[IDW] Play By Numbers 01

Scars and Souvenirs

For once, he wanted to go somewhere no one would recognize him. Where no one knew his name or his face or the reasons behind the number on his palm.

Sunstreaker had recommended this place. He said the patrons here were always so drunk that they didn’t know their own names much less anyone else’s. It was the perfect place for anonymity and luckily, it was still standing after Shockwave’s attempt to do whatever it was he was trying to do.

Even now, Rodimus didn’t understand it.

The whole building’s foundation was crooked. It did not look safe. It reeked of decay and desperation. Rodimus was certain two of the unconscious piles of metal out front might have been mechs. Their current faction didn’t even matter given their condition.

The place was perfect.

Rodimus squared his shoulders and walked inside. No one looked up. No one acknowledged him. No one looked familiar.

Except, Rodimus realized with a sigh of frustration, for the dark red Seeker at the bar. Of all the places in all the ruins of New Iacon, he had to find the decrepit oilhouse where Starscream had come to sulk.

He almost whirled on a heelstrut and walked right back out. But if Starscream could drink here in relative anonymity, so could he. That was worth sticking around for. Might as well get this over with.

Rodimus strode up to the bar and climbed onto the empty stool to Starscream’s right. He ignored the unfriendly waves radiating from the Seeker. He’d endured worse.

“So what’s good here?” he asked.

Starscream visibly stiffened. His shoulders hunched. His head turned toward Rodimus as though he couldn’t believe his audials.

“What,” he said through gritted denta, “are you doing here?”

Rodimus signaled for the bartender’s attention. “Getting a drink, same as you.” The dirty mech limped over. “Can I have a Toxic Turnover?”

Starscream snorted a ventilation. “You want something that fancy you should have gone elsewhere.”

“No, thanks. This place is better.”

A glass slid across the counter in front of Rodimus. The sickly green color was not the right shade for his engex, but it would do. Rodimus took a sip that burned on the way down.

Ugh. Disgusting.

He sucked down the rest as fast as possible so as not to taste it. The sludge oozed its way to his tank, and sat in there like a lead weight.

Perfect.

“Wow,” Starscream said. He smirked as he looked at Rodimus. “I take it the infamous Rodimus-not-a-Prime is having a bad day?”

Rodimus slanted Starscream a look “You’re here, too.”

“That I am.” Starscream signaled for another drink and angled toward Rodimus. “Care to tell me why?”

Rodimus snorted. “Like I know what’s going on in your head.”

Another cup of engex was nudged toward him. Rodimus didn’t even hesitate to suck it down, though he was quick about it. This stuff was awful.

“I was actually talking about you, but I recognize a diversionary tactic when I see one.” Starscream sipped at his own engex. “So what’s your poison then? Overcharge? Meaningless frag? Illegal stimulants that would make your second in command lose his mind?”

Rodimus stared at him. “None of the above.”

“That’s a shame,” Starscream purred. “It looks like Rodimus took all the hot out of Hot Rod.”

Rodimus’ mouth fell open. “That’s not– what are you even– how overcharged are you?”

“Just enough not to care anymore.” Starscream finished off his drink and smacked his lips. “So. Wanna frag?”

Rodimus blinked. “Are you serious?”

Starscream gave him a long, lingering look. “If you’re anything like your reputation, yes. I want cheap and meaningless, and it seems you’ve got that to offer.”

The implication stung more than Rodimus thought it would. He’d never been particularly ashamed of most of his past, but combined with mistakes he’d made as of late, it painted his entire life in a very unfavorable light. He didn’t need Starscream insinuating he was some kind of easy lay, on top of being a failed leader.

Rodimus flinched. “Wow. With that ringing endorsement, how can I resist, Screamer?”

Crimson optics flashed. “Do not call me that.”

“After you called me an easy lay, I’ll call you whatever I want.”

“So it’s not true?”

“Oh, it’s true.” A little more than he was comfortable with. But that’s what happened when you went seeking approval from others and used your frame as currency. “Doesn’t mean I want to hear it from you.”

Starscream snorted again. “Whatever you say.” He slid off his stool, stretching his arms over his head. “Enjoy your engex.”

“And where are you doing?”

“To find someone interested in what you turned down.”

Rodimus sighed and went after him. It wasn’t the distraction he intended to find, but it was better than sitting here in this dingy bar. “Wait.”

“For a pity frag? No thanks.”

He caught up with Starscream just outside the door.

“I don’t do pity frags.” He crossed his arms, giving the Seeker his most contrary look.

Starscream stared back. His wings twitched.

“All right,” Starscream said with a slow denta-baring grin. “Your place or mine?”

0o0o0

Neither, as it turned out.

Starscream’s room had been destroyed when the metrotitans fought. And Rodimus wasn’t going to bring Starscream aboard the Lost Light. His crew barely tolerated him as of late, much less the former Decepticon Air Commander.

The room they found was dirty and in shambles, but it had a berth, and Rodimus wasn’t planning on sleeping. He wanted overloads and to lose himself in them. He wanted something he dare not name because Rung would have all kinds of words to say about it. Perhaps even unfriendly ones.

Rodimus knew he deserved every last one of them.

“You didn’t come here to brood, did you?”

Rodimus planted his hands on his hips. “Are you planning on snarking at me all night?”

“Do you not know who you’ve invited to berth?” Starscream arched an orbital ridge.

Rodimus’ optics narrowed. “I’m starting to think it would be better if you didn’t talk.”

Starscream lounged on the berth as though it were a throne and not a flimsy piece of metal probably infested with rustmites. One hand lazily stroked his interface panel like the shameless creature he was.

Rodimus knew shameless. He was the epitome of it. But Starscream was giving him a run for his shanix.

“Can I make the same request of you?” Starscream asked, his fingers working circular patterns over his panel. “Moans and screams are acceptable, of course.”

Rodimus rolled his optics. “Don’t you think highly of yourself,” he muttered.

Nonetheless, he was drawn to the berth and the hypnotic motions of Starscream’s fingers. Once he looked past the snark and smirk, Starscream was a sexy aft Seeker. He was sleek, larger than Rodimus, and with a frame built for battle. That he wore it all with a lazy grace added to the allure. And those wings! Rodimus wanted to get his mouth on those wings and if he was lucky, Starscream’s denta on his spoiler.

“Comes with the territory. Besides, you’re one to talk.” Starscream shivered as he rubbed hard on his panel and then crooked a finger at Rodimus. “Get up here before I finish this myself.”

Rodmus smirked. “You should have plenty of experience with that.”

“Ha! And how many of your crew know a bit too much about their captain?”

Right for the intake. That was Starscream in a gearbox.

Rodimus pulled himself onto the berth and crawled over Starscream on hands and knees.

“Point,” he conceded and Primus, he was getting hot just looking down at Starscream. “You got a preference, Seeker, or should I just ‘wing’ it?”

“And the flyer puns begin.” Starscream’s optics rolled. He reached down, hand stroking Rodimus’ increasingly hot panel. “Let’s see if your spike is worth anything first. Unless you’ve got an aversion I need to know about.”

Rodimus’ fingers scraped the berth cover. “None.” He concentrated, triggering his spike panel to cycle open. “Haven’t met I kink I don’t like yet.”

Starscream’s talon tip nudged in the housing, teasing the head of his spike. Rodimus shivered and rocked his hips down toward the single digit. It traced the head again, briefly toying with his transfluid slit, and Rodimus’ backstrut tingled.

“We’ll see about that,” Starscream purred. One hand curled around Rodimus’ head, pulling him down so Starscream could nip at his audial. “All you have to do is say ‘no’.”

Rodimus groaned. “Not gonna happen.” His spike emerged into Starscream’s waiting grip.

The pad of the Seeker’s thumb rubbed against the head. The tip of his talon teased the transfluid channel slit again. Rodimus’ backstrut arched, and he drew in a sharp vent. Lust hit him like a rifle shot. He turned his head to grab Starscream’s lips, but the Seeker was too fast.

“No kissing?” Rodimus asked with a pout that wasn’t entirely feigned.

“You haven’t earned it yet.” Starscream’s hand slid down his spike, grip perfectly firm.

Rodimus shivered. He shifted his weight to one bent arm and thrust a hand between their frames. He found Starscream’s panel and rubbed it the way he’d seen Starscream do earlier. A low rumble rose from Starscream’s engine, panel snapping aside to allow Rodimus’ fingers to plunge into his valve.

Starscream was already dripping, his valve clutching at Rodimus’ two fingers. His field flared with arousal as he discovered Starscream’s anterior node and pinched it.

“Eager are we?” Rodimus purred.

Dripping heat swallowed his fingers. He felt the rippling clench of calipers against his knuckles. Rodimus’ spike throbbed, eager to slide into the welcoming damp of Starscream’s valve.

