Kup considers matters. On the one hand, Swerve had been a repeat trouble maker. On the other, Kup knows damn well the main reason for it. What's more, he can hardly hold it against someone else for being a bit reckless and wild in their youths.
Beyond that, Swerve is... painfully honest. Or at least, when he's dishonest, it's because he's also fooling himself, too. So painfully honest that he tends to take violent exception to both people around him being otherwise, and to any suggestion that he might be otherwise. So, while Kup may not necessarily approve of slugging folks in charge, well, between what he knows of Swerve and his own memories of times when he's wanted to do similar, he doesn't have to fake the sympathetic amusement when he asks, "Yeah? So you knock his block loose?"
"…Guess I did," Swerve answers in a mumble, looking up but at something off to Kup's right. The sound he makes isn't quite a laugh; a half-hearted sort of chuckle at best. "Hit him hard enough that I put him out a while, at least. The rest of 'em called in security guys to drag me outta the building. Took a whole squad." He had the traction and torque to shake off that many back then.
He resettles his weight, elbows on his knees now.
"So I got tossed outta racing." He falls silent for a good minute or so after that, trying to sort out the words. "I… I kept tryin'," he finally continues. "To speak my piece. I went lookin' for footage. Somebody had to have it; there's always cameras covering the races and I figured if I could just find a recording that showed how he was penning me in, I could show it to the review board." Why he was that desperate to prove himself to a bunch of smoke-blowing shut-ins like them, he isn't sure now. They didn't matter that much; it was racing he needed. "Maybe if I could get 'em to watch it, they'd see I wasn't the only one at fault. At least just – just make it a temporary suspension." He sneers at nothing and his tone grows venomous and he rips out handfuls of wet grass. "But I couldn't find anything. Nobody had–" He shakes his head and grinds out, "Everyone I asked said they lost the tapes. Everyone I asked who'd actually talk to me. Most of 'em just shut the door in my face and wouldn't lemme say anything."
Kup frowns. For all that Swerve won't look at him, he does watch Swerve as the other tells his story.
Usually. Don't want to scare him off by being too interested, after all.
But he is watching Swerve now.
"'Lost' the tapes?" he rumbles. "Bunch of different news agencies, and all of 'em lost the tapes of the same event?" He snorts. Didn't sound likely. At all. In fact, it sounds downright rotten, but best not to focus too much on that alone. Sounds like Swerve has more to tell.
"I was blacklisted," Swerve says with a scoff as if that explains everything. It does, really. They might as well have just taken my wheels away. "I couldn't race anywhere legit once the word got around… not for lack of trying. Felt like – like I was gonna lose it. But…." He shrugs, sort of. "That's when I remembered I could go underground. Kinda had to if I wanted to race again. So… I did." He leans back against the tree and looks up for a second or two, just letting the rain collect on his face. His optics are threatening to fog up with the heat and the dampness and it's getting harder to keep his thoughts straight, but the air his ventilation takes in is still cool. It helps.
Remembering doesn't make any of it better.
"I was a leakin' idiot," he spits, turning his gaze to the ground again. "Had no fraggin' clue what I was doin' there. Just about got myself scrapped my first day – kept runnin' my mouth at the wrong people. Then… that was when Treadshot rolled along." The weird smile on Swerve's face isn't actually a smile at all; a wry twist of his mouth more than anything and a murderous light in his optics. He starts twisting and worrying his fingers as his agitation grows, but otherwise, he doesn't move an inch. "He hauled my chassis outta the smelter more than once early on… told me what was what, showed me all the ropes, got me back on my axles. He – he really looked out for me. Probably looked fraggin' stupid followin' him around, letting him handle the rough stuff for me when I was still bigger than him. But nobody wanted to mess with him, so… nobody messed with me either. Figured we were pals." His expression fades and crumples into a pinched scowl and he clenches his hands around each other until his arms start to shake. "Great pals, me and Treadshot.
"Great enough that him and his chop shop buddies at least left me the parts I needed to drag myself outta the alley where they dumped me once they were done." He was a pile of shiny new topside parts back then and didn't have the good sense to not blindly trust anyone who offered him a drink and a shoulder to lean on. Swerve winces at himself and his optics darken to bronze. "I… I honestly thought I was gonna die there," he says almost too quietly to hear, ashamed again.
Here, he stalls again, this time grimacing and trying to focus through the rising temperatures.
