"…So?" Swerve says after the silence drags on too long. He has no room to say anything about Kup leaving; Swerve himself chose to go underground rather than stay topside after his blacklisting from official races. There was nothing left for him, so there wasn't any reason to stick around. It sounds to him like the oldtimer took off with just cause, but then went through more scrap for it. What's the point of telling me and leaving it there? "That can't be it."
The veteran laughs briefly, softly, and bitterly. "Not... quite," he answers Swerve's comment.
He pauses, then goes on. "Funny thing was, there I was, off planet, not in any position to fill any 'impressionable youngster' processors with 'wrong-headed ideas,' and despite all that... the Decepticons still came back. Just like I warned 'em would happen if they didn't stay on their guard, if they just... swept it all away and pretended it didn't happen. The Third Great War still started up again. And y'know, when you got a planet run by people whose heads are so far up their tailpipes they can't even admit that war's possible, well... there's no way you can actually be prepared for it." Kup chuckles again, but there's no humor in the laugh.
"So... word eventually reached me what was going on, and I headed back, figuring that there, then... there was a whole new generation of Autobots who would need some guidance. And I was just the mech to do it." Now, now he smiles faintly and looks up at Swerve.
"Sometimes, this bit of red paint don't mean you got a friend in the world. Sometimes, the red paint can just mean you decided to stick to your guns, to stand by what you know is right, when no one else will."
"Sometimes, it means you're holding the fort until there finally are others to stand by you again."
"Sometimes, it just means you're too damn stubborn to give up, forget, or turn away."
"You… went back." Swerve stares blankly at Kup for several long seconds, the rest of what the veteran says sailing right over his head. Then he flies into motion for an instant, shifting himself up onto one knee and punching the ground because he has to lash out at something, fixing an overly bright glare on Kup. "You went back?!" he demands in a low roar, uncomprehending. Why? Why go back to them after what happened?! "Why the scrap would you do that?!"
Swerve doesn't get it. Not even with the platitudes about holding the fort. It doesn't make any sense to him.
"Dunno. Too damn stubborn not to, I guess." Kup shrugs. "After all, whole reason I left was because I was too stubborn not to turn my back on what I believed. And what I believed was that the universe ain't gonna be that nice a place if the Decepticons win, and that someone's gotta stand up for them... and you can't just sit back and hope that someone else'll do it."
"'Sides. The kids who were fightin' the war, they were as torqued over by the guys who tossed me out on my audial as I was - left unprepared without the old guard to lend a guiding hand. Why should I punish them a second time, when they got punished once just for existing at the wrong time."
"I'm not saying what was done don't bother me. It does. But if I turned my back on those new guys, if I just left the Decepticons to do what they wanted to, I'd have been as undeserving of this," Kup taps the symbol on his chest, "as if I'd just caved years before."
Kup then looks up at Swerve and grins, genuine warmth shining in his blue optics, "Besides, some things are worth holding out for."
Can't just sit back and wait for someone else to do it. Swerve slowly blinks once, twice, then looks away from Kup and sits again as it hits him like a kick in the head. Someone has to stand up. He frowns at the ground between his feet. …Like I did? He looks up again, staring away from Kup and only risking a quick sidelong glance.
First it was Xaaron reassuring Swerve that he was in the right place. That he'd made the right choice when he picked a side. Now it's Kup reassuring him that it was the right thing to do after all. Swerve isn't sure what to make of it all; he had it drilled home so many times early on that he was nothing like the Autobots, that he didn't quite belong, that he was an ill fit among them. But he's been told now that he's where he should be and… maybe some small part of him feels it's true. Maybe.
But he puts that thought out of mind, scowl returning with innate suspicion at that smile Kup gives him. What's the oldtimer getting at?
"…Yeah," Swerve mutters finally, turning away from Kup and settling himself against a tree trunk, "sure." Some things are worth it? What things? Nothing Swerve knows.
OOC: And a timeskip…. Swerve passes most of the next long, dreary, grey day in silence. The cool mist that makes seeing what lies further ahead so obnoxious also does a great job of helping him regulate his system temperature with all the thinking he does as he wades through the marshes a few steps behind Kup, ignoring how stiff his leg is getting.
He's still a little hot under the hood by the time they find somewhere else to stop and rest. At least this time, they still have a little bit of daylight on their side; eerie light as dusk filters through the drizzle, but better than nothing. Swerve is almost glad for it since he can't trip on anything hidden in the darkness and take another painful header. He still keeps quiet as he picks a dry enough place on this patch of ground to ease down and settle his weight, hopefully without sinking under while he defrags. There's even a fallen tree either of them can use for a headrest. Downright cosy.
Not that Swerve notices. He sits hunched, tense, expression somewhere between sullen and pensive. He's been running the same lap in his head all day long and it's really wearing at him because he has no idea what to say or how to say it. He glances Kup's way occasionally, never quite directly at him, then looks elsewhere if the veteran happens to look back at him.
For once, Kup lets the silence be silent. Well, okay, he does make a casual observation now and again, and maybe absently compares some plant to something he found on this planet, or some animal to something he spotted on that. But overall, he's a lot more quiet than usual.
Almost as if he's giving things time to sink in.
Finally, once the two are settle for the night, and Kup is once more rested in a relatively not-wet spot (which means: still wet). After awhile it's hard to ignore that he's being looked at, even if Swerve keeps trying to pretend otherwise.
Finally, Kup observes, "You know, you can just say it if you want. I'm not stopping you."
"I'm not–" Swerve starts to say almost too quickly, head snapping up, a kneejerk response when Kup finally says something that isn't empty small talk. He stops again just as quickly and looks down. Not sure what to say.
It takes another minute or so before the racer can finally come up with something.
