russian raised a questioning eyebrow.

"Jus' gota'lil… " he finally managed to mumble, "a bit uh…" he gestured vaguely at his overalls.

"What-"

 "W-well, I-I gotta get cleaned up!" he said, cutting off anymore questions, before the man noticed anything else unusual. "'Scuze me," he stammered and sidled past the Russian and sped down the hall. The bathroom was thankfully empty, and quiet, anyone else who was going to use it had already gone to bed.

With fumbling hands he unfastened his belt where it landed on the concrete floor with a clank. Sitting on the bench against the wall, he unlaced his boots dropping them to the floor. He peeled off the rest of his clothes, leaving them in a trail to the showers. He'd pick up later he promised the open air as he snagged a mostly intact bar of soap from a soap dish.

With the turn of a knob, the pipes groaned to life before finally spitting out water. Not even waiting for the water to warm up he shoved his head into the spray. Rolling the soap around in his hands he worked up a lather and began to scrub furiously at himself. The water warmed up and he relaxed in the hot spray, trying to ignore the various parts that still ached from the memory of the Frenchman's hands. 

It had been so long since he'd been touched. Even before the divorce it had been ages, months maybe longer since he'd been kissed or… or anything. He hadn't been home much and the last time he had been home it had been almost a year ago and… marital relations had not been in the cards.   

A year... It seemed a lifetime ago. Evie had left him alone. Alone and unwanted.

Engineer swallowed a lump in his throat and thought back to Spy's hands on his skin, the murmur of his voice. The feel of the man's breath on his neck. The smell of the man's cologne had rinsed off his skin but he couldn't scrub it from his memory. He'd felt so alive.

He leaned forward, resting his forehead against the wall, trying to clear his head. Think about the farm, think about his latest blueprint, uses for Austrailum, anything but the damn Frenchman. The feel of those leather gloves on his back, those same hands without gloves finding long forgotten sensitive places. His heart started to race, his pulse throbbing at his temples.With a grimace he turned the cold tap back on, he shuddered as the cold sank into his skin, temporarily clearing his head.

When the cold got to be too much for him he turned off the taps and started to dry himself off.

In past experiences on oil fields and college Engineer had run across many types of men. Some men liked blondes, some liked chubby brunettes, and some, well… some liked other men. It wasn't talked about. But it happened. He saw the quiet looks the doc and the Russian exchanged, everyone on base knew about them. Just no one mentioned it. You either complained or you turned a blind eye, you didn't acknowledge it.

But he wasn't one of them. He was sure of that. Hell, he'd been married and certainly hadn't had any trouble… rising to the occasion. It had been so long since he had, though…

That was it. He'd heard in situations without women, after too long men, men who normally wouldn't, would vent all that pent up frustration and energy on each other. He'd never personally experienced it, but it was common knowledge. That's what must have happened. The months on base had finally gotten to him. Just bottled up sexual frustration and nothing more. It meant nothing except that he'd been alone too long.

Tonight had just been a fluke. He just needed to blow off some steam, and the snake just happened to set him off. Just that and nothing more. It meant nothing. He could stop worrying about it because it was nothing and it meant nothing.

Wrapping the towel around his waist, he scooped up his shed clothes and boots. What he needed now was some sleep. He could sleep and pretend none of this had happened, he assured himself.

-------------------------------------------------------

Morning came too soon. Rather than sleeping he had tossed and turned restlessly all through the night and the morning proved less forgiving than Engineer had hoped. He'd barely been able to look his reflection in the eye when he tried to shave. He slumped in the mess hall, nursed his coffee and debated about growing a beard. 

"What is zat on your neck?" he heard a nosey German voice behind him.


"M-mah neck?" the Texan straightened from his cup of coffee. He hadn't examined himself that closely in the mirror. Had he missed something?

"A bruise?" Medic leaned in to get a closer look at it. Or a lovebite. Engineer slapped his hand on his neck before the doc could ask any more questions.

"I-it's nothin'… I, uh… just hurt myself last night." he tried to sound casual as he avoided Medic's gaze certain that he was probably turning as red as his shirt.

"How?" the older man inquired.

"Oh… n-nothin'. It was the silliest thing…" he trailed off trying to think of an explanation and failed. "It ain't anythin'. Dispenser will heal it right up." he said with a nervous rictus grin. "Speakin' of… ah-I better go start settin' up." Abandoning his coffee, he stumbled from the table and made his way to the door, stopping only to apologize to Pyro when he bumped clumsily into him. His apologies barely stammered out the man disappeared down the hall. 
 -------------------------------------------------------------

The rest of BLU team were still caught up in their morning routines as Spy walked around the BLU base's corridors. Already dressed, he was on the third cigarette of the morning and waiting for the morning coffee to reach his brain. The barracks were quiet, as most everyone was in the bathroom or mess hall or still trying to squeeze some more rest out of the morning before the hostilities began.

 Glancing at his watch, Spy noted that there was over an hour before the skirmish could officially start. This time of the morning Medic would be in the mess hall with his second cup of coffee and yelling at anyone that looked the least bit enthusiastic about starting the day. (There were many terms one could use to describe the BLU team's doctor, "friendly" "well balanced" and "morning person" were not among them.) This meant the man would be quite occupied and not anywhere near his precious experiments. 

Turning a corner, he found himself near the infirmary and more importantly, the room Medic had claimed next door as his personal lab. Few went in the infirmary if they could help it but no one ever dared enter the laboratory. The doctor made it quite clear that unpleasant things were in store for anyone he found inside.  So far the man hadn't taken any notice of Spy's visits, with any luck he wouldn't notice this one.

He opened the door with a duplicate key, and stepping inside shut the door behind him. The room smelled like a jungle, and was lit with various sun lamps.  It was probably the lushest, and deadliest garden in the whole desert. It might also be the only garden.  Spy had never bothered to read the lunatic's notes to see what he was intending to do with his experiments and his plants,  there were some things it was safer to not know. He just sometimes came around here out of curiousity. But today he had a purpose.

There was a slight movement in the corner of his eye, and a rustle of leaves, he ignored them and quickly strode to his goal; a set of rose bushes at the back of the room. Despite the German man's bad temper and unhinged morals, he grew some extraordinary roses.  After some deliberation Spy pulled out his knife and cut a blossom off. Taking a dozen roses was out of the question but the man was unlikely to miss just one….

----------------------------------------------------

Engineer peered at his distorted reflection in metal trim of the dispenser, after a few minutes in the healing range the…. bruise had faded. He breathed a sigh of relief, with the physical reminder of last night's events gone, he could start putting everything behind him. The sound of a distant explosion startled him from his thoughts. Getting back to work, he started setting up the rest of his buildings. Time to put everything behind him and get back to work.

The morning stretched on with little sign of the Spy, thankfully. He wasn't sure he could face the snake today. Or any day. Not after… what had happened. It seemed the man felt the same way and was giving him wide berth. As his sentry gun cut down an uncountable number of assaults from Scout and Soldier and he nearly got blown apart by a lucky sticky bomb just before lunchtime he began to doubt he would see the Spook today. It was right around this time that he felt the dagger in his unsuspecting back.

"Damnit! Damnit! DAMNIT!" his yells eched off the walls of respawn. He'd been an idiot to think Spy would leave him alone. Why would he? Just because he'd asked? They were enemies and the man was a bastard he reminded himself. He brandished his rifle as he stomped out of Repawn into the fray to see what the man had done to his work this time.

He grit his teeth as he surveyed the damage the Spook had done; his sentry was sparking fizzling wreck, his dispenser, had seemingly exploded, leaving a shattered useless shell. He growled prodding the sentry with his foot. He turned to the dispenser to see if he could salvage anything to speed up the rebuilding process. He froze when he noticed something out of place on top of the machine. Gingerly he picked it up and examined it more closely.

He turned it over in his hands his brain trying to calm down enough to process things other than murder, it was a … rose? Something about the color looked odd, he peeled off his tinted goggles to see it. It was blue. With a red ribbon tied around the stem.  The Texan swallowed, feeling his ears and neck burn as the blush crept up his face.

 There was little doubt who had left it. What was the snake playing at? Where did he find it? How did he find it? Where did it come from? Roses were not something you'd usually find in a desert, much less blue roses.

His mind had barely begun to spin possible scenarios when he heard the squeak and incoherent mumbling of Pyro coming down the hall. To check on him probably. He needed to get rid of the evidence. The firebug might not notice anything strange but the rest of his team would no doubt do a fair bit more than raise skeptical eyebrows over his finding strange flora on the battlefield.

Pyro mumbled and gave him a wave as he entered the room. "Firebug!" he exclaimed, hastily putting the rose behind his back, out of the curious arsonist's line of sight.

"Hmphudahmp?" Pyro asked tilting his head.

"No… no… nothin's wrong." he insisted, shaking his head in short, jerky motions. Pyro stared at him, his head still tilted.

"hudda?"

"N-nothin's wrong. I'm fine." he insisted. "Ah can handle things in here."

After a moment's hesitation the pyromaniac accepted this. With a quick, almost graceful turn on a heel, Pyro started back up the hallway.  It occurred to him he could get rid of the evidence by giving it to the firebug. You barely had to ask and Pyro would burn anything without hesitation. Hell, Pyro would burn anything even if you weren't asking. 

"'Ey Firebug." he called out, almost pulling the damn flower out from behind his back.

"Hmp?"

"Good luck pard'ner." he added lamely, giving a thumbs up.

Pyro returned the gesture and jogged back up the hall, back to where most of the action and flammable objects were.

The Texan shook his head as he tucked the rose deep into his tool pouch. Roses were rare in the desert. Blue roses were impossible. It seemed a shame to light a scientific marvel on fire.

"Stupid fool." he muttered to himself as he went through the rubble to find workable parts to rebuild.

-------------------------------------------------

After leaving his token for the Texan, Spy decided it was best to leave the man alone for the rest of the day. The cowboy had asked for time, and he would hardly be a gentleman if he didn't respect that. He couldn't avoid the man on the job entirely, but for he could at least give him a day. He tried to shake the almost certain knowledge that the man was  never going to talk to him again.  The rose, he hoped, would help illustrate his intentions.

At dinner he sat quietly at the far end of the table, as everyone else around him chatted and talked. Scout shot him daggers across the table and Medic seemed no more grumpy and surly than he'd ever been. It seemed Spy's theft from the mad doctor's garden had gone unnoticed. He finished his meal before everyone else and went back to his quarters. After locking the door to his room behind him he settled into his desk chair and pulled some plain unmarked stationary out of a drawer.  Eventually he found a fountain pen that would write without exploding.

The man wanted to be left alone but that didn't mean he couldn't write to him in the meantime.

Spy stared at the blank page, tapping the pen on the desk. Setting the pen down he pulled out his cigarette case and lit a cigarette. Puffing quietly on it for a few moments he finally picked the pen back up and carefully wrote; 'Cher Engineer,' there was a second before it was scratched out.

'Salut Engineer.' was crossed out just as readily. Too casual.

'Cher Monsieur'  Too formal. Fuming, the Frenchman crumpled up the paper and tossed it over his shoulder. He would incinerate the evidence later.

'Laborer' was too… too distant especially after all that had occurred.

'Mon Cher' too familiar.

"Merde," he muttered to himself, scrunched that page up and tossed it away. Soon the room would look like the Texan's ridiculous attempt at a trap.

He pulled another piece of stationary  from the drawer and set his pen to write. And froze. Lost in thought he failed to notice the pen bleed ink onto the page. By the time he returned to his thoughts there was a large blotch at the end of the page. With a frustrated sigh he balled that one up and tossed it over his shoulder.

"Bordel de Merde." he slumped onto the desk, resting his head on his hands. For a while he sat like that, a statue of a frustrated man, the only movement the smoke rising from his cigarette. His cigarette had burned down to little but ashes before he stubbed it out. Then he picked up the pen and wrote.

'Monsieur Cowboy.'   he read it again and slowly put down his pen. That was settled. Now he just needed to figure out what he wanted to say .

-------------------------------------------

Engineer stretched out on his bed and tried to read his book. But all he had managed so far was staring at the pages until the words blurred beyond recognition. His mind refused to focus, with a grimace he shook his head and made himself reread the page. Reread the page and not think about….


It had been days since that… encounter in the workshop. He hadn't spent a lot of time down there since then. He had straightened the room up the best he could, swept up the cigarette butts, put the bear in a crate out of sight, he couldn't quite make himself destroy Teddy. But no matter what he did, the faint smell of cigarette smoke and his memories refused to fade.

No matter what he tried, or where he went the events haunted him. Playing over in his mind. The feel of leather gloves against his skin, the smell of French cologne, the feel of the man's skin under his hands.

The Texan's throat tightened and he glared at the page trying to think of something else. The book's protagonist had just stumbled over the third dead body, was facing murder charges and Engineer couldn't make himself rally any interest. This wasn't working, he shut the book with a sigh.

He wasn't going to be able to get anything done in this state.  What he needed was to clear his head, get this out of his system and move on. Standing up, he walked to his desk and began sifting through the drawers.

The dirty magazine was right where he'd left it, at the bottom of his desk drawer underneath some old journals and junk mail he hadn't sorted yet.  Pulling it out, he tossed it on the bed where it flopped open helpfully to the centerfold of a buxom blonde girl. She was wearing very little but a hardhat and doing something rather unlikely with a hammer.

He hadn't purchased the magazine, it had been shoved under his door one night after news of his divorce reached the team. It seemed to be a gift of sorts, though he never found out who left it and decided it was best not to ask. So he had kept quiet and tossed it in a desk drawer and pretended it didn't exist.

With a sigh, he scooped up the publication and sitting on the bed flipped idly through it, stopping on one of a woman sitting on the hood of a car, in a pair of coveralls that barely contained, much less covered her curves.  The collar of her top was unbuttoned revealing a generous amount of cleavage, the lacy edge of her bra peeking out. In his mind's eye he imagined gently unbuttoning the rest of the buttons revealing her skin underneath. He swallowed, imagining the warmth of her skin, what her hands would feel like on his. Warm hands tracing down his chest, his heart quickened as he let the scene unfold in his mind his hands slipping underneath his waistband. She would eagerly unbutton his shirt and kiss him hungrily.

Gloved hands ran along his back, she chuckled as she unfastened his belt and pants.

He shifted on the bed to get more comfortable as he took hold of himself idly rubbing the tip with his thumb. In his mind he she smirked at him with brilliant red lips as he slid the rest of her clothes off, revealing her smooth skin.  He grew hard as he imagined those lips on his own and working down his neck, leaving a trail of lip stick kisses.  Leaning against the hood of the car, he grabbed her hips and pulled her closer, she would smell like oil, and wax, and perfume, and smoke. Gloved hands held him close, encouraging and enticing him. Spy's mouth was on his neck, his teeth grazing the sensitive skin. The man's hand joined his own as he finished. 

The Texan lay on the bed, spent, his head pounding. He breathed slowly trying to clear his head. Steady his pulse,  try to make sense of things. But there was little to make sense of.  Even his daydreams were damn lousy traitors. "Shit…" he hissed to the ceiling.

-----------------------------------------

"Ey lad,"Demo rapped on his door, startling him awake. "Phone call for ya!"

With a grunt he fumbled his pants on and shuffled down the hall to the phone, the receiver sat on top of the cabinet waiting for him. Who would be calling him? Surely not the snake.

"Howdy," he mumbled into the reciever.

"Hey, yer alive!"  he relaxed recognizing Sam on the other end of the phone.

"Of course I'm alive," he huffed, "why wouldn't I be?" his family didn't know the exact nature of his work out in the desert or how easily death came and went out here.

"Hadn't heard from ya in a while, thought I'd call to see how ya are."

"Ah'm fine." he snapped and immediately regretted it. "Sorry… Sorry." he rubbed his eyes as he apologized. Sam had nothing to do with… any of this and didn't deserve his temper. It had been quite a while since he had called anyone back home.

"Ya alright? Ya sound tired." Sam observed with concern.

"A-Ah'm fine." he repeated, though this time he was unable to hide the weariness in his voice. "Just been havin' trouble sleepin' is all." he added.

"Somethin' been eatin' at ya?"

"No-no," he answered hastily, "Jus-jus' things here can get pretty loud… at night."

"Mm-hmm." His cousin clearly didn't believe him.

"…Yea." he insisyed.

There was a long pause then Sam cleared his throat, "It's been over six months."

"Six months an' three weeks," that's when the divorce papers had been filed, officially ending it all. He'd sent them just before Thanksgiving when Spy had - he shook his head trying to clear his thoughts and swallowed, "but whose countin'?" he added.

"Evelyn ain't comin' back, Cuz. That's one horse that's bolted."

"Ah know." he snapped. "Ah know." he repeated through grit teeth. Evie had left him for someone else and he… he wasn't sure what he was doing. He had accepted she was gone, he just wished everything could make sense again.

"Jus' cause she left ya doesn't mean yer life is over. Yah can find someone else." She did. Engineer added bitterly to himself. "Yah ain't that ugly." Sam added dryly.

"Ya do realize I work out in the middle of a desert don'cha?"

"What's yer point?" Sam countered, never letting simple facts get in his way.

"Jus-"

"You're in New Mexico, not th'Sahara." Sam countered. "Ain't there a town near ya? Ah coulda sworn yah mentioned there being a town."

"So?"

"Yer hardly in the middle of some deserted island as much as you like to claim." Sam pointed out, interrupting Engineer's thoughts.

"What's yer point?" he snapped irritably.

"Now yer jus' bein' difficult." Sam snorted, "You are allowed to be happy ya know. "

"Ah'm happy when people leave me alone." he grumbled.

"No ya ain't. We both know that."

Engineer remained sullenly silent, refusing to admit to Sam that he might have a point. Though Sam seemed to have taken the silence as an invitation to press on.

"Yah don' have to be a hermit now that Evie's gone. It ain't right for a man to be so miserable all the time. If yah just stop being so damn stubborn- "

"-Ah ain't miserable all the time." he cut in, knowing already he was going to lose that argument.

"Is that so? When is the last time you went out and enjoyed yerself?"

"I uh…There was -" his tongue stumbled as he remembered with vivid clarity the answer to that. Slumping against the phone he tried to keep the flood of memories from his mind. Memories of that night at the restaurant, the snake's smile, and the smell of cologne and cigarettes. "…Doesn't matter." he mumbled, though he wasn't sure if he was talking to Sam or himself.  "It's nothin'" he insisted on the phone.

"It ain't nothin'," Sam retorted, "It's imp-"

"I… I gotta go Sam," he said quickly. "I'll talk to yah later." he promised slamming the phone on the hook with a sigh of relief.

He wearily trudged back to his room, and was about to flop on his bed when he noticed a folded piece of paper on his pillow. He picked it up gingerly and flipped it open.

'Monsieur Cowboy,'  it read in a simple non descript cursive script. 'We should talk.'

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Engineer stifled a yawn as he examined the mess hall coffee pot. The pot was already a few hours old and had the consistency of tar. But it was ready now and making a new pot would just take more time and energy. Once his coffee mug was refilled, he trudged back to the rec room and the table in the corner he had commandeered. Sinking into his chair, he took a sip of sludge, set the mug down on the table and went back to his equations. After half an hour or so he just about thought he'd reached the end of the problem when a clatter down the hall interrupted his train of thought.

He glanced up to see Demo staggering past the door. "'Ey Laddie!" The man leaned against the doorframe a bottle dangling from his hand. "What are ye doin' up here?"

"Workin'," he replied sourly, his thought process was now in shambles.

"Don' normally see ya here."

"Felt like a change of scenery." he lied as he lowered his head over his notepad, reaching for his slide rule.

"Oh?" Demo inquired, looking at him suspiciously with his one good eye. Engineer declined to answer any further.  It would be a rainy day in Tuefort before he admitted to anyone he was avoiding his workshop or the reason why. Except to pick up and drop off his tools he hadn't been down there for days. Eventually, he told himself, the smell of cigarettes would fade and he'd be able to work in there without his mind wandering.

The silence stretched on a bit before the Scotsman decided he wasn't going to get a reply and that he had better things to do and continued on down the hall whistling loudly to himself.

The Texan had tried working in his room but it was stifling in there, and the bed would seem so inviting to his tired eyes. But the second he put his head on the pillow everything he was trying to avoid, trying to forget, would flood his mind. Those hands, that infuriating smirk… With another sip of the swill pretending to be coffee he glared back at his notepad.

Stay busy. That was the ticket. Stay busy. Idle hands and idle minds caused nothing but trouble. Better to stay occupied and out in the open. The snake wouldn't try anything out in the open where anyone could see. Well he probably wouldn't try anything.

He stared at his notebook his eyes not seeing the numbers and equations in front of them. Despite his best attempts he could feel the tips of his ears burning , his mind thinking back to the day the snake had tried something. Tried and succeeded.

It meant nothing, he reminded himself. It was nothing and it meant nothing. Just the one time. One time didn't mean he'd started fancying men. Especially not that man.

 The enemy Spy. Not just another man. Not just any man. No. The damn smug, charming, nosey, fussy, impossible bastard. He couldn't have picked a more dangerous liaison if he tried. 

The letter was sitting in Engineer's desk drawer, like a ticking time bomb. The note had suggested at the end of the week they meet and "talk". Not that he was going to, of course. He was going to destroy the letter, he just hadn't gotten around to it yet. He had to destroy it, pretend it never happened. It was the only logical option. The only safe option.

He looked up at the sound of footsteps, as they got closer he could also pick up snippets of conversation.

"-we also need to get you fitted for a new suit!"

"Docktor I don't -"

"I insist! You can not go without white tie, it vould be undenkar!"

"You have no-"

"Nonsense! Besides even if ve don't go you'll still need a good suit."

"Why would I need it?" Heavy asked as the pair walked by the rec room door, too absorbed in their conversation to  realize they were being overheard.

"<So I can tear it off you.>" Medic purred in German that regrettably Engineer heard and understood. It was hardly the first time he'd overheard things he'd rather forget. He just hoped tonight he wasn't going to need the earmuffs, the walls of base were thinner than he would have preferred.

But one didn't need to speak German or Russian to figure out those two were together. It was an open secret around the base. Though after the initial surprise and the information slowly sank into the collective consciousness, everyone moved on. Time had passed and the team as a whole didn't seem to care. Life went on and no one gave the two any grief. Though he suspected that had a lot to do with how terrifying Heavy and Medic were. There were few who would be stupid enough to start trouble with the Russian behemoth and a mad doctor. They could probably walk down the street back at his home town at noon holding hands without anyone saying or doing anything.

Sadly, he suspected he would get a different sort of reaction if anyone back home found out what had happened between him and Spy. He'd heard stories about what happened to folks who fancied the wrong sort of people. Most folks didn't have a Respawn to rely on.

Not that anyone at home was going to find out. There was nothing to find out he insisted. Just the one time, not like he was going to make a habit of it. It was nothing. It meant nothing. Though if it really meant nothing, he wouldn't be thinking about it. He would have forgotten it and moved on. Moved on and let things go back to normal. Like he should. Leaving him alone.

Regardless what he tried to tell Sam or himself he really wasn't happy by himself… "You are allowed to be happy…" Sam had told him. He highly doubted that his cousin would mean those words if he found out what had happened, more specifically with whom it happened with. His heart sank as he let himself admit it. For all the trouble the snake caused he couldn't deny he had...enjoyed it.  

"Dammit" he shook his head and forced his attention back to the notepad. Numbers and equations. He could trust those, they made more sense than anything else out here did. He was divorced, lonely, in the middle of a desert with a bunch of lunatics, death was only a temporary obstacle, his best friends were a faceless pyromaniac and a man who threw jars of his own urine at people… and he was in over his head with the enemy Spy. Life used to be so much simpler…

He glared at the equations, the numbers blurring together. He rubbed his tired eyes and suppressed a yawn, a break might be a good idea. Just to rest his eyes…

He awoke hunched in the chair, his face pressed against his notepad. He sat up with a groan as his back popped and creaked in protest. How long had he been out? Someone had shut the lights off while he was asleep. Rubbing his eyes  he stood from his chair and felt something slip from his shoulders he glanced to the floor. It appeared to be a blanket, bending over he held it in his hand getting a better look at it.  It was one of the army surplus blankets that RED supplied the base with. Somewhere he knew there was a storage closet full of them in the event  of an emergency and RED needed several dozen blankets the texture of sandpaper.