Starscream gave him a raspy chuckle. “Don’t flatter yourself, Rodimus.” He shifted and Rodimus found himself with a leg wrapped around his waist, tugging him down.

Starscream’s fingers pulled his spike toward that waiting valve. Rodimus hastily moved his own out of the way, but he couldn’t let an opportunity slide. He brought them to his mouth for a taste, sucking his fingers clean.

Hmm. Not bad.

Rodimus gripped Starscream’s hip with his still damp hand. The head of his spike nudged at Starscream’s rim. Charge crackled between them.

“Ah, this is gonna be good,” Rodimus moaned.

He leaned down for a kiss, remembered Starscream’s earlier evasion, and tucked his face against Starscream’s intake instead. This was nice, too. Starscream smelled of heat and polish. Rodimus nibbled on his intake cables. He got a good taste as his spike slid into that grasping heat.

Primus that was good.

Rodimus sighed a ventilation when he felt Starscream shiver beneath him. The Seeker’s valve spiraled down on his spike as Rodimus pushed deeper, making for some nice friction. Rodimus kneaded Starscream’s hip. His spike throbbed, incrementally pushing deeper to savor each inch.

“Faster!” Starscream snapped, his heel smacking against the back of Rodimus’ thigh. “This is a frag, not a dance.”

Rodimus nipped his intake in retaliation. “Maybe I just like the way you feel on my spike.”

“And maybe I’ll just take what I want!” Starscream clutched at his shoulder, talons scraping curls of paint.

Battle scars. Rodimus planned to brag about them later. And then he realized he didn’t have anyone to brag to and faltered.

Easy enough to climb back up. He had an armful of sexy Seeker.

“Wait your turn,” Rodimus panted.

“Fragging… Autobots!”

Starscream tensed.

Starscream heaved.

Rodimus’ world went topsy-turvy. His back smacked against the berth, spoiler chiming a sharp sting. He hissed in short-lived pain before the weight of a Seeker landed on top of him. Starscream’s hands planted on his ventrum, his valve sinking back down on Rodimus’ spike in one fell swoop.

“Primus!”

Rodimus gasped. His hips juttered up as he clamped his hands on Starscream’s thighs. He struggled to plant his feet on the berth. Starscream rolled his hips with gleeful abandon, valve rippling around Rodimus’ spike. His fingers scraped at Rodimus’ ventrum, the rasp of metal on metal unexpectedly arousing.

“You really have no patience,” Rodimus panted. It was starting to feel like he was little more than a vehicle for Starscream’s pleasure. Not that he was opposed just… unexpected.

“You laid the challenge. I answered.” Starscream smirked and flicked his glossa over his lips.

Rodimus’ mouth filled with lubricant. He liked kissing. And Starscream was not cooperating.

“Fine,” he bit out and slid his hands up, thumbs seeking where their frames joined. More importantly, he sought Starscream’s nub and knew he’d found it when crimson wings shuddered.

“We’ll see who wins,” Rodimus declared and pinched Starsccream’s anterior node.

He earned a small gasp. Starscream leaned forward, weight bearing down, his valve greedily sucking Rodimus’ spike.

It was… amazing, Rodimus was forced to admit. He so rarely used his spike because valve overloads were better and his lack of use showed. Charge gathered along his length and heat built within his array faster than he was willing to admit to himself.

Starscream’s valve nodes lined perfectly with his spike receptors, pleasure lighting Rodimus’ sensory net like fireworks. He thrust up into Starscream as eagerly as the Seeker slammed down on top of him.

Fast. Fierce. Rough.

Everything, apparently, Starscream wanted.

Starscream shifted again. He tilted forward, braced his weight on his knees, and found Rodimus’ spoiler. His hands stroked the length of it. His fingers found the tips.

Rodmus moaned. His ventilations stuttered.

Starscream pinched the sharp-angled tip.

Lust shot like a lightning bolt. Rodimus bucked into Starscream as he overloaded with a shout, some mangled glyph that was in no way translatable. His fans spun madly as he spurted into Starscream’s valve.

Rippling calipers worked him thoroughly, drawing out the last throbs of release. Rodimus whined, his hands kneading at Starscream’s thighs. That was the fastest he’d overloaded in ages.

“Done already?” Starscream harrumphed, upper lip curled with disdain. “I shouldn’t be so surprised.”

Rodimus curled his hands around Starscream’s thighs. “I’m just getting started,” he insisted. “So come here.”

He tugged.

Starscream looked confused. His hands wavered on Rodimus’ spoiler.

“You can’t tell me you’ve never had someone lick you out,” Rodimus scoffed. “Come on. Up here.” He tugged again.

“You…” Starscream huffed. “Autobots.”

Somehow, it always sounded like a curseword when Starscream said it. Or muttered it, rather. But at least he cooperated. He clambered over Rodimus until his dripping array hovered over Rodimus’ mouth. He smelled his own release and the heat of Starscream’s arousal and Rodimus moaned.

“Better,” he said and he curled his arms under Starscream’s thighs, tilted the Seeker forward, and lapped a wet stripe up the center of Starscream’s valve.

Starscream’s vents hitched. His valve clenched. Lubricant splattered Rodimus’ face. The scent of it flooded his olfactory sensors. Rodimus purred. He dove in, sucking at Starscream’s valve, a mix of transfluid and lubricant spilling into his mouth. Starscream was dripping and messy and Rodimus loved it.

He sought Starscream’s nub and gave it a tentative nibble. Starscream bucked, grinding down. His node throbbed.

“A-adequate,” Starscream panted. His hips danced.

Rodimus rolled his optics and returned his attention to the glittering biolights around the rim of Starscream’s valve. They demanded to be tasted and so Rodimus obliged. He traced them with his glossa, caressed them with his lips, and scraped them with his denta.

Starscream outright moaned and one hand grasped at his head, shoving Rodimus’ face closer. He ground down, somewhat rude, but given the rapid pulse of Starscream’s biolights, Rodimus gathered it was a good thing.

He tightened his grip on Starscream’s thighs and pulled, at the same time shoving his glossa deep into Starscream’s valve. He moaned, letting the vibrations carry against Starscream’s nodes. Starscream shuddered as charge licked from his array. His grip tightened on Rodimus’ head.

He was close. Rodimus could taste it. So he lapped at Starscream’s valve and suckled his anterior node with vigor.

Starscream danced and shrieked as he overloaded. He ground down hard, lubricant flooding Rodimus’ mouth and drenching his face. His own charge returned with a vengeance, roaring through his system in a blaze of heat. He was courteous enough to enjoy Starscream through the tremors of overload however. Because now his own valve was aching and he needed something within him asap.

“Well Autobot,” Starscream panted, shifting his weight back to his knees, “that’s certainly a better use for your glossa.”

Rodimus rolled his optics. “Happy to serve, your majesty.” His face felt sticky, highlighting the sensuous winding of heat throughout his frame. “Now get off me.”

Starscream smirked. But instead of clambering off, he shimmied down Rodimus’ frame, working himself between Rodimus’ thighs.

“Or I could get you off,” Starscream purred, and he lazily dragged his glossa up the length of Rodimus’ partially stiffened spike.

His backstrut arched off the berth as he gripped the covers. Rodimus groaned, tingles spreading outward from his spike.

“Whatever,” he panted and fisted the berth cover, or what was left of it. “Just do something.”

“Impatient brat,” Starscream said with a laugh. He ex-vented down on Rodimus’ spike, the wash of damp heat making Rodimus’ spike twitch.

He moaned again and shouted when Starscream’s mouth finally closed around the head of his spike, the Seeker’s glossa flicking at his transfluid slit.

“Ah!” Rodimus gasped, backstrut arching as Starscream took him deeper, inch by inch, slowly swallowing him down. “Yes, frag it! Just like that.”

Starscream’s glossa laved his entire length, up and down. He pulled back, swirled his glossa around the tip, and then slurped over it again. The sounds were wet and messy and ridiculously lewd. It was music to Rodimus’ audials.

The cheap berth cover tore under Rodimus’ grip. His thighs trembled as he pushed his legs further apart and canted his hips upward. He rocked into Starscream’s mouth. He looked down, saw those lips wrapped around his spike, and a shock of lust bolted through his frame.

Fingers tickled at his valve, circling the rim of it first before two plunged inside. They curved just right, rubbing hard at the first line of nodes. Rodimus shuddered.

“Right there,” he moaned. “Harder, Starscream.” His feet dug into the berth. His spoiler pushed against the padding, adding to the torment. “Frag, yes.”

