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Mundy, that was his name. A professional assassin recently fired from his job, a sharpshooter able to shoot the wings off a fly and a man incapable of walking the lines of preferable social behaviour. That's who Mick Mundy was, a flaming trash pile of a person, living from day to day because every sunset he saw, could have possibly be the last one. Being at the age of thirty-six, Mundy had seen bright horizons, had visited so many different parts of the world, yet the price he paid for all that had translated itself in being forced to cheat death on multiple occasions. It hadn't been an easy life, the life of an assassin, but Mundy had grown accustomed to it, he barely knew anything else.

 

That's why being fired caused for such a dramatic shift in his life. From age nineteen up until now, the Australian had been rocking that lifestyle, working as a hitman for a questionable company that always seemed like it would turn its back on him once things went south. For seventeen years, Mundy had served them well, never left lose ends that could possibly mean the discovery of the business and brought in money on time without slacking once. But after one unfortunate mistake, all his efforts were subverted and those damn bastards threw him out quicker than a spoiled pack of milk. A warning had been on the tail ends of their breathe, a snaring comment telling Mundy that he was lucky they hadn't decided to end his contract with a bullet between the eyes. But lucky was far from what he was, truthfully Mundy was fucked, because from that moment onwards everywhere he went, every look he got could mean the end of him. People were scouting out the land searching for him, suddenly there was a price tag hanging at the name that had grown to be infamous around Australia. Mundy, Mick Mundy the assassin now running from bounty hunters like a rabbit from a fox, but what most people didn't know, was that he was also running from his mistake.

 

Mundy had never been able to digest it, to forgive himself for what he had done, but how are you supposed to allow yourself a moment of recollection when half the country is on your ass?

 

He wasn't going to lie, it had been a difficult few months. For nearly half a year Mundy had lived like that. Travelling from one motel to the other, having nothing else but his RV and rifle to help him through sticky situations. Paranoia had become his biggest enemy and for a moment there he started to understand how his prey felt whenever he went out hunting. Every day he awoke with the knowledge that this could be his last, there was no control anymore. For six full months, Mundy's life had laid within the hands of destiny.

 

But then, one faithful day, a stranger had managed to slip through Mundy's watchful gaze, being able to approach him without the Australian even knowing someone was there. It nearly felt surreal how silent the person had been, but as he suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder and an anonymous voice addressing him, Mundy had been quick to reach for his kukri.

 

"There won't be any need for that, mister Mundy." The shaded man told him. "You see, I am not your enemy, I am here to offer you a job." That exact encounter is how he got here. Driving for hours on some unknown to him American highway towards what by far had been the strangest concept of a job he had ever heard.

 

Fortress, that's where he was headed. A building in the middle of the desert, sitting alone far away from society where he and eight other people had been hired to fight in a war. The best of the best, that's what they needed and that's why they had reached out to him. There were little sharpshooters out there who where as precise and quick as Mundy, nearly no one outdid him. For being only thirty-six, he had already quite the career, though Mundy wasn't so sure whether it was one worth being proud about.

 

But nearly nothing had been there to convince him to reject, because nothing within his life at that moment granted him the chance to do otherwise. His life had turned into a constant cycle of paranoia and running from everything that wanted him dead. So when some shady looking guy in a suit promises you a safe space, neatly tucked away with the guarantee of completely disappearing from the globe, Mundy didn't hesitate. He couldn't.

 

And well, it also didn't hurt that the job paid immensely well.

 

Sighing deeply, Mundy flicked a few ashes off his cigarette before giving the sandy roads around him a piercing look. After weeks of travelling, he had arrived at the last half hour of his trip. Within thirty minutes he'd see the building that would become his temporary home for the following six months. You see, their first contract consisted of a tryout of only half a year, giving them the chance to terminate their deal and move on to something else after that period of time if another deal would catch their attention. Mundy was rather convinced nothing interesting would haul him away from this place, but neither was he entirely sure whether he'd prolong the contract once his first one ran out. Mundy had never been one for dedicating to stay at one place, but those were sorrows for the future. Right now, other things were on his mind.

 

A new location, new faces, everything was changing and having so little knowledge about the place he was heading towards wasn't sitting well with Mundy. He was forced to trust something he didn't even know existed and for someone who's life had been a mere combination of codes, deadlines and threats, it wasn't a surprise Mundy experienced some trouble with that. He wanted to be on top of things, wanted to at least know what the hell was going on, but all the information they had granted him just hadn't been enough.

 

"We need professionals like you to win this war." Mundy still remembered that sentence as clear as crystal. Apparently there was a secluded conflict going on somewhere in the desert of New Mexico and to win it, an unknown company had been searching every inch of land to find only the best. A lot about that didn't make any sense, but the news of there being no risk of dying at all had been the main focus to drown out all the rest.

 

No risk of dying in a bloody war? Mundy had asked the guy to explain, but not once had his question been met with an answer. The man had marched around the topic with iron boots, yet still managed to treat all the rest like a fragile flower. Somehow the man had managed to convince Mundy with such little coverage. In hindsight nothing of that made sense, but Mundy was willing to blame that on the desperate and vulnerable situation he had been in.

 

But now after travelling halfway across the globe, Mundy had finally arrived. The fighting wouldn't start for another week, but it gave them time to settle in, get used to their surroundings and well... get used to each other. Of course Mundy hadn't seen any practical use in that, he hadn't signed that contract to make friends, but he wasn't about to break the first guideline solely because of standards.

 

Parking his RV less than a mile away from the base, Mundy eyed the building in suspicion, his one hand gripping onto the steering wheel a bit tighter. He wasn't exactly nervous, just irritated of being in the unknown for so long. Mundy had no idea who these people were going to be and even less of an idea what was awaiting them, but then again... the others were probably wondering the same, he probably wasn't the only person rushing head first into this. They were looking into every crook of the planet to find this mess of mercenaries, chances were some of them were just as desperate for a job as Mundy had been.

 

Mundy stepped out of his RV, sighing out a plume of smoke before crushing the remains of his nearly burned up cigarette beneath his feet. It was already past three in the afternoon on the first day of their buffer week, so he knew little else was to be expected of this day. Not that he mind, as a matter of fact the Australian liked things calm and surely loved it whenever he was left alone. Sadly as off lately his thoughts had been the most bugging thing to haunt him, but as long as people kept their distance he already had that to enjoy.

 

Though right now it was time to push that aside. All he had to do now was step inside, show his face, introduce himself and retreat to his camper. That's all.. he could do this.

 

Hesitantly, Mundy opened the back door and let himself in, his eyes immediately sliding along the dark hallways and noticing every crack, every imperfection that coated these walls. Anyone could tell that this building had quite the ages underneath its belt, but it was also clear as day that someone had tried renovating or at least... cleaned it up before it was used for this purpose.

 

"Hi there fella!" A southern accent suddenly addressed him, starling Mundy as he did so. That booming voice had belonged to a rather little man standing at the other side of the room with a broad smile across his face. He had a closely shaven head, bright blue eyes and seemed strongly build, that immediately making up for his height. The man walked towards Mundy, gesturing for a handshake that the Australian quickly returned, not wanting to seem like too much of an ass towards someone so jovial and friendly. "Welcome to Fortress." The man continued. "'m the Engineer, but ya can just call me Engineer, or Engie, whatever ya like." For a moment there Mundy frowned at that, finding this an extremely weird way to introduce yourself, but as his brain short circuited and remembered one of the other guidelines, that introductory made a little more sense.

 

Agreeing to that job offer had granted him a place to stay, safety, but it had also given him a new name. From now on his identity was supposed to be a vague idea in the back of his head and a codename was all he had to share.

 

"Sniper." The marksman muttered as a response. "'m the sniper, noice to meet ya."

 

"Nice to meet ya too, Sniper. You're one of the first to arrive actually." Engineer explained as he turned himself back around, plucking something off the table behind him. "But it's still early, we got people comin' in from Russia, Scotland, Germany, that stuff 'bound to take a while. Judgin' from your accent, you ain't from 'round here, are ya?"

 

"Err no." The Australian shook his head, liking how the man's talking did a great job breaking the ice. If it had been for Mundy, this encounter would have been ten times more awkward and a dozen times more silent. "'m from Australia, actually."

 

"Ah, my first guess had been Britain, I ain't that great with keepin' all that apart." Engineer chuckled, the sociable spirit of that man capable of forming a faint smile on Mundy's own face. "Anyway, here's the key to your room, it's down the hall to the right."

 

"Oh, that won't be necessary." Mundy responded, before making half a turn an gesturing outside. "Took my RV with me, so that's where I'll be sleepin'."

 

"Convenient, but ya can still just take these, it doesn't really matter where ya sleep as long as ya do it and do it somewhere 'round here." He handed over the keys, before walking back to the table and scribbling something on paper. Seeing him do that and judging from the encounter they just had, Mundy could tell Engineer was a rather particular person, but he seemed friendly and open, approachable and polite, exactly the type of people Mundy could stand having around.

**********************

When the sun was melting into the horizon and evening began to set over New Mexico, Mundy finally had the chance to return to his RV. He had seen three others of his teammates arrive; Spy, the Frenchman who hadn't made a first impression like Engineer had made one and came of aloof and distant. Soldier, a cheerful patriot with an unbreakable spirit and Medic, a German doctor who's smile had been one of the most terrifying things Mundy had seen in ages. But with everything considered and still four people left to meet, the marksman had decided to not label this place as a right hell yet.

 

Ten PM rolled around when Mundy was sat at the little table in his RV with the radio gently playing in the background. He was smoking another cigarette, staring at everything and nothing while he drowned himself in thought. He wondered whether this was really going to be so much better than how things used to be, he wondered if this new turn his life had taken would be able to make him forget his mistake. Maybe not, after all that unfortunate event is the whole reason why he was here.

 

Suddenly a string of loud knocking tore him from his pondering, forcing Mundy back to earth as he stood up to answer that impatient noise. He had half a mind to leave whoever that was nearly knocking a hole in his door just out there without answer, but he knew that would leave him with more trouble than he was ready for.

 

Unlocking and opening the door, Mundy cocked an eyebrow up at the sight of a young man with a wide trouble-telling smile that revealed a pair of buckteeth. He had a head full of cropped light brown hair and the most lively electric blue eyes Mundy had seen in a long while. The kid wasn't that tall, Mundy easily towered over him, but that was partly to blame on his horrible stance, which in turn also brought attention to how slim the boy was. Even though he was wearing an oversized sweater, you could still tell there wasn't much to the kid, fat wise.

 

"Hi!" The boy greeted him. "'m Jere-" He flinched at his own words, eyes suddenly wide at the realisation that he was giving out the wrong name. "I m-mean, 'm the scout. I'll be one o' your teammates from now on." Mundy could tell he was from America, but the accent left him dazzled. Different from Engineer's, this one sounded more energetic instead of the laid back southern accent the Texan had greeted him with. Though before Mundy could respond, he hadn't really realised how long he had been pondering the kid's accent, which had made his collocutor visibly impatient. "C'mon man we ain't got all day! Lost your tongue or am I just that initimidatin'?" Arrogance was on the forefront of Scout's tone even though it was clear the kid was trying to crack a joke here, still Mundy didn't really appreciate that.

 

"Sorry, mate, how about ya finish high school first, maybe then I'll be intimidated."

 

"Excuse you!" Scout countered flabbergasted, his hands resting at his hips. "'m twenty-three thank you very much!" Mundy lowly chuckled at the fierceness of that answer. No doubt, there was a bright fire flickering within this kid. "Lemme guess, your old ass is from down under, mate?" He mocked Mundy's accent, over exaggerating the whole ordeal and making the Australian cringe in his wake. But instead of reacting to that and adding fuel to a conversation Mundy truthfully had no interest in at all, the Australian ignored the kid's comment staring him dead in the face as he held out his hand.

 

"'m the sniper." That same crooked smile returned to the kid's face as he met Mundy in his movement, the look in his eyes as if he were trying to unravel the man before him. Yeah it was official, this kid was by far the strangest person he had met so far. With that youthful outlook and tons of energy just dying to get to the surface, somewhere Mundy had this feeling there was quite the mischief to come from him.

 

"Ah man, your nickname is way cooler than mine! But hey the moment I catch someone laughin' at me for it, 'm sure to let 'em know!" What an empty threats, though Mundy would be lying if he hadn't expected any different. Still it wasn't anything worth reacting to, no matter how hard the boy tried to be interesting, Mundy simply didn't care.

 

"Ya don't talk much now do ya?" Scout stated, that same smile remaining and his stare becoming ten times more captivating. "Interestin'... anyway, man, nice to meet ya I guess. See ya 'round?"

 

"Yeah." Mundy muttered, really wanting this conversation to run its course already. "See ya around." And with that the kid turned away, throwing a last "Bye Sniper." over his shoulder, before he took off towards the base. He still wasn't used to people calling him that, still wasn't used to having no identity anymore, but ever since he signed that contract Mundy knew he had no other choice.

 

From now on the name Mundy and all its history wouldn't feel any different than a bad dream, from now on he was Sniper, a professional sharpshooter here to serve at Fortress and nothing more.

--

Chapter Text

Sniper wasn't really sure why he had bothered to go back to the base in the morning, but he figured since he hadn't met everyone yet he'd better get that done first and have the rest of the day to himself.

 

Though sadly these people were yet to arrive, so when he had to put all his efforts into getting out of bed at nine in the morning and subsequently forced himself to visit the base, he had to keep his jaw from falling open when Engineer informed him about their late arrival. Great, now what? He couldn't just return to his RV, that would make him seem extremely rude, but he also wasn't feeling like sitting there and wait for what could be hours knowing he had been better of spending his time doing other things. Still, Sniper had told himself to be more polite. He had to life with these people after all, so the marksman had sat himself down at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the paper. That way he'd be around them and still show he wasn't exactly there to make conversation.

 

Really, one of these days Sniper was truly going to lose his marbles over always having to find a solution to things that are only a problem in his head. He dared to bet fifty bux
that no one would even notice him slipping in and out the base, yet there he sat following his own orders to a plan that made no goddamn sense.

 

He was a true mess.

 

Luckily for Sniper, however, it only took about half an hour for the first person to arrive. First he hadn't noticed anything, the only thing he had heard while reading the paper were footsteps, but his brain connected that with Engineer scurrying around, so he hadn't paid any mind to it. Though only when he suddenly heard a low booming voice, heavily accented with a Russian accent ask him where he could find 'The Engineer' did Sniper look up from the headlines screaming nothing but trouble. His eyes widened slightly as he saw the man, his size and appearance having Sniper automatically mark him as a threat in his head, but when that first moment of intimidation faded and the question finally fully processed in the marksman's head, Sniper remember that: 'Oh yeah, he'll be my teammate, not a threat, a teammate.'

 

"Err... I - I think he just went to his room to get somethin', but I guess that ain't gonna take too long." The marksman surely hoped it wouldn't be long, because he was too socially incapable to keep this conversation going and he guessed this big fellow's vocabulary was simply too little for him to be making any small talk himself. Though right as Sniper wanted to return to reading his paper, he heard the Russian take in a breath as if he had forgotten something.

 

"Where are manners." The man grumbled to himself as Sniper redirected his gaze and watched the Russian hold out his hand. "I am Heavy weapons guy, it is nice to meet you." There was a sincere smile resting on his lips, making him appear ten times less threatening than he did before. This guy could probably fight off a bear with his bare hands, but the way he tried to introduce himself and somewhat form logical English sentences with that smile at the end, Sniper believed there was a more gentle side to this giant.

 

"Noice to meet ya too, 'm Sniper." They sealed the introductory with a handshake, not being able to share another word as suddenly Engineer walked into the room with an unknown someone following closely after. The sight left Sniper speechless. It wasn't the way this person clung to Engie like a forgotten puppy or how they seemed to be extremely shy, none of that. What had actually been the jaw dropping factor to this, was this person's outlook. They were wearing a fucking gasmask as if it were an everyday thing to wear atop a regular white shirt and jeans, but what seriously took the cake was how Engineer didn't even seem to care. While Heavy and Sniper stood there sharing a confused look, the
Texan smiled brightly before introducing this stranger to them.

 

"Fella's this is Pyro." The strangely particular person gave a shy wave of their hand as a muffled chuckle was heard. Now Sniper wasn't really sure whether he should be terrified or smiling at the silliness, so he decided to keep a straight, some-what, confused face. Thankfully, Engineer didn't let the moment last for too long and carried on with getting both Pyro and Heavy to their rooms and giving the same sort of explanations everyone else had already gotten.

 

As Sniper got up to pour himself another cup of coffee he realised that only one more person had to arrive and the team would be complete. So far this handful of mercenaries was a weird random mess with a great variety in personalities. Going from the friendliest person Sniper had ever met to the most snobbish guy he dared to cross paths with, but honestly most of them seemed to be... okay. Yes Spy seemed to be a dick and maybe Medic's logical sense was on the verge of abandoning him, yet there were others like Heavy and Engineer, hell even Soldier who balanced all that out. At the end of the day they seemed like okay people, they really did.

 

But there had also been that kid. That cocky little layabout Sniper had nearly shoed away yesterday. Seeing someone so young amongst a group like this made Sniper wonder what kind of business he had gotten himself into to say yes to something like Fortress. He was twenty-three with quite the sharp tongue and more lust for life than all these old geezers combined, so... what the hell was he doing here?

 

Taking a sip from his cup, Sniper dismissed those thoughts and sat back down. That was business probably not meant for his ears, so there was no use asking himself questions he wouldn't get an answer to anyway and besides the marksman hadn't even bothered to be nice to the boy in the first place so why suddenly question his history?

 

But even next to that, it wasn't as if the kid had made an amazing first impression, so Sniper wasn't going to feel bad about this. Scout had called him 'interesting' for not talking much while in reality the marksman just thought he was obnoxious and hated how standing out there having to listen to that guy was wasting the cigarette he had been smoking as it burned up in the ashtray. Still... maybe Sniper had to admit that somewhere buried within himself he did feel a bit bad about treating the kid like that. Scout had put effort into coming down to his van to say hi after all and given his reactions and the way he probably didn't even realise he was being unnecessarily self-assured, the marksman really should know better. Scout was only twenty-three, he remembered himself.

 

Blinking a few times and looking up from the page he had been staring his eyes dull on, Sniper realised that he just spend the last few moments pondering about an encounter that had lasted less than seven minutes. Dwelling like that wasn't anything new to him, the marksman occupied himself with thinking more than your average person, but wondering about other people's situation and feelings weren't thoughts Sniper was really that used to. Surely because Scout had managed to irritate him so much within that little encounter, it made no sense for Sniper to think about him. Then again, maybe Scout just managed to make a lasting first impression, no matter how bad that one may have been.

 

Shooing those thoughts aside, Sniper finally noticed that some of his other teammates had joined him at the table. Across from him sat Pyro, playing with a match and slightly giggling to themselves. The sight of that disturbed Sniper, but the little firebug seemed to be enjoying themselves so he wasn't going to bother them. Two chairs to his left sat Medic wolfing down some cereal while reading a book called 'If It Hurts, It's Healing.' while a smile occasionally tugged at his lips. Again, Sniper wasn't feeling all too comfortable seeing that, surely with a book labelled as such, but he'd just suppress that sorrow instead of interfering.

 

Another hour crept by in which more teammates joined the table and Sniper silently wondered whether he should get out of there or still wait for this last person to arrive. Truth was that he hated sitting around and doing nothing, it always caused for this certain feeling of guilt to creep up on him. Even if this week was meant to calmly settle in, Sniper simply told himself there was too much work to do to relax or rest. Stuff had to get arranged and it wouldn't hurt to look around the battlefield for great camping spots. Long story short, he wanted to get a move on already, the marksman didn't need to rest.

 

Though right as he had made his final decision to leave and meet this person later, the sound of someone harshly closing a door drew everyone's attention to the backdoor of the base. Loud, confident footsteps were heard and before they were even able to see who it was, a roaring Scottish accented voice greeted everyone in sight.

 

"Hello lads! I am the Demoman, hope I didn't scare any o' ye there, but it's bleedin' hard to close a door while carryin' luggage." You could tell this was a jovial man by his way of talking and as he finally stepped into view, the grin spread from ear to ear on his face really said enough. He was a tall black man, with a mess of curly black hair on top of his head and given the way he ever so cheerfully introduced himself, Sniper bet he was a true epicurean. His spirit was so up-keeping, nearly everyone around the marksman was smiling. "So who do I have to show me pretty eyes to get a room here, ey?" That sentence even managed a little smile on Sniper's face, within the two minutes this man had been here the entire atmosphere in the base had changed for the better, which in Sniper's opinion was a nice thing to see. More socially trained people with tons of stories and things to say about themselves meant lesser moments in which he'd be forced to talk, so the marksman was more than happy about this.

 

After Demoman promptly sat his luggage down and went on to shake the hand of everyone present in the room, Engineer also showed him to his room finally leaving for Sniper to allow himself to escape back to his van and get on with the things he had originally planned. The marksman gathered his weapons and made his way down to a special room that had been introduced to them as 'Respawn'. Now Sniper was still rather clueless on how this whole 'not dying in a war' business was going to go down, but so far he had understood that this room had something to do with it and whenever battle starts or ends, they all have to gather in there.

 

Sniper entered that room with the same hesitation as he had walked into the base yesterday, but once he actually stepped inside and turned the lights on he was met with what seemed to be a regular locker room. There were nine lockers in total, four on the left and five on the right and every single one of them was personalised with a logo. It didn't take a genius to figure out which logo belonged to Sniper as the locker the furthest away from him to the right had a target on it. Looking around, the marksman discovered it actually was pure childsplay to figure out the rest as well; A rocket for Soldier, a knife for Spy, a fist for Heavy, a bomb for Demoman, a cross for Medic, fire for Pyro, a shifting spanner for Engineer and a shoe with wings for Scout, which also happened to be the logo on Sniper's neighbouring locker. Great.

 

He already imagined having to deal with the kid's energetic ass every single morning before battle as he stored some of his weapons away. Lucky for Sniper the locker next to Scout's belonged to Demo and given that they were both quite the loudmouths, they'd probably prefer to talk to each other instead of a loner only capable of nodding his head and uneasily smiling during a conversation. Okay that might be a bit of an over exaggeration, but still it was an easy pick for them to make.

 

After stocking away his bow and arrows, the smg he never liked using because it messed up his aim and his kukri, Sniper closed and locked the metal locker. The only thing he hadn't and wasn't going to leave behind was his rifle, he'd have to be dead first before either letting it out of his sight or trusting someone else with it. That thing had been one of his only reliabilities during the time he was on the run, it had gotten him out of threatening situations more than once, so no he wasn't going to casually leave it in some common room poorly locked away.

 

Throwing his rifle over his shoulder, the marksman left the room, changing his course towards the empty battlefield to scout out some great camping spots. As he was walking, the marksman grabbed a cigarette, shielded the flame from his match with his hand as he lit it and immediately took a drag. There was something awfully eerie about a silent battlefield. The feigned calmness only warned for the terror ahead, soon this place would turn into a bloodbath and just plainly walking about like Sniper was doing right now would be unimaginable within less than a week.

 

Buildings creaked as the wind blew through them and swirls of dust got kicked up, flew around for a bit before harshly being thrown back down to the ground. There were signs scattered around the field labelled 'intelligence room' as they pointed out the way and every now and then Sniper came across a med kid accompanied by a box of bullets. Eventually the marksman found a staircase leading to a higher place which immediately sparked his interest. Higher places lend to better view points, which made those the perfect camping spots.

 

It took a bit to get to the top, but once he did a half smirk formed on Sniper's lips, feeling as though he had hit a true jackpot. The view was amazing! He could perfectly see every part of the battlefield beneath him and that while being in a relatively safe position. Sniper guessed that that place had been build with the sole purpose to be used like this, surely because it had different rooms to look from and different ways to position yourself and take your foes by surprise. This was just great and immensely useful. For a brief moment Sniper thanked his lucky stars, because in all honesty close range combat was not and would never be his thing.

 

He sighed out a plume of smoke before taking a good long look through his scope and absolutely loving the clear sights he had. He got so caught up looking around and shooting stupid minor things like useless tin cans and broken off pieces of wood, that he nearly missed the sound of approaching footsteps, only losing his concentration when the wooden stairways behind him creaked loudly under the pressure of someone's weight. Rapidly Sniper turned around, his entire body and mind reacting the same way as whenever someone tried to attack him. Within seconds and without getting a clear view of who that intruder exactly was, the marksman's shot aligned perfectly with someone's head, ready to shoot at any given moment.

 

"Wow! Hey calm the fuck down man, it's just me!" Scout's voice cracked from terror, his hands coming up to shield his face as if they were going to protect him from a bullet puncturing his skull. Finally realising that he was looking like a total lunatic, standing there keeping his own teammate under shot, it took a whole lot of coaxing for Sniper to relax his rigid body and lower his gun.

 

"Sorry about that.." Sniper muttered before clearing his throat, taking a last drag from his cigarette and putting it out on the windowsill right next to him. His heart was rapidly pounding in his chest as the adrenaline rushed through him like a storm, but it didn't seem like Scout caught onto that given the chuckle escaping him and that stupid smile resting on his face.

 

"That's okay, I mean ya didn't kill me so it's fine. Just don't do that again, alright? Scared the crap outta me. Gotta say though you ain't half as slow as I thought you'd be. I barely blinked ma eyes an' your sights were on me, 'll admit that that's pretty impress-"

 

"Wot are ya doin' here, kid?" Sniper's sudden question seemed to hit Scout enough as unsuspected as it had managed to shut him up, but instead of showing certain shame for yapping like that, Scout's expression turned bolder as he ever so slightly narrowed his eyes.

 

"Was lookin' 'round the battlefield to see what kind a terrain it would be an' when I started hearin' gunshots I got curious, that's all. I ain't followin' ya man, no worries." This kid really knew how to play his hand, knew what to saw and how to act to get under the marksman's skin. Sniper wasn't going to show him that though, he'd be damned if some twenty-three year old was going to tamper with his temper.

 

Shaking his head at Scout's comment and showing he thought the runner was beyond ridiculous, Sniper turned back around hoping that Scout would lose interest and continue looking around the battlefield. He didn't, however and what the boy would say next really only put him higher on Sniper's shit list.

 

"What's your deal, Sniper? What's with the whole 'lonesome cowboy' act, huh?"

 

"Excuse me?"

 

"Oh c'mon man, don't start playin' ya know what 'm talkin' 'bout." Suddenly the kid was at his side, startling the marksman because he hadn't even seen him move. How light was he on his feet?

 

But even turning away and ignoring Scout's attempt at making a conversation in which he tried to get to know Sniper, the runner didn't stop and blatantly continued bugging him. "I mean, it already starts with that RV o' yours. Instead o' livin' with the rest, you'd rather be on your own. But then whenever ya come across one o' your teammates ya force yourself to be the barest form o' polite even though ya barely talk anyway."

 

"Just so ya know, I do talk and have conversations with others, just not with you." Sniper tried his best to come up with a striking counter, but that information dump Scout had just bestowed upon him wasn't sinking well within the marksman. He had been here for only a day, one bloody day and this ADHD induced kid seemed to be more onto him than the marksman cared to admit.

 

"Oh please greetin' people ain't a conversation an' as long as nobody talks to ya, you ain't goin' to open up a conversation 'bout the weather. Try to be mean to me all ya want, I ain't buyin' it."

 

Oh you really should, Sniper thought to himself as he sighed deeply. He didn't understand this kid, couldn't wrap his head around the fact that Scout had taken the time to notice these horrible things about Sniper and confront him about it later. He wasn't this interesting, Sniper knew that, he wasn't a likable someone that'd be on the forefront of people's mind when thinking of friends. So he really didn't freaking get this.

 

"Wot do ya want from me?"

 

"I - I don't want anythin' from ya." For a brief second there Scout seemed to be a bit taken aback by that. His eyes grew bigger and his expression changed as if something in him only just realised that this wasn't the right way to talk to people you had a certain interest in. "I just wanne be your friend, man, that's all.."

 

A silence fell in which Sniper contemplated that. He wondered whether this kid was actually being honest or not, but even if he was, the marksman couldn't exactly say he had the same intensions on his mind. Truthfully, Sniper didn't see them becoming friends, they were so different, what could they honestly have to discuss? But this look in Scout's eyes was so hopeful, Sniper wasn't feeling like purposely upsetting him.

 

"Sooth yourself kid." Was all the response Scout needed before the smile returned to his lips and he fell back into the same daring behaviour as before. Somewhere Sniper hoped Scout wasn't getting his hopes up, because the marksman knew it blew to be friends with him. He was horrible at keeping contact or at least painfully lacked the initiative to do so. He wasn't friend material, but hey if Scout felt like finding that out for himself, Sniper was not going to stop him.

--

Chapter Text

That morning Sniper awoke abruptly after a nightmare had terrified him to the bone and all but dragged him out of slumber. For minutes after, Sniper was still shaking from terror but in all honestly he couldn't recall from what. The dream had faded from the moment he opened his eyes and gasped for air, the only imprint of that nightmare being the sweat dotting his brow and the trembling of his hands. Defeated Sniper rubbed his face before burying it in his hands and sighing as if he carried the weight of the world onto his shoulders. He swallowed thickly and counted to ten, trying to gain some sort of grip and piece himself back together. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Eventually he felt his pulse reduce back to a normal rhythm and only moments after Sniper believed he was somewhat okay again.

 

These nightmares really were an exercise on its own. They weren't a reoccurring thing, but whenever one did decide to ruin Sniper's night, the marksman knew he was in for the long haul. Even when he didn't remember them, those retched dreams left a bigger impression on Sniper than he cared to admit and to top it all off, he never managed to go back to sleep after one. Right now he was wide awake, only downside... it was five in the bloody morning.

 

He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes before throwing his blankets off himself and slipping out of his bunk bed in one go. Though from the moment his feet touched the ground and he let everything settle and sink in, there was this implacable feeling hitting him like a brick. Sniper couldn't name it, couldn't exactly explain what it was, but he did know that it wasn't a positive one. Frowning heavily at the empty air before himself, the marksman tried to place this particularly dire feeling, but the more he pondered about it the worse it actually got. Fruitlessly, Sniper tried to shake it off by stretching, but there was this... itch crawling all throughout him and no matter what he did, it wouldn't go away.

 

Hoping that some cold water would break this trance, Sniper staggered towards his closet-like bathroom and turned the tab on full blast. But as he stood there, watching the water cascade down the porcelain sink, Sniper found it extremely difficult to draw his gaze away and look at himself. It was as if looking at himself was going to disappoint him, as if some petrifying monster would stare back at him once he'd move his gaze. Still, the marksman knew it would be just him, right? He was being silly, Sniper told himself.

 

And as he finally looked up, the marksman had been right. It was just his own reflection, his own likeness in the mirror, but as his eyes travelled his face, something, a mere whisper, told the marksman that what had startled him so greatly during his nightmare was looking right at him.

 

A lot suddenly made sense, parts of the dream came flying right back and within that revelation another feeling flickered up in Sniper's chest; hatred. Of course he had dreamed about that, of course it had yet again been one of those dreams where the only villain he tried running from was himself. When was this bullshit going to leave him alone? When was his own mind going to cut him some goddamn slack, huh? It was unfair, just one mistake, one miscalculation six whole months ago and still Sniper hadn't let himself life that down.

 

In all the years he was alive, Sniper had never been real fond of who he was, but as off lately he found that he had truly started to hate himself.

