He had read something, in a book somewhere, or seen it in a movie, maybe, he couldn’t really remember specifically, but he probably didn’t need to.
He’d heard it somewhere. Some human guy had decided to kill himself, and he was going to jump off a bridge. Which was, in itself, a reminder of how unrelatably fragile humans were, but, in any case, this guy decided to throw himself off a bridge, and he walked there. And he said to himself that if anyone, any one single person, smiled at him, he would take it as a sign he should live, and he would go home.
No one smiled.
The ceiling didn’t, either, no matter how long he stared at it in the dimness of his habsuite, no matter how much he willed it show him even an inch of kindness, since no one else seemed interested in doing so.
The ceiling did not smile. Neither did Swerve.
Swerve was sick. He had no delusions about that. It had started a day or two ago, a burn in his shoulder, in his head, in his spark, in his fuel lines, under his plating like worms, burrowing through soft tissue and protoform and leaving nothing but reminders too cynical to dwell on in their wake.
More literally, he’d puked on the floor about two hours ago and passed out in it. He felt slimy, and sort of unpleasant, and as much as he wanted to get up, he couldn’t. His joints had locked up in the liquid- quick-onset rust, something he knew he was susceptible to. Sensitive skin, and all.
He commed Ratchet, but immediately he was hung up on. Clearly, the Chief Medical Officer thought this was another social call. He tried again, with similar results. After a moment, he ran a light systems check, and found his holoform generator functional- his own image shimmered into existence before him, the same, but for the lightest blue glow along the seam lines. Wow, he was better at this than he thought. He’d never projected a holoform of his own, real, Cybertronian body before, but it seemed simple enough- not like he didn’t have his own blueprints on quickfile.
He fell into his holoform and opened the door, stepped out. He closed it gently, and headed down to medbay. He wasn’t in any immediate danger- other than what he’d puked up, his tanks were full, and it was just a little infection, probably. Not a big deal, not really. He just needed someone to come pick him up and carry him down to medbay for a quick tune up.
His hand stopped on the door.
The long walk down to medbay was unfamiliar- he knew Ratchet didn’t like him, resented him for his bar and his hobbies when he could be doing something ‘useful.’ He couldn’t blame him. That didn’t mean he liked it, or he didn’t think Ratchet was being a git about it. But he didn’t blame him.
The walk felt strange. Distant. It occurred to him that the literal walk may be analogous to the figurative- but where was his smile? Where was his bridge? Luna 1? His bar? Here?
The door opened and he jerked his hand back like he’d been burned. Whirl strolled a few steps out before he noticed the minibot and stopped, jerkily, cocking his head in what may have been a smile at him, if he’d had a mouth.
“The frag you lookin’ at, shortstop? How come the bar ain’t open? I’m thirsty,” He pushed past him and down the corridor and Swerve thought that no, that probably would not have been a smile.
Maybe he needed something a little more general for a ship of Cybertronians. He stared at the slightly parted doors of the medbay and shut them gently, quietly, before turning back down the corridor toward his bar.
Maybe just “if someone asks me if I’m okay before my body can’t keep itself alive anymore, I’ll say no, please carry it down to medbay.”
What a sorry fucking bridge. That wasn’t going on any postcards.
Whirl was camped out in front of the door whining and fiddling with some kind of alien game pad covered in weld-scars and patches, and he made some kind of vague complaint about timeliness when Swerve keyed open the door lock.
Swerve rolled his optics, “Well, maybe, if somebody settled his fraggin’ tab in a timely manner, the bartender would actually feel bad about not filling him with poison on a proper schedule. Not that you’re the only one who doesn’t seem too interested in paying his dues now mind you, you wouldn’t believe the bill the old ‘winders managed to stack up 'fore he got himself killed and all, but I mean, can I really bill alternate-universe-mass-murder-survivor Rewind for that? Probably, actually, not that I’ve seen him in here or anythi-”
“Shut up, Swerve,” Whirl groaned, stomping to his usual stool and not even trying to be subtle about the vulgarity he was carving into the bottom of it with one claw. Swerve shut up.
Swerve slid behind the bar easily, and noted the strange fluidity of the motion- holo avatars were composed of hard light, and while he gave the illusion of force and weight, he didn’t actually have any. It felt like what he imagined ice skating would feel like- something else he’d seen on the tapes. He liked the idea of it, but he was also pretty confident his weight would keep him from really appreciating ice.