Someone had taken the time to pull one out of the storage closet and drape one over him. He shook his head refusing to think too hard about who could or would have gone to that trouble.  Tossing the blanket over the chair he squinted at his watch in the dim.  If he made it back to his room he might get a few hours to sleep in his own bed. Grumbling to himself he stumbled down the hall to the barracks. Even if he didn't get back to sleep his back would certainly appreciate a mattress more than the chair.

_____________________________

Spy looked down at his hand of cards and then around the table to his team mates. Sniper kept his eyes on his cards, shuffling them back and forth in his hand. He seemed agitated. The bushman's hand might be worse than his own. The Russian's beady eyes glinted in the light meeting Spy's confidently for a moment before looking back at his cards, barely visible in his oversized hands. He either had a good hand or was as good a bluff as Spy was.  Soldier slumped in his chair, thoughtfully picking his nose. 

Sighing inwardly, Spy looked back at his own hand, a pair. Not quite rubbish but close enough. "Raise," he muttered, tossing a hundred dollar bill onto the table to join the motley collection of chips and money.

He had won h/igher stakes games with worse hands, he could easily beat these imbeciles.  Just be patient, keep cards close to the chest and wait the game out. Simple rules that applied to more than just cards. He was a patient man, he had to be, he wouldn't be a very good spy if he wasn't.

 If only you'd followed those rules with the Texan.  Last time he had checked the cowboy was passed out in the common area of RED base and hardly in the mood for visitors,  so here he sat - playing cards with idiots. 

Sniper sighed, the sound snapped Spy's attention back to the game and the Australian agitatedly tossed half his hand "Deal." he muttered. The Russian dealt him new cards. These didn't seem to please him anymore than his old ones.

"Check," Heavy rumbled from his side of the table.

"I WILL RAISE!" Soldier exclaimed, dramatically pounding the table as he dropped two bills on the table.

"Raise," Spy replied tossing  a couple of chips on the table.

He should have kept his wits about him. Should have left when the man asked him the first time. Walked out of the workshop and left the cowboy alone. But he hadn't. Imbecile. Thinking with your cock, he reprimanded.  Engineer was never going to speak to him again.

"Raise." the bushman muttered, adding more chips to the middle. He was trying to bluff, but wasn't very good at it. Spy wondered how long he was going to keep up the attempt. 

Check," the Russian was being cautious.

"RAISE!"

Spy tossed another few chips in, beginning to recall why he rarely bothered joining his team for poker. The monotony. That, and the fact they accused him of cheating last time he played. Whether or not he had been cheating was beside the point, accusing was just rude.

The cowboy had accused me of blackmail, he fumed to himself. It had hardly been the first time someone had suspected him of ulterior motives, but it was probably the first time someone had been wrong or that he cared. He hadn't wanted anything from the man. That had been his first mistake. Letting things drag on too long, getting attached, caring what the Texan thought of him.

 In another time, in another place the tryst would have been enough. He would have walked out of that room pleased with himself and not given a second thought to the cowboy. His romantic liaisons were usually covert, all about the pleasure of the moment, never caring for the repercussions.

But this time, he found he cared. It was a frustrating nagging sensation. He wanted the silly little man again, wanted to see him, talk to him, hold him. Though it seemed he had probably lost his chance for that. It was baffling, having his happiness tied to another person.

"Enh… ah'm mucked." Sniper yielded, tossing his hand in. 

"I will raise." Heavy chuckled and threw a large bill in the pile.

Soldier announced, "I SEE YOUR BET AND RAISE IT BY…" he trailed off, first trying to count and quickly giving up "ALL THIS HERE!" Cackling, he shoved the remainder of his chips in the middle of the table.

There was a very unsurprised pause before Sniper spoke up, "That ain't enough to raise yer short a bit."

There was a thoughtful grunt from the American before he shoved a grubby hand into his jacket pocket, "ALRIGHT… JEST GIVE ME A SECOND HERE…" After a bit of digging the man pulled out his hand and tossed something glinting onto the table.  "MY LUCKY GOLD TOOTH!" the man explained proudly. "I GOT A MILLION O'EM." 

 "That'll work." the bushman gestured to the rest of the players, there were no protests. No one at the table wanted to know anymore about the contents of the homicidal imbecile’s pockets.

"Very well," Spy smirked, "I'm all in." he gestured to his collection of chips tossing in a few bills for good measure.  The Russian would probably fold now, the man was a cautious player and rarely made any ridiculously large bets. That left the only standing player Soldier, whose grasp of poker was as tenuous as his grasp on anything else in life. 

"I fold." Heavy answered, tossing in his cards just as predicted.

"I CALL YER BLUFF, YA PANSY!" Soldier shoved his chair back pointing an accusatory finger. "LETS SEE YOUR CARDS."

"I just have a pair of fives." Spy said tossing his cards casually on the table. "What do you have?"

"READ 'EM AND WEEP SWEETHEART" Soldier grinned widely and revealed his hand. "DEVIL’S ZOO HAND!"

There was a long pause as everyone stared at the cards on the table. Spy had to admit he was impressed, it was one of the worst hands he had ever seen.

"What am I  seeing?" the Russian frowned.

"That's a shit hand there mate." Sniper added quietly.

"WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!? THIS IS AN AMAZING HAND. THIS BEATS SPY'S LITTLE PAIR HANDS DOWN!" 

"There is no such hand, this is garbage!" Spy protested.

"SAY THAT TO MY FACE!"

"I just did!"

"SAY THAT AGAIN!"

"If you could take that lid off yer noggin…" the bushman snapped, joining in the argument.

 
"ARE YOU IMPLYING THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH MY UNIFORM HIPPY?"

"Tiny blind man does not know rules of game." the Russian rumbled rubbing the bridge of his nose.

  Spy sighed, tuning out his arguing teammates. He quickly pocketed his winnings and slid his chair back away from the table, what little satisfaction he had gained from winning evaporated. This had been a waste of time.  He had won a game of cards against a bunch of idiots. It hadn't been a challenge, or much of a distraction. It had killed an evening, leaving him another day closer to Engineer ignoring his note. The man had probably burned it as soon as he saw it.

"Gentlemen," he nodded as he walked out of the room.  

______________________________________________________________________

Engineer drove his truck into a parking spot and frowned. Pulling the carefully folded note out of his breast pocket he glanced over the directions to make sure he was in the right place. He'd driven thirty miles following the directions left on Spy's note and had come to… a truck stop.

True, for truck stops this was a pretty  impressive one; gas pumps on one side, an all hours diner on the other, with a motel and Laundromat looming behind it.  An oasis for travelers to rest and refuel before they drove on into the desert again.

Impressive or not this seemed a damn odd place to met someone as picky as the Frenchman. But for awkward conversations that weren't supposed to be happening in the middle of the night it seemed as good a choice as any. Far away from their respective bases, with enough traffic that they probably wouldn't attract much notice.

The Texan killed the engine of his truck and sat in the silence. This had to be the stupidest thing he'd ever done. Even worse than the time he'd accidentally blown up the hen house. He'd been ten at the time and hadn't known better. Now he was a grown man and had no excuse. It had taken him days to rebuild that hen house, it would take a lot longer to repair the damage this was likely to cause.

Not too late to turn back, he noted. It'd be simple enough to turn the key and drive off. Speed off and pretend this hadn't happened. It's not like he had to be here. Spy would understand if he didn't show up, he'd understand what that meant. They didn't need to talk. There was nothing to talk about.Those words were starting to wear thin and they hadn't provided him any more peace of mind than they had the first time he said them.

"Fine…" he fumed to himself. He'd go in, tell the bastard he wasn't interested, that it was over and leave. Just get things straightened. Clear the air between them, so they could go back to doing their jobs. No sense making things complicated. Just go in and set the man straight.

Fumbling the door open he climbed woodenly out of the truck, his keys held in his fist. Just go in and get this settled, he told himself. There was no way this could go on. Whatever was going on. No matter how he may or may not feel about this, this needed to end.

 The bells on the door jangled and clanked loudly as he entered the diner. He flinched as a waitress looked up to nod at him. Glancing around the room he spotted Spy watching him. Too late to run now. He walked awkwardly to the back corner where the Frenchman was sitting, trying his best not to look guilty. He wasn't doing anything to be guilty about. Just end this and leave. Keep it short and leave.

"Ah Monsieur." Spy greeted him.

End it and leave. "Evenin'," he mumbled standing in front of the table.

"Hey Sugah," he heard a woman's voice over his shoulder, and glancing behind him he saw a middle aged woman wearing an apron. "You want a menu? Anything to drink?" she asked. 


"Would you like to sit down?" Spy asked gesturing to the bench across from him. 

"Hunh?" it was then he realized he had been rooted to the spot. "Oh…" he felt the tips of his ears grow warm as he slumped onto the bench. End it and leave.

"Can I get you anything?" the woman repeated.

"… Coffee." he managed to croak. He glanced at the Frenchman for a second and then turned to watch the waitress as she got the coffee from behind the counter. There was nothing particularly interesting about the process, and if pressed later he would be unable to mention one feature of the woman but it was better than looking at Spy.

The woman returned to the table,  moving his hands to accept his mug he realized he had been gripping his keys so tightly they left an imprint on his palm. He put his keys in his pocket and busied himself with adding sugar to his coffee. The waitress topped off Spy's cup and bustled off leaving them alone.

Looking up from his mug he saw the Frenchman quietly sip his coffee. Their eyes met for a second before he grabbed the sugar shaker and sweetened his mug some more.  The clatter of the spoon on ceramic was the only noise at the table. Spy was still quiet. Watching him. 

When he couldn’t take the silence anymore the Texan cleared his throat. "So…." he started and then trailed off, the words evaporated from his mouth as he looked up at the Spy again.

"Yes?" the reply came quickly, almost eagerly.

Biting his lip Engineer let the silence return again. Unable to think of anything to say he looked back down at the table, noticing the Frenchman's hands resting on it. His mouth went dry as he remembered those hands and what they could do.  Nervously, he shifted his gaze out the window and stared at the darkened parking lot.
 

"Why th'hell yah ask me here if you ain't gonna say anythin'?" he asked finally.

"I- I felt we needed to talk."

"Did yah?" he snapped but no response came. "So talk." Spy was rarely at a loss for anything to say, why should tonight be any different? "Cat got yer tongue?" He turned back from the window to the snake and froze. The man wasn’t smiling.  The eternally smug infuriating bastard wasn't smiling. It took him a moment to realize that he hadn't seen the man smile at all this evening. No self assured smirk, no cocky attitude. He finally let himself look at Spy for longer than an instant, the man seemed tired. Worried. If Spy was any other man he'd say he looked anxious.

Feeling a bit like he was seeing something he wasn't supposed to he looked back at his mug, took a sip of coffee, and nearly choked on the cloying sweetness. "So-" he cleared his throat and started again "so - yah wanted to talk…" he trailed off unsure of what else to say.

"We need to." the Frenchman said quietly. "We need to talk about what happened."

"There is nothing to talk about." Engineer muttered automatically, looking down at his hands.

"Really?" Spy asked "Then why did you come here?"

"Ah-" he  felt all the blood rush to his face. The snake probably noticed, watching him like a bug under a microscope. End it and leave. He tried to form the words again but couldn't seem to manage. He took another sip of his over sweetened coffee and tried to straighten his thoughts. This should be easy. This was supposed to be easy.  He glanced out the window even though he knew the answers weren't out there.

"Nothing to talk about…." Spy repeated. "So you often ramoner in your workshop with other men?"

 Engineer frowned, mentally translating Spy's French. What did cleaning chimneys have to do with… oh. Blushing, he glanced around the room to see if anyone had possibly overheard or understood what the snake was saying.  "Keep your voice down!" he hissed.

"But you said there was nothing to talk about," Spy answered dryly with a shrug. "Not even when we ki-"

"-Shh!" he cut the man off looking around desperately to make sure no one had heard. The waitress glanced over the register at them. Judging. "Not here." he pleaded.  "Please."

"Where then?"

"… Somewhere… not here, not out in the open." he cringed, expecting the man to mock him.

"Very well." to Engineer's surprise Spy merely stood up and tossed a dollar or two on the table. "I dread to see what the rooms here look like but they are the only option for miles."

------

"So, here we are Monsieur," Spy gestured at their surroundings with more grandeur than the room deserved. "Away from prying eyes and ears."

The Texan grunted as he took in the surroundings.  

The room, was bare, little more than a bed, two night stands with a small table and chairs by the window. He sat down at the table trying not to look at the bed. Maybe they would have been better off at the diner whispering over coffee. In public they had to follow basic decorum, now they were alone…

As if sensing his unease the Frenchman strode to the other end of the room, leaned against the wall, and lit a fresh cigarette.

Engineer drummed his fingers on the table, the staccato mimicking the blood pounding in his ears. He shouldn't be here. Shouldn't be in this room. Meeting foreign men in strange remote motels, there was no way to make this sound decent. But here he was. He was supposed to say something but nothing came to mind.

"I thought we were here to talk." Spy finally said sardonically, cutting into the silence. Engineer nodded and swallowed thickly as his mind fumbled for words. Questions formed in his mind and fled before he could voice them. Where to even begin…

"Why did you kiss me?" he blurted suddenly looking up from the table to Spy who remained silent. The man stared at the faded wallpaper in front of him. 

"Why did you kiss me?" he loudly repeated.

The snake wordlessly puffed on his cigarette, he looked… thoughtful? Concerned? Engineer wasn't going to try to guess. 

"Well?" he snapped. "Why did yah?"

There was a pregnant pause as Spy exhaled a cloud of smoke before finally, "Because I wanted to."

He wasn't sure what answer he'd been expecting, what answer he would have preferred. Swallowing, his gaze fell back to the scuffed table. 

"I kissed you, Monsieur Cowboy," the Frenchman spoke again, "because I wanted to. I've wanted to. For months."

He looked up at Spy incredulously, waiting for the smirk, the smile, the chuckle… some sign the man was teasing him. Joking. Instead Spy met his eyes and he found no humor in them. He looked away, uncertain how to react. What to say. The whole notion was ridiculous.  This had to be a joke.

Engineer’s eyes fell back to the table. "Ah didn' know…"  he mumbled. It had never occurred to him, "You're… queer." the words stumbled out and he regretted them almost as quickly as he said them. 

"That's a very… limited word." Spy replied dryly. "My tastes are more varied than just men."  

The Texan eyes remained on the table, as his mind processed this information.  His fingers nervously traced the scuffs and wear on the wood of the table; avoiding seeing the Frenchman's no doubt withering gaze. 

"Ah didn' know…"  His mind chewed on information, so Spy preferred men and women.  And somehow the snake's tastes included… him. That part took longer to digest."The toy bear…that night out" he murmured to himself. He recalled the comment that night at dinner Spy had made about inviting him in the first place. He hadn't wanted to spend time with any of his team mates but wanted to see him. Things that at the time had just seemed odd suddenly seemed obvious and he hadn't noticed. It hadn't occurred to him.  He glanced back at the Frenchman and his ever increasing cloud of smoke.

"I've answered your question, Monsieur. Now I must ask why you kissed me."

"Why… ah…" he trailed off his mouth going dry.

"You kissed me back." the Frenchman reminded him with an edge of desperation.

Engineer swallowed, "Yea…. ah did." there was little point in denying it. He had tried, but couldn't make himself forget. He had kissed the man and worse. He felt the tips of his ears redden at the memory of it soon it would probably spread to the rest of his face. "Ah - ain't… Ah…" he sputtered. "Ah don' know why - what.." he shook his head trying to clear his thoughts, unable to voice what had happened. It would sound ridiculous out in the open. Desperate. He had wanted it, to be kissed, to be touched, to feel wanted again. To not be alone. "Ah wasn'… thinkin'" he replied sheepishly hoping the man wasn't going to probe further.

"I see." came the toneless reply. He swore the Spook almost sounded disappointed. It occurred to him that Spy had probably been hoping for a different answer.

"Sorry," he swallowed thickly, "Ah jus' - got caught up in it." It didn't mean anything, he tried to remind himself as his eyes darted to the table, the wall, anything but the other man's face. It didn't mean anything. It can't mean anything.

"That was not my…." the Frenchman paused as if trying to get his mouth around the words "…finest moment either." There was regret in his voice, it almost sounded like an apology.  

"But you wanted to?" Wanted him.

"Oui beaucoup." Spy replied meeting his eyes before they could look away, "I would like to again." he added.

 Engineer felt the blood rush to his face.  As ridiculous, as unbelievable as the situation was, the snake seemed sincere. There probably was little for him to gain from this meeting. If blackmail was his goal he already had enough, if he was after information he already had the opportunity for that, murder there had already had ample time for also.  Little to gain and everything to lose.

"This is crazy." the Texan said finally.

"<I know>"  Spy intoned with a sigh.

"We're enemies!" he continued on. 

"Je le sais" Spy repeated as he puffed on his cigarette.

"We kill each other every day!"

"Only temporarily and as a job." Spy said with a shrug, "It's not like we are warring nations."

"B-but-" Engineer sputtered.


"We'd look pretty funny walking down the street together." the Texan said softly. Why that thought occurred to him he wasn't sure, it seemed such a random thing to bring up in this situation.

"Ah…" the man looked over his shoulder at him, no doubt reading his face like an open book.  "You want to put this behind you and forget anything happened." the man surmised, his tone was flat, emotionless. "Go back to how things were-"

"-No!" the reply came so quickly it startled him.

"But you said you didn't want-"

"Ah know." he huffed.

"So what do you want!?" Spy hissed exasperation starting to seep into the man's voice.

"Ah don' know!" he admitted desperately. "Ah mean- I- I…dunno…" he trailed off uncertainly.

The Frenchman laughed. It was a tired sort of laugh. "Oh Monsieur." he sighed as he sat on the edge of the bed. "You really are impossible." 

"Sorry." he apologized with a shrug. But exactly what he was apologizing for he wasn't sure.

Spy gave another tired chuckle, exhaling a cloud of cigarette smoke. 

"This…" he gestured vaguely,  "this… is a lot to take in."  He hadn't wanted this, but now he didn't want to lose it. Ridiculous and unlikely as it was. "You… me...." he trailed off. "This." This was a dangerous conversation, even more dangerous if he continued it. "Ah dun even know yer name." He realized out loud.

"Do you need one?"

"Nah." he shook his head "Yah'd just give me a fake one anyways."

"You don't know that."

"A truth yah ain't sure of is as good as a lie."

"À votre aise"

He stood up from the chair, stretching his legs and back.

"So Monsuier Cowboy, what do you propose we do?"

"I dunno." Engineer mumbled beginning to wish he'd had more coffee earlier. How had he ended up here?  This was all too much. "I want…" he trailed off. Life used to make sense, go to school, get married, get a job, settle down, raise a family… That was what you were supposed to do, but that hadn't worked out for him had it?

He looked at Spy sitting on the bed, the smoke around his head catching the light like an ill deserved halo.  He was supposed to end this and leave, he never should have come here in the first place. But he couldn't make himself stay away.  If anyone in RED found out, if anyone back home found out…. He swallowed a lump in his throat.

 “Ah dunno’” he mumbled again feeling like he was repeating himself. How long had they been talking in circles? Sinking back into his chair he stifled a yawn feeling exhaustion wash over him. “It’s late.” he offered lamely. “Ah should probably start heading back.”

The Frenchman seemed disappointed but didn’t complain. “I’ll leave you then, Monsieur,”

“No… Ah should-”

“No sense you driving exhausted and crashing into some cactus.” Spy said standing up.

“But what about-”

“I’ll get a coffee, I’ll be fine.” he answered, brushing off Engineer’s concern with a self assured smirk. It was like a mask had slipped back on, Spy was back to normal. He had expected the man to be exasperated, upset, angry, demanding an answer. Instead he was just walking out the door.

“But-”

“Get some rest Monsieur, we can talk later.” with that the door shut behind Spy with a click, leaving nothing but silence and the smell of cigarette smoke. 

At least he was alone, the Texan sighed in relief. He couldn't think straight with Spy around. He'd meant to say he was ending it. That there was nothing to end. He had to end it. 

"Thank you but no." he grumbled to himself. It wasn't that hard to say was it? He growled as he unlaced his boots dropping them on the floor. But when he found himself in front of the Frenchman and his damn smile… his thoughts tied themselves in knots.

 With a heavy sigh he unbuttoned his shirt, letting it fall on the floor next to his boots. After peeling off his pants he leaned back on the bed stretching out as far as he could. The mattress was a step above his bed on base. True it was a very shallow step, but a step none the less.  Pulling the blankets over his shoulders he turned the lamp off and tried to get comfortable.

He yawned and adjusted his position. The night was fairly quiet, the occasional patter of footsteps or engine noise reached him from the outside, but they were nothing compared to the clatter of the barracks. He had nearly started to drift off when he heard a sputter of an engine refusing to turn over. There was a pause as the driver tried again,  at this rate he was going to flood the engine.  Not my problem, he reminded himself. There was another sputter followed by a loud bang and then silence. Well, whoever that was clearly wasn't going anywhere in a hurry he chuckled to himself.

There was a knock at the door, followed by the quickly sinking sensation that the engine he heard was about to become his problem. Groaning he sat up, the knocking persisted. He turned on the lamp and trudged across the floor. He vaguely thought about trying to get his clothes on before answering the door. But that would take time and whoever was at the door, though he had an idea who it was, was likely getting impatient.

Opening the door a crack he found himself face to face with a rather distraught looking Spy. Bleary eyed and wordless he looked at the man waiting for an explanation. 

"Pardon, Monsiuer," the Frenchman said quietly. "But I seem to be having troubles with my machine."

Any other occasion he might have had a retort but instead all he managed was "Oh."

"I was wondering if maybe… you could possibly take a look at it."

He didn't need to look at the thing to know that whatever was wrong with that stupid thing was not going to be simple. It was ages of no maintenance, and lord only knew what else. It was going to take a lot of time, and require him to get dressed. "Ah'll look at it in the mornin'," he decided out loud.

"Ah-" the Frenchman said turning  away, "sorry to disturb you."

"Where are you goin'?" he asked squinting at the man's retreating back.

"To see if there is another room-"

"Get in here" he sighed, opening the door too tired for modesty or arguing. "Yah paid for the room no sense yah gettin' another one." 

"Are you certain?"

"Jus' git in here." he sighed.

The Frenchman, with surprising hesitance, finally came inside.

Going over the options in his head, he realized he hadn't thought this through. Sleeping on the floor seemed a dangerous proposition in this place and there was little else in the room to make a bed out of. "I suppose yah can sleep in the bathtub if yah really wanna," he shrugged. "But the bed should have more than enough room for both of us" he pointed out practically. Just don't try anything, the unwritten request hung unspoken in the air.

"Very well Monsieur, we are both gentlemen."

"Thank yah." he started to climb back in bed moving his pillow very clearly on one side of the bed. "Now if ya don' mind I'm going to sleep. I'll lookit your scooter in the morning." After rest and breakfast. The man at least owed him breakfast if he was going to try to resurrect that wreck. 

 "Of course." 

The Texan closed his eyes, but the noises of Spy fussing around the room kept him from dozing off. Through half lidded eyes he watched the man meticulously unbutton his jacket, placing it on the back of a chair with his tie. He watched Spy's wiry frame, silhouetted in the lamp light, unbutton and fold his vest and put it with the rest.  The shirt soon followed. He turned away and closed his eyes,  the man was just in his slacks and undershirt but he felt like a peeping tom.

He ignored the remaining rustling as presumably, Spy's expensive shoes were removed and his slacks, no doubt were folded like the rest.  After all that fuss the Frenchman finally settled down on the other side of the bed. "Bonne nuit " he heard the man say softly before shutting off the lamp. 

