For the first time in his life Flash could really hear the silence. Not a sound. Even his own heart seemed to have stopped beating. Or did it stop?
He opened his heavy eyelids with great difficulty and saw grey. Not that he held anything against that neutral and, to some people, dull color, but this time its dreariness and hopelessness crushed the merc. Everything was blurry and it was hard to make out anything in that heavy grey mass. His eyes closed only to slid open and clear his eyesight.
The sky, grey and covered with clouds. Or was it ash?
Metal, cold and lifeless. Also grey. And blue, too. Wait, blue?
Suddenly, there was a ringing in his ears and Flash started to feel again. He was lying on his right side on the barely warm ground, soaked in something red. His numb legs began to ache from impact, his head splitting from all the ringing and the stifling air.
He tried to stand, leaning on his arm for support, when a pang of pain exploded in his left shoulder. Letting out a pained groan, the boy had to use his right arm instead of his injured left one.
Pulling himself upright, Flash looked around. He was surrounded with piles of metal or, rather, dead robots. Although, could robots be dead since they were never alive in the first place?
Little by little, he started to recall the latest events. Robots, Mann's army, the battle. His team!
"Oh, no. No, no, no." he said, a broken whisper, and scrambled to his feet, hissing at the way his whole body hurt. Pressing a dusty hand to the gash on his left shoulder, Flash immediately felt the warm fluid on his skin.
Blood. He'd been lying in a pool of his own blood.
He began looking around, panic rising in his stomach. He spun his head around, trying to find a single spot of red - his team's color - in this monotonous grey and blue landscape. The only red on the battlefield was blood.
Flash darted to the nearest heap of scrap metal, staggering, and his knees wobbling. He tried digging through it with his uninjured arm, staining robots’ lifeless bodies with blood and not finding anything alive. Or even dead.
Running from one pile to another, he tripped on something lying on the ground. A baseball bat with rubber grip tape, grey, just like everything else. No sign of red, except for a blood stain on the handle. Scout.
Flash kneeled in front of the bat, examining the dents in it, then carefully took it with his good hand and resumed his searching. He ignored the small tremor in his fingers. Near the same pile a white spot caught his attention. One of the runner’s baseballs, with a small hole in its side. He picked it up as well, not noticing the way his lower lip trembled.
Instead of panic he felt desperation climbing up to his closing throat. He furiously dug through more piles of metal, his newly bleeding wound long forgotten. The blood oozed from it, invisible against the red of his uniform t-shirt.
Tears blurred his vision, blending all of the colors before his eyes. Carelessly wiping them away with his sleeve and smearing his face with dirt and blood, he kept on digging, until something rolled out of the heap, previously buried in it. A helmet, sort of cracked, with a bright red bloodstain on the side.
The mercenary lifted it with a shaking hand, choking on his silent sobs. He backed away, suddenly hearing a sickening crunch of glass under his heel. Flash turned around with a gasp, realizing that he stepped on Spy’s 'Death Ringer". The already cracked glass inside the pocket watch shattered under Diversionist’s foot.
“Oh, shit! Shit, shit, no, sorry, I’m sorry…” Flash rambled, squatting over the PDA and flicking away the glass shards from the golden watchcase. Picking it up, he gently closed the device and shoved it in his pocket.
This is bad. Like, really, really bad. First the bat and the ball, then the helmet, now this… They wouldn’t just leave them out here, the merc thought. Are they all…? No, please, it can’t be.
His breath quickened once more, his eyes became watery, and another painful sob escaped his mouth. Pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes, he fell to his knees, hot fat tears rolling down his cheeks. Flash could restrain himself no longer.
During the days he spent in here, he already got used to his new team. Scout’s endless chattering and arrogance, Soldier’s yelling and his short temper, Pyro’s creepy stares. Demo’s smell of alcohol, Heavy’s intimidating build, Engineer’s tricks. Medic’s craziness, Sniper’s quirks and even Spy’s lack of emotion. But he got not only used to them, but also greatly attached to them. Flash loved each and every one member of his team, and now he lost them. The very thought of it made his heart shatter all over again.
