therizinosaur: (Default)
Nellasaur ([personal profile] therizinosaur) wrote2014-01-30 02:01 pm

[FANFICTION] Mercenary Medicine, ch 14/? [TF: PRIME]

Title: Mercenary Medicine
Fandom: Transformers: Prime
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Knock Out is a freelance medic-- he works alone and he likes it that way. But when he finds a corpse that isn't as dead as it ought to be at the bottom of a pile of bodies, it puts his entire careful operation at risk.
Chapter: 01 || 02 || 03 || 04 || 05 || 06 || 07 || 08 || 09 || 10 || 11 || 12 || 13 || 14 || 15
Notes: Set way before what we see in the show and nowhere near Earth. Contains copious amounts of worldbuilding and headcanon. Thank you to my VIP screeners beta-readers, and special thanks to Dirge for letting me bounce ideas off her and helping keep my Breakdown in line. Mercenary Medicine wouldn’t be the story it is today without you, Dirge.



MAJOR MAJOR CONTENT WARNING THIS CHAPTER FOR DISCUSSION OF SUICIDE-- including suicidal ideation and an indirect suicide attempt. ADDITIONAL CONTENT WARNING for violence and physical intimidation.



**

When Knock Out returned to the cargo bay the next day, Breakdown was already present and waiting for him. The bigger mech was holding a datapad in hands—no, Knock Out realized, not just any datapad. It was the one Knock Out was keeping his inventory documents on. Optics narrowed and expression wary, Knock Out stepped off the lift and started towards him.

“Hey,” Breakdown said, giving Knock Out a little nod that almost seemed deferential.

“Breakdown,” Knock Out said, returning the courtesy. No easy greetings or friendly smiles today; Knock Out firmly reminded himself that this was a good thing. He was not going to miss Breakdown’s presence when the bigger mech was gone. He was not.

Indicating the inventory datapad with a gesture, he made sure his tone was sharp when he asked, “What are you doing with that?”

Breakdown shifted his weight back a little, starting to turn the pad in his fingers. “I finished sorting, like you said, but it didn’t take me long,” he said. “And I didn't want to, uh, bother you after you'd left, so I...” He trailed off for a moment, then squared his shoulders and raised his head, looking Knock Out dead in the optics. “So I sealed up all the jars and logged everything in here.” He waved the pad.

Knock Out frowned. “You know you're not supposed to—”

“And then it was still early,” Breakdown continued, raising his voice with sudden belligerence and talking over Knock Out, “so I finished up what you were doing too.”

Glancing past Breakdown to where he’d been working yesterday, Knock Out could see that the packages he’d scattered were all tidied up and separated into neat stacks.

It was hard not to read Breakdown’s words as a jab at Knock Out’s productivity, and his instinct was to be nasty in return. Knock Out swallowed his first petty retort, though; he didn't want to alienate Breakdown entirely, after all. The mech’s help was useful to him. Knock Out just wanted to keep him at arm's length, where he needed to be.

“You were just supposed to separate out the hardware,” Knock Out said, keeping his voice as even as possible. “And who told you to do any data entry, hm?”

“Oh come on! I’m not stupid.” Breakdown’s fingers tightened on the pad. “I used to help Dead End keep things straight in the medbay. I know how to check and see if regen meshes are still good and I know how to use a datapad. This isn’t my first inventory.”

The bitterness in the bigger mech’s voice was acute enough that Knock Out actually backed a step away from him, his processor in his chest humming up with alarm. He could feel defensive subroutines starting to kick on but he didn’t let them boot all the way, closing his eyes and focusing for a moment on throttling the automatic threat response.

“All right,” he said finally, keeping his voice as even as possible. “Forgive me.” He held out a hand for the pad. “I do hope you don’t mind if I check it over?”

For a moment, Knock Out thought Breakdown wasn’t going to relinquish it without a fight, but then the big shoulders slumped and the other mech put the pad into his hand. Knock Out managed a tight little smile of thanks as he accepted it and then swept past him to find a seat.

“What do you want me to do next?” Breakdown asked. Gone was the bitterness in the bigger mech’s voice; now he sounded only flat, like he had before they’d started working together. When Knock Out looked up at him, the orange face of his was as devoid of expression as his voice had been of emotion. For a moment, the two of them just stared at each other.

It was Knock Out’s turn to fidget with the datapad. This sudden return of Breakdown’s emotional dissociation was alarming from both a professional and personal standpoint; nor was it lost on Knock Out that the way he had just treated Breakdown had triggered this.

