Chapter 1—Batter Up

"Heeey, Miss P, how's it goin'?"

Her small shoulders stiffened slightly for a split second, then she started down the hall again, ignoring him. The BLU Scout wasn't known for his tenacity for nothing, though. "So guess who was totally dominating that RED Sniper bastard today?" Without waiting for an answer, he ploughed right forward. "Me, that's who! Pretty great, right?"

"I know, Scout, I saw the logs of today's battle too." Miss Pauling continued walking, her head held high, looking straight ahead and not at the lanky young man sauntering cockily at the edge of her vision. "But I'm busy and have some paperwork to fill out about said domination and ordering seventeen crates of new bullets for Heavy's minigun. Shouldn't you go hit the showers or something?"

"Nah, I'd rather hang out here with a pretty girl like you." Scout flipped the microphone on his headset up again, it had been falling down a lot lately and he needed to get Engineer to lend him a screwdriver or something. He flashed the thin brunette a cocky grin. "Sides, there's six other team members who'll want ta hit the showers ahead of me."

"Six?"

"Pyro'n Spy."

"Oh. Well, that said, and tempting as that offer is, I'd really, really appreciate it if you went and had a shower, Scout." She finally looked at him, but it was with a look of annoyance and mild disgust. "You smell like about three or four day's worth of body odor and cheap cologne."

He sniffed his armpit as she looked away. "I do not," he said defensively.

"Yes, yes you do."

"Do not. This is the smell of a man, Miss Pauling. This is how a real man smells after bein' in a war zone like I was just a couple short hours ago."

"It's the smell of a real slob who can't take a few minutes out of his day to shower."

"Eh, six and half a dozen. Besides, I'm sure you could use the company, being holed up with no one but yer grouchy boss for company in here all day." He winked at her slowly and deliberately.

She finally stopped walking and turned to face him fully. "Look, Scout, I'm going to put this in simple terms for you. I'm not interested in you, alright? I'm just not. Now go back to the base and have a shower and forget we ever had this conversation." Miss Pauling opened a door next to her marked "Top Secret" and walked through, closing it behind her with a soft click and leaving a confused and upset Bostonian in her wake.

Engineer looked up as a dejected-looking Scout trudged into the base's small kitchen/mess hall. "Everythin' okay, son?" he asked. Scout didn't answer, just grabbed a box of cereal from a cupboard and started eating it out of the box by the handful.

The others recognised this as being one of Scout's moods that he occasionally got into if something wasn't going the way he'd planned. Some ignored him, like Heavy and Medic; others eyed him somewhat nervously, as though he was a ticking time bomb about to go off at the slightest thing. Only Demoman didn't seem to notice, likely because he was already on his second bottle of Scrumpy. Scout eventually put the box back in the cupboard and started raiding other parts of the kitchen for food. He was an emotional eater and dealt with anger, stress, and disappointment by eating if he couldn't bash some RED heads in with his trusty Sandman.

What the hell was Miss Pauling's problem? Here he was, the picture of youthful exuberance and rugged good looks and manliness, and she "just wasn't interested" in him? Come to think of it, most times he tried to talk to or impress girls, be it in his teen years in Boston, or the girls in the nearest town, or Miss Pauling herself, they seemed awkward or confused. He'd always thought it was just because they were so impressed with him that they just didn't know how to respond to such a great opportunity presenting itself, but with Miss P's blunt rejection, he was faced with an all-too-real possibility.

None of the girls he'd ever tried to "woo" as Engie sometimes called it had ever been interested, never would be interested maybe, and he just couldn't figure out why. Sure, maybe sometimes he came on a bit too strong. Or okay, maybe he needed to work on his pickup lines. But that was no real reason to outright reject him. And so bluntly. Maybe that was what bothered Scout more than Miss Pauling's actual rejection—the fact that she'd done so with all the gentleness of a falling brick.

