Pyro and Scout stood on a concrete lip, overlooking the battlefield and talking softly. To a casual observer, they could have been two brothers, being close in age and dressed similarly enough to fool the eye into making that mistake. Nothing could be further from the truth though, they’d been thrown together on this RED team, the youngest members by nearly a decade, and that alone gave them a reason to bond. They’d both dealt with the ribbing and joking, the casual comments about inexperience together. That had helped. The fact that they genuinely liked each other was icing on the cake.
Pyro glanced around, a dismissive glance taking in the barns, the big wooden buildings they would fight in, the tracks that ran through the middle of the yard. “Barnblitz.” He nearly spat the word. “Who the hell names these places anyway?”
Scout, standing beside him, chuckled. “Hey, at least it’s not ColdFront, right?” The two young men shivered in tandem, then grinned at each other. “Weather’s not too terrible here, ya know?” Neither of them had been fond of the cold, the snow, the isolation of the Alaska base.
Pyro plucked at a loose string on the sleeve of his sweater, then frowned. “True, but the dorms here…” He let the sentence trail off. They’d been appalled when they arrived, the base’s living area was not much of a living area in their opinion. The surrounding mountains blocked tv signals, so there was no tv, the radio stations were all country, Engie was blissful but they missed rock music. Add to all this, they had to share rooms, and they both had developed an instant dislike for the place.
At least they were rooming together. They’d been told about the accommodations on the train, on the way here, and after grumbling for the last forty five minutes of the trip, had come up with a plan. On their arrival, Scout dashed off the train, leaving Pyro to carry their duffles, looking for the best room on the base. Unfortunately, all the rooms had looked the same, leaving the ‘old men’ laughing uproariously at Scout’s mad dash through the base. He’d finally picked the one furthest from the shared bathrooms and showers, dropping onto one of the two twin beds and waiting for Pyro to show up with their bags.
Solly and Demo had the room next to theirs, Spy and Medic were directly across the hallway, and Heavy was sharing a room with Engie, next to the bathrooms. Neither of them was happy, the room next to the bathroom was the hardest to sleep in, due to the almost constant foot traffic and the sounds of flushing toilets and running showers. Sniper, when he arrived, would sleep in his van, a source of constant amusement and curiosity to the boys. They’d spent long hours, heads together, watching Sniper come and go. They’d made up stories about what Sniper did in there, ranging from bawdy bordello on wheels to serial killer mobile torture station. They’d tried to peek in the windows, but the curtains hung too low, concealing the interior from them and only adding to their inquisitiveness. Finally, Engie had pulled them to the side and explained to them, in no uncertain terms, what would happen if Sniper caught them snooping. That had just made it worse, although they were certainly more careful to not get caught.
After moving in and a brief but heated argument with Heavy about changing rooms, the two had gone to explore the field. They were the only team members who hadn’t been here before, so they wanted to familiarize themselves with the land. Engie had snorted at this excuse, knowing that it meant they wanted out of helping with dinner, but had let them go. And now, here they stood, in jeans and heavy sweaters, watching the evening sun set from the highest place they could find, a west facing window in the very top of a three story building whose original purpose was unknown.
“So,” Pyro finally spoke, “What would be a better name for this place? Hellhole? Redneck Rampage?” He snickered at the last. “Engie would fit right in.”
Scout started laughing, then shook his head. “Nah, gotta be something really stupid, like Hamburger Hamlet or something.” He looked at the cattle grazing on the far side of the fence. “Hope somebody moves them before we start fighting. I don’t wanna be stuck trying to outrun a stampede.” He watched the placid cows distrustfully. Having grown up in the city, he only knew that they were huge and that in Engie’s westerns they caused a lot of damage. Glancing up at the darkening sky, he turned to the ladder leading down from the roof. “We should probably start back, it’s gonna get dark real fast.”
Wandering back into the base, pushing and shoving at each other, they paused for a moment, watching the rest of the team. Someone had found a big round table and dragged it into the middle of the floor, everyone but Soldier was playing cards, beers in hand. Soldier was clanging pots in the kitchen, cursing loudly, and occasionally yelping as he burned himself or the food.
“Hey guys, you gonna do anything besides play cards?” Scout looked over Demo’s shoulder, shaking his head when he saw the Scotsman’s hand.
“We’re gonna drink, lad. And fight. What else is there?” Demo suddenly noticed Scout reaching for his beer and shooed him off. “Don’t think so, boyo. You gotta have a few more birthdays before you can drink with us.” He grinned to the others, obviously impressed with his own wit.
Scout shrugged and walked off. He’d already signalled to Spy that the hand was a losing hand, earning him and Pyro a beer to share later. Thank God that Spy didn’t seem to give a damn if they drank, unlike some of the rest of the team.
