Another one of my crazed one-shots, this time featuring Punch/Counterpunch! Same deal applies here as it does to all my other one-shots; can either be read as a stand alone one-shot, or as a character expansion piece belonging to my "WE" continuality. Either way, I hope you all enjoy.
Dedicated to all those who look in the mirror and are not sure who is looking back…
Secondary dedication goes out to Litahatchee, who plucked the threads of the web I've been weaving in order to save Punch from meeting a grisly fate. As I will always be grateful for her help and friendship, Punch will always be grateful to her for saving his life.
Be warned- this fic has a little bit of an Alice in Wonderland crack-tastic taste to it. It might not make any sense.
Looking Glass Self
"I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!"- Alice, "Alice in Wonderland"
Punch had always teetered on the sharp dividing line between sanity and utter madness.
It had been vorns since he'd thought of himself as stable. Whole.
Vorns since he'd thought of himself as completely Punch.
Not since Jazz, Commander of Special Ops, had approached him with a dangerous request. Punch hadn't been completely Punch since that orn; not since Counterpunch had come into his life.
It had been so easy to say yes in the first place, to accept the mission to infiltrate the Decepticon ranks as one of their own. At that point, he hadn't known exactly all that he was getting himself in to. He only knew that Jazz was an excellent Commander, second to none, and never offered a mission to his mechs that he knew was too dangerous- that was reserved for himself alone. Jazz was uncommonly wise that way, shrewdly intelligent, operating by his own enigmatic methods, always able to pair an upcoming mission with the perfect mech to accomplish it.
Which was why Punch accepted without hesitation.
Everyone in Special Operations knew their commander looked after his mechs. They trusted Jazz with their lives.
In order to prepare for the mission, Punch had to change though.
He was reformatted into a frame designed by the eccentric Wrenchwire, shipped in secret from the Epsilon base to Iacon under high security protection. It was a special frame, a Transformer within a Transformer. A mech within a mech. A coin that not only had two faces, but two alt modes, and an advanced signature modulator that smothered the Autobot within to make him a Decepticon without.
And Jazz had come in after the procedure with his visor down, hiding his optics like he did when he had something he didn't want his mechs to see. He'd placed a clawed hand on Punch's new shoulder, broader than his old frame's, and leaned in close, flicking open Punch's interface panel tucked away in the juncture between his neck column and his shoulders and connected with him, seeking remote access.
Then something happened.
A curious sensation, like melting while remaining solid, transforming even though he remained in his bipedal mode; like a part of him was falling away, dying. The next time he looked, he was different.
The new him.
The other him.
Where once his eccentric bright orange paint reflected brightly under the stark lights of the med bay, he now sat as a living shadow of night colours: of indigoes and dark blues, deep violets and pitch blacks. Like a living paintjob of depression.
And he felt where parts of himself had shifted, rearranged. Where important thingshad folded away to be replaced by new ridges, alien contours. The signature modulator turned on under Jazz's direction, a hauntingly new thrum in his frame, a hum that was a part of himself but not. It made him feel like he was sinking below the surface, drowning, or being wrapped in an incredibly thick blanket, suffocating.
With optics that reflected red in the sheen of his Commander's visor, Punch could see a mech he didn't know looking back in the reflection.
Once the transformation was complete, Jazz had taken his chin in one hand and turned his faceplate one way, and then the other, scrutinizing the new design. Punch could feel the scans being run on him, crawling over the foreign metal. When a sad, almost pitying, smile crossed Jazz's faceplate, Punch knew that he passed whatever test his Commander had been weighing him against.
The silver mech leaned in close, placing his mouthplates next to Punch's audio receptors.
"Your designation is now Counterpunch."
And that's when he realized a piece of himself had been fractured.
A piece of himself was now dead.
But where that piece of Punch had fallen away, Counterpunch took residence. He was a stuttering, jittery, ill-adjusted mech. He claimed to be a Scrapion when he'd appeared at the gates of the Decepticon stronghold in Kaon, begging to be of some use. Pleading to be given some purpose in life.
Every stuttered word that formed on Punch's vocal processor had made him want to purge. But he couldn't. Because, on the outside, he was Counterpunch, and this was the reason Counterpunch existed. So he wormed his way on to the base, slithering under powerful Decepticon feet, resisting the urge to shoot some of them as they laid open amongst their fellows, easy targets for an Autobot to take out. It took Punch a long time, and a lot of effort to remind himself, to work it into his processor that he wasn't Punch anymore, that he wasn't an Autobot; he was the Decepticon Counterpunch, and if he knew what was good for him he'd sneak off into the shadows and pretend he didn't exist.
Time moved on.
Orns turned into vorns.
The fracture lines only deepened.
There were times when the dividing line between who was Punch and who was Counterpunch felt like a mirage, an illusion. Who was Autobot? Who was Decepticon? Which one was he supposed to be? What part was he playing during this scene in the play…?
Jazz knew. He saw how truly deep those cracks were beginning to worm every time he called upon his trusted agent. It was always on the tip of his vocalizer to say Punch had had enough, that it was time to come home. He never got to say it though; Punch always beat him to the punch-
"I'm fine, Jazz. Just a little longer… give me a little longer."
And when his Commander's faceplate would grow shadowed and his visor would darken, Punch would straighten his back and thrust out his chest.
