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Title: Crash Course, Chapter 8 – Sticker Shock
Author: [livejournal.com profile] anon_decepticon & [livejournal.com profile] mdperera, with input from [livejournal.com profile] kookaburra1701
Rating: PG-13 (for now)
Pairing or Character(s): The Stunticons, with a little hint of Dead End/Breakdown.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Transformers.
Warning(s): Humanized TFs (entire story), violence, and smut (in future chapters).
Summary: An accident turns the Stunticons into humans. Now the Decepticons think they're traitors, and other humans think they're eccentric, dangerous...and occasionally, dead sexy. From here, things can only get worse.
Author's Note: For those unaware, “Crash Course” is a collaborative fic jointly written by myself and [livejournal.com profile] mdperera. Previous chapters can be found here on FFN or on our respective journals. Also posted to [livejournal.com profile] gestalt_love. Dead End returns to brighten your day! I bet you’re feeling better already.




Crash Course, chapter 8: Sticker Shock

Dead End hated riding the bus.

Granted, he’d only ridden on two in the entire sum of his existence, but he felt quite certain no other mode of transportation could possibly be as loathsome. Riding on a bus meant being crammed in shoulder-to-shoulder with the very dregs of humanity – most of whom appeared unfamiliar with the concept of bathing – for hours on end. It was crowded. It reeked.

But that wasn’t the worst part. No, the worst part was knowing that his beautiful alt mode would have transported him to his destination with far more speed, grace, and style than any human could ever hope to achieve. Staring out the window and watching the world slip sluggishly by only served to remind him of what he had lost, made him long to feel the wind gusting past his chassis as the road unrolled beneath his tires like a smooth, endless ribbon of asphalt.

Venting a sigh, he turned away from the window.

“Do you want to switch?” Breakdown asked, his vocalizer barely rising above a whisper. Breakdown was sitting in the seat next to him, on the aisle, and from his hunched shoulders and the furtive glances he kept casting at the human passengers around them, Dead End knew he hadn’t made the offer for his benefit.

He nodded anyway. It didn’t really matter to him where he sat or who stared at him. The bandage on Breakdown’s forehead was an uncomfortable reminder of how much worse things could have been.

He slid across the seat as Breakdown clambered over him to claim his spot by the window. The human sitting across the aisle eyed them, and Dead End rewarded him with a thousand-mile stare. The human looked away.

Smirking faintly, he glanced back at Motormaster, who was seated directly behind the human and across from Wildrider and Drag Strip in a position where he could keep an optic on all four of them. Motormaster’s expression was distant, unreadable. Dead End faced forward again.

Behind him, he could hear Wildrider and Drag Strip whispering to each other, but he didn’t bother trying to listen in. Wildrider would be complaining that it was too quiet, or Drag Strip griping that his feet hurt – nothing Dead End cared to hear about.

He pondered attempting to recharge, but the thought held little appeal. He almost regretted giving up the window and the pitiful diversion it offered. He longed for something to read.

Instead he looked around again, noting with distaste the abundance of human refuse littering the floor of the bus – discarded food wrappers, crumpled bits of foil, a thick sheaf of folded paper –

Dead End frowned, noting the lines of tiny black print covering the last. Leaning down, he picked it up gingerly between his thumb and forefinger and unfolded it. The words San Francisco Chronicle were printed across the top in bold gothic letters.

It didn’t look anything like a datapad, or even like the human books he’d seen in the past, but he knew the word chronicle meant “record” or “history.” Lacking anything better to do, he began to read.

The first handful of pages held little of interest to him. Most of the stories – the entire record appeared to be a collection of short stories on various topics – focused on human concerns; their politics, their economy, and so forth. The stories that described the impact of various ecological disasters were somewhat amusing though, so he kept reading.

“What is that?” Breakdown asked, belatedly noticing what Dead End was doing.

“A human chronicle,” he replied absently, turning the page.

“Oh,” Breakdown said, sitting up a little straighter. “Can I read it too?”

Dead End responded by extending his arm toward Breakdown’s half of the seat, holding the unfolded paper so that it was positioned roughly between them. Breakdown shifted a little closer, leaning against him so that he could read over his shoulder.

