“I talked to Ultra Magnus.”
Knock Out groaned and fell back against the pillow. “Bumblebee, I told you not to be my hero.” This was not a conversation he wanted to be having at the moment.
He lifted his head and glared. Being a hero was in Bumblebee’s nature. It was a spark-deep trait. He couldn’t seem to set down the shining armor no matter what else was going on.
“Okay, a little.” Bumblebee held up his hands. “But in my defense, it was just a question.”
Knock Out sighed, resigning himself to it. Even if he didn’t find Bumblebee’s hero complex so adorable, this would be annoying. “About what?”
Bumblebee stroked Knock Out’s abdomen, fingers tracing the seams of his armor. “If you take the Autobot exam and pass, you’ll be a full fledged Autobot.”
“I know that.”
“You’ll get access to your Earth funds,” Bumblebee continued and placed a kiss on Knock Out’s grill, ex-venting damp-hot into it. “You can start going on patrols with me. You don’t have to take the oath or anything. You just have to pass the exam.”
Knock Out narrowed his optics. “No ceremony?”
“Not unless you want one.” Bumblebee kissed further down, as though trying to use seduction to convince Knock Out.
Sadly, it was working.
“No vows? No stupid Autobot pledges?”
“Nope.” Bumblebee popped the word and licked over Knock Out’s interface panel, sending a surge of heat southward.
Knock Out parted his thighs a bit further, and Bumblebee flopped between them, grinning like an idiot. “And how did I get this super-special consideration?”
Bumblebee leaned his head against the inside of Knock Out’s thigh. “It’s not special. For you, I mean. Anyone who wants to defect and goes through the probation period can do this.” He flicked his door wings, making the windows rattle. “Ultra Magnus agreed it’s pointless to make mechs take vows they might not mean. At least this way, the Autobot code is more of a code of conduct.”
“You were listening,” Knock Out commented, lifting his orbital ridges.
Bumblebee smirked. “Of course I was.” He stroked the inside of Knock Out’s thighs, where hip met leg, his fingers leaving a tingling path behind. “So? You gonna do it?”
Yes. Of course he was. But no need to let Bumblebee think he’d won just yet.
“Hmm.” Knock Out’s attention wandered back to his datapad. This was supposed to be their quiet time after all. “It’s an awful lot of studying. And a great deal of rules.”
Bumblebee nuzzled his panel. “What if I sucked you off? Would that convince you?” He ex-vented hot and wet with promise, fingers slipping into a seam to caress cables beneath.
The notion of quiet time escaped him quite frequently.
Knock Out laughed. “You were going to do that anyway.”
“Was I? That’s news to me.”
Knock Out grabbed each of Bumblebee’s tires and hauled his lover up for a kiss, sealing their mouths together in a sloppy press of lips. Bumblebee laughed and nudged a knee against Knock Out’s groin, his hands braced to either side of Knock Out’s tires.
“Is that a yes?” he asked against Knock Out’s lips.
Knock Out hooked an ankle around the back of Bumblebee’s thigh and tugged him closer, right where Knock Out wanted him. “I’ll let you know after you give me an overload or three.”
Bumblebee chuckled. “Deal.”
Three Earth months.
It was a relatively short time in the lifespan of a Cybertronian, but Knock Out felt every moment of those three months as though they were the length of the average Cybertronian cycle. He blamed that on the Autobots’ insistence on adopting Earth’s solar and lunar cycles since Cybertron still plummeted endlessly through space. Whether they were in range of a sun or not, their chronometers all followed Earth’s standard time: CST, for the record. Just like Jasper, Nevada.
Knock Out wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to Bumblebee. He tentatively hoped their one night wasn’t a one-time thing, and couldn’t help being surprised when Bumblebee showed up at the medcenter the next day, inviting Knock Out for a midday energon break. He even charmed Ratchet into letting Knock Out off a little early, all the while scurrying away from Ratchet’s demands that he show up for a maintenance check.
“It’s not like I’m afraid or anything,” Bumblebee had said with a rakish grin and a wink. “But if Doc’s yelling at me and getting flustered, then he’s not moping and sulking, and since he won’t talk to anyone or let anyone help, it’s the only thing I can do.”
Knock Out had shook his head. “You’re unbearably sweet sometimes. You know that?”
“It’s part of my charm,” Bumblebee said and stole a kiss when no one was looking, his lips lingering, and his mouth tasting like stolen sweet treats.
It wasn’t like they announced their new relationship – because clearly that’s what Bumblebee was going for with all the wooing, not that Knock Out was opposed. But they didn’t hide it either.
Bumblebee did proudly proclaim they were ‘together’ in front of every Vehicon he could though. Most of whom he knew by name. Knock Out pretended he wasn’t flattered, but he had to admit, if Bumblebee wanted to show him off, well, he couldn’t have picked a better looking partner.
They didn’t spend all their time together. Bumblebee still had patrols, some that took him back to Earth even. Knock Out had work at the medcenter, his chores and the like. They didn’t spend all of their free time together. But if their schedules aligned, Knock Out could count on Bumblebee to show up and drag Knock Out into some fun or mischief or making out in a storage closet.
It was nice.
It certainly made his post-defection existence a Pit of a lot better.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen someone look happy to be taking a damn test.”
Knock Out continued cleaning his equipment and returning each item to its respective slot. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
Behind him, Ratchet snorted and gave him a narrow-opticked look, though it lacked heat considering the fatigue that made it crackle around the optical lens. Ratchet needed recharge for days, but try to get him to lay down for more than an hour, and he complained.
“You sneer,” Ratchet said. “You whine. You glare. You smirk. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen a real smile out of you.”
“Then you just haven’t been paying attention,” Knock Out said, but his face heated and his tires twitched. Like he’d admit he was smiling over thoughts of Bumblebee.
Ratchet rose from his chair with an audible creak and hiss of hydraulics in desperate need of maintenance. He needed a wash and wax on top of that, but Knock Out had learned his lesson about offering. Let the old medic rust into obscurity if that was what he wanted. It was no business of Knock Out’s. Ratchet had made that quite clear.
“I’d ask if you’re plotting something, but I don’t think you’re that stupid,” Ratchet said.