-------------------------------

Engineer awoke from pleasant dreams to the smell of cigarettes and expensive cologne. And froze, realizing to his mortification he was pressed up against the Frenchman, an arm thrown over the man's waist. 

"Good Morning." He felt the vibrations of the man's speech in his rib cage. He was also keenly aware of his growing erection. 

"Sorry… sorry." he murmured scooting away covering his face with his hands. He must have moved in his sleep, he only hoped he hadn't done anything else. Had he talked in his sleep? If so, what had he said? "Sorry- uh, sorry." 

"It's alright" Spy replied quietly. "It's alright. I don't mind. Unless, you do." 

Did he mind? He turned to look at the man. It had been so long… physical touch, the warmth of another body, the smell of skin.

It didn't matter, he tried to tell himself, as he gingerly placed a hand on Spy's shoulder, the man's skin warm under his fingers. He could feel the slight tremble as he ran a finger along the man's solar plexus.  It didn't mean anything, and it didn't matter. The Frenchman said nothing, leaning into his touch. 

Delicately, he ran his hand along the man's jawline carefully avoiding snagging the mask, feeling the contours of the man's face through the cloth. His face was sharper than Evie's ever had been, angular where she had been soft. The man's stubble grated against his hands, he could feel a hint of a  smile beneath his hand.

He leaned forward, slow, catching the man's eyes in the dim light. This was dangerous, stupid.  This couldn't be anything, it shouldn't be anything, he reminded himself. "Ah…" he started but trailed off as his eyes met the Frenchman's. The man looked at him curiously, waiting for his next move.

The base was miles away, home was even further and Spy was right here.  "Ah…" he leaned in, taking in the familiar scent of French cologne and cigarettes again. He shouldn't be doing this, he told himself as he kissed him. But he found he just didn't care.

"Ah'm an idiot" he muttered pulling away.

"<As am I>"  Spy chuckled, leaning in for another kiss.  

Chapter Text

Spy dug his hands into the Texan's back, reveling in the feel of the man's skin, his pulse. He could hardly believe the man was here. It seemed any instant the man would fade, he would wake up and this would all be some sentimental imagining. Second chances might happen to other people, but they never happened to him.

He lived in the moment, until the moment faded and left him alone. The cowboy's work-worn hands found their way beneath his undershirt. The rough fingers pulling him away from his thoughts. The man's intensity had not dimmed from their last encounter, but was more careful this time. The hungry desperation replaced with curiosity.

The cowboy murmured indistinctly, pulling him into another hungry kiss. His cowboy. His. He smiled, burying his face in the man's neck. “Ma puce” he purred in the man's ear with a chuckle.

The Texan froze. “Did...did yah jus’ call me a flea?”

“Oui.”

Engineer scowled.

“My flea.” Spy translated his hands slid along the contours of the Texan's back.”Stubborn, adorable ” he continued bare hands drifting across skin to the cowboy’s ass and gripped him there. The muscle was firm, the skin was hot under his fingers. “Resilient…petit.” he added with a smirk.

This elicited a grumble from Engineer who grabbed him by the hips, turning him on his back. Spy laughed as the Texan straddled him, pinning him to the mattress. His cowboy was taking the lead and Spy was more than happy to let him. The first kiss was slow and sweet, that cow had never deserved this man. He pulled back just long enough to murmur encouragement against the Engineer’s cheek and then pressed back into the kiss. The Texan smelled like grease and a musky, woody scent that could have been his aftershave. Engineer's hand brushed his head, stroking the cloth of the mask.

Spy tensed under the touch, as the man's hand gripped the cloth. Was he intending to unmask him? Engineer froze, they looked at each other cautiously.

"Sorry," the Texan jerked his hand back with an awkward laugh breaking the silence. "Sorry," he repeated nervously pulling away. "Ah wasn' gonna…" he trailed off.

"Let me keep some secrets, s'il vous plaît" he whispered leaning in closing the distance between them again, catching his hand and placing a kiss on the palm. Nuzzling the cowboy's hand he kissed the inside of the wrist. Gently biting it he felt the man's pulse quicken.

Feeling the Texan shift and move underneath him, exciting him, he felt the man's growing erection beneath his own. Placing his hands on the cowboys hips his fingers started sliding underneath the waistband, to give the man proper attention. One of Engineer's hands gently took one of his own and placed it on the bed, away from his waist. "Let’s just take it slow," the man murmured.

Spy removed his other hand without a word. He’d gotten a second chance with the cowboy, he couldn’t, he wouldn’t let this slip from his grasp again. He placed a hand on the man’s cheek, the stubble prickling the palm of his hand. “No hurry.” he said turning the Texan’s face to look at him. There’d be time enough later.

 

----------------------------------------------
Engineer turned the Vespa's ignition on and kicked the starter, preparing to hear the sound of an engine in pain. Instead he heard… nothing. The motor hadn't even tried to start. Frowning he tried again and… silence. The thing had sounded awful last night but it should at least try to turn on.

Glancing up, he noticed Spy watching him with a hint of amusement on his face. There was clearly something he was missing.

"Alright," he sighed. "What's the trick?"

The snake was trying to suppress a smirk as he strolled over, straddled the Vespa seat and with a twist of the key, turn of the clutch and an almost imperceptible press on the rear brake, the machine sputtered and wheezed into life with a cloud of smoke.

"Anythin' else I need to know about?" he asked wryly as the vespa sputtered and died.

"Let me know when you need to get to the petrol tank."

"What's wrong with the gas tank?"

"If you open the cap wrong it sets off a knock out gas." Spy answered with a shrug.

"Knock out gas." he repeated flatly. "Of course." Engineer wasn't sure what he had expected. He really shouldn't be surprised the man had booby trapped the damn thing. Made perfect sense. If you were a backstabbing Frenchman. "Anything else I need to look out for?"

Spy peered over the Texan's shoulder as pulled the engine cover off. The chassis was immaculate, well cared for, lovingly polished. Any normal person would have assumed the inner workings were as well looked after. But this was Spy's vehicle, appearances could be deceiving. A quick glance into the workings of the thing verified that this was very much the case.

"Can you fix it?" the Frenchman asked leaning in close to the Texan's ear.

"Cool yer heels, ah haven't gotten a look at it yet" he hissed. "And couldya back up - can't work with yah hovering…it's distractin'."

"Distracting, you say?" the Frenchman chuckled leaning closer, Engineer bit his lip as he felt the man's breath on his neck, breathing in the scent of cologne and cigarettes. He grit his teeth together, making himself focus on the job in front of him. The dilapidated scooter, not the owner. Not the feel of his kisses or the touch of his hands, his - he shook his head. They were out in the open, couldn't lose his head out here where they might be seen.

"Yah want me to fix this or not?" he snapped.

"Very well Monsieur," Spy held up his hands in mock surrender and he walked to the sidewalk "I shall move my distracting self over here and leave you to work in peace."

"Thank yah." he mumbled as he turned his attention back to the gummed up machinery.

The damn thing was in bad shape, ages of no maintenance, running through the heat and sand had finally caught up with it. It was a miracle it had survived and run as long as it had.

"When's the last time ya changed yer oil?" he asked peering at the crusted mess that was the motor, suspecting he already knew the answer.

"I fill it up whenever the petrol meter's low."

"I ain't talkin' about gas. Motor oil. Yer supposed to change it regularly. Did ya even read the manual to this thing? Where is the manual?"

There was no reply, but the Frenchman's silence seemed almost ashamed. For a moment Engineer almost felt bad for scolding the snake. Almost. The idiot should have known better. Probably hadn't realized you could polish and wax the outside all you wanted but it wouldn't do anything for the inside.
The motor was going to have to be flushed and cleaned. Probably rebored. The battery was probably on its way out, better to replace it than take any chances. There were probably other issues he hadn't discovered yet, this was all going to take time, supplies, and tools. None of which he had in a motel parking lot in the middle of the desert.

Grumbling to himself, the Texan stood up and stretched his protesting back.

"Can you fix it?" Spy asked acting more like a child worried that his dog had died than a grown man and his much abused vehicle.

"A lotta things are wrong with her," he said cautiously, wiping his hands. "Going to need a new battery, new sparks, probably flush the whole system, not to mention the engine. The brakes…" he trailed off with a shrug. "It would probably be easier to just scrap it and get a new one."

Spy looked at him in such horrified silence it made him regret he'd even suggested such a thing.

 

"O-or…" he hesitated glancing back at the wreckage. " We can load 'er up an' I haul her back to base, see about getting some replacement parts ordered. The chassis' in decent shape…Jus' gonna take some time t-" he was cut off as he found himself nearly toppled over by a grateful Frenchman hugging him.

"I-I got grease on me." he mumbled sheepishly smiling into the man's shoulder. This information didn't seem to dissuade Spy. He let himself enjoy the man's embrace before he remembered. Public. They were in the open. He roughly broke from the man's arms glancing around to see if anyone had seen them.

"I'll reward you later cowboy." Spy purred, his tone spelling out exactly what sort of reward he had in mind. If the man was upset he regained his composure quickly.

The Texan felt his face heat up as he glanced around again. This was most definitely the first time anyone had offered to pay him carnally for repairs. "U-uh," he coughed "J-jus' help me get this thing loaded."

----------------------------------------------------
It was early evening by the time they got back to Tuefort. Engineer stopped the truck at a crossroads on the edge of town, far enough to not attract notice, but still within a reasonable walking distance from BLU base. The same place he had had dropped him off that night on Thanksgiving. Strange how much things had changed since then.

They had chatted idly during the drive, nothing serious. They hadn't talked about what they were doing, no plans. Every time he thought about asking the words stuck in his throat, as if saying them would shatter whatever understanding they had come to. "Well…" he trailed off, biting his lip and unsure of what to say. What he could say. He turned to the passenger side to see empty air. It took him a second to realize that Spy had already cloaked.

"Au revoir, mon cher," the Frenchman's voice was low and soft his ear. The Texan opened his mouth to try and stammer out a reply but found himself silenced by a kiss. He closed his eyes, for once ignoring how strange it would look to anyone passing by. For the first time since his wife, allowing himself to be intimate with another person and enjoy the heat of someone else’s lips against his own. But the kiss was over too soon, he found himself reaching out for the unseen Frenchman. He felt a gloved hand press against his lips and heard a chuckle. "Time for that later, Monsieur Cowboy." The passenger door to the truck opened, there was the faint sound of feet hitting the ground, and with a click of the door latch the snake was gone.

Suppressing a smile, the Texan got the truck out of idle and went down the road to his own base.

There was little activity when he parked his truck with the other vehicles. With any luck he could get the Vespa unloaded without anyone noticing it. After a moment's search he managed to find enough spare scraps to make a ramp to wheel the scooter off. While not a perfect solution, it was better than trying to carry it by himself or just shoving it off. He hummed to himself as he wheeled the Vespa off the truck bed.

"So where'd ya git the little bike?" Sniper's voice cut into his humming. Slim was standing behind him, eyeing him curiously. The bushman was quieter than he had any right to be.

"Erm," his mind stumbled, trying to figure out an appropriate response. "Ah foundit." It wasn't recognizable was it? There was no way Sniper could know whose scooter this was. He wasn't sure how much about the other team was common knowledge but he was sure if anyone knew the enemy Spy rode around on this broken contraption it'd be the subject of more than a little ridicule.

"Yeh found it." the bushman repeated. Was it his imagination or was there a hint of skepticism?

"Ah erm, jus' ran across it. On the side of the road." he babbled on. "Figured ah'd try fixin' it up. Give me somethin' to do." He added, with what he hoped was a casual shrug.

"What's wrong with it?"

"Everythin'" he answered in irritation.

"If that's the case, why ya botherin' mate?" Slim asked with a frown.

"'Cause…." he trailed off. Because he couldn't say no to Spy. Couldn't ignore that sad look on the man's face. Spook would have been disappointed if he'd refused. He was in too deep to say no. "Cause," he started again. "Why not?" he asked while walking the scooter away from the parking lot. "Somethin' more interestin' to do than piece together the same damn equipment over an' over."

"Yer time, I suppose," the bushman mused and strolled along, having little trouble keeping up as they made their way to some of the storage sheds. "Though what are yeh gonna do with it when its done?"

Give it back to Spy, with a manual and tell him not to let it get that bad again. Maybe get rewarded, and this thought made him stifle a grin. "Dunno." The tips of his ears were hot.

Before the Australian could ask any more questions they arrived at a storage shed Engineer sometimes used to store larger, more dangerous projects. Pulling his keys out of his pocket, he unlocked the padlock on the door and opened it. He wheeled the Vespa through the door, past scrapped sentries and failed prototypes. It would be safe out here until he could get some parts ordered and get proper work started.

"That should be alright fer now." he muttered locking the shed up again.
-----------------------
The skirmish on Monday started like any other. Engineer prepared his machines and tried to make sense of the situation in general. The night before, he had taken the enemy Spy's Vespa to be repaired; two days ago, he had met up with the same man to put things at rest, and failed. So much had changed and yet the job was the same. His teammates were still the same, and his enemies were still the same. Mostly.

It was nearly lunchtime and the front lines hadn't broken yet. A few people had come down to the Intel room, often it was Pyro coming to check up on him and refuel. But no one from BLU, not even Spy who usually managed to show up wherever he pleased regardless of the state of the battle. His sentry beeped peacefully to itself just outside the door. The dispenser hummed to itself. Engineer refused to believe the man was going to leave him alone. He was going to show up, it was just a matter of when and how. And what he was going to do when he did.

Time passed, lunch break came and went and there was still no sign of Trouble. Ah well no sense waiting for the man. He had a job to do, not like his day revolved around self absorbed men in fancy suits and nice smelling cologne. There was a fault in the dispenser wiring he should be looking into fixing, whistling to himself he pulled open a side panel to get a better look.

"Bonjour," a familiar voice whispered in his ear. Calmly turning around he found himself face to face with the Frenchman. The man was holding out a red rose for him.

"Spook." he tried to keep his voice even ignoring the flower and resisted questioning where one even found roses of any color in the middle of a desert.

"Cowboy." Spy gave him a smile that Engineer wasn't sure if he found it appealing or infuriating. Deciding it was better to not let himself get distracted by this inner debate, he turned back to his wiring job. The snake probably wasn't going to stab him in the back. Probably.

"What sort of welcome is this?" Spy asked sullenly, leaning over his shoulder. "I crossed a battlefield to see you."

"Ah got work to do." he muttered, trying to ignore how close the man was looming over him. "Don' you got somewhere else to be?" he pulled a pair of wire cutters off his tool belt.

"Non." he could hear the smile in the snake's voice. He froze when he felt hands on his waist, tugging on his toolbelt, the man's lips on his neck. Engineer turned and pushed the man away. Spy looked back at him, crestfallen and confused.

"You want to…" he trailed off knowing he had probably gone as red as his shirt. "Here? Now?"

"Yes. Why not?"

"W-What-" Engineer struggled to find a way to voice all the reasons, "On base-on the clock…" he hissed, glancing at the door as if it might burst open at any second.

"So?"

"We could be caught."

"Makes it more thrilling doesn't it?" Spy countered with a grin. He opened his mouth to protest but suddenly realized how close the Frenchman was again. Spy had moved, or he had, he wasn't certain. The only thing he was certain of was the distance between them had disappeared. He swallowed and tried to ignore the pounding of his heart.

The Frenchman leaned even nearer, gently placing a gloved hand under his chin, tilting his face up to meet him with a kiss. It wasn't until his lungs reminded him that oxygen was a necessity that he pulled away.
After a moment or two he managed to catch his breath. "Ah-Ah've got work to do."

"So do I," Spy chuckled, reaching to kiss him again. The Texan found himself pinned against the dispenser, a gloved hand gently slipping the wire cutters from his grip. Somewhere in the back of his mind it occurred to him he should resist or protest. But he found himself unable to care.

"This is sabotage," he murmured in between kisses, gripping the lapels of the man's jacket, pulling him closer.

"That was the idea." Spy's breath tickled his ear.

"You bastar-"the sound of sentry fire cut him off.

Spy disappeared, leaving Engineer staring at open air with his brain struggling to process this sudden change in agenda. The door burst open and the BLU Scout scrambled in, trying, and mostly succeeding to, outrun the gunfire.

"Dammit!" the Texan ducked behind the dispenser and fumbled for his pistol, adrenaline working to clear his head. Bullets ricocheted off the dispenser as Engineer peered around the side to get a shot at the kid. If he could at least get the damn kid in the kneecap the machines could finish the job. But the Scout was too fast, the sentry was having trouble hitting him, it would be a miracle if he managed to. Finally, he got a bead on Scout, but before he could pull the trigger there was a triumphant muffled yell as the kid burst into flames.

For a minute or two, Pyro was distracted by a few spare embers before looking up at Engineer.

"Huddah?" the firebug's head tilted like a curious puppy.

"I-I'm alright." the cowboy holstered his pistol. Adrenaline and the smell of burning numbskull was clearing his head. "Ah'm fine." He scanned room for any sign of Spy: blood, a body, a cloud of smoke. But there was only a few new bullet holes in the plaster of the wall, revealing the concrete supports, and a charred scatter gun. The snake had seemingly slithered out somehow in the chaos. Of course he had.

"Hudd Huddah?" Pyro pointed to a spot on the floor.

"Hm?" By the dispenser was a red rose, it was shriveled, nearly singed in the blast of the flame thrower, but it was still undeniably a flower and not a weapon. And definitely out of place.

"Huddah?"

"Uh-ah dunno wher-" he was interrupted once again by a distressed beep coming from the sentry. And the hiss of a sapper. "Ah, Hell." he jogged past the offending flower and Pyro, brandishing his wrench knocking it loose from the gun.

Firebug, now given a new target to chase, bustled past the cowboy and down the hall with a chortle that sounded almost like a hound baying after a fox.

 

Engineer looked at the cracked remnants of the sapper on the ground and kicked it with his shoe. "Shit." he muttered, before getting to work repairing the damage.

------------------------
Casually Spy unlocked the door to the cowboy's room and let himself in, the room was as vacant as the workshop had been. Sighing, Spy glanced at the glow of his watch. This time of evening the man usually called it a night. The man would probably turn up soon. Removing his jacket he slipped it on the back of the desk chair and sat down at the desk, making himself at home. He noticed that the cowboy left a paperback novel out. Glancing at the cover he sneered, it looked boring and disappointing. But he was just passing time. Spy flipped it open to the first page and hoped Engineer would be back soon.

He was about half way through the first chapter when the Texan came through the door. He had a towel wrapped around his waist, the smell of soap still clinging to him. He was fresh from the shower, then.

The cowboy spotted him and came to a stop. "Evening." Spy noticed the man's faint smile as he turned to lock the door.

"I needed to talk to you, so I waited," he explained, putting the book down on the desk where he found it.

"Ah was in the shower."

"So I see." Spy answered with an appraising smirk as the man walked to the wardrobe. The first time he had ever met the man on the battlefield, he had thought the man was pudgy - his work uniform certainly hadn't done him any favors. But over time he had come to realize how deceptive the first glance was. He drank in the sight of the man in the dim light without the overalls. The shifting muscles of his back. The powerful arms. The pale parts of flesh not even the sun had seen or touched. A sight for his eyes only.

The Texan pulled an undershirt and briefs from the drawer in the wardrobe. He stood there awkwardly for a moment or two before finally undoing the towel. Keeping his back turned he put on undergarments and padded barefoot across the small room. "So what did you want to talk about?" the man asked sitting down on the bed.

"Today… did not go so well."

"That'd be puttin' mildly," the cowboy chuckled, a hint of a crooked smile on his lips.

"The smell of burning flesh does spoil the mood." Spy admitted.
"Also was damn risky." the Texan added with a glare.
"Probably was not the… best of ideas."

"Mm-hmm." the man picked up his guitar from where it had been propped up against the wall.

"We need to set up a way to meet elsewhere, off base."

"What did you have in mind?" the Texan asked warily.

Spy rolled his eyes. "It's really quite simple." Reaching for his jacket he pulled out a folded piece of paper. He passed it to Engineer, "This is a list of respectable motels in a sixty kilometer radius." It was regrettably, a rather short list, there were a couple of others, but he had decided to cut them from the list for reasons of basic health concerns. "Do not lose it." The cowboy looked at the list then back at him quizzically.

"If I'm wearing a striped tie, that means I've arranged for a room that evening. If I'm using a half windsor knot, it's at the first location on the list. If I've tied it with a full windsor we meet at the second location." He noticed the Texan's expression hadn't changed. "Got it?"

"…Yea?" the man answered in a tone that suggested he really didn't. Regardless, Spy decided to keep on.

"If it's tied with a trinity, that's the third location on the list."

"If you say so."

"If it’s a Van Wiljk knot that's the fourth on the list. Any questions?"

"Yea… how am ah supposed to tell the difference between these funny ties a yours?"

"The tie isn't different - it’s the knots." Spy corrected.

"How am ah supposed to tell these knots apart?"

He supposed that in the land of bolo ties and cheap suits the man wouldn't have learned how to properly knot a tie. "I can show you-" he began to loosen his tie to demonstrate.

"Lemme get a pencil-"

"What do you need a pencil for?"

"So ah can write this down?"

"You never write this down!"

"Keep yer voice down." Engineer hissed. "You aren't supposed to be in here remember?" he cleared his throat before speaking again. "Ah won't be able to remember alla this."

"Never write the code down." That was just common sense. He had thought the cowboy an intelligent man. "That's how information gets discovered."

"This is also how information gets lost or misread." came the stubborn reply. "Can’t we set up a rotation or something? Or just use one of these places?"

"Never fall into a routine. Routines can be followed."

"Well now yer jus' bein impossible!"

"Keep your voice down," Spy smugly reminded him. "You're supposed to be alone in here, remember?"

The dirty look the cowboy shot him made him go quiet. He might need to rethink his plan if he wanted Engineer to agree to it. Arguing about it was only going to risk them being discovered. Even though it wasn't that complicated.

"Very well, Monsieur." he sighed. "Keep the list, I will slip you messages of where we will meet."

"Thought you said we weren't writing it down."

"Code books do exist for reasons." he admitted. "We can keep the number system. Just do not misplace that list."

"Alright, so you wear a striped tie, to indicate you want to meet up and slip me the location. And I suppose ah destroy the note after reading."

"Oui. Any questions?"

There was a long pause before the man spoke, "What am I supposed to do if I decide we should meet up?"

"Ah…" he froze. For some reason the thought that the cowboy might want to see him the way he needed to never occurred to him. He looked at the Texan, there seemed no trace of teasing, just his usual honest face. He swallowed a lump in his throat. "We can refine the details of that later if you wish."

"Better start brushing up on your semaphore." the man teased.

"I shall make that my top priority Monsieur,." this response garnered a chuckle.

The conversation lulled as Engineer idly fiddled with the guitar, strumming it now and then, tuning it when a note was sour. Spy watched him, suppressing a smile, the ridiculous cowboy with his silly guitar. "Play me something."

The Texan glanced up in surprise "Got any requests?"
On impulse, Spy got up from the desk chair and furtively sat on the bed next to the cowboy who scooted to give him more room. "Anything but that Irene song."

"You got somethin' against the classics?" Spy didn't reply instead sliding closer to the cowboy. The man hummed to himself as he started strumming, his fingers deftly picking out the notes without a second thought. The song started quiet, gaining volume as it continued. It was simple, repeating the same string of notes a few times. Spy had heard the man play in passing. Through keyholes, and the wrong side of doors. He smiled to himself. Now the man was playing for him.

The Texan played on unaware of how closely Spy was watching him, clearing his throat he began to sing. His voice was low and smooth.
"Well, I can't tell you anything you don' already know. I keep on tryin' I should jus' let it go." The Frenchman listened and watched the cowboy's face, entranced, as the song went on. "I keep on singin', your eyes they just roll. It's sounds like someone's song fro-," He draped his arms around the Texan, startling him to a halt.

"Sorry, Monsieur," Spy planted kiss on the man's cheek. "I did not mean for you to stop." he whispered in his ear.

"Kinda hard for me to play with you being distractin'"

"I'm just showing my appreciation," Spy chuckled as he leaned to kiss the man more deeply. Engineer responded with a kiss of his own that left the Frenchman breathless.