Starscream chuckled around his spike and swallowed him deep again. He flexed his intake against the head of Rodimus’ spike. His optics rolled back as a shudder wracked his frame. Jolts of ecstasy shot through his lines and scorching heat danced down his backstrut. Lubricant dribbled out of his valve as Starscream’s fingers continued to wreak havoc on his sensors.

Rodimus rocked upward, but Starscream kept moving with him, preventing Rodimus from thrusting any deeper into the Seeker’s mouth. It was a special kind of torture and it only made him pant harder.

“Okay, okay,” Rodimus groaned, and no, it wasn’t a whine. “Just frag me already, won’t you?” He clenched down on Starscream’s fingers, giving Starscream his steamiest berth look. He had it on good authority that it made him irresistible.

Starscream nipped at the tip of his spike, and Rodimus’ aft rose off the berth in shock. It wasn’t pain, not quite, but it was another jolt to the system. He shuddered, pre-fluid leaking free, and Starscream drew back, though one of his thumbs rubbed a long circle around Rodimus’ external node.

“Turn over,” he said.

Rodimus looked down at the Seeker between his legs, whose mouth was not where Rodimus expected it to be. Who was talking when he should have been putting his glossa to good use on Rodimus’ spike. Whose thumb continued to make steady circles on Rodimus’ node, his hips rising and falling to the rhythm of Starscream’s touch.

“What?” Rodimus demanded. “Why?”

Starscream smirked and flicked his glossa over his lips. “Because you might brag too much for my taste, but you do have a nice aft.”

Rodimus squinted. “…. Thanks?” He honestly wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not, but whatever.

If turning over on his knees meant Starscream would frag him then fine. It wasn’t like he was opposed to taking it from behind. The right angle and Starscream would pound all over his ceiling node.

Starscream rubbed over his anterior nub again, prompting another wash of lubricant from his valve. Rodimus ex-vented noisily and loosened his grip on the berth.

“Tease,” he accused as he laboriously turned over, narrowly missing kicking Starscream in the head. The Seeker dodged at the last second, however.

Pity.

Rodimus arranged himself for his comfort, on his knees and elbows, his nice aft pointed toward Starscream. His spoiler twitched with sensation as cool air brushed over his exposed components. Surely Starscream couldn’t ignore this display, right?

Rodimus grinned and shifted his weight to one elbow. He reached down with his right hand, ignored his straining spike for the moment, and flicked his anterior node. His calipers twitched with pleasure.

His grin widened, ventilations quickening, as he continued further. He pushed his fingers into his valve and then spread them, holding himself open. He felt lubricant trickle free, over his fingers and down into his wrist. He knew that, like this, Starscream couldn’t help but look at his flickering biolights.

“Take me,” Rodimus purred, giving his aft a purposeful twitch. “If you think you can.”

Starscream chuckled. The berth wobbled as he rose up, the heat of his panel aiming toward Rodimus’ valve.

“A challenge then?” he said.

“A dare,” Rodimus retorted.

Rodimus jerked as Starscream’s palm skittered over his aft. The sudden slap both shocked and aroused, and Rodimus moaned. His dripping fingers slid free of his valve, rubbing over his anterior node with greater pressure. Charge skittered through his valve, turning his lines molten with need.

“Knew you were a kinky fragger,” Starscream observed and he smacked his palm on Rodimus’ aft again, even as his other hand gripped Rodimus’ hip.

He rocked forward, rubbing himself against the back of Rodimus’ thighs. His spike slid through the wetness clinging to Rodimus’ valve folds, teasing him without actually entering him.

Fragger!

Rodimus’ engine whined. “Yeah, and I’m gonna get myself off if you don’t hurry up,” he panted, two fingers taking his anterior nub and pinching it. His hips jerked forward.

Starscream dragged him back, the tip of his spike nudging against Rodimus’ valve. Rodimus moaned out of sheer anticipation, his calipers rippling. He pinched harder at his node, hard enough to sting, the flash of pain the perfect counterpoint to Starscream suddenly plunging into him, lighting up his inner nodes all at once.

Rodimus shoved his face into the berth and howled. He dropped his hand from his array and gripped at the cover, panting air through his mouth as Starscream set up a brutal pace. He shoved in and out of Rodimus’ valve as though trying to frag him through the rusty berth.

Oh, Primus. Yes. This was what he wanted. What he needed. A punishing pace that left him with nothing, not even air to intake. Rodimus snarled, biting at the stained cloth, his fingers fisting it as Starscream plunged into him, again and again, his array chiming at Rodimus’ aft.

Starscream was saying something. Or muttering. Rodimus didn’t know. He wasn’t paying attention to whatever vain thing he said. Starscream’s voice was a buzz in his audials compared to the rasp of his spike in and out and in and out of Rodimus’ valve. His grip on Rodimus’ hips tightened, talons prickling at his cables, and the deepest thrust struck hard at Rodimus’ ceiling node.

He thanked Primus that the berth swallowed his shriek of pleasure. His knees dug into the ratty mattress, tearing new furrows, as he shoved his aft back at Starscream and every resultant thrust pounded at his ceiling node.

Rodimus’ spoiler quivered. All he could taste was the gross berth, the stained cloth sticking to his glossa. It didn’t matter though. None of it mattered. Because pleasure spiked through his entire frame in a rushing wave, it was an onslaught of heat and need and it swallowed Rodimus whole. His entire frame was caught up in it as it picked him up and tossed him overboard.

He whited out, something, he didn’t know. Overload stripped him raw, made his vocalizer spit static. He convulsed beneath Starscream, spike spitting transfluid even as his valve cinched down tight enough to trap Starscream inside of him, the Seeker’s flared spike caught on his calipers. He felt it then, the wash of Starscream’s release over his over-sensitive nodes and Rodimus moaned as a second, smaller overload swallowed him whole.

Oh, Primus.

Frag, frag, frag, frag.

Rodimus’ cooling fans snapped to life as his vents wheezed. There was a hand on the back of his head, not pushing, but trying to turn his head.

“Mrrrrr,” he managed as he turned his head, panting from his oral cavity as his vents rattled. Languid heat seeped through his frame, and Starscream was still inside of him.

No. Starscream was also draped over him, his weight very welcome. Rodimus loved it when his partners covered him, when he was pressed beneath their weight. He squeezed down on Starscream’s spike, trying to keep the softening unit in his valve. He didn’t want to feel empty so soon.

“Are you alive, Autobot?” Starscream purred into his audial as Rodimus gradually unclenched his hands from the covers.

He forced his optical shutters open, the room around them a dim blur. “I’m not dead yet,” Rodimus managed with a burst of static. He wiggled his aft. “Was good.”

“Must’ve been. Given the way you screeched.” Starscream huffed a ventilation and the weight on Rodimus’ back started to withdraw.

“Wait!” Rodimus all but shouted, working one hand free and flailing it blindly behind himself to grab at Starscream. “Don’t, um, don’t move.”

Starscream froze for the space of a sparkbeat before his warmth returned to Rodimus’ back, and remained there as Rodimus slowly but carefully lowered himself flat on the berth. He lay on his ventrum, Starscream draped on top of him, spike still snug in his valve.

“You’re a weird one,” Starscream said as their legs tangled together and Starscream folded his arms against Rodimus’ spoiler.

“Hah. Speak for yourself,” Rodimus retorted, but his vocals were muffled by the bedding.

He counted his ventilations and the beats between them. The rapid beating of his spark slowed to a normal pace, too. He was hot, burning up, and Starscream was equally so. But Rodimus didn’t want him to go. This was comfortable, comforting.

Even if it wasn’t real.

Rodimus shoved those thoughts down deep. He shifted beneath Starscream, stretching out his arms before tucking one underneath his head. He could recharge like this if he wanted.

He shouldn’t feel so safe with Starscream at his back. But he supposed if Starscream wanted to shove an energon blade into it, he would have done so by now.

Starscream’s spike twitched in his valve, still half-pressurized. He probably liked this, too, despite his waspish behavior. Hah. Rodimus wasn’t surprised.

“What’s this?”

“Hm?”

Starscream’s fingers stroked down the length of his arm before they cupped Rodimus’ outstretched hand. His thumb rubbed over Rodimus’ palm and only then did Rodimus know what he’d seen because Starscream’s thumb traced the sharp lines and curves of the numbers etched into his palm.

“Nothing,” Rodimus said as he tried to curl his fingers into a fist and tuck his hand away from Starscream.

The Seeker’s grip was relentless, however. “101 over 89,” Starscream read aloud, his tone neutral. “Mechs don’t carve numbers into their hands without good reason, Rodimus-not-a-Prime. Is this what sent you sulking into that bar?”

“I wasn’t sulking!”

Starscream snorted. “Mmm. Tell me another one.” His grip tightened around Rodimus’ hand as pressed his lips to Rodimus’ audial, his vocals sultry rather than annoying. “What are you running from, Captain?”