 

The feeling completely overtook him and the marksman just had to walk away from that mirror, walk away from the confrontation of the strange relationship he had with himself. There is something extremely upsetting about being an adult and still not being able to stand yourself, but the marksman felt it was what he very well deserved. A punishment for the things he had done, for the sinful life he had lived up until now. Honestly, from the moment he had signed to become an assassin, Sniper knew one day all of that would come flying right back into his face and well... apparently now was that time.

 

He was nearly as restless as a hunted animal, walking around the little space his RV possessed just to keep himself busy, but his expression suddenly fell as he spotted a rather small, dark brown cardboard box on the stand next to his couch. Hesitantly he walked over to it, picked it up and held it in a firm grasp. He clenched his jaw as his thoughts yet again ravished him from the inside out. Sniper knew this wasn't what he needed right now, he was already beating himself up enough, still the marksman stupidly took it with him to his kitchen table and sat down. Opening the box, a bunch of pictures all different in age filled it nearly to the brim and even without taking a closer look, Sniper exactly knew what kind of emotional torment this was going to bring forth.

 

Again, this wasn't what he needed right now. Guilt was already consuming him in a tight knot, but Sniper couldn't help himself.

 

In most of the pictures there was a lovely couple smiling at the camera and either standing besides, in front or behind them was the same boy that aged with every passing picture. The couple did too, their hair lost colour and their smiles became more worn out, but Sniper knew the meaning behind it had never changed. Not even when his nineteen-year old self packed his bags and left both of them behind for a stupid job while they didn't even know how truly gruesome it was. If they had known what the true purpose of all his travels had been, both of them would have been so disappointed. But... was this really so much better? Two years ago his parents had passed away after a disease had unexpectedly hit them both, in less than two weeks Sniper had lost the two people important to him and to make things worse, the marksman hadn't even been there for them as they entered the last few days of their lives. Unbeknownst of what their son truly had become, both his mother and his father died believing nothing but lies and to Sniper that was even worse.

 

No matter what, Sniper had failed them, had disappointed the two people who had showed nothing but love and patience for him, who supported him even when he wasn't there to support them when it really mattered.

 

Back then he had such a careless way of living, he had felt young and immortal, unbreakable with nothing coming even close to stopping him and now he was paying the price of the damage his past self had caused. What a fucking moron.

 

Staring at the pictures a moment longer, a muscle ticked in his jaw seeing the couple smile lovingly at the boy by their side. Whether he was a kid, a teenager or an adult, that affectious stare had never changed. They had deserved so much better, a better life, a lesser painful death and a better son. Not once had these people made a misstep in their entire life, yet they had lived the consequences of a criminal.

 

In a gust of fleeting anger, Sniper snatched a knife from the counter to his left and started carving out his own face in every single picture. He just couldn't handle the sight any longer, so he tried his best to erase himself from these photographs, only keeping the remains of his smiling parents who he loved with everything he possessed.

 

It was impulsive, a decision that only seems like a good idea in the heat of the moment, but soon all these pictures were altered and parts of the marksman's anger had calmed down. As if carving out his own face was some sort of therapy, a way to relieve this tension off his chest and actually... feel better. It was poignant, but Sniper refused to acknowledge that. He just had to blow off some steam, nothing else.

 

Okay he'd admit, it hadn't been his best morning, but at least Sniper thought that on some level he was fine enough to face the day. It was Saturday, now only two days left until battle so Sniper occupied himself with what he had been doing all week. Practise shooting and try to gain even more information about his surroundings, telling himself that those exact things were going to safe him during a fight. Truthfully though it was more of a time filler than anything and as slowly the day progressed and the marksman noticed that with every hour that crept by his mood wasn't getting any better, eventually he decided to call it a day and retreat back to his RV.

 

The same feeling from that morning had lingered all throughout the day and Sniper couldn't exactly appreciate that. He was feeling moody and vexed and everything that happened around him was just too much. Little things irritated him and he had a hard time being polite whenever someone started up a conversation. But the worst thing of all was when Scout ran up to him with a big grin and a question to ask.

 

"Sol an' Demo have been talkin' 'bout goin' to the city tonight an' celebrate, y'know, the team. You're comin' with us, right?" Going out and being forced to face a whole bunch of different people at the same time was not how Sniper would like to spend his Saturday night. He hated going out and a lot of people packed together in one bar really stressed him out, so his thoughts were, without a doubt, leaning towards declining that offer.

 

"Nah mate, think I'll just stay here."

 

"What?!" Scout exclaimed loudly, perplexity visible in every inch of his face. "C'mon man ya can't be serious! Nearly everyone is goin' anyway, you've been distant as hell all week already." Sniper still remembered how he had agreed to be friends with this kid last Tuesday, but so far it hadn't worked out as Scout would have probably liked. Sniper wasn't reaching out to him, didn't start up conversations and the marksman didn't exactly try his best to get to know Scout. So, this whole friendship thing was already going down the drain and Scout seemed to notice that. Hands why he was trying to convince Sniper to come with them.

 

"Scout 'm serious, I'd rather just stay here."

 

"Nonsense! Look man, I ain't takin' 'no' for an answer, alright? You're comin' with us. It'll be fun!"

 

"Kid, I-" But before Sniper could put his foot down and tell this kid there was no changing his mind, Scout was gone. This wasn't exactly helping Sniper's mood. He was used to forcing himself into loads of things he didn't want to, but the moment someone else did it those last pieces of dignity reformed within him and he became bold enough to come up for himself. But Scout really wasn't giving him any other choice, walking away after dishing out a command is a bigger power move than Sniper had expected.

 

What a fun fucking day.

**********************

Scout hadn't lied to him, when six pm rolled around Sniper had reluctantly gotten into a car together with Demo, Soldier, Scout and Pyro to start their three hour drive towards the city. The rest of the group had packed together in another car, ready to go enjoy an evening out. It was the first time that week they all decided to do something together and even though it did make for a great opportunity to get the know the rest, Sniper was still sour about being forced into it. That day had simply been too demanding of the marksman, he honestly didn't know what to do with himself, but spending his Saturday night in a busy pub somewhere wasn't going to help him with that. He detested public places and given that his mood was already below sea level, his teammates were only going to get a picture without sound. You know... the worst possible company to have at moments like these.

 

He hadn't even bothered to wash up before going out. Whilst everyone else had gone out of their ways to put on a nice shirt and costume pants, there Sniper sat in his old jeans and dark gray jumper. The leather hat he wore and the glasses balancing on the bridge of his nose really finished this withered look, but Sniper didn't care. It was already a miracle that he was there, imagine if he'd put effort in his outfit too.

 

"Here we are!" Demo announced cheerfully before turning into a side street and putting the car into park. Everyone climbed out the car as if their bodies had aged twenty years within those three hours, but that's simply what car rides do with a person. The only person who didn't seem to experience any muscle aches were Scout, but that was to blame on that constant shuffling and shifting in his seat, of course his muscles weren't stiff from sitting still, he simply hadn't at all. And seeing him bounce on his feet right now and the way he obviously wanted to get a move on already while these old geezers were slowly waking up, it did manage to draw a little smile on Sniper's face.

 

This kid was just the weirdest to Sniper. Sometimes he really was too much, whenever he was a tad bit too intrusive and boastful, too pushy for the marksman to really like him, but other times he did these little things that even were considered borderline charming, making Sniper's whole entire viewpoint change. He really didn't know what to think of him. Here he could be sighing out his own soul at Scout's behaviour one time and the other he finds himself thinking the kid isn't that bad after all. His opinion wasn't firm, for the moment Sniper was too unstable in his perspective about Scout to get to know him better. Maybe that's why he hadn't really tried. Sniper wasn't exactly feeling like striking up a conversation with him only to realise half way through that he couldn't stand him at all.

 

Other people were just too perplexing sometimes.

 

When the rest arrived as well, all nine mercenaries walked towards a crowded little bar where people were talking and drinking both in and outside of the property. The sight of it alone already had the marksman's throat go a little dry, his heart beat subtly picking up a notch the closer they got and the louder the music became. It had been ages since the last time he'd gone out for a drink, but the places he usually went to were your average bars with three people passed out on a table and four other's blabbering regrets in the remainders of their whiskey, but that's it. This was just overwhelming in every sense of the word and from the moment they set one foot inside, Sniper had already made up his mind.

 

The music was too loud, the place was screeching hot and within less than four minutes, Sniper had already seen enough foul looks to know that this was not going to be a fun night. He was not going to stay here, hell no. Swiftly, Sniper turned on his heal and made a straight path back to the exit, escaping into the quickly chilling night New Mexico had to offer. Honestly everything was better than this, fuck this. He'd rather sit in the car and wait, rather count every star illuminating the night sky than having to deal with this horrible idea of an activity.

 

He didn't know if any of his teammates had watched him go, didn't know whether his teammates would even realize he wasn't there anymore, but it was worth it. Given that he already wasn't feeling his best, something like this would only manage to kick him down more. During the car drive the rest had already discussed when they'd return to the base, so that way Sniper had some guidelines to know when this hell would be over. Though as he was walking away from that place, that horrible music turning into pathetic whispers of itself, he noticed that furthermore this city was calm. Of course people were strolling by and cars passed with the same impatient vibe as always, but for only striking nine-thirty pm, the streets were growing empty and everyone was settling down for the night. It was nice to see, surely because the unforgiving hotness of the day was cooling down and this pleasant wind was making its way down the streets. The sun was setting, painting the sky with beautiful pastel colours and the further Sniper walked, the more distant he put between him and that place eventually hearing only car tires skidding against the road and birds singing their last songs.

 

Soon he noticed that he wasn't walking towards Demo's car anymore, rather his course had changed and something within Sniper was dying to explore this rapidly silencing city. He'd find his way back, the marksman's orientation skills had always been top notch and honestly, what else was he supposed to do anyway? The rest had decided to depart from this city two and a half hours from now, he sure had some time to kill and what better way than to do that with a walk?

 

Rolling back his shoulders, Sniper sighed deeply feeling some of that days tension lift from his chest. Maybe this was exactly what he needed, just a peaceful walk where he grants himself the change to align his thoughts and calm down. Just too many things were eating away at him, soon nothing would remain, surely mentally. In less than a year different parts of his life had changed drastically and somewhere Sniper believed he had more trouble progressing all that than he had expected in the start. His parents' deaths, being fired and now Fortress, the marksman honestly had no idea what the hell he was doing, but at least he was safe now. Perhaps this whole experience would help him gain a grip on his life, though he wasn't entirely sure about that.

 

He sure was hoping though.

 

Soon eleven pm was creeping closer as Sniper decided to retrace his steps and return to Demo's car already. Now, the air around him was deathly still, safe from some lost cars and other wandering souls just like him. The night was turning a tad bit too cold to still be considered pleasant and since they'd be leaving in an hour anyway, Sniper saw no use continuing further into the city from that point. It had been enough, that whole entire day had been enough and all he wanted to do right now was pray for a better night and get some rest.

 

Burying his hands into his pockets, the marksman turned one corner after the other, eventually entering some dingy alley when he suddenly heard the sound of multiple footsteps walking the concrete road behind him. At first he didn't think anything of it, it was the city after all, no matter how calm everything seemed it still housed a shit load of people. Though as he suddenly felt someone purposely nudging their shoulder into his backside, it became clear to Sniper that whoever these people were, they were not going to casually pass by. They wanted to cause trouble and frankly, Sniper was not in the mood for that.

 

"Hey tall guy!" Someone ever so creatively called out, causing for the marksman to stop yet not turn around. "What the hell kind a business do you have here?" They sounded just as threatening as your usual high school bully and as Sniper eventually turned around and met with the sight of three young guys he understood why. They all varied in sizes and height, but none of them supposed any real threat at all. Surely because the scrawniest and littlest of them all was the one taking the lead. The kid nearly looked like a Chihuahua, acting the way he did and trying so desperately to be seen as aggressive. He looked more like a joke than anything.

 

"Come on dude, I'm curious!" He spoke tauntingly, but all Sniper did was stare this kid dead in the face, meanwhile internally deciding that turning around and just leaving would be the most beneficial thing to do. These guys were wasting his time.

 

"Wow what the fuck do we think we're doing, eh?" The kid demanded when Sniper made a visible move to leave. "Think you can walk our streets and act all high and mighty when we confront you?! Fuck no." He shared a quick look with the two morons standing behind him, before a sly smile appeared on his lips and his hand dug into his back pocket, suddenly whipping out a knife. "Wanne leave, huh? Well how about you give us your money first?" Seeing that knife did manage to stir something within the marksman. Not because he was afraid, he perfectly knew how to disarm someone, but he wasn't feeling like hurting this kid. How old was he anyway? Like... nineteen maybe.

 

"Piss off kid, I ain't givin' you my bloody money and I don't wanne hurt ya either."

 

"For someone who doesn't respond to questions, you sure have quite the mouth on you. Don't be dumb, man, give us your money before you'll regret acting this way."

 

"I ain't givin' ya anythin'." Sniper continued steadfastly. "'m serious kid, run home and leave me al-"

 

"There you are!" Suddenly four heads turned towards the other side of the alley, all flabbergasted at the sight of a fifth person coming out their way. Though different now was that this person didn't belong to the troublemakers, no, this person was one of Sniper's teammates.

 

God damn it, Scout.

 

"I've been lookin' all over the freakin' place for ya man!" Scout started to explain as he approached Sniper. Though as the situation finally seemed to seep in, the runner turned towards the other guys before cocking up an eyebrow and asking: "Is there a problem here?" The three boys shared another look, the tallest of them all lightly shaking his head and non-verbally telling the Chihuahua to abort the mission and leave it. Even though Scout didn't have a threatening appearance, at least these boys were wise enough to know whenever to leave a fight and decide when trouble just wasn't worth it.

 

Retreating like dogs with their tails between their legs, this crooked grin appeared on Scout's face, though honestly Sniper couldn't work up a smile himself. Frankly he was getting a bit sick of this kid constantly popping up and stirring everything around. Whether it was the marksman thinking about him or Scout physically showing up, why couldn't he just leave him alone?

 

"Ya don't need to freakin' thank me." Scout said sarcastically as Sniper walked past him without sharing another word. "Saw that dude had a fuckin' knife, what the hell were ya even doin' here?" The runner sounded too confident, that attitude alone enough to drive the already agitated Sniper to the edge of his own patience. This day had been total crap and Scout wasn't making it any better.

 

"What the bloody hell are you doin' here?" The marksman fired back at him, his own feelings pouring into his words.

 

"What's that supposed to mean? I-I was only lookin' for ya after the rest told me to do so!" Scout responded, immediately jumping into a defensive mode when he heard the dark colour of Sniper's voice. "After ya freakin' ditched us all back there, we thought you'd be at Demo's car or somethin', but ya just had to go out on yourself an' worry us, 'cos you're such a fuckin' weirdo!"

 

Soon this conversation was turning into a fight, a venting point for Sniper to wrongly work out his frustrations onto Scout. It was unfair, really, all week Scout had tried nothing else than to be some sort of friend, but right now Sniper just had enough. "I didn't bloody ask to be dragged out here, okay? It had never been my idea to do this! You just can't leave me alone and I honestly don't understand why, but 'm gettin' bloody sick of it, Scout!"

 

The change of expressions on Scout's face was a true rollercoaster. Sniper's words had hit harder than originally expected, but as soon the runner's face turned into this angered determination, it was clear that he too had some things to say.

 

"The only reason I went lookin' for ya now is 'cos Demo threw up an' we decided to leave earlier than expected, an' who wasn't there 'cos he was too busy gettin' himself into trouble out here? You! Fuck you man, 've been tryin' to be your friend but all week you've been doin' nothin' but push me away an' keep up this unfriendly act as if smilin' once is gonna fuckin' kill ya!" Scout's brow was heavily frowned, his hands flailing out every direction to empathize his story. "Y'know ya could have locked yourself up in that stupid RV o' yours, but ya didn't! Somewhere I believe you don't wanne be alone at all, but you're bein' too much o' a fuckin' asshole. 'm done tryin', 'm done bein' friendly to someone who nearly pukes out his breakfast 'cos he sees me!" He sighed out heavily, the action powerful and bursting with irritation as Scout's gaze wavered away from Sniper. "I honestly thought you were a nice guy, man, but if ya wanne be some loner who thinks he's too cool to be friends with anyone else, fine whatever, just don't come cryin' when you ain't got anyone left." And with those words Scout took off towards the same direction he had arrived from, leaving Sniper alone to be crushed by that giant pile of information.

 

The first few minutes he stood there Sniper was simply too vexed to realize that maybe Scout had been right, but as the seconds ticked by and everything slowly but steadily progressed this inkling of regret for lashing out like that swept over all those other feelings and left him with only that to think about. He had upset Scout greatly, Sniper single-handedly pissed off the only person who had tried to be his friend and now he was alone. He started to feel strangely bad and after three other heart beats all his previous feelings had melted away and Sniper felt truly ashamed for acting that way towards one of the happiest people he had ever met in his life.

 

He had upset Scout and frankly, Sniper didn't like that.

--

Chapter Text

Sniper's hope for a better night than the previous one was completely crushed after Scout had spilled his guts like that. That night, after they arrived back at the base, it had taken the marksman until five in the morning to finally fall asleep. His mind was completely occupied, to the brim filled with thoughts about that stupid kid. No, he wasn't a stupid kid, not at all, but Sniper simply didn't know how to feel anymore. Normally he wouldn't give a rats ass about something like that, other people's feelings left him cold to say the least, but there had been something so honest and hurt about the way Scout put him in his place, Sniper just could not shake it. And the fact that Scout had decided to use the other car to return to base instead of the one he had arrived in just so he didn't have to see Sniper, really stung for whatever reason.

 

But, what had he honestly expected? That he could just work these unprocessed feelings out on the one person who had been doing nothing but trying to draw Sniper out of his shell. Scout was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, any other person would have gotten it like Scout had if only they had been there, but it had been Scout and no matter how hard the marksman tried to suppress his overwhelming thoughts, on the tail end of each and every one of them was that twitchy runner.

 

He never wanted to hurt Scout, truthfully Sniper had to admit that somewhere he really liked him, but his social skills were so close to being nonexistent, how the hell was he going to clear this mess? Never mind the shit day that was yesterday, having feelings like that, hell just having a bad day in general, wasn't a free ticket to act rude and obnoxious towards other people. Sniper really wanted to piece it all back together and tell Scout that he was sorry. But his ability with words was to bloody cry for, chances were he'd only make it worse.

 

Still, he knew he couldn't just leave it like this. Scout deserved better, way better. He owned him an apology and maybe somewhere there was a fighting chance to turn all of this around. If he'd stay sincere and honest Scout would have to understand, right? The kid seemed like a reasonable person, this had to work out. As long as he'd stay away from digging an even deeper grave for himself, everything would be fine. Even if Scout didn't accept his apology, at least the marksman could say he tried.

 

Scout had been the initiator all week, now it was Sniper's turn.

 

When five pm rolled around Sniper was beyond sick of waiting. If he didn't know what to say by now, he never would. He had been pondering about what to tell Scout all night and day now, it was enough. The marksman sighed deeply, hoping that action would grant him some courage before he stood up, left the oh so comforting confines of his camper and made a straight path for the base. Nervously he chewed the inside of his cheek as he entered through the back door and his eyes immediately searched for a jovial smile and that questionable hairdo. Sadly, however, nearly everyone was present except Scout. Medic and Heavy were having a conversation at the dinner table and judging from the look on their faces it was a tad bit difficult to understand each other's layer thick accents, but they made it work somehow. Demo and Pyro were giggling together as they drew God knows what on Soldier's face while he was napping and on the far end of the room Sniper spotted Engineer having a chat with Spy, but no Scout. The marksman assumed that if anyone would know where the runner was, it would be Engineer. The hardhat was the most alert person of them all, from the very start he had taken it upon himself to 'take care' of everyone and make sure everything went the way it had to go, so if he didn't know where Scout was, absolutely no one did.

 

Sniper approached the two, earning a foul side glance from Spy the moment he was only a stone's throw away from him. He decided to ignore that unsettling look, keeping in mind that it was Engineer he needed to talk to, not that nasty Spy who already, clearly, didn't seem to like him.

 

"Oi Engineer," Sniper started, quickly gaining the Texan's attention. "sorry to bother ya, but.. have ya seen Scout, maybe?" Asking that had caused for some sort of change in atmosphere. It didn't get particularly bad, well for Sniper it did, for the other's it got a bit... laughable.

 

"Yeah, he's in his room." There was a weird smile on Engineer's face that Sniper really did not understand. It was a bizarre mix of sympathy and utter delight. "Say, Sniper, may I ask what happened between you two last night? After Scout came back from fetchin' ya, he was in no way to reason with. What did ya do to upset 'em?" That crushing feeling of shame returned all the same when he heard Engineer's question, his ears completely burning up because of it. Oh boy, this was just painful.

 

"I err... I d-don't kno-"

 

"You do not know?" Spy suddenly interrupted him, his gaze just as piercing as it was before. His blue eyes gave Sniper a mean look-over as if he were eyeing a piece of garbage instead of an actual human being. "I doubt that, surely given that Scout has not bothered to leave his room today. You are the last person he spoke to, so please tell us bushman, what did you do?" Hell, what a fierce interrogation was this? It nearly appeared to be a good-cop, bad-cop kind of scenario, surely because of the world of difference between both Engineer's and Spy's approach.

 

"We just... we had a discussion."

 

"Ye sure 'bout that, mate? Judgin' the things Scout said once he returned, it didn't really appear to be 'just' a discussion." Demo abandoned his post of drawing dicks on Soldier's face for a second to join the conversation.

 

"W-wot did he say..?" Sniper dared to ask, already knowing he was not going to like what he was about to hear and judging from what he knew of Demo's character so far, this man was not going to sugar coat.

 

"Oh, just that yer an asshole and that he was sick o' walkin' after yer butt like some forlorn dog. But hey no worries! He was mostly just mumblin' to 'emself anyway, not complainin' or anythin'. So if ye get yer ass there right now, ye can probably still defuse the bomb."

 

"Or you leave him alone and spare him the trouble of being disappointed again." Sniper had no idea why Spy was on his ass like this, but he sure as hell didn't like it. Matching the Frenchman's gaze, the marksman was trying to find some savvy comeback, but before his brain could even start the long and pathetic progress of finding something, Engineer had noticed the tension and tried to interfere.

 

"Sniper just go to Scout and clear this up, alright? Battle ain't even started yet and y'all are already at each other's throat. C'mon, I don't want any trouble in this team, ya hear? That's for everybody, by the way. We have to learn how to work together, so keep the bickerin' at a minimal." Engineer rested a hand on the small of Sniper's back to gently force him out the way towards Scout's room and away from Spy who seemed to be already mentally flaying him. So far for getting to know him, Sniper thought. "His room is down the hall, three doors to the left. Now go set things straight, alright? He seemed real upset." Those last words were spoken with so much care, the demanding tones of his previous commands had died down, once again revealing what soft of a human being Engineer actually was.

 

Sniper gave the hardhat a nod before walking down the hallway. Somewhere he really didn't like how this had been the team's joke for a bit there, but honestly that was far from important right now. What truly mattered was Scout. Strangely, Sniper was really bothered by how they had all mentioned how upset Scout was yesterday and what made him feel even worse was that he had been the person to set that in motion. If only he had bit his tongue and calmed down for a moment, if only he hadn't been an asshole solely because of feelings he had towards himself. Scout had nothing to do with that, the poor kid couldn't have possibly known in what kind of circumstances the marksman had been yesterday.

 

If only he had taken all of that into consideration instead of yelling his head off, this entire situation could have been avoided.

 

Just like their lockers, the doors to their bedrooms were personalized with those recognizable logo's. Sniper stared down that winged shoe for a moment longer, swallowing thickly when his nerves became the better of him. Funny, Sniper thought. Give him a rifle, a target and a deadline and not one moment of hesitation or fear would settle within him, but the moment he had to clear something out and talk, nervousness and stress nestled deep down into his bones.

 

Sighing out his hesitation, the marksman brought up his hand and finally knocked on the door.

 

There was some muffled stumbling from inside, some muttering and eventually the doorknob turned and the door swung open. Scout was quite the picture, standing there with his hair all ruffled up, a baggy baseball jersey loosely hugging his torso, sweatpants and Christmas themed socks on his feet. He looked as if he had just woken up, but Sniper really hoped that wasn't the case given that it was nearing six pm already.

 

"Oh you." Scout grunted, his voice lacking any bit of kindliness it usually had as he peered at Sniper with a look that could truly kill. "What do ya want?" The all around view of the runner and that question left Sniper perplexed for a moment, his silence only irritating the already vexed Scout. Now Sniper knew, if you step on Scout's toes you're bound to suffer the consequences.

 

"I, err, I just wanted to talk to ya."

 

"Really? Half expected ya to be here as a reminder o' how 'bloody tired' you are o' me." It was understandable that something like that had stuck with Scout the hardest. Truthfully, it wasn't the most pleasant to have someone yell they're tired of you. Though in Sniper's defence he had never meant to target Scout, just his inability to leave the marksman alone had become a bit much.

 

"No, nothin' loike that, Scout. I actually wanted to apologize for lashin' out the way I did. I know it ain't much of anythin', but I didn't mean wot I said, well- not entoirely, I mean- it's just, err.." Sniper winched at the sound of his own words, feeling pathetic all over again as he stuttered out his apology. He knew this wasn't going to work out, how was Scout supposed to feel any better after this if Sniper's explaining was so incoherent, the runner didn't understand a lick of it. The look on Scout's face barely changed either. Besides one of his eyebrows creeping just a bit higher, he still looked as if he wanted the marksman dead.

 

Noticing that he was creating a self made trap with his own words and tangled himself into a fit of unfinished sentences, Sniper simply ceased his talking and looked at Scout. The kid didn't bust and Sniper understood that. Scout's expression remained as wooden as your everyday tree, so Sniper decided to just say it how it was. No beating around the bush, that shit gets you nowhere.

 

"I - I know that I said some really upsettin' things, 'm not gonna deny that. Scout I understand that you're upset with me, I was bloody unreasonable yesterday. I know this ain't a justification for why I acted so stuck-up, but I had a bad noight and I guess I was just toired.."

 

"Oh, so every time you're tired 'mma be your scapegoat?" A ghostly smile appeared on Sniper's face hearing that, because no of course that wouldn't be the case, that's ridiculous. Yet somewhere he understood Scout's reaction. Surely because even with a reason, Scout wasn't immediately melting down this icy exterior and forgiving his collocutor, not that Sniper was aiming for that. He actually kind of admired him for that.

 

"No 'course not, Scout. I know that sometoimes 'm rather hard to estimate, but 'm still gettin' used to this whole Fortress thing. Now, I know that also ain't a reason to act the way I did, but it's the only explanation I can give ya. Surely 'cause, believe it or not, I actually do loike ya Scout and I hate to know I hurt ya so badly." Once that speech was off of Sniper's mind he actually felt a whole lot better and seeing Scout's brow slightly relax and his eyes going from peering to a whole lot softer again, it lead Sniper to believe that maybe his words had been received.

 

"I get it, man." Scout eventually responded, that trouble-telling smile slowly returning to his lips. "I mean, I have been super pushy the last few days, but ya gotta know that I meant all o' that well. Though I never really considered how you'd feel by that an' I really should have." Once again Scout's blue eyes shone as bright as the first time he saw him and soon enough the kid was back and this entire discussion felt like it had settled. "Look dude, I think we both kind a made our mistakes, but 'm really glad ya had the guts to come up here, 'cos honestly for a moment there I was a bit too stubborn." That was no surprise to Sniper, Scout had a rather fierce character and messing with him really wasn't healthy. Suppose, this had been a warning.

 

"It's okay, it koind a was my toime to reach out anyway and... now I'd really appreciate it if ya still wanted to be friends with this asshole. Promise I won't let ya down, kid." A snort escaped Scout before he suddenly contained himself, his mouth in a half smirk now as he looked back at the marksman, holding up his right little finger.

 

"Pinky promise?"

 

"Pinky promise." Sniper said as he met him in his movement and sealed the deal, a grin now tugging at his own lips. This freaking gremlin. Though suddenly, as they stood there like some naive teenagers, a particular noise came forth from within Scout's room, the kid's eyes immediately widening in response. Now, Sniper wasn't entirely sure whether he had heard that correctly, but to him that nearly sounded like...

 

Visible just over Scout's shoulder, Sniper spotted a completely black furry ball, safe from the one white patch of fur on its throat, jumping on his bed and yet again making that same noise. Was that a cat?

 

Scout looked over his shoulder at the cat enthusiastically meowing at him, soothing him with a "Yeah yeah, noisy thing, see now ya got us busted!" before redirecting his head with what truly was a begging expression across his features. "I - I don't know 'bout the policy when it comes to animals 'round here, but I don't wanne risk anyone findin' 'em an' throwin' 'em out." Scout saying that actually translated itself into him asking not to tell anyone, but Sniper was already way ahead of him. Of course he wouldn't go about sharing business like that, they're surrounded by nothing but dessert, throwing that little critter out would have devastating results for the poor thing.

 

"No need to worry." He quickly reassured Scout. "Wouldn't want to risk somethin' loike that happenin', your secret is safe." The four-legged lad yet again moved from his spot, walking towards Scout and loudly announcing that he would prefer to be picked up now. Or so it seemed when Scout did exactly that after another string of meowing left the cat.

 

Seeing Scout with a cat in his arms and the way he actually showed affection to it, somewhere it really humanized Scout for Sniper. Not that he had seen this kid as some sort of robot or being that was send out to destroy all mankind, but he had seen him as well... 'this kid' with no other layers to fulfil his character. That was changing now, however and if Sniper really thought about it, it had already since yesterday when the runner finally showed another feeling besides happiness.

 

"Did ya take 'em with you from home?" Sniper eventually asked.

 

"Nah, believe it or not, but when Engie showed me ma room an' I got settled in, this lil' thing was sleepin' in ma closet. Suppose he's always been here, livin' off of mice an' stuff, but I wouldn't know how the hell he actually got here. Since I decided to take care of 'em, 've been like feedin' 'em things like fish from the food stack we got here at base, but like I ain't got no clue with what 'm doin' and I really hope I ain't poisonin' this lil' guy." Sniper wished he could have either confirmed that or at least had been able to offer some tips, but when it came to cats, the marksman knew shamefully little of them. He had always been real fond of animals, no matter what type, but Sniper had grown up with seven dogs, not cats.

 

"Suppose that's alroight." Was all he offered. "If it turns out it's allowed to keep animals, ya can just ask to import cat food like they do with our food too."

 

"Yeah! Didn't even think o' that. Like I wanne be able to feed 'em properly 'cos he's already so thin an' fragile, but he also seems pretty old already, so maybe that's why." Scout shrugged as he petted the cat over his head. It's round green eyes fell shut for a moment, thoroughly enjoying that treatment. It was indeed a rather thin cat, one if soaked with water, would look like a sewer rat, but that didn't take away that furthermore it looked rather healthy. His fur looked fine and the intense green colour of his eyes told Sniper that this cat was in good hands being with Scout.

 

"Did ya give 'em a name?"

 

"Yep! Called 'em Teddy." Scout said proudly, holding up the cat so he was face level with Sniper. "He can be freakin' grumpy at times, so I suppose you two will get along well." There was a playful warning look on Sniper's face that really meant nothing, but it made Scout laugh anyway, quickly countering with: "'m just jokin, 'm just jokin'!"