“That and there’s nothing I could possibly be scheming.” Knock Out typed in an administrative code and set his favorite scanner for an update and reboot. It should be purring perfectly by the time he came back for the rest of his shift. “I’ve no love or loyalty to the Decepticons, and especially not to Megatron.”
“Notice you didn’t mention Starscream.”
“Because he’s irrelevant,” Knock Out retorted. He set down the scanner and reached for the last of his tools. He hoped his clamped armor didn’t give him away. “None of it matters anyway. I’m an Autobot now. And in a few hours, I’ll even be an approved one.”
Ratchet leaned a hip against the nearest medberth. “As soon as you pass that exam.” He tilted his head and something sly crossed over his face. “And look at that, your escort is here to pick you up.”
Knock Out turned and grinned when he saw Bumblebee through the opalescent transsteel. He waved as he stepped through the automatic doors, adding in a nostalgic tri-tone of beeps as he did so.
“Here for that maintenance appointment you keep missing?” Ratchet grunted by way of greeting. His expression was one of menace, but Knock Out wasn’t fooled.
Ratchet had a soft spot for Bumblebee a mile wide. Knock Out had been thinking of all the ways he could capitalize on that.
Bumblebee held up his hands. “I was on a very important mission, Ratchet. I couldn’t just drop that for you to poke around my undercarriage.”
“And yet I still haven’t seen you in here. Until today.” Ratchet sniffed as if offended. “Get over here.”
Bumblebee grinned, and his gaze slid to Knock Out. “No can do, Ratch.” He sidled to Knock Out’s side, giving him a shoulder-nudge. “Knock Out’s taking his exam today, and it just so happens that I’m here to make sure he gets there on time.”
Knock Out folded his arms. “I’m not the one who has a problem with punctuality.” He arched an orbital ridge, refusing to budge under Bumblebee’s pleading gaze. Nope. He’s not throwing himself on that grenade.
Ratchet snorted. “I know you can lie better than that, bit.” He yanked a cloth from subspace and started wiping at his fingers. “Go on. Get out of here.” He tipped his head toward the door. “Both of you.”
“Your wish is my command,” Bumblebee said with an exaggerated sweep of his hand and a bow. His door wings tilted forward, canting jauntily. It was unfairly adorable.
Bumblebee grabbed Knock Out’s elbow and towed him toward the door. He moved a bit too quickly for it to be called anything but an escape.
“And I want you back to finish your shift!” Ratchet shouted at Knock Out’s back, his words nearly lost in the door whooshing shut behind them.
Knock Out rolled his optics. That wasn’t at all a surprise.
In the hall, Bumblebee bumped shoulders with him. “Ratchet seemed in a good mood.”
Knock Out snorted. “That’s what you call a good mood?”
“Did he throw anything?”
Knock Out stared at his lover. “No.”
Bumblebee shrugged, his doors wriggling, the window handles spinning uselessly. “Good mood.”
Knock Out rolled his optics. “I think you need to set the bar higher,” he drawled. Though to be fair, he and Ratchet had somewhat come to terms in the past few months.
Knock Out had taken Bumblebee’s advice to spark and stopped asking permission. He stopped pretending to be meek and obedient around Ratchet. If a patient came in, Knock Out attended to them whether Ratchet allowed him to or not.
It helped that the Vehicons had started asking specifically for Knock Out when they came in for surgeries or regular maintenance or whatever they needed. Knock Out didn’t know if it was because he’d started to befriend them, or if it was because Bumblebee had asked them to do so. It stung his pride a little to rely on Bumblebee’s favor, but he was back to being a medic rather than a glorified sanitation worker, so Knock Out could hardly argue with the results.
“I did,” Bumblebee said, and Knock Out startled when something touched his fingers. It took him an embarrassingly long moment to realize Bumblebee wanted to hold his hand.
Knock Out’s face heated. He tangled his fingers with Bumblebee’s. “True,” he conceded as his tires wriggled, and he told the fool things to be still. “There’s no bar higher than mine.”
Bumblebee snorted. “I adore you for your modesty.”
His spark fluttered. Bumblebee meant it in jest, of course. They teased one another quite frequently. The words themselves still sent a surge of want through Knock Out. A desire he never intended to actively seek.
“What you call vanity, I call truth.” Knock Out rolled his shoulders and swept a hand down his frame in a broad gesture. “Why deny what’s obvious?”
Bumblebee laughed harder. “You’re right, I admit.” He squeezed Knock Out’s hand and pulled Knock Out against the warmth of his side, leaning in for a nuzzle. “You smell like solvent and disinfectant.”
“I was scrubbing the med berths,” Knock Out grumbled as he subtly pushed his partner away. They were still technically in public and while Bumblebee had announced to anyone who had something to say that they were together, Knock Out apparently cared more for Bumblebee’s self-image than he did. “Remember? It’s one of the few tasks Ratchet thinks I’m suitable for.”
“Nah, I think he’s warming up to you.” Bumblebee nipped him on the audial before putting a respectable distance between them. “Give him time. He’ll come around.”
“He needs to come around faster. I can’t keep having Vehicons fight my battles for me.”
They rounded a corner, emerging from a corridor of plain taupe walls into a hallway of stark white walls with doors at military precision intervals, each with a number and a title. Autobot HQ is just one big octagon with each of the halls dedicated to a different department and delineated by a different paint color. Given the lack of habitable buildings in Kaon, it’s the best use of space.
Most of the offices on this hall were empty. There simply weren’t enough mechs to staff the various positions.
“Think of it more like moral support,” Bumblebee said. “You have more friends than you think you do.”
No. Bumblebee had a lot of friends, and by proxy, they’d latched onto Knock Out.
He didn’t say so aloud, however. He didn’t like the pained expression on Bumblebee’s face, that mixture of disappointment and pity and confusion.
“Yeah, I know,” Knock Out lied, and painted it over with a smile. Fake it until it was true. That was how he’d learned to survive.
Said little trick had served him well during his tenure as a Decepticon.
The end of the hall came into view, just before it angled into a new department. Ultra Magnus’ office stood proud here, a large door for a large mech.
“Well, here we are,” Bumblebee said as he swung Knock Out to a stop in front of Ultra Magnus’ office, and used the momentum of the tug to wrap his arms around Knock Out and press their foreheads together. “Safe and sound.”