“Open one of those up and tell me what’s in it,” Knock Out said carefully, reining in the hostility that he’d been utilizing deliberately only a few moments before. He indicated the crates they hadn’t gotten to yet. “I’ll let you know then what to do with it.”

With an affirmative grunt, Breakdown turned away. Knock Out watched after him for a moment, but the bigger mech showed all signs of obedience to his request. Satisfied, he turned his attention back to the datapad. He’d check it over quickly and then rejoin Breakdown—the sooner the two of them could figure out a new working relationship, the better. He knew he’d sacrificed the easy camaraderie they’d shared until now, but Knock Out was willing to endure that. He wouldn’t even have to endure it for very long; they were almost finished here. Only Knock Out’s equipment and supplies were left to catalogue, and a few containers of salvage—

Knock Out’s head snapped up so fast that the actuators in his neck actually squealed in protest.

Just as he’d been instructed, Breakdown was pulling down a crate to work on, but this wasn’t one of the containers that Blackout had transferred aboard. No, this was one of Knock Out’s, identifiable by the old, scuffed paint. All of his cargo containers had been acquired second-hand, mostly scrounged out of derelict cargo haulers; what was left of the personal logos and paint schemes stood in stark contrast to the plain utilitarian design of the military-issue crates from the outpost.

Breakdown dropped the crate to the floor with a thump and went to one knee beside it. He reached for the latches.

“Wait!” Knock Out scrambled to his feet, heedless of the datapad clattering down behind him. “Breakdown, wait! Not that one, don’t open that one!”

The big fingers hesitated and Breakdown looked over at Knock Out. Gone from his face was the distant lack of expression—now he looked distinctly annoyed. It was enough to stop Knock Out in his tracks.

“Why not?” There was a rumble like distant thunder in Breakdown’s voice.

Knock Out couldn’t tell him, though. Knock Out knew he couldn’t tell him, didn’t dare tell him what was in those containers. His mouth worked soundlessly for a moment as he struggled to come up with a suitable fiction and failed. “Just—just trust me,” he said finally. “Please, trust me. You don’t want to open that.”

Something in what he said made the annoyance on Breakdown’s face crystallize into open rebellion. “Don’t tell me what I want,” he muttered, hunching his head down into his shoulders and turning back to the container. He wrenched the lid straight off, without even disengaging the latches.

He threw the damaged lid aside, the sound of its impact enough to make Knock Out jump. All those alarm routines that he’d tried to suppress earlier hard-booted to active life now, and all of them were screaming at Knock Out to run. He felt bolted to the floor, though, transfixed by the preternatural stillness of Breakdown’s body.

When Breakdown did move, it was to bend stiffly to one knee and reach into the crate. What he drew out of it, Knock Out couldn’t see around his broad body, but it made the bigger mech’s engine throttle up in his chest.

That sound was the only warning Knock Out had before Breakdown whirled up out of his crouch and lunged at him. The slow, careful Breakdown he’d grown used to working with was gone; in his place, a rushing fury, roaring as he slammed into Knock Out and grappled him down to the floor. Knock Out landed hard, damage readouts blossoming across his HUD as Breakdown fell on top of him.

Pinning Knock Out down with one hand, Breakdown brandished something in his face with the other. Knock Out had to blink his HUD clear to see it, but when he did he knew immediately what he was looking at: the yellow hand and forearm of one of the Stunticons.

“What is this?” Breakdown asked, shaking the hand at him. “What is this doing here?!”

“Please, Breakdown—” Knock Out said—or tried to. No sound came out. The impact must have fritzed his vocalizer.

The bigger mech dug his fingers into the collaring of Knock Out’s exoplate. Lifting his torso up off the floor, Breakdown shook him hard. “Tell me!”

Knock Out tried to speak, but he could only produce static. He grabbed at his throat, trying to indicate that he couldn’t speak, but Breakdown either failed to grasp the significance of the gesture or failed to care. He staggered to his feet and hauled Knock Out up with him, dragging him over to the open crate and dropping him beside it.

“This is Drag Strip!” Breakdown said. He flung the arm down into the container hard enough that it bounced, landing against the far lip with the hand outstretched in an obscene parody of a living gesture.

I know, Knock Out wanted to say, his mouth working uselessly with the words his vocalizer wouldn’t produce. He looked up at Breakdown, shaking his head and clutching his throat, but the other mech misunderstood the gesture.

