Things hadn’t really changed.
Sure, there was the weekly check-up with Ratchet. And the bi-weekly sessions with Rung. Aside from that, and apart for the first week back when everyone had been tiptoeing around him as if he was made of fragile crystal (and not in a good way), things had crashed back to normal much faster than he appreciated.
If anything, things were worse than they had been, even.
He noticed it best in the bar. They still talked to him, but they weren’t focusing on him, they weren’t looking at him. They said hi (not how are you, never that), ordered their drinks, dropped a few inane comments about their day or Rodimus’ latest mad venture or the state of the Lost Light in general, and then left to sit elsewhere.
No one sat at the actual bar anymore. Swerve most often had that to himself.
It was like he’d turned into this giant black hole of nasty, and they were all afraid of getting too close.
Whoever said that killing yourself would make people realize they loved you was full of grade-A slag.
After a few days, Swerve left the running of the bar to Bluestreak. He half expected the revenue to go up.
Instead of tending bar, he spent his time on the observation deck. There was consolation of sorts in staring out into the infinite darkness and being reminded that he was exactly as small and insignificant as he thought he was. Rung would probably call it a bad coping technique, but Swerve couldn’t manage the coping techniques that Rung actually approved of.
Like keeping a diary of the good things in his life. He’d given that up after the first week, when all he’d managed to put in was ‘engex’. He had a feeling Rung wouldn’t approve of that as a coping technique either.
Talk to people. Yeah, sure. That required actual people hanging around him long enough for him to say more than ‘hi’ and ‘what’ll it be’.
He did talk to Rung. Although he had a feeling that, once again, he wasn’t doing quite what Rung wanted.
“Sure, I’m good,” he said, grinning widely. “Never better. All fine. Peachy, in fact.”
Rung just looked at him. “I see. And if you were to tell the truth?”
“What are you talking about?” Swerve protested. “I’m telling the truth, I’m fine. No need to bother with me.”
Well, damn. Open mouth, insert pede.
Rung, nice mech that he was, acted as if Swerve hadn’t just put his foot in it. “I gather from what you’re saying then, that things haven’t really improved.”
Swerve deflated. “No, they haven’t,” he admitted. “And they won’t. I don’t expect them to.”
“You don’t expect them to, or you don’t want them to?”
Now it was Swerve’s turn to eye Rung. “Sure I want them to. I’m not stupid, though. People don’t just change. There was no need for me before, and there’s no need for me now.”
Rung changed tactics. Swerve had spent so much time in this office lately that he recognized the signs. “Do you want to tell me why you spend so much time on the observation deck?”
Swerve shrugged, as much as his hood would let him. “I like the view.”
“Yes, the view is spectacular,” Rung agreed. “But I suspect there’s more to it than that.”
Swerve chuckled grimly. “What, do you think it calls to me or something? I tried to starve myself to death, doc, not space myself. I don’t have access to the hangar decks anyway,” he grumbled. “Ultra Magnus revoked all my door codes. The only places I can get into are my hab suite and the bar. And the training rooms, I suppose, but I don’t have a place there.”
“Maybe training would be good for you,” Rung said, one eyebrow arching.
That had Swerve giggling. “Good for me? Doc, look at me. I’m about as graceful as a crate and move just as well. And I’m a terrible shot, as you well know. So, no. No thanks.”
And so it went.
Rung spent their sessions trying to get him to open up. Ratchet spent their appointments prodding every part of his frame and grouching at him.
Swerve spent his time on the observation deck, looking out. He recharged minimally, not by choice but because it seemed as if his frame had decided that he only needed an hour or so every night. (Ratchet wasn’t happy. Not that he ever was.) He refueled when he felt the need to.
“Swerve, with your approval, I would like to try something,” Rung said. It was their… twentieth-something appointment, and Swerve had a feeling that the psychiatrist was getting – not tired, not fed up, but maybe frustrated with his lack of progress.
So he nodded. “Yeah, sure. I’m game.”
“There’s another on this ship with similar issues as you. Similar, but not the same. I’d like to run a virtual session with the two of you together, where you’re both operating under false names.”
Huh. The idea was… intriguing. And Swerve hadn’t been intrigued by much lately. “Sounds fair enough. When are you thinking?”
“Right now, if you’re amenable.” Rung looked at him questioningly.
Swerve didn’t really need to think it through too much. He tried to avoid thinking too much these days. “What do I need to do?”
Rung stood and held up a large datapad. “Connect to this. Then lean back and make yourself comfortable.”
Done and done.
Suddenly, Swerve was in a flat plane without words, without noise, without dimensions. It was both freeing and terrifying.
::What name do you want to use?:: Rung said over comms. ::It should be something that can’t be traced back to you.::
Swerve thought about it. ::Wistful,:: he finally replied.
::A very good choice,:: Rung praised. ::Now, just wait a moment, and I’ll bring the other participant in.::
The environment changed. Now it looked like an old-fashioned online chat room, not unlike the chat channels Swerve had spent some time on when he was young. It was enough to have him giggling, and to his utter surprise, his chuckling appeared on the screen before him as words.
Wistful: Wow doc, this is different.
Rung: Yes. I am glad you appreciate it. Copy, are you with us?
Rung: Welcome, both of you. I think you will both benefit from this. Now, Copy, will you tell Wistful what you think your main issue is?
Copy: Alphabetical order, huh? Fine. Hi, Wistful. I’m Copy and I’m not good enough.
Rung: Very good. Wistful?
Wistful: Hi Copy. I’m Wistful and I’m a waste of space.
Copy: Really? That’s harsh.
Wistful: I guess. So’s not being good enough, though, isn’t it?
Copy: Well, yeah. But it’s true. I kinda took over my job from somebody else. And he did pretty much everything better than me. He didn’t screw up, either.
This was easily the strangest conversation Swerve had ever partaken in. And that included the time in the bar where Whirl had told him about force-feeding another mech his own energon line for fun. He’d come to expect that kind of thing out of Whirl. He didn’t usually expect ending up in weird, monodimensional chatrooms, talking to strangers as some form of therapy.
Wistful: Everyone screws up.
Copy: No, they don’t. Some people just shit rainbows.
Wistful: That’s an Earth saying. You been to Earth?
Copy: Yeah, but that was a while ago. It’s a nice planet. Nice enough roads.
Wistful: I’ve never been. Did you ever go to New York City?
They chatted back and forth about Earth and its various merits until Rung butted in again. To be honest, at this point Swerve had forgotten he was there.
Rung: I am glad that the two of you are conversing like this. However, Wistful’s appointment is coming to an end. If both of you want to, we can do this again next week?
Copy: I wouldn’t mind. You’re interesting, Wistful.
Wistful: Wow. I think that’s the nicest thing someone’s said to me in – um. A really long time.
Wistful: I want to do this too. Meet again, I mean. If that’s okay.
Rung: I will put it in both your schedules. Have a pleasant afternoon, Copy.
Copy: You too, doc. Bye, Wistful!
Wistful: Bye, Copy!
Swerve had to give his optics a moment to adjust when the chat room faded away around him. He grinned at Rung. “Well! That was fun.”
“Good,” Rung replied, smiling back. “I’m glad it was enjoyable. Is there anything else fun you haven’t found yourself doing lately that you would like to try your hand at again?”
Aaand they were back to real therapy. But for once, Swerve didn’t find it hard to answer the questions.
Rung nodded at him as Swerve sat down. “Hey, Rung, how’ve you been? Built anything new recently?”
“Hello, Swerve,” Rung said pleasantly. “I’ve been well, thanks. How have you been?”
Swerve had to think about it. “Huh. I guess I’ve been better this last week. And isn’t that weird?” He grinned. “I mean, I consistently fail at everything you tell me to do and I’m still not recharging or refueling as I should, and Ratchet hates me, but still it’s been better.”
Rung’s smile was small but genuine. “That is very good, Swerve. Are you ready to talk to Copy again? He’s waiting for us.”
Swerve grinned and connected.
Copy: Wistful! Welcome to R-space!
Copy: Rung-space, buddy! Since we’re kind of in his head and all.
Wistful: Really? We’re in his head?
Rung: Not exactly, Copy. It’s a space I designed, correct, but I’m connected to it same as you.
Rung: You’re not here to listen to me, though. Wistful, why don’t you tell Copy about your week?
Wistful: Um. Okay. There’s not much to tell, though. I don’t really do much.
Copy: You’re not on shift?
Wistful: Not right now.
Rung: At this point, I’d like to remind both of you to not pry for personal information that can be used to identify each other. Neither of you are ready for that.
Copy: Fair enough. How about this, though, doc: hey, Wistful, ever been in medical bay when both Ratchet and Drift are there?