Knock Out rolled his optics. “You know, I didn’t need an escort. I was going to take the stupid exam regardless.”
“I know.” Bumblebee bobbed his shoulders. “But I wanted to be here. For moral support.” His hands swept up and down Knock Out’s back, briefly tweaking his tire mounts before resting chastely above his hips again. “Plus it gives me an excuse to do this.”
He slanted their mouths together, and Knock Out was not one to protest. The almost-public display of affections never ceased to surprise him, and maybe it felt like a bit of a claim, too. The pressure of Bumblebee’s mouth was warm and sweet, and Knock Out melted into him and the kiss, tension burning out of his hydraulics. He hadn’t realized he was so anxious. Especially without cause.
It was an exam. Not a fight for his life, for Primus’ sake.
Still felt like one though.
“Fine,” Knock Out said against Bumblebee’s lips. He stroked his field along his partner’s, giving it a pop of affection. “I suppose you’re forgiven then.”
Bumblebee grinned and slid Knock Out free of his arms. “Guess I better let you go. You know how Magnus is about punctuality.”
Knock Out snorted. “Yeah, I know.”
He chimed the door to announce his presence. It slid open for him without a reply, and Knock Out braced for what was about to be the longest, most tedious few hours in his current functioning.
He stepped inside just as Bumblebee called out “Good luck!” and any chance Knock Out would have had to reply was gone with the closing of the door behind him.
Stupid Autobot. Always getting in the last word.
“Hello, Knock Out.”
His attention swiveled back to the occupant of the room. That nervous tic returned in his spark, but Knock Out forced it down and a smile on his lips.
“I’m here for my exam,” he said, dumbly. Of course he was. Ultra Magnus knew that.
Amusement made Ultra Magnus’ lips twitch.
“And right on time, I see,” he said as he rose from behind his massive desk, not a creak to be found on his frame. Unlike some, he took care of himself. As much as he did everything else around him.
Knock Out took notice of the carefully ordered desk, how it was decorated with very few items, that the datapads on the shelf were organized alphabetically, that there didn’t seem to be a speck of dust visible anywhere. Frag, even the stylus sat perfectly perpendicular to the datapad presently the object of his attention.
“Yeah, well, let’s just get this over with,” Knock Out drawled.
He pretended he didn’t notice the console arranged in the corner. It was small, meant only for one, and Ultra Magnus had taken pains to label it.
‘For Autobot Code of Conduct Examinations Only.’
Primus on a pogostick.
“I am glad you have finally decided to finish the last step in your effort to become an Autobots,” Ultra Magnus said, clearly ignoring Knock Out’s attitude.
Knock Out bristled before he could stop himself. “I didn’t do it for you,” he said. He didn’t like Ultra Magnus’ tone. He sounded… proud. Ugh.
Ultra Magnus’ lips twitched. “I’m aware. You are doing this for yourself.” He paused and tilted his head, something glinting in his optics. “And perhaps for Bumblebee as well.”
Knock Out stiffened. His tires twitched. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Of course not.” Ultra Magnus’ face betrayed nothing. He gestured to the small station in the corner of the room. “You’ll take the exam there. It’s on a private server in order to prevent cheating of any kind. I don’t expect I’ll have such an issue with you.”
Knock Out waffled between being outraged and flattered and didn’t know which he should settle on. Instead, he stalked over to the chair and sat down in it.
It was too low.
He fiddled with the controls until it brought him high enough to comfortably see the screen. The plug glinted at him, shiny-new, demanding he connect.
“Let’s just get this over with,” Knock Out muttered as he withdrew his data cable. Small compared to the menagerie of Soundwave’s, but then, no one could match Soundwave when it came to sheer data processing.
Not even Lord Megatron’s precious Orion Pax.
“Good luck, Knock Out,” Ultra Magnus said as he moved back behind his desk. He picked up his stylus and nudged his datapad an inch closer. “I suspect you’ll perform admirably.”
Again with the compliment that felt like an insult.
Knock Out internally snorted. Whatever. He didn’t need anyone to believe in him. He was a survivor. It was what he did. He had nothing to prove to anyone.
So he logged into the console and took the damn exam.
It was, quite possibly, the longest and most grueling human-measured hour of his entire life. Knock Out could have sworn time stopped, or at least slowed down, to extend the seconds he spent on each question.
He’d studied far too hard for something which meant far too little to him. But he was a perfectionist, and he refused to fail. Even if he didn’t care about the content.
He passed with flying colors.
Ultra Magnus was too reserved to show his surprise, but Knock Out knew he had to be. He probably expected Knock Out would do the bare minimum. Hah, served him right for having so little faith.
“Congratulations,” Ultra Magnus said as he shook Knock Out’s hand. The other handed Knock Out a small datachip. “You now have full access to your funds, and I’ll begin adding you to the patrol rotation as well as full medbay shifts, if you like.”
“I do.” Knock Out tucked the datachip away. He’d deal with it later. “But don’t assign me any patrols with Arcee. For both of our sakes.”
“Oh, I’m quite aware.” Ultra Magnus’ orbital ridges lifted before drifting down again. “Though don’t expect you’ll be getting as many with Bumblebee as you’d like either.”
Knock Out’s face reddened and heated both. He pretended they hadn’t. “I’m happy to assist however I can,” he replied through gritted denta.
He didn’t know Ultra Magnus could look smug. But he was certainly seeing it now. “We could use all the help we can get,” he said and tucked himself back behind his desk. He was probably most comfortable there. “And with that, you’re free to go.”
Knock Out debated saying something smart back, but decided he’d pushed his luck enough already. He’d take his passing score, the passcode for his purchasing accounts, and he’d skeddadle.
First thing tonight, he was ordering some proper polishing supplies.
He tipped his head in the closest thing he had in his arsenal to a polite salute and let himself. Bumblebee waited for him in the hall, which was a bit surprising as Knock Out hadn’t expected him to. He was currently propped up against the opposite wall, deep in conversation with a bouncy Smokescreen who always tended to look at Bumblebee with stars in his optics.
Knock Out used to be jealous, until he realized Bumblebee treated Smokescreen like one might an annoying younger sibling. Smokescreen’s fascination was more hero worship than romantic inclination. Knock Out couldn’t fault him for that much. Bumblebee was pretty amazing.
