Knock Out stomped into the communal washroom hoping that the force of his footsteps and the fury in his field would ensure everyone left him the frag alone. He wasn’t in a mood for conversation, for pointed looks from the other self-righteous Autobots, or for another lecture from Ultra Magnus on proper Autobot behavior.
He wanted to be left alone, to clean himself in peace, and grumble if he felt like it, because this aggravation wasn’t going away anytime soon. And frag Ratchet to the Pit and back. Rusted old scrapheap of a medic! Just who did he think he was?
Knock Out muttered subvocally and trudged to the nearest open rack. He slammed a hand on the switch to activate it and ducked under the resulting spray. Peripherally, he noticed that the room was empty, save for one other rack in use. He glanced behind him, just to see who it was – another newly returned Autobot with groping fingers, perhaps?
No, it was just Bumblebee. The yellow scout either hadn’t noticed Knock Out’s arrival or hadn’t cared, because he wasn’t even looking in Knock Out’s direction. Well good. Knock Out didn’t want company anyway.
He snatched one of the communal scrubbers off the hook and glared at the awful state of it. What he wouldn’t give for a private rack and private supplies instead of making do with these… these substandard tools. And standard, bulk solvent?
Knock Out shuddered. It ruined his paint, but he wasn’t afforded the luxury of a purchasing account with the humans yet. Not until he was more trustworthy or some slag. He couldn’t buy his better cleanser on his own until he had those Earth funds.
Frag them all.
“You scrub any harder and you’ll do more harm than good.”
Knock Out whipped a glare over his shoulder. “Yes, I’m aware,” he said, his tone tight as he stared down Bumblebee.
The scout blinked, his optics cycling in and out. “So do I dare offer help or are you gonna bite my head off?” He held up his hands and backed up a step, eying the door.
Knock Out clenched his jaw, debating. Of all the Autobots, Bumblebee was the most tolerable and the closest to what Knock Out could consider a friend. They’d shared meals a few times and carried on pleasant conversation. He was, at least, polite, and didn’t act like Knock Out was going to stab him in the back at any moment or give him a terrible disease.
Wordlessly, Knock Out handed over the scrubber.
Bumblebee grinned and accepted it. “Wanna talk about it?” he asked as he twirled a finger, gesturing for Knock Out to turn back toward the spray.
He did, tires twitching at the idea of baring his back to an Autobot. But if he couldn’t trust Bumblebee, what was the point of defecting?
“… Your Chief Medic is an aft well past his expiration date,” Knock Out gritted out.
The scrubber swept against his back with perfect pressure, scouring away any dirt that might be lingering in the nooks and crannies of Knock Out’s armor.
Bumblebee chuckled. “Chewed you out, huh?”
“He refuses to let me do anything but the most tedious tasks,” Knock Out grumbled and snatched up a meshcloth, swiping it over his arms and chestplate. There was far too much grime here for his comfort.
Ratchet had him cleaning and disinfecting scavenged parts for hours. And then, after that, he’d had to sweep and mop the floor! Dust the cabinets! Alphabetize the outdated textbooks! And, worst of all, empty the waste tanks.
“I’m a fully qualified medic, you know!” Knock Out declared, as if Bumblebee didn’t know. He waved his mesh cloth, spattering soap everywhere. “I am capable of more than just cleaning and organizing.”
“Yeah...” Bumblebee started focusing on Knock Out’s tires, though he was careful with them, probably because he knew how sensitive they could be. “Ratchet’s always been a bit of a control-freak, as Raf would say.”
Knock Out snorted. “Humans.”
“That attitude probably doesn’t help.”
Knock Out spun around and snatched the scrubber from Bumblebee’s hand. “What about his attitude?” he snapped. “How am I the only one at fault here?”
Again, Bumblebee lifted his hands. “I’m just saying, I think you both need to be more patient with each other.”
Knock Out harrumphed and spun back to the spray. He dropped both scrubber and cloth in the bins and switched to rinse. He didn’t feel clean, but it was better than nothing. He couldn’t take care of himself like he used to here. Cybertron was too much of a mess. The grit got everywhere and rust cloaked everything and every once in a while, it rained acid. Honestly, how was a decent mech supposed to keep himself in shape?
“Look, Doc’s hurting, and he’s taking it out on you,” Bumblebee said, because apparently he wasn’t getting Knock Out’s signals to go away. “No, it’s not fair, but just so you know, that’s where he’s coming from.”
Knock Out twisted under the spray, trying to get every bit of suds down the drain. “If he’s in pain, he should do the right thing and repair himself.”
Bumblebee leaned against the wall, out of reach of the mist. “Can’t fix a broken spark,” he said as he folded his arms. “And not even Ratchet can bring back the dead.”
Knock Out snapped off the rinse and stood there dripping, giving Bumblebee a confused look. “We’ve all lost someone. It was war. He needs to get over it.” He snagged a towel and started wiping down his armor.
“This isn’t the kind of loss you get over.” Bumblebee sighed and scrubbed at the floor with the tip of his foot. He watched the water swirl down the drain. “Optimus and Ratchet were close, you know? I’m pretty sure Ratchet loved him.”
Knock Out stared. “They were together?”
“No. Nothing like that. Doesn’t mean Ratch loved him any less though.” Bumblebee dragged a hand down his face, and the first taste of his field was thick with grief. “In another life, maybe they could’ve actually had something, who knows?” He shrugged, but it wasn’t as dismissive as Knock Out suspected he wanted it to be.
Knock Out frowned. He focused on drying his armor, disliking the way his spark shrank and contracted in his chassis. It wasn’t an excuse, and it didn’t forgive Ratchet his ill manner but…
He did remember the despair in Ratchet’s voice. He remembered how Ratchet had argued the longest, how his gaze had turned hollow the moment he realized what Optimus intended to do. Ratchet had been something of a ghost for a time after Optimus’ sacrifice, even temporarily returning to Earth.
When he came back, he was twice as rude as usual, snappish, and short of temper. Everything was a problem, no one could do anything right, least of all Knock Out, and he spent more time on shift than off. Once, Knock Out swore he caught a whiff of high grade as Ratchet passed, but he’d dismissed it.
Surely Ratchet knew better than to participate in patient care while inebriated. Surely.
“So yeah, I’m not saying you should just take the abuse, but maybe if you understand where he’s coming from, you can figure out how to change his mind.”
Knock Out sighed and bent at the waist to dry the last drips from his legs. “Something tells me Ratchet is not one to change his mind lightly. And I am tired of begging for a chance to prove myself.”
“Then stop begging.”
Knock Out straightened and pivoted to face Bumblebee. “What?”
The scout grinned, sly and rakish. “Better to ask forgiveness then wait for permission. Especially when it comes to Ratchet.”
Knock Out found himself grinning, too. “Bumblebee.” He planted his hands on his hips. “Are you telling me to disobey?”
“No, no. Of course not.” Bumblebee leaned forward, his doors canting forward with him, in a cute display of eagerness. “I wouldn’t do that at all. But if I were, it would be because I’m inviting you to play hookey for the rest of the day and come have some fun.”
“Hookey?” Knock Out repeated. He shook his head. “You spent too much time with the humans.” He tossed the towel into the laundry basket. “But what the Pit. Ratchet can’t get any madder at me than he already is. What did you have in mind?”
Bumblebee pushed off the wall and grinned. “Oh, you know. The usual.” He shadowboxed in place, bouncing back and forth on his feet. “Get our rations then go for a drive. A race if you’re up to it. Maybe even check out Illumination.”
“That new bar outside the reach of the command center?” Knock Out rubbed his chin and tilted his head. “Isn’t that being run by the Vehicons?”
“Last I heard. Doesn’t mean it won’t be fun. Who knows? It’s worth a shot, right?” Bumblebee bounced to a stop and folded his arms, his optics cycling wide and bright. He tilted his head, his expression unexpectedly charming. “So. You interested?”
Knock Out debated for all of a few seconds. Honestly, the alternatives were to either return to Ratchet, the medbay, and his list of cleaning responsibilities. Or play ‘hookey’ as Bumblebee said, by hiding out in his room and sulking as he consumed unhealthy amounts of rust sticks while watching imported movies.
“Let’s go,” Knock Out said, and spun toward the door, flicking his upper tires to get the last of the moisture from them. “I deserve to have some fun.”
Bumblebee jogged to catch up with him, and together, they left the washroom. “That’s the spirit.” He fell in step with Knock Out, matching his pace, which was admittedly a bit rapid, betraying his lingering agitation. “Everything else going okay though? Aside from Ratchet, I mean.”
Knock Out shrugged. “As good as it gets, I suppose.”
They passed a handful of Autobots passing in the other direction. Actual Autobots, not former Decepticons or Neutrals. Their badges had the distinct red that identified them as “true” Autobots or whatever. Not like the newly enacted who had a paler, more pink shade to their badges.
Knock Out didn’t wear a badge. It clashed horribly with his paint scheme. He didn’t care how much Ultra Magnus glared at him about it.
The passing Autobots stared. Knock Out ignored them, though the intensity of their stare made his armor itch. He still wasn’t used to the way everyone watched him. He’d never minded the attention when it was appreciation for a sweet alt-mode or a fine paint job. But this kind of attention made him feel dirty.
He didn’t recognize them, but Knock Out knew, they recognized him. There weren’t many defectors running around the city. And as the only place close to habitable on Cybertron, here was where everyone gathered.