It is!” Breakdown howled. His hand fell heavily on Knock Out’s shoulder, turning him back to face Breakdown and shaking him again. “Why aren’t you sayin’ anything?”

Even had his vocalizer been functioning, Knock Out couldn’t have responded. He hissed static as the bigger mech shoved him away. Staggering backwards, he tried to put space between them two of them—forgetting that the open crate was immediately behind him. He tripped and fell hard into the salvage.

“That’s Drag Strip in there! Get out!” Breakdown didn’t even give him a chance to comply, seizing his arm and hauling him off the crate with so much force that Knock Out stumbled and fell in the opposite direction. Breakdown fell heavily to the floor beside him, knees impacting first, fists pounding against the floor an instant later. “Is he the only one you have? What about—what about the others?” His voice broke. “Are they in boxes too?”

Engine revving frantically in his chest, Knock Out stared helplessly at the powerful hands grinding into the floor so very close to his face. There was no mistaking the anguish in Breakdown’s voice now, but Knock Out found himself more concerned with those fists and if they were going to be pounding him than anything else. Gathering his arms under himself, Knock Out rolled away from the distraught mech—and felt the hum of his vocalizer resetting in his throat as he did it.

Vitalis!” he screamed. “Alarms! Alarms now!”

The ship responded instantly, klaxons starting to blare and the orange emergency indicators lighting up all over the cargo bay. The sudden sound and light show startled Breakdown, who tried to get to his feet too fast for his impaired coordination. He toppled back down to the floor with a groan, one arm shielding his optics from the strobing glare of the lights.

Scrambling to his feet, Knock Out evolved the circular saws in his hands and brandished the wickedly serrated blades in front of himself. Moving this time with more care, Breakdown clambered to his feet; Knock Out was quick to retreat away from him, spinning the saws in nervous little bursts.

“What’re you gonna do with those?” Breakdown asked, glowering at him. “Hurt me?” The emergency lights cast his sneer into lurid relief, the intermittent flashing exaggerating the twisted expression on his face even further. “Can’t hurt me any more than you have already, can you?”

“Breakdown, I don’t want to have to hurt you at all!” Knock Out shouted the words desperately, but Breakdown wasn’t listening. He was already charging Knock Out again, his fisted hands outflung.

Knock Out had his feet under him now, though, and it was easy enough to dodge Breakdown’s clumsy advance. As he sidestepped away, he tucked his blades in close to his chest; he’d meant it, when he said that he didn’t want to hurt Breakdown. If it came to it, he would defend himself with as much force as was necessary, but he was hoping that it wouldn’t come to it.

“Be reasonable, Breakdown, please!” he called, putting his weapons up again as Breakdown turned slowly to face him, following his retreat.

“Frag reasonable,” the bigger mech said, so quietly that Knock Out almost didn’t hear him over the continued sound of the alarms. The despair in his voice was unmistakable, a poignant contrast to his aggression and the trembling tension in his body that promised yet further violence.

At the far end of the cargo hold, the lift engaged. Knock Out had never heard a more welcome sound in his entire life. As Breakdown straightened up to watch the descending platform, Knock Out took advantage of the other grounder’s distraction and scurried to meet Blackout.

“What is going on down here?” Blackout asked, bellowing to be heard over the commotion of the klaxons. He loomed over Knock Out, optics flashing. “Silence your ship!”

Transforming one saw back to a hand, Knock Out touched his helm and activated his link to the ship and relayed the command.

The lights quit flashing immediately, the alarms cutting an instant behind them. Into the sudden silence came the sound of Breakdown’s uneven footfalls as he staggered over to the open crate. With a tremendous crash he flung it over, spilling the contents across the floor. “Did you know about this?” he demanded of Blackout.

The huge flier recoiled from the spill of salvage. “No,” he said, the word punctuated with a chuff of air from his vents. “I had no idea.”

Both of them turned towards Knock Out, and the expression on Blackout’s face made him abruptly reconsider his proximity to the giant. Backing away from Blackout, he sought to put some space between himself and the other two mechs, but he couldn’t go very far. The inventory had opened up some free space in the cargo bay, but the simultaneous presence of Blackout and Breakdown made that free space seem very crowded. The rev of his engine in his chest when he backed himself right into an equipment case was overloud in the quiet.

Blackout nudged a disjointed leg with his foot, making it rock against the floor. “Is there…more,” he asked, picking his words with apparent care, “like this?”