Wistful: Oh, you mean the way they look at each other?
Copy: Yeah! I mean, it’s sizzling, am I right?
Wistful: Yeah. Haha! And I thought Tailgate and Cyclonus were bad!
Copy: They are! But Ratchet and Drift are way, way worse.
Copy: Can’t really blame them, though. Hot pieces of plating.
Rung: All right, Copy, this isn’t really why you’re here.
Copy: Aw, c’mon, doc. I’m not doing any harm.
Copy: It’s kind of nice to see, isn’t it?
Copy: And I don’t mean the ‘hot plating’ part now.
Wistful: I know what you mean.
Wistful: It… makes me a bit sad, though.
Copy: Sad? Why?
Wistful: Because I’ll never have what they have.
Copy: What? But that’s… That’s slag, Wistful. Everyone has someone. I mean, even Whirl gets drawn in by Cyclonus and Tailgate every now and then, and that’s heading for more too if you ask me.
Copy: Wait, you’re not Whirl, are you?
Wistful: No, I’m not Whirl.
Wistful: Tails and Cyke taking care of him is totally adorable though.
Copy: So, why?
Wistful: Why what?
Copy: Why do you think you’ll never have what they have?
Wistful: Um. I told you. I’m a waste of space.
Copy: You are not. Nobody is a waste of space.
Copy: Except maybe Megatron.
Copy: Wait, you’re not him, are you?
Rung: Okay, that’s enough for today, Copy. You need to stop prying.
Copy: What? No, we just started?
Rung: Yes, and now we’re finishing. You’re clearly too wound up for this today.
Wistful: You say nice things though. I wouldn’t mind talking to you another time.
Rung: Are you sure, Wistful? It’s not too much for you?
Wistful: Hey, you know me, doc. I’m a sucker for any kind of attention. And I said I was doing better.
Copy: Really? You are? That’s great!
Copy: So it helped that we talked?
Wistful: I… think so. You’re the first one besides Rung that I’ve actually talked to in weeks.
Wistful: Well, written to, anyway.
Copy: I’m very glad to hear that.
Copy: Does that mean we can do this again?
Rung: If you’re both sure that’s what you want. But Copy, I expect you to behave next time.
Copy: Sure thing, doc. Hey, Wistful?
Copy: I’ve had a better week too. It’s great to talk to someone who isn’t waiting for me to frag up at any moment.
Wistful: I – that is – me too, Copy. It’s nice. Talking to you.
Wistful: I look forward to next time.
Copy: Yeah, me too, Wistful.
Swerve was – he wouldn’t say happy. Not that he had had more than a distant relationship with the sentiment, but he knew he’d at least been close enough to wave at it at some point in his life, and could probably – possibly – recognize it if it happened to befall him.
Happy or not, he was better. He was less despondent, spent less time gazing into space, had even briefly entertained the idea of taking a shift at the bar. He’d decided against that fairly quickly, but he still thought Rung would be happy with the fact that he’d walked halfway there before turning back.
Ratchet was happier with him, too. As happy as Ratchet ever got.
“You’ve increased your refueling,” the medic said, sounding pleased.
“Well, yeah, I did, I guess,” Swerve replied, a hint of his old happy-go-lucky shining through. “I guess I just felt – hungrier? Does that make sense? And I found this packet of magnesium flavoring that I had forgotten about, and it was very tasty, so I’ve kind of – filled up.”
“That’s good,” Ratchet nodded, a slight smile hovering somewhere around his mouth. “It gives your frame a much-needed boost. How are you recharging?”
Swerve shrugged. “About the same. But initiating it is easier.” He paused, considering – but Ratchet was a medic, and was supposedly trustworthy. “I don’t feel like I won’t wake up in the morning again anymore.”
The tinge of happiness in the medic’s field was worth it.
“Talking to Rung helps, I take it?” Ratchet asked.
Swerve nodded. “It does. Actually, talking to Copy helps more.”
Ratchet stared at him. “Talking to Copy?”
Swerve threw a hand over his mouth. “Frag, I shouldn’t have said that.” He looked down, feeling a bit sheepish. That had been a while since, too. “I don’t know who Copy is. Rung has been leading this – chat group? I guess? Where we use fake names. So it’s me and Copy and Rung, just talking.”
“It’s okay,” Ratchet replied. “I’ve got the same confidentiality clause that Rung does. I’m not going to pry, and I’m not going to tell anyone. I’m just glad you’re finally beginning to heal.”
“You’re good to go,” Ratchet said, moving aside to let Swerve hop down from the medberth. “I’ll see you next week. Oh, and Swerve?”
He turned halfway to the door, looking back at the medic. “Yeah?”
“It really is good to see you happy again,” Ratchet said, smiling more softly than Swerve had ever seen.
Swerve didn’t know what to say. So he just grinned and waved.
Maybe it was in the eye of the beholder?
Was he happy again?
Maybe he could ask Rung. Or better yet, maybe he could ask Copy.
Copy: Nah, I don’t think you’re entirely happy, Wistful.
Rung: What makes you think so, Copy?
Copy: Because if he was, he wouldn’t be wondering if he was. Besides, Wist, you said you weren’t quite sure what ‘happy’ felt like. I have a feeling you’d know if you were.
Wistful: I’ve – this is going to sound dumb, but I’ve been using Tailgate as a measure for happy. Mostly because all his emotions show, even with that faceplate. He’s really expressive.
Copy: Yeah, I know. What is it with minibots? Swerve’s got the same thing.
Wistful: You think? Huh. I always thought that smile was a mask.
Wistful: Anyway, I’ve been going by Tailgate-measure. And I figure I was somewhere around ‘Oh no Cyclonus won’t talk to me’, but now I’m heading towards ‘Oh no Cyclonus doesn’t talk to me’.
Copy: So, on the rise, then.
Rung: I’m afraid I don’t understand the difference.
Copy: Simple. It’s the difference between Cyke avoiding Tails and Cyke just forgetting to acknowledge him.
Copy: Those aren’t happy at all, though.
Wistful: No. No, they’re really not, are they?
Rung: So where do you think you are in this scale, Copy?
Copy: Well… I think I’m bobbing up and down somewhere around ‘I really wish Cyclonus would notice me but he won’t ever do so because I’m tiny and insignificant and he is amazing’.
Wistful: So, despondent and depressed, with a side-order of wanting to drink yourself into oblivion.
Wistful: I can empathize.
Rung: And I just want to take this chance to remind both of you of the terrible healing properties of engex.
Rung: And that basing one’s happiness on the acts of another mech isn’t very healthy.
Rung: And finally, to say that I really am very proud of both of you.
Copy: Wow, thanks, doc. What did we do?
Rung: You’re improving faster talking to each other than either of you did talking to me alone. So I’ve come to the decision that you can carry on these conversations without me.
Wistful: Does that mean – no more false names? Meeting in person?
Rung: No, it doesn’t mean that. It means that you, Wistful, get to bring the datapad you’re using with you today. And then we can use your sessions differently, and you two can talk together just as we do now on your own time. I will alter the program slightly so it’s more of a chat program than what we’re using now. You won’t need to immerse yourself in it to type.
Copy: It sounds great! Wistful, don’t you think so?
Copy: Sorry, I didn’t mean to be pushy, I just – heh, this is embarrassing. I’ve been thinking about you between sessions. Wanting your opinion on stuff and such.
Wistful: You’re not pushy. It’s…. it’s good to have a friend. I’d like to talk to you more often. If you don’t mind. I mean, if it’s not a hassle.
Copy: You… You consider me your friend?
Wistful: Well, yeah.
Wistful: I do.
Wistful: I hope that’s okay…
Copy: More than okay, that’s awesome. Hey, you doing something tomorrow night?
Wistful: Copy, I’m never doing anything.
Copy: Then can I call you like this? I wanted to ask you something about this Earth book I’ve been reading, and these sessions never seemed like the place for it.
Wistful: Sure! I’d like that. Whenever you want.
Copy: That’s really great.
Swerve kind of had to agree.
When clawing your way back to being functional, there are good days and there are bad days.
Swerve was… light. Much lighter than he’d been lately. Almost as if he was…
He was at least at ‘Oh Primus Cyclonus almost smiled at me today’ on the Tailgate Scale of Happiness(TM). Which, as Copy would say, translated to ‘nervous, almost giddy, and really fighting those butterflies’.
The mech knew his Earth references, that was for sure.
He was also the main reason for this, because this wouldn’t have happened if Copy hadn’t encouraged him to go back to his old "natural environment, whatever the heck that is (I’m not prying, honest)".
Swerve was going back to Swerve’s.
