Authors' note : Poor Breakdown. We ignore him for a dozen chapters, and then give him two in a row! And he's got another one coming up – sorry, Breaks.

Chapter summary : Breakdown holds down the fort.

-anon_decepticon and QoS/mdperera

Thanks to Kookaburra 1701 for support and input, and to all our readers!

Chapter 25 – Braking and Entering

Glancing around the living room, Breakdown breathed a sigh of relief. The room was empty, and he could hear the television playing faintly in the background. When neither Wildrider nor Drag Strip came out to investigate the sound of the door opening, he allowed himself to relax. All he had to do now was sneak back to the computer, and they'd never know he'd even left the apartment.

He'd made it nearly halfway across the living room when the phone rang, startling him so badly he nearly jumped out of his skin. Not pausing to wonder who might be calling, Breakdown snatched it out of the cradle on the first ring.

"Hello?" he asked breathlessly, fuel pounding in his ears.

"I need speak to my main man Mel, he around?"

Breakdown looked up, and spotted Wildrider and Drag Strip peering out of their bedroom. He waved them over. "It's for you," he said, holding the receiver out to Wildrider. "I think it's that guy you race for."

Wildrider's face lit up as he reached for the phone. "Hey Marce, what's up?" He listened for a moment, his optics brightening. "Frag, yeah!" Then his expression sobered. "But..."

"No, I do!" Wildrider insisted. "But I got a feeling it's gonna cost a lot more than a box of Captain Crunch, you know?"

Breakdown looked at Drag Strip, who shrugged and made a "give" motion at Wildrider. Wildrider covered the end of the receiver with his hand. "He says he's got a bike for me," he whispered. "A Husqvarna WR 125!" Then he went back to the phone. "Where'd you get it?"

"Oh, okay," Wildrider said, nodding. "Yeah, I've got someone I can bring with me," he added, looking at Drag Strip. "Sure, sure, I got time. See you in a few!" He hung up and turned back to them, grinning from ear to ear.

"You're not seriously thinking of asking me to sneak out again, are you?" Drag Strip said accusingly.

Wildrider's smile faltered. "Uh…"

Drag Strip sneered, which did unfortunate things to his damaged face. "Forget it. Take Breakdown with you."

Breakdown blinked. "Me? I'm not going. I don't want to get slagged. Besides, I've almost gotten through to the base."

Both of them stared at him in surprise. "You have?" Drag Strip said. "Well, then we don't need a motorcycle – we'll have our alt modes back soon."

Wildrider pouted. "But it's a WR 125," he whined. "It even has my initials on it!" He looked at Drag Strip with pleading optics. "C'mon! Marce said all we have to do it is come by and pick it up. We'll be back in no time!"

"And how are we supposed to explain where we got it?" Drag Strip asked pointedly.

"We'll say Marce brought it to us," Wildrider said. "And that we only took it because we thought it would help with the loan shark."

Drag Strip looked dubious, and Breakdown didn't blame him. Wildrider's lies were rarely convincing. He looked about to refuse, but then Wildrider played his trump card. "I'll let you ride it first," he offered. "Just think of it, sunshine – the wind in your face, a real set of wheels under you…"

Drag Strip folded his arms over his chest, but he couldn't hide the look of longing in his eyes. "Fine, I'll go," he relented. "But if we get caught, it was all your idea – I only went along to keep you out of trouble."

Wildrider beamed and bounced over to the door. "Then what are we waiting for? Let's go!" He continued to burble enthusiastically about the bike, but Drag Strip hesitated, looking at Breakdown.

"Will you be all right here alone?" he asked.

Breakdown blinked, surprised he'd even bothered to ask. "Why wouldn't I be?" he said, feeling vaguely insulted. He was a Stunticon, after all. "I've got the shotgun, and I'll lock the door after you leave. It's not like you're gonna be gone that long."

"Better not be," Drag Strip replied, glaring at Wildrider.

"Marce's place isn't far," Wildrider assured him. "If we run, we'll be there in fifteen minutes. And the trip back will be even shorter – because we'll have wheels!"

"So go already," Breakdown said. "Just don't be late. I don't want to get slagged because you two decided to go joyriding." He looked at Drag Strip as he said the last, knowing Wildrider might get it into his processor to do just that. I'm counting on you, that look said.