"I can still be of use. I still remember who is Punch and who is Counterpunch."
While Jazz would believe him and leave it at that, the sad truth was that, sometimes, he honestly did know who was who.
He forgot which one was real and which one was the illusion.
Or maybe it was worse… maybe it went deeper… Perhaps Punch wasn't just forgetting who was real and who was fake; maybe he was starting to think both were real.
Or maybe both were fake.
Who knew anymore? Certainly not him.
In truth, in his mind, when he thought about himself, there no longer was distinction between Punch and Counterpunch. When he thought about himself, he was Punch/Counterpunch. Both. No dividing line. No difference. Never one without the other lurking.
Some orns, he would forget who he was supposed to be and it would always be a surprise when he came upon his reflection and saw who was looking back.
There would always be a question lingering in the dark side of his mind, lurking there, fermenting there in the stew of his dark hidden thoughts until it became so strong, so potent, that it was impossible to ignore.
Who am I?
He thought he'd once known, but know treading on the other side of the line, into the dark territories of the Decepticons, were forbidden horrors and pleasures mixed and shadowed fears and locked away thoughts came to light, everything else came into question.
Am I an Autobot?
Am I a Decepticon?
There were orns when he forgot. Orns when he saw a different side of the 'Cons that an Autobot would never see and it would make him question if he was on the right side after all. Thank Primus something a little more gruesome would always come along to remind him that he would never belong to the other side. Even if he didn't know who he was, he knew what he didn't want to be.
Punch or Counterpunch?
The answer came in the most unexpected of places.
From another mech that teetered on the same precipice he did. When they had crossed paths, a spark of awareness had passed between them- they'd known that they had been the same. There had been…understanding between them. They were unique amongst their fellows, placed on the same precarious balance between who they knew and who they saw in their reflection.
And the other mech had given him the answer that his spark had so sought after for so long, ever since that first fracture, when Counterpunch was first given life.
There was no Punch.
He was just playing parts now. He was a puppet for those two mechs to come and pull his strings. He was an empty shell to be filled by illusions.
That scared him. He didn't want to be at the mercy of the personalities he once commanded. So he enlisted the help of his friend, the one just like him, and together they burned the Autobot insignia into the inside of his spark case so that he would never forget, no matter who he looked like, no matter what part he was playing, he was an Autobot at spark.
The reminder burned terribly.
And for his friend, they did they same, only…they burned the Decepticon insignia into him.
Counterpunch waited nervously at his table, gazing about quickly with wide, searching optics, waiting for his friend to show.
This time, this secret meeting, they'd chosen an out of the way Neutral station out in the middle of some Primus-forsaken wasteland region of space where no one cared who you were as long as you had credits to your name. Perfect for creatures like them.
A flash of sky blue shifted amongst the crowd.
Counterpunch shot up from his seat, waving wildly, hoping to catch the other's attention- the other that was just like him. Optics cross paths, bright smiles quirking both their faceplates. The other mech shoved his way through the tide of revellers, trotting over to the chosen table. He offered Counterpunch a friendly pat on the shoulder before sitting down opposite. The Autobot brand across his chassis shone brightly even in the dim lights of the dingy establishment, just as Counterpunch's Decepticon insignia glinted.
"It's been so long since we've seen each other, Counterpunch!" the mech greeted happily.
"T-too l-long," Counterpunch stuttered in reply. "B-but it's so hard to meet l-like this often, D-Dealer."
"Oh, don't say things like that! I like whatever time we get to spend with each other!" Dealer admonished, waving away Counterpunch's words. "Even a little bit is enough for me!"
"I-if you say so..." Counterpunch replied, shifting uneasily. "S-sometimes I-I wish we c-could have more time."
Eager and friendly as always, Dealer shrugged with a grin. "Yeah, well, maybe we will. But for now, this will have to do."
Intimadated by the Autobot's louder personality, the jittery Decepticon retreated a bit, nodding meekly.
Glancing up, their optics met and suddenly they laughed. They played their characters so well.
And then their faceplates blanked, their frames easing out of their assumed roles into the blank slates they'd become, waiting to decide who to be next.
Counterpunch cocked his head to the side. "Who shall we be today, my friend?"
Dealer grimaced. "I'm rather partial to being Doubledealer right now, actually. He's far less excitable- easier to have a conversation with without him grinning and gushing over every word."
Counterpunch nodded understandingly. "Yes, and I would like a break from Counterpunch- the stuttering is so hard to keep track of sometimes. He's so pathetic it's annoying."
Smiles eased on to their faceplates as the rest of their frames began to shift. Counterpunch fell away and Punch drew to the surface while Dealer faded and Doubledealer came to light.
They knew they were from different factions, but they were also the same. There was a carnal calling between them that said they were unique, the only creatures in the universe that would understand the other.
But the fragile little game they played also had rules.
They would not, could not, betray the other. The enemy faction would never find out they had a shadow lurking in their midst.
To be fair though, when they met, they never discussed business.
Doubledealer smiled languidly from across the table, his red optics simmering. "It's been a while, Punch."
"Too long, Doubledealer," Punch replied, his ice-blue optics sharp in the shadows.
They reached across and grasped each other's hands.
Illusion or not, Doubledealer and Punch was who they'd chosen to be.
For now, anyways…