Not to work. Not today. But to say hi (if there was anyone to say hi to). To have a drink, maybe. To show the others that he was still around.
You can’t hide away from your old life forever, Copy had written. You need to edge back into it sooner or later.
When he stopped outside the door, though, this suddenly felt like a lot sooner than necessary. He was almost frantic when he stepped aside and dug the datapad from subspace.
Wistful: Copy, I can’t.
Copy: Yeah, Wist, you can. You can. I have faith in you.
Wistful: I don’t know why. Primus, I wish you were with me, Copy. Maybe I wouldn’t be such a coward then.
Copy: You’re not a coward, you’re one of the bravest mechs I know. You can go in there.
Copy: Show them how amazing you are. Stay for long enough to talk to at least one person. Now go knock’em off their pedes.
Wistful: High expectations much?
Copy: Nah. But I know you, Wist. Better than I think I know anyone else at this point.
Copy: Go on, go inside. Go over to where you usually are. If you need an out, just tell them you were looking for something you must have forgotten there. And contact me again afterwards. I’ll be waiting.
Wistful: I – that’s – yeah, okay. Okay. I can do that.
He could do that.
Inventing deeply, he subspaced the datapad and pushed the door open.
The familiar chatter hit him instantly. The smell was familiar too, a mix of engex and chaos, and Swerve inhaled deeply as he walked carefully over to the bar, dodging chairs and tables.
The place still looked good.
Nobody talked to him, though.
Bluestreak was on the far side of the bar itself as Swerve walked up. He climbed up on a bar stool and sat there for a few minutes, but he couldn’t make himself call out.
In the end, he climbed back off the chair and walked around the bar to make his own drink, trying hard to shake the feeling that he was intruding.
It was his own bar, after all. It had his name outside.
He poured himself a straight shot of engex and threw it down in one go. Then he put his patented grin back on, said “That’s what I’m talking about”, and sauntered out of there.
No one even noticed.
Copy: Yeah, mech, I’m here. How did it go?
Wistful: Well, I went inside. And I did what I usually do. I even spoke out loud.
Wistful: They didn’t notice me.
Copy: They didn’t notice you?
Copy: Oh, mech, that sucks.
Copy: I’m sorry.
Copy: Anything I can do?
Wistful: Talk to me?
Wistful: I mean, if you have time.
Wistful: I’m just so tired of feeling like I’m not here. I’m just a me-shaped hole, and everyone’s too bothered by my existence to actually look at me.
Copy: That’s harsh.
Copy: If it helps, I don’t think of you like that at all.
Copy: You’re kind of… this is going to sound really cheesy, but you’re lighting up my day.
Wistful: Wow -
Wistful: Thank you!
Wistful: And yeah, that is extremely cheesy.
Wistful: But… likewise. Really.
Wistful: Thank you.
Copy: You’re welcome.
Copy: You’re a good mech, Wistful.
Even though Swerve recharged, it was always lightly. He didn’t have much to defrag, after all. (At least that was what he told himself. Ratchet probably disagreed.)
So when the datapad lit up, it was enough to jolt him awake.
Copy: Wistful? Are you awake?
Copy: Sorry if I’m waking you up.
Wistful: I’m here. What’s up, Copy?
Copy: It’s downtime! Haha!
Copy: Get it? Down-time?
Wistful: ….You’re overcharged, aren’t you.
Copy: Ridiculously so, yeah.
Copy: Do you know what someone said to me today?
Copy: He said that everything will be okay in the end, and if it isn’t okay, then it isn’t the end.
Wistful: That’s… the stupidest thing I think I’ve ever heard.
Copy: T H A N K Y O U!
Wistful: The end isn’t okay at all.
Wistful: The end sucks, really.
Wistful: It’s that why you’re drunk?
Copy: Yeah. I started out on the engex I had in my room, but there wasn’t that much of it. So I went down to Swerve’s.
Copy: Do you know Swerve isn’t really there anymore?
Copy: It’s just Bluestreak manning the bar these days.
Wistful: I’d noticed.
Copy: And that sucks, because Bluestreak doesn’t do it right. He doesn’t say nice things and he doesn’t always smile, and he doesn’t have that big mouth and those big hands and he can’t
Copy: Can’t serve my drink right.
Wistful: That does suck.
Wistful: So… were you on duty today?
Copy: I’m always on duty. If I don’t show up, U- um, someone will show up to nag me.
Wistful: Well, at least they notice if you’re there or not.
Copy: Yeah, at least that.
Copy: Hey, I know you think that no one misses you, and I still want to space your so-called friends for that…
Copy: But I wanted to say, I think you’re awesome.
Wistful: … thanks, Copy.
Wistful: And you are even more overcharged than I imagined. Swerve would have cut you off before now.
Copy: Well, yeah.
Copy: But that’s not the point. I think of you all the time, Wistful.
Copy: Wow, that sounded creepy.
Copy: I promise I’m not that creepy.
Wistful: I don’t know if I should be grateful or run for the hills. Not that we have those here.
Copy: I mean it in a good way, you know. I’ll be thinking ‘I have to tell Wist about this’ or ‘Wistful wouldn’t think that was cool’ or ‘Wistful wants me around at least’, and it helps. It helps a lot.
Wistful: It does? Wow.
Wistful: Thank you. That’s the nicest thing someone’s ever said to me, I think. And you don’t even know who I am.
Copy: I kind of do, though. I kind of know exactly who you are, just not who you are. You know?
Copy: Just like I imagine you know more about me at this point than even – well, everyone else I interact with. And some of those mechs have known me for ages.
Wistful: I do know what you mean. I’ve never had anyone have my back like you do, Copy.
Wistful: I hope this isn’t too weird – but you’re my best friend.
Copy: It’s not weird. It’s kind of perfect, actually.
Copy: If you were here, I would hug you.
Wistful: I would like that.
Wistful: Hey, you’re back in your quarters now, right? Not still at Swerve’s?
Copy: Yyyyyup. All set for another lonely night. Y’know, I used to bring mechs home? They weren’t all that hard to convince either.
Wistful: Yeah? So what happened?
Copy: Fragging them made me feel worse about myself instead of better. Like I was buying their allegiance or friendship or whatever with my array.
Copy: They never cared about me. Just about the frag.
Wistful: I care about you.
Copy: I know.
Copy: Slag, Wist, I wish you were here right now. I bet you see me as more than just my spike.
Wistful: That’s a given, since I’ve never seen your spike, Copy. Just your mind.
Wistful: Kinda really like that, though.
Copy: Hey, Wistful? I’d give you my spike if you wanted.
Wistful: …okay. Copy, much as this interests me, it’s recharge time for you. You’re too overcharged for us to have this conversation.
Copy: Killjoy. Lots of fun can be had over distance, you know.
Wistful: If you weren’t overcharged, I’d take you up on that in a heartbeat. But you probably won’t remember this tomorrow. And I’ve been forgotten more times than I care to remember.
Copy: You may be right. If we ever get to meet… I want to remember you.
Copy: You’re awesome.
Wistful: So’re you. Now recharge.
Wistful: Talk to you tomorrow? Whenever you wake up?
Copy: I’ll message you as soon as I’m awake.
Wistful: If you remember.
Copy: That, I’ll always remember. ‘Night, Wist.
Wistful: Night, Copy.
Swerve leaned back on his berth, trying to calm his raging spark and rising charge.
“So why are we here?” Swerve looked up at the passing ‘bots. None of them paid him any attention.
“Because I want to see how you respond to the environment you used to work in every day,” Rung replied. “Want to get a drink?” He raised his own weak spritzer – prepared, Swerve could tell at a glance, with the wrong blending agent.
“I’m good.” He sighed. “It’s too busy over there. I don’t want to wreck their mood. Or my own.”
Rung tilted his head. “Why do you think you would wreck their mood?”
Swerve shrugged, as much as his kibble would let him anyway. “I just would. Want to see?” He looked up, spotting Atomizer. “Check this out.”
He straightened, put on his trademark smile, and waved eagerly. “Hi Atomizer! How’s your night? Come for the usual?”
It was standard barkeep-speak. He’d said the same thing to pretty much every bot here. Usually he got a nod and some form of bland answer while he was already mixing whatever they wanted.
This time, Atomizer just glanced at him. Then he glanced again, before mumbling something, turning away and heading in the opposite direction of where Swerve was sitting as fast as he could without actually running away.
Swerve looked down and slid further into the booth. “He’s not even the worst of them.”
“I’m sorry, Swerve,” Rung said sympathetically. “Would you rather we went somewhere else?”
“Nah. I’m okay.” He gesticulated towards Rung’s tall flute. “Finish your lazy-aft drink.”
