What had ruined Tap-Out’s morning had only been a stupid, innocent mistake. He was on his way to Headquarters for a meeting with the higher-ups. It was said that Rodimus Prime was charting up a list of new assignments and Tap-Out had decided to take advantage of that and put in a request to be one of them. He enjoyed this planet and all, but he was known for being a fighter through and through. Fighters without any fights tended to become bored.
Thus he had left his pristine apartment, taking his time reaching his destination and actually having a decent orn for once, and then a distracted mech on a comm. unit had plowed right into him and spilled an oil drum down his front. By some miracle, Tap-Out had resisted the automatic instinct to armlock the mech for what felt all too much like an assault, but then he had looked down at himself, at his hands, and he had seen the oil dripping down his fingertips.
Just like that, his good orn had gone downhill fast.
The wide paved road leading to the tower had started to swerve out from under him and in his last few kliks of coherent thought, he had stumbled into a more discreet area, slamming into the side of a building in the process. The pain had barely registered through the numbness sapping the strength from his body, forcing him down onto hands and knees in the alleyway.
Can’t—can’t do this now…Have to get to HQ for the—the thing—The half-formed notion of rising made him feel like he was going to purge; he would have if his throat wasn’t so tight. Trembling, he gripped futilely at whatever was underneath him, trying to ground himself, but its rough metal surface was slicked by the oil from his hands and he couldn’t find it again.
Can’t do it—Can’t, I can’t, I can’t—
Kick-Off had just ripped off someone’s arm. Tap-Out wasn’t one to flinch, especially not with Rumbler and Sprocket on either side of him, but watching their fellow Autobot shatter that arm over his knee for use as dual clubs…He could sense that even the hardy twins weren’t unaffected by it.
“He’s glitched,” Powerflash muttered, his tone blurring the line between disgust and disbelief.
“Your turn, pretties!” their Decepticon guard cackled, grabbing Sprocket by the neck and steering him toward the arena—
“Don’t die on me,” Tap-Out hissed, clutching at what was left of the mech’s neck and chest. “Don’t die—Don’t die on me—” There was so much he wanted to say to him, so much guilt and grief threatening. He had nicked an energon vein by sheer chance; it was such a shallow cut, one that would have been shrugged off by any other mech, but this was the smallest of his team, the weakest. He had been sent to die.
“It’s okay,” his opponent choked out, energon spilling down his chin. “I don’t—b-blame you for…Just doin’ it for your t-team…S’all any of us can—”
“What’s your name? C’mon, c’mon, tell me your name!” Tap-Out hollered, trying to shout over him, drown out the sight of his optics darkening, his frame graying—
“Aren’t you the little prize?” one of the Decepticon femmes laughed, gripping his chin and jerking his helm up hard, tearing at his neck cables. “I hear you’re a nasty fighter.”
“Nasty?” her companion echoed. “That’s putting it lightly. He’s the best weapon we’ve got!” At Tap-Out’s wordless snarl, she chuckled. “That’s right, little guy; you’re a Bot-killer, just as much as any of us.”
“Who knows? Maybe you’ll make a Con sooner or later; then you can sit up in the stands with us and have a better time.”
The grease from the Pits never left him; it stained his hands, dripped into crevices and joints that would never be clean, crusting there, rusting him, mingling with the remnants of energon from too many Autobots to count. It made him feel filthy, the basest of metals, and when he came out of the Pits in the end with it coating his frame, graying it, and dragging the equally grayed frames of his allies—his opponents—behind him, he couldn’t help but long for a time when the Pit would open up and swallow him whole.
“Just ex-vent, lad.”
The gravelly voice wasn’t like any of the Decepticons’; Tap-Out remembered all of their voices clearly. Those were the ones he heard at night, laughing at him, pulling him into the dark. This was a low, gentle thing, from somewhere to his left. When Tap-Out tried to protest that his vents weren’t cooperating, nothing but a strangled whimper left him.
“Hey, easy now. You can get through this. What you’re feelin’ isn’t dangerous. You dizzy?” Apparently the stranger took Tap-Out’s desperate hum as an affirmative; he hummed in return and Tap-Out could smell the thick, musty-sweet fog of a cygar. As repellant as the smell might have been to some, he found its sweetness was something present enough that he could cling to it.
“Just keep your helm down. I’m gonna get you—” As soon as Tap-Out felt the mech shift toward standing, he stiffened, blindly snatching at whatever plating was in reach to keep him where he was. It was pathetic, but somehow he couldn’t bear the thought of being left alone like this. “Alright, alright. I was just goin’ for your comm. link in case you wanted me t’call someone. You want that?”
The list of people Tap-Out would trust to see him like this was exceedingly short; at the moment, it was just this stranger. He shook his helm as much as he was able without blacking out and the mech hummed again, seeming doubtful but unwilling to argue the point further.
“I guess we’ll come back t’that. Take your time.” The Minibot shuddered as a hand landed gently on his back, carefully smoothing down some of the flared plating. “I’m not goin’ anywhere.” With that assurance, he changed the subject, speaking of the most recent upgrades advertised and how ridiculous most of them were. Tap-Out didn’t follow his remarks too closely, but the voice stayed calm and sure enough that it began pulling him back toward the present.
The shadows in the alleyway were cool on his back as he sat up, blinking dazedly through the cygar smoke at the mech who had just become his hero. It was a face he recognized—a face any knowledgeable Autobot should recognize—but at the moment he was too exhausted to be embarrassed or offer a paltry salute.
“Th-Thanks,” he managed hoarsely, testing his voice out for the first time in several minutes.
“Not a problem,” Kup assured him shortly (which was odd, considering his reputation for long-windedness, but not unappreciated.) “Here. Might make you feel better.” Pulling the cygar from his mouth, he let it dangle from his fingertips close to Tap-Out’s face. Tap-Out stared at it blankly for a series of kliks before registering that he was supposed to make use of it. Mistrusting his shaking, oily fingers to hold it, he leaned forward and hooked his teeth against it, taking a long drag.
He realized as soon as the warm sweetness hit his vents that it was some kind of calming medication; it did its work well, opening his throat and making it just a little easier to swallow. Kup nodded approvingly, conceding the cygar to him and withdrawing another for himself from his subspace.
“Y’know…These help, but they don’t do all the work,” he remarked contemplatively, optics trailing across the wall at Tap-Out’s back. “When I got ’em, I still needed a friend I could call…someone t’pick me back up.” Tap-Out tilted his helm wordlessly and Kup filled in the blank. “Ultra Magnus is my pick-me-up. Y’know him—everyone knows—Mags is the kind of mech who handles the worst of things with grace. That includes me an’ all that comes in my package. I trust him with anything, even this. D’you have one of those types?”
“If I did,” Tap-Out sighed softly, rubbing a trembling hand over his optics, “trust me, I’d be asking you to call them.”
Kup stopped to consider this for a minute or two. “You plan on findin’ one?”
“Heh. I wish.”
“Well, like I said, lad, I’m not goin’ anywhere.”
Tap-Out glanced at him sharply, taken aback, and Kup offered him a lopsided smile before leaning more comfortably against the building opposite him.
“I don’t suppose…you could ask Ultra Magnus to let me off the hook for being late to my meeting at HQ?” Tap-Out asked cautiously, lowering his voice to specify, “Without…uh, telling him why?”
“Ah, sure. What’re friends for?”
Wait half a klik…Did I just make Lieutenant Commander Kup my friend…or my therapist? Scrap, is he both? Processing this, Tap-Out took another slow dose of the medication, following Kup’s example and relaxing where he was.