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Déjà Vu

Chapter Text

Knock Out could barely remember a time without Breakdown.

The first time he had ever gotten drunk with Ratchet—which had come only on the eve of their first class of students graduating from the shoddy impersonation of a medical academy the two red mechs had thrown together— he had horribly overshared to the stouter medic. Ratchet had listened to him yarn and snivel til the sun had crested the horizon, offering him a patient look of understanding every time he'd trail off and his optics would flicker to the stasis pod in the corner.

When they had stumbled together to the small barracks they shared with the other medical personnel, and Ratchet had seen to it that Knock Out made the climb into his bunk without falling and wrenching something out of place, the racer let out a desolate sigh and burrowed into his thermal tarp, face crunched in an ugly misery.

“Don't worry, Knock Out,” Ratchet drawled as he wedged himself onto the tiny lower bunk, a feat that required most of his surgeon’s precision even sober. “We’ll fix him one day. Just be patient.”

Knock Out listened as the older medic’s systems relaxed into recharge, red optics staring beseechingly at the ceiling through the leaden darkness. He had heard the same sentiments from so many others since the day he’d switched sides— since he’d come crawling to the Autobots, begging them to take pity on his conjunx once more.

It was… tiring.

He tried to be patient— he honestly did. But each morning he wondered if today would be the day the Autobots would decide keeping Breakdown in stasis was just too costly—if today they would pull the plug. It ground down on him, the fear and distrust, the natural wariness that came from so many millennia of propaganda and war. He just wanted back the only mech he'd ever loved.

He just wanted to be happy again.

With a sigh, Knock Out slipped into an exhausted, high-grade soaked recharge— and dreamed.

Chapter Text

The saloon was filled with smoke and teeming with organics, tallish creatures that came up to the middle of the red seeker’s chest. He edged his way towards the bar proper, beautiful face twisted in distaste at the cloying stink of whatever they burnt in their fat little cigars, mind filled with disdain that he had accepted a job in a place like this. There were no other Cybertronians around for light-years, that much was certain, so he couldn't fathom why Megatron had ordered him there.

He hadn't argued, of course; at the time, he had reasoned with himself that literally anywhere had to be better than slumming around Kaon, where the heat of the massive smelting pits killed his paint nanites in big, ugly, splotchy patches after too long, leaving him polka dotted and greying like a dead mech. He had been quick to take the offer of work off-world, even if he had doubted the accuracy of Soundwave's intel about a wayward miner.

He had been wrong on two counts, it occurred to him as he watched the bartender shout over his shoulder towards a door, through which ducked a skinny little grounder covered in dirt. He had been wrong on a count and a half, at least; firstly, this job was terrible and he would gladly go back to Kaon in a sparkbeat. Second, Soundwave had been at least partially correct. There was a mech here-- a single mech besides himself on the whole station-- but looking at him did not evoke thoughts of someone who toiled in mines for a living.

Knock Out ordered a can of Visco, which came to him dented and lukewarm, which was just absolutely pleasant, and watched as the grounder clumsily gathered tiny, grimy glasses into an equally grimy bin he held on his hip. His orange face was pinched in a sort of strange peaked dismay, and he glanced over his shoulder at every swell of noise from the patrons as if fearing abuse. Eventually, he shuffled back past the seeker into the room he had come from, and in the occasional lull of sound, one could hear running water and the clink of dishes as they were cleaned.

Two cans of Visco later, and Knock Out was startled by the sound of shattering glass. He turned, watching as one of the disgusting organics picked itself out of the remnants of a broken table, turning to glare at another, larger organic through the shattered vestige of the smoke- darkened window that fronted the establishment. He launched himself at the taller creature with a cry, and the seeker watched with vague fascination as the bartender barked back into the room at the grounder before leaping over the bar and wading out to the fight to try and break it up.

The orange-faced mech skittered back through the doorway again, standing awkwardly behind the too-short bar a few arms lengths from the seeker. His plating rattled audibly even over the din of the fight, the cheering of the barbaric organics that crowded the shattered viewport. Almost all of the patrons had abandoned their chairs to watch the floorshow, leaving just Knock Out and the grounder on this side of the room. The seeker could never remember a time where a job had been this easy, and he smirked to himself as he picked up his can and shook it to get the mech’s attention. He scrambled to the other end of the bar, carefully rooting around through a tiny box with his comparatively massive servos, before shuffling back over with a new can of Visco, this one undented. He gave Knock Out a shaky smile as he set the drink down, reaching for the empty can in order to throw it away, but the look disappeared when the seeker grabbed his wrist. Immediately, his shaking worsened, and he began to struggle as if he was trying to escape death.

“Whoa, whoa! ” Knock Out said, releasing him and watching him stumble backwards, crashing into the shelves behind the bar that were stocked with all sorts of organic liquor. “Take it easy! I just wanted to talk to you.”

The mech looked at him with wild eyes, frame heaving as he struggled to ventilate properly, plates rattling in what was very apparently terror. Under the spotlights that were directed at the shelves, the seeker could see that the mech was not black as he once thought, but instead a deep desaturated blue color that was positively caked in grime; just from gripping his wrist, Knock Out’s servo was smeared with an oily, putrid-smelling filth, which he scraped off on the edge of the bar.

“Please?” Knock Out tried, leaning forward, “I didn't mean to scare you. I just wanted to talk, I promise.”

The mech seemed to relax the smallest bit, gold optics flickering towards where the bartender was howling at the station security which had arrived to break up the fight. He sidled forward, optics flicking between the floor and the red mech timidly as he reached forward to collect the empty can. Knock Out let him, watching as he worked it in his hands nervously, lingering just out of arm's reach. The seeker took that as his cue to talk.

“Do you have a name?” he asked, smiling his most charming, innocent-looking smile at the blue mech.

“Not really. Uh… my supervisors called me BD-18.” The grounder sort of grimaced, looking away from the red mech quickly, before scraping at the grime on his shoulder to show the other his paint. Set in a garish fake gold flake was the designation, although it was scratched and chipped-- as if someone had taken the time to print the glyphs, but not the time to seal them. “All the other miners called me Breakdown, though.”

“Breakdown, hmm?” Knock Out hummed, sipping at his new can of Visco, “Well. It's nice to meet you, Breakdown. My name is Knock Out. I’d like to be your friend.”

“Oh. Uh.” The blue mech looked to the broken window nervously. “I don't know if I’m allowed to have friends.”

The seeker followed his gaze, but then waved him off, snorting. “If you're worried about your boss, I’d like to see him try to stop you. If you haven't noticed, he's a bit… squishy, compared to us.”

“He--” the grounder's frame gave a particularly hard rattle, and he frowned as he considered the organic again before leaning in, whispering as if he had a great secret. “But, he's my boss ?”

“Yes, and he's horrible to you. Surely you realize you could wipe the floor with all of these organics before they could even put a dent in your plating? Why don't you quit?”

Breakdown seemed confused. “Quit?”

Quit , yes. As in, stop working for someone who treats you like you're a moron.”

“I can… do that?” the mech asked, and Knock Out gaped openly-- which prompted another hard rattle of plating. The lights behind the bar flickered, but as soon as the seeker looked at them, they stopped. He watched them for a beat longer before directing his gaze to his hands. The mech was completely guileless, it seemed, and naïve to boot.

He was perfect.

“Yes, darling,” the red mech assured, looking back up into the dirty orange faceplates, “You can, in fact, stop working for people who treat you poorly.”

“But… how will I get food? Where would I stay?”

“I’ll take you with me to Cybertron, and I’d help you find a place to stay. I have a friend who is very interested in meeting you,” he purred, folding his servos around his drink. The ex-miner frowned again, backing away slightly.

“I…” he shook his head, pulling his hands up as if to placate the other. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“I understand. Think about it, at least?” Knock Out asked. Breakdown nodded, perhaps only to get the other to leave him alone, and shuffled back over to the other end of the bar to wipe up a spill that had occurred when everyone had gone to watch the fight. Patrons filtered back over to their seats and reclaimed their drinks, and soon the bartender was back and snapping at the miner to sweep up the mess of the shattered window and splintered table. The blue mech stuttered an affirmative and dipped back into the back room before emerging once more with a broom and dustpan that was positively tiny in his hands, getting to work.

It was three joors, five scoldings from the bartender, and seven more cans of lukewarm Visco later when Breakdown came by with his grimy bin to collect the cans Knock Out had been making a little castle out of. He hesitated as the seeker looked up at him charmingly, pulling his servos away from the lopsided creation and smiling. “You’re back.”

“Yeah. Uh.” Breakdown cast a suspicious glance over his shoulder at the bartender then flicked his optics to where he was very slowly collecting faded, empty Visco cans. “I thought about-- about what you said. The bar closes in two more joors. Can you wait until then? Can I-- Is your offer still open?”

“Darling,” Knock Out purred, leaning forward to rest his helm on his interlaced digits, his smile becoming a touch more satisfied, “I thought you would never ask.”

Chapter Text

Ratchet was missing.

It wasn’t anything new; Ratchet’s job had him moving all over the place, city to city, to head up whatever medical projects were being done across all of Cybertron. The job— Commander of Medical Science— had no firm schedule or environment. Knock Out had come to accept and expect Ratchet’s unannounced absences.

But this was different.  He hadn’t called, and Ratchet always called. Knock Out, for all intents and purposes, was his second in command— and beyond that, they were friends— and the ambulance always made sure to call Knock Out and tell him of his assignments no matter how suddenly they came up.  This time, he hadn’t called or even messaged. It was total radio silence from the big medic.

At first, Knock Out had thought that, perhaps, the assignment was just so complicated and intense that he truly had not had time to contact the speedster.  It was a rational thought; for as much as Kaon prospered, the rest of the planet was still in shambles, barely scraping up housing for those who lived there.

Days had promptly turned to weeks, and Knock Out began to worry. He knew something wasn’t right; he could feel it. When he woke that morning to an empty inbox and no missed calls, he decided he was going to speak to the High Council. As Ratchet’s direct superiors, they would have been the ones to send him to his assignment, and they would more than likely tell him where the doctor had gone if Knock Out told them he was hoping to assist him with his work.

The Hall of The High Council was a vast building that dominated the whole western quadrant of Kaon Plaza. When one entered the plaza from the east, the massive gateway into the hall was framed by towering statues of the primes, from Prima all the way to Optimus.  Optimus’ statue had fallen some time prior, crashing into the massive reflecting pool around which all the traffic of the plaza was channeled. It hadn’t yet been repaired, and all the remains save for the massive circular base had been carted off for recycling shortly after the rendering fell.

Knock Out didn’t pay much attention to the absence; the statues had been a pet project of Bulkhead and his team of vehicons, but with all the construction projects going on now that refugees had come flooding back he doubted they had the time to repair it. The missing figure was old news, and Knock Out ignored it as he skirted the roundabout and climbed the massive staircase leading into the Hall.

The inside of the building was as opulent as the outside; a high-ceilinged corridor bracketed by pairs of massive columns led into a vast foyer that was ringed with four semicircular desks, all of which were separated by similar corridors that led away from the lobby. Knock Out passed through the room, avoiding the ornate fountain in the center on his way straight to the hall opposite of the entryway. This hall was nearly identical to the hall at the entrance, save for being twice as long with various sculptures dotting the stretch at evenly spaced intervals.

He passed all of them with little regard, and quickly drew to a stop at the foot of the doors to the High Council Chamber; they were just as massive as one would expect, at least five times as tall as Knock Out and half as wide as they were tall, with decorative embellishments set into their face in shades of bronze, brass, and copper. One was still shut, and the other was open far enough that the goings on inside were hidden from view while leaving ample space for the council members to view anyone waiting outside of them.

The sound of soft conversation echoed out of the room, but it wasn’t engaged enough to be a discussion between anyone but the High Council themselves. He reached up and knocked on the door that was still closed, listening as the conversation halted abruptly. A moment passed before a large black hand wrapped around the door and hauled backward, dragging it open further. High Councilor Riotgear stood before him, as tall as he was broad.  The taciturn mech stared wordlessly down into Knock Out’s uncertain faceplates with the same expression with which one might regard a child for an uncomfortably long period of time before another spoke up.

“Riotgear? Who is it?” a cultured voice asked. High Councilor Cyclonus appeared behind him, his distance from the door framing him nicely between Riotgear’s flank and the door as the bigger mech stepped back to allow his associate a better line of sight.

“Ah, Knock Out,” Cyclonus said, visibly brightening as he crossed the space. “Do come in, we were just about to summon you.”

Riotgear dropped his arm long enough for Knock Out to step in before he pushed the door closed once more, just a tad further than it had been when the red mech arrived.  Knock Out glanced around the chamber as the High Council took its place; it was three times as wide as the hall that had lead here, with higher ceilings supported by the same angular columns that lined all the corridors in the building. A table shaped like a horseshoe was raised out of the floor, around which the High Council arranged themselves.  

Knock Out stopped just shy of the opening to the table, lacing his fingers together behind his back for lack of anything else to do with his hands. Cyclonus looked to his right and then his left, then offered Knock Out his most regal smile, gesturing to him in the same grandiose manner that he seemed to do everything.

“Perhaps it would be more prudent for you to go first, as you did seek us out,” he offered.  Very suddenly, Knock Out had the entire High Council’s undivided attention, their bright optics boring into him in a way that bordered on painful. He shifted his weight, looking from one to the other before nodding.

“Thank you, your honors,” he said, gathering himself briefly. “I’ll cut to the point since I’m sure you’re very busy. Ratchet, my commanding officer, hasn’t been in contact with me, and quite frankly I’m beginning to worry. I’d like to know where he’s been sent so I can go there and assist him with whatever project has him so preoccupied.”

Just as suddenly as they looked at him, the High Council began glancing at one another— save for Riotgear, who found it prudent to continue staring at Knock Out with the same unnerving expression as before.

“Didn’t he tell you?” High Councilor Skyjack asked, looking a cross between concerned and incredulous. Anxiety gripped Knock Out’s spark as the councilors continues trading glances in near-perfect silence.

“Didn’t he tell me what?” he asked, doing his best to conceal his distress.  Cyclonus looked down at the table, then back up at Knock Out after a moment.

“Ratchet resigned from his chair more than a month ago to take up a position as the head medic of a starship crew.” Cyclonus said softly, his tone apologetic in a way that had set off sirens in Knock Out’s mind from the first word.

“I’m sorry,” Knock Out said, laughing as he looked around, searching their faces for the joke.“What?”

“We were under the impression he told you…” High Councilor Skyjack said. Knock Out recoiled, pressing a servo to his optics to quell the sudden burning he felt there.

This was wrong, the whole situation was wrong. He and Ratchet were friends, they were close, they taught medicine together, they went to lunch on the weekends and recommended one another books to read like either of them had the spare time to read, and they—

They were friends.

Ratchet loved his job, he loved helping people, loved teaching and healing, and he even loved the crazy joors and unpredictable schedule. Yes, maybe he’d been depressed since Optimus passed, maybe he’d been getting short more easily lately, but if he were going to leave, he’d have told Knock Out. They told each other everything!

He would have at least said goodbye… right?

“That’s why we were going to call you,” Cyclonus said, pulling Knock Out’s attention back to himself. “The grace period for him to return has passed, which means, legally, you’re next in line for the chair.”

Talk about adding insult to injury. Knock Out did his best to compose himself before regarding the council again.

“With all due respect,” he said, willing his voice into some semblance of even, “I’d like to decline. I— I don’t feel like I’m qualified to take that chair. I think it would be best to —”

“There isn’t anyone else,” High Councilor Treadshock said impatiently. Beside him, High Councilor Cyberwarp placed a hand on his vambrace.

“What High Councilor Treadshock means to say is that we’ve searched, and you’re the most qualified doctor on Cybertron. Your achievements and experience in medicine far outweigh the experience of any other applicant thus far, quite literally making you the only mech we can ask to do this,” She explained apologetically.

Knock Out moved his mouth but couldn’t get any words to come out.

“We will, of course, continue searching for someone to fill the position so that you may step down,” Cyclonus said smoothly, “But until such a time that someone of adequate skill arrives, we have very little choice but to reject your resignation.”

Slowly, the red mech nodded, his optics falling to the floor. “I understand.”

“And we appreciate that you do,” Cyberwarp said with feeling. “And I think I speak for everyone here when I say that we regret having had to break the news of Ratchet’s departure to you.”

“Yes, I— Thank you,” Knock Out said softly, tires sagging low on his back with his sudden weariness. Cyclonus slid an appreciative look towards Cyberwarp briefly before looking back to his audience of one.

“I suggest returning to your home and getting your affairs in order. I believe you are aware that the position includes heavy travel; you’ll be contacted with your first assignment. Until then, you are dismissed.”

Wordlessly, Knock Out turned and began to make his way back to the doors, Treadshock trailing just behind him with the intent to open the door for him.

“Oh, and Knock Out!” Cyclonus called out. Knock Out turned toward him, watching a smile blossom over his stark faceplates like ink through water.

“Congratulations on your promotion, Commander.”

Chapter Text

The spaceport at Kaon was a miserable place— but that wasn’t saying much, considering how miserable Kaon was itself. Thick, noxious fumes from the smelters below the city billowed up, choking out almost all the properly ventable air and dropping aerial visibility to zero. The gases in the clouds were more often than not abrasive and acidic, able to peel the paint off non-sentient ships in great patches and kill the nanites of any mech unfortunate enough to fly through one of them.

The city itself was more like a vast series of interconnected walkways and scaffoldings, criss-crossed so thickly that the glow of the molten metals in the refineries below was almost invisible at the highest points. Lower Kaon itself— the part of the city that everyone cared about— was built over a series of massive crater-like smelting pools, each one as wide as a city block and filled with bubbling metals that glowed in all manner of colors, from red to blue and everything in between. Communities sprung up in the most stable parts of the city, which more often than not happened to be the space where the rims of four cylindrical smelting pools would meet and create something akin to a plateau of space that was otherwise unusable.

The spaceport was built on one such plateau, a chaotic spire that towered upward until it breached through the gap in the massive lid-like mesas that Lower Kaon was built in. Jutting from it at intervals were awkward and unsupported spines, long and flat, which spiraled upwards around the outside of the control tower like steps on a staircase. Smoke poured through the space around it, making an already precarious landing even more dangerous.

Thankfully, Knock Out was— among numerous other things— a skilled pilot who had navigated through these harrowing conditions time and again in the few years he had been serving Megatron.  Between an intimate knowledge of the landing area itself and the running support of the flight tower guiding him to see where his optics and the sensors of his ship could not, it was an easy thing to set his craft down on one of the ledges.

It was only upon standing up, shutting down the engines, and turning to face his charge that he remembered Breakdown. Specifically that, for as much experience as he might have had flying in such conditions, Breakdown had virtually none.

Judging by the way the blue mech was curled up in the seat of the copilot’s chair, grimy hands crushing digit-shaped indentations into the armrest, plating rattling like a bad engine, it had been a terrifying ordeal to say the very least.

“Hey,” Knock Out tried, awkwardly raising his arm as if to shake the younger mech, then aborting it last moment for lack of anywhere clean to touch. “It’s okay, we’ve parked. You can come out now.”

Slowly, the dirty mech looked up— first at the forward monitor which blinked with intermittent interference, then at Knock Out. He began to unfurl from his defensive position like a flower blooming, and with the speed to match, and when he was finally sitting up straight, Knock Out offered him a hand and a smile. Breakdown looked at his servo, then slowly slid his hand into the seeker’s, pulling himself to his feet.

“What now?” he asked in the guileless and trusting way that all mechs who were conditioned into obedience had.

“Now, we go to see Megatron,” Knock Out explained, tugging on Breakdown’s hand just enough to convince the grounder to follow along beside him. He stepped to the end of his shuttle, palming the control panel of the door as Breakdown stepped up beside him, his anxious shivering abating at long last.

“Megatron’s your friend?” he asked, knotting his fingers together. “The one who wants to meet me?”

While the hatch began to buzz with the sound of the machinery that worked to open it, Knock Out offered Breakdown another smile as he clicked his fingers at the speedster. “Got it in one, handsome.”

If Breakdown noticed the compliment, he didn’t react. His attention was stolen by the bulkhead and the first gush of hot air that breached the climate control of the inside of the ship. Knock Out watched in fascination as Breakdown stood with his eyes closed, clenching and unclenching his fists at his sides, his plating— which before had been slicked down to his protoform— raising instinctually to invite the warmth deeper.

“Are you alright?” Knock Out asked, setting a hand on the younger mech’s rerebrace. “Kaon is a very harsh place, speaking strictly in terms of climate. Everyone gets a little uncomfortable when they first—”

“It’s warm,” Breakdown murmured, dropping his chin to his chest, “It’s so warm. I’ve never—  I’ve never felt this warm before.”

“It’s not warm,” Knock Out began, only to stop short as he realized what the problem was. Breakdown truly had no frame of reference for the sensation he was feeling, having first come to sentience on the shuttle headed for the mines. He had never felt sunlight, never had a blanket, never been near a fire or held a mug of spiced energon. He had no idea what he was feeling, and the situation must have been so overwhelming, so full of new, stimuli that his overtaxed language processors could only muster warm to describe the heat he was feeling. Knock Out hesitated briefly, overcome with some strange sense of guilt at having nearly snapped at the poor mech. “It— It’s not warm, it’s hot.”

Breakdown looked at him almost without comprehension for a moment, the same out-of-focus look that many nobles of Knock Out’s acquaintance had gotten as they assimilated High Vosnian for the first time crossing the grounder’s orange faceplates now— but instead of parsing through yet another obscure language as a symbol of status, Breakdown was struggling to make basic connections in Common Neocybex.  After a moment, he blinked, then looked back out the hatch again, a small smile taking place on his face.

It was the first smile Knock Out had seen in the whole day and a half he’d known Breakdown.

“Oh,” the grounder said poignantly. “I like it.”

“You won’t like it for long, trust me,” Knock Out said, patting the smaller mech on the shoulder as he passed. “Look alive, Hotwheels, we’ve got places to be.”

Breakdown startled and jogged down the ramp after him, gazing all around in wonder as they crossed into the busy terminal, which was very much like the city outside. A walkway spiraled around the inside of the space, hung in a parallel of the spikes on the outside of the tower.  Between each turn of the outer footbridge, catwalks crossed the area haphazardly, some coming together to form platforms on which shuttle repair crews, detailers, and a scattering of merchants attempted to sell their services and wares. The place was packed, as usual, with all manner of people trying to find rides out of the city as if it would absolve them of their poverty to move away.

Breakdown took it all in like a starving mech took in energon; his eyes darted from place to place even as his plating began to clamp down from the ambient stress of being in a crowd so large. Knock Out, sensing his distress, turned around and grabbed his hand. Breakdown stuck himself close beside the seeker, who parted the crowd for them with only the span of his wings and the look on his face. The smaller mech was positively shaking out of his own plating, but kept up with Knock Out gamely, pressing himself into his chaperone's side as they made their way to the ground floor and out of the terminal together.

Outside was barely any better in terms of crowd, and what it lacked in the crush of people it made up for in cloying smog and filth. Soot and ash rode up on the billowing hot air and rained down over the city, piling up in corners and creating little clouds of dust wherever it was disturbed by foot traffic. Knock Out led Breakdown around the corner and onto a catwalk before he let go of the grounder’s servo. The streets— or rather, what constituted streets in Lower Kaon— were primarily deserted the further one got from the major population centers, and as they made their way toward the center of the city, their travel was impeded less and less by other pedestrians.

“Where are we going?” Breakdown asked, drawing to a stop in the middle of the catwalk, looking out over the rest of the city. Heat shimmered over the smelters, making the scattered lights that shined across the cityscape wave strangely.  

Knock Out crossed the distance between them and squinted at the dark horizon before pointing at a massive black pyramid built on a plateau two smelters away. “There. That’s where Megatron lives.”  

Breakdown squinted at the structure for a moment or two before nodding and backing away from the edge of the walkway.

“What is Megatron like?” the grounder asked as they began to walk again. Knock Out laughed.

“He’s powerful and idealistic. He likes to fight, and he’s good at it,” Knock Out explained, turning to begin climbing another catwalk that intersected the one they’d been on. “He’s a little harsh, but he’s a good mech, I think.”

Breakdown nodded, and they spent a few minutes walking together in silence as the speedster thought about what the red mech had said. Then he brightened again.

“Hey,” he began, voice laced with curiosity, “why don’t you like this place?”

Knock Out stopped dead, turning on his heel to regard Breakdown with the most disbelieving look he could ever remember giving anyone. “Are you seriously asking me that?”

Breakdown recoiled slightly, his arms up in front of his chest as if he were preparing to be beaten. Knock Out grimaced internally, because that was probably exactly what he expected to happen. He knew for a fact that the mine overseers were ruthless in their treatment of the miners, either because of trickle-down abuse from their superiors or simply because of the powertrip that being in charge of other living beings produced.

“U-uh,” the grounder stuttered, optics darting around rapidly. Knock Out could see the tremors in his armor despite how dark Kaon was. “N-no?”

Slowly, the seeker put up his hands. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. We’re friends, remember?”

Breakdown relaxed gradually, and when he looked less like he might try and bolt away, Knock Out turned and continued walking. Caught off-guard, the skinny little grounder skipped to catch up with him, falling into step behind the red mech.

“To answer your question, I hate Kaon because— well, it’s terrible.” he explained as they wound their way through the streets, “The heat alone will kill your paint nanites if you stay here too long— why do you think everyone down here is grey? Besides that, there’s no room to fly, everyone’s a pickpocket because everyone’s starving, it’s dirty, it’s… I suppose it’s just not what I’m used to.”

“I don’t understand,” Breakdown said softly, then startled when Knock Out looked at him again. “I-I mean! There— I— this isn’t what I’m used to either!!”

“Well, it sort of is, ” Knock Out countered softly. “Where I come from— Upper Vos— everyone is well fed and beautiful, they get to go to school and eat three times a day, they have shanix to spend on whatever they want, they own several homes around Cybertron, everything is clean and bright and shining… It’s nothing like this.”

“I thought this was normal?” the grounder said.

Knock Out sighed, slowing to a stop once more to look down on the lower level, where a group of mechs were picking through a pile of garbage that they’d probably already picked through before.

“It is normal, and that’s the problem,” Knock Out said softly after a moment. He began to move again, but with a decidedly less hurried gait this time around. “I used to think this was the strange thing. This much misery— surely, this was the outlier. But as time passed, and I began going around to… find more friends for Megatron, I learned that this—” He made a wide gesture to encompass the rest of Kaon. “This suffering, this misery— this is the norm for people who aren’t forged with a silver spoon in their intake.”

“But you still think it’s bad,” Breakdown asked, though it was more of a statement than anything.

Knock Out nodded. “I won’t do a good job of explaining it, but just because something is usual, or because it happens a lot, doesn’t mean it’s right,” he said. “I don’t know how to teach you the difference, or I would.”

“That’s alright,” the grounder said softly. “I think I understand— sorta.”

Knock Out was almost sure he didn’t— he didn’t have any sort of reference for it— but he gave the mech points for trying. For a while after that, they walked together quietly, the silence broken only occasionally when Breakdown would get curious about something he saw and ask a question or two. Before long they were making their approach to the pyramid. This close, its mass was much more apparent; easily a third as tall as the flight tower, it was therefore the second largest structure in Lower Kaon. As Knock Out drew closer, headed for the jagged doorway that looked like it was cut into the side with a massive knife rather than built in, Breakdown stopped to gawk.

It was black like a shadow, devoid of any shine in a way that made one think it might be devouring whatever light touched it. Its sides were smooth, and almost too perfect to exist in a place as dangerous and messy as Kaon. It sat in a tiny, round indentation in the plateau, which was filled in turn with gravel made of a jagged, glass-like metal that shined in the warm light from the smelters which merged to form the coteau. Breakdown gaped for a moment longer before rushing forward to catch back up with Knock Out, who was strutting his way across the yard on his way to speak with the guards.

Before them stood two mechs— one shorter, more in line with Breakdown’s size, and one so massive that he dwarfed even Knock Out in both height and wingspan. The smaller mech was broader than Breakdown, painted primarily black with accents of deep purple and scuffed, metallic silver. His face was gaunt and serious, and his frame was, quite literally, just as pointed as his personality, if the sneer on his face meant anything.

The larger mech was about one and a half times Knock Out’s size, painted a variety of colors all dulled by overexposure to the heat and repeated flights through and around the noxious smog of the city.  His chest was rounded like a barrel and made of thick glass panes, and on each shoulder sat the heavy engines of his flight mode. Wing panels were scattered over his massive frame, and his face bore one large optic surrounded by at least four smaller ones, and perhaps a few more that were no longer able to light. Hung at his side was a gigantic hamaxe that was larger and wider than Breakdown.

“Hello, boys,” Knock Out said with all the confidence of a mech who knew he could get away with anything. “Is the boss in? I’ve brought him a new friend.”

The shorter mech cast an appraising glance over Breakdown’s frame, unimpressed either by the state the once-miner was in or by the way he shook and tried to hide inconspicuously behind the seeker.  “You sure you got the right bot? He looks more like a data-caste that's been dropped in a mud puddle.”

“Coming from a forger's-mech enforcer flunky who got put in the corner once and decided he needed to overthrow the government, I’d say that's a compliment, Barricade,” Knock Out said with hard look in his eyes that belied his smile. The big mech behind Barricade snorted, and the shorter mech slammed his elbow into the thinner plates of his partner’s midriff with a scowl.

Shuddup ,” he commanded, ignoring the glare the big mech shot him, instead turning back to Knock Out. “You've got a lot of room to talk, Knock Out. You think you're one of us? You think you know what oppression is? You've never sacrificed a thing in your life, have you?”

You're not even ‘one of you’, you little freak,” Knock Out bit out, staring the shorter mech down. “And while I’ll admit I’m no labor caste, I don't need to wait for a boot in my aft to want to do something to help those who suffer. Is Megatron here or not?”

“Why should I tell you?!” Barricade snapped, leaning forward as if it would make him more threatening. Knock Out leaned forward to meet him, until they stood nose assembly to nose assembly.

“Because if I tell Megatron you're giving me problems again, he’ll kick your scrawny, self-serving aft into the smelters and be done with you!” Knock Out shouted, emphasising his words by jabbing his finger against Barricade’s shoulder noisily. The threat seemed to sink home, and the enforcer stepped back with a growl, glaring daggers up at the seeker.

Fine ,” Barricade said with loathing in his voice, “He’s in the usual place. Get outta here.”

Knock Out straightened, watching with satisfaction as the two guards turned and walked back to their posts before turning to regard Breakdown, who was— predictably— shaking. The seeker offered him a smile, beckoning him to follow as he strode forward into the pyramid confidently. As soon as they stepped inside, the grounder’s quaking began to ease, but it didn’t stop as he looked around warily.

The main room was vast, cut into a quadrant grid by two walkways made of the same black metal the pyramid itself was made from. The spaces in-between were shallow pits carved right into the metal of the ground, filled with more of the same gravel from outside. Groups of mechs gathered in those pits, some sparring and others following along with the movements of a drill sergeant. Racks of weapons lined the obsidian walls, which were made rough by damage from weapon fire gone awry. Knock Out paid them no mind, and when Breakdown stopped to gawk, he once more took his hand to pull him along, promising he would have plenty of time to look later on.

They crossed the main concourse and climbed the stairs at the far end. The stairs led up into a room only half as large as the first had been that was spartan in decoration and furnishing alike. Long, muted lightbars circled around the edge of the room at the floor and up the back wall, where they were bent into the shape of the Decepticon shield, then up to the ceiling to cut down the length of the room and provide overhead light. In the center of the room was a massive brick of a table, scattered with datapads of all variety, most of which showed heavy wear. Crowded around a roll-out datapad that was roughly the size of a grown mech, four mechs and a femme stood engaged in conversation.

“You’ve got to be joking,” the second tallest of the mechs present said, gesturing with agitation. He was a seeker like Knock Out, but thinner and taller, with longer wings. He was painted in glossy shades of red, white, and blue, with tasteful touches of gold here and there. On each shoulder was a golden brooch in the shape of the Primal Vanguard insignia, which held a purple cape in place behind him.

“I am never anything but serious, Starscream,” the shortest mech said. He was broad, painted in a deep purple that was only desaturated a touch— proof he either had the money to be repainted constantly, or he was new to the area. One of his arms was a massive cannon, which had a long umbilical running between it and his back. Much like Lugnut, he possessed only one primary optic— but no face otherwise.  “It would be the most logical option for ending the fighting in Praxus.”

“My troops possess the skills and the firepower needed to pull off this plan with at least a seventy five percent probability of success,” the sole femme in the room said. She was the tallest there by far, easily one and a half times the purple mech’s size. She was orange, red, and grey, and blockish in form. On her back were two massive cannons easily taller than Knock Out and as thick as her own leg. She levelled the seeker with an impatient glare. “What exactly are your objections?”

Starscream balked. “Praxus has the third heaviest military occupation on all of Cybertron! You can’t expect to waltz in with a weapon of mass destruction! They’ll kill your troops before they crawl out of their bolt holes, and will be no weaker for the effort!”

“That’s what you said about Polyhex,” she said contemptuously, throwing her voice into a higher pitch to imitate the seeker. “Strika, you fool, your warframe hounds won’t see the highest spires of Darkmount before they’re blasted into scrap! Ha! Tell that to all the high-caste dilettantes melted in with the rest of the trash in the Lower Pool!”

“That was different,” Starscream growled, his patience very obviously wearing thin. “This has nothing to do with fitting in. There are patrols through what little of the city is still inhabited, and even well known civilians are getting frisked and—”

“That’s your problem,” Strika insisted. “What do we keep you around for if not to allow us to pass by your men?”

“There are limits to what I can do, even as the Imperial Winglord!” he shouted. “If I fail too many times, I will be under review, and the advantages my presence in this cause presents will be destroyed! How can you not understand this, you blithering malf-”

Knock Out,” a new voice said, silencing the seeker mid-insult. The mech at the head of the table had caught sight of them, and straightened up from where he was being shown something on the massive datapad and spoken to by the purple mech to his right and another tank that stood behind him. He grinned a toothy grin. “I trust you’ve returned to us successful once more?”

“I have, Lord Megatron,” Knock Out said, bowing and stepping forward into the room.  Breakdown startled to find himself very suddenly the center of attention to all there as the red seeker gestured to him grandly. “This is Breakdown of Vestus III.”

The mech— Megatron— began to round the table; his frame, though not the largest, was still immense and strong, each step he took a controlled expression of the power he held. He was a uniform gunmetal, scuffed and scarred from helm to pede. Mounted to one arm was a massive, wicked-looking fusion cannon that seemed just as likely to be used to stab one to death than it was to shoot them. That was an ironically good description of Megatron, too, who radiated power and strength like the smelters around them radiated sweltering heat. He drew to a stop just in front of them, looking Breakdown up and down thoughtfully for a moment before finally nodding to himself.

“Welcome, Breakdown. I am Megatron of Kaon,” he said, leaning against the end of the table, seeming perfectly unphased by the speedster’s quivering. “I’ve waited a long time to meet you.”

“Um,” Breakdown said, looking quickly from Megatron to the group behind him and then to Knock Out. He opened his mouth and worked his jaw but couldn’t seem to find words as he wrapped his arms around himself.

“I understand you were a miner,” Megatron said casually.

Behind him, Starscream scoffed. “He doesn’t look like any miner I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Megatron cast him an unamused glare over his shoulder, which promptly had the seeker busying himself with the big datapad again. Megatron turned back to Knock Out and Breakdown with a vaguely apologetic look on his face. “If my information is correct— and it seldom is ever wrong— you were not originally meant to be a miner, but a defect had you sold on discount to the company who ran the mining endeavors in the Vestus System. Does that sound right?”

“I-I don’t know, Sir,” Breakdown said, looking down at the floor. “I only remember waking up with a bunch of mechs bigger than me. Then we went into the mines. I didn’t know they had a name, I’m sorry. I don’t know if I’m from the right place.”

“You are,” Knock Out said softly, nodding to the smaller mech when he looked up.  Megatron looked between Knock Out and Breakdown with a sort of calculation in his optics, nodding to himself again.

“It doesn’t matter if you are or not,” he said finally. “You will do great things, regardless.”

Breakdown looked at him, bafflement clear on his faceplates. “I— I don’t understand. Um, sir.”

“Then I will be direct,” Megatron said, drawing himself to his full height. “They beat you in the mines, didn’t they.”

The hard rattle was enough of an answer for everyone present, but Megatron didn’t continue until Breakdown had confirmed it himself. Megatron frowned. “Did you hate it, like I did?”

“Yes, sir,” the speedster said almost desperately, nodding. “I did.”

“What if I said that I want to make sure nobody— not myself, not you, not even people I don’t know— were ever beaten again?” Megatron asked, stepping forward. Breakdown looked up at him, startled and surprised by the claim.

“You can do that?” he asked, tone laced with a wonder so strong it was almost painful.

“I can do anything,” Megatron said seriously. “But even I need help sometimes, and to make sure I can protect everyone— to make sure no mech has to suffer what you and I have been through ever again, I will need your help.”

Breakdown’s face became confused very suddenly. “Me? I…”

“You are allowed to say no,” Megatron continued. “And if you do, I will respect your decision and send you on your way. But if you stay, I can promise you things. Food, and shelter. A home. Knowledge, power, and experience. Autonomy— the power to never be walked on again.”

“But sir, I—” Breakdown shifted, looking back to the floor. “I don’t know how to do anything besides mining and cleaning.”

“And those are admirable skills to have, Breakdown.” Megatron said, setting both of his massive hands on the smaller mech’s shoulders comfortingly. “Everyone has to start somewhere, and there is no such thing as a bad place to start. If you want to join us, I would teach you everything you need to know.”

The blue mech straightened, slowly gathering himself out of his defensive hunch.  After a moment of silence, he looked up. With great effort, he made eye contact with Megatron, and even from a distance Knock Out could see the determination in his optics as it shone through his fear.

“I want to,” Breakdown said earnestly. Above him, Megatron smiled, shifting to pat him on the back as the tension in the room seemed to deflate.

“Good choice,” Megatron said, turning to the mech who had been standing beside him at the table. “Soundwave, call up Blackout. He should have room in his class.”

Soundwave nodded back, and within moments a mech appeared in the doorway. He was a rotary, painted black and covered in scars just like Megatron. He looked younger than any of the generals in the room, somewhere between Knock Out and Breakdown’s age, but with features that were weathered by the tribulations of his life. He looked at the congregation very briefly, then met Megatron’s gaze.

“You called for me, my lord?” he said. Megatron grinned something self-satisfied, ushering Breakdown to walk with him towards the newcomer by a hand on his grimy backplates.

“Blackout, this is Breakdown of Vestus III. He’s just arrived and is interested in joining us. Please see that his needs are taken care of, then add him to your roster.” He looked down at Breakdown. “Blackout will take you to get a shower and a meal, then you’ll begin to learn everything you need to know to help me. Go with him and do as he says. He will not lead you astray.”

Breakdown nodded frantically, eager to no longer be the center of attention, and turned to leave with the rotary. At the threshold, he looked back at Knock Out, seemingly uncertain, before waving awkwardly. Knock Out smirked slightly and waved back, watching as the grounder skipped off to catch up with his guide. Beside him, Megatron crossed his arms over his chestplates and regarded Knock Out with a pleased look.

“Excellent work as always, Knock Out. You are dismissed. I will have Soundwave contact you when we’ve gathered more dossiers for you.” he said as he rounded the table, headed back to the end where his high command was gathered.

Knock Out pushed off the wall where he’d been leaning, casting a quick glance at the door before looking at his leader’s retreating backplates. He straightened up, his wings held high in a show of confidence, and cleared his intake noisily.

“My lord, if I may?” he asked as Megatron turned to regard him curiously. It was rare for Knock Out to speak up, and usually when he did, it was something worth hearing.  The grey mech tilted his head in a sign for the seeker to continue.

“Breakdown is… I’m not sure how to put it,” He said frankly. “He’s… green, and overwhelmed easily. You may have noticed he shakes. I don’t intend to recommend you coddle him, but I feel like being too harsh on him too soon may make him, ultimately, useless.”

Megatron’s stare bore into the seeker, his face unreadable for a long and uncomfortable moment before he nodded. “Very well. I will take your words under advisement.”

Knock Out smiled, bowing at the waist. “Thank you, my lord. Your consideration is appreciated.”

Megatron nodded, setting himself back to the task of organizing his army, sparing Knock Out no further thought as he did. The seeker turned and saw himself from the room, descending the stairs and beginning to cross the concourse again, heels clicking a staccato rhythm on the black walkway.  When he got to the center where the two walkways met, he was brought up short by a very familiar voice calling his name. He turned to see Breakdown running towards him, Blackout standing with his arms crossed some short distance behind him.

“Knock Out!” the grounder said again as he came close. Knock Out smiled down at him, fondly exasperated at his exuberance.

“Did you need something?” the seeker said, humor in his voice. Breakdown seemed to clam up a little.

“I— I didn’t get to say goodbye. Or to thank you.” He said as he looked down at the ground and twisted his fingers together anxiously.  Knock Out might have found it cute if he hadn’t known the speedster’s uncertainty came from years of abuse.

“You don’t have to thank me. I’m glad to be a help.” Knock Out said softly. When Breakdown looked back up at him, his smile widened just a bit. There was a comfortable silence between them for a moment as they looked at each other, then Knock Out chuckled and angled himself toward the exit once more. “Well, I have to get going. I’ve got other jobs to get to. So, goodbye.”

“Wait!” Breakdown said, grabbing Knock Out’s hand and then recoiling like he’d been burned, his plating beginning to shake. The seeker looked at him curiously, watching as he pulled himself together. “Um. I, um… Will I see you again?”

Knock Out patted him consolingly.

“I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of each other soon enough.”

Chapter Text

His first assignment was in Slaughter City.

Before the war, Slaughter City was much the same as Kaon in terms of quality of life. It was a sprawling city, comprised nearly entirely by factories and production facilities that had belched pollution into the skies in amounts large enough to rival its sister city that sat across The Badlands. Slaughter City had been the densest population of labor-caste mechs on Cybertron before the war, with literally no high-caste occupation to be found. It was hot and noisy, its vast manufactories crammed together in a concentric circular pattern that spread outward until it hit the edges of the the Tarnian Peninsula on three sides, and Ultrex on the other.

Knock Out had last visited Slaughter City just after the war had begun, early in his career as a recruiter for Megatron. He had been sent there to sway the population to Megatron’s favor, which hadn’t been hard to do; starving, downtrodden, overworked, and exhausted, the gladiator’s words had reached nearly every mech and femme in the city, and it had only taken the promise of food and shelter to sway them from supporters to soldiers of revolution.

Things hadn’t managed to change much between then and now. The buildings, which had been shambling and unsafe in their prime, had collapsed in places, and there were obvious signs of the fights which had happened here, however weathered. It was dirtier, and colder without the machinery running, but beyond that it was like looking into the past.

Knock Out stepped down off the monorail platform and began to walk westward, feeling severely unimpressed. It wasn’t as if he’d expected the place to be a shining metropolis, or to be filled with sound and life— in fact, it was quite the opposite. Vos had been brought to the ground during the war, with not a single of its gleaming aeries or palatial estates left standing. He’d served in at least six other cities besides Vos, and all of them had suffered a similar fate by the end of things. Slaughter City looked fine, though, all things considered. The lack of destruction was strange to see.

The streets were largely deserted, save for the occasional scattering of clearly-starving mechs huddled together against the sides of buildings, looking outwards with the same flat affect that Knock Out had seen on soldiers who were severely traumatized. Nobody moved or spoke, each denizen looking more like a statue than a real person. It was almost scary to think that suffering like this existed. The high council had to know about it, and the thought that they knew and decided the best course of action to provide for a starving, homeless, jobless population was to open a hospital… it made Knock Out anxious.

He did his best to compose himself as he approached the towering, skeletal construction that would become the hospital. Even missing its outer walls, it was the most intact building he’d seen in the city so far, and very easily the tallest. Wrapped all around its sides were tarps and sheets of plastic, meant to keep the elements out. Near the front, a tarp worked as a door, flapping gently from its two fixtures whenever the breeze blew.

He ducked inside after giving the place a quick once over, then paused half-way through standing up. Across the foyer, sitting cross-legged on a pile of I-beams with a cube of energon paused halfway to his mouth was a mech. He looked young, bearing very few signs of age on him whatsoever. On his hands, pedes, and around his ankles, his golden paint was greying and flaking— a sure sign of starvation. The rest of his color was brought to a shine so fine that it rivaled Knock Out’s own.

For a moment, neither said anything. Knock Out watched as the younger mech reached behind himself, probably into a subspace pocket for a weapon, before straightening.

“Well, I have to say that this is a surprise,” He offered casually. The young mech looked him up and down distrustfully.

“What are you doing here?” he asked. Knock Out laughed, holding his hands up in front of him to show he meant no harm.

“Believe it or not, I’ve got to do some inspections,” He said, perhaps a tad more amused than he should be. He couldn’t help laughing again— the excuse sounded so absurd to him. When he gathered himself, he put one servo on his hip and moved farther into the building, keeping a cautious distance. “What are you doing here?”

“I live here,” the mech bit out venomously, pausing Knock Out in his tracks.

“What, like— you live -live here?” He asked with sinking disbelief. “This is an active construction zone, it's dangerous to be in here!”

The golden mech scoffed. “Likely story! You just want an excuse to take my home away, again. You Autobots are all the same. You can’t fool me.

Knock Out squinted at him. “Are you even old enough to have a grudge against the Autobots? What did they do to you?”

“As if you don’t know!” the mech laughed derisively.

“Humor me,” Knock Out said, shrugging, “What’ve they done to get you so riled? You said they kicked you out of your home?”

“No! They took my home away! ” the mech growled in aggravation, climbing to his feet and stomping towards the medic, “They pulled us from the well, didn’t let us get a roof over our heads or food to eat, wouldn’t let us have a job or— or a place to sleep out of the rain! And then we come here, and we learn how to steal so we don’t starve to death and they kidnap him!

“They— those Autobots took my brother for doing something we had to do to live because you made some dumb clerical error and— and now— now I’m alone! I don’t know where he is or what they’ve done to him, and—  and as far as I’m concerned you’re no better than the bastards who took him away from me!” the golden mech said, slamming his fist down on Knock Out’s chestplate, his face twisted in an ugly expression that was two parts rage to one part pain.

Before the shorter mech could smack his chest again, Knock Out wrapped his digits around his greying wrist. “Easy, easy!”

They stared at each other, the medic’s red optics peering down into a set of blue optics filled with frustration and fear. The younger mech seemed to contemplate the situation, pushing his captured hand weakly toward Knock Out in what a less experienced mech might have taken to be an attempt to hit him with the same hand. Millenia of war had taught the red mech better— the stranger was gauging to see how strong he was, and if he could handle a fight with the medic. After a moment of fruitless pushing, the youngling tore his hand away, turning back to the pile of I-Beams he’d been sitting on.

“All Autobots are garbage,” he muttered dejectedly, his anger likely flagging in the face of his hunger and exhaustion, leaving him sounding like a pouting child. Knock Out, caught off guard by the sudden shift in attitude, couldn’t help but laugh.

“Yeah, you’re probably right about that,” he chuckled, nodding to himself. There was a brief pause, where neither did anything, before Knock Out shrugged and turned toward the frame where the wall would be when the construction was further along. “Well, stay or go, I don’t care. I have work to do. If you get hurt because a girder falls on your helm, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

There was no real response from the mech behind him, but Knock Out didn’t really expect one; he’d just gone through a whole lot of emotions that he couldn’t do anything about— even attacking the medic was out of the question, which had to be terribly depressing. Figuring it was better to let his unexpected guest sort it out on his own rather than distress him further, Knock Out reached into his subspace to retrieve the datapad with the checklist he had to run through on it.

The work he was meant to do was straightforward enough; check and make sure things… looked okay. It was a little distressing that they decided he was the one fit to do this— his experience with construction was minimal. The datapad listed Bulkhead as the foreman for the project, and it seemed a little strange they’d be asking him to check rivets and welds when someone much more experienced was managing the construction. This was his job now, though, and it was partially his fault for marking ‘construction’ as one of his tertiary skills, so he had very little choice but to suck it up and get on with it.

It wasn’t until he was a third of the way through counting off hookups for lighting fixtures within the lobby that he felt it was time to break the silence between the two of them.

“So, what’s your name?” Knock Out asked from where he was crouched, thumbing through a braid of cords that would eventually be wired into outlets which would power the administrative computer systems of the lobby.  A long silence passed— long enough that Knock Out thought the mech might not answer at all— before the stranger sighed.

“Sunstreaker,” the golden mech said uncertainly, pausing briefly before asking, “What’s yours?”

“Knock Out of Vos,” Knock Out said, marking something down on his datapad with a stylus, then standing in a fluid motion. Behind him, Sunstreaker snorted.

“Humble, much?” he said as the medic turned to him. Knock Out paused, then smiled slowly and regarded Sunstreaker with a coy look.

Darling, ” he said, posing coquettishly, “Tell me I’m wrong.”

Sunstreaker snorted again, throwing a hand over his mouth to prevent himself from spitting out the sip of energon he’d just taken. Sufficiently pleased with himself for having broken the ice, Knock Out turned to get back to work.

“Besides, I’m from Vos,” he said, stepping to the side to begin counting another bundle of thick wires. “Point me in the direction of a Vosnian who isn’t in love with themselves, and I’ll admit you’re right.”

“Alright, point,” Sunstreaker said. Knock Out heard him shift, but didn't turn to look at what he was doing. There was a lot of hospital to get through, and he planned to get it done as soon as possible.

An amiable silence fell over them for a while. Knock Out moved about, flipping between the blueprints for the building and the checklist he'd been provided. When he was finished with the lobby and headed into the next room, Sunstreaker followed after him, moving to lounge on another stack of I-beams against the far wall.

“You don't seem like the kinda guy who's into this sort of work,” Sunstreaker said hesitantly after a handful of minutes had gone by in silence.

“You mean this seems below my caste?” Knock Out asked, peering over his shoulder at the younger mech with a smirk. Sunstreaker grunted something vaguely affirmative as the medic looked back to his datapad with a chuckle.

“Well, you'd be right. Before the war, I was a model,” Knock Out explained, his voice wistful. “Megatron recruited me early on as a posterbot for his movement, and I picked up medicine out of necessity later on. I wanted to keep myself in his good graces, and he needed medics. Turns out, I had a knack for putting people back together.”

“You were a Decepticon?” The golden mech said, surprise in his voice. Knock Out laughed again.

“I was a Decepticon for all but the last, oh … year and a half of the war,” The medic confirmed, hanging his head. There was beat of silence before Sunstreaker spoke again.

“You said you're a medic?” he asked. Knock Out hummed an affirmative absentmindedly. There was a beat of silence, which Knock Out figured was contemplative, before the youngling spoke again. “Then why are you working construction?”

Knock Out laughed. “Construction was my conjunx’s job, for a while. You spend so long with someone, though, and you can’t help but pick things up from them. When things really started moving along with the restoration, all the refugees had to fill out skill inventories. I’ve spent more time on construction sites than most, even if I wasn’t actually doing anything, so I marked it as a tertiary skill. Next thing I know, they’re sending me to count rivets and approve blueprints.”

“What happened to him?” Sunstreaker asked after another long stint of silence. Knock Out turned to look at him, squinting in disbelief, but the youngling spoke again before Knock Out could put enough words together to call him for his tactlessness. “Your conjunx, I mean. He dead?”

A bitter look crossed Knock Out’s features, a darkness dimming his optics for a scant handful of moments before he spun back around to continue his inspection of the skeletal construction. Kliks of cold, unyielding silence crawled onward, filling the space between them with a sense of barely-restrained hostility. Twice, Knock Out caught sight of  Sunstreaker’s reflection as he looked toward the exit to the first antechamber as if pondering leaving, but both times he abstained. Instead, he simply shifted his weight and where he sat on the girders, waiting with a patience not often found in bots his age.

The medic-cum-inspection officer skirted his way around the unnecessarily vast chamber, counting power hookups and approving equipment manifests on his datapad until he came to a stop at the opposite side of the doorframe he’d come through. Sunstreaker watched him ghost his fingertips along the joint of the two beams, following the heavy-duty weld across the vertex before letting his hand fall away, taking a moment to scribble a note on his datapad with a sigh.

“No,” Knock Out said finally, his tone hushed, “But he might as well be. Every day I wonder how long I have left with him in stasis before they decide he’s too much of a drain on their resources and they pull the plug.” He sighed again, scrubbing his free servo up and down his arm, suddenly exhausted. “I know they won’t— that’s not how they do things — but I can’t help but worry.”

When the medic turned, Sunstreaker was twirling a vibroblade on the point of his finger, looking pensive. The sound of his movement grabbed the younger mech’s attention, and his intense blue gaze found Knock Out’s optics once more.

“You trust them, then?” he asked roughly.

“I have no other choice,” Knock Out replied. The admittance was starkly honest, and Sunstreaker blinked in surprise before looking away, schooling his features into something closer to a scowl once more.

For a long time after that, there was silence between them; when Knock Out moved to the next floor, Sunstreaker still followed, but offered no reason for doing so, and Knock Out didn’t ask for one. When the sun began to set, the medic began to work his way back downward, stopping only a few times to double-check a floor plan before moving along. When they were back to the lobby, Knock Out stashed his datapad in subspace and looked around.

“You plan on living here for how long?” he asked.

“As long as I need to. Nothing you say is going to make me leave, either,” Sunstreaker said, giving him a hard look. Knock Out waved a hand in a weak attempt to placate the other mech.

“Well, I was going to offer you to stay with me in my apartment, but if you’re sure you’d rather squat in a construction site for the rest of your life,” he said, reaching back into his subspace to produce two cubes of energon. “Then I suppose the best I can do is give you some food and be on my way.”

Sunstreaker blinked uncomprehendingly at him, then the energon. “What? Is this a bribe?”

“No, this is energon,” Knock Out said, holding the cubes out to him. Sunstreaker looked down at them, a look of consternation twisting his features.  Hesitantly, he reached up and grabbed one, surprised by how light it was.

“What’s the catch?” Sunstreaker asked. Knock Out sighed dramatically.

“The catch is, I get to sleep at night knowing I’m not gonna show up here tomorrow to find you dead on the floor because your fuel pump started cannibalizing your lines and you hemorrhaged in your sleep,” Knock Out said. Sunstreaker looked distinctly sick in the way that all young people did when confronted abruptly with their less-than-stellar reality. He reached up and took the second cube, staring at it for a long moment with confusion. Knock Out turned, satisfied that he’d have good quality fuel for the moment, and began to make his way out.

“Wait!” Sunstreaker called just as Knock Out began to lift the tarp that served as a door. The medic turned and looked at him expectantly. The youngling waffled, then stepped closer, struggling to keep his tough facade in place. “Can I really come live with you?”

Knock Out smiled. “Of course.”

Sunstreaker hurried forward, casting a glance at the room that had served as his home for the past week only briefly before following Knock Out through the makeshift doorway.

“Why are you helping me?” he asked when they reached the end of the block.

“I don’t know,” Knock Out chuckled, “I guess some of that bleeding-heart Autobot ideology rubbed off on me.”

 

Chapter Text

The rec-room was packed.

The base had been raised to support the warfront on the next planet over, and every day more and more soldiers were being brought in to help manage the facility. Knock Out had been among the third wave of staff brought in, assigned as an attache to the medical building now that he’d taken up the trade. Most of his duties— from which he was now taking a break— were about cleaning and organizing the medbay for the actual medical professionals.

It was tedious to be sure, but he was a terrible shot, and picking it up had guaranteed that he remained useful to the cause now that his charms were less practical.

He sipped at his energon casually, watching out the window as big ships set down on the tarmac outside, bringing in soldiers from all over to act as a reserve for the front lines.  It was a heavy contrast to the scenery he was used to; for all that Cybertron was inorganic, Gethova was organic. It was rocky, and dirty, with wind that stirred up the jagged-edged topsoil and played hell on one’s finish. The ground was purplish, with semi-opaque deep teal foliage dotting the landscape sporadically in untamed tangles. Towering hoodoos sprung from the ground like columns in the hall of some great ruined forum, framing a distant junglescape.

It was beautiful, and exotic — but it wasn't home.

It certainly wasn't where he envisioned himself ending up all those years ago, when he'd first offered his services to Megatron.

Knock Out was torn from his brooding by a sudden burst of sound. The rec-room had just received another ship full of G.I.s, who came spilling into the place looking hungry and disgruntled. What had once been a crowd of mechs and femmes relaxing now became a crush, a torrent of excitement and energy that churned under lights that flickered. Knock Out watched distractedly as tables all around him began to fill, before looking towards the door once more and jolting.

Standing there, half-hidden by the door frame, was Breakdown. He was looking around uncertainly, optics darting between the crowd of people and the energon dispensers that lined the wall opposite of him. His plating was clamped tight to his protoform, most likely to disguise his trembling, and his fingers were knotted up tightly together in front of him.

“Breakdown!” Knock Out shouted, raising an arm and waving to the grounder, who caught sight of him and brightened immediately. Without hesitation, Breakdown began to make his way through the crowded mess toward the seeker, who had straightened from his bored hunch to something a little more presentable.

“Knock Out!” the grounder said as he came closer, perching himself on the bench a comfortable distance away from the red mech and glancing around at the congregation that surrounded them.“I’m so glad you’re here, I don’t— I didn’t know what I was gonna do if I didn’t know anybody!”

“I’m sure you would have managed,” Knock Out laughed, leaning his helm onto one hand. “It’s good to see you, though. Are you stationed here?”

“They broke up my unit ‘cause too many of us bought it, so we got split up and merged with other units,” Breakdown said, nodding. “To be honest, I was really scared.”

Knock Out couldn’t help but smile a bit— it seemed even hundreds of years of war hadn’t dampened Breakdown’s guilelessness. “Have you been in long?”

“Uh— no, no. We just got in, just now. We were on Arratta when the orders came through, and the muster said we were allowed to have the rest of the day off to get used to the base,” the grounder explained. “I was gonna get some energon and try to find my bunk.”

“Well, energon I can help with,” Knock Out said grandly, reaching into his subspace to produce a full cube for the other mech.  Breakdown looked at it with surprise before reaching up to take it in both hands.

“This isn’t a ration,” he said confusedly, turning it over in his hands. Knock Out huffed a laugh.

“No, it isn’t. It’s from before the war, from Vos,” he said, subspacing his own ration and drawing out a cube for himself. “I keep them for special occasions, and I don’t think there’s a better occasion than reuniting with an old friend.”

Breakdown looked up from the cube, regarding Knock Out almost reverently. “We— We’re friends?”

Knock Out smiled at him. “Of course we’re friends. That’s what I told you in that bar when we met, isn’t it?”

“Barricade said you call everyone your friend,” Breakdown said, looking down miserably. “He told me you don’t like me.”

Knock Out’s face soured briefly at the mention of the ex-enforcer, before softening again as he watched Breakdown play with the cube nervously. He reached over, placing a reassuring hand on the grounder’s pauldron.

“Barricade is just angry because he knows I don’t want to be his friend,” Knock Out said, offering a smile when Breakdown looked up at him finally. “I do like you, Breakdown. Barricade is a liar.”

The words alone seemed to bolster Breakdown. Knock Out stood, smile still in place.

“Now, I was thinking that since I’ve been here awhile, and I have some time left before I go back on shift, I could show you around the base,” he said, stepping over the bench.

Breakdown brightened again, his emotions worn plainly as ever as he rose to his feet. “You would do that?”

“Of course,” Knock Out purred as he started walking towards the door, “What are friends for?”

Breakdown followed him in contemplative silence, optics trained on the ground as they rounded the corner and began to move down the hall. Confused by the uncharacteristic quietness, Knock Out cast a glance over his shoulder at Breakdown, then laughed at the befuddled look on the speedster’s faceplate.

“Breakdown, it's okay,” he said, turning to pat the mech on the shoulder, “It was a rhetorical question. You don't have to answer.”

“Oh,” Breakdown said, looking very briefly abashed as Knock Out started moving back down the corridor.

“So, you were on Arratta?” Knock Out asked after a beat. “Are you working as a GI or have you picked up a trade?”

“I’m a GI,” Breakdown said, with perhaps more enthusiasm than most mechs would have. “A scout!”

“Oh yeah?” the seeker said, “That's impressive. Scouts are almost always seekers. You must be fast.”

Breakdown flustered, looking down at the ground to hide his nervous smile. “Y-yeah, I— I was in the top ten fastest ground-frames during placements.”

“Top ten, really!” Knock Out said, smiling at the shorter mech. “Sounds like you could give me a run for my shanix. We should race sometime, hotwheels.”

The grounder looked at Knock Out with an impossible happiness. “You would race me? I’ve never been in a race with someone else before!”

“Sure, I think it would be fun,” Knock Out chuckled, infected by Breakdown’s ebullience. They rounded the corner, and the seeker began pointing to various doors, attaching names to them as they went. It was mostly bunk blocks, groupings of rooms that housed eight mechs a piece. It didn’t take them long to head out onto the campus.

Half a dozen big, nearly identical square buildings were arranged in a semicircle around a tarmac that was dotted with shuttles and Non-Sentient Vehicles, some in the process of maintenance, crews of teams making crooked things straight once more in the innermost workings of the big ships.  On the other side of the tarmac from where they stood were four massive hangars, easily twice as long as the personnel buildings which were cubic in design. Mechs moved about, heading between buildings with purpose, totally oblivious to Knock Out and Breakdown’s presence. As Knock Out began to lead Breakdown on a route that would end at the Medbay so that Knock Out could get back to work, he glanced over at the speedster, who was looking around thoughtfully.

“So, do you like being a scout?” he asked casually as they walked past the martial building, which housed the armory, weapons maintenance labs, and an indoor shooting range. Beside him, Breakdown seemed to clam up.

“Um,” he said, looking down at the ground, “Not— not really. I… there’s a lot of shooting, and fighting. I get… um. Scared, pretty easy. I get in trouble a lot for locking up when things get hot.”

Knock Out looked at him curiously. “Then why not apply for a change of position?”

“I tried,” Breakdown said softly. “They... said I’m not good for much besides my speed.”

“Don’t take it to spark,” Knock Out said, a frown on his face, “At least sixty percent of the mechs in this army are mean just because they can be. If you’ve never been given a chance to do something beyond what you’re shown to be good at, how could you ever develop other skills? The freedom to choose is what this whole war is about.”

“Y-yeah,” Breakdown said, looking barely mollified. After a moment, he brightened. “So, uh— what have you been up to since Kaon?”

Knock Out smiled. “Well, when there was no-one left to recruit, I went back to modeling for a bit. You might have seen me on some of the propaganda posters they started putting up everywhere.”

“Oh, y-yeah!” Breakdown said, “We had one of each posted in the camp at Hexima! I thought that was you!”

“Of course it was me,” Knock Out purred, gesturing to himself grandly as they stopped at an intersection to let a small caravan of armored vehicles move past.  “Have you ever seen anyone that comes close to my beauty?”

The speedster seemed to consider it for a moment before shaking his head. “Nuh-uh.”

“I thought not!” Knock Out laughed as they crossed the street, “Once the war really picked up, I became an NSC pilot— but more recently, I’ve started learning to be a field medic. I like to help, you see, and a medic who can fly is always helpful.”

“Are you gonna try to be a doctor after that?” Breakdown asked.

“I don’t know. It seems like a lot of work. I don’t know that I’d have the patience.”

“You should try!” Breakdown exclaimed, a sudden passion in his voice. “Like you said, you’ll never know unless you try! Besides, you’re real smart! You’d make a great doctor, I think. It’d be a cakewalk for you.”

“You think so?” Knock Out asked, humored by Breakdown’s exuberance.

“Yeah, of course!” the grounder said with such stark, disarming honesty that the seeker couldn’t help but trust that he was genuine.

“I’ll give it a try, then,” Knock Out chuckled.

The circled around the campus slowly, trading comfortable small-talk about where life had taken them since the last time they’d seen one another, their friendly conversation broken only when Knock Out would point out a building and explain what was inside. They passed another barracks, the command building, all four of the craft hangars— each of which Knock Out pointed to and listed the general contents of— before circling back around and passing the campus store, coming to a stop at the building that neighbored the one they'd started at.

They looked at the squarish building together in silence before the seeker hummed.

“Well, I should probably get back to work before Flatline comes looking for me,” he sighed. “Think you can find your bunk alright by yourself?”

“Yeah,” Breakdown said, nodding slowly. “I should be fine. I think we passed it back at the beginning.”

“Alright,” Knock Out said. He flashed Breakdown a smile, turning to face him as he walked backwards toward the doors to the hospital. “This was fun. We should hang out again sometime.”

Breakdown looked startled. “Y-yeah! That'd— that'd be great!”

“I’m off tomorrow night. We should get dinner, go for a drive maybe,” He said, winking salaciously. Breakdown laughed, watching the seeker meander slowly backwards.

“You can't drive, you're a jet,” He said smartly.

“You know what I mean,” Knock Out said waving a hand dismissively. “Is it a date, or no?”

“Yeah!” Breakdown said, “I’ll pick up a shift today to make sure I can get the time off.”

Stellar,” Knock Out said. “Pick me up here at joor 22, we’ll go from there."

“Yeah. Yeah, okay!” Breakdown said, warming to the idea. “I’ll see you then!”

“Later, Hotwheels!” Knock Out called as he spun on his toeplate and waved over his shoulder.

“Bye!” Breakdown called back, cupping his servos around his mouth, “Have a good day!”

Strangely enough, Knock Out would.

Chapter Text

Knock Out opened his eyes and immediately shut them, because the place he woke up was not the place he wanted to be.

The recall had been vivid, some far off and mundane memory from when the war had still been young and he and Breakdown had just been friends. Life in a military camp was a horribly, dreadfully boring thing, but he’d go back to it gladly if it meant he and his conjunx could be together again— even just as acquaintances.

He rolled from his side to his front and buried his face in his pillow, sighing through his vents. Briefly, he entertained the thought of going back to sleep; at least in his recalls, Breakdown was there, and not stuffed in some makeshift stasis pod in a hospital basement, waiting to be revived. The prospect was so tempting — he could sleep for another cycle or two at most and see the big blue bruiser again, and maybe it would take the edge off, and he’d be able to get through the day.

That plan was cut down by a knock on the doorless door-frame near the foot of the bed. Knock Out didn’t have to roll over to know that it was he-who-woke-at-unhealthy-joors, otherwise known as Sunstreaker.

“You do realize you’re like a joor late to work,” the golden mech said. The words took a moment to sink in before Knock Out processed them, then sprang up off the berth frantically. He grabbed a handful of datapads off the side table and pushed past the shorter mech, who looked much too amused at Knock Out’s plight for it to be polite.  As he moved into the tiny kitchenette to retrieve a cube of energon, he stopped, turning to look at his reflection in the long mirror mounted on the wall in the hallway.

It seemed he looked almost as bad as he felt, which was to say he looked like he was dead on his feet. His paint was dulled and desaturated, no longer the lustrous and glossy deep red he prided himself on. The tone had greyed into something better described as merlot, scratched and dirtied by the hard work he'd been doing all week. He looked down at himself with a rising sense of discomfort, pondering the drastic change in finish condition for a few silent moments before deciding it was a problem for another time.