Also, he seemed to get over the whole “Knock Out rummaging around his insides for the Omega Key” pretty quickly, so Knock Out cut him a little slack.
“Really?” Smokescreen was saying as his door panels wriggled up and down in a manner that should not have been as adorable as it was. “I mean, you’re not afraid I’m going to kick your aft?”
Bumblebee snorted a laugh. “The day you can do that, rookie, is the day I proudly retire.”
Some of Smokescreen’s step lost its bounce. “Awww, you don’t think I can?”
“Not right now.” Bumblebee clapped Smokescreen on the shoulder. “But that’s only because as much as you practice, so do I. Maybe one day when I’m old and rusty, you’ll have a chance.”
Smokescreen blocked Bumblebee’s view of Knock Out and vice versa, so he decided to announce himself by stepping up behind Smokescreen and tweaking one of his door mounts.
“And you still gotta go through me first,” Knock Out said as Smokescreen jumped and whirled around, doors arched as he fell into a defensive stance.
His reflexes were getting better at least.
“What th—oh. It’s you.” Smokescreen’s mouth twisted into a moue of disbelief. “Come on, Knock Out. You’re just a medic. I can take you any day.”
Knock Out folded his arms. “You think so, do you?” He arched an orbital ridge. “Care to make it a wager?”
Bumblebee laughed and pushed off the wall, sidling up to Knock Out’s side. “Don’t you think it’s a little unfair to take Screen’s credits like that?” He gently nudged Knock Out with an elbow.
“That’s not going to happen!” Smokescreen insisted. He bobbed on his heels.
“Isn’t it though?” Knock Out looked Smokescreen up and down, easily marking several weaknesses he could capitalize on. “If you think just because I’m a medic, I don’t know how to bring the hurt in ways you can’t imagine, then you’re as dumb as you look.”
Bumblebee snorted, his field brimming with amusement.
Smokescreen’s jaw dropped. “I’m not dumb!” he said, close to a whine. His doors jerked higher. “And I look great!”
“Only to someone who has no sense of color whatsoever.” Knock Out flicked a hand. He had to admit, pummeling Smokescreen into the ground would be fun, but teasing the Pit out of him was even more so.
Smokescreen’s face colored. He looked a split-second from making some smart-aft retort, but Bumblebee cut him off with a smooth reply of, “Don’t worry about him, Screen. He’s teasing you.”
Bumblebee slid a hand around Knock Out’s waist, lightly resting his fingers on the curve of it. “Aren’t you?”
Like the Pit he’d apologize or admit to it.
“Wouldn’t you rather hear about my test results?” Knock Out asked. “Or are you more interested in soothing a bit of wounded pride?” Oh frag. That sounded jealous, didn’t it?
Well, maybe he was. A little. Not because he thought Smokescreen was going to steal Bumblebee, but because of the easy camaraderie they had. It wasn’t as though things were tense between Knock Out and Bumblebee, and Bumblebee certainly didn’t treat him poorly.
Maybe it was irrational.
“You make a fair point,” Bumblebee said. “So are you going to share with the class or am I going to have to torture it out of you?” The way he purred torture made it sound like something far more pleasant.
Smokescreen heard it, too, because his face flushed a brilliant pink.
Knock Out rolled his optics. “I passed,” he said, without any fanfare.
“Of course you did.” Bumblebee swung Knock Out into his arms right there in front of Smokescreen and planted a kiss on his lips. “Congratulations. You’re one of us now.”
Knock Out’s processor spun. “Don’t remind me,” he managed even as he slanted a gaze at Smokescreen, whose pink flush turned a bright scarlet.
He coughed a ventilation and scratched at the side of his jaw, his optics very focused on the ceiling. “You’re, uh, not going to start celebrating that now, are you?”
Bumblebee chuckled. “Not in front of tender virgins, no. But celebration is definitely in order.” He brushed a kiss over the corner of Knock Out’s mouth. “I’ve got just the thing, too.”
“A date? Now I do feel special,” Knock Out drawled. His spark went pitter-patter. “Pick me up after my shift?”
“Nope.” Bumblebee grabbed Knock Out’s hand and pushed and spun him into a dance move. “You’re going to head home and get shined up. We’re going to do this properly for once.”
Properly? What in Cybertron did that mean? What romantic nonsense had gotten into Bumblebee’s head now?
Knock Out tossed his head. “I’m always perfect.”
“Of course you are.” Bumblebee pressed their foreheads together. “Now come on. You gotta get back before Ratchet starts thinking the medbay is his again.”
“Isn’t it though?” Smokescreen asked.
Knock Out pinned the rookie with a Look. “Didn’t you skip out on your last inoculation, Smokescreen?”
Blue optics cycle wide. “Wow, look at the time?” Smokescreen spluttered. He broke into a light jog, backward, and waved at them. “I’m going to be so late for my patrol. Later!”
“You are so evil,” Bumblebee said as Knock Out broke into laughter barely audible over the sound of Smokescreen hightailing it down the corridor. He grabbed Knock Out’s hand, threading their fingers together.
Knock Out winked and pointed at himself. “Decepticon.”
“Former,” Bumblebee corrected, and tugged Knock Out closer for a quick kiss.
Mmm. Former indeed. Bumblebee was quite the consolation prize, too.
“Keep that up and I might decide not to go back to my shift,” Knock Out said against his lips.
“Tempting, tempting.” Bumblebee squeezed his hand and turned, towing Knock Out up the hallway. “But let’s not have you catching a lecture. I’d hate for you to be stuck scrubbing a recycler when we’re supposed to be on a date.”
“Fair point.” Ratchet would be that petty, too. He seemed to take glee in giving Knock Out the scut work.
They really needed to find more medics.
Blinding white walls turned into the supposedly soothing shade of taupe. Knock Out’s internals knotted with a mixture of pride and dread because he had nothing to prove to Ratchet, but he’d passed his exam and he was officially an Autobot. He didn’t care so much about the last bit, but he’d done what no one expected him to bother doing, and there was a certain measure of pride about it.
He wanted to brag.
Even so, his feet dragged the closer he got to the medbay. Knock Out couldn’t put a finger on exactly why. Maybe because he didn’t want to leave the comfort of Bumblebee’s field.