Rung didn’t pull a lot of attention either, Swerve noticed. He had already known that – unless Rung specifically entered with someone, or kept Megatron or Ultra Magnus company since no one else would, or Cyclonus or Chromedome were already in the bar sans minibot counterpart, the orange mech would often be sitting alone. He didn’t look like he minded most of the time.
Tonight was busy. No wonder – it was karaoke night, and Blaster was already setting up near his usual spot. Later on, karaoke would predictably turn into ‘HOT ON THE TABLETOP AWESOME NON-STOP DANCE OFF’, capital letters and all, and Swerve would have his hands full.
Would have had his hands full.
The usual gang was already there. They were just missing a few mecha, who tended to arrive together right about… now.
The door blew open, and Rodimus waltzed in as if he owned the place. Which, technically, he did – Swerve may have claimed the space, but the captain owned the ship. Big, beaming smile on his face, larger-than-life appearance, his charisma and confidence entering almost like separate entities in front of him.
Both Atomizer and Blaster grinned at the sight of him. Rodimus usually left with at least one of them, sometimes both. The captain winked at them.
Then he looked around the room, said “Oh!”, and veered left towards where Rung and Swerve were sitting.
“Swerve! Hey!” The speedster grinned and leaned against the table. “Good to see you back! Not manning the bar tonight?”
Swerve blinked. Rodimus never really cared what he was doing. Most of the time he never even looked behind the bar, too busy eyeing whoever he’d decided he’d take back that night.
“Hi, captain,” he replied cautiously. Rung, for some reason, was watching both of them with a strange new focus. “Nah, I’m not. Bluestreak’s handling it fine, though.”
Rodimus frowned. “No offense to Bluestreak,” he said quietly, “but calling it fine is generous. We need you back there, mech. No one else gets my drink right.”
Swerve felt a smidgeon of fluttering pride at the words. He never got comments like that. “Um. Thanks. I’m sure I’ll be back soon.”
Rodimus straightened and beamed, as if it was all sorted out. “Great! Enjoy the rest of your evening, then!” He spun on his heel, and pranced off towards Blaster.
“He seemed to care whether you’re here or not,” Rung said carefully, echoing Swerve’s own words back at him.
“Yeah, that was weird,” Swerve agreed. “I didn’t think he even knew my name. Despite the fact that I’m absolutely sure he knows the name of the bar.” He frowned at Rung’s dumb, misblended drink. “Guess Blue must have really screwed up his drink at some point. Primus knows he screwed up yours.”
“You don’t get along with him?”
Swerve tilted his head. “With Blue?”
Swerve shrugged and glanced at where Rodimus was hanging off Blaster’s shoulder, laughing. “It’s not a matter of getting along or not. He’s only ever said four words to me, and those are “The usual” and “Thanks, mech”. A bit hard to figure out if you get along based on that.”
Rung nodded. “I can understand that.” He sipped at his drink and winced. “You’re right, that’s…”
“Disgusting,” Swerve supplied, smiling a bit. Not his wide grin, not this time. This was more genuine.
“Nasty,” Rung nodded, pushing the glass away. “I’ve been meaning to ask you. Are you still chatting to Copy?”
It tasted like a change of subject, but Swerve didn’t mind.
“Yeah. He’s really helpful, actually. You sure he’s one of the mechs on this ship?”
Rung’s eyebrows climbed. “Yes, that I am definitely sure of. Why?”
“I don’t know.” Swerve took Rung’s discarded glass and sniffed at it, making a face. Definitely nasty. “He’s just much nicer to me than anyone else. He’s even…”
“Yes?” Rung prompted when no further words came. “He’s even what?”
“A friend,” Swerve said finally, glancing at the other mech. “He’s even a friend. A true friend, even, one who listens. I’ve never had that before.” He glanced towards where Tailgate and Rewind were sitting at the center table, bickering good-naturedly over the evening’s song selection. “I thought I did, but I guess I didn’t.”
Rung nodded. “I am glad that Copy is becoming a support to you. I know the feeling is mutual. But it would be good for you to not rely solely on him.” He looked towards the center table as well. “Have you tried talking to them lately?”
Swerve shook his head. “Not since the first couple of times after – you know. It got so awkward, I just stopped trying.” His optics were drawn back to where Tailgate was giggling loudly. “You know, it’s only going to get louder in here. And your drink isn’t worth staying for.”
Rung understood, of course. “Then we’ll call it a night. Do you want me to walk with you, or…?”
“No.” Swerve shook his head. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m going to go to the observation deck, stare out the window for a bit.”
“Going to chat to Copy?” Rung asked, his tone a shade too innocent.
“No point,” Swerve replied, shrugging. “If he’s on this ship, he’ll be here, partying. Everyone’s here partying, unless they have a shift. Or they’re me.” He stood, throwing another look to the center table. Today, it seemed that Tailgate and he were on completely opposite ends of the happiness scale.
Good for Tailgate, he supposed.
Swerve forcibly pulled his gaze back to Rung. “See you in a week, doc.”
“Good night, Swerve.”
Rung’s optics followed him as he left. They were the only ones that did.
Reaching out is hard. But sometimes, it's exactly what's needed.
Have some more Swerve!
Also, I was thrilled to see an actual discussion springing up in the comments to the last chapter! That's never happened to me before :D I'm glad y'all like this!
“You don’t need weekly check-ups anymore,” Ratchet concluded. He looked from the datapad in his hand to meet Swerve’s optics. “Your readings are good. I’d still like for you to get more recharge, but at this point you’re within normal range, so I’m clearing you. I assume you’re continuing your sessions with Rung?”
Swerve nodded. “He’s not letting me go yet.”
“That’s good.” Ratchet put the datapad away, a faint smile on his face. “He won’t let go of you until he’s sure you’re fine. Do you want to be cleared for light duty?”
“I get a choice?” Swerve stared in surprise. He hadn’t expected to be getting that much autonomy.
“Of sorts,” Ratchet replied. “I can clear your for light duty now, or I can put in a recommendation in your file and leave the final decision to Rung. You’ll have some input, but a new routine would be good for you.”
“Then I’d like to discuss it with Rung,” Swerve decided. He didn’t trust his own decision-making to be sound anymore.
“That’s probably a good idea.” Ratchet stepped aside, letting Swerve hop down from the berth. “I do know Perceptor wanted your opinion on something, though. He asked that you stopped by his lab.”
Swerve froze, surprised again. That made no sense at all. “Perceptor is brilliant. Why would he need me?”
“He said something about the ore samples they picked up on the last planet we visited, and the way they’re reacting to the presence of energon,” Ratchet said, shrugging. “I reminded him that we have a qualified metallurgist onboard, and he was really excited to have you look at them. Percy’s a genius, but even he doesn’t know everything about everything.”
It tasted like make-work to Swerve, like a pity task. But it could be a fun pity task. And he’d take a fun pity talk over thankless bar-keeping at this point. “Okay, I guess. I’ll stop by right now.”
“Good.” Ratchet grinned. “Tell him I said hi.”
Wistful: Ratchet is forcing me to socialize.
Copy: He is? How?
Wistful: He set up this elaborate chain of tasks for me. First I had to go see Perceptor, and then Percy sent me to see Nightbeat, who sent me to see Blaster who sent me to see First Aid. And they all needed help with something menial.
Copy: They made it all up just to keep you busy?
Wistful: No, it was all genuine, they all had something they needed doing. It just wasn’t very critical. I’m sure they could have managed just fine without ever getting my input on any of it.
Copy: So… are you mad or not? It’s kind of hard to tell from writing.
Wistful: I’m… angrily exasperated? Is that a thing?
Copy: It is now. But, hey… I bet Ratchet just wanted to prove to you that your input has merit. Because it does. But you’re so used to thinking of yourself as a waste of space that you can’t see it.
Wistful: Did Rung steal your datapad? This reads like something he would say.
Copy: Haha! No, but seriously. You’ve got the skills, Wist. You’re valuable, and valued. And I’m not just saying that because I care about you.
Wistful: Well, I appreciate it either way. Thanks, Copy.
Copy: Sure thing. It’s what I’m here for.
Rung smiled in welcome when Swerve walked in. He had two datapads in his hand.
“What’s with the extracurricular material?” Swerve nodded towards the extra datapad as he sat down. “Am I getting homework?”
Rung chuckled lightly. “No. I had thought, today, that we could have another session with Copy. He’s already waiting for us.”
That… was weird. Rung had trusted them unsupervised for a while now. “Why?”
“Because both of you are ready to rely on not just each other,” Rung replied. “Shall we?”
Swerve shrugged. “Sure. I’m always up for talking to Copy.”