"One second…" the cowboy whispered, shoving Spy off. He carefully placed the guitar on the floor beside the bed. "Thas' better." With a throaty laugh the workman grabbed him by the tie, pulling him close into those strong arms.

"Thought you wouldn't want to do this sort of thing on base." he murmured while the Texan occupied himself with undoing the buttons of his vest. There was no response, Engineer just started undoing the buttons of his shirt.

 

"In that case…" With a predatory grin, Spy pinned the man to the mattress. He straddled the smaller man, pulling his gloves off and tossing them on the floor. He slid his hands under the thin shirt, relishing the heat of the man's skin, the feel of the man's heartbeat as it raced. The Engineer had more hair on his chest than the slim young men he was used to taking to bed. He found he liked it. Peeling the shirt up he laid a delicate kiss in the middle of the cowboy's chest, then another, and another, working down the man's chest, his stomach, until he came to the trail of hair beneath the naval, above the man's hardening erection. The cowboy tensed, every muscle taut like a bow string.

 

Spy looked up to meet his gaze. "I can stop." he murmured, taking the Texan's hand in his own. Engineer looked him in the eye, and placed his other hand on the Frenchman's shoulder. Spy resettled himself between the Texan’s knees, sliding a fingertip beneath the elastic of the man’s briefs. Engineer’s erection sprang up fully hard, and the low moan the man made when he grasped him at the base made it difficult to ignore his own need. He wasn’t accustomed to ignoring any of his own wants. But doing so now… his hand glided up to circle his thumb around the crown and the arch of the man’s back was more satisfying to him than anything he could do to himself.

His tongue darted out to moisten his lips. This close he could smell the musk of the man, could swear he could feel the heat rising off him. He wrapped his mouth around the tip of his member and chuckled when the Texan beat a desperate fist against the mattress. Spy’s hand settled back around the base of the man’s erection again and froze when he felt the Engineer’s hand drop down onto his head, onto the mask. It took a beat for him to realize that the other man didn’t have any intention of pulling it away from him, but just wanted to keep him in place. He almost laughed again, toyed with the idea of pulling away to torment the other man a bit, and then remembered the strength and breadth of the Engineer’s hands. Spy groaned, squeezing with his fingers and taking him several inches deeper into his mouth.

---------------

"Docktor…" Heavy called.
He was being ignored. He was in bed, ready and waiting. And being ignored. "I am ready for my examination Doctor." he added coaxingly.
"Shhh!"

"What are you doing?"

"Leise!" Medic hushed him, leaning closer to the wall, pressing the stethoscope against it.

The Russian man rolled his eyes, pulling the covers over his legs. He was getting cold, and it seemed he was unlikely to receive attention any time soon."Why is docktor listening to wall?"

"There's someone else in there." the German man murmured quietly. "I'm sure of it."

Sighing, Heavy picked up his bedside reading and slipped his spectacles on. Without a word he opened to his place and continued reading. It made no sense, the evening had been going so well. Some wine, some chatting, the doctor got his kit out. Medic had left to use the bathroom and came back and now he was listening to a wall. This had not been the plan for this evening.

"Engineer is just playing guitar in there." Heavy insisted as he turned a page.

"The sound I heard when I was in the hall did not come from a guitar." the doctor insisted stubbornly.

Heavy sighed and looked up from his book, he normally enjoyed Nermontov but even the most fascinating read was hard to care about when the promise of sex still lingered. "The noise is nothing." he said firmly.

"But-"

"Nothing." he repeated, his tone implied that the sound was nothing and better be nothing or Medic would be spending the night in his own bed. Alone.

"Ja, ja," the doctor reluctantly lowering his stethoscope. "Maybe you are right." Though he sounded hardly convinced.

"Come to bed моя Голубка" Heavy insisted, putting the book on the nightstand.

Medic reluctantly turned from the wall and looked at Heavy stretched out. Stepping away from the wall he decided to go to bed and put the stethoscope to better use.

Chapter Text

Engineer whistled to himself, his fingers automatically dialing the numbers on the phone.

The phone barely rang once before it was picked up.

"Hello?"  Sam's voice came over the wire.

"Sam, hope I ain't catchin' ya at a bad time."

"Not at all, just surprised. It's a bit early for ya, ain't it?"

"Not really," he shrugged leaning against the phone.  "They don' feed us for another half hour,"  if you could actually call it food. He omitted this part, if word got out about the rations here  to any lady folk in the family he'd be up to his ears in care packages and concerned phone calls. "Just thought I'd call and see how things were goin'."

"The usual. Had a real frog strangler last week, thought the roads were gonna wash out.  Things are just now startin' to dry out, hopefully we can get plantin' before it rains again. "

"Yah get that tractor fixed?"

"Yea - had to take it up to county line and pay an arm fer it. Sure miss having a certified handyman around the place."

The Texan chuckled, "Ya couldn' afford me. So what was wrong with it?"

"Clutch was out and slipping, like yah thought."

"Figured, it was getting pretty old."

"Not much else goin' on here, unless you want me to get Mary and ask what the ladies are gossipin' 'bout these days."

"I'll pass, thanks."

"So how are things in New Mexico? Stayin' out of trouble?"

"Pretty quiet here." None of his family, Sam or even Evie knew the extent of what he was out in the desert for. Just a 'contract job working on security systems'. The contract he had signed forbade him from saying anything else even if he had wanted to. "Nothing new, just the usual."

“Mmhmm,” the murmur on the other end of the phone sounded expectant. "So what's her name?"  Sam's question stopped him cold.

"What?" he asked, feeling his ears heat up.

"Yah called at a decent time, and sound less miserable than usual. In fact ya almost sound…. ah dare to say it… happy ."

"Ah don' know what yer gettin' at." he answered, probably a bit too quickly. Too defensively. This was another thing he couldn't talk to Sam about. Or anyone for that matter. Though for reasons other than being contractually obligated to keep his mouth shut.

"Yah always were a rotten liar Cuz."

"Can't I jus' be in a good mood?" He asked hopefully.

"Yah can. But in this case… ah don’ think so.”

Engineer's gaze sank to the floor, his mouth going dry as he fumbled for words. But he didn't have any.  There was nothing he could say, even if he knew what to call what was going on between him and Spy.  

"There's no one." The sound of footsteps approaching made him glance down the hall. "Nobody." He insisted as Medic came around the corner down the hall.

"Mm-hmm," Sam knew him too well to be fooled. Medic continued down the hall but then paused behind him. He got the uneasy feeling the man was listening. It wouldn’t surprise him.

"Ah gotta go. Someone else needs the phone." he blurted.

“Bu-”

"-Talk to you later!" He cut Sam off.  Hanging up the phone. He turned on his heel and found  himself face to face with the doctor.

“Guten abend,” Medic greeted him with a smile that reminded Engineer of a shark.

“Phones’ all yers!” He sidled away from the phone.

“How are you today?” The man asked in a sugary voice.  It was the sort of sugar that gingerbread houses were trimmed with.

“Fine- fine - just gonna go get some dinner.” He gestured vaguely towards the mess hall.

“Good - good! Do not forget you have a check up tomorrow.”

Was it that time of year already? Engineer wasn’t going to try to argue with the man, he didn’t have a chance of winning. “I’ll… keep tha’ in mind.” The cowboy mumbled as he made his exit to the mess hall.   
_________________________________________

Dinner had been served BLU base  and Spy was seated by himself, as usual, though he rarely minded or cared.  The canned meat and peas remained mostly untouched on his plate. As usual he made his dinner of coffee and cigarettes while he read his French newspaper. At least he appeared to be reading the paper, he had started reading an article about student protests in the capital but his mind wandered to other subjects…

The weekend was two days away and he had arranged to meet Engineer for dinner. Somewhere that served food that didn't come out of a can or a box. Dinner and more... the corners of his mouth quirked up.

He'd have the cowboy to himself for two whole days.  Meeting on base or during skirmishes was alluringly reckless, but the Texan was so nervous of being discovered that the encounters were usually kept short and less intimate than he preferred.

The weekends they met off base were when he got to see the what his cowboy was capable of.  At first the man had been cautious.  Nervous. Understandably so, considering the circumstances.  But he was quickly adapting, getting bolder.  Spy's smile widened as he mused over what the cowboy would be like with more time and practice.  

He reached for his coffee mug, took a sip and sputtered. There had been something in his coffee. Something small and round.  A capsule? A pill?

He spit the foreign object onto his plate with a grimace. It was a sickly shade of green and looked exactly like a canned pea. Glancing at his mug, he noticed a few others bobbing on the surface. Why were there peas in his coffee?  

Why, for that matter, were there peas all over the table?  He lowered his newspaper and saw the sickly green missiles all around him.  Around his coffee mug, around his forgotten dinner plate. Wordlessly he looked across the table to see his teammates watching. Down the table was Scout with a spoon in hand, aimed like a catapult. Was the pre pubescent idiot… throwing peas at him?

“Took him long enough,” the one eyed scotsman grunted.

“You owe me a fiver.” Sniper chuckled.

“You were flinging peas at me!?” Spy sputtered.

“Wondered when you were gonna notice.” Scout said, lobbing another of the pathetic looking vegetables at him. The pea sailed over the table and impacted on Spy’s lapel, leaving a faint greasy mark as it bounced off. He was going to have to send this suit to be dry cleaned.  

“You can not still be mad at me!” the Frenchman exclaimed. “That whole mess was ages ago.” The rest of the table remained quiet, he would have no allies here tonight, they were just hanging around for the show.

“What, a few weeks and I’m supposed tah forget you passed around pictures of my-”

“-I hardly passed them around, besides it’s hardly my fault, your mother-” Spy insisted.

“-YOU DO NOT GET TAH TALK ABOUT MY MOTHER.” The spoon dropped, clattering on the table as Scout leaped to his feet. He almost certainly would have jumped onto the table to attack if the other mercenaries hadn’t stopped him.

“NEIN! Not on ze table!” the doctor hissed. “We are still eating!”  

“‘Ey! Watchit boy!”

“NO FIGHTING IN THE MESS HALL.”

“I’MMA KILL’IM.”

“Easy now, lad!”

“SIMMER DOWN SON.”  

With the idiot contained Spy decided to make his exit. Grumbling under his breath Spy stood from his chair, shook the peas from his newspaper. “Gentlemen,” he nodded before making his exit.  

_____________________________________

The morning bell had rung marking the beginning of the work day. Calling it a battle was laughable, the word altercation sounded too civilized. It was a skirmish, a brawl. Regular as clockwork and just as predictable. Usually.

The BLU team came out in a rush to get to their positions to start the push to the enemy’s base. Spy leisurely strolled after them, he had no rush, to place he was expected to be. He worked on his own time. He reached the head of the stairs when Scout, came running and slammed into him. The idiot barely stopped to watch the Frenchman get knocked off his feet and tumble down the stairs to land with a rather sickening crunch at the base of them.

“Shoulda looked where ya goin’ dumbass!” he heard Scout taunt as he faded from consciousness.

The day wore on and Spy was starting to think he should have stayed in Respawn. While attempting to mimic the RED team’s Medic and stab Heavy, clearing him out of BLU’s path, the real Medic appeared and he found himself grabbed by his neck and tossed like a rag doll into a wall.  

He had managed to headshot the drunk Scotsman successfully… and quickly found himself on the wrong end of the Abomination’s flame thrower. He had run as fast as he could down the corridors of the base but was lit aflame for his troubles.

Spy puffed on his cigarette as he emerged from Respawn, it was not even lunch time and he had already been killed a dozen times. Or at least it seemed like a dozen.  Bludgeoned to a pulp, shoved down the stairs, incinerated, stabbed, shot, and blown up. This was proving not to be one of his better days.

Leaning on the doorpost he thought over the situation, BLU was making a valiant attempt and RED’s lines might break soon. But today’s struggle was not going to be won or impacted by anything he did today, that much was certain. He’d go visit his cowboy. He had been intending to do that later in the day but it would be smarter to stay out of the way rather than attempt any heroics. He doubted anyone on BLU would notice he wasn’t around.

Traveling through a skirmish wasn’t that much easier than trying to fight in it. Invisibly, he crept through BLU base side stepping his teammate as they charged headlong into the conflict. Scout sped by him and he took some minor joy in tripping him with an invisible foot and watching the boy tumble and land flat on his face. While it was hardly a fatal fall it did make him feel a bit better as he ducked into a corridor where the boy wouldn’t see him.  

With his petty revenge for the day handled Spy slunk down the hall. Slipping out of a side door, he found patch of land that wasn’t currently being fought over and picked his way among the wreckage and shrapnel to the RED base. He had almost made it across No Man’s Land when he heard the whistle of a rocket launcher and a not so distant yell. He ducked behind a large blasted out crate just in time for the rocket to explode overhead showering the area with bits of shell casing. After a quick glance to check his cloak he scrambled out from behind cover, kicking aside a few bits of wreckage. It seemed battle was going to reclaim his entrance sooner than he wanted.

He was barely out from behind cover when a bullet whizzed past his head grazing his ear. Diving back behind cover he clutched a hand to his injury as he flickered into view his ears ringing. Another bullet shot through the crate, this time missing him by a few inches. It seemed the RED Sniper had noticed his approach. He squinted at this watch, the cloak power was charging up, but slowly. A disguise wouldn’t help in this situation. He was pinned here, until the bushman either shot him or got distracted. At least for the moment the Australian seemed to be saving his ammunition for a clear shot.

His cloak was almost charged and his hearing returned when he heard an explosion coming from his own base. Peering around he saw his team’s Doctor and maniac pursuing the RED team’s own Demo and Scout, bullets and grenades flying all directions. Screams erupted as the maniac managed to set the REDs alight, their flaming figures rushing towards their base. Using the commotion as cover he bolted from his hiding place.

“Heads Up!” he heard a voice call out as the RED Scout got close to passing him, then there was the sound of shattering glass and the acrid smell of urine as the battlers were drenched in piss.  The Medic swore in a voice that would make most men blanch and fell into the fray, his bonesaw in hand. Scrambling from the mess of blood and filth, Spy made his way to the entrance before anyone could notice him.

Once inside, the RED base was quiet, from the looks of things the battle had been here but been beaten back. He winced as the adrenaline in his system cleared reminding him that now he was safe and should probably see to his minor scrapes and the shot to his ear. Shell casings and the smell of gunpowder marked the halls but the sounds of fighting and explosions got quieter as he made his way deeper into the base to the intelligence room. Hearing footsteps, he ducked in a closet, and the Scotsman presumably fresh from Respawn, ran by to get back to the brawl.

He climbed down the stairs to the office, passing his own team’s Soldier and the bloody smear that he had left behind. Spy smiled recognizing the handiwork, his cowboy seemed to be in fine form today. Before he got to the foot of the stairs he pulled his disguise kit out of his jacket pocket. It wouldn’t do to get shot down by Engineer’s toys now that he had finally made his way over here, and arriving invisible was rude. With an eager smirk he selected his disguise and strolled to the office door.

The sentry beeped at him but held its fire as he opened the door. Engineer, wrench in hand glanced up from the dispenser he had been tinkering with. His eyes were unreadable through his goggles but his sigh when he saw Spy enter the room was clear enough.

“Yah think yer funny, but you really aren’t,” the man grumbled.

“What’s wrong pard’ner, aren’t you happy to see a familiar face?” he asked as he approached the man and his machine on the far side of the room.

“It’s damn strange having a conversation with yerself.” The man frowned and sniffed the air “And what did yo-” he froze noticing Spy hissing in pain.

“Yah okay there Spook?” the real Engineer asked as he watched the copy of himself lean on the dispenser to heal his scrapes and bruises. “Yah get banged up on yer way over here?”

“It IS a battlefield, Monsieur.” he chuckled. “I’m fine, just superficial.” He put a hand to his ear, through the illusion he could feel  his mask was sodden with blood but the wound was healed. He had made it here, he was in one piece, and the Texan was within arm’s reach. Smiling, he leaned closer until his face was inches away from the cowboy. He leaned closer to give the man a kiss. Engineer gave him a brief peck on the lips before shoving him gently away.

“Sorry darlin’,” the man shook his head “I appreciate the sentiment, but… you stink.”

“What? I crossed a battlefield to see you!”

“Ah know. And you smell like it.”

“It’s yer Sniper’s fault!”

“Ah know Slim-”

“You want me to leave? After all this trouble?”

“Can ah point out this is a really strange argument to have while… looking at myself?”

Spy sighed and activated his watch fading from view. “That better?”

“... Not really… ah can still smell ya.”

Spy sighed loudly and was about to protest when the door swung open and the RED team’s Medic limped in covered in blood. Spy quickly stepped around the dispenser so the man wouldn’t bump into him. “Guten tag” he said with a manic grin as he started reloading his syringe gun.

“Uh… Hey Doc.” the cowboy greeted the man nervously. “Rough out there?”

“It’s a bloodbath!” the man laughed gleefully. “I just came down here for some more ammunition.”

“And to git patched up?”

“What?” the doctor looked down at his uniform and laughed again, “No, no, this blood isn’t mine!”

Spy stood stiffly in mute silence watching the madman load his gun and put spare clips in his pockets. The faint idea of revenge began to grow in the Frenchman’s mind. He could stab the man right here, but he suspected the cowboy would not appreciate it. Plus it might make things suspicious for him later. To his horror the doctor sniffed the air. “Are we having a plumbing problem?”

“A-a plumbing problem?” Engineer asked in what had to be the worst innocent tone Spy had ever heard.

“I’m smelling… urine?” the German man wrinkled his nose in distaste.

“Oh! No!” the Texan laughed nervously.  “Th-That’s Slim. He… uh… came through here.”

The man tsked, shaking his head “So filthy.” he muttered.

Killing the man inside the office would be suspicious, but the Engineer could hardly complain if he did it after the man left. His pet behemoth was surely somewhere close by and with the man safely in Respawn his ruse had better odds.

But it would be rude to leave the cowboy without saying goodbye. But he couldn’t speak while the German was still around. Couldn’t bring attention to himself. He glanced at the cowboy who was nervously watching the doctor’s every move.

Medic turned to leave “I vill see you later Engineer! Remember, we have an appointment when the killings are done!”

An impulse formed in his mind. He wouldn’t likely get this opportunity often. He stepped closer to the cowboy, and gave the man’s ass a hearty firm slap with the flat of his palm.

The cowboy yelped in surprise,  Medic turned, “A-ah mean. Yea!” the man forced a smile, “Ah won’ forget.” The German gave him an odd look but didn’t say anything else as he strolled out of the intelligence room. Spy slipped through the door after him, pulling his knife out. If he could get the doctor and Heavy today might actually be salvageable.

__________________________

 

The skirmish had ended for the day and Engineer was packing away his gear more carefully than usual. Slowly. Meticulous. But even taking his time and walking as slowly as possible he hadn’t managed to burn enough minutes between now and dinnertime to avoid this.  

The Texan trudged up the hall from the barracks hoping that something had come up and Medic would be elsewhere. Maybe one of his birds was ill or someone had managed to crack their skull open off the battlefield. He could never be that lucky. He hesitantly knocked on the door of the infirmary.

The door swung open with the snap a bear trap.“Willkommen! Come in!” Medic grin was manic as he stood in the doorway.

Engineer froze in the hall, “Y-ya sure Doc?” he stammered. “Ah don’ wanna take up yer time. You probl’y got lots of other things to do…”

“There’s nothing to be squeamish about, Herr Engineer.” Medic herded him towards the door, in what was probably supposed to be a soothing tone that instead set his teeth on edge. “Just routine examinations.”  

“Undress and get on ze scale” Medic requested, flipping through paperwork on his clipboard. Daring not to make the man annoyed Engineer reluctantly pulled off his boots and slipped out of his coveralls and shirt, leaving his undershirt and briefs on as long as he would be allowed.  He padded in his stocking feet to the scale, stepped on and looked away as Medic noisily slid the weights around until he was satisfied.

“Hmmhmm.” the doctor intoned to himself as he scribbled on his clipboard. Whatever that meant the man neglected to share.

Then the Texan’s height was measured, “165,” Medic said to himself as he recorded it. Neither time nor Respawn it seemed had granted him any additional height. At his age he had stopped hoping.

“Get up on the table.” The German directed. He reluctantly climbed onto the metal table, that looked far too much like an operating table for his taste. It felt like he was sitting on a block of ice and he cringed as the cold seeped through his thin underwear into his skin. “Relax,” Medic patted him roughly on the shoulder “this is all for the Respawn system, ja?”

A tongue depressor was jammed unceremoniously into his mouth. He gagged, the depressor grating his throat while the doctor muttered to himself in German too soft for him to try to translate. “Minding your teeth?” the man asked shoving a thermometer in his mouth before he could answer.  “Now, keep mouth shut,” Medic hissed then patted him on the cheek.

Humming, the man tilted the Texan’s head this way and that, tugging at his ears to peer into them. The thermometer was removed and Medic tilted the Texan’s head to its original angle.  Glancing at it he nodded and tossed it aside before writing on his clipboard.

“Take your shirt off.” came the next command. Suppressing a sigh of resignation the Texas stripped that off. The icy cold stethoscope listened while the German’s cold hands probed and prodded. “No bruising, no new scarring” the man observed in a dismissive way that made him feel like a piece of produce .

Medic straightened, picked up his clipboard and began scribbling notes. “Any new habits? Drinking more than usual?”

“No Doc,”

“Smoking?”  

“-No,” he said quickly.  

Hmmm , I see,” more notes were jotted on the clipboard. “ Stehen,” the man barked. “Remove your underclothes.”

The moment he’d been dreading had finally arrived. Slowly, Engineer slid off the table to the floor.  He stood there desperate to postpone the inevitable. “Undress, Bitte” Medic barked, his order punctuated by the loud snapping of a rubber glove.  

He slid his briefs off and with it his last shred of dignity fell to the floor. Glancing out of the corner of his eye, he watched as the alleged doctor applied a gel to the gloved hand. “Face forward.”

He felt a cold hand settle on bare skin and cringed, fingers prodding him, places he would rather not think about at this moment. “Turn your head and cough.”

Sighing, he turned his head to face the skeleton in the corner of the room and tried to think about anything but where he was. England, Texas, the inside of a nuclear reactor.

“Are you schtupping anyone?”

“P-pardon?” he choked, he could not have heard that right.

“Unclench bitte, now bend over,” he felt the  sadist’s other hand on his shoulder pushing him into the requested position.

“Yah didn’t ask that last year!” he hissed.

“Things change, Herr Engineer.” The Texan grunted with relief as he felt Medic’s hand, both of them, pull back.  “You weren’t divorced.” the man reminded him cheerily.

“What’s it matter?” he asked, defensively reaching for his clothes.

“Nein, not yet.” Medic told him walking around to face him. “I am not done with the examination.”


He shrank away as the doctor’s, still cold hands examined his more personal parts. “It’s for your own safety” the man explained though Engineer was having a hard time thinking of safety when his gadget was being handled by a German sadist.  “If you aren’t careful anything could happen.”  Medic  added in a tone that somehow managed to be both educational and threatening.

“... And if I was?” he hazarded an answer. He swore he saw a grin flash across Medic’s face as he stepped back to throw his gloves into a waste bin.

“As your doctor, I’d need more information.”

“.... What?” he asked warily. He should have kept his mouth shut. Why hadn’t he…

Medic had retrieved his clipboard and was scribbling furiously away, “How many people do you sleep with? How frequently? What activities? How-”

The Texan found himself backing into the metal table, his face, and the rest of him turning as red as the uniform he wasn’t wearing. “-Whoa, whoa, hey now!” he interjected desperately.

“Ja?” Medic looked at him quizzingly.

“Ah’m not…” he trailed off.

“Anything you say is confidential! Secret!” the doctor assured him.

“Ah’ll keep that in mind… if ah need ta know anythin’” or if he suddenly lost his damn mind.

“But-”

“-Ah was in th’ Scouts, been through the corps, ah know the drill.” he insisted. His eyes darting from his clothes on the floor to the door. Trying to figure out an escape.