Knock Out swallowed a sigh. “And maybe someday, I won’t get glared at just for walking down the hallway like any other mech.”
“No one’s giving you a hard time are they?” Bumblebee asked.
Knock Out just gave him a look, arching an orbital ridge. Really?
Bumblebee chuckled and waved a hand. “Aside from Ratchet, I mean.”
They turned a corner, heading toward the general mess, the scent of different energon blends floating down the hall. They didn’t have a huge variety, what with energon still being so scarce and all, but they made do with what they could. Additives and flavorings helped a lot.
“If you’re asking if someone is bullying me, I wouldn’t know how to answer that.” Knock Out frowned. Oh, sure, there was the usual.
Graffiti occasionally on his door or the wall outside his room. His schedule being changed without informing him otherwise. Anonymous messages sent to his public contact accounts and mails. Once, someone had even rigged a bucket of tacky orange paint outside his room, so that it drenched him the moment he left for his shift.
He’d had to wash it off first, which took ages and left him scraping his undercoat raw in several places. He’d been late to his shift, which had of course prompted a Ratchet lecture, and Ratchet didn’t have time for explanations or excuses.
Other than that, no. There was a distinct lack of direct attacks and violent reactions to him. Nothing went beyond a sneer or a muttered comment or a glare.
Ironically, it wasn’t much different than living with the Decepticons. Though there were times their form of bullying was a lot more… violent.
“Ultra Magnus will listen,” Bumblebee said, and was that concern Knock Out detected in his voice? For a former Decepticon? “He’s strict, but he’s fair. If someone is harassing you, he’d like to know.”
Knock Out shook his head. “It’s nothing I can’t handle.” And Primus forbid he go running to their interim-probably-permanent security officer like a weakling. If he couldn’t handle a little teasing, he’d have never survived in the Decepticons.
Bumblebee frowned. “The point is that you shouldn’t have to.”
“Clearly, you’ve never spent any time in a Decepticon base,” Knock Out muttered as they turned into the mess, and his comment was swallowed up by the noise and bustle of a packed dining hall.
Seriously, every mech not on duty right now had to be in here. Knock Out hadn’t even realized this many had returned to the planet. They were all Autobot in some shape or form, as every Decepticon had been scooped up and summarily imprisoned as a precautionary measure. To the point most Decepticons didn’t dare land.
Unless they were willing to defect, of course. Knock Out supposed he were lucky. He defected before the Autobots started requiring the humiliating ceremonies where former ‘Cons had to publicly denounce Megatron, the Decepticons, and anything else the current Autobot leadership decided was necessary. They had to cast off their brands, either with paint thinner or tossing the physical brand into a smelter.
No wonder so few were willing to defect. If the Autobots were trying to win wayward Cybertronians to their side, they were certainly going about it the wrong way.
Knock Out had caught a few transmissions, warnings to other ‘Cons, telling them to go elsewhere. There were stirrings of resentment, anger. Another war was brewing out there in the starry black, if the Autobots didn’t get their judgmental afts in gear and start realizing the planet wasn’t theirs alone to keep. There wasn’t anywhere else for the Decepticons to go.
Eventually, they’d come back here. En masse, no doubt. Megatron might be gone, but his legacy lived. There would be another.
A few near the door noticed Knock Out. He was treated to the Autobot Trademark Sneer before they returned to their conversation with one another.
For a moment, Knock Out hesitated. But then Bumblebee brushed his arm as he stepped up beside Knock Out, as if offering comfort and solidarity.
“Come on,” he said, gently taking Knock Out’s elbow. “I see a spot in the back. We can grab that table.”
“You sure you don’t mind being seen with me?” Knock Out asked, and sincerely hoped his tone was more snide than pitying. The last thing he needed was Bumblebee only spending time with him out of some idea of charity.
Bumblebee snorted. “I know my own worth. Everyone else can go frag themselves if they want to make a big deal about it.”
The latter he said quite loudly, almost pointedly, and more than a few Autobots hurriedly looked away, ducking their heads, like Bumblebee had chastised them directly. It was kind of nice, Knock Out had to admit. He didn’t need or want a champion, but it never hurt to have someone on his side either.
“Really?” Knock Out smirked. Down, but not out. That was his motto. “That doesn’t sound like a very Optimus Prime thing to say.”
Bumblebee barked a laugh. “Mm. Probably not,” he agreed. “But there was a lot more to Optimus then he realized. If he were here today, he’d probably be appalled by a lot of things we’re doing.”
They arrived at the table, and Knock Out took the seat tucked into the corner, all the better to see a problem and avoid a potential knife in the back. Maybe it wouldn’t happen, but Knock Out hadn’t survived by being reckless.
“Get comfy.” Bumblebee patted the table with another trademark grin. “I’ll get us a drink.”
He was gone before Knock Out could protest, weaving into a crowd that parted ways to welcome him. Knock Out watched him go, not failing to notice that faces were much friendlier to him without his former Decepticon shadow.
Not that Bumblebee seemed perfectly comfortable at the attention. He kept waving off invitations, holding up a hand and shaking his head. Someone patted him on the shoulder, and he smoothly stepped out from under the touch.
Knock Out knew Bumblebee was considered something of a hero to the Autobots at large. Frag, all of the Bots who’d been there for that final battle were revered in some shape or form. They’d practically turned Optimus Prime into the second coming of Primus! It wouldn’t be long now before the statues would start going up, with numerous of Optimus’ more famous speeches etched into plaques at their bases.
Knock Out pulled out his datapad for something else to look at. He ignored the alert in the corner, informing him he still needed to review the Autobot Charter and take the exam. He’d been ignoring that particular requirement for months now. The damned thing was a thousand pages long.
In fine print.
Knock Out snorted and swept the screen to his sketching app. It had been ages since he’d drawn something, ages still since he had anything worth displaying. But war didn’t make time for pleasantries or creativity. All of his previous works had been destroyed when Crystal City fell.
That was when he’d seen the writing on the wall. When the Decepticons attacked and the Autobots had been helpless to it. He’d known then which side he’d have to join if he wanted to survive. He’d learned what it would, what would be necessary, but survival… that had always been key.
There was nothing he wouldn’t do to survive.
Bumblebee returned, a cube in each hand, and dropped into the booth beside Knock Out, forcing Knock Out to slide over a bit to make room. “We’ve got windfarm-filtered today,” the scout said as he slid the cube over. “Hope you don’t mind a few bugs.”
Knock Out grimaced and peered into his cube. “Please tell me you’re joking.”
“I am.” Bumblebee laughed and leaned forward, cupping his hands around the cube. “No insects – or Insecticons – were harmed in the making of this energon.”
Knock Out shuddered. “Don’t remind me of those awful beasts.” He’d had quite enough of Insecticons, thank you very much. They’d always skulked around the Nemesis, and he swore half the time they were stalking him as if they longed to crunch on his struts.
“You don’t have to worry about them. Last I heard, they were still trapped on Earth’s moon with Airachnid, and she’s not capable of interstellar flight.” Bumblebee grinned a very beguiling grin.
Knock Out snorted. “Who says I’m worried?” He arched an orbital ridge and sipped at his cube, which was barely palatable, but better than nothing. Work needed to be done on that synethetic energon post-haste. Their other options weren’t appealing, and they could only mine so much from Earth and other seeded locations.
Of course, it would help if Megatron hadn’t gone off the deep end and destroyed so much of it…
“No one.” Bumblebee winked playfully and tipped his cube back, drinking deeply of it. His doors fluttered as he did so.
If he noticed the way other mechs stared at them, he didn’t act like it. Maybe he was used to the staring, given how Bumblebee was something of a legend among the Autobots. Even before he helped win the war. Rumors of the way he’d stood up to Megatron, at the cost of his vocalizer no less, were always running rampant.
There was no doubt Bumblebee was as brave as they come. Foolish, too. He completely acted against his own self-interest. How could he expect to survive that way? How had he survived?
Then again, Knock Out knew there was a time Bumblebee did not. Where only a fall into the Omega Lock matter had saved his spark.
Yet, he still treated Knock Out to a smile. Kindly. With respect. Given how much the Decepticons had brought him harm, how could he do it?
“Why are you being so nice to me?” Knock Out asked, or blurted rather. His attempt to stay calm and disconnected swirled right down the drain like a clump of grass once stuck in his rims.
And it wasn’t just today either. This wasn’t the first time Bumblebee had invited Knock Out somewhere, or escorted him. This wouldn’t be their first shared meal or friendly conversation.
This wouldn’t be the first time Knock Out had looked at him and wondered ‘what if’?”
Bumblebee cycled his optics. “What?”
“I’m not stupid.” Knock Out frowned and rested his elbows on the table, leaning forward. “Most other people act like I’ve got the cybonic plague. But you don’t. Why?”
“Oh.” Bumblebee shrugged. “It’s what Optimus would’ve done.”
Knock Out refused to allow himself to be disappointed. He didn’t know what else he expected. Of course Bumblebee worshiped Optimus like everyone else around here.
“Ah, so I’m your good deed for now.” Knock Out rolled his optics and sat back, snatching up the energon.
“My very own charity case.” Bumblebee grinned, but there was an edge to it, like he was teasing. Blue optics sparkled in Knock Out’s direction.
Knock Out snorted. He hid behind his cube.
“Or,” Bumblebee continued, and he started fiddling with his own cube, fingers spinning it around and around the table. “Maybe even a friend, if you want one.”