“I know.” Rung smiled.
Copy: There you guys are! Hi, Wist!
Wistful: Hey, Copy!
Wistful: I’d say “long time no see”, but it would be a blatant lie. Sort of. I haven’t actually seen you. Unless this counts.
Copy: It totally counts.
Copy: Hi, Rung!
Rung: Hello, Copy. You seem happy today.
Copy: Yeah, I’m pretty solid on ‘Cyclonus smiled at me and then he touched my hand’ today!
Wistful: Wow! That high? That’s great! Want to share the secret?
Rung: I’m glad you feel better, Copy. What is it that has you in such a good mood?
Copy: That’s the weird thing, I don’t know! It’s just a good day, I guess.
Rung: That’s good, Copy. That’s a real sign of improvement.
Copy: Thanks! I owe a lot of it to Wistful, actually. He’s been a real help.
Wistful: Aw, now you’re making me blush. Thanks, Copy.
Rung: I’m glad the both of you have made such progress together. In fact, that’s what this session is about.
Rung: You’ve been great sources of comfort and support for each other. So now it’s time to take another step towards positive reintegration with the crew.
Wistful: O-kay? And for those of us who prefers shorter words?
Rung: I want you to make friends.
Wistful: …I think you’re setting your goals a little high.
Rung: Am I really? You had friends before, Wistful, didn’t you?
Wistful: I’m beginning to realize that I had acquaintances forced closer to me by necessity and common purpose.
Copy: That’s the same thing.
Copy: Pit, Wistful, that’s exactly the same thing. Nobody becomes good friends without somehow being brought together by necessity or common purpose.
Copy: Also, I thought you didn’t like long words.
Wistful: I aim to surprise.
Rung: Copy, what do you think?
Copy: I don’t know, Rung, I mean… I have my friends, right? Or ‘friend’, as it were, if we don’t count Wistful here. Whenever I try to be friendly with others, it ends in interfacing. And not the kind that makes me feel good about myself.
Rung: I’m aware. And that’s why I have a very specific task for you. For both of you.
Rung: Copy, you should make contact with someone who’s different than you, who’s someone you wouldn’t consider interfacing with on the first night. Or the second, or the twelfth. Someone who you can actually get to know without taking them to berth.
Copy: What? Like who?
Wistful: Are you kidding? Is there no mech on this ship that makes you think “huh, he’s interesting” rather than “ooh, I’d tap that”?
Rung: Coarse, but accurate. Find someone you’d like to talk to, Copy.
Copy: Oh. Okay, I get it. Huh. Well, fair enough, if you think that could work.
Copy: What do you do with someone if you’re not interfacing, though?
Wistful: Seriously? You don’t know what – Copy, are you sure you know how to have friends?
Wistful: You refuel together, or watch movies, or talk about weird or fun stuff, or complain to each other about your day, or just hang out, or…
Wistful: Well, basically, you do what you and me are doing. No fragging. Just talk.
Wistful: Although, hugging is allowed.
Wistful: And for the record, if your definition of ‘friends’ includes ‘with benefits’ as a permanent fixture, it’s seriously skewed.
Rung: Wistful is correct. On all counts.
Rung: What do you think, Copy? Would you give it a try?
Copy: I’ll give everything a try, you know that.
Copy: But does this mean I can’t chat to Wistful anymore?
Rung: No. But unless you two find others as well to talk to, you risk becoming each other’s crutches. And that’s not healthy.
Wistful: What about me? Do I have to talk to a stranger too?
Rung: No, you need a different approach. I want you to talk to one of the ones you used to do things with. For instance, a mech you used to watch movies with. And make arrangements again to do the kind of thing you used to do together.
Wistful: That’s it? I have to talk to R- to that mech and go to movie night like we used to?
Rung: That’s it. I think you’ll find it’ll go smoother than you imagine.
Rung: I want you both to try this. And then, when you succeed once, try it again. And maybe then you’ll be ready to talk face to face.
Copy: Ooh, I would like that. I want to try that game you were talking about, Wist.
Wistful: Sure! Sure, we could do that.
Copy: So is there a deadline?
Rung: No. But I will be asking you how you’re doing on our next appointments.
Wistful: That’s fair enough. I guess.
Wistful: So… how does one go about talking to someone who has avoided one for months?
Rung: I’m sure you’ll figure it out, Wistful.
Swerve had gone in circles for days, trying to figure out what to do. Every single plan he came up with had something wrong with it. In the end, he’d decided to simply knock on their door, though he sort of hoped no one was home.
Of course, he didn’t have that kind of luck.
Rewind opened the door and stared at him in surprise. “Um. Swerve? Hi?”
“Hey, Rewind.” He couldn’t seem to muster his customary grin, or even his customary fake happy-go-lucky attitude. “Um. Sorry to disturb. I just wondered… If I could come to the next movie night? If you don’t mind?”
Rewind just kept staring at him. At least he wasn’t recording.
Swerve didn’t cope well with the staring at all. He shuffled his feet, looking down and twisting his big fingers, Tailgate-style. “Never mind. I’m going to – I’ll just leave. Enjoy the rest of your night.”
He turned to leave, and Rewind caught his arm. “Hey,” he said gently. “Come inside.” He tugged at Swerve’s hand, pulling him into the hab suite.
“Chromedome’s not here tonight,” the archivist continued. “And I really wanted to talk to you.”
“To me? What about?” Swerve glanced back towards the doorway, but the door slid shut behind him.
“About you, to be honest,” Rewind said, handing him a cube. “We never uninvited you to movie night, Swerve. You can come by any time.”
“You never uninvite anybody,” Swerve felt compelled to point out.
“Not true,” Rewind countered, dropping down into the couch and pulling Swerve along with him. “Whirl got uninvited once. Rodimus, too. They didn’t get to come back until they’d learned to behave. Well, as much as Whirl and Rodimus ever do. Drink your energon.”
Swerve obeyed, lifting the cube to his mouth. The sharp tang of additives was a welcome one. He’d lost his taste for bland energon.
“Why did you feel you had to ask if it was okay that you show up?” Rewind asked. He sounded confused.
Swerve shrugged, hiding his face behind his cube. “Everything’s gotten… weird. I didn’t know if you wanted me here anymore.” He ex-vented heavily.
Rewind stared at him for a moment. Then he nodded decisively. “That’s it. Pick a movie.”
Swerve just looked at him, and he could tell he probably looked like an idiot, but he couldn’t help himself. “Huh?”
“Pick a movie,” Rewind repeated. “And I’m going to call Tailgate over. We’re having a proper minibot movie night, like we used to. Like you started.” He poked Swerve in the side. “Remember?”
“Just the three of us?” Swerve asked. It was rare even before that they’d managed to ditch what Whirl called ‘the conjunxes’ – which Tailgate always protested, even though anyone could see that Cyclonus would probably never let him go. Usually, it had been Tailgate in Cyclonus’ lap, Rewind snuggled up against Chromedome’s side, and then Swerve either in the chair to the side or on the floor in front of them. Sometimes with Whirl poking at him, sometimes with Skids asking questions all the time and leaving halfway through because he claimed he could tell how the movie would end.
Spending the evening with just Tailgate and Rewind sounded… nice.
He hoped it still counted towards Rung’s goal, even if he hadn’t actually joined a real movie night.
Rewind prodded him towards his large registry of movies, and he chose one at random. The accompanying pictures were of a strange-looking car that looked like Tracks’ distant forefather on the front, with the title in big, happy letters, and a really weird human with a red nose.
It looked like a sparklings’ film, which meant it was probably right up Tailgate’s alley. Mech liked the simple, happy stories.
Someone pinged for entrance while he was still trying to figure out if the flying car was a real thing or not. As soon as Rewind opened the door, Tailgate bounced inside.
Bounced. The mech was such a youngling sometimes. It was honestly adorable.
“Swerve! You’re here!”
Rewind looked over Swerve’s shoulder, nodded at his choice, and began setting up the entertainment center. Tailgate plastered himself against Swerve’s side and beamed.
“I’m so glad you came by! I’ve been meaning to come and talk to you, but you’ve been really distant so I didn’t know if you wanted me to or not.” His fingers twisted together. “I’ve missed you.”
Swerve managed to stop himself from staring, but it was a close thing. He dropped onto the sofa. “You’ve missed me?”
“Of course,” Tailgate exclaimed, sitting down next to him.
“We all have,” Rewind supplied as he joined them on Swerve’s other side. “I’ve been close to coming over and dragging you back here with me, but I didn’t want to impose if you needed the time to yourself.”