Rodimus shifted from hot to cold so fast it left his processor spinning. Starscream’s grip was relentless. It kept him from pulling his shame out of sight.

He thought he was coming to grips with it. He’d thought he’d find some solace or comfort in Optimus’ advice. He’d gained neither. If anything, he’d found that his unshakeable faith in a mech he once aspired to become had become just as rattled as his faith in himself.

“I wonder,” Starscream said as his thumb ran over the carved numbers in a gentle touch that sent a shiver down Rodimus’ spinal strut. “Does it have anything to do with a certain Phase Sixer?”

Rodimus jolted. “How do you know about that?”

Starscream chuckled. “I have my sources.” He shifted his hips, and his spike slid out of Rodimus’ valve, leaving him horribly empty. “And it seems I’ve hit the mark. So. You made a mistake, out of arrogance I imagine, and then you made another mistake, out of fear. And then you just kept making those mistakes, didn’t you?”

Rodimus squirmed out from under Starscream, ripping his hand free. “It’s none of your business,” he snapped, his valve snapping shut. He cradled both hands close to his chestplate. “And you’re one to talk about arrogance.”

“Ah, but we’re not talking about me. We’re talking about you.” Starscream’s vocals continued to sound amused. “Whyever would you let Prowl manipulate you like that?”

Rodimus cast a glare over his shoulder, his rage ticking upward at the sight of Starscream’s smirk. “The same reason you let Prowl manipulate you,” he snapped because yeah, he had his sources, too.

Crimson optics flashed, but Starscream must have learned some self-control because he didn’t rise to the bait. “Extenuating circumstances,” he said, and propped his head up with a hand, bending his arm beneath it. “Let’s talk about you and Overlord and… Drift, was it? The one you let take the fall?”

Rodimus ground his denta so hard that he heard the metal shriek. “I’m not talking about this with you.”

“Why not?” A light touch landed on his backstrut, between his spoiler halves, and dragged halfway down. “Oh, believe me, baby Prime. If there’s anyone who understands the fault that lies in arrogance, it’s me. Do you think I would mock you?”

“You’re Starscream,” Rodimus muttered.

The Seeker laughed. “I feel like I’m supposed to be insulted by that.” The tip of one talon scratched at Rodimus’ backplate seams, and it was oddly soothing. “I am what I am. And you are what you are, eating yourself up with your own guilt, all the while pretending it doesn’t bother you. But it’s not just Overlord, is it?” Starscream chuckled again. “You Autobots and your guilt complexes. This feeds into a deeper guilt, doesn’t it?”

Primus damn it. How did Starscream read him so well?

Rodimus scooted forward, just out of reach of Starscream, his legs dangling over the edge of the berth. “And I suppose Decepticons don’t feel guilty?”

“Not about the things that were necessary, no.” Starscream’s field reached for him, now that his hands couldn’t, and it poked and prodded at all the weak sections of Rodimus’ own. “I don’t have time for guilt. I don’t have time to let it consume me. Else I’d never accomplish anything.”

Rodimus snorted. “That’s because you’re a selfish slagger.”

“Mm. And I own it.” He couldn’t see it, but he knew Starscream was smirking. Every drawl of the Seeker’s tone dripped with self-satisfaction.

Starscream scootched closer, near enough that he could poke Rodimus right between the two halves of his spoiler. “Maybe you should think about doing that, too.”

Rodimus whirled and smacked his hand away. “No. That’s not who I am.”

Starscream arched an orbital ridge. “That so? Then why don’t you tell me who you are, Rodimus-not-a-Prime.” He lowered his chin and his gaze, staring pointedly at Rodimus’ hand.

He sighed and let his shoulders sag. He scraped his hand down his face. He never thought he’d see the day when he had something in common with Starscream, but right now, here he was and there Starscream was, and sadly, Starscream was right. He was probably the only one who would understand. Not because of guilt, as Rodimus doubted Starscream even knew what that felt like. But Starscream had a history of making bad choices. And yet, somehow, he kept managing to pick himself back up, smirk in place.

Rodimus dragged his feet back onto the berth and leaned up against the wall, ignoring the flakes of rust that rained down on him. He drew one knee up, resting his arm atop it. He tilted his head back, closed his optics. If he didn’t have to look at Starscream, maybe that would be easier.

“Yes, it has to do with Overlord,” he admitted, and oh, didn’t that hurt. “Yes, I let Prowl twist me around into thinking it was a good idea. I let Drift convince me to let him take the blame. I’ve lost at least ten percent of my crew since I started this quest, and that’s probably a conservative estimate.”

That hurt more.

He did know the names. He knew each and every designation. He pretended he didn’t, but they were scored inside his memory core. He took them out sometimes, especially at night, when he was lying in bed thinking about all the awesome things he would accomplish, only to realize he was getting in his own way.

He knew who had died. He didn’t know, of those mechs still on life support in the medbay, who he would be adding to the list. He didn’t know who he would get killed in the future.

He didn’t know if he knew how to make the right decisions anymore.

Rodimus onlined his optics and looked at his palm. He traced the curves and lines of each number with the thumb of his other hand.

“I held a vote. To see if the crew still wanted me as their captain. At the time, I thought it was the humble thing to do. But Optimus was right. As he always is.” His ventilations stuttered, and it took a moment to get them back in tune. “I never once thought I’d lose, but here the numbers are.” He lifted his hand, showing Starscream, the edge of his mouth curving into a wan smile, a pale shade of his usual grin. “Damn near lost, didn’t I?”

“You still won.”

“Almost didn’t though. It was a near-thing. Almost half the crew wanted me to resign. Half. And I know that many aren’t gonna stay behind when we leave again.”

Starscream made a non-committal noise. “Optimus isn’t always right. He just thinks he is,” he said, and pushed himself upright, rolling his shoulders. “That holier-than-thou attitude that he has, it’s one of the reasons the war lasted as long as it did. The both of them, refusing to bend, maybe he should take a good, hard look at himself for once. As if him becoming Orion Pax was any less selfish than you asking for a vote.”

Rodimus blinked. “He did it to calm tensions.”

“That’s what he told you,” Starscream said and he smirked, effecting a long, casual stretch. “And it half-worked like he hoped it would. But really, all he was doing was running away from his own legacy. From blind hero-worshippers like you. At least Megatron had the bolts to own his actions.”

Rodimus stared at the Seeker. “I never thought I’d see the day where you complimented Megatron.”

Starscream shrugged and leaned back on his hands. “It’s complicated. And you’re avoiding the topic.” He tilted his head, lips curving. “You’re not sulking out of guilt. You’re sulking out of hurt, too. Because you asked the great Optimus Prime for advice, he cut the rug out from under you, and then insult upon insult, instilled my former leader as captain of your quest. Aren’t you glad he came back when he did?”

Rodimus ground his denta. “You’re twisting my words.”

“I don’t have to, baby Prime.” Starscream laughed, bearing his denta in a sharp grin. “It’s written all over your face. And I thought I was twisted. That’s some dark resentment you’re brewing there.” He extended a leg, tapping Rodimus in the thigh with the tip of a thruster. “Believe me. I know resentment.”

“I don’t resent Optimus!” Rodimus growled, wriggling away from Starscream.

“You don’t?” Starscream watched his retreat with a grin and thinly veiled amusement. “You’re not doing a good job of convincing me otherwise.”

Rodimus huffed a ventilation. He flopped on his side, away from Starscream, only remembering at the last second to flick his spoiler out of the way. The last thing he needed to do was hurt himself in a fit of pique.

“Why are we talking?” he demanded. “Didn’t we come here to frag?”

Starscream dragged a finger down his backstrut, making him shiver. “You are really good at convincing yourself about the things you think you don’t need, aren’t you?” he asked.

The berth shifted as he leaned closer, ex-venting warm and damp on the back of Rodimus’ neck. Starscream’s hand worked lower, until it cupped Rodimus’ aft.

“So what about the things you think you do need.” Starscream purred. His talons scraped a long line against Rodimus’ aft, drawing up curls of paint. “Does this count, Rodimus-not-a-Prime?”

Rodimus shivered. The scrape felt like an itch he couldn’t scratch. It sent his lines to twitching. But the weight of Starscream’s hand, the lingering warmth so near to his back, it made him crave all over again the sweet oblivion of release.

He pushed his aft back toward Starscream, his valve twitching as arousal returned with a vengeance. He was already wet and open and horribly empty.

“Maybe it is,” Rodimus said and tilted forward, just enough that his valve was presented to Starscream. His spike repressurized, the head of it rubbing against the berth cover. “You gonna ignore this offer, Screamer? Am I gonna have to go elsewhere to get what I need?”

