Authors' note: Breakdown emerges from hiding to seek gainful employment. It doesn't go very well, but fortunately Wildrider is there to cheer him up. (Warning for mildly explicit smut.)
Note: This chapter takes place on the same day as the previous one. When the cat's away…
– anon_decepticon and QoS/mdperera
Thanks also to Kookaburra 1701 for her support and input!
Chapter 11 : Rat Race
Breakdown scoped the warehouse out from a safe distance. No obvious weak spots or entry points, so it would be relatively easy to defend from within. Wildrider had told him that the people who owned it were looking for a night watchman – he had considered trying for the job himself, but decided it would be too boring being there all alone all night.
To Breakdown, it sounded like his dream job. He no longer felt as though every human in the vicinity was staring at him, but he still didn't like being looked at. That ruled him out for most jobs, and if not for Motormaster's orders and threats he would have stayed in their new base of operations, maintaining it as best he could and waiting for the other Stunticons to save enough to buy a computer.
On the other hand, he didn't mind being paid to wait in a warehouse all night, so after he had scouted the exterior of the huge building and made a mental note of everything he saw, he headed for the small office at the front. With their new phone installed he had been able to call ahead, and a man came out of the office to meet him.
"Mr. Krowen?" He held out a hand. "Great to meet you! I'm Les Hanson."
Breakdown shook the extended hand as firmly and confidently as he could. He had spent the past day in the library, reading a book called How to Get Any Job You Want – one consequence of being human, he had realized, was that he had to actively memorize things to get them into his databanks. He had spent hours with the book, rehearsing all the possible questions an interviewer might ask him and what the best answers were to give.
"Come in, come in, take a seat." Hanson hurried into a small room, sweeping a stack of clipboards off a chair and pushing it in front of a desk. He was so bustling and jovial that he seemed to occupy far more space in the room than he actually took up. Breakdown eased himself into the chair and sat straight-backed, hands clasped on his knees.
"So we need someone to keep an eye on the place at night." Hanson sat down on the edge of his desk. "You got any experience in that line of work, Mr. Krowen?"
Breakdown nodded, struggling to meet the human's eyes. "I used to work for a private company which provided such security measures." He reached into a pocket and took out a folded paper. "Here's a referee from my former supervisor."
Hanson looked puzzled, but took the paper and unfolded it. "Oh, a reference. Good, good. So, did you like working with this Mr. Morter?"
"Y-yes." Breakdown wondered whether to look back into just one of the human's eyes or both of them. It's all right, he can't tell who you are, just keep going! "He taught me to stay focused on my work and follow instructions."
"Strict kinda guy?"
The book had mentioned that it was important not to criticize former employers. "A little. But it's important to have a chin of command."
Breakdown wondered what he had said wrong. "I mean, you need to know whose odors to follow, who's in charge."
"I… see," Hanson said. "What kinda education have you got, Mr. Krowen?"
"I speak several languages," Breakdown said, still wishing that the human would look at Motormaster's letter, at the floor, anywhere but at him. His skin was starting to feel damp. "English, Chinese and Spinach, for a start. I don't have a formal education, but I'm well-read."
Hanson frowned and Breakdown knew at once he had done it again, but he wasn't sure which word he'd said wrong. Just enduring the man's stare was difficult enough, and the harder he tried to stare back – make eye contract, that's important to humans! – the less he could concentrate on his speech. Should I repeat what I said or pretend it didn't happen? Should I say I'm sorry?
Before he could decide, Hanson said, "So you never went to school or anything?"
"No, but I'm illustrious... I mean, I work really hard." Breakdown knew he was making more mistakes, but he was so desperate that he didn't seem to be able to stop. It felt like driving with his brake lines cut. All the while Hanson's eyes bored into him like lasers, hot and penetrating, and his skin all but dripped in response. "If you give me a chance, I won't let you drown."