“Do y-”Medic was cut off by a pounding on the door.

“Doctor!” Demo’s voice yelled from the hall “Dinner’s ready!”

Relieved the Texan took this as his cue to leave,  “Well ah don’ wanna keep you from dinner,” he said with a half hysterical chuckle.  He scooped his clothing off the floor and started pulling them on.

The doctor frowned, acknowledging defeat. “Very well, Herr Engineer. It has been a long day.” The man walked to his desk, dropped his clipboard among the pile of papers and opened the bottom desk drawer.

Engineer had just fastened his coveralls and was stepping into his boots ready to bolt for the door when Medic spoke, “Before you go, I have something for you.”

“More paperwork?” he asked warily. It seemed every time someone sneezed RED had changed policies and issuing more forms to fill out and sign.

“Nein, something you’ll probably find more useful.”  The older man replied with an unsettling gleam in his eye.

“Ah should probably just head out-” he said opening the door.  He was cut off by Medic shoving a paper bag into his hands.  Unthinkingly he opened it and peered inside. Inside were condoms and he squinted to make out the packaging on the tubes. Some sort of medical substance- a gel? A lubricant? He felt his ears burn as he shut the bag again.

“What is it your boy scouts say? Be prepared?” Medic asked brushing past him and out into the hall.

________________________

 

The weekend had finally come. It had seemed like it never would.  "Ya going out?" Scout asked, trotting at his heels like a hopeful pup.

"…Yea." he answered warily, "Gotta pick up some parts, order came in but they won't ship here." It had taken a lot of searching through catalogs, and many phone calls but he managed to find someplace that had the parts for a beaten up Italian scooter.  But that was as far as the miracle extended, the parts were at a shop half a day's drive away waiting for him to pay for them and pick them up.

"Can I tag along? I-"

"- No." he cut the kid off before he could get any further into an explanation.

"Come on!"

"Nope."

"You won't even know I'm there!"

"That I highly doubt."

"I just want a ride to the movies!"

"Why don'cha go with Soldier or Demo? They're usually up to do something on the weekend."

"This… isn't their kinda movie."

Ah, so it was like that then. "I'm sure it ain't nothing they haven't seen before." he said with a sigh.

“It ain’t like that!” Scout objected loudly.

“Yah ain’t the first one to go to a dirty picture.”

“It ain’t a dirty picture.”

“Mmhmm.”

“I just wanted to see Atomic Jones!” The kid protested.

“Wait…” a vague memory flickered in his mind, he recalled seeing something about that in the paper. “That Tom Jones thing with the singing and the danc-”

“-Shh!” Scout cut him off desperately, his hands up in defense, eyes darting around as if checking for eavesdroppers.

“Never took ya for a fan of musicals.” The Texan mused quietly.

“Don’ tell anyone alright!”

“Okay - okay - calm down son. I ain’t gonna tell anyone.” Far be it for him to go spreading other people's secrets around. Especially when he himself was sitting on one far worse than questionable taste in films he’d rather not have anyone know.

“I jus need a ride to tha theater - you could drop me off on yer way to do whatever and pick me up up on yer way back tonight.”

Engineer froze in his tracks. Tonight he had agreed to meet Spy for dinner. He hadn’t intended to come back on base until sometime tomorrow afternoon. “Nah, I can’t.”

“Come on!”

The Texan frowned, trying to carefully choose his words. “It’s a long drive…”

“I don’ mind waitin’ around a bit,” the kid insisted. “I’d owe you a favor!” He added trying to sweeten the deal.

Engineer frowned “It’s a long drive - Ah wasn’ plannin’ on headin’ back tonight.”

“So what- you’re gonna drive out there and stay out the whole night ? Why would ya-” Scout froze as his brain for once decided to work faster than his mouth. A look of realization slowly crossed the young man’s face. “Oh ho!” He slapped a hand over his mouth to stifle a shocked laugh. “Ya sly dog!”

“What?” The cowboy asked flatly dreading the answer he was likely to get.

“Ya gotta date!” Scout laughed.

“No ah don’!” He protested, “Ah’m just goin’ to pick up some parts.” And then meet Spy for dinner. And probably go somewhere else… quieter after that. “Nothin’ else.” He murmured woodenly.

“Good for you! Didn’t think ya had it in ya!” Scout chuckled slapping him on the shoulder.

“Ah’m just getting some replacement parts.”  He repeated through grit teeth though Scout wasn’t going to be dissuaded.

“Ya don’ need ta lie... It’s great a geezer like you is gettin’ some action!”

“I’m jus’ gettin’ some parts!” He insisted again walking on to his truck leaving the idiot behind.

“Sure thing, old man!” Scout yelled back at him before jogging back to the barracks.

“Ah ain’t that old.” Engineer grumbled to himself as he climbed into the pick up.   He turned the engine on and sighed. He hoped, desperately, that something would distract Motormouth before he blabbed to the entire team his theories about his weekend activities. Maybe no one would believe him. Maybe no one would listen to the kid and he’d be left alone. How often did anyone listen to that half-pint anyway?

___________________________

 

Spy grinned as he saw the town coming up on the road, a silhouette against the setting sun. He was going to be fashionably late to his dinner engagement but the cowboy probably wouldn’t be too annoyed. If he was, he’d find some way to make it up to him.

“We’re nearly there, gentlemen.” he announced to the the unconscious passengers in the backseat. He had hitched a ride in a convertible with a couple of young cocksure idiots in the guise of a hapless girl. They’d only been too eager to pull over and offer the poor thing a ride.

After a few miles they decided to stop being gentlemen and start getting handsy. Spy decided it was time to stop playing coy and helpless and take over the wheel. The queutards wouldn’t suffer any lasting damage, but they’d hopefully learn some manners.

The sun had dipped below the horizon as he drove through the dusty little town. There was not much here to bother with, a church, a grocer, an automotive parts store, a gas station,a few houses and the diner where he was supposed to meet Engineer.  With a smirk he pulled the sports car behind the church, it was late enough there was no one around to witness his arrival. Killing the engine he climbed out of the car.

“Merci beaucoup.” he tossed the car keys on top of the prone pair in the back. They would wake up with no idea where they were, how they got there, and there would be no sign of the hitchhiker who brought them here.

Spy walked down the street to the small diner. The bell on the door jingled as he walked in. The place was clean but nearly empty. He scanned the room and broke into a smile as he saw the back of the Texan’s head, he was sitting in the back corner.

“Bonsoir,” he called out approaching the table.

“Was wonderin’ if you’d stood me up.” Engineer joked

“I had some trouble with my vehicle.” he explained as he sat down.

“How are ya’ gettin’ around while I’m workin’ on your scooter?”

“I just borrowed a car.”

Whose?”

No one you know.” he answered with a shrug.

The cowboy frowned but said nothing as the waitress came to the table and took their orders. The woman left but the man remained quiet, gazing out the window.

“Were you able to get the parts you were looking for?” he asked conversationally.

“Hm?” Engineer glanced from the window back to him. “Yea, yea they were just as I ordered.” he smiled crookedly “A new set of spark plugs, choke lever, and battery. Ah can finally get crackin’ at repairs.”

“Marvelous, maybe after dinner we can settle on a down payment ?” he asked quirking his brow. He hadn’t seen a motel on his way in town but was sure they could figure something out.  Before he could pursue the subject the waitress returned with their meal.

The Texan remained silent. Not meeting his eyes, the man just pushed his food around the plate. Was there something wrong with it? Spy took a bite of his own meal, it wasn’t amazing but it was palatable.

“It is a relief to get off base.” he said quietly. “The idiot child is still holding a grudge against me it seems.”

“Oh?”   Engineer mumbled, hardly looking up from his plate.

“He was throwing peas at me over dinner a few days ago” he fumed, “ Peas !” he repeated and paused to let the ridiculousness sink in.

“Mmhmm.” the man seemed hardly horrified. Or even attentive. He was unusually distracted.

“Something is bothering you.” Spy observed, his mind going over what could possibly be troubling the man.

“Hm? No- no it’s nothin’. Nothin’” the cowboy should stay away from poker, he would reveal his hand in an instant with that face.  

He chuckled sadly, “Monsieur, you are a terrible liar.”

“Ah suppose ah am…” Engineer sighed glancing out the window. Spy swallowed, his mouth going dry. Was he rethinking their relationship? Was he leaving? Was it over? He hadn’t expected this to work out even for the brief time it had.

He took a sip of coffee, “What is it?” he asked softly, dreading the answer.

The Texan gnawed on his lip as he turned from the window, his brow furrowed. “Folks ha’ been talkin’”

“Folks?” Spy repeated woodenly.

“The team… Scout, Medic… people .”

“What have they been saying?” the Frenchman asked warily, pulling his cigarette case from his jacket.

“They’ve noticed I’ve been leaving base.”

“I see.” he lit his cigarette.

“I dun know wha’ Medic knows but he’s after somethin’. He…” the man looked flustered “... it was annual check ups this week…” he trailed off. Spy started wondering what the maniac could have done and what he was going to do about it before the Engineer spoke up again. “Asked lotta questions… stuff he usually doesn’ ask.”

“What did you say?” he asked taking a drag of his cigarette.

“Ah did’n tell him anythin’! Explained to him I could take care’a myself and left.”  That was probably true. The Texan for all his redeeming qualities had an honest face. Which was the problem.  Regardless what he’d said, the Medic had probably read the man as easily as he himself could.  “Then he… uh gave me a bag of… uh supplies.”

“Sheaths?” he inquired, Americans were so squeamish about these things. Like the English.

“Erm… those too… but… uh…” the man’s voice lowered “some lubrication.”   

Awkward silence descended on the booth while Spy quietly puffed on his cigarette. His dinner growing cold, forgotten as he mulled over the details.

Well, that was very specific , he idly wondered where said offerings were before turning back to the matter at hand.  What did the doctor know? What was his game? Blackmail? It could hardly be out of genuine interest in someone’s health.

“On toppa’ that,” the cowboy went on, Spy froze dreading what he was possibly going to hear next. “Scout - the kid’s convinced I was goin’ out to- goin’ out …” the cowboy’s fingers tapped nervously on the edge of the table. “Prob’ly told th’ whole base by now.”

“Is that all he thinks?”

“Yea, suppose, he was tryin’ to hitch a ride to the pictures and I wouldn’t take ‘im. He pushed and came to the idea that I was goin’ out.”

“I see.” That was hardly the end of the world. “That’s it?”

“What’d’ya mean is that it ?”

“So he knows you are meeting someone, he doesn’t know who .” the masked man pointed out calmly.

“But he’ll tell everyone,  what am I supposed to do?”

“People talk,” he said with a shrug, “Are you done eating?” gesturing to the half destroyed meal. It had been very industriously picked at but he wasn’t certain he’d seen the man put a single bite in his mouth.

“What?”

“This is not the best place for this conversation.”

The Texan dug his wallet out of his back pocket, “I’ll pay the tab and we can get outta here.”  He hastily pulled out a few bills and dropped them on the table.

“We’ll take your truck.” Spy said standing up..

Engineer snorted, “Ah suppose ah can pick up hitchhikers.” the man joked half heartedly as they walked outside. “Where do ya wanna go?”

“Somewhere we can talk.”

“There’s a place up the road. Passed it earlier, it didn’t look that great though-” the cowboy offered cautiously.

“It’ll be fine.” he assured him, stepping into the truck cab. Closed doors, privacy, distance from listening ears. That was all they really needed.   

“I mean we could prob’ly drive back south, might be somethin’ better-” the Texan nervously babbled as he climbed into the driver’s seat.

Spy placed a hand on Engineer’s shoulder, “It will be fine.” he repeated.

Engineer turned to look him in the eye, just for a moment. He gave the Texan’s shoulder a squeeze and was rewarded with a weak smile. The cowboy turned back to the steering wheel and started the engine. Reluctantly Spy removed his hand.  

“Put that cig out.” the man grumbled looking behind him as he put the the truck in reverse.

“For you, mon cher, I would not want to hit any cactus.” Spy chuckled and took one last drag on his cigarette before tossing it out the window.

They rode in silence while truck sped down the road out of town.  There was no one on the road but the two of them. Dusk had fallen lending the cab an intimate privacy.

“How do yah do it?” the Texan asked finally.

“Pardon?”

“Live with all those secrets, lies… doesn’t it get tirin’?

Spy chuckled as he leaned out the window to enjoy the breeze through the weave of his mask. “Monsieur Cowboy,  I find the truth exhausting.” The truth was like a piece of himself. Something that could be used later against him. A weakness. The less one knew about you the less they could hurt you. Or, he reflected, if they did hurt you, they’d never know they’d struck a nerve.

“I am no good with lying’” Engineer chuckled sadly “Ah like things simple.”

“Lying makes things simple.”

“Says the man with no known name who wears a mask to bed.”

“Why settle for one name when you can have a dozen?” he asked archly.

“There yah go, making things complicated.”

“Just say enough to get what you need, leave the rest to imagination.”

“What is that supposed tah mean?”

“I become who I need to be to achieve a goal. Say what I need to get what I want-”

“-Oh is that whatcha did?” there was an edge to the Texan’s voice that made him uneasy. He had mis-spoken. “Tell me what I want-”

“-No.” he cut him off before the man could finish his sentence. “Not what I meant at all.”

“Then what did ya mean?” the man asked stiffly.

“I meant, your problem. People talking, questions being asked.” he explained trying to soothe the cowboy. ”They don’t know what we are doing. They won’t know.”

“How do yah reckon that?”

 “They will assume your paramour is a woman.” he explained with a shrug. “That is just fact. Until they are told otherwise, they won’t suspect. They won’t know.”

“Except for Medic-”

“-Who is insane. Certified.” He decided to spare the man what stories he had uncovered about the RED team’s physician.

“That doesn’ help when folks ask me questions about ‘ Her’.”

“So?”

“What am I supposed to do - if they know ah’m seein’ someone - they’re gonna ask. What do you tell yer team?”

“My team?” he repeated the question confused. “Why would I tell them anything?”

“Don’ yah talk to ‘em? Don’ they ask anythin’?”

“Non. Why would they?” He had never made it a habit to make idle chat with his coworkers and they had never gotten into the habit of talking to him.

The Texan sighed “Forget ah asked.”

“No- no,” he tried again. “If someone asks you - just make something up.”

Ah’m bad at it .” Engineer reminded him.

“So make up something before someone asks. Remember it - like a cover story.”

“A cover story?”

“Yes.”

“Hunh.”

“Come come, I will help you. So tell me about this mystery woman. What is she like?”

“What?”

“Make her up, your fantasy woman.”

Awkward silence filled the cab with only the sound of the road and the engine. “Well Monsieur?” he prompted.

“Ah’m thinkin!”

“Partial lies might be easier,” he suggested. “Take something true and change a few details.”

“Such as?”

“Your mystery lady could be very charming.” he offered, grinning.

“Take a truth and change it?”

“Yes. You try.”

“I’m courting a six foot chimney.”

There was an offended pause “... That is hardly what I had in mind.”

“Ah told you I’m bad at it.”

“Point made…” Spy sighed heavily and wished he had a cigarette. The truck slowed as they came to a roadhouse and the motel next to it. Engineer hadn’t been lying, it didn’t look like much at all. But it was remote, and private.

Engineer turned onto the gravel drive and they rattled into a into a parking space next to the motel, “Well, here we are.” he said killing the motor. “Ah warned yah.”

“It will be fine.” he repeated calmly hoping the man would realize he meant more than the motel room.

“Ah jus’ go… uh… check in I guess.” the cowboy opened his door.  

“Wait.” Spy grabbed his arm to stop him. The Texan turned to look at him with a befuddled look on his face. “When someone asks you about… where you go ...just say ‘A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.’”

“A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell?”

“Yes.” Why didn’t the man see the brilliance? It was simple, elegant. And it wouldn’t force the man to lie.

That’s your solution?”

“I thought you liked things simple.”

“Yah don’ think anyone will find that suspicious?”

“You are a quiet man yes? A gentleman yes?” The man was making a mountain out of this. It had taken his team weeks to realize he had divorced. Most of them didn’t even know he had been married. Their collective contracts would run out long before anyone thought enough to question the cowboy closer.

“.... It… might work.” the cowboy hesitated. He seemed mollified for at least the moment. Not saying anything else he shrugged out of the Frenchman’s grip and out of the car.

Following suit, Spy slid out of the passenger side, glad to stretch his legs. Reaching into his jacket he pulled out his cigarette case and lit one up. He paced by the truck, the gravel stones crunching with his every step. Had he helped Engineer with his concerns? Or had he muddled it? The man was so concerned with keeping things simple, keep things orderly, neat. Honest. Spy could wear many faces and be many things but honest wasn’t one of them.

“‘Ey, Spook.” the Texan’s voice cut through his thoughts. He looked over the hood of the truck to see the cowboy holding up a keychain and pointing. “215, he said it was upstairs around the corner.”

The Frenchman smiled, though it was lost in the glow of the flickering neon sign. “Lead on Monsieur” he called back. At least for now, the man was still here.

 ______________

Engineer sighed and stretched, enjoying the luxuries of a motel room. The larger, more comfortable bed, the bathroom that didn’t have to be shared with eight other people, and the fact that it was miles away from said eight people. Miles away from base, and even further away from home. It wasn’t as good as a desert island but it would do in a pinch.

He glanced over at his bed partner who was leaning back on the pillows, lighting a cigarette. The flame of the lighter danced over the Frenchman’s masked face, illuminating the sharp angles in the dim light, flickering in his half lidded eyes. He would have to admit the company was also an improvement.

Spy took a drag of the cigarette before noticing he was being watched. Smirking, he leaned over “What is it they say, a penny for your thoughts, Monsieur?”

“Oh… nothin’ important.” he said, his eyes falling to the comforter of the bed.

“I suppose it wouldn’t be if I was paying a penny.” The Frenchman chuckled settling his head on the Texan’s chest. Engineer’s shoulders tensed in surprise. Spy in private was a different person than he was publically. When in public the man was aloof, which made sense. It would hardly do for anyone to suspect anything untoward was going on between them, even strangers far away from base. But it was still a clash from the image he had built up of Spy over the years. A distant self absorbed snob in a well tailored suit. But he was starting to suspect that was probably another mask or facade the man put on.

The Frenchman reached out and took one of Engineer’s calloused hands. Spy’s hand was slender, pale, Engineer was inclined to use the word elegant to describe them. The skin usually out of the harsh sunlight and covered by gloves provided an almost comical contrast against the Texan’s own workman’s hand.   

He slid his free arm around the man as delicately as he could, as if any sudden movements would ruin the moment and Spy would shut down and lock him out, again wearing the mask he showed the rest of the world. Instead, the Frenchman scooted in closer. Relaxing again, Engineer let himself enjoy the feel of skin against him, the lull of the the man’s breathing, the warmth of touch. Idly, he ran his thumb along the pale knuckles, the faint scars from Spy’s past that he never dared ask about.

“So mon lapin, what unimportant things are you thinking about?”

He smiled wryly at the nickname, regardless if they were in public or private Spook seemed to enjoy getting under his skin. “Nothin’ much.” he said nervously, “Jus’... enjoyin’ this.” The quiet, the peace, the feel of the man’s touch, the skin against his own.

A faint smile drifted across the Frenchman’s face. Not the usual smirk, but a genuine smile. “How long do we have?” the man asked quietly.

Engineer squinted in the dim light as he read the clock on the bedside table. It was hours until they had to check out of the room, and go back to base. Back to lying, and masks. “More than a few hours.”

“Good.” Spy pulled their clasped hands closer and kissed the back of the Texan’s hand, the stubble on his chin rubbing against the skin. He settled in the crook of Engineer’s arm his eyes half closed, “We can stay like this a while longer.”

 

_____________________________

Engineer sat down at the table in the mess hall with his plate of canned vegetables and questionable meat products. They claimed it was pork but it looked far less appetizing than any pork cut he could recall. With a grimace he picked up his knife and fork and began to saw away at the cutlet.

With a loud clatter and a sigh Demo slumped in the seat across from him. “‘Ey Laddie”

“Evenin’, pull up a table saw,”

“Dey servin’ us shoe leather again?”    

“When don’ they?”, the Scotsman chuckled in reply.

Engineer finally succeeded in cutting a piece off and started the arduous process of chewing it when Sniper came to the table and sat beside him.

“Evenin’ Slim.” he greeted the man who just grunted in response.

“Ey, mate,” Demo greeted the bushman who nodded, “Thanks fer the backup today.”

“No worries,” Sniper shrugged, “They were in my scope.”  

“I could’a handled them meself,” the Scotsman insisted “But saved me th’ trouble.”

The bushman remained silent as he focused on his plate of food.

“Say laddy, what’s this I’been hearin’ about you winchin’ a bird?”

“Eh, what?” Engineer looked up from his plate trying to feign ignorance.

“Yer seein’ a lady aren’t ya?” the man asked with a grin “Thas where ya goin’ on weekends.”

“‘A-ah dunno whatcha’re talkin’ about.” he muttered sawing another bite of meat. The damn kid’s mouth...

“Aye, right,” the Scotsman snorted, “We’re all pals round here. Ain’t that right Snipes?” Sniper nodded vaguely as if he wasn’t sure what he was agreeing to,  Demo pressed on. “What’s she like?”

“Wha’ business is’it o’ yers?” he sputtered.

“Blonde? Brunette?”

Freezing like a deer in headlights the Texan tried to think of something. Anything to say. He cleared his throat, Spy had talked about this. What to say? Desperately his memory called up, “A gentleman never kisses and tells?” he offered finally.

Demo goggled at him with his one good eye, before the man could press the issue Engineer turned to the Australian. “So Slim, how was yer day?”

“Bloody check ups,” Sniper muttered darkly in the direction of his dinner.

He had hoped for a better subject to switch to but this would have to do, in fact he was surprised the subject had changed successfully at all “Yeah, it’s that time of year again.”

“The man is a bloody lunatic.”

Reflexively both the Scotsman and Engineer glanced around the table to make sure said lunatic wasn’t in earshot. “Bedside manner of a vulture,” Demo grumbled.

“Like he’s plannin’ somethin’” the Texan agreed. Or prying into affairs that were none of his business, he added to himself. What was he after? Even Spook seemed baffled, which was worrying considering his field of expertise.

“Watch yer back laddy, he might try to put needles in yer sockets.” Demo warned.

“What?” he jerked his head up to face the Scotsman, Tavish had seemed sober but he supposed he could be mistaken… “Tha’ just…” he was about to say ‘ridiculous’ but remembered who they were talking about and trailed off.

“Put needle in yer eyes into yer brain,” the man explained with the same gruesome enthusiasm he used when telling folks how he lost his eye.  

The Texan sat there in horrified silence as his brain processed this information and very unhelpfully began providing imagery of Medic gleefully handling foot long needles. The man had to be drunk, severely delusionally drunk. This had to be something he was making up.

“Doc’s not goin’ ta do that.” Sniper added quietly. “Not anymore, anyway.”

Anymore!?”

“That was months ago.” Sniper offered, “Back when ya were…” he trailed off, “Actin’ funny.”

Funny?”

“Ye know, back when yer wife left ya.” the Scotsman clarified.

Wha-Wh-Why?” he sputtered to no one in particular, there were too many questions for him to begin asking. Why would Medic want to put needles in his eyes? Why had he told everyone else about it? Had the team been intending to let this happen? What had they been thinking? Was Medic still planning to do this? Did this have anything to do with the man’s questions earlier? “Ya know what-nevermind.” he massaged the bridge of his nose. He stood from the table. “Ah’m - Ah’m gonna go.”

Leaving his plate behind he scurried to make his exit, lost in his whirlwind of thoughts. Distracted by phantoms he hadn’t even made it out of the mess hall when he bumped into a giant Russian.

“Sorry!,” he stepped back and looked up to see Heavy’s face. “I’m sorry, ah-”

“Engineer!” Heavy interrupted him with a smile. “Good timing!”

The Texan blinked up at the Russian mountain in confusion. “It is?” he tried to peer around the man to see if Medic was behind him waiting.

“Sasha needs to be fixed.”  the man said gesturing to his minigun that he was carrying.