Sunstreaker clearly had other thoughts on the matter. He leaned on the counter, sipping on a cube of energon casually as he watched Knock Out busy himself with heating a cube for himself on the hot plate and stirring powdered additives into it with the desperate impatience of a mech who was half a cycle late to an important meeting.

“Do you really plan on leaving looking like that?” the younger mech asked, his beautiful face twisted in distaste.  Knock Out paused, looked down confusedly, then frowned and went back to what he was doing.

“I don't have much of a choice. It'd take a whole day to get my finish back up to par if I did a full repaint, and I should have left fifteen minutes ago,” he explained, snapping the lid of the cube closed and shaking it up. “We’ll have to fix it tonight.”

He rushed past Sunstreaker to the door, jiggling the handle rapidly to try and free himself from the rundown tenement he lived in— which was, unfortunately, the literal best lodgings in Slaughter City at the time.  

“We?” Sunstreaker parroted, squinting at his host.

“Yes, we! I can’t get my back by myself.” Knock Out harrumphed, the grumpy look on his faceplates replaced by triumph as the door finally opened. He walked through it, then turned and gripped the handle. “I’ll be back late, I’m gonna push to do the whole walkthrough today so it’s done with. If you leave, lock the door.”

He leveled a serious look at the shorter speedster. “If you need me, call me and I’ll come back. My frequency is on the cold compartment.”

Alright! ” Sunstreaker snapped, the annoyance in his voice more for show than anything, “Go already, before you’re later than you already are!”

Knock Out smiled slowly, then backed out the rest of the way and yanked the door closed, lingering long enough to hear Sunstreaker lock it before turning to rush down the hall. He took the steps down to the street two at a time, dropping into his alt mode as soon as his pedes hit the pavement. The streets were mostly empty, both due to the general lack of residents and the early joor, which meant his progress was largely unimpeded.

He sped through the streets under a sun that hung low on the horizon, the speed almost cathartic enough to make him feel better about the day that waited ahead of him— almost. It didn't take long for the medical tower to appear on the horizon, jutting upwards into the skyline, so clearly new compared to the buildings around it that it was almost funny. It had become less skeletal over the course of the week, a solid two thirds of the structure now closed in by smooth metal walls that glinted in the morning sun as Knock Out made his approach. He transformed when he was in front of the building, glad to see there was a real door in place as opposed to the tarp that had been there at the start.

The door opened as he walked towards it, sliding aside into the wall seamlessly. Bulkhead was waiting for him in the lobby, leaning against the wall with a datapad and a cube of energon that smelled heavily of copper. The noise of the door opening drew his attention, and he offered Knock Out a lopsided smile— a half-hearted nicety that was more of an acknowledgement of the awkwardness of the situation than a genuine gesture of amity. Knock Out returned much of the same thing, stopping a comfortable distance away from the big mech, who traded his personal datapad for a much sturdier, work-worn one.

“Sorry for being late, I got in late last night and ended up oversleeping.” he lied, doing his best to mask the strut-deep exhaustion he felt with the people-pleasing persona he’d perfected during the war.  Bulkhead looked at him uncertainly for a moment, watching the red mech pull his own datapad from subspace.

“Uhh… No problem,” Bulkhead offered. He paused for a moment before continuing hesitantly. “Are you feeling up to this? We got time; you finished your walkthrough way early so if you wanna go home and get more rest, we can do this tomorrow…?”

Knock Out offered a tight smile. “Thank you, but I promise I’m fine. I just didn't sleep well, really.

Bulkhead didn't look convinced, and for an agonizingly long moment they shared optic contact before the taller mech looked down, nodding.

“Alright. I guess if you're sure,” Bulkhead ceded.

They got to work quickly after that; Knock Out strived to keep the conversation distinctly professional and work related, but Bulkhead seemed equally determined to break the ice between them and broker some sense of familiarity between them, which only made Knock Out more uncomfortable and less friendly in the end.

It wasn't that Knock Out didn't like the green mech—  Bulkhead was a good person, who was supportive of his friends, genuinely remorseful of Breakdown’s fate, and in general a wholly decent mech and friendly person. He was funny when he wanted to be, and humble, and attentive, and a million other good things all at the same time—

But he was still Bulkhead, the mech who had been Breakdown’s nemesis for so long, who vowed to kill Knock Out’s conjunx nearly every time they met. Try as he might to reason that Breakdown had deserved the animosity— because, in all honesty, he did— and that the war was over, and that Bulkhead was a reasonable, kind person when not fighting for his life, he couldn’t bring himself to feel comfortable around the Wrecker.

As much as he wished it weren’t, the awkwardness was there, and it stifled any warmth that might have blossomed between them otherwise.

They functioned well together in a professional capacity despite Knock Out’s reservations, but Knock Out could tell that his disinterest was making the bigger mech increasingly more uncomfortable as time went on. Twice, he turned from where he was pointing out a problem he’d spotted for the foreman to see to find Bulkhead staring at him intensely as if he had something to say, before Bulkhead would snap himself out of his thoughts, smile apologetically, and respond to whatever Knock Out had said.

They were a little over halfway up the construction when Bulkhead finally said what was on his mind.  

Knock Out had turned away from the bruiser and stumbled, suddenly struck by a wave of dizziness. He threw a hand out to catch himself on the doorway, but momentum pushed him through the door, where he clattered to the floor. Bulkhead, startled, stood and began to cross the room towards the speedster, who was clambering to his feet.

“Knock Out, are you—”

“Fine!” Knock Out barked unconvincingly, “I— I’m fine.”

Suddenly, Bulkhead looked cross.

“No, you’re not fine. You haven’t been acting right all day, and your finish— I’ve never seen it this bad, not even during active wartime!” His face softened. “I was trying not to make a big deal out of it, cause I’m sure you’re aware, but— I’m worried. Do you— do you want to talk? Is there something I could do to help you?”

Knock Out did his best to tamp down the irritation he felt; Bulkhead was trying to be kind, despite the speedster having given him the cold shoulder since that morning. He cycled a vent, then shook his head.

“I’m alright, I promise. My finish is dull because of the stress of Ratchet being gone, and the new job, the move— I’m going to pick up some supplements tonight to manage it. I won’t pretend you don’t realize I’m upset, but its not anything I can’t handle, and honestly, as much as I’d like to, I don’t think I’d be comfortable making you listen to me lament a mech who tried to kill you more times than I could count,” Knock Out explained, offering the other a tired smile. “I’m alright, I swear— But if you don’t mind, I think it’d be a good idea for me to eat before we move on.”

Knock Out could tell Bulkhead wasn’t totally mollified, but the Wrecker reluctantly dropped the subject with a quiet assurance for Knock Out to take whatever time he needed. The speedster was determined to get the day over as fast as possible, making short work of the cube he’d subspaced earlier that morning.

When they went back to work together afterwards, their conversation was largely professional; Bulkhead toned down his attempts to be friendly substantially, but not enough to be rude or cold, and Knock Out found himself in genuine better spirits for it. They were just as productive as before, and perhaps more so now that Bulkhead seemed to be more focused on getting the work done rather than trying to be the medic’s friend. By the time they were done, Bulkhead had marked down a full two pages of changes to be made before the next step in construction.  

The ride down from the top floor was a slow one, the elevator a temporary thing running on its own power-cell  in the basement until the rest of the electrical systems were in place. When one went floor-to-floor, it wasn’t noticeable, but on the longer rides, Knock Out felt the slow chugging of the hydraulic lift through his pedes. It chugged to a stop and sat for a moment before the doors opened. Bulkhead moved through them first, wrapping a hand around the doorframe to keep the doors on the lift from closing.

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about Breakdown,” Bulkhead said, looking at Knock Out seriously. There was a long moment where he seemed to mull over whatever he wanted to say before he dropped his hand. “Take care of yourself, Knock Out. It’s what he would want.”

Knock Out felt like he’d been punched, and he watched as Bulkhead turned and began to walk to the exit silently. He struggled to think around the sudden swell of emotion that threatened to choke him, the wash of sorrow he felt amplified by his exhaustion. He stumbled backwards into the wall, slid down it until he was sitting, hung his helm, and buried his face in his servos.

When the doors closed, he was left alone with only the sound of his hitching vents to keep him company.

 

Chapter Text

Inventory was easily one of Knock Out’s least favorite things to do.

It was monotonous and repetitive, and in a medical building this big, it took joors, a length which was doubled by the horrible condition the various sick-bays and storerooms had been left in. Normally, it wasn’t so bad, just boring— But the Autobots had gone on the offensive and carpet bombed the temporary base camp on Arratta, leaving the medbay there unable to field patients, which meant not only was this base getting the casualties from the bombings , but it was getting all the patients that would have been treated at the Arratta facility as well.

In short: they’d been overrun.

The first wave had been the worst; medberths had filled every infirmary and medbay they had on base and spilled out into the halls, lining the walls two berths thick and cutting the halls down to one-way traffic. Knock Out spent several joors working with the other techs and volunteers, stabilizing what felt like an endless torrent of wounded mechs.

By the second wave, they’d lost most of their volunteers, but gained a system of workflow that made things go much quicker. After the initial rush of patients had been stabilized, unoccupied techs were sent to bus the operating theaters to prepare them for the next patients that would need them, then work on cleaning the rest of the facilities by order of need.

At the tail end of the fourth wave, Knock Out was sent to coordinate supplies, and hadn’t been let off the duty since.

That had been almost a whole day ago. He’d not had a break since the news had come in about the bombings, he hadn’t eaten in a while, and his pedes were killing him— but he wasn’t allowed to clock off until he and the other techs had gotten the place back up to specs.  They’d all drawn straws to see who would get what duty, and Knock Out had drawn the short straw, which meant he was banished to inventory for the next three centuries at the rate this was going.

He grumbled as he finished counting a box of prepackaged trauma kits, marking down the amount on the datapad he balanced on his thigh before standing and stretching with a groan. The rest of the storeroom stretched out before him as he turned, blown into some disproportionate sight by the rank desperation inspired in him by his exhaustion.

Before he could fall back into his petulant inner monologue, he was interrupted by a knock on the door— which was curious, because usually, in his experience, most people didn’t knock before entering a storeroom. He crossed to the door and palmed the control panel mounted next to it, directing his attention studiously at  his data pad in the hopes that if he pretended to be busy, whoever was outside would go away faster.

The door slid back and after a beat, Knock Out looked up and directly into the faceplates of Breakdown. The ire he felt at the interruption went out of him suddenly, leaving him grasping for words dumbfoundedly.

“Uhh… Hi Breakdown,” Knock Out said, tucking his datapad under his arm. Breakdown looked down silently, his expression vaguely miserable. “Can I help you with something?”

“U-uh, yeah, I–” Breakdown shifted and crossed his arms in front of his chest, but his nervous hunch made it seem like he was holding himself more than anything. “I was gonna ask if you… maybe… wanted to go get dinner with me?”

Knock Out froze for just a moment, a fear gripping him. It always came down to this, he thought bitterly; he was nice to someone, tried to make a friend, and it immediately came around to bite him in the aft. Nobody wanted to be friends with the pretty seeker– it was always something more. He cast a glance over his shoulder at the storeroom, inventory duty suddenly seeming infinitely more appealing.

“Oh, darling, I’d love to, really,” he began, gesturing at the mess behind him, “But I’m not allowed to clock out until inventory is done, and I’ve been on my feet since the bombing. Maybe another time?”

“Do you… Would you mind if I helped? Or… maybe I could just… sit with you and talk while you work? I—” Breakdown looked down the hall, frowning at the floor for a moment before looking up uncertainly, optics pleading. “It’s ok if you don't want me here, I just… A lot of people in my unit died in the attack and the rest of them are having a party and I… I don't do real well with crowds, but I don't want to be alone, i-if that makes sense?”

Knock Out felt the tension leave his frame suddenly as he came to understand the reality of the situation. He almost laughed at himself for assuming the worst– Breakdown was the most straightforward and genuine mech he knew. If he had wanted to go on a date, he would have framed it as such; it was just who he was.

Slowly, Knock Out offered the grounder a smile. “How about this: You head to the rec-room and get us some energon, then bring it back here, and we can talk while I finish up.”

“Yeah— yeah, okay!” Breakdown said, brightening substantially, angling himself away from the door. “I-I’ll be back, okay? And, um, thank you– thanks for understanding.”

Knock Out watched the grounder turn and walk down the hall again, looking distinctly less wretched than when he'd showed up. He stepped back and let the door slide shut, turning back to his work for a while.

Almost half a cycle later, in the middle of counting through a box of welder heads, the lights flickered out.  Knock Out stood still for a moment, waiting to feel the rumble of an explosion that would mean they were under attack. Nothing came so he stood, turning on his running lights so that he could see where he was going.

As he approached the door, the sounds of an angry one-sided conversation reached him through it. He palmed the access panel, but nothing happened. He frowned and did it again; the base systems were made to work so that in an emergency they would default into their most useful state— in this case being open. His second attempt didn’t work either, and with great frustration he thumped his fist against the panel. It bleated at him in a tone that could only be categorized as indignant, and the door wooshed back, letting him out. In the hall, the sounds of belligerent shouting were louder and clearer. Knock Out walked toward it, recognizing the voice to be that of Conduit, the medic left on duty until next shift.  He rounded the corner and paused.

Conduit was a big mech, angular and bulky in the way that many Decepticons were. He was intimidating on the best of days and terrifying on the worst, with a gruff manner that promised harm to those who refused to obey him and a surly expression to match. A cannon was mounted on his shoulder that slid down to rest over his backplates. He was navy blue with touches of shined silver, and biolights that glowed violet here and there across his frame.

Knock Out sighed as he caught sight of exactly who the medic was harassing; Breakdown was pressed back against the wall, boxed in by one of Conduit’s hands on either side of him. His plating was rattling worse than Knock Out had seen since they’d reunited here, his vents coming in short, shallow gasps. He looked like he was ready to cry, cradling two cubes of energon to his chest and stuttering mindless apologies at the bigger mech.

“And where did you get these?” Conduit asked, reaching forward to wrench one of the cubes of energon from Breakdown’s hand. “Lemme guess, you thought you could steal an extra ration and then hide in a storeroom while you ate your fill and the rest of us starved!

“N-no, no, I— No!” Breakdown babbled, shaking his helm. Knock Out, incensed by the treatment, squared his shoulders and strode forward, wings flared wide instinctively to make himself look like more of a threat.

“Leave him alone, Conduit! I told him to get me energon,” He warned, shoving at the arm that still kept Breakdown trapped. Conduit dropped the cube of energon, which hit the floor and broke open, and grabbed Knock Out’s wrist instead.

Knock Out, you good-for-nothing pleasure model,” He said, wrenching the seeker’s arm backwards at an uncomfortable angle. “Why am I not surprised that you’re behind this?”

Knock Out grunted, watching out of the corner of his eye as, impossibly, Breakdown’s shaking got worse. The lights above them flickered violently, and for a moment Knock Out’s response died in his throat as understanding swept through him for the second time that night. Conduit shook him, as if trying to rattle an answer out of him.

“Behind what?!” Knock Out shouted, burying any affect the pain might have been having on him under his determination to defend the smaller mech, “I haven’t eaten in a day and a half!”

“You coulda’ gone by now if you did your damn work faster," the senior medic rumbled dangerously.

Knock Out’s beautiful faceplates twisted in rage.

“Do you want it done fast or do you want it done right, you oaf?” Knock Out spat harshly. The grip on his arm became that much tighter, and the bigger mech shoved him against the wall in much the same way he had done with Breakdown.

“I oughta—”

“What! You ought to what? Kill me? You think you’d get brownie points for killing one of the few seeker medics in the army?” Knock Out demanded.

“I oughta take your damn certs away from you, make you into a GI like the rest of the Primus-damned cannon fodder!” Conduit threatened. Knock Out laughed in his face.

“And what are you gonna do when I tell Megatron, hm? What are you gonna say when word gets out that you stopped Megatron’s Army from becoming stronger over a cube of energon?” He hissed venomously.

They stared at one another, the lights flickering around them, the silence between them broken only by the sound of Breakdown’s panicked venting. After an uncomfortably long moment, Conduit shoved Knock Out’s arm away and stepped back, looking down at the puddle of energon on the floor, then over at Breakdown. He reached across and swiped the other cube out of Breakdown’s hands, and the shorter mech flinched as it fell to the floor and cracked open messily alongside the first.

“Clean that up, soldier.” he sneered at the speedster, before turning and stomping off down the hall. Knock Out watched him go with a barely contained anger, rolling his wrist to ease some of the lingering soreness from it. When Conduit had rounded the corner to head back to the main bay, Knock Out looked down at his wrist briefly before turning to Breakdown.

The grounder was still shaking, his face screwed up in anxious misery, his optics wet with unfallen tears. He was staring unwaveringly at the wall across from him, holding his vents. Knock Out’s expression softened as he stepped closer, showing the shorter mech his hands in an attempt to come off less threatening.

“Hey— Hey, Breakdown, it’s okay,” he said. Breakdown slid his optics over to the seeker slowly, and Knock Out smiled softly at him, reaching forward to ease his arms away from his chest. “Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”

Slowly, Breakdown shook his head, pulling a hand away to wipe at his face.

“Hey, take a deep breath,” Knock Out said, and Breakdown did his best to obey.

“I’m sorry,” Breakdown whispered after a moment, when he’d gotten his venting under some semblance of control, “I-I— I didn’t mean to get you in trouble, I don’t know what I did wrong!”

“You didn’t do anything wrong," Knock Out soothed gently, “Conduit is even more of a bastard than Barricade. You didn’t do anything wrong, Breakdown, he’s just mean because he can be.

Breakdown nodded slowly, looking down at the floor and the energon spilled there. Knock Out followed his gaze, then patted the mech on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry about that. I have enough energon in my subspace that we don't have to worry about the ration. I’ll clean it up, okay? Just do your best to calm down.” Knock Out said. When Breakdown nodded, he crouched down and gathered both cubes in his servos, then stood and walked to deposit them in a trash bin on the corner. He stopped half way back to Breakdown, calling up a holo-panel on the wall and pressing a few buttons quickly. After a beat, a piece of the wall near the bottom slid back, allowing a cleaning drone to putter out in the direction of the spill before siding back into place. Knock Out walked past the drone, taking Breakdown’s hand once more and gently tugging him back towards the store room.

Breakdown seemed to be feeling at least a bit better, the rattling of his plating quieter than before. Knock Out reached up and swiped the access panel, smiling contentedly as the door slid back allowing them entry into the room that was well lit once more. He tugged Breakdown inside, then let go of his hand, shuffling across the room and clearing off the top of a crate.

“Alright. You can sit here until you feel better,” he said, turning back around to smile at the speedster, who was slowly stepping closer, as if fearing reprisal, “And then if— if — you feel better before I’m done, you can help me finish up. Sound good?”

Breakdown nodded, perching himself tentatively on the edge of the box. Knock Out smiled at him again, then reached into his subspace to produce two cubes of energon. He handed one off to Breakdown, taking a long sip of his own as he turned back to the shelves he was working on.

They sat together in amiable silence as Knock Out re-counted the welder head packs he’d been counting when the lights had gone off. Breakdown continued to calm down behind him, his shaking becoming less and less obvious as time went on, apparently made comfortable by being somewhere semi-private after such an uncomfortable situation. He took another sip of his energon, then set it aside, angling himself so he was facing Breakdown more.

“Have you noticed,” Knock Out began casually, marking down a quantity on his datapad, “That whenever you get upset, the lights start to flicker?”

Breakdown froze, the slightest tremble passing through his frame, then slowly nodded.

“M-Megatron… He said I was something called an outlier,” Breakdown said softly, confirming Knock Out’s hunch. The speedster watched the seeker warily, as if waiting for him to spring up and attack him over it.

“Oh really?” Knock Out said, laying out IV kits in groups of five and doing his best not to make a big deal out of what the other was saying. “That’s interesting. I’ve heard outliers are really rare.”

Knock Out saw Breakdown nod out of the corner of his eye. “He— That is, Megatron said it’s probably why they sold me to the mines. They found the flaw before I booted and decided it was too much of a liability.”

The seeker hummed, tapping at his datapad before gathering up all the kits and dropping them back into their bin. He looked up at the speedster and smiled. “Their loss, I guess.”

Breakdown huffed a quiet laugh, a tiny but genuine smile spreading over his faceplates at last. “I guess so.”

Chapter Text

 

Knock Out was surprised to learn that Slaughter City had a marketplace.

The medic had been sitting on the run-down couch in his apartment, grumbling to himself and tapping away at his personal datapad when Sunstreaker walked in, stared at him for a moment, then moved to sit down next to him.

“What’s wrong?” Sunstreaker asked in that super-direct way he had, that made almost every inquiry he made sound like a statement rather than a question. Knock Out looked up distractedly, then gestured at his datapad.

“I was trying to buy the supplements I need to keep my finish in order, but nobody delivers to Slaughter City, which means I’m destined to go around looking like a half-dead slob until I can get back to Kaon.” He explained dramatically, huffing as he went back to his search. Sunstreaker stared at him with a look that was somewhere between disbelieving and uncomprehending painted across his faceplates.

“Did you try looking at the market?” He asked. Knock Out looked up.

“I can’t go all the way back to Kaon just for some supplements.” Knock Out said. Sunstreaker squinted at him.

“The market here. The Slaughter City market.” He said slowly. “We do have one of those, you know.”

Knock Out blinked. “We… do?”

“Yes,” Sunstreaker sighed, standing up. “We do. Where do you think I stole all my food from?”

The red mech stared at him blankly, then slowly shrugged. “I didn’t put that much thought into it.”

Sunstreaker sighed again, looking up at the ceiling briefly before putting one servo on his hip and offering the other to his host. “Come on. I’ll take you.”

A quarter cycle’s drive later found them standing at the mouth of a busy alley, watching the teeming crowd in comfortable silence, Knock Out’s hands on his hips and Sunstreaker’s arms crossed over his chest. The golden mech glanced over at Knock Out and smirked.

“Told you.” He said simply. Knock Out looked over in his direction with exasperation.

“I didn’t doubt you were right!” He said, watching as Sunstreaker dropped his arms and began to walk away. Knock Out stepped forward as well after a moment, following Sunstreaker  into the throng of mechs and femmes.

The marketplace was something created out of necessity, that much was clear; the stalls were all rickety, comprised of rusty scrap metal with hand-painted signs. Some stalls had wares that were clearly salvaged, half-broken items that were either being sold as parts or as finished, refurbished products.  There was a scattering of carts selling all grades of energon, though from the color and consistency Knock Out could tell most of it was home-brewed high grade or rations harvested from solar generators. A handful of car-lengths into the alley, it branched into two aisles. Sunstreaker paused at the fork, turning to look back at the red mech and hiking a thumb over his shoulder, down the right lane.

“If they’ve got what you’re looking for, it’s down there. A little shop called Scavengers’, run by a guy named Krok. He’s pretty short, but you can’t miss him. He’s safety yellow.” He said succinctly. Knock Out looked down the street and then nodded.

“Where are you gonna go?” Knock Out asked. Sunstreaker stared at him, clearly still struggling to trust him. After a moment, the golden mech looked down, then down the left lane, gesturing much the same way he had down the right.

“Just gonna browse.” He said. “There’s a guy down here who carries paints on import from Kaon. Gonna see if he’s got anything new.”

Knock Out smiled after a moment, reaching into his subspace.

“Here. Take this, then.” He said, holding a credit chit out to the shorter mech. “If you see something you want, buy it.”

Sunstreaker stared at the chit intensely, then looked up at Knock Out.

“Why?” He asked.  Knock Out’s smile morphed into a smirk.

“Because if you have money, you’re less likely to steal something.” he purred.

Sunstreaker blanched, a strange expression that Knock Out had trouble defining crossing his faceplates; it was something like rank indignation and furious embarrassment.

“How’d you—!” He began, stopping short as Knock Out burst out laughing and doubled over in his mirth. Knock Out did his best to collect himself.

“I didn’t! You just told me!” he explained, gamely attempting to contain his amusement as a stormy look began to manifest on the shorter mech’s faceplates.  After a moment, he sighed and straightened up fully, casting a sly smirk in Sunstreaker’s direction. “Besides, it’s what I did when I was your age.”

Sunstreaker was mollified by the admission, but only just barely. After a moment more of hesitation, he reached out and took the chit, storing it in his own subspace. Knock Out looked at him, his smirk softening, then turned to head down the right lane wordlessly. Sunstreaker called out to him before he passed the first stall and he turned back around to look at the shorter mech through the throngs.

They held one another’s gaze for a moment before Sunstreaker nodded. “Thanks.”

“Any time.” Knock Out said seriously, smiling at him once more. He watched Sunstreaker begin to make his way down the opposite lane before turning and resuming his trek.

It seemed the market had some kind of organization system in place, as the wares in this aisle all fit losely to a personal care theme. There were kiosks selling waxes and solvents, more energon stalls, entire boothes dedicated to polishes and chamois, and home electronics carts that were packed stem to stern with refurbished hot plates, portable solvent warmers, cooling compartments hooked up to solar cells, and photo-cubes. The tables were set up so close that a lot of them touched, and Knock Out could see evidence that some had simply merged into one booth run by two proprietors.

He found Krok’s booth about three-fifths of the way down the aisle. Three tables were pushed together in a horse-shoe shape against the half-collapsed wall of the warehouse that made up the south side of the alleyway, with a fourth table set just off to the right. They were covered with all manner of things that could be considered organized if one were being generous; It seemed to be a bit of everything, from pharmaceuticals and supplements to electronics, salvaged pieces of traditional art that were torn and half- burned, little piles of energon that looked pure enough to have been mined and not converted, and one section that looked like it was comprised entirely of random, shiny bits of metal. Bins were lined up under each table, with hastily-scrawled labels affixed above their handles and crude drawings of what could be found inside underneath, presumably for those who couldn’t read.

Between the horseshoe of tables and the single one, a hot pink rotary with flaking paint and a battle mask sat on a stool that was missing a leg, blocking entry to a roughly mech-sized hole in the wall that was covered with a tattered tarpaulin.  He was hunched forward with his elbows on his knees, his helm held in one of his massive hands, eyeing Knock Out with blatant distrust. Knock Out looked up at the sign that hung off the makeshift awning. Painted in scratched and faded purple paint was the name of the shop— Scavengers’— confirming that he was in the right place.

When he looked back down, the hot pink mech was still staring at him with flickering red optics, his rotors twitching behind him. Knock Out squared his shoulders, glad that the war had given him plenty of experience dealing with intimidating mechs with bad attitudes.

“I’m looking for powdered silver halide. Do you have any?” Knock Out asked directly. The mech looked over at the table with the additives and seemed to consider it before standing wordlessly, turning, and walking into the hole in the wall. Knock Out watched him with a vague feeling of confusion before a much shorter mech came out, matching Sunstreaker’s description of the mech who was supposed to be running the stall.

Krok was short and curvy, with no signs of an alt mode to speak of; he wore a segmented battle mask, was painted in a mix of safety yellow, black, and purple, with the slightest silver and red accents, and red biolights that dotted his frame. His paint was faded, scratched, and flaking, peeling away from his major joints in a testament of long term borderline starvation.  A Deceptibrand was on his shoulder, painted over but not flattened down to truly hide it. His gaze was direct, but leagues friendlier than the helicopter’s had been.

“Hey,” he said as he stepped around the stool the pink mech had been sitting on. “Sorry about Spinister, he gets jumpy sometimes.”

“I understand. The war was hard on all of us.” Knock Out said, waving the shorter mech’s apology off.  The mesh around Krok’s optics crinkled, a tell-tale sign that he was smiling behind his mask.

“You can say that again.” He laughed, crossing his arms in front of him. “Anyway, I’m Krok. What can I help you with?”

Knock Out looked back toward the pile of supplements. “I was looking for powdered silver halide, preferably consumption grade, but I can work with anything.”

Krok hummed as he crossed to the table where the additives were stacked, moving them around to read labels for a moment before turning back to Knock Out.  

“I’ll have to check in the back,” He said distractedly as he skirted around the opposite end of the horseshoe, “I don’t remember selling the last of it… Give me just a minute. Sorry.”

“Take your time.” Knock Out assured. The soft sounds of conversation drifted out from what amounted to the impromptu shop’s storeroom, and Knock Out listened idly as he wandered closer to the tables to inspect the rest of the wares laid out. He picked out two packs of chamois cloths, a little tin of polish from one of his favorite pre-war brands, a big bottle of wax, and a touch-up kit that had been half buried under out of date entertainment datapads.

Krok emerged with three short tins in one hand and one in the other, stopping briefly to look at the pile of things in Knock Out’s arms before quickly overcoming whatever had drawn him up short and stepping closer.

“I found three tins of food grade, but it’s pretty low quality. I’m assuming you’re using it for cosmetic purposes, so I grabbed my last canister of topical.” He said, holding both hands out for the taller mech to inspect. Knock Out looked at the top tin of food grade, then the other tin, and smiled.

“Mind if I take all of it off your hands?” he asked, shifting his soon-to-be purchases to one arm and reaching into his subspace for a credit chit when Krok shook his head. He pulled out a stick, looked at it, then reached back into his subspace and grabbed a second one before offering them both to the monoformer, nodding to the pile in his arms and then to the tins in the mech’s hands. “This enough to cover everything I’ve got?”

Krok didn’t even glance at the pile in the taller mech’s arms, his optics riveted on the sticks Knock Out was offering to him. After a moment, he looked up at Knock Out’s face.

“That’s enough to buy my entire stock.” He said, almost as if it pained him. “Just one of those is.”

“You saved me a trip back to Kaon.” Knock Out shrugged and held his arm a little straighter, a coy smile informing his features. “Count the extra as a bonus. From one ex-con to another.”

Krok looked at him with gathering emotion, then nodded shallowly. He held onto the tins while Knock Out loaded his purchases into his subspace, then handed them over so that he could store those as well.

“Thank you, so much.” He said softly, curling his hands in and out of fists at his sides, doing his best to contain the feelings that threatened to overwhelm him.  Knock Out’s smile softened into something more understanding. They exchanged farewells, and Knock Out turned to work his way back up the aisle, intent on finding Sunstreaker.

The left lane was a lot like the one on the right, in that the booths were all lined up end-to-end on both sides of the street and it was absolutely lousy with people— more mechs and femmes than Knock Out had realized lived in Slaughter City at all. The biggest difference between the two sides was the type of wares. While the right had been things that could loosely be considered needs, the left was the closest approximation to luxury items that one could expect to see in a place with so little disposable income. He passed stall after stall selling frame paints, an engraving booth, storefronts selling jewelry that was oddly beautiful despite the quality of its components, detailing shops, bookstores, carts packed with old holovid disks, and all manner of other goods that didn’t qualify as a necessity.

By the time he found the kiosk with the paints that Sunstreaker had mentioned, he’d already stopped to add two cans of red paint that was a near perfect match to his own scheme, two cans of the same gold that his charge sported, a can of silver, and a can of black to his subspace haul.  

The import kiosk was easily the most lavish establishment he’d seen in the market so far, free of rust and painted nicely with a display of paint swatches tacked to the inside of the shutters that bracketed the service window. Behind the mech manning it, Knock Out could see big cans of paint strapped to the walls on one half of the wall and other accoutrements for traditional art— like easels, canvases, and packs of sketching styluses.  Knock Out took a moment to assimilate the fact that this was not a finish paint store, but rather an art supply store as he looked around for any sign of Sunstreaker.

His search came up empty, and Knock Out found himself filled with a very particular kind of dread. Having spent the beginning of the war working in and around the major centers of poverty, he was no stranger to the inherent dangers that existed there— he’d been mugged enough times to know this kind of place was dangerous for someone like Sunstreaker, who didn’t know how to protect themselves for as much as they might bluff to the contrary.

And of course, he hadn’t thought to get Sunstreaker’s comm frequency.

He approached the window of the art store, looking around once more as if he might have simply missed someone so shiny.  The store owner looked up at him curiously, cocking their helm as they watched him cast about.

“Can I help you?” They asked. They were a seeker, white and blue with friendly blue optics and a thin, pretty face. Knock Out looked down at them uncertainly.

“I was — I was looking for a friend,” he explained, wringing his hands in front of himself nervously before lifting one to his shoulder, near the bottom of his chin. “About yea tall, gold and black, serious disposition. He said he was going to come here to browse while I went— uh, grocery shopping— but I can’t seem to find him. Maybe you’ve seen him?”

The bot at the window tilted their helm the other way and tapped their chin-guard with a digit, then nodded, smiling up at Knock Out unassumingly as they pointed down the street opposite of where Knock Out had come from.“Oh, yeah! I seen him. He went down that-a-way with his other friends.”

“Other friends?” Knock Out echoed, the knot of worry in his tanks only tightening.

“Yeah-huh,” the bot said, “Three real big fellas. They headed down that-a-way laughin’ about some bet the pretty one lost.”

The worry very suddenly manifested into sheer panic. Knock Out spun and began to run down the aisle, only vaguely hearing the petite seeker wishing him luck as he bolted away.

The crowd seemed to get heavier near the end of the alley, due largely in part to what appeared to be a bidding war going on at one particular booth. Knock Out ignored it, shoving his way through the throngs and wishing he still had the boon of his wings to help him clear a path for himself.

At the end of the lane, the street made a sharp turn, and then extended to connect with the end of the right lane, making the marketplace into a triangular shape around the ruins of an old pre-war barracks. Knock Out took the turn and continued to run, optics peeled for even the slightest flash of golden plating.

Half way down the back street, the two buildings that made up the far wall met, leaving a tiny alleyway. With a sinking feeling in his gut, Knock Out stepped closer and rounded the corner of the northern factory ruin, and then paused.

Sunstreaker was there, but the mechs that surrounded him were definitely not friends, by any measure. They were tall and broad, easily all the same weight class as Breakdown. They were painted a uniform black with dull red biolights, and messily stenciled insignias stenciled on their upper arms telling of their gang affiliation. Even in the low light, Knock Out could tell that these were no younglings looking to get by— these were hardened warriors and war veterans looking to exploit those weaker than they were.

Maybe it was the fear in Sunstreaker’s eyes, or just how small he was compared to the three hulking bruisers that crowded around him, forcing his back against the wall with their malice and vitriol alone. Something about the situation made him realize, suddenly, how truly young Sunstreaker was— and any indecision or hesitation he might have felt was brutally wrung from him the moment the largest of the three wrapped his hand around the speedster’s throat.

He was moving before he realized it, long strides eating up the distance between himself and the golden youngling, his shockprod buzzing with charge under his hand. The three brutes had barely turned to see who was coming towards them before Knock Out was upon the first mech, stabbing the fork of his spear into the side of the mech’s leg with extreme prejudice. As electricity crackled through his frame unbidden, he let out a howl of pain that echoed in the alley around them, then collapsed to the ground. Steam hissed from the transformations seams that criss-crossed his frame, and his plating was hot under Knock Out’s pede where he braced it against the mech’s shin armor to prize his weapon free.

The next— and largest — mech was upon him before he had a moment to regain his footing, massive fist catching Knock Out square on the jaw. His dentae smacked together noisily, catching his glossae in the process and filling his mouth with the taste of energon. He moved with the force of the blow, spinning around to catch his footing before jabbing the big mech in the throat. The oaf staggered forward with murder in his eyes and lightning crawling over his plating, then fell into a massive, twitching heap on the alley floor.  

The third had found it prudent to twist Sunstreaker’s arm up behind his back, holding him in front of himself like some kind of living shield. Knock Out regarded him with a sour expression, then raised his arm, un-subspaced a pistol and shot him in his rather formidable pauldron with an ease and accuracy born of experience. The mech let the speedster go in the haze of his pain, and as Sunstreaker hastily made his way past Knock Out, the red mech advanced on the bleeding mech, hatred in his face.

He dove forward and caught the mech as he stumbled backwards, yanking him down and pinning him with his knee, then grabbing his arm and wrenching it up and behind him. The mech screamed, flailing and twisting in a futile attempt to free himself from the medic’s ministrations. Knock Out leaned down onto his knee, putting more pressure on on the mech’s scapular plating.

“You’re lucky I don’t take this off entirely ,” he growled, twisting the gangster's arm roughly. Below him, the mech sobbed. “Take your friends back to whatever slagheap you belong to and tell them that if I ever see them picking on a child again, I won’t be so kind. Do you understand?”

The mech yelped something that sounded vaguely affirmative, and with great reluctance Knock Out released him, gathered himself to his pedes, and walked away calmly— as if he hadn’t just dropped three mechs that were twice his mass or greater. Sunstreaker watched him approach with thinly veiled adoration, his fists clenched at his sides.

“I— I could have handled that myself, ” he tried weakly, gesturing to the bodies now scattered around the alley. Knock Out straightened himself out from where he had bent to spit out the blood pooling in his mouth, wiped his face, and smirked.

“You definitely looked like you had that handled.” He teased, stepping closer. His expression softened as he reached forward and gathered Sunstreaker’s hands in his own, turning his arms this way and that to look for any damage. “Are you alright?”

The gilded speedster pulled his arms back and looked up at Knock Out guilelessly, all pretense of toughness blowing away in the breeze, leaving just the childlike intensity behind.

“Are you ?” he asked.

Knock Out looked down, then bent forward and made a show of dusting off his plating. When he stood up, he smiled at Sunstreaker. “Nothing a good shower can’t fix.”

Sunstreaker stared up at him, clearly eyeing the dent on his chin, then looked around him at the smallest mech, who was attempting to lift his largest companion to cart him off. Knock Out cast a glance over his shoulder, then sobered. “They didn’t steal anything from you, did they?”

The young mech watched the thug for a moment longer before nodding, then shaking his head— a dead giveaway to how shaken the encounter had left him. “No. Nothing important. The big one took my knife but I’ve got other ones.”

Knock Out turned half way back towards the gangsters, squinting at the limp body of what was probably the team leader, weighing the pros and cons of attempting to frisk the big mech for Sunstreaker’s knife. He was pulled from his thoughts by Sunstreaker reaching forward and grabbing his hand, tugging him back towards the mouth of the alley.

“Can we just— Can we go home?” He asked. Knock Out could hear him struggling to keep his voice level, and it occurred to him that the younger mech might have never been in a fight before.  “I really— I want to go home. Can we go? Please?”

Knock Out nodded without hesitation, guiding Sunstreaker forward to the mouth of the alleyway by the hand. He paused a moment when they’d gotten back into the crowd, and looked down seriously at Sunstreaker.

“I’m going to teach you how to fight.” He said. Sunstreaker tried to work up an indignant expression, but all he could produce was something vaguely akin to a pout.

“I know how to fight,” he insisted. Knock Out shook his head.

“Brandishing a vibroblade and hurling insults is not fighting, especially when a blind turbofox could get the knife out of your hands.” the taller mech opined. Sunstreaker looked like he was going to argue, but then looked away and nodded.

“Fine.” He said.

Knock Out smiled at him, and together they disappeared into the crowds, leaving no sign of having been there at all.

Chapter Text

Breakdown was late.

Knock Out had worked hard to get his medical technician certifications, and when he’d passed his tests and received them his schedule had become infinitely more flexible. He’d arranged it so that he’d had the same time off as Breakdown— breaks in the afternoon which they almost always spent together getting energon and talking, and off-shifts every other evening that they would spend together relaxing, or racing, or getting dinner and watching holovids.

They’d built up a sense of normalcy over the years, and Breakdown had never once— in all the time Knock Out had known him— been late.

He tried to rationalize it as best he could; everyone was late sometimes. Breakdown had finally decided to pick up a trade, and begun taking classes in construction— the vocational school on campus worked around the schedules of the instructors, all of whom were active-duty soldiers as well. It was completely possible that the class had been delayed, and then run over it’s usual slot.

But Breakdown hadn’t even called.

Knock Out had decided comming him would be a bad idea; if he was elbow-deep in some convoluted project, or working with some kind of heavy machinery, there was a chance that a comm would startle him and end with Breakdown being hurt— or perhaps hurting others, however unintentionally. Instead, he decided to look around for the speedster.

He peeked into the the rec rooms— which was a long shot, but he figured it was better safe than sorry. He looked into the classroom, but found nothing, and then headed to Breakdown’s barracks.

The barracks were always noisy, packed with mechs and femmes who were mingling and relaxing at the end of their shifts. Some were fresh from the washracks, still toweling themselves down as they walked in groups of two and three back to their bunks. Knock Out looked around for a moment to see if Breakdown was out and about before turning and heading down the hall towards his room.

Breakdown had managed to schedule his off-shift so that he was turning in when his bunkmates were just leaving. He preferred it that way, feeling more comfortable alone than with the other mechs. Most of this housing block followed a similar schedule as Breakdown’s bunkmates, and as a result the halls around the speedster’s room were significantly less crowded than the other blocks.

When he arrived at Breakdown’s room, the door was open but the lights were off. Curious, he peeked inside, and startled. Breakdown was sitting on his berth with his elbows on his knees, his back to the door. His biolights were dimming and flaring erratically, and his plating shook noisily. Knock Out glanced over at a stack of datapads on the single desk that was pushed against the wall, watching as their screens flickered in time with the grounder’s trembling.

Knock Out looked at him for a moment, suddenly struck with the feeling that it was criminal for a mech as kind and unassuming as Breakdown to seem so sad. After a beat of watching his shoulders hitch, Knock Out raised a hand and rapped lighting on the doorframe.

Breakdown tensed, then spun around with a look of sheer terror on his face. His plating rattled hard, and he pulled his arms up in front of his chestplate defensively. When he realized it was Knock Out, his expression turned from fear to desolation, and he worked his jaw as if trying to speak, but no sound came out.

“Hey,” Knock Out said softly, stepping into the room a bit more. “Are you alright?”

Breakdown nodded, then shook his head, then nodded again— and the stark honesty in the gesture made Knock Out feel so much worse for the shorter mech. He stepped closer again, getting close enough that he could gather Breakdown’s servos in his own and tug him to sit back down.

“What’s wrong?” He asked softly. He watched as Breakdown’s face twisted in sorrow; this close, he could see the mesh of the grounder’s face was puffy and irritated from crying, his eyes wet and shining in the low light.

“O-Officer Thunderwing came to see me,” He hiccuped, doing his best not to curl into himself as he spoke. He pulled one hand away from Knock Out and reached into his subspace, producing a black datapad and handing it to the seeker. Knock Out took it and turned on the screen, skimming over the words as Breakdown continued miserably. “He said— he told me I’d been accepted into a special program. He c-called it the — The Combiner Program.”

Knock Out felt his energon run cold.

The Combiner Program was one of Shockwave’s longest-running pursuits, having first started with small-scale non-sentient drones before the war had begun, with the goal of recreating the combining ability of Nexus Prime on a larger and more devastating scale. Shockwave oversaw the experiments personally, splitting his time between his lab on Cybertron, the lab here on Dulea and two other bases in other solar systems.

As one of the few truly certified medical techs on the base, Knock Out’s time was split between pulling duty in the medical building and pulling duty in the Science wing. Shockwave was ruthless in pursuing his goals, viewing the loss of life of his subjects as a necessary thing to achieve success. He was cold and unfeeling, and Knock Out had seen the results of his experiments.

It was never pretty.

He did his best to hide his sudden dread, setting the datapad aside and scooting closer to wrap his free arm around Breakdown’s back. He tugged the grounder closer until Breakdown leaned against his shoulder, gently running his thumb over the back of the shorter mech’s knuckles in a way he hoped was soothing.

It was a death warrant, and Breakdown knew it.

“You could always decline?” Knock Out tried, grasping for anything he could say to make the situation better. “We could call the program administration and say you want to recant your application.”

Breakdown outright sobbed, hiding his face against the smooth, warm metal of Knock Out’s pauldron. Before the seeker could ask what was wrong, Breakdown pulled back just enough to look up into the seeker’s concerned expression.

“I didn’t apply!” He wept, his grip on Knock Out’s servo tightening in his desperation.

Knock Out felt ill. He pulled Breakdown closer, wrapping both arms around him and holding him tightly to his frame as if he could protect the speedster from his fate that way. Breakdown buried his face in Knock Out’s neck, sobbing quietly against the older mech, every soft weep digging into Knock Out’s spark like a blunted knife. He wracked his processor for something— anything— to make this situation better, but found himself coming up infuriatingly short— so he did the only thing he could do. He let Breakdown vent his despair to him, petting his back and sides in what he hoped was soothing.

“It’ll be okay,” he promised— though he didn’t know who he was trying to convince by saying it. “You’re so strong, Breakdown. You’ll get through it. You’ll be okay.”

Breakdown shifted against him, pressing his forehelm against the seeker’s chassis and curling his arms up between them. For a long while they sat together like that; Breakdown would calm, then seemingly remind himself of what awaited him, and begin to shake and keen again. Each time he would calm for longer, until he was left leaning against the seeker wanly, sniffling and wiping at his face.

“I could… contact Megatron,” Knock Out offered weakly, his voice made hoarse with thinly-veiled grief. “I should still have some favor with him. I could ask him to demand you’re taken out of the program.”

Slowly, Breakdown pushed himself so that he was sitting under his own strength again, though he still sat close enough to Knock Out that their plating brushed.

“No,” He said weakly, shaking his head. “No, It’s okay. I— I’m alright with it. They said— Thunderwing said that if it goes right, I’ll be stronger.  A-and if I’m stronger, I can do important things. I’ll be able to fight better.” He looked up into Knock Out’s faceplates, his expression honest but somber. “If I’m stronger, I can make sure nobody ever has to go through what I did again. That’s important. I want to do it, I—” he looked down, knitting his fingers together in his lap. “I’m just scared.”

Knock Out offered him a smile that he hoped was less tight than it felt, curling an arm around him to rub his shoulder. “You’re a good mech, Breakdown.”

Breakdown flustered slightly, angling his face down to hide a sudden flush of color that darkened his cheeks. “I just wanna do what’s right.”

This time, Knock Out’s smile was more relaxed. “Well, I don’t think that’ll be hard for you .” He said.

Breakdown laughed, leaning back some and bracing himself on his hands. “So, um. What did you come to see me for?” he asked.

“You know, I don’t really remember.” Knock Out admitted after a moment of thought, leaning back as well to look up at the bunk above them. He hummed and tilted his head, then looked down at Breakdown. “You were late, I think. I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“Oh, Primus!” Breakdown said, looking at Knock Out apologetically. “I’m sorry. I was so worked up over— over all this, I totally forgot.”

“No harm done,” Knock Out said, standing and stretching, then offering a servo to Breakdown. “The night’s still young, so if you’re feeling up to it we can still at least go get our ration together.”

Breakdown brightened, taking Knock Out’s servo and pulling himself to his feet. “That sounds great!”

Knock Out laughed, leading Breakdown around the bunk and into the hall. They made their way toward the rec-room in comfortable silence. A few minutes passed before Knock Out broke it, looking over at Breakdown with a smile.

“You know, now that I’ve got my med-tech certs, I’m an attaché to almost all the programs we run here, and I’ll probably be an attaché to yours, too.” He explained as they rounded a corner. Breakdown looked up at him curiously. “On the bright side, we’ll get to spend more time together.”

Breakdown stumbled, then stopped, and Knock Out turned to look at him. He stared at Knock Out in shock for a beat, before a smile began to blossom on his faceplates; it was honest, and big— the biggest smile he’d ever seen on Breakdown’s face. The grounder skipped forward quickly and laced his fingers with Knock Out’s, looking up at him.

“If that’s the case, then there’s no reason for me to be afraid,” Breakdown said happily, giving Knock Out’s servo a squeeze. “I know you’ll take good care of me.”

It would have been smooth, if Breakdown weren’t so guileless. Knock Out looked down at him, struck by how much trust the grounder had in him.  He looked into Breakdown’s optics for a beat, as if searching for the joke, then looked down towards his pedes and laughed.

“I guess not.”

Chapter Text

Compared to Slaughter City, Kaon was packed.

Every street here was just as busy as the market in Slaughter City had been, and Knock Out stood to one side to watch the people around him. Mechs and femmes walked here and there, some alone and some in a group. They were all beautiful and clean, with glossy paint that shined and glimmered in the light of day. There was no starvation here, no mechs missing arms or legs, no dumpster diving or fighting over scraps or crimes done in broad daylight.

Here, there were enforcers, scattered among the crowd and watching vigilantly for any sign of wrongdoing. Here, there was not just enough, there was excess. Everything in the windows of the shops that he passed was brand new, freshly fabricated and free of blemish. The streets were clear of debris, the buildings were all whole and shining in the daylight, and the people were happy.

It was so painfully different from Slaughter City he had trouble reconciling it.

As he approached the streetcorner, he paused to look at a holodisplay that was magnetized to a light pole. It was classic propaganda imagery— a simplified and stylized depiction of the high counselors set behind a rendering of Cybertron that was missing millions of years worth of destruction, with the phrase your High Council knows best following the bottom curve of the planet.

It was disorienting— so sickeningly familiar to the advertisements he’d seen popping up in the rich quarters around Cybertron before the war that he compulsively checked the date on his HUD to be sure he hadn’t somehow gone back in time. He glanced down the street and frowned; there weren’t an overwhelming number of them that he could see, but there were still more than he remembered.  

More than he felt should be there at all.

He crossed the street, glancing at another that was hung up beside the door of a shop. A smiling mech that couldn’t have been older than Sunstreaker smiled back at him from the display, sporting the same paint-job as the high counselors— vibrant cyan on pitch black— looking pleased beyond words. He scoffed when he was past it fully, shaking his head.

Maybe if he was lucky, he could go back to being a propaganda model instead of the planet’s Commander of Medical Science.

Despite how far fetched of an idea it was, the thought was enough to buoy Knock Out as he made his way through Kaon Plaza and into the Hall.  He paused a moment to peer upwards to where a small team of workers hovered, elbow deep in the wiring that was hidden behind panels in the ceiling, before continuing onward, through the foyer and down the hall leading to the inner chamber.

The door was open as usual, and the closer Knock Out got the clearer the sounds from inside the room became. Someone was shouting angrily, tearing into the High Council so ferociously that the odd familiarity of the speaker’s cadence only registered as distantly recognizable. Before he could try and parse the feeling, the angry stranger was interrupted by Cyclonus. He barked a command, and suddenly the whole room— and by extension, the hall— became silent. When he spoke again, it was too quiet for Knock Out to easily make out the words, but the tone was terse.

“... much as we appreciate your overachieving, it was not your place to make this decision without our input and it is not your place to tell us how to do our jobs.” Cyclonus said as Knock Out drew to a stop at the doors.  He couldn’t see who they were addressing, but it was clearly someone they thought little of based on the way they sneered.

“You have your assignment.” Cyclonus continued, composing himself more and more as he spoke. “High Counselor Riotgear will show you the door.”

“Don’t bother,” spat the mech who had been yelling. This time, the familiarity of the voice hit Knock Out like a freight train and he was frozen in disbelief, his spark thudding in his chassis. Grey hands wrapped around the big door and heaved, yanking the heavy thing open with little trouble. Knock Out watched him emerge in slow motion, his white and red paint scuffed and scratched, his face twisted into a wicked scowl.

Ratchet didn’t even look at him, shoving past him with barely contained rage, his fists clenched at his sides. On instinct, Knock Out turned to pursue; Ratchet was back, they could talk, he wouldn’t have to have this job anymore, everything would go back to normal! He opened his mouth to call out to the bigger mech, but was interrupted by a sound behind him. He glanced over his shoulder to see High Counselor Riotgear holding open the door so that Cyclonus could see him.

“Please come in, Knock Out.” Cyclonus said, the smallest hint of an edge left in his voice. Knock Out cycled a vent, then turned around once more and stepped in past Riotgear, who closed the door completely. He glanced back at it, up at Riotgear, then over at Cyclonus, who stood smiling at him with his arms behind his back. “Welcome. I assume you are here to present your report of the construction in Slaughter City?”

Knock Out stepped forward until he stood in the appropriate place, nodding softly. “That, and a few other things.”

“Very well,” Cyclonus said, making a show of looking interested. “You may begin.”

Knock Out reached into his subspace to collect his datapad, and promptly got to work going over his findings of the Slaughter City project. He did his best to keep focused, and to not let his worries about Ratchet distract him. The ambulance wouldn’t be able to get that far before Knock Out was done; Knock Out was fast, and he knew where Ratchet lived.  

“By Solus’ Forge, are you dented?” Cyberwarp burst out, her hand flying to her chin just as Knock Out began to wrap up his report. He looked at her with incomprehension, raising his servo to his faceplates. There was a dent there, and a sizable one at that. He brought his hand away and looked at it, as if expecting to have gotten energon on it, before suddenly looking back up.

“Oh— that. It’s nothing, really. I broke up a fight at the market in Slaughter City, and— well. You can see what that got me.” He sighed dramatically. “I didn’t have time to smooth it out before I came here, I’m sorry.”

“A fight?” Cyclonus echoed. Knock Out nodded, stowing his datapad back into subspace.

“I was at the market picking up some things I needed for my apartment, and there was a youngling being mugged in an alleyway. I intervened.” Knock Out explained, lying through his teeth; The council, he had decided, didn’t need to know about Sunstreaker.

“Yes. Well.” Cyclonus said softly, ruffling and then resetting his plating, “I know I speak for the rest of my colleagues when I say that we appreciate a good samaritan, but perhaps law keeping is best left to the law keepers? Besides— as an auxiliary chair of the council, you’ve a reputation to uphold, and part of that is maintaining an appearance becoming of an officer. What would people think if they saw you waltzing around looking as though you’d just been in a brawl?”

Indignation gripped Knock Out, a hot and prickling feeling creeping up the back of his neck. Cyclonus was exaggerating, most likely because he knew that Knock Out’s appearance was a point of pride for him. His face remained passive, and he hummed an assent he didn’t feel; a lifetime of experience working with Megatron had taught him when it was prudent to smile and nod and when it was prudent to speak his mind.

He had a time limit, anyway.

“That actually brings me to my next topic,” Knock Out said smoothly. “As you’re well aware, I was in Slaughter City for two lunar cycles. In that time, I didn’t see a single enforcer anywhere. I know you are very good at your jobs, but with the size of the population there I believe that opening a station would be wise.”

The council members looked at one another with serious expressions, the movements of their helms following a conversation that Knock Out wasn’t privy to. After a moment, Skyjack smiled.

“We appreciate your concern,” She said pleasantly. “We’ll discuss it this evening and see what we can do. Was there anything else you needed?”

Knock Out glanced over his shoulder at the door, then back at the council. He was torn between excusing himself to find Ratchet, and continuing with the points he felt he needed to make. Cyclonus leveled and expectant look on him, Knock Out smiled back tightly.

“Actually, your honors— There was.” He watched as they all stood a little straighter. “I was wondering if you’d found anyone to replace me yet?”

Skyjack’s optics rolled, Cyclonus frowned, and Treadshock crossed his arms in front of his chest— all negative reactions.

“We will tell you when we are able to relieve you of your duties,” Cyclonus said, his voice sharp once more.

“I don’t mean to push,” Knock Out lied— he absolutely meant to push. “It’s just that the Slaughter City assignment opened my eyes to how wildly unqualified I am for this position. Not just because I lack a formal medical degree, but also because of my past as a Decepticon. I fear that I’ll make decisions based on prejudice formed through millions of years of war and propaganda, and that isn’t right.”

“I don’t think you’d do that,” Cyclonus attempted coyly; his faceplates read as pleasant, but Knock Out could see the disdain in his optics. “You’ve been nothing but professional in every capacity every time we’ve seen you.  I sincerely don’t think that bias is going to be an issue.”

Knock Out looked down, doing his best to keep himself from laughing at the younger mech. After he’d composed himself, he looked back up and smiled back at Cyclonus, his own expression just as catty as the younger mech’s. “Alright, well, I also plain don’t want the job— and, hypothetically speaking, I could just not do the work.”

Cyclonus reached up and pinched at the bridge of his olfactory sensor for a moment, his expression suddenly one of extreme contempt. Treadshock and Riotgear both shifted to face Knock Out more fully— as if waiting for the cue to bodily throw him from the room.

“Commander Knock Out.” Cyclonus began slowly, “Let me be very clear. You will continue to do your assignments as they are assigned to you. You will continue to report to us, and you will cease your pointless inquiries into your position.” He straightened up from his semi-hunch and gestured over to the side of the room. “If you need a particular reason to comply, allow me to present you with one.”

Knock Out looked over in the direction Cyclonus pointed, and nearly choked. Tucked neatly between two of the massive pillars stood a stasis pod, the curved glass of its door frosted over. Knock Out didn’t need to see in to know that it was Breakdown’s; he could make out familiar smears of navy and copper through the blur of ice.

All at once his legs felt weak and his spark hammered in his chest. He knew Cyclonus could tell he was devastated, could tell that he’d scored a point— but he couldn’t find the strength to try and restore his mask of composure. This is what he’d been terrified of from the very beginning. They were going to use Breakdown against him, to make him into their pawn. And when he became useless to them, they would kill Breakdown anyway.  

And he could do nothing to stop them.

He turned back toward them, stumbling slightly. Everything felt like it was spinning, he couldn’t concentrate, he felt like he was being crushed. He looked at all of them desolately; Cyclonus and Skyjack looked smug, Treadshock looked bored, Riotgear looked disgusted, and whatever regret Cyberwarp seemed to have was stifled, in Knock Out’s mind, by her inaction.

“You understand now, yes?” Cyclonus purred, drinking in the look on Knock Out’s face as if it were some fine vintage. Knock Out nodded desperately.

“Yes— yes, of course,” He choked, offering them a wobbly smile and bowing. “Of course. I’ve been a fool. I was so— so preoccupied with my duties, you know, that I’d nearly forgotten the generosity of your honors. Thank you for setting me straight.” He said, trying to laugh and dreading how shaky it came out. He bowed again. “I can see myself out. Thank you, your honors.”

Cyclonus nodded, and given his leave Knock Out turned and strode to the door calmly, tugging it open by the handle and slipping out into the hall. As soon as he knew he was out of Cyclonus’ line of sight he broke into run, a storm of emotion and a burning need to see Ratchet filling his spark.

Chapter Text

The integration ward was the closest Knock Out had ever come to seeing The Pit in person.

He moved through the darkened room, optics scanning over vitals readouts that blinked so brightly they hurt his optics, recording the progress of each mech and femme and continuing onwards. There weren’t that many test subjects left; the majority of coding incompatibilities surfaced within the first lunar cycle, and they’d cleared that by almost half.

The room was almost empty.

Six mechs and two femmes were scattered around on berths, all of them miserable. They had stopped moaning after the first two weeks of coding treatments, now resting silently but by no means comfortably in the dark.

The coding patches for the Combiner program were the most dangerous and destructive patches Knock Out had ever seen, developed more like a virus than a conversion program. It was introduced in twelve stages, with the first stage beginning to tear away at the core coding of a mech’s processor. The next six stages would make the executable from the first stage stronger, equipping it with the ability to do more and more damage.

Problem solving, logic centers, visual and audial systems, language processing, higher and lower functions— all of it was sacrificed ruthlessly, leaving mechs blind, deaf, and plagued by hallucinations. By that point, most subjects had died or been removed from the program, and hadn’t experienced the next set of debilitating symptoms. The eighth stage was where code began to be rebuilt, line by line, to optimize a mech’s mind for combination.

It would take control of the nervous system, sending the subjects into convulsions and uncontrollable transformation sequences, trying to force them to become a shape they never had before. It would wrack them with pain, twist their already sore frames in horrible ways and make them largely unrecognizable— neither their original alt-mode or the new one they were meant to make.  

Of course, there were always outliers in the data— and it just so happened Breakdown was one of them.

He was still in pain, that much Knock Out could tell as he drew to a stop beside the mech’s berth; His face was scrunched up in agony, and he was curled up on his side, in some sort of half-sleep. He was pale and greying, seizing every few joors reliably as his processor fought to free him from the feedback loops the treatment had created. The last two times Knock Out had come to see him, he’d been crying uncontrollably and cowering in his berth, trapped in some awful hallucination from which Knock Out couldn’t seem to soothe him.

He could still talk, could move shakily, and was reported to have very little memory damage— and Knock Out was told that was good , that made him the most likely mech in the room to survive the conversion— but his vitals were still declining, and his internal systems were failing one by one.

It was like watching him die in slow motion, and Knock Out hated it .

He had come to realize that Breakdown was his only friend, and the thought of losing him terrified Knock Out. The grounder was so kind and gentle, always interested in Knock Out— in his feelings, in his thoughts, in his days and his nights. He remembered things Knock Out said, little things that Knock Out sometimes didn’t even remember telling him. He went out of his way to help Knock Out even when he was tired from his own duties, was always there to offer him a shoulder to cry on or a friendly audial. Anything Knock Out needed, Breakdown was willing to provide, and the seeker knew it was because Breakdown cared about him, not because of something as superficial as desire.

Breakdown was the closest friend Knock Out had ever had, and he cared about Breakdown just as strongly in return.

The danger the situation presented to Breakdown had brought their relationship to the forefront of Knock Outs mind. His off-cycles rarely netted him any recharge, so blatant was the absence of Breakdown in his life. They spent so much time together, usually; it was hard to go from spending your every free moment with someone to spending virtually none of your time with them, and being faced with the concept that they could be taken from you completely.

Knock Out had never been close to anyone like he was close to Breakdown. He had been commissioned by a high-caste family who treated him like a trophy, and had worked for a modeling agency that treated him like a tool. No great amity had come from that— in fact, nearly no amity came from it. He’d had money, beauty, good health, power, and connections, but never friendship. Never a family, never love . Not until Breakdown.

He had the crushing feeling that if he lost Breakdown, he would never have anything close to this again.

Knock Out recorded the grounder’s vitals and frowned to himself, tucking his datapad back into subspace and bending down to collect Breakdown’s thermal tarp from where it had been kicked to the floor during one of his earlier hallucination fits. He straightened up and flapped it gently to rid it of any dirt it might have picked up, then began to tuck it in around his sickly friend.

By the time he reached the grounder’s shoulders, Breakdown was stirring, his optics flickering to life dully. Knock Out paused and watched him for a moment, his own face sullen, before glancing over at the monitors to see if it was a feedback loop or if he was actually coming to. It seemed it was genuine, because he began to look around; He glanced at all the empty beds that surrounded him, then looked upwards, his optics resting on Knock Out.

He smiled, and Knock Out felt his spark shatter.

“You’re here,” He said, optics flickering just that much brighter, his voice filled with hope and wonder. “You came.”

“Of course I did,” Knock Out said, resetting his vocalizer to try and rid it of the strange rasp that under-use had given his voice.

“Can you stay? I missed you.” Breakdown said softly, fumbling to grab Knock Out’s hand, his movements made uncoordinated by the coding patches. “I knew you didn’t leave me. I knew it. I knew you would come back.”

“Of course,” Knock Out said as he sat down on the edge of the berth beside Breakdown’s helm. It was a lie— he technically couldn’t stay, but he would anyway, because Breakdown wanted him to. He smiled down at Breakdown, twining the fingers of one hand with the grounders and using his other to smooth over Breakdown’s cheek.  “I’ll always be here for you. Even if you can’t see me.”

“I believe you,” Breakdown said reverently. Knock Out hoped that his smile wasn’t utterly transparent. Breakdown pressed his cheek into the outside of Knock Out’s thigh, and somehow he made even that seem totally innocent.

“How are you feeling?” Knock Out hazarded quietly.  “Are you in pain?”

“Not much.” Breakdown said, his smile still in place. He gazed up at Knock Out like he needed nothing else in his life— like the sight of the seeker’s face alone could keep him sustained. “I had a dream about you.”

“Oh, yeah?” Knock Out asked, watching Breakdown’s optics flicker in time with the pulse of his spark. “Did I look as good in your dreams as I do in real life?”

Breakdown laughed a laugh that was tired, squeezing Knock Out’s hand weakly. “They didn’t do you justice. I don’t think anything could.”

Knock Out’s felt like his spark was being crushed, but he plastered a smile onto his faceplates, determined not to show Breakdown his fear or despair. “You’re getting better with the sweet talk, hotwheels.”

“Does it count as sweet talk if I’m telling the truth?” He asked, struggling to roll over onto his back. Knock Out hummed something that could have been considered a laugh.

“You know, I’m not sure.” He said, helping Breakdown to roll over and then fixing the blanket over him, tucking it around his sides to keep him warm now that his heat regulation systems had failed. “You gonna tell me about your dream, or do I have to start guessing?”

“I’ll tell you,” Breakdown laughed, idly playing with Knock Out’s fingers where they were still holding hands. “We were racing down in the canyon, but I could tell you were holding back. You do that sometimes, you know— you hold back so that I can win. You were so shiny that it was distracting me. I couldn’t stop looking at you— so we were going a lot slower than usual, between you letting me win and me looking at you.

“The sun was bouncing off of you and making weird shapes on the walls. You were doing tricks above me, weaving in and out of the pillars and doing barrel rolls and big loops. You flew upside-down and I felt your rudder tap my roof. We got to the end of the canyon together, and you decided it was a tie, and that we had to race again.” Breakdown explained. Knock Out glanced at his vitals, which had spiked like he was actually there again, then back down at the grounder.

“Sounds like a good dream.” He opined quietly, petting Breakdown’s helm gently.

“It was.” Breakdown agreed. He lolled his helm over to look towards the door, heaving a wistful sigh. “I miss racing. I miss hanging out.” He said, looking back up at Knock Out. “Can we race again soon? I miss it. I miss spending time with you.”

Knock Out hesitated briefly, unsure of what to say in this sort of situation. There was a very real possibility Breakdown wouldn’t survive this, that they would never race again. Was it better to tell him the truth, or to hide it from him? Breakdown’s look became questioning, and Knock Out smiled at him apologetically.

“As soon as you feel better.” He promised, smoothing the thermal tarp where it began to bunch up around the grounder’s waist from the tiny convulsive transformations that plagued the plating on his chest. Breakdown smiled back at him, satisfied by the answer.

“I’ll try to hurry so we can hang out again.” he offered. Knock Out shook his head.

“Take whatever time you need.” He admonished softly, “You can’t rush this sort of thing.”

Breakdown pulled a face that almost— almost— counted as a pout, and Knock Out couldn’t help but laugh at it.

“Be patient,” he soothed, “You’ll be out of here before you know it, and we’ll go racing the minute you’re cleared. I’ll go AWOL and everything.”

“You’d—” Breakdown began, pausing long enough to yawn before continuing. “You’d deal with the drum head just to go racing with me?”

“There is very, very little I wouldn’t do for you.” Knock Out said seriously. There was a silence between them then, and they looked at each other like they were memorizing every detail of the moment— as if it was the last time they’d see one another. Knock Out hated how probable it was. He gave Breakdown’s servo a gentle squeeze. “You should get some rest. You need it, to keep up your strength.”

“Will you stay?” Breakdown asked, his tone hedged with something desperate. “Just— just until I fall into recharge? Please?”

Knock Out glanced up at the door. He should say no; he was already late to send in the data he’d collected by a good handful of minutes, and he could get in trouble if he dallied too long. If it were anyone else he would say no, but it wasn’t anyone else. It was Breakdown, asking for something as simple as some company.  