"Huh?" Hanson shook his head. "Never mind. Thanks for your application, Mr. Krowen. We'll contact you if we want to follow up, all right?"
Breakdown stood, torn between relief that the human was no longer staring at him and a heavy, miserable feeling that he had messed up. As if observing the scene from a short distance, he heard himself mumble a few words of thanks – probably fragging that up as well, he thought. He couldn't get out quickly enough.
Except he felt no better outside. It was midday by then and the streets were crowded. An accident had just occurred on the road he had taken to the warehouse and the police had closed off the intersection, so Breakdown found himself funneled into a narrower street along with what felt like hundreds of people all hurrying in one way or another. He got on to the sidewalk so that the buildings were on one side of him. After the disastrous interview he didn't want anyone looking at him, much less touching him, and yet there were people everywhere–
He gave up and sank down on to a step. It was a little cooler there with the door's awning casting a bit of shade over him, and he hunched his shoulders, staring down at his feet. Once the lunch hour was over and the crowd thinned out, he would go home. The spot he had picked was littered – there were cigarette butts and an empty coffee cup near him – but he didn't care as long as no one was staring at him.
A flicker of movement nearby made him start. Someone had tossed a coin at him and it landed in the coffee cup at his side, making the cup wobble. Breakdown hunched a little more, drawing his knees close to his chest and hoping people wouldn't throw anything else at him. Just ignore me, I'm not here. Just please go about your work.
A quarter clinked into the cup. Breakdown was so startled he raised his head and looked into the cup. There was enough money in it for a phone call, but he didn't understand why people were—
Another coin landed in the cup but when he dared to glance up, no one was actually looking at him. Some fumbled in pockets or purses as they passed by, but they didn't stare at him – in fact, they seemed to deliberately avoid looking at him.
"Thank you," he muttered, not knowing what else to say. By the time the lunch hour ended, he had almost five dollars in change, though it didn't exactly make up for the interview – certainly Motormaster was unlikely to accept five dollars as an acceptable substitute for a job. But at least he didn't have to go back to their base empty-handed.
Breakdown vented a sigh of relief when he finally reached the door to their apartment and gave it a tentative knock. The only other Stunticon likely to be home this early was Drag Strip, but after everything he'd been through today, the prospect of spending the rest of the afternoon with Drag Strip was almost appealing. At least Drag Strip wouldn't stare at him – he'd be too busy preening in preparation for his new job.
To his surprise, it was Wildrider who opened the door. "Hey," he said. "You're just in time. I made sandwiches."
Breakdown came in and shut the door behind him, trying to decide if he was hungry or not. It had been easy to tell as a mech; if he needed to refuel, a warning would pop up in his HUD. Their human bodies had low fuel warnings too, they'd discovered – warnings that cropped up with alarming frequency – but they were nowhere near as explicit.
"I don't think I'm hungry," he said, staring down at the sandwich Wildrider shoved into his hands.
"Don't worry, they're not made of fingers," Wildrider said. "Or knuckles."
"Humans put body parts in sandwiches sometimes," Wildrider said. "But I just used cheese."
"Distrusting," he said, eyeing the sandwich. "I mean the body parts, not the cheese." He took a cautious bite. It tasted okay, so he took another. "Where are the others?" he asked between swallows.
"Dunno," Wildrider said around a mouthful of sandwich. "Out looking for jobs, I guess. Drag Strip said something about getting a wax."
Breakdown frowned. "Humans don't use wax. They don't have plating."
Wildrider snorted. "Tell that to him."
"How come you're home so early? You couldn't find a job either?"
"I did find one," Wildrider said. "And I did it perfectly, too! But then they got mad and told me to leave. Can you believe that? Humans are weird."
"Yeah," Breakdown said quietly, putting down his half-eaten sandwich. Suddenly he didn't want it anymore. "I think I'm gonna go lie down."