That was unusual, Heavy usually did his own maintenance. “What’s wrong with her?”

“She needs to be fixed.” the man repeated.

“Sure, jus’ bring ‘er by the workshop lat-”

“Sasha needs to be fixed. Now.”

Engineer usually didn’t let himself be bullied by team members. If he let teammates disrupt his work schedule with their problems all the time, he’d get nothing done. Instead, he nodded and found himself gently herded towards the door and down the hall.

“Has she not been firing properly?” he asked as they walked down the stairs to the basement.

“Can see her when we get to workshop,” Heavy answered firmly.

Unlocking the workshop door he flicked on the light switch. As the lights flickered to life he gestured for the Russian to enter ahead of him. “Ah’m not sure ah got replacement parts for ‘er,” he hoped this was an easy fix.

Heavy placed Sasha carefully on a clean patch of the workbench. “Ahright,” Engineer said quietly to himself walking to the table, “Let’s see what we got here.”

The Texan frowned turning the gun on its side, he gently spun the rotors, they moved freely. “This would really help if you told me what to look for.” No shells stuck in the barrels. Nothing gumming up the works. “Nothing seems broken,” he muttered reaching for a screwdriver. If Heavy had bothered to ask him for help, there surely had to be something wrong with it, the man treated his guns like they were his children.

“Forget that.”

“But-” he was cut off as Heavy scooped the gun off the table.

“Engineer looked like he needs to talk.”

“What?” There were many teammates he would suspect of lying, but Heavy was not one of them.  “There’s nothin-…” he faltered as Heavy raised an eyebrow. The lie dried up in his mouth, despite what Spy had tried to teach him he couldn’t even muster a fib. With a sigh he sank onto his stool.  

“So what is it? This problem?” the Russian asked.

He glanced nervously at the door, and around the room.  It was just the two of them. Or seemed to be. Agitatedly he picked his remote from the table, running his hand along the switch on it, careful to not press it. “D-do you want some coffee?”

“No thank you.” Heavy said, walking around the room more quietly than one would have expected from a man his size carrying a gun that large.  

“It’d be no trouble I can make some.” he offered again, getting off his stool. Heavy wordlessly looked at him, leaning against the door, placing himself and several pounds of firepower between Engineer and freedom. He sat back down again. it seemed this was a talk he was going to have.

“What is bothering you?” the man asked gently. Despite his strategic position and his persistence he seemed less threatening than Medic had been.

Speaking of Medic, “Was the Doc really gonna put needles in my eyes?” the question tumbled out of his mouth.

Heavy sighed wearily, “Doktor gets many.... ideas. Some not as good as others.”

“... Ah…” While not a yes or a no, the answer had been clear enough.

“But that’s not what really troubling you.”

Once again he tried to wrack his brain for a lie but finally gave up. “I uh…” he cleared his throat.. “I uh - ah started seein’ someone.”  He shouldn’t be saying this. Any of this. “Didn’ intend tah. Jus’ sorta...happened. Wasn’ lookin’ for it.” he added defensively.  “Normally- I… wouldn’t. Wasn’ intendin’ to.” he feebly explained.

The Russian nodded but remained quiet.

“No one you know.” he added hastily trying to cover his tracks. It wasn’t exactly a lie. Few people probably knew the snake in any capacity. Hell he probably was fooling himself thinking he knew anything about the man. “We… uh- we” odd how that word felt so dangerous in his mouth, “uh meet off base...on weekends.”

The room grew quiet except for the hum of the dispenser.

“And what is problem?”

Everything. His fingers nervously drummed on the workbench. Wrong person. Wrong parts. Wrong job. Wrong team.   He exhaled trying to figure out what he could say, what he could risk saying. “Normally… ah… wouldn’t’ve” he mumbled.

Heavy remained silent, waiting for him to continue.  

“If anyone…” he shook his head. “.... this is a mess. If anyone...found out…” He trailed off leaving the consequences unspoken. He didn’t need to say it, it was obvious. He’d be fired. If he was lucky . Fired, or dumped down a mineshaft somewhere. “And mah family- shit if mah family knew…” he sighed. “Mah family... They’d…” disown, condemn, or hell, institutionalize him. That’s if he didn’t get lynched by the neighbors first . “...Disapprove,” he spat out.

“I see.” the Russian answered finally. “That does sound like a formidable problem.”

The Texan nodded picking up a screwdriver and idly turning it over in his hands, unable to say anything else.


“If this is that big of a problem, why do you still see this person? Why not stop?”

“Ah tried!” Engineer laughed, it was a brittle sort of sound, even to his own ears. “Ah tried…” he repeated softly. “Ah was all set to do that. Thas the sad part. I jus’-” he shrugged as he thought back to that night in the diner. The anxious look on Spy’s face, the nervous conversation in the hotel. The feel of his touch.  “Jus’ couldn’ do it.” he laughed sadly. Couldn’t give it up. Giving it up - giving him up. He’d be all alone again.


Heavy nodded understandingly. There was another pause before he spoke, slowly, as if weighing each word. “So this person, they make you happy?” he asked

The Texan faltered, the question catching him off guard.  Was he happy? Spy infuriated him. Drove him to distraction. But was he happy? He wasn’t sure the answer to that.

“It seems to me-” the Russian’s voice ploughed through his thoughts. “-that there’s a lot of…” he paused as if thinking of a word “bad things in the world. Many people think they know what everyone should be doing.” a hard edge to his voice implied he’d had more than his share of such things. “Too many bad things and few good. If this person makes you happy…” the man shrugged “Why lose something good before you have to?”  

“I keep expecting this to blow up in my face.” he admitted quietly. Despite evidence to the contrary he was still expecting this to be some weird joke. Some trap.  Or the man would get tired of him and leave. Like Evie had.

“Everything ends sometime.” Heavy shrugged “How it ends and when it ends is up to you.”

“Fire and disaster at the least convenient time.” he muttered darkly.  

“Maybe, maybe not. Worry just…” Heavy frowned as he tried to figure out the word again. “... makes dirty? poisons?” he sighed, “Makes it worse.”

“Dirties.” Engineer quietly corrected.

The Russian grunted his thanks before continuing, “If you find something good, enjoy it, hang on to it long as you can. If it ends, you still have the memories.”

Engineer mulled this over in his head. Heavy might have a point, being miserable was not really achieving anything. He couldn’t end things with Spy, so he supposed he might as well enjoy what he could.

“Do you need hug?” the man asked interrupting his thoughts, “My sisters say that helps.”

“Uh-n-” he started to turn down the offer but found the words, and his air cut off as the Russian giant embraced him lifting him from his stool. The Texan remained motionless in the bear hug as he hung there, his feet a few uncomfortable inches off the ground, his spine popping. For a moment or two he felt oddly comforted, secure if a bit stifled. Heavy then let him go, leaving him leaning on the workbench as he caught his breath.   

“That help?” he asked clapping the Texan, who nodded weakly,  on the shoulder, knocking him back onto his stool.

The Russian beamed, and lifting his minigun from the floor he turned the doorknob to make his exit.

“Hey, Heavy?”

The Russian turned, “Hm?”

“Yah ain’t gonna tell the Doc about this? Are yah?” the last thing he needed was more of the good doctor smugly offering advice to him. He probably had diagrams laying around for such an occasion.

“No Engineer,” the man assured him. “Doktor will not be told.”

“Thanks,” he bit his lip, “For listening.”

“You are welcome.” with that Heavy left the room, the door clicking shut behind him.

____________________________

 

The truck lurched to a halt at the end of a gravel road. Barely suppressing a grin, the cowboy leaned on the wheel and gestured.

"Here we are." the Texan hopped out of the truck.

Spy peered out the window, the sun was dipping low painting everything a deep orange. It was hardly a sunset worth the drive to view. Ahead of him was little to note it from any other chunk of desert except a small huddle of new looking concrete buildings and a cluster of large dish antennas pointing to the empty sky.

The Frenchman climbed out of the vehicle, trying to assess where they were. Not enough security to be a location of military importance. Too remote to be a broadcasting tower. The Texan had said he wanted to show him this, but he wasn't sure what he was meant to be seeing.  

"It's the Array." the cowboy said as if that explained everything. "They only started building this last year, pushed plans ahead to compete with the Australians."

"…Array?" Spy repeated quietly trying not to look lost. The man had driven them out here, there had to be some reason for it, if he had wanted a quiet remote location there were plenty of patches of desert more romantic than this.

"It's not done yet," Engineer shrugged apologetically, "they say in the end they are going to have over twenty of those telescopes."

"Telescopes?"  Spy  frowned looking over the plain feeling like he was missing something. It was a strange feeling not knowing or  having any previous knowledge of something.  

"Radio telescopes, for looking into space."

He nodded quietly as if the Texan's words made sense. Antennas in his experience were for listening, receiving information. How exactly one could "look" anywhere was a mystery to him.

"Space emits frequencies" Engineer explained, whether the cowboy was trying to fill the silence or figured out how little he actually knew, Spy hesitated to guess. "Well not space itself,  but stars, and planets. They emit frequencies… like radio waves."

"So they're listening for… stars?" None of this sounded like a telescope. Unless Americans had changed the meaning of the word and hadn't seen fit to inform him.

"They're more plannin' to map space more than anythin' else. Different objects up there have differen' frequencies, thas what they're listenin' for.  That's why they got the dishes on those tracks. They can rotate them and move 'em around to focus and coordinate." The more the cowboy spoke the less Spy found himself understanding. The words were English but beyond that he was lost.

“They got one of these in England, it can hear the Milky Way. Well the edge of it, I mean, we’re kinda in it so that makes things a bit complicated.” Spy gave up making sense of the words and just let himself enjoy the lilt and drawl of the man’s voice.  

“-Though this array they say should see past that. Into other galaxies. So far they’re not done but they have been finding black holes and other planets. They’ll be able to pin point and see further once they finish the full array. Once we get to the moon Lord only knows where we can get tah after…” The Texan trailed off his enthusiasm quickly dissipating as he glanced at Spy.

"Sorry… sorry." He rubbed his neck the way usually did when he was nervous.  "Ah'm rambling… yah probably don' care." Spy frowned as the cowboy's eyes sank down to the ground. “We can leave…” he mumbled feebly gesturing at the truck.

Quietly, Spy crossed the few steps separating them from each other. The cowboy was very nervous about being seen in the open. Skittish to any sort of contact or closeness. But this place was remote enough and from what he had managed to glean from the man's passionate explanation if there was anyone here they, like the antennas, would be looking skyward.  

"Thank you for showing this to me," he said slipping his gloved hand into the Texan's own.  He debated about lying, putting on an act, claiming he enjoyed it.  But Engineer would know the difference and not be happy with the deception.

"Yer welcome." the cowboy replied with a chuckle leaning into Spy. The weight of the man against him was not unpleasant. "At least the sunset's nice."

"So it is." he agreed.

They stood there for a moment or two, taking in the view as the sun was dipping below the horizon, the scientific buildings and their collection of radio dishes turning into silhouettes against the sky. Spy rested his chin on the cowboys head, enjoying the moment. The peace.

The moment didn't last as long as he wanted before Engineer spoke. "Come on - I know a place, I'll take ya to dinner as an apology."

_______________________________________________

 

BLU base's security was as much a joke as RED's was, the RED Spy noted with disdain as he crept through a back door. His cloak made the security cameras less than a nuscience. And he knew the patterns well enough by now to know where he could duck out of sight to let his watch recharge.

Why either side bothered spending money on this obsolete equipment was beyond him. But it was hardly his place to question such matters. It wasn't even like he was here on official business anyway. Tonight was a personal affair. Slinking up the stairs he made his way to the barracks.

He had been observing the comings and goings on base for weeks now, and had noticed his fellow Spy had fallen into a pattern.  The man would sometimes leave on Friday evening, or sometime the next day, but no matter the variation, he was always gone on Saturday nights and not return until Sunday. Maybe sometime he'd trail him and see just what was keeping him occupied, but he didn't have time for that. Reconnaissance, in this case would be faster.

"I'M WEARING MY UNIFORM, WHAT ELSE WOULD I BE WEARING?" the Soldier's voice reverberated from the phone booth, echoing down the concrete walls. He, like his RED counterpart, had very loose grasp of what many would call an “indoor voice.”

“THAT IS IMPROPER TREATMENT OF A UNIFORM-” the witless man continued. Invisibly, the saboteur walked past the man and his phone conversation. At least with this noise no one could hear any sound of his passing through.

The sounds of the idiocy faded as he made his way deeper into the barracks. He rarely bothered to visit this area of BLU base but the layout was similar to RED’s own. Past the abysmal recreation area, into the main halls. The doors were stenciled with each mercenaries position. Mercenaries were easy to replace so there was little sense personalizing anything.  He came to the end of the hall before he found the room he was looking for. In case he had any doubt, underneath the word "Spy" someone had tacked a cartoonish drawing of the man in coutis with the Eiffel tower.  Rolling his eyes, he pulled his lock picks out and with little effort opened the door.

Once the door was open he glanced around the threshold looking for security measures. Faintly glistening, so faintly he could barely see it in the dim light, was a trip wire. That could hardly be the only security, or the man was a bigger fool than he thought.  Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a picture hanging near the door. It seemed to be the only adornment around, carefully he leaned forward not cross the trip wire or the threshold,  tilted the frame aside, and revealed a small electronic switch. Giving it a flick he turned it off.  Smiling to himself he stepped over the tripwire and let the door shut behind him. There might be other surprises waiting but those were probably the main ones.

The room was plain, bare, no signs of personal effects or decoration. He probably had some bolt hole elsewhere with more luxuries.  Still there might be some signs of where the man was going, or some other sort of information he could use against him. Show the amateur what sort of mistake he had made crossing him.

The desk provided nothing interesting. Some blank stationery, a few packs of atrocious cigarettes,  a few exploding pens, an out of date catalog from Spy Co. Junk. Trash. The drawers false bottoms revealed some travel papers and money. He skimmed the collection taking time to write down all the aliases. The information wasn't much use now but it might be handy in the future. He carefully put everything back where he found it.  

Irritably he turned to the bed, the bed frame was company issue and inferior, as was the mattress, with no sign of tampering.  He lifted the edge of the mattress but as he expected, there was nothing but dust and shoddy woodwork.

The man’s nightstand had nothing on it but a beat up  lamps, a dimestore crime novel and a half empty ashtray. Curiously, he flipped through the paperback looking for any dog earred pages, any thing that might be of use. But there was nothing in there but a scrap of paper that acted as a bookmark.

The wardrobe was another piece of cheap institutional rubbish. He tapped half heartedly along the sides listening for hollow sounds, or abnormalities but there was nothing. Inside was just as disappointing. Cheap suits, jackets,  a trench coat, a collection of fake beards. He might as well be looking at an empty closet for all the good it was doing him.

There proved to be no false back, and the the drawers contained nothing more than underwear and socks and a small camera the size of a walnut. With a sigh he looked on the top shelf, hardly expecting his luck to change. Rummaging around he found an umbrella gun, and hats. Fedoras, trilbys, a dusty fez. Nothing you couldn't get out of a catalog. The man covered his tracks well.

He swore under his breath as he pulled more hats from the shelf, maybe there was something hidden behind them.  

A patch of red caught his eye among the hats. Not red , he corrected himself as he picked up the item. Maroon.  He frowned turning the hat over in his hands. It was a baseball cap, like a child or idiot would wear.  But what was it doing here? A disguise? The man he supposed could have some unknown love for an American sports team, but that seemed unlikely. If it wasn't for the color he'd assume it was something stolen from a teammate. He ran a finger over the patch on the front, the symbol on the front was unfamiliar and meant nothing to him.  

He was overthinking this. It was probably just a hat, it just had been the only thing of interest he had come across. Irritably he tossed the stupid thing back into the wardrobe throwing in the other hats in after it.

Reconnaissance had turned up nothing he fumed as he made his way out of the room. He hated to admit it, but if he was going to get one over the BLU Spy he was going to have to resort to other tactics.

 

Chapter Text

"I'm sure they’re paying you to do more than hang around here." Engineer sighed as he adjusted the barrel on the sentry.

"But Monsieur, I was hired for sabotage and distraction." Pyro answered with a chuckle that didn't suit.  The Texan looked up and glared at the snake across the room, leaning against the wall two feet from the intelligence and five feet out of range to hit him with a wrench. While he still hadn’t gotten used to the snake looking like his teammates, he at least wasn’t talking to a copy of himself anymore.

"Not sure if yah've managed to be distractin', ya have accomplished bein' a damn nuisance." He grumbled as he stepped behind the sentry to check its wiring.

"You wound me," Spy intoned dramatically.

"Don' tempt me."  he sighed, taking the side off the sentry. While the gun was serviceable, the response time could be better.  Faster, smoother.


"I had hoped we were past violence, mon nounours."

"Not when we are on the clock." he answered, ignoring the obvious attempt to goad him on. Maybe a few adjustments to the circuits,  here and... he traced the green wire back, here . He turned off the power supply and the sentry chirped mournfully as it shut down. Pulling a pair of pliers off his belt he began pulling out the connectors.

“Is that a promise?”

Engineer grunted vaguely in response. Pull out these connections here and replace them, further up - bypass this circuit… might speed up the response time. If only RED would pay for better materials, some gold or Australium and he’d really make some improvements.

He vaguely heard Spy say something as he reconnected the wires and started musing over the sensors. So absorbed in the task he hadn’t heard or noticed anything around him.

“Monsieur Cowboy,” he froze as he felt a gloved hand on his shoulder, jarring him from his work as Spy murmured in his ear. "You work too hard.". The Texan turned his head to see the Frenchman’s familiar smirk over his shoulder.

“Ah’m busy” he stated flatly suppressing a smile.

“Someone said I was not being distracting enough.” the snake chuckled.  Engineer felt the man’s warm breath on his ear, his hand on his shoulder starting to slip under the strap of his coveralls.


He felt the blood creep up his neck to his face as the man’s lips found their way to his neck, “We agreed not on the clock…” he grunted, though he knew Spy wasn’t listening.

“Non, monsieur, you agreed not on the clock. I agreed it was dangerous.”  the man whispered, hissing the last word out, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. The Texan swallowed and tried to focus on his wiring job. The man should not have been able to make the word sound so enticing. Somewhere in the back of his mind he told himself he was too old to be messing around on the job. He was a grown man, not some hormone addled kid sneaking behind his parent’s back. Other parts of himself insisted he was very much a man in his prime and should enjoy what he could get.

The logical part of him was outvoted as he let the Frenchman’s hands move where they would. One slid up to the bare skin where his uniform sleeve ended and his glove didn’t cover. Spy massaged the taut muscles there. The man’s other arm wound around him, leather bound fingertips slipping under his shirt collar. Engineer shivered as the lips reached for the newly uncovered skin of his neck. Pliers were gently slipped out of his hand, but he found himself too preoccupied to notice or care. Relaxing into the man’s touch, the wiring job, the battle, and everything else slipped away. Spy chuckled, his breath warm against the Texan’s ear, “So tell me,” he  murmured, “am I distracting you?”

He turned to reply and answer the man’s attentions but was interrupted by a loud thud.

Spy slipped away fading into thin air as there was a thundering clatter and explosion as the door to the room flew off its hinges crashing into the room.

“HEY KNUCKLEHEAD!” the BLU Scout yelled as he bounded in through the dust and smoke, shooting wildly into the open air as the enemy Demoman stumbled in behind him. The Texan ducked behind the inactive sentry and pulled his pistol out of his toolbelt, his brain fumbling to change gears and his bloodflow trying to change directions.

Why had he turned the sentry off? He crouched on the floor as a grenade went off behind him, the boy had grabbed the briefcase and was on his way out. The Scotman’s grenades hit the dispenser and the Texan was showered in shrapnel and debris as it exploded. The force of the explosion knocked Engineer onto his side.

Ears ringing, he squinted through the haze at the figure of the Demo. Stiffly he rolled onto his stomach and fumbled for the gun he’d dropped on the floor.  Blood was pounding in his head. He needed to line up a shot on the man before one of those grenades finished him off.

Before he could squeeze the trigger, there was a light in the haze cutting through the smoke, and the smell of burning flesh and plastic. The Scotsman turned his head but was cut down before he could react. The Texan relaxed as Pyro charged in, cheerfully trotting into the room, obliviously stepping over the smoldering remains of the BLU team.

“Thanks pard’ner” he said slowly getting to his feet. Pyro waved then eagerly looked around the room, Engineer’s gaze followed, surveying the damage. The smoke was starting to clear and he froze as he saw a hint of movement. He’d assumed Spy had slipped out, disappearing into thin air and out of trouble. His heart jumped in his throat silencing him. There was barely a second before Pyro pulled the trigger. No time to act. No time to stop him.

He’d heard the man die before, but this time the screams seemed louder than usual. Burning up was a hell of a way to go, he cringed and tried to look away as the smell of burning flesh assaulted him. If he had known, or had time to act he would have shot the man rather than this. Anything else would have been a mercy in comparison. Only after what felt like an eternity did the screams stop and Pyro released the trigger of the flame thrower.

“Huddah!” he turned slowly to see Pyro give him the thumbs up. Their signal for ‘All Clear.’ Under a normal situation he would thank the firebug and send him on his way. Tell him that he’d done a good job.

His stomach clenched, his mouth was dry as he tried to act like nothing was wrong. He swallowed and slowly managed to give Pyro a thumbs up in return. Firebug cocked his head in curiosity at his silence.

“‘m fahn,” he muttered in what he hoped was a convincing tone. Feebly he flailed his hand at the door. “Ah’ll be fine.” he croaked, his throat tightening as he turned from the mess.

Pyro’s unblinking goggles stared at him for an uncomfortable moment or two. Finally, with the squeak of rubber and the creak of asbestos, the maniac trotted eagerly to the ruined doorway. Curiosity rarely lasted long against the pyromania and other forces that drove the firebug. With one last wave to the Texan he absconded up the hall. To the battlefield and other flammable targets.

With that he was alone. Just him in a room, full of debris and the burned remains of enemies. Including the enemy Spy he...passed time with on a regular basis.

Biting down on his gloved fist he suppressed the urge to yell in case anyone heard him. For all he hemmed and hawed about it, he was a paid killer, a practical man. Not one who lost his nerve at the sight of some blood. He was being ridiculous. He knew it too.

This was hardly the first time Spook had died. Hell, half the time he'd done the deed himself. Shot, stabbed, tripped, blown up, head knocked off.  They all died. It was part of the job. They died, and then a signal would be sent to the Respawn machine. The Australium circuits and the maze of vacuum tubes would spring to life and begin replicating and rebuilding the most complicated machinery that was a human being.

And Spy'd be back bothering him again. Just like dozens - hundreds - of times before.  Nothing was different now, he tried to assure himself.

"Damnit," he spat to the empty air. Making mountains out of molehills.

He shook his head and turned back to try to assess the damage to the sentry.  Ignore the blood stains on the floor, the smell of burned flesh, the burned carcasses that were taking way too long to fade away. The remains of what were his enemies and his… for lack of better word…. lover. After a moment's hesitation he glanced over his shoulder at the mess, just for a second, before he made himself turn away.

Gritting his teeth he set to work easing the sentry casing loose, to see what damage the attack had done to it. Oddly enough it had fared the best during the altercation. It might have been due to the fact it had been deactivated at the time.

With any luck he could just do a patch job, not unlike what he had been intending to before things had gone… bad. Shaking his head he tried to focus on the task at hand and not what had happened. Assessing the damage, it looked like he might be lucky.

A niggling voice in the back of his mind interrupted him as he was twisting and taping the split wires back together.   What if this was the one time that Respawn didn't work? Machines, no matter how well made, could fail. He knew the maintenance schedule on the Respawn machines on this base, but he had no idea how well the BLU machines were taken care of. What if Conagher and BLU's men weren't looking after their systems?

He roughly snapped the sentry casing back into place, the machine starting up and beeping to itself. He'd hammer the dents out of it this evening, but it would do well enough for the moment. He was being an idiot, worrying over things that, logically there was nothing to worry about. He let himself glance again over his shoulder.

