"Well, I would say that if the trees are thick enough, we could perch in them, but these one's usually aren't big enough to hold us... not like on Phylon Four, anyway. Now those were some trees!"
Before Swerve can even object to yet another story, Kup gently places a hand on his 'backpack,' a subconscious, amiable motion. "Y'know, I'd talk less if you'd just talk more, you know," he notes, tone good natured. "Only so much silence I can take - I'll have time for that when I'm dead."
"Anyway, good going. That looks like it might just work," he finishes, dropping his hand to walk past Swerve.
If Kup isn't looking too closely and if it didn't come right after that tree comparison, that exasperated smack as Swerve's hand meets his forehead could be mistaken for the racer trying too hard to hit the bug pestering him.
"I got nothing to talk about, oldtimer," he grumbles, trudging after Kup and trying not to figure out the pat on his back. At the very least, he's sure it's nothing that'll be worth a cracked gear to the old Autobot. Kup travels; Swerve races. Plenty in common there. Sure, he'd probably love to hear about how I collapsed someone's head. Can't even remember the guy's name. Or maybe the time I got a temporary suspension because I ran up Flatout's hood until his front end practically fell off? He makes a disgruntled sound at his own train of thought and goes back to just hating the terrain.
Oh, Kup loves a good fight story as much as the next. It's just that his are usually about fighting 'Cons.
"Whaddaya mean, got nothing to talk about?" Kup asks as he nears the outcropping of trees. "Something musta happened to make you so pissed off at the universes. That little overheating problem can't possibly explain everything."
Oh, dear. Kup went there.
He stomps into the ground next to the trees. Squishy, but... not too bad. "If we make sure to drape our arms or something over the trunk, we shouldn't have to worry about sinking in completely overnight," Kup proclaims.
Swerve's engine revs and he glares, planting his weight on both feet just a few steps into the 'dry' patch and far enough from Kup that he can't just casually throw a punch at the old truck.
"That," he snaps, pointing warningly at Kup, "is none of your business! You wouldn't understand it anyway!" His tone turns accusing, then dismissive and resentful as he goes on. "You and all your slaggin' friends–" There's that word again and he still says it like it's one of the foulest he knows. "–Sightseeing the Primus-fragged galaxy! You've always got somebody so long as they're wearin' a red stamp!"
He's laughing. Swerve's scowl deepens and settles into all the usual creases and seams. He can't tell if Kup is just laughing or if Kup is laughing at him. Neither prospect makes it any better. "You–!" Both hands ball into fists; he storms over stiff-legged, closing the distance to loom over Kup, optics bright. "What's so fraggin' funny?!" he demands.
Kup's laughing starts to calm, though not immediately. He looks up at Swerve and grins, but there is something off, something... sad about the grin. Then he taps his Autobot symbol. "Be nice if this meant you always have a somebody. But sometimes all it means is you got the job of standing fast until there's someone else around to wear it." Kup picks up a stick and uses it to prod at the ground, abstract swirls and curves taking shape.
"Time was, wearing this red stamp meant I had nobody at all. All 'cos I refused to turn my back on it when remember these things no longer became..." Kup spits out the last word with sudden, shocking vehemence, "acceptable. 'Dangerous to the ongoing peace,' or some such. Because I wouldn't forget that there was still bad ones out there."
He looks up at Swerve and puts down the stick. "Lad, let me tell you a story..." he begins.
For a moment, watching and listening to Kup, Swerve almost seems transfixed. His engine throttles back; his frown loses some of its venom and takes on a more confused edge.
Is he… is he saying what I think he's saying? Swerve eases back a step. But then Kup says the 's' word and Swerve's mood does another 180°. "Of all the belt-snappin'– You've gotta be yanking my drive train! Another story?!" he demands loudly enough that some previously-dozing winged thing up in the trees takes flight.
Kup can have remarkably selective hearing when he wants to. Or rather, he has elective hearing. Right now he's electing to hear Swerve's cursing and swearing as, 'Please Kup, tell me another story!' and so he continues on without hesitation.
"All right, lad," he answers the words that weren't actually spoken (except in Kup's imagination), "but it's a long one."
"I was built during my Cybertron's Second Great War, back when Autobots had access to actual transformation technology and the 'Cons didn't. While things still didn't become easy by any means, it eventually won us the war, and those of us who could transform? War heroes. Some were a bit more heroic than others, of course..." a certain smugness to his tone implied that Kup, himself, fell very much in the 'a bit more' category. "But there's only so far fame'll get you, and when you get far enough into peace, folks start lookin' a bit nervously about the old warriors. Wondering why they keep 'em along... even forgettin' that they're the reason they've got peace to begin with."
Kup paused and smiled at Swerve, observing, "Being a warrior for peace is onna them weird career paths where the ultimate goal is to put yourself out of a job. So, y'know, I learned other trades. I was strong, sturdy built... there's a lot to do that those things alone can get you. Not all of them in the nicer areas of the so-called 'Golden Age,' but what's life without a little excitement, huh? Slag, y'find the right club, and no one seems to care that they're bouncers are startin' more fights than they're preventing!"