Even the first glass he picked up, stashed beneath the bar, felt strange in his not-hand, but not unpleasant. He set it on the bartop and tipped in a bottle of nightmare fuel. Whirl grabbed it hungrily as soon as he’d finished pouring and Swerve somehow resisted a cutting remark, distracted.
It didn’t take long for the bar to fill up. It never did. And for once, he didn’t even dip into his own stores- seeing as he didn’t have a body to drink anything with. It was giving him a weird, bubbly feeling, knowing he had such a dramatic secret, and no one could tell, and which each passing moment he found himself less and less distracted by the unpleasant ache of his real body.
The hours rolled by easily, and finally, he hit the moment that, normally, he would pack up, kick everyone out, and take his off shift. Only he wasn’t tired. He hadn’t gotten up off the floor, so- of course he wasn’t. Did he even need to recharge? How long could he go without recharging?
More importantly, how long could he go without anyone noticing?
The bar stayed open. No one asked why.
A month and a half.
It had taken him a month and a half to not only complete every tv show, movie, book, podcast, video clip, and blog post ever created by human culture, but complete them all twice. He also hadn’t closed the bar in a solid, unbroken two weeks and no one seemed to have noticed or cared to mention he hadn’t left the room in that time at all.
Skids sidled up to the bar and swung into a barstool with an overdramatic grunt, “Heyyy there, buddy! You wanna lend me a hand on the getting drunk front?”
Swerve snorted and fished under the bar for a bottle of slow-processed high-grade engex, peach flavoured, something he knew Skids liked, and tipped it into an insultingly fancy glass and slid it to his patron. Skids laughed at it and reached under the bar blindly, plucking a paper umbrella like an expert. Swerve rolled his optics, but Skids just sipped through a curly straw, already tipsy.
The credits rolled on the tv above the bar, and Swerve pulled the remote out of his subspace, switching back to the menu and opening another series. Jazzy sax music filtered out of the low-grade speakers, quietly, beneath the volume of the bar. He hit play on Bojack Horseman, season one, for the third time.
He could feel his optical visor softening, in a tired sort of way. This show always made him sad. He wasn’t sure why he was watching it again when it clearly made him more unhappy than he already was.
“Hey,” Skids said, and Swerve to look at him. Skids looked sober, and worried, one hand floating awkwardly between pointing and the visibly restrained urge to touch, “Are you crying?”
Swerve blinked, then reached up one servo to touch his visor. A part of him knew it wasn’t real, but it felt real, moist optical lubricant on his fingertips. He stared at it, confused.
“Swerve,” Skids asked, concerned, “Are you okay?”
Swerve felt his hologram flicker, his real body jerk with the jarring realization of what Skids had asked. Swerve looked up at him, and maybe it was because Skids was clearly tipsy he didn’t seem to have noticed.
Two months. Two months it had taken someone to ask “are you okay?” And still no one had noticed that no, he clearly was not. Swerve looked down at his moist fingers, then wiped his visor on the back of his fist.
Two months he had been walking to his bridge, two months, desperate to turn back, and yet, and yet, and yet.
He stared at his hands, the seam lines of metal joints like long wire support cables of the Golden Gate Bridge, smaller and inverted, the asphalt plating of his palm, the cold black ocean of optical lubricant fading away as he ceased their generation subconsciously.
Skids had smiled too late. The walk to the bridge was over. This was the precipice, toepedes dangling over open air, wind behind him and sea below him. He was too late. But maybe it had always been too late. “You were born broken, Bojack,” echoed somewhere in the back of his mind, and that made him smile, but he didn’t know why. Swerve looked up.
“This show always makes me sad. It’s all sax music and depressed furry slag. I mean, who even pitched this scrap? Who approved it?? Don’t get me wrong, it’s great and all, but,” he grinned, toweling off his hand and grabbing the bottle of Skids’ favourite, refilling his glass, “who wants to watch a show about such a pathetic, whiny loser who won’t let anybody help him, huh?”
Skids laughed, “Ha! What a shitty main character. I like the peanut butter guy more, anyway, he’s nicer, and a lot less obnoxious.”
“Exactly!” Swerve laughed, hollow.
A bell rang over the harbour in the dim grey fog of the setting sun, and Swerve was alone on the edge of a bridge he had built for himself.