“And here I was thinking we were already,” Knock Out drawled, praying his tone was dismissive, even as his spark gave an odd flutter in his chassis. Had he actually hoped Bumblebee considered him more...?
The cube stopped with a thump and Bumblebee brought it to his lips. “Well, didn’t want to assume.” He tossed his head and the cube back, finishing it in one good gulp. “Would you rather I wasn’t nice?”
Knock Out snorted again. “No, thanks. I get enough of that as it is.” He sipped on his cube and glanced away, almost immediately catching a glare focused his direction.
Was it because he dared to exist? Because he consumed their energon? Because he betrayed the Decepticons or used to be one? Or maybe, just maybe, it was because he was sharing a table with one of the Autobot’s heroes and that just wouldn’t do.
Knock Out almost sent a coarse gesture the mech’s direction, but decided against it at the last moment. With his luck, he’d start some kind of mess hall riot and be blamed for it entirely. Plus, thrown energon and candies and furniture would absolutely ruin his paint job.
A black blur waved in front of his face. Knock Out cycled his optics and looked at Bumblebee again, shaking his head.
“There you are.” Bumblebee chuckled as Knock Out sipped the last of his cube and set the empty container on the table.
“Here I am,” Knock Out agreed. “Unfortunately.”
“Am I such bad company?”
“Not at all. I just dread the thought of going back to the medbay right now.” Knock Out tried and failed to conceal a scowl. He wasn’t in the habit of changing his mind again, but sometimes, Ratchet made things difficult.
Bumblebee leaned into his field of vision. “Then don’t.” His doors waggled. “I was serious when I said let’s go do something fun.”
“Won’t that violate my parole?”
“Parole?” Bumblebee’s orbital ridges lifted. He slid out of the seat and bounced on his heels. “Come on. No one really takes that seriously. Besides, what kind of trouble can you get into if you’re with me?”
“Quite a lot, I’m sure,” Knock Out drawled. He slid out of the booth on the other side, though with less bounce in his step. “I may be persona non grata around here, as they say, but I still get the gossip.”
“Oh? Do they talk about how handsome and charming I am?” Bumblebee’s doors waggled as he moved closer, nudging Knock Out with his elbow. “Or maybe they’re in awe of my speed. I know I can beat you.”
Knock Out reared back, looking down his nose at Bumblebee, though they were of a height. “Oh, that I highly doubt.”
Knock Out couldn’t ignore a challenge like that. The confidence in Bumblebee’s field was begging to be knocked down several pegs.
“Let’s go,” he said, and spun toward the exit, pushing through the crowd, or maybe it parted for him. Either way, getting out was a lot easier than getting in. “We’ll see who’s faster.”
Bumblebee jogged to catch up, chuckling at Knock Out as he did. “What’re the stakes?”
“You presented the challenge. It’s up to you to offer the stakes,” Knock Out informed him.
“Fair enough.” Bumblebee tapped his chin. “Fine. Loser buys the first round at Illumination.”
Knock Out arched an orbital ridge. “First round?”
“We’re supposed to be having fun, remember?” Bumblebee waggled his orbital ridges which made him look ridiculous, frankly, but somehow, it amused Knock Out anyway.
Knock Out’s tires twitched. “Alright. Loser buys the first round.” He poked Bumblebee in the middle of his chestplate. “Hope you’re ready to shell out the creds.”
It didn’t turn out as well as Knock Out could have hoped.
Oh, he gave it his all. He put pedal to the metal and his engine roared and his tires spun across the ground so fast he could have sworn he were flying rather than on solid ground.
But Bumblebee had spent a lot more time out on patrols than Knock Out, and he knew the landscape a dozen times better. He knew how to avoid the potholes and pitfalls and he was far less studious about his paint.
Knock Out didn’t lose entirely.
But he wasn’t the one currently waggling his aft and pumping his fists in the air in complete victory either. Three laps out of five and Bumblebee had left Knock Out in the dust. He must have gotten some kind of modification because his specs certainly didn’t match the speeds he’d displayed.
Or maybe that dip in the Omega Lock material had done more than just bring him back.
Either way, Knock Out tried not to sulk. “It’s unseemly to brag,” he said, failing in his endeavor to be unbothered by his loss.
“Says you.” Bumblebee snorted and clasped his hands behind his back, sauntering closer. “And I believe you owe us a drink.”
“Do you have to look so smug about it?” Despite himself, Knock Out was grinning. He’d had fun and sometimes, he forgot what that felt like.
It had felt so freeing, too. Just driving. Racing. Speeding across the ground. He was not caged, he’s as free as a reformed Decepticon could be, but Knock Out’s actions were always under constant scrutiny. He’d never admit aloud that he felt uneasy on his own at times. Last thing he wanted to do was wander into the wilds for a quick drive. Alone. Without any backup.
He could take care of himself. But there were a lot more Autobots than there were mechs who cared whether Knock Out lived or died. So he’d missed this simple pleasure, of the wind over his armor, and the road beneath his tires, and the roaring-purr of an engine pushed to the limits and more.
“This is not smug.” Bumblebee pointed at his own face and shook his head. “This is pride! And success!”
“It’s smug. You’re smug.” Knock Out palmed Bumblebee’s face and gave him a playful shove away. “Besides, you get out a lot more than I do. It was hardly a fair race. You just wait, next time you’ll be eating my grit.”
Bumblebee laughed and bounced back. “It’s a date then,” he said, without a moment’s hesitation. He brushed dirt from Knock Out’s shoulder, and for some odd reason, that moment of contact sent a wave of warmth up Knock Out’s spinal strut. “But first, I’m thirsty.”
Knock Out swallowed over a lump in his intake. “Thirsty,” he echoed, and tried for a disdainful look. “You spend far too much time on Earth.”
“I’ll take you with me next time. At least then you can’t blame the state of the roads for why you lost to me.” Bumblebee winked, and another jolt of something went straight to Knock Out’s spark. “Besides, if you actually talked to some humans, you might actually like them.”
“I doubt it.” He still remembered their squishy, sweaty bodies inside his trunk, and how they’d sniped at each other.
Knock Out shuddered. No, thank you. Humans smelled and excreted and they talked far too much. He preferred the company of other Cybertronians, thank you very much.
Bumblebee chuckled. “There’s still time to change your mind.” He patted Knock Out on the shoulder. “Come on. Let’s get that drink.”
He felt enraptured by Bumblebee’s pace, and Knock Out couldn’t put a finger on why. He felt swept along, unable to do more than grumble as they slipped into altmode and headed back into the city proper. Or, the outskirts at least.
Illumination had been cobbled together from the remains of several destroyed buildings rather than waste new materials needed for more important ventures. As a result, the entire outside of it was mismatched in terms of both color and composition. The neon sign had been snatched from Earth and flickered in and out as it buzzed noisily. Music floated from the open windows, along with the distinct undertone of chatter.
Two Vehicons stood at the double-doors in the front, probably bouncers of some kind. They’d lost their Decepticon badges, and had repainted themselves, but there was no mistaking that distinct frame-build.
Knock Out couldn’t blame them. Megatron had used the cold-constructed mechs like cannon fodder, treating them as little more than drones. They looked alike because they were sparked that way, made to be interchangeable and Megatron treated them as such.
So maybe they weren’t the brightest bulbs in the bunch, but they were individuals. Knock Out supposed in this post-war world, they now had a chance to show it off.
Still, he wrinkled his nasal structure. “Are they playing human music?” he asked as words in English finally caught up his audials.
“Yep.” Bumblebee’s doors did that adorable wiggle-twitch thing again. He bounced on his heels, optics brighter.
Knock Out steeled himself for what was quite possibly going to be a terrible time. The music was almost obnoxious, and the smell of too many alt-modes venting in too small of an area struck him in the face before they even stepped through the doors.
“Hey, Silverspot, Runner.” Bumblebee greeted the two Vehicons at the door with a fistbump. Their visors flashed at him – a shade Knock Out had never seen before. “Sounds like some good beats tonight.”
“Got a new DJ,” the pale Vehicon on the left said.
“The crowds have been bigger and better than ever,” the one with racing stripes on the right added, their voices almost identical.
“Sweet.” Bumblebee grinned and reached back, grabbing Knock Out’s hand firmly. “He’s with me, okay?”
And just like that, Knock Out was the sole recipient of their attention, and he wondered just then, if he’d ever repaired these two mechs. He’d only known the Vehicons by their serial numbers – Megatron had wanted it that way. Knock Out knew the Vehicons had more personal names to each other, but he’d never bothered to learn them.
It hadn’t been important.
Knock Out spent most of his time bearing the scrutiny of his fellow Autobots. He’d never once thought about the opinions of those who had been Decepticons beside him. After all, they were dead now. Starscream, Soundwave, Shockwave, Breakdown, Dreadwing, Airachnid – all of them gone, in one way or another. Who was there left to face?
No one but Megatron’s nameless, faceless, interchangeable army of not-drones.
“If you say so, Bee,” the pale Vehicon – Silverspot, Knock Out assumed – said, but his voice projected disapproval and distaste.
“Only because it’s you,” the striped one purred and tilted his head toward the door. “You better keep an optic on him, though. We don’t want no trouble.”
“Aw, Runner, now would I do anything dangerous?” Bumblebee tightened his fingers around Knock Out’s and gave him a tug toward the door. “Later!”