 

"Guys?" A voice suddenly called from down the hall, making Scout turn around and gently put Teddy back to the ground just to make sure no one would see him. Sniper leaned back a bit to see who it was addressing them, only to spot, of course, Engineer. "Y'all nearly done makin' up? Dinner's ready!"

 

"Yeah Engie, we'll be right there!" Scout confirmed, sweeping his hands through his hair a few times so it would fall a bit better, but the rest of him would have to stay that way, the day was nearly over anyway. Sniper watched Scout pat Teddy's head one last time and reassuring him he'd be back soon before walking out his room, closing the door and dragging Sniper with him towards the base's kitchen.

 

They sat together during dinner and continued talking even when their plates were empty and they were discussing different suspicions of what was waiting for them tomorrow during battle. Sniper noticed a few of their teammates silently watching them and knew that they'd once again be the topic of gossip, but sitting there and finding himself calm while being in the company of another human being, Sniper really couldn't get himself to care. He was very much enjoying his time with Scout and he'd be damned if someone took that away from him.

--

Chapter Text

He looked fucking ridiculous.

 

Heaving a big sigh, Sniper reluctantly trudged away from the mirror and started preparing some coffee for himself. Meanwhile the silliness of the situation churned in his head, making himself wonder whether he should laugh or frown. Apparently, it wasn't enough to show up on the battlefield and do your job the way you regularly looked, no. Everyone had been granted 'fighting gear' from the company, an outfit that claimed to be beneficial to your tries and immediately showed which team you were on. To make things 'easy'. Sniper surely didn't understand why things had to be easy, as if he wasn't going to be able to tell his own team apart from the enemy.

 

But the contract had stated out this rule rather clearly and when the contract said so, there was no interrupting its authority. If he had to wear this absurd outfit, so be it.

 

And it really was stupid. Besides the fact that he was able to wear trousers of his own, his hat and glasses, an assortment of other garments had been delivered to him that had Sniper slightly wrinkling his nose in disapproval. Now, the red polo was kind of doable. Sniper was used to wearing polo's just like that and it even showed his logo on the sleeves, but what he really thought to be immensely idiotic was the brightness of that tint red. He was a sniper for Christ sake, people weren't supposed to know where he was, yet this colour stood out like a sore thumb, it was like an arrow pointing out his position. Wonderful. So long for studying that battlefield and trying to hide himself, this damn polo would give him away quicker than his own mistakes were able to.

 

Though that honestly wasn't the worst to come out of all that. The absolute worst was the leather vest with no sleeves and pockets to hold bullets. In theory that didn't sound bad, it covered a part of that horrible salient red and he had easy access to bullets. That honestly sounds great, right? Well, what threw Sniper off about that thing, was the mere fact that he truly looked like some sort of crazed gun man with it. Like some old man with a basement full of firearms, who never leaves his home and becomes the talk of the town. Sniper knew people like that back home in Australia, how the local kids made up stories about how some old geezer living on the edge of town had mowed down his entire family, but nobody had found the bodies so there was nothing actually pleading against him; exactly that is how Sniper felt and looked right now. He hated that. His strangely secluded nature was bad enough already, he didn't want that to become any worse.

 

He didn't want people to be scared of him, at least... not anymore.

 

Resting his right hand on the kitchen counter and slightly leaning into that action, Sniper looked down, noticing the last part to finish of this amazing outfit. For whatever reason that was truly beyond Sniper there had been one leather, fingerless glove within the bundle of clothes. One. Just one glove. If there had been two he could have been able to find the means to it, but this asymmetric nonsense was making him wonder what kind of genius had sat himself down and designed this outfit.

 

He wondered, however, would the others have similar outfits? Better, would the other team have similar outfits and was that the reason why colour mattered? Whatever the answer was to that useless question, it had slipped by Sniper's interest by now. Though he had to admit that somewhere deep inside himself he felt this foreign nervous tingle, a sensation he hadn't felt in literal years. He frowned, meanwhile downing the rest of his coffee cup to determine for once that this gut feeling wasn't exactly a bad one. It wasn't like that Saturday morning, this feeling was born out of excitement rather than anything dire.

 

Wait, was he actually excited for this? The thrill of the job he had been practising for literal years had wore off the moment it stopped being intimidating to him, the moment his victims stopped being people and started becoming numbers, but for this... idiotic thing he was actually feeling excited? In about half an hour, Sniper would fling himself right into a war that claimed to be without risk and for whatever bloody reason, it was exiting him. Weird.

 

He thought about it, really hauled himself for a good few minutes to wonder. Maybe it wasn't the fight that excited him, maybe it was the whole situation surrounding it that did. That sounded strange, he was aware of that, but bear with him. Never had he been in a position where an entire team could back him up, for seventeen long years Sniper had worked on his own, but apparently that was changing now and somewhere he wasn't totally hating the idea of it.

 

Strange, extremely strange. This was the first time in years since he's felt sincerely enthusiastic about something that wasn't the thought of spending an evening alone. He looked utterly ridiculous and he was far from knowing how this war was going to be fought, but for now that wasn't putting him on edge. It was a delightful moment to have for once, but somewhere Sniper knew there was no use in getting ahead of himself. He knew how these things would go, one time he feels this growth and the next he's back to falling into habits that are only meant to distract him from the fact that he's a bigger failure than he'd wished to be.

 

He firmly shushed that thought away, trying his hardest to not let his cursed over thinking ruin the rarity of this moment. It was nearly time to leave anyway, so the marksman threw his rifle over his shoulder, placed his leather hat back onto his head and exited his RV. Retracing the same steps he'd been taking nearly every day last week, the marksman was oddly familiar to these surroundings already so that challenge had already settled, but of course now the question rose how well that knowledge was going to serve him with enemies lurking around.

 

As respawn finally drew into picture, a litany of different voices greeted him, telling the marksman most of the team was already preparing for battle. He walked in with the same appearance as a ghost, silently entering and easily hiding away as the rest of the team talked loudly with each other. Not everyone was present yet. Medic, Scout and Engineer were still absent, but furthermore everyone was enjoying their day, wearing that same horrible red as Sniper was.

 

Sitting down on a bench next to his locker, Sniper looked around the respawn room, immediately feeling that same nervous tingle worsen and spreading all throughout him now. This was such a weird sensation, why on earth was he feeling like some sort of kid on Christmas morning? He couldn't even recall the last time he felt this.. excited. But the actual reason to why he was feeling this uncharacteristic was what baffled him most.

 

Most of these people were good people, even Sniper could tell. They didn't chase him up a tree or threw rocks at him until he ran away and even though he wasn't exactly the most talkative someone, most of them still tried to bring him into conversations whenever he was present and yeah... he really appreciated that even though he'd been so painstakingly oblivious to it before. For the first time in his life, Sniper was starting to feel like he was part of something, that he wasn't immediately written off as useless because of how introverted he was. For the first time in his life it felt like he was given a chance, so he better not blow it.

 

Thinking about it, he already nearly threw it away a few days ago. He still didn't know what came over him that night, but he did know that he had judged a book by its cover and the way Scout had lashed out to him was the price he'd have to pay for that. But ever since yesterday things had really changed, he and Scout had been talking, had moved past that unknowing border of colleagues and became, dare he said, friends. Maybe that was another reason why he had woken up feeling particularly better than any other day, maybe the thought of having this actual friend excited him more than he expected it would and maybe, just maybe, that was the exact same reason he was staring at the door right now, eagerly awaiting for Scout to arrive.

 

Catching himself in that act had Sniper quickly straightening his posture and moving his gaze away from the door. No he was just being ridiculous, yet again over thinking. There wasn't a particular reason for why he'd sat there like that, he was thirty-six for crying out loud, how happy could you get about getting a friend?

 

Still, he could lie to himself all he wanted, somewhere he knew he'd always been like this the moment someone wasn't set on ruining his day. Even though it didn't happen much, little was needed for Sniper's thoughts to be clouded by something, the moment there was this spark, an entire flame of memory would be set in motion and he was perfectly aware of how pathetic that was.

 

"Oh man!" A loud voice tore him from his pondering, nearly making him jump out of his skin because of the suddenness. Though as he watched Scout approach him, he felt that scare sink as he told himself it was just the kid, nothing to worry about. "Your outfit's way cooler than mine!" Scout walked up to Sniper with a big grin, literally nothing about the kid hinting the fact that it was eight forty-five in the morning. He looked wide awake, cheerful and ready to face this day despite its unknowing traits. That offhand comment about their outfits had drawn Sniper's attention to it though, giving the kid a quick look over as Scout stopped in front of his locker to get his weapons. He was wearing a cotton t-shirt with the same bright red colour as everyone else, seriously staring at that thing would most definitely cause for a headache. Though besides the shirt, Scout's outfit didn't consist of anything special. He wore beige baseball trousers, knee height socks, a gray cap with a headset, his hands were wrapped up in grip tape and hanging from his neck were dog tags which had his symbol and codename written on them. It was a more practical outfit, Sniper noticed, oddly fitting Scout's character too, but maybe that bright red just soothed him in some sort of way.

 

"Look at that vest, dude! That's freakin' awesome!" Scout pointed out as he took a seat next to Sniper on the bench. "S'gonne get pretty hot though so I wish ya luck! At least they gave me this t-shirt, everyone else is gonne get cooked alive lookin' the way you all do." The kid chuckled stupidly as he carefully loaded his shotgun, or scattergun as Scout had introduced to Sniper yesterday.

 

"Nah, 'm gonne be foine. Used to walk around with similar outfits back in Australia, 'm accustomed to it I suppose."

 

"Oh yeah I remember." The runner pointed out, furthermore staring interested at Sniper's outfit, the outfit he'd felt stupid and self-conscious about not even half an hour ago. Though call him an idiot, but the runner's admiration for these stupid clothes made Sniper believe it wasn't as horrible as he made itself to be. From everything he'd seen of Scout, he'd gathered that he was a rather honest someone. If the kid really didn't like the outfit, he would have sincerely told him so. "Well 'm a Boston boy, I ain't as heat resistant as you are, pal, so 'm glad they gave me this t-shirt." He plucked at the fabric, pulling it a few inches away from his chest before letting it go again.

 

Boston, so.. Massachusetts, Sniper guessed. He wasn't that great with America's geography, but he remembered a job some years ago had taken place somewhere in Boston. He'd gotten the command to take out a guy who'd been accused of murdering three women, but due to a mistake during the trial the guy was at large. Apparently though, the family of one of the victims wasn't afraid of doing whatever was in their power to show that guy some justice and in that scenario, Sniper had been that power. Not one bit of remorse had coursed through him while taking out that guy, he was a true asshole and he simply didn't deserve any better. That said, Sniper did only accept the job if he was certain the person on the other end of his scope was an actual criminal. No innocent people and absolutely no minors.

 

"How ya feelin' 'bout the battle now, when it's only ten minutes away?" Scout asked him out of the blue. "I personally am really curious to see who we're up against, like, I wanne know who 'm supposed to attack." Sniper simply hummed in agreement, though he quickly remembered that Scout was talking to him, not to people in general. This was a conversation between the two of them, so he had to actually engage and respond. Oh boy he still had a long way to go.

 

"'m just koinda wonderin' how this whole 'not dyin'' thing's gonne go down."

 

"Maybe they'll shoot paint at us or somethin', man that'd be a sight. I'd freakin' pay to see that, honestly." That comment made Sniper chuckle, reminding him of their conversation from yesterday where Scout came up with a whole bunch of solutions, only to end with "Or, y'know, maybe they're just lyin' to us." and gave this useless search for an answer up. "I do really believe somethin's gonna save us, though, 'cos else I'd be more nervous, I think. Like, I ain't afraid I'll die today an' ma gut feelin' is usually pretty spot on."

 

"Is it?"

 

"Yeah man!" Scout exclaimed, audible set on convincing Sniper of something he already believed anyway. "The moment I sense somethin' is off, you betcha 'm right 'bout it. Ma gut feelin' ain't set on screwin' me over, y'know?" There was such a humoristic touch to Scout's telling, compelling enough to make Sniper silently laugh. Confident people are a rare speeches, so Sniper was honestly happy for the kid he was able to talk about himself in such a way. Being that age life tends to sucker punch negativity into your days sometimes, so Scout's confidence would only serve beneficial to him and Sniper really liked that thought. Most people would find him obnoxious or annoying for acting so, but as long as he wasn't hurting anyone, Sniper didn't see any use in criticising Scout about it. He sure as hell hated when people did that to him so no use being asshole about it and besides... Sniper has been enough of an asshole towards Scout already.

 

"Okay y'all, gather 'round real quick!" Engineer suddenly called, holding a few papers in his hands and studying them closely with a furrowed brow as he walked into the respawn room with a sudden fierceness in his cadence. The entire team, including Sniper and Scout who'd ceased their conversation, walked towards the Texan to see what this was about, now all silently watching as Engineer tried to unravel the text before him. "So I've just received these papers and they're basically guidelines to what's gonna happen today, so please pay some attention." A few affirmative grunts and noises confirmed Engineer's request, but furthermore only hesitant looks were shared, all wondering what possible rules could be set while fighting in a war. The contract hadn't stated out anything in particular when it came to the actual battle, besides the fact that you couldn't possibly die. Maybe, finally, they'd shed some light on that now.

 

"Alright so... basically" Engineer started off, himself sounding rather hesitant. "basically it's a game? Okay wait... so, as y'all already knew, there are two teams and each team has their own 'intelligence' a briefcase containin' important information the other team ain't supposed to know. The objective of the mission is to get the enemy briefcase three times to your own base, do this before the enemy can and the battle is ours."

 

"What in the ever livin' fuck is that supposed to mean? A game? They went lookin' all over the fuckin' globe for us, for - for a game?" Scout asked flabbergasted, brow furrowed in disbelieve, though he wasn't the only one. The team was getting a bit boisterous, their expressions betraying the fact that they simply didn't understand, but it was wrong to work it out on Engineer, he was just the messenger for whatever reason.

 

"If I'd known the reason for this I would've told y'all, so calm down, alright? The explanation ain't over yet. " It was a rather futile attempt on silencing them, but the hardhat didn't seem to care, if they bothered wasting their time with complaining, their loss. "The team's bein' divided in three groups. These groups don't mean ya gotte stick 'round each other, though, they're just meant to give everyone else a different task." He flipped through three pages before eventually stopping at the last one. "So the first group consists of Scout, Pyro and Soldier. Y'all will be offense, meanin' you three are supposed to capture the intelligence and get it here safely." To Sniper's surprise, Scout hadn't perked up when hearing his name nor his position, as a matter of fact the runner's expression was still as stone-like as it was before, as if he were trying to unravel a mystery in his head. "Second group's Demo, Heavy and Me. We'll be defence and our purpose is to defend the briefcase and or protect offense. Now lastly there's support." Doing quick think work, Sniper knew the only people who hadn't been mentioned yet were Medic, Spy and himself. Well it made sense if you looked at it, there can't be a class more supportive than a medic and nor a spy or a sniper could be placed in any of the other categories. "The name pretty much says it. Medic, Spy and Sniper, y'all offer support. Whether it's also protecting offense when they're returnin' with the briefcase or helpin' out another teammate who's in trouble, that's your job."

 

Everyone nodded after having calmed down a bit knowing their respective jobs and their purpose during the match. Heavy had briefly asked whether Engineer knew more about how respawn worked or not, but sadly Engineer had only shrugged explaining he was none the wiser about it. Guess it was up to practise to show how that went down.

 

Suddenly, out of absolutely nowhere, a woman's voice announced that the battle would begin in sixty seconds. Nobody recognized the voice, not even Engineer, which sparked a more stubborn side in Sniper. He wasn't used to blindly take orders from someone he had never met before, it felt wrong to know so little about the person who's paying you to kill. Hell, they didn't even know it was a woman.

 

There was no time to worry about that, however, the sixty seconds were counting down and the moment was nearly there to be introduced to their new jobs. They assembled at the gate that kept them away from the battlefield, the atmosphere still the same as if they weren't about to rush into battle. Sniper took a quick glance around, watching Demo and Soldier talking and sharing a laugh, seeing Engineer adjust the hardhat on top of his head, but also noticing that Scout seemed just as troubled as he did five minutes ago. The marksman wasn't entirely sure whether he should ask about it or not, he was blooming horrible when it came to stuff like this, but there was clearly something bothering the kid, so there would be no harm in asking. They were friends, that's something that friends do, right? Sniper kind of had to guess here.

 

"Somethin' botherin' ya?" Sniper asked, forcing himself to sound as certain as he could be. It wasn't exactly reassuring to have someone asking you how you feel when the person themselves seem to be way to nervous to handle any of it. Luckily, Scout didn't seem to notice as he lifted his gaze to look at the marksman before shrugging one shoulder and sighing out.

 

"Nah, not really just... this whole thing seems a bit fishy, y'know? Fetchin' a briefcase over an' over again, I mean I can't really think o' any way this could be beneficial. It's weird." The marksman wanted to respond to that, wanted to tell Scout he felt the same way about it, but the ending of the countdown and the opening of the gates interrupted him in that. "Ah well," Scout said as a way to end the conversation. "guess we'll just have to see. Anyway, good luck out there, see ya later! Bye Snipes!" And with those departing words, the runner took off. Though something had unexpectedly startled Sniper, making him wonder whether he had simply misheard Scout or not. Standing there a minute longer, Sniper eventually willed himself to walk away and not to over analyse the crap out of that sentence. Scout had probably just messed up his pronunciation or something, nothing more.

 

There was no way in hell Scout had thought of a nickname for him. Something like that wasn't worth anyone's time.

**********************

After climbing the stairs towards his nest, Sniper had been quick to set up his gear and scan the battlefield beneath him. It didn't exactly help that he had no idea who to look for, but he supposed anyone with a face he didn't recognize automatically became a target. For the first ten minutes of the battle, however, all Sniper could spot were his own teammates walking from point a to b, the expressions on their faces telling Sniper they weren't any wiser about the enemy team.

 

Why was the other team being so passive? Sniper had been over this battlefield time after time, it wasn't big enough to completely avoid each other, surely not with someone like Scout dashing all over the place. He followed the kid for a moment, hoping he'd be able to bring some action into the battle, but the most exciting thing that happened to the runner was Heavy coming from around a corner and walking towards Scout. Though something seemed different, something was weird. Surely because Sniper had spot Heavy three seconds ago near their respawn room making this rather impossible, but also... wasn't Heavy wearing a red t-shirt instead of a blue one?

 

He hadn't been imagining things, right? Everyone had been clothed in this same tint of red, so why was the Russian lugging his mini-gun along while dressed in blue?

 

Sniper watched Scout greeting the Russian, being able to read from his lips how Scout questioned whether Heavy had found an enemy already or not. But the Russian didn't reply, no, Heavy simply aimed his mini-gun, making Scout jump into a defensive mode and loudly yell what the hell he thought he was doing before he got shot in the stomach with multiple bullets. Seeing those bullets puncture Scout's narrow frame had Sniper's breath hitching in his throat and as the runner fell to the ground, arms clutched around his waist, he knew the kid was dead.

 

Without thinking properly, Sniper aligned his scope quicker than lightning, keeping his sights right on the Russian's head as his finger latched around the trigger ready to squeeze it. Though as that little moment of anger started to crack, something in Sniper told himself that he couldn't just kill his own teammates, even though that was exactly what Heavy had just done. He wasn't ready to gain a traitor title, but there was also this horrible itch in his hands after seeing that little scene display down there. That hadn't been a fair fight, Scout had been caught so unawares, the kid had barely gotten time to move. But still... he knew something was wrong and it wasn't smart of him to go poking around in it without actually knowing a single thing of the matter.

 

So, as hard as it was, he uncurled his finger from around the trigger and let that bastard go.

 

Sniper sighed deeply as he pinched the bridge of his nose, telling himself he couldn't already lose his shit on day one, before deciding to yet again take part in this war. Though as he took another look through his scope, Sniper really couldn't help himself as his sights trailed off towards the place Scout had just died.

 

The kid had probably gotten up again, right? They'd promised no one could die.

 

Maybe Medic was tending to him, healing those horrible bullet wounds and giving CPR.

 

Perhaps someone else had come across him and were momentarily dragging Scout back to respawn to patch him up.

 

Or Scout's joking assumptions had been right and Heavy had merely smudged his shirt with paint, the kid was probably only playing dead.

 

Whatever it was, he had no need to get worried. The contract had stated that no one would die, the contract had promised everyone's guaranteed safety and up until now that stupid piece of paper had not been wrong once. So why would that be any different now? Though still... those thoughts weren't comforting enough for Sniper to leave it alone. He wanted to see whether the kid was actually okay or not. They were in a team together! He had the right to be worried..

 

Though as his sights silently slid across the battlefield eventually reaching that dire place, Sniper's heart stopped all at once as he stood eye to eye with what looked like Scout's corpse laying in a big puddle of blood. It had been what? Three minutes maybe, why was Scout still dead? Something must be wrong, right? Why else did something as ludicrous as "respawn" exist if they'd end up dying anyway!

 

"Or, y'know, maybe they're just lyin' to us." Scout's words suddenly repeated in his head, making Sniper wonder... what if it's just one big lie? What if there was no respawn, no immortality? I mean, the idea alone already sounded insane, so it wouldn't actually be that surprising to find out that it was all a big lie anyway. But... that also meant that he'd seen Scout taking his last breath, had seen the kid crumble to his feet and bleed out and the longer he stared at the dire scenery, the more these thoughts sunk within him and he really, really didn't like that. His heart was beating a tattoo in his chest, worry racing all throughout him until suddenly, within a single instant, the corpse just... disappeared.

 

What the hell?

 

Too distracted with this turn of events to notice any sort of action taking place on the battlefield, Sniper moved his sights towards respawn's exit, right in time to see a, just as confused as him, Scout walk out of there. The runner looked perplexed at his hands and arms, brow knitted together with sheer misunderstanding. Eventually the kid placed his right hand on his chest and took a deep breath with both his eyes closed, before going right back into action.

 

Seeing Scout waltzing across the battlefield again felt like some sort of cold shower, something making him realize how insanely paranoid his previous thoughts had been. Besides the relief he felt about the fact that Scout wasn't dead, these other emotions confused him enough to stir that right up. For a second there his mind was going into full blown panic for... no single reason. He knew that, he knew Scout couldn't possibly be dead, yet here his heart had been beating harsher than it should as if someone had discovered his position.

 

He slumped for a bit, resting the butt of his rifle on his thigh as he came to terms with the fact that... well this is probably what caring about a friend actually meant. You worry about them, but in reality it's yet another paranoia wrapped up in the promising disguise of someone who shares such paranoia over you as well. Sniper wasn't entirely sure how he felt about that, surely he's felt worry about his parents before, but this somehow... felt different.

 

First the battle and now this, could this day get any more confusing?

--

Chapter Text

The longer he stared at the pages, the more difficult it became to wrap his head around this mess. Over and over again, Sniper had been carefully reading his contract to make sure he hadn't missed anything that would shed some light on all this crap, but after eyeing every line, every letter, he still hadn't found anything useful.

 

He just had so many questions and the more he sought for the rightful answers, the less sense all of this was staring to make. It eventually made him wonder why on earth he even took this job in the first place, but then he kindly remembered himself that he'd been like a trapped mouse and this weird-ass, taken right from a fantasy, job offer had been his only solution. Still, it wasn't forbidden to wonder why someone's corpse disappeared after dying only to walk out of respawn untouched or why there were literal copies of his teammates walking around the battlefield with the only difference being the colour of their outfits.

 

After he'd witness Scout dying and reanimating right back from the dead, the battle hadn't become any easier to progress and that hadn't only tired him out physically, but mentally as well. He'd seen Medic's, Heavy's, Soldier's and Scout's 'doppelganger', making him wonder if the entire other team only consisted of them, given that that had only been the few active people on the enemy front today. It didn't really matter, however, every time whenever Sniper dared to take a shot, this whisper in his head told him he was doing the wrong thing and that this was some sort of test, which he was terribly failing at.

 

It was keeping him on edge, yet also calling him an idiot for feeling that exact way, but that was the last thing to bother him, the whisper wasn't anything new.

 

Sniper still didn't know how respawn actually worked. By some miracle, he hadn't died and if he remembered correctly only Scout, Soldier and Spy had been send through respawn a handful of times, furthermore he hadn't seen anyone else stumble out of there. Thinking about it, the enemy team had been rather passive. They'd win the match with little resistance, making Sniper wonder whether it was some sort of tactic the enemy was playing by or if they were also getting used to this as much as they were.

 

Which... really makes no sense, but Sniper's mind couldn't quit running itself into overdrive until it had some sort of explanation.

 

A sudden string of knocking on his camper door made Sniper look up from the contract, blinking his tired and dried out eyes a few times before standing up to answer it. He had a hunch of who was patiently waiting on the other side of that door, surely because he recognized that knock. It was light, quick, with the last two knocks rapidly following each other and becoming a bit heavier.

 

That same, trademark, trouble-telling smile greeted him as he opened the door, reminding him of the very first time Scout darkened his doorway about a week ago. With that same horrible stance and the annoying voice to top it off, Sniper noticed that he was really getting used to the kid and whatever quirks that came with him. Now he'd always been vulnerable towards details, just as he noticed how Engineer always puts his handkerchief in the left pocket of his trousers, how only one button on Spy's suit jacket is fastened, never two or how Demo constantly clears his throat before speaking. But those are just little, not interesting to anyone, facts that he sees and saves in his memory, but with Scout hanging around now, he wasn't only noticing the horrible gum chewing or snorting whenever he laughs, he was also actually getting used to it and as pathetic as it might sound, that was new to Sniper.

 

"Dude, I finally know what the hell's goin' on." Scout exclaimed, his lips now actually splitting into a smile and revealing a pair of buckteeth. "Can I come in? I can explain it to ya, if ya want."

 

"Err.." Within a single instant a million thoughts raced through Sniper's mind. He wasn't used to letting people into his RV, it was his one safe spot that he didn't trust for anyone else to roam around in, but... then again, he was trying to push his own boundaries here. Wouldn't exactly be called trying if he just urged the runner to leave, was it? "y-yeah, come in."

 

He stepped aside to allow Scout in as he watched the runner hop up those two flights of stairs and walk further into his shit-heap of a home. He briefly mentioned that Scout could take a seat on the couch if he wanted, asked him whether he wanted something to drink or not and sat back down after his offer got turned down. He absolutely hated how something constantly demanded him to be on edge and look out while in fact nothing was actually wrong. Well he knew his mind was overreacting because someone was in his RV, but he never expected it to make him this anxious.

 

Luckily for Sniper, Scout didn't exactly seem to be the type of person to notice other people's discomfort as he'd already started running his mouth while Sniper silently collected himself, missing the majority of Scout's intro. As he finally forced that stupid minor worry to the back of his mind, the marksman turned himself around on his chair, now facing Scout, who had already propped himself comfortably on the couch like it wasn't the first time he visited this place. Seeing the runner so utterly uncaring did manage a smirk to crack on Sniper's face though, he hadn't expected anything else with him really and after watching him die today, he was rather happy to see Scout this.. alive. There was definitely a heart beating within that kid alright.

 

"-and apparently after battle Engie went askin' questions 'emself 'cos when I went to 'em to see whether he knew anythin' 'bout this crap or not, he actually did. So, ya ready to hear it, 'cos it's honestly a weird explanation, like it took me a while to get it."

 

""m all ears." With those words, Scout seated himself in a better position so he'd actually be facing Sniper while explaining instead of talking to the ceiling.

 

"So y'know that we've all been hired by the company "RED", hands the reason our team's called RED and we all gotte dress in the colour red, right?" Sniper simply nodded. "Alright so, apparently the reason why there's a 'war' out here, is 'cos a long time ago two brothers got a piece o' land from their old man after he died an' just 'cos those two fuckin' morons wanted everythin' for themselves, that's how this war broke out. It's RED up against BLU an' at the end o' all this, whoever wins, gets the land."

 

Scout wasn't sugar coating when he said that it was a weird explanation, surely because it didn't even come close to explaining everything and besides why would two brothers go through such a hassle and scour all across the globe and pump so much money into this thing just for a piece of land? If they have the means to pay such a salaries, they sure as hell had enough money to just buy new ground somewhere else.

 

"It's weird, ain't it?" Scout questioned, the expression on his face rather thoughtful as he asked Sniper that. Somewhere along the moment, Scout had grabbed the greying paper thin pillow that served to hide the fact that Sniper's coach was worn with age and was now clutching it to his chest. Once, a long time ago, that pillow had been white, but much like all the other things in this camper including its owner, it clearly wasn't aging well.

 

"Koind a," Sniper eventually confessed, a little distracted by the casual atmosphere Scout was spreading throughout his camper. "I - I mean, I suppose it gives some sort of explanation, but it doesn't explain why the enemy team looks loike us."

 

"Hm!" Scout suddenly noised as if Sniper's words had kicked his memory into action. The runner's finger shot up in the air, meanwhile still biting his lip in thought. "That's the best part really an' it makes even lesser sense, but the explanation basically boils down to this; since they both knew this wasn't going to be settled without a fight, RED went over the world an' found people who'd fit the job to fight for 'em, but instead of doing the same, BLU just waited until every place in the enemy team was taken an' copied us."

 

"Wot? Copied us?"

 

"Yeah man, I ain't fuckin' around. They copied us for their own team an' just gave 'em another colour to wear."

 

So that's why colour truly mattered so much when they handed out uniforms. If it wasn't for that difference, there was no telling who your colleague is and who isn't. But.. how where they ever supposed to win a war against themselves? If there is one person who knows you like no other, it's yourself, so if there's one person capable of taking you down, it's yourself. Well of course it probably wasn't that simple, but this all felt like they'd bump into a wall soon and just keep knocking their heads against it. If they had actually copied them, that meant that these second version had the same thought patterns as they had... there's no way to win from that! It's a closed off circuit, a cycle and soon this would turn into a fruitless cat and mouse game that simply had no ending.

 

Maybe that's why they gave you the opportunity to terminate the contract at six months. Maybe some people aren't ready to fight themselves for the rest of their lives. A true mind game, that is.

 

"So... are they loike robots?" Sniper winched slightly at how idiotic that sounded. Out of the colourful vocabulary he'd been given while growing up, but rarely used, that's the word he went with? It made him sound like some ridiculous geek.

 

"I mean.. I guess?" As Scout shrugged his shoulders while his expression remained rather serious, the same thing as with his clothes downed upon him. Maybe his word choice hadn't been that bad, else the runner would be doubling over with laughter right about now. "But like... I've come across some of 'em. Like I've seen Solly, Demo, obviously Heavy an' I've also seen yours, but there was somethin' so... unsettlin' 'bout it. Y'know what I mean? Like..." You could just read from his expression that he was trying his hardest to explain this to the best of his abilities, but while Scout was working his tongue into a knot, Sniper couldn't help but wonder.

 

So... there obviously was also a second version of himself and since he belonged to the enemy team, that meant he'd be just as much of a target as everyone else would be. Nothing wrong with that, the others had to take themselves out as well. It was merely professional with no hard feelings. One rule, blue should be taken out and there wouldn't be any exceptions to that.