Starscream’s hand wandered from Rodimus’ aft to his valve. The tips of his talons traced the rim of it before two pushed inside. Rodimus moaned, working his intake.

“Very well,” Starscream murmured. His fingers twisted and curled, sweeping over every internal node within reach.

Rodimus’ valve tingled. His calipers fluttered restlessly. He rocked back, urging Starscream to go deeper, or at least frag him.

“The coward’s way out it is,” Starscream continued before his fingers retreated from Rodimus’ valve, leaving him with that horribly abandoned feeling again.

Rodimus hissed. He shoved his hand against the berth, trying to roll over, but Starscream was there, blanketing him from behind, throwing a leg over his hips. Starscream’s spike nudged at his valve, even as Starscream tossed his arm over Rodimus’ torso, his lubricant damp fingers pressing to Rodimus’ lips.

“Suck,” Starscream commanded as his spikehead teased the rim of Rodimus’ valve, playing in the lubricants making a steady escape from within.

Rodimus opened his mouth without thinking and Starscream pushed his fingers inside. Rodimus sucked on them greedily, his glossa lashing over the sharp talons, cleaning them of every drop of his own lubricant. Starscream wouldn’t kiss him, so this was the next best thing.

Rodimus moaned as Starscream’s fingers stroked his glossa. He gripped the berth with his free hand, rocking back against Starscream, demanding that Starscream take him, slide into his valve, and frag him senseless.

He didn’t want to think anymore. He didn’t want to talk about Optimus or the vote or Overlord or anything that mattered.

He just wanted to be Hot Rod again. The reckless rookie who didn’t care about anything but the next great high.

Starscream obliged. He growled as he shoved against Rodimus’ back, as his spike bobbed against Rodimus’ rim before sliding inside. His fingers pushed deeper, stroking the back of Rodimus’ glossa, and all Rodimus did was suck them. He pretended they were a spike, and he lavished them with love.

He heard Starscream’s ventilations hitch. He felt the rumble of Starscream’s engine against his back, his spoiler.

“You are a menace,” Starscream said as he rocked into Rodimus, his spike stroking every node with perfect precision.

Rodimus rolled back onto his spike, trying to get Starscream deeper. But this angle only allowed for shallow penetration. For something slow and sweet. It felt good, but it wasn’t what Rodimus needed.

He sucked harder on Starscream’s fingers before talking around them. “Come on, frag me already,” he demanded, knowing that the words were muffled, but his desire should be obvious.

“Isn’t that what I’m doing?” Starscream asked as he pushed into Rodimus even slower, spike stirring every sensor node and making Rodimus itch with pleasure.

He moaned, denta clamping down on Starscream’s fingers, not enough to harm, but enough to leave marks behind.

“We can’t always get what we want,” Starscream purred into Rodimus’ audial, his glossa tickling against it. He rolled himself deep and held himself there, circling his hips, his spikehead rubbing against Rodimus’ ceiling node.

A low keen rose in Rodimus’ intake. His head tilted back toward Starscream’s. He clawed at the berth as oral lubricant dribbled out the corners of his mouth.

Fine. If this was how Starscream wanted to play it, then Rodimus would go along with it for now.

His chance would come. All he’d need do was seize it.

[Crown the Empire] Reign 03

The meeting ran long into the night. Long enough for even Skywarp to get suspicious and cast Thundercracker a concerned look.

Were they worried about Starscream? Of course not! Or maybe just a little. Starscream’s track record when it came to other mechs in positions of authority was not a good one.

Did they think a soft-sparked Autobot was likely to send their Air Commander to the medbay? No. But Grimlock had scrubbed off his Autobot badge almost the moment he’d killed Megatron, and Thundercracker couldn’t blame him. The Autobots might like to sit in their high tower and pretend to be perfect, but they had their flaws.

Granted Megatron wanted to use the Dinobots for their strength and superior power, too, but at least he was up front about it.

Next to them, Swoop fidgeted. Thundercracker cast him a worried look, too. Swoop wasn’t bad for a Dinobot. Sure, he flew like a rock compared to a Seeker, but he had a quiet intelligence that Thundercracker could appreciate. Like the rest of the Dinobots, Thundercracker supposed. None of them had been given the chance to show they were anything but dumb brutes until now.

“We could always barge in,” Skywarp suggested with another sideways look to the door.

The baleful orange glow of the panel announced that it was locked. Just as it had been for the past twenty minutes. Thundercracker had pinged Starscream, but hadn’t gotten anything more than an automated response stating he was busy. If it was an emergency, they were to try his emergency line.

It wasn’t an emergency. Thundercracker knew very well how caustic their trine leader could be when interrupted for something unimportant.

“And suffer his wrath? I don’t think so.”

Starscream didn’t get physically violent like Megatron. But words could cut just as deeply, and Thundercracker had been on the receiving end of more than a few biting exchanges. He knew a defense mechanism when he saw one. That didn’t make it any more excusable.

They still waited on a proper apology.

“Me Swoop could interrupt,” Swoop said with a half-sparked smile. The way he still curled away from them made Thundercracker physically ill.

He didn’t know what Shockwave had done to the winged Dinobot, but Thundercracker was of the mind that Shockwave could rot in prison for the rest of his functioning. Thundercracker remembered Swoop to be bold and fearless. He did not like seeing Swoop as he was now, a shadow of the brave, flying Dinobot who used to be such a terror to them.

The guilt swamped him. Perhaps they should have taken an Autobot. They should’ve convinced Starscream to do so as well. They might have treated the Autobot like an unpaid laborer, but they wouldn’t have raped him or experimented on him. They’d missed an opportunity to be decent mechs there.

It was something Thundercracker would have to carry with him to the Pit, he supposed.

“Him Grimlock won’t mind,” Swoop added and he ducked his helm.

Thundercracker shook his helm. “That won’t be necessary, Swoop. We’ll wait a little longer, and then all three of us can barge in.”

Cyclonus was already gone. The meeting should have ended two hours ago for Primus’ sake. What on Cybertron were Grimlock and Starscream doing in there? Thundercracker hoped it wasn’t another battle for leadership. Starscream sometimes didn’t know the meaning of ‘quit.’

The door panel clicked from warning orange to ready green. Thundercracker straightened as a soft beep echoed in the corridor. The door slid open, Starscream emerging first and Grimlock after him.

Starscream was grinning, his wings raised in a flirtatious manner. His grin faded a little when he noticed the three of them standing around. “You didn’t have to wait, you know.”

“You said you’d go flying with us,” Skywarp pointed out. His wings flattened against his back, a shiver of unease tainting his field. “You’re not skipping out this time.”

Unlike all the other times, Thundercracker thought. Starscream could stand to be a little more grateful. They’d all risked their sparks rising up against Megatron. It was a combination of skill and luck that they’d emerged victorious.

Starscream sighed. “Yes, I know. We ran late.”

“Yeah. We noticed.” Thundercracker folded his arms.

“You Swoop come,” Grimlock said, gesturing to his Dinobot. “You fly good?”

Swoop dipped his helm in thanks to Skywarp and Thundercracker and hurried to catch up to his commander. “Me Swoop flew better!” he chirped, optics lighting up with happiness as Grimlock threw an arm over his shoulders. “Him Thunder and him Sky nice!”

Grimlock chuckled and glanced back at them, his visor unreadable. “Is that so?”

Thundercracker refused to squirm. His new lord and master did not intimidate him. Besides, they’d taken care of Swoop! They hadn’t bullied him at all. Grimlock should be happy that the surviving Conehead was in jail. Or that it hadn’t been the Rainmakers either. Sunstorm was perfectly respectful, but Acid Storm was a sarcastic aft.

“What’s going on, Star?” Skywarp demanded, pulling Thundercracker’s attention back to his trinemates. Skywarp frowned as he circled Starscream, leaning in as though sniffing their trinemate.

Starscream gave him a sideways look. “Nothing,” he said.

Skywarp’s optics narrowed. “Then why do I smell ozone?” he demanded and his wings hiked upward. He threw a glare down the corridor where Grimlock had already disappeared around the corner with Swoop.

Thundercracker knew Skywarp had struck home with Starscream grimaced and folded his arms over his cockpit. He stepped away from Skywarp, closing himself off to them. What little they could sense of his field became nonexistent.

“Probably because you two have been interfacing yourselves six ways to Moonbase,” Starscream said with a defensive hiss of his ex-vents.

“That’s not how we do and you know it,” Skywarp snapped, offense thick in his tone, though more for Thundercracker than himself.

Skywarp’s field flared, and Thundercracker was quick to intervene, stepping between them and putting a hand on Skywarp’s shoulder. It saddened him how often he took this role. Skywarp could be emotional, and Starscream always knew how to cut to the protoform.