Knock Out didn’t make optic contact as he passed. Not because he was afraid, but because he didn’t know what he’d find. Contempt, perhaps. He was no better than Megatron, treating them as disposable, but it hadn’t fit with his credo either. He had to look after himself first.
He had to survive.
The doors slammed shut behind them, and a wash of heat attacked immediately after. Knock Out’s vents seized, his optics spiraling in and out, struggling to focus. It was dim in here, well dim in terms of overhead lighting. But there were flashing lights, spinning lights, streams of bright color spilling all over a central dance floor. Bars along the walls were backlit by lamps, and the glow of dozens of biolights added to the dim.
The floor was a bit tacky beneath his feet. The place was packed with mechs of all shapes and sizes – soldiers, workers, a few civilians who had managed to come back, some of the newsparks who were ready for the world. There were Vehicons and Eradicons, too, recognizable by their frames, but not their colors.
Primus, it was loud.
Bumblebee squeezed his hand and leaned in close. “Drink first!” he hollered to be heard over the music. “Then we dance.”
“I don’t remember agreeing to a dance,” Knock Out said.
Bumblebee ignored him. Or maybe Knock Out hadn’t been loud enough. Either way, he found himself being towed through the crowd, Bumblebee easily clearing a path for them. More than a few mechs called out greetings to him, clapping him on the shoulder, acting all too familiar. Just like those guards.
Knock Out only recognized one face in the crowd-- Smokescreen, near the furthest wall, shaking his aft without paying heed to the rhythm of the music. He seemed to be having fun, so Knock Out supposed that was all that mattered.
Bumblebee got them to the nearest bar and Knock Out up next to him, squeezing them both into a space between two clusters of mechs. He signaled for the bartender and flashed Knock Out a grin.
“Time to pay up, doc,” he said.
Knock Out rolled his optics. “Brag a little louder. I don’t think the rest of the bar can hear you yet.”
Bumblebee laughed. “Just pick your poison.”
Knock Out glanced at the menu scratched on a board above the wall. This establishment seemed to serve a little bit of everything, from regular energon to high grade to engexes. It even had an approximation of Iacon wine.
It also only accepted Earth dollars.
Of all the humiliations…
Bumblebee pressed against his side, no doubt accidentally since the crowd was so thick that it soaked up any inch of available space. “What’ll it be?”
Knock Out gnawed on his bottom lip. “I changed my mind,” he said and shook his head. He turned, trying to spot an escape through the crowd. “I should go back to Ratchet after all.”
“Hey.” Bumblebee’s hand grabbed his again, like he had no trouble touching Knock Out when everyone else considered him a plague. “What’s wrong?” All teasing was gone from his voice now.
Knock Out growled at his own behavior. Of course an Autobot couldn’t let things lie. No, he had to be concerned and interested, and he couldn’t just let Knock Out go sulk in a corner, brooding about the unfairness of the universe.
No, Bumblebee was too persistent for that. He wouldn’t shrug and ignore things if Knock Out walked away.
Knock Out sighed a vent. “They only take Earth funds.”
Bumblebee cycled his optics and looked confused. “Yeah, most of the new places around here do. Because we don’t have a cred system yet.”
Earth funds were for luxuries and treats. Right now, Cybertron didn’t need creds because every resident was provided the necessary energon, coolant, and shelter without having to “earn it” so to speak. Earth funds, on the other hand, had to be gained.
Which didn’t mean Knock Out wasn’t earning any. He was quite sure he had a bit of a stockpile. The problem was that he didn’t have access to it at the moment.
“That’s all well and good, but since I still don’t have access to mine, I can’t fill my half of the bet, now can I?” Knock Out demanded. He gave a token tug to his arm. “Now, if you’re done humiliating me for the day, I’d like to go.”
“Is that all?” Bumblebee rolled his optics and pulled Knock Out back toward the bar. “Come on then. It’ll be my treat this time, and as soon as they unlock your accounts, you can treat me twice over. Sound fair?”
Knock Out stared at him. “Why are you being so generous?”
“Because I want to.” Bumblebee gave his arm a little squeeze and then let him go, as though leaving it up to Knock Out’s decision. “Because I want to have a drink and a dance with you, and I don’t want you to leave because high command are taking their sweet time accepting what I already know.”
Knock Out tilted his head. “And that would be…?”
“That you’re one of us,” Bumblebee said as though it were the easiest thing in the world. He then turned to address the bartender – an Eradicon whose narrow-visored gaze was cutting between them. “Hey, Razorwire. Can me and my buddy here get a shot of Toxic Turnover each?”
“Sure thing, Bee.” Razorwire glanced at Knock Out, the light behind his visor flashing briefly, before he turned to fill their order.
Bumblebee flashed a grin over his shoulder, his door tilting down so he could see Knock Out over it. “See? Easy as cake.”
Knock Out sighed and closed the distance between them, the press of the crowd making him collide with Bumblebee’s side. “Come here often, do you?” he drawled, disliking the sudden run of jealousy through his spark.
Bumblebee laughed. “I’m not just a stuffy old Autobot. I know how to have fun.” He rolled his shoulders in a playful shrug. “I’m surprised you haven’t.”
“Places like this usually aren’t my first choice,” Knock Out replied. Not that he had the time to waste on having fun. Ratchet usually kept him busy with the scut work, and Ultra Magnus had him studying to pass his Autobot Code exam.
Knock Out shrugged. He didn’t have a good answer.
Luckily, Razorwire returned with two shot-sized glasses of something glowing a dangerous, bright green. He set it down in front of Bumblebee, and though he didn’t have a mouth, something in his manner suggested a smirk.
“You two enjoy,” he said.
“Thanks, Razor.” Bumblebee picked up the shots and turned back toward Knock Out, offering him one. “Well? You want it? Or is my charity too much for you?”
Knock Out snorted and accepted the drink. “I suppose that depends on what it’s going to cost me.” He gave the drink a tentative sniff, surprised to find it had a sharp, sweet aroma.
“Hmm.” Bumblebee’s finger rubbed along the tiny cube’s outer edge. “How about a dance then?” He lifted his orbital ridges.
Knock Out laughed before he could stop himself. “It’s cheap enough I suppose. A dance it is.”
Bumblebee lifted his cube and gestured to Knock Out with it. “Bottoms up.” He winked.
Knock Out tapped his cube against Bumblebee’s and together, they tossed the small shot of Toxic Turnover back in one fell swoop. It went down smooth, sweet where it barely splashed over Knock Out’s glossa, and sent a wave of warmth through his tanks.
“Good stuff.” Bumblebee smacked his lips, grabbed the empty cube from Knock Out, and set both on the counter behind him, upside down. He clapped his hands together. “Ready for that dance?”
Knock Out glanced behind him, at the seething crowd, frames twisting and churning to a quick, throbbing beat, words indistinguishable above the bass. He cringed imagining how many mechs would brush against him, scrape his paint, leave him scuffed.
But a deal was a deal…
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” he said.
Bumblebee laughed, suddenly right next to Knock Out, pressed up against him, hand sliding down to tangle their fingers together. “Good. Then let’s go.”
He didn’t wait for an answer. Had a bad habit of not waiting, that one did. Before Knock Out could second guess himself, Bumblebee’s hand tightened around his, and they plunged into the crowd, Bumblebee paving the way. Knock Out stumbled and fought to catch up, drafted along in Bumblebee’s wake, as the scout seemed to be heading straight for the middle of the dance floor.
Only then did Bumblebee let Knock Out go and spin to face him. His doors did a quick up and down motion before he started to move in time to the beat, displaying an amount of grace that was not at all surprising. Knock Out had seen him on the battlefield.
“Don’t just stand there!” Bumblebee shouted, because how else were they going to be heard over the music and the crowd and the multitude of revving engines. “Move!”
Knock Out rolled his optics, but move he did. He listened to the beat for a moment, let it soak in through the floor, rattle through his struts and his hydraulics, thud in time with his spark. He danced, letting the harsh throb of the beat chase away everything else, the anger he felt at Ratchet, at himself, at high command. The irritation he still carried everywhere he went. The indecision.
He offered it all to the music – crass and human in nature though it was – and purged it from his field. Bumblebee was right. He was here to have fun, a concept Knock Out had almost forgotten.
Surviving was not enough. One had to live. And living meant having fun.
Knock Out grinned and threw himself into the music, twisting and writhing, occasionally bumping into other dancers, but it was all right. Everyone out here was bumping into everyone else, and no one seemed bothered by it.
Bumblebee moved closer to him, until they were dancing together, and Knock Out didn’t mind one bit. Dancing with a partner was always better, and my but Bumblebee could move. Could shake his hips, add in some fancy footwork, and Knock Out swore Bumblebee was flirting with him. Casual brushes of his fingertips, the brief press of their frames together – hot and vibrating.
The music shifted, turning less frantic and bouncy, to something energetic and sultry, something that called for a closer encounter.
Knock Out grinned and let himself indulge. When Bumblebee spun closer, Knock Out twisted into his path, let their frames collide. He caught Bumblebee’s gaze and smirked, as black hands found his hips and gave them a tug.
Armor connected, heat to heat, and Knock Out felt the rush of hot vents over his frame. He rolled his hips, grinding against Bumblebee, their frames moving in perfect sync.
Knock Out licked his lips as his engine purred. He dipped, letting Bumblebee’s hands on his hips carry his weight as he leaned back, intending to tease. It worked, if the flash of heat in Bumblebee’s optics was any indication.