 

"Y'know how when ya look into someone's eyes ya can kind a see someone's true intensions? Like, ya can nearly see 'em thinkin' an' all that?" Sniper had no idea whatsoever where Scout was trying to lead this, but he nodded his head either way. At least the runner had managed his way though his words, so that was that. "Well these versions... like they don't have that. It's like they took our worst traits, our most evil intensions an' shoved 'em all into this vessel that's supposed to look like us an' let 'em loose." The marksman was a bit perplexed as he listened to Scout's telling. You don't exactly expect a study as such from Scout, but then again he also hadn't expected that outburst two nights ago and somewhere it did make sense that he, out of everyone, had noticed that. Sniper hadn't seen someone having to get as close to combat as Scout has to and as good of a look Sniper could take through his scope, it wasn't clear enough to spot things like that.

 

Strangely, however, it made the corner of his mouth quiver into something that could be considered half a smirk. Maybe he wasn't the only one intrigued by details.

 

"Yours was the scariest though, Jesus fuck." Scout confessed, eyes big. "I saw our Spy tryin' to get to 'em, but he got spotted and they ended up in a fist fight. This fucker, like holy fuckin' shit, he managed to get the upper hand an', I kid you not, sliced Spy up like he was a piece o' fuckin' meat. But what really gave me the fuckin' chills was the way he smiled afterwards, like he'd enjoyed it or somethin'." Much like Scout's, Sniper's eyes had also grown big behind his aviators. What in the hell? What kind of lunatic was this guy? It immediately made Sniper pray that there was some sort of flaw in Scout's theory, they probably just made a killer machine out of everyone, like it was an automatic setting or something. He wasn't this... dark, wouldn't smile after killing someone and be proud of it too. That's just... fucked up, right?

 

"Yeah he's actually nothin' like ya."

 

As quickly as that train of thought had set itself into motion, just as quickly did it crash again. "W-wot do ya mean?"

 

"You're way nicer, dude. I mean, even if they are just these 'evil versions' of us, I ain't buyin' that that would be you, y'know?" Sniper's expression hadn't exactly changed, but more for the fact that someone had actually took the word 'nice' into their mouth while describing him, the rest was background. "Why are ya so surprised? Am I wrong or somethin'?"

 

"Sorry, no you're roight. Can't exactly imagine somethin' loike that, is all." That was a lie. He could imagine himself like that, but not with a smirk to finish off the brutal task. That was the only distinct feature to it. For the remaining part, however, sadly he'd been there before. But it isn't exactly a very inviting story to keep a friend when you tell them that you've had to stab people to death because they discovered your position, you know.

 

Scout shook his head, though not to dismiss what Sniper had said, more because of the disbelieve of what he'd witnessed today. That look in his eyes remembered Sniper of the same he'd seen right before battle. After they'd been informed of the rules, Scout had been strikingly silent as if something wasn't sitting well with him.

 

"You seemed rather... distracted roight before battle." It wasn't as much of a question than it was a statement, but it was enough for Sniper to doubt it already. Maybe he shouldn't be asking questions like this, he wouldn't want to accidentally wound Scout's pride by reminding him of a moment like that.

 

But, then again, it was Scout he was talking to. If it were anyone else Sniper would have to be more cautious, but the runner didn't seem to be looking for double entendres, didn't really seem to care about whether something sounded ridiculous or not and for someone who constantly over analyses the shit out of situations, a collocutor like that was a great way to learn. "Nah I wasn't really distracted, more pissed off, I guess."

 

"Why pissed off?"

 

"'cos it felt like they weren't takin' us serious, y'know? I thought they hired me here 'cos they saw real potential in me, not... to play a game."

 

"It's still a war." Sniper offered.

 

"Yeah now I know that, but back then I felt like someone was fuckin' with me an' I ain't 'bout that. No one ever takes me seriously, so I usually let 'em learn it the hard way." If they would have had this conversation one week ago, Sniper wouldn't have believed one bit of it, but after seeing what Scout did to people who were obnoxious and downright rude to him, Sniper understood alright. He had learned the hard way, seen Scout's sass in practise. "I mean, back home ma brother's barely saw me as more than the family's runt so I had a lot to prove, but it was even worse in the streets. Apparently people think I ain't intimidatin', which is a whole lot o' bull crap if ya ask me." Scout said as he clutched that pillow just a tad bit harsher, his current sight not really supporting his words. Getting on Scout's bad side wasn't healthy and Sniper knew that, but it was hard to picture with the runner hugging that pillow like that. It made him look more like a pissed of child than anything else, really.

 

"Err I mean... I guess that's alroight? Ya scared those blokes away Saturday, remember?"

 

Scout totally perked up hearing Sniper's words, the pout previously present on his face now vanishing as the corners of his mouth curled upwards. Sniper had been thoroughly convinced that those words he'd meant as soothing were futile and dumb, but not to Scout apparently. Surely not when he answered them with a "I did, didn't I?". And the things was no, Scout hadn't scared them off, of course not, but the runner didn't actually need to know that. It was a delight watching him uncurl from that moment of grumpiness, who cares what the actual truth to the tail was, right?

 

"Now if only ya could tell ma dumb ass brother's that, that would be nice."

 

"I gather you're the youngest then?" Sniper dared to ask, mentally giving himself points for actively trying to get to know him. See! He said he wasn't going to disappoint him, so he better prove it too.

 

"Yep. Youngest o' eight kids."

 

"Bloody hell, eight? Ya got seven older siblings?" Somewhere the marksman tried to hide his perplexity because who knows how Scout would react to that, but holy fuck. As someone who grew up as an only child, this sure was surprising.

 

"Ah man, don't even get me started on that." Scout laughed good-hearted, that wide smile on his face yet again revealing his buckteeth. "Imagine havin' that many siblings an' havin' to grow up in a two bed roomed apartment. Let's just say, I ain't exactly know what privacy is." Now, even though there was a genuine light expression on Scout's face, Sniper couldn't help but to let that sink in a bit too far. Eight children in a two bed roomed apartment didn't exactly apply for the best setting to grow up in and it probably was the whole entire reason why Scout was so energetic and loud. Sniper could imagine it was quite the struggle to get the right attention in a situation as such and that it was normal for a child to develop like that if their day consisted of getting attention, but Scout seemed to be rather open about it too, so it probably wasn't that much of a problem.

 

"An' like... they're all brother's too. Ma ma didn't exactly have it easy bringin' up all these boys, but she did it somehow." The amount of exposure in that sentence was phenomenal. Without actually needing the words, Scout just basically told him that all of them lacked a father figure, or so Sniper guessed. If there had been a man around, Scout would have worded it differently, would have mentioned his father by now, but he hadn't.

 

Thinking about it, that was probably the soul reason why Scout was here. Last week Sniper had questioned himself why someone as young and energetic as Scout would settle for a job in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere to fight old men all day, but now he got it. Sniper had seen their pay checks, they were ridiculously high and puzzling that into Scout's story, chances were the runner was here to support his family.

 

"Must've been.. hard." Was all Sniper knew to answer. Oh pathetic, pathetic, pathetic, but it was the only thing stopping him from feeling pity for the kid. Sniper had a hunch Scout wouldn't very much appreciate that.

 

"Ah not really." Scout answered, waving his hand dismissively. "I have no complaints 'bout ma childhood it was good an' besides I spend most o' ma time outside anyway, so it didn't really matter that the apartment was cramped, y'know?"

 

That was understandable. Sniper was probably making a bigger fuzz out of this than it actually was, but mind you, this was the most background he'd ever gotten from someone that wasn't a target. He'd just have to process it, that's all and if something in Scout's story would have damaged him in any way, he wouldn't be this open about it, would he?

 

"Hey is that the right hour on that clock?" Scout pointed towards the clock mounted against the wall next to the door. It had the Australian flag as background and it made Sniper slightly cringe, reminding himself that he really should get a normal one or just throw it out since he had his watch anyway, but before he'd worry about that minor thing, he remembered to answer Scout's question.

 

"Err yeah, recon it is. It's half past foive."

 

"Oh shoot, I should really go check up on Teddy then." Scout spoke, more directed towards himself than it was to Sniper. He snapped back rather quickly though. "Since it's dinner in half an hour, 'mma go feed 'em now so I don't have to worry 'bout that later." He stood up from the couch, neatly putting back the pillow that had gained a weird shape form being held the way it had. Sniper wasn't really sure whether he should stand up as well or not, but as quick as Scout was, he was already at the door, so there's really no use to doing that. "I'll see ya at dinner, right?"

 

"Yeah," Sniper nodded. "say hi to Teddy from me."

 

"I will." Scout laughed as he pushed the door open, stepping outside and leaving. Though not before he shouted his last departure words what really started to become a trademark move for him. "See ya Snipes!"

 

There it was again, the mispronunciation that nearly sounded like a nickname. Sniper had honestly forgotten about it, but he wasn't entirely sure whether he'd be brave enough to ask about it or not if Scout would ever say it again. It was dumb though, he had other things to worry about...

 

Like respawn for example. He hadn't had the chance yet to ask Scout about it, about whether it hurt being resurrected or not or what it actually felt like. Was it anxiety inducing or did it feel like waking up from a nap? See those are things that should be on the forefront of his mind, not whether Scout was trying to give him a nickname or not. That's utterly ridiculous..

 

Sniper fished a cigarette out of his pocket and tapped the butt of it lightly on the table a few times. He was thinking, rehashing the last two hours in his mind and realising something remarkable. When Scout had entered his RV he'd been anxious to all hell because of it, but as their conversation progressed, their banter had actively turned off that buzzing alarm that had been bugging him from the moment Scout entered his RV. He wasn't worrying about someone infiltrating his save haven anymore and that was honestly a true delight, something to be proud of.

 

Another smile crept onto his face. This was so dumb, but he truly was proud of himself. He was trying to change, even with his crippling anxiety problems bugging him from left to right. He'd been casual, continuous in their conversation and not once had he felt like rushing Scout out of his RV. It'd been a good moment to learn and that partly due to Scout as well. The kid's open attitude wasn't hurtful at all, in fact it actually encouraged Sniper to ask questions and... just talk in general.

 

It sure felt like a boost, but simultaneously, it left Sniper wondering how long it'd be until he'd fall into his old habits again, because sadly these moments usually didn't last that long.

--

Chapter Text

It was still rather strange to be popping heads of people who were the spitting image of your teammates, but he knew once he'd get over that whole clone barrier it'd become easier and easier to participate during the battles. Right now he was still hesitant, passive, but whenever he could land a shot and send another BLU through respawn, he wouldn't let that slide past him. Sniper knew from past experiences that it wouldn't take him awfully long to see his targets as well... targets, but right now he couldn't help that hesitant itch as he watched the unlucky bastard at the other end of his scope.

 

Stupid, stupid, he knew that already. But he was trying to put some sort of faith in the people around him, tried to humanize them all and feel as though he had actually become a part of this group, but simultaneously having to put out all their lights wasn't helping that mental picture. To Sniper, there was this fine line between friends and enemies right now, surely with these Spy's snooping around, and having to fight against, yet work together with the same people was really messing up that sense.

 

He pulled the trigger right as the BLU Demo made his way to blow Soldier out of his socks, stopping him in his wake with one simple bullet. A clean and clear shot, a headshot of course. The man fell to his knees, giving Scout, Pyro and Soldier the chance to make a dash for the other base and go get the BLU intelligence with Demo quickly following them. That was going to be a simple two - zero soon. Surely with the entire offense party to ruff them up.

 

Plucking a new bullet from his vest, Sniper's attention sparked as the enemy Pyro had managed to corner Medic after having dealt with Heavy first. With nimble fingers the marksman reloaded his rifle, but right as his bullet punctured a hole into Pyro's leather mask, Medic's clothes had already caught on fire and since there wasn't anyone around and the resupply room was a good five minutes away, Medic was left to burn to death.

 

Sniper slightly flinched at the sight, already feeling his own skin bubble and burn by just watching the German until the screaming stopped and he dropped dead right at the feet of his previous foe. But he wasn't dead, Sniper reminded himself, this was yet another problem for respawn to fix. Quite the nifty system, really, yet somewhere Sniper was glad he hadn't had to go through it yet. Surely not after some peculiar things the others had told him.

 

He'd asked Scout about it yesterday during dinner, but all he'd gotten from him was a dismissive shake of his head and a monologue on how it was absolutely nothing to worry about and that it left him cold despite what others said. Soldier had claimed that it left this frigid feeling in his chest and Engineer had reported a darkness he couldn't quite shake, but not Scout. The runner was so... boastful about it, it nearly looked fake, but what did Sniper actually know about that? He shouldn't be making assumptions, if that whole respawn experience went as smooth as water off a ducks back for Scout, he shouldn't be doubting that. He was glad the kid had such an easy time with it, really.

 

Another gunshot cracked loudly through the air as now the BLU Soldier smacked with his chin into the ground, dead. He'd been chasing the two remaining parts of offense, Scout and Pyro, as they carried the enemy intelligence towards the RED base. Though as Pyro went to fight off the BLU Demo who'd returned from respawn with a thirst for revenge, a similar gunshot was heard, yet this time it didn't belong to Sniper. Well, not to the RED sniper.

 

His heart dropped ten feet as he watched Scout crashing right into the sandy soil. Given the speed Scout was running at, it really was no surprise he'd fallen the way he did. But after examining the sight a bit closer, Sniper noticed that Scout wasn't dead yet. Instead of a lethal shot to the chest or head, Scout had been shot through the knee, making him grit his teeth and grasp one hand around the wound, while the other dragged him closer towards the enemy intelligence with the last bits of strength his body possessed. Pyro had staggered off too far to notice Scout's immense struggle and Sniper, being where he was, all he could offer was some cover if he were even able to find the BLU sniper.

 

He sought high and low, thinking off every spot he, himself, would hide to land such a shot, but sadly, as a second gunshot pierced their ears, Sniper knew he was too late. Moving his sights again, the picture of Scout's dead corpse draped over the BLU intelligence greeted him.

 

"Bloody hell..." He whispered to himself, completely hit by the realisation that the BLU sniper really was some sort of animal. He had no business shooting Scout through the knee first. That would only be a waste of bullets, solely meant to play with his victims and watch them write in agony. It made him sick thinking about it, surely because until the last seconds before his temporarily end, Scout hadn't given up. Even with blood oozing out of him and a restraint ability to walk, Scout would rather drag himself across that battlefield than to give up. Within less than a minute, the BLU sniper had killed that fierce fire within the kid and that wasn't fair.

 

He wouldn't give up either, Sniper figured. Even with Scout about to be spit out by respawn, the other Sniper could still pay for targeting the runner like he was nothing more than easy prey. Acting as if he was some sort of God and everyone walking the battlefield beneath his feet had to bow down to him. Shooting Scout through his knee had been a way to scare off everyone close enough to see it, though not Sniper. He wasn't exactly scared of this prick, he was more annoyed than anything.

 

Nothing new.

 

Not one thought of hesitation crossed the marksman's mind as he ever so carefully scoured the land below him. Inch per inch he looked for that one BLU uniform hiding somewhere like the coward he knew he was, only to get some gratification out watching the life leave his eyes after that bastard had been tormenting his teammates like that.

 

Eventually, Sniper saw something moving in the corner of his eye. It hadn't been anything more than a simple move of his arm or some shifting on his feet to get into a better position for a shot, but it had been more than enough for Sniper to spot him. For a single moment, an ice-cold feeling settled in his gut, slightly anxious at the thought that the BLU sniper might have spot him first, but as the enemies rifle went off and another RED dropped dead, Sniper knew he was safe.

 

Somewhere it really was unsettling. As his laser pointer silently slid down the identical slouch hat and between the BLU sniper's eyes, it felt no better than staring down a mirror. Going from the grey colour of his eyes to the scar on the left side of his face after a knife fight gone wrong, every detail that made him into himself was present. Even the outfit was the spitting image of his own, besides the blue colour of course. It was terrifying to say the least, watching this other version of himself grinning at every shot he landed, yet it also triggered this whisper in the back of his head telling Sniper to shoot him.

 

It had been his original plan to send the BLU sniper through respawn, but he noticed that his intensions now were different from the intensions he'd originally started this search with. At first there'd been revenge on his mind, but now that was dwindling away and a whole new feeling was there to take its place. Watching him a minute longer, Sniper realised that he wanted to shoot him, not because of all the commotion he was stirring up within the RED team, but because of the commotion he was causing in Sniper's head.

 

He wanted him dead, because he hated him.

 

His jaws were aching from unknowingly clenching them together and the way his eyes were pierced sparked the beginning of a headache, but those factors weren't outstanding enough to distract him from these upsetting thoughts. Even with the remarkable difference in personalities, this was still himself he was looking at. The excuse of other teammates having to kill their own versions as well was faltering now, because Sniper was rather convinced you weren't supposed to be having these thoughts while doing it. You shouldn't be thinking about anything really, but he was and he honestly couldn't stop.

 

His finger curled around the trigger with more confidence, his sights following every move his target made while his mind spilled out one reason after the other to end him. Every motive was striking enough, but as the mishap that got him fired all those months ago surfaced between the rest, he couldn't be quicker in pulling the trigger.

 

The bullet whizzed through the air until it met its target, instantly killing the BLU sniper and dropping him to the ground like a lifeless ragdoll.

 

It wasn't difficult for Sniper to see his targets as targets, that was pure professionalism. But he didn't see the BLU sniper as his victim, he saw that bastard as himself. A conscious decision that should have shaken him up a bit, should've served as a warning sign that not everything was fine, but instead, it left Sniper surprisingly cold.

**********************

The battle had been just as draining as it'd been yesterday. After having that little stand down with himself, Sniper hadn't been subtle about targeting the BLU sniper and by now he was pretty certain the guy was very much onto him. Twice he'd nearly been beheaded, but every time the BLU sniper tried to get some sort of revenge, Sniper somehow knew to be just that tad bit quicker.

 

He wasn't distracting himself from the actual battle, keeping the BLU sniper busy like that had proven to be a great help for the others. As long as that prick wasn't there to shoot the person carrying the BLU intelligence, there'd be a remarkably higher chance of actually getting it back to base than whenever he was there to fuck shit up.

 

Still, he'd prefer not to think about that right now. He could give himself three thousand reasons on why it was a good, cause-helping thing to eliminate the BLU sniper, deep down inside he knew the actual reason why exactly he'd become the marksman's personal bulls eye. Sniper was already exhausted enough with things being the way they were, all he wanted to do was retreat to his camper and relax as much as his mind would allow him to.

 

Nursing the soreness in his neck, he wondered what would be more beneficial right now; a nap or some coffee? He figured coffee was the better option since naps left him so irritatingly drowsy afterwards and don't even get him started on that vile taste in your mouth once you wake up.

 

Not that the bitter taste of coffee was so much better, but whatever.

 

Though as quick as that decision was mentally made, this friendly reminder whispered at him that he'd run out of grounds yesterday and that the only way he'd get coffee now is if he went into the base and made some there. That piece of information sure made him hesitate for a moment and sigh rather deeply. It wasn't exactly that he purposely tried to avoid the others, his intensions were truly the stark opposite of that, really, but he also knew that if he went in there for something that should take less than eight minutes, he was bound to be there for at least half an hour. Besides the grouchy bastard that was Spy, these people were jovial and most importantly... sociable and the second they caught a glimpse of Sniper, they tried to strike up a conversation with him.

 

And he really appreciated that, it was nice to see people trying to include him for once, but right now he was a bit too tired to socialize himself. That... really made him sound like an asshole, but he couldn't help having feelings like that sometimes.

 

Still, he was a grown man! He couldn't avoid getting something because he wasn't feeling like socializing. Avoiding going to the store because of social anxiety was what got him in this situation in the first place, it was bad enough already. 'Come on mate, this is getting pathetic.' Sniper thought.

 

His course changed and soon Sniper found himself walking towards the base instead of his camper, constantly telling himself that if any of the others wanted to talk, he'd just nod a few times, smile and that would be that. They wouldn't see him as the asshole he felt he was and it wouldn't ruin his chances on being liked by these people.

 

These idiotic strategies always felt like a noose around his neck, stringing him up and giving him limited space to do other things in case it was needed. Sniper wasn't a person to be or to do casual, because he simply couldn't. If he didn't mentally prepare himself to get into a conversation with someone it was bound to become the train wreck of the century. Even if people just greeted him without further intensions for a talk. If the marksman was off into his own little world, his reactions were beyond anything normal. It sucked, it really fucking sucked. It made him anxious and annoyed and made him wonder if he even knew how to be a functioning member of society. So fucking frustrating.

 

Maybe that's why he'd been so proud of himself for yesterday. Scout had visited without a single notice and throughout the entire time the runner had sat on that couch while letting his mouth run, Sniper had actually felt... normal. Same went for Sunday when they'd made up and went on to have a normal conversation afterwards during dinner with no awkward pauses and not one moment in which no one knew what to talk about.

 

Okay, maybe that was partially because of Scout's ability to talk to a wall and make it interesting, but it still counted! Sniper hadn't been that calm around another person ever since his parents died, which was rather surprising given that Scout's personality was in fighting contrast with his own.

 

As he wrecked his brain over that thought, Sniper turned the doorknob of the backdoor to let himself into the base, only to have someone bump right into his chest as he did so. It didn't send him flying backwards, didn't make him shift on his feet, but it sure was startling enough to drag Sniper back to reality.

 

"Oh shit, 'm so sorry!" Scout rapidly apologized, looking rather distracted himself. The tone in his voice was borderline distraught and his expression only changed when his eyes met Sniper's and he finally seemed to realize who he'd just bumped into. "You!" He blurted out, though silencing quickly afterwards. "'m sorry, I - I was just lookin' for ya."

 

"Wot's wrong?" The marksman was surprised that he'd managed to pick up that something was bothering Scout, he usually was painstakingly blind towards things like that, and even more surprised that he actually wanted to know what, but it wasn't exactly a scavenger hunt to see that Scout wasn't feeling too well. The runner's expression was far different from the ones he usually wore.

 

Scout looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was in earshot to hear this, before turning back and nervously biting his lip. "Teddy escaped an' - an' I can't find 'em anywhere. I - I dunno what the hell to do or where to look an' 'm so sorry to bother ya with this, but can ya please help me look?"

 

It was happening again. This was about the second time Scout showed right up and unintentionally messed with his plans, but he found his previous mindset about his afternoon plans quickly tilting seeing the runner's distressed expression. The kid was possibly stressing out of his mind about this, which Sniper managed to understand somehow and even though he knew little to say to possibly comfort Scout, he felt he really couldn't turn him down. That cat meant a lot to him, Sniper could tell and he wasn't about to make up some lame excuse on why he couldn't help if he was perfectly able to.

 

"Ya don't have to if ya can't or don't wanne, I mean he's ma responsibility after all, but you're the only person who even knows he exists an' there's just too much ground for me to cover on ma own an- an-"

 

"I'll help ya." Scout's endless commentary stopped dead in its tracks as Sniper agreed to help. His eyes grew impossibly big and this relieved expression relaxed his furrowed brow, the panic slowly slipping off of his face.

 

"Really? Ya - ya don't have to if ya don't wanne though, promise I'll understand." Last Saturday was probably sitting freshly in Scout's mind now, cautious he wouldn't force Sniper into that same position or push just a little bit too far. Seeing the kid taking that quirk into consideration and actually keeping in mind what had gone wrong the last time to adept that now, Sniper truly was convinced that Scout wasn't near as bad as he thought he was when he first met him. The kid seemed to be trying to keep up with Sniper's troubled ass without even knowing how truly horrible it was at times, he didn't need to do that, yet he did.

 

"No seriously, I'll help. But err... think it's best if ya calm down first, Scout, better to search with a clear head. It'll help ya think."

 

"Oh jeez, 'm so sorry." He shook his head, yet again haphazardly apologizing and looking rather ashamed too when he did it. It did manage to strike Sniper seeing him like that, it sure was an entire different side to the runner, another layer he hadn't seen yet.

 

"That's okay, mate. No need to apologize, it's foine." Sniper offered as some sort of comfort, though knowing it wouldn't do shit. He'd stolen that line from his mother anyway. Ever since he was little, Sniper had developed this strange habit of apologizing a million times over for all sorts of different things. Even for situations that were entirely out of his power and sadly he'd always carried that habit with him, even now as a thirty-six year old adult.

 

Though much to Sniper's surprise, his words did seem to mean something to Scout. The runner finally took a deep breath and even managed to work up a smile as he looked back up. He was slowly collecting himself and managed to relax a bit. "Alright so... I was thinkin' that it's better if I'd check 'round the base an' maybe even on the battlefield 'cos 'm quicker, no offense."

 

"No offense taken." Scout was right after all and that quick and quirkily response managed to spread Scout's smile into a full one. Yet again he'd grant himself a mental point for
that.

 

"An' if you'd just look inside the base some more, one o' us has to fine 'em, right?"

 

"'course. Reckon he didn't go far, he doesn't really got a reason to an' besoides, cats usually return to their homes."

 

"Let's freakin' hope he didn't go far! There's nothin' but miles o' barren dessert 'round us." Right now, Sniper really wished he knew better things to say besides these common, basic comfort lines. But hey, actions speak louder than words, right? So as long as he helped the runner, Sniper was convinced Scout would get the message. "Anyway, again thank ya so much for helpin' me, man, you're the best."

 

"Don't worry about it, mate. Good luck searchin', but 'm convinced we'll find 'em."

 

He watched Scout nodding his head as he stepped away, answering a last: "Yeah, you too!" before breaking into a jog and disappearing behind a corner.

 

This didn't sound like too difficult of a task. All Sniper had to do was search the base and hope Teddy would be hiding out somewhere close. He could do that. Not knowing the base's layout didn't exactly play into his advantage, but he figured it would be rather self explanatory, how difficult could a building be designed?

 

Well, extremely apparently.

 

For a guy who's been living in an RV for the past years of his life, two hallways crossing each other was already confusing beyond belief. After politely sitting through a few greetings from some of his colleagues, he'd started off at the place where Engineer had told him to find Scout's room. Down the hall three doors to the left, but from there onwards it felt more like searching a maze than an actual building where people live their lives every day. How could anyone find anything of this logical? How, for the love of God, could anyone find their way through this mess if every single hallway looked the exact same or if some spots barely had enough light to see three inches before your feet and holy shit were those stairs to a basement?

 

This Godforsaken place was looking more like a bunker by the minute than it was looking like a home and by this point Sniper had worked himself into such a knot, he wasn't even sure how to get out anymore. So far for thinking he had any orientation skills.

 

Though as he hopelessly turned another corner, Sniper swore he caught a glimpse of something black and little pattering down the hallway. It was quick, because before he could even realise what he'd just witnessed it was gone again.

 

That must've been Teddy, it had to be. Well, it could have also been a rat. With this building looking the way it did, it wouldn't surprise him.

 

Still, he decided to go the exact direction he'd watch that little shadow run off to. No harm in checking it out, even if it was a rat.

 

Quickening his pace, Sniper followed it around two more corners and through even more confusing hallways before it came to a stop at a heavy looking dark grey door. Now that it had finally ceased its walking, Sniper could determine that he hadn't been chasing a rat for the past seven minutes and that the obvious cat brushing its cheek against the wall was indeed the same cat he'd seen being held by Scout two days back.

 

This looked like some good news alright and it would drag Scout right out of that panicked mood that really didn't quite suit him. All Sniper had to do was slowly approach Teddy and try to not have him running off again. He remembered something about luring a cat into coming your way by squatting down and holding out your hand, but before Sniper could even bend through his knees, Teddy had slipped through what little opening there had apparently been as that door had not been properly closed.

 

Oh piss.

 

He had no idea whether there was anyone in there or not, nor was he any wiser about whatever would be hiding behind that door, but judging the exterior outlook of it, Sniper guessed it wasn't anything good. It wasn't real inviting, to put it nicely, so whatever room was behind that dark grey passage way, probably wasn't a room he should be poking around in.

 

Though as he willed himself to investigate it anyway, he declared himself half insane for doing so. Fortress seemed to be piled with secrets and coded messages he, and most of the others, couldn't quite grasp and chances were he could get fired for trespassing a zone only meant for authorized people, but Teddy was also a secret, Scout's secret and he couldn't just let that be discovered because he wasn't entirely sure whether he was allowed to visit a certain area or not.

 

Besides, there was also the possibility of Scout getting fired if they find out that Teddy belongs to him and given that Scout needs this job more than Sniper does, he couldn't let that happen.

 

Teddy had left the door open a bit farther than it had originally been, making light from within the room pool into the hallway and simultaneously having Sniper believe that there was at least one person in there. Though as he took a daring look through the crack and cautiously scanned the place, he was surprised to see no one around. It gave him some sort of confidence boost as he slipped into the room as well now.

 

Scary wasn't the right word to describe the place, eerie was more fitting. From the organs neatly organized in jars on shelves against the wall to the terrifyingly real skeleton sitting in the corner of the room, this room just screamed nothing but trouble. There was an examination table in the middle of it and next to that were cupboards stuffed with medical supplies like needles, medication and even blood. Further in the room stood a large oak desk piled with papers and patches of ink, but to finish this authentic creepy look, a jar filled with eyes stood in the corner of the bureau, staring down anyone daring to show their faces.

 

This must be the Medbay. Wonderful.

 

Though he knew there was no time to be having an internal crisis over the guy who's supposed to be your medic, wondering about his mental state would be something for later. What truly mattered now, was Teddy.

 

Sniper rapidly searched the place, trying not to get distracted by every obscene thing that could possibly worry him, until his eye fell on a few bird cages at the other side of the room. That was odd, why would a doctor keep bird cages in his office? But as he suddenly heard the sound of a few pigeons chirping at each other, Sniper's brain short-circuited.

 

Teddy had probably wandered in here because he either smelled or heard those birds. He's a cat after all, hunting is a big part of his intuition. But to prevent any unnecessary deaths from happening, Sniper quickly went over to the cages only to, indeed, see Teddy on the floor staring hungrily at the white doves.

 

"Oi, ya little tosser, leave those birds alone." Upon hearing his voice, Teddy turned his head with an air of interest, reacting as if he'd actually recognized Sniper. Surprisingly he stepped away from the cage without needing too much coaxing and meowed enthusiastically at the marksman. "Yeah yeah, I missed you too." Sniper spoke jokingly to the cat as he bend down to pet his little head. "Ya did scare Scout half to death, mate. No need to go runnin' around, alroight? You're safer with 'em." Gently, while minding Teddy's reaction, Sniper picked him up. Teddy was a rather affectious cat, however, so it didn't seem to bother him to be suddenly nearly five feet in the air. "C'mon, let's get outta he-"

 

"Is zhat your cat?" Sniper's heart leaped into his throat upon hearing Medic's voice. Apparently, while Sniper was having his little chat with Teddy, Medic had entered the room. Oh, this was bad. He still had no idea whether animals were allowed or not, for all he knew these birds were merely test subjects, but he also couldn't just throw Scout under the bus here.

 

"Err... yeah, he's moine." He lied. It was easier talking to animals than it was to humans, sadly, as he tried answering Medic the stuttering and mumbling returned all the same. "Sorry for wanderin' in here. Was an accident, really."

 

A silence fell, a silence where Medic did little else besides examining both Sniper and Teddy from top to bottom. His stare was probably the most petrifying thing in this entire room. Being so intense, Sniper felt a bit violated by it.

 

"Zhat is okay."

 

"W-wot?"

 

"I said zhat it is okay. Just make sure he does not get to meine birds next time zhis happens." That went a whole lot easier than Sniper had expected and given that Medic called those doves 'his birds' and he wasn't kicking up a fuss about Teddy, it was pretty obvious that animals were allowed at base.