Breakdown obviously felt no such compunction towards diplomacy. He kicked the empty crate away towards the loading hatch at the other end of the cargo bay; the tremendous crash it made when it landed was enough to make Knock Out jump, even though it had impacted nowhere near him.

“Did you chop up the rest of my team and shove them in boxes too?” Breakdown asked, his voice low. “Or is Drag Strip the only one you desecrated?” His back was turned, his shoulders hunched high and tight like he was in physical pain. As Knock Out watched, one of his hands transformed into a hammer, then back, then again. He wondered it Breakdown realized he was doing it. Then Breakdown clanged the hammer into the palm of his other hand and turned, and Knock Out had more important things to pay attention to.

Knock Out was trapped: trapped between these two very large mechs and the container at his back; trapped between Breakdown’s furious aggression and Blackout’s disdain; trapped between their uncomprehending disapproval and the brutal pragmatism that had impelled him to salvage the bodies in the first place. His processor raced, searching for a way to get him out of this with his plating intact, but none of the options he was coming up with were very good.

While he was very tempted to lie—it wouldn’t be the first time he’d misrepresented the provenance of his supplies—he knew he didn’t dare risk it. They would only have to open one of the other containers to learn the truth, and there where would he be, caught out in so obvious a falsehood?

He had little choice. Transforming the remaining saw back into his hand, he spread both of them, palms up, and bowed his head. “Yes,” he said quietly. “I took all four of them.”

Breakdown reeled back like Knock Out had hit him. “How dare you?” he breathed, and the words were a moan of pain. He clutched at his chest with one hand for a moment, but then that hand transformed too and he was glaring at Knock Out. “How dare you?! I oughta—”

“You will do nothing, Breakdown,” Blackout said.

Breakdown spun to face the big flier. “What? Blackout, those are my brothers! He’s got my brothers in those boxes—”

“I know.”

“—And I’m gonna kill him for it!” he continued, like he hadn’t heard Blackout’s calm words. He turned away and flung himself at Knock Out, but before Knock Out could do more than evolve his saws again, Blackout had intercepted the charge. Effortlessly, he swung the grounder around and bore him backwards, slamming him up against a high wall of crates.

“You will not,” Blackout said.

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Breakdown growled. “You’re gonna have to kill me if you don’t want me to kill him!” He tried to swing his hammers at Blackout, but the way Blackout had him pinned robbed him of the leverage and mobility he needed to wield them successfully. They bounced harmlessly off the huge mech’s plating.

More than any of Breakdown’s clumsy blows, it was his words that had an effect on Blackout. The big flier flinched, the stabilizing spines hanging down his back clamping tight with a clang. His words were carried on the hissing of his vents. “I won’t.”

“Then I’ll make you.” Breakdown started to struggle in earnest, thrashing and kicking and banging his hammers harder into Blackout’s sides and back. “Kill me, I know you can,” he said. “I know you want to be rid of me. Just kill me!”

Shaking his head, Blackout stepped back from Breakdown, releasing his hold on him. Breakdown rushed him—or tried to, tripping over his own two feet and falling into the bigger mech. Blackout wrapped his arms around him, crushing Breakdown against his chest. Ducking his face close to the grounder’s helm, he whispered, “I want no such thing.”

His voice so quiet, Knock Out couldn’t be sure that he’d heard him right. What he was sure about was that he didn’t want to be here at all; catalyst though he may have been to Breakdown’s episode, Knock Out was very aware that he was an unwelcome observer to grief he couldn’t even begin to comprehend. He forced his saws to transform again, back to hands, the sound of it making him wince. It seemed loud and intrusive, but neither of the other two mechs even acknowledged him.

Breakdown collapsed against Blackout, his vents starting to cycle in rhythmic sobs. “I should be dead too. I should be in one of those boxes with the rest of my brothers. Blackout, please—”

“Do you have any idea how rare it is for a Cybertronian to survive the loss of their entire gestalt team?” Blackout said, interrupting Breakdown’s impassioned plea. His tone was crisp, at odds with the raw emotion in Breakdown’s. The big grounder went silent.

“It never happens,” Blackout continued. “Your spark should have guttered out with theirs— No. Let me finish.” Breakdown, mouth open to interrupt, closed it again and remained silent. He squirmed fitfully in Blackout’s arms, but the flier didn’t release him. “It should have, but it didn’t. What do you think they would think of you for wanting to give up? What would Drag Strip say if you told him you wanted to quit?”

An expectant silence fell, with Blackout watching Breakdown intently and Knock Out watching both of them. Breakdown didn’t say anything, the silence stretching for several fraught moments before his shoulders slumped and he averted his optics.