He plopped down on the couch, reading Pyro’s comic over his shoulder. Pyro, sitting on the floor, shrugged and moved his head to the side, giving Scout room to see. They passed the rest of the evening like that, in companionable near silence.
When the others ended their card game, Scout and Pyro gathered up the comics, taking them to the room they shared. Pyro dropped the comics on the small table and looked at the beds. They were already made, prepped by whoever got the bases ready for them. They each occupied a wall, an uncurtained window between them. There were two small dressers and a closet built into the remaining wall. Pyro frowned suddenly. “Hey, Scout.” He started poking around the small room, looking under furniture and in the closet. “There’s no heating vent in here.” He was muttering under his breath now, exploring the room more closely. “It’s fall. That means it’s gonna get cold at night.” He hated the cold, he’d come from the southern US and cold weather was anathema to him.
Scout grunted, knowing he wasn’t fond of the cold, but not as concerned. “Can’t be any worse than Boston. You got blankets, right? Just sleep in your clothes or something.” He started to undress, dropping his dirty clothes where he stood. “You’ll be fine, Py.”
Pyro looked at him doubtfully, then shrugged. “You gonna sleep in your underwear? Better not let Spy find out, he’ll try to make me change rooms with him.” He laughed and dodged the pillow Scout threw at him, then tossed it back. Slowly undressing down to his own underwear and t-shirt, he crawled under the blankets, waiting for them to warm up, leaving Scout to turn off the light. He curled into as tight a ball as he could, and eventually, exhausted by travel and exploring the base, he fell into a light sleep.
Scout woke up in the middle of the night, Pyro was tossing and turning, his bunk creaking with each movement. After laying awake in the dark for a moment, listening, he finally sat up and looked at Pyro’s restless form. “Hey.” He kept his voice a whisper. “What the hell, man?”
“I can’t sleep.” Pyro’s voice came from the other side of the room, sounding miserable.
“No shit.” Scout sighed, knowing that he couldn’t sleep with Pyro making all that noise. “What’s wrong? You have a bad dream?” He lay back down, resting his head on his pillow. It was freezing outside of the blankets.
“No.” The voice was timid. “It’s too cold. Every time I think I’m gonna go to sleep, I shiver and then I’m awake again.” Pyro sighed. “Sorry, Scout. I’ll try to lay still.”
Scout shook his head. “It’s all good, man. Why don’t you just crawl in with me? I’ll warm you up.” He winced suddenly, aware of how that sounded. “Not like that or anything, just…” He paused. “Hell, you know what I mean.”
The relief in Pyro’s voice was palpable. “You’re sure?” He rustled about for a moment, gathering blankets. “I’m too damned cold to care, right now.” Scout’s grunt of affirmation was all he needed. Dashing across the room in the dark, he tossed his blankets on top of Scout, then lifted the pile and burrowed under it. Scout recoiled when Pyro’s flesh touched his. His friend was like ice. “Jeez, man, what the hell?” He yipped in surprise when icy feet were shoved against his legs. “Hey, knock it off!”
“Shhh, don’t, Scout.” Pyro made a grab for his mouth, clapping a hand across his nose and one eye in the dark. “Dude, if the guys come in here, we’re never gonna live this down.” Scout tried to get free of Pyro’s grasping hands, finally pushing one away, able to breathe through his nose again. “Ok, ok.” He whispered. “Would you just lay still and keep your damned feet off me?”
Pyro nodded, barely visible in the thin starlight, then somehow folded himself even closer to Scout, pressing them together in the middle of the twin bed. Arms went around Scout’s neck and he sighed, not sure what to do with his own gangly limbs. Pyro had always been the affectionate one, hugging everyone freely and not worried about how it made him look. At last, out of options, Scout wrapped his own arms around Pyro, holding him close. Their combined body heat under the nest of blankets created a warm cocoon and Scout felt his eyes drifting closed, drowsiness overwhelming him. In his arms, Pyro sighed contentedly, then began to snore softly. Scout let sleep take him.
Spy tried the door knob of Scout and Pyro’s room, surprised when it twisted open under his hand. He’d been sent to wake them up for breakfast, and had resigned himself to standing in the hallway, pounding until one of the two woke up. This was so much better, he thought, knowing how fast they would come awake when he stole their blankets. He peeked inside and froze.
One bed was empty, the other was full of boy, the two so entwined that it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. A slow smile spreading across his face, he darted into his own room and pulled his instant camera out of his duffle. Walking lightly into their room, he framed them in the viewfinder, then pressed the button, the first photo coming out of the little slot of the camera and dropping to the floor. The flash and sound of the shutter clicking had Scout’s eyes fluttering open. Spy quickly began pressing the little button over and over again, frantically trying to catch the photos as they shot out of the camera.