Drag Strip gave an almost imperceptible nod, then turned and hustled Wildrider out the door.

Breakdown locked it behind them and headed back to the computer. His program was still running, trying different access codes, so he went into the kitchen to put on a fresh pot of coffee. He'd stay up all night if he had to.

He checked the window again while he waited. There was no sign of Motormaster or Dead End – which was a good thing since Wildrider and Drag Strip weren't back yet – but at least the human Trevor was long gone. He turned back to the coffeemaker only to realize that he'd left his mug on the table next to the computer. He was just about to go get it when he heard a sound at the front door.

That was quick, he thought with no small amount of relief, until it occurred to him that Drag Strip and Wildrider had left less than five minutes ago. Had they forgotten something and come back for it? Or had Motormaster and Dead End returned early? Not wanting to risk taking a beating in their stead, Breakdown warily poked his head out of the kitchen.

A strange human was standing in their living room.

Breakdown ducked back before the human could spot him, his mind racing. Who is that? How did he get in? What does he want?

The answers came to him readily enough; as humans, they only had one enemy to speak of – Ominsky, the loan shark. He had to repel this invasion of their base, but how? The shotgun was in Motormaster's closet, and there was no way Breakdown could get to it without alerting the human to his presence.

Casting about, he spied the cast iron frying pan Wildrider used to cook most of their meals. Breakdown reached for it, quietly easing it out of the sink, and hefted it experimentally. It felt heavy and solid.

Inching back to the door, Breakdown peeked out again. The human now had his back to him, and was busy pulling the cushions off of the couch one by one, feeling along the edges of each. Looking for the money, Breakdown thought.

He fidgeted, his grip tightening around the handle of the frying pan. The human was larger than he was by a good margin, almost as big as Motormaster. But he obviously thought he was alone in the apartment, which meant he wouldn't be expecting an attack.

If I rush him now, I might be able to hit him before he hears me and turns around – but what if he looks up before then? The human was a good three strides away, maybe four; far enough out of range to have time to react if he spotted Breakdown before he'd closed the distance.

Fear clutched at his chest as he wavered indecisively, torn between defending their base and staying right where he was. He knew the human wouldn't find the money he was looking for – there wasn't any to find – but he also knew Motormaster and Dead End or Drag Strip and Wildrider might return at any moment, tipping the odds sharply in their favor.

Wait, or attack? Wildrider wouldn't hesitate. Neither would Motormaster. What should I do?

He was still trying to decide when the human straightened and moved away from the couch, his gaze focused on something off to Breakdown's right.

The computer. Cold dread welled up in his spark as the human moved closer, but it vanished in a searing burst of rage. They'd all worked so hard, sacrificed so much to get it–

You're not touching that, he thought. It's ours!

The thought of losing their last hope of getting their real bodies back catapulted Breakdown from his hiding place, his makeshift weapon raised high. The human had just enough time to turn as Breakdown brought the frying pan crashing down on his head. He looked so startled Breakdown nearly laughed out loud as the man crumpled to the floor.

I did it! I got him!

But before he could stop to savor his victory, he heard a muffled thump and a series of rapid footsteps. A second man came charging out of the hallway leading to the bedrooms. Breakdown barely had time to register that the human had a gun before he raised it and fired.

Breakdown's hands jerked up reflexively as the gun went off. The sound was all wrong – a soft, muffled cough instead of a loud bang. There was a strange pinging whine, and the frying pan was torn half-out of his hand.

It wasn't until he felt the vibrations hammering up his arm that Breakdown realized the frying pan had deflected the bullet. He blinked in surprise, meeting the human's equally startled optics. For a second neither of them moved. Then the human took aim and fired again.

Breakdown flung himself to the side, but not before a flare of white-hot pain burned across his right shoulder. In desperation, he flung the frying pan up at the ceiling. It hit the overhead bulb with a brilliant flash and a loud pop, plunging the room into darkness. Breakdown struck the floor and rolled behind the couch.

The human cursed, giving Breakdown a general idea of his position as he crept quietly to the opposite end of the couch on his hands and knees. He heard the human shuffling around in the dark, but he didn't fire again. That was both good and bad. Breakdown doubted the couch would stop a bullet, but evidently the human was unwilling to waste his ammunition firing blind.