“Of course.” Knock Out promised softly, swiping perspiration from Breakdown’s forehead. He helped the grounder arrange himself into a position that relieved some of the ache he felt, and settled back against the wall at the head of Breakdown’s berth.

Breakdown let his optics offline, his face still pressed into Knock Out’s leg. Idly, Knock Out pet at his helm, hoping to soothe the grounder into much needed recharge. He’d been told that the repair of coding was expedited when the subjects were in recharge— which meant the more Breakdown slept, the healthier he’d begin to become.

Alone with his thoughts, Knock Out’s mind wandered to his feelings about the situation. He was terrified, that much was obvious at proverbial first glance— terrified of losing Breakdown, terrified of being alone again, terrified of not being able to say goodbye. But there was more beyond that. There was anger— at himself, for being so useless, anger for being scared . Anger at Megatron for condoning this, anger at Shockwave for starting this, anger at Thunderwing for delivering the orders. He was taken very suddenly by a white hot rage so potent he thought it might kill him, and for a few long moments he stewed in it to the soft soundtrack of Breakdown’s ragged venting. He looked down at the grounder, his face twisted with ugly fury. He ran his thumb over the soft mesh just below Breakdown’s optic, and the grounder pressed into it just barely— perhaps trying to soak heat from the seeker’s frame.

Knock Out’s expression softened. Breakdown was a truly good mech— he’d never wished harm on anyone, he detested fighting, he liked to help. His story was almost painfully miserable, like many in the labor castes, but unlike most labor castes Knock Out had met, he seemed to have no capacity for anger. He was kind, and self-effacing, and humble.

He deserved better than this.

Slowly, Knock Out rose, reluctantly extricating himself from Breakdown’s grasp and tucking him back in.  When he straightened he looked down into the grounder’s faceplates, which had gentled in repose, and all at once felt galvanized. He looked for a moment longer, then turned and headed for the door, his face set in determination.  

Perhaps Knock Out could do nothing for him with his money, or his looks, or his newfound knowledge— but that was alright. All Breakdown had ever asked for was Knock Out’s time, his company, and as Knock Out passed through the door, he made up his mind.

He would be there for Breakdown until the end.

Chapter Text

The crowds proved to be a significant obstacle in catching Ratchet.

It was rush hour, and traffic was bumper to bumper back into the plaza. He’d decided it was better to try pursuing him on foot, but that was scarcely much better. Mechs and femmes congregated around public vid screens, chatting and laughing without a care, clogging the throughway as if unable to conceptualize ‘being in a rush.’

Knock Out would have been infuriated if he weren’t so desperate to talk to the older medic— to talk to someone who would understand.

Truth be told, he had no one else. He was marginally close to Bumblebee before he disappeared, and Bulkhead had offered, but he probably wouldn’t be comfortable talking to either of them about it. There was Sunstreaker, but Sunstreaker was… he was young, and he was impressionable, and angry besides. He had the sinking suspicion that if he were to mention his problems to Sunstreaker, the golden mech would think that he’d learned enough from Knock Out in the two short weeks since the market incident that he could kill the council himself. Besides, Sunstreaker didn’t need to worry about Knock Out’s problems.

Ratchet was his only real option. Ratchet would understand, and more likely than not he’d have some idea of what to do to fix things.

Ratchet’s apartment complex rose on the horizon in short order. It was a squat thing compared to the towers that surrounded it, a mere fourteen floors of of flats stacked on top of each other. From the decks that wrapped around the front of the building at each level, one could gaze out onto the sun-bleached expanse of the Badlands, which stretched out until it met the horizon. The back of the building offered views of the burgeoning cityscape; on days of low air traffic, Knock Out had made out the very tip of the Star Saber held by the statue of Prima back in the square.

Knock Out broke from the crowd and made his way toward the lift closest to him. He punched the button for the eighth floor and then the button to close the doors, feeling more impatience than he thought he’d be able to muster.  He took a moment to collect himself; everything would be fine now. He’d talk to Ratchet, and Ratchet would tell him what to do, and everything would be fine. There was no need to worry.

The doors opened and he stepped out, hurrying across the deck to Ratchet’s apartment. He knocked loudly, peering in through the window beside the door as his desperation began to surface once more. The curtains were mostly sheer, and he squinted to make out details on the other side of them. Ratchet was sitting at the bench that occupied the back wall of the main room, hunched forward as he worked on something. There was a white mech— a minicon— moving back and forth to the cabinet by the window, gathering handfuls of components from them to bring to Ratchet. Knock Out couldn’t hear anything, but he assumed Ratchet was listing off what he needed.

They didn’t react to his first knock, so he tried again. He rapped his fist against the door, the heavy bang-bang-bang ringing out around him. Ratchet didn’t move, and Knock Out felt his energon run cold in his lines; this couldn’t happen. This— this couldn’t happen.

He banged a third time, then a fourth time on the glass of the window. There was no reaction, and Knock Out’s vents began to harshen as panic started to devour his spark. Frantically, he searched through his comm frequencies until he found the older medics, staring at him through the curtains as he desperately tried to get the medic’s attention. The call connected, and Knock Out felt hope rise in him.

::Ratchet— Ratchet, please, I’m— I’m at your door! Please let me in! Please. I need— I need to talk to you, I need— the council, Breakdown—:: He started, swallowing harshly as he heard a tinny click.

:: You’ve reached Doctor Ratchet of Iacon. I’m not available right now. If you require immediate medical attention please contact—::  Knock Out felt sick.

He redialed; after a moment, it connected once more, and Knock Out listened with bated breath for some sign that he’d actually reached the medic. The recording started again, and he nearly sobbed, choking on the sound at the last minute as he pounded on the door again. The shock he felt initially began to morph back into desperation. The minicon turned to look at the door, but avoided looking directly at Knock Out.

“Ratchet!” He shouted, giving up on the comms after a third try netted him the same results. “Ratchet, please! Please!”

His fists slammed into the door, and he was distantly aware that pedestrians were starting to notice him but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Ratchet was ignoring him, in his time of need. Ratchet was ignoring him.

He hammered on the door with both hands as his distress escalated. He knew he was venting— his fans were running on max, a noisy accompaniment to the sound of his hammering— but he still felt like he was suffocating, like he’d been crushed in a car compactor. He couldn’t think, he couldn’t think, his hands were numb, he couldn’t feel his face—

“Ratchet please,” he begged, his voice cracking as tears began to well, “ Please! I’ll never ask you for anything again, please, please! Ratchet!”

No response.

Knock Out felt something shatter within himself, and he heaved a sob as his fists fell still. Suddenly, his legs felt too weak to hold him up, and he leaned heavily against the door, choking around his misery. He slid downwards, curling up with his back to Ratchet’s apartment and his face pressed into his arms. The anguish that had been steadily building within him chose that moment to make its escape; he began to weep noisily, uncaring of what the scene might look like to a bystander.

Panic and desolation took turns wreaking havoc in him; He would think of Breakdown, sweet Breakdown, who had only ever wanted to please people, who had always gotten the oil end of the dipstick in life. He thought of Breakdown coming back from his time with M.E.C.H., battered and dirty and lacking an optic but still smiling the moment he saw Knock Out. He thought of Dreadwing telling him of Breakdown’s apparent demise— of stealing away through the ground bridge, sending humans scattering as he batted them away from the pieces of Breakdown that littered the forest floor. Of gathering up the shattered fragments of his Conjunx and cradling them close, of setting them into a stasis pod. He thought of seeing blobs of color through frosted glass, remembered the feeling of terror that had carried him to Ratchet’s door. He thought of racing, of laughing, of nights spent buffing out scratches and fixing paint. Of recharging in a strong embrace, of sharing a meal, of little moments stolen from an unforgiving life. Of forbidden outings to human drive-ins, of laughter, of road trips.

He thought of losing that permanently .

He was alone and bereft of hope, he didn’t understand— He didn’t know why Ratchet was ignoring him, why Ratchet had left without saying goodbye, why he wouldn’t answer his comm or even look at him, even acknowledge his existence. He didn’t know what to do; his hope for the situation had hinged on being able to talk it through with Ratchet, to come up with an attainable solution with the older medic.

Now, that was no longer an option, and he was lost. He keened into his arms and clutched at his helm, venting his anguish in the only way he could.

He didn’t know what to do. He had seen this same scenario play out in front of him endlessly— someone taken as leverage, used to extort another with a false promise of return. When the extorted became obsolete and lost their use, the leverage was destroyed, and more often not so was the extorted. The Decepticons had done it in their infancy, and Knock Out had stood by and watched it happen, detached from the consequences.

He couldn’t help but feel like he was paying for that indifference now.

Eventually, angst gave way to an apathy born of emotional exhaustion, and Knock Out found himself unable to cry. He looked out onto the distant plains of the badlands, and his terror was replaced by a numbness— by resignation. There was nothing he could do . There was nothing anyone could do. He would just have to deal with things as they came, and try to hope for the best. He swiped at his face, trying to rid it of the rapidly drying tear-streaks that now decorated it, and then let his helm fall back against Ratchet’s door.

 

He should feel scared, he thought; He should still feel terror at the thought that the council was holding Breakdown hostage. He should feel angry— angry that Ratchet would abandon him. Angry that the council would hold his conjunx endura as leverage, angry that he could do nothing to stop them.

But he didn’t. All he felt was tired.

He got to his feet slowly, glanced back at the door once more, then made his way back to the lift. Traffic had eased, and he dropped into his alt mode flawlessly. Idly, he watched as Ratchet’s apartment grew smaller and smaller in his rear-view— and just as it seemed it might disappear completely, he arrived at his own hab-tower.

He shuffled in and to the lift, his demeanor sullen. He pushed the button for his floor, and watched through the transparisteel walls as the city fell away. Normally, the sight comforted him— he missed flying, missed the towering spires of Vos, and under normal circumstances, heights eased the ache his transition had left in him.

Today, they made him feel nothing.

The doors opened behind him, and he turned and made his way down the hall to his apartment silently. He palmed the access panel, and after a moment the door slid back. He didn’t bother flicking on the light, instead making his way over to the couch and easing himself onto it. Slowly, he laid down, curling up on his side with his back to the rest of the room.

If he could do nothing to fix his situation, he decided, he would lose himself in his dreams.

At least there, he could still be with Breakdown.

Chapter Text

Against all odds, Breakdown pulled through.

Each week, he seemed to become healthier and healthier, his vitals steadily improving until he was not only back to his baseline, he surpassed it. His systems ran more efficiently; true to Thunderwing’s promises, he became stronger, more dexterous, smarter, and faster. He was able to problem-solve on the fly, able to lift twice his own weight, able to hit a moving target from his peripheral vision, and able to beat the fastest seeker on base in a hundred mechanometer sprint.

Knock Out had trouble reconciling this Breakdown— this absolute force of nature — with the same Breakdown he had coaxed to sleep only weeks before.

Near the end of the coding reconstruction process, Breakdown was moved from the integration ward to a special cell at the other end of the hospital. They were utilitarian quarters, spartan for the most part, with five berths lined up against the wall opposite the door, under a two-way mirror. There was a desk beside the door, a vidscreen mounted to the wall adjacent to them, and a camera bracketed near the ceiling in the corner, but beyond that it was empty.

After he was moved to the new barracks, Knock Out was unable to go and see him in person. They commed one another nightly, sometimes when Knock Out was standing on the other side of the glass, and it seemed to help Breakdown with his ambient paranoia. He was well aware the mirror was not just a mirror, and that he was being observed— and it scared him. He would split his time between staring at the mirror and staring at the camera, his plating rattling nervously in time with the flickering of the lights.

It frustrated Knock Out, because it was like adding insult to injury. They left him alone in the room for an infuriatingly long time, with no true form of stimulation, no company, no means of distraction. He was angry for Breakdown— angry that they would treat him this way.

The day he had resolved to say something, Breakdown was moved once more. This time, he was taken to a large, squarish observation room that was brightly lit, with various massive puzzles covering big tables that lined the walls. There was an observation window here, too, opposite the heavy locking bulkhead that served as the only entrance into the room.  Beside the door, a timer was mounted, its bright red numbers reset to zero.

It didn’t take long for him to meet his new team.

The first mech, according to the dossier Knock Out had been sent, was Wildrider. He was a bit taller than Breakdown, with just a bit more mass. He was painted primarily black, with red arms and touches of silver here and there. Two of his tires were transformed into his shoulders, and his doors— which were painted a glossy black— were attached to his forearms, jutting off in sharp points near his elbows. Two black mandibular guards swept up and back, framing his red face.

The second— Dead End— could have been Wildrider’s twin. Their kibble distribution was nearly identical— with wheels in the shins and shoulders, doors on his forearms and a chestplate comprised of his windscreen. He even had the same pointed mandibular guards, in the same color, but where Wildrider’s face had been red, Dead End’s was a rich brass color, offset by his bright red optics.

The similarities stopped at physicality. Wildrider was impulsive, recounted as being totally uncooperative to the point of having a significant history of corrective action taken against him by the Justice Division. The other medical techs working on the Combiner Project theorized that the only reason he wasn’t put into prison was because of the sheer density of his destructive power. Alternatively, Dead End had a temperament closer to Breakdown’s. He took orders well, with little fuss beyond some nihilist grumbling. His dossier spoke of voluntary hospitalization before the war for depression, having been deemed a passive danger to himself. He had no great tales of triumph on the battlefield, and only one infraction on his record— going AWOL.

They were like two sides of a coin.

The third mech was Drag Strip. He was all sleek lines and aerodynamic angles, painted a solid luminous gold color from his shoulders down, with tasteful red pinstriping on his arms and legs. At first glance, Knock Out mistook him for a seeker; a cockpit of black transparisteel adorned his chest, flowing back over his shoulders to frame his face. It wasn’t until he turned, snapping something at Wildrider, that Knock Out could make out the wheels of his high-octane racing alt. The two sets of smaller ones— ostensibly his front tires— lined two thin sensory winglets that branched from his back, the larger back tires being tucked away behind his shin armor.

He was haughty and self obsessed, with a severe competitive bent that seemed to net him trouble more often than not. He, like Wildrider, sported an impressive history of violence and a high kill-count. In the most recent military skills inventory, he scored in the top one hundred most accurate shooters, with an accuracy of ninety nine percent. Before the war, he had been a racer of some note, having won the Ibex Cup three times before moving off-planet to Velocitron to try his hand there.

The last mech to be introduced to the room was Motormaster.

Motormaster was menacing, comprised of thick, strong armor painted black with accents of grey and purple. He was built like a tank, every spot that usually would have been vulnerable even on a big mech covered from attack by heavy armor. He radiated danger in much the same way Megatron did— a sort of gravitas only those who had taken their fate into their own hands could possess. His face was austere, protected by a heavy helmet and a cowl that rose up behind him to protect his neck, and he wore his deceptibrand proudly in the dead center of his chest.

Knock Out had only seen them once, as he was getting off shift that first day. As he had clocked out, the orders had come through that he was to be reassigned to the medbay full-time.  The news had frustrated him— he didn’t want to leave Breakdown to face this alone. He had promised he would stay with the grounder, but he knew that if he were to refuse, he would more than likely facetime in the brig— and then he would be totally unable to help Breakdown if he needed it.

At every opportunity, he volunteered to run reports to the science building, taking the long way around the inside of the facility in hopes of catching a glimpse of Breakdown, but more often than not he was unable to locate the anxious grounder before his continued presence would have been considered suspicious.

Two months after his reassignment, his luck improved.

Another field medic, Moonheart, had been shot in the leg while attempting to reach a patient and was unable to run documents to the science building while her repairs integrated. Knock Out, ever the opportunist, volunteered to go in her place.

That was how he found himself standing in the observation booth beside Shockwave, watching as Breakdown and his team were brought in. The scientist was busy typing away at one of the many consoles that filled the observation booth; if he noticed Knock Out, he didn’t say anything at first. Knock Out took the opportunity to peer down at Breakdown; he was standing in the middle of a circle made by the rest of them mechs, held in place by Wildrider and Drag Strip as Motormaster got up in his face, growling to him in low tones about something. Knock Out couldn’t see well enough to read his lips, and he felt a hot anger begin to swell in his spark. What gave that bulky dirt-licking delivery boy the right to talk to Breakdown so rudely?

He didn’t get to fester in his indignation long before Shockwave spoke.

“You are not Moonheart.” He opined in his deep monotone, startling Knock Out from his rumination. “I assume in light of her recent injury she has sent you in her place?”

Slowly, Knock Out nodded, and handed the stack of datapads to the tank. Shockwave took them and turned, wordlessly slotting them into the console to collect their data. He turned back to what he was doing, optic not leaving his work. After a brief silence, he spoke again.

“Have you ever seen a combiner?” He asked— and if Knock Out didn’t see the question for the data collection it was, he might have mistaken it for smalltalk.  

“No.” Knock Out replied honestly, crossing his arms over his cockpit. “What’s it like?”

Shockwave continued to type away at his console, and for moment the seeker thought he wouldn’t answer at all. He turned his attention back to the testing room, where Breakdown had been released and now stood with his back to the window, rubbing his arms to calm himself down. Motormaster was shouting orders at the rest of them, and they all fell into a vaguely pentagonal formation. Motormaster reached into his subspace and pulled out something vaguely brick-shaped, rearing back and throwing it at the window, where it clanged off noisily, before beginning to shout— presumably at Shockwave. The Cyclops looked down at them silently for a moment, then turned his helm toward Knock Out just enough to imply he was addressing him.

“Enlightening.” He intoned succinctly. He reached over and pressed the button for the intercom, looking back to the gathering of mechs. “You may proceed.”

Knock Out stepped forward to watch as they began to transform. Their plating split unnaturally, twisting and folding into shapes vaguely recognizable as limbs. When Wildrider and Dead End had finished their transformation sequence, the other three began to converge on what was now two disembodied legs standing in the middle of the room. Motormaster began to haul himself up what now passed for Wildrider’s alt-mode. When he was at the top, he balanced himself between the two legs, beginning his own transformation sequence as Breakdown and Drag Strip began to make their ascent.

By the time Motormaster had settled against Wildrider and Dead End, the arms of the combiner were already forming their digits. It was an astoundingly quick process, over in the time it took Knock Out to cycle a vent, the ease of their combination probably born from practice. As the mighty horned helm of the beast appeared, the UI overlay on the observation window locked onto its face and labeled it Menasor.

Menasor turned toward the window and roared, a sound so staggeringly intense that it shook the walls around them, and Knock Out stumbled backwards, shocked by the sight before him. Shockwave did not look away from the data that was being collected over the view-screen as the combiner turned around and began to walk to one of the tables, taking Breakdown with it. It lumbered over and picked up the first of the massive puzzles, turning it in its hands with a focus Knock Out had not expected to see from something so terribly large.

A video feed appeared to one side, showing Mensor as it— he— began to slide the pieces of the puzzle cube around in his massive servos. Knock Out watched, entranced, as the fingers that Breakdown had formed worked with the same speed and accuracy of a normal mech, despite the size difference. The first puzzle was assumedly one they did frequently, as it was finished and tossed back onto the table carelessly by Drag Strip’s arm.

The second puzzle was more of a challenge.  

Menasor reached forward, hefting the thing with ease and turning it over in his hands slowly. He glowered down at it with malice, the plating on his back beginning to twitch. Shockwave glanced over at the tracker on the screen, which was centered on Menasor. Below his name, a meter labeled cohesive integrity was slowly but steadily counting down.

Menasor growled again as he began to twist the puzzle, chasing a light across the surface of a twelve-sided polyhedron and pushing a button corresponding with where it stopped. Knock Out was torn between watching him trying to keep sight of the light, and watching the bar get smaller and smaller.

Shockwave seemed unconcerned, typing away at the console and only occasionally glancing up at the the video feed. Knock Out looked from the bar to Shockwave, then past the video-feed to watch the strange twitching that was spreading from his shoulder blades outward. Below the feed, a transcription of Menasor’s mumbling was being generated, his words becoming angrier and angrier as his accuracy began to waver in time with the gestalt's loss of integrity.

At thirty percent integrity, an alarm began to sound. Shockwave glanced up at the timer on the wall, which read a little under five kliks, before going back to his report, the reduced angle of his antennae all that gave his feelings on the matter away. Knock Out glanced back at the meter, which was beginning to fall much more quickly now. Menasor’s dialogue mirrored that, his hissed insults and expletives coming faster, but less clearly— to the point that the transcription program was having a hard time determining what was being said.

His movements, once fluid and smooth, became jerky and uneven, his digits unable to hit the buttons on the puzzle correctly. His anger spiked and he spun, rearing back and launching the polyhedron across the room.

Dragstrip went with it.

Menasor roared, reaching up with his single remaining arm to hold the open socket that Drag Strip had once fit into, the meter at a mere ten percent and dropping. The twitching became full-blown convulsive tremors, the plating near the points of combination beginning to split in the same sickening, unnatural way that they had come together. Knock Out felt ill watching it happen, but morbid curiosity kept him from looking away.

It was obvious that Menasor was struggling to keep himself together— literally. He was moving uncoordinatedly, face contorted in an expression of hellish rage as he paced in a tight circle like a caged animal. Across the room, Drag Strip finished transforming back to his root mode, rubbing at his helm and watching with disinterest— and perhaps a touch of frustration— as his team began to fall apart.

Menasor crashed to his knees, bellowing thunderously as Dead End and Wildrider broke off and began to transform back as well. He held himself up with Breakdown’s arm for a few nanokliks, the integrity meter little more than a sliver, before falling apart into a pile of moving metal.

Surprisingly, Breakdown was first on his feet, hopping up and running to where Motormaster was sitting with a scowl on his face. The smaller grounder offered Motormaster his hand, helping him to his feet with a nervous smile in place as he glanced between the transport and Dragstrip, who seemed to be having trouble with his transformation sequence.

“H-hey,” Breakdown began; Knock Out couldn’t hear him through the lab soundproofing, but his words were being picked up by the transcription software, and his expression was a spark-wrenching mix of placating and anxious. “We— we did better that time! We stayed together longer! We’re getting better!”

Motormaster’s expression was stormy and unmollified, and when he was on his pedes once more he yanked his hand out of Breakdown’s, gripped him by the shoulders, shook him roughly twice, then shoved him to the ground. Knock Out’s anger— which had been smothered by his bewilderment at seeing the combiner in action— returned as a blazing fury, made worse by the knowledge that he could do nothing to fix the situation as it stood.

Motormaster delivered a rough kick into Breakdown’s side, then crossed over to stomp on Dead End’s back, barking orders or perhaps insulting his team-mates. In his periphery, he saw Motormaster’s mouth moving, and the script from the transcription software scrolling as it attempted to keep up, but Knock Out’s optics were locked on Breakdown, memorizing the way he curled in on himself miserably on the floor, clutching his side.

Reluctantly, Knock Out glanced back over at Shockwave, who was still typing away, unphased by the violence and uninterested in conversation, then over at the transcription as Motormaster began to close in on Breakdown again.

“That was your fault,” Motormaster said, reaching down to haul the speedster back to his pedes by his shoulder. Above them, the lights began to flicker. “It’s always your fault that we don't stay together, because you can’t seem to keep your head in the fraggin’ game!”

“I’m sorry!” Breakdown yelped, his thin plating beginning to buckle under the strength of Motormaster’s grip. “I’m sorry, Motormaster, I’m— I’ll do better!”

“You’d better!” the bigger mech roared at him, his face twisted in rage as he shoved Breakdown again. This time, the speedster stayed on his feet. “If you don’t, I’ll find somebody to replace you! Now get into position, we’re going again.”

Breakdown rushed to obey, stumbling over himself to find his place just to the left of Motormaster, his arms wrapped around himself. Knock Out watched him, barely able to think around the ire the situation inspired in him.

“I would suggest, if you care so strongly about him,” Shockwave droned suddenly, tearing Knock Out from his thoughts. The seeker turned to look at him numbly, reluctant to look away from Breakdown— as if watching would suddenly prevent him from being abused further. Shockwave held out the datapads Knock Out had brought him, seemingly done with them. “That you go back to the medbay and prepare it to receive injured.”

Knock Out startled slightly as the words set in, nearly dropping the stack in his upset. Shockwave stared back at him stonily, his single-optic gaze a deeply unnerving thing to the seeker. Slowly, he nodded and stepped backwards, and with one last reluctant look at Breakdown, he turned on his heel and hurried off.

Chapter Text

Knock Out had barely gotten into the door before Sunstreaker was upon him, staring at him intensely.

“What’s wrong?” He asked. Knock Out glanced askance at him across the couch as he set down his duffle bag.

“I don’t know what you mean.” he said, his tone belying his words. Sunstreaker looked at him for a long time, clearly unconvinced by his host’s words, and Knock Out sighed and rubbed at his face.

“Alright,” He relented, flopping down onto the couch. “Yes, something is wrong, but I’d prefer not to talk about it. There’s— there’s not really anything that can be done to fix it at the moment so it’s best I just try to put it out of my mind.”

Sunstreaker was unmollified, and continued to stare at him as he lounged on the couch, his helm hung over the back of it and his pedes crossed on the low table in front of it. Knock Out did his best not to mind the hovering; Sunstreaker was prone to lingering when he was trying to make sense of a situation.  Knock Out could feel how uncomfortable Sunstreaker was to know that something was bothering his host, without having a way to fix it.

It was flattering how much the younger mech cared, even if he couldn’t show it.

“Feel like letting me repaint you?” Knock Out asked after a while, picking up his helm to regard the golden mech casually. Sunstreaker looked at him with confusion, and Knock Out found it prudent to elaborate. “Doing cosmetic bodywork relaxes me— doing it or having it done to me. So, here’s my proposal: I’ll fix your paint, then we can take turns polishing each other. Sound like a plan?”

Slowly, Sunstreaker nodded, seemingly catching on. Knock Out watched him move off to the hall closet where the finish equipment was kept, and after some shuffling he returned with an armful of supplies. Knock Out smiled, standing up long enough to lay out the tarp over the couch before sitting and patting the seat next to him. Sunstreaker sat down beside him, watching seriously as Knock Out plucked up two cans of paint— red and yellow— and held them up.

“Do you know how to mix paints?” He asked. Sunstreaker squinted at the cans for a moment, then shrugged.

“Sort of.  I’ve seen it done, and I used to have a recreational paint set.” He said, frowning. “Those ones were oil-based, though. I don’t think it’s the same.”

Knock Out nodded, setting the cans aside. “You’re half right. They’re made of different things but the basic idea of mixing stays the same.”

He shook the can of yellow in one hand, reaching into his subspace with the other to produce a short, clear cup. Sunstreaker watched him uncap the can and pour a liberal amount of yellow in, adding only a dash of red before producing a long rod, stirring the mixture together.

“How do you know that will be right?” Sunstreaker asked after a moment, glancing from the paint to Knock Out’s face and back. Knock Out smiled at him.

“Well, in general, you don’t. You do some swatches against the existing color, then adjust from there. But,” he said, pulling the rod from the mixture and dabbing it against Sunstreaker’s arm. “I’ve spent more time doing this sort of thing than you’ve been alive, so I’ve gotten pretty good at getting colors right on my first try.”

Sunstreaker opened his mouth to protest having the paint smeared on him, but closed it as he looked closer; the paint was close enough to perfect that he couldn’t see a difference. He looked back up at Knock Out with surprise.

“Wow.” He said succinctly. Knock Out smiled at him again, a totally self-satisfied thing.

They devolved into a comfortable silence after that, broken occasionally as Knock Out taught him how to assemble and use the airbrush. It was a nice distraction, and Sunstreaker absorbed the knowledge like a sponge, watching Knock Out work with an intensity that Knock Out had grown to find familiar and comforting. It didn’t take long for the paint to set, hardening to a glossy shine.

When Knock Out wordlessly transitioned to buffing him, Sunstreaker didn’t complain or ask questions. He turned his arms when Knock Out asked, held his legs out and angled his pedes so that Knock Out could work the rotary buffer into all the little nooks and crannies of his armor. The work was cathartic for the older speedster, enough of a distraction to pull his mind away from his own problems and focus on something else.

By the time he worked his way around to Sunstreaker’s back, the golden mech had gone from attentive to pensive and withdrawn, staring at the far wall from his seat on the floor between Knock Out’s legs. Every so often, he seemed to remember that he had been trying to polish Knock Out’s shin guard, and would jolt back into motion wordlessly, but each time, his hands would fall still and he would lapse into thought once more. To someone unfamiliar with Sunstreaker it might not have been that noticeable, but to Knock Out the change was night and day.  

“You’re done,” He said, tapping Sunstreaker on the shoulder. The younger mech jumped, glancing down to his lap where Knock Out’s left leg was curled around him, frowning.

“Sorry,” He offered softly, moving to stand up. He dumped himself onto the couch beside Knock Out, grabbing his knee guard to heft the same leg back into his lap.

“You know, you don’t have to use a chamois to buff me. I can teach you how to use the rotary buffer.”  Knock Out said. Sunstreaker looked up at him again, his frown still in place, and shook his head.

“The shine is better with a chamois,” Sunstreaker opined seriously. Knock Out laughed, and the younger mech looked back up at him, his frown deepening.

“Sorry, you just—” Knock Out sighed, bracing himself on the arm of the couch and leaning backwards. “My conjunx used to say that all the time. ‘It’s better when you do it by hand. Besides, I don’t mind spending the time to do it for you.’”

Sunstreaker looked down again, and after a beat of hesitation asked, “Can you tell me more about him?”

Knock Out cocked his helm to the side, watching as Sunstreaker worked the chamois in tight little circles over his armor. After a moment, he let his helm fall backwards, looking up at the ceiling idly.

“His name was Breakdown.” He began, gathering himself to talk. “He was forged to be a racer, but he had a… they considered it a defect . They decided he wasn’t worth the effort and sold him to a mining company before he was brought online.”

Knock Out saw Sunstreaker glance up at him in his periphery, his beautiful face pulled into something thoughtful. Knock Out took it as his cue to continue.

“He never saw Cybertron til’ I found him and brought him to Kaon. He lived off-world his whole life. Of course, back then, Kaon was a lot different. Even above-ground, nobody really wanted to live there.” He laughed. “I was working for Megatron, as a model for his propaganda movement and as a recruiter. That’s how we met.”

“He was the nicest mech I ever met, but he always seemed to be getting shorted by life. He never got angry about it, even after— well.” he huffed a laugh. “After he started standing up for himself. He was never bitter about the way life treated him. He was so kind. He never should have been in the war.

“He always… always asked me about my day. Even when he was tired, he always asked if he could help me with something.” He laughed wryly, reaching into his subspace for a picture cube. “By the time we figured out we loved each other, it was against the law of the Decepticons to take the conjunx ritus. We did anyway— we went AWOL from base and just… bonded on some backwater organic forest planet. It was never the way I expected to bond, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

He flicked the picture cube on, and an image was displayed in crisp and vivid colors above it. Knock Out and Breakdown lounged side by side on a bed of soft purple moss, lit warmly by the setting sun. Their hands were clasped together between them, and they both smiled widely, their joy evident. Knock Out’s right shoulder guards were fanned out more than usual, the center one sporting a fresh looking engraving. The very edges of an engraving peaked out from under the decorative panels of Breakdown’s pauldron,  looking just as new as Knock Out’s.

Knock Out looked at the image fondly then turned it around and handed it to Sunstreaker, who held it in both hands carefully, turning it this way and that to view it from all angles, a luxury afforded by the media. After a moment, he smirked and handed it back to Knock Out.

“Cute,” He said succinctly. Knock Out hummed a laugh, looking at the image again thoughtfully before thumbing it off and stashing it back into his subspace.  When he looked back up, Sunstreaker was putting token effort into buffing him, a look of concentration on his face.

Knock Out watched him for a beat, then relaxed backwards against the arm of the couch again, doing his best to focus on the sensation. Sunstreaker worked well when he wasn't distracted, his technique impressively skillful for someone so young. The silence between them was comfortable, if contemplative— and for a handful of minutes, Knock Out was able to pretend things were alright. Sunstreaker finished with one leg and started on the other, and it wasn’t until he was half way up Knock Out’s shinguard that he broke the silence.

“Do you ever stop missing him?” The gilded mech asked in a soft voice. The strangeness of the question— or perhaps the way it was delivered— drew Knock Out’s attention back to Sunstreaker, but he was studiously avoiding looking up at his host. There was a strange tension between them now, a feeling Knock Out couldn’t quite put a name to.

“Not really, no. There are times when it’s better, but you never stop missing someone you’ve lost.” Knock Out said, rubbing at his neck. Sunstreaker fumbled with what he was doing for a moment, then caught himself— but not quickly enough that the red mech didn’t see it happen. Knock Out looked from where Sunstreaker was working his armor to a shine up to the golden mech’s face.  “Why?”

Sunstreaker didn’t, or perhaps couldn’t answer for a moment. Knock Out saw him work his jaw silently, and slowly he sat back out of his hunch. He twisted the chamois in his hands anxiously, his optics locked on his own lap.

“I just—” He began, turning his face to the side, still not meeting Knock Out’s gaze. “I miss my brother.”

“It’s alright to miss him. It’s natural.” Knock Out said softly, suddenly understanding the situation more clearly. Sunstreaker scoffed in a way that could have been considered derisive if Knock Out hadn’t known better. He was rapidly withdrawing from Knock Out, defaulting to his dangerous facade in an effort to protect himself.

“I don’t even know where he is. The only reason I know he’s not—not dead somewhere is because our spark-bond is still intact.” Sunstreaker lamented. His tone was angry, but his words were desperate and full of hurt.

“He went to Kaon to find a job. He was worried people would catch on to us stealing, and we’d be banned from the market and starve. He… he said he’d call for me to come, or send someone to come get me when he found a job. I never heard from him again.” He said, finally looking up into Knock Out’s face with a strained expression on his own. “I thought he might have been arrested. He’s stupid, you know. He does stupid things. He liked— likes to street race. I went to Kaon to see if they had him at the jail, but they said they’d never heard of him— not even the fake names he uses.”

He looked down again, twisting the chamois mercilessly in his lap. As he spoke, he got more tense, his shoulders drawn up and his face scrunched in an ugly misery that was only barely concealed by his mask of toughness.  Knock Out watched him quietly, and he continued to speak after a moment, his voice shaky.

“I dunno whether or not to be happy they don’t have him. He wouldn’t do well in prison, he… he’s claustrophobic. I just don't know where he is.” He twisted the chamois so roughly it creaked, but he didn’t seem to notice. His vents were rough with his effort to stay composed,scrunching his optics closed to keep himself from crying. “I miss him. I miss him so bad, Knock Out.”

Knock Out looked at him wordlessly for a moment, his spark aching sympathetically; he had just been in this exact situation— curled up on the floor outside Ratchet’s door, scared and alone. He didn’t want the younger mech to ever feel so badly, to feel so helpless. He leaned forward, sliding one hand to cup Sunstreaker’s face. The golden mech looked up, startled, and upon seeing the look of understanding on Knock Out’s face his tough facade crumbled into dust.

“What am I going to do?” He pleaded desperately reaching up to clutch at Knock Out’s hand, holding it closer to his faceplates like it was a lifeline. “He was all I ever had, and I’m never going to see him again! I don’t want to be alone!”

Knock Out lurched forward onto his knees, pulling the smaller mech against his chest and cradling him there. Sunstreaker, overcome, pressed his face into Knock Out’s shoulder and began to keen, his fists balled against the curve of the older racer’s chestplate.

“You’re not alone,” Knock Out soothed quietly, running his servo over the smooth plates of Sunstreaker’s back in an attempt to comfort him, “I’m right here, and I’m not going to leave you. I’ll help you find your brother, I promise. You’ll see him again.”

Knock Out wasn’t sure if it helped or not, but he eased himself back into a sitting position, pulling Sunstreaker with him and arranging them into a more comfortable position, the younger mech pulled close against Knock Out’s side, the older racer’s other hand twined with Sunstreaker’s.

They stayed like that for a while, until Sunstreaker had cried himself out and desperation had eventually given way to exhaustion, leaving him shivering and sniffling where he leaned on Knock Out. The older mech looked over at him thoughtfully for a moment, before releasing his hand and reaching over to pull a folded up blanket off the arm of the couch. Spreading it over Sunstreaker was a little awkward with the way the younger mech had his arm pinned, but he managed, tucking it around the drowsy mech as best he could.

Sunstreaker nestled into it, its soft warmth comforting to him, and curled against Knock Out, who kept his arm wrapped protectively around the younger speedster. Sunstreaker yawned and Knock Out hummed thoughtfully.

“You should take a nap,” he opined softly. Sunstreaker shifted until he could press his audial against the smooth metal where Knock Out’s pauldrons met his chestplate, grumbling quietly. When he settled, he peeked up at Knock Out curiously.

“Will you stay here if I do?” He asked, his voice thick with sleep. Knock Out smiled down at him.

“Ask me something hard.”

Chapter Text

Months passed, and their relationship devolved into little more than glances stolen across crowded rooms. Knock Out had tried to keep in touch, but it seemed like combiner training was stealing all of Breakdown’s time away from him. On the rare occasion that his comms didn’t go directly to Breakdown’s inbox, he only answered long enough to give Knock Out a paltry excuse as to why he couldn’t talk, and a promise that he would call back soon before disconnecting.

It was disappointing, yes— but it wasn’t as if Knock Out hadn’t expected this. For what felt like forever, he had been convinced that Breakdown would die. Breakdown was trying too; Knock Out had more than two dozen voicemails from the mech, apologizing for missing his calls and telling of his progress in his training. More often than not the messages were short and clipped, as if made under great duress.

Knock Out tried not to worry; it was only logical that Breakdown would be busy now that he'd been reassigned. Knock Out new the training was stressful and intense, and it was easy to see how Breakdown would be hard pressed to find the time to actually speak to him.

Still, he couldn't help but miss the speedster.

He supposed he was happy enough knowing Breakdown was relatively safe. His most recent message had revealed that their time combined was pushing two joors, and the prospects of them being cleared for battle were very good. He had sounded almost excited, which was a hard thing to reconcile with the unassuming speedster Knock Out had come to care for, but Knock Out figured he would be hungry for battle, too, if he were locked in a lab for months at a time with someone like Motormaster.

He hummed to himself, doing his best to  put the situation from his mind; there was nothing he could do about it right now, really, besides hope that once the speedster’s training was complete that he would have more free time, even if all they could do was comm one another once in awhile.

He glanced down at his datapad, frowning slightly when he noticed he’d been drumming his fingers on it and had inserted a string of gibberish into his report. He erased it, but then paused again, his fingers hovering over the keyboard. He felt, very suddenly, like all motivation had left him, and he leaned forward until he could rest his elbows on the counter and perch his helm in his hands.

A cursory glance at his chronometer told him that he was very nearly at the end of his shift. When his replacement showed up, he’d clock out and head back to the medical barracks and curl up in his berth. A long recharge was beginning to sound wonderful. As if on cue, there was a shuffling by the doorway. Knock Out looked up and almost laughed at the irony of the situation.

Breakdown stood there, covered in dents and energon, staring at him intensely. When Knock Out met his gaze, he glanced away and around the medbay as if looking for someone else. Knock Out shoved his datapad backwards and stood, stepping closer to the shorter mech with a smile.

“Well hey, stranger,” He purred, “Fancy meeting you here.”

Breakdown glanced up at him again very briefly before squeezing past him into the medbay, glancing into the various offices as he passed. Knock Out stared at the spot Breakdown had been standing in before turning, his smile morphing into a frown.

Breakdown was prone to behaving strangely; his paranoia often drove him to do things that most people considered odd or weird, but after so many years Knock Out had begun to regard as things the speedster needed to do to feel safe. He was half-tempted to brush this off as much of the same thing, save for the fact that Breakdown had never once ignored the seeker entirely. He watched as Breakdown peeked into the back hall that connected the main medbay to the other auxiliary bays, as if waiting for someone, squinting in confusion.

“Breakdown?” He asked. The speedsters plates clamped down tightly to his frame, and as Knock Out crossed the space between them Breakdown seemed to hunch in on himself, his arms wrapped tightly across his front. Knock Out stopped a few feet away, looking back to the door Breakdown had entered through, expecting someone to have been following him. When a few moments of waiting proved him wrong, he looked back at his friend, his confusion only worsened. He stepped closer again. “Is something wrong?”

Finally, Breakdown turned and looked at him, looking awfully nervous. Knock Out hadn’t seen him so uncomfortable in his presence in ages— in fact, he couldn’t recall a time after he’d first met him in the bar that he’d been so violently anxious around him. It was worrying, to be sure.

“Um,” Breakdown began, glancing at the back hall again. “Is— is anyone else on duty? Is there someone else that can see me?”

Knock Out suddenly shifted backwards, trying to parse the Breakdown’s words. His worry suddenly multiplied, because Breakdown had never acted like this towards him. He was always so happy to see the seeker, always ready to listen. He rolled his  shoulders and crossed his arms over his chest, shoving his discomfort down deep.

“Just me.” Knock Out intoned, trying to keep the strange hurt he felt from bleeding into his voice. “I'm assuming you want something done about this damage?”

Breakdown lowered his head, nodding slightly, and when Knock Out crossed the room to one of the medical berths that lined the wall, Breakdown followed him silently. He was aware enough of procedure that he climbed onto the end of the berth without prompting, studiously avoiding making optical contact with the seeker. It was the same strange submissiveness that was usual for him, but without any of the shaking or flickering lights— a strange and undefinable sort of change, but perfectly noticeable.

Knock Out tapped the diagnostic berth to start a full frame scan; he doubted there was much more than surface damage, as even from a cursory glance he could tell that none of the dents or gashes were deep enough to have left lasting internal damage. In fact, if not for the sheer quantity of wounds, Knock Out would have suggested that the shorter mech simply rest and allow his self-repair to handle the damage. While the berth went to work, Knock Out busied himself with collecting a dent-popper, static bandages and a tube of healing nanites, setting each object on the table beside the berth as he moved about.

“So, how’d you get so beat up?” He asked conversationally, as if the damage didn’t have Motormaster written all over it. There was a long silence between them where Breakdown curled even further into himself before he answered.

“Combiner training,” the speedster muttered noncommittally.  Knock Out eyed him suspiciously, but Breakdown was intent on not looking at the seeker any more than he deemed necessary, it seemed. The medic picked up up the dent popper, staring at it with a rising sense of frustration. He did his best to stifle it, slowly approaching and setting to work popping the myriad of little dents out of the armor on Breakdown’s side.

“How’s that going? You haven’t updated me in a couple groon.” Knock Out said, hoping to coax his friend out of his shell into some semblance of a conversation.

The speedster was silent, his helm turned away from Knock Out, his face pinched in discomfort. Whether it was from the awkwardness of the situation or from the procedure, Knock Out couldn’t be sure. He felt his composure beginning to slip from his grasp the longer Breakdown went without answering— without   looking at him.

“Breakdown, did I do something wrong?” he asked as he worried the dent-popper between his servos nervously. Breakdown startled and looked over at him, mouth agape and optics wide. Before he could say anything, Knock Out continued. “If I’ve— If you’re upset with me over something, please just tell me so I can fix it, or apologize.”

“No—!” Breakdown cried, sitting up straight in his distress, “ No, no— Knock Out— I — It’s not—!”

Knock Out watched him flounder for words, the sudden change in demeanor oddly reassuring. Suddenly, he felt foolish for bringing it up; there had been days when Knock Out didn’t want to talk, and Breakdown hadn’t pressured him into a conversation.  But Breakdown was growing increasingly flustered the longer he kept grasping for an explanation, teary optics glancing over at the door he’d come through with fear.

“Breakdown, what’s wrong?” Knock Out said, stepping in front of him and setting his hands on the speedster’s shoulders. Breakdown looked up at him, looking suddenly miserable. He reached up, wrapping his hand around the seeker’s wrist as if anchoring himself.

“It’s Motormaster,” He said, hanging his head again, scrubbing at his face with his free hand. “He says— he said we can’t be friends. He says— he… told me you’re a distraction.”

What?” Knock Out said, face twisting in incredulity. Under his hands, Breakdown began to shake with a mixture of fear and anger.

“I hate him,” Breakdown wept angrily, his face strained. “I hate him so much. He— He’s so mean. He won't stop hitting me, he won’t— he won’t stop! I don’t know what he wants! I don’t know what I’m doing wrong! I wish I had never had to be on his team!

Knock Out brought his hand up, cupping the speedsters face as the shorter mech’s vents rattled harshly and he began to cough.

“Hey— take it easy. Deep vents, okay?” He soothed. Breakdown nodded shallowly, his rage beginning to peter off and leave him with only desperation. He counted for Breakdown while he breathed, helping him to calm himself somewhat.

“I don’t want to not be your friend,” Breakdown mumbled quietly, swiping his tears off his faceplates. “I don’t know why I can’t be friends with you. I don’t know why that’s wrong. He has friends. Why can’t I have friends?”

Knock Out drew back, looking at him levely. “There is nothing wrong with us being friends. I can bet you money it’s a lot of the same reason Barricade told you I didn’t like you. Some people are just mean to be mean.”

“I hate him.” Breakdown said darkly, his face twisted in anger. It was such a strange sight; Knock Out had never seen Breakdown even frustrated, let alone livid like this.

“You have a right to.” Knock Out said, brushing his thumb over the blue mech’s cheek. “I’ve seen how he acts. I think I’d be worried if you didn’t hate him.”

“He always wants to fight. He picks fights with all of us and it doesn’t matter what we do, he always pummels us. Even if you admit he’s right and apologize, he’ll still hit you!” Breakdown continued, turning his face into the other’s hand. “I don’t want to fight. I don’t like fighting. This— He’s changing me. They’re all changing me, and I can feel it, and I hate it— and I hate that I hate it! I never hated anything before I bonded with them.”

That drew the seeker up short. “You had to bond with them?”

Breakdown hung his head again. “It’s the only way the combiner works. It’s a weird… different kind of bond. Not like a Conjunx bond.” He chuckled mirthlessly. “I think i’d have to shoot myself if I had to be in a conjunx bond with any of them.”

Knock Out hummed, pulling him against his chest. Breakdown looped his arms around Knock Out’s waist, pressing his audial to the seeker’s chestplate to hear the steady pulse of his spark. For a brief moment, the medic was able to convince himself that things were alright— that things were normal.

“I’ll find a way to get you out of this,” Knock Out promised softly after a beat.  Breakdown pulled back, looking up at him with trusting optics.

“If anyone can help me, it’s you.” He said seriously, offering  the taller mech a half-hearted smile. Knock Out smiled back at him, the warmth of his expression second only to the warmth in his spark.

“You say the nicest things, darling.” He purred playfully, his smile becoming coy as he reached over to gather the dent-popper back into his servo. “Now, how about we get you fixed up?”

Chapter Text

Knock Out hadn’t expected to be called back to Kaon so soon.

His new orders had come in just as he was getting ready to turn in for the night; a message direct from High Councilor Skyjack had arrived, flagged as urgent. His expertees were needed at the newly opened Lower Kaon Correctional Facility, to evaluate a sudden influx of prisoners. With a sigh, he had gathered his things and told Sunstreaker the change of plans, then boarded a shuttle bound for Kaon.

He arrived in Kaon early the next morning. The city was always busy, it seemed; the shuttle station was teeming with mechs and femmes going here and there, some heading out to their jobs and others returning from work. He made his way through the crowds, and was thankful that the streets outside weren’t backed up.

He checked his chronometer; the next shuttle down to Lower Kaon wasn’t scheduled until later in the afternoon, ostensibly aligning with shift change at the prison. There wasn’t time enough for him to head to his apartment and get a decent recharge, either, which meant that he had a sizable servoful of joors to burn through.

He made his way to the market district, intent to spend the wait collecting supplies he needed back in Slaughter City. Shops, restaurants, and cafes lined both sides of the street, their fronts clean and glittering in the sunlight. Enforcers were out, scattered liberally in the crowds. Some were standing on street corners keeping vigil while others walked their beats, scanning for any sign of wrongdoing. It was strange; Knock Out couldn't remember ever seeing so many cops in Kaon, even before the war. He supposed it made sense. Reportedly, there was an influx of arrests, which had necessitated the prison being opened to house them. If there were a large number of prisoners waiting to be transported, it was logical to see an increased police presence.

Lost in thought, he hadn't noticed someone coming out of the store he was passing until he walked into them. He stumbled to the side, turning with an apology at the tip of his tongue, and stopped dead in his tracks.

Ratchet stared back at him, his optics blown wide in surprise. At his heels was a minicon, small but sturdy of frame, painted all white with spartan highlights of a soft, dusty blue. Knock Out could tell he was gaping, but couldn't stop himself from staring at his friend with slack-jawed shock.  Ratchet predictably recovered first, his surprise turning to joy.

“Knock Out!” he said, subspacing the bag he had been carrying and spreading his arms out in greeting. “How have you been?”

“Terrible!” Knock Out blurted, too stunned to be anything but honest. Ratchet's face fell, his expression quickly becoming concerned.

“Why—” the older medic began before Knock Out cut him off, stepping closer.

“Do you not remember me crying outside your door?” Knock Out asked, his even tone belying the turmoil in his spark. “Did you— did you not hear me begging you to talk to me?”

“I do,” Ratchet said, looking down in an attempt to hide his guilt. “I… did. But I was… I was angry at the council, and I’ll be honest, I simply didn't have the patience to talk to you at the time.”

“So, what , you decided it was easier to just ignore me? I needed you, Ratchet!” He demanded, watching as the older mech grew more and more uncomfortable. “Do you have any idea how it felt to be disregarded like that? You didn't even look when I hammered on your door!”

“I can imagine it felt awful, and I apologize. I could pretend that I didn't want to subject you to my temper but that would be a lie. What I did was selfish and unthoughtful, and I understand why you're mad at me. You deserve better than that.” Ratchet said seriously. Knock Out  shifted backwards, his shoulders sinking.

“I’m not mad, Ratchet, I’m hurt.” He said. After a moment, he crossed his arms. “But I… suppose I accept your apology. I know you weren't doing it to deliberately hurt me.”

There was a brief and awkward silence between them; Knock Out was busy staring into the window of the shop Ratchet had just come out of— an electronics boutique— and Ratchet was looking around them at all the other stores. After a moment, he patted the speedster’s arm, drawing his attention.

“We were just about to get some breakfast.” Ratchet said with a smile, gesturing at his smaller companion. “Why don't you join us, and we can catch up? My treat.”

Knock Out smiled back, hoping it wasn't tight as it felt. “I’d like that.”

Ratchet’s expression softened, and he turned and began to lead the way up the avenue. It was almost normal, and Knock Out felt himself letting go of the offense he’d felt when Ratchet had ignored his pleas two weeks prior. It wasn’t as if the speedster never acted selfishly; Ratchet had put up with enough of his bad moods in the handful of years they’d been working together to last him a lifetime.

The ambulance lead him down the street and around the corner to a little cafe that was set back from the street. To one side of the door was a patio, covered by an awning. Small tables and chairs lined it, a few seats being taken up by patrons who were chatting together amiably or reading from their personal datapads. Ratchet opened the gate and stepped through, holding it open with a pede for Knock Out and the white minicon. They moved to a table in the corner, Ratchet grabbing a chair from one of the other tables for his companion before seating himself.

“So,” The older mech said conversationally as Knock Out began to page through the holo-display menu that was set into the table’s surface. “Besides what happened the other orn, how have you been doing? We haven’t gotten to speak in a while.”

Knock Out glanced up from where he was scrutinizing the description of one of the menu items, sitting back in his chair after a moment.

“Well enough, I suppose. Busy, of course, as you can probably assume.” He hummed, tapping in his request for some warm energon with supplements in it. “I’ve been working in Slaughter City to help oversee the construction of the Hospital there.”

“The council gave you my old position, then?” Ratchet asked, watching idly as the minicon began tapping in his order.

“Forced it on me is more like it.” Knock Out groused, earning a snort from the older mech. “I went looking for you when I hadn’t heard anything in a while, and they told me you’d resigned and that they were giving me your old title.”

“That sounds about right, all but the resigned part.” Ratchet sighed, cushioning his helm in one hand and typing in his order with the other. “They gave me the option of hunting down renegade ‘cons or going to prison. Of course, I chose bounty hunting, and they gave me a ship and assigned me a minicon and sent me on my way. They said it was because of my ‘agitating’ but I’m more than convinced it’s because I supported Optimus.”  He gestured over towards the minicon who was watching them both with an intense expression. “By the way, this is my partner Undertone. Undertone, this is Knock Out.”

“Nice to meet you, Undertone.” Knock Out said, smiling at the shorter mech. Undertone nodded seriously, and Ratchet snorted again.

“He’s not the talkative type.” Ratchet explained, sitting back in his chair. Knock Out nodded and relaxed as well, glancing through the big window beside them that separated the indoor and outdoor dining rooms. After a moment of thought, he looked back at Ratchet.

“Why do you think it was because you support Optimus?” He asked, doing his best to ignore the sinking feeling in his spark.

“They told me so . They blame Optimus for the destruction of the planet!” he said, glancing around, as if checking for anyone who might overhear him, before he leaned forward again to whisper to the speedster conspiratorially. “The council is not what it seems.”

For the briefest moment, the image of Breakdown’s stasis pod flashed into Knock Out’s mind, and he shook his helm as if to clear it. “ I could have told you that much.”

“I don’t have the proof I need to do something about it,” Ratchet continued quietly, “But something is not right with them. They’re up to something, and I intend to find out what.”

“I had the same feeling,” Knock Out sighed, looking down into his hands. A server came out bearing a tray with energon on it, crossing the patio to their table. Knock Out thanked her when she set his in front of him, and when she was gone, he looked down into his drink pensively.

“Why do I think there’s more to it than just a feeling?” Ratchet asked, taking a sip of his cube. Knock Out didn’t look up at him, and for a long time there was an expectant silence between them as the younger medic tried to piece together what he wanted to say.

“They’re… holding Breakdown hostage.” He said, his voice very soft. Ratchet paused his cube halfway to his lips.

“What do you mean?” He asked, setting his cube down and leaning forward once again. Knock Out gestured vaguely.

“While I was in Slaughter City, they… took his stasis pod out of the hospital here in Kaon and had him set up in the Hall, hidden back behind one of the pillars. I didn’t see him at first, but I was... I asked them to find someone else to do this job and they… they used him against me, as leverage.” Knock Out said, struggling to keep his voice level. “That was what I needed to talk to you about, that day. I didn’t know what to do. I needed advice.”

“I’m so sorry.” Ratchet said, looking stricken. The fact that he didn’t offer any reassurances made the same sickening fear he’d felt that day come rushing back to him, and he scrubbed at his face and huffed through his vents to rid himself of it. When he sat back up, he regarded the older medic with a tight smile.

“I’ve decided I’m going to do what all well-adjusted adults do, and ignore my problems for now.” He said, a humor he didn’t quite feel lacing his voice. He could tell Ratchet wasn’t convinced, but thankfully the older medic didn’t push the subject.

“How is Slaughter City?” Ratchet asked as Knock Out finally took a sip of his energon.

Terrible,” Knock Out said honestly. “Everyone’s starving and homeless, because the only housing complex in the city is full. The apartment they put me in has been on hold for council use since the tenement was built, and that’s the only reason I’m not sleeping in a cot in the lobby of the hospital. It’s startlingly similar to how it used to be before the war. There’s so much suffering, and the longer I’m there the more useless I feel.”

Ratchet seemed pensive, swirling his cube around idly. “You can’t expect to be able to change everything by yourself.”

“No, I can’t,” Knock Out conceded, “but knowing that doesn’t stop me from wishing I could.”

The older medic hummed his assent, watching as a pair of enforcers walked by together. Ratchet watched them make their way up the avenue and turn the corner, headed back toward the main street.

“There’s an awful lot of security out today.” he said finally.

“I noticed that, too, but I figured if they’re going to transporting people down to the prison it makes sense that there’d be more cops around.” Knock Out said.Ratchet looked at him with surprise.

“You already know about the ‘cons?” He asked. Knock Out looked at him, feeling suddenly addlepated.

Vaguely,” The speedster said after a beat. “What do you know about the ‘cons?”

“I brought them here.” Ratchet said seriously. “When they sent me tracking bounties, it took me back to earth where I met up with Bumblebee. Long story short, Undertone and I ended up bringing back over two hundred actively wanted Decepticons.”

“Well, that certainly explains why they’re opening the prison.” Knock Out huffed. “I’ve got to head down there in a bit to do prisoner intake exams.”

“I don’t envy you,” Ratchet said. “It’ll take a while to sort through just the two hundred I brought in, and I don’t doubt there’s quite a few more than that.”

“I don’t envy me, either.” Knock Out sighed, running a hand down his face. Almost as an afterthought, he continued, “I didn’t realize there was going to be so much work or I would have left Sunstreaker more money.”

“Sunstreaker?” Ratchet asked.

“A second-wave mechling I ran into squatting in the hospital construction. He was homeless and starving and I sort of took him under my wing— so to speak. I suppose you could call him my roommate.” Knock Out explained with a smile as the older medic finished his breakfast and set the cube down on the edge of the table.

“That was kind of you,” He said seriously. Knock Out looked away.

“I couldn’t just stand by and let him suffer,” he reasoned, crossing his arms over his chest. “He’s so young, Ratchet, and all alone. It was so… sad. He said he has a twin, but his brother came to Kaon looking for a job and Sunstreaker hasn’t heard from him since. I leave him money in case he needs to buy something while I’m not home— that is, not in Slaughter City — but now I don’t know if I left him enough.”

Ratchet chuckled. “In all the time I’ve known you, I’ve never once witnessed you underpay for something. I’d say it’s a safe bet that you left him a small fortune and are actively over-estimating just how much he’ll be needing to spend. Or maybe how long it’ll take you to get done. Even if the prison was full, it would only take you about a month to do intake assessments for every prisoner there.” He soothed,  “I’m sure everything will be fine. Besides, you’ve got his comm frequency and if something happens, you can take the time to go back and take care of it. If the council asks why you have to go back, claim you left something in your apartment and need to pick it up.”

Knock Out nodded slowly.

“You’re probably right. I can’t help but worry about him, though.” He said, “He’s so young. He thought just because he had a knife, that meant he’d be able to protect himself.”

“Ah, to be so young and self-assured again.” Ratchet said with humor in his voice as Knock Out took the last sip of his cube. The speedster snorted, then began to cough through his vents.

“Saying ‘again’ implies that you were ever young in the first place,” He choked. Ratchet flustered, ignoring the soft chuffing noises that left Undertone in favor of glaring at Knock Out, though there was no real heat behind it.

“Very funny.” Ratchet grumbled, causing Knock Out to laugh harder. The younger medic did his best to calm himself, making a placating gesture in the ambulance’s direction with one hand as he swiped at his face.

“I’m sorry,” he laughed, “But you basically set that up yourself. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by.”

Ratchet, couldn’t help the smile that spread over his face, leaning back to cross his arms over his broad chestplate. “I suppose I can let it slide.”

Knock Out smiled at him, clearing his vents and setting his empty cube on the side of the table beside both Ratchet’s and Undertones. The same server from earlier bustled by with the cubes from another table, then backtracked to collect theirs as well as Ratchet withdrew a credit chit from his subspace and scanned it into the console set into the table to pay for their meal. Knock Out stretched, yawning as he checked his chronometer idly.

“I should probably start back to the shuttle station,” He sighed, leaning forward to cross his arms over the table and rest his helm in them. Ratchet scrutinized the payment screen, then dismissed it and dropped his chit back into his subspace.

“It is getting rather late,” Ratchet ceded, “I should probably be heading back home as well.”

There was a beat of silence before Knock Out scooted himself back away from the table, gathering himself to his feet.  “Well. It was nice to see you, Ratchet. I hope we can hang out again soon. I’ve missed spending time with you.”

“I’ve missed you, too.” Ratchet said, smiling at him fondly, standing up as well and pushing in his chair. “I’m more or less free for the foreseeable future, so let me know when you have the time and we can get together again.”

They both headed toward the gate, Ratchet once more holding it open for Knock Out and Undertone. They paused on the other side, and Knock Out returned the fond look Ratchet had given him.

“You look really good,” He said after a beat, “I’m glad you’re feeling better. I haven’t seen you this happy since Optimus...”

Suddenly, Ratchet seemed to clam up, his kind smile being replaced with something almost guilty. Knock Out blinked at him as he made the connection. It must have shown on his face, because Ratchet reached for him, looking contrite. He waved off the other’s concern, smiling at him again— though this time, he could tell the look was considerably more pained than before.

“No, no.” he said softly, shaking his head. “I’m happy for you. You deserve to be happy and with the person you love.” He reached forward, smacking Ratchet on the shoulder. “This time, don’t waste your chance! Tell him how you feel before you lose him, permanently. It’s only been four million years!”

Ratchet laughed, but Knock Out could tell the older medic wasn't fooled by his happy facade. He could see the strange shame in Ratchet’s optics.

“I’ll, ah… do my best.” Ratchet said softly. They regarded one another for a moment— Knock Out with a suppressed sense of misery, and Ratchet with barely hidden remorse— before Knock Out nodded, taking his hand away from the older mech’s shoulder.

“I should get going. Don’t want to miss the shuttle.” He said, feeling almost bashful. Ratchet watched him for a moment longer, then stepped forward and pulled him into a hug. Knock Out tensed at first, but relaxed into it after a moment, wrapping his arms around the bigger mech’s sides and laying his helm on Ratchet’s wide pauldron. They stayed like that for what felt like a while, and Knock Out was glad for the comfort. When he pulled back, Ratchet smiled at him sadly.

“Take care of yourself, Knock Out.” He said seriously. Knock Out tried to smile back at him, but the expression came out too tight to be considered happy.  The speedster cleared his vents, then looked down at the minicon who had been watching them with an intense silence.

“It was nice to meet you, Undertone.” He said. Undertone nodded at him again, and this time Knock Out did smile. He looked up at Ratchet again briefly, then without another word, turned and began to make his way up the avenue.

The trip back to the shuttle station went by quickly. He paid token attention to what was going on around him, focusing on quashing the storm of emotions that was raging in his spark as he climbed the steps to the platform and wend his way through the ever-present crowd to the farthest terminal to the right inside the building. Somewhere around two dozen mechs mulled about, watching idly as a big, heavily armored transport painted all black pulled up  to the dock. The doors opened and passengers began to file off, being replaced quickly by the mechs who had been waiting. Knock Out was last to board, shuffling to the back and taking a seat up against the window.

It was a matter of time, he told himself as he watched Upper Kaon’s cityscape pass by; it was all a waiting game. As soon as Cybertron prospered again, they would revive Breakdown, and he would feel the same thing that Ratchet felt now.

It was a shame, he thought, that he was never able to fool himself so easily.

Chapter Text

The tundra planet of Proturia VI was, to put it nicely, less than accommodating to the forces that waged war there. Soft swells of land were covered in short grasses of red and pink, the ground underneath made slick by the planet’s short lived but intense rainy season. In the distance, tall and jagged rocky spires tore a wicked rift in the deep blue-green horizon. Weak and balmy sunlight filtered through boiling hot orange clouds of sodium vapor that billowed from tall, funnel-like geysers scattered here and there. Whatever warmth the sun may have provided was stolen by the a bitter, icy wind that howled through the valley, spreading frost over the plating of the soldiers there.

There was very little cover to be found naturally save for near the geysers, but their noxious spew made those spots hard to use to any great effect. The sodium vapor would cool rapidly in the the atmosphere of tetrafluoromethane, turning from its gaseous form to liquid that rained down into the plating of Autobots and Decepticons alike, eroding away paint and leaching heat, lending itself to widespread hypothermia. As it cooled, the sodium would solidify wherever it sat, impeding movement and transformation, being a nuisance in general.

To combat the lack of cover, big ditches had been hastily dug into a valley between two small hills, deep enough for the average mech to kneel in without being at risk of being shot; this setup, while better than nothing, caused the sodium to pool in the bottom. Many were the mechs with boot-like accumulations stuck to their pedes, and even more were those— both living and dead— that were trapped in place on the edges of the trench, their guns glued to their hands.

Knock Out was saved from the majority of the sodium’s nuisance under the impromptu metal awning the covered the medical station. He didn’t have to deal with his components getting gunked up by the toxic rain, though he was cemented in place where he knelt beside the low medberth. He was up to his audials in dying mechs that needed triaged, his servos and arms splattered with energon that was in various stages of drying and coagulating.

He had done his best to keep an optic on Breakdown, but his assignment had quashed that early on in the three-day campaign. Beyond the fact that the angles were simply unproductive to watching for the speedster, he was simply too busy to look up from what he was doing for very long. Despite the environmental hazards, the battle was going great guns above him; there was no shortage of people who needed fixing, and he could only hope that the Autobots were accumulating as many casualties as the Decepticons were.

He finished welding a wound closed in an unfortunate mech’s abdominals, slapping a static bandage over the closure and gesturing for the techs that leaned against the door to take the unconscious mech away and bring in the next patient. They hurried to comply, one scooping up the big mech and ducking out of the space as the other turned to collect one of the myriad soldiers that lined the trenches, waiting for their turn to receive medical attention.

With a few moments to spare, Knock Out tried to remember if he had felt the cataclysmic rumble of Menasor stomping around. This deployment had been three long days that had blurred into a nightmare, and he had trouble recalling if the rumbling he had felt nearly a day earlier had been confirmed to be the Decepticon combiner or someone belonging to the Autobots— Superion, perhaps. There was no real way to tell, either; the techs with him had seen just about as much of the action as he had. Comms were down, and the din of the battle made trying communicating over any distance pointless. Any news Knock Out got came from the techs who were helping him, or the occasional conscious patient who was laid before him.

The lack of information was frustrating, to say the least, but as both techs returned— one unencumbered and the other shuffling in with a mech slung over his shoulder— he did his best to tamp down his frustration and the anxiety that lurked beneath it.

“How’re things looking out there?” Knock Out asked as the mech dropped the newest casualty onto the slab then moved back to his position by the door.

“Word is, the Autobots are starting to withdraw. The mechs up top say they’ve officially deemed it too costly to continue pushing this front, so they’re gonna back off soon.” The second tech said, watching as Knock Out reached into the crushed end of the wounded mech’s leg to find the still-weeping energon lines inside, clamping them with practiced ease.

“Hmm. Any idea how soon?” Knock Out asked absently, leaning forward as far as the mass of sodium  would allow in order to grab the mech and heave him onto his side. He transformed a servo into a blowtorch and began to reheat the drips of orange metal that had accumulated in the mechanism that would open and close the patient’s chetplates.

“They think tonight, but it could be as late as tomorrow.”

Knock Out sighed tiredly, letting the unconscious mech before him fall onto his back once more. He worked the tip of his digit under the bottom edge of the mech’s chassis, moving it left and right until he activated the manual release. The chassis spiraled open, baring a mess of hardened sodium and coagulating energon. A moment of probing yielded the cause; a piece of shrapnel had lodged itself in the mech’s fuel pump, and while the damage was perfectly reversible, coupled with the lost arm and the lack of heat, it had sent him into emergency stasis.

Knock Out un-subspaced a portable life support system, hooking it to the terminals on the soldier’s spark chamber and setting it up beside his helm before reaching for the fuel pump. It was a simple matter of prying out the metal shard, bending a few things back into place, and laying a weld over the hole that was left over. He leaned back, wiped his helm on the back of his arm, and nodded at the techs, who scurried to keep the system moving.  