It worked on someone else, too.
Thick fingers wrapped around one of Knock Out’s outflung wrists. A strong tug and he stumbled backward, out of Bumblebee’s grip and against a much taller, much broader frame. A whiff of road grit, asphalt, and heavy-duty exhaust identified a construction mech of some kind, and Knock Out shuddered at the mental image of what tacky residue must have streaked up his backside.
“A pretty thing like you needs a bigger dance partner,” someone growled down at him, venting hot and greasy, his massive hand pawing down Knock Out’s front.
Of all the--
Knock Out whipped around, but didn’t get very far with his wrist caught by that claw the mech called a hand. If he’d had his electro prod, this conversation would go very differently.
“Hands off!” he snarled and tried to wrench his wrist free without snapping it in the process.
A black and yellow blur slipped between them, and with a single blow to the construction mech’s inner elbow, Knock Out’s hand was freed from confinement. The mech bellowed and pinned Bumblebee with a glare, and Bumblebee revved his engine.
“The mech said ‘hands off’,” Bumblebee growled, his doors high and rigid, threatening if Knock Out had to guess. “He’s with me.”
Pale yellow optics flicked from Bumblebee to Knock Out and back again. He clutched at his elbow, arm dangling limply. One blow and Bumblebee had either numbed or shattered a hydraulic joint. Impressive.
“Fine,” the brute spat. “Don’t want used goods anyway.” He spun around and stomped into the crowd, which cleared a path for him as though eager to get the negative vibes out of the fun.
“Aft,” Bumblebee muttered, just loud enough for Knock Out to catch before he turned to face Knock Out once more. “You’re not hurt are you?”
Knock Out held up the hand big bruiser had grabbed. “Dented, but nothing I can’t fix myself,” he said as Bumblebee gently took his arm and inspected his wrist as though he were the medic here and not the other way around. “Thanks for the save, hero.”
Bumblebee flashed him a grin. “What? Did you actually want to dance with him?” He threw a thumb over his shoulder, half-turning. “Because I’m sure he didn’t get far. I can call him back.”
Knock Out snorted. “You know that’s not what I meant.” He looked at Bumblebee’s hold on his arm, surprisingly gentle for all the violence he’d implied just moments before. “Besides, you weren’t wrong. Tonight I am yours.”
“Really?” Bumblebee’s hand slid up Knock Out’s arm until it curved around his frame, tugging him close. “Then I guess that makes me the luckiest mech in here,” he purred as their chassis bumped.
Knock Out laughed as Bumblebee’s other hand slid around his waist, not that Knock Out minded. “You’ve had too much to drink.”
“Pfft. My tolerance is better than that. One drink doesn’t even get me buzzed.” He waggled his orbital ridges and spun Knock Out to the beat. “I think it’s just your company that’s got me high.”
Knock Out’s mouth worked for several seconds before he decided laughter was the best response again. “You’re ridiculous.”
“Mm hmm.” Bumblebee leaned in closer, his lips curved in a devilish grin that made Knock Out’s internals squirm. “I don’t need high grade to see how gorgeous you are and that’s the truth.”
Heat stole into Knock Out’s face. He blinked, not expecting the direct compliment, and sort of chuckled, trying to laugh it away. Surely, Bumblebee didn’t mean it. He was just that friendly. Look, he even befriended Decepticons.
“Well, that’s because it’s fairly obvious,” Knock Out drawled, falling back on old habits – overconfidence and conceit.
“That, too.” Bumblebee swayed to the beat, hips twisting, encouraging Knock Out to do the same as the distance between them steadily decreased. “So how long do I get you for then?”
Knock Out made a show of sliding his arms over Bumblebee’s shoulders. He toyed with the mount of one of Bumblebee’s doors. “Hm. Two more drinks and a song, I’d say. Can’t offer myself cheap after all.”
Bumblebee chuckled. “Deal.”
His hands squeezed on Knock Out’s hips before he pulled back from the half-embrace. Knock Out swallowed down the strange jolt of disappointment. But then Bumblebee grabbed his hand, as he seemed so fond of doing, and started towing Knock Out off the dance floor, back to the bar where a gap in the crowd allowed for two empty stools.
Bumblebee wriggled between them and slapped a hand on the bar as if trying to get Razorwire’s attention, while he tugged Knock Out to join him. They squeezed between the stools, their legs tangled, frames pressed tight, and heat made a quick flush through Knock Out’s frame. He didn’t know if the vibrations he felt were from the rumbles of Bumblebee’s engine, or the rapid pulse of the music.
“Another round, Razor!” Bumblebee called as his doors twitched up and down, up and down, not unlike a Seeker’s wings, point of fact.
“You know a lot of Vehicons,” Knock Out commented as he leaned against the bar next to Bumblebee, head tilted so he could keep one optic on the room behind them. He didn’t want to get grabbed like that again.
Bumblebee shrugged. “They’re good bots.”
“Is it because it’s what Optimus would’ve told you to do?” Knock Out asked. Partly because he was curious, and partly because he still wondered if Bumblebee only spent time with him because he thought he was doing the right thing.
Bumblebee arched an orbital ridge. “I don’t mindlessly obey, you know. I can make my own decisions. And that includes spending time with a whole group of mechs who got the slag end of life for reasons that aren’t their fault.”
Razor appeared then, sliding two Toxic Turnovers across the bar to them. “I made it extra spicy,” he said with a flutter of his optical band.
If Knock Out didn’t know better, he’d say the Eradicon was flirtingwith Bumblebee. Who, by the way, only snorted and scooped up the two shots.
“If I fall out again, don’t expect me to pay the towing fee,” he retorted and returned his attention to Knock Out, offering up the shot. “For you.”
Knock Out’s gaze flicked from the shot to Razorwire and back again. Extra spicy? What the frag did that mean?
“It’s not poisoned.” Bumblebee chuckled. “He only meant he added an extra shot of engex for me. Since he knows my tolerance is higher than most.” His free hand patted his abdomen as he gave his engine a rev. “High performance vehicle, you know.” He winked.
Knock Out snorted and accepted the shot. “Oh, I know. Since I am one.” He swirled the concoction around the cube, the bright green shade almost nauseating.
“Yes, you are.” Bumblebee grinned and lifted his cube. “Hmm. To a pair of sexy speedsters on the dance floor.”
Knock Out raised his cube anyway. “That no one else can touch,” he added and knocked his cube against Bumblebee’s. “Cheers.”
The second Toxic Turnover went down even easier, like liquid candy, flowing thick and sweet over his glossa. Knock Out couldn’t even taste the extra shot of engex in it, but he definitely felt the buzzy burn as it hit his tanks and sent a rev of energy through his frame. He shivered, tires twitching, heat flushing to his face.
Together, he and Bumblebee set the empty cube upside-down on the bar with a near-synchronized tap.
“Another one, my mechs?” Razorwire asked.
Knock Out startled. He hadn’t realized Razorwire never left. Instead, the Eradicon had lingered and watched them, and now there was an odd cant to the way he held himself.
“I do believe he promised me one more,” Bumblebee said as he playfully flicked one of Knock Out’s tires, setting it into a lazy spin.
The tiny action sent a much larger thrill through Knock Out’s lines. “That I did,” Knock Out replied, sweeping his glossa over his lips. “But just one.”
Bumblebee leaned in close, until Knock Out could taste the Toxic Turnovers on his ex-vents. “Hit your tolerance level, doctor?” he asked. A flick of his finger over the inner rim of Knock Out’s tire set it spinning again.
Knock Out locked optics with Bumblebee, leaning in close enough their lips could brush if only he’d close the distance. “Not a chance,” he purred and drew back before temptation could lead him down a dangerous path.
Bumblebee chuckled. “Good.”
Two more Toxic Turnovers plunked down on the bar counter and nudged their way. Razorwire didn’t stay to chat this time though. Instead, he vanished toward another portion of the bar, where a rowdy trio of mechs were loudly demanding drafts of the cheapest whatever was on tap.
Hmph. Some people had no sense of taste.
Knock Out scooped up his own shot before Bumblebee could hand it to him. It seemed even darker, more turbulent this time. Perhaps it had yet another boost of engex in it.
“Hmm.” Bumblebee held up the cube and admired it in the flashing multicolored lights. “This time I think we should toast to… building bridges.” He grinned as he met Knock Out’s gaze, something pointed in it.
Knock Out worked his intake, spark pounding faster in his chassis. “And making it easier to cross them,” he agreed.
Bumblebee’s optics spiraled wider, the blue brightening in hue. He didn’t look away, not even as they blindly tapped their cubes together and sucked down the shots as quick as possible. Sweet and syrupy, heat in his tank, and Knock Out shivered, the world a swirl of color and noise around him.
“Come on.” Bumblebee discarded the cube behind him, his hand clasping warm around Knock Out’s. “I get one more dance.”
They returned to the dance floor, to the fast beat throbbing all around them, up through the floor and into Knock Out’s frame. He felt warm and relaxed, like he hadn’t in a long time, and even better when Bumblebee didn’t let him go.
They danced together, closer and closer, frames brushing, armor coming into electric contact. It felt like taunt and tease. And Knock Out didn’t fail to notice that others watched them, but it didn’t feel like the judgment of the refueling station. It was appreciation and jealousy.
That’s right, Knock Out wanted to say, smug and proud, he’s here with me.
