The first thing he became aware of was the metallic groan that seemed to emanate from the floor, grumbling and stirring like a great beast awoken and robbed of its hibernation, grinding at the floor in repulse.
The last thing he could remember was running, always running.
It was what he was paid for, how he made his living, how he killed his enemies.
No, that wasn't the last thing at all . . .
He was jumping, the RED Soldier and Heavy and Demo and all the others taking charge, and he was fleeing, he was running for his freakin' life. He had leapt over a fallen stack of crates when he saw the Sniper skidding in front of him, one arm pouring out blood like a faucet, limp and almost bonelessly so.
As he let out a shout to his injured comrade he was drowned out by the high pitched squeal of a well-aimed, flaring rocket, which slammed and exploded into the ground between both himself and the Sniper, and as red oozed into his vision he caught sight of his still running legs flailing into the air, before he found the ground beneath his neck and it found him, making itself known with a terrible, horrible crack and a broken joint.
A coil was tightening beneath the ground, twisting and eroding, deep under him and temperamental, awakening as he did.
The Scout groaned low in his throat, eyes twitching under their heavy lids. As one by one the senses returned to him, he became aware of his cheek pressed into what he assumed was the ground.
Even hiding behind his eyelids brightness swamped his orbs and drowned him completely, engulfing him.
One eye opened with a flinch and the familiar ache of wear, tear and fatigue, but a forgotten power beneath his frame multiplied and grinded and consumed his entirety. He had broken his neck and other bones too.
There was no pain, yet a floating sensation, his heart regretting each beat yet continuing to work in silence and distracting the militia boys' subconscious mind.
It wasn't at all easy.
Upon weakened bones and silent structure he rolled, rolled to be formerly unto his front; and he heaved himself up, head lolling, grinding, bewitched in a numb pain of oxymoronic quality, no voice to be unearthed, no balance to be achieved.
With heavy eyes and heart and pain inflicted the boy stirred himself and spun on heel, inspecting the surroundings that had no sense thrust upon them. The walls and ground and ceiling, distance however generous and sight however optimistic, the non existent clouds or sky or earth or core, everything was white.
Brightness surrounded him, inundating the seemingly frail little mercenary.
With an unsteady step he fell, slipping on his own feet and whirling his arms to re-establish the fluxuating form of solidity beneath.
Where was he, to be fair is an uncertain question. Through adapt technology and mysterious intervention, the Scout found himself adrift in an unknown world of not his own familiarity, loose and free yet null and enkindled.
Before becoming intermittently paroxysmal, the boy drifted, seemingly floating, lost in the bright world of darkness.
There was no blood. His wounds remained, some open, some obvious and slicing his flesh clean off, some allowing bones to be seen through sinew, heady and pale while surrounded by flushed, exposed pink.
His neck had cracked clean, that was for certain. With strength he managed to keep his view straight and upright, but as energy would sap his weariness and battle vigour would approach him tenfold.
Through fog and wisps of memories came his haunted last vision of death by thunder and bombs by the Soldier in the field, and the sight of his teammate falling the other way in his own state of injury.
He had died before, many a time, but in each he had awoke.
Or had he?
Like spoiled dreams between every awakening the mercenaries found themselves in their own pockets of drifting injury, forgotten and lost, wandering until the machine found them once more and thrust them yet again into the vast world akin to a mechanical mother. And like all dreams, once they awoke they were forgotten and nonexistent. Never memorable in their waking little world.
He allowed his neck to snap and sag, exhausted by his own weight and life, stumbling through the light the way one would expect a fallen warrior to stumble equally through the dark.
Perhaps he was a fallen warrior who would to know?
He was a mewling soldier in an unknown yet familiar land, lost and alone. Yet unafraid.
He was not in darkness yet and the light was a comfort that was ceaseless and surrounding.
Adrift in a somnambulist state he pondered in the light of his whereabouts, before he caught sight of a familiarity of which was also adrift in the likes of himself.
A man in what seemed to be red but not red stood on his own with his back to the Scout, unmoving and in silence. He may as well had been a statue, some monument to the fault lines failure in the rift between the living and dead.
Bathed in light and blood the Sniper stood in his own imperfection and loss, glassy eyed and comprehending.
The Scout willed his voice to shout, to call to him, but at first nothing came, his neck forbidding the use of his own aptitude of speech.
He tried again, the low groan of the underside of the earth eternal and relentless the dull roar becoming a louder and louder groan, the equipment of Respawn beginning to prophesize the outcome of the pale areas inhabitants.
His voice seemed to boom in his own ears and hit invisible walls surrounding him.
The boy stopped his wander and stood firm, eyes glued like stone upon the comrade whose death he had witnessed.