Kup stays quiet, listening carefully to Swerve's story, trying to pick out both what he says, and what he doesn't say. When Swerve stalls he tries to reach over, touch his shoulder lightly with his fingertips. Not full contact, just enough to remind Swerve that he isn't alone.
"Take your time, Swerve," he says softly. "We've got all night."
Swerve's head snaps up when he spots that hand reaching for him and he recoils to avoid the contact, giving Kup a guarded stare. For all of three seconds before he averts his gaze, looking for something else – anything else – to focus on. He can feel himself getting too warm; the drizzle's starting to sting on his face and neck. Talking isn't getting any easier, either.
"Didn't kill me," he mutters, "so it doesn't matter any more. Quickswitch picked me up after that. Dunno why, but – but he put me back together and offered t' let me stick with him if I lent a hand around his repair shop. O' course I stayed." A place to bunk down, enough fuel to keep going? And yes, someone to help him out. No way he'd turn down a deal that good. "Didn't make myself too useful, I guess… but I was still too slaggin' stupid. Shot my mouth off in an oil house one night. Did it at the wrong bunch o' gearheads." There's no shame left; he's too far up the thermometer for that. "Some sludge-sucker called Fastlane – had his whole gang with him and I dunno… maybe they had some fender-benders with Quickswitch before. Somethin' stickin' between 'em. They started roughin' him up and I got in the way. Quickswitch got his chassis out the door while Fastlane and his bunch… they beat the coolant outta me." Swerve smirks viciously as he adds in a happy rumble, "But I took out a few o' them before I went down. Not too many mechs wanted to screw with me after that."
But he isn't proud. There's no smile or challenging look, and his smirk vanishes.
"Still hadn't learned my lesson."
Swerve manages a little more after that, but it comes in more and more broken snippets, anecdotes of brazen idiocy that landed him exactly where it should have and trust misplaced time and again until he finally ditched it and embraced the violence with every strut and bolt on his frame. It isn't so much a retelling as scattered mentions of names – some possibly, strangely familiar – and the situations they bring to mind; it grows more disjointed, full of jumps and backtracking as he becomes angrier with each recollection and his concentration wanes.
The veteran draws his hand away as Swerve recoils, deciding not to press the matter. Instead, he just falls silent as the other continues his story.
Kup listens to Swerve's tale of betrayal and misplaced trust, listens as Swerve describes what eventually caused him to give that up for violence. Easier. Faster. Less painful. He listens patiently, careful not to let the growing sense of pity show. It makes sense. It makes sense how a life like that could tear up the trusting personality that Swerve describes from years back. Despite this, though, Kup can't help but be frustrated at Swerve's final decision. Give in, give up, let bitterness and distrust fill the holes torn out by life.
That's admitting defeat right there.
Kup watches Swerve intently, giving him a long, thoughtful look as the other's tale continues into the night, but for now keeping his thoughts to himself.
Swerve hits another stall point and sits in awkward silence for a few seconds. Odds are good he's missed many details and simply can't remember them right now because he's too angry. Trying to think of what they could be only makes it worse and he grimaces before just going with what he can recall.
"…That – then the Decepticons showed up, I think," he says, a tightness in his voice. "Started raisin' trouble topside. No time flat before the news made the rounds in the underground, too… some slag-sucker who called himself Megatron. He was nosin' around – word was he wanted something he called the Cyber Planet Key – and he got those glitched-out morons on his side. Crumplezone and Ransack. They kicked up trouble for him while he did whatever it was he was doin'." He's disgusted with the whole thing, but that abruptly changes to a numb sort of awe. "We even heard he nearly beat Override when she took him up on a race. Fraggin' Override!" he exclaims, covering his optics with one hand and shaking his head.
When he lowers his hand, his expression is grim and angry again.
"Things went downhill in a big smelted hurry after that. If he could give Override a run for her treads, he might even be a new leader. Mechs in th' underground lined up behind that – figures, though. Most of us were there 'cause things up top, with her in charge? Didn't work out so well," he mutters and he can't help sounding bitter. "Seemed like just about everybody I knew was wearin' that smelted purple logo. Couldn't take a slaggin' drive without seein' at least five or ten of the fraggin' things, and none of it sat right. Not t' me. 'Cause if this Megatron gearhead could keep blowin' all that smoke and pickin' up pals like Ransack? Like Crumplezone? He wasn't anybody Velocitron needed at the wheel and it didn't matter what I thought o' the way Override ran things. No way was I gonna throw my lot in with him and his Decepticons. Not even if it cost me everything.