Knock Out glanced down at his legs; liquid sodium rain had pooled around his knees and toeplates, then slowly built until most of his shins were caked in the stuff, keeping him immobilized. He’d have to torch his way out when the call came to retreat.

The younger tech came back quickly with the next patient, dropping the mech onto the table with a thud. Knock Out stared into the brass faceplates before him numbly, doing his best to tamp down on the sudden wash of anxiety Dead End’s appearance had caused.

“Oh hey,” The stunticon mumbled, his usual glum manner made even more lethargic by his condition. “It’s you. You’re that guy.”

Knock Out ignored him, instead taking the time to do a quick assessment of his hurts; he was bleeding heavily from several wounds that decorated his side, back, and abdominals, glittering little droplets of sodium shining through the energon that welled from them. He was shivering, a web of frost blooming over the broadest parts of his frame.  Knock Out reached into his subspace, pulling a meter.

“Dead End, I’m going to dull your pain receptors and fix you up. You’ll feel some pressure as I work but you shouldn’t feel any pain. If you do, let me know and I’ll turn them down further.” Knock Out said, able to slip back into his professional persona now that he had something to focus on.  

“What’s the point,” Dead end sighed, mumbling pessimistically as he faded in and out of consciousness. Knock Out ignored him and got to work, cranking down the muscle car’s nociceptors and getting to work on his wounds. He torched the mechanisms of his plating until they opened, revealing the damage more clearly, and began to crimp lines and clean burns.

He tried to tell himself that even if Dead End was hurt, Breakdown was probably fine. The blue mech was fast, and resilient, and had begun to show a true aptitude for thinking on his pedes in stressful situations. If Motormaster hadn’t been on his slab yet, the chances that Dead End’s wounds were a fluke and that Breakdown was probably still out spotting for Drag Strip were pretty good.

If nothing else, Breakdown had a healthy self-preservation instinct.

He packed each wound as he fixed them, slapping static bandages over the holes and moving on with a brisk efficiency. One of them had nicked his T-Cog, and would require a reconstructive surgery to fix. When the last hole in his back was patched, he rolled Dead End onto his back again and scribbled down a medical code onto his plating with a paint marker before sitting back and calling for the next patient.

Two joors later, the comms crackled back to life. Wartime chatter filled his audials, and he felt strangely relieved for it. Commanders barked orders, soldiers called out kills and the position of enemy combatants, and seekers gave running commentary on the movements of the opposing force. The Autobots must not have had the same luck repairing their communications arrays, because the edge that the restored networks provided proved to be enough to drive them back into a retreat.

Knock Out watched wearily as mechs stood, beginning letting loose at the receding backs of the enemy, some running up over the embankment to chase down their foes. He could see wounds dotting every mech within view, but none were bad enough to merit his care. Most would return to their barracks and patch their squadmates up to prevent the medbays from being crowded with cases that could wait. He pulled his blowtorch from subspace again, getting to work on freeing himself as orders began to come down the line.

Most mechs were recalled in short order; Knock Out listened closely as each team was given a new assignment. The din had quieted to something mangable as the fighting cleared, and he was able to make out exhausted cheering as somewhere down the trench, a space bridge opened to facilitate a return to base. He freed one leg, heating the sodium around the other while he watched groups of Decepticons fall in, straining to catch sight of Breakdown.

The Stunticons— what remained of them— slid down the embankment one by one, turning away from Knock Out and shuffling down toward the space bridge. They looked no worse for wear, and though he was too far to hear what the speedster was saying, he could see Drag Strip complaining vehemently to Motormaster, his rifle slung over his shoulder. Motormaster slapped the back of his helm, and Drag Strip stumbled forward and glared at him. Knock Out  jerked his other leg free, then rose to pursue the group as they moved forward. He heard the techs behind him startle as he moved off suddenly, ignoring their surprise as he closed in on his quarry.

“Motormaster!” He called, his anxiety taking a back seat to the anger that always suffused him when he dealt with the bigger mech. Motormaster turned slowly, his dour face twisting into a sneer as Knock Out  drew closer.

“What do you want?” Motormaster growled, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Where’s Breakdown?” Knock Out  demanded, looking from Motormaster to the two mechs behind him. Drag Strip barked an ugly laugh.

“How should we know where that coward is?” He spat, looking Knock Out up and down with clear distaste. Knock Out glared back at him, then looked up at Motormaster again, the smug look on the grey mech’s face only stoking his ire.

“Don’t play dumb with me,” Knock Out  hissed venomously, stepping closer. “I know you know where he is!”

Motormaster chuckled darkly, grinning a cruel grin. “Even if I knew where that ingrate is, what makes you think I’d tell you?”

Knock Out  felt his plating begin to rise in his fury.

“I saved Dead End’s life today. I didn’t have to. I could have marked him down as too wounded to salvage and thrown him into the slag heap, but I didn’t. I stopped him from bleeding out. I’m assigned to your unit, and one day— like it or not— you’ll need me to do the same thing for you. ” He leaned up into Motormaster’s faceplates, his umbrage radiating from him like heat from a sun.   “If you don’t tell me where Breakdown is this instant I can promise you that the next time one of you gets shot in the aft, you won’t survive it.”

Motormaster glowered at him acidly, and behind him Wildrider snorted, leaning forward to look up at his leader. “Pretty cute that he thinks that will work.”

The bigger mech turned and raised his hand, a thunderous expression on his face. “Shut the frag up , you gearstick!”

Wildrider immediately stumbled backwards, subdued by Motormaster’s sudden wrath. The convoy turned back to Knock Out , his face still scrunched into an ugly scowl. He stared down at the seeker intensely for a long beat before lifting his arm and pointing in the vague direction of where the fighting had started.

“Last time I saw that good-for-nothing, he was hiding by one of the geysers. I called him to form Menasor but the coward wouldn’t come out.” He shifted forward, looming dangerously over Knock Out . “If you find him out there, direct him my way. Seems like he’s still got a few lessons to learn about obedience.”

Without waiting for a reply, Motormaster turned back around and shoved his underlings forward toward the swirling vortex of the space bridge, leaving Knock Out to his own devices. The seeker watched them go, his anxiety rapidly clawing its way back to the forefront of his mind the longer the convoy’s words settled in his processor.

“Doc?” someone asked from behind him, and he spun to find both of the techs standing together, regarding him with expressions that were equal parts concerned and wary.

He hadn’t realized they’d followed him.

“Everything alright?” The older tech asked carefully. Knock Out  glanced from him to the edge of the trench, then shook his head, turning and bracing his hands on the the muddy ground.

“No, no it’s not, and as much as I appreciate your concern I really can’t talk right now.” He said, using his thrusters to help him climb out of the channel. By the time he had scrambled to his pedes and started off in the direction Motormaster had pointed, both techs had already heaved themselves over the eave and were clambering to follow.

The battlefield was, predictably, a mess of bodies. The geysers continued to belch their titian exhaust into the sky, their sunset-colored clouds drifting here and there, heedlessly raining their corrosive contents over those who still lingered. Knock Out  felt the droplets as they hit his plating and trickled down the curves of his armor, solidifying before they could drip away, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

For as much of a problem as the sodium presented, there were only a few geysers dotting the landscape. There was, of course, no guarantee that Breakdown was still near one of them, but it was a better hint than nothing. He made his way forward over the sodium accretions slowly, their strange shape and the sheer number of bodies scattered about making foot travel a challenge.

“Who are we looking for?” The younger tech asked, watching Knock Out  cast about as they moved forward. Knock Out paused, looking back at him with a harried expression, before continuing forward.

“His name is Breakdown of Vestus III.” Knock Out said grimly as he began to circle the first geyser. “He’s dark blue, almost black, with touches of silver and a copper faceplate. He’s an ultra lightweight racing frame.”

The techs nodded, splitting up to help Knock Out  search the area. Some of the mechs seemed to have been there from the first day, their finishes eaten away by the rain, their extremities encased in rounded stalagmites of sodium and sunken into the mud. Thankfully, it wasn’t that hard to determine if a mech was Breakdown; the majority of the front-line soldiers scattered about were much larger and heavier than Breakdown, or possessed drastically different kibble. Like nearly all racers, and unlike many of those in the lower castes, Breakdown’s configuration— even after the frame modifications made for the Combiner Program— was blessedly unique.

Nearer to the ‘Autobot’ side of the valley, they happened upon a set of massive pedeprints, sunken deeply into the mud. It was a clear sign of a combiner, though Knock Out  was not versed well enough in the Autobot’s combiner arsenal to tell who they belonged to. The tracks led from the one cover-worthy hill on the far side of the valley— what had ostensibly been the impromptu autobot camp— to the area between three geysers, then back. They were sunken deep into the mud, with crushed growths of sodium and crumpled bodies scattered through them.

Knock Out  broke toward the geyser the combiner had stepped around, a horrible sinking feeling overtaking him.

On the far side of the geyser from where he’d been standing, the chimney itself was cracked, its purplish stone collapsing into its own mouth. A mech’s body was smashed against it, his paint washed out by lack of energon and stripped away by the hazardous environment he was left in. Energon pooled under him in small hollows in the sodium accretions, the puddles rippling each time Knock Out  or one of the techs moved.

There was very little recognizable on the mech. Everything from the middle of his chest down had been mashed, identifiable kibble crushed flat and laying scattered around him, sticking up out of the same mass of sodium that kept him glued in place. The only means left to identify whether or not the mystery mech was breakdown would be to look at his faceplates, which were angled down at the ground. Breakdown’s distinct copper coloration came from the metal his face was made of, not from paint or from nanites that would dull with energon loss or exposure to corrosives.

Knock Out  dropped to his knees, gathering the mech’s helm in his hands and lifting gingerly. At the first sight of copper, he nearly recoiled, horror filling him as he scrambled to collect the tools he would need to save his friends life. The techs watched him fumble with his equipment, looking distinctly uncomfortable where they lingered above him.

“Doc… Is he even still alive?” The younger mech asked with the same infuriating tone most people used to deliver bad news.

“He won’t be if we don’t hurry. I don’t care if you don’t want to help, just stay out of my way.” He said without looking back at them, his tone made cold with his determination.

They exchanged a glance behind his back, then moved to the side of Breakdown’s body opposite of the seeker, pulling blowtorches from their subspaces and getting to work freeing Breakdown from his salty prison. As they did, Knock Out ’s servos flew to stabilize his flickering spark. He cut through the thin armor of the Stunticon’s chest, unwilling to waste the time involved in trying to clear the mechanisms of obstructions, and affixed the leads of a portable life support system to the terminals on the outside of the racer’s spark chamber.

He magnetized it to Breakdown’s shoulder, watching on his HUD as the smaller mech’s spark integrity began the slow climb back to something stable and steady. As it did, he busied himself with tamping what ruptured lines he could find in the mess of crushed plating.

“Are you done, Knock Out ?” The older tech asked, lifting Breakdown’s legs up gingerly now that the they’d freed his lower half. Knock Out  looked up, then nodded, sitting back on his haunches. The tech nodded, looking over at his younger companion. “Alright. I turn into a high-suspension cargo transport. It’s not perfect from a medical standpoint but it’s better than nothing. Tephra, when you’re done freeing his back, help the doctor load him up into my bed and we’ll get him back to HQ.”

Knock Out  nodded numbly, stowing his medkit and retrieving his blowtorch to help melt the last few handspans of sodium that kept Breakdown anchored to the geyser. Beside them, the older tech stood and then dropped into his altmode, turning in a tight circle and dropping the hatch of his bed. By the time he was finished, Knock Out  was easing Breakdown’s limp upper half into his arms, the younger mech— Tephra— taking his legs with great care. Knock Out climbed up into the bed first, sitting down carefully and laying the Stunticon’s helm in his lap as Tephra climbed up after him, arranging Breakdown’s legs to be as close to what one might consider comfortable as possible. The younger tech slapped his older partner’s side twice, signaling him to begin moving forward.

Knock Out brushed his thumbs over Breakdown’s face, swiping away the frost that had accumulated around his optical shutters tenderly before looking up, regarding the younger mech with emotion.

“I owe you,” He said softly, glanding over his shoulder. “Both of you.”

The older tech made a nonchalant noise from inside his cab. “You don’t owe us anything, Doc. I know how much one person can mean. Just make sure this guy lives, and we’ll call it even.”

Knock Out looked from the back of the tech’s cab to Tephra, who was smiling at the seeker warmly, then looked down into Breakdown’s lax faceplates again, struggling to compose himself.

“I will,” He said eventually, as the roiling energy field of the bridge began to draw near. “I promise.”

Whether he was talking to the techs, Breakdown, or himself, he couldn’t be sure.

Chapter Text

It didn’t surprise Knock Out that the council had decided to use Megatron’s Pyramid as their penitentiary. Early in the war the Decepticons had used it for the same thing, repurposing the vast interior of what had once been a training facility into a prison for their enemies. Knock Out had never seen it during that time, most of Megatron’s soldiers having already been moved to other stations to further the war. Not much had been done to the outside of the structure, but rather the majority of the changes seemed to have been made to Lower Kaon itself.

Where once there was a tangle of rusty, rickety catwalks that criss-crossed through the cavernous space, there was now a uniform grid system of shining metal overpasses. The great smelters had cooled in the millenia following the death of the planet’s core, and once the planet had been restored they had simply never reignited. While the smelters going cold had rid the city of it’s once-constant effluvial smog, it had also done away with Lower Kaon’s primary light source. Instead, industrial work lights hung from tall poles bracketed to the side of the new walkways.

The rim cities were done away with, the occasional pile of garbage the only testament to those who once lived there in squalor. Gun emplacements and pillboxes ringed all four of the colossal smelters that came together to support the pyramid’s base, and upon closer inspection Knock Out noticed that what should have been cold, solid metal down in the basins had been cut into rough-looking cell blocks, capped by a thick layer of transparisteel that allowed the guards to keep sight of the inmates at all times.  Knock Out could see that most of the cells in the north-eastern block were full, and some in the north-western as well. The Decepticons mulled around in their rather spacious cells with their arms still bound, most likely waiting for their intake exams and a nullification of their abilities before they would be released from the stasis cuffs.

He smiled wryly to himself as he followed the enforcers to the heavily-guarded mouth of the pyramid. Despite the high council’s attempts at gentrifying Lower Kaon, it was still a city of misery.

Inside the pyramid had changed greatly. Instead of the moody purple lightbars that had once hung on the walls and ceiling to light up the massive training rooms, big white light panels had been mounted, casting their clinical glow over the main lobby. Signs hung overhead, directing foot traffic to the appropriate desks for check in. Mechs and femmes mulled about, their murmured conversation adding a feeling of normalcy to an otherwise disconcerting scene. Knock Out followed the guards to desk that was labeled for employee check in, waiting at the end of the line as the clerical workers checked the credentials of each mech before passing them through.

When he finally reached the desk, the femme sitting there glanced up from her console and smiled a tight smile at him through the transparisteel barrier.

“Sorry, sir, but the visitor check in is over there.” She said, pointing to the opposite side of the room where a mech sat looking bored behind a desk that looked identical to the employee check in desk. Knock Out frowned.

“I’m not here to visit anyone.” He explained, reaching into his subspace to retrieve his badge, ID, and the datapad with his work orders from the High Council. He slid them into the exchange drawer and closed it. “I’m the new Commander of Medical Science. The high council sent me here to do prisoner intake evaluations until a permanent onsite medic can be found.”

She didn’t respond, already hard at work scanning his badge and ID into her console with one servo while scrolling through the work order with the other, her optics slightly dimmed in a tell-tale sign of an internal comm. After a few moments of silent work, she smiled up at him again, this time much more genuine, and slid his documentation back to him.

“Step through and we can get you your in-house identification.” She said as he collected his things, turning to step out into the hall on the far side of the turnstile in the doorway. He stepped through, following her down the hall and into a big office that was split into cubicles, all of which were occupied by workers. She motioned for him to wait by the door, then disappeared down the aisle second from the right.

Knock Out felt unsettled as he looked around. He wondered how many of the workers here— if any— had been Decepticons, and if the strange half-transformation the inside of the pyramid had gone through sat wrong with any of them.

Maybe he was just making a bigger deal out of it than he should have been.

Before he could investigate his feelings any further, he spotted the femme making her way back toward him, a sleek black device cradled in her palm. She greeted him with a smile again, ushering him out into the hall where it was much quieter.

“Give me your wrist,” she requested. He obliged her, presenting the inside of his arm to her and watching as she placed the black device over his wrist, pressing a button on the end of it. Tiny pegs that were tipped with silicone screwed out of it and into the transformational seam around his wrist, an altogether uncomfortable feeling.

“There we go. This is your access bracelet,” She said, tapping the device once it had settled in place. “It’s removable, but try not to take it off unless you have to. It will grant you access to nearly every door in the facility, minus the Warden’s Office.”

Knock Out stared at his wrist, then nodded, dropping his arm and following after her as she began to head down the hallway.

“The warden told us to expect them to send someone. He’s waiting for you in his office. I’ll take you there, but then I have to get back to my desk.” She explained. He nodded again, following her through the winding hallways and up a flight of stairs. She paused just outside a big door, palming it open and gesturing him in.

Chairs lined one wall, tiny end tables covered with entertainment datapads bracketing them. There was another door across from the one that lead out into the hall, and beside it another reception desk sat, decorated tastefully. A minicon sat behind it, typing away at a keyboard. A vidscreen was mounted on the wall between the chairs and the reception desk, its contents muted.

Knock Out stepped in slowly and glanced around, the door sliding shut behind him with a quiet click. He stepped up to the reception desk, and after a moment the minicon looked up and smiled at him, looking vaguely surprised to see him as if they’d not been aware someone was here.

“You must be the new doctor,” they said in their deep, warm voice. “I’ll let the warden know you’re here.”

Before Knockout could react, they were already out of their chair and disappearing down the short hall that ostensibly led to the warden’s office. He stared after them for a moment before turning and perching himself awkwardly on one of the chairs, continuing to look around. They were somewhere within what used to be the War Room, if he had to guess. Most of the distinguishing features were covered or removed, but the outer walls, the ceiling, and the floor were still the roughly-hewn black metal that made up the majority of the pyramid’s structure.

Idly, Knock Out wondered if the warden was aware he ruled from the same place that Megatron had ruled from all those millenia ago.

The minicon returned in short order, sliding back into their seat behind the desk as heavy pedesteps announced the arrival of the warden. Knock Out stood as the door opened and Ultra Magnus stepped through.  He was a big mech, with broad shoulders and a trim waist, wide hips and long legs. He was missing a servo, one of his strong arms ending in a prosthetic that Knock Out had helped Ratchet build after Magnus had lost it to Predaking.

His face was serious to the point of being dour, and was framed by a tall crest and finials. He was painted in shades of deep blue and red, with chromed silver accents and hints of gold scattered over his tall pauldrons, telling of his occupation and rank. He was a little less than twice Knockout’s height, which left his minicon assistant somewhere around the middle of his shin. He was undeniably attractive, though Knock Out wasn’t totally sure that he was aware of it.

He crossed the space towards Knock Out in two strides, his long legs eating up the distance between them like a starved scraplet in a junkyard, and offered his servo to the medic. Knockout took it, his own hand dwarfed by Magnus’, and they shook.

“Doctor, it’s good to see you again.” Magnus said seriously. Knock Out briefly wondered if he was ever anything but serious, but quickly discarded the thought and smiled up at the larger mech.

“It’s good to see you too,” He said honestly. While he was more than aware that Magnus knew he had been a Decepticon from the beginning, he had never once treated Knock Out disrespectfully or questioned his motives. “How’s the hand?”

Magnus smiled something reserved, bringing his prosthesis up to flex it this way and that. “It’s held up remarkably well. As time goes on, it feels more natural to use. Thank you again for your help.”

“You don’t have to thank me.” Knock Out demurred as the bigger mech reached into his subspace for a datapad. “I’m just glad it’s working for you. If you ever need an adjustment made, feel free to call me.”

Magnus nodded, then gestured to the door. “Shall we?”

“Lead the way.” Knock Out said, mimicking Magnus’s gesture. The taller mech moved off toward the door, palming it open and stepping aside to let Knockout through before stepping through himself. He turned down the hall, heading the opposite direction of the way the femme from the front desk had brought Knock Out from, and lead Knock Out to a bank of big elevators. Magnus called one, then began to tap at his datapad while they waited for the lift to arrive.

“I’m sorry to have called for you on such short notice,” The big mech began, glancing over at Knock Out as he finished typing whatever he was working on and stowed his datapad once again, “Normally I would have preferred to give you more warning and time to prepare, but I had no idea we’d be receiving such a large group of inmates myself.”

“It’s no problem,” Knock Out assured. “The High Council had me overseeing a construction site in Slaughter City, but at this point it was a lot of idling while they finish the construction itself. To be honest, I’m glad to have the distraction.”

The elevator arrived with a soft chime, and they both stepped inside.  Magnus pressed the button for the floor directly below them, which had once been a collection of large training rooms but now was home to the offices and cubicles of the many mechs and femmes who worked hard to keep the prison running smoothly.

“I’m going to give you a brief tour of the facility before I take you to the Medbay. Technically speaking, you’re currently Acting CMO, which puts you just under me in terms of jurisdiction here. I feel it’s prudent that you have an idea of where you need to go and who you need to speak to properly fulfill your duties.” Magnus explained as the elevator stopped, the doors opened, and they stepped out into the hall together. “I’m also going to arrange for you to have two guards on duty at all times while you work. Not because I think you’re incapable of protecting yourself, but some of the mechs and femmes we’ve recently acquired are very dangerous and have proven capable of taking down their guards and each other if not sufficiently monitored.”

Predictably, Magnus’s idea of a brief tour was a several joor long breakdown of the purposes of every department he deemed important— which was another way of saying every department. He was shown the prisoner intake area and the visitor center on the first floor, which were the only two areas there he hadn’t seen. They visited the financial division, which manage the economy of the prison from staff payroll to requisitions. After that was the legal interface department, which was comprised of three floors and was primarily staffed by lawyers, case workers, and other judicial reps.

Below that was another three-floor block where the Kaon Police Department was headquartered, though most preferred to work from their substations in Upper Kaon. Below that was a floor dedicated to conference rooms, and then two floors of staff barracks. Below that were the employee lounges and break rooms, plus a cafeteria and the kitchens that fed prisoner and staff alike. There were two floors of in-house archives and a library of recovered judicial texts. Under that was dedicated to visitor rooms and their accoutrements, including temporary holding cells for those who were scheduled to have a visitor that orn.

The third lowest floor included prisoner facilities; communal washracks, a rather sizable library, a few small classrooms, a gym for exercise in lieu of any true ‘yard’, and two small temples— one for those who followed the Pantheon of the Primes, and one for those who followed the Guiding Hand.  Below that, on the floor that was level with the four cell blocks was an entire floor comprised half by cells for administrative segregation and half by a large armory and equipment maintenance room.

Below all of that was the Medbay and the cells for extended medical stays.

The medbay was very large, very clean, and very new. There were still plastic covers on most of the berths and seals on most of the equipment. The cupboards were packed with neatly arranged medical supplies, all pre-packaged and ready to use. To one side of the entryway there was a small washrack that could fit three mechs of Ultra Magnus’ class inside, marked for post-operation clean ups. The back wall had four doors that lead to operating theaters, and on the right hand wall was a doorway that lead to a hall from which six small private rooms branched. At the end of the same hall was a spacious office with four big desks, each bearing a brand new holo-console, and tall bookshelves ready to house anything from reference texts to patient history datapads.

It was, quite literally, the nicest medical facility that Knock Out had ever been assigned to.

“I trust everything is up to your specifications?” Magnus asked from behind him, the corners of his mouth tilted up in a look that almost— almost— could have been considered playful, had it been anyone but Ultra Magnus. Knock Out hesitated, struggling to rip his optics away from the nigh palatial office space. It didn’t have his name on it yet , but that could change very easily.

“What?” He asked after a moment, realizing he’d not really paid attention to what Magnus had said. The look on Magnus’ faceplates faded in his uncertainty.

“... I asked if everything here was up to your specifications.” He reiterated slowly. Knock Out almost laughed, but contained the urge knowing it would only make the situation more awkward than it already was, and nodded emphatically instead.

“Are you kidding? It’s perfect.” He said, beaming up at the warden genuinely. He had assumed he would be relegated to some tiny closet, and asked to work with provisional equipment. Needless to say, it was beyond his expectations. “I can’t honestly recall working somewhere this nice before.”

Magnus’s expression eased, seemingly satisfied by the shorter mech’s answer, though it didn’t return to the half-smile he’d worn when Knock Out had first turned to him.

“I’m glad. If you find yourself lacking anything, you can call my assistant Cordata and they’ll help you put in a request with requisitions. For right now, I’ve called some guards to come introduce themselves to you. They should be here soon.” He explained as they walked back out into the medbay proper. As if on cue, two enforcers stepped into the room together.

One was a vehicon, his Deceptibrands sanded down and his color-scheme changed. He was primarily silver and deep blue now, with Autobot shields on his chest and winglets. His visor had been removed and replaced with a heavy-duty blast mask and a blue optical band. A pistol was magnetized to his waist, and a long shock prod was magnetized to his back between his winglets, within easy reach should he need to subdue an unruly inmate. A big gnarly weld ran across his midsection and around his left arm by the elbow, making him look like he’d been cut in half.

The other was an obvious newly forged, only about two thirds of Knock Out’s height and lean like many newly forged seemed to be, though she held herself in a way that spoke of her ability to fight. She was white and blue with accents of slate gray, and piercing green optics that tracked Knock Out’s every movement. She had the same equipment as the ex-vehicon hanging from her hip flares. Both of them wore the gold glyphs on their shoulder that told of their rank and occupation, much like Ultra Magnus, who stepped forward to introduce them.

“This is Anthracite of Kaon,” He began, gesturing to the femme. They shook hands, and Knock Out turned to offer his servo to the vehicon, then paused. “And this is—”

“17515,” Knock Out said with surprise. The ex-vehicon brightened, clearly glad to be remembered as he shook his once-superior’s hand.

“Commander Knock Out, it’s good to see you!” He signed excitedly.

“You too!” He said genuinely. “You look great! How’s the weld?”

“I feel great. I got to go to the police academy, I have a great job, I’m in a pre-bond and I even got to change my name.” the shorter mech signed quickly As Ultra Magnus excused himself quietly. “It feels great. My physician says we can probably grind it down in a few lunar cycles as long as I keep up with my supplements.”

“Good for you!” Knock Out said seriously, gently socking the shorter mech on the shoulder. “What’d you change your name to?”

“Centigrade.” He signed, spelling out each glyph carefully for the other since there was no true gesture for the human word.  Knock Out smiled again.

“Fitting.” He said, smiling fondly at Centigrade. The ex-vehicon’s plates fluffed up in a display of happiness, but then he nodded seriously.

“How do you want to get started, Sir? I’ve never helped with anything like this before.” Centigrade signed.

“I suppose we should start in order of need first, then when I’ve taken care of everyone with outstanding medical issues we can go by intake number.” Knockout said after a moment of thought, turning toward the cupboards to gather what he would need as Anthracite and Centigrade left to collect the first patient.

They returned in short order, the first of many inmates bracketed between them. There was, thankfully, very little need to be had; the first mech showed signs of having already received Ratchet’s expert care in the form of precise welds and static bandages scattered over his frame. The same could be said about the other handful of mechs that were given medical priority, and beyond one split there wasn’t much hard work to be done.

After that, things began to smear into a blur of repetitive motion. Inmates would enter disgruntled and wary, but would submit to the myriad scans and tests that Knock Out required with little more than indignant grumbling. Their systems were scoured for errors and their range of motion and protoform integrity was measured, then Knock Out would fit them with an inhibitor that would prevent them from activating their internal weapons systems and they would be sent on their way.

Joors were passed in the company of miffed and reluctantly compliant Decepticons, and Knockout couldn’t even bring himself to mind the tedium or the odd comment about his allegiances by those who knew of him. Once he found his groove not much could affect him, and for the first time in a while he felt relaxed. He knew medicine; he knew attending to rowdy, belligerent, oddball mechs and femmes. He had spent so much of his life doing that exact thing, and returning to it felt strangely like coming home.

It was nearly time for him to get off shift when that peace was finally shattered. He busied himself with bussing the area while Centigrade and Anthracite returned his last patient to her cell, humming to himself quietly as he gathered up trash and used instruments to toss into their appropriate bins for recycling. When the area was spotless once more, he picked up his datapad and considered the list of prisoners he’d been given access to. They were listed by manifest number rather than name or place of origin, though Knock Out had access both to those and a summary of their medical history if he went to a prisoner’s individual file.

When he was done with a patient, he would swipe their name to one side or the other, left meaning medically sound and right meaning requires further care. At the top of the page that listed those he’d yet to see, there was progress bar. He was just under one-sixth of the way through the workload, which he thought was impressive progress considering he’d started so late in the day.

He turned and set the datapad down on the counter just as Anthracite walked back in ahead of his next patient, humming with disinterest at whatever the chatty mech was saying to her. He turned, then stopped short blinking as if to clear the image from his mind.

The prisoner stood guilelessly between the two guards, his fingers twisting together nervously as he looked between them. He was just a little shorter than Centigrade, painted almost entirely in a dark, dusty blue with accents of muted silver and brick red. He had big gold optics that were lined with thick black lines that helped pronounce them against the copper of his faceplate. He was a racer model, his wheel kibble tucked into his tall pauldrons and shins, tasteful gold biolights scattered over his frame. A Deceptibrand sat toward the bottom of his angular chestplate, its bright colors clashing with the subdued hues of his paint scheme horribly.

He was the spitting image of Breakdown before his reframe.

Knockout felt his spark squeeze, briefly catching a sympathetic look from Centigrade as he watched the inmate look around himself, whistling appreciatively.

“Nice place, doc! Sure is clean.” He said, looking up at the red mech innocently. His face fell immediately. “Hey, are you okay? You don’t look so hot.”

“I’m fine, thank you. I’ve just had a long day.” Knock Out lied, offering him a tight smile, grateful that he didn’t sound like Breakdown. He turned and walked to a medberth, patting it gently. “Go ahead and climb up here and we can get started.”

The inmate looked dubious, glancing at Anthracite to Centigrade and then back as if expecting to be punished if he moved. Anthracite patted him reassuringly, reaching up to take hold of his stasis cuffs.

“If I take these off you’ll behave for the doctor, right?” She asked. Her voice was rough but not mean. Knock Out had the distinct impression she didn’t mean to be so menacing. The taller mech nodded emphatically, lowering his hands from where he’d been holding them up by his chest so she could key them open. When she had hooked them on her hip once more, she patted him again, watching him rub his wrists. “Go on and do whatever Doctor Knock Out asks you to do, then we’ll take you back to your friends.”

He nodded again, offering the two guards a tiny smile that was so startlingly familiar that Knock Out had to turn and pretend to be busy doing something to keep himself from making a scene. After a moment, the inmate circled around Knock Out and perched himself on the edge of the berth, folding one leg up under himself and pooling his servos in his lap.  Knock Out smiled at him again, then turned towards Centigrade, who reset his vocalizer noisily to grab the medic’s attention before signing at him hurriedly.

“Will you be okay?” the vehicon asked seriously. Knockout offered him a wry expression and nodded, and after disguising a moment taken to collect himself as some innocuous fiddling with something on the counter, he plastered his most charming smile on his face and turned back to the mech on the medberth.

“So, what’s your name?” Knock Out asked, stepping closer to key in the scans he needed to the screen that hung next to the berth.

“Wildbreak!” The mech said, brightening at the attention. He watched Knock Out curiously as the medic stepped back over to the counter and  began collecting tools.“Is this gonna hurt? Every time I been to see someone to get fixed up I ended up sorer than how I started.”

Knock Out turned back to him, vaguely concerned. “What kind of doctors have you been going to?”

“I don’t think they were doctors, really.” Wildbreak said, scratching at his helm idly. “Just some guys the boss knew who knew how to fix stuff real good, I think.”

Knock Out didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so he decided to do neither and instead flashed another reassuring smile at the younger mech as he stepped in front of Wildbreak, his hands on his hips.

“Nothing I do should hurt, no. I’m going to plug into an access port to check for coding errors and check your reflexes. Unless something shows up on my scans that needs fixed, you’ll be headed back to your cell in no time.” He explained, offering the other his servo. Wildbreak offered his wrist with no hesitation, the panel that covered his access port sliding back noiselessly. Knock Out plugged in after a quiet explanation of what to expect, sequencing the internal systems scans he had to run. As he did, he reached over and tugged the implement tray closer.

He worked through a basic check up as the scan results compiled, checking Wildbreak’s optical latency, range of motion, protoform integrity, and ambulant reflexes, then slipped the systems inhibitor into place within his spark chamber. The few coding errors that cropped up on the scans were easily fixable, little directives that had backed up during a time when his frame was unable to comply that he had simply never gotten to unqueue. As Knock Out soothed each tangle out of his systems, the mech would make little noises of surprise, as if he hadn’t realized the discomfort he felt could be fixed. After a breem, Knockout pulled his cable free and smiled up at Wildbreak, patting him on the arm.

“You’re good to go, Br— uh, Wildbreak.” He said. Wildbreak hopped down and stretched, apparently unphased by how Knock Out had stumbled over his name.

“Thanks, doc!” the shorter mech said, grinning up at the medic, “I feel like a million shanix!”

Knockout offered him a fond smile that looked a little tired around the edges, and pat him on the shoulder.

“I’m glad.” He said seriously. Wildbreak looked at him a moment, something like concern flirting over his face plates before he nodded and turned, walking back towards Anthracite. Knock Out watched him go, doing his best to not let the melancholy he felt show just yet. Centigrade signed something to Anthracite and she nodded, gently settling the cuffs back over Wildbreak’s wrists and guiding him out into the hall to wait. The soft sounds of their conversation waded back into the room as Centigrade turned back to Knockout, his worry for the medic writ large in the way he held himself.

“Are you okay?” The vehicon signed, stepping closer. Knock Out shrugged, an echo of the desolation he felt crossing his features.

“I will be. He just...” Knock Out trailed off, running his palms up and down his arms as if to scrub off his grief.

“He looked a lot like Breakdown.” Centigrade finished for him. Knock Out nodded, smiling tightly at the other.

“I’ll be fine.” He reiterated more confidently, nodding as if that would make it sound more plausible. Centigrade looked at him for a long moment then nodded also, turning and making his way out the door to help Anthracite take Wildbreak back to his cell.

Knock Out leaned against the counter, scrubbing his face with his hands. He would be fine; chances were, he would never see Wildbreak again. The mech had been in reasonably good condition when he’d entered the medbay, and barring any sort of serious fight within the prison, Knock Out would be done with intake and back in Slaughter City before the younger mech had a reason to need a doctor again. In all likelihood, another medic would be assigned here by then.

It would all be fine, he insisted internally, he would be fine.

The other’s uncanny similarity in manner and form was a fluke, plain and simple. You could only produce so many mechs and femmes before you had to start reusing designs, and it wasn’t like the color scheme was rare. Knock Out had already assisted two other mechs and a femme with the same colors earlier that day, albeit in different arrangements.

He straightened, glancing around the space and hurrying to put things to rights before the next patient entered, buoying himself with the thought that he would probably never see his Conjunx’s look-alike again.

Of course, life had a way of shattering his hopes that was nothing short of ironic.

The next mech who was escorted in was much larger and much less amiable than Wildbreak had been. He was about the same height as Knock Out, but with much more mass. He was painted a mid-gray color that glinted in the warm lights of the medbay, with tiny accents of red, purple, and black dotting his frame here and there. Behind him were a set of door wings with red transparisteel windows that peeked over his massive pauldrons just enough to be seen. He was hunched forward, glowering dangerously at Knock Out with purple optics, his fists clenched and his dentae grit.

If looks could kill, Knock Out would have been dead.

Anthracite seemed completely disinterested in giving him the same cuffs-off privileges that she’d given Wildbreak, instead guiding him forward with her own stony expression. It was a little funny to watch him follow her instructions so begrudgingly; He had no doubt that the femme could hold her own in a fight, but this inmate was easily twice her height and four times her mass, with fists the size of her helm and the tell-tale signs of deactivated weapons systems scattered across his frame.

Knock Out went through much the same process with him that he’d gone through with Wildbreak, though with much less cordiality. The mech refused to speak to Knock Out, scowling at him through the first half of his exam and then scowling at the guards for the rest of it. Knock Out was more than familiar with the brand of belligerence that this mech— whom, he learned from Anthracite, was named Heatseeker— brought to the table.

He scanned him externally for wounds, scanned him internally for errors, checked his reflexes and general condition, installed the inhibitor, and sent the mech on his way with little more to show for it than some new data and the strange feeling of recognizing the younger mech from somewhere. The feeling stuck with him the whole time he waited for the next patient, promptly morphing into a feeling of sickening foreboding as the next mech was brought in.

He could have been Heatseeker’s twin. Their kibble was nearly identical— wheels in the shoulders and shins, doors wings on his back, a big chest with the transparisteel windscreen sporting his Deceptibrand tucked into the top of it. He even had the same blocky helm design as Heatseeker, but where Heatseeker’s face had been a soft grey, this mech’s was a deep red, offset by his gold optics. He was painted in the same color as the previous mech, too, though his accents were a more saturated version of the shade of blue that Wildbreak wore, with gold and red scattered over him.

The similarities stopped at physicality. Heatseeker had been uncooperative and brutish, only complying with Knock Out’s requests after seemingly reminding himself that he was outnumbered and outgunned, surrounded by mechs that would drop him without hesitation and veritably buried alive under eighteen floors of guards of a similar disposition.   This mech was noticeably less impulsive, not bothering to glower at Knock Out or the guards. His optics roamed around the room, taking in his surroundings in the way any tactically inclined mech did, his calculations written plainly across his features. He was by no means glad to be where he was, but he was smart enough to know that nothing good would come from untimely aggression.

The situation was sickeningly familiar.

Knock Out offered him a thin smile, something he hadn’t bothered to try for with Heatseeker. This mech did not return it like Wildbreak had— which was just fine with Knock Out, because he couldn’t find it in himself to suffer through another assessment faking enthusiasm he didn’t feel— but he was apparently calm enough in general that Centigrade had no problem disabling his cuffs before Knock Out prompted him to come over to the medberth. His gait was slow and even, and he was all poise and self control as he hoisted himself onto the surface.

Knock Out keyed the scans into the built-in diagnostic scanners, then settled his hands on his hips as he stepped in front of the mech much like he had with Wildbreak but without the smile.

“I’m going to plug into a medical access port to check your code for errors.” He stated quietly, offering his hand for the bigger mech. He didn’t bother glancing up into the mech’s red faceplates to ascertain his thoughts on having a stranger rooting around in his subsystems, simply plugging himself in when the inmate’s access panel slid aside and getting to work.  

After a moment of silence he asked, “What’s your name?”

The mech seemed to hesitate, but after giving it considerable thought— Knock Out watched the various process trees bloom within the inmate’s processor— seemed to decide it was an inane detail that wouldn’t hinder what would doubtlessly become an escape plan.

“Slashmark.” He said in a quiet, cultured voice. Knock Out nodded, reaching over and collecting the tools he would need to test the grey mech.

There was very little wrong with him; there were no errors in his processors, no delay in his optics or ambulant reflexes, standard limit to his range of motion, and very little wasting to his protoform. The only other thing that flagged on any scan was a sizable dent on the back of his helm, something clearly recent and already being handled by his self repair.

“Does this hurt?” Knock Out asked, gently running his fingers over the indentation.

“Does what hurt?” Slashmark asked after another pause. Knock Out hummed.

“You’ve got a dent.” He said, crossing toward the counter to retrieve the dent-popper from where he’d set it aside a half-dozen patients ago. In his periphery, he watched Slashmark bring his own big hand up to feel around for the supposed dent, startling when his digits dipped into the crater-like shape.

“To be totally honest, I hadn’t the slightest idea I was damaged.” He chuckled, letting his hand fall back into his lap. “That does explain the strange pressure I’ve felt, though.”

Knock Out hummed again, unable to find the same humor in the situation that Slashmark did. It was a trivial matter to undo most of the damage and relieve the discomfort the other felt, the whole ordeal taking less than a klik. What little damage remained, Knock Out deemed simple enough to be handled by Slashmark’s self repair. He set the dent-popper down on the instrument tray when he was done, and installed the inhibitor with little more from the bigger mech than a sincerely put-upon sigh as he opened his chest plates.  When he was done, he set the long, curved forceps he had used to install it on the tray then stepped back, his face apathetic almost to the point of being cold.

“You’re good to go.” He said softly, giving the other mech room to stand.

Much like Wildbreak, Slashmark stood and stretched, offering the medic a smile that was two parts sly self-confidence and one part genuine gratitude.

“Thank you, Doctor.” he said as he stepped down, crossing his chestplate with one hand before turning and crossing the distance back to Centigrade, his wrists already out to be cuffed. Knock Out watched him go, bracketed by the guards. He stared after them for a long moment before turning and sighing, doing his best to beat back his trepidation with an internal chant that this— all of this disconcerting familiarity— was happenstance , and that it meant nothing.

He laughed bitterly as he threw discarded packaging and dirty tools into the appropriate bins, wondering how often and how emphatically he would have to lie to himself before he got better at it.

The sound of shouting— of screaming— betrayed the approach of his next patient. The vitriol the incoming mech was spitting was both abundant and loud enough to echo all the way down the hall and into the medbay. Knock Out was strangely glad for it, hoping that the mech’s venomous words would be enough to keep his mind away from any thoughts about an old combiner team and the blue and silver mech he missed so much.

But of course, a reprieve from the sudden stress was too much to hope for.

The fourth mech arrived struggling furiously. He was all sleek lines and aerodynamic angles, painted a nearly- solid luminous gold color from his shoulders down with tasteful touches of royal purple on his arms and legs. At first glance, Knock Out could have mistaken him for a seeker; his black transparisteel windscreen was tucked behind the kibble of his chest plates, shaped obscenely close to a cockpit, with his Deceptibrand smack dab in the center of it just like the other three. His tires were tucked safely away into his shoulders and shins rather than on his back, but two thin sensory wings still flowed along the length of his back, twitching with his indignation.

His helm was purple and boxy, evoking thought of early seeker helm designs. His face was a sharp teal color and twisted in wrathful indignation, his sharp teeth bared and his ruby optics filled with malice as he did his level best to decapitate Knock Out with only a look. Knock Out could do little more than look back at him sadly as the mech struggled to rip himself free of the guard’s hands.

He knew who this mech was— who this mech was supposed to replace— and he felt his spark stutter at the sight.

“What do you want from me?!” The inmate demanded, still trying to free himself from the stasis cuffs that held his arms behind him, clearly unable to see futility of it. Beside him, Anthracite reached the end of her rope, reaching behind her for her shock prod.  The mech looked at her with great disdain as the tool crackled with wicked energy, falling still only under threat.

“Listen to me,” She said growled, leaning into his face with an expression of great malice on her own. “You’re going to do what the doctor asks you to do or I am going to thrash you so hard there won’t be enough pieces left over to throw into Ad-Seg.”

He barked a laugh. “As if some soft-sparked minibot would have the bearings to do something like that!”

She cranked the output on the prod, bringing it close enough for the sparks to lick across the plating just below his optic.

“That’s enough, thank you.” Knock Out said, stepping forward and gently tilting the shock prod away from the young mech’s face, his own expression one of disquiet. He glanced between the inmate and Anthracite seriously, smiling a tight smile at them both. “Not that I don’t appreciate the effort to make my life easier, but if anyone is going to be electrocuted in my medbay, I’ll be the one holding the prod, thank you very much.”

Anthracite glanced up at him very briefly, then grudgingly turned her prod off and stowed it away once more, stepping back from the inmate with a glare. The golden mech shot her a look of almost comical malice in return, his blue face twisted into an ugly sneer.  Knock Out reset his vocalizer noisily to draw the mech’s attention away from the guard, offering him what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

“Do me a favor and get on the medberth, and I’ll see what I can do about getting you out of those cuffs.” he offered, gesturing behind him to the waiting berth. The mech looked up at him with a hard expression of distrust, but Knock Out could see the uncertainty in his optics; it was the same look that Sunstreaker had given him dozens of times— the look of a mechling who was used to fighting for their own survival.

After a long pause the mechling shuffled forward, wordlessly struggling his way up onto the berth without use of his arms. Knock Out stepped closer as he settled, setting a hand over the stasis cuffs and beckoning Centigrade forward.

“If I have these taken off, are you going to be a problem?” Knock Out asked. The inmate glared at him, then looked down at the floor with something just short of a pout crossing his faceplates.

“No.” He groused finally, as if admitting so were a defeat.

Knock Out nodded, stepping over to queue up the scans through the berth interface as Centigrade worked to free the mech’s arms. He turned in time to watch the golden mech yank his arms forward with a grunt, rubbing at his wrists and rolling his shoulders. Centigrade stepped back again but only as far as the counter, watching the inmate closely.

“What’s your name?” Knock Out asked as he moved back around the berth, standing just out of the mechling’s reach.

“Why do you care, Autobot?” he spat, glaring dangerously at the medic from under the ridge of his helm. Knock Out shrugged.

“Plenty of reasons,” He said casually, tugging the instrument tray closer. “Mostly, I like to use that question as a measure of how cooperative a patient will be. If I were really interested I could just look you up in the prisoner database, but if you refuse me something as simple as your name it lets me know you’re not interested in behaving, and I can adjust the way I treat you accordingly.”

The gold mechling looked up at him with a sudden sense of disbelief, perhaps not expecting so much honesty from someone he considered an enemy. Knock Out held out his hand, smiling tiredly.

“Give me your wrist, please. I’m going to plug into your medical access port and scan for problems in your systems.” He said. After a long pause the mech raised his arm tentatively, turning his wrist so that his exposed access port faced upward. Knock Out wasted no time in plugging in and queuing up the scans he needed.

When that was finished, he reached over and picked up the flashlight, holding it up for the gold mech.

“I’m going to shine this in your optics. All it is is a light.” He said, clicking it on and holding it over his own servo for the mechling to see that he was telling the truth. “Just look straight ahead for me, okay?”

The mechling nodded slowly, and Knock Out began to work down the list of tests with a brisk efficiency, pausing to explain each one just like he had with Wildbreak. The overt fury seemed to leech out of the mechling slowly, leaving him wary but compliant as they worked through the list of evaluations. He was of reasonably good health, though his joints had been stressed from having spent so long with his servos cuffed behind him, and his protoform was showing signs of malnourishment just like the last four mechs’ had. He winced as they moved through the range of motion tests, his face twisting the further above his helm he tried to hoist his arms.  

Knock Out set a servo on his shoulder when they were finished, stepping over to the counter beside Centigrade to retrieve some pain relieving nanite gel from one of the cabinets. The mechling watched him as he collected the tube of nanites and the thin-nozzled applicator, his uncertain optics tracking every step he made on his way back to the berth. Knock Out uncapped the tube and screwed the applicator in place, holding it up like he had done with every tool before.

“I’m going to spread some of this into your shoulder joints.” He announced. “It’s a pain-relieving gel that will speed up your frame’s auto repair and make your arms feel better, faster.”

The mechling looked at the tube suspiciously, nodding his consent eventually. Knock Out leaned in and slipped the nozzle into the tiny space around his shoulder joint, applying little dollops of the gel at equally spaced intervals through the mechanism, then repeating the procedure on the other shoulder. When he was done, he lead the inmate through a few stretches to help spread the nanites around.

“My name is Dragstrip.” The mech muttered suddenly a few minutes later, confirming Knock Out’s suspicions. Knock Out glanced up from where he was busy picking a knot of errors out of a code string in the mechling’s subsystems, tamping down on the flood of dread that the name— and what it implied— inspired in him.

“I might have guessed.” He replied cryptically, ignoring the renewed wash of confusion that crossed Dragstrip’s face. Dragstrip didn’t bother asking for clarification, instead leaning back onto his arms and watching Knock Out’s face as he worked.  

He didn’t talk again after that. Dragstrip let him place the inhibitor with little fuss, sitting still as the medic magnetized the device in place in the back of his spark chamber. Knock Out could feel the Stunticon’s optics on him as he pulled the forceps free and set them aside, but he didn’t look up from where he scrolled through the combined scan results. When he was done, he nodded and offered the other a tight smile.

“You’re all done.” He said, settling the servo that didn’t hold his datapad on his hip. “If you shoulders start hurting again, tell a guard and have them bring you to see me, or whoever else is on shift at the time. We’ll put more nanite gel on for you.”

Dragstrip didn’t respond, staring at Knock Out with a calculating expression until the medic stepped aside, gathering used tools up off the instrument table.  Centigrade stepped forward and cuffed the stunticon again, this time with his arms in front of himself, then lead him by the cuffs past where Knock Out stood by the counter. The medic turned from his position and watched them go, Anthracite following behind them.

It was easy for Knock Out to put two and two together.

These mechlings— because none of them could be much older than Sunstreaker, even if a few of them acted otherwise— were replacements for the original Stunticons. Motormaster had survived and made his way back to Cybertron in time to gather a handful of newly-forged who didn’t know any better, molding them to be everything his original team hadn’t been: fanatical, loyal, and utterly dependent on him.

He checked through the files of the last four mech’s he’d seen, confirming his suspicions within moments. Their alt modes were listed, each mech possessing not only a vehicle mode but also their combiner component forms. Knock Out felt ill with terror.

How many mechlings had Motormaster killed trying to reproduce the combiner upgrades that he’d gone through within them? How many mechs had he abandoned when they looked like they wouldn’t survive the transition— how many had died alone, plagued by hallucinations and seizures in some dank pit somewhere, unable to comprehend what was happening to them or why as they were eaten alive by the destructive coding patches

He tossed the datapad up onto the counter, grabbing packaged tools out of drawers and cabinets in a flurry of movement. His horror broke down rapidly as he thought, replaced by fury not only for those who had been left to die, but also for those who had been successfully conscripted. He knew how Motormaster treated those under him; there was no doubt in his mind that the dent on Slashmark’s helm, Wildbreak’s self-effacing manner, Heatseeker’s belligerence, and Drag Strip’s open hostility were directly related to the violent manner that Motormaster operated with.

Impossibly, he found himself hating Motormaster more than ever.

He looked over from where he was arranging tools on the instrument tray, catching sight of Wildbreak’s guileless face looking back at him from his mugshot, and was filled with sudden determination. He would free these mechlings from Motormaster, convince them of the danger he presented to them and their wellbeing. He would advocate for them, keep them separated from the hulking menace, and do his best to get their names cleared. He would save them, he promised himself.

This time, Motormaster would not stand in his way.

Heavy treads echoed down the hall, and Knock Out did his best to quell the angry fire in his spark. No matter what he might feel about the mech, he had been hired to treat his hurts— and treat his hurts he would, though he didn't have to like it. He turned towards the door and crossed his arms over his chest, his faceplates pulled into an expression of deep and simmering hatred as the pedesteps got louder and louder.

Motormaster rounded the corner, four guards behind him with guns drawn. He was just like Knock Out remembered; Massive and menacing, comprised of thick armor painted black with accents of grey and purple. He was built like a tank, broad and massive, with every classic point of vulnerability hidden behind heavy plating. He radiated danger even restrained, an edge to his bearing that would send lesser mechs fleeing.  He wore his Deceptibrand in the center of his chest, and it didn’t escape Knock Out that all of the new Stunticons wore theirs in the exact same place.

Motormaster stopped a few steps into the medbay as he caught sight of Knock Out, his severe face twisting into a cruel and toothy grin. Knock Out didn’t move, his own expression one of deep loathing. They stared at each other for a long moment, then Motormaster straightened up, squaring his shoulders, the same satisfied look on his face.

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t the flyboy.” He sneered.  “Long time no see.”

Shut up and get on the berth.” Knock Out ground out as he pointed toward the diagnostic berth, his optics boring holes into the big mech.

Motormaster complied, stalking across the room and perching himself on the edge of the berth quietly like the model patient Knock Out knew he wasn’t.  Knock Out cycled a steadying vent, then walked past the big inmate to the monitor, angrily tapping various scans into the queue. He turned when he was done, moving to his position at the foot of the berth and tugging the instrument tray closer. He didn’t bother to look up at the leering mech, more than aware that Motormaster was watching him in much the same way a hungry turbofox would watch a petrorabbit.

He reached forward and found the manual activation switch for the medical interface port hidden along Motormaster’s flank, wasting no time in plugging himself and starting the internal scans. He glanced over at the tray of tools, silently calculating what order he could do the tests in to prevent having to look at the convoy’s face. Motormaster had an uncanny ability to stoke Knock Out’s anger by doing little more than existing, and having to look at his ugly faceplates for any extended period of time tended to exacerbate that effect.

Unfortunately, there was very little to do that didn’t involve looking at the big grey menace. Range of motion tests were off the table; there was no way he would ask the guards to free Motormaster’s arms, and he’d already proven perfectly limber in the legs when he’d walked across the room and climbed onto the berth. If nothing pressing showed up on the physical scans, there was no reason to give the Stunticon any more reason to attack than he already had.

Knock Out picked up one of the few handheld scanners he required for examination, and wasted no time in swiping it slowly over the broad, flat pane of Motormaster’s chest armor to check his protoform integrity. The scanner beeped quietly after a moment, cheerfully reporting that Motormaster had no protoform wasting to speak of.

Unlike the four mechlings he had conscripted, it seemed that Motormasted hadn’t had any problem finding enough to eat.

Knock Out took great care in setting the device down on the table again, unwilling to break something expensive and important after only one day on the job— and over someone as nugatory as Motormaster. He replaced it with a low-output electrical rod, which he cranked up according to the thickness of Motormaster’s armor and applied to the base of his poleyne. His leg jerked in a manner that was medically satisfactory, though a lot more voltage would have had to be applied for Knock Out to be satisfied personally. He applied it to the same place on the opposite knee, then set the tool down and entered the results into Motormaster’s medical file.

He glanced back over and sighed; the only test left to do was the optical latency test, which— of course— involved paying attention to Motormaster’s face. Thankfully, the external scans were done and only a few internal scans were still percolating which meant if Knock Out was lucky, he could get the ocular test done just in time to unplug himself and have the big mech dragged back to his cell. He tried to ignore the fact that he very seldom seemed to be lucky these days, and plucked up the pen light that lay on the table beside him.

He flashed it up into Motormaster’s optics without warning, watching as the tiny mechanisms within them detected the sudden increased brightness and reduced their optical aperture. He clicked the light off and glanced at the progress bar in the corner of his HUD, then turned and began to tap at his datapad again. Motormaster’s smug grin from earlier had vanished at some point, replaced by a look of unfettered loathing.

“My shoulders hurt, doc.” He growled dangerously, bringing his elbows together behind him in a blatant attempt to find the leverage to snap his cuffs with.

Good.” Knock Out said, doing his best to affect nonchalance; he was more than aware that mechs like Motormaster thrived when they could elicit a response from their victims, and Knock Out was determined not to oblige him.

“What’s your problem?” Motormaster asked, as if Knock Out’s behavior towards him was unprompted. “Do you just like treating helpless mechs like trash? Is that it? The pretty seeker’s too good to give a hard-working mech like me the time of day?” He scoffed, his lips curled in scorn. “What’d a nice mech like Breakdown see in a glitch like you?”

Knock Out tossed his datapad onto the instrument tray so hard that it fell over, sending tools scattering across the floor with a noisy clatter as he rounded on the mech. Motormaster glanced down at the mess, then up at Knock Out who stood glaring at him, his servos twitching with his desire to reach for his shock prod.

“Don’t act like you don’t know exactly why you deserve the way I treat you.” Knock Out snarled venomously, reaching forward and yanking his diagnostic cable free of the other’s side, pulling it out of his own access port and tossing it onto the floor carelessly.  “You’re a disgusting excuse of a mech, Motormaster. Did you think you’d just be able to slip those kids under the radar? Did you think you’d get away with that , too?”

“What did they tell you?” Motormaster demanded with a sudden sense of urgency. Before Knock Out could respond, the big mech rose to his feet and roared, “ WHAT DID THOSE UNGRATEFUL SCRAP-HEAPS TELL YOU?”

Knock Out stepped back in time for the big mech to step down after him, twisting his big arms in opposite directions and slamming his wrists outward, snapping the cuffs in the center. He reached forward for Knock Out as the guards scrambled forward to subdue him, but Knock Out beat them to it. He pulled his prod up from subspace and shoved it’s bladed fork up toward the underside of the convoy’s jaw, charge crackling dangerously up and down its length and licking across the planes of the mech’s face, causing the servos near Motormaster’s mouth to twist up into an even uglier sneer than usual.  The stunticon’s big hands hung in the air just shy of Knock Out’s helm, ready to come together if not for the weapon pointed at him.

“Do it,” Knock Out demanded viciously, his voice quiet and dripping with hatred. “I dare you.”

The guards shook off their shock at the display and rushed in to circle the two of them as even more poured into the room, their guns drawn.  Motormaster glanced around, then back down at Knock Out with fury in his optics, raising his hands above his helm. Two of the larger guards who had poured in immediately grabbed an arm each, forcing them close enough together to slip a set of big immobilizing cuffs into place.

Knock Out watched as Motormaster lost his motor functions, falling abnormally still where he stood at the foot of the berth. After a moment he turned and stalked over the the counter, pulling out a fresh pair of forceps and a new inhibitor from a drawer before returning to the big mech, who could do little more than follow his progress with his optics.

Knock Out dropped his prod back into subspace and reached up, tripping the manual release latch for Motormaster’s chest plates, and then the one for his spark chamber. Plating split and opened to his touch, and Knock Out could feel the convoy’s optics boring holes into him as he slipped the inhibitor in place and closed the big mech’s plating. He stepped back and looked at the two big guards.

“He’s fine. Take him to ad-seg and lock him up.” He demanded. The mechs nodded and drug the stunticon from the room, his heels screeching against the floor as he was carted off.

Knock Out tiredly watched them go, disappointed to find he felt no better in the wake of the confrontation.

Chapter Text

Knock Out woke to the sound of an alarm screeching in the dimness of the recovery room. He scrambled to his pedes so quickly his chair fell over, clattering to the floor noisily behind him as he scooped up the defibrillator pack next to him and rushed to the side of Breakdown’s berth, his spark racing despite how many times he’d been through this already.

He was half way through priming the tool in his servos when the haze of recharge lifted from him fully and he realized that Breakdown wasn’t flatlining. He looked closely at the monitors mounted above the berth, squinting at the data as if it would spur it into making more sense to his exhausted processor.

Breakdown’s spark was thrumming healthily inside his chassis, it’s pulse steady and slowed with sleep. Knock Out slid a hand over the flat pane of the mech’s big chestplate as if to confirm it, stilling just long enough to feel the gentle rhythm of the blue mech’s spark before pulling his hand away to page through the rest of the vital monitors hooked into Breakdown’s systems.

His spark was fine. His fuel levels were fine. His self repair was fine, though working hard to integrate the massive changes that saving the timid mech’s life had involved. Knock Out flipped to the last screen and paused, then glanced down at his charge with a fragile sense of hope filling him.

Breakdown’s processor was suddenly awash in activity, the usual steady plateaus of a slumbering mech’s mind replaced by the jagged peaks and valleys that made up the precursor to conscious thought.

He was waking up.

For a moment in his exhaustion, Knock Out didn’t know what to do with himself besides look dazedly between the familiar faceplates of the mech on the berth and the steadily increasing activity on the monitor. Breakdown shifted subtly below him, his plating flexing and resettling over his protoform as his subsystems worked through a checklist that all mechs went through after a catastrophic system failure, and Knock Out was startled from his revelry. He jolted in place, glancing numbly down at the tool in his hand before thumbing it off and moving back across the room to set it down on the console where he’d been propped up sleeping over reports before his rude awakening.

He grabbed his chair and drug it over to the mech’s bedside, settling himself onto it’s edge with great care to be quiet in doing so— as if making too much noise would shatter Breakdown’s sudden progress.  His servos hovered uselessly just in front of his chassis for a moment before he hedged his bets by grabbing up Breakdown’s closest servo and pulling it toward his chestplate, cradling it in two of his own.

Minutes ticked by in silence; Knock Out was reluctant to tear his optics away from Breakdown’s face, still so gentle and warm while he slept even after knowing nothing but war for so long. He checked the monitor only frequently enough to ensure himself that Breakdown was still climbing towards the surface before he would return to watching the mech twitch and shudder as he woke.

Golden optics lit in a flicker of light, staring at the ceiling for a beat before they began to focus on what details could be seen in the room with the light so low. Breakdown’s helm lulled to one side— fortunately, the side Knock Out was sitting on— and he squinted at the blob of color that comprised the seeker’s form to him as his processor struggled to make sense of the data his optics were feeding it. Impossibly, Knock Out sat up straighter, rubbing circles into the flat pane of Breakdown’s servo with his thumbs as he waited for things to connect for the blue mech.

“Knock Out?” Breakdown asked after a moment of blinking at him in incomprehension, his voice little more than a whisper. Knock Out offered him a tight smile, doing his best to keep his emotions together. It wouldn’t do to alarm the anxious mech with overly emotional displays so soon after he woke up; he could— he would hold it together, either until Breakdown was doing physically better or he had a moment alone to sort through the tangle of emotions the incident had inspired in the seeker.

Whichever came first.

“Hey,” Knock Out responded softly, reaching up to stroke his thumb over the Stunticon’s face just below his optic. “How are you feeling?”

There was a pause, and some shifting under the thin blanket that covered the mechs legs before he responded. “Um… tired. Heavy. What happened?”

“No pain?” Knock Out asked, sidestepping the question as he sat back in his chair. He thumbed open the medical access port on the inside of Breakdown’s wrist, plugging himself in to run a thorough internal diagnostic.

“... No. Just… Just tired.” Breakdown said finally, as if having to double check. He squinted at Knock Out for a long moment as the medic worked, then asked, “Is that my hand ?”

Knock Out glanced down at where he still held the big servo to his chassis, offering another weak smile to younger mech.

“Yes,” He began uncertainly, searching for a way to phrase what he needed to say without it distressing Breakdown, and potentially causing setbacks in his recovery.

“Why’s it so big?” Breakdown asked, before Knock Out could decide how to answer. Knock Out looked down at the servo again, his mouth a thin line as he resumed rubbing circles into the joints there.

“Give it to me straight, doc,” Breakdown prompted gently, and though his mouth was pulled into a wobbly smile, Knock Out could see the fear beginning to build behind his optics. He sat back again, carefully pulling his diagnostic cable free and spooling it back into the compartment in his arm before clearing his vocalizer.

“How much do you remember about the battle on Proturia VI?” He asked, gently letting Breakdown’s arm down until it was flat on the berth once more and slotting his fingers between the mech’s larger ones.  Breakdown took a long moment to consider the question, his optics flickering back up toward the ceiling in thought.

“...I remember the geysers. We were supposed to form Menasor— to take out Superion— but I was stuck in the sodium. Motormaster was yelling at me from across the valley, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.” Breakdown said with a surprising sense of calmness in his voice. Above him, the processor monitor peaked a little higher as he struggled to recall the details of the mission.

“Anything beyond that?” Knock Out asked gently. After a moment, Breakdown shook his helm, looking back toward the seeker passively. Knock Out nodded to some unspoken question, his expression tight.

“You were almost killed.” The medic said softly, staring at their joined servos as he explained. “Superion stepped on you. As far as I can tell, they forewent just trying to keep Menasor at bay and did their level best to prevent him ever being formed again. They saw you being stuck to the side of the geyser as an opportunity to advance and had no issues taking it.”

“... Okay.” Breakdown said simply after a moment, though Knock Out noted a distinct uptick in his vitals as the stress of that information set in. The younger mech chuckled after a moment. “Sort of glad I don’t remember that.”

Knock Out couldn’t help but smile. Breakdown’s gentle humor was endearing to him even now.

“I found you and… did my best to repair you, but the damage was…” He paused, cycling a vent. “Extensive, to say the least. My only option to keep you alive was a full reformat. I had to transfer your spark into a new frame, and… well.” He picked Breakdown’s wrist up again, chuckling wryly. “There’s not a surplus of high-performance racing frames these days.”

Knock Out watched as Breakdown worked through the information quietly. Beyond the first increase to his vital systems activity, there was little change in him; he was keeping his anxiety under control admirably, it seemed.

“So I’m bigger now? Is that why I feel so heavy?” He asked after a moment. Knock Out nodded, watching as he struggled to lift his arm.

“Don’t push yourself,” The seeker said softly, sliding his servos under Breakdown’s arm to keep it from crashing back to the berth, some part of him worried it might hurt him despite the padding under the appendage. “You’ll have to go through some physical therapy. It won’t be a very fast process, but I consider it a little preferential to you being dead.”

“Me too.” Breakdown said, watching as Knock Out slid his hands away. After a moment he asked. “Is that all? Why do you seem so… upset?”

Knock Out floundered internally, and judging from the look on Breakdown’s face it was apparent.

“I’ve never done a spark transplant before. Even if I were classically trained, full frame reformats are tricky at best, total last-chance procedures that people only turn to when they’ve got no other options.” He explained, his voice wavering with emotions. Breakdown looked at him owlishly as he continued. “You died on my table four times during the procedure and then at least two dozen times as you were recovering. There was a sixty- forty chance that even if the transfer took , you’d be permanently comatose. That’s— that’s if I were trained in this, and I’m not!

Breakdown looked at him with wide optics and wordless distress, though the medic wasn’t sure if it was because of the emotional outburst or the knowledge that he had been technically dead almost thirty times since the battle on Proturia. Knock Out sat forward in his chair and scrubbed at his face wearily, cycling a few vents to compose himself.

“I’m sorry,” Breakdown began after a moment, his voice little more than a squeak. He did his best to reach for Knock Out with his closest arm, managing to curl his fingers weakly around Knock Out’s elbow where it rested on his berth. “I didn’t mean to— to upset you, Knock Out. I just… I’ve never seen you look so worn out over a patient before. I thought there might be… some kind of damage you weren’t telling me about.”

“No, I’m sorry.” Knock out sighed, twining their fingers together again. “I didn’t mean to snap at you like that, I’ve just been so worried. I haven’t gotten much sleep lately.”

A guilty look crossed Breakdown’s face, and he squeezed Knock Out’s hand. “Have they been overworking you again?”

Knock Out choked on his vents, his free servo covering his mouth as he laughed. “Gods, no. I called in every sick day, shore leave, and oddball favor I was owed short of Megatron himself to get the time off to take care of you.”

Breakdown’s guilty look only intensified; he was more than aware just how many favors Knock Out had squirreled away in his processor for emergencies.

“How long was I out?” Breakdown asked quietly. Knock Out checked his chronometer, then grunted and checked the clock on the monitor above Breakdown’s bed when his HUD proved to be too garbled to read.

“A few weeks.” he said stiffly after a moment.

“And you’ve been here the whole time?”

“Of course.” Knock Out said with a vague sense of confusion, looking back down at Breakdown.  “Where else would I be?”

Breakdown gaped, his mouth opening and closing as he tried to form some sort of argument that didn't sound totally pathetic. “At work? In your quarters, resting?”