“Are you and Grimlock facing?” Thundercracker asked. Because he hadn’t missed the lingering looks the first and second of Decepticon command exchanged. He also knew exactly how Starscream’s scheming processor worked.

Starscream’s lips formed a thin line and provided all the answer Thundercracker needed. Starscream knew he couldn’t lie to them, so as he always did when he didn’t want to answer something, he went silent. He went defensive. Even now his shoulders hunched, and he pulled away from them.

Damn it. Thundercracker’s free hand curled into a fist. Not this again. Not this all over again. Thundercracker refused. He would not allow himself to be led down a path of destruction because Starscream couldn’t control his libido.

Skywarp sighed and his behind his palm. “Star–”

“I legitimately do not want to hear it,” Starscream bit out, his field lashing through the corridor as sharp as a whip.

“But–”

“It’s not a relationship, it’s just facing. It doesn’t mean anything,” Starscream snarled, and his shoulders hunched further. His optics brightened in the way they always did when he felt cornered. “And I don’t even know if it was more than a one-time thing.”

“That’s what you said about Megatron!” Skywarp snapped, and only Thundercracker’s hand on his shoulder kept him from charging forward.

Starscream’s wings whipped upright. His engine growled warningly.

Thundercracker put up a hand, warning Starscream with his gaze alone. Primus, he hated having to step between them. He thought they were over this. He thought Megatron’s death would be enough to fix things.

He should have known better.

Bad habits were almost impossible to break.

“He has a valid point, Starscream,” Thundercracker said, careful to keep his tone gentle and neutral. Starscream only got more defensive if he felt accused. “You have a type and Autobot aside, Grimlock fits it.”

“Except that Grimlock doesn’t beat his subordinates,” Starscream muttered.

Skywarp’s field flexed with concern. He drew back, and Thundercracker could all too easily read the hurt in his expression. “Megatron didn’t either. At first,” he pointed out.

Starscream sighed. He palmed his face. That he didn’t immediately lash out was progress. Usually the first mention of Megatron was enough to send him storming away in a huff, unwilling to listen further.

“You know what, no,” Starscream said with a flick of his other hand. “I’m not having this conversation here. Come on.”

It was a start, Thundercracker realized as Skywarp relented, and they both followed after Starscream, heading no doubt for Starscream’s habsuite.

It was a change for the better. Usually, Starscream would dismiss them and sulk in his own solitude. But the fact he wanted to talk was a start.

Maybe things were changing after all.

Skywarp bumped shoulders with him, as though trying to get Thundercracker’s attention. He shook his helm. No. Best not to speculate. Better to wait for Starscream to explain.

They followed Starscream back to his habsuite, which was on the same hall as Cyclonus’. Grimlock had chosen to quarter himself elsewhere, in a collection of rooms large enough for all the Dinobots to be housed together. They called it their ‘Den’.

Thundercracker supposed it didn’t matter since they still had Starscream and Cyclonus within shouting range of the command center, but it was a deviation from the norm.

Thundercracker was far from opposed. Deviations from Megatron were more than acceptable in his datapad.

Thundercracker and Skywarp shared a hab further away. Sharing wasn’t required, but after the close quarters on the Nemesis, Thundercracker had gotten used to have Skywarp around. He actually missed the little glitch’s noise and mess.

Starscream jabbed his code into the panel and stomped inside, leaving Thundercracker and Skywarp room to follow him, though he didn’t extend anything close to a polite invitation. He was agitated, all of his easy lassitude gone.

“I wasn’t trying to accuse you of anything,” Skywarp blurted the second they crossed the threshold, and the door slid shut. He never did understand the meaning of patience. “It makes sense to be worried. How many times did we have to help put you back together after Megatron was through with you?”

His hands formed fists. His wings twitched. He was as agitated as Starscream and Thundercracker sighed. Two high strung mechs in the same trine was never a good idea. But Primus, it hadn’t always been like this.

Starscream folded his arms over his cockpit, his shoulders hunched and defensive. “Grimlock is not Megatron. I wouldn’t have accepted his leadership if I thought, even for a moment, that we would be trading one maniac for another.”

Thundercracker rested a hand on Skywarp’s shoulder, squeezing to let his partner know he was there. “I know.” He paused, intending to say something along the lines of “I trust your judgment” but it would be a lie.

Starscream’s judgment, up until recently, had been rather poor.

“I believe in Grimlock, and I believe the good he’ll do for the Decepticons,” Thundercracker said. “We are just concerned that it’s too soon.”

Starscream snorted, his gaze wandering to the window. “I don’t know what you think is going on here. I wasn’t in love with Megatron, and I’m not in love with Grimlock, and there’s nothing too soon about a one time frag that meant nothing.” The last devolved into a hiss and a flicker of wings that was almost a challenge.

Skywarp fell back, his wings nearly resting against Thundercracker’s chest. “It had to mean something,” he said, with that occasionally frightening intuition of his. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t have felt the need to be secretive about it.”

Starscream sighed and covered his face with his hand. He turned away from them, and Thundercracker had no doubt he was rolling his optics.

“It was the one time. I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret, I just don’t think it’s any of your business,” Starscream said, and he sounded tired.

“Who started it?” Thundercracker asked.

Starscream’s arms folded again. His shoulders hunched.

Skywarp gasped. “Did he force you?” he demanded, jumping instantly to what Thundercracker suspected was the wrong conclusion. He doubted Grimlock was the sort to take what hadn’t been offered to him.

No, Thundercracker suspected the explanation here was pure embarrassment on Starscream’s part. He had always been a private mech, and Skywarp never learned the meaning of boundaries. But then, Starscream had been notorious about making the wrong decisions when it came to his interface partners.

Case in point: Megatron.

Though Thundercracker could hardly call that trainwreck a relationship. They weren’t even friends with benefits because Thundercracker didn’t seen any benefit for either party in that mess. It was mutually destructive, and sometimes, he couldn’t be sure that they both didn’t prefer it that way. They fed into each other, all of that hate and lust getting bundled up into a cataclysmic mess.

No wonder the Decepticons had found themselves defeated, again and again, by an army of civilians and oddities led by a Prime who was as close to a pacifist one could get, but still participate in battle.

“Of course not!” Starscream snapped, sounding personally offended. He whirled toward Skywarp, wings flicking left and right. “If anything, he was annoyingly polite about it.”

Skywarp blinked.

Thundercracker bit back a grin.

“Annoyingly polite?” he repeated. He leaned his hip against a nearby table. “Do tell, Starscream. What could that possibly mean?”

Their trine leader’s faceplate heated. “He asked, okay,” he muttered and scratched at his chin. “It was weird.”

Skywarp and Thundercracker exchanged a look. What that said about Starscream’s previous sexual encounters was more than a little appalling. And worrisome. Then again, considering one of his last partners was Megatron and considering just what Megatron had been up to with his Autobot toys, should they be so surprised?

But how to approach this without making Starscream angrier?

“Asking is supposed to be standard procedure,” Skywarp said softly. “Generally. Just means Grimlock was raised right, which I guess is lucky for him considering who he has for parents.”

Starscream snorted.

Even Thundercracker had to hold back a grin. It was a miracle Grimlock was polite at all with Ratchet for a pseudo-caretaker.

“Then I guess that means he wasn’t entirely useless in the berth, right?” Skywarp asked, trying to lighten the mood. “Enough for a repeat performance?”

Starscream cut his optics toward Skywarp. “Did you miss the part where I said it was a one-time thing?”

“Is that what Grimlock said it was?” Thundercracker asked. Privately, he was already getting on board this particular connection.

Okay, so it asked for trouble to have the Decepticon leader and second-in-command engage in extracurricular activities. But if it brought that cutely embarrassed flush
to Starscream’s field, Thundercracker could get behind it.

It actually felt kind of nice to be supporting Starscream again, and to actually have a conversation with him without the accompanying waspish comments or Starscream refusing any kind of assistance.

“No,” Starscream retorted.

Skywarp’s wings flicked. A hint of eagerness danced in his field. “What did he say?”

Starscream hesitated.

Thundercracker half-expected him to clam up, tell them it was none of their business, and shove them out. That had been the standard procedure ever since they had all woke on Earth after their four million year stasis.

“Next time we’ll use a berth,” Starscream replied and his faceplate heated of all things.

He was blushing.

Thundercracker almost gaped. Only a moment of rigid self-control kept him from doing so. He looked at Skywarp, and Skywarp looked back at him with optics lit up with glee.

Okay. Thundercracker could get behind this after all.

“So it’s not a one off. Sounds like he wants something more.” Skywarp grinned with the light of a dozen suns. “Which means we’re going to have to keep an optic on him. The last thing we need is another Megatron.”