Blackout released his fervent hold on Breakdown, gripping his shoulders and pushing him out to arm’s reach. “You know they wouldn’t want you to give up on yourself, right?” he asked.

Breakdown shrugged and shifted his weight back and forth a little, uncertainly. “How’m I supposed to get through this without them?”

“You weren’t always gestalted,” Blackout said. “The link isn’t meant to be broken, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be. You can learn to be an autonomous mech again.”

Shaking his head so hard his whole body shuddered, Breakdown tried to pull out of Blackout’s grip. “I don’t want to!”

“But your brothers would want you to,” Blackout insisted, holding Breakdown tight. “I didn’t know them as well as you did, but I’m sure of that. How come you aren’t?”

Breakdown tried to pull away again, and this time Blackout released him. Turning away from the flier, Breakdown wrapped his arms around himself. He shrugged again in lieu of a verbal response.

“I know this is hard on you now, Breakdown, but things will get easier for you over time,” Blackout continued, his gruff voice gentler than Knock Out had ever heard it.

“You promise?” Breakdown mumbled, still not looking at the bigger mech.

“I promise.”

“…All right.” Breakdown straightened up a little, turning to look at Blackout—who stepped adroitly between him and the mess of parts still spread across the floor. Putting an arm around the grounder’s shoulders, Blackout led him towards the lift. As he ushered him onto the platform, the stabilizing spines on his back parted and he ejected Scorponok. The little Deployer scurried over his shoulder and down his arm, transferring over to Breakdown with an enthusiastic chirp.

Though their backs were turned to him, Knock Out could hear Breakdown’s brief chuckle clearly. “Hey Scorp,” he said, though it was only a weak echo of the enthusiasm he’d displayed the day before for the drone’s presence.

Blackout exchanged a few words with Breakdown, now too soft for Knock Out to hear, then engaged the lift and stepped back. Breakdown and Scorponok rode it together into the ceiling, and were gone.

“Is that wise?” Knock Out asked as Blackout turned slowly to face him. “Sending him off alone? He’s—”

“I know,” Blackout said firmly. “Scorponok will monitor him for me. I think the immediate danger is past, but if his condition…deteriorates…”

“You mean if he tries to kill himself,” Knock Out said.

The look Blackout gave him made him regret the bald words. After a moment, though, the flier acknowledged it with a nod and a quiet, “Yes. If he tries to kill himself, Scorponok will alert me. We should be able to mobilize in time to stop him.”

“Is that wise?” Knock Out repeated, prompting Blackout to glare at him again. He soldiered on anyway. “If he’s really so unhappy— I mean, if he’s determined, we may not be able to—”

“I’ve already lost four Stunticons,” Blackout snapped, spines rattling against his back as he started to stalk towards Knock Out. “I’m not going to lose the fifth.” A nasty sneer twisted his mouth. “What happened to helping him come to terms with what happened to him?”

Having his own words thrown back at him like that made Knock Out bristle, and it took a conscious effort to force himself to relax and calm down again. “I’d certainly prefer that to helping a patient terminate himself,” he said, with his best professional smile. “Of course, the question remains—what can we do for him? You know far more than I about what he’s going through right now.”

“Breakdown can wait,” Blackout said brusquely, dismissing Knock Out’s question with a wave of his hand.

Knock Out stared at him. “Breakdown can… wait? Breakdown just tried to commit suicide-by-proxy—with you as the proxy! He needs more right now than just being—being told he should stay alive because it’s what his dead gestaltmates would want. Unless—” Knock Out stopped suddenly, scrutinizing Blackout’s face. “Unless you really think that’s all it’s going to take?”

Blackout turned away from him. “Didn’t you hear what I said earlier?” he asked. “There has never been a recorded case of a gestalted cyb surviving the death of their entire team. One or two members, and the rest of the team can compensate for the trauma; there is protocol for that. This, however, is outside my experience.” He looked sidelong over his shoulder at Knock Out. “I don’t know what it’s going to take to bring him through this.”

“I don’t either,” Knock Out said, “but I don’t think guilting him and then packing him off with only a drone for company is it!”

The words made Blackout flinch, his hands curling into huge fists. Abruptly he turned, optics blazing as he glared at Knock Out. “My primary responsibility to Breakdown right now is to get him to Chaar alive; they’ll have medical staff there who are actually competent to treat him.”