In staggering silence the older man turned, shuddering and stalling and with unsteady footing, his own wounds visible and flinch-worthy; his heavily dislocated arm, as well as others, the rocket doing its job as the tall mercenaries austere trousers were torn and singed, the tall, slim leg bones apparent and gaudy contrasting to the droplets of blood drooling down them.
The Scout could not fathom why the more experienced fighter was more injured and bleeding.
". . . . Snipes . . . ?"
" . . . . Did you die too?" It seemed more of a statement, but the Scout agonizingly nodded.
" . . .You haven't been here often." Another statement, the BLU yet red man looking around tiredly, blood seeping into his vest and clothes.
He looked so old. So tired of the fighting and so weary of his environment.
". . . what. . . .What is this place, Snipes?"
Flatly, "I don't remember.", and dark furrowed eyebrows, the older unable to look at him fully.
They stood so far away from each other, yet their voices were so loud in the hallowed world around them.
"I think," Came upon a windswept mumble, carried by no breeze, "-is like . . . "
" . . .this Heaven, Snipes?"
". . .Nah." Came the echoed response, vibrating off nonexistent walls and floor and ceiling, thoughtful and agonized.
"Heaven ain't a place, I don't think. I think maybe . . . Its something we don't know, heaven. Like Hell. This place can't be hell. I think that hell is a thing you carry around in your heart." Auburn covered eyes waved over the younger Bostonian.
" M'here, but I'm not in your heart, Scout. This ain't heaven or hell, I think."
It hurt because he mattered. The Sniper. He reminded the Scout of home, of warm blankets under the rain and home cooked food. Safety in a big wide world.
"Then where. . . how are we both here? And your arm . . . my neck." The younger man frowned, muscles straining in agony against his broken bones and splintered skin.
"I think we're dead."
Even though the word had been in his mind, the slim man felt his heart freeze and shudder. Death. It had found him and caught him in an empty grasp. He was dead, he was finished. He didn't even get to tell his mom 'goodbye'.
"But-" he stammered, looking for a loophole, any form of excuse from the sudden predicament he faced for what seemed to be the rest of his after life. "R-Respawn, man, we can't die!"
Looking around, the Sniper held his bloodied arm.
" . . .We've been here before."
"What . . . what do you mean, Snipes?"
The taller, older man finally looked at him full in the face, and a trickle of blood swept down his cheek from his hair as the Scout became aware once more of the thunderous groaning pounding beneath his feet.
"This is Respawn, I think."
The noise grew, as if something dangerous threatened to break through the invisible floor and into another reality.
" I remember this place. We come here after we die, I think."
A slight shudder wracked the older mans festering arm and something snapped, an echo bouncing around as blood started to drip down from the mans injuries, the visible bone twisting agonizingly and the congealed cuts and bruises reopening and growing darker.
"That gap in time . . . between us dying and us waking up again. . . . we're here."
Those dark eyes between darker frames grew tired, the slim, bony man seeming weaker, older, like his own body was struggling to comprehend its own existence.
"This is where we go, I'd guess. I've been here before. . . .And every time we wake up, we forget."
The noise was growing unbearable and whatever the Scout was stood on seemed to shudder warningly of something about to erupt. It was D-Day.
"We're gonna wake up any minute, yeah? Good as new, right?" the Scout asked, panicked.
"You won't remember what's happening now, mate. You'll forget. You always do."
The image of the mercenary before him began to fade and flicker, dissolving and splutter ominously. Bones were breaking louder and more violently, but the mans gaze and expression remained firm and calm as the underground roaring became unbearable and threatened to break the Scouts eardrums entirely.
An almost tribal, monstrous beat was slamming against the invisible floor of the echoing hall-like space, and the Scouts eyes widened in pure horror and uncomprehending as he felt the world tip, an earthquake of electricity erupting beneath him, the machine in the overworld doing its job and bringing the lost mercenaries back to life. The Bostonian struggled to keep upright as he tried to focus on the image of the other man, more scared than he had ever been in any battle.
He let out a shout, legs failing to carry him as he tried to stumble closer to his mentor and friend, the ground moving of its own accord as he became deafened but the colossal roar of the invisible creature of the machine.
"Sniper!" He was pleading now, tearful, watching the half image of the more mutilated and mature adult distort and sag, jolts seeming to crack and bend and threaten to come of their respective hinges.
"P-please, Snipes, please! Say something! Make it all better; come on, man, please! Say something to help me!"
As the echo of eternity surrounded the Scout and caved in, the metallic grumbles and jolts of the electricity joining in and becoming an all out roar and piercing him, the intense white walls shone black and suffocated him.
As the fault lines closed, all he could hear was his friend's voice.
"It's just a game."