They moved to the side to avoid a Vehicon pushing a cart stacked high with various supplies. Who Bumblebee of course greeted by name because he knew every Vehicon and Eradicon in Kaon apparently.
But once Roughroad passed, Bumblebee didn’t seem in much of a hurry to get moving again. Instead, he crowded Knock Out against the wall, his hands barely appropriate as they landed on Knock Out’s hips and squeezed. Thank Primus they were just out of sight of the medbay’s main entrance and by proxy, the cameras pointed at it.
He didn’t need a citation from Ultra Magnus for inappropriate workplace conduct only minutes after receiving his certification.
“Don’t forget.” Bumblebee nuzzled into Knock Out’s intake, his vents teasing Knock Out’s cables and making a shiver dance through his lines. “Tonight. I’ll come pick you up.” His ex-vents puffed over Knock Out’s lips.
“I’ll remember,” Knock Out said. A low thrill ran up his backstrut, his imagination conjuring all sorts of surprises. “It had better be worth it.”
“You always are.” Bumblebee pressed a kiss to his forehead as Knock Out stared at him, stunned.
The words had been offhand, casual, as though they cost Bumblebee nothing to say, while they meant the world to Knock Out.
“Have fun working with Ratchet.” Bumblebee squeezed Knock Out’s hand before letting him go. “Tell him ‘next time’ if he asks about that maintenance appointment.”
“So he can turn his ire toward me? I don’t like you that much,” Knock Out retorted.
Bumblebee laughed, and then he was gone with a backward wave and a jog down the corridor. No offense taken. No sign he’d so easily admitted Knock Out was special.
Knock Out didn’t understand Autobots at all.
He gnawed on his bottom lip and reluctantly turned to the medbay. Might as well get back to work.
Very little had changed during the few hours of his absence. They still had no patients, and Ratchet had moved on from categorizing to cleaning. He was in the process of sterilizing the few medberths they had, and he looked up as soon as Knock Out entered.
“Huh,” he said and looked back down, scrubbing harder. “You actually came back.”
Knock Out wasn’t sure how to label that tone. “Sorry to disappoint.” He checked his schedule, realized he had a couple appointments this afternoon. Two Vehicons, one for a frame consult and the other needing a fluid flush.
“Well, I figured you and Bumblebee would have found another empty closet to explore,” Ratchet said, his tone light, almost teasing if Knock Out dared guess.
He stared at Ratchet. “Not this time,” Knock Out replied, cautious. But then, he was a Decepticon wasn’t he? “I worried about leaving you alone to handle this. You’re not getting any younger.”
“That’s called experience, kid,” Ratchet said. He tossed the dirtied rag into the laundry bin. “I’ll let you slide for that remark.”
Knock Out moved to the sanitizing sink and scrubbed up. “And what did I do to deserve that mercy?”
“I’ve never seen Bumblebee smile that hard.”
Solvent splashed over his fingers. Knock Out went still. “Is that approval I detect in your tone?”
Ratchet snorted. “Don’t get ahead of yourself.” The front door chimed as Knock Out’s appointment arrived early. “I’ll be in my office if you need me.”
“Take a stasis nap,” Knock Out called after him.
The rather rude gesture Ratchet sent in return had to be taught to him by the humans. Probably Miko. Or Wheeljack. That was Kaonite slums through and through.
Knock Out grinned despite himself.
“Uh, maybe I should reschedule,” his patient – an Eradicon by the name of Wheels said. He was here for a consult.
Hm. Perhaps his grin did look a little manic.
Knock Out chuckled. “Don’t worry. I’m not planning on taking you apart.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Yet, of course. You haven’t decided what new look you want.”
Wheels didn’t look relieved. His wings – because yes, he was a flyer who chose the name Wheels – twitched. “You’re really scary sometimes, you know that, doc?”
“It’s part of my charm.”
Ratchet sent him home early, once excitement and anticipation coiled into a hot knot in his tanks, and Knock Out cleaned the same medberth twice. He’d sketched and erased and sketched and erased Wheels’ rebuild, unable to decide how he wanted to approach it. The Vehicon wanted an actual mouth, rather than an intake valve, and Knock Out couldn’t blame him. Mouths were useful for more things than intaking energon.
He’d once reduced Bumblebee to a quivering heap of sated muscle car with his mouth alone, after all.
“Get out of here,” Ratchet had said by the third time Knock Out wiped the holographic interface to start Wheels’ design anew. “Whatever it is that’s got you bouncing and grinning, I don’t want to know. It’s creepy. Go.”
“I’m not bouncy,” Knock Out grumbled, but he went. Ratchet was right. He wasn’t focused.
He went back to his apartment, and he hopped in the washrack where he stayed for the better part of an hour. Bumblebee told him to look good. Knock Out left no seam untouched. He scrubbed, and he oiled, and he polished until he gleamed like a newspark fresh off the assembly line, and his paint had a lustrous glow to it. He had to admit, he looked damn good.
Frag, he’d ‘face himself if that were possible.
His door chimed right as he twisted and turned in front of a mirror, trying to decide if a few accenting paint lines were over the top or the perfect addition.
Excitement turned to full-blown anxiety, but Knock Out cycled a few ventilations and went to answer the door. Bumblebee had the code, but he was apparently taking this ‘real date’ seriously.
He opened the door to Bumblebee on the other side, clutching a bouquet of… not flowers. Were those rolled up mesh, microfiber, and sheepskin cloths? Brightly colored caps popped up around the rolled fabrics like little candies. Knock Out recognized those caps.
“Congratulations on passing your exam.” Bumblebee thrust the bouquet at Knock Out, who accepted it automatically, shock still echoing through his frame.
Their fingers touched, and Bumblebee leaned in, lips brushing a kiss over Knock Out’s cheek. “I sort of hacked your account to see what you liked.”
“You’re forgiven.” Knock Out accepted the bouquet and rifled through the presented items. Everything he’d been wanting to order was right here. He was set for the next month. “I’d get a vase for this, but I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
Bumblebee laughed. “It’s the thought that counts.” The heat of his gaze landed on Knock Out’s frame, and a shiver crawled up his backstrut. “You look amazing.”
Knock Out’s tires twitched. He turned and set the bouquet of supplies on a nearby table. “You clean up nice, too.”