He peeled off his clothes and lay down on the mattress, venting another sigh. Drag Strip and Wildrider had both found jobs – what if Motormaster and Dead End did too? Would he be the only one left who hadn't? Mr. Hanson had said he would call, but Wildrider hadn't mentioned the phone ringing.
He was about to get up and ask when Wildrider came in. "Are you gonna recharge now?" he asked.
Breakdown shook his head; he didn't feel like recharging any more than he felt like eating. "Did anyone call today while I was gone?"
"Nope." Wildrider flopped down on the bed beside him. "Why?"
"No reason," he said, rolling over onto his side. "I just wondered."
"I'm bored," Wildrider said after a moment. "Wish we had a TV."
"You could play cards." He gestured towards the clothes he'd left on the floor. "I bought some on my way home today. They're in my pocket."
"Cool," Wildrider said happily. "You wanna play?"
"Not really," he said, staring at the wall.
Wildrider studied him for a moment. "You wanna 'face?"
Breakdown sat up, turning around to look at him. "Are you trying to be funny?"
"No, I'm serious," Wildrider said. "You want to?"
"And how are we supposed to do that?" he asked. "We're human now, remember? Humans don't interface."
"Sure they do," Wildrider argued. "They do it all the time on TV! Movies, too."
"How?" he asked, mystified.
"It's easy – first they turn off the lights and take off all their clothes, then they get into bed, get under the sheets and do it."
Breakdown looked around. "Well, the lights are off," he said. "But you still have your clothes on, and we don't have any sheets."
Wildrider sat up and began removing his clothes, tossing them onto the floor. "Clothes are weird," he said. "Like, you have to wear them or people will stare at you, but when Drag Strip takes his off, people give him money! And you have to take 'em off to 'face, too."
"And to wash," Breakdown said.
"Yeah," Wildrider agreed. "They just get in the way!"
"I guess humans need them to keep warm. Maybe that's what the sheets are for?"
"Well, I'm not cold," Wildrider said, snuggling up to him. "Are you?"
"No," he said. Having Wildrider pressed against him was strangely soothing, not to mention warm. "You really want to 'face?"
"Sure," Wildrider said. "Don't you? It's been ages since last time."
"I guess." It had been a while. "But I don't have wheels or a spoiler anymore."
Wildrider frowned, looking thoughtful. After a moment he reached up and took hold of Breakdown's shoulder, rubbing and squeezing, trailing his thumb over the curve of fleshy muscle where Breakdown's rims used to be. "How does that feel?"
Breakdown's wheel rims had been one of his most sensitive hot spots. Wildrider's touch didn't elicit the same strut-melting wave of pleasure it should have, but some part of him still expected it to, and the memory stirred the faintest flicker of arousal. "Good, I guess," he said uncertainly. "Not 'facing good, but it's kinda nice."
Wildrider leaned into him, putting more of his weight onto Breakdown's chestplate as he stretched down to stroke the back of Breakdown's leg where his rear wheel had been. "What about here?" he grunted, squeezing firmly.
Wildrider huffed, straightening up again and settling more decisively on top of him. He reached over Breakdown's shoulder, groping for a spoiler that was no longer there. "How 'bout here?" he asked, his voice muffled because his face was buried in Breakdown's neck.
The warm puff of air that accompanied the words made Breakdown squirm, tickling over his skin. "N-no," he giggled. Wildrider's frustrated determination was amusing, and he was sort of enjoying the attention. "Not there, either."
Wildrider bit his neck in retribution and Breakdown gasped. The mild nip hadn't hurt exactly, but it sent a flare of sensation through him, a feeling that was at once both strange and familiar.
"Do that again," he said.
Wildrider complied, giving up on trying to stimulate his nonexistent spoiler in favor of pawing at his front as he nibbled along Breakdown's neck cables. When his fingertips brushed over one of the knobs on Breakdown's chestplate, Breakdown gasped again, arching into the touch.