 

Nodding his head, Sniper walked towards the door, expecting that that had been the conversation. He'd already realised that Medic probably missed a few marbles or that he had just as poor social skills as Sniper had by their previous encounters, but that opinion got only driven home more when Medic spoke up moments before Sniper left the room.

 

"You are a smoker, correct?"

 

"Y-yeah."

 

"You know zhat smoking heightens the chances on getting cancer in your lunges, stomach, bladder, kidneys, liver, pancreas and intestines, right?"

 

"No." Sniper muttered which earned a soft tittering laugh from Medic as he pushed his round glasses back into position with a single finger.

 

"Vell, now you do. You should really consider breaking zhat habit, it is very unhealthy."

 

"I'll err.. I'll think about it." No he wasn't, but he had absolutely no idea how to end this slow and awkward conversation. At least Teddy didn't seem to get annoyed, he'd already made himself comfortable in Sniper's arms, now spinning contently against the marksman's chest.

 

After a moment longer of just that, Sniper decided to disappear back into the hallway, not really caring where he was going to, just as long as he was far away enough from the Medbay in case Medic wasn't done lecturing him. Though despite that slightly painful conversation at the end, this chase proved not to be as fruitless as Scout had probably thought it was. Here Teddy was, happily and lovingly brushing his snout against Sniper's shoulder, alive and well and kicking.

 

Scout was going to be so happy and Sniper couldn't believe he'd be responsible for that. Instead of putting a worrying frown on the runner's face, it'd be an actual smile and the thought of that caused for some pre second hand happiness to course through the marksman. Painting a faint smile on his face as he continued patting Teddy's head.

 

Now if only he knew his damn way through this building, that would be wonderful, thank you.

 

Luckily for Sniper, dinner time was nearing and most of his team members were gathering together and loudly talking. Loud enough for him to pick up their voices and use that as some sort of navigating system. If he couldn't rely on orientation, then it was about damn time to start using his other senses to get out of there.

 

Demoman was giving some wacky speech about the horrible state of the showers and the more intelligible it got, the closer he knew he was getting and before long Sniper found himself back at that same door with that same winged shoe where he'd started this search maybe an hour ago.

 

Scout wasn't there yet, the kid was probably still running the feet from underneath himself searching for Teddy. Something about Scout's behaviour when he came asking for Sniper's help was still so unreal to him. It was as if Scout had opened up to Sniper a little without even knowing it himself, without being aware of these emotions. His talking had been twice as rushed as it usually was and the constant apologizing for nearly nothing lead Sniper to believe that he and Scout weren't so different after all.

 

Perhaps that's why he was putting so much effort into this. Who knew.

 

"Jesus fuck, ya actually found 'em!" Quick footsteps gave away Scout's sudden arrival and as Sniper looked up from the cat in his arms, the most lively blue eyes and the widest grin possible met him. "Holy shit, where did ya find 'em?" Scout asked amazed as he took Teddy from Sniper and hugged the living daylights out of him.

 

"Found 'em in the hallway near the Medbay, had to follow 'em in there too."

 

"Did Medic see ya?"

 

"Yeah, but no need to worry. Told 'em Teddy was moine just in case it'd become a problem, but 'm pretty sure animals are allowed though." Something in Scout's expression lit up when Sniper told him the lie he'd told Medic, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

 

"Really? How so?"

 

"Medic has some birds of his own and he wasn't actin' difficult about Teddy besoides the fact that he should leave his birds alone."

 

A single burst of laughter escaped Scout, doing a poor job at concealing his enthusiasm even though he didn't have to. "Oh man, that's great news! Now I ain't have to feed 'em leftovers anymore an' he can leave ma room an' stuff. Thanks Snipes, you're a real lifesaver, y'know?" Every time he heard that rather charming variant of his codename, Sniper couldn't help but wonder much more about it than he really should. No matter how many times he told himself how dumb or silly it was, he really wanted to know what the story behind that mishap was and as he watched Scout gently talking to Teddy and cradling him in his arms, now would be a good time to ask about it.

 

"Ya know that ya pronounce my name wrong, roight?" A sudden silence fell and so did Scout's expression upon hearing Sniper's question. His eyes were searching the marksman's countenance for any indication that he might be joking, but sadly that wasn't there at all. Soon, as maybe five minutes passed, Scout's brow shaped into pure compassion with a sniff of confusion, looking not entirely convinced of the act, as if someone was trying to prank him.

 

"It's - it's a nickname, man... I know how to properly pronounce your name." It felt like ages passed by as he listened to Scout replying to this, in hindsight, ridiculous question. He was such a fucking idiot, he knew this, he knew that it was probably meant as a nickname, yet he still went all out of his own way to make a damn fool out of himself.

 

Never had he felt more like curling up in a corner and dying than he did right now, but besides the highly humiliating sputtering for a reply he'd been momentarily doing and that one very uncharacteristic laugh that'd just escaped him, Sniper was really trying not to show his embarrassment here.

 

"That... hah... that was a stupid question. S - sorry about that. That was rather daft, it err... it really... really was.. and-" If he could just shove his foot down his throat and swallow it down and finally just shut the hell up, that would be nice, but over explaining and rambling on until this painful moment would end was simply Sniper's best and only strategy to handle these kind of things. Though as he suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder and he looked up only to see this comforting smirk on Scout's face, he finally ceased that nonsense.

 

"Hey, that's okay man, don't worry 'bout it. It's fine, ya can't know everythin'. I mean, I hadn't been real clear 'bout it, either. It's totally okay." Watching Scout's countenance, somewhere Sniper felt like Scout actually meant that, well he really liked to believe that Scout actually meant that because it made him feel a million times better about his little
mess up.

 

But this also meant that someone had actually thought about him long enough to determine that he was worth giving a nickname. Even if it wasn't anything more than changing up the last letter of his name, that was still effort, effort that was put into him and positively too, to top it off. That was absolutely ape-shit crazy, honestly.

 

He smiled at the thought and couldn't get himself to stop.

--

Chapter Text

Target in sight. Edward Cox, forty-two year old white male. A lawyer accused of fraud and shamelessly stealing away thousands of dollars from his clients while putting little to no effort into his defences. Caused multiple people to go bankrupted and was let go after finding a procedural mistake in his own trial. Very hated.

 

The sky was dark, the streets were empty and the clock neared the late hour of ten-thirty pm as Mundy was stood outside, leaning his back against the wall while smoking. It was eerily silent as he every so often looked up, waiting for that one person to exit the building.

 

This was going to be an easy job and Mundy had been watching this guy long enough to know his daily patterns by heart. Any moment now, mister Cox could leave this bar only to return to his office and stay there until the buzz from his previous drinking was over and he was sober enough to return home, making Mundy suspect that he had some sort of family waiting for him. Though he'd rather not think like that.

 

He couldn't afford to think like that, this was his job after all.

 

Mundy knew exactly where his office was and where to be to get a perfect view of it too. It was a waterproof plan like always and days of planning and observing had now boiled down to a waiting game that was really starting to bore the crap out of Mundy. He'd nearly run out of cigarette's too and if this prick waited any longer in that cheap bar, the marksman was going to freeze his goddamn balls off.

 

Though as Mundy was busying thinking himself into a bad mood, the door of the bar flew open and mister Cox exited the building. His pace was a bit rushed, but nothing to worry Mundy. He had to wait before following him anyway, else he'd risk being spotted.

 

Watching him rush down the street, Mundy crushed the remainder of his cigarette underneath his boot before shadowing his eyes with his hat and following his target. He knew to stay back, knew to hide in the shadows a bit while following, but as he did exactly that, he noticed that mister Cox was on the phone, having a rather heated debate with God knows who. Even from this far, Mundy heard him growl into his phone, but any of the actual words got lost within the distance.

 

He figured it didn't really matter, whatever they were fighting about, in about half an hour maybe there'd be a bigger problem than a little family drama or some trouble with a colleague and in case it was someone threatening him for the hell Cox's send some people into, Mundy was about to solve that anyway. Having Cox on the phone made secretly following him so much easier anyway, he was distracted enough to not notice a thing.

 

After walking for a good ten minutes and being lead into a much more crowded part of the city, the building where Cox's office were located drew closer and closer. But instead of following him in there, Mundy took a left and entered an entirely different building. There he climbed the stairs up to the fifth level and walked down the red carpeted hallway of a hotel that stood across from mister Cox's office. He unlocked the door to the room he'd rented with a fake name and fake identity, for the soul reason to land this shot and get the hell out of there. An escape route for once shit hit the fan was prepared an everything. From the second that bullet left his rifle, Mundy would pack up and use the fire escape to get to his RV and leave the city without getting caught.

 

Waterproof, it was waterproof.

 

Nothing could go wrong.

 

He'd done this so many times before.

 

Upon the bed laid a black case. The inside was lined up with a soft, midnight-green, fabric, carefully holding his sniper rifle and keeping it safe and hidden away while travelling. It was meant to look like a guitar case from the outside, to keep any existing suspicion on a minimal whenever he brought it into a hotel room.

 

With the weight of comprehension crushing him, Mundy removed the rifle from the case and held firmly onto it, taking a deep breath before walking towards the window that looked out over a busy street and right into the office of the criminal Edward Cox.

 

These moments were always the weirdest. Somewhere inside himself this last sense of moral tried to claw its way to the surface and give Mundy four million reasons on why this was a bad thing, but over the years he'd gotten better at suppressing that feeling, telling himself that whoever he was about to shoot, was, in fact, a bad person.

 

He'd ruined lives, robbed people, rubbed their faces in it and got away with it too. All that, without a goddamn scratch.

 

But Mundy was about to ruin lives as well, wasn't he? After all, mister Cox probably did have a family.

 

A family yes, who's name had been dragged through the mud and left a foul taste in everyone's mouth who dared to pronounce it. With the source of the problem gone, the family might have a chance for redemption.

 

Though there was no saying whether that was actually true or not, hell Mundy wasn't even sure if this asshole would even leave anyone behind. What if he has children? What if he's the only one providing for them?

 

With everything he's done, perhaps any possibly existing children would be better off without a role model as such, imagine what would come of them if this is what they grew up with? He was doing them a favour if he really thought about it. Yeah.. a favour.

 

Everything was fighting and no matter what Mundy would chose to do, everything would just keep on fighting inside his head. It didn't matter, however, not at all. He was here to do one thing and he knew that. No matter how hard he tried to convince himself that this was wrong, that he was just as guilty as the people meeting their end, it didn't fucking matter. This was his job and it has been for seventeen years. His place in hell was long reserved, there was no going back.

 

Mundy opened the window and sat down on a stool which original purpose was to sit at that useless desk on the other side of the room. He'd never understood why hotels had those, seemed more like a waste of space than anything if you asked him.

 

Placing the barrel of his rifle on the windowsill, Mundy carefully aligned his sights with the window on the other side of the street. He looked around the well-lit room as best as he could, trying to make sure no one else was with him, surely because he caught the guy's lips moving and either that indicated someone being in the same room or him talking to himself as Mundy had seen Cox do a lot.

 

Everything seemed clear, however. Cox was now faced with his back towards Mundy, who's scope was slowly creeping towards the back of the man's head. He took a steadying breath, holding it and shutting his mind off for this split second where he'd run on pure auto-pilot. His finger curled and uncurled around the trigger, eventually latching on when he was content with his sight, knowing there was no way in hell he'd miss this one. He held his breath again, awaiting for this one moment where he'd be as still as a statue only to, eventually, squeeze the trigger.

 

Though right as the bullet sped out of his gun and before it'd put Edward's lights out, Cox stepped away, causing it to miss its original target and making its way to hit someone entirely different. Someone Mundy hadn't seen, someone who'd been hidden away behind Cox up until this very last moment.

 

As Mundy watched in petrifying shock how the bullet penetrated the other person, a loud screaming suddenly overwhelmed him. It couldn't be from Cox or someone who'd actually witnessed it happening because they were all too far away. This screaming was blood curdling, loud and so immensely painful. As if someone had grabbed a megaphone, held it next to Mundy's ear and then proceeded to stab themselves to death.

 

He dropped his rifle as his hands went to cover his ears. Gritting his teeth and clenching his jaw, he tried so hard to silence the unforgiving sound. Sadly, however, it didn't do much, leading Mundy to believe that the screaming came from deep inside his own head.

 

It didn't stop, it wouldn't stop, he was completely trapped and soon he'd fallen from that stool, writhing on the floor and trying to curl in on himself. It hurt, every inch of his body felt like it was on fire, making this psychotic fit ten times more unbearable. He didn't know what to do. He did not know what to do. His chest was aching, his heart was racing and somewhere, deep inside himself, Mundy actually believed he was going to die.

 

This was never going to end. Never.

 

It hurt so badly, he couldn't stand it any longer.

 

The screaming continued, continued, continued. Soon he'd be deaf.

 

His whole entire body was shivering, everything was so painful.

 

What had he done?

 

Like a drowning man, Sniper gasped for air as he shot up in his bed and clutched his shirt right where he felt his heart was about to beat out of his chest. His blankets were curled around his legs and the rather sizeable rip in his pillowcase gave away that he'd been unconsciously clawing at it during his dream.

 

He tried to resurface as best as he could, tried to get himself out of that dream as fast as possible. But he still heard echoes of that horrible, horrible scream, still remembered what he'd done. It was becoming too much, too overwhelming and all Sniper knew to do was run a hand through his hair and try to bite away the few tears that were forming at the corners of his eyes. He could try all he wanted though, still one or two sobs managed to escape him.

 

His throat felt thick and dry as he buried his face into his hands and, just like in his dream, curled in on himself out of pure misery. Every part of him was hurting, his muscles felt stiff and blood was rushing through his ears. His heart was still banging like crazy, hammering against his chest as if it tried to escape him.

 

They were both out of luck, however, there was no escaping this horrible person.

 

It was three am in the morning. After falling asleep at twelve, this was all the sleep he'd get tonight. He was too shaken up by what just happened to even think about it, right now he honestly never wanted to sleep again. Surely not when his mind was capable of creating such atrocities.

 

He was sweaty, worked up and he felt like pure shit. He was worn-out, empty and tired of everything around him.

 

One factor had changed, only one. How was he supposed to know he'd move? How was Sniper ever supposed to know there was another person with him? How was he supposed to know things would go so awfully wrong?

 

He wasn't, but that didn't matter. He was fucked, fucked and forced to life with this trauma until the guilt would completely tear him apart and literally kill him.

 

It was so fucking unfair.

**********************

Trying to stay properly focused was so damn difficult with only three hours of sleep to keep you on your feet. Now, Sniper had rested enough the past few days to fall back on that, but still. He wanted the battle to be over, already.

 

It was Friday and up until now RED had dominated BLU every single day... except for yesterday, so now everyone tried to make up for that loss which had been such a close call, it was nauseating. And somewhere Sniper felt he was partly to blame for that.

 

Yesterday had been his first time going through respawn. When the end of the battle was nearing the BLU sniper had finally managed to get his revenge, shooting Sniper right through the throat. It was a messy shot, one that really shouldn't have landed, but it did and it had thrown Sniper right into this cold and dark abyss and it had taken way too long to get him out of it too, in his opinion.

 

Once opening his eyes and awakening back in that overly white room, Sniper felt shaken up to say the least. His hands were trembling and he'd felt like throwing up, making him unusable for the remainder of the battle. Not once did he manage to shoot someone afterwards. His hands had been shaking too violently and as the BLU scout rushed back to their base with the RED intelligence, he failed to take him out, sealing BLU's victory for that day.

 

It was a stupid grudge to hold against himself, surely because no one of the others had blamed him for their loss, but he couldn't really help it. It was the more logical thing to think anyway.

 

And besides, he remembered following the BLU scout with his scope, waiting until he was in the perfect position to be shot and feeling rather hesitant while doing it. He just looked so much like Scout, well it was basically Scout running down there and as he was about to try and land this kill, he couldn't stop thinking about the runner's laugh or the way his eyes wrinkled in amusement whenever he smiled.

 

The shot missed by just a few inches due to the trembling of his hands, but he wasn't entirely sure whether that was the only reason or not and that was bad. He couldn't let a friendship mess with his work, that was unbelievably unprofessional.

 

You can't make murder personal, you can't make a war personal. That's just not how this works.

 

Sniper was too deep in thought to notice the smell of smoke suddenly surrounding him, his brain registering it as his own cigarette, even though he wasn't even smoking. He continued looking down the battlefield, meanwhile painstakingly unaware of the intruder infiltrating his nest until he felt a single hand on his shoulder and heard a smug, French accented voice speak right into his ear.

 

"You should really pay more attention, dear Sniper." The BLU spy chuckled. "Better luck next time." A stinging pain spread from between his shoulder blades all throughout his body, darkening his vision quickly before he was surrounded in that same darkness as yesterday, his whole entire being engulfed by cold.

 

He couldn't move, the air around him filled with distended gunshots and yelling, meanwhile the pain in his back subdued and surprisingly, this calm fell over him. The feeling was welcoming and very appreciated, surely after the horror that was this morning. The sounds disappeared and then nothing remained. Sniper still felt his body, knew he wasn't dead, but it sure felt like that for a couple of minutes. Nothing was bugging him, even his mind decided to take a rest and everything was just... peaceful.

 

Then he woke up.

 

Light hit him like a brick, his breathing reflex picked back up and his head started to spin. Sniper felt like throwing up again, sealing his mouth with a single hand just in case. Though as quick as that feeling had bestowed upon him, just as quick did it disappear again. His hands weren't trembling as violently as they were doing yesterday, in fact, they weren't at all. The only thing slightly bothering him was the fact that the spot between his shoulder blades that'd been assaulted by Spy's knife felt a bit stiff, but furthermore he could firmly confirm that he was okay.

 

Seemed like he was already getting used to the notorious respawn experience, that was quick. Though he'd noticed that it was different for everyone. Some said they'd gotten used to it after Wednesday, some were still struggling with it and others had never been bothered by it in the first place, but only Heavy and Scout had ever claimed that.

 

All Sniper knew was that he wouldn't mourn the fact that he'd gotten used to it so easily, yesterday was immensely awful.

 

He rose to his feet and stretched for a moment before making a move to open the doors towards their locker room and go back to his nest. Though as he walked in there the peculiar sound of laboured, heavy breathing seriously caught him off guard. He looked around the room, trying to find the source of the troubled sound, his eyes suddenly widening as he'd found it.

 

There, against the wall, sat Scout. He was shivering all over, knees tucked close to his body and a scared expression across his features, eyes big with terror. It looked like he was going through a panic attack and simultaneously had no single idea how to handle it.

 

Luckily for Scout, Sniper had quite the experience with them.

 

He slowly approached him, minding the fact that Scout hadn't noticed Sniper at all and that big startling movements could and would only worsen his situation. He had no single idea what could have triggered this reaction in the kid and given that Scout seemed so lost himself, maybe he hadn't either.

 

"Oi, Scout." Sniper silently spoke, gently trying to get his attention that way and announce Scout of his presence. It looked like something was choking him and it sparked so much worry within Sniper. "Try to breathe calmly, alroight? In and out, real slow." The runner didn't turn his head or tried to speak up, yet he still visibly tried to follow Sniper's tip. Shakily his chest rose up and down, arms trembling around his legs.

 

Obviously something as unelaborated as that wasn't going to cut it, so Sniper sat down next to him and without really thinking about it, wrapped an arm around Scout's shoulders just like his mother used to do to him when he was still a child.

 

"Count to ten and then try to breathe again. Try to relax a bit too, I know it's difficult, but ya gotta let this tension off yourself. Ya can do this, I know ya can." He watched Scout shakily nodding his head, swallowing hard once before returning to calming himself. His breathing finally slowed down, yet the tremble in his limbs remained. Scout was gnashing his teeth together probably out of concentration, but it wasn't exactly a sign of tension leaving someone's body.

 

"Unclench your jaw. If ya keep gnashing your teeth loike that, you're gonna have a headache later."

 

"S-sorry." Scout managed. Holy fuck, Scout must be really far up in these hysterics to be muttering an apology like that. Sniper didn't want that, didn't want Scout to feel bad about being in a position like this. He couldn't help it, so he shouldn't be apologizing either.

 

"Don't worry about it, you ain't doin' nothin' wrong, Scout. Just breathe in and out, that's all ya gotta do."

 

And he did. Sniper felt Scout relaxing his shoulders and the rise and fall of his chest became steadier and steadier with every moment passing by. He blinked his eyes a few times and brought up a shaky hand to run it through his hair, the sight of that reminding Sniper of himself just a few hours back.

 

"Feelin' any better?"

 

"Y-yeah... thanks man... I - I didn't really know what to do there.." His eyes were sad looking and he didn't seem happy with himself at all. Which was understandable, somewhere, but it wasn't as if panic attacks were preventable, surely not when you're inexperienced. It did make Sniper wonder again about what the reason of it could be, but he wasn't entirely sure whether he should ask or not. Then again, if Scout didn't want to talk about it, he'd probably tell Sniper and that would be fine. He'd never force someone into speaking up, people should talk only when they're ready to do so.

 

"If ya don't moind me askin', wot happened?"

 

Scout sighed out, looking so beaten down and tired as he suddenly rested his head against the marksman's shoulder, reminding Sniper of the fact that he still had his arm around the runner and that this was starting to look more like a hug than an attempt to calm someone down. Well, even if he wasn't exactly the type to hand out random embraces, the marksman didn't really care right now. Scout had finally calmed down and apparently, felt comfortable enough to do something like that. That's all that mattered, honestly.

 

"Respawn man... i-it fucked me right over."

 

"'m sorry it did. Surely 'cause you've been havin' such an easy toime with it."

 

He shook his head, brow slightly frowned. "Nah, actually respawn has been nothin' but a horrible nightmare... I... I haven't been honest 'bout it to no one. Somewhere I knew this was gonna happen... been feelin' it creep up on me all week. I dunno why I lied 'bout respawn's effects, but I didn't want anyone to know what big o' a struggle it was... I - I ain't weak, man..."

 

"I know." The words left Sniper quicker than he'd taken the time to actually think about them, but as strange as it sounded, he knew he sincerely meant it. "Strugglin' with somethin' ain't a crime, Scout and it surely ain't somethin' worth hidin' from people who could help ya deal with it. Everyone's been complainin' about respawn, it's just a bloody nuisance."

 

"I guess... It's just... it's only this lil' part o' respawn that gets under ma skin so much an'-.." His words suddenly stopped as he quickly shook his head again, dismissing that confession within an instant. "It's dumb.."

 

"If it causes ya to react loike this, guess it ain't dumb at all." Sniper tried in an attempt to get Scout to open up again. Maybe if the runner actually talked about it, he'd feel differently next time he went through respawn. "Ya wanne talk about it, mate?"

 

"I don't even really know how to explain it.." He was tugging at the grip tape neatly wrapped around his hands, head still comfortably resting on Sniper's shoulder. "Look... you've been through respawn right?"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"So, y'know that there's this moment where all the sound starts to fade an' eventually there's nothin' but silence an' darkness an' just... that moment, man, it makes me panic so fuckin' badly. It feels like you've actually died, y'know? I mean, I know I ain't dead, I can still feel 'm alive an' all that, but ma mind just freaks the fuck out whenever I get to that point an' it sucks."

 

Sniper remembered that moment rather clearly, not because it was traumatizing, but more because it'd made him feel calm and at ease. Everything had been silent and his mind had been numb and after the last six months, that's all he could ever ask for. But as he heard Scout's view on that experience, he'd come to realize that some people aren't as in peace with the concept of death as others were, which is logical. From the moment Sniper signed up to be an assassin every day could have been his last really, but Scout had never been put in a situation like that before.

 

The kid wasn't overreacting and this was far from dumb even though he claimed it to be, he was just afraid of dying. Afraid of this lively fire within him extinguishing.

 

"I don't really know wot to tell ya besoides the fact that I can promise you ain't dyin' any time soon, but I also know that that's a rather weak thing to say. Just, keep remoindin' yourself that there's definitely a heart beatin' within ya, no matter how soilent things may get." It sounded so cheesy, as if he was straight up quoting some horribly cheap novel, but as he heard one single and soft breathy laugh, he knew Scout had gotten the message.

 

"Thanks man... really. Means a lot to me that ya did this. Ya could've walked away an' leave me to go through that on ma own, but ya didn't an' that's really awesome."

 

Sniper shook his head. "'m just glad you're feelin' better, was worryin' to see ya loike that, mate."

 

After a few heartbeats of just sitting there and relishing in a rather peaceful silence, Scout finally lifted his head from Sniper's shoulder, only to rub the remaining misery off of his face and look back at the marksman. Though as Sniper was busying himself with wedging his arm from between Scout and the wall, he didn't exactly notice the runner suddenly staring at him with a touch of worry in his eyes.

 

"Everythin' alright with ya? Ya look super tired." He hadn't expected that question, that and the look in Scout's eyes caught him a bit off guard to say the least, but what he expected even less was the fact that he saw no use in lying about it. This was by far one of the most comfortable conversations he's had in a long while, might as well keep it that way.

 

"Had a bad noight. Bloody noightmare woke me up at three, haven't slept since."

 

Scout's expression melted from worry into comprehension. Mouth quirked into half a smile and eyes softer than ever before."It's been a shit day, hasn't it?" A deep chuckle escaped Sniper as he settled his back against the wall. The kid wasn't wrong. It was probably quite the picture seeing them there together, sitting side by side, tired and defeated.

 

"Moight be true, but it's nearly over anyway. That's the good thing about bad days, you ain't gotta do 'em again. Once they're over, they're over."

 

Visible from the corner of his eye, Sniper saw a sly smile creep onto Scouts face. "So much wisdom an' yet ya barely speak up. Think this is the most you've ever said to me, y'know that?"

 

Sniper shrugged his shoulders. "Guess 'm just feelin' talkative today, praise yourself lucky, mate. This doesn't happen that often."

 

"Victory!" A shrill voice suddenly announced, interrupting their conversation. They shared a short-lived confused look before realising that, while they were sitting there, battle was still ongoing. Not much of a struggle that had seemed to be, even without Sniper and Scout, the rest had delivered enough bite to beat BLU into the ground. Though somewhere Sniper had a hunch Soldier wasn't going to appreciate their absence.

 

Well, whatever. That was another battle done and another hour closer to this damned day ending.

 

"Finally," Scout spoke as he used his knee to lever him back to his feet, turning around and offering a hand to help Sniper off the ground. "c'mon, let's get the hell outta here."

 

While the others started seeping into the locker room one by one, bloodied and euphoric, Sniper and Scout already escaped back towards base. Their walk was calm and mostly silent, but it didn't bother them. Yet after a bit, as Sniper tried to stifle a yawn, he felt Scout nudge his side.

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Y'know that durin' our entire talk, ya didn't stutter once?" Embarrassment presented itself as a cold feeling running up and down his spine, not really believing Scout had actually said that. Now, he knew he had a tendency to stutter or mutter whenever someone addressed him, but he never knew it'd been so prominent for someone to notice, or better, for someone to point out when he hadn't been stuttering.

 

"Ya wanne make me or somethin'? Ya absolute gremlin."

 

"What? I ain't sayin' that to poke fun at ya, man! 'm actually real glad."

 

"Oh, really?"

 

"Yeah! Means you're finally gettin' a bit comfortable 'round me an' I like that." Sniper just laughed as he shook his head, keeping his reacting casual. Inside his head, however, that single sentence sparked an entire cloud of thoughts. While every time Sniper had been astonished by Scout showing this 'weaker' side of himself, Scout had been equal as intrigued by Sniper's whole process of getting used to another person. It wasn't only Scout who'd been revealing layers of himself, apparently Sniper had been as well and instead of putting the other person of, Scout actually... liked it, liked the fact that Sniper was getting comfortable around him, even if it'd been a bit of a bumpy ride up until now.

 

"Yeah.. I loike that too."

--

Chapter Text

"I vill have to ask you now to remove your undervear, please."

 

He knew this moment was coming, he'd been very aware of it from the moment he'd walked in there, but even still he'd never been this unprepared for something in his life. Medic's expression made everything worse, however. It was clear as crystal that he tried to stifle some sort of smile, but being the unsubtle person Medic was, he obviously wasn't doing a good job at it. Rather unprofessional too, considering that six men before him had to drop their briefs as well.

 

Medical exams were just the absolute worst. They'd been at it for nearly two hours now, checking everything so Medic could map out a clear view of Sniper's mental and physical health and, so far, he was doing pretty good. Besides the ever so passive-aggressive comments about his smoking habit occasionally thrown in, Medic seemed to be content. His eyes were fine, his hearing was fine, his weight was okay and he was highly convinced that his blood test wasn't going to turn out anything new. All that was left was... well this. An examination of the genitals.

 

With his mind as blank as he possibly could, Sniper grabbed the waistband of his underwear and pulled it down. Straightening himself again, the marksman's eyes were straining to look at everything besides Medic as he prayed that this moment would pass and be over already. He'd much rather have a stare down with that chilling jar of eyes than risk having eye contact with Medic and never being able to look at the German the same way again. It was awkward enough as it was already, let's not try pushing it.

 

He started chewing on the inside of his cheek, taking a deep inaudible breath, only being able to stop thinking for so long. Soon he started to wonder. Wasn't this taking awfully long? How long had he been standing there with his underwear pooled around his ankles? Three, maybe four minutes? Either something was wrong or Medic was taking his sweet, sweet time for whatever reason and it was starting to make Sniper uncomfortable. How could Medic do this so unfazed and uncaring?

 

Well, it was his job after all.

 

"Alright, zhat appears to be fine." Medic suddenly spoke up, walking towards his desk to write something down and afterwards waving the pen at Sniper as he added: "You can get dressed now."

 

Those words sounded like music to his ears, a weight falling off of him knowing he'd finally get out of this irritatingly vulnerable position. He was immensely relieved yes, but he of course didn't try to show that. Calmly he slipped his underwear back on and strode towards the spot his clothes had been neatly folded up. Trousers, T - shirt and sweater, eventually busying himself with pulling his boots on as Medic continued to talk.

 

"In general, everyzhing appears to be fine." The German stared strictly down at the papers in his hands as he read his own notes. "Your eyes vere okay, hearing vas fine, lunges sounded clear... for now." He offhandedly muttered, earning a shrug from Sniper who hadn't really expected anything else. Somewhere he even believed Medic would have wanted some kind of damage because of the smoking, that way he could go all out on pressing the matter and convincing, or better said forcing, him to stop.

 

Better luck next time, Sniper was a tough cookie.

 

"Zhroat und nose vere fine, your BMI vas normal, your heart is healthy und your genitals vere... fine." There was an odd empathize on that last "fine", making Sniper nearly choke on his own spit as Medic hit him with a suggestive side glance. It'd been merely a simple two second look-over, but it had been more than enough for Sniper to notice and work himself up about it too. He didn't know what to do or say, should he have some witty comment in response? Start making dick jokes like he's got ten million of them up his sleeve?

 

Though while Sniper went into full blown panic mode in his head, Medic was ever so polite to carry on with the conversation and act like he didn't just compliment Sniper's fucking junk.

 

"So everyzhing is okay, you are healzhy und capable of continuing your job on zhe battlefield. Now, you are free to go und tell Spy to come in vhen you leave, please." He really didn't need to say that twice. The marksman was already turning on his heel, happy to leave this horrible room and the last few moments behind him. All the savvy comments Medic had been giving about how smoking was bad and bound to kill him one day were backfiring, Sniper had never felt more like smoking than he did right now. Holy shit.