The carcasses were gone, and he released a breath he didn't realize he had been holding.  Respawn was doing its job. “Damn idiot,” he grumbled, squaring his shoulders The snake would be fine.  Now if only he could shake the image of the limp body on the floor, deafen the echo of Spy’s screams, and erase the smell of burning flesh from his memories.

The dispenser would have to be rebuilt, the BLU Demo's bombs had seen to that. He sighed as he picked up the scorched remains of the front plate. There was nothing to salvage, he’d have to start all over. Would have to go to one of the supply closets, get some fresh pieces and set up. Probably would be better to place it somewhere it might get more use than serving as a shield. Could probably use some fresh air himself.

He paused a moment before he walked out the room. Digging into the pocket of his coveralls he pulled out his bandanna. Weeks ago, when they’d started this…. Spy’d been prattling on about knots and ties and hotels. He had impulsively asked what his signal would be if he wanted to see the man.  They’d agreed to something simple. Biting his lip he tied the bit of cloth around his neck and wondered if the Frenchman would remember or notice.

With that he strode out of the ravaged room and back to the business of rebuilding the dispenser.
______________________________________

After the skirmish, the Texan had gone to his workshop and put away his tools, sorting the scrap into crates beneath the workbench.  He started laying out what he would need to repair the sentry for tomorrow, but ended up picking up and putting down the same wrench three times before he gave up trying to focus. Had Spy seen the signal? If he had - was he going to show up? Or maybe the man had felt it wasn't worth his time.

He hadn't heard anyone mention the snake at the end of the skirmish, and he hadn't found a way to bring up the subject without attracting attention.

He paced around the room.  What if Spy hadn't come back from Respawn? It hadn't been easy but he'd managed to push aside that nagging thought all day, focus on things that needed to be handled at the moment, the threats that were immediate. Now, though, there was nothing to distract him and he couldn’t fight it. He bit his lip trying to reassure himself once again he was being stupid.  There was nothing to worry about.

He heard the click of the door lock, looking up he saw the familiar figure of the Frenchman slip in room.  Months ago it seemed impossible that he would be so thankful to see him, but now… He strode hard to Spy, pressing him into the door.

 "What is this?" Spy asked  as Engineer buried his face in the Frenchman's chest,  taking in the smell of the man's cologne. Cologne and cigarettes, and just a hint of sweat. Despite the man's vanity and fastidiousness he could not escape the heat of the desert.  The scent of the man, the living man, not burning flesh. Not ash and smoke.  

"It seems someone missed me," Spy purred. Grasping the man's tie he yanked that smile down to kiss. The man's breath was hot on his face as he kissed him, open mouthed and eager. Engineer savored the familiar taste of cigarettes and coffee on his tongue, the taste of a man, not a ghost. Careful not to snag the edges of the mask, Engineer settled his hands on the sides of the spy’s face. Fingers drifted lightly across the cloth, memorizing the sharp angles and rough stubble underneath. All there, all intact.

He could feel the Frenchman's limber frame against his own, the heat radiating from him, the steady beat of his heart. He stretched up to kiss him again, but the man's mouth was just out of reach and the Spy was not bending to help him.

"Do you need a ladder Monsieur?"  the snake smirked. That damn infuriating smirk. The one that always got under his skin. Growling under his breath Engineer snagged the man's collar forcing him and his damn smirk down to his level. Spy started to laugh but he cut the sound off with a brutal kiss. Beneath the Texan's hands he could feel the man shake with contained laughter. Damn bastard.

"It ain't my fault-" he murmured as he pulled the man closer reveling in the scent of the man, the feel of his breath. -Yer too tall." Engineer punctuated his sentence with another quick kiss before leaning in for a deeper one. His mouth occupied, his hands started to work loose the buttons on the man's jacket. Normally deft fingers fumbled with the last two and so badly that they were nearly ripped right off. He slipped his arm around the man's waist, even through the remaining layers he could feel the lithe muscles beneath and the heat radiating off his skin.  

The Texan felt  hands on his belt pulling at the buckle.

"Nuh-unh" he chuckled breathlessly, his own hand moving down to take Spy's. He gently pried those slick gloved fingers from his tool belt and held the man's wrists against the wall on either side of them, out of trouble.


Unfazed Spy leaned close, the Texan felt the man's breath on his face as stubble brushed cotton, their mouths a whisper apart but not meeting. The Texan could see the teasing smile in the man's eyes. Those eyes he knew he couldn't trust, no matter how guileless the snake seemed even in this moment. He was still a snake, Engineer reminded himself as he leaned up closing the distance in another desperate hungry kiss, and another.

At some point he’d moved his mouth down, lips grazing against the cloth of the mask along the Frenchman’s jaw, then the side of his throat. It wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted skin, stubble and sweat.

It wasn’t difficult to capture the taller man’s wrists in one hand- they were about as big around as a bird’s ankle.

Two of the fingers on his free hand slid under the bottom edge of the mask. It was like flipping a switch. The other man jerked beneath him, his hands knotting into fists, his teeth bared in a panicked snarl. He had been expecting it, but it still filled the Texan with an aching concern.


“Gonna push up your mask a bit. I ain’t gonna take it off ya.” Engineer murmured, soft and sincere. “Tell me to stop. If you don’t wan’ it, just tell me to stop an’ I will, Spook.”

Long limbs held stiff, and Engineer made no move. He remained still, even with every nerve radiating impatient desire. If he’d crossed a line he could, would step back. But Spy didn’t resist him anymore and after a few more beats the taller man had relaxed back against the wall.

Engineer kept the pads of his fingers against the warm, vulnerable column of the other man’s throat, felt the motion beneath the skin when Spy swallowed and he found himself echoing it. It was the first time he knew with complete certainty he wanted this man. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so hungry for another person. The impatience to tear out of the trappings of their clothes was a physical sensation, his denim and shirt feeling too stuffy, too rough, too tight .

The straps of his overalls came off with a deep rolling of his shoulders. His free hand unbuckled the strap on the other side so the fingers he had under the mask didn’t have to pull away. Curling his knuckles lifted the edge up just enough to get the job done. He didn’t want to wait and didn’t want to put the snake anymore on edge.

Engineer’s mouth found the small patch of skin his fingers had uncovered and latched on. Teeth jarred against the other man’s collarbone, the shock radiating into his jaw, but when he pressed the flat of his tongue down, it settled right into the hollow between shoulder and throat. Spy tasted like sweat, the mask smelled overwhelmingly of tobacco and cologne, and he could feel the beat of the other man’s heart in his mouth.

Spy made a low animal sound in his throat, a needy groan that awoke something primal in the other man. Engineer released Spy’s flexing hands in favor of pressing him into the wall by his shoulder. He could feel Spy’s fingers tugging open the buttons of his uniform, balling up handfuls of his undershirt as he sucked.

“Mon dieu…” Spy was panting, losing composure and Engineer was startled by how exhilarating it felt to finally have the upper hand, and by how badly he wanted to keep it that way. How badly he wanted to see the snake come completely undone.

He pulled back, breathing heavily himself. The hollow of Spy’s shoulder was a livid red and slick with his saliva and there was another rush of self satisfaction. He tucked the mask back into place with a deliberate smirk and glanced up at the frenchman as he began to unbutton his suit.

“Hold on, ah’m just getting started.”  Engineer reached down between them and deliberately undid the frenchman’s belt buckle.

Spy opened his mouth to make some no-doubt witty response, then looked like he was going to swallow his own tongue as he watched Engineer drop down onto his knees.

Spy was visibly tenting through his pants. He must have been aching. Hell, it was hard to ignore the persisting throb tucked away in his own uniform. Spy’s hands were pressed against the wall as if he wasn’t sure what to do with them, and that was fine. He might lose his nerve otherwise.

The front of the man’s slacks were taut, the heat of his arousal radiated into his palm when he reached to cup Spy through his clothes. The hunger for Spy’s flesh was more intense than he’d ever felt, but he wanted more than blind, impatient fumbling in a dimly lit hotel room. He wanted to take his time. The muscles of the other man’s thighs were tight and twitched as he slid his other hand up the meat of one leg and gripped him hard along the swell of his ass. He felt Spy clench beneath his fingers, a breathless grunt working free from between gritted teeth. His free hand worked the buckle of the man’s belt loose, unzipped his pants and pulled them open. The audible sigh of relief that followed it coaxed a little chuckle out of him. If just getting him out of the confines of those fancy slacks felt good, he wondered how long the snake could be expected to last once he was really getting handled.

When he finally slipped his hand inside, tenderly he wrapped his calloused fingers around the man’s foreskin. Watching the Frenchman climb onto his toes, he couldn’t stifle a groan of his own. Spy spoke something hushed and so breathless the Engineer couldn’t place it as either curse or prayer. The Texan gave the man a firm squeeze and drew his member out from the fly of his boxers.

Do somezing .” Spy hissed at him, giving the wall a desperate thump with a fist.

“You clearly ain’t never learned how to enjoy the ride, partner,” Engineer murmured, pressing his lips to the head of the other man’s member, tasting a hint of salt. He had no intention of rushing this. The other man was here, he was safe and alive, warm and living flesh and he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to keep this going until he’d completely cemented that in his mind. He wanted to be sure this was what came to his mind if he ever looked back on this day. Nothing else.

The Texan opened his mouth and slid the head of Spy’s member inside. It was more awkward than he’d imagined. He’d never been more aware of his own teeth than he was now, taking extra care to ensure he didn’t graze Spy with them. The weight of the other man’s cock rested heavy on his tongue, hot and hard.

Spy was gasping for breath, fingers gripping at the wall, and he had such a look of delirious happiness on his face that the Texan had to pull away to snort out a laugh. Spy answered with one of his own, breathless and half hysterical.

“Was that it, mon paramour?” He gasped, both of them still laughing at the other.

“I ain’t the one lookin’ like his eyebrows ‘bout to pop up off his fool head.”

“Slander, sir! I am sure my eyebrows were prepared to do nothing of the sort.” Spy countered, still chuckling.

The Texan responded only with a skeptical humm, lowering his head to kiss the warm skin between pelvis and thigh. His lips were followed by the flat of his tongue, the light grazing of his teeth. Spy had stopped laughing now, and the room had gone quiet. Engineer allowed his hands to roam up the other man’s slender thighs, massaging the muscles as he went. He cupped the man’s balls and gave them a light squeeze then reached above them to Spy’s member.

The Frenchman uttered a low, shuddering groan as he turned his head and swept his tongue up the length of the man’s cock. As he took it back into his mouth, he found himself working open the zipper of his pants, reaching in and stroking himself as he bobbed his head up and down in a half-steady rhythm. The heat, the weight of the man’s organ in his mouth, the slick salt taste of him… he hadn’t expected to enjoy it as much as he did, but as he felt Spy’s soft, bare fingers trail over the side of his face, he found he was struggling to hold back orgasm.

Unthinking, he settled his free hand over Spy’s, tracing the back of his palm with the rough pad of his thumb. The Frenchman groaned again, and the Engineer felt the other man’s hips roll forward. The stocky Texan wasn’t through with him just yet. He wanted to drive the other man higher, wanted his head to be spinning when the moment took him. It took an effort of will to move his hand away from himself, but it was easier to stop touching his own skin than Spy’s, and so the hand he had cupped against the other man’s remained in place even as he pulled himself back off the man’s member.

For a moment their eyes met, and Spy literally squirmed as he watched the Texan slide two of his own fingers into his mouth. The hand on his cheek flexed, slipped away as if to palm himself. Engineer intercepted him, using the back of his hand to gently but firmly nudge him away. The Frenchman didn’t resist, though it was plain to see his impatience. He looked nearly frantic with need. Again, the Texan was in no rush, sucking audibly around the digits in his mouth. He was a very thorough man. His fingers were glistening with his saliva when he pulled them free, and Spy was so desperate for his touch that he was trembling. The Texan took in the man’s face, his clenched jaw and tight-pressed lips, his brow furrowed, eyes wide and intense, and the tiny bead of sweat following the bridge of his nose

When his slick fingers slid up against the delicate skin of his perineum, Spy made a sound he’d never heard him make before, and when he glanced up he saw the other man had his clenched fist pressed hard against his mouth and his eyes shut tight. Engineer had to swallow to coax a little more moisture to his tongue. Right as the tip of his middle finger brushed the tight pucker of Spy’s ass, he took the man’s erection back into his mouth.  Engineer felt the lean body give a shudder, and for a moment he genuinely thought it might be over, but then Spy sucked in a deep breath through his nose and relaxed back into him. He applied a gently, rhythmic suction around his member, which had grown so hard in the brief interim that he could feel the man’s pulse on his tongue.

Engineer didn’t dare enter the other man immediately. Instead, he spent a few moments rubbing the course pad of his middle finger against the ring under him, coating it in his saliva and occasionally pressing part way inside until Spy’s body was clenching spastically with overstimulation. He waited. Then between one pulse of tension and the next the Engineer worked his finger up to the second knuckle into the hot center of the man’s body and wrapped his free hand around the base of the man’s member to give it a firm squeeze.

Spy uttered a strangled, rather creative curse and thumped the back of his head against the wall. He was actively biting down on his fist now. His body had arched up hard and taut as a bowstring and the Texan was glad he had his hand as a barrier between his mouth and the man’s hips or he might have choked.

“Cul... you might have warned me.” Spy hissed at him.

“You want me to stop?” Engineer asked, a flash of concern passing over his flushed face.

“If you do, I really might have to kill you.” The other man answered between labored breaths.

The Texan snorted a soft laugh and almost casually returned to what he had been doing before. Spy’s body had relaxed its hold on him as he’d spoken and he took full advantage of it, working his second finger in alongside the first. He could feel the man clenching hard against them and the Engineer waited for whatever adjustment the other man needed to make. God, Spy was so much hotter on the inside. Though the man’s erection hadn’t flagged, the Texan remained cautious. His fingers were not small. Eventually, Spy had relaxed enough to assure him that he wasn’t hurting and he began a shallow thrusting, applying a steady downward pressure against the soft walls of Spy’s body.

He’d dropped his other hand back to his own neglected member, stroking himself as he continued to work Spy up to a mild frenzy.

“Your mouth-” it was all Spy managed to cobble together. Even with the mask the Texan could see the tension on the other man’s face, his attention consumed by what was being done to his body. It was just enough for the engineer to decide what he wanted to do with that time. He kept the same rhythm, his fingers inside of the other man’s body synchronized to the pace he set to the hand he had fisted around his member. He was close, and when Spy finally reached out to grasp him by the back of his head he felt, tasted, the other man as he spilled into his mouth. He swallowed, then continued with only a brief falter in rhythm.

Spy’s fingers massaged the back of his scalp, alternating between encouragement and near-hysterical pleas. The Texan came with a low groan, felt it spool out of him in a few quick, hard pulses. The comedown was an easing into woolen comfort, drawing his mouth off the other man, his finger’s from Spy’s body. He allowed himself to rest his forehead against the Spy’s hip .

C’est bon, ” the Frenchman murmured as he sank against the door. He smiled contentedly, his eyes half lidded as he ran his long pale fingers along the cowboy’s head.  The Texan smiled, leaning into the touch revelling in the moment, the quiet lull of the man’s voice. “Mon cowboy ingénieux.”

Engineer chuckled quietly, his heart rate settling out.  

“So, Monsieur,” Spy purred, “What did I do to deserve this treatment? I need to do it more often.”

He stiffened, he felt his ear tips warming up. Turning his face away from view he opened his mouth but struggled to find words.

Because you ain’t dead, sounded ridiculous in his head. Because Respawn worked, was even worse. Of course the man wasn’t dead, why would he have been? What would it even matter? He swallowed any words before they escaped, before Spy could hear him and laugh at his stupidity. His sentimentality.

Getting to his feet he said nothing instead, fumbled in his coverall pocket for a rag to clean up.  

“I suppose I shall have to guess, hm?” Spy mused quietly.

“You like mysteries don’cha?” the Texan answered. Some readjusting, zipping, tucking his shirt tails in, pulling the top of his coveralls back onto his shoulders, and he looked respectable. Normal. Well, almost. He dusted off his kneepads and shins.

Glancing up, he watched Spy straightening his tie, his cufflinks, his collar. Finally the gloves, those clever slender hands out of sight. All the skin and flesh tucked away, that crisp and controlled facade settling back into place. The irritating, slippery handsome enemy Spy. As if he hadn’t been pinned against a wall and completely undone, hungering for the Engineer’s touch.  He grinned to himself at the thought, the Frenchman caught his gaze and smiled, cracking the facade once more.

“Something amuses you, Monsieur Cowboy?”

“Maybe,” he replied, unable to stifle his grin.

Spy walked over to him with a snort, “You are ridiculous,” those gloved hands gently went over him, straightening his collar, flicking dust off his coveralls.

Taking advantage of the snake’s closeness Engineer leaned in and kissed him. “Yah don’ hav’ta do that.” he insisted grabbing one of the man’s gloved hands. “It’s mah workshop, I’m supposed to get dusty in here.”

“Dusty, yes. Ravished, non.” the man said with a laugh slipping his hand from Engineer’s grasp.

“Wasn’ me bein’ ravished, if I remember rightly.” he countered.

“Is it not?” the Frenchman asked leaning in closer. The Texan felt the man’s hot breath on his neck, “That can be amended, non?” He could only murmur in response as Spy’s mouth found the sensitive spots of his neck. The snake chuckled, teeth lightly grazing the delicate skin, eliciting another embarrassing noise from his throat. His hands fumbled, grasping the lapels of Spy’s tailored jacket, pulling the man’s wiry frame against him.

Bang! A thunderous knock at the door made Spy freeze. Engineer grunted in surprise his heart leapt to his throat. There was another knock.

“Merde,” the Frenchman muttered as Engineer hastily shoved the snake away. Who could that be? Usually the team didn’t come down here uninvited. Unless they decided they needed to poke their noses in his personal business for some cockamamie reason.

“I’ll see who that is.” he said to the empty air where Spy had been.  He swallowed and nervously adjusted his shirt collar,  “Just’a sec” he called loudly to the door.

Taking a deep breath, he tried to even out his heart rate. Nervously he checked his coveralls again to make sure he looked respectable. Normal. Like someone who hadn’t been smuggling in and necking enemies just moments before.  His fingers fumbled with the deadbolt but he managed to get the door open just wide enough to peer out of. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim of the basement.

“Engineer,” a rumbling voice greeted him.


“H-Heavy?” he frowned, leaning further out the door. “W-what brings ya down here?” and how could he make the man go away again? He hoped the man wasn’t here to talk again.

“You seen Archimedes?”

“This really isn’t the best ti-” his hastily constructed excuse froze as his brain stumbled over the man’s words. “Eh- Have I seen who?”

“Docktor’s bird” the Russian sheepishly explained. “Is not in cage, or office.”

“Erm-” Engineer remembered Medic’s pets, the white birds that would eye patients eerily from the man’s desk. He frowned trying to figure out what they had to do with him.  “Ya checked in those live traps we got fer th’ mice?”

The giant nodded “And the cold boxes.”

“Wha makes ya think ‘e’s down ‘ere?”

Heavy shrugged “Archimedes goes strange places.”

“So ya wanna come in and look?” he asked loudly in hopes Spy could hear and do... something . He wasn’t sure what.

“Ja?”

Reluctantly he opened door and stepped aside to let the larger man in. Nervously he glanced around and spotted a familiar looking floor lamp tucked in a corner.

The Russian stood in the doorway for a minute, to let his eyes adjust Engineer assumed.

The Texan frowned, the sooner he could get rid of Heavy the better. He peered around the room trying to figure out where a bird would hide.

“This th’ same bird tha’ nests in chest cavities?”  he asked warily.  Heavy grunted the affirmative. He wasn't sure anything in the workshop would appeal to the critter. “Where ya think he’s at?”

“Tall places...Shelves. Roof beams.”

“Ain’t much o’ that down here…yer boy may not be here.” he added. Hopefully the man would agree and leave them alone. And not take a sudden interest in the new lamp.

“Archimedes!” Heavy called loudly.  

Engineer was about to open his mouth to insist the man was wasting his time when he heard a small coo. He had to be imagining that.

The Russian giant called out in his native language and was answered by another coo. Squinting Engineer thought he saw movement on the top of his tall shelves, a flutter inside an old cracked hard hat. “Archimedes!” Heavy called again, scolding this time. With surprising speed and nimbleness the man walked across the room, and without the aid of the nearby step ladder, reached up and pulled the hard hat and wayward dove down from the shelf.  

“...Ah guess ah was wrong….” the Texan said quietly exchanging looks with the lamp in the corner. How had the little guy found his way in here? He wondered if Medic had somehow sent it through the vents… He tried to convinced himself that was impossible but instead found himself suppressing the image of dozens of birds rigged with little cameras. He shook his head to clear the image, “So… uh.., there-there ya are,”  he offered feebly hoping the man would leave now that he had what he came for. “Ya can keep the… hat… s’no good an’more anyhow.”

Heavy nodded as he stroked the top of the dove’s head. “So how is Engineer doing?”

“Eh…?”

“Last time we talked you were-”

“-OH!” Engineer interjected. That was the last thing he needed Spy to overhear. That conversation. With the snake there were few things he had secret, due more to the man’s persistence than his own wishes, but there were still things Spook didn’t need to hear about. “Good! Things’re good- I’m fine!” he gestured to the door. “I don’t wanna keep ya busy, you gotta get that bird back to Doc. He’s prob’ly wonderin’ where y’all are!”  

“I am interrupting something?” the Russian asked, realization dawning on his face.

“Jus’ workin’ on the sentry for tomorrow,” he answered with a rictus smile.

“I should leave then.” the giant acceded tentatively. “We can talk later.”

Engineer nodded as he held the workshop door open for the man to walk through.

“Monsieur you are a terrible liar,” Spy murmured as the Texan shut the door. “Never play poker.”

“Ah know.” he grunted as he turned the deadbolt and leaned against the door.  He looked around the now empty workshop with a sigh of relief.


“What was the bird doing here?”

“Ah don’t know.”

With a puff of smoke the floor lamp turned into an irate Frenchman. “I do not trust the doctor.”

“And you think I do?” Engineer asked “‘Cause ah don’” had the man trained the bird to snoop around?

“What did he mean by ‘last time?” Spy asked curiously.

“Dunno.” he mumbled “Nothin’”

The man gave a skeptical look before speaking “I should probably make my exit before the devil himself arrives.”

“Doc usually doesn’ come around here. But ah’m not takin’ any bets tonight.”

“Nor am I,” Spy agreed walking up to him kissing the Texan on the forehead. Raising an eyebrow Engineer gripped the man’s jacket and standing on his toes he pulled him down into a proper kiss.

Spy chuckled as he slowly slipped out Engineer’s grasp, “We shall have to continue this later.”

“I’ll hold ya to it Spook.” the Texan smiled watching the Frenchman slip out the door and disappear into the hallway.
 
_______________________

With a grumble the RED Spy put aside another directory of local businesses. Setting his flashlight aside he picked the next one off the pile and flipped it open, poring over the listings with the beam of the handheld bulb.  He could have done this during the library's traditional operating hours but he didn’t wish to be observed.  

Three letters on a hat found in an enemy’s closet were very little to go by, but it was all he had at this point. He had tried trailing the man on one of his weekend jaunts, but had little luck. The cannard didn't have a vehicle of his own and seemed to travel by hiring or, even more distasteful, begging drivers.  As pathetic as this was it meant there was no transport to attach a tracker onto.  The man was bound to notice if one ended up attached to his shoe.  So here he was chasing weak clues that probably meant nothing.

There were many  advantages to being an independent contractor, information resources were unfortunately not among them. The Spy fumed as he skimmed through the directory of corporations in North America.  Back when he worked for larger organizations this sort of drudgery would be delegated to someone else; some clerk or secretary. Not him. He was the weapon people pointed at an enemy, the trigger they pulled.

But that sort of work was over, and now he had to do his own investigations. Not that he could trust anyone else with this particular project. His employers would protest at him wasting his time on the enemy Spy. They weren't the ones who'd been humiliated.  He couldn't let the BLU fool's challenge go unanswered. This was a matter of professional pride.  