Scout sat up and, realizing what was happening, tried to jump out of bed, ending up crashing to the floor on his face. He frantically began unwrapping blankets from his long, bare legs, Pyro sitting up sleepily, trying to understand what was going on. Before Pyro could make sense of things, Scout was up and running, chasing a maniacally laughing Spy down the hallway, yelling curses.
Pyro groaned, one arm going over his eyes, wanting only to retreat back into the warmth of the blankets. He searched for them blindly, then sat up when he realized they were all piled on the floor. Swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, he looked down, then reached for the small square of colored paper on the floor. He stared at the picture, his expression indecipherable. It was a close up, Scout’s mouth half open in sleep, his buck teeth gleaming whitely, as he lay on his back, eyes closed. Pyro’s own dark head was resting on Scout’s shoulder, his arm curled around the other boy’s neck. Scout’s hand was draped across his own shoulders, pale fingers curled in sleep. Pyro stood slowly, staring down at the photo for another long moment. Finally, he lifted his mattress and shoved the photo underneath, then began to get dressed.
When he finally made it to the kitchen, it was the usual morning chaos. Demo, already swaying a bit, was holding another photo above his head, Scout trying to wrestle his arm down and grab it. Spy sat in a corner, nursing a bloody nose and still holding aching ribs as he tried to stop laughing. The rest of the team was either helping cook or admiring different squares of paper, commenting lewdly on Spy’s photography skills. Pyro shook his head and sat at the table, waiting calmly for the food to be ready.
Medic, sitting in the chair beside him, glanced over his photo and grinned. “Did you have a good night, Kind?” He tried to hide his laughter, but it was impossible.
Pyro shrugged. “It was kind of cold in the beginning, so I crawled in with Scout while he was sleeping.” He tried to deflect the attention, knowing that he could handle the teasing much better than Scout who was still trying to climb Demo and failing miserably.
Medic nodded. “It warmed up quickly after that?” He didn’t bother to keep the smirk off his face.
Pyro just smiled tightly at him, shaking his head. “You never shared body heat, Doc? I thought that you of all people would understand, given your old creaking bones.” He pushed away from the table, laughing at the look on Medic’s face. Engie stepped out of the kitchen then, bellowing for quiet. He scowled at Demo. “Leave that poor boy alone.” He waved vaguely at Scout, still clawing at Demo’s hand. “Ey, he’s trying to climb me, not the other way round.” Demo protested but Engie, in typical Engie fashion, waved off the protests and got everyone settled around the table with full plates. He deftly steered the conversation to other topics, shushing anyone who mentioned pictures or cold weather quickly.
Pyro was glad when the meal was finished and he could escape to the quiet of the empty base. He loved his team, they were more of a family than he’d ever known before, but sometimes the noise was too much, it seemed to crawl inside his head and echo in the empty spaces, clamouring like out of tune church bells.
His mind turned to the picture, tucked securely under his mattress. He’d never thought of Scout as being handsome, or good looking, or anything other than just Scout before, but something about that picture stirred a longing deep in his chest. He shook his head, trying to erase the thought, but it was firmly lodged now. He’d always known he was different, even before he knew what the word arsonist meant. When he’d figured that part out, he’d begun to research, wanting to know as much about his condition as possible.
Most arsonists were male, started setting fires at an early age and were primarily motivated by anger. He fit all those categories. According to the people who study these things, most arsonists had a low IQ and lack of education. He’d immediately shrugged off those claims, he’d been tested at 135, not really genius level, but far from dumb. As for education, he may have had to educate himself, but he had done well.
He definitely fit the bill when it came to isolated and anti social. He didn’t like crowds, didn’t like most people, to be honest. Although he’d come to think of the people on his team as family, he viewed outsiders with distrust and dislike. When he was younger, he’d wanted to grow up to have a relationship, get married,have kids. He’d given up on that dream long ago. He still remembered the girl he’d fallen for, he was perhaps 15 at the time, and he’d been attracted to her flame orange hair from the moment he’d first seen her sitting in a desk in front of him at school. She had told him he was a creep, that she wasn’t interested, and that no one ever would be.
Pyro sighed to himself. He hadn’t hurt the girl, but he had gone on a burning spree that had cost 14 people’s lives and done hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage in the city he lived in. In remorse, he’d tried to kill himself. He had spent time in an asylum, finally being released at the age of 18 and immediately snatched up by TF Industries. Since then, other than the working girls they met at bars, he’d given the female sex a wide berth. He didn’t want to be rejected again.
With a sigh, he pushed himself to standing and went to the track that looped around the base. He started to run, determined to keep at it until he either forgot about this emptiness or vomited, not really caring which came first.