Think, Breakdown, think. The gun gave the human the advantage, but Breakdown knew the apartment's layout and had a better chance of navigating it successfully in the dark. If he could reach the shotgun in Motormaster's room, that would even the odds. But the human was in the way.

His path to the front door was clear, but fleeing wasn't an option. If he ran, the human would be left alone in their apartment, free to do whatever he pleased – including damage the computer. Breakdown couldn't allow that. This was their base, and the human was trespassing. Breakdown would defend it or die trying.

A shuffling footstep reached his audials, followed by another. From the sound, he guessed the human was trying to circle around the couch to find him. Breakdown inched further along, creeping around to the other side and poked his head up over the arm, trying to catch a glimpse of the gunman.

It was too dark to see the human clearly, but Breakdown could discern a faint silhouette in the dim light filtering into the apartment from the streetlamps outside, a darker patch of shadow amid the intervening gloom. He couldn't make out the human's optics, but from the way his head was turned, the human was staring right at him.

He's looking at the couch, not me, he thought, fighting to stay calm. His right shoulder throbbed in time with his heartbeat, but fear seemed to have chased away the pain. His sleeve felt wet, which meant he was leaking vital fluid, but Breakdown couldn't afford to worry about that now. He had to get to the shotgun.

In circling around to find him, the human had moved away from the hallway. That left Breakdown with a clear path to Motormaster's bedroom. But there was a wide stretch of open floor between it and him, and to reach it Breakdown would have to cross that distance. Without getting shot.

Without getting shot again, he amended. His shoulder was still throbbing, and his entire right arm felt numb. But his fingers responded when he tried to flex them, so there was still hope.

If he could get to the shotgun.

First, he needed a distraction. He felt around on the floor, hoping to find something he could throw – a discarded boot would be good – but all he found was something small and rectangular that had slid underneath the couch. From the powdery coating it left on his fingertips, Breakdown guessed it had fallen out of Drag Strip's makeup kit.

Good enough. Taking a deep breath, he pulled himself up into a crouch. The muscles in his legs tensed like springs. He threw the tiny square in the general direction of the kitchen.

The moment it struck the wall he exploded into motion, not bothering to wait and see if his diversion had worked. Another soft muffled report made him flinch and duck instinctively, but he kept running, tearing across the open floor.

The door to Motormaster's room loomed up in front of him. Breakdown shot through it as if he were on fire, slamming it shut behind him. He flung the closet door open, grabbed the shotgun and whirled, leveling it at the door. At this range, the blast would obliterate both the door and anything beyond it. He squeezed the trigger.

It didn't budge.

Breakdown stared down at the gun. Why didn't it fire? Is it detective? With no time to figure out the cause of the malfunction – and wasn't it ironic to be on the losing side of that equation – he reversed his grip on the barrel and moved to stand by the door, his back to the wall.

It flew open, propelled by a solid kick. There was a thump as the human threw himself back against the wall in anticipation of a counterattack. Breakdown tensed, poised to strike…and waited.

When his assault on Motormaster's bedroom door wasn't greeted with a hail of gunfire, the human shifted forward. He edged through the open doorway, his gun arm leading.

Breakdown swung the shotgun's stock like a club, bringing it down on the human's exposed forearm as hard as he could. The human's gun clattered to the floor and skittered under the bed.

The human swore and made a grab for the shotgun. He nearly tore it out of Breakdown's grip, but Breakdown wasn't about to surrender his only weapon. When the human tried to yank it away, Breakdown came with it, colliding with the human bodily and sending them both stumbling back down the narrow hallway.

The tug of war continued into the living room. The human was stronger, but Breakdown clung to the shotgun, refusing to relinquish his hold even when the human slammed him into a wall.

He aimed a kick at the human's legs, but struck only a glancing blow, and nearly took a fist to the head in return. He ducked and retreated, dragging the human along with him. Stupid though it seemed to be fighting over a gun that wouldn't even fire, Breakdown couldn't let go. What if the malfunction was only temporary? He held on.

Suddenly the human released his hold. Breakdown stumbled backward and crashed into the computer table, knocking over his chair. His empty coffee mug hit the floor at his feet and shattered.

Breakdown shot a quick glance behind him, afraid the computer might be close to doing the same. It wasn't, but the human used his brief distraction to take another swing at him. Breakdown tried to dodge the blow, but only partly succeeded; instead of slamming into his face, the human's fist struck his injured shoulder. His senses exploded in agony, and he lost his grip on the shotgun. The human jerked it away and flung it aside.

