Swindle & Wasp – The Difficulty in Finding What They Call "Beautiful"

Chapter 16

Wasp awoke to the strangest sight he thought he might ever see, a sight with the kind of impossible quality typically attributed to fantasy creatures, legendary figures, and those organic monsters that younger Autobots always said would come out to feast on anybody who stayed out after curfew.

He awoke to the sight of Swindle looking anxious.

Well, maybe that was putting it a little lightly. The arms dealer was sitting on the bottom of the berth, looking off to the side, chewing the tips of his fingers—something Wasp had never seen him do—rapidly tapping the heel of one of his peds, and mumbling to himself without even holding a calculator—something Wasp had really never seen him do. Swindle didn't really look so much anxious as he looked like a nervous wreck.

"Swindle-bot, something wrong?" Wasp offered. He pushed himself up into a sitting position and leaned towards the salesman.

Swindle arched and his helm snapped around to look at Wasp. He yelped, but cut himself off with a sharp bite to the line of his own lip.

"Fine," Swindle replied through his teeth. "Just fine, Wasp. How're you feeling?"

Wasp tilted his helm to one side. "Wasp is… No, um, Aiiiiii am doing fine." He replied awkwardly.

Swindle released his lip, wincing as the quick, stinging pain set in, and flashed a grin. As always, he snapped right back into his cheery salesman demeanor— but this time, not only could Wasp see through it, he could see through it without even having to look. It was so phony, so distant and strange. There was something terribly wrong, and that made Wasp feel uneasy in turn.

"Great, fantastic!" Swindle exclaimed. "Try it again. Say, 'I am doing well'."

"Aiiiiii am doing well." Wasp repeated, stretching the 'I' like a rubber band. He wasn't used to his processor being able to handle normal speech, and it actually threw him rather off-kilter.

"Can you say my name?" Swindle asked.

"Swindle-bot." Wasp answered confidently.

Swindle put on a bit of a mock pout. "Really, that's the best you can do? How come you can handle 'I' but you can't say 'Swindle'?"

"Swindle-bot." Wasp repeated. "It is your name."

Swindle laughed. "And now you've said 'your', too! You're doing this on purpose, aren't you?"

"Think of it like nickname," Wasp answered mischievously. "Wasp likes 'Swindle-bot' better anyway."

"If you say so." Swindle said, shrugging. With that, he stood and went to the door. "Now then, if you'll excuse me, I'm afraid I have some things I really need to take care of- business things, you understand. Just stay here and try to rest, alright?"

Wasp huffed. "But, Wasp will get bored in here."

"You mean 'I', don't you?" Swindle sighed good-naturedly, still clearly just putting on airs. Whatever was on the salesbot's mind, it had to be big. If Swindle didn't think he could talk or bargain his way out of whatever trouble he'd gotten himself in, then it probably involved somebody even scarier than Doctor-bot and Skull-bot, and bent on making sure the sneaky arms dealer suffered- financially or otherwise, Wasp couldn't guess.

Either way, he was starting to get the impression that the merchant was probably going to get put offline or something, and that really kind of worried him. Or on the other hand, maybe he would just have all his money taken away. He actually wasn't really sure which would scare Swindle more.

Putting on a smile and a strong front was easy enough, but for the first time since he'd made his escape from Cybertron, Swindle wasn't really sure how the future could be anything but bleak. He'd always been a very upbeat person, inside and out, happy with his money and able to make as much as he needed to get himself out of any situation, any time.

For the second time, he found himself reviewing the life he'd had. It had started out rocky, thanks to his unorthodox origin but, overall, he'd had more than his fair share of good fortune- after all, if Fortune didn't happen to smile on him, he'd just talk smooth to it for a while and see what he could sucker it into.

It was something he'd learned as a mere scrap drone back on Cybertron. He'd had very humble origins, after all, since he'd come from a traitorous soldier and a poor merchant, the latter having raised him single-handedly in a special Decepticon "settlement". He'd lived through hard times, didn't like it, and decided to make something better of himself- starting during his roguish days of youth, suckering Autobots and civilians out of their credits using nothing more than his wits and stolen scraps from the local junkyard. Those days had set the stage for the merchant's lucrative career, and he'd come a long, long way since then.

But things seemed so different now. The fact of the matter was, he was broke, and there wasn't anything he could do to save himself from the fate creeping ever nearer if he couldn't figure out some way to get his ship back home, where he could access his stashed credits, and pay off the debtors that now loomed like black shadows on what might've otherwise been a fairly sunny horizon filled with strange new possibilities and a strange new companion to explore them with.

He'd gotten just one chance to get the credits he needed to go home, but even that had gone awry. Swindle had made some pretty stupid moves in the past, but falling head-over-heels for his own merchandise took the cake!

Oh, how Fortune took its revenge for all those stellar cycles of smooth-talking!

Swindle sat down and tapped his lip thoughtfully, gazing distantly through a window at distant stars. Surely this wasn't the way it was going to end. There was always a way out, there had to be.

The hall was silent as he sat alone, just watching the stars go by. Nobody bothered him; they were all too busy in the clinic's other wings, probably getting things ready for the war on everyone's lips. Decepticon and Autobot alike would be taking up arms pretty soon, and he imagined it would be pretty big business for First Aid and his goons. He was completely alone with his thoughts.