He was moodily munching away on his fifth donut and still mulling it over when Soldier marched in rather loudly, surprising everybody. "What're you all lollygaggin' around here for?! We got REDs ta fight! This war ain't gonna win itself, ya lazy—"

"Ze battle is over for today, dummkopf," Medic interrupted grouchily. The battle hadn't gone well for Medic; he'd been the favourite target of the RED Demoman and Spy all day. "Ve eat, and rest, and go back out tomorrow."

"Oh. Well why didn't anyone tell me?! I been out there fer the past two hours lookin' fer more a them RED cowards ta show themselves and—" He cut himself off this time, seeing what Scout was eating. "Hey! Those're my donuts, boy! Plain! Original!" He snatched the box away from Scout. "Just the way I like 'em!"

Scout scowled. "Whatever, Helmet. Keep yer boring donuts." He grabbed a can of Bonk! Atomic Punch out of the pile of food in front of him. "Didn't think there was enough sugar on 'em," he muttered, popping the can open.

"Somethin' botherin' you, son?" Engineer asked again. He'd finished eating a while ago from the looks of things, and was fiddling with a toolkit and a busted alarm clock. "Yer in a mood again."

The energy drink's caffeine started kicking in after the first gulp, and Scout found himself bouncing in his seat as he chugged the can. "I'm fine. Just had a bad day."

"Didn't seem that way when ya creamed that lousy RED Sniper taday!" Soldier proclaimed, the incident with the donuts seemingly forgiven as he clapped the younger man on the shoulder. "What's eatin' ya, kid?"

Scout stood up, the energy uncontainable, and started pacing back and forth in the kitchen's empty space quickly. "Nothin', it's just...you know, sometimes stuff happens and you can't really explain why or what or how or anythin', but it just happens and it bothers you and you don't know why but it does, and that's kind of what's going on now and girls are stupid and—"

"Oh-ho! Woman troubles, eh?" Soldier grinned. "Well well, has our little Scout finally decided to become a man after all this time?"

"No, I mean yeah, I mean it's complicated okay?!"

Heavy laughed his big, booming laugh. "Tiny baby man having trouble with girlies? Tiny baby man is girlie himself!"

Scout's face and ears were starting to go red and his pacing quickened. "I am not! I just—I don't—girls are weird! How the hell do you figure out what they want?"

Sniper snorted, smirking into his coffee. "Ya don't, mate. Ya guess and hope ya get it right. S'how it works."

"Well that's stupid." He grabbed a few of the foodstuffs from his foraging off the table and went running off to his room. Then he ran back to the kitchen and grabbed some more things. "And for yer information," he said, picking up a package of potato chips, "I am not having girl troubles." He raced out of the room, chased by the laughter of his teammates.

After the Bonk! Atomic Punch had finally worn off, Scout found himself exhausted. It had been a long day, and having an energy drink had seemed like a good idea at the time until he remembered the burnout. He'd had to run around the base three times before it started to wear off, and it wasn't exactly a small base. Now he wandered back towards the entrance, sleepy and physically exhausted but still annoyed at Miss Pauling and women in general. He'd had a lot of time to think while he was running, but he still hadn't come up with any answers, only more questions. Why didn't girls appreciate the direct approach? At least he was honest about wanting to get into their skirts. And how come they never seemed impressed at the fact that he was basically a war hero? And, most of all, how come they were such a huge mystery? Guys were easier to figure out, in his opinion, and if it was his opinion, it must be right.

A figure was waiting for him in the doorway. It was Soldier, leaning on the doorframe, arms folded and drumming his fingers on his upper arm. He perked up when he saw Scout. "Finally," he said. "Took ya long enough! C'mere!" Without waiting for an answer as usual, he grabbed Scout by the arm and dragged him down the hallway.

"Ow! Soldier, leggo! I ain't got time for this, man; I need a shower an' bed! It's one in the freakin' morning, piss off!"

"Perfect! Then we're just in time!" He hauled Scout into the mess hall. It was empty now; everyone else had gone to bed.

"In time for wh-oof!" Soldier flung him unceremoniously into a chair. He scrambled to sit upright as Soldier stood over him.

"In time for Professor Soldier's Woman-Romancin' 101! Take out yer notebooks, kids, class is in session!"