Knock Out offered him a tired smile.

“Absolutely not. Not when you're hurt.” He said with confidence, as if he didn't feel like he was a half-dozen servospans from emergency recharge. He looked at Breakdown seriously, though not unkindly. “You're my priority. The war can wait. Sleeping can wait. You don't wait, not if I have any say in it.”

Breakdown blinked up at him, his jaw working uselessly as he tried to form a response. Knock Out smiled fondly at him, then jolted when a loud knock broke through the comfortable silence in the room.  They both glanced at the door, then Knock Out stood, squeezing Breakdown’s hand once more before sliding his servo free and walking toward the door. Before he could reach it, the knocking came again, this time louder and faster.

Knock Out palmed the access panel and the door slid back, revealing a broad black chestplate that filled the whole doorway. He glanced up into grey faceplates and scowled, feeling entirely too exhausted to have to deal with this mech right now.

“What do you want?” He demanded harshly.

“Where is he? I know you’ve got him. I know he’s not dead.” Motormaster growled back. Knock Out stepped closer, fanning his wings out behind him in an attempt to block the other’s view of Breakdown.

“My work is none of your business.” Knock Out hissed, his frown deepening. Motormaster glared down at him in return, then shifted to look past him into the room. Knock Out stretched up on his pedes, trying to break Motormaster’s line of sight, but the convoy was tall enough to make it a fruitless effort.

Motormaster stared at Breakdown, his optics cold as he took in the big frame on the berth. Breakdown was just a touch smaller than him now, his sleek speedster frame replaced by heavy armor panels over broad protoform. Breakdown was doing his best to look like he was asleep, or maybe dead.

“What the pit is this?” Motormaster demanded, gesturing at the unfamiliar frame on the berth. He tried to take a step forward into the recovery ward, but Knock Out shoved him backwards with a hard look.

“It's none of your business.” the seeker said again. “I did what I had to do to keep him alive.’

“You little glitch, don't you fraggin’ lie to me , ” Motormaster growled, moving forward and crowding Knock Out again, attempting to intimidate him out of his defensive position. Knock Out didn't budge, glaring up at the convoy with hatred. “Don’t think I don't know how you operate, slinking around behind the backs of hard working mechs like me and suckin’ spike to get your way. You think I’m dumb enough to believe you had to break up my team to save that scrap-heap’s life?”

Knock Out shoved him backwards again, reaching into his subspace and producing a datapad with the mark of High Command on the back. He thrust it at Motormaster roughly. “I had direct permission from Megatron himself. If you’ve got a problem with it, take it up with him.”

Motormaster barely glanced at the document before throwing it back in Knock Out’s face. “You probably cooked the fraggin’ orders to suit your own agenda. I’m not dumb.”

“Then don’t act like it. ” Knock Out said, subbing the datapad again and shoving at Motormaster until he was out of the doorway. He plastered a smile over his face, reaching over towards the access panel to palm it shut.“Breakdown isn't available for visitation right now. Come back when you get your head out of your aft and maybe we can try this again.”

Motormaster roared with outrage, surging toward the door with his arms outstretched, attempting to grab anything he could of the seeker’s frame to make him sorry for his attitude. Knock Out slammed his servo down onto the access panel, keying in the emergency quarantine code that would seal the room off from intrusion until he lifted it. The door slammed on Motormaster’s arm hard enough to dent him, and for a moment he continued to push obstinately forward toward Knock Out, suffocated with anger. Knock Out stepped back out of his potential reach, and after a beat Motormaster pulled his arm back with a roar of frustration at being bested.

The door slammed shut and locked itself, and Motormaster raged on the other side for a short while, slamming his fists into the door and bellowing threats and insults. Knock Out turned back toward Breakdown and offered him a tired smile.

“Are you alright?” Breakdown asked, looking at him owlishly. Knock Out sat back down wearily beside him.

“Any day I get to tell Motormaster to frag himself is a good day.” He yawned, scrubbing at his face. Breakdown looked at him with concern, then shuffled over with some effort to make room on the berth beside him. When he decided he was over far enough, he patted the berth pad, smiling up at the seeker.

“Lay down with me?” Breakdown offered. Knock Out startled, looking back and forth from Breakdown's face to the little sliver of berth that was vacated for him with a flustered expression.

“I can't,” he blurted, searching desperately for a reason why he couldn't take Breakdown up on his very appealing offer.

“Come on, doc, you're exhausted. How are you gonna take care of me if you can barely stand up without falling over?” Breakdown said gently. Knock Out felt emotions rise within him; Breakdown was recovering from a near death experience, and he still cared more about how Knock Out was feeling than about himself.

“Y-you’re my patient,” Knock Out stammered. Breakdown slid his arm over and made an uncoordinated grab for his servo. Knock Out met him halfway, twining their fingers together again.

“And your friend .” Breakdown insisted seriously. “You have to get some rest, Knock Out, or you won't be able to function if something happens to me. If you lay down here, you can get some sleep and be close enough to stop anything that might go wrong.”

Knock Out felt his reservations slipping away under Breakdown's relentless concern and sound reasoning, helped along by his own exhausted processor’s cries for recharge.

“I’d fall off,” he protested weakly, scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel in search of an excuse.

“I’ll hold you.” Breakdown said, his face determined and his tone serious. There was a brief pause as Knock Out glanced up toward the monitor again, checking the time display before he hung his helm and vented a sigh.

“...Okay.” he conceded slowly, rubbing at his face with his free servo.

“Okay?” Breakdown echoed hopefully, his expression brightening in a way that was equal parts familiar and reassuring.

“Okay.” Knock Out repeated, climbing to his feet. Breakdown released his servo long enough for him to move his chair toward the wall, curling his digits around it again as soon as Knock Out had sat down on the edge of the bed.

It took some effort for the two of them to arrange themselves comfortably together on a berth only meant for one person. Breakdown’s new chestplate was robust for lack of better word, jutting from his torso like a shelf and making almost any arrangement that didn't involve him laying flat on his back uncomfortable. With some minor transformations he managed to relax comfortably on his side, curled only slightly to accommodate his bulk.

Knock Out curled up around the mass of Breakdown's chestplate carefully, his helm pillowed on one of Breakdown's big arms and his face pressed into the cool surface of his pauldron. Breakdown tugged the blanket up from around his waist until it covered Knock Out, too, then settled his arm over the seeker’s side in a loose embrace.

“Was Motormaster right?” Breakdown asked after a moment of comfortable silence had passed. Knock Out glanced up at him curiously from where he was drawing tiny circles on Breakdown’s rerebrace idly.

“About what?” He asked.

“All of it. Breaking up Menasor, faking the orders to save me… all of it.” Breakdown clarified. Knockout huffed a laugh.

“Maybe.” he said softly, yawning again. There was a beat of silence before Breakdown spoke again.

“Well, if you did… Thank you for going to the trouble.” He said, tugging Knock Out just that much closer to him. “It means a lot that you would work so hard for me.”

“Of course,” Knock Out said, unable to imagine doing anything else. Breakdown offered him another wobbly smile.

“And, thanks for keeping Motormaster away from me.” He continued. Knock Out chuckled tiredly.

“I did say I was going to get you away from him,” he said, sliding his arm up to tangle their fingers together under his helm. “it just took me longer than I had hoped.”

Breakdown huffed a laugh. “I knew you'd do it.”

There was another long silence, comfortable and warm as they relaxed together. Knock Out shifted as his systems began powering down, desperate for a good solid recharge. He pressed his face against Breakdown’s pauldron, slinging the arm he wasn't lying on over what he could reach of Breakdown’s waist.

“Goodnight, Breakdown.” He murmured. Breakdown tightened his hold on Knockout briefly in some approximation of a hug.

“Night, Doc.” He replied. Knock Out smiled against his shoulder, stroking the side of Breakdown’s servo with his thumb affectionately a few times.

In moments he was asleep, comforted by the quiet and steady thrum of Breakdown’s spark.

Chapter Text

True to what Ratchet had said, the work went by faster than expected.

The official list of prisoners numbered exactly two hundred and thirty three, and Knock Out had gotten all of them in and out in just under three full days of work. They had been cooperative for the most part, more disgruntled than anything; Knock Out figured that he had the impressive quality of the prison itself to thank for their reluctant compliance more than anything else. Prison was never fun or enjoyable, but this facility was more easily comparable to some mid-caste dormitories than any pre-war prison.

It was hard to be hostile when the people you were supposed to hate treated you better than anyone you’d met before them.

Knock Out pushed the thoughts away and returned to his reports; while the actual intake process was finally completed, he still had plenty of paperwork to do before he could check out and head back to Slaughter City. There were the incident reports, inventory and requisitions, interviews with fledgeling doctors to find a suitable substitute (or substitutes) to run this medbay while he was otherwise occupied, actual formalization of patient records, diagnoses and treatment plans for those inmates who actually suffered from various afflictions, and several other things that left him with a towering stack of datapads in his inbox and a kink in his neck.

He sat back and rubbed at his optics as the console in his desk finalized the changes to the report he’d been filing on Motormaster’s attempt to assault him and his professional opinion on what should be done with the big mech. If he had his way, Motormaster would be drug out into the streets and shot.

Unfortunately, there was a very slim chance that he would get his way— or that the suggestion would be viewed very favorably by Ultra Magnus. The High Council was all about leniency and forgiveness, and had done away with the death penalty in favor of long-term punitive stasis for unsalvageable offenders. Even that was only considered as an option after a fair trial, which left Knock Out with very few options for keeping Motormaster thwarted.

His suggestion was ad-seg or confinement in an empty cell block, increased supervision, and a rigorous battery of psychological tests to provide insight into the Stunticon’s thought processes.

It wasn’t half as satisfying as Knock Out wished it was, but after the almost-fight two days prior he had a sinking feeling that nothing that could happen to Motormaster would satisfy him.

The computer chimed, and after a moment of shuffling things around his desktop in some weak imitation of doing actual work, he was interrupted by a knock to the door. He glanced up to see one of the other guards that had been assigned to him leaning against the doorframe, a datapad under his arm. Knock Out quashed the urge to sigh and sat back in his comfortable chair as the mech stepped forward, holding the datapad out to him.

“We have a late arrival,” The guard said with a remorseful smile. Knock Out glanced down at the datapad and the work orders it contained. As he did, the guard continued. “Long story short, he’s on life support and they need you to do the checkups and hook him into a medical stasis pod.”

Knock Out whistled as he rose, tucking the datapad under his arm. “Who brought him in? It must have been a pretty big fight to end up putting someone on life support.”

“Some friend of the Warden’s,” The guard said, walking with Knock Out out into the Medbay and stopping long enough for the medic to gather a selection of tools before leading him out and down the hall.“ ‘Jack’ something-or-other.”

“Oh, it must have been Wheeljack.” Knock Out said, surprised at how little the thought of the Wrecker bothered him anymore. Unlike Bulkhead, Wheeljack had struggled to contain his hatred for Breakdown, and more often than not stayed off-base to keep himself out of trouble. He was aggressive, spiteful, uncouth, and hated authority figures in the same way that most low caste mechs did. He was openly hostile towards Knock Out on the few occasions that they’d seen each other within the confines of the Autobot’s base on Earth, and once upon a time Knock Out would have avoided him on principal of him being one of Breakdown’s enemies, but time and age had mellowed him it seemed.

That Wheeljack and Bulkhead had been the ones to carry Breakdown’s stasis pod out of the base when Megatron had attacked did wonders for curbing Knock Out’s contempt, as well.

“You know him?” The guard asked, drawing to a stop outside of one of the long-stay rooms that fell under the jurisdiction of the medical staff. Knock Out waved his access bracelet in front of the scanner by the door, watching as it slid open for him with a cheerful chime.

“Peripherally.” The medic offered after a moment, glancing down at the datapad briefly. “If all I’m doing is an intake assessment and hooking him into a stasis pod, I should be done within the joor. If I need you, I’ll call.”

“Sounds good, boss.” The mech said. Knock Out tried to ignore the strange curl of discomfort the title inspired in him, offering the mech a curt nod as he slipped into the room. The lights slowly brightened overhead as the door shut behind him with a quiet click. He glanced up long enough to catch sight of red and white plating decorated in a pattern that flirted at the very edges of familiarity in his processor, then looked back down to regard the mech’s known medical history.

That was familiar, too. Knock Out tried to ignore the feeling; he'd spent the better part of three days up to his neck in people’s medical history. Certain conditions— namely starvation, protoform deficiencies, mass scarring, and self repair malfunctions— were incredibly common to see in veterans of the war.

It would be more alarming, he assured himself, if this mech’s condition wasn't familiar.

He wandered closer, paging through what small part of the mech’s medical history had been recovered. He was estimated to be around twenty five thousand vorns old, but the oldest medical record was from only three thousand vorns prior. It was all standard fare for a veteran seeker; an extensive inventory of plasma burns, bullet holes, and lacerations, interspersed by the occasional systems reset and minor parts replacement— all very standard things for wartime.

The closer to present he got, the more involved the reports became; limb replacement, major energon transfusions, hospitalizations, and system overhauls that required therapy to bounce back from. The catalogued injuries became more and more extensive, long phases of near constant medical assistance to relieve minor hurts bookended by near-death experiences without obvious cause.

The nagging feeling of recognition— of having seen these before— did not leave him. In fact it intensified, and he scrubbed a hand down his face tiredly. His hunches had an unfortunate habit of preceding something terrible lately, and he couldn't imagine that today would be any different.

He looked up again, taking a closer look at the mech on the berth. He was big but not bulky, all sleek lines that flowed together to create an artful balance of smooth curves and powerful angles. His wings were wide and strong, something considered attractive and desirable to seekerkin, offsetting his thin waist and narrow hips. he was painted in rich shades of blue, red, and soft grey, and Knock Out could see the remnants of a very fine shine under the scratches and surface damage that dotted the seeker’s frame.

He stared at the supine mech, willing the phantom sensation of recollection to manifest into something more definite.

His face was all sharp features, framed by two tall pieces of kibble that formed the air intake manifolds of the mech’s alt mode. It was haunting in the way that all things that danced on the cusp of recognition were, and for a long moment Knock Out simply watched, as if doing so would provide him with answers.

He resigned himself to the inconvenience of reality after a moment, turning back to the datapad in his hands for answers. The sense of knowing only increased as he skimmed, getting closer and closer to the present. Two vorns, a vorn and a half, one vorn, half a vorn— each jump ratcheted up the strange mental pressure he felt, the pressing urge to make a connection.

He swept through the first few records from within a quarter vorn, then stopped at the bottom of a report.

His glyph was at the bottom of the document, staring back at him proudly. He looked at it without comprehension for a half-beat, then looked back up at the inmate. There was only one seeker on the Nemesis who required formal medical reports— and with that realization, everything clicked into place.

The paint was a close approximation of the Winglord’s scheme from before the war, all glossy colors and sharp lines that played up the beauty and strength of his frame. He was clad in modernized armor, a far cry from the glamorous golden age design he'd stuck with through the whole of the war. His nanites were restored, no longer greying and peeling in the throes of death from the toxic fumes of Kaon, the stress of leadership, or the harshness of space.

He was beautiful now in a way that was both the same and different from how he'd been beautiful when he had stood beside Megatron and stoked the fires of revolution. He looked proud again, not brought low by the burden of power and the demands of those around him, but the strange modern frame did not flatter the memory of who he had been, trading his thin and regal grace for power and strength.

It was a hard change to assimilate.

“Oh, Starscream ,” Knock Out sighed, setting the datapad down on the side table at the head of the bed and stopping to run his hand over the mech’s pauldron. “What a mess you've gotten yourself into.”

He looked at the seeker again, this time with new understanding of what he was seeing. Most of the visible damage was superficial— deep gouges and plasma burns dotted him, but otherwise he was pristine. Whatever damage had sent him into emergency stasis was internal— the worst kind of damage to repair and recover from.

Knock Out gathered the seeker’s arm to him, coaxing his medical access port open and plugging himself in to begin scanning his internal systems. He pulled a meter from subspace, waving it over the mech and then setting it down on his chestplate to let it run the scans needed in lieu of scanning him through a medical berth. When it was settled, he unsubbed another meter and ran it over the side of Starscream’s chestplate opposite of where the other scanner was, pulling it away once it chirped to regard the reading.

It was unsurprising to see that, much like everyone else, Starscream had been starving for a while. Knock Out scooped up the datapad and marked down the seeker’s protoform integrity in his file, frowning to himself at the percentage. He and Starscream could hardly be considered amica, but the medic liked to think that for a while they were at least friends. Retrospect allowed him to look at Starscream and wonder at just how badly he had been affected by the war, and he was filled with guilt over the seeker’s condition now.

It was true enough that he looked better; his new frame looked stronger, it’s brilliant colors gleaming healthily in the glow of the overhead lights— but it was all for show. The errors were already piling up through the scans, internal problems both physical and in code stacking up in their respective registries. He was starving, his protoform weak from extended lack of sustenance over the years.

It was obvious he had tried to make out like he was fine— like he was strong as ever, uncowed by the war and it’s stresses, unbending to the massive weight that had loomed over him for so many millenia.

It was just as obvious that he was lying.

Starscream now was a far cry from the young Winglord prodigy who had approached him about helping the Decepticons, who had introduced him to Megatron and to the realities of a world apartheid. As much as he would like to make it appear, he was a ghost of his former self— a shell of the proud mech who had once been bodyguard to the Prime and ruler of all Seekerkin.

The meter beeped, and Knock Out picked it up and set it aside for later review. Deft digits searched over Starscream’s chestplate, tripping the manual latch for his armor. It slid up and away, baring his spark chamber to the medic who was already hard at work finding the trigger for the casing.

Starscream’s spark chamber eased apart slowly, a testament to the damage he had taken in whatever battle had felled him. Knock Out had a hard time believing that it was Wheeljack who had brought the seeker in; beyond the fact that even at his lowest point Starscream could outmaneuver Wheeljack any day, there was a distinct lack of markings on Starscream’s frame. Wheeljack didn’t pull punches, especially where Decepticons were involved. There were no blast marks from explosives or the high powered anti-aircraft blasters that were mounted on the Jackhammer, and no deep gouges or slices to tell of a close-quarters encounter with the Wrecker.

Perhaps Wheeljack had brought him in, but he had no part in bringing Starscream down.

Knock Out shook himself from his thoughts, reaching into his subspace for the curved forceps and the systems inhibitor. Settling the device in place was a simple matter of positioning it and activating the magnets on its end. He pulled his forceps free and gently closed the mech’s plating back up. When he was finished, he leaned against the berth and set to untangling a long queue of errors within Starscream’s subsystems while paging through the results of the physical scan hed done.

There was evidence of burns and electrical damage around the various access ports on Starscream’s body consistent with having powerlinked with a several minicons. The average mech could harbor one or two minicons powerlinked to them. Mechs with especially resistant or powerful systems— like those outliers whose abilities revolved around electricity, or mechs like Optimus and Predaking— could handle perhaps three to four minicons for a short period.  

There was evidence that Starscream had passed that count by a considerable margin and had stayed that way for an inadvisably long period of time. Either that, or he had rapidly powerlinked with one very strong minicon repeatedly without concern for his systems. Knock Out leaned toward the former; minicons were without a doubt powerful, but for one minicon to have done this kind of damage to Starscream’s internals would require non-stop powerlinking for days on end.

Vaguely, he recalled some plan he’d heard Megatron discussing with Soundwave and Starscream when he’d first joined the Nemesis. Some rumor about a band of wayward minicons who had fled from Luna One when the war on Cybertron had been at its peak, who would bestow unimaginable power to anyone who could catch them and link with them. Knock Out had disregarded it as nothing more that speculation; He had realized very early on in his sojourn on the Nemesis that Megatron had changed significantly since the start of the war, no longer a mech of cunning and strategy but rather a mech bent on mindless destruction and domination.

As far as he could tell, that was not the case with Starscream. The seeker had most likely hunted down a group of minicons and forced them into powerlinking with him in an attempt to augment his strength. His pursuit of power was fueled by the memory of the authority he had once held. His status as Winglord had given him dominion over every seeker on the planet— a far cry from where he had ended up commanding a small armada of faceless mechs who knew nothing of his glory. It had driven him further and further from coherence as he strived to regain his puissance, his hatred of Megatron deepening for every moment that he was denied what he considered his due.

Starscream’s lust for power drove him down a road of increasingly grand and dangerous actions and schemes, ultimately ending with him here, comatose and imprisoned.

Knock Out did his best to push down his feelings and return to work.

Damage like what Starscream had suffered— which was strikingly similar to heavy electrical damage— was not inherently fatal to the victim. Unless the minicon’s power had burnt through the rather impressive shielding that surrounded the processor and spark of every Cybertronian— or perhaps attacked those places directly— it was recoverable.

As far as Knock Out could tell, Starscream’s processor was fine. He still read as having active threads that were concurrent with what one would see in a sleeping mech, and while his subsystems were full of errors there was nothing critical. The danger in his coding was more or less from the sheer quantity of errors rather than their intensity, and reversing the damage was simply a matter of taking the time to untangle all the threads.

There was an ugly, jagged corrosion here and there— most noticeably around the cables in the seeker’s wrists, and on the outside of his spark chamber— that told of exposure to dark energon. It was new as well, because Knock Out had seen to reversing the damage that Starscream’s brief stint using the substance had caused before he had fled the Nemesis for asylum with the Autobots.

He shook his head and plugged the meter into his datapad, synching the data into Starscream’s file. As it transferred, he began to enter blocks of time into his schedule over the next month where he would come to repair as much of the damage the other had suffered as he could. It seemed he’d have to take the time to wire Sunstreaker more money, because he wasn’t going to be getting back to Slaughter City any time soon at this rate.

He huffed a dry laugh. When had things ever gone the way he wanted them to?

He set the datapad aside after a few minutes, unplugging himself from the seeker and moving toward the medical stasis pod in the corner. It was a dependably straightforward device, simply requiring a subject and a power source to keep a spark beating and a processor functioning reliably for outrageous lengths of time without the interference of doctors or medics. They were used a lot for high-priority patients during the war, and Knock Out had plenty of experience operating them.

The hardest thing left to do would be actually moving Starscream into the pod. He had always been bigger than Knock Out, even before the medic had gone through his frame conversion, but Knock Out had lost mass over the vorns and Starscream seemed to have gained some since the last time they’d seen one another.

Thankfully, the stasis pod was anchored to a hoverdolly, which meant that moving it across the room was about as hard as falling into alt mode. He pulled it up alongside the gurney Starscream was laying on and turned on the brake to keep it in place. The plan was to lean over the top of the stasis pod and hoist Starscream up and into it in one smooth motion, with perhaps a few moments of adjustment before the device was sealed.

Knock Out went to work coaxing Starscream’s wings to fold under him, gently moving parts of the seeker until he could fit in the pod with ease. When he was done he circled back around and pushed up onto his toeplates, stretching out over the stasis pod long enough to stack the archaic old spark support machine onto the mech’s chassis and slide his arms under him. When he was sure he had a strong grip around the seeker he rocked back on his pedes, tugging the mech with him and settling him down into the plush interior of the pod.

With a few keystrokes the device sprung to life, the interior lit with a soft blue light and its body humming quietly as it generated the stasis field that would keep Starscream alive until his systems decided they were recovered enough to start back up. He plucked the connectors for the portable life support machine out of the port on Starscream’s side, tossing the beat up old gadget onto the gurney carefully before looking back down.

Even at rest Starscream looked haggard; perhaps not in his frame, but in his face. It was of course relaxed, but still seemed pinched in anger or frustration. Knock Out sighed.

“You deserved better than this.” He said softly, reaching down to arrange the seeker’s arms more comfortably at his sides. “I wish you had been in a place where you didn’t feel the need to do such risky things. I wish you could have stayed with the Autobots. They weren’t always the greatest, but they were…”

He sighed again, leaning back and bracing his hands on the raised edge of the pod. “They were a lot better than Megatron, at least.”

Knock Out reached over and keyed in the code to close the hatch. He watched with a resigned sense of apathy as it settled into place and locked, expelling a gush of cool air when the seal formed. In a matter of moments, frost began to creep at the edges of the transparasteel window. Within days, Starscream would be just as obscured from view as Breakdown was. He set his hand on the top of the pod softly.

“Nobody should have to feel the way you felt,” He said solemnly. After a moment he stepped back, disengaging the brake and floating Starscream back towards the corner, where the stasis pod had stood originally waiting for him. When he was done he turned toward the gurney and cleaned up what little mess there was, collecting his tools and moving towards the door. He paused a moment before he waved his access bracelet in front of the scanner, glancing at Starscream one last time before letting himself out.

Knock Out was filled with a strange sense of finality as the door shut behind him.

Chapter Text

When Knock Out had devised Breakdown's recovery timeline, he had assumed that being transferred to a new frame would prevent the augmented healing he'd gained from the combiner project from working. The only things migrated during the procedure were Breakdown’s spark and his helm; logic dictated that without whatever device sped his healing, he would recover at a normal rate.

Unfortunately, whenever one of Shockwave’s projects was involved, logic seemed to take the day off.

Breakdown regained his gross motor skills within days. He was able to toss and turn on his berth, curl onto his side and stretch his arms and legs out, and manipulate light objects without trouble. His strength and fine motor skills were slower in returning, and he was frustrated by what he felt was half-progress; anything heavier than a datapad was too much for him to lift, and doing precise tasks like writing, typing, or manipulating small objects was an ordeal. It wasn't uncommon to see him fumbling with a datapad, struggling to operate it with unsteady servos. His improvement was gradual, but still much faster than the average mech.

At the end of the first month he was able to walk around the room, and though his legs were unsteady he was elated to be mobile again. Knock Out often returned to the room to find him half way through a lap of the tiny space, a determined look on his handsome faceplates as he stumbled along with his big servo to the wall. Knock Out caught himself hovering as Breakdown worked, worried that the blue mech was pushing himself too hard too quickly to be healthy, but Breakdown proved his fretting to be in vain as he improved steadily.

He regained the ability to transform without assistance two weeks into his second month of recovery, and by then he was able to walk moderate distances without tiring. Knock Out began taking him out into the halls of the medical building for short strolls, whenever he could confirm Motormaster and his minions were off base. He had no delusions that if and when Motormaster and Breakdown reunited, there would be a fight— and while he was progressing spectacularly, Breakdown was in no position to fight anyone off, and Knock Out knew he was no match for the convoy.

By the end of two months, Breakdown was released to light duty. He no longer needed to stay in the medical building, and he was coordinated and acclimated to his new frame enough to no longer require supervision in his tasks. Knock Out had felt a strange melancholy the day that he released Breakdown; for the past three months, his world had revolved almost exclusively around seeing the younger mech back to good health. To have that suddenly change was jarring to say the least, but Breakdown was restless and ready to return to duty, and Knock Out had no desire to prevent his friend from doing what made him happy.

When Knock Out had arrived early that morning, he had gone through a quick progress diagnostic before announcing that Breakdown was free to leave. Breakdown had been shocked for a moment, but gentle excitement had stolen over his features after a moment. He helped Knock Out police the tiny recovery room, and when everything was cleaned and returned to its proper place they had lingered together near the door. Breakdown had thanked him for his dedication as he squeezed Knock Out’s servos delicately, his expression warm and fond as he offered to help buff the other for his troubles.

Knock Out had felt strangely embarrassed by the offer, demurring bashfully and informing Breakdown that he would still have to come in for therapy every few orns until he was back to optimum. Breakdown had grinned and agreed, and after a few more moments of lingering, turned and stepped out into the hall. Knock Out had watched him go and did his best not to dwell on the strange forlornness he felt.

Going back to normal duty was difficult. In the grand scheme of things three months was not very long at all, and it frustrated Knock Out to no end that he couldn’t seem to readapt after such a short amount of time. He was unmotivated and listless, struggling to finish small amounts of the paperwork he was so criminally behind in. Socializing with the other doctors and techs he worked with was done by rote, all shallow platitudes and banal small talk. It was hard to keep his mind on his work, his thoughts wandering to Breakdown more often than not. He did his best to ignore the fixation, assuring himself that it was perfectly natural to think about Breakdown after having done nothing but think about Breakdown for three months.

The days when Breakdown was scheduled to come in were his best days. Everything felt more convivial to Knock Out on those days, and tasks that he had struggled to complete became easier with the promise of Breakdown’s presence on the horizon. That was how things fell back into a routine; Knock Out worked as hard as he could between visits, and did his best to ignore the fact that Breakdown’s constant improvement meant he would eventually no longer need to come in.

That plan worked right up until the day that Breakdown was scheduled for his last visit.

The usual anticipation Knock Out felt was replaced by a sort of creeping anxiety. He didn’t want his excuse to see Breakdown so often to be taken from him, not after having spent years apart from him due to Motormaster’s meddling. It wasn’t fair, but there was nothing he could do about it, no matter how badly he wanted to. Any lie he could concoct about Breakdown’s health would be easily dismissed if another doctor did a basic check up on him.

He would just have to deal with the change as best he could.

The sound of heavy treads in the hall tore him from his thoughts, and he glanced down at his desk as he leaned back in his chair. Work datapads were piled all over its surface, a few spread out in front of him and even less stacked neatly in his outbox. He frowned, then pushed himself away, gathering himself to his pedes and stretching as he entered the medbay. The door opened after a moment and Breakdown stepped through, smiling at Knock Out as he did.

“You’re late,” Knock Out said, smiling back at the big mech as he crossed the space toward the medberth the seeker was leaning on, “That’s not like you.”

“Sorry,” Breakdown apologized, looking down at the floor sheepishly. “I lost track of time.”

“It’s no problem,” Knock Out assured quickly, patting the berth. Breakdown sat down on the end of it after a moment, leaning back until he was holding himself up with his arms. Knock Out set a servo on his knee and asked, “How are you feeling today?”

Breakdown took a moment to put actual thought into the question, then glanced over at the doctor. “Pretty great.”

Knock Out smiled again, pulling a work datapad from subspace and accessing Breakdown’s medical files on it. “No weakness, tingling, or loss of feeling?”

“Nope.” The big mech said, shaking his head. Knock Out hummed, ticking the appropriate checkboxes then setting the datapad on the next berth over.

They had spent so much time doing this exact thing together that Breakdown needed very little instruction. Knock Out checked his limb strength, having Breakdown hold out various parts of his body and then keep Knock Out from pushing them around. He checked Breakdown’s coordination and motor skills, checked that he had full feeling in his extremities, scanned his subsystems for errors, measured his optical latency, and checked the strength of his spark.

He cleared all of the examinations with flying colors. His systems were flawless, running smoother now than they had even in his original frame.

He met and exceeded optimum, which meant that Knock Out had no choice but to discharge him. He plastered a smile on his face and turned from where he’d been reviewing Breakdown’s results, doing his best to seem excited.

“Well, good news!” He said, stepping closer to where the bigger mech sat kicking his pedes, “You’re officially healthy enough to go back to regular duty.”

Breakdown smiled something brilliant at him, an honest and beautiful expression of elation informing his features as he stepped down from the berth and closed the space between them in two long strides. Before Knock Out could react, Breakdown had wrapped him up in his arms and pulled him close against his chassis, hugging him firmly but not tightly enough to be uncomfortable. For a moment, Knock Out was too startled to react, but he shook that feeling off quickly, wrapping his arms around Breakdown’s shoulders and holding him just as close.

For a while neither said anything, content to hold one another in the silence of the medbay and savor the moment together. Knock Out pressed his face against Breakdown’s shoulder, committing the feeling of being held by the other to memory. He chuckled after a beat, brushing his knuckles over the back of Breakdown’s neck.

“It’s weird that you’re taller than me now,” He said, doing his best to keep the emotion he felt out of his voice. Breakdown’s engine rumbled as he laughed.

“I don’t know, I kind of like it.” He said quietly, petting the armor between Knock Out’s wings. “It makes it easier to hug you.”

Knock Out huffed a laugh, hiding his eyes against the Stunticon’s pauldron. “Of course that’s why you like it.”

Breakdown’s engine rumbled gently again, and he paused for a moment before saying seriously, “You’re the greatest, doc.”

Knock Out hummed, cycling a vent. He didn’t feel like the greatest. He felt like a heel.

Breakdown pulled away reluctantly after a while, smiling down at the doctor fondly. “Are you busy?”

Knock Out glanced toward his office where he was very terribly behind on his work, then back at Breakdown, shaking his head. “Not really, why?”

“I sorta… wanted to ask if you’d come to lunch with me,”  the big mech said sheepishly, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I understand if you don’t want to, you did just spend a long time locked in a room with me, but it’s just… been a while since we hung out outside the medbay, you know?”

Knock Out couldn’t help but smile at the other’s concern for his feelings. For as much as he had changed since they had met, he was still his same sweet self. He turned and picked up the datapad he’d been using, stowing it in his subspace again. “I’d love that, actually.”

Breakdown smiled another of his beautiful smiles, as if going to lunch with the seeker was still so exciting even after all this time, and Knock Out’s spark fluttered in his chassis.

Knock Out clocked out and met Breakdown at the door, and together they made their way across the campus towards the mess hall. The trip there was spent in a comfortable silence, broken only occasionally by Breakdown asking questions about changes that had been made to the various structures on base. It was a little strange; Usually, the bigger mech would be more than happy to fill what was now comfortable silence with sweet chatter. It was something Knock Out had come to enjoy for many reasons, primary among them how sincere and guileless Breakdown was when he spoke.

He tried to disregard the thought; not everything could stay the same, and talking was just about the only thing they had to amuse themselves with while Breakdown had been recovering. It made sense that he’d be running out of things to say by now.

The mess was mostly empty when they arrived, the usual roar of conversation that filled the space during shift change reduced to a quiet murmur. They crossed the space together and collected their rations, then moved off to a table by the window, sitting across from one another. Breakdown looked out across the courtyard as Knock Out mixed some powdered silver into his cube quietly, looking pensive as he took in the base and its surroundings outside.

“Is something wrong?” Knock Out asked, grabbing Breakdown’s attention. “You’re so quiet…”

Breakdown looked down into his own energon, shifting to hold it between both hands, his pensive expression still in place. Knock Out’s anxiety tried to choke him, but he quashed it ruthlessly. Until Breakdown told him otherwise, there was no problem, and he refused to ruin one of his few opportunities to spend time with Breakdown by worrying pointlessly.

After a beat, the big mech looked up at him. “You know how I was late today?”

Knock Out nodded, taking a sip of his cube if only to have an excuse to do something with his servos.

“Rumble came up to me on my way to the medbay. He said I had new orders, direct from high command. I thought he was fooling around— you know how he is.” Breakdown said, reaching into his subspace. He produced a datapad with High Command’s symbol on the back, sliding it across the table to Knock Out. “He wasn’t, though. He gave me this and ran off.”

Knock Out’s anxiety returned in full force as he picked up the datapad. The last time Breakdown had been given new orders from High Command, he’d been sent to the combiner program— and that had worked out perfectly, hadn’t it?

He cycled a vent and picked up the datapad, flicking it on and skimming through the text. It was a reassignment to spec-ops for an undisclosed mission, and an undisclosed period of time, effective immediately. At the bottom of the document, the glyph-seals of Megatron, Starscream, and Soundwave sat proudly, proving the document to be legitimate.

Knock Out stared at it for a moment, then set it down, cycling another deep vent. He offered Breakdown an amused smile. “Do they know how big you are now?”

Breakdown snorted. “I think so. I mean, what doesn’t Soundwave know?”

“Touché.” Knock out said, sliding the datapad back to him. He took a sip of his cube, watching as Breakdown did the same. He looked at his friend seriously. “How do you feel about this?”

“I don’t know.” Breakdown said, his face twisting in thought. “I thought I would feel something, you know, or maybe be afraid like last time… but I just sort of feel neutral about it.”

“But you don’t feel bad about it? It doesn’t scare you?” The seeker asked, watching as Breakdown rubbed his face with one of his big servos. He leaned back after a moment, optics still downcast.

“I don’t know. I don’t think it’ll be fun, but anything’s better than going back to Motormaster.” He said softly, glancing over his shoulder. He offered Knock Out a half smile. “Truth be told I’m a little excited to get back into the field. Light duty helped take the edge off, but I’m still itching to do something r eally productive.”

“I can understand that.” Knock Out said, smiling wryly as Breakdown slipped the datapad back into his subspace.

“The only problem is that they want me to go to another base halfway across the galaxy for training.” Breakdown said, “Between that and the assignment itself, I probably won’t get to see you for a really long time.

Knock Out took another sip to occupy himself, but Breakdown saw through the act. “How do you feel about it, Knock Out?”

The seeker sighed, setting his cube down on the table. “Do you want the truth, or do you want me to sugar coat it?”

“The truth.” the big mech said immediately. Knock Out scrubbed at his face tiredly.

“It fragging sucks,” Knock Out said honestly, dropping his servos onto the table. Breakdown looked vaguely guilty, and the red mech leaned forward and slid one servo over Breakdown’s bigger one comfortingly. “But war is unpredictable, and if you’re alright with this— If you want to do this then I’m going to support you, regardless of how I feel about it.”

Breakdown flipped his servo over, holding Knock Out’s hand with a gentleness that belied his size.

“Besides,” Knock Out continued after a moment, “We have one another’s comm frequencies. It’s not like we won’t be able to talk anymore.”

Breakdown frowned. “I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too,” The seeker said, “But I’ll be here for you when you get back.”

Breakdown only seemed partially mollified. “I just wish I could spend more time with you. I don’t have long before I have to go.”

Knock Out smiled fondly at him, rotating their servos to thread their digits together. “We’d better start making the most out of the rest of the time we have then, haven’t we?”

Breakdown smiled back at him and squeezed his servo. “I guess so.”

 

Chapter Text

Knock Out let out a sigh as he looked around the medbay for something to do. After completing all of his desk work he had been faced with the inevitability of having to talk to the young mechs Motormaster had conscripted to replace the missing members of his gestalt. It was a wholly unappealing prospect in general, and Knock Out had wasted no time in getting to work stalling for time. He’d spent joors on his hands and knees scrubbing the floors, doing inventory and re-organizing shelves, double checking his requisitions forms against his inventory results, sterilizing instruments, running diagnostics on the various machines around the room, and in general doing his best to pretend there wasn’t a very important but dreadful conversation looming on the horizon.

But now the medbay was sparkling clean, and he had no more excuses to hide behind.

He sighed again and scrubbed his servos over his face, then stepped over to the door and peered out. Two guards sat next to each other on the floor in the hall playing cards and talking quietly, waiting either for someone with a grudge to appear or for shift change— whichever came first. The farthest guard— a tall, bulky femme with white and black paint and red accents—caught sight of Knock Out and straightened up, catching her partner’s attention. She turned to follow the taller femme’s line of sight and startled when she noticed Knock Out peeking around the corner, scrambling to her pedes and saluting.

“Your orders, sir?” She said, perhaps a touch overzealously. Knock Out offered her a wobbly smile, doing his best not to laugh at her hyperformality as her partner stood up as well.

“Sorry to bother.” He said after a moment, stepping a little further out the door. “I need you to bring me four prisoners, their numbers should be 400-15-7 to 400-15-10. I need to see all of them in Exam Room One.”

The calmer of the two femmes bent over and gathered their cards up then subspaced them as the shorter, more high strung femme nodded. “Right away, sir!”

Knock Out nodded back awkwardly to both of them then slipped back into the medbay proper, wondering at the vivacity of the newly forged as he crossed the room, heading toward the private exam rooms. They lined one side of a hall that branched off the main medbay, all of them more spacious and well appointed than anything Knock Out had had the pleasure of practicing in before.

He stepped into the first room and pulled out a chair, sitting down in it and stretching his legs out with his pedes crossed. He looked at the door for a long moment then let his helm thunk back against the back of the chair, sighing again into the silence of the room. He hated having to deliver bad news, and this promised to be just as terrible as announcing a death.

In short order Knock Out heard the marching of pedes in the far hall, and he sat up a little straighter in his chair as the door opened. They were brought in by order of their manifest number, with Wildbreak walking calmly in front and Dragstrip dragging his pedes at the back of the line, glaring at the floor with an expression of hatred. The guards brought them in and lined them up against the wall by the door, and Knock Out stood and walked toward them slowly.

“Take off their cuffs, please.” He requested, gesturing to the prisoners. The guards— almost all of them post-war newly forged— turned and looked at him uncertainty. He offered them an encouraging expression from where he stood a few feet away, but none of them looked mollified.

“Are you sure, sir?” one of them asked, stilling where he stood in front of Heatseeker.

“I’m certain I can handle them if they act up.” Knock Out said, nodding and turning his smile towards the four young inmates. “But I don’t think that’s going to be much of a problem.”

The guards looked no more certain than they had before, glancing nervously between the two older guards before a few of them stepped forward and disengaged the stasis cuffs, offering quiet warnings against bad behavior as they did so. Each one of the young stunticons was silent, watching as their cuffs were taken away and the guards filtered out of the room, the door closing behind them as they left.

A moment later their attention was on Knock Out, who stood in the middle of the room with his servos on his hips, watching them. Wildbreak looked obliviously happy to see Knock Out again, Slashmark looked cautious but calm, and both Dragstrip and Heatseeker stared back at him with stormy expressions on their faces. They regarded one another from across the divide, four bright-opticed younglings watching him in various stages of silent emotion.

“So,” Knock Out began after a moment, “You may be wondering why I called you all here.”

All at once, the stunticons spoke.

“Are we in trouble?” Wildbreak asked, anxiety creeping into his voice.

“You’re going to interrogate us!” Dragstrip posited angrily, glaring at Knock Out as he rubbed his wrists, “Fat chance getting any of us to crack.”

“You must be our legal representation.” Slashmark said, his expression thoughtful. “I was under the impression we didn’t get any.”

“You’re going to kill us,” Heatseeker growled, earning worried looks from Wildbreak and Dragstrip.

Knock Out swallowed back the urge to laugh at their naivety, waving his hands in front of himself as if to dispel their worries.

“No, no. None of you are in trouble and you’re not going to be hurt. I just want to talk.” He assured, stepping back toward his chair. He turned and gestured at the medberth and the two other chairs tucked into the corner of the room. “Please, find a seat and get comfortable.”

All three of them turned to Slashmark, who watched Knock Out settle into the comfortable chair next to the counter, then turned and pulled one of the chairs away from the wall, sinking down into it slowly. Heatseeker moved over and threw himself into the chair beside him, and Wildbreak walked over to hop up on the berth. Dragstrip looked around with uncertainty that was barely masked by a facade of anger, then trudged over to sit beside Wildbreak, his arms crossed over his chest.

There was another long, expectant silence where they simply looked at one another like they were cowboys one of the old western movies Knock Out had seen while on earth. He crossed his pedes again, twining his fingers together in front of himself.

“So, first thing’s first,” He said, looking at all of them evenly.  “I’d like to justify that I know you four haven’t actually been to prison before now, considering you thought I was an executioner, an interrogator, and a lawyer on top of being a doctor.”

Slashmark leaned forward and pinched at the bridge of his olfactory sensor, casting a tired glance between his three compatriots before settling on staring at Dragstrip. “As if I have to ask who told you we’ve been to prison.”

Dragstrip jerked his head toward the door, suddenly too interested in glaring at it’s smooth surface to look Slashmark in the face. The oldest of the four mechs turned back to Knock Out after a moment, and the medic offered him an understanding smile.

“Now that we’ve cleared that up,” he said, “I want to talk about Motormaster.”

Every mech in the room seemed to tense up at the words, all optics once more on Slashmark who stared back at Knock Out, intense and silent, for what felt like a long time.

“We’re not saying anything.” He said, glancing back at the younger members of his gestalt as if to confirm they understood before looking back to the red mech. “Not without a lawyer.”

“Relax.” Knock Out said, holding his hands up in a placating gesture. “First of all, this room is soundproof. Second of all, even if I were recording this conversation, anything you admit to here is unusable in court due to patient confidentiality.” He sat forward, looking between all of them seriously. “You don’t have to be afraid to talk to me. I’m your friend.”

All of them looked at him silently, then averted their gazes as one. Knock Out sighed and sat back again, scrubbing at his face. It wasn’t as if he had actually expected them to trust him at his word, but it would have made things a lot easier.

“Alright. Let’s go about this another way.” He said after a moment, pooling his servos in his lap, “I’m going to make some guesses about all of you and your relationships with Motormaster. When I’m done, you’re going to tell me if I sound like I’m crazy or if I’m right. Is that easier for you all?”

Again, the three younger mechs looked toward Slashmark, who was still staring at Knock Out with nervous intensity. “Do you swear that nothing we confirm can be used against us?”

Knock Out raised one servo and drew and X over the center of his chest. “Cross my spark.”

Slashmark watched him for a moment longer before nodding slowly, his anxiety evident. Wildbreak glanced toward Knock Out, his earlier uncertainty kindled into an angst that had him twisting his servos together nervously. The medic smiled at him warmly, hoping to comfort him, before looking back at the rest of the skittish younglings in the room.

“Here’s my guess. Motormaster found all of you when you were very young, probably not more than a few groons out of The Well. He promised you all sorts of things that sounded nice— Power, wealth, respect, adventure… Maybe he didn’t even promise you anything.” Knock Out mused, leaning forward, “Either way, he took you away and put you through something terrifying and painful that you didn’t understand. Maybe he told you about it and you agreed to it, or maybe he did it without asking. But he did things to you that hurt you, and when you needed comfort he refused to show you any concern or care.”

Each mech was staring at him, their emotional and frightened expressions a clear indication that Knock Out was right.

“Some mechs he brought with you died from it, and Motormaster didn’t care that they did.” He opined, steepling his fingers in front of himself. “When you finally recovered, he didn’t even thank you, or reward you. He made you change your colors and your names and made you do his dirty work, stealing and fighting and causing chaos, and when you didn’t do it he beat you, screamed at you, and starved you.”

He sat back and looked at the mechs, each of them looking sick. He lifted his arms. “Am I close?”

For a long moment, none of them said anything. Wildbreak glanced between Knock Out and Slashmark with distress, looking on the verge of tears. Beside him, Dragstrip grabbed his servo and squeezed it where he thought Knock Out wouldn’t see, and Wildbreak leaned back against the wall, cycling his vents in an attempt to calm himself. Slashmark stared at Knock Out, working his jaw uselessly as he tried to form a response. Heatseeker looked back and forth between his partner and Knock Out, his thunderous expression doing a poor job at disguising the disquiet he felt.

“How do you know all this?” Slashmark asked finally, his cultured voice made harsh with barely contained distress. Beside him, Heatseeker lurched forward in his chair.

“Motormaster must have snitched, the rat!” He shouted. All at once they began to argue and bicker, the space filled with the sound of their anguished words. Knock Out watched them for a moment then sat forward and honked his horn, bringing their squabbling to a screeching halt and gathering their attention all at once.

“I only spoke to Motormaster when I did his intake evaluation, and if I’m lucky I’ll never have to speak to him again.” He said. “I know all of this because you four aren’t Motormaster’s first gestalt.”

The proclamation took a moment to set in before they reacted to it. Wildbreak’s expression crumpled, and he pulled his servo away from Dragstrip to bury his face in his hands in misery. Dragstrip’s earlier defiant charade vanished all at once as his optics darted over to Slashmark again, looking for any clue as to how he should react.

“He’s lying,” Dragstrip said, desperation seeping into his tone. “Right? Slashmark? He’s lying, right?”

“That glitch, ” Slashmark cursed, glaring down at his reflection in the shiny floor and ignoring Dragstrip’s pleading. Heatseeker stared at him, his anger gone and replaced with confusion.

“I don’t get it,” The big mech said, glancing over at Knock Out and then to each of the other stunticons, “What’s the joke? I don’t understand.”

“There’s no joke, ” Slashmark hissed, balling his fists on his thighs. He looked up at Knock Out slowly, his expression hard. “He used us.”

Heatseeker glanced between the medic and the mech next to him again, uncomprehending. “What?”

“Motormaster used us!” Slashmark barked, jumping to his pedes and whirling on the younger mech. “We’re replacements! Tools! He tricked us! Everything we’ve been through has been for nothing but his gain!”

Slowly, Heatseeker’s expression began to harden again, and he glanced around Slashmark towards where Knock Out was sitting, watching them all try to assimilate the news with a sympathetic look on his face. “We’re just gonna take some hoighty-toighty Autobot’s word at face value?”

Slowly, Slashmark turned and looked at Knock Out, the desperation in his optics belying the anger on his face. “How can we trust that you’re telling the truth?”

Knock Out stood and produced a picture cube from his subspace, flicking it on and paging through the images it held before holding it out for all four of them to see. Displayed crisply above the device was an image of Knock Out standing beside Breakdown before his upgrade, both of them smiling fondly.

“The mech that Wildbreak is meant to replace is my Conjunx.” He said seriously, watching each of them as they stared at the image. Slashmark looked up from it again.

“Just because they look similar doesn’t mean anything,” He said, and Knock Out could tell he didn’t believe it either. “You’ll have to find better proof than that if you want us to believe you.”

Knock Out shrugged slightly and turned the cube back around, flicking through the pictures again for a moment. When he turned it back to them, the image showed Menasor mid-transformation, with Breakdown and Dragstrip scaling Motormaster’s sides to reach their positions.  They stared at the image silently, their expressions all varying degrees of despair.

“I’m sorry,” Knock Out offered gently. “I know this isn’t easy to hear.”

Slashmark turned in a circle like he was looking for something he’d lost, his fists balled at his sides. He stopped and looked at Knock Out as if in a daze, his jaw working uselessly for a moment before he asked in a small voice, “What are we supposed to do?”

Knock Out stood and stepped forward, easing Slashmark back into his chair and turning to regard each of the young stunticons in turn. They all looked desolate as they looked back at him, waiting to be instructed on how to fix their problem.

“I don’t want any of you to worry.” Knock Out said seriously. “You’re not going to be dealing with this alone. I’m going to do my best to take care of you, even if I can’t get you one hundred percent free, alright? I’m not going to abandon you.”

Slowly, Slashmark nodded, glancing around at the other stunticons before looking back up at Knock Out.

“What do we do now?” he asked again. Knock Out cycled a ventilation as he worried his lip between his dentae.

“For right now, the best thing you can do for yourselves is lay low. I’m going to assign you to a cell away from Motormaster, but if you want to get out of here— if you want to help me get you free— you have to stay out of trouble. All of you.” the medic said. “That means no fighting, no arguing with the guards, no stealing, no escape attempts… nothing. You have to behave if you want to get out of here.”

Slashmark looked at his compatriots, then nodded slowly. “We can handle that. I’ll keep them out of trouble.”

Knock Out smiled at him, then showed it to the rest of the younglings. “Good. I’m going to be heading back up to see the High Council soon, and while I’m there I’ll see what I can do about getting your sentences shortened at the very least. For now, though, I’m going to send you back to your cell.”

They all looked at each other uncertainly.

“You’re gonna leave?” Wildbreak asked anxiously, scrubbing at his face to rid it of any stray tears, “What if we need you?”

“I’ll leave you my comm frequency. If you need something while I’m gone, just get a guard’s attention and tell them you need to make a call.” He explained, walking over to the counter to collect a handful of data wafers. He took a moment to put his comm frequency onto each one before walking back over and handing them out to the four decepticons, pausing long enough to squeeze Wildbreak’s hand before stepping back. He looked at all of them seriously. “Before I call the guards back in, is there anything you need?”

They shared a long silence before Slashmark finally shook his head.

“I believe we are fine.” He said quietly. Knock Out looked at him sympathetically, saddened by his despondence.

“Alright.” He said softly, crossing the space to the door. He paused before palming it open, turning to look at the crestfallen younglings scattered around the room.

“I meant what I said,” Knock Out promised softly. “I’m going to take care of you. You just have to be patient.”

Slashmark nodded to him silently after a beat, and Knock Out turned and waved his hand across the access panel for the door. It slid back and he beckoned in the guards, moving to one side so that they could enter again. Two guards went to each Stunticon, cuffs out in preparation of moving them.

“Take them to a new cell, away from Motormaster, please.” Knock Out said to the oldest of the guards after catching his attention. “When he gets out of ad-seg, I don’t want them near him.”

The guard nodded, helping his partner usher a distraught Wildbreak towards the door. He passed Knock Out with a quiet thanks and an emotional expression before disappearing into the hallway. Behind him went Dragstrip, who didn’t bother to look at Knock Out as he left, too busy staring at his servos dejectedly to offer any sort of parting words. Heatseeker passed by him, muttering to himself about shoving Motormaster’s legs down his intake as he went, his servos balled into fists and his expression furious.

Slashmark paused in the doorway and stared at Knock Out intensely, his expression an odd mix of anguish and determination. Knock Out offered him a gentle smile, setting a servo on his shoulder in an attempt to comfort him.

“Thank you.” Slashmark said, his voice thick with emotion. “I have a feeling that you’ve been helping us more than we are aware of and… Thank you.”

“Of course,” Knock Out said seriously, taking his servo away from the younger mech’s pauldron and grabbing his servos instead. He looked up into Slashmark’s optics.“I can tell you’ve been taking care of the others for a while and I want you to know that I’m proud of you.”

Slashmark stared back at him with welling emotion, then nodded slightly, his mouth a thin line. After a moment he stepped out into the hall followed by his guards, and Knock Out watched him until he disappeared around the corner.

Even Slashmark, the oldest of the four, was still so young. He couldn’t be any older than Sunstreaker, which made him less than a cycle old. He was a child, and yet he carried so much weight on his shoulders, put there by Motormaster and his machinations.

In a moment of silence, Knock Out said a malicious prayer. In all luck, Motormaster would rot here forever, never able to ruin another life.

Chapter Text

In the vorns following Breakdown’s reassignment, Knock Out’s life began an inexorable downward slide.

The depression he had fought with after Breakdown’s recovery returned in full force. Time somehow sped up and slowed down all at once, making his days feel endless but too short to get anything done and his nights infinite, fleeting, and exhausting. He woke feeling like he had never slept, and slept feeling like he would never wake. His energy levels suffered, his already exiguous appetite shrunk, and motivation became harder to find than a tin of quality wax in a morass of standard issue vapidity.

Where once Knock Out had mingled and networked amiably with those around him even when he wasn’t truly interested, he now struggled with basic socialization. Being included in conversations and activities tasked him more than it ever had before, leaving him feeling more exhausted than he thought was possible. He began to snap at the people around him, quickly earning a reputation as short tempered and bossy among the fledgeling techs he was in charge of.

Any free time he found in his day was spent fixating on his appearance despite his disinclination to do things, meticulously checking and rechecking the grade of his shine and the integrity of his finish for fear of someone noticing a change and asking after his emotional wellbeing. The idea of someone cornering him and asking him about his feelings made his plating crawl.

His work suffered, and he was constantly buried under mountains of unfinished reports. Going through the day felt like being stuck in a swamp, unable to move forward or backward but unable to sink, either. He felt lethargic and lifeless, operating in a torpid sort of autopilot whenever he was called to operate or do fieldwork.

When his indolence cost him his wings, the crushing feelings of hopelessness only intensified.

He had been too slow to avoid a volley of anti-aircraft munitions launched from an Autobot warship, and had been blown out of the sky. He had survived, but his prognosis had been grim; the damage was too extensive to repair fully, and while the kind young medic who had seen to him said there was a chance he would be able to fly again later in life, Knock Out knew the chance of that was much slimmer than the mech let on.

On impulse he had requested an alt-mode reassignment, trading his now-useless wings and thrusters for a motor and tires. There was an extensive learning curve to the procedure, but he knew it would be better for his mental health to get rid of his wings and take what mobility he could. The idea of trying to buoy himself through slowly diminishing mental faculties by clinging to the vestiges of a flight alt mode was not an appealing one.

Between the sudden change, and Breakdown’s prolonged absence, he fought to find any joy in his life.

He had thought things would improve the longer time went on— naively, he had assumed that he would stop thinking about Breakdown after enough time had passed, and he would move on like normal people moved on from losses and separations. Of course, it would have been too simple for that to be the case; Even after a millenia he couldn’t seem to shake Breakdown from his mind for very long, and a part of him didn’t want to.

He didn’t have to wonder why this was for very long before he realized that he loved Breakdown.

It didn’t surprise him as much as he thought it should, because of course he loved Breakdown. He loved Breakdown like he had never loved anyone before, and Breakdown made him feel loved in return. He was not upset with the conclusion, but more disappointed that he had not become aware of it before Breakdown had left. Perhaps then he would have known to say something, to keep the Stunticon with him no matter what it took.

Now, there was a good chance that they would never see one another again.

After that late-night epiphany, Knock Out stopped struggling to keep his helm above the proverbial waterline. Whatever negligible motivation he could muster was almost always spent attempting to wring some sort of pleasure from life— or at the very least, preventing himself from falling further into his pit of misery. Work was often shunted to the sidelines or delegated to his techs in favor of occupying himself with something more fun, be that drinking himself under the metaphorical table or losing himself in any of the trite fiction being published by the Decepticon army.

Ignoring his responsibilities and burying his feelings in frivolity became the new normal after a while; The ache that Breakdown’s absence inspired in his spark was never far from his mind, but he found a sort of equilibrium in the fatuity of distraction that helped him more than he had expected. There were very few times when push came to shove and he was made to actually do his job, and even in those situations surgery was just enough of both mind-numbing repetition and engaging unpredictability to keep him occupied.

Things changed— dramatically — during one of his rare outings as a field medic. In a moment of weakness he had volunteered to go in place of a young, newly-certified medic who had stood and quivered in fear as they received their orders. He figured it was his newfound sense of apathy that had compelled him to do it; that, or how much of Breakdown he saw in the rookie.

The mission was considered dangerous, to be certain; he was paired with an extraction team, loaded into a stealth ship, and whisked off through a space bridge to a planet a few systems away called Rada Mor. It was a well known Autobot stronghold, a confirmed heavy weapons depot and personnel garrison that was rumored to be the headquarters of the Wreckers.

Rada Mor was a wildly exotic planet, rocky and overflowing with organic material that clustered together in hot, wet jungles around the base of enormous mountain ridges. Tiny creatures could be seen skittering around through the foliage, repulsive little seven-legged clusters of rock-like hide with weeping bulges of meat swelling out from within. Knock Out was considerably relieved to know that they wouldn’t be landing until their target signalled for pickup.

The Autobot facility itself was squat, pentagonal, and surrounded by craggy rock formations that made it nearly impenetrable from the ground. A cluster of three colossal towers sprung up from it’s center, bristling with weapons of all kinds, pointed outward to protect from any perceived threat. There were no windows or hatches to be seen on the main body of the building, and no movement from within the armament towers. For all intents and purposes, it looked abandoned from the outside. The only thing that kept Knock Out from wondering if they’d been sent to the wrong place was the buzz of ultra high-frequency communications in the atmosphere when they’d entered.

Their shuttle was cloaked and idling on the periphery of the Autobot stronghold’s sensors, hovering in place a few hundred mechanometers above the ground to ensure a comprehensive visual of the terrain around them. The extraction experts were all sitting at the hatches with their legs hanging over the sides, talking and laughing with one another as they kept watch for their mark. Knock Out was disinclined to participate in the conversation, busying himself with some incredibly repetitive but addicting game that had come preloaded on his personal datapad.

It kept the amiable conversation that flowed around him from truly grating on his nerves, but it did little to actually stave off his boredom. He glanced up from the screen towards the team captain, who stood by the shuttle hatch holding onto the overhead railing.

“How much longer will this take? I have a lot of work to do back at base.” Knock Out lied, his voice cutting over the low murmur of the soldiers. Many of them— the captain included— stopped and turned to him in surprise. The captain— a stocky, solidly built mech with the drab, faded colors that denoted having been forged as a miner— turned towards him more fully and regarded him with an appraising optic.

“As long as it needs to take.” He said flatly, staring bullishly back at Knock Out. “Either the mark’ll tell us to come pick him up, or high command’ll call us back. We’re here until we don’t have to be.”

Knock Out pulled a face at him, huffed a sigh through his vents, and went back to his game. He resettled his armor against his protoform in the hopes of relieving the strange itch that lingered from his conversion, doing his best to ignore the others as they haltingly went back to their conversations. He felt strangely alienated, and through he knew the feeling was mostly his fault for being standoffish, he was coming to regret having taken the younger medic’s place on this assignment.

A breeze blew through the cabin, hot and humid and reeking of phosphorus, and he was filled very suddenly with the longing to fly. It was no longer an option for him to do so though, and he ruthlessly crushed the rancid spires of despair that the realization fostered in his spark. He tapped roughly at his datapad, focusing on the strange cathartic rhythm of monotony and ignoring his emotions as if his life depended on it.

After a while it was easy to sink back into the sanctuary of obliviousness he had created. The others’ gentle chat became a quiet murmur on the periphery of his awareness, strangely more comforting for its existence than grating for its content, and he was uncommonly glad for it’s presence. Somehow, it helped ease the ache he felt, and for the briefest of moments he was able to pretend that things were alright, relaxing back into his seat.

Kliks turned to breems, and breems to joors. The blueish light of Rada Mor’s sun had set behind a tall mountain ridge, the light bouncing off the phosphorus in the atmosphere and painting the sky in shades of indigo and violet. The landscape below was much darker now— dark enough that the soldiers had gone from watching the repulsive organics in the jungles to watching the stars overhead with a sense of wonder that was unbecoming of a spacefaring species.

Knock Out’s tranquility was ripped from his servos by a sudden piercing chirp from the cockpit of the ship. He glanced up, startled, as the mechs around him jumped to their pedes and began to move. The captain immediately strode toward the helm of the ship to take the incoming communication, the pilot at his heels.  After a beat, the shuttle began to move, doglegging and descending toward the forest floor.

“I have a visual,” A femme standing in one of the hatches said, her magnifying visor covering her eyes as she looked out into the rapidly darkening twilight. Knock Out squinted past her as she began to list off headings and coordinates, but couldn’t make out any significant lights or movement to portend the arrival of their mark before the shuttle dropped behind the treeline.

Within moments the ship settled down on its stabilizers silently, the soft sounds of the jungle hiding what little noise the ship itself might have made. Far in the distance, Knock Out could hear the roar of a powerful engine coming closer, but he couldn't see anything through the dense foliage that surrounded them.

There was the briefest anxiety within Knock Out, that perhaps they had been fooled— there was always a chance the Autobots could have rooted their agent out and extracted the correspondence codes from them. The idea that the approaching mech could be a Wrecker ready to slaughter them was not so farfetched.

In the next moment, Knock Out decided he didn't care and went back to his game.

The sound of the engine cut off a few hundred mechanometers away, just on the far side of the thick patch of jungle they sat in. Theories were thrown around by the other mechs in the ship via an open comm, ranging from the mark needing to break through the density on pede to having been taken down by organics hiding away in the underbrush. For the most part, Knock Out toned out their conversation, glad to be this much closer to finally getting back to base and his comfortably dull routine.

A breem passed before the mech seemed to reach them, the ships sensors tracking him as he skirted around the clearing slowly, pausing on the far side of the shuttle from the Autobot facility. There was a brief exchange of codes and credentials, then the captain turned and nodded to the pilot, who began adjusting instruments on the consoles around him. A nanoklik later, the subsonic hum of their cloaking systems died down, then the noisy rustle of foliage and the sound of a heavy trod announced the agent’s approach.

The soldiers parted at the door to let him in, and in the same moment he clambered into the space the cloak hummed back to life. Knock Out did his best to ignore the newcomer as he stepped forward past the medic and shook hands with the captain, reaching up to the overhead handles to steady himself.

“Take us up to orbit but try to keep a visual,” The agent said in the voice that had haunted Knock Out’s dreams for the past million years. The medic’s helm snapped up sharply, some part of himself screaming that it was too good to be true while the rest of him clambered for proof.

Breakdown’s silhouette was much the same now as it had been the day Knock Out had watched him leave, all strong angles and heavy shapes. His paint— what little of it Knock Out could make out— was scratched and pitted with the scars of the battlefield, but otherwise healthy and neat. He turned his helm toward the captain to respond to a question, and at the first glimpse brass faceplates, Knock Out knew his sudden dizziness had nothing to do with their ship’s ascent into orbit.

He felt like he was being crushed— like some unknown entity had pinched through his chest plates and begun to use his spark like a squeeze toy. He struggled to pull cool air into his frame and to make sense of his suddenly scattered thoughts. His fingers felt numb and his knees felt weak and he was filled with a sense of desperate urgency that he couldn't understand as he lurched to his feet.

Breakdown withdrew something from his subspace and held it in his hands— his wonderful, too-familiar hands that Knock Out ached to hold. Breakdown was talking, saying something that Knock Out couldn't understand for the life of him, and smiling at the captain in a way that had klaxons sounding in Knock Out's helm. Everything in him ached with the need to get the Stunticon’s attention, but his frame refused to obey him.

“Breakdown,” he breathed after what felt like an eternity, his voice barely audible over the thrum of the ship’s propulsion systems. Breakdown heard it though, heard him , and spun so fast he nearly smacked the captain with the arm that he wasn't using to brace himself. Knock Out stared at him with a look of desolation on his faceplates and a desperate numbness in his spark, and Breakdown stared back— first with shock, and then with such incredible love that Knock Out felt like the past millenia had been worth it.

“Doc,” Breakdown replied after a moment, his voice laden with emotion.

Behind him and below him, the Autobot facility went up in smoke, silhouetting Breakdown in the bright, white-blue wash of the massive copper based explosives he had detonated, as if to further punctuate the gravity of their reunion.


Nearly two whole days had passed since then, and Knock Out hadn't seen any sign of Breakdown since. They had exchanged halting conversation on the shuttle, but the ride back had been short, and Breakdown had been whisked off for debrief the moment they’d landed.

Knock Out had looked around— had actually left his quarters and put effort into trying to find the Stunticon— to no avail. Everyone that Knock Out asked claimed to have seen him only in passing, or that the medic had just missed catching him by a breem. It was frustrating to say the least, though Knock Out didn't blame Breakdown; he was more than certain the younger mech was being kept busy by all the detail work returning spec-ops agents had to sift through. More or less, he was just frustrated at the circumstances .

After the second day of fruitless searching, Knock Out resigned himself to waiting. He was sure that when Breakdown found a moment, he would come to see Knock Out. It was just a matter of being patient— and if he could weather a millenia without Breakdown, he could handle a few weeks longer to let him settle back in.

Thankfully, he didn't have to wait that long.

Predictably, the promise of seeing Breakdown again filled him with a sort of energy he could barely remember feeling. On a whim he had decided to try actually doing his job for once, and was pleasantly surprised to find it easier than he remembered. Stacks of paperwork— some of it groons overdue— was dealt with in the matter of hours. Medbay maintenance was completed quickly afterwards, leaving Knock Out with copious energy and very little to spend it on.

It was as he turned from double-checking the inventory of one of the tertiary stock rooms that they quite literally ran into one another. Knock Out took a half-step back, expecting to see one of the larger medics there, but startled when he came face to face with Breakdown instead. The big mech stood in the hall uncertainly, nervousness informing his every line.

“Breakdown!” Knock Out exclaimed, unable to keep the joy from his tone as he smiled up at the Stunticon.  Breakdown smiled back at him fondly, though apprehension still played at the edges of his expression.

“Hey,” He began awkwardly, glancing past Knock Out into the storage room, then back down at the medic. “You busy?”