Swerve knew he was staring dumbly, but he couldn’t help himself. “You… But… Then why is everyone avoiding me? I walked into the bar the other day and no one noticed I was even there! And whenever I do walk over to someone there’s this really awkward silence, like no one knows what to say to me anymore!” He bit his lip to keep it from trembling and looked down. “I thought you all thought I was pathetic.”
A few beats of silence met his words. Then he was suddenly buried in blue and white minibot.
“Swerve, I’m so sorry!” Tailgate cried. “I had no idea you felt that way, or I would have dragged you over a lot sooner!”
“There are probably quite a few bots who don’t know what to say and are afraid to make everything worse if they do say something,” Rewind murmured.
“So they treat me like I’ve got cosmic rust.” Swerve tried for a flippant tone, but he failed utterly. “Yeah, that helps.”
“I’m sorry,” Tailgate said again. He lifted Swerve’s arm and snuck under it, snuggling in beneath Swerve’s shoulder. “We made everything worse, didn’t we.”
Swerve just knew that if he kept talking about this, he’d start bawling. And he really, really couldn’t handle that tonight.
So instead of answering Tailgate’s somewhat rhetorical question, he settled back into the couch. “Well, I’m here now. Can we watch the movie?”
Rewind gave him a look that was somehow all understanding. “Sure thing, Swerve,” he said softly. “We can do that.”
Swerve nodded and pushed his emotions further back – as far back as he could with Tailgate clinging to his arm like that. When Rewind settled down on his other side, not as snuggly as Tailgate but still close, Swerve had to suppress a sniffle.
“It’s okay,” Rewind said softly. He petted Swerve’s arm softly.
“Shh,” Tailgate whispered, proving himself much more observant than Swerve had expected. “The movie’s starting.”
Swerve in-vented slowly, trying to calm himself. Tried to take comfort in the warmth and closeness of the mechs next to him.
It took most of the introductory scene before he was relaxed. Then Rewind handed him a rust stick, and Tailgate started giggling at something, and suddenly it all felt like home again.
Wistful: And then I just stayed there chatting until it was almost the middle of the night. It was awesome. I didn’t think I could have that again.
Copy: See, I told you your friends still like you. Did you make more plans with them?
Wistful: One said I had to, or it would be too easy for me to hide away again. So he’s invited me over for another movie later this week. The other said he’d be dropping by next time he had the chance.
Copy: That’s good! I’m really happy for you, Wistful. You deserve all the good things, you know.
Wistful: Thanks, Copy. That means a lot. Hey, how’s your task going? Have you talked to a mech yet?
Copy: Nah. I’ve decided on someone, but he’s a bit… elusive, I guess.
Copy: I’m not giving up though. For one thing, Rung would have my plating if I did.
Wistful: He totally would.
Copy: And for the other, I’m – well, I’m actually looking forward to making a new friend. I think it’ll be fun.
Copy: Like you and me.
Wistful: That would be good, wouldn’t it?
Copy: Really good. Also, there’s that extra incentive of finally getting to meet you properly. I like our chatting, but I want to hug you.
Copy: Sorry if that’s too forward.
Wistful: It’s not. I want that too.
Wistful: And hey, if it helps… It was really scary, reaching out. But it was totally worth it.
Wistful: I feel a bit more normal.
Copy: Heh. And that’s what we’re striving for, isn’t it?
Copy: Not that anything will ever be completely normal on this ship.
Wistful: More normal for us, then. More normal for the Lost Light.
Copy. That would be something. Let’s aim for that.
Wistful: Definitely. Hey, let me know if you need any help with your new friend.
Copy: Will do. Thanks, buddy.
This was all because of Tailgate. The only reason Swerve was back in his bar – which didn’t feel like his bar anymore, not really – was because Tailgate had asked him to come. Pleaded, even, and it was really hard to say no to Tailgate when he pleaded. He was just too adorable.
So somehow Swerve found himself back at Swerve’s, again. But this time he wasn’t hurrying through or hiding in the corner. Instead, he was stuck between Tailgate and Rewind, who were in their turn flanked by Cyclonus and Chromedome, and he was nursing a drink that was less a cocktail and more an environmental hazard.
He had thought Bluestreak would be better than this.
The talk was flowing easily around him, once again because of Tailgate. He chatted easily about everything, bumping Swerve’s shoulder every now and then to get his opinion of something.
It was actually comfortable. Cyclonus didn’t pry, Chromedome was passively pleasant, and there was no sign of Whirl or Atomizer or Brainstorm or any of the ones who tended to be more trouble than they were worth.
Swerve dared to relax. For a moment.
Until the door practically slammed open to admit a flame-colored speedster.
He should have known it was too good to last.
“Swerve! Hey!” Rodimus called, heading for their table. Swerve stiffened minutely, which somehow earned him a Tailgate-shaped limpet. “Good to see you back!” The captain stopped, looking at them in confusion. “What’s wrong? And why aren’t you manning the bar?”
Swerve suppressed a wince. He could feel Rewind’s exasperated sigh next to him.
“I’m… taking a break from bartending,” he replied. “Bluestreak can handle it.”
“He really can’t,” Rodimus groaned, dumping uninvited into a chair. “He always messes up my drink. Hey.” The captain turned those blue optics on Swerve, widening them and pouting slightly. It made him look adorable, but he had nothing on Tailgate. Swerve would be quite able to resist this one, thank you. “Do you think you could make me my drink today? Show him how it’s done?”
…well, that one he couldn’t really resist. Not when it was a request to show off his professional skill.
He prodded at his Tailgate-shaped limpet until the other minibot was back in his own chair. “Fine. I’ll show him. I make no guarantees he’ll get it, though.”
“Good! Great!” Rodimus beamed at him. “Right now?”
“Sure, why not.” He dropped to the floor and headed to his usual place behind the bar. “Your normal drink, right? Hi, Bluestreak.”
“Hi!” The other mech looked ridiculously happy to see him. “You’re back?”
Probably hoping he can get away from manning the bar. Swerve knew he was being petty, but he couldn’t stop himself. It seemed like everyone wanted to get back to the way things had been before and forget about everything. But Swerve didn’t want to settle for that anymore.
Huh. Rung would be really happy with him for that. So would Copy, for that matter.
“Not really. I’m just going to mix Rodimus’ drink, and you’re going to pay attention.” He waited until he had Bluestreak’s full focus, and then demonstrated the mixing slowly. Bluestreak seemed to be trying to take it in, at least. He watched Swerve’s hands closely.
Rodimus was staring at him, too. It was… somewhat disconcerting.
Drink finished, Swerve slid it across to him. “Here you go, captain. That should be right.”
Rodimus grinned at him and sipped at it. His optics dimmed. “Mmm, that is heavenly. Thank you, Swerve.” He plunked a swirly straw into the fluid. “So what are you up to these days?”
Swerve stared. He couldn’t help it. Rodimus never made small talk at him.
“Um.” He grasped for something to say. “Not much? Sometimes I watch movies? Or I hang out at the observation deck?”
“Movies, huh?” Rodimus smiled. “What kind?”
Swerve shrugged. “Whatever kind. Earth-made ones, mostly.”
“With Rewind’s film club?” Rodimus seemed eager, suddenly. “I’ve been to some of those gatherings before. It’s fun.”
“It is,” Swerve agreed. “Well, I’m going to go back to Rewind and Tailgate, they’re waiting for me. Enjoy your drink, captain.”
Swerve didn’t think he imagined the slight fall to Rodimus’ expression.
There are complications. Revelations. Discussions. And at the end of the day, tiny steps forward.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Slowly, Swerve adapted to his new life. He was comfortable enough, he realized, moving between Rung appointments and the occasional Ratchet checkups and the less occasional movie nights with Rewind and Tailgate. He’d even joined a few gatherings that weren’t just them, and though his first time face-to-face with Whirl in months had been one of the most memorable and terrifying experiences of his life, it hadn’t taken long before the ‘copter treated him as he always had. Swerve could live with that. And once Whirl had calmed down, the others had started relaxing more around him too. Drift, Skids and Bluestreak were the most obvious ones, with Rodimus and Brainstorm right behind. Rodimus kept cornering him whenever he was in the bar as well, but that was actually okay too – the captain always just wanted the one drink, and let him go back to his friends afterwards. Swerve kind of figured he was just trying to ease him back into bartending, one drink at the time.
All in all, things were good. Much better than he could remember them being since he’d boarded the ship.
Of course, the main reason wasn’t any of the mechs he now saw every day.
Copy: I’m really glad you’re doing so good, Wist. It… Well, it makes me happy too.
Wistful: Thanks! You know, you’ve been a massive help, Copy.
Wistful: I’m really glad you’re my friend.
Copy: Well, I’m really glad you’re still my friend even now that you’ve got all your real-world friends back.