It was a bit of an understatement. Bumblebee shone every bit as prettily under the lights as Knock Out did. It was like he’d finally taken the time for a good, in-depth wash and wax. Maybe he’d splurged and taken advantage of the new shop that opened down the way. Run by a couple of Vehicons – including the aforementioned Wheels – it was the newest up and coming place for a full detail.
“What? This old thing?” Bumblebee brushed the back of his hand over one shoulder. “I found it in the garage. Dusted it off. Special occasion use only, you know.”
Knock Out chuckled. “You’re ridiculous.” Warmth blossomed in his spark, which throbbed like a foolish thing. “So. We going back to Illumination?”
“Nope.” Bumblebee held out an elbow in offering. “We’re going to Earth.”
Knock Out cycled his optics. “What?” He threaded his arm through Bumblebee’s and let the Autobot tug him out of his quarters. “I don’t have clearance for that.”
“You do now.” He nudged Knock Out with a shoulder. “I pulled some strings and got us a night pass to Earth. Butte, Montana as a matter of fact.”
“What the frag is in Montana?” Knock Out asked. He only vaguely remembered the important bits of Earth. Jasper, Nevada was burned into the back of his processor. As was that large city of stench with the underground railroad.
“You’ll see,” Bumblebee all but sang as he guided Knock Out toward the lift. “Trust me, okay? You’re going to love it.”
Butte, Montana was empty, dry, and cold. It was late fall on Earth, and the chill in the air made Knock Out’s armor tighten, and his ex-vents emerge as pale fogs of gray. The ground bridge deposited them on a rise in the land, man-built Knock Out figured, since the rest of Montana seemed to be as flat as a datapad.
“How’re your holoprotocols?”
Knock Out cycled his optics. “What?”
Bumblebee grinned at him, excitement reflected on his face, his doors wriggling up and down, up and down. “Your holoprotocols. Can they stand up to some mild scrutiny?”
“They’re functional,” Knock Out said. “Why?”
Bumblebee hummed thoughtfully. “All right, give me your port.” He popped open the peripheral panel in his wrist and withdrew a cable. “No one’s got protocols like a spy, and if this is going to work, you need better than functional.”
“If you wanted under my armor, you didn’t have to come up with an excuse,” Knock Out teased, and offered his left wrist, commanding the panel to open.
Bumblebee snorted and gently connected their systems with a tiny click. “Good to know.” He pinged for a connection, and Knock Out permitted the upload. “These are state of the art protocols. Only the best in sensory perception, the works.” He looked up at Knock Out with a grin. “I took the liberty of designing you a holoavatar, but don’t feel obligated to employ it.”
The update slotted into place with a cheerful chime of completion. Bumblebee gently disconnected while Knock Out finished the install and started unpacking the files. It was four times the size of his current holoavatar program and had a thousand more options.
“This is for hardlight,” Knock Out said, surprised.
“Yep.” Bumblebee beamed and wriggled his fingers. “That way if you can’t resist touching me, you don’t have to. I’ll be as solid as solid can be. Until the battery runs out anyway. I’ll show you.”
He took a step back and shifted to alt-mode, engine purring in an idle, his paint gleaming in the midday sun. The air in front of his driver’s side door started to shimmer. It took shape, forming a bipedal figure Knock Out recognized as human, dressed in dark, form-fitting clothing. He’d spent enough time on the internet to recognize most of it.
Thick, heavy boots with silver buckles. Dark pants tucked into them and belted at the hip. Some kind of shirt sized far too small, and a leather jacket over the top of it. He had fingerless gloves, smooth dark skin, visible tattoos and dark hair, with a shock of white visible above his brow. The most intense blue eyes stared back at Knock Out from above a wide mouth Knock Out would never admit aloud he wanted to taste.
“Well,” Bumblebee said as he spread his hands, stretching the limits of the leather jacket around his broad shoulders. “What do you think?”
Knock Out wanted to eat him.
He worked his intake. “You’re a human, how would I know?”
Bumblebee laughed and moved forward, patting him on the armor shin. “Solid, too.” He had the audacity to wink before he stepped back, leaning against himself. He folded his arms, the leather creaking. “Your turn.”
“I guess it is.” Knock Out vented and examined the avatar Bumblebee had designed for him. It would be a good place to start at least.
It wasn’t half-bad. He was paler than Bumblebee, but dressed similarly. His under shirt was a different color, and the buckles on his shoes were more chrome than silver. There were small dots over the bridge of his nose and cheeks. His hair wasn’t quite right though.
Knock Out tweaked it a little, made the silky strands more red than brown, and cut it shorter. Bumblebee also hadn’t bothered with accessories so Knock Out fixed that, adding some ‘bling’ as the humans would say.
Satisfied, he took a step back as Bumblebee had done, shifting to alt-mode first. Only then did he focus on the holoavatar program to activate it. There was an odd pulling sensation as his avatar took shape. Dizziness briefly swept through his processor as his focus split between his primary form, and the human avatar gradually solidifying.
He’d never much liked taking a holoavatar. But then, they’d never quite felt like this either. More solid, more grounded. His sensors actually worked through it, so he could smell and see and hear. It was formed of his own nanites, he realized. And it transmitted charge across the space between them. Knock Out wouldn’t be able to go too far from his real frame, but he could wander far enough.
Bumblebee – or well, his avatar self – grinned and whistled. “It looks as good on you as I thought it would.” He pushed off himself and strode toward Knock Out, hands shoved in the pockets of his leather jacket. “I like the changes. It’s definitely more you.”
“Am I still handsome?” Knock Out asked. He ran a hand through his hair, marveling at how fine it felt to his human skin. It was odd to hear his voice coming from an organic mouth.
“The prettiest,” Bumblebee confirmed, and he bit on his bottom lip, the blue of his eyes growing darker. “May I?” He held out a hand inches from Knock Out’s face.
“What’s the point of making it solid-state if you don’t touch it?” Knock Out asked. He leaned against his own driver’s side door as Bumblebee leaned in, the solid weight of him pinning Knock Out against himself.
He felt hot to the touch, firm but yielding in a way that was different than their metallic shapes. Knock Out couldn’t sense the thrum of life in Bumblebee’s body, not like he could as their transformed selves. But his sensors could detect that active nanites. It was oddly intimate thing, to touch nanite to nanite like this.