The real problem he had, above everything else, was the very lovely people he owed money to. They weren't exactly the most forgiving types, and they were going to come after him to collect pretty soon. If he didn't have their credits then, there wouldn't be any extensions, just hard punishment. And oh boy, were they ever creative when it came to exacting punishments.

Swindle smirked, rubbed at his forehead, and finally just started laughing. Stress and irony had gotten the better of him.

It was funny how things worked out, in the long run. This was the galaxy's finest clinic, and it was run by a glitchy ex-Decepticon just as materialistic and money-grubbing as his old pal Swindle, the illegal weapons merchant. And Swindle was here because an old business partner had gotten a little greedy himself- and it was just starting to occur to him that he probably needed to give old Lockdown a call if he was ever going to dig himself out of his mess. This mess that wouldn't have even happened if he hadn't picked up Wasp, who was supposed to be the answer to all his problems. Of course, if he hadn't picked up Wasp, there was no telling what might've happened to Swindle, lying there in the hold of his own ship. He probably would've just up and died anyway. And then he wouldn't have any problems.

Fortune was such a bitch!

When Swindle next approached Wasp, he no longer looked like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In fact, he was grinning that familiar seedy, comforting grin, and came bearing treats for the former Autobot.

Wasp looked up at the arms dealer and returned the look with an awkward smile, slightly restricted by the shape of his jaw. He didn't feel like being hostile or feisty. In fact, he was feeling really mellow right now, almost sane, and that felt good.

"Hey there, Wasp." Swindle greeted. "Didn't get too bored without me, did you?"

"Did okay," Wasp answered. "I didn't get too bored. Practiced talking and stuff."

"Ah, excellent." Swindle said. "Here, I brought you a few goodies." He offered the treats, which Wasp eagerly accepted and shamelessly started scarfing down.

The weapons merchant sat down next to Wasp and leaned back in his seat. The ex-Autobot didn't care to think too much about why Swindle's mood had changed so drastically in the mere mega-cycles since he'd left. What mattered was that suddenly he had Swindle back, the way he was supposed to be, and that if he prodded him about it then he'd probably just go right back to freaking out or something.

"Thanks Swindle-bot." Wasp said between bites of his treats.

Swindle gave a little chuckle. "Yeah, no problem." He said nonchalantly.

There was a pause, until slowly, unexpectedly, Swindle's arm crept out behind Wasp and wrapped itself around his shoulder, causing the smaller mech to tense up. Swindle pulled Wasp up against himself, resting his companion's side against his own. Wasp stayed very still and tense for a moment before just giving up and going along with it, leaning his weight onto the much larger Decepticon.

Wasp found that there was something very nice about this. He was actually pretty comfortable. He liked having Swindle there, and he had this feeling like something had changed for the better, though he couldn't quite describe what it was. His own physical condition, and Swindle's mood, and maybe some other things too. Deeper things that had to do with connections and the spark. Also, he had treats, and that helped a little too.

"Don't mind, do you?" Swindle asked, in a tone that indicated he probably didn't care either way.

"Nah." Wasp said between bites.

The two sat wordlessly until Wasp finished eating. It wasn't the kind of awkward pause that occurs when one person starts eating and the other person doesn't have anything and the first person's too rude to offer him any, but more like the kind of contented pause between two people who haven't got anything to say at the moment and are just happy to be together, alive, and intact. Then again, it was also like the kind of quiet where one person dozes off and the other person has a snack, but the second one sounds better.

Wasp looked up at Swindle, who was, in fact, starting to doze off, and gave a soft huff. The ex-Autobot wiped his face with the back of his servo, then used his long fingers to lightly clean his antennae. To be honest, he was still very bored, and feeling pretty tired after the operation and all the horrible, panic-inducing poking and prodding that came with it.

So, he stretched up against the drowsy merchant. He was content not to rouse Swindle, but instead to take advantage of the situation and the opportunity to use him as a rather large, hard, drab olive pillow.

He knew that Swindle had also been operated on, and unlike Wasp, he hadn't taken any time to rest afterward, which of course left him drained. It was probably because of whatever had him so worked up. In a way, it reminded Wasp of his own ordeal, and that gave him something to connect to.

That made him feel… Sympathetic toward Swindle? No, that wasn't it.

Less wary, and more accepting of Swindle? Yes, that was more like it. Maybe even a kind of understanding towards the merchant. He could feel a sort of begrudging trust had grown between the two of them.

Wasp appreciated what the salesbot had done for him, and he knew that as much as he hated it, things really had changed between the two of them in a lot of ways. It scared him, because he was actually starting to wonder if he wouldn't rather stay on Swindle's stupid ship than move on to hunt down Bumble-bot and the others responsible for ruining Wasp's life, for getting him locked in the stockades with all those horrible bots with their horrible hands.

Wasp shuddered slightly. He pushed his head under Swindle's arm, and tried to relax. He would never have to think about those things again, if he didn't want to. He still wasn't convinced he should ever abandon his quest for revenge, but at least he didn't have to stay stuck in the memories of what had happened in the past. Things were looking up now, and he had only the future ahead of him.

As Wasp had this small but sort of profound epiphany, the dozing Swindle's arm tightened slightly against him, and moved to pull the small bot up against his chassis. And the ex-Autobot let him.