"I'm not," he repeats finally in a grinding mumble, still not looking up. The words come out slow and rough; it's a minor struggle to find them and get them through his vocorder. "Not…." Not like the others? But Xaaron already went over this with Swerve. Xaaron isn't like the others, either, but he still fits. "…Worth it. So don't bother, oldtimer." His frown turns angry and he looks aside to a tree trunk slowly fading into the nighttime gloom. "Don't waste your time."
Kup's silent for a moment, studying Swerve. Then, finally, he drawls out, "Y'know... I met plenty of folks who're worthwhile - and knew it. Nothing wrong with a bit of confidence, y'know. And I've known plenty of folks who're worth nothing - but were sure they was worthwhile. 'Cos, well, mistaken confidence happens."
"But I ain't met a hell of a lot of people who aren't worthwhile and claimed they weren't worthwhile. 'Cos, y'know, usually the act of looking in yourself, taking the time to see that you ain't perfect, that you do got flaws, and... to wish you was better. That alone is generally a pretty good clue that you are something better."
Then he grins. "Besides, seems to me it's my time to decide what I'm doing with it."
Kup's reply makes Swerve's scowl draw tighter, but for once, the racer doesn't blow up. He seethes, but he just crosses his arms and leans back against his chosen tree.
"Fine," he snaps, ignoring that grin. "Keep deluding yourself, see if I give a stripped screw." Swerve has thought about this all day long and he might finally have it figured out. There's nothing better there; he just is what he is. He joined just to make them all leave and he's said as much before. Why should he care if Kup doesn't get it? He shouldn't. But he does and it aggravates him. "There's nothing there," he adds, fists clenched beneath his arms. He can't put it any plainer.
Kup props up one leg, bending his knee so he can limply rest his hands across it. He studies Swerve silently for a long moment, optics narrowed in thought. Finally he says, tone soft, "You're spending an awful lot of time arguing the point for someone who don't care."
Then he shifts, settling further against the tree, and looks up towards the darkening sky.
For a moment before he answers, Swerve glares with over-bright optics, not quite at Kup and not quite at anything else.
"Because it isn't." He looks down again, this time at his knees, optics dimming and scowl wavering. "Don't know if it ever was there. Maybe – a long time ago… if it was." Maybe when he was still young and stupid. But he doubts it. His gaze shifts to a broken tree trunk jutting from the water a few feet from the shore of this little 'island', then to a murky puddle near his foot. Never at Kup. "Maybe I cut it out. Or it could've been pounded outta me. I don't know," he adds quietly. "But it ain't there." His scowl returns full-force and his tone grows bitter and sullen. "So all the waiting you've got going for you won't change how it is." He tucks in on himself a little more. "Won't change how it was, either."
"Yeah?" Kup asks softly, tone thoughtful but interested.
He shifts again, accidentally putting his hand into a puddle next to him. He hisses, removes his hand, and shakes off the water and muck. He's still trying to fling the stuff off his hand when he asks, "And how was it?"
Swerve's angry and sullen, yes, but if Kup's judging it right, part of him wants to tell this. Kup'll keep nudging, gently but not overbearingly, until he listens to that part.
Swerve flicks a dangerous, wary glance at Kup just long enough for it to count before he looks away again. He's sure Kup doesn't really care about what went on before Swerve got here; the oldtimer's just being social, looking for conversation. He talks. He always talks.
But maybe he'll actually get it if Swerve tries to explain.
"I guess," Swerve begins haltingly, optics dimming and flickering as he searches his memory banks, "it really got started after my blacklisting. Wasn't all pit stops and high grade before then, but… that…." Was the worst part of it all. "I got barred from licensed racing. It wasn't even all my fault!" Not all, but he wasn't exactly innocent. "Some slag-sucker had me pinned along the barrier and he was pacing me. I… was already on probation for somethin' else, so I was tryin' to behave." He's ashamed of both parts in a way – ending up on probation in the first place and not having the bearings to push its boundaries. "But I couldn't get up the speed to pass and every time I tried to drop behind him to get out that way, he matched me. And the whole smeltin' time he was trashing on me!" Swerve's jaw clenches and his fists creak against his sides and even though the words get harder and harder to say, he keeps going, "I was getting angry… getting hot…." Kup has seen what happens when the racer can't cool down. "The lane was gonna end and I had to do something or I'd have been disqualified anyway for goin' off course.
"So I tried again. I slammed on the brakes and turned hard left to swing behind him and he tried to stop me. I hit his rear fender dead on, shoved him outta my way, and he T-boned the divider rail. At speed." Swerve's expression turns dour, slightly pained. If the other racer actually survived the accident, it wasn't without crippling injuries; he isn't saying either way. "But since I was the repeat offender," he mutters, engine snarling, "I went up in front of the review board. Again. And they threw the fraggin' book at me for it! I tried telling 'em my side, how I was just trying to get loose, but– but–" Abruptly, he snaps, slamming one fist into the tree behind him. "They wouldn't listen! I had a record, so they wouldn't let me say anything! 'Unsportsmanlike conduct', they told me. 'Wilful danger to other competitors'. And I couldn't appeal, either! I just – I mean, I hit him, yeah, but–" Jaw still clenched, he vents the hot air building up in his ventilation system and rubs the back of his neck with one hand, shutting his optics for a second or two. He almost looks embarrassed for a moment before he adds with a grimace and a rare instance of clarity amid the rising heat, "And… maybe deckin' the one official wasn't the smartest thing for me to do after all that. I just wanted 'em to listen to me and when they wouldn't… it cranked me the wrong way and – and I couldn't help it. I couldn't! I hauled right over the table and put my fist in his smug, sprocket-stickin' face when he called me a lying punk." He spits out those last two words.
Stupid. A stupid thing to do, but Swerve was a stupid kid. A big, stupid kid.