 

He slipped into the hallway, seeing Spy patiently waiting for his turn and nearly feeling a bit of compassion knowing what hell the Frenchman would be walking into. Though as Spy hit him with that trademark glare, Sniper's mind totally made itself up. Fuck it, everyone had walked head first into two full hours of total quality time with Medic, so either would Spy.

 

Sniper muttered that Medic was waiting for him as he passed the Frenchman, walking further into the hallway and quickly being out of earshot for whatever insulting thing Spy had to say. He'd rather concentrate on shaking this experience off and actually still make something of this Sunday than worry about whatever unoriginal thing Spy had to offer. So he continued down the hall, his mind in all sort of places, scattered and unrefined. He was distracted, still so confused about what just happened and not really knowing whether he should laugh about it or not. He probably should, it was a joke after all. Medic has no filters, zero, so this really shouldn't surprise him this much.

 

Suddenly, however, upon hearing the starting melody of "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong gently playing somewhere, Sniper finally managed to focus on something else. That recognizable, gravelly voice softly swelled throughout the hallway, making him wonder where it exactly came from and finding himself moving towards it too. The music got louder the closer he came to a room he hadn't seen before. The door had been left open and as he looked inside all he found were a couple of couches, an old TV and an LP player. Though that wasn't exactly the thing catching his interest. There was someone actually sitting on the couch with their back faced towards the door and slumped over something in their lap.

 

Going from what little he saw of the person, it wasn't exactly difficult to realize that it was Scout wasting his Sunday afternoon on that couch, mainly because there was no one with that type of light brown hair at base. Sniper briefly wondered whether he should leave him alone or not, surely because it seemed like he was actually doing something. Then again, if it'd been the other way around Scout would come say something, it's the more polite thing to do anyway.

 

As he took a couple of steps closer to greet him, Sniper finally managed to see what Scout was actually doing. He was holding a sketchbook in one hand, while his right one deliberately moved across the paper. Carefully he sketched out one line after the other until he'd found the perfect one and bolded it out. It looked so calm, restrained and rather patient too, basically everything Scout isn't and the drawing itself wasn't anything more than a rough sketch so far, but it had Sniper looking at it in awe anyway. It was beautiful.

 

The marksman had no idea how long he'd been standing there, staring as if he'd never seen something like this before. But as Scout turned his head to take a brief look behind him, the kid nearly jumped out of his skin.

 

"Holy fuck, Snipes! Ya scared the shit outta me!"

 

"Sorry! Didn't mean to do that." Sniper rapidly apologized. His good intensions had gone right down the drain, scaring the runner out of his socks had not been a part of his plan.

 

Scout made half a turn on the couch and started looking Sniper over with a sarcastic glare while his hand clutched his shirt right where his heart's located. "How freakin' silent are you, man? I had no idea ya were standin' there. Ya really are a piece o' work Snipes, fuck." Scout was just as quick with his colourful comments as usual and his normal expressions were there to finish off the delivery, but something about the kid's energy convinced Sniper that there was something wrong and that he was actively trying to hide what. You can be as brass as you try to be, there is no mistaking the sadness once it settles within someone's eyes.

 

"I err... I didn't mean to scare ya loike that, mate." Sniper started as he walked around the couch. "Just saw you were in here and wanted to say hi, but it looked loike ya were busy so I didn't wanne bother ya."

 

"It's okay, Snipes." A rather empty smile coated Scout's face as he reassured him. "I ain't busy anyway, just.. fillin' up ma time."

 

"I didn't know ya drew."

 

Scout looked at the opened sketchbook in his lap, shrugging one shoulder as some sort of unfocused answer. "It's just a sketch." The runner scooted over so Sniper could sit down next to him. He wasn't really sure why Scout even bothered to make some space considering there were two other couches free to sit on, but it also didn't mind given that there was plenty room on this one too.

 

For a few silent moments, Sniper watched how Scout continued his drawing. He'd started lining out, giving shape to a woman's face Sniper failed to recognize, while in the background the song had changed to "La Vie On Rose". It was such a nice setting, calm and mostly easy going, but whenever Sniper drew his gaze away from Scout's drawing this absent look in the runner's eyes was there to remind him that something was most definitely not okay.

 

He'd seen Scout happy, angry, anxious and exhausted, but none of that matched to what he was seeing now. Scout was sad, actually, unmistakably sad and it was worrying to see.

 

"Somethin' on your moind?" Sniper found himself asking without consent. Oh fuck it, he'd helped Scout through a panic attack two days ago, God forbid if he wanted to know what was going on. "Ya err... ya seem a bit distracted."

 

"I do?" The answer was layered with an air of knowing exactly what Sniper meant. In truth Scout wasn't asking a question, he was confirming Sniper's believe that he was indeed feeling odd. His hand ceased drawing, a rather deep sigh escaping him as his gaze fell back to the drawing beneath his fingers. Whatever it was that had him acting this way, still seemed to bother him and the more Scout allowed himself to sag away into how he was truly feeling, the more Sniper started to worry.

 

"Did somethin' happen?"

 

"Nothin' I should be actin' so fuckin' stupid 'bout..." Scout muttered. "It's dumb, it's yet again somethin' ridiculous like it was two days ago, but fuck am I upset 'bout it."

 

"Wot happened?" Sniper was hesitant even though he felt this overwhelming need to know what was going on. He'd never been this invested in someone else's personal business, but the last two weeks had been a time full of chance, so he wasn't really that surprised anymore and besides, he'd managed to help the runner last time, maybe he could manage to do that now as well.

 

Scout looked at him shortly, chewing the inside of his cheek in thought before this little smile with more meaning than the previous one appeared on his face. "I promise that normally I ain't such a downer, man." He chuckled softly, eyes closing for a moment. "You're gonna start thinkin' 'm bitter an' grumpy all the time an' I wouldn't blame ya 'cos you're 'bout the only person who ever sees me like this. Guess, you're just easy to talk to, that's why."

 

Never had someone told him that before. Usually people's commentary about Sniper, surely when he was little, didn't explore much farther than the ever so bugging tail that he's very silent. A blessing for whenever someone had to watch him and a curse for all the teachers that ever tried him to speak up. Basically everything about his character shooed people away from trusting Sniper because he's so secluded and had always seemed to be in his own little world, so it was odd to hear Scout say that. Odd and somewhere.. pleasant.

 

"In the two weeks I've known ya, I've never considered ya to be someone grumpy or bitter and I never will no matter how many toimes you're upset about somethin'. I know you ain't that type of person and havin' a couple of bad days ain't goin' to make me think any differently."

 

"Jeez Snipes," Scout laughed more heartedly now. "I was gonna tell ya what's goin' on anyway, no need to hit me with that flatterin' analyzes." There was a lot of sarcasm underlining his words and half a roll of his eyes accompanied it too, but seeing Scout loosen up a bit did manage to lift some of Sniper's worry. It was always nicer seeing him smile than frown anyway, surely when Scout smiled because of something Sniper had said. He really liked that, also because it was mostly unintentionally.

 

Scout sighed again, lightly shaking his head and catching his bottom lip between his teeth, looking fully convinced that whatever he was about to tell him was the dumbest, most idiotic thing in this entire world. Sniper begged to differ though, it wasn't exactly a secret that Scout had a tendency to think something like that rather quickly.

 

"So like... durin' that whole medical crap thing there was this moment where Medic measured your height an' weight to like see if you got a healthy BMI or whatever, right?" Sniper nodded his head, already having a slight inkling of where this was going. "Well," Scout hesitated, repeatedly barely opening his mouth to say something only to close it again and wait. Eventually he took another deep breath and continued, hands fumbling with the fabric of his sweater. "it turns out that 'm underweight." That confession had been a difficult and heavy delivery, but once it was out the rest of the story was quick to follow. "I told Medic I didn't really understand how 'cos I sure as hell ain't starvin' myself an' I eat more than enough to, y'know, think I'd at least have a normal BMI. He told me some carp 'bout how I must have a fast workin' metabolism an' that I just need to change the way I eat to gain some weight. So he gave me like this sort o' diet to follow an' I guess I appreciate that? I mean, Medic was rather carin' 'bout it too, ain't gonna lie it was nice to see 'em act... different for once, but I dunno... somewhere I just feel... ashamed."

 

"Why's that?"

 

"I've never been strongly built or anythin', ma brother's used to call me scrawny an' lil' all the time, but actually like havin' a doctor tell ya that you're underweight an' that ya should work on it too, makes it so that ya can't hide that anymore." He'd changed his position so Scout was actually facing Sniper while talking to him. It didn't really matter though, Scout's gaze was glued to his hands anyway, unable to look at his collocutor. "I mean, I know 'm makin' a big drama outta nothin' 'cos honestly who complains 'bout bein' too thin, right? But I can't really help it. It upsets me an' I honestly don't really know why."

 

It wasn't strange at all for Scout to feel that way. No matter someone's body type, people from all sizes can feel self-conscious about the way they look. And considering Scout's normal boastful behaviour, Medic's diagnosis was a striking factor to undermine that, hands why he was so upset about it. Everyone wants to be someone, has a certain picture in their head of what they strife to be and if everything around you tells you no, you can't be that person, that is a hard pill to swallow.

 

It was a fragile case of Scout's pride taking a hit after a long time of oppressing something he already knew.

 

"I know you're overwhelmed by wot Medic told ya," Sniper spoke silently after a moment of letting that sink in. His gaze quested for Scout's now that the runner finally lifted his head to look back at the marksman. "it's understandable that you're upset after hearin' somethin' loike that surely 'cause it's always been a problem out of your power. But... there's absolutely no need to feel ashamed about yourself just 'cause a doctor told ya your underweight. I know there's this typical picture for blokes, a certain standard everyone expects ya to life by, but take a look around. Show me one person who's got muscles, isn't a little too fat or too thin and has a doable face that meets the looks of a bloody model." Scout's mouth finally cracked into a little smile, a soft burst of breath escaping him as he probably declared Sniper to be a lunatic in his head, but it was a smile so Sniper would take that as a sign that he was doing something right. "Well, spoiler alert mate, ya won't foind anyone loike that 'cause it's bloody impossible. Everyone is different and so are you. Honestly, I've never come across anyone loike ya my entoire loife and I'd hate to see someone so extraordinary feel so bad about themselves 'cause they've gotten the diagnosis of bein' underweight."

 

Watching Scout uncurl from the misery he'd put himself into the last few hours and actually perk up at Sniper's words was a true delight. The sadness previous present in his eyes finally faded and made way for some happiness and mostly relieve, as if all he actually needed was someone telling him that he was still okay.

 

"Oh man," Scout's smile only widened, cheeks turning a little crimson too. He looked flustered for whatever reason, but Sniper didn't really know why. He hadn't said anything that special, besides maybe calling him extraordinary, but that was just the truth and something Scout hopefully knew he was. "I don't freakin' know how ya do it, but ya always get me laughin' again." He took another deep breath, this one blissful and relaxing. "Thanks Snipes... I really needed to hear that. I thought I'd be fine on ma own, that's why I came down here to draw. Guess, I was wrong." He laughed.

 

"That's okay and besoides, you ain't half bad of an artist, mate. I really loiked wot ya were workin' on when I came in."

 

"This?" Scout motioned towards the drawing in his lap, the soft and friendly female face staring back from the paper. The expression on her countenance was so lively and real, as if she'd jump from that very page right into existence. "It's nothin' special, 'm just tryin' to draw some sort o' portrait of ma ma, but it still has a long way to go." Somewhere along the moment Scout had picked up his marker again. He continued to outline the drawing while they were talking, every line, every inch drawn with care and concentration even though his mind had to be in two different places at once. It was something remarkable to see, Sniper really was impressed.

 

"Reckon you're on the roight way at least, it looks amazin' already." What a stupid fucking way to word that, holy fucking sh-

 

"Thanks," Scout smiled fondly at the paper, now working on her hair and drawing every lock separately, making it look as soft as you'd imagine it to be. "I usually don't really show ma drawings to people so I don't get a lot o' feedback."

 

It was unreal to think how much their friendship had grown within the span of a week. Last week they'd been in a fight and now there they sat comfortably together and talking as if it'd never been any different. He hadn't quite imagined something like this when he was travelling to New Mexico two weeks back, hadn't pictured himself in a situation where someone liked having him around and simultaneously found Sniper easy to talk to and he sure as hell never saw himself helping someone work through a panic attack or make them feel better about themselves. Honestly, he'd never even thought it possible, surely not after they've gotten off on the wrong foot like that, but it's not because you yell at each other once that every idea of a future friendship went right down the drain.

 

"Ya moind me watchin' you draw?"

 

"Oh no! Not at all actually. Feel free man, I'd much rather have company than sittin' here on ma own anyway."

 

This was so exceptionally pleasant and rather relaxing too, making Sniper feel so at ease that for one blissful moment he wasn't thinking about his life, wasn't thinking about every reason why he doesn't deserve a friend like Scout and he sure as hell wasn't thinking about Medic's fucking comment.

 

This moment with Scout had proven to be a better stress reliever than smoking, who would have thought?

**********************

It was surprising to Sniper that when the clock struck ten pm he wasn't already locked away in his camper like basically any other night. He had no idea why now was so different than any other day, but instead of cleaning out the gun he hadn't even used today or reading something until his eyes felt droopy, Sniper found himself still at base.

 

Dinner had been served hours ago and just like Scout had said, the runner's had been slightly altered so it'd fit the diet Medic had given him. Nothing too dramatic though, it was only a few pounds he had to gain so it was manageable to include without looking as if he was eating something entirely different from the rest. Maybe that was the most important part of all, making sure no one of the others would notice and start asking questions. Right now that's the last thing Scout needed.

 

After dinner Medic had come up to Scout to make sure he had already started following the diet. Reminding him that he had to take pieces of whole-grain bread instead of regular ones, that he needed a certain amount of potatoes or had to eat beans or corn so his body would have enough carbs and starches and that if he was still planning on snacking tonight that he'd better resort to dried fruit or dark chocolate. Of course Scout had rolled his eyes and tiredly told Medic that he was doing fine and that he didn't have to worry, but you could tell that his annoyance was feigned. He unintentionally appeared very much happy to finally have a solution to this ego cracking problem.

 

"I even have to take a few o' these 'protein supplements', like Medic ain't messin' around here." They were sitting in the same spot as before, a room Engineer had defined as "the REC room". It was basically the only place in the entire base that had some sort of activity that wasn't eating, sleeping or training. One room to relax and enjoy a moment of doing nothing in their furthermore busy daily schedules.

 

"I honestly think he genuinely cares about our health and wellbein' , he just... has a weird way to show that."

 

"Well let's hope, he's our medic. The guy's just a bit socially incapable I guess, but that's okay. At the end o' the day he seems alright to me."

 

Forgetting about the medical exam for a split second there, Sniper agreed to Scout's statement. He'd already declared that Medic's social skills were even beneath his own, so whatever odd comment or story that leaves the German, it doesn't really surprise him anymore. And besides he showed to be someone really punctual and quick when it came to problem solving. He really did not mess around and that's important.

 

The TV was displaying some black and white movie Sniper didn't know, but it'd been more meant as background noise to their conversation anyway. Though halfway through it the door to the REC room opened, tearing their attention away from the TV.

 

"Hi buddy!" Scout spoke up enthusiastically, perking up too as he watched Pyro enter the room. The fire bug mumbled something in return, a greeting if Sniper had to guess, before taking a seat in one of the other couches to look at the TV. "Y'know where any o' the others are, Py?" Pyro shook their head as another string of mumbling escaped the confines of that leather mask. Sniper couldn't see how anyone could understand anything of that, but the way Scout nodded his head as he listened perplexed him. Did Scout honestly understand Pyro? "Yeah Medic an' like Heavy ain't never here, but like Demo an' Sol or Engie maybe? They're usually all passed out in here by now."

 

Pyro shrugged once before Scout reassured them it was okay. The conversation felt more like he was talking to a child than an actual grown up person, but Sniper had noticed that behaviour in his other teammates as well. Surely in Engineer.

 

"Ah, here ye two are!" Demo's charming Scottish accent suddenly filled the room, drowning out the TV completely as everyone directed their heads towards the door. There was a certain keenness radiating off of him as he was rubbing his hands together while his lips curled into a big smile. "Sol, Engie and I are goin' to play some fun drinkin' game, care to join us?" In the corner of his eye, Sniper could see that Pyro had already declared this conversation as unbeneficial to them as they went back to watching the movie. Scout, however, didn't have the reaction Sniper thought he'd have. Instead of jumping up and giving some speech on how he'd drink everyone else under the table, he actually looked like he was going to decline Demo's offer.

 

"I dunno Demo... I was actually thinkin' o' goin' to sleep in a bit."

 

"Oh c'mon twinkle toes, it'll be fun! Or are ye too much of a lightweight to handle some booze?" It was only a tease, a joke to coax Scout into playing along, but it was very ill-flavoured considering Scout's day. Demo couldn't have possibly known about that though, but Sniper knew that Scout wouldn't consider that and he honestly only saw this ending in a bad way, no matter what would happen.

 

Better to stick around and make sure Scout wouldn't hurt himself or something.

 

"N-no!" Scout sputtered, expression suddenly a whole lot darker than before. "Okay fine, I'll join your stupid drinkin' game!"

 

"That's the spirit." Demo seemed rather oblivious to the way he just unintentionally scathed Scout's pride as he turned towards Sniper to ask the same question. "Are ye joinin' too?"

 

"Yeah, I'll join."

 

"Oh that's great! C'mon mates let's go then." Sniper and Scout rose from the couch, silently following Demo into the hallway and towards the cafeteria where Soldier and Engineer were waiting with beer bottles and a stack of cards.

 

"So what are we playin'?" Scout asked as he sat down, the question sounding bitten off and borderline rude.

 

"We are playing something very easy and fun." Soldier began to explain as he dealt the cards. "Everybody gets a little stack of ten cards which will be lying on the table with the picture facing down. Now, each round everyone shows one card and whoever has the lowest has to drink."

 

"An' what's exactly fun 'bout that?"

 

"It's easy, it's fast and if yer luck is bleedin' bad it'll get ye drunk quickly." Demo seemed rather enthusiastic, but his explaining had been more worrying than anything to Sniper. This was going to be one big shit show, Sniper knew that. Considering Scout's first move to decline, the kid probably didn't really know his way around alcohol or just didn't like it that much, but right now his pride was definitely blacking out his logical thinking and that screamed nothing but trouble.

 

And not even one hour into it, Sniper had already been completely proven right.

 

Scout's luck with this idiotic game was far below sea level. Time after time, his next card appeared to be the lowest one until finally someone broke that streak for two, maybe three rounds and then it was back to Scout having to drink shot after shot after shot. It continued like that until the clock struck twelve and they simultaneously decided to call it quits because of work tomorrow. By this point Demo and Soldier were a bit tipsy borderline drunk, but Scout, poor Scout was trying his hardest to stay with the conversation and not pass out. He was so drunk, those last... seven shots had probably been a bad idea.

 

Or, you know, this entire fucking game had been a bad idea.

 

Perhaps the only two people who weren't drunk at all were Sniper and Engineer, but that was because Engineer had excused himself half an hour ago because it was getting late and Sniper just hadn't had enough beers to even get tipsy. Long story short, he was the only sober thinker in the room and it sucked.

 

"Well, lad, g-good luck with gettin' twinkle toes to his room." Demo suddenly announced, clapping Sniper on the back, after a loud burp wrenched from his throat, both he and Soldier rising to their feet. His speech was slightly slurred and Soldier's stumbling told Sniper that even if he asked them to help with 'twinkle toes', he'd end up doing even more work on his own and besides Sniper would much rather make sure Scout got safely to his room without them anyway. He knew all of this was just some good old, sibling-like teasing, but Scout had gone through too much for one day so he wouldn't really trust them with him right now and possibly protect him from some other joke or prank.

 

He watched them leave the room before looking to his right and finding Scout on the verge of falling asleep. The kid was supporting his head with his hand, eyes falling close for a few seconds every time before they sprung open again as if he reminded himself to stay awake. It would be more beneficial if he stayed awake though, but that was wishful thinking.

 

Sniper stood up, petted Scout's shoulder to reassure him he was still there, before gathering the empty beer bottles and bringing them to the kitchen. He stacked them away after pouring some of the remains into the sink and returned to the cafeteria only to find that Scout had lost the battle. He'd fallen asleep.

 

He was slumped over, head resting on his arms, calmly breathing in and out. Sniper knew he couldn't just leave him here, the poor kid would feel every bone in his body ache tomorrow if he did, so... there was only one thing that came to mind for Sniper to do; He'd have to carry him to his room.

 

After a moment of hesitating and wondering how exactly he was going to execute this ludicrous plan, Sniper tiredly decided to just go for it, shifting the runner's chair a bit and eventually, swiftly gathering him in his arms. This sudden change of position didn't startle Scout at all as he continued dozing off, constantly slipping in and out of consciousness as Sniper carried him through the hallway to his room.

 

Carrying the runner with little effort, Sniper started to understand why Medic was so persistent with that diet. Scout really didn't weigh a lot... not at all. If he didn't know about that diagnoses Sniper would probably be worrying about it now, good thing Scout trusted him enough to tell him.

 

Much to the marksman's delight Scout had left his room unlocked, making it easier for him to just walk in there and lay Scout on his bed. Gently he put the runner down, watching Scout's eyes fluttering open and shut again while this lazy smile coated his lips. Seemed like he woke up again, probably not for long though.

 

"I love ya, man." Scout slurred happily, one hand reaching out to pet Sniper's arm as some sort of thank you he guessed. "You-you're the b-best."

 

"That's okay, mate." He smiled. Sniper wasn't going to lie, it was pretty funny seeing Scout in a state like this and hearing him talk like that was even funnier, but it had been enough and it would be better for Scout to get enough rest before tomorrow's hangover would kick him in the ass. He might seem uncaring and happy now, but there was definitely a storm coming in a couple of hours.

 

As Sniper pulled Scout's covers over him, a soft and gentle meow came from the corner of the bed. Teddy, who he hadn't noticed at all, had woken up due to the commotion, perked his little head up for a moment before standing up, stretching and moving over to lay somewhere closer to Scout.

 

"Take good care of 'em tonoight, alroight?" The marksman petted Teddy's head once, before walking towards the light switch and leaving the room. They'd deal with tomorrow however it may come, for now Scout was safe and well and that's all that mattered to him.

--

Chapter Text

It was remarkable to see that despite Scout going through a hangover, RED had still managed to defeat BLU. Everyone had expected Scout to collapse halfway through the fight because he didn't look any better than a ghost roaming the battlefield, but there's just so much will power within that kid that he managed to keep himself together no matter what others told him.

 

Medic had urged him to stay at base to rest, surely after Scout had spoken about throwing up that morning, but there was no pampering the runner. Partly he was to be admired for that, but on the other hand Sniper knew Scout was dragging himself through this because he was mad. At Demo, at Soldier, but mostly at himself. His mood had been even worse than the day before, with his expression angrily wooden instead of the determination that usually painted his face before battle. The only positive thing to come out of this was Scout pushing himself so much that he basically sealed RED's victory himself.

 

He'd been proud of that, started bragging about how lucky they all were to have him before Engineer asked Sniper about his van, making him miss the majority of Scout's boastful speech as he and Engie had left the respawn room while talking. That had been more than an hour ago and somewhere Sniper was wondering what Scout was up to now and if he was actually feeling any better. When he last saw him, the kid had gained a bit more colour in his face and he didn't appear as sick as he looked that morning, but there's a difference between a physical appearance and your mental state.

 

So Sniper had been sitting in his RV for half an hour, searching for some reason to go into the base and see how Scout was doing until it hit him. He didn't need a reason, didn't need permission to see his friend because that would be ridiculous! If he wanted to know how Scout was doing he had every right to stand up and go ask about it, there was literally nothing stopping him.

 

That was something he still had to get used to. After all, it was terrain he hadn't walked before, at least, not much.

 

The afternoon sun was sinking further away behind the horizon when Sniper left his RV, bathing the barren dessert around him in a soothing dark orange. The temperature was dropping as well, making Sniper believe that it was actually pleasant outside. Though sadly, knowing a dessert's quirks, that wouldn't last much longer. Once the moon shows its presence, the temperature is quick to drop too low and then it gets way too cold for his liking. These nights weren't anything like the ones back in Australia, where the heat of the day gives way to a pleasant night accompanied by a bright sky filled with stars.

 

It'd been quite the while since the last time he'd taken to the roof of his RV to watch the night sky. He missed that.

 

A soft meow, an exact copy of the one he heard last night, tore him away from his thoughts and brought Sniper's attention to a little fellow he knew was better off inside than outside.

 

"Wot are you doin' here, mate?" Sniper spoke as Teddy pattered out his way, a smile tugging at his lips seeing the little critter already being so used to him. "Does Scout know you're here?" The marksman took a look around, half expecting Scout to follow right behind Teddy, but all he saw was the abandoned dessert surrounding them and the closed back door to the base. That was odd, considering the last time Teddy escaped Scout wouldn't just let him go outside unsupervised now, he was so panicked back then. Where was he?

 

Since Sniper was heading towards Scout anyway, he figured he could just take Teddy with him. Chances were Scout hadn't even noticed Teddy's disappearance yet or he thought he might be wandering the building instead of the outside. Cat's are smart though, nimble and quick, Teddy was bound to find himself a way outside soon. After all, he found himself one inside as well.

 

After petting his head a couple more times, Sniper took Teddy into his arms and entered the base. It appeared that everyone else had either retreated to their rooms or to the REC room, because furthermore the hallways were empty and so was the kitchen. It was weird to find this building so calm and left alone, but considering their work day it was logical for everyone to seek some way to relax and the REC room was specially made for such occasions.

 

And with everyone doing their thing someplace else, Sniper could travel through the base a whole lot quicker.

 

He walked through the hallway that had finally become familiar to him, holding Teddy close to himself and feeling him spin against his chest. It was a soft humming that was nice on the ears too and just generally comfortable. Sniper had always been real fond of animals, but ever since he left home at the age of nineteen, he hadn't really been as close to them as he had been before. So, this was nice, it really was. It brought back dusty old memories which'd been on the verge of abandoning his memory.

 

Arriving at the door to Scout's room, Sniper knocked once, patiently awaiting the runner to lazily yell for him to come in. That didn't happen, however, so Sniper tried again. When also that knock was left unanswered Sniper tried one more time before sharing a look with Teddy who'd grown a curiosity for the situation as well.

 

"I don't know about you, mate, but I think Scout ain't here." Teddy meowed once in response, before he fixed his big round eyes on the door before them. "Strange indeed, but I mean he could be in the REC room or somethin', we don't know that." Even though it was likely for Scout to be someplace else, Sniper still tried the doorknob and immediately found the door unlocked as he expected it to be. There was no use in taking Teddy with, so Sniper put him down inside the room and turned the lights on. "Don't worry , alroight?" Sniper spoke gently, bending through his knees as Teddy walked up to him and playfully curled around the hand that was petting him. "I'll foind 'em and bring 'em back in once piece. That's a promise." A soft boop on Teddy's nose was meant as a parting gesture before Sniper straightened himself again, went outside and closed the door behind himself.

 

He was happy to have finally found his way through this wretched building. No more stumbling around and testing his luck on turning random corners, from now on he knew that the REC room was in the same corner as the Medbay was and that was just one hallway away from the kitchen. Easy.

 

The sound of a TV playing with Demo's bubbly laugh in the background only confirmed his believe. He walked up to the door of the REC room but was surprised to find only Demo and Soldier to be there and no Scout as he peaked his head inside. Wait, he wasn't in the kitchen nor in his room and now he isn't in the REC room either? What other places where there for him to hang around?

 

"Err... do any of ya know where Scout is?" Sniper heard himself mutter, not really knowing whether he'd been loud enough or not until both Demo and Soldier turned their heads to see what was going on.

 

"Ah Sniper, anythin' ye need, mate?"

 

"Y-yeah, actually. Do any of ya know where Scout is?" The marksman repeated, suddenly feeling unsettlement within himself as he watched Soldier and Demo share a mischievous look after he'd asked his question.

 

"Last time we saw him, he was still at respawn."

 

"Yeah! How 'bout ye take a look over there, ey? The lad couldn't have run very far." Demo smiled at him, but Sniper couldn't exactly appreciate the slyness hidden within that expression. This wasn't good. They were talking in puzzles and Sniper didn't fucking like that. These five minutes of dialogue had been littered with an underlying message of how they exactly knew where Scout was and where ever he was or how he got there, was their responsibility.

 

Not wanting to waste another minute on these boneheads, Sniper turned around and stalked down the hallway right through the backdoor and towards the respawn room. His mind was running one hundred miles a minute, wondering what they could have possibly done for Scout to still not be at base.

 

They wouldn't have actually physically hurt him, right? Demo and Soldier could be a bit reckless at times but they wouldn't go that far.. would they? No no, Sniper was fairly sure it wasn't anything like that. Their teasing was childish yes, but they weren't complete morons. Both Demo and Soldier were grownups after all. Sadly, however, those thoughts weren't credible enough to still Sniper's mind. He didn't even know if Scout was in any trouble because of them, didn't even know if they'd done anything at all, yet he was still mad at them somehow. Mad because they were seeing Scout as an easy target, picking on him because he counters with fierce reactions and doesn't look like a big threat and that's so fucking low.

 

He shoved those accusations aside for a single moment as he entered respawn, the sound of a locker loudly banging and a voice yammering on enough to peak his interest and know what exactly was going on.

 

"Guys?! Guys ya there? Please let me outta here, this is fuckin' ridiculous!" Scout must have heard the door falling shut, simultaneously thinking either Demo or Soldier had walked in to come and get him. Sniper couldn't believe what he was seeing. They had actually stuffed Scout into his own locker as if this was high school all over again. The thing rattled loudly, its constant movements scaring Sniper that it might tip over and actually hurt the runner inside. So he quickly moved towards it, finding the keys to the lock on a hook mounted to the wall. "Fuckin' assholes." Scout muttered fiercely to himself, audible losing his temper over the lack of answers he was receiving even though he could hear the metal of the lock click against the locker. "What the hell are ya doin'?! Fuckin' let me outta here! I don't freakin' see how this is so funny to you two! You're a bunch o' fuckin' assho- woah!!" Before Scout could finish that curse, Sniper opened the door, making him topple forwards right into the marksman's chest, considering that Sniper was still standing right in front of the locker. As a quick reaction to this, Sniper knew to catch Scout before he smashed his face into the ground, wrapping his arms around the kid's shoulders and supporting him so he could rise to his feet again. However, once Scout regained his footing, he swung his arm up ready to throw a punch at whoever was holding him, probably thinking it was either Soldier or Demo and wanting them to experience some sort of revenge for what they had done to him.

 

"Woah, hey!" Sniper was quick to snatch both Scout's pulses before the runner was able to sock him in the mouth, keeping them firmly in front of his chest so Scout was entirely unable to use his arms. "Calm down, mate." The marksman tried to soothe him. "It's okay. It's just me."

 

Hesitantly Scout opened his eyes, his gaze flooding with shame the second he caught a glimpse of Sniper. He didn't try to struggle his way out of the marksman's grip nor did he start up a fierce approach asking what the hell Sniper was doing here, instead he lead himself sag a bit in the marksman's hold, clearly disappointed. "Ah hell.." Scout muttered. "First ya have to literally carry me to ma freakin' room an' now ya find me like this?" He shook his head. "Of course."