Starscream shook his helm, the color easing from his faceplate as he got hold of himself. “He’s nothing like Megatron. He’s better in every way.”

Skywarp clapped his hands together. “Well, that’s good to know.” He shared a glance with Thundercracker before returning his attention to Starscream. “Now there seems to be the matter of a flight you owe us.”

“You’re not going to let that go, are you?” Starscream demanded, but his tone was amused. The stress had gone from his field, and it opened to them. Even his wings fluttered, which was an improvement.

“Nope,” Skywarp chirped. He hooked an elbow around Starscream’s, steering him toward the balcony access. “You’re our Air Commander, Star. We can’t let you forget what that means.”

“As if I could,” Starscream snorted. He worked himself free of Skywarp’s arm and opened the door, giving them room to step outside. “Okay, you two. Let’s fly then. But I have an early morning so we have to keep this short. And no going near Nova Cronum.”

Skywarp hopped up on the railing, balancing with ease. “Afraid Metalhawk might want to join us?”

“More like I’m not sure he won’t try to shoot us down,” Starscream retorted and gave Skywarp a little shove.

Skywarp pinwheeled his arms as he tilted backward, only to transform in mid-air and shoot back upward in jet-mode. Theatrical moron. Thundercracker rolled his optics, and leapt up onto the railing as well, joining Starscream.

“Where you go, we follow,” Thundercracker said.

He tilted his helm toward his commander and dove off the railing, transforming mid-air like Skywarp, though with a lot less pizzazz. He spun into a tight spiral as he pointed his nose toward the sky. Wind rushed over his plating, his environmental sensors pinging data to him at a rapid-fire pace.

He heard thrusters pop as Starscream followed him over.

Three jets rose into the dark sky, stars spinning bright above them. It felt natural to slide into position at Starscream’s right while Skywarp wobbled into place at Starscream’s left. Thundercracker reached out with his field, and felt Starscream reach back. On the other side, Skywarp joined the loop.

It was so easy to follow Starscream’s lead, to plunge right into their usual maneuvers as though nothing had ever happened.

They cut through the air, Command Trine once again, and Thundercracker sent an internal thank you to Grimlock. Oh, he and Skywarp would still need to have a conversation with Grimlock, talk to him about the things Starscream would never bring up, and warn him how hot the blaze burned.

But so far, so good.

Peace was finally within reach.

0o0o0

“You Grimlock stink,” was the first thing he heard as he stepped through the main door into the massive apartment he shared with the other Dinobots.

The friendly observation came from Snarl, who folded his arms over his chest and stared at Grimlock as though his appearance had personally offended the Stegosaurus-copy. Then again, he and Snarl had clashed personalities more often than not.

Grimlock bit back a sigh. Next to him, Swoop chortled and nudged Grimlock with his elbow. He’d been making pointed remarks their entire walk back.

“Told you,” he said and snuck away, probably to their washracks. He was covered in grit and pollution from his flight with the Seekers.

Of them all, Swoop was the most particular about staying clean. It was an aspect of his personality that had been exacerbated by his time spent in Shockwave’s care. He had doubled the time spent in the washrack, and was almost obsessively meticulous about his paint now. He rivaled Sunstreaker in that regard.

If politics weren’t in the way, Grimlock would have made the scientist pay for that a thousand fold already. Damn Cyclonus for being rational and recognizing they might need Shockwave’s scientific mind in the future. Rest assured, the moment Shockwave’s usefulness came to an end, Grimlock vowed to make him pay for his crimes.

But watching Swoop saunter off, cackling to himself, well Grimlock supposed he’d take any kind of teasing if it meant he could see Swoop grinning again. It was like having the old Swoop back, and Grimlock would do whatever it took to see that again.

“What you Grimlock doing?” Slag demanded as he swaggered up, also folding his arms over his chest.

Now he and Snarl both stared at Grimlock, Slag’s nose twitching as though Grimlock’s odor offended him. Grimlock looked down, but there wasn’t a trace of transfluid or lubricant anywhere. He’d cleaned up well. Besides, it wasn’t any of their business what he did.

“I was busy working,” he said. “Which is what I do now.” He slipped past both of them and stepped further into the main room of their massive shared apartment.

It was big enough to have an open kitchen, an open office, and a seating area around a large monitor, along with a couple of sturdy video game systems. The scavenged furniture was even big enough for their comfort. Two bookshelves were loaded with datapads that Grimlock intended to read in his down time. The rest of the apartment was lacking in decoration right now, but just having appropriately sized furniture and private rooms to themselves was a luxury. Not to mention their private washracks.

It was a far cry from the rock closet they’d called home for so long. They each had a private room, though Grimlock’s was the largest. It had a berth big enough to fit all four of them, if they didn’t mind squeezing in. Sleeping in a happy pile of Dinobot was one of Grimlock’s favorite memories.

Snarl still insisted they should have taken the now-empty Prime penthouse. Sometimes, he was just dumb.

The only thing of Megatron’s that Grimlock wanted was the role of Decepticon Leader. Everything else could go smelt in the Pit.

Unless everyone counted Starscream as something of Megatron’s, because Grimlock wanted to claim him, too. Provided Starscream agreed. Provided he understood that Grimlock meant to keep him. That it wasn’t just a one-time thing.

He’d long thought Megatron both underused and abused his second. Starscream was brilliant and beautiful and deserving of far more than what Megatron gave him. Grimlock had read everything the Autobots had on Starscream. He’d studied mission reports and Jazz’s observations and Smokescreen’s unofficial ones and Ratchet’s diagnoses.

It had become something of an obsession, one tempered with genuine interest. Grimlock had long deduced that if Megatron ever decided to take Starscream seriously, or Starscream ever attempted to work with Megatron, the Autobots would lose the war. Lo and behold, he’d been right. Not that Optimus Prime listened to him.

“Him Starscream Decepticon,” Snarl said as he followed after Grimlock, each stomp heavy and loud. His field was a frazzled burst of discontent against Grimlock’s.

“So am I now.” Grimlock headed into the seating area and flopped down on the couch, only to be joined by Snarl and Slag on either side of him. “So are we.”

“Him loud,” Slag added.

“Stab you Grimlock in back,” Snarl felt it necessary to say.

Grimlock glared at both of them. “Don’t believe everything you hear.”

“What? It true!” Snarl insisted, bristling. “It no secret! Starscream always betray Megatron. Always say he leader of Decepticons.” He heaved to his pedes, energy field a pulsing whirl of anger.

“Him Snarl right,” Slag said, putting the two of them in agreement for once. “Him Starscream dangerous. You Grimlock be careful. Him Starscream sneaky.”

Grimlock growled a warning note, which shut them both up right quick. “That’s my decision to make. You think I can’t handle one Seeker?”

“Just sayin’,” Slag muttered, folding his arms. “Him Starscream traitor.”

“You Slag and you Snarl hush!” Swoop shouted as he poked his head out of the washracks, dripping cleanser everywhere and exciting the cleaning drones into a little beeping frenzy. “Him Starscream nice! And him Grimlock deserve to be happy!” He followed it up with a squawk of protest.

Despite himself, Grimlock chuckled. “It’s okay, Swoop. They don’t mean any harm.” Actually, given the menace radiating his direction, it looked like a fight was at hand. But what they didn’t need was for Swoop to get riled up right now.

He was still healing, Ratchet said. He needed time to get his systems up to their normal speed. Which meant, he needed to stay relatively emotionally stable.

Easier said than done considering he had horrible memory purges every night. He never recharged alone anymore. Not that it was a terrible thing to cuddle Swoop.

Swoop gave them all a suspicious look, but he ducked back into the washracks, hopefully with the intention of drying himself off.

Grimlock pushed to his pedes and whirled toward the other two, folding his hands over his chestplate. “Me Grimlock decide about Starscream,” he growled. “Not your business. Not your choice. You Slag and you Snarl can leave if want. Join Autobots. But me Grimlock stay.”

Slag scoffed.

Snarl sneered.

“No join Autobots again,” Slag grumbled, his plating drawing tight. His field shrank down. “No like Decepticons either. Just want Dinobots.”

“Want Papa Jack and Mama Ratch though,” Snarl said as his gaze fell, and his armor slicked down. “Make sure Mama Ratch okay.”

Grimlock nodded. None of them were fond of the Autobots as a whole, only considering them marginally better than the Decepticons. Some of the Autobots had tried to be friendly, and they would always adore Ratchet and Wheeljack, but for the most part, none of the surviving Dinobots were sad to walk away from the Autobots. He suspected Snarl and Slag kept their badges only because it hadn’t occurred to them to remove the brands.

Shockwave had removed Swoop’s, and Swoop had made no indication he wanted it back. The empty places on his wings didn’t bother him.