The next section was entitled Sports, and they bypassed it after a cursory glance by mutual agreement. Business was equally incomprehensible. The section called Food was intriguing, but confusing – humans, it seemed, were not content to settle for a single form of fuel in a handful of different grades, and the sheer variety of options available was frankly daunting.

He glanced over at Breakdown, intending to ask his opinion on the subject, and discovered that Breakdown had fallen into recharge, his head pillowed on Dead End’s shoulder. Dead End smiled faintly, reaching up to brush a strand of hair off of Breakdown’s forehead.

The following section was called Living. “Surely it couldn’t be that easy,” he muttered.

It wasn’t, not really – the section didn’t contain anything resembling written instructions on how to live as a human – but it was informative nonetheless. He eagerly devoured the subsection on human fashion, and as he read it began to dawn on him that there were some minor but important details that had escaped their attention.

He turned to the next section in a much darker mood, but what he found there raised his spirits considerably – pages and pages of advertisements for jobs, living quarters, and items for sale – including computers. It was precisely the sort of information they needed, and he’d stumbled upon it purely by chance.

He debated waking Breakdown to share his discovery, but after recalling how long it had taken him to fall into recharge last night, Dead End decided to leave him be.

He turned the page and resumed reading.

**

“Right,” Motormaster said as they stretched the kinks out of their servos after the long bus ride. “First things first – we need a computer. Breakdown, where do we go to get one?”

Breakdown looked at Dead End, who handed over the human record he’d found, folded to the page where they’d found the advertisement for a place that sold computers. “This place has them,” he said. “We should probably call them first.”

Motormaster scowled. “Why not just go there?”

“It’s not nearby,” Dead End said. “We’d have to pay for transportation. Better to find out how much it will cost us before we squander our funds getting there.”

Motormaster’s frown deepened, but he couldn’t argue with that logic. He looked at Breakdown. “Call them,” he said, relinquishing a handful of coins.

Breakdown took the money and moved off to the bank of pay phones lining the far wall. When he returned several minutes later, Dead End noted he was several shades paler than before.

“Well?” Motormaster said. “How much are they?”

“Um…” Breakdown said, “How much do we have again?”

“Eight hundred dollars.”

“We’re…gonna need a little more,” Breakdown said in a small voice.

Motormaster scowled. “How much more?”

Breakdown’s lips moved but no sound came out. The fuel line in Motormaster’s forehead began to throb. “How much?” he demanded.

Breakdown fidgeted, avoiding Motormaster’s optics. Motormaster surged forward with a growl, grabbing him by the shoulders and hoisting him clear off the ground, his feet dangling nearly a foot off the floor. Breakdown flinched, turning his helm to the side and squeezing his eyes shut.

“Fffff-,” he stammered.

Dead End raised an eyebrow. “Four or five hundred more?”

Breakdown shook his helm miserably, waving a hand in the air.

“Maybe if you wrote it down,” Wildrider suggested. “Or wait – charades! First syllable sounds like..?” Motormaster aimed a kick at him while still holding Breakdown aloft, Wildrider jumped aside with a startled yelp.

Breakdown looked at him, his optics pleading. Dead End sighed, rifling through his pockets for a piece of paper. Edging warily closer to Motormaster, he thrust it into Breakdown’s waiting hand. On the opposite side of him, Drag Strip fished out a pen and did likewise.

Smoothing out the scrap of paper against Motormaster’s chest and using it as a surface to write on, Breakdown scribbled down a figure. Dead End took the paper from him and studied it thoughtfully.

“Ah,” he said.

“What?” Motormaster demanded, still glaring at Breakdown. “How much is it?”

“Five thousand dollars.”

Dropping Breakdown, Motormaster rounded on him, grabbing Dead End’s wrist and twisting it as he tore the scrap of paper out of his hand. He stared at it for a long moment, then crumpled it in his fist.

Dead End’s expression didn’t change. “It seems we’ll be staying a bit longer than expected.”

There was a moment of tense silence, and then Motormaster released him, turning away in disgust.

“So now what?” Drag Strip asked.

“Jobs,” Motormaster said through gritted denta. “We find jobs.”

“Not just yet,” Dead End said.

Motormaster turned to face him. “What do you mean, not yet?”

“We need better clothes. According to this,” he said, holding up the paper, “humans are very particular about clothing. When seeking employment, one must make the right impression. Clothing does that. It tells the other humans what you are.”