When his sobs finally died out, he managed to wipe his face and looked up to the sky. It blended with the rest of his grey surroundings, and the dark storm clouds still refused to rain. With a heavy sigh, Flash rose from his knees and looked around once more. Through the clouds of dust and ash in the air, as if through a fog, he suddenly saw a faint light. Hissing at the pain in his shoulder, he broke into a run towards it, and soon he was able to make out the silhouette of the building in the distance. Most of its windows were broken, but there was an electric light in one of them.
Flash let out another sob, full of last hope, speeding up his pace towards the base, attempting to hold all of his findings in his arms without dropping any of them, leaving a small trace of blood behind.
The common room was quiet. Most of the mercs were here – someone was standing against the wall, someone was sitting on a bench, on a chair, on the floor. But there was still one missing.
The mercenaries got used to having ten members in the team instead of nine. It took them a lot of time to get there. Now it’s nine of them again. It would seem that everything is back to normal, but instead of number ten there was an empty, gaping hole in their chests. A part of them was missing.
No one dared to look into each other’s faces, hiding their bloodshot eyes and tear streaks on their cheeks. Some put their hands on each other’s shoulders, offering some kind of emotional support in mournful silence.
They heard footsteps running in the hall. Everyone in the room tensed up, waiting for an escaped cold robot to burst in through the door. Spy listened to the footsteps and his eyebrow rose in surprise. They didn’t sound like the enemy robot’s iron legs. They staggered, tumbled and rushed, but were still determined to reach the room. No one sprung up from their seats or made a move to take their weapons, too emotionally and physically exhausted.
Someone forcefully leaned on the door with their shoulder, and it swung open, hitting the wall. Diversionist appeared in the doorway – covered in dirt and ashes, dusty hair matted, clothes soaked with blood in some places. There was a baseball bat tucked under his arm, a baseball in his right hand and a helmet in the left one. His face grimy and damp was still flushed from all the crying. The room was completely silent, save the uneven ticking of a broken wall clock and Flash’s heavy breathing.
“I… You.. are all here. I thought- gosh, I thought you were all dead! I was looking for you everywhere, and- oh! I found your bat, Scout! And the ball, too.” His green eyes quickly found the runner, who sat there with his jaw on the floor and his eyes like saucers. Flash’s gaze darted to Soldier, who was standing near the bench he was sitting on earlier. The older man’s eyes weren’t covered as usual and stared freely at the newcomer.
“A-and your helmet, Soldier! It’s a bit crumpled, I think, but, b-but…” His voice broke, a small sob escaping his lips. He turned around to look at Spy in the other end of the room. His cigarette went off, long forgotten. “Oh, Spy, I’m so sorry! I broke your ‘Death Ringer’. It was lying on the ground; I didn’t see it, stepped on it and…” His shaking fingers fished out the golden watchcase out of his pants pocket, almost dropping the device on the ground.
Scout stood up from his seat abruptly, drawing attention of everyone in the room to himself with legs of his chair screeching against the tiled floor. He’d been sitting near the farthest wall, directly opposite the door, and now was standing right in front of Flash. He made a hesitant step towards the slightly younger man and then dashed at him, slamming into his friend he thought he lost and embracing him, squeezing tightly. All of Flash’s finds dropped to the floor, clattering loudly.
“We thought we lost you” Scout murmured, not trusting his own voice, thick with grief and relief. Then, a bit louder, he continued and his voice broke. “We thought you were gone. We were terrified.”
He shuddered, crying into the crook of Flash’s neck and biting his lip. Diversionist blinked, a single tear falling on Scout’s t-shirt. Chapped lips broke into a small smile. He hugged the man just as tightly.
Pyro joined them from the side. Squeezing both of them tight, they rubbed their masked head against Flash’s good shoulder, ignoring the way it shook. Soldier approached, too, pressing his forehead to Diversionist’s temple and putting his arms around his teammates. Demo, Engineer and even Heavy hurried over to touch him, simultaneously muttering relieved curses.
They stood there for several minutes, until weary, but bright voice interrupted them. “Now, now, stop clinging already.” Medic smiled softly, “He needs a checkup, come on now, let the poor junge breathe.”