The dig at Knock Out’s medical abilities made his engine turn over in his chest. “You don’t have to—” he started, and then the word Chaar penetrated his ire and his thoughts skidded to a stop. “…Chaar? Did you say Chaar?”

Blackout nodded. “General Strika is waiting for my report on the defeat of the Stunticons, and thanks to your scavenging, I may be able to give her a complete one.” There was a grudging note of acknowledgement in the flier’s voice, but Knock Out was far too preoccupied with Blackout’s casual revelation to take advantage of it.

“We’re going to Chaar,” Knock Out said. His voice was faint. “You’re taking this ship to Chaar?”

Blackout purged his vents so hard they rattled. “Did I not just say that?”

“I refuse!” Knock Out sliced his hands through the air in front of his chest, shaking his head vehemently. “Vitalis is not going to Chaar. I’ll drop you at a relay point, or we can find a transport headed there to rendezvous with, but we are not—”

“This is not up for debate.”

Knock Out shut his mouth with a click on the rest of his words, and stared up at Blackout with narrowed optics. He had known better than to think the danger was passed now that Breakdown’s anger had been neutralized—Blackout was too antagonistic towards him for Knock Out to ever feel safe in his presence—but he hadn’t expected this to be the threat he would have to respond to. This was big.

“This is my ship,” he said, struggling to keep his distress under control. “I won’t let you take it there.”

“This was your ship,” Blackout said, standing up a little straighter and folding his arms across his chest. “Now it’s mine, and we’re going to Chaar.”

Vitalis is not a military vessel for you to claim just because of your rank—!”

“Then Vitalis has been commandeered in the name of Lord Megatron and the Decepticon Empire, and we’re still going to Chaar.” Blackout unfolded his arms and, in three swift steps, crossed over the mess of salvage on the floor. Knock Out attempted to retreat but he was still backed up against the big equipment case; there was nowhere for him to go. Striking out with a big hand, Blackout pinned him painfully against the side of the container. Metal crumpled in the massive flier’s grip. “If you don’t like it,” Blackout continued, looming over him, “I would be happy to confine you until we arrive, and turn you over to Strika as a mutineer. How does that sound?”

Like I’ll be getting a head start, Knock Out thought, almost giddy with fear—although not so giddy that he made the mistake of saying that out loud. Mouth clamped shut to keep the traitorous words to himself, he only shook his head.

That was good enough for Blackout, apparently; the flier released him. Allowing Knock Out to withdraw, Blackout turned and surveyed the salvage strewn across the floor.

“Why didn’t you tell me you had these?” he asked, indicating Drag Strip’s remains and the other containers with a flick of his fingers.

Rubbing at the dents Blackout’s thick fingers had left in the curve of his shoulder pauldron, Knock Out scowled at the flier’s broad back. Why hadn’t he said anything about the bodies he’d collected? Because the survivors reacted like this, with disgust and violence, and Knock Out was not in the habit of freely inviting aggression against his person.

He knew better than to put it so blatantly, though. “It has been my experience that most cybs prefer not to know the details of these sorts of salvage operations,” he said, and it was true enough, if not the direct reason. “It’s easier to pretend spare parts still come from a manufactory somewhere if the components I’m putting into my patients aren’t tagged with the name of their donors.”

Blackout grunted—an acknowledgement?—and then fell silent. Knock Out was happy to let him mull that over, taking advantage of the quiet moment to catalogue the rest of his injuries. He didn’t have more than scrapes and dents, although the divots in his shoulder pauldron were deep enough that he was fairly certain he had some circuitry damage. He was definitely going to have to remove the plating and have a look—

The rumbling voice of the big flier interrupted his thoughts. “You said you took all four of the Stunticons? I want to see their bodies.”

Knock Out suspected he knew what that meant: what that meant was ‘I want you to unpack and arrange the bodies so I can examine them’. He knew also that obedience to Blackout’s demands, even the unspoken ones, was in his best interests.

And he knew finally that he was exhausted, he was damaged, and he was fed up with the way Blackout was treating him. He marched past Blackout to the rest of the salvage, smacking one of the crates in the stack with the flat of his hand as he passed it. “They’re all here. Help yourself. I’ll be in the maintenance bay if you need me.”

He expected to be taken to task for his impertinence, to be violently coerced into helping; it came as a shock that was almost physical to his primed body when Blackout only grunted an affirmative. Knock Out didn’t dare stop to contemplate the motivation behind the big flier’s lenience. He scurried over to the lift platform and gladly made his escape.

**

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