Following the man on his weekend trips hadn't worked out, he didn't converse with his teammates so impersonating one of them wouldn't help. The dossier on him had little of use, no known family ties and a collection of aliases, lists of enemies. Searching through his possessions had produced only one item of interest, the ball cap,  and even that was a slim chance. But it was something that might give him an edge, or a direction to go on. Anything.

The emblem on it was unfamiliar, three letters: T- A-M. It wasn't associated with Mann Co. or either mercenary team. None of the manufacturers around the state would claim it. He had asked around local shops,  no one in a 50 mile radius carried a hat or anything else with that logo.  There was no reason to believe it was a local product, but he had to start somewhere.  He squinted at the tiny print on the page, unsure just what he was looking for, but he figured he’d know it when he saw it. It seemed unlikely the man would be bothering with the…”Taos Artist Majority” he scowled as he worked his way down the pages. Teachers Against the Monkees,  Trains and Motorcycles Association, Telephone and Agriculture Maintenance, Trans American Machinists Society. He rubbed his eyes irritably with the back of his hand, he could be here until dawn and still not have any answers.

He pulled out his pocket watch and clicked it open, it nearly was dawn.

Shit,”  he hissed shoving the watch back into his jacket. Hours wasted and not a damn answer. Grumbling he stood up from his chair and began to collect the volumes he had scattered on the table. He wasn’t sure what he had expected really, chasing after scraps.

He could be at this for ages, he fumed and began setting the books back on their shelves, in their appropriate places. Hours, days, weeks, and there’d still be the chance he’d never find something. It might not even be important when he did. But it would have to do until something else presented itself.

Irritably tapping his foot, he scanned the room, making sure there was nothing out of place, no trace of his presence, no sign anyone had been here in the night. Satisfied there was no evidence of his visit he slunk out the back doors he had let himself through and locked them on his way out.
_____________________________

 

Spy rested his head  on the cowboy’s chest, there was plenty of room in the hotel bed and pillows to spare but he found he preferred this. Feeling the man’s voice resonating out of his chest, the comfortable bulk of his body.  Things he could only enjoy on the weekend. Their few trysts on base, as delicious as they were, didn’t allow for this sort of luxury or time.

“So there we were;” Engineer chuckled. “three boys, a pile o’ firecrackers, box’a matches, and a bottle of moonshine nicked from Roy’s daddy.”  

“Zut alors!” Spy tsked “Children with questionable liquor, I never suspected you of such depravity.”

The Texan rolled his eyes. “Anyways - So it was in the middle of summer, we’d run outta things ta do. An’ our mas just wanted us out from under foot. So we figured we’d go out to the far pasture, drink some, and light off firecrackers near the cows, see if we could get ‘em riled.”


“Truly a mystery worth exploring,” the frenchman teased.

“Sam had a nickel ridin’ on it.”  the Texan explained with a faint smile, “So we tried settin’ firecrackers off, but after about a dozen of them, the cows still ain’t so much as yawnin’ at us. Prob’ly used tah us messin’ with ‘em.” he added thoughtfully.  “We’re getting bored and that moonshine tasted like burnin’ piss-”

“Shocking,” Spy interjected.

There was a long quiet pause, before Engineer asked quietly. “Anyway- ya wanna hear this or not?”


“C’est vous plais,” he answered, taking the man’s calloused hand in his own. He hadn’t meant to insult him.  “So then what?”

He felt Engineer settle into the pillows, felt his thumb pass over his hand, and smiled.


“ -So we decided we had had enough of th’ bottle. An’ I get th’ brilliant idea that, what we really need tah get the cows movin’ is a bigger explosion.”

The Frenchman chuckled, but of course, he thought to himself. What else would his cowboy do? He decided to keep his comment to himself lest the man think he was making fun of him.

“We moved to a closer pasture, Sam figured we needed some cows that weren’t already used tah th’ noise. An’ I start working on my brilliant idea... “ the cowboy trailed off for dramatic emphasis. “Ah started by dumping out the rest of the moonshine - get an empty bottle to work with, and then one by one I start taking apart the firecrackers and dumpin’ the powder innit.  Now there ain’t much black powder in one little firecracker, but we had a lotta the dang things. I got all the fuses I could salvage from the lot and start wrapping ‘em together and add some long bits of straw to make a long wick that stick out of the bottle a bit. Get us some time to get outta the way. Then we take the bottle to the center of a bit of picked over grass and light the fuse.” Engineer paused dramatically and Spy closely observed the man’s face, that lopsided smile starting.

“The fuse is burning down an’ I start scramblin’ for cover.  Roy’s already behind a hay bale, but Sam’s just standin’ there starin at the damn thing. So I snag him by his collar and yank him back before the flame hits the bottle. Best as I can tell, this tipped the bottle over. I ain’t too sure what was in that moonshine but the flame hits the fumes in that bottle an’ next thing we knew the damn thing just shoots off along the ground-”  Spy laughed as the Texan made wide swooping gesture with his hands.  “Hissing along - like a rocket singein’ everythin’ behind it! Through the pasture, past the fence into the chicken yard and straight- inta th’ coop of Ma’s prize winning hens.” Engineer ended the last sentence quietly, dramatically.

“You are making this up.” Spy insisted with a laugh.

“Nah - I ain’t!” the Texan grinned, “The coop went up like a bomb hit it!  Burning feathers and chicken shit everywhere, chickens soarin’ all directions not under their own power. My Ma comes rushing outta the house hollerin’ mah name. Sam and Roy take off like their tails were on fire and I’m standin’ by myself trying to look innocent.”

The Frenchman burst out laughing. “I’m sure you put forth a valiant effort, mon cher.”


“Yea…well,” Engineer grinned ruefully “Valiant is not what my Ma would describe it as. Took me days to rebuild that chicken house, and weeks till I could sit down comfortably again by the time my Dad was done with me.”

“So that’s the sort of thing you got up to growing up away from civilization?”

“Sort of...not usually that… eh… explosive. Coulda used that hooch as rocket fuel.” Spy felt the chuckle resonating though the man. “What sorta stupid shit you get up to?”

Moi?”  he reacted with mock surprise, sitting up to grab his cigarette case and lighter. “I never did anything ridiculous in my life.”

“Mm-hmm” the cowboy murmured skeptically. “Pull the other one.”

“My childhood was hardly interesting at all.” he insisted lighting up a cigarette.

“Bullshit.”  

“Well….” Spy suppressed a smile. “ I did a little bit of stealing…”

“Sneaking around, takin’ other people's property? Hardly sounds like you at all.” the Texan replied dryly.

“I snuck into a…” he paused as his mind fumbled for the proper english word and failing. “ gentilhommière? manoir? villa?”  

“A manor?” the cowboy offered.

“Oui,” that was the word or close enough. He leaned back on the pillows. “-property of a local noble who’d fled the region just before the Germans swept through.” he explained. “Coward left in such a hurry he left some of his valuables behind. The man had a very large art collection.”

“So you were there to loot?” the Engineer’s question was controlled, quiet. Spy recognized that tone, he used it when trying to not sound like he was judging.

Non . Not as such.” he defended. “The Germans had made the grounds their base. They were taking souvenirs where they wanted, sending pieces back to their country.” he sneered at the memory. It had been years since he’d let himself think back on this time. What his life had been like then. Regrettably it seemed time hadn’t faded those particular memories as much he as wanted. “They had an important shipment that was going to leave the next week, I didn’t have much time.”

“I had a copy of the guard routes, a pocket full of drugged sausages, a knife, lockpicks and a few glasses of cheap wine to keep my nerves from failing”  The cowboy chuckled at that last item. Spy smiled faintly; no cloak, no sapper, the things probably hadn't been created yet. He hadn’t even been able to get his hands on a gun.  

“I waited until nightfall, and scaled over the back wall, in between guard changes. Leaving the sausages where I thought the dogs would find them.” he snorted. “Amateur move. Snuck in through the kitchens, and managed to make my way into the house proper to the upper gallery, to my goal... Van Klomp’s painting of the Fallen Madonna. Or so I thought.” he smiled wryly. “They’d moved it - and I had not realized. I had worked my way up three floors of soldiers and guards to an empty gallery.” He gestured wildly in air.

“What’da do then?”

He sighed, taking a drag on his cigarette “Decided I wasn’t leaving without the painting, this was a matter of honor, for me and France. ” He shook his head.

“How old were ya?”

“Fourteen.” he answered with a sigh, exhaling a cloud of smoke and past shame.

Engineer chuckled, “That explains it.”

“I was determined to find that painting, show the Resistance that I wasn’t too young to be of use. I was going to search the house all over. At least,” he shrugged, “that had been the plan until the guards outside realized their dogs were passing out from being drugged.”

“That does tend to raise alarm,” the cowboy mused.

“Stupid of me,” he agreed, “The house was now swarming with activity, a good plan would have been to leave the place in a hurry and forget the whole thing. But alas, I was a bit impetuous.”

“Ya were fourteen, usually same thing,”

“With the dogs asleep they were forced to rely on their own eyes and ears to find me - so that at least worked in my favor.  I have always been good at finding places to hide.”

“The Germans made an organized sweep of the grounds and the house, I moved behind them, shadowing them. The guard’s rotation was useless now so I had to change plans. Thankfully, they made so much clatter themselves it covered any sound I might have made.” he smiled proudly at the memory. He’d been foolish, yes, but he’d managed to survive it. A valuable lesson he never forgot.

“They searched the halls, with me as their shadow.” A very anxious, gangly shadow. “Though they were thorough they seemed more focused on one suite of rooms in particular. Frantically checking and double checking the locks. Something very important was in that room, I just had to get them to leave it alone for me to look for myself.”

“Slipping away from them I started a fire-,” The cowboy snorted in disbelief. “- a small one.” Spy interjected, “ in an empty office on the other side of the house. I sounded the alarm and slipped back to the suite while the soldiers reacted. The doors were locked,” he shrugged with a smile, “locks have always been a speciality.” Pausing to take a drag from his cigarette he continued. “But behind those locks…” he paused for dramatic effect, “the masterpiece, the Fallen Madonna.” he smirked.

“Having no time to spare, I cut the painting out of the frame, and stuffed it down my shirt. The fire I’d started was already out and they were giving the all clear signal. Desperate, and reckless, I bolted out of the room, and lunged out a window landing in a hedge.”

Taking another drag from his cigarette he looked over at the Texan’s face. The cowboy was sitting there with an expression of anxious disbelief.

Spy chuckled, “Monsieur, don’t look so worried, I did survive this.”

Engineer snorted, relaxing, “Knowing your stories I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me you’d died horribly and tragically.”

“Are you accusing me of being over dramatic?

The man looked at him skeptically, “So how did you get out?”

Spy shrugged “Luck. I landed in a thick hedge, in a dark corner. Somehow no one managed to hear the sound of my landing. Though the guards prowled the grounds I managed to keep out of sight and slip out of the gate at dawn, when the cook and her assistants came in from town.”

“And no one noticed ya?”

“One of the assistants noticed. The girl pretended to twist her ankle to distract the guards as I slipped out.” He smiled as he blew out a cloud of smoke, he’d been indebted and enamoured with her for ages after that.  

“The next night, after a quick wash and a change of clothes, I went to show the maquisards my prize. I expected them to be impressed, they would finally take me seriously, let me join them properly.” he sighed “They saw the painting and laughed at me.”

“Laughed?”

“The painting was a fake.” he explained with a wry smile, “They’d already been there and left a forgery for the Germans. The real one was safely hidden in their care.”

There was a long pause before the Texan spoke up, “What?”

“It was fake. I’d been risking life and limb for a copy” he explained gravely. He kept the straight face for a full minute before laughing. Years ago, when it happened, he’d been furious, ashamed, embarrassed. His deflated pride had hurt almost like a physical wound. Time, while it had not faded things had, at least, granted some perspective.

Engineer looked at him with uncertainty, disbelief before breaking into laughter himself.

Chuckling, he wiped a tear from his eye and added, “In the end it didn’t matter.”

“Oh?”

He grinned “After the war it was revealed the painting, the first one, was also a fake. An elaborate fraud.“

“Shoot” the cowboy snorted “Now Ah know you’re pullin’ my leg.”

“Non, Monseiur.” he insisted with a laugh. “Truth. It had been painted in someone’s basement five years before the baron bought it.”

Really ?”

“It was all revealed when the artist decided going to jail for forgery was better than hanging for treason.” He flicked ash from his cigarette into the ashtray and smiled wryly as Engineer gaped. “We’d all been risking our skin for a lie.” Willing to die for country, honor, and fakes.

“Well dang.” Engineer murmured.  “Not sure if that's the funniest or saddest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Looking back it is probably the most ridiculous thing I got involved in.” Spy admitted sadly taking another drag of his cigarette. He frowned, his mind unwillingly filling with thoughts of those days. The people and places lost, either by violence, or time.

“That is pretty insane.”  the cowboy mused. There was a long pause before the man spoke “Almost as ridiculous as this one time…” he felt the man’s calloused hand brush against his bare shoulder before settling there.  “-this one time I got... entangled with this over dressed jackass.”

He smiled faintly, at the man’s touch as his mind came back to the present. “Entangled?” he repeated, ignoring the insults. “Monsieur, that sounds most indecent,” he tsked.

“Lean in close an’ ah can tell ya ‘bout it.”

Chuckling Spy set aside the ashtray and the past.  “I am, as they say, all ears.” He leaned into the man’s chest, planting a kiss where he could feel the man’s steady heartbeat. The past was gone, the future was nothing he thought about,but he he was here now.

“Jus’ don’ go tellin’ everyone.”  the Texan continued, as Spy worked his way up to the man’s face. Leaving a trail of kisses on his solar plexis and neck.

“Monsieur Cowboy, I assure you, my lips are sealed.”

_______________________________

“Sir?” the woman asked again, her voice crackling over the phone line. “Sir, are you still there?”

Oui, Madmoiselle,” Spy simpered, his toner sweeter than the scowl he was giving his surroundings. He disliked using RED base’ phone for personal errands but driving out to town for a simple phone call was ridiculous by even his standards.

“Alright Sir, we’ve searched and…” her tone grew hesitant, “ well…we have a lot of answers to your particular question.”

Leaning against the wall he huffed to himself, he had been afraid of that. “How many?”

“Well in the country alone we have over five thousand organizations with that abbreviation. Not to mention however many are abroad that we don’t have in our catalogue.”

“I see,” he answered flatly. He shouldn’t be surprised, calling a reference library had been a last ditch effort. A fool’s effort.

“Maybe if we had more of an idea what we were looking for,”  the woman’s crackling voice echoing his own thoughts. “Something to narrow it down. Could it be a school? Maybe a club? A team?” she asked.

“No, no, I don’t think so.” he murmured. That made little sense. “A company perhaps,” he mused to himself.

There was the muffled sound of shuffling papers over the line , “The Brazilian Taxi Aero Marília?” the woman offered, mangling the pronunciation. “Would that be the sort of thing you are looking for?”  

“That might be it.” he conceded. That seemed like something worth looking into. Maybe some rocket program he hadn’t heard of. “Thank you so much for you and your associates time, Mademoiselle.”

“No problem, Sir.” he could hear the woman beaming over the phone, “Thank you for calling us, I hope you have a pleasant evening.”

“And I wish you the same cheri.”

“Putain,” he muttered as he hung the phone up. Another dead end.

Irritably he pulled his cigarette case out of his jacket. Lighting the cigarette he slipped the case back in his pocket and strolled down the hall. What could the idiot be doing? The BLU Spy was clearly going somewhere , that was obvious.

“-poot it back!” the Demo’s slurred brogue shattered his thoughts. He glanced up to see the drunk and the pyromaniac in the hall. The mumbling idiot was sitting on the floor, hunched over something he didn’t want to know. There was a muffled reply from the freak.

“Nae ye can’t keep it.”

There was another mumbled retort.

“Ah don care what ye name it, ye can’t keep it.”

An argument between a drunk and a grotesque. Sighing the RED Spy stepped closer to see what was going on. Odds were,regrettably, clearer heads would probably have to intervene before something caught fire or exploded.

“Ye know the rules laddy,” Demo fumed.

Spy cleared his throat, getting the idiots attention before speaking. “What is this?” he asked gesturing at the pair bickering.

“Lad’s gone and got a beastie out of the traps.” the Scotsman grumbled pointing at the maniac’s clasped hands. “Wants to keep it.” The maniac held the thing, to his chest defensively and loudly expressed displeasure. What words were said, the Frenchman didn’t bother to make sense of, the tone was clear enough.

“A beas-” he started to ask before he realized the man’s meaning. “Ah-” he grimaced as the maniac grumbled again. The idiot had a captured a rat.  

“So what if the Doc gets to keep birds?” the cyclops spat back.

They were fighting many battles out here in the desert; one was a rapidly failing one against the local rodent population. Mice and rats had gnawed their way into the base and pantries. Spy still  remembered the morning he found one in his wardrobe. Gnawing on a box of cigarettes.

RED had been laying out poison and traps only to discover the same Respawn that kept them alive in battle was doing the same for the vermin.  So the strategy had changed and the orders were to lay out live traps and when possible try to relocate them somewhere out in the desert beyond Respawns reach.

“The Doc’s birds are different.”

The lunatic fumed, the muffled complaints getting more irritating by the second.

“How? Jus-” the Scotsman sputtered “They flap and the feathers an all and-” the drunk trailed off “-cuz they are-”

Pyro cut him off with more complaints before the drunk could continue his fumbling comparison between birds and pests.

Spy massaged his temples. How did he ever end up like this? Out here in this desert with idiots all around him?

Ferme ta gueule! he snapped.

The pair of idiots stared at him, startled but at least quiet. He exhaled smoke through his nose, as he tried to keep hold of the situation. He was not accustomed to mediation, how his chou fluer had ever managed to do it without murder was just another quality he admired in her.

The maniac, with its hands still clutched to its torso began protesting mumbles that the saboteur ignored.

“Put that filth back in the box.” he commanded. “It is Soldier’s turn to take the traps out, yes?” He’d probably have to take time away from his other pursuits to remind the buffoon to do so before the damn things developed intelligence. Or the Arsonist decided to free the whole lot.

Pyro trumpeted, sounding more like a mournful elephant and less like a man. “If you do not, I will.” he spat back, hoping the lunatic wouldn’t press him. Even with gloves on he did not want to touch the creature alive or dead.  The lunatic sadly nodded and the Scotman laid a hand on it’s shoulder. “Come on laddy, it won’ be so bad. It’s better for the beastie in the end.”

With a sigh Spy took a frustrated drag on his cigarette and headed to his quarters for a drink.   He could not get out of this pit fast enough.

____________

Engineer hummed as he pulled his truck into the dusty lot. The drive back had taken longer than he'd planned and he swore he could almost see the first streaks of the rising sun in the sky overhead. The weekend had gone by quickly, soon would be Monday morning and the skirmish would be on again.  Ah well, just meant everyone would be in their beds and there'd be no one around to see him come in and ask what he'd been up to or where he'd been. Or who he was with.

No matter what Spy had suggested all the lies and excuses had a tendency to dry up in his mouth whenever someone asked him anything about his little jaunts. They'd ask and instead all he could manage was an awkward grunt or two and maybe croak out something about how he didn't kiss and tell.

Eventually something else would happen on base to someone else and they'd get distracted and stop bringing the subject up. He could only hope it was soon.

He climbed out of the vehicle grabbing his jacket and hat from the passenger side. He bumped the door shut with his shoulder and walked quietly towards the base. Going in the side door he crept up the hall to the barracks.

He froze as he heard a voice faintly echo up the hall. At this hour he would have expected everyone to be in bed, asleep. Unless Slim had decided to call home, what was the time difference in Australia? He frowned, trying to figure it out.  Cautiously he walked up the hall, the voice becoming clearer, "-no need to worry, cheri, I arrived back safe." Well, that narrowed the possibility of who it was considerably. Spy. The Other Spy… His team's Spy. Not his Spy.

"Oui, ma chou fleur, I will be thinking of you as I go to sleep tonight." the man's voice continued crooning into the phone. If what Spook had told him was true, he could hazard a vague guess who the man was talking to. But he wasn't going to bet money on the accuracy.

He stopped at the bend in the corridor. It was late, and his bed was at the end of the hallway, but the Spy was in between.

“Maybe you will visit in my dreams, non?”

He fumed to himself. He was a grown man, he lived here, he had as much right to walk to his room as anyone else here. Not his fault there was some fella talking to his, probably sweetheart in the way.  

Standing around debating it just made him look guilty and ashamed.  Well more guilty than crawling in at some odd hour.  Taking a deep breath he turned the corner and tried not to look at the man crooning on the phone.

His footsteps were louder than he had intended, and the Spy stiffened as he walked past. "Bene nuit," the man murmured into the phone before hanging it up with a click that seemed to echo in the corridor. Engineer froze in his tracks, trying his best not to look like a deer caught in headlights and failing.

"Engineer," the man said with a nod.

"Evenin'" he offered weakly back. "Ah was jus'...uh headin' for bed." he gestured towards the barracks. He turned to look at the Spy and noticed a suitcase by his feet. So he wasn’t the only one who’d been out this weekend.

"Long night?” the Frenchman asked with a wry smile, his meaning clear.

“Er- Yah know.” he shrugged in what he hoped was a casual way.

The Spy smirked and nodded. For a moment the Texan was struck by the difference between him and Spook. He never spent much time around the RED Spy to notice the slight differences, but even with the masks he saw them now. The difference in stance, the way the RED Spy held his cigarette.

His Spy gave an air of… well, he was cocky, but not… aloof. Probably an odd choice of words considering this was a man he’d just heard croon sweet nothings to a love miles and miles away, but that was what came to mind looking at the other man just now.

“What about yourself?” he asked nodding to the suitcase.

“You know how it is.” The man answered “A gentleman never tells.” he smiled and tapped the side of his nose.

Engineer raised his eyebrows conspiratorially but remained silent. They understood each other, and there was nothing to say on the subject. “We should get to bed, mornin’s gonna hurt.”

“Lead the way Monsieur.” the other man murmured picking up his suitcase. Nodding the Texan slipped his cap from under his arm onto his head and walked on down the hall musing on the the difference in cadence of RED Spy’s voice.

He walked on down the hall but stopped he realized the man wasn’t following. Turning over his shoulder he saw the Spy standing stock still four feet behind him wearing a baffled expression.

“Yah okay there?” he asked.

The man stared at him.

“....Spah?” he managed to spit out the name despite how surreal it felt to use it to address someone else.

The man just gestured to his head. “...your chapeau”  he said slowly.

“Mah hat?” he tapped the brim of it with a frown. What was wrong with his hat?

“It looks ridiculous.” the Spy finally said.

“What’s wrong with it?” he asked not bothering to hide his offense. He was rather fond of this hat, he didn’t usually wear ball caps, but this was the one he picked up at the Thanksgiving game with Spy. Odd how long ago that seemed.  

“Looks like the sort of thing a child would wear.” the man sniffed as he began walking up the hallway again. “Or Scout.” he added.

“You gotta a problem with Aggies?” he asked bristling.

“What the hell is an... ‘Aggie’?”
Grumbling Engineer tapped  a thumb to his chest “Yer lookin’ at one.” It was too early in the morning to put up with people insulting his alma mater.

“I have no idea what you are talking about.” the man answered flatly bustling past him with an air of disinterest.

“A&M” he tapped his hat brim. “My alma mater.” He could have explained more but it was late and he had just caught a glance at his watch.

“I meant no insult to your school, Monsieur.” the Spy insisted in a loud whisper as they passed the doors of their sleeping teammates. “Only that you need better taste in... hats.”

“It’s practical” he insisted through grit teeth. It was hard to drive with the sun in his eyes. Grumbling to himself he dug his keys out of his pocket and began unlocking his door. “G’night” he whispered to the Spy who said nothing in response. The night was probably catching up with the Frenchman, lord knew it was catching up with him.  Suppressing a yawn he stepped into his room and shut the door behind him.