 

"Are you okay?" Sniper asked as he gently let go of Scout's wrists once he realised he was still holding onto them. "Wot happened?"

 

"F-freakin' Demo and Sol! That's what happened." He took a few steps away from Sniper, kicking harshly against his baseball bat that had fallen out of the locker as well, that action creating an obnoxious sound within the tiled room. Though he quickly stilled himself, seemingly calming down a bit before quietly adding. "An' yes... 'm fine, don't worry."

 

Sniper didn't know what to do. Despite quieting himself down, everything else about Scout screamed that he was enraged. The way he constantly walked from one spot to the other, the deep sighs escaping him and his rigid posture. He looked about ready to knock both Demo and Soldier's lights out and Sniper simply had no idea how to approach that.

 

"What a shitty fuckin' week." Scout suddenly began. "It's fuckin' Tuesday an' those two fucks already fucked me over twice."

 

"Twoice?"

 

"Yeah! Fuckin' call me paranoid, but 'm beginnin' to think that stupid drinkin' game was more meant as a joke than anythin' else. Yet another way to make me look fuckin' ridiculous an' weak." Scout was violently clenching his jaw, the muscles in it constantly ticking before a strangled groan escaped him. "Stuffin' me in a fuckin' locker..." He grumbled, yet again beyond pissed off.

 

It was troublesome to see Scout like that and Sniper felt nothing but compassion for the runner as he watched him fight with the emotions within himself, but the marksman also knew that he wasn't the type of person to go back to base and confront the people who'd done this to Scout, telling them what assholes they actually were for doing such a childish thing. However, he was someone who knew how important aftercare was with these kinds of things. So he'd take it upon himself to do that, try and keep Scout a bit sane after these two days. "How about we go back to my RV, alroight? It'll give ya a chance to calm down and ya don't have to face Soldier and Demo for a whoile."

 

For a brief second Scout made eye contact, his expression contemplating, though not for very long. "Alright... yeah. I - I'd like that."

 

Before leaving, Scout quickly cleaned up the mess that had formed on the floor beneath his locker. Putting everything that had fallen out back and afterwards locking it too. He was silent, didn't speak a word as he stuffed his keys into his pocket and remained just as silent as they walked towards Sniper's RV. But the moment Sniper opened the door and allowed Scout to jump in, the words started spilling out of him like a broken faucet. As if he'd been restraining himself to talk and now failed miserably.

 

"Can ya fuckin' believe this?" The runner plopped down on the couch, mashing his face into that same thin, useless pillow that'd been on that couch for an eternity and turning his talking muffled. "I couldn't even fight back! That's the worst part o' all! One moment they're just standin' there, talkin' to me like they ain't aware o' what they're gonna do an' the next 'm stuffed in ma own fuckin' locker." He growled into the pillow, frustration crystal clear in every brought out syllable. "How pathetic can somethin' be, man? Jesus fuck..."

 

Scout's tone was changing, going from pure hatred and anger to sadness. Of course Sniper couldn't see his face considering that Scout had it pressed into a pillow, but he remembered the saddening look in his eyes from yesterday. Scout was just getting way too much crap to deal with in too little time. First his diagnosis and now two idiots who thought to have found an easy target. Seriously, it was time to cut the kid some slack.

 

"'m sorry they did that to ya." Sniper offered, though knowing how futile and useless it was. "They're actin' loike bullies and for bein' two grown men that's pathetic. But, did ya never have to deal with a bully before?"

 

Finally scout sat up, facing Sniper as he looked around himself in search of an answer to that. His brow was lightly shaped in frustration as if he hadn't understood Sniper's question at all. "I mean, yeah I guess so? Ma brother's used to be on ma ass all the fuckin' time an' at school a lot o' people thought I was annoyin', but nothin' really... like this? I don't fuckin' know." He sighed out heavily, shaking his head before snapping his gaze up to look Sniper dead in the face. "Y'know what? 'm fuckin' tired o' talkin' about me, man. It feels like I've been doin' nothin' else lately. I wanne know somethin' 'bout you too."

 

Scout was clearly worked up beyond being able to calm himself down again and given the last few days a demand like that wasn't that strange, Sniper was honestly surprised it hadn't come any sooner. So if Scout would be settled with knowing something about Sniper, so be it. It was only fair anyway. "Foine, wot do ya wanne know?"

 

"I - I dunno... just tell me somethin', alright? We're always talkin' 'bout me an' I wanne talk 'bout you for once... I - I mean, if you're fine with that, of course."

 

"'m foine with it, don't worry." That response was countered with a little smile, entirely convincing that there was no harm in telling Scout a bit about himself. He trusted the runner after all, he really did. "I grew up in Australia with my two parents and no siblings, but we lived on this little farm and had loike seven dogs so I guess that koind a made up for it."

 

"Holy fuck, seven dogs?"

 

"Yeah. Two golden retrievers, a border collie, and two Australian shepherds. We also had this old horse named Bucky. He was grumpy all the bloody toime, but a real hard worker when he needed to be." Oh God. He hadn't thought about these things in such a long while. Hadn't thought about his twelve year old self squashed in a little bed with four dogs and three others on the floor next to it nor had he thought about Bucky and how he even used to ride him sometimes. That was so long ago and almost felt like an entire different life. It was so strange.

 

"Do your parents still live on that farm?" A moment of silence fell, because that question had been too unexpected. Despite the fact that Scout could never have possibly known about his parents' deaths, surprisingly that question felt like taking a bullet to the chest. Because no, they didn't live their anymore. On that piece of land, their own little piece of paradise as his mother used to say, both his parents lived, worked and died too.

 

"Err no. They don't. Actually they passed away two years ago."

 

Within an instant Scout's eyes grew big, his whole entire person nearly jolting off of that couch as he sputtered. "Oh! I - I'm so sorry! I - I didn't mean to... I didn't know... I - I - I'm-"

 

"It's okay, don't worry." Sniper smiled to assure him. "Indeed, ya couldn't have known. Don't be so hard on yourself. Ya didn't just hurt me by askin' me about my parents, promise." He watched Scout taking a few deep breaths, his chest visibly rising and falling before the kid took a seat on the couch again. It's true, Scout hadn't hurt him, of course he hadn't! Sniper was the one starting about his parents in the first place, so he'd never hold a grudge against Scout for having to elaborate and tell him they died. No matter the fact that the topic had unfortunately reminded him of those dire situations, that was completely besides the point and besides, his parents' deaths had always been an active thought in his mind so there was little needed for Sniper to be reminded of that.

 

Of course Scout didn't dare to ask another question after that, that much was obvious by the silence crowding the RV. So Sniper thought to continue himself, keep his end of the deal and all.

 

"I lived at home until I finished high school and at the age of nineteen I was hoired to become an assassin. I travelled the world, seen many different places until I err..." He couldn't tell him he got fired, the more logical thing for Scout to ask is why he got fired and that was a story he couldn't care to tell. "Until I got an offer for Fortress seventeen years later and here I am." Half the truth is often a whole lie, but what Scout didn't know, couldn't hurt him either.

 

"That explains why you're so freakin' good with a gun. It's fuckin' insane, man! I've come across a bunch o' people in ma life who knew how to shoot a rifle, but never someone who does it like you do." It was surprising to see that Scout wasn't taken aback by Sniper's previous job. Most people would look at him in disgust or at least be scared. But Scout was hardly most people, no one at Fortress was.

 

"It really just boils down to good practise. My father thought me how to shoot a roifle when I was in hoigh school, so I had a lot of toime to practise."

 

"Yeah... Hey eeuh, talkin' 'bout high school," Scout suddenly changed the topic. His expression turning a bit more serious now. "ya asked me if I ever had to deal with like bullies an' stuff, but did you ever have to deal with 'em?"

 

Now that was a piece of history that had remained largely untouched within Sniper's mind. High school for him had been quite the experience. He had little friends, hated going in general and yes he'd gotten bullied too. But there was probably a reason why Scout asked that question, maybe the runner was just seeking for some confirmation that he wasn't alone here and maybe telling him about it would actually help Scout deal with this shit, who knows? It was worth a shot.

 

"Yeah, I had to deal with 'em. Back in hoigh school they always saw me as an easy target 'cause I was. I wasn't threatenin', wasn't strong and it also didn't help that I was already this height when I was fourteen. It started out innocent enough. Ya know, callin' me names and stuff but it evolved with the years and eventually they weren't afraid to actually hurt me, 'cause they knew there were barely any consequences."

 

"W-what did they do..?" Scout asked cautious, handling his words with all the care in the world. He looked so tense, afraid he might say something wrong again, but honestly Scout couldn't say anything wrong. He was fine.

 

"They chased me up trees, threw rocks at me, beat me up, emptied my backpack in a waste bin, destroyed my books and at one point they even stuffed bees into my locker so they'd be angry once I opened it and attacked me. I never told my parents about it, but 'm fairly certain they knew. I constantly came home with bruises and other injuries and I never knew wot to tell them besoides that I had fallen or somethin'." At this point, Scout looked horrified. If that shopping list of bullying hadn't done it, then the fact that they actually physically hurt him on a daily basis must have done the trick. But Sniper wasn't telling him this to make him feel bad about the marksman. He didn't want that. Sniper had started to explain because he knew he also had a way to cope with it, something to keep him sane and that exact thing was something he wanted to show Scout as well.

 

"I had a way to deal with it though."

 

"Really..?"

 

Sniper nodded his head, a little smile curling his lips. "I had. It was somethin' simple, somethin' I could to nearly every noight and surprisingly it really helped."

 

"What was it?" Scout asked hopeful, but Sniper didn't answer right away. Instead he rose from his chair first.
"I'll show ya, c'mon."

 

"Whaddaya mean?"

 

"I mean that I'll show it to ya. Now get off your butt and follow me." Scout looked hesitant, honestly who wouldn't, but Sniper was determined to show this to him. "C'mon, gremlin, this is not gonna hurt ya." The runner continued giving Sniper a slow look-over before standing up as well and following Sniper as he made a move to go outside. A single moment before leaving though, Sniper remembered to take a blanket with him, giving it to Scout and saying: "Here, you're gonna need it." Scout cocked up a single eyebrow as he took the blanket from Sniper, but furthermore stayed silent as he followed him outside.

 

Overtime they'd been in Sniper's RV evening had fallen. The sky was dark and the dessert had lost its relentless temperature, but there painting the darkness were millions of stars. Drawing patterns into the sky and showing this beautiful trade to the world that far too little people took the time to appreciate. The earth was an absolutely astonishing place and all you had to do to see it, was wait until the evening and go outside.

 

Expecting Scout would just follow him, Sniper walked around his RV towards the back where he knew there was a little ladder going up to the roof. He climbed that before sitting down in the centre of his RV and eventually hearing Scout sit down next to him.

 

"I never knew it could be so cold out here at night."

 

"That's why I told ya to bring the blanket, it'll keep ya warm since you're only wearin' a t-shirt." Scout nodded at his words, his gaze glued to the sky as he wrapped the thick blanket around himself. It was nice to see him so in awe, struck by nothing more than a sky full of stars and the silence of a sorrow less evening.

 

"This was my way to cope. I'd lay down in the grass at noight and watch the stars. I don't know why somethin' as inelaborate as that helped, but it did. Sometoimes one of the dogs would join me and sometoimes I'd be all on my own and for wotever reason it always remoinded me that I'd be just foine." There was a certain fondness in Sniper's eyes as he looked up. He was taking such a trip to the past and for once he wasn't entirely hating it and besides it was rather comforting to have someone with him while doing it. "Nothin' bad lasts forever. It was the same with your panic attack and will be with this and wotever bad thing you'll ever face. You'll be foine and I think that's somethin' really important to keep in moind." After a few heartbeats of silence, Sniper took a look beside him, seeing Scout still looking at the sky with just as much astonishment as he was doing before, but this time around something was a bit different. There were tears in his eyes, clearly showing that this whole entire day had hit him harder than Scout cared to admit. Hopefully all of this was helping him somehow, Sniper truly hoped that. Surely because seeing Scout like that, Sniper was suddenly hit with an overwhelming want to hug him and comfort him and promise him that all would be good.

 

This peculiar, mostly foreign feeling was strange to say the least, but it was so evincive that Sniper found himself doing little to fight it. And as the tears in Scout's eyes on thickened and some rolled down his cheeks, Sniper scooted a bit closer, wrapped his arms around him and pulled him in for a hug.

 

Scout didn't show any signs of not wanting this, actually the second he was pulled into the hug, Scout pressed his face into Sniper's shoulder and leaned into him, completely accepting the embrace. His shoulders shook lightly, indicating that he was actually crying now, so Sniper started rubbing soothing circles on his back, trying to show him that it was all a okay as he pressed him even closer.

 

Just like that he'd continue to hold Scout until every tear dried up, even if it took them hours. He didn't care.

 

It was a strangely comforting moment. Yet another way they'd learned something new about each other and got even more comfortable. Now Sniper had told Scout a whole lot about himself tonight, yet he knew there were a few things that had remained unsaid and if it were for Sniper, he'd rather keep it that way too and possibly protect Scout from a dire reality he was barely able to face himself.

--

Chapter Text

It had always been clear since day one that Spy did not like Sniper, but within the last few days the Frenchman had really made his statement and it was starting to get on Sniper's nerves.

 

For the past four days now, Spy had been complaining about a lack of support from Sniper and how he didn't understand that everyone else was worth helping in sticky situations, but apparently Spy wasn't. Sniper hadn't even thought about it like that, hadn't even considered whether he'd been helping others particularly more than Spy, but once the Frenchman brought it to his attention with his daily rants, the marksman didn't see why Spy was acting like something had crawled up his ass and died too.

 

It was rather simple. He saw absolutely no use in covering Spy. Why? Because for the majority of the battle Sniper doesn't even know where Spy's hiding out. It'd be a total waste of time to search around the battlefield only to make sure no one had gotten it in their heads to try and send Spy through respawn and besides, Spy is as much of a support class as he is, so he really didn't understand the commotion around this seemingly unproblematic situation.

 

Though of course he couldn't use that excuse. Medic is also a part of support and he does get cover, which is the most logical thing ever, but Sniper just knew Spy would counter with that as if a medic wasn't the most essential part to a team and that protecting a spy would be more beneficial than keeping a doctor alive.

 

Spy was just being a stuck-up asshole about absolutely nothing and with the week progressing, Sniper was losing a little bit of his patience every single day.

 

In the beginning he hadn't even noticed Spy's useless commentary. Sniper had been too distracted with the fact that things were finally looking up for Scout, happy that Demo and Soldier had gotten their asses to apologizing and that the runner was feeling way better than with some sassy Frenchman who couldn't find anyone else to pester and had settled for Sniper. He had told himself not to care, but it just kept going. Day after day Spy would find some other reason to nag and when Friday arrived Sniper truly had enough.

 

"I cannot believe this!" The marksman had been listening to Scout asking Heavy how battle had gone for him, when that nasal voice suddenly disturbed nearly every single person in respawn as they turned their heads to see what was going on. The only person who wasn't exactly interested in the little dramatic play that was about to happen was Sniper, but that was solely because he knew the storm hanging above their, well, his head.

 

Somewhere along the battle, Sniper had actually spotted Spy being in trouble with the enemy Engineer. From afar the marksman had seen Spy's cloaking device malfunctioning, making him materialize right as he was about to sap one of the enemy sentries. Of course the BLU engineer had jumped right into action, cocking his shotgun and trying to pump as much lead into that snake as he possibly could, but Spy's far more agile than you'd expect and the bastard was able to avoid getting shot at all. The BLU engineer didn't give up, however, as he resorted to whacking Spy against the jaw with his spanner and actually managing to land a hit. Spy had collapsed to the ground, still alive and it was then that Sniper wanted to spring right into action and take Engineer out and show Spy that he wasn't trying to be his enemy. Though before he could take any action, he watched two of Demo's bombs bounce to where they were right next to engineer's feet and blow him entirely out of his socks, killing him instantly.

 

Spy had been saved, but not by Sniper and that's why the Frenchman was stomping down his way with a mad expression across his face and a string of colourful insults, meanwhile pointing an accusatory finger.

 

"You are unbelievable, you stupid bushman!" Sniper didn't immediately respond, more annoyed and focused on the fact that Spy was suddenly breaching his personal space than with whatever Spy was about to accuse him of next. "You saw me struggling with the BLU engineer and did absolutely nothing! How are we supposed to ever win this war with a sniper far too dense to realise when someone is in need of help?"

 

"This ain't about me bein' 'dense'. You're just pissed off I ain't constantly helpin' you out of situations you're puttin' yourself in. Ya can't expect me to be lookin' for ya an entoire battle long, only to clean up your bloody mess!"

 

"Excuse me?!" It appeared Sniper had seriously stepped on Spy's toes with that comeback, but he was done with passively nodding and humming to whatever crap Spy came up with. He couldn't care less whether there were people around to hear it or not, Spy had to stop and he wouldn't until someone put him in his rightful fucking place.

 

"Ya heard me, mate. You always claim to be such a professional, then why do ya need my help so badly?"

 

"That is far past the point, you imbecile! I am merely stating that I am severely worried about our chances of ever winning if you fail to pick up on the simplest of hints that someone might be in need of your help! If you keep neglecting people like that I do not understand why we need a sniper at all! You are completely useless, bushman!" As Spy had yelled out those last few words, respawn suddenly grew entirely still. All slightly taken aback by Spy's sudden outburst.

 

And Sniper, he didn't really know what to do. He felt that Spy was slowly driving him past this point of staying calm, but he was lost on how to approach this without cracking his normal polite behaviour. The Frenchman's words just felt like a heavy brick in his stomach, even though he didn't really know why. Maybe because someone was putting into words what Sniper had always thought about himself or maybe being insulted was hitting too close to home, who knew. But Sniper's patience was running low and he was simply done with Spy's bullshit.

 

"Ya dare tellin' me I'm useless? Tell me one beneficial thing you've done for this team besoides pesterin' the BLU Engineer all day long and disappearin' when your help is actually needed?" Sniper had never been someone to raise his voice, you wouldn't catch him engaging in a shouting match. But once he let anger get the better of himself, he all but growled every syllable that left his mouth. "You're a bloody asshole who acts like his own teammates are a bunch of peasants and yet ya still expect any of us to give a single crap about ya durin' the battle. Bloody ironic."

 

In the corner of his eye, Sniper caught a few of his teammates watching them with big eyes, all more than surprised to hear something like that come out of Sniper's mouth. He didn't care, however, not now at least.

 

"You are one to speak!" Spy was quick to answer, taking a step closer and puffing up his chest in order to look more intimidating. "Who are you to lecture me about my behaviour if I have yet to hear a friendly world leave your mouth!"

 

"Ya reap wot ya sow, spook. If ya keep actin' loike there's a bin of rubbish before ya whenever I talk to ya, I see no bloody reason why I should treat ya with some respect." It was clear as day that Spy didn't exactly appreciate Sniper's sudden comebacks, his expression constantly twisting from confusion because it was much harder to play a provoking game with someone who actually knew how to respond, then with someone who stuttered his way through his delivery. Luckily for Sniper, he wasn't the latter for once. "Now get the bloody hell outta my face with your naggin' every day, alroight? I ain't tryin' to be your enemy, but I also ain't your bloody maid."

 

Amongst the shocked expressions of his other teammates, one big grin greeted him. Whilst everyone else was hesitant, waiting to see whether this bomb would explode or not, Scout was smiling at the sight, smiling at Sniper, probably happy the marksman was finally digging in his heals and showing Spy he wasn't here solely to be his punching bag.

 

"Who do you even think you are, talking to me like that?! I am not asking you to clean up after me. I would much rather trust a blind old woman to cover me than you, bushman. Now, I am only trying to state that you are a useless, pathetic and horrible person and I simply do not like you." Spy was spitting out his words at this point, anger dripping off of his countenance as he stared down Sniper. He looked about ready to throw a punch, but Sniper wasn't exactly scared.

 

"Oh tough shit. Wot are ya gonna do to me, huh? Ya bloody noodle."

 

"Do not underestimate me, Sniper." Every word that left their mouths was a threat, eyes peering at the other and hands balling into fists at their sides. They were seriously getting under each other's skin and if it wasn't for Engineer breaking them up, someone would have definitely gotten hurt.

 

"You two seriously need to stop!" The little Texan wormed his way in between Sniper and Spy, managing to push them away from each other and keep this fight from unfolding. "What the hell are y'all thinkin'? You're gonna fight it out? No. You're both adults, please act like it too!"

 

Spy cocked up his eyebrows as he went back to his usual aloof stance, looking as if none of this was his fault while in fact, all of it was. "Why Engineer, I cannot help it that there is such an amateur on this team."

 

"Bloody say that again, spook?!"

 

"Sniper, please!" The marksman's gaze quickly switched from Spy to Engineer as the hardhat called him out. His brow remained just as furrowed however, simply not understanding how Spy could go right back to acting calm and composed within a second while Sniper was left to feel nothing but anger. God damn it, he'd played right into that snake's hands, hadn't he? "Ya should know by now that it ain't no use to have a discussion with 'em. He'll only provoke ya to get more reaction outta ya, so let it go. That'll be easier for the both of ya."

 

Sniper knew Engineer was only trying to be the voice of reason here, but he was trying to reason with the wrong person. Spy had played his game well, so Sniper was far too worked up to even consider that Engineer might be right and that letting this whole ordeal go would be the more mature thing to do. But Sniper was pissed off, he really was, so all he knew to do was grit his teeth, shoot Spy one more warning glare before leaving the room and nearly slamming the door behind himself. Luckily this last bit of restraint within him told Sniper that that was a bad idea. He was mad at Spy, not at any of the others.

 

Instead of making a straight path for his camper van, Sniper took a turn away from respawn, away from the base and away from everyone else. He didn't really know where he was headed, but it didn't matter that much to him. If he ever wanted to calm down, he'd needed to be away. At least, that's how he always did it.

 

By now he'd wandered towards the empty battlefield, taking to one of the many wooden buildings and sitting down right there were he was able to watch the sky yet still be sheltered. It was a cloudy day, the sky had formed this grey blanket above their heads and it was nice to be protected from that merciless sun every once in a while. But seeing the rather sombre sight wasn't exactly helping his mood and hearing the wind kick up and blow in between the creaking buildings, Sniper couldn't help but to feel utterly alone.

 

There had also been a grey sky the day he'd gotten the news about his parents' deaths. Perhaps that had been the loneliest moment in his entire life or ever since had been the loneliest moment. He didn't know, well it didn't matter either. He'd come down here to calm down, not to feel miserable and now here he was feeling a mixture of the two. Wonderful.

 

Moments past and he still felt just as rigid as he did half an hour ago. His usual strategy wasn't helping, but what did he honestly expect? Being alone after someone dragged you through the mud while you know how keen your mind is on ravaging you, that's a recipe for trouble right there.

 

He ran a hand through his hair and sighed out rather deeply. He couldn't go back to base, he'd fucked up too much. People were probably scared of him now or were mad. Did they hate him? Presumably.

 

"Oh shit, finally!" A shockwave coursed throughout his entire body, a cold sting running through his veins as suddenly hearing someone talk had startled him so badly, his heart had taken a single leap for his throat. He hadn't exactly expected someone to follow him out here, hadn't expected someone to look for him after he'd shown this uglier side of himself, but then again, Scout had already seen that side and two weeks later he was still right here. "I was lookin' for ya, man. Are you okay?"

 

Scout sat down next to him, awaiting Sniper's response as he slowly lifted his head and made eye contact with perhaps the only person the marksman could stand having around right now.

 

"Yes, 'm foine. Just a bit worked up. Stupid Spy made a bloody fool of me."

 

"A fool? What the hell are you goin' on 'bout? I was so proud o' ya, man!" He smiled softly, reaching out to rest a hand on Sniper's shoulder in a comforting manner. And surprisingly... it was. "It was 'bout damn time ya showed Spy he can't just mess with ya, he's been agitatin' the shit outta ya all week an' it was nice to see ya stand up for yourself for once."

 

"Once?"

 

"Yeah, man... Ya have a tendency to let people walk all over ya, that ain't healthy." I mean, Scout wasn't wrong, but Sniper was surprised that Scout had actually noticed something like that. He always seemed like the type of person that doesn't catch onto someone's discomfort, someone's quirks, but maybe he had a better eye for things like that than Sniper suspected.

 

A ghostly smile momentarily cracked Sniper's lips. "Guess I took a page of your book for once, mate."

 

"Yeah! An' it was 'bout damn time too." There was a lively spirit within that kid just like any other day, but as hard as Scout was trying, Sniper just wasn't feeling it. Every muscle in his body still felt stiff and his jaws were unable to relax, now so tightly clenched together, he was surprised he hadn't popped a tooth yet. He was keeping all this stress within himself in these tiny nearly unnoticeable ways and it was starting to give him a headache. Why was he still so tense?

 

He watched Scout giving him a single, thoughtful look-over. His expression puzzling as if he were looking for an answer to a question no one had asked him. "Y'know what? I think it's also time for ya to take another page o' ma book."

 

Sniper cocked up a single eyebrow. "Wot now?"

 

"You're always so... on edge, man. It's like ya don't even know how to relax." Scout hauled himself to his feet in one single and smooth motion, afterwards turning towards the marksman, smiling brightly before taking Sniper's hands into his own and coaxing him to stand up. "C'mon man get up an' loosen up a lil'. I promise ya that that's way healthier than whatever you're doin' now. Unclench your jaw," He gently pet Sniper's cheek twice, before resting both his hands on the marksman's shoulders. "Relax you're shoulders an' take a deep breath, alright?"

 

Despite being seriously taken aback by the suddenness of all that psychical contact, Sniper still tried to listen to Scout. He felt slightly ridiculous standing there with the kid's hands on his shoulders like he actually needed that to help him calm down, but he'd be lying if he said he entirely hated it. It sure was a good remedy against that lonely feeling he'd felt beforehand, as if someone was actually taking care of him or better said caring for him and it had been so unbelievably long since the last time he'd ever felt that.

 

"That's it!" Scout spoke happily as Sniper finally managed to let the tension off of his shoulders, this sudden, but pleasant warmth pooling into his chest as he saw the runner smile too and making Sniper smile right back. "See! No need to work yourself up over Spy. He's just a huge pain in the ass an' it's 'bout damn time someone thought him a lesson." Eventually Scout let his hands fall from their place on Sniper's shoulders as he took a step back, his expression suddenly morphing into deep thought. "Hmm."

 

"Somethin'.. wrong?"

 

"No, not at all.. I was just thinkin'.." Within a split second, Scout's eyes grew big once more as he snapped his fingers and pointed a knowing one towards Sniper. The biggest, most devious grin spread from ear to ear on the runner's face as he looked back at Sniper, who had no single idea of what was momentarily running through Scout's mind. "As some sort o' apology for stuffin' me in ma locker last Monday, Demo gave me these lil' paint bombs an' I think I finally know what to do with 'em."

 

"Yeah?" Sniper questioned, perhaps having the smallest of understanding of the idea Scout was trying to bring across. But he didn't dare hope.

 

"Y'know what would totally make ma day? Spy openin' his locker only to be greeted by an explosion of paint right in his stupid face. Wouldn't that just put a smile right onto your face too, Snipes? Hmm? Whaddaya say, are ya in?"

 

Sniper knew that the adult within him should decline that offer, live by Engie's words and actually let this go. But seeing the sly smile splitting Scout's lips and knowing the ever so alluring prank they could pull, Sniper couldn't dismiss an inner thought faster than he did right now. "Fuck it. I'm in."

 

"Hell yes! This is gonna be so much fun, just you wait." Okay maybe Scout's slyness wasn't entirely feigned, maybe Sniper should have been a bit more worried about the eagerness Scout showed when he presented the little paint bombs to Sniper and the fact that he kept that exact spirit up all the way back to respawn, but he would be selling yet another lie if he said that not a single part of himself felt the same. He so badly wanted to proceed with this stupid, yet amazing idea, even if it'd only backfire in some way, this just had to be good.

 

"How are we ever goin' to get this into Spy's locker, though?" Sniper questioned as the two of them walked into the respawn room and stopped at the second locker to the left. "As long as we don't have the keys to it, we can't open it, roight?"

 

"Ya don't need a key to get into Spy's locker, ya need a code. Instead o' usin' the normal lock everyone else uses, Frenchie went all out o' his way to get a lock o' his own an' use a code instead o' a key 'cos he probably thinks that's safer, but holy shit is it easy. All I had to was secretly look over his shoulder once an' I had it." He walked up to the lock, carefully switching the little numbers until it formed a four digit code and subsequently clicked loudly indicating Scout had gotten it just right. "An' it's especially easy for me to remember, 'cos it happens to be the date o' ma birthday. 0422, super duper easy, man. Spy's so bad at bein' a spy."

 

0422... so April twenty second. Sniper was going to try and remember that.

 

"Oh man, this shit's gonna be so fuckin' funny.." Scout muttered enthusiastically to himself as he placed the paint bombs inside, afterwards closing it as well but this time without relocking it.

 

"I think I don't even need to ask ya whether ya know how to get spook in here or not, do I?"

 

Another big grin, accompanied by a wink, was shot out Sniper's way. "Ya know it. 'mma go get Spy now, tell 'em he forgot to lock his locker so he'll get like.. super suspicious an' then the moment he opens his locker the bombs will be triggered, he'll look like an idiot an' it'll be zero-one for us." Scout already started laughing, presumably by the mere thought of Spy smudged with paint and beat-red from anger and Sniper had to admit, the picture itself was already pretty funny.

 

Perhaps the only minor inconvenience that momentarily crossed Sniper's mind was the possibility of Spy getting so angry he'd resort to trying to hurt either of the two. Though those thoughts were quickly stilled as he remembered that Scout could impressively outrun a car, so Spy would be no challenge and Sniper would like to think he was at least stronger than Spy. Okay, the Frenchman probably has peak fighting skills and he's as agile as a cat, but Sniper knew how to fight too. He'd be fine.

 

"Alright, man! Sit tight, I'll be right back!" Scout made a visible move to leave respawn, before he hauled himself to a stop in one abrupt motion. "Oh! Maybe ya should go somewhere where Spy can't see ya. Chances are he'd know what's goin' on if he sees ya, y'know?"

 

"Got it. Wouldn't wanne ruin this beaut of a surproise for 'em, would we?"

 

"We wouldn't." They shared a shrewd smile, one single outburst of laughter escaping the gleeful runner before he left respawn entirely, now on his way to find their unlucky bastard of a target.

 

Currently left alone within the white tiled walls that was respawn, Sniper found himself still smiling. At no one or nothing in particular, just.. in general. From the moment Scout had decided to better Sniper's day there'd been this unmistakably happy feeling within him. Scout didn't need to do this, hell Scout could have just retreated to his room and decided not to stick his nose into this business, but he had and it was honest to god amazing to Sniper. Scout obviously cared and it'd been so long since someone had.

 

Not even twenty minutes ago Sniper had felt so alone and now here he stood about to prank someone for the absolute first time in his life. He was too excited for it to be right, but in place it made him feel so alive and that was something that'd been happening more and more as of lately.

 

Fortress made him feel alive, well actually... Scout made him feel alive. He was aware of the rather strange nature of a thought like that, but the last few weeks there'd been more than enough compelling evidence to show that it was entirely correct.

 

It was as if Sniper was slowly picking his life back together after months of believing it would stay shattered no matter what he did.