As if hearing his thoughts, Bumblebee pulled Knock Out in close, spinning him so they were back to front, Bumblebee notching himself between Knock Out’s tires. He nuzzled the back of Knock Out’s neck, his arms sliding loose around Knock Out’s waist.
A thrill ran up Knock Out’s spinal strut.
“This okay?” Bumblebee asked, his ex-vents like teasing puffs over Knock Out’s cables.
Knock Out’s spark pulsed, one that seemed to echo much, much lower. To his poor, neglected interface array, which hadn’t seen any action but his own two hands since his defection.
“If it wasn’t, I’d have said so.” Knock Out punctuated his point with a grind backward, rubbing his aft into the cradle of Bumblebee’s hips.
Bumblebee chuckled, his hands skimming over Knock Out’s abdomen. “You know, you can tell me ‘no’, right?”
“What?” That was kind of a weird segue.
“You don’t have to agree if you’re not interested,” Bumblebee said as his hands returned to the relatively safe area of Knock Out’s hips.
Knock Out’s engine growled. “Of course I know that!” Just what was Bumblebee trying to imply? That Knock Out thought he was some kind of prisoner without a choice?
“So you are interested?” Bumblebee purred, right against his audial, otherwise no way would Knock Out have heard it.
He shivered and slid his hands down Bumblebee’s arms, still grinding against Bumblebee to the beat of the music. “Obviously,” Knock Out drawled and pointedly rubbed his aft against the curve of Bumblebee’s groin. Was it just his imagination or was there definitely a tangible heat?
“Good,” Bumblebee murmured with a hot ex-vent. His hands skimmed back over Knock Out’s abdomen. “Because right now, we’re just two Autobots having a good time.”
Knock Out grinned at the confirmation. He squirmed in Bumblebee’s arms, managing to turn around so that they were face to face, and Bumblebee’s hands were on his hips. Though he nearly smacked Bumblebee with a tire. Ah, the perils of protruding kibble.
“A great time, you mean,” he corrected.
Bumblebee chuckled. “Yeah.” He took one of Knock Out’s hands, tangling their fingers together, as he moved them into a few dance steps Knock Out could easily follow. “Though it’d be a shame if it was only tonight.”
“Wouldn’t it?” Knock Out smirked and moved in step with Bumblebee. He was a fast learner. “I guess we’ll have to see if you earn another.”
Bumblebee’s free hand slid back around his waist, thumb sweeping over a transformation seam and making Knock Out shiver. “Awwww,” he said. “And here I thought I was already putting my best foot forward.”
Bumblebee spun, twirling Knock Out with him, and at the last moment, caught his balance and tilted Knock Out into a dip, all to the rhythm of the music. One foot braced against the floor, the other found its way to sliding alongside Bumblebee’s stabilizing foot. Their faces were inches apart, and Knock Out had a moment where he wanted to be bold.
Bold like he hadn’t been since before his defection.
Knock Out swallowed over a lump in his intake. His vents fluttered. He curled a single hand around the back of Bumblebee’s head, and closed the distance between them, bringing their lips together for an electric kiss. He meant it to be brief, not wanting to pressure, but Bumblebee made a small sound, his fingers pressing in on Knock Out’s back plating, before he pressed onward, and returned the kiss.
His glossa slipped out, tasting the seam of Knock Out’s lips, and he opened to Bumblebee, their glossa meeting in a hot, slick tangle. Knock Out clutched Bumblebee’s shoulder, his knees wobbling. A sharp pant burst from his vents, and his engine kicked into a higher gear. He felt the vibration of Bumblebee’s engine matching his.
And then it was over, far too quickly. Bumblebee drew back, pulling Knock Out completely upright, but he didn’t pull away. His hands lingered on Knock Out’s hips, sweeping up and down, their frames in delicious near-contact. His optics were bright, so very blue, and his glossa ran over his lips like he was savoring their kiss.
“Should I apologize?” Knock Out asked because sometimes, returning a kiss didn’t mean it was wanted in the first place.
“Only for not doing that sooner,” Bumblebee replied with a grin. He gestured out of the crowd with a tilt of his head. “Want to get out of here?”
Knock Out brushed his fingertips over the side of Bumblebee’s intake. “You read my mind.”
It felt natural, this time, for Bumblebee’s hand to slide into his, and for Bumblebee to lead him off the dance floor. Just a small point of contact, and Knock Out’s spark did a foolish triple-pulse. He stared at Bumblebee’s back, at the little upward twitches of his doors – happiness, if Knock Out had to guess.
They didn’t stop by the bar on the way out. Knock Out could only assume Bumblebee had some kind of tab here. They didn’t exit by the front door, either, but by a side door that functioned as a one-way exit.
There was another Eradicon here, probably a door guard, to make sure no one tried to sneak in through the side. His optical band brightened when he saw Bumblebee.
“Hey, Buzzy,” the bright-pink Eradicon with horrible taste in paint said. “Leaving so soon?”
Bumblebee chuckled. “Can you blame me?” He held up his hand, his fingers still interlaced with Knock Out’s as though showing him off.
The Eradicon tilted to the side, looking Knock Out up and down. “Well, you’ve got good taste at least. Have fun, you two.”
“Thanks. I’ll try.” Bumblebee winked and tucked Knock Out against his side.
“Which of us was he even talking to?” Knock Out muttered as he looked over his shoulder. The pink Eradicon was still watching them, though now he leaned against the wall with his arms crossed.
“Probably me. Baron’s got a weird sense of humor.”
Knock Out snorted. Did Bumblebee know every Eradicon and Vehicon in the city by their newly chosen names? Did he only spend time with former Cons? What was his deal?
Out of the club, it was easier to walk side by side. Bumblebee still held his hand; Knock Out had no interest in retrieving it. This felt more like a date now, and a part of him wondered if it hadn’t been Bumblebee’s intention all along. Beyond the press of so many mechs, Knock Out could finally pick out Bumblebee’s field, and the miasma of emotions buried inside of it.
“So,” he started, to break the quiet, not uncomfortable, but definitely taut with the expectation of something. “Do you just have a kink for ex-cons or what?”
Bumblebee’s head turned toward him, and he cycled his optics in and out before he snickered. “I know it seems that way, but no.” He grinned and bumped shoulders with Knock Out. “Got a kink for you though.”
Heat flooded Knock Out’s cheeks, and he couldn’t even blame the engex. He’d long since burned it off. “I’m flattered,” he drawled, trying to grasp onto his composure with increasingly shaky fingers.
“Is that your way of letting me down gently?” Bumblebee asked, his tone light, but the heaviness in his field betrayed his disappointment. There was longing, too. Like he’d just let something he always wanted slip through his fingers.
The rest of the puzzle clicked into place.
Knock Out drew to a halt, tugging on Bumblebee’s hand in the process. The scout turned to look at him, expression blank, but his doors canted upward. Expectant.
He met Bumblebee’s gaze, and tried to search for answers in it, but Bumblebee was too good at keeping secrets. Knock Out would have to ask.
Bumblebee’s weight shifted. “Long enough.”
Knock Out looked at their joined hands, fingers knitted together. Bumblebee had been holding him one way or another all night. He should have realized sooner. Primus, he was an idiot.
“You could’ve said something.”
“Point of fact… not as easy as it sounds.” Bumblebee sighed and scratched at his nose. “You’re not exactly…. Uh….”
“--friendly?” Knock Out supplied. Though he didn’t think that was it. He could be friendly when he wanted!
“I was going with approachable.” Bumblebee chuckled, and his thumb swept over the side of Knock Out’s palm. “But yeah. So you can tell me no, and I swear I’ll walk away. I know how to take rejection gracefully.”
Knock Out’s glossa swept over his lips. “Really?” he asked. “Because that’s not the answer I had in mind.”
Bumblebee’s gaze jerked toward him, optics cycling wide and bright. “Oh?”
Knock Out cycled a vent, steadying himself, and stepped closer. Into Bumblebee’s field and his personal space, until their frames were close enough to sense one another’s heat without touching.
“My hab is only a block from here.” Knock Out squeezed Bumblebee’s hand, praying to whoever would listen he wasn’t making a huge mistake. Loneliness clawed so hard around his spark, a slim trail of hope was all he had left. “Interested?”
Bumblebee’s field flushed with heat, and sent tingles racing across Knock Out’s receptors. “Oh, I’m interested. But--”
“I’m not even tipsy, you’re not my commanding officer, and I know I don’t owe you anything,” Knock Out interrupted, able to guess Bumblebee’s hesitation. He was an Autobot after all.
Knock Out moved closer, until their chestplates brushed, and he dragged his fingers over Bumblebee’s headlights. “Though maybe you owe me a thing or two.”
Bumblebee’s free hand closed around his wrist and pulled it toward his mouth. “Or three,” he murmured as he brushed his lips over the inside of Knock Out’s wrist, holding Knock Out’s gaze the whole time. “Or four.”
Knock Out shivered and worked his intake. They were all but in the middle of the sidewalk. Anyone passing by could see them. Drivers in the street were getting an optic-full. Yes, it was chaste, but Knock Out was a known former Con and Bumblebee was a famous hero. Anonymity didn’t exist for either of them.
“However many you want to owe me,” Knock Out said, and surprised himself with the hitch in his vents. “But in the privacy of my hab.”
Bumblebee chuckled and skimmed his lips over Knock Out’s fingertips. “Exhibition not one of your kinks?”
“Not this kind.” He squeezed Bumblebee’s hand, dropping his voice into a lower register. “I’ll be happy to introduce you to some others though.”