“Not really.” Knock Out said, relieved to be telling the truth for once.“Did you need something?”

Breakdown offered him another smile, though this one was more anxious. Knock Out was struck by how little his expressions had changed, even after a million years and a new frame.

“I wanted to know if you wanted to get dinner with me,” Breakdown said after a moment’s hesitation, “I figured we could catch up. It's been a while.”

“I’d love to.”  Knock Out managed around the sudden fluttering in his spark. He stepped out into the hall, the door closing quietly behind him.

“Oh, thank Primus,” Breakdown breathed, letting out a chuckle that was half relieved and half nervous as they began to walk down the hall together.  “I was afraid that after being gone so long, you wouldn’t want to hang out anymore.”

“Are you insane?”  Knock Out said incredulously, glancing at the taller mech over his pauldron, “I thought about you every day! I don’t think I could begin to tell you how much I missed you.”

Breakdown paused as they rounded the corner, watching Knock Out in surprise. “Really?”

Really.” The medic said seriously.

Breakdown looked at him for a moment longer, then nodded and began to move forward again. “I felt like that, too. I’m glad to finally be done with that assignment and back where I’m supposed to be.”

Knock Out’s spark flipped again, and he couldn’t stop himself from smiling.

“I’m glad you’re back, too.” Knock Out said honestly. After a moment, he glanced over at Breakdown again. “So, Spec-Ops. How weird was that?”

Breakdown snorted. “It was terrible. They had me going undercover as a Wrecker. I think the story kinda tells itself from there.”

“I’ll bet,” Knock Out laughed, bumping his paldron against what he could reach of Breakdown’s amiably. “Did you ever see yourself being a spy when you first joined the Decepticons?”

“Honestly?” Breakdown asked, glancing over in time to see Knock Out nod. “Forget being a spy, I didn’t see myself living this long.”

Knock Out hummed as they turned down the corridor the mess hall was in. “Well, I’m glad you did. Even if I could have passed on the spec-ops part.”

Breakdown’s powerful engine rumbled as he laughed. “Me, too.”

The mess hall was thankfully uncrowded, with only a handful of patrons scattered around the room, mostly solitary mechs and femmes eating early to beat the inevitable crush of shift change. Knock Out and Breakdown collected their rations, then moved off toward the row of tables that paralleled the windows. As they settled down across from each other, Breakdown chuckled quietly.

“What?” Knock Out asked, glancing up at the bigger mech.

“I just got a serious sense of deja vu, is all.” Breakdown said. Knock Out looked around, then chuckled as well.

“No kidding.” He opined, taking a sip of his energon. He let out a contented sigh as he set his cube down. “I’m not complaining, though. If I had to repeat any moment, I’d rather it be something like this.”

“Agreed.” Breakdown said, settling back and draping an arm over the back of the chair beside him. He took a sip of his energon, then flashed a smile at Knock Out. “So, what have you been up to while I’ve been gone?”

Knock Out smiled back, swirling the energon in his cube around idly. “Nothing terribly exciting, I’m afraid. I finally graduated my last medical class, so now I’m the highest ranking medical officer on this base, but that mostly means I’m stuck doing a lot of paperwork.”

“That’s great!” Breakdown exclaimed, his face lighting up. He sat forward and rested his servo over Knock Out’s. “I knew you could do it.”

Knock Out’s smile became a little wobbly. “I don’t think I would have made it if  you hadn’t believed in me.”

“Nonsense.” The stunticon chided softly as he sat back in his chair again, wrapping both of his big hands around his cube. “You’re real smart, Knock Out. You can do anything you put your mind to— I’m living proof of that.”

The medic’s optics flickered down into his energon briefly as he tried to control the eddy of affection that raged in his spark.

“Still, thank you for always being there for me,” He said seriously. “Your support has meant more to me over the years than I could tell you.”

“Hard duty.” Breakdown said, smiling fondly at Knock Out again. There was a brief but comfortable silence— something Knock Out was pleased to find still came easily to them, even after being apart so long — before Breakdown spoke again. “Have you heard anything from Motormaster or the others?”

Knock Out lowered his cube from where he’d been taking a sip, shaking his head. “Nothing. Then again, I haven’t really been watching. You’re the only Stunticon I care about.”

Breakdown cycled a vent and turned to look out the window. This base was one of the less scenic installations; three big buildings on a vast expanse of grey, uninteresting rock that went on in all directions. The planet was so boring, nobody had even bothered to name it.  

“I’m sure as soon as word gets out that I’m back, he’ll be climbing down my intake trying to get me to join up again.” Breakdown sighed.

“Just tell him you’re still on retainer for spec-ops if he asks. It’s not far from the truth, is it?” Knock Out asked. Breakdown lifted one shoulder in a shrug.

“They’re keeping me busy, but it’s all real boring. Lots of repeating myself over and over again, and filling out forms.” He explained. He took another sip of his energon, staring down into his cube in a sort of pensive silence for a moment before looking up at Knock Out again, his expression intense.  Knock Out blinked, then glanced down at his chassis, half-expecting to find out he had spilled his energon on himself without realizing.

“...What?” He asked when it was clear there was nothing on him. “What’s wrong?”

Breakdown glanced away, uncertainty suddenly informing his features. “I wasn’t— I didn’t want to say anything…”

“Say anything about what?” Knock Out asked, thoroughly confused. Breakdown cycled a vent, then looked up at Knock Out again hesitantly.

“Your alt mode is… it’s different now.” He said. Knock Out felt his spark roil for a reason that had nothing to do with affection, and he took a long sip of his cube to stall for time.

“Oh, that.” the medic said, setting his cube down on the table and leaning forward on his elbow in a way he hoped came off as casual. “I had to get a conversion.”

“You had to ?” Breakdown asked, alarm creeping into his voice. “Did you get hurt or something?”

Knock Out sloshed the remains of his dinner around in its cube, doing his best to disguise his nervousness.

“I did get hurt, but it was mostly a style choice.” He lied, glad to have been using the excuse long enough for it to come naturally. “I’d been considering it for a while. Tires have been in the past few seasons, don’t you know, and far be it from me to be unfashionable.”

Breakdown didn’t respond, and when Knock Out glanced up he found the bigger mech scrutinizing him intensely. It was something Breakdown had never turned on him before, a focus so intense that he felt as if the Stunticon was staring directly into his spark and judging what he found there. Anxiety gripped him suddenly, a slow wash of panic that threatened to choke him the longer Breakdown watched him with that probing stare.

All at once, his excuse felt so flimsy. If there was anyone who would see through him it was Breakdown, who seemed to know him so well even after they had been separated for so long. Cold terror coursed through his lines at the idea that Breakdown would know he was lying and ask.  He had never spoken to anyone about it before, not even the doctors who had done the procedure. He had never examined the feelings the change had inspired in him, knowing that if he thought about them— if he thought about what he had lost — he would crack under the weight of his sorrow.

He realized, suddenly, that Breakdown knew. He continued to stare at the medic as if he were taking him apart, his expression calculating and intense— and when their optics locked, Knock Out was sure the jig was up. The urge to flee— to put distance between Breakdown and himself, to do anything he had to to get away from the impending conversation— filled him until he felt like he was drowning.

But after a moment that felt like an eternity, Breakdown’s expression softened and he sat back, looking Knock Out up and down one last time with a much more thoughtful variety of appraisal in his gaze. After a moment he laughed, bringing his cube up for a sip. Knock Out mimicked him, if only to disguise the nervous resetting of his vocalizer.

“What’s so funny?” He asked softly, as he waited to defrost from the ice of his terror. Breakdown shook his head, and when he looked back up at Knock Out, his optics twinkled with something soft and loving.

“You do look beautiful, but I don’t think that’s ever been in question.” The stunticon posited casually. Knock Out’s engine let out an awful splutter as he covered his mouth with the hand that wasn’t holding his energon, struggling to clear a mouthful out of his vents. Breakdown watched him with sudden concern as he coughed and choked.

“What in the pit did those Wreckers teach you!” Knock Out asked incredulously, once he could vent properly again. Breakdown shot him a sheepish grin, trying not to laugh and only failing miserably. He lapsed into laugher, his powerful engine growling along as he shoved his hands into his face to try and control himself.

Knock Out felt his indignation drain from him like energon from a broken cube as he was struck by just how adorable Breakdown was when he laughed, and just how much he’d missed the sound. He began to laugh as well, though perhaps less vigorously than Breakdown had been, and after a few minutes they settled into a warm and comfortable silence.

Breakdown reached across the table for Knock Out’s servo again, holding it carefully as if hyper-aware of his own strength. Knock Out turned his servo over and threaded their fingers together, running his thumb along the broad lines of the Stunticon’s forefinger affectionately.

“I meant what I said,” Breakdown said after a moment. “You look great. Always have, always will.”

“I know,” Knock Out said as he smiled coyly at Breakdown, silently thanking Primus for his acting ability. On the inside, his spark trembled, awash in adoration for the big mech. “But it’s nice to hear you say it.”

“I’ll have to do it more often, then-” Breakdown posited casually, “You know, to make up for all that lost time.”

Knock Out snorted, then swallowed the last of his cube and slid the container over to the edge of the table.

“You won’t hear me complaining,” He said. After a moment, he hummed. “Any idea what your next assignment is?”

Breakdown shook his helm, sighing through his vents. “All I know is I’ve got a quarter-vorn before they’ll draft me for another spec ops mission, if they think I’m a good fit for the department. Chances are they were only capitalizing on my new frame when they sent me on the last one, so I doubt I’ll be doing anything else like it.”

Knock Out hummed again, looking out the window to watch as a shift of guards rolled through the makeshift courtyard, headed to their posts.  Breakdown squeezed his servo after a moment, drawing his attention back.

“You look like you’ve got something on your mind.” He said. Knock Out smiled, endlessly charmed by Breakdown’s ability to read him like a book.

“It’s a silly idea.” the medic demurred. Breakdown squeezed his servo again.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not important.” He said seriously. Knock Out smiled fondly at him again.

“We’ve got openings for new techs in the medbay.” He ventured after a beat of hesitation, “And now that I’m the commanding medical officer of this installment, I’m allowed to have an assistant. I was thinking, maybe, of offering the position to you. If you’re interested.”

Breakdown blinked at him owlishly, his jaw working uselessly for a moment. He clearly hadn’t expected such a far-fetched proposal.

“I don’t know if I could do it. All I know is construction and mining.” He explained. “It’s not that I don’t want to, I just don’t know if I’d do very well.”

“Tech work isn’t hard,” Knock Out said. “Mostly, you’d be a gofer. It’s not very glamorous, I know, but it would keep you from being recalled to Menasor, and it would keep us together. Medical credentials override a lot nowadays.”

Breakdown looked down into his energon pensively. The silence was more thoughtful this time, as Knock Out watched Breakdown seem to puzzle through the offer, and Breakdown toyed with the remnants of his dinner idly. After a moment, he sat back and swallowed the rest of the cube in one big gulp, sliding the container over to sit near Knock Out’s.

“I’ll have to take some time to really think about it, if that’s okay.” He said, looking up at Knock Out as if he were admitting to doing something wrong. When Knock Out nodded encouragingly to him, he continued. “Working with the Autobots was terrible, don’t get me wrong—they’re all welded to their high-horses over there— but it got me thinking a lot about… the end of things, you know? When everything pans out, where’s that gonna leave us?”

Knock out nodded his assent. “It never hurts to have a plan for the future.”

“I mean, if we even have a future.” Breakdown mumbled, glancing over at where their hands were still tangled together. “I don’t know how any of this is gonna end as a win for either side, and that… That scares me a lot more than it should, I think.”

“You don’t have to be afraid.” Knock Out said seriously, squeezing Breakdown’s servo again in an attempt to comfort him. “No matter what happens, or where we end up, I’ll protect you.”
“I know you will,” Breakdown chuckled, regarding the medic with another of his unfathomably loving expressions and squeezing back. “You always have.”

Chapter Text

“In short,” Knock Out said, switching off the link between his work datapad and the holoprojector in front of him, “The population of the prison is in good health, and those affected by illness or injury have treatment plans in place to bring them back to optimum as fast as is healthy.”

Cyclonus nodded distractedly as he, Cyberwarp, and Skyjack tapped away at their own datapads, most likely taking notes on his presentation. It had been a rather long one in comparison with rest of the in-person reports he’d given since taking Ratchet’s place, covering more than a month of constant work down in the correctional facility.

The High Councilors had all seemed attentive and interested, save for Riotgear and Treadshock who had taken turns glaring holes into Knock Out’s helm when they thought he wasn’t looking. The other three— who Knock Out regarded as the brains of the High Council’s operation— had asked a few questions to clarify points, but not so many as to make him feel as if his presentation was not up to snuff.

By and large, it had been the most tolerable meeting Knock Out had ever had with them. Even on the few occasions he’d accompanied Ratchet, the meetings were largely hostile and heavy with a sort of undefinable tension— as if some great threat were looming just above the medics that Knock Out was ultimately oblivious to beyond the way it affected those around him.

Now he understood the hostility, of course, and felt no shortage of it himself. However strangely enough, the threat of Breakdown’s well-being had shifted something within Knock Out’s thinking; no longer did he regard the High Council as a group with unknown capability that he had to be wary of. They’d shown  their hand to him by using Breakdown as a bargaining chip. They were no more impressive or important to him now than any high-ranking official had been before the war.

Now, they were a puzzle— a challenge that he was determined to beat with patience and the manipulative skills he’d gained and sharpened over time.  They were all significantly younger than he was, forged somewhere during the last legs of the war and possessing of all the rank overconfidence of anyone who had never truly had to work for anything. Their power was seemingly absolute, and Knock Out didn’t doubt that they had dirt on everyone and everything within their immediate reach in the power structure— but their inexperience would be their downfall in the long run.

They would slip up eventually, and that’s when Knock Out would make his move.

In front of him, Cyclonus looked up and over first at Cyberwarp, then at Skyjack before nodding and drawing Knock Out’s attention from his thoughts as a result. The High Councillor straightened and folded his arms behind his back, then nodded at Knock Out.

“Excellent work as always, Commander.” He said, showing Knock Out a self-satisfied smile. “Send your report in to the clerks at the front desk on your way out, and should you have nothing further to address, you are dismissed.”

Before Knock Out could say anything, Cyclonus was busying himself with his datapad again. The medic blinked in surprise for a moment, then glanced at Treadshock and Riotgear, who were done taking turns and were both staring at him with brazen malice in their optics. He frowned at them, then looked at Cyclonus again.

“Actually, your honor, I had a request.” Knock Out said, slipping his datapad into his subspace. Cyclonus looked up quickly from where he was once more working on his own datapad, a look of annoyance crossing his features.

“If this is about your position…” He began, trailing off when Knock Out threw up his servos defensively.

“Not at all. In fact it’s more or less related with my last assignment.” The medic said calmly, lowering his servos and threading his fingers together expectantly. Cyberwarp and Skyjack shared a look, then both looked at Cyclonus who was looking at Knock Out with intense scrutiny.

“Very well.” he said, raising one hand up off the table to gesture at the medic to continue. Knock Out smiled.

“I’ll be very frank with you all, there are a group of mechlings in the prison that I do not believe belong there.” He said seriously. “They are all post-revival mechs, the oldest less than a single cycle old. They were brought in conjunction with another more hard core criminal, a once-career Decepticon by the name of Motormaster.”

Cyclonus glanced between Skyjack and Cyberwarp again in what was perhaps the least inconspicuous gesture in the known universe, before leaning back and crossing his arms over his chest.

“As you might be aware, we are not exactly in the habit of letting criminals, no matter how young, go free without first submitting them to due process.” Cyclonus began seriously, “Of course, while we could be persuaded to expedite their arraignment if you were to vouch for them, we would be remiss in releasing them outright.”

“Of course, and expedition is all that I’m willing to ask of you.” Knock Out said, nodding his

understanding. “Motormaster and I go back a long time. He was always manipulative and abusive to those he was in charge of, and violent to those around him. He has made several attempts to attack me over the years, and I have photographic proof through old medical records from my Conjunx I’m willing to volunteer.

“Some of these mechs are too young to have been part of Motormaster’s original combiner team, but they share similar colors schemes to the original Stunticons, one of them has a similar name and one of them has been given an identical name to their predecessors. In order to have become a combiner, outside of the very rare naturally forming gestalts, mechs have to undergo a horribly painful and debilitating conversion process that has an eighty six percent mortality rate. I’ve seen the signs that these mechs have gone through that exact process, which adds several more potential charges to Motormaster and all but erases the charges against the young mechs he’s conscripted.” Knock Out explained. “I’ve already turned my evidence over to the staff within the prison for their hearing but they are so far down the list that there’s a good possibility that it will be another whole cycle before their affairs are settled. That means more than half their life will be spent surrounded by actual criminals, and that raises the chances of them becoming willing criminals themselves upon their release by more than two thirds.”

Cyclonus was silent a moment, apparently discussing things with his cohorts over a comm line. The faces of the three at the head of the table were terrifyingly passive, as if Knock Out’s advocacy made them feel nothing— not even a vague interest. Apprehension braided it’s way up Knock Out’s spinal strut, making his plates tingle with a sort of anxiety that only became more and more unbearable the longer the three discussed things amongst themselves.

He could count the number of times he had ever failed to persuade someone on one servo, and he was filled with a sudden fear that today would add to that list. The new Stunticons were so young, and while all but Wildbreak and Slashmark had issues with their anger it was not something that was completely untreatable. He was sure that once they’d had their gestalt bond with Motormaster clinically dispersed and spent some time with a therapist, their dispositions would mellow out. Breakdown had gone through the same sort of change when he’d first joined the Stunticons, slowly losing his guileless sweetness and sincerity in favor of the violent, malevolent tendencies of the others on his team.

And if Breakdown could return to himself after so many vorns of being bonded to the others through Menasor, then surely a few children could after less than a cycle.

“Well, Commander, I have good news.” Cyclonus said with a smile as he finally looked back up at Knock Out. “We’ve talked it over and we believe that we can grant your request for expedition.”

Knock Out blinked with a start, having almost completely convinced himself that they were going to deny him.  After a moment of shock, he smiled what he distantly realized to be his first genuine smile at the High Councilors. “Thank you so much, your honors. I’ll make sure that you won’t regret your decision.”

“Of course,” Cyclonus all but purred, nodding slowly at the medic, “You’ve done exemplary work in your new position, and I believe you are deserving of a favor for that. We will have administration send you the advocacy forms within a few days. Fill out one for each of the mechlings and send then back, and we will get them into the roster as soon as their legal department is ready to represent them. “

It took all of Knock Out’s willpower not to glance toward where Breakdown’s stasis pod hummed behind the pillar at the other mech’s mention of favors. Instead, he bowed his helm respectfully. “Of course, your honors. Thank you again.”

“Will that be all, Commander?” Skyjack asked. Knock Out glanced up and smiled.

“Yes, that’s all I had to say. Thank you for taking the time to listen.” He said sincerely. She offered him a tight smile, and beside her, Cyclonus nodded again.

“Then you are dismissed. Remember to turn your report in to the clerks on your way out, and expect an official release from duty at the prison to reach you within a few orns.” He said. Knock Out nodded again and then turned, resolutely keeping his optics forward as he made his way toward the door, a strange suspicion rising in him.

He knew they didn’t consider Breakdown’s continued functioning a favor; he was leverage, and having the power over Knock Out was all the reward they needed to consider keeping him in stasis a worthwhile venture.

But they had absolutely no reason to do him any favors. Yes, his work was almost always early and done as perfectly as he could manage, but he was sure there were plenty of ambitious young mechs and femmes on the auxiliary council that did work just as promptly and as fully as he did, and he was equally as sure that the High Council didn’t just hand out favors to anyone who actually did their jobs.

No, something wasn’t right, but beyond knowing that it had something to do with their unpredictable willingness to reward him he was unable to put his digit on what was wrong with the situation.

With a sigh, he reached into his subspace and drew his work datapad back out, tapping away at it to gather all the various files of his report together into one data-packet he could hand in to the clerks. Silently damning himself for not thinking to do so on the shuttle-ride up from the prison, he didn’t notice the other mech standing in the hallway until he walked directly into the mech’s side and bounced off of him. Startled, he stumbled backward in an attempt to keep his balance, dropping his datapad to the floor in favor of reaching out to grab the nearest angular pillar to steady himself with.

He glanced down at his datapad, then up at the mech he’d bumped into, then straightened almost instantly in alarm.

The mech before him was large, perhaps somewhere in mass between himself and Breakdown. He was painted a very obvious shade of orange that made Knock Out wonder how he hadn't noticed the mech in his periphery, or even on his sensors for that matter. It was offset tastefully with touches of black and red, the whole color scheme one Knock Out could only remember seeing on Autobot Arks.  His armor was sleek and broad, equal parts curved and angular and telling of a sports car alt-mode, though a bit outdated by Cybertron's current fashion standards. A tall black chevron was centered in the middle of his forehelm, and a matching black facial insignia framed his mouth, adding a strange sort of definition to his face, which was twisted in an expression of disdain as he stared back at Knock Out. Two minibots were docked on his forearms, one red and the other black, and two thin swords were sheathed at his side.

Knock Out took another half step backward, eager to place some distance between himself and the bigger speedster.

“Sorry,” He blurted after another brief moment of intimidating glaring from the taller mech, “I was— I should have been watching where I was going.”

The taller mech scowled at him with intensity for a few seconds more, then stepped around him and made his way further down the hall towards the council doors. Knock Out watched him go, then glanced down at himself to check for scratches to his finish. Silently, he prayed that the taller mech wasn't another chair on the auxiliary council; he'd met very few mechs who had ever intimidated him so thoroughly in such a short amount of time.

He bent over and picked up his datapad, checking it over for any damage it might have accrued when he dropped it before switching it back on and returning to gathering his reports, his sensors spread wide to watch for any more mechs that he might run into as he walked.

By the time he reached the front lobby and the clerk behind one of the desks there, everything was compiled neatly into a single data-packet. There was only a brief pause as he transferred it over before he was making his way out of the building and down the steps of the Hall at a brisk pace.

After such a consistently strange day, he was more than ready to get his mind off things with a little retail therapy.

Chapter Text

“Doc!”

Knock Out turned toward the voice that had risen over the din behind him, smiling as he saw Breakdown making his way through the crowd waiting to get into the mess hall. He paused in place long enough for the big mech to catch up, smiling as Breakdown paused beside him.

“Breakdown, did you need something?” Knock Out asked, shifting his stack of datapads into his subspace. Breakdown rubbed the back of his helm in what the medic had come to recognize as a new nervous gesture, more likely than not picked up during his time with the Autobots.

“...Sort of,” Breakdown replied after a moment of hesitation. “You got time to talk?”

“For you, always.” Knock Out said, turning back toward the direction he’d been walking before. “Walk with me?”

“Oh, yeah, right!” Breakdown said, skipping forward to fall into step beside Knock Out with an agility that belied his size. Knock Out smiled at him, Breakdown smiled back, and Knock Out felt his spark flutter with affection. “So, uh. You know that offer you made me yesterday?”

“About becoming my assistant?” Knock Out clarified, glancing back over at the Stunticon. When Breakdown nodded, he asked, “What about it?”

Breakdown seemed to hesitate again, his face thoughtful and his optics anywhere but Knock Out’s face. “How do I go about taking you up on it?”

Knock Out slowed to a stop, watching Breakdown carefully as the big mech fidgeted surreptitiously. “You're serious?”

“Yeah! Absolutely. I mean, if it's still open?” Breakdown said, nervousness creeping into his voice. “If you changed your mind, I get it—”

“No, no,” Knock Out interrupted, reaching out and setting a servo on Breakdown’s rerebrace, “It’s still open to you, for sure. I just hadn't expected you to make up your mind so soon, is all.”

“Oh.” Breakdown said succinctly, looking down towards the floor before smiling uncertainly at the medic, “Yeah, well. You know. You sorta had me sold when you said it'd keep us together and me away from Motormaster.”

Knock Out snorted, pulling his servo away from the big mech’s arm reluctantly. “I don't blame you on that one. As long as you're sure this is what you want?”

“Positive.” Breakdown said seriously as they began walking again, turning the corner and heading in the general direction of the medbay.

“Well in that case, there's really not that much to do to get it started. I’ll have to file some paperwork and maybe make a few calls, but on your end the most you have to do is sign a form or two and show up on time.” The medic explained. Breakdown listened attentively as always, dividing his attention equally between watching where they were going and watching Knock Out as he spoke.

“How soon do I start?” He asked curiously. Knock Out smiled, charmed by his eagerness.

“Tomorrow at the earliest. The medbay will be cycling down for the night in a few hours, and I’ll be getting off shift when it does. We can get things in order then, and have you ready to go first thing in the morning.” Knock Out said. Breakdown nodded thoughtfully as they drew to a drop outside the medbay door. Knock Out stepped backwards into it, but didn't go further than the doorway.

“So, does that mean we're gonna get dinner again tonight?” The big mech asked. Knock Out hummed.

“I’d be disappointed if we didn't, Hotwheels. After all, I seem to recall you saying something about making up for lost time yesterday.” The medic purred. Breakdown flustered, his plating flaring to dispel the wash of heat that came with his embarrassment. Knock Out chuckled, reaching out and patting the Stunticon's shoulder affectionately. “Meet me by the mess at joor twenty two?”

Breakdown flashed one of his stunning smiles at Knock Out. “Sounds great. I’ll be there.”

Knock Out smiled back at him fondly, and after a beat of hesitation and a reluctant goodbye Breakdown turned and shuffled off down the hall. Knock Out watched him go, doing his best to quell the storm of adoration in his spark.

The rest of Knock Out's shift passed with the same newfound ease it had passed with the day before. Paperwork was filed and forwarded and organized, techs were directed and evaluated, equipment was sanitized and organized and calibrated, and before he knew it his internal alarm was sounding, warning him that it was nearly time to go and meet with Breakdown.

He straightened from where he was hunched behind his desk, glancing at his chronometer briefly as he leaned back in his chair to stretch. Distantly, he heard the chime of the door that alerted the medics on duty of someone entering the medbay, and the sound of heavy pedes. He smiled to himself and stood, quickly tidying his desktop and depositing the  datapads with the paperwork he would need into his subspace before making his way across the office toward the main medbay.

“You're early,” He began as he palmed open the door, stopping abruptly as he looked up. Instead of seeing Breakdown waiting there for him, he was chagrined to find Motormaster standing there, glaring at him. He frowned. “Oh, it's you.”

“Where is he?” Motormaster demanded, stalking forward in a predictable (and fruitless) attempt to intimidate Knock Out. “I know you know where he is!”

“Get smelted.” Knock Out growled up at the big mech, crossing his arms over his chest, “It’s none of your business— you're not even assigned to this base!”

Motormaster’s whole form tensed, like a tightly-wound mainspring ready to snap. When he spoke, his voice was low and rough, filled with the promise of violence and quiet enough that Knock Out struggled to hear him over the roar of his engine. “Tell me where he is.”

“Never.” Knock Out promised, glaring at the big mech with hatred.

Before he could say anything else, Motormaster lurched forward and grabbed him by the jaw, pushing him backwards until he was pinned against the wall, struggling to support himself on the tips of his pedes. The Stunticon’s strong, blunt fingers dug into the soft metal of his face and neck, pressing dents into his chin and crimping his lines with startling ease.

“I knew you would do this!” the convoy roared into Knock Out's face, his own face flushed in his rage. “I knew that lousy scrap-heap’s fool notions of love would be the end of Menasor! I should have killed you millenia ago!”

“What the pit are you talking about!?” Knock Out choked out, digging his sharp digits into the lines of Motormaster’s wrist in an attempt to free himself. Motormaster pulled him forward and slammed him back against the wall again, sending static fuzzing across the medic’s vision as alerts began to pop up on his HUD about lack of energon reaching his processor.

Don't play dumb with me !” Motormaster shouted, gesturing animatedly with his free servo, “That little retrorat's been mooning over you since he met you in that dingy bar on Vestus Station!”

Knock Out blinked in surprise; he had never told anyone about where he'd met Breakdown, and he knew Breakdown was less than talkative about his past— especially to those he didn't trust. Besides the two of them, only Megatron and Soundwave were privy to Breakdown's origins.

He studiously ignored the rest of Motormaster’s comment, unwilling to trust the mech at his word. While the idea that Breakdown returned his feelings was a tempting one, Motormaster’s overall grip on reality was considerably less firm than his grip on Knock Out’s throat.

“We're just friends!” Knock Out gasped hoarsely, doing his best to try and stay calm as his vision began to pixelate oddly and his HUD teetered on the edge of incomprehensible.  Motormaster shook him again, his ugly, rage-twisted features dominating Knock Out’s scrambled optical feed.

“Tell that to the gestalt bond!” Motormaster spat, crushing Knock Out’s face just that much more as he leaned in until they were nearly nose to nose. “I’ve seen all of his most important memories and you're in every single one of them ! I know what he feels about you. It’s on account of him pining over you that it took us three months to stay combined for more than an hour, and we're gonna have to go through it all over again just as soon as I kill you and drag his sorry carcass back to Raxion with me!”

Knock Out let out a gurgle that he had meant to be an insult, kicking his legs and beating ineffectually on Motormaster’s arm in an attempt to free himself as panic set in. His visual feed flickered and fuzzed, his vents roaring as his fuel pump worked overtime to try and force energon through to the medic’s helm. Terror coursed through him— first for himself, and then for Breakdown.

If he died here, Breakdown would have no one to protect him—no one to care for him, to be his friend and heal his hurts and hold his hands. He would be alone, surrounded by those who wanted nothing more than to exploit him. The thought of dying paled in comparison to the sheer, overwhelming dread that washed through him as he thought of leaving Breakdown alone, at Motormaster’s mercy.

Motormaster was still talking, shouting in his face and shaking him, demanding he respond, but Knock Out’s audials were making everything sound tinny and warbly, and the meaning of the convoy’s words escaped him. Distantly, he heard a noise that was familiar but unplaceable, nearly drowned out by the roaring in his audials.

“Breakdown,” he croaked with effort, his numb lips struggling to form the glyphs as his vision left him completely. Thinking was hard, and moving was harder. He had the vaguest motions that he was supposed to be moving— kicking his legs and doing… something with his arms, but each attempt to move made him feel like he was neck deep in mud, being drowned but unable to free himself.

Breakdown,” he whispered again, though he couldn't remember why he was saying it.

The roaring in his audials stopped, replaced by a high-pitched whine, and he lost all strength in his arms. They swung down to his sides limply, but he couldn't feel it.

Suddenly, he was dropped. His vision online so fast his optics had to recalibrate, his hearing returning to him all at once and bringing with it a cacophony of noise. He leaned back against the wall, sliding his servo up to his throat gingerly as he was abruptly reacquainted with his nociceptors.

He blinked twice, his vision clearing enough for him to make out a massive blue-ish shape moving around quickly, swarming around an indefinable mass of grey and black. Suddenly he understood what he was hearing— the clash of metal and the roar of familiar voices filled with rage. It helped him define what little he was seeing.

Breakdown was here.

Breakdown had saved him.

Clarity surged through him like a tsunami, and he lurched forward on his knees, eager to help. As he did, his vision recalibrated itself and he stopped short, supporting himself on his hands and knees.

Motormaster was bent backwards over a medberth, fruitlessly attempting to hold himself up with one arm and defend himself with the other. Breakdown stood over him with an expression of furious determination, beating on him with an integrated hammer. Motormaster was covered in dents, some deep enough to have split plating and left him weeping energon. There was a massive dent on the side of his helm that energon seeped from lazily, trailing down the side of his face and into the cables of his neck.

Breakdown smacked his once-leader square on the vambrace, sending a web of cracks spreading out over his plating. Motormaster roared and lost his balance, crashing onto his aft against the medberth. Breakdown raised his hammer again and the grey mech threw his arms over his face to protect himself, causing Breakdown to lower his weapon.

“I will never come back to you!” Breakdown shouted down at him, his frame full of tension as he balled his fist by his side. “I’m done being treated like garbage! I joined the Decepticons because I was tired of being walked all over, so do us all a favor and crawl back into whatever pit you came out of and die there!”

Motormaster struggled to his feet, glancing at Knock Out and them back to Breakdown. He raised a servo and pointed at Breakdown, doing his best to look intimidating with a swollen face.

“This isn't over,” Motormaster promised, taking a half-step toward the door. Breakdown raised his hammer again in a clear threat.

“Yes, it is.” He said darkly, turning with Motormaster as the grey mech edged his way toward the exit. “If you ever come near either of us again, I promise it'll be the last mistake you ever make.”

Motormaster growled wordlessly as he slapped the access panel, and after a moment longer of staring at Breakdown with hatred he slipped out into the hall and was gone. Breakdown spun on his heel, transforming his weapon away and crossing the space towards Knock Out in two long strides.

“Are you alright, Knock Out?” he said worriedly, his hands fluttering nervously beside Knock Out’s helm. The medic sat back on his haunches and grabbed one of Breakdown’s servos, pulling it to his face and pressing his cheek into it.

“I am now,” he said seriously, looking up at Breakdown with adoration. He turned his face and pressed a kiss to Breakdown’s palm, blaming the gratuitous affection on his still-lingering disorientation. “Thank you for saving me.”

Breakdown reset his vocalizer softly, bringing his other servo up to cradle Knock Out’s helm in his hands.

“I will always save you,” he said seriously, looking down at Knock Out with worry in his optics. “No matter what, I will always be there for you.”

Knock Out smiled up at him wobbily as his spark thrummed happily in his chassis. Breakdown smiled back uncertainly, his anxiousness still apparent, and gently tilted Knock Out’s helm back to inspect the damage his once-leader had left. As he did, Knock Out glanced to the door.

He had a sinking suspicion that they hadn't seen the last of Motormaster. Not yet.

Chapter Text

It was strange to Knock Out how much a place could change in as little as a month.

Structurally, Kaon was much the same as he had left it; there were no newly rising buildings and no structures missing from the skyline he had watched rise from it’s own ashes, but rather there was an indefinable change in the energy of the place that had Knock Out feeling as if he’d been away for much longer than he had.

Traffic still moved sedately through the streets and pedestrians still clustered on the sidewalks, the pedesteps of the small groups that ambled here and there being smothered by the noise of city life. It was hard to pin down what had changed, because for all intents and purposes Knock Out couldn’t find anything drastically different from his memories of the last time he’d been on the surface.

There were small things, of course— for starters, more of the same propaganda holodisplays he’d seen before were  tacked up distastefully on lightpoles, street signs, beside shop doors and on the backs of benches. Everyone seemed blissfully ignorant of them and the sickening resemblance they struck to the service announcements of the past, but most of the mechs and femmes in Kaon weren’t born on Cybertron. They were too young to remember when cities had looked like this, crushed under the weight of an impending danger that nobody could stop.

He tried to push his feelings of anxiety down as he walked along; he was sure the stress of working at the prison was getting to him and making him more prone to fretting than he preferred. Things were more likely than not not as terrible as he felt they were—  he was simply catastrophizing.

Instead, he did his best to preoccupy himself with making a list of what he wanted to buy when he finally made his way to the shopping district. Sunstreaker had been alone more than a month, and Knock Out had a mind to make it up to him with a day of pampering and relaxation like he had so often thrown for himself before the war.  He mentally listed everything he would need as he skirted around what felt like the sixth enforcer patrol since he’d made it downtown, turning a corner with a thoughtful look.

That was another difference; it seemed like the amount of enforcers he’d remarked to Ratchet about a month prior had tripled, with a pair of sentinels at every intersection  and a pair of beat cops marching down every straightaway. Knock Out stopped to watch as two pairs marched past one another on the opposite side of the street, their government issue paint jobs glinting in the sunlight.

It was completely usual for there to be more police around, he told himself. He had been to the prison, and it was painfully obvious that among those wayward Decepticons brought back from Earth was a plentiful scattering of criminals who had been active and violent here in Kaon. Motormaster was not the only inmate who had made obvious attempts to escape, and despite the odds stacked against the prisoners ever leaving before their official release there, was no reason not to be cautious.

He hummed to himself quietly, watching until the further set of guards was out of sight before continuing onward unhurriedly, easing himself through the foot-traffic of late afternoon as he tried to figure out what about the situation made him feel so off. The shopping district of Kaon was substantially larger and cleaner than the marketplace of Slaughter City; crisp storefronts, restaurants, and cafes lined the streets on both sides, the names of each business printed neatly above doors or etched into windows. The wares in the displayed were whole and new, unscathed by age and war.

Through the windows Knock Out could see the patrons of the establishments as they browsed and partook in the various services offered, all of them seemingly content and carefree. He tried to assure himself that if something were truly wrong, someone would have noticed— no matter how young they were. The stress he was under was probably making him overly cautious.

He rounded a corner and his destination appeared, a tidy little boutique of his acquaintance that catered specifically to the type of self-indulgent occasions that Knock Out planned to introduce Sunstreaker to. He breezed into the shop as if returning home after a long time away, its familiar atmosphere comforting to him in ways he hadn’t expected.  Neat rows of shelves were lined up in the middle of the big shop, stacked with all sorts of high-quality products. Two of the shops sky-blue walls were lined with display cases full of state-of-the-art cosmetic electronics, glimmering accessories and tasteful embellishments. A third was taken up by the arrangement for the storefront display, short pedestals with various products pillowed on them  lined up in front of three mannequins decked out in the very best post-modern jewelry and ornamentation the store had to offer. The last wall was split in half by the door to the stockroom, with one half of the wall home to the check-out counter, and the other lined with swatches and a subspace cabinet full of paint canisters.

Knock Out smiled to himself, the prospect of pampering Sunstreaker chasing away his fears and leaving behind a sense of contentment that had been missing from him for a while. He plucked up a basket from the stack beside the door and set to browsing the aisles, carefully scrutinizing each potential purchase before making his choice and moving onwards. Bottles of paint stripper, luxury solvent, and armor conditioner went into his basket after a healthy amount of deliberation, followed closely by packages of vacuum-sealed chamois, buffer pads, and tins of polishing compound.

He spent a while debating with himself about type of wax to get before finally deciding to buy a bottle of each so that Sunstreaker could try them and decide what he liked. A quick trip down the aisle for consumables ended with his basket nearly full of as many varieties of high-quality treats as he could find. He paused for a moment to leaf through his collection, double-checking that he had everything he needed and then some before wandering over towards the paint display.

Thin strips of metal with color swatches were separated by producer, bound into portfolios, and hung along the wall in a curtain of graduating color above a sleek black subspace cabinet. Knock Out didn’t waste time paging through each book, instead going directly to his favored paint producer’s samples. He knew the call number for his own color by spark, and it only took him a matter of moments to find the closest match to Sunstreaker’s color, then collect a can of each and two cans of primer. He arranged the cans under his arm carefully before striding toward the checkout counter, a smile still on his face.

The mech behind the counter stared blankly at his datapad, watching something on it with such single minded focus that he didn’t notice when Knock Out approached and set his purchases down. Disconcerted, the medic hesitated a moment before resetting his vocalizer noisily. Another beat passed before the clerk set his datapad down and wordlessly began ringing up Knock Out’s items.

Knock Out blinked and glanced down at the datapad surreptitiously as it flashed brightly. The sound was muted, but Knock Out could clearly make out one of the dreadfully self-congratulatory advertisements made by the High Council playing on it. He rolled his optics and looked back up at the clerk, clearing his vocaliser again.

“So, are you new here?” He asked conversationally, figuring the clerk to be too shy to start a conversation.

The mech didn’t respond to him, though, and Knock Out squinted at his bowed helm as the mech continued to ring up items and place them in bags in a manner that was almost mechanical. Knock Out shifted awkwardly, turning to look out the door to the street as two sets of patrolmen passed each other in front of the store.

“Lots of cops out today,” He tried again, slowly turning back toward the clerk, “Isn’t it a little strange?”

The mech paused what he was doing, then slowly and deliberately looked up at Knock Out, his gaze piercing and direct. Knock Out blinked again, startled, but before he could react further the mech spoke.

“There’s nothing strange about this.” The mech said, his voice lacking emotion and his tone brokering no argument, “Our High Council knows best.”

Suddenly, Knock Out’s earlier anxiety came rushing back to him. A cold chill ran down his spinal strut and he took a surreptitious half-step backwards; the mech’s behavior was disturbing in a way that Knock Out struggled to comprehend, and millions of years worth of experience in and out of dangerous situations urged him to flee from this weird mech and his weird mannerisms. Instead, he crossed his arms over his front and shrugged, offering the other a smile that he hoped looked less frightened than he felt.

“Y-you’re probably right,” Knock Out stammered, disguising a step towards the door as a move down the counter to collect his bags as the mech finished up. He chuckled nervously, continuing, “I’ve been out of town for a while, so, you know. Everything’s a little strange.”

The mech didn’t respond, simply sliding the last bag down the counter toward Knock Out as the medic waved his credit stick over the scanner. The console’s happy chime was a heavy contrast to the weight of the moment, and as the mech turned to gather Knock Out’s receipt, the speedster glanced down at the datapad.

The same advertisement was still playing, apparently on loop. Knock Out did his best to tamp down his fear, flashing the other mech a tight smile as he turned back around with the receipt and offering a friendly farewell before turning and leaving the boutique as fast as he could, shoving his purchases into subspace with as much care as he could muster.

Everything and everyone on the street suddenly shone in a terrible new light. Groups no longer seemed so cheerful. The chatter was no longer homey or nostalgic. The guards were no longer just precaution.

The whole scene felt to Knock Out as if the sun had been suddenly obscured by clouds, despite the sky being clear and blue. He glanced around himself at all the people that swarmed, talking and moving, and felt his anxiety rise. Something had been wrong with that clerk, but there was no way to tell what it was, or who else it might be affecting. He merged onto the street, dropping into his alt mode and directing himself towards Ratchet’s apartment, thankfully only a few blocks away.

Nobody else seemed any different, at least not in the way that the clerk had. Everyone he passed was expressing themselves freely, their movements natural and lacking the mechanical bent the mech from the boutique had operated with. He didn’t know whether to feel relieved or not; everything in him was screaming that there was danger all around him, but he knew that the war had only exacerbated the anxiety and paranoia that came so naturally to seekers, and he worried that he was reading too much into things.

Ratchet’s apartment approached quickly, and he transformed and took to the sidewalk again, crossing his arms over his chestplate as he glanced around himself distrustfully. He comforted himself with the knowledge that Ratchet would know, and this time he would be willing to help.  It made the elevator ride up— which felt like it took a veritable eternity —bearable. When the lift opened at the eighth floor, he shuffled out and across the walkway to Ratchet’s door, knocking on it gently.

A moment later the door opened part of the way and the older medic peered at him from above the chain lock, his sour expression sliding to something surprised and then to something fond in the matter of seconds. The door shut again, but only long enough for Ratchet to unhook the chain before he opened it again, stepping back to allow Knock Out entry without question.

Knock Out stepped inside and glanced around, glad that nothing had changed substantially from the last time he’d been in the older medic’s apartment. They had been grading tests together on his balcony, drinking cans of Visco and laughing together about something inane. He realized he could no longer recall what it had been, and felt strangely forlorn.

Before he could fall too far into the feeling, Ratchet turned to regard him with an expression that was much more serious than his original fond look. Knock Out shuffled over and perched himself on the edge of the couch, still holding his own arms as if he might fly apart otherwise.

“What’s wrong?” Ratchet asked in that direct manner of his, moving to sit down on the couch opposite of the speedster. Knock Out shrugged slightly, looking down at the floor uncomfortably.

“Things are… weird, and I don’t know if it’s just me reading too much into things or what.” He explained after a moment of thought, looking up at Ratchet. “I was hoping I could talk to you about it and you could help me figure things out, maybe.”

Ratchet nodded, his full attention centered on Knock Out. It felt nice, in a strange way, because he knew that Ratchet actually cared about what he had to say.

For as eager as he had been to talk to the older medic about the encounter, his explanation came frustratingly slowly. He had struggled to fully comprehend the situation when it was happening around him, and it was no easier now that he had distanced himself from it. Ratchet listened to him carefully, only interjecting once or twice to clarify a point when Knock Out would trail off before letting the speedster continue at his own pace.

Knock Out sat back when he was done, playing with his fingers with an expression of angst. There was a long moment of silence where Ratchet just seemed to digest everything that Knock Out had said, his own expression thoughtful but unburdened.

Knock Out tried to convince himself that it was a good sign.

“It seems you’re very worried about this.” Ratchet posited, drawing Knock Out’s attention.

“Silly, right?” Knock Out chuckled, lounging back with his arms on the back of the couch, affecting perfect nonchalance despite the anxiety he still felt.

Ratchet hummed. “I wouldn’t say so.  Fear is a natural reaction, meant to protect us. For all you know, that situation could have been dangerous. The mech was clearly acting oddly, and— at least on the Autobots’ side of the divide— a mech acting strangely was a good cause for alarm during the war.”

“So you do think things were weird?” Knock Out asked, sitting forward. Ratchet put up his hands, as if to physically stop the younger medic from getting ahead of himself.

“I’m saying things felt weird to you.” He clarified. He tilted his helm down, looking at Knock Out from below his chevron in an expression that veritably begged the speedster to catch his hint as he very clearly said, “After all, our High Council knows best.”

Knock Out sat back slowly, watching Ratchet with a rising sense of alarm that he could do little more to disguise but pull a blank face. The situation was only made marginally better when the older medic sat back and winked.

“You’re… right.” Knock Out said, swallowing thickly around his discomfort. He crossed his arms over his front again, though it was more loosely than before. Ratchet smiled at him, as if he hadn’t just uttered the very phrase that had brought Knock Out here in the first place.

“Was that all you needed?” He asked. Knock Out nodded quickly, throwing his own thin smile back at the bigger medic.

“That’s all.” He said, laughing as if relieved and gathering himself to his feet. “Thank you for listening. I feel a lot better hearing it from you.”

“Of course.” Ratchet said, standing as well and moving toward the door. They stopped together at the threshold, Ratchet looking pensive and Knock Out doing his best not to look like he was worried.

“Thank you again,” The speedster said, his servo on the door handle. Ratchet nodded, reaching out to pat Knock Out on the shoulder.

“Any time.” He said seriously. “If you need anything from me, I’ll be here for you.”

Knock Out smiled at him genuinely and nodded back at him.  Ratchet took his hand away after a moment, and Knock Out opened the door and stepped out.

“Goodbye, Knock Out. Have a safe trip.” Ratchet said. Knock Out huffed good-naturedly and waved at him.

“Bye, Ratch’. See you later.” He said, turning to head back to the lift. Distantly, he heard the door close and the locks being put back into place, but his mind was elsewhere. Clearly, there was something going on. Ratchet’s obvious look and his more than obvious wink had taken care of any fears that Knock Out might have had about the bigger medic suffering the same ailment as the boutique clerk had. He was clearly still in possession of his mental faculties, though it didn’t explain why he’d felt the need to say something he had so blatantly not believed.

Unless, of course, he was expected to.

The realization hit Knock Out like a freight train, causing him to swerve into the next lane over, bringing a chorus of honking and shouting from other drivers on the road. He blinked his lights apologetically and banked, folding himself out of his alt-mode a half a block from the shuttle station and peering around.

Was it really that far fetched to assume that the same council who employed blackmailing and propaganda would use surveillance to keep known dissenters in line? He didn’t think so— especially not when the last council had done the exact same thing. It had done them a fat lot of good in the end; Megatron had turned their tactics against them, and the war that had ensued had gone on five times longer than Knock Out had been alive before it.

He felt suddenly exhausted as he thought about how much time he had wasted— how much time they had all wasted— fighting a war that had changed almost nothing.

There was still poverty. There was still compulsory functions being tacked onto those unfortunate sparks that were called from the well each year. There was still hunger, misery, and crime. There was still a corrupt council. All of the things the Decepticons had tried to change were still the same.

The only thing different were the people, the places, and the date.

He flopped down into a seat far at the back of transport to Slaughter City and dropped his face into his hands, sighing through his vents. He probably overthinking things; Maybe in the past Ratchet would have been cowed into compliance by the ruling class, but he would sooner die than allow control of Cybertron to fall to those who would abuse her without a fight.

He was pulled from his musing by the chirp of an incoming comm from none other than the big medic himself. He sat back and looked out the window as the transport pulled away, allowing the connection as he did.

::Are you going to tell me whatever it is you kept from me now?:: He asked as a greeting when he answered the comm internally. He heard Ratchet sigh in relief on the other end.

::Good, you caught on.:: The ambulance muttered, drawing a snort from the speedster.

::The council probably caught on, too. That was the least inconspicuous performance I’ve seen in ages.:: Knock Out said.

::I wanted to make sure you knew, and didn’t spend your whole ride back to Slaughter City having panic attacks!:: Ratchet said incredulously.

::I do not have panic attacks!:: Knock Out insisted. Ratchet barked a laugh, and he could practically see the older medic getting out his spreadsheets and pie charts to prove exactly how wrong Knock Out was— which meant it was important to interrupt him. ::Just tell me what’s going on.::

Ratchet made a noise like he was sincerely put-upon— as if clarifying the situation to Knock Out wasn’t exactly what he’d called to do.

::You were right. The cops, the clerk—all of it seems strange because it’s part of the Council’s plan.:: Ratchet said. Knock Out sat forward in his seat.

::You know what they’re up to?:: He asked, unable to keep the awe from his voice.

::They want to destroy the Earth.:: Ratchet answered. ::We have someone doing recon in the High Council’s hall, and that’s what we know so far.::

::That’s asinine! The majority of the population are veterans of four million years of war— nobody would agree to that!:: Knock Out exclaimed, dumbfounded. Ratchet hummed in agreement.

:: I know that, you know that, but unfortunately they also know that. Which is why they’re broadcasting subsonic control frequencies subliminally within all their propaganda. Mechs who are more susceptible —like the boutique clerk— are already completely in their thrall.::

::Oh, Primus!  Sunstreaker!:: Knock Out cried, sitting bolt upright in his seat and staring out the window with dread. ::I left him alone, and the only thing to do there is watch television or surf the datanet!::

::Knock Out, calm down.:: Ratchet said evenly, as if the idea of globally scaled mind control plot was somehow small potatoes. ::I’m forwarding you some plans for a signal dampener. They’ll keep both of you safe.::

Knockout did his best to relax back into his seat, feeling distinctly miserable.

::What if he’s already under their control?:: He asked anxiously, frowning at his reflection in the shuttle’s window.

::The dampener will stop any more incoming signals, and he’ll return to normal within a few hours. He might fall unconscious when you plug it in— Undertone did.:: Ratchet cautioned. Knock Out was silent, so he continued. ::Optimus and I are working on this. I don’t want you to worry. We have this under control, even if it might not seem like it.::

::Okay. I’ll try.:: Knock Out agreed softly, focusing on Kaon’s cityscape as it slid by outside, instead of his fear. Experience told him that it wasn’t going to work, but he tried anyway.

After all, what other option did he have?

Chapter Text

Days passed, and Knock Out couldn’t seem to shake Motormaster’s words out of his mind.

As nice as it would have been for the Stunticon to be right for once, he doubted it was true. Beyond being rude in general, he openly hated Knock Out for interfering with the operation of his unit, and had proven himself to be manipulative and untrustworthy vorns ago. Knock Out wouldn’t have been surprised if the convoy had guessed at the truth of Knock Out’s feelings and had simply been looking for something to say that would hurt the medic to hear just before he was killed. As much as it pained Knock Out to admit it, Motormaster would have been right.

The idea that Breakdown loved him— that they loved each other but had never said anything haunted Knock Out. If Breakdown had been any slower, or perhaps decided to wait for Knock Out by the mess hall instead of coming to pick him up at the medbay, there was a very good chance that the medic would be dead, and would never have the chance to tell Breakdown about his feelings.

That thought was what made up Knock Out’s mind for him; he was going to ask Breakdown about his feelings, one way or the other.

Unfortunately, that was easier said than done. Every morning they would meet at the Medbay, and Knock Out would feel like he’d swallowed a rock. Every evening, they would clock out together, and Knock Out would feel like his glossa was welded to the roof of his mouth. Breakdown would notice his thoughtful and stricken expressions and chuckle quietly to himself, and Knock Out would feel his determination slip through his fingers like so much sand.

And, at least for as long as Breakdown looked at him like that, he couldn’t quite remember why that was a bad thing.

It was only later, after they parted ways and Knock Out was alone with his thoughts again that he would feel his frustration rise. Telling Breakdown how he felt, and admitting the feelings he’d been harboring for so long was important — perhaps one of the most important things he had ever needed to do— and he kept choking!

It was infuriating , and as he followed the cycle over and over that feeling only grew until he was filled with an overwhelming sense of urgency, as if to wait any longer would cause his spark to gutter from the stress of not knowing.   It was plainly obvious to him, as he laid on his berth and toyed with the hem of his blanket idly, that simply resolving himself to tell Breakdown would not work. He needed some sort of obligation to follow through, or he’d never work up the courage to tell the bigger mech how he felt— which was completely unacceptable.

It only took a few moments of thought for him to come up with a solution, and before he could stop to wonder if it was a bad idea he was already hailing Breakdown on his comms. Breakdown was always quick to answer, even in the wee hours of the morning, and what little reservations Knock Out had evaporated with the click of a positive connection.

::Knock Out?:: Breakdown answered, his concern still apparent in his sleep-thick voice. ::You okay?::

::Fine,:: Knock Out assured quickly, sitting up and resettling his plating as if Breakdown would be able to see him. ::Sorry, I— I didn’t realize how late it was, or I would have just sent you a message.::

::It’s no problem.:: Breakdown said sincerely, and Knock Out could hear a soft shuffling as Breakdown assumedly sat up in his own berth. ::Did you need something?::

Knock Out worried his lip between his dentae thoughtfully. ::I have a favor to ask.::

::Sure, Anything.:: Breakdown said, and the knowledge that he meant it had Knock Out’s spark pulsing with adoration.

::Tomorrow after shift, I need to talk to you. It’s important, and it’s— It’s something better done in person, I think.:: He explained, beating down his trepidation. ::I might say I don’t remember, or make some excuse like that. Don’t let me get away with that, okay?::

Breakdown seemed to hesitate for a moment, before agreeing. ::Yeah, alright. You sure you’re okay, Doc?::

Knock Out smiled to himself. ::I’m perfect, Hotwheels.::

:: I could have told you that.:: Breakdown snorted. Knock Out let out a sound that was closer to a wheeze than a proper laugh, causing Breakdown rumble with his own laughter.

Knock Out could practically feel the way Breakdown’s engine thrummed when he laughed, even half way across the base from the big mech.

::I meant I’m alright.:: He clarified, after they had both settled into a brief but comfortable silence. ::Thank you for asking.::

::Always.:: The big mech promised quietly, effortlessly sending tingles cascading over Knock Out’s sensor net. There was another warm silence, where both of them seemed perfectly content to listen to the quiet sounds of one another’s venting through the comm, before Breakdown asked. ::So, see you in the morning, then?::

::Count on it.:: Knock Out said seriously.

Breakdown paused, then said, ::Goodnight, Knock Out.::

::Goodnight, Breakdown.:: He replied.

After a beat he heard the telltale click of the comm disconnecting, and sighed as he sunk back down into the soft embrace of his berth. He stared at the ceiling absently, one servo caressing the flat piece of armor where his cockpit had once been, feeling the thrum of his spark through the thin plating. It shuddered as he vacillated between elation and apprehension, unsure whether to be glad he would no longer have the option to back down, or scared that Breakdown might not return his feelings.

Either way, there was no turning back.


The next day was an exercise in wasting time.

He had woken nearly two joors before his alarms would have woken him, and promptly decided struggling to get back to sleep would be a futile effort. Instead he climbed out of bed and set about policing his quarters, making quick work of what little mess there was. He straightened his sheets and blankets, organized the datapads on his desk, wiped an unfortunate amount of dust from the top of his vid-screen, and then conscripted a cleaning drone from hall to the officer’s quarters to clean up the dust and dirt he’d tracked all over his floor before heading out with a sigh.

The early hour afforded him the time to visit the washracks for a quick shower, and in the slightest turn of good fortune he was early enough to beat the majority of the shift-change crowd and indulge in heated solvent for once. He lingered under the shower, letting its warmth soothe the deep aches that still plagued him from his conversion until the first handful of soldiers showed up in an unwelcome wave of bawdy laughter and ribald commentary, rudely tearing him from his rumination. He was quick to leave after that, tossing his towel into the bin by the door as he strode out into the corridor, heading toward the mess hall.

He took his time getting there—so much so in fact that he was fairly certain he had never walked so slowly in his entire functioning.  It didn’t help much, and he arrived a scant handful of minutes later to a nearly empty mess hall. Being able to skip the usual lines and not feel rushed as he stirred in his very specifically measured flavorings was almost nice, but it didn’t help him burn any more time or put off the inevitable conversation he’d set himself up for in any way.

Neither did the slow meander towards medbay.

He spent a breem mindlessly toying with whatever happened to be on his desk and sipping at his energon, idly trying to remember how he’d spent the last million years wasting time and coming up empty handed. He clocked in once he’d finished his energon, still a whole breem early to his shift but filled with a sort of nervous energy that he couldn’t seem to shake, and unwilling to work without being on the clock.

Half way through checking the defrag he’d run on a diagnostic berth overnight, the techs ambled in, joking jovially together. Knock Out was glad for the distraction, regardless of how awkward his relationship with the techs was. Beyond the fact that he’d abused his rank and treated them badly for a whole millenia— or at least for as long as he’d been the CMO for this base, and therefore in charge of them— was the fact that he simply didn’t feel the pull to leadership like some others did. He had no clue how to approach them, especially now that he’d made himself out to be some angry, lazy old medic like Conduit.

He was doing his best to repair the relationship and make it up to them, but the sudden hush that fell over their convivial chatter was proof enough that they all still felt uncertain about him and his spontaneous attitude change. Very suddenly, the medbay became home to an awkward sort of stare off, as if the younglings all expected him to lunge in their direction. He offered them a faltering greeting, then turned back to what he was doing, resolutely ignoring the group as they made their way through the room and toward the back hall where the timeclock waited for them, their conversation stuttering back to life a little less ebulliently than before.

The door slid closed behind them and muffled their voices, leaving Knock Out alone with his thoughts again. He sighed to himself and got back to work, transferring the diagnostic logs onto a datapad for further review later on, once he’d gotten the day started. He stopped to glance around the medbay on his way to drop the tablet off on his desk, frowning silently. The place was nearly spotless already, a recurring victim of the seemingly boundless energy that had come to him after Breakdown’s return.

Unfortunately, keeping himself preoccupied promised to take more creativity than usual.

By the time he’d delivered the datapad and returned, the techs had meandered back out into the medbay proper, and Breakdown was making his way down the hall to clock in, a klik or two early to his shift as well. Knock Out paused from explaining a model to the senior techs long enough to shoot the big mech a smile over his shoulder. Breakdown returned it as he palmed open the door and stepped through it, and after he was gone from view Knock Out turned back to his class, poised to return to his instruction— and stopped short.

All seven of them were looking at him with expressions that ranged from awestruck to frustrated, though each and every one of them held a nearly tangible note of sudden understanding. Knock Out fumbled with the part he’d been showing them how to disassemble, nearly dropping it to the floor in his sudden fluster. Three of the closest techs shuffled closer, their looks shifting to something decidedly knowing as they did, and Knock Out instantly decided that the ground could open up and swallow him whole at any point and he would probably be fine with it.

A short burst of frenzied conversation ensued, though it felt more like an interrogation from where Knock Out was standing. He answered the first few lighthearted inquiries, but drew the line when one of his more brash apprentices asked a needlessly prurient series of questions, ending the exchange with a stern look then swearing the group to silence.

He was more than aware of how much gossip went around, and if he somehow managed to make it through the day without telling Breakdown how he felt, he didn’t want the Stunticon hearing it from some random coworker or churlish soldier instead.

The sudden revelation did have the fortunate side effect of making his instruction go by a little smoother; the techs were less hesitant to come closer and ask questions, which made Knock Out feel somewhat better about how much they were actually learning, though it didn’t do him any favors when it came to burning time.  Breakdown ambled back out minute or two after Knock Out resumed his lesson, leaning on the foot of the medberth the speedster was using as an impromptu examination table, watching keenly despite it being far beyond him.

When Knock Out released the tiny class to their assignments, he turned and beckoned Breakdown to one of the private practice rooms at the back, gathering a box from one of the stockrooms he kept his teaching supplies in on the way. A few minutes of explanation later, he ducked back out into the hall, leaving Breakdown with a small mountain of datapads to read and a replacement limb to practice setting up emergency IVs on.

He didn’t miss the way Breakdown watched him as he demonstrated the setup a few times, or the meaningful glances the big mech kept throwing in his direction whenever he thought Knock Out hadn’t been looking. He could practically feel the mech burning with curiosity, and he silently cursed himself for alerting Breakdown at all.

Thankfully, he had a solid two million years’ worth of experience leaving his affections for the Stunticon perfectly undisguised, which meant he had to do very little in order to act like nothing was wrong, and he hadn’t prospectively sent their friendship to its death with a single impulsive thought.

Though it seemed he couldn’t fool Breakdown— or himself — that easily.

He shook the thought from his mind and set off toward his office, determined to get something done— even if it meant reorganizing his datapad library for the third time that week.


Predictably, the end of the day came much sooner than Knock Out would have liked.

The sound of his office door opening grabbed his attention, and he looked up from where he sat behind his desk grading tests as Breakdown strode in with an easy smile. He ignored the way his spark fluttered as the other approached and leaned his hip against the edge of the desk, instead offering the big mech a return smile as he sat back in his chair.

“Need something?” He said, idly toying with the stylus he’d been using. Above him, Breakdown chuckled.

"Yeah, you. ” the Stunticon said, crossing his arms over his chassis. “We were supposed to clock out almost a joor ago.”

Knock Out startled, half-rising from his chair as he glanced at the chronometer on his HUD with embarrassment writ large across his faceplates. Breakdown chuckled again, and the fond expression he wore robbed the medic of his voice before he could offer a proper apology.

“It’s alright, I figured you got distracted.” The big mech soothed, reaching over to pat Knock Out’s shoulder amiably. “Are you done here, or do you need more time to finish up?”

“Mostly.” He mumbled as he looked down at his desk, straightening the various datapads that were scattered over it’s surface to hide the sudden embarrassed flush that stole its way across his features.

“In that case, do you wanna get dinner with me?” Breakdown asked, as if they didn’t already have plans to do that exact thing. Knock Out laughed as he gathered himself to his pedes and collected a stack of datapads, then skirted around Breakdown and the end of his desk, the big mech’s optics on him the whole time.

“Sounds wonderful,” He purred once he had put himself between Breakdown and the door, slipping the stack of datapads into his subspace and offering the other his servo. “Maybe afterwards we can find a holofilm to watch together.”

“Been a while since we got to do that.” Breakdown ceded, lacing their fingers together and tugging Knock Out towards the door gently. “We have a talk to get to, too.”

Knock Out hummed noncommittally, giving the big mech’s servo a squeeze as they made their way through the medbay and into the main corridor outside. “I should have known better than to think you might have forgotten that.”

“Fat chance,” Breakdown snorted. “Maybe if you hadn’t spent all day acting funny I might have let you off the hook, but now you’ve got me curious.”

“How was I acting funny?” Knock Out asked with incredulity as he turned and offered the big mech the fakest expression of hurt he could muster.

“You were… busier than usual.” Breakdown answered thoughtfully in place of the sportive comeback Knock Out had expected. “You get restless when you’re nervous about something.”

“Oh,” The speedster murmured, caught so perfectly off-guard by Breakdown’s answer that he slowed to an almost complete stop before stumbling forward to keep in step with the bigger mech. After a moment of thought he asked, “How do you know our conversation is what I’m worried about, then?”

“I don’t, really.” Breakdown replied, “But normally you tell me about anything that might be bothering you, and this is the only real outlier I can think of.”

Knock Out struggled to come up with an appropriate response, and they lapsed into a silence that made him feel uneasy. He could tell that Breakdown didn’t expect anything further from him, but the sudden lack of conversation only seemed to magnify the apprehension he felt, and he floundered to find something to fill the void with. The longer he went without finding something to say the more the feeling intensified, until he ended up blurting out the first thing that came to mind.

Fortunately, it was a question about the big mech’s studies rather than an untimely admittance of his feelings for the Stunticon. Breakdown hesitated at first, looking at him with something close to calculation in his optics before haltingly answering each of Knock Out’s questions, and by the time Knock Out had exhausted all of his options for keeping the conversation going they arrived at the mess hall.

It was predictably packed, and Knock Out cast a disparaging glance at the throngs of mechs and femmes that had gathered to refuel and noisily socialize together. As if sensing his discomfort, or perhaps feeling some of his own, Breakdown shifted closer and let go of Knock Out’s servo.

“We can get our ration and go somewhere else,” He suggested, glancing down at Knock Out with the barest hint of anxiety informing his features. The medic nodded without hesitation.

“Probably for the best we find somewhere more private to talk, anyway.” He said, sighing as he moved forward into the room. Breakdown followed a half-step behind him as they skirted their way around tables that bustled with noise and activity, making their way to the row of energon dispensers that lined the far wall.  They gathered their dinner quickly, working together with an ease born of vorns of experience with one another in crowded rec-rooms and mess halls across the galaxies.

They finished at nearly the same time, and glanced up at each other as if on cue. Breakdown smiled when he caught Knock Out’s gaze, and Knock Out did his best to smile back while he ruthlessly suppressed the fluttery-sparked feeling Breakdown’s smiles inspired in him. After a moment, the bigger mech turned and began to make his way back toward the exit, Knock Out following in his wake.

When they were outside again, Breakdown wasted no time in shifting his cube between servos so that he could grab Knock Out’s and twine their fingers again. Knock Out squeezed his hand gently, taking a long sip of his energon to stall for time as he thought of something to say.

“Did you have somewhere specific you wanted to go?” Breakdown asked, beating him to the punch. Knock Out stopped drinking, but didn’t pull the cube far from his mouth.

“...My quarters will probably work best.” Knock Out hummed after a moment, tugging the other in that direction. Breakdown didn’t ask any questions, and while the medic was grateful for that as it saved him from trying to come up with suitable answers, it also dropped them into another uncomfortable stint of silence.

At least, it was uncomfortable for Knock Out; Breakdown didn’t seem all that fazed, though what little of his expression Knock Out could make out through his peripheral vision seemed thoughtful. He hoped that meant Breakdown was not feeling the same awkwardness and apprehension he was, but the only way to know for certain was to ask, and he couldn’t find the courage to do so.

Thus, their walk to Knock Out’s hab suite was completed in silence.

By the time they reached his door in the officer’s hallway, Breakdown had begun to shoot glances his way that were half curious and half concerned. Knock Out knew he was watching, but didn’t acknowledge him as he let go of the big mech’s hand and stepped forward to type in his code with an unsteady servo.

After the second failed attempt, Breakdown reached forward and put his servo on Knock Out’s rerebrace, stopping him. Knock Out looked at him warily over his shoulder, though he couldn’t place exactly what made him feel that wariness. Breakdown looked back at him with concern, moving until he could hold the medic’s slimmer servo in his own.