Not the computer! Breakdown thought wildly, tackling him to the floor. The momentum of his charge sent them into a roll. The next thing Breakdown knew, the human was on top of him, his hands wrapped around his throat.

Breakdown's eyes widened as the human began to squeeze. All he could think of was how Wildrider had reacted when Motormaster had done that to him. He clawed at the human's arms, but the grip on his neck only grew tighter.

He's trying to kill me.

He couldn't see the human's face anymore; a red haze obscured his vision. It wasn't fair. He'd been alone in the apartment for less than half an hour! Wildrider and Drag Strip would be back any minute, or Motormaster and Dead End –

But they would arrive too late.

Was this how Dead End felt when he was attacked? Breakdown hadn't asked him for details, and Dead End hadn't volunteered any. Were these the same humans who had assaulted him?

His throat was constricted; he couldn't swallow. His fuel pump pounded in his chest, and his shoulder throbbed in sympathy. The human's weight held him pinned to the floor, and something hard was poking into his hip –

My knife…

Filled with a surge of sudden hope, Breakdown let go of the human's arms and groped for his pocket. His fingers found the knife and fumbled it out, his thumb triggering the mechanism. Then he plunged the blade deep into the human's side.

The human jerked back with a cry of pain, releasing him abruptly. Breakdown stabbed him again. The human staggered to his feet, his optics wide, clutching his injured side.

Breakdown's throat burned as he pushed himself upright, fighting to force air back into his lungs. He couldn't see the human in the dark, but from the sound of his shuffling footsteps and harsh, ragged breathing, Breakdown knew he'd injured him badly.

He expected the human to charge, to try and take the knife away from him, but when the man moved again, it was off to the side. Breakdown heard a click and turned toward the sound, tensing in anticipation. A swath of light slanted into the apartment.

He knew at once that the human was trying to escape – the light was coming from the hall outside. Breakdown lunged in that direction, slashing wildly with the knife, but only managed to open a gash in the back of the human's coat as he fled out into the hallway.

Breakdown was about to give chase, but then he remembered that the human hadn't been alone. Leaving the front door open so he'd have more light, he scanned the room for the shotgun and spotted it lying on the floor a short distance away. He bent to retrieve it, but kept his knife handy as he edged over to where he'd last seen the first human, the one he'd hit with the frying pan.

The human was gone.

Is he still in the apartment? Breakdown wondered, looking around in dismay. Or did he run away, too?

There was only one way to be sure. After checking the rest of the living room, he closed the front door and locked it. From there he staggered into the kitchen, where he found a damp dishrag and some water on the floor, but no sign of the damaged human. His throat burned each time he swallowed, but the piece of ice he fumbled out of the freezer only made him cough – which hurt even worse.

His vision was starting to fuzz over, and his sleeve felt damp and sticky where the bullet had hit him, but he couldn't rest until he'd secured the base. It was getting increasingly difficult to walk – his feet felt like they had lead weights strapped to them – but Breakdown pressed on, clutching his wounded shoulder.

He stumbled as he neared the hallway, and only managed to keep from falling by bracing a hand flat against the wall. He rested there for a moment, breathing hard, then continued on to the bedrooms.

By the time he'd searched them all, Breakdown was leaning heavily on the shotgun, but satisfied that the apartment was empty. All of the bedrooms were clear, as was Motormaster's closet. The door to the washrack had been open when he passed it, the shower curtain drawn back, and the room itself was too small to hide in.

He headed there now, trying not to think about the locked front door and how it hadn't stopped the humans from entering. He had to believe it would keep them out this time; he was too sore and weary to even consider the alternative.

The sight of his reflection in the washrack mirror made him gasp. The entire right side of his shirt was soaked red, the thin white cloth clinging to his skin. The shirt had been Dead End's before he'd bought the red one. Now they looked almost the same.

He looked down at his hands. They were red too, red and sticky, and felt faintly gritty. He looked up at the mirror again. A pale, frightened human stared back at him.

I made a mess, he thought as he swayed on his feet. The room seemed darker than it had a moment ago. His head felt heavy, but at the same time incredibly light. His legs folded under him, and he sank to the floor.

How much fluid can a human afford to lose?