“I’ll hold you to that promise,” Bumblebee purred. “Lead the way, doc.”
No doubt Bumblebee knew the way to Knock Out’s hab. But it was nice of him to pretend otherwise. Or maybe it was yet another way for him to be certain that Knock Out wanted this, wanted him. Either way, Knock Out appreciated the consideration.
His hab wasn’t much to brag about, but at least he could be comforted in knowing no one on Cybertron right now lived in luxury. Habitable buildings were hard to come by, so they squeezed as many mechs into each one as they possibly could. Knock Out had a small loft, composed of a tiny, one-stall washrack, a closet with a berth in it, and a larger main room for any other need he might have.
Like the couch, for instance.
The moment Knock Out let the field-reader identify him and give him access to his own hab, Knock Out intended to head right for the couch. But Bumblebee’s arms wrapped around him, and he found himself pressed against the wall instead, the door closing shut behind them and sealing them away from prying optics.
“You can tell me to stop,” Bumblebee said as he nipped at Knock Out’s jaw, his engine revving, and his frame venting heat in hot waves against Knock Out’s chassis.
Knock Out growled and cupped Bumblebee’s head, pulling the scout toward him for a kiss. A serious one. He tasted Bumblebee’s lips with his glossa before he plunged it into Bumblebee’s mouth, catching hints of their earlier drinks. His own engine revved as Bumblebee pressed harder against him, his tires squishing against the wall, another wave of heat running through his lines.
Courtesy was one thing. Delay was quite another. Knock Out had spent far too long alone. He wanted Bumblebee beneath him now.
He pushed forward, making Bumblebee stumble back. Their lips parted, and Knock Out slid off the wall, toward the main room. Bumblebee followed, like predator stalking prey, his optics darkening from arousal, the heat of it tangible in his field.
A thrill ran through Knock Out’s lines. “Right now, all I want to say is yes,” he said as he backed further and further into the main room, Bumblebee following every step of the way. “Maybe even repeatedly, if you think you can manage it.”
Bumblebee chuckled. “I guess we’ll have to see.”
He caught up to Knock Out, arms going around Knock Out’s waist as he slanted their lips together again. This time, the kiss was more hungry, more forceful, and Knock Out moaned into it. His hands slid over Bumblebee’s shoulders, trapping the yellow mech against him. Scorching heat slithered into his array, spike and valve surging online with a pulse of need through his sensory net.
They stumbled together, the couch right behind Knock Out. He bit at Bumblebee’s lips and felt the Autobot shiver against him, his engine revving louder.
Knock Out smirked and spun, setting Bumblebee off balance. Teetering, all it took was a little push for Bumblebee to fall backward, landing on his aft on the couch. He looked up at Knock Out, startled, and his optics cycled even wider when Knock Out followed him, straddling Bumbleee’s lap.
“You seem to be under the impression that I’m some dainty minibot who needs careful handling.” Knock Out rocked against Bumblebee’s groin, his hands slipping over Bumblebee’s shoulders to tease his door hinges. “That is far from the truth, Autobot.”
Bumblebee groaned. “Careful handling, yes. Dainty, not a chance.” He grasped Knock Out’s hips, pulling Knock Out tighter against him. He braced his feet on the floor and thrust up, their armor sliding together. “Though you are gorgeous.”
“Mm. Flattery will get you everywhere.” Knock Out leaned down, brushing his lips over Bumblebee’s. “And you’re not so bad yourself.” He sealed their mouths together, glossa plunging inside, the tip of it tracing Bumblebee’s denta before Bumblebee’s glossa rose up to meet his.
The couch creaked. It was an old thing, salvaged from the ruins of the city. Knock Out had dragged it here himself, cleaning and scrubbing until it was almost new. Maybe it could handle the weight of two frames, maybe it couldn’t.
Right now, Knock Out was willing to sacrifice it to this very necessary cause.
He ground down harder against Bumblebee, knees digging into the couch. He bit at Bumblebee’s mouth, exventing quick, hot puffs of air. Need coiled inside of him, and it tightened into a hot mass as Bumblebee’s hands slid up his back and pinched at his back tire mounts.
Knock Out shuddered, a bloom of charge tearing across his sensory net. He rolled his hips again, purposefully.
“Are you going to open up, or am I going to have to do this by myself?” Knock Out asked as he nibbled his way down to Bumblebee’s intake, lips and denta tasting an arrangement of delicate cables.
Bumblebee stroked his mounts, making a hot fire dance up Knock Out’s spinal strut. “I dunno. I think you’d put on a pretty sexy show if you did all the work.”
Knock Out bit him.
Bumblebee arched beneath him and laughed, his hands sliding back down to Knock Out’s hips and holding tight. “So that’s a no on the show, then? I can take a hint.”
“Bumblebee, open your panel or so help me Primus I will climb off you and go find my energon prod,” Knock Out hissed against Bumblebee’s cables. His own panel jittered, threatening to open, lubricant welling in his valve and pooling against it.
“Mmm. Love it when you use that tone.” Bumblebee cupped his aft, squeezing tight.
But more than that, the distinct sound of a panel opening echoed from below, and Knock Out felt the wet brush of a spike head against his inner thigh. Finally. So he popped his own panel and lubricant dribbled free.
“Remind me to use it later,” Knock Out said as he dragged his lips back to Bumblebee’s, his mouth brushing over his. “Maybe with some rope and a whip. You could stand to learn some manners.”
Bumblebee groaned and bucked his hips, the head of his spike nudging against Knock Out’s valve rim, exciting the ring of sensors.
Oh. Liked that, did he?
Knock Out smirked and purred into Bumblebee’s audial. “I should pin you down,” he said as he rolled his hips, teasing himself with the slick head of Bumblebee’s spike. “Ride you all night. Make you put on a spike ring so you can’t overload. Until you’re drenched in condensation and desperate for it.”
Bumblebee breathed a curse and clutched at Knock Out’s hips, trying to pull him down. Knock Out relented and sank down enough that Bumblebee’s spike pierced the rim of his valve, but only just.
“You’re killing me here, doc,” Bumblebee groaned and his head tilted back against the top of the couch, his optics bright and hungry.
“That’s what you get, for teasing me all night,” Knock Out retorted, though honestly, he felt like he was teasing himself right now. His calipers were cycling down on nothing, and his nodes kept pinging him with urgency.
His fans spun faster, and his thighs shook from the effort of holding himself up. He nudged closer, until his chestplate pinged against Bumblebee’s.
“I’m sorry then,” Bumblebee murmured and nuzzled Knock Out’s face, his hands sweeping up and down, tracing Knock Out’s seams, mapping out his armor. “Really I am. Won’t you have mercy?”
Knock Out chuckled. “I think I like it when you beg.” He could have teased Bumblebee like this all night, if the need wasn’t clawing at him.
Bumblebee groaned, and his field poured over Knock Out like a boiling oil bath. He all but trembled with his own desire, but he restrained himself. He didn’t push. He didn’t demand. He meant it when he offered Knock Out control.
“You’re so mean.” He nibbled his way to Knock Out’s intake, glossa and denta making hot presses against Knock Out’s cables.
Knock Out shivered, his tires twitching. “But I also know how to be nice,” he murmured and he finally, finally sank down, his valve swallowing up Bumblebee’s spike inch by inch, gliding over every internal node until Bumblebee was fully notched inside of him.
Knock Out sucked in a ventilation, charge leaping out from his nodes and sinking into Bumblebee’s sensors. He trembled as pleasure washed through his frame and sensory net, his valve cycling down tight. Primus, he’d missed this. Such a simple thing, the connection of two mechs together, real charge and not false vibrations or the strained curl of his own fingers.
He rocked his hips, stirring Bumblebee inside of him, until he hit an angle just right and Bumblebee’s spike head ground against his ceiling node. Knock Out gasped and did it again, and again, ecstasy radiating up his spinal strut.
Bumblebee groaned and clutched at Knock Out’s tires, his spike throbbing against Knock Out’s nodes. “Frag,” he breathed against Knock Out’s intake, his ex-vents wet and scorching. “You’re right. I think this is the nicest you’ve ever been to me.”
Knock Out barked out a laugh, despite the arousal building in his lines and sending lighting bursts of pleasure through his net. “You’re ridiculous.” But that didn’t stop him from rocking his hips, harder and faster, riding Bumblebee’s spike for every zap of pleasure it could give him.
His knees dug harder into the couch. It creaked ominously. Bumblebee’s hands tugged at his tire connectors, sending more shocks of need through Knock Out’s system. He shuddered, thighs pressing in on Bumblebee’s, his valve cycling faster and harder. Heat burst in his belly.
He slid his arms over Bumblebee’s shoulders and found his door hinges. His palms skated over the interior of Bumblebee’s door, tracing the far too organic lining and the window controls and the cupholders that were surprisingly free of sticky residue.
Bumblebee sucked in a sharp vent and bucked up against him, curling his arms tighter around Knock Out and pressing their frames together.
“Oh, did I find a sensitive spot?” Knock Out teased as he mapped out the contours of Bumblebee’s doors again. He needed the distraction.
Pleasure was sparking through his array at a fiery pace, and it tangled inside him, like a coil ready to burst. No way would he overload this quickly. It would be just another thing for Bumblebee to be smug about. He had some self-control. Time to use it!
“Maybe I can find another,” Knock Out purred and slanted his lips over Bumblebee’s, eagerly sinking into the kiss.