“What does our clothing say we are?” Breakdown asked.

“Crazy,” he replied.

**

Referring once more to his chronicle, Dead End located the address of what the humans called a “thrift” shop within walking distance. After crossing the threshold they simply stood and stared, daunted by the sheer variety of items to choose from.

“We only get what we need to find jobs,” Motormaster said, breaking the silence. “Dead End?”

He stepped forward and scanned the racks with a critical optic, finally pulling out a pair of pants made of some dark, heavy material and holding them up to himself. He nodded a moment later and folded them over his arm. Next he selected a large upper covering, one made out of a soft grey fabric and sporting a hood. He handed it to Motormaster, who eyed it dubiously.

Taking that as their cue, Drag Strip and Wildrider practically attacked the racks, perusing the vast assortment of human clothing. Breakdown did the same, albeit more timidly.

“Can I get this?” Breakdown asked him quietly as Dead End crouched down to examine the human footwear lined up on the floor beneath the racks of clothing. Looking up, he saw that Breakdown had picked out a shirt patterned with large blotches of brown, green, and grey.

“Only if you plan on joining the human military,” he said. “It won’t work in a city anyway.”

“Oh,” Breakdown said, looking crestfallen.

Dead End straightened, sifting through the rack and coming up with a smaller version of the shirt he’d found for Motormaster, this one a vibrant blue reminiscent of Breakdown’s former color scheme. “What about this one?” he said. “It has a hood.”

Breakdown’s expression brightened. “Thanks,” he whispered, ducking his helm. His hand brushed against Dead End’s in a shy, lingering touch as he accepted the garment.

“Sheesh, get a berth, you two,” Drag Strip said, pausing in his assault on the clothing rack to smirk at them.

Breakdown snatched his hand away, his face flushing. Dead End glared at Drag Strip. “Those shoes of yours are only worn by females, you know.”

Wildrider laughed. Motormaster rolled his optics. Drag Strip scowled. “I’m still taller than you now,” he said.

Dead End smiled sweetly, reaching up to pull his human visor down over his optics. As Drag Strip snorted and turned back to the racks, Dead End looked to Motormaster, nodding at his lower covering. “That’s only worn by females too,” he said.

“Females get all the good stuff,” Drag Strip muttered.

Quickly scanning the rack, Dead End pulled out another set of leg coverings, ones that looked large enough to fit Motormaster’s massive frame. “Try this.”

Motormaster snatched the pants out of his hand and turned away, grumbling.

“Hey!” Wildrider said. “Can I buy this?” He held up a black t-shirt decorated with the image of Optimus Prime. Drag Strip elbowed him in the side, looking pointedly in Motormaster’s direction.

Motormaster turned, his optics narrowing dangerously. “Yeah. Get it so I can tear it apart.”

“That would certainly be an efficient use of our limited funds,” Dead End commented dryly. Motormaster glared at him, but he just shrugged.

In the end they settled on the two shirts he’d chosen for Motormaster and Breakdown, the pants he’d picked out for Motormaster and himself, and footwear for all of them except Wildrider, who had claimed the only suitable pair from the suitcase. Drag Strip found a pair of boots with heels and elevated soles that Dead End had confirmed were not female-specific – hideously ugly, but not female-specific – and insisted on buying them, refusing to consider anything else.

A shelf displaying pre-packaged undergarments caught Dead End’s attention as they headed toward the front of the shop to purchase the items they’d chosen. He added several of those to the pile as well.

“Are we done yet?” Motormaster demanded, his patience obviously wearing thin as the number of their selections continued to rise.

Dead End hummed thoughtfully, scanning each of them in turn, and then running his gaze once more across the racks. He wasn’t certain Drag Strip’s shirt was acceptable, but he was feeling vindictive enough to let it go. All of the others had been accounted for.

He was about to turn back and say as much when he saw it.

He stepped forward, entranced. Wedged between two other garments was a shirt of rich, deep red, fashioned out of some delicate material that shimmered faintly in the light. He ran a finger across it. It was even softer than it looked.

He didn’t actually need to replace his upper garment; it was serviceable. But it was made of a stiff white fabric, coarse to the touch, and it didn’t gleam like a well-polished chassis.

He plucked the shirt out of the rack, adding it to the pile in his arms. “We are now.”