Wistful: Of course! I’m not going to ditch you like that.
Wistful: Hey, how’s your own friend quest going?
Copy: It’s not, really. I just don’t know what to say to him, you know? I’ve talked to him a couple of times, but I never get around to saying what I want to say. And I can’t just go to his hab suite, that would be…
Wistful: Hmm. So you’ve mainly talked to him in public?
Copy: Yeah, there are always others around. And he’s always with his group, you know? I’m not part of that group, so it would be really weird for me to butt in.
Wistful: So, if you want to talk to him, you need to track him down when he’s not at his hab suite but not with his friends.
Wistful: Maybe on shift?
Copy: I think Ultra Magnus would have my plating. He doesn’t approve of me much.
Wistful: Does he approve of anybody at all?
Wistful: That’s a rhetorical question, don’t answer.
Wistful: But if the shift thing doesn’t work… Maybe you need to find out if there’s anywhere else he likes to be, anything else he likes to do. And then you can corner him there, when he’s less on edge.
Copy: That’s… really good advice. I can do that. I just have to think a bit.
Wistful: Let me know how it goes, okay? I want to help if I can.
Copy: You’re already helping, Wist. Thanks.
Wistful: No problem.
The observation deck was still home, in a way. Swerve had spent too many hours there to not be comfortable. He may have less need for it than he did, his rising marks on the Tailgate scale of happiness considered, but he still enjoyed being there. It still soothed him.
Rung had officially recommended that he go back on light duty. So far, he’d mainly spent his shifts with either the medics or the scientists, and that one memorable shift spent manning the security monitors. He’d yet to go back to full-time barkeeping.
His friends didn’t mind. They were happy enough that he was ‘back’.
That was a relief, too. Aside from Rodimus, still cornering him for that one drink, no one bothered him about not manning the bar.
It was… good. He felt good. Which was new and kind of unusual for him.
Sometimes, though, it got to be too much. Too many people. Too many things to do. He’d learned enough about himself through the entire experience to at last recognize his own need for a break. He’d also finally kicked the habit of feeling guilty when he did.
Now that he was on the mend, so to say, he’d also somehow gained an increased need for solitude. And somewhere along the way, ‘solitude’ had stopped meaning ‘loneliness’.
So now, when he was sitting in front of the large observation deck window, he was actually at peace.
It almost felt like one of those one-with-the-universe things Drift sometimes talked about.
… well, if those one-with-the-universe things came with the chirp of a datapad.
Not that Swerve minded. For all that they’d never met, Copy had somehow slotted himself into Swerve’s circle of friends. He cared about Copy as much as he did about Tailgate and Rewind.
Maybe more, even. Weird enough that it was.
Wistful: Hey, Copy! What’s up?
Copy: You’re going to be proud of me, that’s what! I think I’m finally going to manage to corner my would-be friend!
Copy hadn’t given up on tracking down that one elusive mech he wanted to befriend. Swerve couldn’t quite understand why – there had to be more than one mech on this ship that Copy could befriend without wanting to interface him first thing. Sure, some of them were attractive, but quite a lot of them were just plain, like him. He didn’t see why Copy couldn’t just pick another mech to befriend. That would have been easier.
Copy wouldn’t hear of it, though. He was dead set on the one mech, for some reason. Which meant that Swerve had long since fulfilled all the requirements Rung had set for them to meet, and Copy… hadn’t.
Swerve didn’t mind overmuch. Now that the chance of actually meeting Copy in person was within reach, he was more than half afraid that the other mech would be disappointed when he saw who the mech behind ‘Wistful’ was. The rational voice in his mind that had been growing stronger lately insisted that that was just his old insecurities talking, but Swerve had spent too long listening to his old insecurities to completely blow them off now.
Yeah, he was on the mend. But he was far from mended.
Wistful: Really? That’s great! How?
Copy: Remember you told me to check if he had other places he liked hanging out? Well, I suddenly remembered that he told me of his favorite hangout when I talked to him at the bar a while back. So I checked everywhere else, and he’s not anywhere you would expect him to be, so he has to be there, right?
Wistful: Seems like sound reasoning. Even Ultra Magnus would probably agree. So, what is this hangout? Where do you think he is?
Copy: On the observation deck!
Swerve’s spark dropped all the way down to his pedes.
Copy: So I’m heading there right now! I’m just around the corner, really. If he’s there, he’s not getting away from me this time!
Copy: And I mean that in the best way possible.
Copy: Wistful? Are you still there?
Swerve got up unsteadily. If Copy was coming now, he needed to get away. Rung hadn’t cleared them to meet yet.
Pit, he wasn’t ready to meet yet.
He all but ran out the door, not even bothering to subspace his datapad.
There was really only the one way out, and the corridor had never seemed so long. He didn’t dare check his datapad to see how far Copy had gotten, if he’d gotten close enough that Swerve couldn’t avoid him yet. He lowered his head, pistoned his legs, and hoped.
It lasted until he barreled round the corner and almost ran into Rodimus Prime.
“Swerve!” The captain stared at him in surprise. “What are you – were you on the observation deck?”
“Yes I was but I can’t talk now sorry something came up gotta run bye!” Swerve babbled, dodging the taller mech and speeding up again.
“Wait, Swerve! I was coming to see you! I was – hey, you dropped something!”
Swerve turned just enough to see Rodimus bend down to pick up…
… his datapad.
He’d dropped his datapad.
Rodimus stared from it to him in surprise. Then he gasped. “It’s you?”
Swerve turned to run again.
“No, Swerve, wait! Swerve! Wistful!”
That last word stopped Swerve in his tracks, and the dots suddenly connected in his head.
Of course Copy was Rodimus. Of course he was.
And now the mech was kneeling in front of him, this awestruck look on his face, his hands resting on Swerve’s upper arms.
“Primus,” Rodimus whispered. “It really is you, isn’t it? You’re Wistful. Primus.”
Swerve didn’t know what to say. He felt horribly self-conscious and sort of untethered, as if what he’d based his existence on lately, what he’d been sure was truth, was all suddenly turned on its head.
Rodimus leaned his forehead against Swerve’s. His smile was practically beatific. “Primus, it really is you,” he whispered. “I can’t believe it.” His hands tightened on Swerve's arms. “I know we weren’t supposed to meet yet. But I’m so, so glad we did.”
Swerve managed to shake off his stupor enough to engage his vocalizer. “You’re not disappointed it’s me?”
Rodimus pulled back and stared at him. “Disappointed? Pit, no. I was searching for you, weren’t I? I mean Swerve you, not Wistful you. I wanted to be your friend.” He grinned. “Primus, I can’t believe you’re the same mech. At the same time it’s really obvious, you know? Now that I know.”
“Copy…” Swerve said slowly, almost tasting the word. “Well, for what it’s worth, I can’t believe you’re him either. He’s so… And you’re so…” He gesticulated, taking in Rodimus’ frame.
“I’m good at acting like what I’m not,” Rodimus replied with a shrug. “As, I suspect, are you.” He stood, looking down at Swerve. “Want to come to the observation deck with me? We can talk?”
Swerve hesitated, then nodded. “Sure. Cat’s out of the bag anyway, right?”
Rodimus grinned. “That’s what they say.”
Swerve walked next to the bright-colored mech back to the observation deck. He still couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that Copy and Rodimus were one and the same.
But when Rodimus smiled down at him, he figured it could have been a lot worse.
“Hey, Rung.” Swerve smiled as he settled onto the therapist’s couch. “How’ve you been?”
“Fine, thank you. And that is supposed to be my question to you,” Rung replied wryly. “You seem happy, Swerve.”
“You know, I think I finally am.” Swerve fiddled with a loose seam in one of Rung’s cushions. “There’s… a lot of things just feel right lately.”
“Good!” Rung beamed at him. “Still going to movie nights with Rewind and Tailgate?”
“And Cyclonus, and Chromedome, and Whirl and Skids and Rodimus and Drift and whoever else shows up. It can get quite crowded.” He grinned. “You can come too, you know. I’m officially inviting you.”
“I will think about it.” Rung looked down at his datapad. “I see you’ve been taking more shifts with the engineering and science departments. How’s that working for you?”
“Well enough.” Swerve shrugged. “It’s nice to use my skills again. But honestly?” He leaned forward and winked. “I kind of miss the bar.”
“I am glad to hear that.” Rung looked at him like he knew every thought in Swerve’s mind. “I know the bar means a lot to you.”
“It does,” Swerve admitted. “Got a bit sullied there in the end, but I still dream of running a bar. Just… perhaps with a bit more recognition. I don’t want to be part of the fixtures anymore.” He looked up at Rung decisively. “I’m worth more than that.”