Bumblebee made a muffled moan against his mouth, but opened to Knock Out, his glossa eagerly joining in. There was a fierceness to it, a desperation, and it made Knock Out’s spark throb and his valve ripple with need.
He rocked faster and faster, grinding down and against Bumblebee, his nodes singing with delight. His vents came in sharp pants, even more so when Bumblebee slipped a hand between their frames and his thumb brushed over the swollen jut of Knock Out’s external sensor cluster.
A jolt ripped up Knock Out’s spinal strut. He gasped into the kiss, grinding down hard, the flare of Bumblebee’s spike head catching on his ceiling node over and over again, to the same rhythm of Bumblebee’s thumb on his node cluster.
“Looks like… I found one,” Bumblebee said into the kiss, his tone smug, but his fans spinning too fast and too loud for him to be anything else but on the edge.
Knock Out moaned and tilted his forehead against Bumblebee’s, knees digging harder into the couch as he lifted and dropped himself. Bumblebee’s spike was hitting all the right places, and pleasure tightened inside of him like an overenergized heating coil.
“S-shut up,” Knock Out panted and moaned when Bumblebee’s free hand moved to his back, sliding up to stroke his secondary vents. His rhythm stuttered, and his valve clenched down hard, locking down on Bumblebee’s spike. Charge snap-crackled through his array.
Knock Out’s fingers clenched on Bumblebee’s doors as he slammed down, grinding his ceiling node on the head of Bumblebee’s spike. Ecstasy coursed through him like a lightning bolt, and he overloaded, hips rocking in arrhythmic glee as his valve rippled and clamped.
Yes. This. This was what he’d been missing. And next time, he’d free his spike, too. He’d grind it against the hot planes of Bumblebee’s abdomen, he’d overload and mark Bumblebee with his spill, claiming the scout for his own.
Knock Out shuddered at the mental image, another wave of pleasure shooting through his sensory net.
Bumblebee groaned and his hands snatched at Knock Out’s hips, holding tight. He bucked up, feet planted against the floor, nearly unseating Knock Out from the force of the thrust. His valve throbbed, still sensitive from overload.
There was a ferocity in Bumblebee’s field now, a hunger in the way it wrapped around Knock Out, holding him tight, pulsing waves of heat. His engine growled, vibrating both of their frames, and his hands gripped Knock Out’s hips like a lifeline. He bucked up again, harder and faster, and Knock Out rode the motion, pleasure rebounding inside of him as he geared up for another overload.
“That’s it,” Knock Out panted, hands curling into Bumblebee’s shoulders, hooked on a transformation seam, holding on for the ride. “Give me more.”
Bumblebee’s engine growled. He tossed his head back, doors flicking hard and sharp against the back of the couch. His spike throbbed, hard and fast, and then Bumblebee groaned, low and deep, rattling right to Knock Out’s core.
His shoulders hunched as another overload struck. His valve rippled and he felt the telltale hot of spurt of transfluid, washing over his nodes. Knock Out shivered as it sent more charge racing through his sensornet, extending the overload.
It was perfect. It was so, so good. It was even better when Bumblebee took hold of his chin and pulled him down into a kiss, sloppy and wet, hot puffs of ex-vents teasing over his dermal net.
Knock Out panted into the kiss, his hips twitching in little rocks, his valve cycling around Bumblebee’s spike. His armor had flared, venting heat, and Bumblebee’s had as well, the air almost steaming around them.
“Did I pass the test?” Bumblebee asked around nipping kisses to Knock Out’s mouth and jaw.
Knock Out managed a staticky chuckle. “I’m not sure. I might need a couple more examples. For the sake of comparison.”
Bumblebee laughed. “Do you have a berth?”
“I have a closet. Same as anyone else.” Knock Out rolled his hips in a little circle, making Bumblebee gasp. “Care to join me in it?”
Bumblebee’s hands curled around his aft, scooping him up with seemingly little effort. Knock Out made an embarrassing noise and tightened his thighs around Bumblebee’s waist as the yellow mech stood up.
“Are you inviting me to stay the night?” Bumblebee asked with a ridiculous waggle of his orbital ridges.
Knock Out crossed his ankles behind Bumblebee’s thighs, his engine giving a quiet rev. Bumblebee’s spike shifted within him, and even half-pressurized, it rubbed over his sensitized nodes in enticing ways.
“Tonight, tomorrow, however long it takes if it means you’ll keep doing that,” Knock Out said as he rocked against Bumblebee’s front, holding on to keep from falling.
Bumblebee groaned and staggered away from the couch. “You’re killing me, doc.”
Knock Out leaned in and nibbled at Bumblebee’s intake. “Mmm. But what a way to go.”
They stumbled into the berth room, which literally only had room for the narrow berth and a small end table with a lamp. Knock Out’s back hit the surface, as plush as he could make it, and he purred as he arched up against Bumblebee, ankles urging Bumblebee to take him again.
“You’re insatiable,” Bumblebee said as he blanketed Knock Out’s frame with his own, knees spreading Knock Out’s thighs wide, his spike firming quickly.
“Like you’ve any room to talk.” Knock Out slid his palms over Bumblebee’s belly, chuckling to himself as he grazed over the erotically placed Autobot badge. “Again,” he demanded.
Bumblebee shivered, his optics blue and bright and hungry. “Whatever you want,” he murmured as he slanted their lips together, mouth hot and sweet.
Knock Out melted into it, vents roaring and engine purring, heat a rapid pulse through his lines.
A part of him hoped it never ended. The other, more rational side to him knew that it couldn’t possibly last. The newly growing Autobot side of him wanted to be optimistic, while his lingering Decepticon tendencies reminded him what he used to be.
He threw it all aside and focused on Bumblebee. Even if this was all he had, he was going to enjoy it while it lasted.
Knock Out lost count of the overloads. One blurred into another. He vaguely remembered the berth protesting beneath them – it was barely large enough for one as it was. He remembered a lot of teasing, a lot of laughing, more pleasure than he could measure.
By the time they collapsed together, vents gasping for relief, their frames a sticky mess, Knock Out’s head spun with the whirlwind his day had taken. Or longer, actually, because he glanced at his chronometer and it was stupidly late.
“Don’t you… have patrol in the morning?” Knock Out managed as he sank into the berth, buried beneath a surprisingly cuddly Bumblebee.
The other mech made a muffled sound from where he’d buried his face in Knock Out’s intake. “I’m going to call out sick.”
“Something tells me Ratchet won’t believe you,” Knock Out drawled. He petted Bumblebee’s back, trying to ignore how the smallness of his closet made the heat they vented nearly unbearable.
“I’ll get a doctor’s note from you.”
Knock Out snorted. “He probably won’t trust that either. No one does.” Did he sound bitter? It was only the truth.
Bumblebee lifted his head, something soft in his gaze. “I do.”
Knock Out worked his intake and looked away, feeling more vulnerable than when he’d been letting Bumblebee frag him all over this berth. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“It doesn’t have to.” Bumblebee shrugged and rested his head on Knock Out’s bumper. “Look. It takes a lot of bearings to do what you did, turning your back on the Cons and coming over to our side. Takes even more to stick with it when everyone around you is being a jerk. So yeah. I trust you.”
Knock Out’s spark hammered a faster beat. “Oh. I… thank you.”
“And I promise,” Bumblebee continued with a little wriggle of his doors. “I meant what I said earlier, too. I like you, and I enjoyed tonight, and I’d like to do it again. But I understand if this is all you want, too.”
Knock Out stroked down Bumblebee’s spinal strut. “You’re not worried about what everyone will say about you?”
Bumblebee snorted. “Nope. If someone’s got a problem with it or you or me, they can come talk to me about it. I have no issues with teaching them a thing or two.” He squirmed and shifted, crossing his arms under his chin so he could look up at Knock Out. “We’re supposed to be different after the war. I want to follow Optimus’ example. And I’m gonna stand up for what’s important.”
Implying that he found Knock Out something important.
Heat colored Knock Out’s cheeks. He didn’t know what to do with that kind of blunt honesty. It was both refreshing and awkward to him.
“But like I said, it’s up to you,” Bumblebee added with a little smile, one that shot straight to Knock Out’s spark. “If you’d rather not deal with the hassle, I understand. You got enough slag on your plate.”
Knock Out worked his intake. “I seem to remember you owe me a rematch,” he said lightly, unwilling yet to admit how badly he wanted this to work. “We can start there.”
Joy soared through Bumblebee’s field before he reined it in. “And dancing afterward?”
Knock Out chuckled. “Yes, that. And hmm, you passed tonight’s test, but a couple more couldn’t hurt.”
Bumblebee unfolded his arms and pushed himself upright, looking down at Knock Out with something like appreciation in his gaze. “I’ll have you know I’ve always been a good student,” he said. “And I plan on finding every last one of your sensitive spots.”
He leaned down, lips tracing the curve of Knock Out’s jaw.
Knock Out shivered. “That sounds like a good goal to me.”
“Me, too,” Bumblebee murmured as his lips found Knock Out’s in a kiss, this time slow and savoring, like he wanted to memorize Knock Out’s taste.
Knock Out wrapped his arms over Bumblebee’s shoulders and surrendered to it. For a day that had started with so much irritation and anger, having it end like this was a miracle. A gift he didn’t think he’d receive.
Maybe there were good points to becoming an Autobot after all.
The future looked brighter already.