Kup launches into his tale and Swerve just drops, burying his face in his palms and catching his fingertips along his aural ridge. He won't tear it off in frustration – it'd be a pretty stupid thing to do anyway, hurting himself like that – but if he did, at least he wouldn't have to listen to Kup yammer on about how he used to knock people around for fun.
"Huh?" Swerve blurts out, looking up from his knees. "Run that lap again. You mean to tell me you used to kick up trouble? Just for the thrill of it?"
"Sure, I was young and stupid once," Kup answers, casually waving aside Swerve's response. "And angry. And resentin' being used up and thrown away once I weren't needed no more. And built for scrappin', anyway." Kup chuckles. "Don't act so surprised!"
"I did eventually calm down," the aged vet continues. "Started taking some more reputable jobs, moved on from being thug to guard, even got to a point when folks would actually trust me to keep important stuff safe. Even got so that I wasn't completely out of place in the better areas of the planet. 'Course, I... did find I had hit a ceiling."
He tapped his Autobot symbol. "The world had changed even more. The government that those of us wearing this thing helped put in place, well... they didn't much care for the reminders that everything hadn't always been so honkey-dory. To the upper class, anyone clinging to this thing was obviously a violent throwback, a disreputable ruffian. Got so you couldn't even talk about the Decepticons without pissing someone else. 'Cos, y'know, if impressionable young folks heard about a faction hell-bent on conquering the universe, why, they might get ideas into their heads about doing the same."
Up until now, Kup's tone had been fairly light and cheerful as he played the jolly old fart regaling his audience (for a given definition of 'regaling,' anyway) with the exploits of his past. Now his tone grew darker and more serious, his expression more sober. "The good jobs started drying up. I wasn't back on the bottom of the heap yet, but I could see myself heading there. See, the thing is... the world had changed, but I was accused of being unable to change with it. Oh, sure, I had gone from a well-meaning but irresponsible punk kid who was out mostly for my own good time to a mech who was genuinely concerned about doing his job right and keeping safe what he was s'posed to keep safe, that and a lot more besides, but... well, that wasn't really changing apparently."
Kup frowns and looks towards the overcast sky, no longer looking at Swerve at all. Instead, he seems to be staring back into years past. "The real problem was, I wasn't willing to pretend the War had never happened, that the Decepticons and the Autobots weren't some fairy tale... and that something like that couldn't happen again. Maybe I didn't change so much as become more what I really was, but... what I really was wouldn't lie for the folks whose peace I had sacrificed for."
Swerve listens, unusually silent, while Kup carries on the tale. As he listens, his expression slowly goes from his characteristic irritated scowl to a look of bemused comprehension. And maybe, just maybe, there's a grain of understanding – even sympathy – there. He knows what it's like to be penalised for refusing to lie.
"What… what happened then?" he finds himself asking, rooted to the spot. He suspects he knows part of the answer already and he doesn't like it. It makes him want to punch things all over again, but for very different reasons. More personal reasons.
Kup has Swerve rooted to the spot? Not bad! Kup himself might be more pleased if it didn't call for dipping into some of the more unpleasant aspects of his past.
"Next?" he asks, still looking though the years at nothing present, something past. "Well, things continued in the sort of... they kept moving in the obvious direction for awhile, the situation moving closer and closer to the point where something had to give. And eventually... evenutally it happened. I was judged... incompatible with peace time Cybertron. I was offered a ship, fuel, even some trade goods... whatever it would take to get me to leave the planet. When I resisted, it was... heavily implied that maybe I oughta... willingly leave, before someone might decide to make me go away."
He pauses again, then adds, "Maybe in a way what I couldn't someday come back from."
Swerve isn't oblivious to Kup's meaning; he stopped being that naïve a long time ago. And knowing what Kup's getting at just makes Swerve angry all over again, fists clenched, body tense, engine geared up and front wheels spinning. He isn't angry at Kup this time, though.
"Primus-fragged no torque slag-suckers," he fumes, jaw tight.
"Yeah," Kup agrees, nodding. "They were. But now they're dead no torque slag-suckers. So long ago that there just ain't no point in still carrying around all that hate for him." He shurgs. "Took me a long time, but I eventually let it go."
Kup pauses a moment, looking down at his hands, then continues. "So anyway. I left. I could stay and live a lie, I could stay and... vanish, or I could leave. I left." He shrugs. "Next few million years, I spent a lot of my time alone. 'Freelance security.' Sometimes the jobs I got were worthwhile... there are whole planets out there who owe their safety to me." Kup smiles faintly, still proud, even after all this time, of those jobs. "Other times, I was back to being a thug for hire." The smile fades, and regrets lurk beneath it. "Sometimes had teams of aliens I worked with, but at the end of the day the only one I could really count on was myself." He shakes his head. "Dealing with the aliens weren't as bad as running into other Cybertronians. If I was lucky they took one look at the symbol on my chest and dismissed me as a justifiably exiled, violent warmonger. I think that still hurt less than the ones who saw it... and asked me what it meant."
Kup falls silent for awhile and leans back against the tree. Before long, the faint stirrings of the night-time insects and animals fill the impromptu 'camp' with their chirrups and their rustlings, and still Kup says nothing.