Rung smiled widely. “Oh, very good! I’m glad you’ve realized that.”
Swerve chuckled. “Yeah. Took me a while. But I finally got there.”
“I’m very proud of you.” Rung put one datapad down, picked up another. “Are you still chatting to Copy?”
“Well, yeah.” Swerve rubbed the back of his head, feeling a bit sheepish. “About that…” He sent off a ping on the comm ID he’d only just gotten, but that he’d already used more than any other he had access to.
Rung raised an eyebrow at him. “Yes?”
When there was a knock on the door, Swerve smiled. “That’s Rodimus. You should let him in.”
Rung frowned at him, but rose to open the door. Rodimus pranced inside, grinning widely. “Hey, Rung! Sorry to barge in like this, but Swerve and I figured we should tell you together, since we share the blame and all.” He dropped down on the couch next to Swerve.
“Blame?” Rung asked, both eyebrows climbing now.
“Yeah, see, we kinda figured out about each other. Rodimus being Copy, and me being Wistful.” Swerve glanced up at the taller mech next to him. It was still really weird that his friend, his self-conscious, feeling-like-a-failure best friend, was the vibrant, happy-go-lucky captain of the Lost Light. “We didn’t do it on purpose, though.”
“It’s a funny story, actually,” Rodimus said, and Swerve was grateful for the fact that Rung’s sharp gaze was now focused on someone other than himself. Though he doubted that the psychiatrist would find it a very funny story. “Swerve was actually the mech I was trying to corner for the friend-quest you set me on. And when I finally thought I’d find him I was so excited that I told Wistful, and then suddenly Swerve comes running down the hallway towards me. He tries to get past me, but he drops this datapad, right? And I pick it up, and it’s a Rung-space datapad.” He smiled. “And the rest, as they say, is history.”
Rung leaned back and looked from Rodimus to Swerve and back. He smiled gently. “I see. It’s earlier than I’d hoped, but not unwelcome. However, there is one thing.” He focused on Swerve. “I kept you two apart because you needed support aside from each other. Swerve, you’ve got that now. Do you feel like Rodimus is requiring too much of your attention now that you know who he is?”
“Aside from the fact that I’m still floored that Copy is actually Rodimus?” Swerve thought about it. “Nah, not really. We comm each other instead of chatting now, most of the time, but it’s not more than it was.”
“I do try not to lean on Swerve too much,” Rodimus interjected. Swerve looked at his friend to find those blue optics focused on him, a slight smile on Rodimus’ face. “I don’t want to drive him away by being too needy.”
“I don’t think you could do that,” Swerve objected, but Rung cut him off.
“That’s good, Rodimus. What do you do to avoid leaning on Swerve too much?”
“Well, I – I mean, that is – um.” Rodimus sighed and pulled a leg onto the seat, folding his arms around it. “I’ve been talking to Drift. Trying to, at least. More like we used to before. And – and I’ve been talking to Mags.”
“Ultra Magnus?” Swerve knew he was staring, but he couldn’t help himself. “I thought he was scary and to be avoided as much as possible.”
“I used to think so.” Rodimus idly drew circles on his own knee. “But turns out he’s… It’s this whole Minimus thing. Turns out he knows a thing or two about feeling inadequate. Plus, he’s honest. He’ll tell me how I screw up, but he’ll tell me when I do good as well.” He smiled a bit, still looking down at his own leg. “He’s becoming a friend too.” The smile widened into a grin, and he winked at Rung. “One who, even if I would consider ‘facing him, wouldn’t ‘face me on the first or twelfth or even the thirtieth date, I don’t think.”
“You’re dating him now?” Swerve squeaked.
Rodimus stared at him, then laughed. Loudly. Swerve felt a little insulted.
“Primus, no,” Rodimus chortled. “I don’t think I want to date anyone for a good long while. It’s just… It’s nice to have a friend.” He leaned against Swerve’s shoulder briefly. “Aside from you.”
Swerve bumped him back. “Thanks. And I’m relieved you’re not dating Ultra Magnus.”
“Why? You interested in him?” Rodimus winked. “He is kinda hot. If you like the strong, solid, rule-abiding types with a remarkably fragile center.”
“You’re incorrigible,” Swerve sputtered. “I don’t date.”
“You may want to consider it, Swerve,” Rung broke in. He raised his hands at Swerve’s incredulous stare. “I don’t mean you should date Ultra Magnus – well, unless you both want to. And I don’t mean that you should do so now. But dating… might be good for you.”
“I think I have to work a lot more on my self-esteem before I’m ready for anything like that,” Swerve replied truthfully. “As it is right now, I’d be setting myself up for failure.”
“We’ll work on that,” Rodimus promised. “We’re getting there.”
Swerve had his doubts. But this wasn’t the time or place – or company – to voice the thought that even if Swerve felt ready to date, it was highly unlikely that anyone he knew of would be willing to date him.
He’d tell Copy– he’d tell Rodimus later. At some point. If he had to.
Rung steepled his fingers and looked at them. “All things considered,” he said finally, “I’ll be happy to cut your sessions back, Swerve. I think we can manage once every other week for now. Rodimus, we’ll stick to our schedule for a while longer. Does that sound agreeable?”
“Sure thing!” Swerve grinned. It was almost his customary wide smile, but he actually meant this one. “Does that mean we’re done for today?”
“We can be,” Rung allowed. He smiled fleetingly. “Do you have plans?”
“Movie night at Rewind’s. This Earth flick called The Princess Bride. Tailgate is all excited over it.” He looked up at Rodimus. “Want to come?”
“Definitely.” The captain shot one of his dazzling smiles at Rung. “See ya, doc.”
“Have a nice evening, both of you,” Rung replied. He pulled one of his models down from its shelf. “Close the door behind you, will you?”
“Sure thing.” Swerve smiled up at his best friend. “Let’s go.”
He didn’t turn to see if Rodimus followed. That was Copy back there. Swerve knew he’d be following.
Large, imploring optics met Swerve’s own. “Please? Please make my drink?”
He reached out and booped Rodimus’ nasal ridge. “You’ve had one already.”
“I know,” the captain lamented sadly. “But alas, it’s gone. I find myself without my liquid comfort. Besides,” and now he looked his normal cheeky self again, “I asked nicely.”
Swerve giggled. “You did. You do know that that didn’t work yesterday. And it won’t work today.”
“Fair enough.” Rodimus smiled easily and sat down next to him. “Worth a try anyway.”
“Do you ever give up?” Rewind asked, and Swerve got the distinct feeling there was a smirk hidden somewhere behind that mask and visor.
“Never, mech,” Rodimus replied, shooting his finger guns at him. “I never give up. I keep on going no matter what.”
“It’s part of his charm,” Drift said, sitting down across the table from Swerve and winking at Rodimus. “He’s unsinkable.”
Swerve met Rodimus’ optics again. The captain’s smile changed into something shy and fond. “Oh, I don’t know. Swerve helped pull me up from pretty deep down.”
“Submarine level,” Swerve agreed. He smiled back. “But we’re better now.”
“I’m glad,” Tailgate piped up from the safety of Cyclonus’ lap. “It sucked, seeing you so sad all the time. It’s good to see you almost like your old self again.”
“Just better,” Rewind added.
“Just better,” Swerve agreed. “Thanks. You helped, you know.”
Rewind shrugged minutely. “Good. It’s what we’re here for.”
Tailgate canted his head, then leaned forward. “So…. Since we helped, and you feel better now, can you please make my drink? Please?”
Swerve groaned, and it turned into a giggle. “Scrap, mech, if we could bottle you we’d have a seriously formidable weapon on our hands. Oh, all right.” He stood. “Since I’m going back there… Anyone else want something? Yes, Roddy, I’ll make you another one too.”
Going behind the bar felt better than he’d expected it would. He set to mixing the drinks with a practiced hand, only looking up now and again.
One of those glances found Rung, sitting alone at a back table, this time with a properly mixed drink in his hand. He raised it towards Swerve in a small salute and smiled.
Swerve smiled back and put the swirly straw in Tailgate’s drink.
Things weren’t perfect yet. But the way things were going, he might just get there.
Tray full of drinks, he headed back to his friends, handing out familiar orders with a wide smile and a happy flutter in his spark.
Yeah. He might just get there.
So that's it. Much like in real life, it takes an age to fight one's way back from the brink. But the beginning of the journey is important.
I've put a lot of my own experience with depression in this. I know I'm not the only one who's gone through this, and that more than one of you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. It's been kind of therapeutic for me to write this, and I hope you got something out of reading it :)
Happy Christmas, people. Take care of yourselves.