“You’re really upset about whatever this is, aren’t you?” He asked, though it came out more like a statement. Knock Out watched Breakdown’s optics flitter over his faceplates, as if searching for whatever was distressing him so much, before gently tugging his hand away.

“You’d understand if you knew what was bothering me,” He said quietly, turning back to the keypad beside the door to attempt his code again, cycling a steadying vent through his systems. Behind him, Breakdown shifted uncomfortably.

“Then why not tell me?” Breakdown implored. Knock Out shook his helm and finished entering the code, the keypad announcing that he’d gotten it correct with a happy sounding chime.  There were a million and one reasons why he couldn’t tell Breakdown what was on his mind, but he went with the easiest reason.

“Let’s get inside first.” he said as the door slid open to grant them access. He stepped aside long enough for the cleaning drone he’d confiscated earlier to putter its way out of the room, then entered with Breakdown close on his heels.  

His room was standard in terms of dimensions and not large by any means, but the lack of other occupants made it seem palatial. A wide berth was pushed into the far corner of the room, neatly covered with soft looking blankets and pillows. There was a small table beside it, its surface taken up almost entirely by a stack of datapads. On top of those was a remote, presumably for the large vid-screen mounted to the wall beside the door. In the corner opposite of the berth at the far end of the room was a desk, littered with datapads and half-finished part reconstruction projects, with a high-backed chair designed for seekers and other winged formats pushed in neatly.

Breakdown’s worried expression didn’t vanish even as he looked around observantly, taking in all the details of Knock Out’s newest room as if he were going to be quizzed on its contents later. Knock Out did his best to pretend nothing was wrong, instead crossing the room to begin unloading datapads and tools from his subspace onto his desk.

“Make yourself at home,” He said as casually as he could, “If you don’t want to sit on the berth, I can go get you a bigger chair somewhere. I don’t think mine will be too comfortable for you.”

He heard Breakdown move closer, and turned to see the big mech staring at him with a sort of barely contained anxiety he hadn’t seen from the big mech in a long time. Breakdown reached forward and took both of Knock Out’s servos in his own larger ones, holding them as if they were the most precious things he’d ever held in his life, his optics searching the shorter mech’s face once more.

“What’s eating you?” He asked softly after a moment, sending an unsuppressable wash of affectionate warmth coursing through Knock Out’s lines. “No more stalling. Tell me what’s the matter, please. Did I do something wrong?”

Knock Out recoiled, a brief expression of horror crossing his faceplates as he held his servos up placatingly.

“No, no— gods, no! You haven’t done anything wrong, I just—” He looked around, as if trying to find some kind of suitable reasoning for how oddly he had been acting around Breakdown all day. After a few fruitless moments he heaved a sigh, his shoulders sagging as he took the big mech’s hands again. “I’m just nervous, is all. I’ll tell you, I promise, I just need time to figure out how to tell you.”

The intensity in Breakdown’s gaze didn’t waver, but he nodded slowly and stepped backwards, settling onto the edge of the berth. Knock Out watched him for a moment, then promptly began to pace the meager length of his quarters, wracking his processor for a good way to approach the subject.

How did one profess their million-year long infatuation to their closest friend without coming off as desperate? For that matter, how did anyone profess their infatuation to their crush without ruining the relationship? No matter how small he tried to convince himself it was, there was always the possibility that he would tell Breakdown what he felt and the other would feel uncomfortable— or worse, disgusted. Knock Out knew he was pretty, but his looks had been severely diminished by his conversion, and he knew his personality left something to be desired— especially after having become so shallow during Breakdown’s absence. He wouldn’t blame the other if he had no interest in him romantically.

But even for as much of a terrible idea as it seemed, he knew he had to tell Breakdown what he felt. The thought of something happening to one of them— of losing the big mech without ever letting him know how much he loved him, how much he felt he had always loved him, terrified him more than the idea of telling him did.  Besides, he knew he had to tell Breakdown something, and he doubted any lie he could come up with would be substantial enough to merit how strange he’d been acting, but that brought him back to his original predicament: how did he tell Breakdown what he felt?

Knock Out knew that Breakdown was watching him struggle to puzzle it out, despite how unobtrusive the big mech was trying to be. Knock Out glanced at him every time he passed, glad to see that his earlier anxiety had eased back into mild concern. On the few occasions their optics met, Breakdown offered him smiles that were warm and supportive, and Knock Out thought his legs might give out on him for how much love he felt for him in those moments.

By the fourth time it happened— nearly an hour after they’d first entered the room— Knock Out had steeled himself enough to go through with it.

Instead of turning when he was a few steps from the wall and marching back toward the door, he shuffled closer to Breakdown. The big mech’s smile didn’t falter as Knock Out approached, only softening somewhat when the medic sat down beside him on the berth and scrubbed at his face.

“You ready to talk, or did you just get tired of walking?” Breakdown joked softly in what Knock Out assumed was an attempt to ease some of his worries. He offered a half- hearted smile in return, letting his hands pool in his lap.

“I don’t know if I’d call it being ready just yet, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.” He offered, chuckling wryly. “If we waited until I was ready, you’d be here all night.”

“I wouldn’t mind.” Breakdown said honestly, pulling a hint of a genuine smile from Knock Out before it was smothered by his indecision. Breakdown reached over and took the medic’s servo, watching as he struggled to find a way to start. “Take your time. I’m not going anywhere.”

Knock Out nodded, more thankful for the big mech’s patience than he was able to articulate. They sat like that for a few long minutes that felt more like an eternity to Knock Out, before he finally decided on a place to start.

He turned slightly toward Breakdown, holding the Stunticon’s big servo between two of his his own and pressing his thumbs into the seams there in a gentle massage. He cycled a vent, then asked, “You remember a few orns ago, when Motormaster came by to see me, and you saved me?”

Breakdown nodded seriously, his gaze suddenly much more focused. Knock Out could almost taste the sudden tension that had overtaken the big mech at the mere mention of his once-leader’s designation. “I could never forget that.”

Knock Out did his best to wrestle his emotions into something manageable, instead of letting it fluctuate wildly between fear and affection.

“Well. Before you showed up he was talking to me— talking at me, sort of, and accusing me of things. He said some things that I’ve been thinking about.” He laughed, and nearly cringed at how nervous it sounded. “I know, it’s— it’s silly, to listen to someone like Motormaster. To think he could tell the truth.”

“I don’t think it’s silly.” Breakdown said seriously, watching Knock Out with intensity. “If he said something that bothered you this much, I think it’s important to talk about it.”Knock Out nodded but felt suddenly like someone had welded his mouth shut, and struggled to continue. Breakdown waited patiently for him to say more, never complaining about how much time it was taking the medic to say what he needed to, and never implying that he was overreacting. He made a mental note to thank the big mech for it later, then rose to his feet and circled around Breakdown’s front, letting go of his servo as he felt the desire to simply confess welling in him like a floodwater of affection.

He looked and Breakdown, and Breakdown looked back with a look of calm understanding and thinly veiled concern— and the dam burst.

He cycled a quick, half-panicked vent, then spoke.

“Motormaster said that you were in love with me. That you’d been in love with me since we met.” He said, his voice tight and his expression something close to agonized.  He twisted his fingers together in front of himself and shifted uncomfortably on his pedes, his courage flagging. “I just— I want to— I need to know if it’s true.”

Breakdown stared back at him silently for a moment. Knock Out felt his fuel pump hammering in his chassis hard enough that he worried it might burst from the strain, but decided only a split second later that it would be okay , because obviously Motormaster had been wrong and he was making a fool out of himself, and Breakdown was going to hate him and living without Breakdown wouldn’t be living at all

“That’s what this is about?” Breakdown asked with the slightest hint of relief in his voice, rising to his formidable peds and stepping close enough to pull Knock Out’s servos apart and cup them in his own big hands.

When Knock Out nodded tightly, Breakdown chuckled and tugged him closer. Knock Out couldn’t even find it in himself to be offended that Breakdown would laugh at a time like this, instead clinging to the fact that the big mech was laughing and smiling, which meant there was a low chance he was angry at Knock Out for implying something so—

“Of course I’m in love you.” Breakdown said as if it was the easiest thing in the universe to admit, smiling lovingly at Knock Out while he sat back down. “I thought it was kinda obvious by now. Is that a bad thing?”

“No,” Knock Out managed after a moment of bewildered gaping. He barely had time to feel shocked before relief was flooding through him, making his legs feel weak. He braced his servos on Breakdown’s shoulders lightly, then continued a touch dazedly. “Not at all, I just— why did you never say anything?”

“Because I’m happy with just— whatever. Spending time with you, being your friend. I didn’t want to come off like some kinda creep— like Barricade or Conduit, like I was just looking to get laid, you know? I’m happy being with you at all. It doesn’t have to be romantic.” He explained, but then paused as an uncertain expression spread over his copper faceplates. “And— well. That, and I was sort of afraid that saying something would make you not wanna be friends with me anymore.”

Knock Out hung his helm and laughed, shuffling forward in what had to be the most awkward move known to the civilized universe until he was bracketed in the space between the bigger mech’s legs. He slid his arms over Breakdown’s shoulders, smiling down at him lovingly. Breakdown gazed back up at him with an expression that was not quite rapturous, though it was a near thing.

Well, I don’t think you have to worry about that.” He said smoothly, as the last vestiges of worry bled their way out of his spark to make way for the pure elation he felt. He twined his digits together behind Breakdown’s helm and ducked closer, bringing their faceplates within inches of one another before he continued. “I can assure you, the feeling is quite mutual.”

The distance between them closed— and to Knock Out, it was like coming home.

Chapter Text

Knock Out burst through the door of his Slaughter City apartment in an explosion of panicked noise and movement. He carelessly dropped his duffel bag onto the floor and kicked the door closed with one pede as he turned, slowing to a stop as he locked optics with a startled looking Sunstreaker.

“What’s wrong?” The younger mech asked, rising from the couch with a gathering sense of alarm that was almost tangible.

Knock Out surged forward suddenly, rounding the low table and taking the younger mech by the shoulders with perhaps a touch more force than necessary. Sunstreaker squawked in protest, reaching up and gripping Knock Out’s wrists with enough strength that the medic was briefly and distantly relieved to feel it.

“What do you think of the High Council?” Knock Out forced out around the lump of dread and panic that had been slowly choking him the entire ride home from Kaon. Sunstreaker tried to yank himself out of Knock Out’s grip, his cross expression tinged with wariness.

“Knock Out, what are you going on about?” He demanded, stubbornly prying at the medic’s hands to try and free himself from Knock Out’s grasp.

Knock Out shook him lightly, Sunstreaker’s reluctance to talk only ratcheting his anxiety higher. “Just answer the question!”

Sunstreaker frowned, then slammed his hands down on the joints of the medic’s elbows, leaning closer to the red mech only long enough to loosen Knock Out’s grip and free himself. He spun away and planted himself in the doorway to the hall, staring Knock Out down with no small sense of distrust. Knock Out rubbed at his arms, frowning despite the brief whisper of pride he felt at the younger mech pulling off the counter so well.

“What is wrong with you!” Sunstreaker shouted indignantly. “You leave me here alone for a month and when you come home you attack me?”

Knock Out wrung his servos, then drug a servo down his face as he turned in a circle, his plating pulled tight to his frame in distress and his servo over his mouth. When he faced Sunstreaker again, he held his servos up placatingly.

“I’m sorry.” he said, then hung his helm and laced his fingers behind his neck, sighing tightly through his vents as he turned to the side again. “That doesn’t fix anything, but I’m sorry for leaving you so long and for acting like this. It was wrong of me.”

Sunstreaker watched him fidget for a moment, then took a hesitant half-step forward, his angry mask still in place. “Would you just quit being weird and tell me what’s wrong with you?”

Knock Out barked a laugh that was too desperate and harried to sound genuine even to him, scrubbing his hands over his face more roughly this time. “That’s the rub of the whole thing, I can’t tell you. You-- you have to answer first or I can’t tell you and I have to keep wondering—”

“Answer what?” Sunstreaker interrupted, stopping Knock Out dead in the middle of his anxious monologue and earning a speechless stare. After a moment of watching the older mech flounder for words, he gentled his demeanor with some effort, taking a few steps closer, until they stood at opposite ends of the couch from one another. “You want to know how I feel about the council?”

Knock Out opened and shut his mouth uselessly before finally nodding, wringing his servos nervously. He was distantly aware that this was the closest he had ever come to crying in front of his young charge— and the thought was enough to send him scrubbing at his face again. He was so tired of crying.

As if sensing his mounting distress, Sunstreaker stepped closer still and made a slashing motion between them with one arm, drawing the medic’s attention back to him.

“I would kill them all with my bare servos if I could.” He promised darkly, his voice full of malice. Knock Out felt an exvent leave him in a great gust of air, and he buried his face in his palms briefly before surging forward and wrapping his arms around Sunstreaker.

“Thank Primus,” He muttered softly against the shorter mech’s shoulder, holding him tightly. Sunstreaker wrapped his arms around the medic reluctantly, and though he wasn’t embracing Knock Out as tightly as Knock Out was embracing him, it was by no means as hesitant and awkward as the first few times they’d hugged one another.

“I take it that was the right answer?” Sunstreaker asked from where his face was pressed against Knock Out’s pauldron. Knock Out choked out a relieved laugh and nodded despite knowing the other couldn’t see it, and Sunstreaker shifted against him. “Will you tell me what has you so worked up now?”

Knock Out lingered for a moment longer, letting his utter relief wash through him, before he pulled away reluctantly, moving back towards where he’d dumped his luggage. “It’s sort of a complicated story…”

Sunstreaker leapt over the back of the couch and landed in a position that looked dubiously comfortable, a tiny frown on his face. “I’ve got time.”

Knock Out glanced up at him as he straightened, heaving his duffel bag up by the handle and dropping it onto the low table in front of Sunstreaker as he passed, making his way towards a set of cabinets on the wall by behind the couch. Sunstreaker watched him as he moved about, rooting through the meager storage spaces scattered around the room. He piled electronics into his arms as he went, before finally returning to the table and dropping his bounty onto its surface beside his bag. Sunstreaker eyed the random assortment of electronics Knock Out had collected, then squinted up at the medic expectantly as the older mech flopped down beside him and did his best to organize his thoughts into something coherent.

Knock Out doubted he would ever be able to summarize a government conspiracy to brainwash an entire planet in a way that didn’t sound exceedingly ludicrous.

“The high council is planning to use subsonic frequencies to brainwash everyone on Cybertron so that they agree to destroy the Earth.” He said after a moment, drawing a short stack of datapads out of his subspace and setting them down on the table. He picked up the one off the top and transformed a digit into a tool, quickly getting to work disassembling the thing and picking out seemingly random parts from its internals.

Beside him, Sunstreaker blinked in confusion, his mouth opening once and then closing as he tried to formulate a response to what he’d just been told.

“What?” He asked smartly when he finally got over his surprise. “What the hell?”

“I know, it sounds completely insane.” Knock Out sighed, setting the scavenged datapad to the side and reaching for another of the random gadgets he’d brought over. “I wouldn’t have believed it either if someone had told me what was happening, but I saw the effects first hand. The mech I talked to was like… like a zombie.”

“What’s a zombie?” Sunstreaker asked, his beautiful face twisted in confusion. He shook his head after a moment, as if to dismiss his own question. “No, actually— Say I believe you, that the high council is trying some mind-control nonsense. What do we do about it?”

Knock Out hummed thoughtfully, carefully detaching a few components from the gizmo and fitting the pieces he’d gathered together on a circuit board so tiny that Sunstreaker could barely see it. “Well, first, we protect ourselves. My friend is working with some people who have a plan to stop it, and as far as I’m concerned they’re the most qualified to do something about it. For now, he’s sent me the schematics for a device that will nullify the frequencies, and suggests we lay low until they have things sorted.”

“So, what? We just sit around and let them do what they want?” Sunstreaker asked with a tangible sort of frustration in his voice. Knock Out shot him a remorseful look and nodded.

“For now, it’s all we can do. It’s better to keep our helms down now than to foil a plan that would have actually worked if we had kept to ourselves.” He reasoned, fitting the last component in place and transforming a soldering torch from a digit. He watched the younger mech fidget in his periphery as he began laying down dots of hot solder, cementing the pieces in place on the circuit board.

“You were working in the prison, right?” Sunstreaker suddenly asked after a moment, crossing his arms over his chest as if to protect himself.

“Yes. Why?” Knock Out asked, glancing up at his charge. Sunstreaker’s expression was tight, a telltale sign that he was struggling with his emotions. They lapsed into an uneasy silence as Sunstreaker worked to figure out how to say what he needed to say.

“Was my brother there?” He asked finally, doing his damnedest not to look at Knock Out as he did. Knock Out sat back, frowning gently.

“No. I helped every mech they have in custody there and he wasn’t there. He wasn’t in the intake manifest, either.” Knock Out said softly, transforming his hand back to normal and reaching for a dataslug he’d scavenged.

Sunstreaker sighed, rubbing his face with a hand as he did. Knock Out watched him with sympathy as he wrenched the casing of the data slug open and pried out its inner workings, dumping them onto the table. He could tell Sunstreaker was beginning to feel the same sort of hopelessness his brother’s absence always inspired in him, and he scrambled to find something to fill the silence with.

“I met someone there that reminded me of you, though. A few people, actually.” He said quietly. Sunstreaker looked over at him, his interest piqued, so Knock Out continued. “They were really young. Got pushed into a bad crowd and were forced to break the law to survive. I couldn’t stop thinking about you while I was helping them. Maybe it’s just because all of you are so young, but I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

Knock Out looked over at Sunstreaker, watching him thoughtfully for a moment before continuing. “I couldn’t stop thinking about you being alone, and cold, and hungry. Having to steal to get by. I don’t like to think about things like that, but i couldn’t stop. It’s not right. You should have had mentors— a family.”

Sunstreaker frowned and stared back at Knock Out, his expression indignant but his optics full of vulnerability. “I have a family. I have Sideswipe. Even if he’s not here I… I still have him. He’s still family.”

“He should have had family, too. You both should have. You should have had someone to take care of you, to teach you what you needed to know and support you. Even I had that much, no matter how detached I was from my guardians.” Knock Out said seriously, lining the seam of the case with a fast drying glue to keep it shut and sealed from moisture.

“So what?” Sunstreaker said defensively, his plating rising with agitation. “You think you’re so much better than me just because you had somebody lookin’ out for you when you were forged?”

“No. Not at all.” Knock Out said softly, turning the device over in his servos and looking for any blemishes as an excuse not to look up at Sunstreaker.

“Then what’s your damn point?” The golden mech demanded, sitting up straighter. Knock Out sat back and looked at him seriously.

“When this is all over, I want to file the paperwork to become your guardian officially.” He said without hesitation. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I’m willing to do it if you are. I want you to be taken care of. You should never have been put in the position that you were, and I want to do my best to make it up to you. I want you to know what it’s like to have someone whos there for you.”

Sunstreaker’s anger faded, quickly being replaced with astonishment and nonplus as he stared back at Knock Out uncomprehendingly. Knock Out looked back at him seriously as he watched Sunstreaker cycle through a handful of emotions, feeling strangely unconcerned; he had been expecting to feel more anxious when he made the offer to his younger charge.

“You don’t have to feel obligated.” He said after a moment, reaching forward to lay his servo on Sunstreaker’s knee gently. “I’m a big mech. I can take rejection.”

The golden mech reset his vocalizer with an audible click, still staring the medic down intensely as he worked himself up to talking.

“You’d have to take in my brother, too, when we find him. You have to adopt him, too, or I— I can’t.” He said finally, watching as Knock Out scooted closer to him on the sofa until their knees touched. The older mech smiled fondly at him for a moment, then brought the device he’d made up to Sunstreaker’s neck, coaxing open the access panel there and plugging it into the dataport hidden inside before closing it once more.

When he was done he sat back, setting his servos on Sunstreaker’s shoulders in a much gentler version of the way he’d grabbed the young mech when he’d first come home. Sunstreaker looked at him with naked hope in his optics, reaching up to cover the medic’s hands with his own as he waited for a response. Knock Out smiled at him again, tugging him closer until he could wrap his arms around the younger mech in an embrace that was only slightly awkward for the angle. This time, Sunstreaker wasted no time in returning the hug, wrapping his arms around the older mech and curling his fingers around the thick plates of Knock Out’s back, just below his tires.

“Ask me something hard.” Knock Out murmured honestly.

Chapter Text

When Knock Out had dreamt of his bonding ceremony in his youth, he had never expected this.

He had dreamt of glamor; of the tall spires of Vos shining in the sunlight. Of golden filigree, of bonding paints, of a grand reception with all of his associates looking on in jealousy as he and his lover— a then-faceless imagination of what was once his perfect mech— danced through the sky together to seal their bonding.  

Provenance V was very, very different from what he had imagined so long ago.

It was an organic planet, with untamed flora that grew wild and unhindered by the various installations the Decepticons had established on its surface. Roots and vines as thick around as a grown mech had wasted no time in climbing over the buildings, criss-crossed in shades of lavender and plum, effortlessly hiding the camps from view.

The great and massive trunks of the merlot-colored trees grew unbidden, their dense canopies stealing all but a few scarce shafts of light from the undergrowth. The plant life that blanketed the forest floor was primarily composed of big patches of a spongy periwinkle moss, with little yellow urceolate flowers that sighed a seemingly endless supply of luminescent pollen into the breeze. Angular pterosaurs flew overhead, made small by the sheer gargantuan size of the foliage around them though Knock Out knew they were hardly tiny creatures.

Vining ferns dotted the areas at the base of the trees, their rough tealish trunks braided together in a way that seemed almost deliberate and their stolons twisting in the breeze as they crept their way skyward.  The ground sloped lazily downward toward a short cliff face that was mirrored a few dozen mechanometers away, forming a shallow canyon around a coursing river dyed pink by the pollen spores that had been swept into it.

Even if it wasn’t Vos, it was still beautiful.

But neither Knock Out nor Breakdown were interested in sightseeing. They were more interested in each other, and the high speed game of cat and mouse they were playing.

Knock Out flashed through the clearing, his tires slipping and spitting out a spray of soft moss and peat as he veered left around a gigantic tree. Breakdown wasn’t far behind him, and Knock Out could feel that the big mech’s sensors were locked on him, unshakable and even despite the ruggedness of their terrain.

::Give it up, doc!:: Breakdown taunted from behind him, humor in his voice as he pulled in close, lining himself up behind the doctor. Knock Out began to serpentine, watching as Breakdown followed him flawlessly.

::Why would I do that?:: He asked with an incredulous laugh, speeding up enough to put a few feet more distance between them.

::Cause for once, I’ve got you beat.:: the big mech opined smugly. Knock Out’s engine spluttered and he swerved to the right in something close to shock before pulling himself back into line.

::How do you figure that?:: He asked, watching Breakdown closely for some sort of giveaway that he was joking. ::My top speed is almost twice yours!::

::Yeah, but I’m not even close to my top speed right now. Even if you did manage to get going that fast, you’d run out of energon way faster than me. I’ve got the advantage in torque and tank size.:: Breakdown explained, more than just a little pleased with himself. Knock Out frowned internally then revved his engine and jumped forward again, a little farther this time.

::Oh, you think you’re so clever, don’t you?:: He asked, his voice filled with playful challenge. Behind him, Breakdown flicked his running lights in response, his heavy engine growling.  Knock Out’s revved again in response. ::We’ll just have to see about that!::

Before Breakdown could respond, Knock Out flashed his tail lights and gunned his engine, streaking away through the forest in a blur of color and sound, leaving crushed plantlife in his wake. Breakdown poured it on and followed the speedster gamely, keeping himself squared in Knock Out’s rear-views despite the medics attempts to lose him. Knock Out had the speed on him to be sure, but Breakdown’s higher suspension afforded him another advantage by letting him simply drive over obstacles that Knock Out had to navigate around, keeping them— more or less — equal.

The impromptu path they were following curved gradually when it met the outside edge of an ancient caldera, its rocky strata streaked with veins of crystalized energon and latticed by thin, tendril-like vines. Knock Out followed the curve with ease as damp sphagnum gave way to sturdy stone. Breakdown was not far behind him even still, the sounds of their engines ringing off the dense volcanic walls in a harmonious duet.

Knock Out couldn’t help laughing; despite the frustration he felt knowing that Breakdown would inevitably catch up to him and he would lose a race for the first time in his life, his spark thundered rapturously and his lines hummed with a delight he could barely contain.

He couldn’t recall a time he had ever felt happier.

Breakdown honked from behind him, pulling the medic from his thoughts just in time for Knock Out to screech to a halt in front of of a dead end in the form of a towering, craggy rock face to one side and a steep drop off into a river on the other. He transformed to his root mode and scanned the rock wall quickly as Breakdown slowed to a stop behind him, his big engine chuffing. Breakdown transformed, setting his servos on his hips and grinning smugly.

“You ready to surrender yet?” He asked as Knock Out spun, rapidly schooling his harried look into something more suave.

“Hardly,” Knock Out bluffed, shifting his weight and examining the tips of his digits with disinterest. If not for his pride, he would have thrown in the towel and kissed Breakdown senseless then and there.

Breakdown laughed, the sound deep and smooth and sweet enough to send tingles of adoration washing through Knock Out’s frame. “I don’t see many options for you to keep running.”

Knock Out slid his optics over to Breakdown and smiled coyly over his shoulder, watching the humor rapidly drain from his lover’s expression as the big mech caught on and began to close in. Before he could get close enough to grab the speedster, Knock Out danced away toward where the rock wall met the drop off. There was a tiny waterfall there, flowing down into the river below from a cave that looked just wide enough for the speedster to pass through comfortably.

Breakdown would have to be creative.

Knock Out ducked into the cave and hurried forward through the water, one servo ghosting along the luminous seams of energon that had grown there. Breakdown’s astonished protests and the sounds of his attempts to enter the tunnel echoed through the space, drawing stifled snickers out of the medic who slowed as he reached a shallow turn in the path. He glanced over his shoulder, then turned and posed coquettishly against the wall, whistling to get the bruiser’s attention. Breakdown looked up from where he kneeled in the middle of the cave, his golden optics catching Knock Out’s carmine ones, and Knock Out’s smile turned catlike.

“Keep up, hotwheels!” He singsonged playfully as he rounded the corner.

Around the bend, the cave gradually opened up until it formed a roundish room that was easily large enough for both Knock Out and Breakdown to stand in at one time. Light poured in through what Knock Out realized was the mouth of the cave, a massive thing full of rocky teeth that was cloaked by a roaring cascade of water. A pool of water deep enough to reach the medic’s knees rested in the middle of the room, bouncing the light from outside all over the room. It hit the myriad crystal growths along the walls, filling the room with a rainbow of soft colors that danced playfully through the space.

Knock Out took a moment to appreciate the sight; while most Cybertronians were repulsed by organic worlds, the red mech was more than willing to acknowledge when beauty was present. He reached into his subspace for his camera, busying himself with taking pictures of the scene while Breakdown finally managed to squeeze himself around the corner and far enough up the path that he could stand again. Knock Out heard him as he approached and turned, snapping a picture just in time to catch the startled look on Breakdown’s face before depositing the camera back into subspace.

“Hey, stranger.” Knock Out purred, stepping forward and twining his arms around the blue mech’s neck. Breakdown’s engine rumbled in satisfaction as he settled his big hands on Knock Out’s waist.

“Give up yet?” He asked with a grin, tilting his shoulders forward to bring his face closer to the medic’s. Knock Out smiled.

“Not quite,” the speedster teased, pressing his lips against Breakdown’s chin briefly. “Though I will say, I am close.”

“Oh yeah?” Breakdown hummed from where he pressed his face against Knock Out’s neck cables, “How close is close?”

Knock Out rolled his helm as if tracking the movement of something, cycling a deep and theatrical vent as he pretended to think about it. Breakdown swayed with him leisurely, his fingers trailing over the transformation seams in Knock Out’s hips, sending a low heat coursing through the speedster’s lines.

“Close enough that, now, I’m more or less just looking for a good place.” Knock Out finally admitted, drawing a huffed laugh out of his lover. Breakdown pulled away after a moment, gifting the medic with another one of the beautiful smiles that he so loved.

“Here’s not good enough? You seemed pretty keen.” He said, his voice teasing. Knock Out looked around at the room again, smiling himself.

“It’s nice, I’ll admit, but I’m not keen on getting a bunch of scratches on my finish from all this rock.” He explained, dropping his hands down onto Breakdown’s vambraces, then added as an afterthought, “Not that I would complain about having an excuse for you to buff me.”

Breakdown laughed outright this time, raising one hand to cup Knock Out’s face and bring it closer. He slotted their lips together and kissed the red mech unhurriedly, and though it was gentle and innocent Knock Out felt as if all of the air had been sucked out of his vents. Breakdown never seemed worried about moving things forward or rushing, always happy to linger in austerity to give Knock Out the time he needed to be comfortable.

It was one of the many, many reasons that Knock Out loved him so deeply.

After a moment, Breakdown pulled away, smiling down at Knock Out serenely. “I guess we’d better keep looking, then.”

Knock Out nodded, offering his own wobbly smile in return as he stepped back until he slipped out of Breakdown’s grasp. He huffed a vent to steady himself, then planted another cocksure smirk on his handsome faceplates.

“Try not to get lost this time, hm?” He teased, turning on his heel and hurrying to the mouth of the cave and the rocky, ramp-like decline there that lead back down into the forest.

The sounds of Breakdown’s laugher stayed with him for a while.


By the time Knock Out decided on a spot, the sun was low in the sky.

He stood in the middle of a big patch of moss that was ringed by giant trees, their long boughs drooping under the weight of their foliage. Glowing pollen spores danced on the gentle breeze like fireflies, adding touches of pink to the reddish light of the evening sky that painted the curves of the medic’s frame. Breakdown was not far behind him, the sound of his heavy treads through the vegetation foretelling his arrival. Knock Out watched him as he emerged into the clearing and immediately began to look around, his golden optics filled with curios intensity as he came closer.

“This the place?” Breakdown asked as their frames fit together once more. Knock Out smiled, stretching up on the tips of his pedes to plant a kiss at the corner of the big mech’s lips.

“I think it’ll do nicely, don’t you?” He said, twining his fingers together behind Breakdown’s helm again. Breakdown hummed a laugh against his lips, the throaty purr of his engine a sign of his delight.

“Anywhere you’re at would have worked for me,” the truck said honestly, capturing Knock Out’s mouth again before he could reply.

Knock Out didn’t mind at all; kissing Breakdown was as intoxicating as it was addictive.

He tugged Breakdown closer to him, leading him backwards toward the trees that lined the bed of moss until the tires on his back pressed into the spongy bark of one of them. Breakdown pulled away, glancing at him and then at the flowering peat with confusion.

“I thought—?” He began, gesturing vaguely behind him. Knock Out looked past him thoughtfully, then shrugged.

“I think this would work better logistically.” He said after a moment, trailing the tip of  his digit over the seam of Breakdown’s chestplate and smiling coyly. “Besides, we can always use the moss for round two.”

Breakdown laughed again, leaning down to press a few quick, soft kisses to Knock Out’s lips. “Planning ahead, are we?”

“You know me,” Knock Out said, hooking one leg around Breakdown’s thighs to tug him closer as he tapped his own helm. “ Tactical.”

Breakdown buried his face in Knock Out’s neck and snorted with laughter, sliding his servo down the speedster’s thigh and hoisting his leg up higher. Knock Out took the hint and pressed back into the tree, crossing his legs behind the bigger mech’s back, pinning himself in place against the tree with practiced ease.

“I love you,” Breakdown sighed as he emerged, kissing Knock Out’s mandibular guard. “Have I ever told you that?”

The medic smoothed his servo over the top of Breakdown’s chest as if in thought, drawing his fingers up across the grey expanse of his pauldron until they found the flares of armor that adorned it. He teased his digits into the tight space between them, ghosting their tips over the bonding engravings hidden there.

“I think it’s come up in conversation,” He hummed, using his other hand to tip the bruiser’s helm back and kiss him once more. Breakdown followed his lead, pressing into the kiss as his big digits grazed the glyphs carved into the speedster’s spaulder. After a moment he pulled away, touching his forehelm to Knock Out’s.

“I can’t believe we’re actually doing this,” He breathed, his words laced with giddy humor. “We’re going to be in so much trouble when we get back.”

Knock Out hummed, pressing a line of kisses from the Stunticon’s jaw to his audial. “You’re worth it.”

Breakdown’s engine revved heavily enough to rumble all through Knock Out’s frame, sending the speedster’s spark quavering with a sort nervous excitement. Knock Out smoothed his servos back down to Breakdown’s chestplate, stroking at the seams of it gently.

“I guess that’s the cue that you’re ready?” Breakdown asked teasingly, running his own servos down the streamlined angles of the speedster’s chassis. His touch was gentle but just a tad halting, hinting at the big mech’s own anxiety.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” He agreed quietly. They lapsed into a comfortable— if pregnant — silence for a few moments, simply feeling out the lines and panels of one another’s armor unhurriedly, as if to memorize it.

When Breakdown’s servos returned to his chestplate, his digits were more confident. He pressed lightly at the central seam, trailing a steady pressure down to the speedster’s abdominals and back up. He paused when his fingers reached Knock Out’s clavicular guard, golden optics flicking up to meet Knock Out’s gaze.

“You first,” He requested quietly, his expression keen. “You’ve already seen mine a zillion times.”

Knock Out laughed. “A whole zillion, huh?”

“Give or take a few, you know.” Breakdown responded, smiling up at the medic. Knock Out huffed another quiet laugh, then sat back against the tree, tightening his hold on Breakdown’s waist. The blue mech’s servos curled around Knock Out’s hips gently, all of his attention focused on the speedster and the quiet sounds of transformation from within his chassis. Knock Out’s armor split and rotated, his big pauldrons shifting backwards out of the way as his sternal plating shifted up and apart to reveal his spark chamber.

Knock Out’s spark chamber was a textbook example of high-caste extravagance. It was gold plated and glittering down to its fixtures, with helixes of delicate looking gold spiraling out around the various lines that connected to it. Its plates were fit together around a polished crystal window like an ornamental puzzle box, with transformations seams cutting its surface into individual and unique pieces. Filigree gilded any space that didn’t have something connecting to it, making the casing look like a tiny planet that was brimming with sparkling, exotic plantlife.

After a moment, the pieces all began to move. Some shrunk inwards and others pushed outwards, turning and shifting until they tucked themselves neatly away at the edges of the chamber. Knock Out hissed as air hit his bare spark, his legs tightening around Breakdown’s waist once more. Breakdown hiked him just a bit higher against the tree, leaning forward to look at his lover’s spark closely.

The Stunticon’s breath was cooler against his spark than the air of the jungle, each exhale making Knock Out’s spark shutter and thrash excitedly, spitting off tendrils of energy in search of something to latch onto. He slid a servo up and traced the bared edge of Knock Out’s lavish spark chamber reverently, his other servo sliding to the small of the speedster’s back to offer him more support.  Knock Out bit back a moan, curling his servos around the edge of Breakdown’s thick shoulder armor as if he was holding on for his life.

“You’re beautiful,” Breakdown breathed, bringing his face close enough to Knock Out’s spark for the wisps of energy to ghost across the sensitive mesh of his cheeks. He ghosted a kiss to the bottom lip of Knock Out’s spark chamber before pulling back, looking at Knock Out with utter seriousness. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in my entire life.”

Knock Out laughed breathlessly, leaning forward and slotting their mouths together. Breakdown returned the kiss with fervor, pressing himself closer to the speedster hungrily, and for a moment they were lost to the world, held thrall by the intoxicating dance of their lips. Breakdown’s fingers flirted at the the very edge of Knock Out’s spark chamber, tracing the bare edges with a deftness that belied his size and had Knock Out’s servos curling tighter around the Stunticon’s epaulets.

They broke apart reluctantly, their fans roaring like thunder in the quietude of the forest, their mouths kept close as if the ability to spontaneously kiss one another was paramount. Knock Out freed a servo from the impromptu handles he’d found, rapping on Breakdown’s formidable chest plates expectantly.

“Your turn, darling.” He purred, once more dragging the tip of his digit down the miniscule cleave in the center of Breakdown’s chassis. Breakdown huffed a laugh and leaned back to let his chestplates open.

His chassis and its contents— when compared to the utter extravagance of Knock Out’s— were utilitarian and plain. His armor split in the middle and swung outwards like a pair of shutters to expose his spark chamber, pinning his arms in place at the sides as it did. Unlike Knock Out’s intricate spark casing, his was simple. It was forged of a thick bronze-colored metal and bore a round hatch with a window on the front. He sent the command for his spark chamber to open, and Knock Out watched as the round door spun open and slid off to the side to allow access to its vital contents.

Breakdown’s spark pulsed fiercely, as strong and healthy as could be despite the litany of damages that pockmarked its chamber. Knock Out slid his servo down, ghosting his fingertips around the edge of the chamber opening before letting them tangle with the tendrils of energy that reached from the core of the spark. It was a strange sensation, like tiny static kisses trailing reverently along the length of his digits.

Breakdown groaned quietly, prompting the medic to carefully pull his servo away. Breakdown’s spark flared and shuddered, tendrils of energy thrashing around wildly in search of a connection. Knock Out shifted, leaning forward to fit their lips together again.

Knock Out kissed Breakdown slowly and deliberately, as if he were trying to communicate his unending love for the big mech through the tangle of their mouths alone. When he pulled away Breakdown tried to follow after him, his face flushed and his fans blasting out hot air. Knock Out cupped the Stunticon’s face in his servos and smiled fondly at him, his spark thrumming with adoration.

“Bond with me,” He whispered against Breakdown’s lips, so quiet he could barely hear himself over the sound of their fans. “I want to be yours forever.”

All at once, Breakdown surged into him. He claimed Knock Out’s lips in a dizzying kiss that was equal parts desperate and possessive, shifting Knock Out’s weight in his hands until their chests were closer as he did. Knock Out felt his spark thunder in its casing as it felt another grow nearer, and he was filled with a sudden unfathomable need— as if to have his spark separate from Breakdown’s for a moment longer would kill him.  

The first kiss of their sparks was brief, but sent an explosion of electric charge rushing up his spinal strut. The sensation was heady, stealing his attention away from everything but the frenzied throb of his core as it reached for Breakdown’s. He was peripherally aware of being shifted before their sparks met again, coming together like a raging storm and a mighty ocean.

He tilted his head back and gasped, though he couldn’t feel it. The sensation of their merge devoured him, greying out his other senses until all he could see or hear or feel was a lightning storm of Breakdown, burning through his lines and surrounding him on all sides.  It was intense in a way he couldn’t fully fathom, like nothing he had ever felt before. Charge cascaded through him, filling him from helm to pede in indescribable sensation— as if he was re-feeling everything he’d ever felt in his life all at once.

Just when he thought the feeling would overwhelm him the charge crested like a snapping whip, catapulting him straight through an overload to a sort of blissful afterglow he had never felt before. It was warm and calm and right, like what he imagined flying through the skies of Vos would feel like if he felt it with his spark.

But it was better , he realized, because Breakdown was here with him.

His presence was tentative at first, a whisper on his periphery as they both struggled to make heads or tales of the sudden calmness that had overtaken their merge, but as Breakdown found his proverbial pedes he became more aware of the Stunticon. He could feel Breakdown, in ways he had never felt anyone before-- as if he was feeling him from both inside and out. He could taste the emotions that his lover— his conjunx endura — felt, and realized very suddenly that Breakdown could feel his, as well.

And with that realization, their calm exploration exploded with emotion.

Knock Out tried to call up the memories of every moment he had ever spent with Breakdown, every moment he had ever spent thinking about Breakdown, desperate to communicate the vast and fathomless love he felt for the mech. Breakdown seemed to be doing the same thing, drowning him in oceans of love— of adoration so profound and boundless as to be infinite.

He caught strands of elation from his conjunx’s spark through the waves, somehow able to discern that Breakdown’s ecstasy was rooted in their bonding, and in the love that Knock Out was sharing with him.  He surged his own delight back to Breakdown, matching him pulse for pulse, determined to express his feelings for the big mech.

It wasn’t until they began to separate that Knock Out remembered there was a world outside of this one.

His first instinct was to cling to Breakdown’s; he couldn’t recall a time in his life where he had ever felt so at peace, and he hadn’t had enough time to show Breakdown everything he wanted to— everything he needed to.  He could feel the same reluctance to part ways coming from Breakdown, who set to work pushing as much love to Knock Out as he could while they were still joined. Knock Out hurried to do the same, even after Breakdown’s presence returned to his periphery and he began to register his other senses once more.

Touch came back to him first; he could feel Breakdown’s servos pressed to the small of his back, the weight of his lover’s frame pinning him to the soft bark of the tree behind him. He could feel the warm plating beneath his cheek, the powerful purr of Breakdown’s engine, the gentle breeze that swept across them like a caress.

His olfactory sensors rebooted, bringing with them a cascade of scents. He could smell the sweetness of the glowing pollen that had gathered in Breakdown’s transformational seams, and the warm, earthy scent that Breakdown carried with him— like rain on hot sandstone. He could smell the evidence of their overloads as it was carried off on the lazy breeze, and the clean, floral smell of the jungle behind it.

Hearing came back to him with a cacophony of sound, foremost among them the steady rumble that came from Breakdown’s chassis. Below that was the gentle whisper of the trees around them and an orchestra of tiny insect cries that resonated from the woods all around them.

Taste came more subtly, carrying the barest hint of Breakdown with it, and Knock Out smiled against the Stunticon’s neck.

He could feel Breakdown stirring beneath him, the bigger mech’s big thumbs rubbing circles into the plating over Knock Out’s spinal strut as they both came back to themselves. Knock Out pressed his face closer to Breakdown stubbornly, sure that his sight had returned but unwilling to detach himself long enough to look up.

“Knock Out?” Breakdown asked after a long moment, swaying back and forth on his pedes. “You with me?”

“I’m here,” Knock Out mumbled, wrapping his arms around Breakdown’s neck as the big mech laughed.

“Everything okay?” He asked, and Knock Out could feel a breath of fondness that wasn’t his own touch his spark.

“I don’t wanna look up,” The speedster admitted almost petulantly. “I’m afraid if I do, I’ll wake up.”

Breakdown laughed, though there was a touch of sympathy to the sound. He tightened his arms around Knock Out and pulled away from the tree, turning and taking a few lumbering steps out into the patch of moss before easing himself down onto his knees, Knock Out firmly wedged against him.

“It’s no dream,” Breakdown soothed, shifting until he could sit Knock Out in his lap. When he was settled the medic untangled his legs from around Breakdown, stretching them out. “You’re stuck with me. Forever and a day.”

Knock Out laughed this time, tracing the lines of the kibble on his Conjunx’s back. “You say that as if it’s a bad thing.”

“Nope. Not a bad thing, just a thing.” The blue mech said succinctly. They stayed like that for a few long moments, content to bask in one another’s presence and examine the new link between their sparks in warm silence, before Knock Out sighed and leaned back. Their plating clicked closed, hiding their cores from the elements once more.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.” Knock Out said with a smile, leaning in to press a quick kiss to Breakdown’s lips. Breakdown smiled against his mouth.

“Ditto.” He said as he flopped back into the soft moss, sending pollen wisps floating up into the sky.

The sun had nearly vanished, all but a thin strip of color gone from the sky, leaving behind Provenance V’s three moons against the inky backdrop of space. Knock Out shifted and leaned forward, holding himself up on his servos long enough to drop another kiss under Breakdown’s optic.

“I love you.” He said seriously, his ruby optics dancing over Breakdown’s face. Breakdown looked back at him just as intensely, curling one servo around Knock Out’s hip.

“I love you too.” The big mech said in an echo of so many other times he had said it. For the first time in his life Knock Out felt proof of it being true, and he smiled something fond at his conjunx. Breakdown smiled back, and Knock Out felt his spark shudder with adoration.

After a moment he rolled off of Breakdown and into the soft moss beside him, stretching out and shimmying in order to get comfortable. When he was done, Breakdown threaded their fingers together wordlessly, pulsing love to the speedster through their bond. Knock Out sighed, a heavy contentment lulling him towards recharge.

He stared up at the unfamiliar sky and smiled again.

Provenance V was not the glittering spires of Vos. It was dirty and wet and hot and full of organic life that skittered and screeched.

And Knock Out wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

Chapter Text

Knock Out had known that Bulkhead’s team was productive, but he hadn’t been aware of just how productive they were until he had returned to the hospital construction site to find it complete.

The last time he had seen the building, it had only been around a quarter of the way finished. A large portion of the outside had yet to be walled in, and the inside had been a mess of partially finished wiring and construction debris.

In less than two months, the building had undergone a transformation.

Glittering triangular transparisteel windows made up the outer walls of each floor, rimmed by thick steel beams to better support the weight of the overall structure. The offices inside were immaculate and palatial things, without a speck of dirt or dusty pede-print to tell of the fact that they hadn't even been fully walled in before Knock Out had left for Kaon. The exam rooms and operating suites were of a similar nature, their unblemished interiors and state-of-the-art equipment a stark contrast to the desolation that lingered just outside the hospital’s walls.

If his office at the prison was nice, his office there was downright luxurious. It was a huge room-- nearly half as big as the apartment he shared with Sunstreaker-- with floor to ceiling windows that offered panoramic views of the surrounding cityscapes. Tall bookcases lined two of the walls, ready to hold anything from reference texts to decorations. The desk was bigger than his berth, an L-shaped thing with a built-in holoconsole that shined from where it was tucked into the corner. Everything from the chair by the desk to the vidscreen mounted on the wall over the desk were brand new and shining, likely fresh off the assembly line.

He thought he would get used to spending time somewhere so nice, but — true to form— he had overestimated himself again.

The majority of his days were long, dragging things, packed with meetings, classes, inspections, and mountains of paperwork. The place quickly filled up with staff, until what was once an empty tower suddenly began to bustle with activity, the workers machine-like in their focus. He had thought-- had hoped-- that once the hospital began to operate on all cylinders he would be able to enjoy the job and the help he would provide to others, but the increased proximity only proved to depress him further.

Nearly every patient who hobbled in through the doors was already firmly under the influence of the Council’s mind-control frequencies, behaving more like zombies than people. The staff was not much better off, taking orders and working seamlessly without incident but lacking any personality— any signs that they were more than a frame and some coding. A few of his closer co workers seemed to fight it, often times stilling in the middle of the hall and looking around as if they had never seen their surroundings before. It was spark-breaking to watch them as they lost their autonomy-- lost themselves-- to the whims of the High Council.

His duties were frustratingly dull despite the bustle around him, and the lack of hands on work had him staying focused on them through sheer force of will alone. That he could do nothing for the people around him as they were overtaken was only salt in the wound; He was rapidly becoming the sole individual in a hospital of drones, a totally lonely feeling that only added to the stifling monotony of his work.

It was in the middle of one of those spark-crushingly dreary workdays that Sunstreaker decided to pay him a visit.

Unfortunately, he came bearing bad news.

The wide door to his office snapped open, admitting a panicked looking, dust-covered Sunstreaker into the room. Knock Out jumped up from where he sat behind his desk as the younger mech approached, filled very suddenly with concern.

“Sunstreaker, what’s wrong?” He asked as the younger mech crossed the room and began feeling around the edge of the vid screen for its control.

“They did something to their broadcast— they changed it.” Sunstreaker replied quickly, powering the screen on.

High Councillor Cyberwarp stood in front of a massive holoscreen, the autobrand starkly imposed against a white background. The light from behind her highlighted the angular, streamlined edges of her armor, making her look as if she were haloed in light rather than silhouetted. Her beautiful face was pulled into something hard and cold, though Knock Out could see the uncertainty in her optics.

Your high council knows best,” She said evenly, sending chills running up Knock Out’s spinal strut. “ Optimus’ time has passed. The galaxy is ours to shape.”

Knock Out stared at the image for a moment as she began to repeat herself, a million and one thoughts running through his mind at once. Beside him Sunstreaker shifted back and forth nervously, his hands curling in and out of fists at his sides.

“I tried to call you before I came,” He said almost plaintively, “I couldn’t get through. There was some kind of weird interference.”

“They’re probably jamming communications. I’m sure there’s at least a handful of people that aren’t affected by their signal for whatever reason.” Knock Out muttered absently as he rounded his desk again and dialed Ratchet’s comm signal into his console, wedging the earpiece between his collar fairing and his audial. While it struggled to go through, he pointed at Sunstreaker, his face serious. “Tell me what you think of the high council.”

“They’re awful and everything they’re doing is wrong,” Sunstreaker said, grasping for insults that usually came to him so naturally. Before Knock Out could relax, Sunstreaker continued. “What about you?”

“I think they’re a bunch of idiot decepticon kids with god complexes and hero worship issues bent on following in Megatron’s footsteps.” He said, disgruntled as he slotted the comm earpiece back onto the receiver. “Their plan is bad and they should feel bad.”

Sunstreaker nodded shallowly, apparently pleased with Knock Out’s assessment. He watched the medic type another number into the console with one servo while the other began flipping through channels on the vid screen with the control panel on the edge of the desk. The same message was playing on every other channel, looping over and over.

“What do we do now?” Sunstreaker asked, his tension evident. Knock Out stepped back and pushed his chair in, moving across the room toward the shelves that lined the walls.

“I have to go and stop them.” Knock Out said tersely, dropping a pile of medical kits into his subspace from where they’d been lined up on a shelf. His tires were high on his back, a dead giveaway to the apprehension he felt.

“You can’t!” Sunstreaker shouted, disbelief in his voice. Knock Out turned toward him, his expression tight.

“I have to.” He said quietly, moving back across the room and swiping his keycard off the desk before making his way toward the door. “I have to go back. I have to stop this. I can’t let this happen.”

Sunstreaker pivoted to watch him as he neared the door, fidgeting with anxiety. As Knock Out palmed the access panel, Sunstreaker ran forward and grabbed his arm.

“If you go, they’ll kill Breakdown.” He said desperately, his digits tight around the joint of the medic’s elbow. Knock Out felt suddenly ill, like his spark was doing loops in it’s chamber. He looked down into Sunstreaker’s optics and found a sort of raw fear there he hadn’t seen in a very long time. He laid a servo over the golden mech’s, gently pulling his hand away.

“So be it. I can’t let one life come before trillions. I can’t put myself before two whole worlds of innocent people.” He said softly, with a confidence he didn’t actually have. He was sure the younger mech could see how terrified of that outcome he was, and he spoke again before Sunstreaker could respond, threading their fingers together. “I want you to go home and lock the doors—”

“No!” Sunstreaker shouted, yanking his servo away and balling it into a fist at his side. His face twisted into something determined as he leaned closer to Knock Out. “I’m going with you! I can help!”

“Sunstreaker—” Knock Out began, holding up his hands placatingly. The younger mech interrupted him again before he could continue.

“You said we’re a family ! That means we stick together!” He demanded, crowding closer to Knock Out in his outrage. “You have to take me!”

Knock Out hung his head, rubbing at the back of his neck and sighing through his vents. He could understand why Sunstreaker wanted to go, but the thought of something happening to the younger speedster— the thought of him failing to protect Sunstreaker— only added to the queasiness he felt at the moment. He looked down the length of the hall, seeing a scattering of staff standing completely still around a vid screen.

“Fine.” He said, looking at Sunstreaker seriously. “But you have to do exactly as I say, no questions asked. If I say run, you run. If I say hide, you hide. Understand?”

Sunstreaker nodded emphatically, his anger blown away by the prospect of staying with his guardian. “I promise!”

“Good.” Knock Out said, his expression softening as he took Sunstreaker’s hand again and began to walk down the hall. “Lets go, then.”

“Whats the plan?” Sunstreaker asked as he worked to keep in step with Knock Out. The medic rubbed at his face with his free hand, trying to get his thoughts in order.

“The shuttle system is probably down and last I heard, the roads to Kaon are all structurally unstable still. Besides, driving there would take too long even at top speed.” He said, edging around a group of mechs staring blankly at the looping broadcast in front of them. Sunstreaker followed carefully behind him. “Chances are we’ll have to jack one of the shuttles to get there.”

“You know how to jack a shuttle?” Sunstreaker asked, as if they weren’t conspiring to commit treason together. Knock Out pulled him into the elevator and swiped his keycard over the access panel as the doors closed behind them.  He glanced over his shoulder at the younger mech, shrugging.

“I used to be a pilot for the Decepticons. If there’s a machine out there that flies, chances are I know how to get it to do what I want regardless of how it’s owner feels.” He said nonchalantly. Above him, the number on the floor indicator was descending rapidly, though the design of the lift itself prevented them from feeling it.

“Oh.” Sunstreaker said succinctly as the doors opened into the lobby. People stood around here and there, their optics glued to the screens that dotted the walls with an intensity that was more than a little eerie. Knock Out glanced around the space briefly, then stepped out of the lift and headed toward the doors that lead outside. Sunstreaker skipped forward to catch up with him, looking around with agitation as they passed the statue-like bystanders, who seemed no wiser that someone was moving behind them.

The streets outside were much the same as the halls inside the hospital had been; groups of people were stopped dead in their tracks, some even frozen mid-step with their helms swiveled toward the closest screen. It was as if the whole planet had suddenly been struck with an immobilizer the size of the Requiem Blaster, and only Knock Out and Sunstreaker had been spared from its effects. It was surreal, and it sent something very basic in Knock Out recoiling in horror, his spark quivering with dread.

“What now?” Sunstreaker asked, pulling Knock Out from his thoughts and stretching up on the tips of his pedes to get a better view of their surroundings. “Everyone’s in the street, and all over the sidewalks. We can’t drive like this.”

“We’re going to have to.” Knock Out said, walking towards the street and folding into his alt mode. Sunstreaker did the same, following behind the medic as he began to weave in and out through the petrified traffic around them.

“Isn’t this illegal?” The younger mech asked as they rounded a corner onto a one-way street.

“Technically,” Knock Out said distractedly, making another turn and following the road toward the shuttle station. “Under normal circumstances, traffic laws are there to protect us from one another while we drive around. Right now you and I are the only ones driving anywhere, and it's an emergency, so it’s fine to drive like this.”

Sunstreaker was quiet for awhile then, apparently either out of questions to ask or too anxious to keep up a conversation. A few blocks away from the hospital the traffic cleared up significantly, the streets returning to their usual deserted state and allowing them to speed up their trip. Journeys across Slaughter City were very rarely lengthy things, the citizens usually grouped around the market or one of the few other operable locations within the city limits, and this one proved to be no different.

The shuttle station was practically deserted, with only a few tellers frozen in their seats within the ticket booths and a few shuttle pilots motionlessly congregated around a big holoscreen in the waiting bay. Knock Out paused within the door, filled with a sudden feeling as if he were intruding on something. Sunstreaker ducked below his arm to get a better look, leaning against the doorframe beside his guardian as he stared at the unmoving pilots at the far end of the room.

“Is this situation really weird or is it just me?” Sunstreaker asked quietly as Knock Out walked past him, scrubbing at his face with his servos for what felt like the millionth time that day.

“It’s the weirdest.” Knock Out agreed, doing his best not to stare at the strangers as he moved through the room towards the loading bay with Sunstreaker at his heels.

The loading bay was primitive by Cybertronian standards, little more than a concrete platform with a line of shuttles beside it. It was filthy and decrepit like everything else in Slaughter City, with crumbling docks and piles of garbage that had accreted in every corner. Knock Out was careful as he moved forward through the debris, peering into each ship as he passed. Most of them either had their doors closed or were filled with unmoving passengers, proving to be mostly useless for what Knock Out had in mind.

Near the end of the line, a rougher looking shuttle sat on its landing gear, its door open and its running lights blinking meaning it had either just arrived or had been preparing to take off when the broadcast had been released. In a stroke of good luck, cursory examination proved the shuttle to be relatively uninhabited, the only passenger on board being the captain who was rooted to his seat in the pilot’s chair. Knock Out stepped up into the ship and walked to the unfamiliar mech, looking him over carefully as Sunstreaker stopped behind him.

“I’ll have to move him,” Knock Out sighed, answering his charge’s unspoken question. Sunstreaker pulled a face and stepped back as the medic gently coaxed the unresponsive mech’s hands off the controls and unfastened his seat belt, sliding his arm under the mech’s legs and behind his back then tugging him to his chest. The mech came easily and put up no resistance, though his optics tracked the monitor over the viewscreen even as Knock Out carried him to the back of the shuttle and buckled him into one of the passenger seats.

When the medic returned to the front, Sunstreaker frowned at him.

“Gross.” The golden mech said, flopping down into the copilot’s seat and crossing his arms. Knock Out frowned back at him as he slid into the captain’s chair, buckling himself in and quickly getting the ship primed to take off.

“They’re not diseased, Sunstreaker. They’re just… captivated.” Knock Out reasoned, glancing back over at the younger mech. Almost as an afterthought he added, “Buckle in.”

Sunstreaker huffed and obeyed, snapping the harness closed around himself and crossing his arms once more. Within moments, the shuttle was slicing up through the air and into the sky above Slaughter City, the propulsion engines humming as Knock Out pushed the shuttle to go faster. They fell into an anxious silence, and Knock Out busied himself with monitoring all of the individual meters on the dash with meticulous precision.

It wasn’t until the broken skyline of Slaughter City had shrunk on the horizon as their shuttle passed over the Sea of Rust that Sunstreaker broke his silence. He looked away from the window and towards Knock Out, watching him intensely for a long, wordless moment before asking, “Are you afraid?”

“Terrified,” Knock Out said without hesitation, nodding slowly as he piloted the ship around a cloud of gas that had escaped from the roiling landscape below.  “But nothing could happen to me that would be worse than another six million years of war.”

Sunstreaker shifted uneasily, glancing back to the window briefly before looking at Knock Out again.  “This feels like a mistake. What are you even going to do against an army and the High Council?”

Knock Out looked at him this time, pausing a moment to take in the stark fear he could see in Sunstreaker’s optics. He could tell that his own grave expression was doing nothing to reassure the younger mech.

“Whatever I have to.”

Chapter Text

All they had needed was fuel for their ship.

The space station Comity was a vast and sprawling thing, a patchwork of metal constructs welded and riveted together that hung motionless in space the way only an artificial construct could. It was tethered to neither star nor planet, instead floating freely through the inky blackness of the universe at its own sedate pace. Its meticulous charted course kept it away from the gravitational wells of countless solar systems, often traversing through the broad empty spaces between them. This was convenient for almost everyone who lived or visited on the station, primarily because it was one of the sole spaceports found between galaxies that didn’t require entrance and exit through an atmosphere.

Comity had been agreed on several times throughout the war as neutral territory, with many parlays taking place there and countless neutral Cybertronians making their homes there after the fall. It welcomed both Decepticon and Autobot, regardless of whatever criminal history one might have as long as no trouble was made on the station itself. There were hotels, garages, stores of all variety and no shortage of bars which catered to Cybertronians in some capacity or another, often drawing in entire warships full of weary soldiers looking for respite from the drudgery of wartime.

While all of that sounded nice, Knock Out and Breakdown were more interested in finding fuel.

Their newest assignment was two galaxies away, some backwater outpost where a diminutive force of Decepticons were fighting to protect an energon mine from near constant Autobot incursions. Despite the new location and new faces, it was very much the same assignment as the last hundred assignments they’d been given. Go here, fix this.

It was truly thrilling work, but for the most part it kept them off the front lines and unscrutinized by high command so Knock Out couldn’t complain.

Much.

Unfortunately, simply bridging to their new post was out of the question. Even with the dwindling number of soldiers and technicians still working under the Decepticon flag and the harsher rationing restrictions instated vorns earlier, energon was scarce, and bridging anywhere required prior authorization from high command. Instead, they had been assigned an archaic, organic-made ship that ran on some obscure form of fossil fuel and piloted like a brick, given paltry supplies, then kicked out of their previous base.

The ship very obviously would not make a three-galaxy trip without a stop to refuel, but just as obvious was the fact that it was also not made with reentry in mind. There was a very high chance that attempting to breach an atmosphere in the scrapheap would end up with the vehicle burning to a crisp and them breaking every strut in their frames when they plummeted to the surface of whatever planet they chose to land on.

Saying that their very obvious dismissal rankled would have been an understatement.

That was how they found themselves plotting a course to dock at Comity; they had decided to land only long enough to refuel and resupply their flying coffin of a ship, then leave in search of their dismal new occupation— hopefully with some fuel in reserve for when they inevitably ran dry two-thirds of the way there. It would only be a quick stop, they agreed; In and out. Done and gone.

Of course, nothing could ever go the way they planned.

Upon arrival into Comity airspace, the flight tower contacted them to ask them what their business was and for identification. Knock Out could tell the correspondent was some sort of organic despite their ships lack of a comm screen; its voice was obnoxiously high pitched, and its attempt at Neocybex was so thoroughly butchered that the medic was sure they’d be able to buy choice cuts of it at premium once they made landfall.

Mere moments after Knock Out transmitted their information, the burbling creature cheerily informed them that they were clear and provided them with a landing vector within the small crafts area of the spaceport. They promptly followed up with an estimated service wait time, happily telling them that it would be three days before anyone could see to their requests. It was sheer experience alone that kept Knock Out from swerving off his trajectory in shock at the delay, his hands tightening around the controls and his engine growling in anger as the connection was broken.

“It’ll be alright,” Breakdown said placatingly from where he sat in the copilot’s seat, “Three days isn’t that bad.”

Not that bad!” Knock Out parroted incredulously as he relinquished the controls to the auto-lander and spun his chair to regard his conjunx. “We’re going to be trapped on some floating garbage pile for three days with command up our tailpipes and you don’t think it’s that bad?!”

“...No, not really.” the big mech offered, shrugging. “Chances are command is trying to get rid of us anyway. You and I both know they don’t undersupply the people who matter.”

Knock Out huffed and crossed his arms. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“Sort of. I mean, if we just decided to disappear ourselves and set up shop here instead of flying all the way out to Namira, nobody’d really care.” Breakdown said. “This could be our ticket out of this mess.”

Knock Out’s expression softened, and he turned to look out the viewport thoughtfully for a moment. “I suppose when you put it that way …”

“Besides,” Breakdown continued as he stood and moseyed closer, “Three days in mandatory dry-dock means we finally have time for that honeymoon we always talked about.”

A slow smile spread over the medic’s face as he stood, slipping his servos onto his lover’s wide shoulders. Breakdown’s big hands found their place on the speedster’s waist and he tilted forward, kissing the speedster softly.

“Oh Breakdown,” Knock Out sighed when they pulled apart, “You always know just what to say.”

Breakdown smiled back at him, a handsome curl to his corners of his mouth that never failed to make Knock Out’s spark sing. “Well, you know me. I aim to please.”

“And you do it so well.” Knock Out purred, stretching up on the tips of his pedes to press a kiss to the taller mech’s cheek. Breakdown chuckled, dropping his hands and squeezing the medic’s hips gently.

“I’m gonna go get our stuff together, if you wanna stay here and get docking sorted.” He reasoned, his engine rumbling with satisfaction.

“You got it, handsome.” The speedster agreed, tapping a slender digit against the blue mech’s chin guard. Breakdown ducked down to kiss him again, this one much more chaste, before moving past him and out of the room.


Things only seemed to go from bad to worse as the day went on.

Twenty minutes and two incensed calls to the tower later, Knock Out and Breakdown were finally free to avail themselves of Comity’s vast catalogue of amenities. A quick search on the local info-net had revealed a rather extensive list of hotels onboard, though it had taken some doing to find one that wasn’t reportedly ‘booked full’.  As relieving as it was to find lodgings that were more hospitable than their tiny ship bunks, the soonest they could check in was still hours away — which meant not only did they have to wander around the crowded boulevards of the station for what seemed like an eternity, but they also had to do so carrying all of their belongings in their subspaces, leaving no room to even go shopping for supplies.

The revelation had invariably left Knock Out in a bad mood, casting angry glances around at the mingling crowds as they worked their way down the street through a smelly organic market. He pulled himself a little closer to Breakdown’s side and away from what looked like a sentient pile of glowing pink goop, careful not to step in the incandescent trail it left in its wake.

“It’s not so bad,” Breakdown said, gently tugging Knock Out across the aisle toward a bar that glowed with warm light.

“Says the mech who thought Kaon was pleasant.” Knock Out huffed, though there was no heat behind it. Breakdown’s engines rumbled with amusement.

“Alright, point.” He replied softly, “But I mean, at least you’ll be able to get a shower soon.”

Knock Out huffed another sigh through his vents, crossing his arms over his chest as Breakdown moved his arm to wrap around his shoulders. “Not soon enough.”

“Yeah, but when was the last time we got to take a shower together?” The big mech soothed, rubbing circles against the medic’s rerebrace idly as he paused beside the bar entryway to let a group leave.

“We could have done that every day if those gear slips at the last base hadn’t kicked us out the moment they could think of a convincing enough lie!” the speedster pouted, frowning at the floor.

Breakdown tugged him into the bar through the atmospheric retainer, waving to the bartender like barhopping was old hat for him. He slid into a booth that was surprisingly appropriately sized, and took Knock Out’s servo when the medic sat down across from him.

“Don’t be upset,” the stunticon placated, smiling when Knock Out threw him an unamused look. “I’ll buff you first thing after we check in.”

Immediately, Knock Out felt his annoyance fade. “You promise?”

“Cross my spark.” Breakdown swore, drawing an X over his chestplate with his digit.

“I guess I was overreacting. A little. Maybe.” Knock Out sighed after a moment, sitting back into the plush cushions of the booth and drumming his digits against the table. “What do you want to drink? I’ll go order.”

“A hightower, please,” the big mech answered after a moment of thought, “Double cadmium.”

“You got it, handsome.” Knock Out purred, sliding out of his seat fluidly. “Be back in a flash.”

Breakdown smiled again. “I’ll be waiting.”

Knock Out smiled back, then turned with a wave as he headed toward the bar. It was packed, teeming with a mixture of organics and other mechanical life forms that ran the gamut from ridiculously tiny to impossibly large, all packed and wedged elbow to metaphorical elbow in the spherical bar stools that lined the outer edge of the bar counter. Knock Out swallowed his distaste as he approached, pushing his way to the bar through a small crowd of customers who didn’t seem to care that that they were obstructing others.

He waved when he finally managed to get up to the bar, catching the attention of the closer of two techno organic bartenders who hastily excused themself from the conversation they were having with another, more chitinous patron and hurried over. They were a strange amalgam of colors and materials, with pale blue skin that met and melded seamlessly with their deeper blue plating, creating a gradation of color from robin’s egg to midnight. Black iridescent feathers sprouted in patches from the fleshy bits and down the length of their flightless wings, glittering in the glow of the string lights that shone overhead.  

“What can I get you?” They asked, their Neocybex only a little accented and their smile warm. Internally, Knock Out was glad to find an organic that wasn’t entirely repulsive.

“A Vaulted Heights for me, and a double cadmium Hightower for my conjunx.” He replied. The bartender thoughtfully glanced back behind them where rotating shelves of alcohol were built into the wall behind the bar. They tilted their head, then looked back at Knock Out with what could only be considered an apologetic expression.

“The Vaulted Heights won’t be a problem, but I don’t have the Beryllium for the Hightower.” They confessed, setting aside the glass they’d been drying. Knock Out bit down his disappointment, reminding himself that the being— which his HUD helpfully labeled as an Ardurian Roc— was doing their best. He sighed through his vents and offered the other a patient smile.