 

"I hope you are correct and are in no way wasting my time, Scout." Emerging from his pondering, Sniper's ears picked up voices right outside of respawn, having just enough time to duck behind a wall before both Spy and Scout entered.

 

"No seriously! Ya really think I ain't got anythin' better to do or somethin'? 'm only tryin' to help, y'know."

 

Spy sighed and Sniper just knew he was probably rolling his eyes as well. "I know, I know." The Frenchman's words sounded dismissive, the conversation now ceasing as footsteps and the sound of heals clicking against the ground indicated that Spy was moving towards his locker. And as Spy had walked towards his locker, Scout had moved to where he'd suspected Sniper to hide, standing next to the marksman now as the both of them took a long blissful look at the last few moments before the bombs would explode.

 

Just as Scout had speculated, Spy had gotten suspicious over this whole ordeal and instead of just closing the lock, Spy had taken the time to open it as well and inspect the inside of his it to make sure everything was still there. The biggest mistake he could have possibly made. "What is-" Spy started to mutter before two little clicks were heard and a loud explosion followed suit. Within less than three seconds not only Spy, but his entire locker, parts of the floor and the wall behind him were smudged with a bride shade of pink. His suit ruined, his mask ruined and his dignity? Ruined.

 

At this point both Sniper and Scout had burst out laughing, wheezing for air as they nearly needed each other for support so they wouldn't double over from laughing. Everything had played out so perfectly well, neither of the two could have hoped it would have gone so smoothly, but it had and now they had to wipe away tears because, man were they having a blast.

 

"You. two. morons." Spy growled dangerously low as he balled both his fists and turned around. "I will murder the both of you." He threatened, but Spy could honestly say whatever he damn well pleased, his flushed skin either from embarrassment or anger was in mighty contrast with the pink paint and that only made it a funnier sight to see.

 

Honestly, nothing was going to take away the sheer pleasure of this moment, not even when Spy actually lunged forward to punch someone. Because even though he was so what dying from laughter, Scout still had the responsiveness to grab Sniper by the wrist and get the both of them out of there.

 

They made a beeline for the base, Sniper barely being able to keep up with Scout's pace, but he still managed it somehow. Once inside, Scout threw the backdoor closed behind them, leaning against it and harshly breathing in and out with on the tail end of each exhale a breathy laugh as he looked back at Sniper who was also still trying to catch his breath.

 

At least they were save, Spy was not going to show up at base looking the way he did right now.

 

"Holy shit. That was the funniest thing, I fuckin' can't."

 

"Can't argue with that, bloody hell." Sniper agreed quickly, his cheeks hurting from smiling so much. He hadn't had so much fun in ages, let alone laugh so hard both his sides were aching from it. Spy just looked like such an idiot with that bright shade of pink on his face and clothes and don't even get him started on the expression that had painted his face. Ah, it was perfect. "Thanks, mate. I really appreciate ya doin' that for me."

 

Scout waved his hand, shifting his balance so he'd stop leaning against the door. "Don't worry 'bout it, Snipes. You've done so much for me lately, it was time for me to return some o' that."

 

They walked towards the kitchen after hearing that most of the team was hanging out there, both trying to act as if they weren't just responsible for the best prank ever, but as they entered the room, they were greeted by a rather peculiar sight.

 

Everyone had taken a seat around the table, all showering a certain cat they hadn't really seen before with attention as it walked from one person to the other on the kitchen table. Yes, six grown up men were lovingly giving attention to a cat as if it were the most precious thing they've seen in a long while.

 

"What the hell are you all doin' with ma cat?"

 

"Is this lil' fella yours?" Engineer questioned as Teddy brushed his snout against the hardhat's hand. "We didn't know ya had a cat."

 

Medic's expression turned bewildered, Sniper already knowing where this was leading to. "Your cat? But I thought Sniper said zhis vas his cat?"

 

"Yeah, no." Scout elaborated. "Snipes told ya that 'cos we didn't know if you're allowed to have any animals at base. Teddy's mine."

 

"Teddy? What a lovely name!" Soldier barked. "Just like the nickname of our 26th president. Good job, Scout." Sniper was rather convinced Scout hadn't given Teddy his name just to keep the American spirit alive, but no one was going to burst that bubble for Sol. That'd be mean.

 

"Contract never said we are not allowed to keep pet." Heavy offered, shrugging his shoulders as he looked at Medic. "Doctor has doves, so it is fine."

 

"Yeah, I know that now. It's a miracle no one has seen 'em any earlier though. Teddy's been wanderin' 'round the buildin' ever since I knew pets were allowed."

 

"It's a right shame!" Demo cut in loudly, but suddenly became very gentle as Teddy walked out his way. "This little lad is just as much a part o' our team as the rest o' us is."

 

Sniper watched Scout cock up a playful eyebrow, eyes half-lidded with amusement as they both watched their teammates totally fall in love with Teddy. "Look at 'em. Teddy's actin' like he hasn't had any affection in days."

 

"It's a cat, mate. The second they notice someone's keen on givin' them some attention, they'll put on the most dramatic act to actually get it."

 

"Kind a like Spy, then?"

 

Sniper snickered, bringing a hand up to pull Scout's hat over his eyes. "Yeah, loike spook."

 

Though as the eight of them were enjoying this nice moment together, the sudden sound of the backdoor falling shut made them quiet down. Of course Sniper momentarily contemplated the possibility of Spy entering, but the others weren't aware of the fact that the Frenchman had left in the first place, so it was logical for them to get a bit wary.

 

Moments later, footsteps echoed through the hallway and to Sniper's surprise, they didn't match Spy's at all. These sounded more flat and were a whole lot lighter than Spy's as well. People shared looks with one another and this sudden tension fell over them until the sound stopped and someone came from around the corner.

 

She was unfamiliar, unknown. She was a stranger who just suddenly came into their lives with nothing more than a smile, a clipboard and a name.

 

"Hi everyone! I'm Miss Pauling."

--

Chapter Text

The silence had been lingering a bit past awkward at this point and it was starting to show in the behaviour of their mysterious guest. She nervously gripped the side of her clipboard as she obviously sought for words, but the unmoving spirit of her unexpected audience seriously wasn't helping and it even came to a point where Sniper felt sorry for her, whoever she may actually be.

 

"S-so euh... As I said I'm Miss Pauling an- and I'll be the contact person between you guys and The Administrator."

 

"The Administrator?" Engineer asked perplexed and the sudden response that she obviously wasn't expecting, and Sniper wouldn't blame her this usual noisy group of people was being extremely quiet, made her blue eyes grow just that bit bigger behind her purple glasses. "Who may that be?"

 

"She's your boss, actually. I know you guys have been a bit in the dark about that, but that's why I'm here." She took a deep steadying breath as the eight men before her kept staring at her as if she were a difficult formula to solve. They'd only been in that desert for three weeks, how alienated were they already from the outside world?

 

"Oh! Well, reckon that's a good thing! Ain't it boys? We've been followin' a lot of written down orders the past weeks, it's nice to finally speak someone of the company." Engineer eventually said, his brassy southern personality managing to bring nearly everyone at ease with nothing but his words. It was funny how everyone looked up to the hardhat, as if something or someone needed his approval first before the rest decided to trust it too. And for Miss Pauling, Engineer finally acting like a functioning human being towards her had managed a more settled look in her big round eyes and even a quirk in her lips. She just seemed so shy. Sniper recognized her closed off stance like no other.

 

"Yes that's my mistake actually. The original plan was to meet up with you last week, but I failed to meet that deadline... as you've noticed." That last part of her sentence faded into a muttering as she took a quick look through the papers on her clipboard. Her glasses slid a few inches down the bridge of her nose, but she hardly noticed that as now her brow was knitted into the slightest of tangle before she looked back at the group, her eyes sliding along everyone's faces. "... two, three ..." She mumbled to herself as she continued counting heads. ".. six, seven, eight... wait, aren't you guys supposed to be with nine?"

 

"Yeah, we are." Scout spoke up as he and Sniper shared a devious look, their clever prank nothing more than a fresh wound to Spy, hence why he still hadn't shown his face. "Spy's just not here, he's cleanin' somethin' up."

 

"Oh." The perplexity didn't leave her face as Scout informed her about their missing teammate, chances were she was just a bit confused about the sheer delight on both Sniper and Scout's faces. "Well, considering that you've been living here for three weeks already, I suppose there won't be much left to explain, so it doesn't really matter."

 

"Yeah, there were a lotta things we had to learn the hard way. Like respawn, for example" Engineer chimed in and some of the others groaned in unison to confirm the double entendre of Engie's sentence.

 

Another nervous chuckle escaped Miss Pauling as he wrote something down, only making Sniper wonder what that could possibly be. "I'm really sorry about that. Respawn is indeed quite the adventure.. I hope it hasn't given anyone a meltdown or something." Miss Pauling laughed, but just on the edge of his vision, Sniper saw Scout averting his eyes downwards. Sniper had nearly forgotten the toll that system had taken on the runner and how that had only been the start of a horrible weekend, but Scout had fought his way through it with a little assistance from Sniper and honestly? The marksman would do all that again if he had to.

 

"I see the rooms have been divided, the supplies are coming in fine, you've found the keys to respawn and I see the results of the medical exams came in, so that's also already done. Wow, you guys, I'm not even needed." She yet again tried to crack another joke, but the obvious prudence in her eyes only subverted her tries. She looked scared, for whatever reason, as if all of them were ready to kill her and she somehow knew about it. Perhaps she just wasn't that great with meeting new people, she could join the club if she wanted.

 

"Miss Pauling, can I ask a question?" Medic asked, his eyes staring coldly from behind his round glasses. "It is nice to speak to a 'contact person', really, but vill ve ever actually speak to our boss?" His words were drowned in sarcasm, sounding so defensive for no good reason and even though Sniper had to admit that he'd rather be in direct contact with whoever pays him to kill as well, if things had to be the way they are, he also knew it's no use being a pain about it. Honestly, nagging isn't going to change a thing.

 

"I euuh... I don't k-know, Medic."

 

"How can you not know? Is it not a little fishy for us to never hear from her? After all, she is zhe person who hired us." No one had seen Medic this collected to be able to trap someone with nothing but some burning questionnaire. Poor Miss Pauling was puzzled to find a response, the struggle visible in every inch of her face until someone finally decided to put her out of her misery.

 

"Doc, lay the fuck off." Scout suddenly cut in. "If she doesn't know, she doesn't fuckin' know, alright? She just got here, try to make a friend for once." You could see Miss Pauling had appreciated that, had appreciated being saved from that tight spot. The smile she momentarily directed at Scout had the runner's own mouth splitting into a smirk and the whole exchange had Sniper raising an eyebrow at his friend. What the hell was all that about, was the gremlin trying to flirt? Because that was absolute rubbish.

 

"I'm sorry I can't answer your question right now, Medic, once some more light is shed on that, I promise to tell you guys." She yet again jotted something down, probably just a reminder. Sniper didn't know why he was so curious to see what those papers and her notes were about, he just wasn't a fan of secrets despite harbouring plenty himself. "Anyway, I won't bother you guys any further today. Tomorrow, however, I'll need to talk to some of you, but that's just to discuss some things, so nothing to worry about."

 

"Will ye be stayin' here?" Demo asked. "Seems a wee bit pointless to drive all the way back, innit?"

 

"Oh no, indeed I'll be staying here. I saw one of the rooms isn't being used so I'll just claim that one. There'll be times I'll be staying here for a while and others, when I'm needed at the company, you won't see me for a good couple of weeks." It took Sniper a bit to gather that the room she was talking about actually was the one Engineer had assigned him in the start and that he still had the key to it. It was good the room was going to be used for something, now it was just collecting dust under Sniper's priority and he didn't really like that.

 

He'd give her the key after this whole meeting was over.

 

"Look at that, you're a semi new member to our team then!" Engineer spoke enthusiastically, standing up to shake Miss Pauling's hand and finally giving her a proper greeting. The wired atmosphere from before was cracking after everyone had decided that Miss Pauling was a good thing and nothing to worry about, the same loud spirit returning to the group now that the bomb had been defused and everyone actually knew what the fuck was going on.

 

Being on top of things always makes you feel better, that was something Sniper swore by.

 

"You'll be eatin' with us then too, I suppose?" It wasn't as much of an invitation than it was a statement, but Engineer still meant it well. There was slight hesitation in both her movements and her eyes, rather obvious and easy to catch onto. Again, Sniper didn't blame her. She knew them for little less than an hour now, allow her to be cautious.

 

"C'mon, lass! Yer a part of our team now, here no one eats alone, not even Sniper." Of course she didn't understand why Sniper had been mentioned like that, Miss Pauling obviously couldn't know everyone's personality yet and that was visible in the perplexed look she gave Sniper. The marksman merely shrugged his shoulders as everyone else laughed about it, because honestly they weren't wrong. Even Sniper had become part of this team.

**********************

"Oh, c'mon mate, how can ya say apple pie's the best dessert there is? That's bloody rubbish."

 

"Oh yeah? What's better, huh? Enlighten me, Snipes."

 

Sniper let a long pause stretch out between them, raising one eyebrow and his mouth quirking up in half a grin as he looked at the runner walking by his side. "Chocolate cake, that's where it's bloody at." Scout rolled his eyes, gently punching Sniper in the shoulder as he clearly disagreed with that dessert choice.

 

"You're a freakin' lunatic! Chocolate cake is disgustin'! Don't ya guys have taste buds in Australia?" That ridiculous comment made Sniper laugh, pleasantly humming around the cigarette in his mouth as they walked through an empty battlefield towards the place where Sniper's nest was located. Earlier today the marksman had mentioned going up there and seeing what the wildlife around here was like and Scout had seemed rather eager to come with, justifying his reason with the fact that he thought sniper rifles were really cool and he wanted to see something like that up close... The kid probably had nothing better to do.

 

"Totally forgot, mate. It's koind a loike a national thing back in Australia that nobody there has taste buds."

 

"I fuckin' bet! Chocolate cake..." He muttered bitterly "Absolutely disgustin'." Sniper just rolled his eyes at that as he flicked a few ashes off his cigarette. He tried his best to make sure his little habit wouldn't inconvenience Scout, but the runner hadn't said one word about the smoke either irritating him or making him feel nauseous, so Sniper guessed it was fine. They were outside anyways. Still, better be safe than sorry.

 

"Okay okay, wait, lemme try again then, mister 'Chocolate cake's the best.'" Scout spoke thoughtfully as they climbed the stairs, his pace being so quick he always managed to stay two steps ahead of Sniper as he talked to him. Just looking at the kid already made Sniper's muscles ache and his heart race just that tiny bit as Scout started walking backwards and clearly wasn't minding his steps. How was this kid still in one piece? Sniper was surprised not every bone in his entire body had been broken at least once.

 

"You've got my attention." Awaiting Scout's proposal, Sniper took to his normal position and propped his rifle up on the wooden windowsill of the nest, eyes training on the barren desert beneath them while his ears listened to whatever his company had to say. He usually was alone while out hunting or during target practise, but the marksman knew how to shift his point of concentration rather quickly if he really had to. Perhaps the only times he wouldn't even notice the world ending around him is whenever his focus had been on one particular thing for too long. That's why that rotten BLU Spy managed to get him from time to time, battle wasn't anything different than hours and hours of focusing on enemy heads after all.

 

"Tiramisu." That single world had sounded so distant and out of place that Sniper had nearly been startled by it. Either his previous train of thought had already been completely proven wrong or Scout had put this odd empathize on that word and no matter way you'd listened to it, it would have sounded strange. "I swear if ya tell me that ya don't like tiramisu we can't be freakin' friends, man."

 

"Oh yeah," Sniper hummed in response, mouth curling into a little smile where he was still gazing through his scope. "ya gotta have real priorities loike wot koind of dessert someone loikes before ya can call 'em a real friend, don't ya?"

 

"Hey, don't push it, man. You're already on thin ice with me after this whole likin' chocolate cake better than apple pie problem, alright?" The marksman took a look over his shoulder as he heard the amusement creep into Scout's voice, seeing the kid had taken a seat on a left over crate and was taking his time looking around. "Ya still gonna answer me? Or can I just take ma guesses from the silence that ya really don't know what good food is?"

 

"No, don't worry. I'll have to agree with ya here. Tiramisu is bloody amazin'." This was the silliest conversation Sniper has had with someone in a long while, but he'd be lying if he said he didn't enjoy it. No threatening double entendres he'd have to scavenge for, no hostile growling, just a stupid conversation about desserts and it's all he ever wanted.

 

"What are ya actually doin'?" Scout asked as he got up from the crate and moved to where he was right next to Sniper. He grabbed the edge of the wooden windowsill and leaned forwards, taking a look at what the view from up there actually looked like. A single moment after Scout's question had left his mouth, Sniper crushed the remainders of his cigarette into the same spot he'd very well abused with that action. He shouldn't do that, this nest wasn't actually his after all, but it was simply yet another bad habit.

 

"To put it boldly, 'm lookin' for animals."

 

"Oh yeah, the whole 'searchin' for wildlife' thingy, right?" Sniper nodded his head. "So, you're a hunter then, I suppose?"

 

"Well, I wouldn't really call myself a hunter, it's more a hobby I haven't practised in a whoile." Thinking about it, seeing an actual human head within the targets of his scope had been a way more frequent thing for Sniper to experience than some animal he found roaming around on one of his camping trips and that prior to Fortress. Animals are always so much more careful, as if they know they're being hunted. Humans don't live with such a fear, well... usually they don't.

 

"An'? Are ya seein' anythin'?" Scout had his arms crossed over the windowsill and leaned into that action as he was still busy looking around. Was he bored? He didn't really look like it, but Sniper wouldn't hold it against him if he was. Scout had proven that he could stand having Sniper's silent ass around, said he even enjoyed his company, but scouring the land for animals wasn't the most interesting activity surely when you're not the one doing it.

 

"No, haven't spot anythin' yet. But, thinkin' about it, I probably won't spot anythin' that interestin'."

 

"How so?"

 

"If I have to take my guesses, most animals around here are nocturnal." Sniper ceased looking through his scope long enough to catch a glimpse of Scout wrinkling his noise and furrowing his brow at what Sniper just had said. That look always cracked him up, Scout had the habit of wrinkling his noise a lot. Either when he was laughing, smiling, frowning or even yelling, his nose would be wrinkled and his teeth would be bare. It was rather endearing, if Sniper had to be honest.

 

"They're what now?"

 

"Nocturnal." Sniper responded, suppressing the urge to laugh, afraid Scout might think he's laughing at him rather than with him. "It means they live at noight. Surely in a desert it's rather common 'cause it's so bloody hot durin' the day. Rabbits, skunks, some snakes like the Western Prairie Rattlesnake or King snake are nocturnal and of course owls, bats and even some spoiders are nocturnal too. Either their sense of hearin' or soight is adapted to live only at noight and it would just hurt for 'em to be awake durin' the day or their habitat is more pleasant at noight then it is durin' the day."

 

"So... deserts?"

 

"Exactly." Either Scout was a mean actor or he was really interested in what Sniper had to say. Either way, perhaps Scout wasn't as bored as Sniper thought he was, at least the colour of his voice didn't give away any tedious feelings.

 

"Wait so, comin' up here was a bad idea then?"

 

"Not really. Some animals are always active, loike coyotes for example. So, it's worth a shot."

 

Scout sighed out loudly, with on the tail end of that a breathy laugh. "Holy shit man, I thought ya said ya were an assassin for seventeen years, where did ya get all that freakin' knowledge?"

 

The marksman shrugged, his spine growing rigid the moment he thought to have spotted something far off in the distance, but relaxed back moments later when it appeared to be nothing more than dust kicking up. Disappointing. "I always thought animals were far more interestin' than people were." He said plainly, far from recognizing the antisocial layer of that message simply because this had always been his opinion for as long as he could remember. "I learned a lot from books we had at home and from listenin' to stories my dad told me about the outback and wot koind of animals that lived there and when we eventually started goin' out huntin' together I learned a lot from practise. Actually seein' animals up close tells ya a lot about their behaviour."

 

"Seventeen years is also a lotta practise an' ya still don't know how to keep up a conversation."

 

Sniper chuckled. "Oh c'mon mate, ya gotta give me some credit. I manage to survoive the day with you around, don't I?" Scout stuck his tongue out at the marksman's comment and Sniper simply shook his head, a knowing smile resting on his lips as he deciding to leave out the part where he actually very much enjoyed having him around. That'd boost the gremlin's ego a tad bit too far, wouldn't it?

 

Moments passed until Sniper finally decided that it'd be no use to look any further. If he hadn't spot anything by now, he probably wouldn't for the rest of the day. He shortly thought about returning during the night, knowing there'd be way more to see then. Perhaps if he'd encounter yet another sleepless night he could consider going out, after all he never managed to fall back asleep anyway and staying in his camper had proven to drive him insane at times.

 

"I hope ya didn't expect anythin' cool to happen, 'cause then I'll have to let ya down, mate." Sniper spoke suddenly after moments of silence as he took one more look through his scope. "Sorry to waste away your Saturday afternoon loike that. Bet there are far more excoitin' things to do than- "

 

"Hey man, I was the one askin' to come with, remember?" Scout cut in. "Ya should know by now that I just like havin' ya 'round, 'm not here to spice up ma Saturday, 'm here to spend time with ya."

 

Somewhere Sniper knew all that, yet it still sounded extremely odd to his ears.

 

"An' besides! It ain't 'cos there aren't any animals to shoot that ya can't show me how that freakin' thing works." Sniper looked up from his scope with a raised eyebrow, not quite understanding what he meant by that and saw Scout smiling down at him.

 

"Wot do ya mean?"

 

"Shoot somethin' man! I wanne see how this works!" Sniper's expression didn't quite change, besides the fact that the corners of his mouth slightly quirked up. He hesitated for a second, but only for a second as he realised there was no harm in showing Scout a piece of his daily work.

 

"Alroight." Sniper muttered, taking another look through his scope to find his inanimate target. "Err... see that bottle there?" The marksman tried to point out the position, seeing Scout crane his neck left and right to find it only to eventually nod his head.

 

"Yeah, ya gonna try an' shoot th-" Scout's sentence got cut off by a loud gunshot and, with a moments delay, the sound of glass shattering in the distance. Sniper smiled at the sight. The bottle had been completely pulverized and nothing was left. Easy job done.

 

"Holy shit!" Scout exclaimed after a moment of silence, yet again grabbing the edge of the nest and nearly lunging himself forward to take a better look, as if his eyes had deceived him or something. "What the fuck, man! That went so fuckin' quick, what the hell! How good is your freakin' accuracy?" Scout sounded so amazed, even though that shot had been absolutely nothing special. It wasn't a moving object nor was it alive, so basically the easiest thing to shoot.

 

"It's nothin' special."

 

"Nothin' special? Man, give yourself some freakin' credit! I couldn't even finish ma sentence, that's how quick ya were! An', like, there ain't anythin' left of the bottle! That's impressive!" It'd been a rather long while since the last time anyone had been impressed by Sniper's skills. Obviously the people who'd hire him to be an assassin had seen 'real potential' in him, but next to that it'd become normal to Sniper that he was able to shoot the dust off of someone's shoes. So normal so, that he forgot most other people couldn't do this type of things.

 

Sniper knew he was good, it'd be ridiculous of him to try and counter that, but praise was a rather surreal thing to him. Not because he never got it from others, but more because he hardly got it from himself.

 

"Hey Snipes, ya think I can have a try?" Sniper's brain just stopped working for a single moment after Scout had asked that. That request felt like a red light all over again. It wasn't that he didn't trust Scout, of course he did, but his rifle was just a whole other thing. He'd always told himself that if anyone wanted it, they'd have to pry it from his cold dead hands, that's how strong his opinion was about that. It was overly dramatic, of course it was, but giving his rifle away to anyway even if it was for just one shot somehow made him believe that his most trusted possession would turn against him somehow. However ridiculous that may sound.

 

But... that had also been his opinion about his camper if he remembered correctly and Scout was there so often now he didn't even know why he worried so much in the start. Obviously something was different with this kid, else Sniper wouldn't have allowed to let him in on so much, wouldn't allow him this close. Maybe... maybe he should give it a try, prove to himself he didn't have to listen to all these foolish accusations.

 

"Err... yeah." Sniper quickly decided, before he could possibly change his mind again. "'course ya can give it a try." A big enthusiastic smile settled on Scout's face and the sight of that alone already made Sniper feel better. Scout had no ill intent, Scout wasn't going to screw him over, Scout was his friend.

 

"Alright, alright," The runner muttered to himself as he gently took the rifle from Sniper. The way he ever so carefully tried to place his hands and mind nearly everything he did, the marksman believed he'd made the right choice. "Okay, alright, fuck this shit's intimidatin'."

 

Well, Scout wasn't lying when he said he had no experience with rifles whatsoever. He wasn't holding it right, for starters, with his left hand being far too close to the trigger to have a good grip on the gun. That might work with his shotgun that had barely any barrel, but now that strategy would not help him and possibly knock him in the face too given the recoil on that thing. Scout wasn't weak, Sniper knew that, but there's a world of difference between the recoil on a shotgun and the recoil on a rifle.

 

But before Sniper could say anything about it and correct whatever he was doing wrong, Scout tried his hand at a shot anyway.

 

"Oh fuck!" Luckily Scout had the reflex to move his face away from the scope before it could leave him with a black eye, the expression on his countenance rather shocked as he looked back at Sniper, who in his turn tried not to laugh. That would be mean. "I euh... I didn't know ya needed this much strength to shoot this thing."

 

"Ya don't necessarily need strength, ya need control. I've been doin' this since I was fourteen, ya really think I was strong back then?" Sniper could see that Scout was a bit disappointed and that the idea of never trying this again was already settling in his head, but not on Sniper's watch. If he wanted to try it out, it should happen properly. "C'mon, I'll show ya, alroight?"

 

Scout seemed a bit hesitant in the start, but eventually agreed to it anyway. "So, to start, ya need to place your hands differently." Sniper pointed out, physically placing Scout's hands were they needed to be. "This'll give ya a better grip and already way more control." Scout nodded. "Second, ya have to spread your legs a bit, so your stance will allow ya to actually be able to resist the recoil you're met with." The runner obliged, testing his footing by shifting from one foot to the other for a moment.

 

To fulfil the last step, Sniper stood right behind Scout, not recognizing the fact that he was very well breaching Scout's personal space as he placed his hands on Scout's and helped him hold the rifle up to his eye. "Now before ya take a shot, ya try to keep your hands as steady as ya can get 'em and hold your breath for a moment and once ya have your target in soight, pull the trigger." Sniper didn't exactly know what Scout had picked as his target, but he had a good guess it'd be the window at the other side of the battlefield from watching over the kid's shoulder.

 

"Steady... steady..." Sniper spoke calmly as he moved his hands to rest on Scout's shoulders once he was convinced the runner would be able to do it on his own. "And... shoot." The bullet left the rifle in perfect sync with Sniper's words, two pairs of eyes closely watching how it hit the corner of the window and set off a chain reaction that shattered the rest of the glass.

 

"Fuck yes!" The victory cry coming from Scout was loud and enthusiastic, the smile splitting his lips big and bursting with pride as the runner leaned back to look at Sniper.

 

"Good job, mate." Sniper smiled back. "See, it's not that hard, is it?"

 

"Oh no, it's not that hard indeed, it's extremely difficult." The marksman chuckled at the reply, but before he could even remotely open his mouth again to answer, the familiar sound of wood creaking under the pressure of someone's weight shook Sniper right out of the conversation, turning around to see what possible threat could be coming out their way.

 

Though once he was met with two round blue eyes staring like a stag caught in headlights from behind her purple glasses, always looking a little guilty, he knew it was no threat. Just Miss Pauling.

 

"Hi guys." Her words were the final thing to bring him back to earth as he realised he still had his hands on Scout's shoulders and quickly pulled them back. Scout, however, seemed to not care at all as he turned himself around and casually greeted her.

 

"Hi there, gorgeous." Oh no, he was back at it with the horrible flirting. "Ya need anythin'?"

 

"Actually yes." She pointed out matter-of-factly. "Could you leave Sniper and me alone for a moment, please?" That was suspicious. Sniper remembered how she mentioned yesterday that'd she would have a talk with some of them, but he'd expected Engineer or Medic, hell even Spy, but him? This wasn't good...

 

Scout gave Sniper a quick look-over, but the marksman only shrugged. He didn't want the kid to worry or possibly think something bigger was going on and hold him from digging himself even deeper into Sniper's business, that'd be better for him. Really.

 

"Euh, yeah. Of course." The runner handed Sniper's rifle back before speaking some departing words and leaving the nest all together. Now it was just Miss Pauling and Sniper and a stress full tension that build up with every beat of his heart.

 

What was this going to be about?

 

"I only need to ask you a few - few questions." It didn't exactly help that Miss Pauling herself sounded nerves as well. As if she badly wanted to ask something, but simply didn't dare to. "So, the contract with your previous employer had been completely terminated, right?" Sniper only nodded, hating how he had no idea of how this would play out. This could go so many ways and Sniper wasn't prepared for any of them. "You haven't heard anything of them either? Like, there weren't any problems after you stopped working there?"

 

"No." Sniper muttered. It was clear that his rather absent answers weren't helping Miss Pauling at all. There was something on the edge of her tongue, Sniper could see it, but it wasn't coming out.

 

"Okay, that's great." She smiled and Sniper was surprised by the rather sincere nature of that act. "Good to know there won't be any problems." She pushed her glasses back into place, looking as if she was ready to leave already and for a moment there, as she actually walked towards the door, Sniper believed this was it and that he had absolutely nothing to worry abo-

 

"Oh, before I go..."

 

Oh boy, never mind, here it was.

 

The look in her eyes had turned apologetic as she let the silence linger. Meanwhile Sniper's heart was threatening to beat out of his chest, but he wouldn't show that, of course not."They... stopped searching for you and... so did the family. You're safe."

 

What the fuck?

 

Really?

 

Sniper didn't say a word, he felt nauseous and utterly bad, but he didn't say a word. His entire outlook told Miss Pauling that it was better to just leave, at this point there wouldn't be coming anything useful out of Sniper anyway and after dumping that information on him, anyone would have wanted to be alone.

 

He watched her go and sagged onto one of the crates, having to sit down for a moment. This couldn't be true right? How was this possible? After all these months of pure misery this is the news he got? It didn't exactly make him feel any better, on the contrary.

 

But if he felt so torn up and guilty about this whole feud from the moment it happened, then why did he spend the last months heedlessly running without direction instead of turning himself in?

 

Because he was a coward, that's why.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

He was a criminal just like the very people he'd been eliminating over the years. His soul was polluted with nothing more than the heavy burden of what his actions had fulfilled and it was killing him.

 

This whole 'second change'; Fortress and well... Scout, were nothing more than an illusion he so desperately wanted to believe. An exterior to protect him from a dire reality that was so unbelievably keen on biting his ass, sooner or later.

 

And now the fact that this new company knew. It was like pulling the rug from beneath his feet, making him lose balance and fall. What was he supposed to do with all that information? "They stopped searching for you" well they shouldn't have, because Sniper was getting away with too much yet so little and mentally that was taking a serious toll. Either way you turn this cluster fuck, Sniper had committed a crime. Actually, he had been for seventeen years and after all that trial and tribulation of ruining countless of lives someone just walked into his RV and told him he was safe.

 

How? Where's the catch? Sniper had proven before to not be this lucky, when was he going to pay?

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