**

After leaving the shop with their purchases, Dead End proposed they return to the bus station where they could use the restrooms to change into their new garments. By then their human bodies were demanding more fuel, so they stopped at an eating establishment that sold something called “tacos,” which Wildrider enjoyed and Drag Strip complained about.

"Look, it's falling out again! This is like drinking out of a cube with a hole in it.”

“Shut up and refuel,” Motormaster growled. “We've wasted half the day already. We need to find jobs.”

“We need to find living quarters, is what we need,” Dead End said.

Motormaster’s optics narrowed. “So we’ll find another motel.”

“Economically unwise. We’re going to have to remain in this city long enough to accumulate the funds to buy a computer. That won’t happen overnight. We need somewhere to stay in the interim. A base of operations, as it were.”

“A temporary base of operations,” Motormaster corrected him. “So what’s wrong with finding another motel? We can pay by the night.”

“Exactly,” Dead End replied. “Over an extended period, the cost becomes prohibitive.” He pulled out the folded paper again. “There are advertisements in here for living quarters one can purchase for a monthly fee –”

Motormaster’s taco crumbled in his hand. “Monthly?” he repeated, his voice low and dangerous.

“– that is considerably lower than the cost of thirty days in a motel, assuming the prices we’ve paid previously are comparable to what we’d pay here,” Dead End persisted, ignoring the interruption.

“So it could be weeks before we inform Megatron about what happened,” Motormaster said. “Why don't we just reserve space in the Crypt while we're at it?”

“Already done.”

Motormaster rose from his seat, throwing down the remains of his meal. Dead End met his furious gaze, his expression calm and resigned.

“We’ll need a phone line too,” Breakdown ventured.

“What?” Motormaster said, tearing his gaze away from Dead End to stare at him. So did everyone else, which made Breakdown shrink down in his seat.

“F-for the computer,” Breakdown said in a small voice. “We’ll need to connect to a phone line to contact the base.”

That fuel line in Motormaster’s forehead was throbbing again. His jaw worked as he sat back down. “Fine. Dead End – find us the cheapest accommodations available.”

“I already have,” he replied, opening the paper to the page he’d marked earlier. “This one,” he said, pointing out the ad. “And it's nearby. We simply have to call and arrange to meet with the owner.”

“Do we get our own rooms?” Drag Strip asked.

“Is there a TV?” Wildrider chimed in.

Motormaster kicked them both from under the table.

**

“…comes fully furnished, and it’s available immediately,” said the reedy human who’d agreed to show them the apartment. “You won’t find a deal like that for what I’m asking anywhere else in town. If you don’t believe me, just ask around!”

“Mmmhmm,” Dead End replied noncommittally as they stood in the entryway looking around. The human had introduced himself as Doug, the landlord, although he didn’t seem very lordly in Dead End’s opinion. His unctuous tone was reminiscent of Swindle’s. “And why is that?”

“No reason. I just want to see the place rented out, that’s all. It’s not making me any money standing around empty. Check out this closet space!”

“Are those bullet holes?” Wildrider asked.

Doug laughed nervously. “I’ll waive the damage deposit.”

Dead End looked at Motormaster; Motormaster nodded. “We’ll take it.”

“Great!” Doug said. “So how will you be paying?”

“With this,” Motormaster said, pulling a fistful of crumpled bills from his pocket.

“You’re paying in cash..?” Doug looked startled, then gave them a weak grin. “You guys aren’t drug dealers, are you?”

The Stunticons exchanged puzzled looks. “What are drug dealers?” Breakdown asked.

“Never mind,” Doug replied. “Whose name is this going under? Actually, what are all your names?”

“Tomas Morter,” Motormaster replied after a brief pause.

“Sid R. Pragt,” Drag Strip said proudly.

“Dan Deed,” Dead End said. He nodded toward Breakdown, who’d slunk behind him. “That’s Bad Krowen – I mean, Brad Kowen.” Great, now I’m doing it, he thought.

“And I’m Melanie,” Wildrider said. “Melanie Wildes.”

The landlord blinked, staring at Wildrider with a bewildered expression. “Riiiiiight,” he said. “And you guys are, uh…?”

“A team,” Motormaster said. “We’re a team.”

“We’re the best,” said Drag Strip.