“I’ll ask what he wants instead.” Knock Out announced, turning and pitching up on the tips of his pedes to catch sight of Breakdown over the patrons swarming behind him. The big mech was still sitting the booth, scrolling through a datapad absently as he waited for the speedster to return with their drinks. Knock Out sunk back down onto his heels and dialed the other up through his comm, frowning when he was met with a wall of static he could only assume was from the atmospheric generators.

Which was just fantastic, really. As if Knock Out didn’t have enough reason to detest organic metropolitans already.

He sighed and stepped back, balancing himself on the pipe that ran around length of the bar near the floor, presumably for patrons to rest their feet on. It put him a good head and a half above the majority of the crowd that separated himself and the stunticon, and made him perfectly visible. Taking a moment to secure his footing and balance, he cupped his servos around his mouth and shouted.

“Breakdown!”

The big mech looked up immediately, quickly finding Knock Out through the throng of customers and setting down his datapad. As soon as he had Breakdown’s attention, Knock Out continued.

“They can’t make a Hightower!” He called, wobbling slightly, “What do you want instead?”

Breakdown glanced away for a moment, his attention seemingly caught by another group that Knock Out could only hear, not see. He looked back to Knock Out, then over to the noisy group across the bar again before half-heartedly calling back.

“Whatever you’re getting is fine!” He responded hesitantly. Knock Out nodded slowly, fruitlessly craning his neck to try and see whoever had Breakdown looking so nervous. After a few moments of teetering precariously on the bar rail he gave up and climbed down, turning back to the bartender from before, who was watching him patiently.

“Two Vaulted Heights, then.” Knock Out said, hissing a sigh through his vents and offering the Roc an apologetic smile.

“You got it, chief.” The barkeep responded, turning and shuffling off toward the back wall to collect the components necessary. Knock Out watched them work, all meticulous precision and efficiency with none of the flashy showmanship that the bartenders of his high-caste youth used to consider a necessity. It was only a few moments before the Roc came back, two drinks in hand and a smile on their face.

Paying for the drinks was only a matter of waving a credit chit over the scanner built into the bar surface, and with deft fingers the medic dropped it back into his subspace and collected the drinks, the bartender’s wishes for him to enjoy following as he waded back out through the mob. By the time he managed to get back to the table, Breakdown was even more nervous than before. His datapad was stashed away once more, his optics darting surreptitiously between a group of six mechs squeezed into one of the circular booths on the wall opposite the bar and the doorless exit.

“Breakdown, what’s the matter?” Knock Out asked gently, sliding one of the drinks across the table slowly.

“Drink fast,” Breakdown said quietly, a note of seriousness in his voice. “We have to leave as soon as we can.”

“Why?” Knock Out asked, more concerned than anything else; It had been a considerably long time since Breakdown had experienced a paranoid episode that he felt a compulsion to act upon. He watched Breakdown pick up his drink and knock it back in one long gulp, the glass almost humorously small in his big servos. He set it back down when he was done, glancing over his shoulder at the table again as he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

“Those guys are gonna start a fight with me sooner or later— probably sooner— and I wanna have a clear path of exit when they do.” He explained, leaning forward to push Knock Out’s drink closer to him. “Drink up and be ready to run.”

Knock Out looked over at the table of strangers, then looked back at Breakdown as he sipped his drink. “Are you sure?”

“Positive,” Breakdown said seriously, nodding. “Those six are wreckers. They were deployed when I blew up the base on Rada Mor or they’d be dead right now.”

Knock Out looked at them again, frowning as he met the eyes of one of the strangers across the room. There was a definite calculation in the mech’s optics, a sort of icey edge to his glare that Knock Out had learned through experience meant trouble. He sighed through his vents, lifting his glass and tossing back the remnants of his cocktail fluidly.

“Then I suppose we’d better get out of here.” Knock Out agreed, his frown still firmly in place as he set his glass aside and gathered himself to his feet. He looked at Breakdown seriously. “What’s the possibility we get away without a fight?”

“Slim to none,” Breakdown said, scooting out of the booth at the same time as Knock Out. “They’re nothing we can’t handle, though.”

“Yes, two against six. Seems like a fair fight.” Knock Out grumbled testily as he began to weave his way through the ignorant bystanders, Breakdown at his heels. They routed themselves around the long dividing wall that cut the bar in half down the middle, stooping slightly to keep themselves out of the Wrecker’s direct line of sight.

It was a blatantly futile effort; they were taller than the wall by at least a head and a half— perhaps more in Breakdown’s case— and the Wreckers were keenly aware of their presence already. Unless they had all gone blind and simply made such ugly, angry faces by nature (Which Knock Out wouldn’t have doubted in the slightest) the possibility of them slipping away unseen was almost less than nil.

Still, the speedster couldn’t quash the vague hope that they would get away with melting into the crowd and getting away without a fight.

Even so, he wasn’t surprised when they rounded the wall once more and came face to face with the wrecker squad in all their oppressing malice.

They stopped in their tracks, Breakdown stepping out in front of Knock Out protectively. Knock Out could see the tension that suffused every inch of his conjunx’s frame, could nearly feel the trepidation radiating from the big mech. His hand instinctively slipped into subspace, wrapping around his shock prod preemptively.

“Well, well, well.” The mech in front growled coolly. He was primarily light blue, with a gold chestplate and spoiler accented that was accented with striking dashes of red here and there. His helm was squarish with two thin finials that swept back to give him a more streamlined look overall. His face was angular and bold, his sharp features twisted into a look of hatred. “Look what the turbofox dragged in.”

“Crest.” Breakdown said in a low voice that dripped with the promise of violence. “We don’t want any trouble. Just let us leave and nobody has to get hurt.”

Crest, the apparent leader of the group, barked a sharp and ugly laugh, the rest of his cronies echoing him as if they’d all just been let in on some sort of hilarious joke.

“You hear that, mechs?!” Crest bawled, incredulous. “Ol’ Breakdown here says he’ll take it easy on us!”

The mechs laughed again, their derisive cackling garnering the attention of the rest of the bar and choking out all other noise until the room had hushed completely, watching things play out in uneasy silence. Crest seemed to gather himself, stepping closer until he was nearly nasal ridge-to-nasal ridge with Breakdown, frame tightly coiled with enmity. He was just a touch taller than Breakdown— enough that the Stunticon had to look upwards awkwardly to meet the blue wrecker’s challenging gaze.

“Tell you what,” Crest offered, his voice hushed but no less dangerous, “We’re good pals, so I’ll kill you first before we have fun with your friend. Sound good?”

“No, no! Absolutely not!” The Ardurian bartender shouted, hurrying fearlessly past Knock Out to wedge himself between the two big mechs. “There will be no fighting here! Take your fued elsewhere or I will call the police and have you arrested!”

There was a strange stillness then. Crest didn not budge from where he stood, glaring down at Breakdown as if he could kill him if he looked hard enough. The air around them was charged, the optics of all the other patrons locked on the encounter, hungry for the carnage that the altercation would provide. Knock Out wrapped his arms around Breakdown’s bigger one, tugging him gently towards the door.

“Come on,” He urged gently, his voice hushed. “Let's just get out of here.”

Breakdown didn’t argue or struggle, following the shorter mech’s lead but keeping his gaze locked on Crest’s shrewd optics. Knock Out guided the stunticon to the big open doorway, a feeling of relief washing through him as he stepped through the atmospheric retainer.

Unfortunately, that relief was both short lived and premature.

Crest struck as soon as Breakdown turned his gaze away, batting the Ardurian into the row of booths to their right and lurching forward after Breakdown through the circle of his underlings with a roar. Breakdown spun, shoving Knock Out behind himself as bullets and plasma blasts whipped past and into the crowded street behind them. He unsubbed his own weapon, letting Knock Out tug him towards safety as he began to lay down covering fire, both from the pistol he’d withdrawn from his subspace and from the cannon mounted on his shoulder.

Knock Out watched around Breakdown as the occupants of the bar began to riot, some fighting one another for a way out and others throwing punches simply because it was fun. Crest and his squad were quickly swallowed up by the roiling throngs, though this time Knock Out had no illusions that they would be down for long.

“Let’s get out of here,” Knock Out said, pullig Breakdown down the street by his free servo. The crowds outside the bar didn’t seem very perturbed by the sudden hail of bullets, simply vacating the area directly in front of the bar and continuing on their way down the street. It was into those crowds that they began to run, the sounds of the Autobots’ enraged shouting following them as they began to book it.

“Where do we go? We’re not gonna be able to outrun them!” Breakdown warned, glancing over his shoulder as the blue wrecker finally tore himself free of the brawl and began chasing them, firing his gun impetuously. The sound of bullets ricocheting rung out all around them, sending civilians scattering.

“To the ship?” the medic suggested, pulling Breakdown around a corner. The traffic was still too thick for either of them to assume their alt modes, though Crest and his goons didn’t have that problem. Thankfully, either due to malformation or damage obtained in battle, it didn’t seem like any of them were smart enough to realize that fact— otherwise, they would have already caught up to the pair.

“No, he’ll have us cornered then if we can't get her started. Plus we’re pretty much out of fuel.” Breakdown said, firing back at their pursuers determinedly. “I think I remember there being a space bridge here. We used to get supplies shipments through the bridge here when I was with the wreckers.”

“Does it even still work? I thought the bridge network went dormant ages ago!” Knock Out shouted over the sound of plasma fire whizzing by them at high speeds.

“Dormant, yeah, but not deactivated. Besides, I bet they’ve been using her for all kinds of terminal-only stuff anyway.” Breakdown said, following the shorter speedster down an alleyway just in time to dodge another round of gunfire from the wreckers.

“Which means…?” Knock Out trailed off, yanking open a door and darting inside with the big mech close behind him. As he did, he began pulling the map of the station up on his HUD.

“Which means we have a way out of this dump!” Breakdown clarified. As if already knowing what Knock Out was up to, he shoulder-tackled open another door with a grunt, then continued. “It should be somewhere under the industrial docks, look there.”

Knock Out glanced up at the big mech and complied, shifting the schematic around in his HUD  as he slipped through the door the wrecker had tackled open and back out onto a street, which quickly emptied of pedestrians as the first of the autobots’ blasts chased them through the door. True to Breakdown’s word, there was a spacebridge nestled securely in one of the vast product storerooms that made up the station levels beneath the docks.

“Found it,” Knock Out announced, barreling around a corner in the general direction of the docks. “Follow me!”

“Right behind you.” Breakdown assured, yanking a heavy dumpster out of place in the hopes of slowing the wreckers down for at least a few moments.

The throughway they had turned down spit them back out into another road, though this one was not so full of pedestrians. Dingy looking little shops with flickering, vibrant signs lined both sides of the street, proclaiming the availability of their entertainers for any and all passers by to see. Down the street there was a four way intersection, the eastern fork sloping downward on one side to allow access to the lower levels. Knock Out lead Breakdown down the ramp quickly, just as Crest and his squad had managed to get them back into their line of fire. Shouting and hollering followed them as they ducked back out of sight, descending the ramp and then down the one beside it until they were three floors below the surface, then lurching through the door that separated the ramps from the rest of the level as quietly as he could.

Breakdown followed him through the corridors until he stopped in front of a  heavy door, keeping vigilant watch over his shoulder for the wreckers as their shouting grew louder and louder. “This it?”

“I think so?” Knock Out muttered, feeling unhelpful. “The server doesn’t respond well down here, I can’t tell where we are on the map.”

“Take your best guess, then.” Breakdown assured hurriedly, pulling his canon back up and leveling his pistol toward the door they had come through. “Worst case scenario we go into the wrong room and we have a convenient choke point to pick em off one at a time at.”

“It’ll have to be good enough, whatever’s inside.” Knock Out said with finality, transforming a servo into a torch and setting to work cutting around the locking mechanism. Breakdown grunted, pulling open the door of a tall cabinet that stood between the rooms to offer himself some cover as the wreckers poured into the hall, this time with friends.

“Breakdown!” Crest sing-songed as he began to meander closer between bursts of firing, “Give it up! You’ve got no-where else to run!”

Breakdown didn’t bother answering, instead adjusting his grip on the door as he glanced over his shoulder to gauge how far along Knock Out was. Just as he did, the medic transformed his servo back to normal and rammed the door open, snapping the locking mechanism out of place. Breakdown abandoned his position and hurried through the door before the speedster, jogging over to the control panel for the bridge which was — thankfully — sitting squarely in the center of the room.

“Barricade the door with something, then come help me.” The big mech suggested, big fingers flying over the keyboard. Knock Out cast about for something to use to prevent the wreckers from entering, but the room was empty except for some heavy shelving at the back of the spacious room and a flimsy chair and table against the far wall. Grunting with frustration, he recalled his torch and began to spot-weld the door shut, backing off only when a howling wrecker threw himself against the surface without coming through.

“Whatever you’re doing, you’d better be quick,” Knock Out said quietly as he hurried over, “Those welds won’t hold for long.”

“They won’t have to.” Breakdown assured, not taking his optics off the display. Knock Out fruitlessly tried to make sense of the data that came and went, quietly thanking Primus that his conjunx — apparently — knew what he was doing.

“What do you need me to do?” Knock Out prompted after a moment. Breakdown seemes to startle, reaching into his subspace and rooting around for a moment before providing a rudimentary looking device to the speedster hurriedly.

“Install this in the control panel, down here.” Breakdown said, kicking the side of the podium as he went back to typing away, “Splice it into the primary command relay, the thickest wire in there.”

Knock Out hesitated slightly, sinking down onto his knees and pulling a multitool from his subspace. “Won’t that interfere with whatever you’re doing?”

“It shouldn’t.” Breakdown assured distractedly, seemingly ignoring the violent banging of the wreckers attempting to reach them.

Knock Out watched him for a moment longer, then pushed all his trepidation out of his mind and went to work dismantling the side of the control panel. It was rather straightforward for something so delicate and complicated, held together with a bunch of common bolts. Knock Out made short work of it, biting down on his multi-tool and retrieving a laser scalpel from his subspace.

The primary command relay was an absolute beast of a ‘wire’, more appropriately considered a cable. It was wrapped in a thick insulating mesh that was shrunk tight to the conductive filaments inside, but still easily wider around than his arm and pulsing with energy. It was a simple thing to cut into it and twist the leads of the device breakdown had given him into place between the filaments of the main conductor cluster.

When he was done he wedged the pieces of the cable back together and melted the thick mesh casing shut around it. He reached for the cover, catching a glimpse of the door nearly buckling under the Autobots’ assault. He swallowed thickly and smacked the thing into place, hurrying to his feet.

“How close to done are you?” He asked, with only the barest hint of worry in his voice. Breakdown seemed to ignore him for a moment, before hitting a few more keys and stepping back as the vortex swirled to life.

“Very,” He said, sounding suddenly confident as he jogged toward the portal. “We gotta get through fast, we’re on a timer.”

Knock Out hurried after him, heels clicking noisily on the ramp as he ascended into the aperture. There was a sudden loud crash and then shouting, a sign that the wreckers had finally made their way in. Breakdown stopped half way through the bridge, turning and  laying down cover fire as Knock Out hastened to pass him. When he did Breakdown turned an began to run as well, their pursuers hot on their heels and boiling with rage.

The bridge let out into a drop off, and as they burst through the far end of the portal they plummeted to the ground, landing together in an ungraceful heap. Above them the portal split and ruptured, shaking in place for a moment before exploding outward into curtains of color like an aurora.  Knock Out turned to watch, picking grass out of his intake and vents as he did. Breakdown sat up after a moment, watching the smoking remnants of the few unlucky mechs who had been closest to them in the bridge before it blew plunge to the ground below like some sort of macabre shower and a seemingly anticlimactic end to their chase.

They sat together for a few long moments, simply watching the colorful remains of the space bridge do its deathly dance across yet another unfamiliar night sky on yet another unfamiliar organic planet. Breakdown found Knock Out’s closer servo and covered it with his own larger one,  leaning back to support himself on his free arm.

“Pretty.” He said succinctly after a moment— as if the display hadn’t been the direct result of an event that killed several mechs.

Knock Out snorted with just a touch of disbelief. “Sure is.”

“Not as pretty as you.” Breakdown announced seriously, nodding to himself. “Or as deadly.”

“Nice of you to notice,” Knock Out purred, smiling at his conjunx. “Are you hurt?”

Breakdown shrugged. “Not physically, though I feel bad you didn’t get your shower.”

“There are other wash racks in the universe.” the medic assured. After a beat he said, “Sorry we didn’t get to have our honeymoon. Again.”

Breakdown hummed something noncommittal, and the warm weight of his servo where it covered Knock Out’s made it hard for the speedster to feel sour about the whole ordeal. He swiped some streaks of dirt from his paint and flopped back down in the grass tiredly instead, huffing through his vents and muttering something about needing a nap.

It was silent between them again, but a comfortable sort of silence. Breakdown pulled his knees close to his chest and crossed his free arm over them, his other servo still resolutely in contact with the medic’s. The contours of his handsome frame were highlighted by the planet’s single bright moon, despite how far away it hung.

And even then, after such an eventful day, with so many more stressors ahead of them, Knock Out was comfortable— happy, even — all thanks to Breakdown.

“What now?” Breakdown asked after a few minutes of warm silence had passed between them. Knock Out shrugged again.

“I say we relax,” he suggested , tugging at Breakdown’s arm in an effort to get him to lay back into the grass. “First glance at the radio activity on this planet suggests the inhabitants aren’t very sophisticated, and I don’t detect any Autobot activity so far, so I think we have time to catch our breath.”

“You mean we’re stranded.” Breakdown said, humor in his voice.

Knock Out shrugged again. “Pretty much.”

“Bummer.” Breakdown said sarcastically, lying back into the soft, tall grass of the hillside they’d fallen onto.

“Well, a break from all the fighting  will do wonders for my paintjob. Besides,” The medic started, scooching closer to press a quick kiss to Breakdown’s mandibular guard. “We’re overdue for a vacation.”

Chapter Text

There was a time when watching a fight like this wouldn’t have bothered Knock Out.  In his time with the Decepticons, he had both witnessed and participated in battles— in slaughters — that far outstriped the one that he and Sunstreaker were watching on the display within the shuttle they’d commandeered. He was no stranger to carnage; his work as a doctor often had him elbow-deep in the most gruesome of battle wounds, and though it may have been much rarer he had been in no shortage of fights himself over the eons.

Even before the war, he had stood by and watched passively as the young Decepticon empire committed bigger and bigger atrocities in the name of revolution, unphased by the torture and abuse the mechs and femmes around him doled out at Megatron’s command. It had been a necessary step to him then— a rung in the ladder they were climbing in pursuit of justice.

For whatever baffling reason, watching this fight play out was agonizing.

It was all clumsy punches and discoordination, and though it was on a much larger scale Knock Out couldn’t help but see it as some kind of drunken bar fight between giants. Sunstreaker was suitably impressed by the fight, as much as one could be impressed by the massive disaster they were speeding towards, but Knock Out had been around during the heyday of combiner warfare and could see the inexperience in every punch.

Neither gestalt compared to the gestalts of the war’s youth, but the sight of the two behemoths duking it out made him painfully aware of the sick feeling within his spark.

The shuttle’s navigation console bleated, reaching through thousands of years of piloting experience to tear Knock Out’s optics from the screen and direct them to the gages.

The skyline of Kaon spread out across the horizon, a bastion of vitality that glimmered in the amber hues of the sunset. Towers sprung from the metal of Upper Kaon like the undaunted sprouts of a massive metal plant, reaching skyward in a physical manifestation of the dreams of Cybertron’s people. Lights glittered from windows, their bokeh spreading across the cityscape like swarms of earthen fireflies. From this distance it seemed tranquil and as if nothing was wrong, and that somehow made the situation seem so much worse to Knock Out.

If the council were to succeed, would the city remain so calm? If the council invaded Earth, would anyone know? Would anyone have the capacity to mourn their lives, and the loss of the peace they had all worked so hard to forge?

Sunstreaker moved to retake his seat in the copilot’s chair, startling Knock Out out of his revelry. He turned to watch as Sunstreaker buckled himself back in, his black servos pooling in his lap uncertainly. He seemed to be transfixed by the sight of the city, drinking in every point of light like a starving mech drinks energon. Knock Out glanced at him long enough to discern that he wasn’t about to have a panic attack before turning back to the forward viewport, confident the younger mech would speak when he figured out what to say.

“What’s the plan?” Sunstreaker asked, quietly, watching the buildings they passed with his usual intensity. As far as Knock Out could tell, everyone inside the tall habitation towers were all as transfixed as the rest of the populace.

“I’m going to land us as close to The Hall as I can. Hopefully I’ll get there in time to stop them.” Knock Out answered, dog-legging the shuttle over the helms of Kaon’s stupefied denizens. The streets were packed, as if the city’s collective last semi-conscious thought had been to vacate their homes, taking to the streets in anticipation of some unknowable thing.

“You mean us, right?” Sunstreaker prompted warily, regarding Knock Out like he expected the medic to try and take his head off. Knock Out bit back the urge to sigh, instead focusing his attention on the ground around them. It seemed specific intersections were blocked off from foot traffic, namely those that lead from various municipal garages to The Hall.

Not a lot of guessing had to go into why that was; already, Knock Out could see heavily armed battle shuttles being lined up outside the hangars he passed, their flight engines belching out clouds of noxious fumes that curled around the bellies of the ships and reached toward the darkening sky.

“Knock Out?” Sunstreaker prompted again. The medic could hear the anxiety in his charge’s voice, barely kept contained.

“Yes,” Knock Out agreed reluctantly, spotting a space clear enough to land in and angling them towards it. “I meant us.”

Sunstreaker fell silent, and only then did Knock Out realize that Sunstreaker had shut off the broadcast. A foreboding feeling overcame him and he did his best to push it down, focusing instead on settling the shuttle down on it’s landing gear. Truth be told, he didn’t need to focus; he had done enough flying before the war that he could probably land a good number of crafts in his recharge.

In reality, he knew he only needed the distraction to keep himself from losing his nerve.

It only took a few moments to sit the ship down. Before it had stilled completely, Knock Out had freed himself of his safety harness and reached up to slap the door release. Sunstreaker scrambled to unbuckle himself and follow after the red mech, nearly tripping over his own pedes in an effort to catch up.

“Stay close to me,” Knock Out advised, taking the younger mech’s servo once he came close enough. Sunstreaker didn’t seem bothered by it, lacing his fingers with Knock Out’s in search of a comfort he had been without for so long. He followed along obediently beside the medic, optics roving over the crowds of statuesque mechs and femmes that covered every solid surface around them like some sort of macabre sea.

Knock Out shouldered his way through the bystanders without bothering to excuse himself; he was more than aware that any apologies he made for his rough treatment of the strangers he passed would fall on deaf audials, and getting to The Hall was paramount before all else. They were only about a block from the plaza, and after the first few hundred mechanometers of frozen natives the streets seemed to be reasonably clear.

Knock Out wasn’t sure whether or not that was a good thing.

“There’s cops,” Sunstreaker whispered, tugging on the medic’s hand to get his attention and pointing towards the main street into the plaza propper. “Do you see them?”

Knock Out craned his neck, spotting a gathering of low ranking enforcers lined up in front of the mobs, as if they would all suddenly snap out of their stupors and rush The Hall. He sighed.

“Of course this couldn’t just be easy.” Knock Out griped, pushing past an absolute behemoth of a mech with a grunt. “The first time I try to really be a good guy and it’s like Primus decided to hand me a list of several hundred reasons to give up.”

“What do we do?” Sunstreaker asked as they got closer to the line of enforcers, apprehension in his voice belying his unfaltering pace.

“We lie.” The medic answered quietly before breaking free of the crowd and stepping into the unpopulated space between the wall of civilians and the martial barrier, tugging Sunstreaker closer to his side.

“Stop!” a guard yelled almost immediately, “Identify yourself!”

Knock Out trudged forward, reaching into his subspace for his identification and shoving it towards the mech.

“My name is Knock Out of Vos, I’m the Commander of Medicine and Science.” He said in his best authoritarian voice. “I’m here to help the council with their plans.”

The mech seemed to process that for a moment, blinking at Knock Out’s badge and then up at him without immediate comprehension. He shifted his bulky rifle awkwardly in his servos, frowning.

“I don’t…” He shook his head slightly. Then nodded towards Sunstreaker. “Who’s he?”

Knock Out didn’t even spare a glance over his shoulder. “He’s my assistant . Now, are you finished obstructing the Council’s whims, or was there something else you needed?”

There was another long moment of confused silence from the mech before he stepped aside, muttering a quiet and subdued apology as Knock Out hurried by, tugging Sunstreaker to follow him. When they were far enough away, he cycled a deep vent.

“Have I told you that you’re the coolest?” Sunstreaker asked seriously, hopping forward to put himself in pace with his guardian. “How did you know that would work?”

“I didn’t.” Knock Out said seriously. “The fact that it did means the Council must be losing their hold.”

“What do you mean, you didn’t know it would work? What were you going to do if he tried to stop us?” Sunstreaker blurted in shock. Knock Out threw him a lopsided smirk.

“Plan B was to kneecap him and run. Don’t tell my Autobot friends.” He said with a sort of casualness he didn’t feel.

Sunstreaker stumbled, staring wide-opticked at the older mech. “Are you serious?!”

“As the cybonic plague.” Knock Out confirmed calmly, looking up toward one of the massive screens that were usually used for breaking news and advertisements. The earlier fight had disappeared, replaced instead by a generic standby splash screen. He paused in his tracks for a moment, looking at it and then across the plaza at The Hall.

“Is that bad?” Sunstreaker asked, reminded of the discomfort of the situation.

“I’m not sure.” Knock Out said, starting forward again a bit faster this time as he watched thin clouds of smoke weep from the far end of the elaborate building. The younger mech seemed uninterested in asking further questions, hurrying along with his servo still clutching the medics. Knock Out lead him up onto the bridge that crossed the reflecting pool, watching with disquiet as a single dusty blue mech fled the hall and transformed hastily, then peeled away with a screech of his tires.

Knock Out hurried across the bridge and then across the street on the other side, slowing to a stop at the foot of the stairs and turning towards his charge.

“Sunstreaker,” He began, setting his free servo on Sunstreaker’s shoulder, “Promise me that if something happens to me you’ll run away.”

“What?!” Sunstreaker barked, his own free hand shooting up to grab at Knock Out’s wrist. “No, that’s--!”

“Sweet, but unnecessary.” Someone said, cutting the younger speedster off. Knock Out startled, tearing his hands free and putting himself between his charge and the stranger at the top of the steps. He was orange and black, all rounded kibble and sleek lines. A long sword was held in one servo, the other wrapped around the back of another less familiar mech’s collar fairing.

“Who are you?” Knock Out demanded, recognizing the orange mech as the same stranger he’d bumped into a few weeks prior, on his way out of the same building they now stood in front of.

“A friend.” The mech said simply, pivoting half way toward the doors again. “Please follow me. We may be in need of your services.”

Without waiting for a reply, the mech disappeared back into the building, taking his sullen captive with him. Knock Out watched the door for a moment then glanced over his shoulder at Sunstreaker, who looked equal parts afraid and defiant, before starting up the steps slowly. The younger mech followed close behind him, bright optics scanning their surroundings for any sign of potential harm as they ascended.

He drew to a pause on the last landing before the top, a wave of relief flooding through his spark at the sight he found waiting for him.

Through the doors, he could see Ratchet bickering at yet another unfamiliar red mech, his face twisted into something stern. Five strangers knelt beside the front desk, their hands cuffed behind them and their expressions bitter, save for one femme near the end who looked contrite. The orange mech, what Knock Out assumed were his deployers, and a much larger green and black mech stood guard over them, watching them closely. A big blue and white femme sat a few feet away from where Ratchet was, watching with a serious expression as Undertone demonstrated something to her carefully. Bumblebee sat beside her, rubbing at a static patch that had been placed just below his left optic.

Knock Out stepped forward, searching for something clever to say to call attention to himself and coming up frustratingly short. Thankfully, the burden of introduction was wrested from him before he truly began to feel awkward; Sunstreaker peered around him, confused by his sudden stillness, then froze in place himself. He rushed past Knock Out before the older mech could try and discern what was wrong, clamoring up the stairs noisily enough to draw the attention of the rooms occupants.

Sideswipe!” He shouted as he crossed the room, either unaware or uncaring that Knock Out had tried to chase after him. The unfamiliar red mech Ratchet was assisting jolted, his helm snapping to the side only long enough to catch sight of Sunstreaker approaching before he was on his pedes, shoving the medics hands away and breaking out into a sprint to meet the yellow mech with a cry of his designation.

They met in the middle, slamming into each other hard enough to send echoes of their collision around the room. Knock Out paused halfway between the doors and Sunstreaker, watching with only a vague understanding of the situation, but with little will to try and find out more information. The two young mechs crushed each other in an embrace, rocking back and forth on each others pedes for a moment before pulling apart.

“Sunny, Sunny, Sunny!” Sideswipe cried, looking his counterpart up and down carefully for any obvious signs of damage. “You don't even know how good it is to see you, bro!”

Sunstreaker slugged his twin on the shoulder, frowning deeply at him. “Oh, you think so? Like I wasn't the one you deserted?!”

“Bro, it's not like that!” Sideswipe insisted, looking shocked. Rather inadvisably, Bumblebee chose that moment to make his approach, the blue and white femme at his side and Undertone a few steps to their left.

“You must be the brother we've heard so much about,” he said by way of greeting, coming to a stop next to the pair with a friendly smile on his face. Sunstreaker looked up at him distrustfully, his expression visibly darkening with each moment that passed between them. Knock Out surged forward, intent to keep his charge from picking a fight with the muscle car.

“And you must be the afthead Autobot who kidnapped my twin!” Sunstreaker growled dangerously as Knock Out wrapped his servos around his charge's arms in an attempt to sooth away some of his anger.

“Woah, Sunny, would you listen? It's not like that!” Sideswipe repeated, shoving his brother's shoulder lightly, seemingly unperturbed by Knock Out's presence. He gestured from Bee to the femme beside Bee, who immediately put her servos up in semi-clueless placation.

Bumblebee didn't kidnap me, Strongarm did.” Sideswipe explained, gesturing vaguely as he continued, “But we're a team now, so throttle it back, okay?”

Sunstreaker turned back to his twin, his expression thunderous. “You mean to tell me that you were off playing Autobot for three years, and you didn't have the decency to call me?!”

Sideswipe spoke after that, but Knock Out found himself having an increasingly hard time focusing on what the  younger mech was saying. On the other side of the congregation he could see Ratchet giving him a strangely humored look— as if he wanted to ask if Sunstreaker was always so aggressive— but Knock Out was unable to find the strength within himself to offer a return smile to the bigger medic. Something within Knock Out was shifting, like two massive hands wringing his relief from him with great prejudice, leaving only a sort of apprehensive numbness in its wake. Ratchet seemed to sense something was wrong and wasted no time in skirting the tiny group to reach his friend’s side.

“Knock Out, thank you for coming.” The white mech said genuinely as he looked Knock Out up and down carefully. “Are you alright?”

“I think so,” Knock Out answered slowly, shrugging. “Just… shocked, I think.”

“That’s normal.” Ratchet assured, as if Knock Out didn’t know that. He wrapped a gentle hand around the younger medic’s arm, tugging him toward the doors that lead back outside. “Come on. Let’s go sit down for a bit and talk.”

Knock Out nodded slowly, casting a parting glance in Sunstreaker’s direction before turning and allowing the ambulance to lead him across the room and out the doors. In the distance, Knock Out could see the police forces directing the slowly reviving civilians away from the streets, handling the situation with admirable professionalism considering the very real probability that they had no idea what was going on. Ratchet sat down on the top step with a sigh, and after a moment more of watching the activity across the plaza Knock Out followed suit.

They sat together in comfortable silence for a while, with Knock Out struggling to process what he felt about the day and it’s events in a coherent manner. He felt scrambled in a way that was hard to fully understand, like someone had stuck his spark in a centrifuge for a few years and left him spinning the wrong way. It was a vaguely concerning sensation, though his worries were soothed by Ratchet’s steady presence at his side.

It wasn’t until the sunset had deferred to the velvety night sky and the majority of the crowds had thinned that Knock Out broke the silence between them.

“What happens now?” He asked softly, leaning back on his servos to gaze up at the twin moons that hung above them.

Ratchet leaned back as well, sighing through his vents as he gathered his thoughts, but before he could answer they were interrupted by the heavy sound of approaching footsteps. They both turned to see who was coming, glancing back in time to see Optimus and his menagerie as they rounded the fountain in the middle of the lobby, though all but the Prime angled themselves towards the others still in the room. Optimus himself continued forward, slowing to a halt at the top of the steps then carefully lowering himself down beside Ratchet.

“Cybertron will need a new governing body.” He said slowly, as the majority of the others not on guard duty began to join them. Ratchet leaned against the bigger mech gingerly, and Optimus took the opportunity to wrap his arm around the medic’s back affectionately.

“What about you?” Bumblebee asked, sounding confused. “I figured this would all get cleared up, and you’d… you know, step back in.”

Optimus shook his helm. “For the first time since it’s rebirth, Cybertron has a chance at the peaceful existence she has always deserved. As a warrior prime, I have neither the right nor the experience to lead our people.”

“So what are we supposed to do?” Sideswipe asked, flopping down on the steps an arm’s length from Knock Out and leaning forward to peer down the line at Optimus as Sunstreaker lowered himself down beside his brother. “Just wing it til’ we can find somebody who wants to lead?”

“I believe the leaders that Cybertron deserves are here among us.” The Prime declared, glancing to his right where the rest of the party stood and sat. He smiled at Jazz and Windblade, who sat next to one another a few steps down from him, then up at Bulkhead, who stood against the wall unassumingly, before finally looking down at Ratchet with a softer expression.

“What will you do, sir?” Strongarm asked, concern in her voice. Optimus looked over at her as she began to descend the stairs slowly, taking a seat beside Windblade and turning to see him more clearly.

“I am looking forward to having some time to myself. There is much I have missed out on in my life,” Optimus explained, looking almost abashed as he adjusted his hold around Ratchet. “Should Cybertron ever need me again, I would be honored to rise to her call— But until then, I find my inclinations going in more domestic directions.”

Nobody seemed to have much to say after that. Knock Out watched as conversation began to flow between friends; Sunstreaker and Sideswipe were debating the changes made to one another’s paint jobs. Strongarm, Bumblebee, and Windblade were exchanging stories with each other, comparing their experiences in the recent battle while Jazz and Bulkhead caught up with one another nearby.

Knock Out knew he should have been happy. The High Council had been stopped, two planets and countless civilian lives had been saved, and the peace had effectively been kept without significant loss on either side. There were some injuries, but nothing life threatening or even debilitating, and all the structural damage Knock Out had seen on the broadcast looked to be easily repairable. He should have been happy, ecstatic even that they had succeeded and he hadn’t lost anything.

But he wasn’t.

His introspection was cut short as a shuttle— one of the heavily armored ones used for going back and forth between the correctional facility in Lower Kaon— landed at the foot of the steps. A handful of guards stepped out and began to ascend the steps at the command of Ultra Magnus, who approached at a much more leisurely pace. Optimus stood and met him halfway and the two turned to head back down towards the transport to speak more privately, leaving Knock Out and Ratchet to sit together once more.

This time, the silence was less comforting to the younger medic.

“Strange turn of events,” Knock Out tried, frowning at the strange sort of static in his voice. Ratchet huffed a laugh and leaned back again, tilting his helm back to look at the stars.

“To be honest, I sort of figured that Optimus would do something like this.” Ratchet said softly. “I didn’t expect to be volunteered to help run the planet, of course, but if Optimus believes I’m the right mech for the job, then I’ll just have to do my best.”

Knock Out hummed something noncommittal, wrapping his arms around himself. There was another beat of pregnant silence that neither seemed keen to break, though they were both well aware they needed to.

“This may not be the time to ask,” Ratchet continued eventually, sounding reluctant. “But would you be interested in keeping your chair as the Commander of Medical Science?”

Knock Out’s vents caught in his chest, and reset his vocalizer noisily a few times in an attempt to soothe the strange knot that had wedged itself in his intake. Everything seemed like too much all at once and his earlier numbness vanished in the wake of the avalanche of anger and frustration that Ratchet’s question had inspired in him. He felt overwhelmed and betrayed in much the same way he had felt when he had seen Ratchet in the business district all those weeks ago, going about his life as if he hadn’t listened to the speedster bawl and beg outside his door for the better part of an hour without even acknowledging him. The feeling burned and rankled, and Knock Out could feel the heat of indignation spreading over his plating mercilessly.

“It would only be temporary,” Ratchet said quickly, apparently aware of Knock Out’s sudden change in mood. “Until we could find someone to fill the position. I understand that you don’t want the position long term—”

“No, I don’t want it at all!” Knock Out snapped, rounding on the bigger mech from where he’d been boring holes into the steps with his optics. “What I want is to be given my conjunx back, because I was convinced that if I came here to help that he would be killed, but I came anyway because it was the right thing to do , and now everyone seems to be getting their happy ever after except for me!”

Ratchet shifted backwards, made uncomfortable by Knock Out’s outburst. The younger medic knew that his eruption had halted nearly every conversation among the heroes of the day, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. The ambulance’s expression slowly changed from surprised to apologetic, and Knock Out stood and began to descend the stairs without another word.

“Knock Out, wait!” The older medic called, quickly rising and following after the speedster. When he caught up he grabbed Knock Out’s arm in an attempt to slow him, and the red mech spun and yanked his arm away, staring at his friend with fury.

“I know how you feel,” Ratchet attempted to soothe, holding his hands up placatingly, “But I can’t just do that,  you know I can’t. Even if I could spare the time and materials to fix him, it would be up to the council to decide whether or not it’s admissible to revive him. I would have to put it up to a vote—”

Knock Out spluttered, choking on a bitter laugh.

“Yes— yes, of course, because our people have such a great record with forming trustworthy councils.” He said acerbically. Ratchet made a strangely frustrated sound.

You know that I’ll fast track this— both your replacement and fixing Breakdown— the moment we have things sorted out here.” The ambulance insisted, “We’re your friends, Knock Out! I’m your friend! You can trust that we won’t make you suffer with this any longer than you have to!”

Knock Out leaned forward into the Ratchet’s space, his face so hot with anger that he wouldn’t have been surprised if the white mech could feel the heat on his own face.

“That’s a load of scrap and you know it! There’s no way I could trust any decision made about Breakdown when he,” Knock Out said, pointing at Bulkhead over Ratchet’s shoulder, “Would be a deciding member of the quorum!”

Ratchet turned to look over his shoulder at Bulkhead, who looked owlish and surprised to have been singled out. When he looked back, his expression was soft and apologetic again. He opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out when he did despite his efforts.  

“It’s fine.” Knock Out said, stepping backwards down the step and letting his arms flop against his sides, his anger burnt down to smouldering coals and ashes in the face of his rapidly mounting exhaustion. “That’s— that’s fine. Shove your job up your aft. I’m out of here.”

Without waiting for a response he turned, hurrying down the steps and past the two tall convoys who watched him with alarm and concern. Distantly, over the sound of energon rushing through his audials, he heard Sunstreaker calling after him and the sound of approaching footsteps, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.  

He reached the street and folded down into his alt mode, tearing off in the direction of his Kaon apartment with no small amount of despair making its home in his spark.

Chapter Text

Upon enlisting, every Decepticon is taught a three step list of actions to take in the event that they find themselves stranded in unfamiliar territory; Collect information, attempt communication with the Decepticon fleet, and hunt for resources, listed in order of priority. Knock Out had been there when Commander Strika had composed the list and taught it to the first group of hopeful recruits, when the war had just begun to pick up and the long-term forecasts predicted that the fighting would go interplanetary sooner rather than later.

She had claimed that the steps were designed to ensure each and every mech would survive their sojourn in metaphorical foreign waters long enough to be rescued, but Knock Out had no such illusions. It was obvious to him that the process was made so that the missing unit— or, in their case, units — would be useful on the off chance that someone happened to be close enough to facilitate a rescue. He had spent enough time in the upper echelons of the Decepticons to know as much; he’d lost count of how many distress signals had been considered ‘not worth the effort’ and ignored.

In much the same way, Knock Out had no illusions that he and Breakdown would be rescued. Despite his time near the top and his track record of success in his field, he knew that Megatron no longer held him in enough regard to deem him worth rescuing. Knowing such made him feel like killing themselves to adhere to the list was a waste of time, but he also knew that in the very unlikely circumstance that they were happened upon, they could be punished for not following protocol like they were taught.

And so, begrudgingly, he and Breakdown had set to making themselves useful.

They wasted away their days monitoring the archaic broadcast systems of the planet’s organics— which they quickly learned were called humans— and their nights traveling together to investigate their surroundings. Breakdown put skills he had learned a lifetime ago to use, tracking down and prospecting veins of energon and mapping them out for further investigation. Knock Out thought it was rather pointless to do so, but Breakdown reasoned that should they be found by either Autobots or Decepticons, it wouldn’t hurt to have something to bargain their way offworld. Knock Out spent his time rummaging around through piles of what passed as electronics to the Humans, scavenging for anything even remotely useful in what was quickly proving to be a sea of garbage with the hopes of perhaps, eventually, building them a ship to escape on.

At first, they stayed near their camp— an old burnt out farmhouse in the middle of a dense forest— but as days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months they began to wander farther and farther away, until neither of them could quite recall how to get back. Breakdown’s map grew larger and larger, covering the whole of a country, and then it’s neighbors, then the whole continent, until they were rather sure they’d mapped every source of energon available to them that didn’t require walking along the ocean floor to reach.

Somewhere along the way, Knock Out gave up on his goals of creating a ship and instead repurposed whatever he could find into energon converters. His stocks from before the war had dwindled until they’d gone dry, but it hadn’t been a major concern for either of them with the sheer abundance of pure energon crystals around them.

Years began to pass, and soon— predictably— the steps began to fall by the wayside. They began to take nights to themselves, spending their time curled up comfortably together under an unfamiliar sky, whiling away the hours with casual conversation and affectionate touches. It felt good to no longer have to hide their relationship, even if their freedom might have been temporary.

There wasn’t much by way of true entertainment for creatures their size, but their relative isolation had begun to impress the importance of little things to Knock Out. Things he would have once found miserable and boring became simple pleasures, memories he knew he would cherish no matter where they ended up simply because of Breakdown’s presence in them; waiting out rain storms together in caves that were barely large enough to fit both of them, long road trips on dusty roads as they traveled from place to place to avoid detection by the humans, fast-paced races along mountain roads at the dead of night that pushed both of them to their limits, trudging through mud and sand to reach some secluded cavern to explore, taking turns short circuiting the crude human ‘car washes’ late at night to get a decent shower, sneaking into drive-in theaters together to watch the latest human films— Knock Out loved all of it.

If he had been alone— if he had been without Breakdown— each and every instance would have struck him as annoying, as a burden or a nuisance to be dealt with rather than an occasion to be enjoyed. It was strange to think that, in the comparatively short time they had been stranded together, he had laughed more— been truly, genuinely happier more often than ever before in his life, and he knew that it was because of Breakdown.

As time marched onward, it was a simple thing to resign themselves to the idea that they would be on Earth forever. Humans simply didn’t produce the sort of materials for them to create a craft that would sustain interstellar travel, and setting up the facilities to forge their own alloys would be too conspicuous. While Breakdown knew how to operate a space bridge, he had too little experience with their construction or upkeep to safely create one.

Their one hope to make it off-world was for rescue, and they were both confident that the Decepticon army— if there was even still a Decepticon army to speak of— diverting to rescue two wayward medics was as ludicrous as them attempting to throw one another into orbit to flag down a passing trader ship.

It wasn’t a huge problem for either of them; as unlikely as it might have seemed at first, they had truly began to enjoy themselves here. They found comfort in one another’s presence, and in the routine they shared. It was easy to make peace with the idea that their story would end here, on the exotically organic planet they had begun to call home.

They had both become tired of war long ago, but had become so accustomed to its presence in their lives that they hadn’t truly realized it until they had been given the opportunity to step away from it. Try as they might, the two of them couldn’t produce a single reason for the hostilities to continue. Their home world was already ravaged to the point of being uninhabitable, stripped of all resources and poisoned to a point that it was arguable if they would ever be able to return.

At some point, their fight had gone from a righteous battle to secure the rights of the lower classes to a pointless attrited squabble between two sides that couldn’t admit to defeat.

It was in that same conversation they decided to step away from it all. They had done their best to keep up with their transmission into space despite its apparent futility, but now— with the revelation that returning to the fold would be just as aimless— there was truly no point in wasting their time with them. They agreed to make one final broadcast, one last-ditch effort to follow protocol before they began to truly live for themselves for the first time in their functioning.


After much deliberation, they had chosen Germany as their destination. There were plenty of mountains there that were tall enough to boost their reception and also happened to restrict visitor wandering after dark, which meant that they would be free to relax with one another in root mode as they waited for some kind of response.

That it happened to be Knock Out’s favorite of all of the places that they’d visited was a coincidence.

They took the drive slowly, not bothering to rush there; though they’d seen all of the sights before they were still strangely comforting, despite how truly alien they were. They filled the hours with warm conversation and laughter, racing one another whenever the roads were clear enough to allow it. It was much the same as every other day on earth had been, and how they hoped to spend many more to come.

By the time they arrived at the foot of the mountain, most of the visitors were already gone. The sun was sinking towards the horizon and the clouds were thick in the sky, obscuring most of the light. A quick scan showed the rest of the humans in the area were all inside, most likely for the night, and so they transformed and began to hike upward.

For a human, their climb might have been difficult— even perilous, judging by size of the gaps they crossed as the ascended the steeper side of the mountain. Most of what might have been considered footpaths at one point had been eroded away by natural processes, leaving huge breaches in the flatter sections that would have taken much longer for something as small as a human to cross. Their size worked to their advantage, and without much trouble they made it to the snowy peak. The sun had fallen below the curve of the earth, leaving what few clouds remained overhead lit only by the moon’s reflection.

Knock Out plopped down into a snowdrift casually, reaching into his subspace for the portable communications array that had been their constant companion. He gave it a cursory glance before planting it in the snow beside him and unspooling his hardline, slotting it into place near the base of the machine to coax it to life. As he did, Breakdown crossed behind him and lowered himself to the ground, gently shooing away a small herd of goats. They stared at him for a long moment, apparently unimpressed, before returning to their task of pawing at the ground in search of grass.

The array pinged, signalling its readiness to begin broadcasting, and Knock Out composed a standard SOS message— their general location, their names and rank, and their personal identifiers. When he was done he sat back, wiggling to try and make himself more comfortable against the piles of snow. Breakdown smiled at him and did the same, wiggling his shoulders to dig a furrow into the bank so that he would fit better.

“It’s a nice excuse to stargaze, at least.” the big mech offered, crossing his arms over his stomach.

“Any excuse is a good excuse when you’re looking for one.” Knock Out said, glancing over at his conjunx with a smile. Breakdown wasn’t wrong; up this high there was less ambient pollution to obscure the sky, the usual sort of wavering dance the stars did much less obvious. There was also less light pollution, making it much easier to see than the nights they spent near big cities.

Their conversation devolved quickly into them making up new constellations and comparing them to one another, a wholly unhurried thing that they had spent many nights doing together since long before they had come to earth. The humans themselves did have constellations, but it seemed they couldn’t decide on who’s to use, so Knock Out and Breakdown had decided it was easier to use their own.

“You know what I don’t understand?” Breakdown asked after a while, looking over at the red mech as he worked a big ball of snow in his servos. Knock Out looked at him with a questioning expression, and Breakdown continued. “Who— or what — did they send here from Comity?”

Knock Out cocked his helm in thought. “That’s… a good question, actually.”

“As far as we’ve seen the humans don’t have the stuff to pick up advanced signals, so I don’t think they’d be trading or anything, and we would have at least picked up some radio signals by now if there were Autobots around, right?” The big mech continued. Knock Out tapped at his chin with a finger.

“That assumes that if they sent someone, that someone would be trying to communicate. Maybe it’s someone who came here to get away from the war?” He offered. Breakdown rolled his snowball around thoughtfully, then plopped it down between them.

“I guess that’s possible, but humans are pretty… plain compared to most other organic races I’ve seen. A lot less legs and a lot less colors.” Breakdown said, scooping up another handful of snow to play with casually.  “I think most organics would stand out, don’t you?”

“They could be in hiding.” Knock Out said with a shrug. “You remember the Karrapians, right? They could turn invisible.”

“Yeah, but only in certain light-- and they showed up on camera. There are cameras everywhere here, somebody would have gotten footage of it by now if it was a Karrapian.” The big mech said. “At least, they probably would have.”

“You’re not wrong,” Knock Out agreed, “There’s a high possibility that if it were a Karrapian, they would have been found out by now. But there’s also the possibility that it’s something like a Karrapian, maybe something with similar abilities that can’t be seen on camera.”

Breakdown hummed. “I guess it’s a mystery.”

“Speaking of which.” Knock Out said, suddenly reminded of something he’d meant to ask much sooner. He turned toward Breakdown, holding himself up on one elbow. “You never did explain how you knew how to operate a space bridge.”

The big mech’s mouth opened and closed uselessly for a moment, then he shrugged and smiled coyly at the doctor. “I have my secrets.”

“You’re not going to tell me?” Knock Out asked, blinking owlishly.

“Nope.” Breakdown said, plopping his second snowball on top of the first haphazardly. Knock Out watched him sit forward to scoop another pile of snow into his servos. When he leaned back, he looked at his Conjunx again. “Where would be the fun in that?”

Knock Out chuckled. “Where indeed?”


 

In time the sun began to rise once more, chasing the cold across the land as it did, and the array was unsurprisingly silent. Breakdown had surrounded them with a small army of uncannily perfect snowmen, though if he had done it out of boredom or general interest Knock Out couldn’t be sure. He was hard at work on another one, skilled servos seeking out any imperfection and smoothing them out until only a near-perfect sphere was left behind.

Knock Out stood, shaking half-melted snow from his plating as he did. He peered over his shoulder at his conjunx and smiled. “Having fun?”

“Yeah,” Breakdown said, glancing up distractedly. “You alright?”

“Fine,” Knock out confirmed, stretching to relieve the dull ache that had taken residence in his struts as he sat in one place for too long, “We should probably start back down if we don’t want to be spotted by and humans.”

“Okay,” Breakdown agreed, plopping an unfinished head onto his final snowman. Knock Out watched him gently draw eyes and a smile on it before he stood as well, swiping frost from his windscreen. Knock Out looked between him and his little crowd of snow-people, smiling wobbly at his conjunx’s sweet nature. He reached into his subspace for his camera, taking a few pictures of the big mech on a backdrop of puffy clouds and cute little cairn-like snow people before he stashed it once more.

“Did I ever tell you how cute you are?” Knock Out asked, stepping close enough to stretch up and plant a kiss on the big mech’s cheek. Breakdown looked vaguely abashed, as if he hadn’t heard similar compliments several times a day for the past zillion or so years. Before the stunticon could respond, Knock Out turned and stooped to grab the array.

As he did, it sprang to life, blaring with the sound of unmistakably Cybertronian voices. They both froze, staring at it and then each other as the sound petered off and left them in silence once again.

“You heard that too, right?” Knock Out said, his voice reedy with disbelief. Breakdown nodded, his face pulled into something concerned.

“What do we do?” he asked quietly. “If we answer, we’ll have to go back to the war.”

“But if we don’t and they find us, the war will be the least of our worries,” Knock Out reasoned. “The penalty for desertion is deactivation.”

Breakdown looked suddenly restless. “Answer it. If the ‘cons are here, the ‘bots probably aren’t far behind. We can always defect later when we know there’s somewhere to defect to.”

Knock Out nodded, dropping down into the snow again and rushing to plug himself back in just as another burst of noise came over the array. Out of his periphery he could see Breakdown shifting nervously, glancing up at the sky as if expecting the Decepticon flagship to materialize in the pale morning sky. He quickly sent off a burst of information, including the SOS he’d created the night before and their exact coordinates, receiving a confirmation ping in response.

Minutes passed, and the device stayed eerily silent even as the sun rose above them, lighting the sky in all the picturesque hues of a rococo mural. Knock Out stood back up, cradling the array to himself as if it were a lifeline. They stared upwards, waiting for some sort of sign as they stood side by side in nervous anticipation.

They didn’t have to discuss it again to know that neither of them wanted to return to the Decepticons. They had only been on earth for six cycles— little more than a moment for a race as resilient as theirs— but in that time they had gotten closer to a normal life together than they ever had before. Neither of them wanted to give it up, especially not to return to war, but they had very few other options.

“Do you think they’re really here?” Breakdown asked quietly, his voice little more than a whisper and his optics locked on the sky. Knock Out shrugged helplessly.

“I don’t know… But if they are, no matter what,” He began, grabbing Breakdown’s servo and clutching it tightly. “We’ll face it together.”

Slowly, Breakdown nodded.

“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” He reasoned, always determined to find the light in any situation, “It will be nice to sleep in a real berth for once.”

“And to take a hot shower in a real washrack.” Knock Out agreed, his plating flaring in a different sort of anticipation.”

“Hey, I’ll bet I can even give you a good buff soon!” Breakdown said, as if it was the most exciting thing in the world to pamper the speedster.

“And I can touch up your paint.” Knock Out hummed, trailing his fingers over a line of scratches on the back of Breakdown’s hand thoughtfully. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe it won’t be so bad. I think we’re a bit too young for retirement, anyway.”

Breakdown nodded again. “Still plenty of adventures to have.”

“Either way, we’ll be together.” Knock Out said, shifting closer to his conjunx. “That’s all that matters.”

Breakdown hummed in agreement, looking back up to the sky. As he did, the prow of the Nemesis pierced through the clouds above them, mercilessly cracking their long begotten sense of normalcy down its center. Knock Out couldn’t decide precisely how to feel about the development, and he could tell as he looked at Breakdown once more that— at least at first— the big mech couldn’t either.

A few long moments passed. They stared up at the ship as Knock Out coordinated with the communications officer aboard it, advising them of the best vectors of approach to lower a lift for them. Breakdown stood by patiently as the ship began to move into position, turning his servo to thread their digits together.

It seemed that their story was not over quite yet, after all.

Chapter Text

Kaon was beautiful as usual.

There were people everywhere, driving and strolling along together in groups of friends, filling the air with upbeat chatter and cheerful smiles. Seemingly overnight the city went back to normal; the flyers, posters, and propaganda holo-displays had all been collected and sent to recycling, the police presence had been reduced dramatically, and everyone appeared ready to pretend that nothing had happened at all.

The lack of ado was reassuring, in it’s own way. Nobody was denying the drama that had transpired, but instead they had simply picked themselves up and moved past it with something close to disinterest. The war had been a series of dramatic revenge-schemes, with each side constantly dwelling on every confrontation and seeking reparation through violence. After so many millions of years, seeing those around him let go of an offense comforted some part of Knock Out.

Though today, the hustle and bustle-- the utter tranquility of those around him-- only proved to irritate the medic.

Ratchet had been calling him insistently since the night he had stormed away, filling his comm voicemail with apologies and requests to meet and talk, promises that the issue of his position wouldn’t be brought back up. Knock Out had no interest in talking to Ratchet, much less meeting with him. A part of him-- the reasonable part of him-- argued that the older medic hadn’t understood the situation, and maybe to him the offer of the position would have been wonderful; he had loved the job when he’d had it, so it wasn't totally far fetched to believe as much.

But Knock Out didn’t want to be reasonable. He had spent so much time being reasonable, being patient, being strong. He was sick and tired of always having to be reasonable, as if being unreasonable about his situation would have been some unconscionable act.

Like being upset that the only mech he had ever loved was half-dismantled and in stasis was unthinkable.

Sunstreaker and Sideswipe had helped, in their own way. They had followed Knock Out back to his apartment in Kaon and helped to distract him from the crushing sorrow that had consumed him once his anger had faded, keeping him entertained by catching one another up on their experiences since their separation, and then by telling him stories of their youth when they were finished.

Days had passed, though, and eventually Bumblebee had called after Sideswipe, asking if he wanted to return to Earth with them. Eventually they had decided that, instead of being separated again, they should both go with Bumblebee. There was nothing stopping them from simply coming home occasionally, now that the space bridges were no longer kept locked down-- but as he watched them disappear through the vortex together with all the unflinching confidence of youth early the following morning, he was keenly aware of the empty pit in his spark that their exuberance had distracted him from.

And of course — as it seemed he always did— Ratchet chose the most impeccable moment to drop the metaphorical bomb on the younger medic.

Another message from Ratchet came through his HUD, this one tagged as urgent and bearing all the official glyphs of a summons. He didn’t bother to read it all, instead glancing over it’s protracted contents with disinterest; rather predictably, Ratchet was pulling rank and basically ordering him to come see him.

It didn’t do much to improve Knock Out’s opinion on people in positions of power, needless to say.

Disgruntled, he turned away from the museum-cum-space bridge center and began the short trek across the plaza to the Hall Of The High Council. Much of the traffic had been diverted from the square to clear the way for construction workers as they repaired the damage from the fight, making his crossing just a touch faster than he would have liked.  A team of two young femmes was surveying the smooth foundation that the statue of Optimus had once sat on, apparently in anticipation of replacing it while they were at it. He paused momentarily to watch them work before moving on across the bridge, a frown on his face.

By the time he made it to the top of the steps to the Hall, he had gone from angry to livid. He thundered into the lobby in much the same way that renegade lightning storms often thundered into the Sonic Canyons, his expression thunderous as he approached the closest desk. Jazz was there, leaning on the counter as he chatted casually with the two mechs working there. Knock Out slowed when he approached, drawing the saboteur’s attention as he did. The shorter mech smiled at him like they were old friends, apparently unfazed but Knock Out’s bad mood.

“Hey, there’s the mech of the hour!” Jazz said jubilantly, spreading his arms out wide in greeting. Knock Out’s scowl faltered enough to make room for his confusion to light his features, but Jazz didn’t see fit to comment on it, instead continuing as if the situation were totally normal. “I’m gonna guess you’re here to see ol’ Hatchet, right?”

Knock Out nodded slowly, glancing over at the clerks who seemed perfectly content to be absolutely no help at all when it came to making sense of Jazz’s behavior. “He sent me a summons.”

“That sure sounds like him.” Jazz said, huffing a laugh. He pointed down one the big corridors, smile still firmly in place. “He’s in his office down that-a-way, the second-to-last door on the right.”

“Right,” the medic said, looking distrustfully between the white mech and the two clerks before turning towards the hall Jazz had pointed down. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it!” The spy called after him as he started walking away, his uncanny cheer in his voice.

Knock Out frowned to himself again as he heard Jazz pick up his lively conversation with the clerks once more. He didn’t have any extensive history to speak of with the autobot operative, but something about his joviality put a bad taste in Knock Out’s mouth. What was there to be so happy about?

As he watched Ratchet’s distant figure step out of his office and hurry towards him, he quickly decided that the answer was nothing. There was nothing to be happy about.

Jazz was just weird , and Ratchet was apparently in a hurry.

“Knock Out!” the senior medic said in his best approximation of his own stern doctor voice— the one he made when he wanted to give the appearance of being firm about something when he approved of it in reality.  Knock Out drew to a halt a few doors into the hall from the lobby, crossing his arms over his chest as the ambulance closed the distance between them. He reached for Knock Out’s arm, but then hesitated, clearly thinking better of it. “What kept you so long?”

Knock Out blinked at Ratchet with a look that was a cross between confusion and annoyance, the brilliant anger he had felt before now smothered by his uncertainty. “I got your message literally less than a breem ago.”

Ratchet glanced at his chronometer down and to the right as if to double check Knock Out’s statement before flustering somewhat. “Then how did you get here so fast?”

“What is this, 20 questions?” Knock Out huffed, shifting on his pedes. “Why does that matter?”

“Just curious, is all.” the older medic responded, gesturing for Knock Out to follow him. Reluctantly, the speedster did so, and they began to make their way down the hall together in a sort of awkward silence.

After a few moments, Knock Out sighed. “I was seeing Sideswipe and Sunstreaker off. They went to Earth with Bumblebee.”

“Oh, your custody paperwork went through didn’t it?” Ratchet said distractedly as they neared his office. “I had meant to congratulate the three of you over dinner, but you didn’t return my calls.”

Knock Out did a sort of awkward shuffle, suddenly feeling like a fool for acting so immature. It wasn’t as if Breakdown’s condition had been Ratchet’s fault— in fact, Ratchet had always done his level best to ensure the Stunticon’s survival, and even comfort. To have given him the cold shoulder and treated him so poorly simply because he was happy for once when Knock Out wasn’t made the speedster feel more ashamed than he cared to admit.

“I’m sorry,” He said softly as they drew to a stop together. “I shouldn’t have ignored you.”

Ratchet placed his servo on Knock Out’s arm comfortingly, shaking his helm.

“You don’t have to apologize. Love makes people do crazy things.” he said, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “Or don’t you remember finding me sulking in the scrapyard on Earth?”

Knock Out snorted despite himself, smiling fondly at the bigger medic. “Were you sulking? It was so similar to how you usually were, I could never tell the difference.”

“Yes— well. Like I said. Love makes people do crazy things. “ He chuckled, letting his servo fall away from Knock Out’s arm as the younger mech uncrossed his arms and instead braced his servos on his hip assemblies.

“So, what did you call me for that was so important you had to use your professor voice on me in the lobby?” Knock Out asked after a beat. Very suddenly, Ratchet’s demeanor went from the sort of casual relaxed it usually was around the speedster to something more high-strung, though Knock Out couldn’t tell if it was panic or excitement.

“I have something for you to see,” Ratchet decided on after visibly struggling to find the right words for a moment. He braced his servo on the access pad, stepping aside somewhat so that Knock Out could enter first once the door was open.

“Something good, I hope?” Knock Out asked skeptically, “Not more unexploded Decepticon ordinance to defuse?”

“That was one time!” Ratchet insisted with mock offense, keying open the door. “As for whether it’s good or bad, you’ll have to decide for yourself.”

Knock Out slipped a servo into the door frame to keep it from closing as he made and held eye contact with the older medic in an attempt to communicate his (rather unconvincing) lack of amusement. Ratchet stared back at him gamely and made a shooing motion, urging the speedster to move through the door.

Knock Out turned slowly and took a few steps into the spacious office, which was large enough that it could have been a small apartment, but didn’t get to take in many details before he stopped dead in his tracks.

Because standing there leaned against the heavy desk at the far end of the room was Breakdown.

The speedster flung a hand out, latching on to Ratchet’s arm with a grip that was tight enough to dent and pulling him closer, as if not immediately having someone else near him would make him fly apart at the seams.  Air whooshed out of his vents and his intakes slammed shut with an embarrassing sort of hiccup and he struggled to get them back open despite his sudden desperate need to cool himself down. His energon thundered in his audials, drowning out nearly every other sound in the room as Ratchet steadied him carefully on his own wobbly legs.

His optics burned and he blinked to clear the tears from them, his mouth working uselessly as he tried (and failed) to figure out what to say, gawking uselessly for what felt like a small eternity as he tried to burn the image of Breakdown’s smile into his memory— though he knew it was only a few seconds of stunned silence.

When he finally managed to speak his voice was coarse and thick with emotion.

“Am I hallucinating? Am I dreaming?” He whispered plaintively, unable to tear his optics off of his conjunx. “Please, please tell me this is real.”

Before Ratchet could answer— or perhaps only before Knock Out could make sense of his words— Breakdown gathered himself to his full height and began to cross the room, powerful strides eating up the distance between them until he was there, and all that Knock Out could see, all he could hear, all he could feel, smell, think about was Breakdown. Just as suddenly as he had been taken away he was back, and Knock Out’s world was reduced to the feeling of angular plating and a growling engine, the earthy smell of the forest and of energon and oil and frame wax, the sight of a single golden optic that glowed like Knock Out’s own personal sun, the sound of his spark as it pulsed bright and mighty in his chassis and of his voice as he spoke in hushed tones— “I’m here, It’s real, I’m back—”

Knock Out let out a shuddering sob, falling into Breakdown’s frame in a way that was so comfortable and so natural even now, even after what felt like so long, even after so much hardship. Breakdown’s big hands smoothed over his backplates and he pressed soft kisses along the red mech’s helm, swaying gently with him. After a moment Knock Out pulled back just enough to tug Breakdown closer and press their lips together almost frantically, as if it were the only language he could communicate the intensity of his feelings to the big mech through.

Breakdown was all too happy to return the kiss with equal fervor in what Knock Out knew was his attempt to console him. Knock Out couldn’t help himself as his elation began to prevail over every other emotion, bubbling up out of his spark until he was laughing into their kiss, his shoulders heaving with silent laughter as one kiss turned into two, then three, and more that he didn’t bother to count.

Behind them Ratchet cleared his vocalizer, and Knock Out was suddenly acutely aware that the older medic had been standing there the whole time.

With no small amount of reluctance he let his servos slide from Breakdown’s face to his shoulders, but didn’t bother to try and right himself more than that. He must have looked like a mess— face streaked with tears, paint scratched where he had thrown himself against his conjunx, and perhaps the dopiest smile he’d ever smiled plastered over his faceplates— because Ratchet snorted as the red mech turned slightly within the circle of Breakdown’s arms to regard him.

“So,” Ratchet said with just a touch of pride, looking much less uncomfortable than Knock Out had expected. “Still think the new Council is unfair?”

Knock Out huffed a quiet laugh and rolled his eyes, though there was no real heat behind it, then scrubbed at his face with a servo. “Well, I’d really look like an aft if I said yes now.”

Ratchet offered him a fond smile and leaned back against the wall by the door, crossing his arms over his chest. “And, if I were to offer you the job now…?”

“I—” Knock Out’s mouth worked uselessly for a moment, “I would need… time. To get Breakdown back on his feet and…”  He gestured sort of vaguely, almost visibly searching for the right words. “You know, other stuff. But of course I’ll take the job, after that.”

“Of course. All that other stuff , very important.” Ratchet’s smile warmed just a touch, the last vestiges of some unnamed anxiety leaving his frame as it did. He stepped forward and patted Knock Out on the shoulder amiably, then keyed open the door. “Best get to it as soon as possible. Doctor’s orders.”

Behind him, Breakdown chuckled, the familiar throaty purr of his engine like a balm on Knock Out’s wound. He looked at Ratchet with rising emotion as the big mech stepped around him and out the door, sliding his pede in front of the sensor to keep it from closing.

“Ratchet, I—” He began, squeezing the older medic’s hand in both of his. “I can’t thank you enough.”

“Nonsense.” Ratchet responded seriously. “You deserved this a long, long time ago.”

They looked at one another for a long moment before Knock Out threw him one last grateful smile, then turned and hurried to Breakdown’s side. The door slid closed behind them, and Knock Out wrapped his arms around one of the larger mech’s, holding it close to himself as they walked back down the hall to the lobby together. By the time they made it to the top of the steps the sun had begun to rise, spilling its warmth over them as if in welcome.

A new day was rising on Cybertron, and for the first time in a long time Knock Out was sure that it would be a good one.