One by one the mercs squeezed each other one last time and stepped aside, letting Medic to gently lead Flash away into another room, which they turned into a temporary infirmary. There was a low table with rolls of gauze, different meds and medical equipment, buckets of water with rags in them on the floor and a Medi gun in the corner. Medic sat down his patient on one of the chairs that were in the room and moved a bucket towards him. Flash took the rag hurriedly and scrubbed his face and hands with it, while Medic cleaned his wound and other small scratches which Diversionist never noticed before. His hands were scuffed from all the scrap metal he dug through, and one of his pants was torn, his knee bleeding. Flash felt a wave of relief wash over him when Medic finally healed him, but his whole body still ached from exhaustion.
Medic hurried over to another table and took a bottle of water, handing it over to the younger man, who dried half of it, rinsing out the blood from his mouth. He thanked Medic, giving him back the bottle, when he noticed the way the German’s piercing blue eyes were looking at him.
“What?” he asked, his voice still shaky.
“I’m just glad that you’re with us, mein freund.” Medic replied, a warm smile blooming on his face, the kind of smile he had only when Heavy was around. Flash’s heart fluttered at the thought. Unexpectedly, the doctor spread out his arms for a hug. Diversionist jumped to his feet and buried his face in the older man’s chest, feeling the gloved hands stroking his hair and rubbing his back. They stayed like that for a while.
Medic was left to tidy up in the infirmary, while Flash returned to the common room. The bat, the ball, the helmet and the pocket watch were gone from the floor. Everyone else left the room, cleaning the base and readying themselves for the night. The only mercenary in the room, still standing against the wall, was Sniper. His slouch hat was covering his eyes, his arms were crossed on his chest.
Flash approached him hesitantly. “…Sniper?”
The assassin raised his head, unaware of another person in the room until now. “Flash. How’re you?"
“All right. You?” Flash noted the way the Australian’s fingers dug into his skin.
Sniper kept quiet. Then he sharply straightened up, coming closer to the boy until there was only a foot between them. His eyes were kind of shiny under the brim of his hat. “I was afraid. That you’re gone, that is. But you’re here, and now it’s all good.”
Flash didn’t keep it together and asked for a hug. Sniper, an introvert and possibly the most awkward person on Earth, did not waste a second.
It rained at last, raindrops dampening down the dust and the ashes that were still floating over the battlefield. Flash went out on the balcony to get some fresh air but he immediately smelled cigarette smoke. It didn’t matter how much Spy was smoking or how long Diversionist tried to accept it, he got sick from the mere sight of it.
His presence did not go unnoticed. Spy glanced over his shoulder, flicking a cigarette end out over the railing. “Excusez-moi, mon ami. I assume you wanted to get some air? I’ll go somewhere else.”
“No no, Spy, you're all right!” Flash came closer, trying to focus on the smell of rain. He didn’t want to be alone right now.
“As you wish.”
They were quiet for some time. Soon enough Spy finished his cigarette. He put it out on the railing and dropped it, his hands already moving inside his suit to get a new one. He stopped himself and crossed his arms on the handrail instead.
“Y’know… I’m sorry about your ‘Death Ringer’, Spy.” the boy was the first one to break the silence. “I didn’t mean to break it.”
“It is fine, Feint. I understand.”
Flash smiled weakly at the nickname. “I was so scared. Every time I found your guys’ stuff, I lost hope, I started to panic. You wouldn’t just leave them on the battlefield. I thought you were…”
He stumbled on the last word, choking on the lump in his throat. Spy put a hand on his shoulder gently, but firmly. Flash glanced up at him in surprise.
“It is all right, Alex. You found us, just like you found our belongings. We’re here, and you’re here with us. Right now, this is all that matters.”
They barely called him by his real name, but when they did, it made him feel warm and safe. Fresh tears came into his eyes, and Flash cuddled closer to the French, clutching the arm that was still one his shoulder with his fingers. Even if Spy worried about his suit being intact, he didn’t anything. He just tightened his gloved grip on Diversionist’s thin shoulder.
Rain patted on the ground. Spy didn’t want another cigarette.