Bumblebee’s hand cupped Knock Out’s face, soft and warm and dry. His thumb swept over Knock Out’s cheeks, more giving than any dermal layer had right to be. Knock Out felt dangerously fragile.
“You kept the freckles,” he murmured, and his lips curved into a grin. “I like it.”
“You got a kink for humans I need to know about, Bee?” Knock Out asked, pointedly ignoring the way his body seemed to hitch and warm at the pressure of Bumblebee’s against his. His insides didn’t bother to be an approximation of a human’s, but it still felt like his spark were throbbing in his chest.
Bumblebee snorted. “Only when they look like you.”
He leaned in, his lips brushing over Knock Out’s, and it was a sensation wholly unique to them kissing in their Cybertronian forms. It was softer, sweeter, and Knock Out leaned forward to deepen it, moaning softly at the first touch of Bumblebee’s glossa to his.
Hotter, wetter, slicker. Bumblebee still tasted, oddly, of energon and metallic things. It was a dissonance of sensation, and Knock Out loved it. He curled an arm around Bumblebee’s torso, yanking the broadness of it against him, their chests mashing together. He felt the bite of a zipper through the thin fabric where his shirt was. It pressed in against his skin.
So soft. So giving. So vulnerable. He shuddered and felt himself shudder, too, his engine revving audibly.
He shifted his hands to Bumblebee’s hips, and his thumbs found the gap where Bumblebee’s shirt parted from his pants. There was a bare strip of skin here, so smooth to the touch, and Knock Out skimmed his palms under the thin fabric. He felt skin and muscle flexing, felt Bumblebee shudder against him.
“This okay?” Knock Out asked, because the last thing he needed was Bumblebee thinking he was some kind of former Decepticon deviant.
Bumblebee groaned over the corner of his mouth. “More than.” He shifted, hands bracing against the edge of Knock Out’s vehicle roof, trapping Knock Out against himself. “Explore as much as you want.”
Permission was permission.
Knock Out pushed the shirt up, because he could, and sucked his bottom lip into his mouth. There were miles of bare skin here, soft and flat and Primus, Knock Out was not attracted to humans at all, but Bumblebee’s grill had translated to a firm, toned abdomen and Knock Out couldn’t imagine not touching it. A dark something peeked over the top of his belt, and Knock Out’s fingers danced over to it.
“What’s this?” he asked as he swept his thumbs over it and felt Bumblebee’s body vibrate as he laughed.
“Guess you’ll have to find out,” he said.
Knock Out rolled his eyes. His curiosity won out, however. He slid his fingers beneath the hem of Bumblebee’s pants and tugged them down enough to get a better view of the shadow.
It was indeed a tattoo. And there, a mere inch above a thatch of dark, curly hair was an Autobot symbol. Which, mentally reviewing Bumblebee’s metallic frame, was where it definitely belonged.
Knock Out snorted. He knocked his forehead against Bumblebee’s shoulder and let his hands retreat to the safety of Bumblebee’s hips, no matter how much he wanted to dive further down and see what else was familiar.
“I can’t believe you,” he said. “Where is your shame?”
“Don’t have any.” Bumblebee chuckled, and his mouth wandered away from the curve of Knock Out’s jaw. He audibly inhaled. “Primus, you smell good.”
“You programmed me to smell this way,” Knock Out retorted, but his insides fluttered, and his hands clenched on Bumblebee’s hips. There was a need radiating inside him now, flushing through his limbs.
“Mm.” Bumblebee tucked his face into Knock Out’s throat and gave it a lick, the wet slide of his tongue a hotter sensation than it had right to be. “We might have to play like this later.”
Knock Out laughed and rubbed up against Bumblebee. There was only a few inches height difference between them. Their human avatars seemed to exaggerate their size difference.
“You’re so kinky for an Autobot,” he said. Then again, the fact that he was considering it enough to conceive potential positions in the back of his mind meant Knock Out was equally kinky.
“You’re an Autobot too now.” Bumblebee kissed him on the corner of the mouth. “Come on. We don’t want to be late.”
He pulled back, and Knock Out resisted the urge to tug him back in. There was a throbbing fire in his groin, and Knock Out didn’t need a medical manual to know his human appendages were now aching just like his spike would be. The lack of valve would be problematic, however. The experimentation might be fun.
“Late for what?” Knock Out asked.
Bumblebee pulled open the driver’s door and slid into the driver’s seat. He winked. “You’ll see. Just follow my lead.”
International mech of mystery.
The door shut with a thump. Knock Out rolled his eyes and climbed into himself, which was another odd sensation. Bumblebee revved his engine and took off with a spray of gravelly dust. Knock Out cursed and hurried to follow, his undercarriage complaining as debris pinged it. Bumblebee owed him a wash and wax later.
They pulled onto a narrow road so rarely maintained that the paint lines down the center were cracked and faded. Weeds popped up through the pavement, and the one highway sign hung upside down from a rusted screw.
He followed Bumblebee for a good ten minutes, down a twisting, winding road into a low valley until it finally started to even out. When they rounded a corner, Knock Out’s vents stuttered.
It was a race track. Not some dirt road, backwater track built by humans who only had vague dreams of racing, but an actual, concrete and steel and paint lines race track with viewing stands. Colorful banners flapped in the breeze, which did little to ease the sticky, stifling heat. But not even the stench of too many humans in too small a place could detract from Knock Out’s excitement.
A race track.
“Like it?” Bumblebee asked, his voice coming tinny and smug through the radio.
“Shut up,” Knock Out said. “How’d you even manage this?”
“Raf pulled some strings. And by strings I mean he hacked into the system, booted out a few racers and added us in as substitutions.”
Knock Out sighed a vent. “I love that kid.”
Bumblebee’s snorted laugh rattled through the speakers. “Just follow my lead. I’ll do the talking. And uh, we’re going to be faster than all of these cars so maybe dial it back a smidge.”
“Win but don’t stand out. Got it.” Excitement made Knock Out’s engine rev. His holo-human hands tightened on his steering wheel.
Best congratulations gift ever.
There was no time for gloating afterward.
The humans wanted to take pictures, and they demanded interviews, but Knock Out followed Bumblebee’s lead by diving into himself and peeling out of the arena. Cameras flashed behind them, and humans shouted and whistled in their wake. Bumblebee laughed, and Knock Out echoed him, exhilaration flashing high and bright in his spark.