"But there were these other sludge-chuggers who'd shown up, some other strangers. Word was they were tryin' to stop Megatron. Called themselves Autobots." He still remembers the bits and pieces of news reports he caught when he left his workshop. "Some rookie – a wannabe racer and his torqueless pal. Never did hear their names, but I saw 'em once or twice. Newscasts. Snuck topside for a while… just a while. Couldn't get a good look at 'em from far away." Swerve glances briefly at Kup again, trying to sort out his words – the ones he wants are so hard to find – and to gauge the veteran's reaction before he continues. His voice is getting rougher and raspier, but as he stares at nothing in front of him, his optics brighten. "I didn't really care whatever the frag else they were after, but… but they didn't want Megatron or those smelted Decepticons around. That was good enough for me. Took me a while, but I finally got hold o' that symbol they wore. Took longer t' find a shop willin' to do the paint work if I paid 'em enough to cover the risk." He clenches his jaw and quietly snarls, "In case there were any problems from the racers wearin' purple."
Kup listens, now, to Swerve's determination not to throw in with the Decepticons, to how he made his choice and decided to stand by it no matter what.
By how much trouble the racer went through just to get the Autobrand, and how much he risked just to wear it.
And he sees how Swerve's optics brighten, and he it's all he can do not to smile, and Kup hides his mouth behind a thoughtful rub of his chin, just to be on the safe side. Swerve thinks there's nothing there, and yet he's still clinging to it as tight as he can! Battered, beaten, but he never did give up willingly, did he? He fought as long as he could to hold onto his ability to trust, his honesty, his principles - and Matrix help those who tore those bits from Swerve should Kup ever find his way to Velocitron, he decides. Or Matrix don't help them. That's fine, too.
What's more, for all that was taken, Kup can see clearer now than ever that there's still something left. Battered, worn, but still there, and Swerve clung to it tight without ever realizing. Kup makes a second decision - he'll do what he can to make sure Swerve has no reason to let it go while he's among them.
These thoughts go through quickly, and finally Kup lowers his hand. "So what happened next?" Since clearly, this isn't the end of the story.
"Next?" Swerve blinks and turns to Kup and doesn't look away immediately, snapped out of his reverie but still not fully focused in the now. "Next – after that, it was…." He frowns and has to struggle to get his mind back on track. "…I was gonna run in my first race since getting the paint done," he says, tilting his head slightly back, toward the Autobrand on his hood. "Guess I could've won. Could've lost. Could've gotten killed." He says it casually, but it was a casual sort of thing for him. He could even have been killed for wearing the symbol he chose, he supposes. But he'll never know, will he? "I ended up here instead. Here – there. Wherever the smelt it was I woke up."
"Yeah, it is," Swerve answers, scowling suspiciously. His anger before was for things – people – long in the past. Now it's focusing on Kup once more. "You expected a happy end or somethin'? Well, there ain't one. Dunno what kind of additives you've got in your mix, oldtimer, but there ain't a smeltin' thing t' see." He looks down at the ground between his hands and tries to ignore how it feels like he's trembling when he knows he isn't, how his head's starting to hurt and his leg's beginning to ache. "And now you know why," he mutters.
That rebuttal stings for some reason and Swerve just stares at Kup's back for a few long seconds, utterly flummoxed. That look is quickly replaced by a wounded, resentful glare and that even sooner becomes his normal scowl. He lurches to his feet, fists tight at his sides and wheels spinning.
"You – frag you 'n' this whole smeltin' thing then!" he snarls before stalking off, cursing and punching things as he goes, deeper into the trees where the falling mist can't constantly sizzle on his hood and pipes and where he doesn't have to look at Kup. He doesn't stop until he finds a spot where one tree has fallen into another. He hunkers down between them and goes back to staring at nothing in particular, too wound up for defrag, nowhere to go so he can work it off. If the Pit is real, then this must be what it's like, he decides, picking a direction and pitching the first rock he finds in his hand simply because he can't do much else.
Kup sighs as he hears the reaction, though he does not look up. He just reminds himself, again, that this is not all for nothing, and starts his defragmentation cycle.
The next day, travel gets treacherous. More-so than it has been. The water's been getting deep without warning more and more often, and even the 'shallow' areas aren't that shallow.
"The good news is, as much trudging around in this sludge as we've done, we're bound to hit the end of the radio dead zone soon," he notes absently. The water is up to his waist. "The bad news is, in the meantime it looks like it's just getting deeper."
He pauses and looks back. Swerve is, after all, even shorter than he is. "Need some help there, lad?"