“We’re busy,” Dead End said. “Now, shoo.”

“Stop looking at me!” Breakdown said.

“That’s a lot of bullet holes,” Wildrider observed.

Doug shook his head. “Never mind; I don’t wanna know. Just sign the lease and gimme the cash. You can move in right away.”

**

Their new base of operations did indeed come equipped with furniture, which was shabbier than what they’d had in the two motels they’d stayed at, but better than nothing. The apartment could have used a thorough cleaning, in Dead End’s opinion – apart from a large section of the floor next to the wall with the bullet holes, everything in it was covered in a thin film of dust – but it appeared to have most of the necessities.

It didn’t have a television, much to Wildrider’s disappointment, and Motormaster denied his request to get one, reminding them all not to get too comfortable – they wouldn’t be staying long. Dead End agreed, opining that they’d be lucky to survive the month they’d paid for.

There were three bedrooms in total, roughly equal in size, each sparsely furnished with a storage compartment for clothing and a stripped, stained mattress. Unsurprisingly, Drag Strip wanted one to himself, but so did Motormaster, and he backed up his claim with his fists. The other Stunticons raised no objections, mainly because none of them wanted to share a room with Motormaster.

“All right, all right!” Drag Strip howled, probably just to get Motormaster to stop twisting his arm like that. “But I’m not sharing with Dead End. Wildrider, you’re with me.”

Dead End smirked. “No argument here.” Drag Strip’s competitiveness was often insufferable, and Wildrider kicked in his sleep.

Once that was settled, they began making themselves at home. Motormaster disappeared into the room he’d staked out as him own. Wildrider complained that it was too quiet, again bemoaned their lack of a TV, and then got into a tussle with Drag Strip out of sheer boredom. Breakdown investigated the appliances in the room he’d identified as the kitchen while the other two rolled around on the floor, trading blows and insults.

Dead End seized the opportunity to make use of the washrack, which was cramped but functional. Their human bodies, he’d noted, tended to acquire an unpleasant aroma over the course of a day, and spending most of it on a bus in the company of some highly fragrant individuals hadn’t helped.

Afterward he experimented with some of the grooming equipment he’d found in the suitcase yesterday, doing his best to get his hair to lie smooth and remove the distasteful crop of spiky bristles that had sprouted along his jaw. When he was satisfied that he’d done all he could, he retrieved his neatly folded clothing and returned to the common room.

To his surprise, it was empty. He inclined his head toward the room Drag Strip and Wildrider had chosen, and heard them conversing in hushed whispers. Since neither of them were the sort to speak softly of their own volition, he concluded Motormaster must have ordered them into recharge.

The door to Motormaster’s room was shut, and no sounds emanated from within, so he moved on to his own. Breakdown looked up from where he was seated on the bed with his arms wrapped around his knees, a relieved expression flashing across his face as Dead End entered. “Motormaster said we have to start looking for jobs in the morning,” he said. “There’s not much money left.”

Dead End nodded, stowing his clothing the top compartment of the storage unit. Breakdown had left his own strewn on the floor; he picked them up and put them away as well, then joined him on the bed.

Breakdown curled up against him, draping an arm across his chestplate and pressing as close as he was able, clearly craving the reassurance of physical contact. After a moment, he giggled. “Your face is smooth,” he said.

“Yours isn’t,” he replied. “In the morning I’ll show you how to fix that.”

“Okay,” Breakdown agreed. They lapsed into silence, listening to the soft sound of their ventilations filling the quiet room. Dead End felt the patches covering the wounds on Breakdown’s forehead and hand against his skin, and tried not to think about how he’d gotten them. They were all so fragile now…

“Do you think we’ll ever get home again?” Breakdown asked.

Dead End lifted his gaze, meeting his troubled brown eyes. A ghost of a smile tugged at his lip components as he slid his arms around Breakdown’s waist, gathering him close. “You should know better than to ask me that.”

"Right," Breakdown said, snuggling into his embrace. “Never mind.” To Dead End’s satisfaction, this time he slipped into recharge almost immediately.


A/N: Just in case it wasn’t apparent from the previous chapters, this fic is set in the late 1980s. That’s why the computer is so expensive, and why many of the Stunticons’ living expenses are somewhat cheaper than they would be today.

*more to come*
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