He’d won. There was a trophy involved apparently, and normally Knock Out would have been one to linger and soak in the praise, but they couldn’t be caught out. He’d have to be satisfied with being smug and mysterious when the news reports later talked about the strange winners.
Knock Out couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt like this. Like the world was his for the taking, the ground so smooth and quick under his tires, the headlights of someone he cared about in his rearview…
Granted, he was on Earth, a planet he simultaneously loathed and loved, and his partner was a member of the faction he’d fought against for millennia until he decided to turn the tables. He worked with the crankiest medic this side of the universe, and nothing was how he ever imagined his future might be.
Bumblebee pulled ahead of him on the narrow dirt road, honking his horn as if demanding Knock Out follow. They were heading back the way they came, toward the huge and high cliff overlooking an empty valley. It was probably where the bridge would retrieve them. It wasn’t waiting when they arrived, but Bumblebee shifted to alt-mode, so Knock Out followed suit.
“We’ve got a few more hours before we’re due back,” Bumblebee said as he grinned, doors flicking up and down in barely restrained glee. “But don’t worry. I’ve got one more thing–”
Knock Out kissed him. He snagged Bumblebee’s head with both hands and dragged their mouths together, his glossa plunging past Bumblebee’s lips as their chests collided with a dull thunk of metal on metal. Heat pulsed between them, their fields clashed, and Knock Out shoved as much gratitude, affection, and satisfaction into it as he could.
Bumblebee made a startled sound before his hands finally found Knock Out’s hips, squeezing and drawing him closer until they were pressed as close as they could be.
Only then did Knock Out end the kiss with a gentle nip of his denta.
Bumblebee stared back at him, optics bright. “What was that for?”
“Thank you,” Knock Out said. “And also, ha! I won.”
Bumblebee chuckled and pressed his forehead to Knock Out’s. “Yes, you did.” His hand swept up and down Knock Out’s sides in light caresses. “But I still think I got the grand prize.”
“You charmer,” Knock Out laughed and slid his hands down to Bumblebee’s shoulders. “So if our ride isn’t going to be here for a few hours, what’s left to do with the time?”
“I have a plan, of course.”
Bumblebee drew back and winked. He turned, jogging away from Knock Out, to a nearby outcropping of boulders, which looked like they’d been discarded by some giant hand ages ago and left to erode in the elements. Bumblebee disappeared behind it, and seconds later there was a loud thunk followed by a rustling noise as Bumblebee lumbered back into view, his arms laden down with a thick tarp and a basket dangling from one elbow.
“Picnic!” he declared.
“It’s past sunset,” Knock Out said.
Bumblebee set the basket down and unfolded the tarp with a sharp snap of the thick plastic. It fluttered as it covered the ground and crinkled noisily when Bumblebee painstakingly flattened it out.
“What’s with the tarp?” Knock Out asked.
Bumblebee snagged the basket, walked to the middle of the tarp, and sat down, laying the basket next to him. “I know how you feel about your paint.” He patted the tarp next to him. “Come on. The show’s going to start soon.”
“Don’t make me spoil the surprise.” Bumblebee flicked the basket open with his other hand and pulled out a small bottle of engex. The label glinted in the light of the dying sun – Knock Out’s favorite flavor, of course.
Bumblebee gave it a wiggle. “Sit next to me. Or on me. I’m good with either.” He grinned.
“You’re ridiculous.” Knock Out stepped gingerly across the tarp, hearing it crinkle beneath his feet.
He sat next to Bumblebee rather than on top of him.
“Yeah, and?” Bumblebee grinned and grabbed Knock Out’s nearest hand, tangling their fingers together. “Are you protesting or just making an observation?”
“Either or.” Knock Out leaned in, resting his head on Bumblebee’s shoulder, soaking in the lingering warmth from the dirt around them, and the buzzing warmth in Bumblebee’s field. “I guess this isn’t so bad.”
Bumblebee’s free hand offered him the opened bottle of engex. “Could be better.” He gave it a wiggle.
“What? No glasses? You heathen.” Knock Out snatched the bottle and eyed it. “Your mouth has been all over this.”
Bumblebee laughed. “My mouth has been all over a lot of things lately.” He waggled his orbital ridges. “If you want, it can even be all over you later.”
Knock Out almost spat the engex flooding over his glossa. As it was, he coughed a vent and wiped the back of his hand over his mouth. “You’re obscene,” he accused. He thrust the bottle back toward Bumblebee.
“Don’t act like you hate it.” Bumblebee accepted the bottle and took a large swig, head tipped back as he drained a third of the bottle in one long glug.
Warmth tightened within Knock Out’s belly. He’d been buried in that intake just this morning. “Never said I did.” He squeezed Bumblebee’s hand. “I can’t decide if you’re a romantic or a pervert.”
A loud shriek followed by an even louder boom made Knock Out startle. He whipped around, searching for the source of the noise, just as a crackle and spray of colors lit the evening sky. It was immediately followed by a second and then a third, and then a barrage of pops and booms and crackles.
“Ooo, it’s started,” Bumblebee said. He set the bottle aside and leaned back against the tarp, carefully flattening his doors over the ground. He patted his chest, the bright lights reflecting on his windshield. “Lay with me?”
“Fireworks?” Knock Out said as his spark slowly startled to cycle down from the abrupt noises. It sounded too much like artillery for his comfort.
“They’re from the race. Celebrations and whatnot.”
Knock Out slid down and carefully notched himself against Bumblebee’s side, resting his head on Bumblebee’s shoulder and tangling their legs together. Like this, the night sky stretched above them, perfectly clear and dotted with stars, while bright bursts of color sprayed and danced among them.
“For my victory,” Knock Out said, smug.
Bumblebee chuckled. “That, too.” He squeezed Knock Out’s hand where their fingers were still linked. “So, uh, yeah. Congratulations and all that.”
“Thanks,” Knock Out drawled. He rested his hand on Bumblebee’s abdomen, fingers playing in the grooves, but not with arousing intent.
It was kind of nice, actually. Just to be here, enjoying this, with nothing else expected out of it. Kind of like they were actual partners and not merely two mechs who kept romping in each other’s berths.
He could get used to this.