Wildrider was quick to catch on; both hands immediately reached for the knobs, rubbing and kneading them between his fingers. Breakdown's ventilations quickened, and if he'd had an engine it would have been revving. But after a moment Wildrider stopped and sat up.
"What?" Breakdown said. "I think that was working."
"Look, they're sticking out now," Wildrider said, drawing Breakdown's attention to his chest. The knobs were flushed a deep pink, and they did look more prominent than before. "Maybe they're supposed to plug into something?"
"What about here?" Wildrider said, poking at the shallow port in his abdomen.
"There's two of them," he pointed out. "And anyway, they're too small."
Wildrider frowned thoughtfully for a moment, then shrugged. "Never mind, I'll just use my mouth."
Breakdown didn't object as Wildrider leaned over him again. His skin felt hot, the way his plating would have under similar circumstances. When Wildrider's mouth, warm and wet, closed over the nearer of the two knobs, a jolt of pleasure shot through his frame like an electric current.
The current seemed to burn through unseen wires, running in a hot line directly to his groin, and Breakdown felt an odd tightening sensation as the skin there pulled taut. Wildrider turned his attention to the other knob, setting off another surge of pleasure, and Breakdown moaned, arching beneath him, reaching up to tease Wildrider's helm spikes only to find that they weren't there.
He dropped his hands to Wildrider's shoulders as Wildrider moved down his body, but Wildrider's wheels were gone, too. Nevertheless he gripped them tighter when Wildrider ran his glossa over his abdominal ridges like they were the slats of his grille, making his hips jerk reflexively. He felt a strange shifting sensation in his groin.
"Oh," he said, looking down. "It's doing it again."
Wildrider glanced down as well. That odd bit of kibble was standing upright, the way it often did when they woke from recharge. It had happened to all of them at least once since they became humans, and they'd been thoroughly bewildered until Wildrider discovered that flushing his radiator caused it to revert to its previous state.
"You have to go now?" Wildrider asked incredulously.
"…I don't think so," Breakdown said. "It feels…different."
"Like, um – oh!" he gasped as Wildrider carefully wrapped a hand around it. "I – I think it's a hot spot."
"Really? So this feels good?" Wildrider said, giving it an experimental squeeze.
Breakdown's vents hitched sharply at the intense burst of sensation. "Definitely good," he said.
"Weird," Wildrider said, sitting up. "Try touching mine."
Breakdown did, at first tracing it with a cautious fingertip, then growing bolder when Wildrider didn't protest. The skin was very soft, and seemed most sensitive at the tip. After a few minutes of experimentation, Wildrider's kibble was soon extended as well.
"I wonder why it stands up like that," he said.
"I dunno. I never saw anything like this on TV. Stupid sheets."
"It kinda looks like a joystick," he said, gripping it firmly and pressing his thumb where the firing button would have been.
"Ooh, you're winnin' the game right there, Breaks," Wildrider said.
The next thing Breakdown knew, Wildrider was seated astride him, rocking his hips into his hand and venting hard. "Wow, this thing has so many uses!" Wildrider said, reaching down to stroke and fondle him in return. "Hey – maybe this is its alt mode!"
"Do you think – it does anything else?" Breakdown panted, trying to catch his breath.
"I dunno," Wildrider said, "But I think I'm gonna –" He broke off with a gasp, his entire frame shuddering. Breakdown's hand tightened reflexively, and the kibble twitched in his grip, a strange pale fluid spurting out onto his hand.
Breakdown froze, his optics widening in alarm. "Did I break it? It's gone all floopy."
Wildrider collapsed atop him bonelessly and breathed a contented sigh. "If you did, you can break me anytime. I think I just overloaded."
"It didn't hurt?"
Wildrider gave him a broad, lazy smile. "Oh, it hurt so good."
Breakdown thought about that for a moment. "I wanna try."
Wildrider laughed. "All right! My turn to play with the joystick – think I can get a high score?"