Grimlock had scrubbed away Autobot red and replaced it with Decepticon purple by necessity. Though it was his hope that given plenty of time, they could do away with badges entirely. Brands would only continue to divide the Cybertronians, not unite them. He recognized their necessity for now, but once the lines began to blur and the walls started to fall, Grimlock would propose to eliminate them.

It was on his large and ever-growing To Do List.

Grimlock had plans. He had goals. He was damn tired of seeing mechs die for a war that no longer had a purpose. If he had to bang some heads around to see peace, he would. Even if that head was Optimus Prime’s.

Megatron was a monster best left forgotten in the dregs of the Smelter’s Pit.

And Starscream had proven to be one of the best rewards of them all.

“Things complicated,” Grimlock finally said after a moment to cycle a ventilation. “Care necessary. Visit Ratchet and Wheeljack once things settle. Understood?”

Two sets of pedes shuffled. Two mechs ducked their helm. Two of his Dinobots muttered something like agreement, but not without a sullen hint to their vocals.

Grimlock swept them up into a hug anyway, and grinned to himself as Slag squawked and Snarl squeaked and they fought for the space of a second before returning the embrace.

Dinobots. They stuck together. Even when they disagreed.

“Trust me, all right?” Grimlock said once they worked their way free, plating ruffled and fields speaking of mingled affection and exasperation. “I’m always going to do what’s best for us.”

“Fine,” Snarl said as he rustled his spines. “We trust you Grimlock. For now.”

“Until me Slag beat you Grimlock and become leader,” Slag said and jostled Snarl with his elbow. “Come. Go spar.”

Snarl jostled him back, and Grimlock huffed a laugh. He dropped himself back down onto the couch as they started sniping at each other.

“You Grimlock take bath!” Snarl hollered over his shoulder right before the two disappeared into the adjacent training room.

Grimlock ignored them and settled into the couch, making himself comfortable. He hunted around for the remote to the entertainment console, though he kept Snarl’s comment in mind. He looked down at himself, but all he could see were a few scrapes of gray, blue, and red paint.

He didn’t stink.

Did he?

The door to the washracks opened, and Swoop’s helm popped out again. “Them Snarl and Slag gone?”

Grimlock chuckled and gestured for the flyer to join him. “Yes. They’re gone. You clean?”

“You Grimlock aren’t,” Swoop said, but he fully emerged from the washracks, this time without dripping and his plating exhibiting a gleaming shine.

“Not you, too.” Grimlock groaned. He shifted over to make room on the couch and warmth swept through his spark when Swoop took the unstated invitation.

Swoop tucked his wing panels in close to his frame and sat down next to Grimlock. He tucked himself up under Grimlock’s right arm and stole the remote before Grimlock could see what he was doing.

“Me Swoop’s turn to pick,” he said with a wark of laughter.

Grimlock held up his free hand. “Sure, sure. So long as it’s not whatever the Decepticons are broadcasting.”

Swoop snerked. “You Grimlock Decepticon now.”

“Don’t remind me.” Grimlock settled against the back of the couch, Swoop a familiar warmth next to him, and comforted himself with that fact.

Swoop patted him on the thigh. “Him Starscream good match,” he said. “Ignore them Snarl and Slag. Them jealous.”

Grimlock barked a laugh. “You think so?”

“Me Swoop know so.” Swoop sounded smug.

The television settled on some kind of show from Earth.

Grimlock suspected they had Blaster to blame for filling the airwaves with pointless entertainment. Though it was better than the kind of shows Megatron put on. Grimlock made a mental note to ensure that no copies remained of those recordings. Jazz had, in all likelihood, destroyed them all, but it didn’t hurt to check.

“Him Starscream smart, not allowed to show it, like you Grimlock,” Swoop continued, craning his neck to look up at Grimlock. “Him Starscream underappreciated. Strong, too. Good match!”

Grimlock patted Swoop’s shoulder. “Thank you. I’m glad you’re on my side.”

Swoop’s field flexed against Grimlock’s, warm with affection. He’d always been the gentler of the five Dinobots, he and Sludge both.

Guilt swamped Grimlock then. It felt wrong to indulge in Swoop’s happy field, because he had failed Swoop so thoroughly. He hadn’t protected him. He hadn’t protected Sludge. He’d almost lost his entire team because of Optimus Prime and the Decepticons.

He had no right to demand trust of them, but Swoop offered it without question and Slag and Snarl backed down without hardly a fight.

He owed his brothers everything.

“Swoop,” Grimlock said, brushing Swoop’s shoulder to get his attention again. “Me Grimlock sorry you were taken. Sorry Sludge got killed.”

Swoop cycled his optics. He tilted his helm to the side. “Why you Grimlock apologize? Not you Grimlock’s fault.”

“Me Grimlock should’ve protected all of you. It me Grimlock’s job.”

Swoop patted him on the thigh again. “You Grimlock don’t know everything. You Grimlock tried. Him Shockwave enemy. Him Megatron villain. Never you Grimlock.”

“You Swoop best brother,” Grimlock said and squeezed Swoop against his side in the closest thing they could get to a hug right now.

Swoop warbled a laugh. “Me Swoop know. Now hush. Show is on.”

Grimlock chuckled and obeyed.

0o0o0

Optimus returned, and it didn’t take long for the whining to begin.

Starscream had already braced himself for it, so when his comm began to lit up with conference requests from Metalhawk, he wasn’t surprised. When Ultra Magnus started adding to the noise within an hour, he had to lean forward on the table and laugh.

At least Optimus’ second was polite about it. His carefully worded but concise request didn’t quite match the ridiculousness of the situation. He had even gone to the trouble of arranging a time for the leadership of all three factions to discuss use of the space bridge.

Buried in Ultra Magnus’ polite tone was a hint of aggravation, no doubt with Metalhawk. Starscream thought he had the monopoly on single-handedly irritating every single mech around him, but honestly, Metalhawk had him beat. He even had Ultra Magnus – notorious for being fair – gritting his denta and leaving frosty notes at the end of his communiques.

The icing on the oil cake, however, was sitting in the meeting and watching Optimus Prime start to get flustered. That almost made it worth Starscream’s own rising annoyance. If not for Grimlock constantly reminding him to keep calm and shut his mouth, he might have been the one to say something unfortunate.

Starscream had to give Optimus credit. He held his temper even when it was clear all he wanted to do was wring Metalhawk’s necks. At least there was one benefit out of it.

Autobots and Decepticons united over their mutual distaste for Neutrals. Probably not the effect Metalhawk had been aiming for. Sucked to be him.

Still, there was one thing Starscream knew for sure — he would much rather be on this side of the table with Optimus Prime than against him. Especially when it came to politics. Also that whatever it was blooming between Optimus and Soundwave was simultaneously adorable and horrifying. He couldn’t wait to see what came of that.

It gave him a kind of gleeful anticipation.

Starscream took his leave of the meeting as soon as possible and didn’t care that he left the others to deal with the unfortunate aftermath. Grimlock was there, and he’d fill Starscream in later if it was at all important.

Besides, Starscream had better things to do than listen to Metalhawk whine about not getting his way. He had construction inspections to carry out, parole requests to consider, and he’d promised Skywarp and Thundercracker he’d go flying with them later. With Megatron out of the picture, all three of them wanted to try and mend the cracks that had formed in their trine.

“If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Starscream froze, discomfort dripping down his spinal strut. He turned slowly, gathering his wits about him, as a familiar frame stepped out of the shadows behind him. He wondered how long Sky-Byte had been lurking. Had he waited for Starscream specifically? Or had he been playing the spy?

“You’ll have to be more specific.” Starscream inclined his helm. “Are you surprised that I’m alive? Are you surprised that Autobots and Decepticons are working together? Or did you never think you’d have to face the fact you abandoned your oath?”

Sky-Byte folded his arms over his ridged chestplate. “None of the above,” he said, his deep vocals echoing around the corridor. “Never thought I’d see the day when Starscream listened to his superiors and didn’t throw a fit to get his way.”

Starscream gnawed on the inside of his cheek and reminded himself that attacking Sky-Byte would result in a diplomatic incident. “Time has a funny way of changing mechs. Is there something I can help you with, Sky-Byte? You look lost.”

The Neutral second-in-command laughed. “I’m exactly where I want to be, but thanks. You’re the one who needs assistance. You seem to have a gross misconception of us.”

“Oh, please. Do educate me,” Starscream purred insincerely. He twisted his wrist whilst twirling a finger. “I would hate to offend.”

Sky-Byte stepped further into the light, illuminating the high-gloss to his finish and the complete lack of imperfection anywhere on his frame. This was a mech who hadn’t seen battle in quite some time.

Was it a small wonder he had abandoned the Decepticons to live in peace with the Neutrals? That didn’t give him the right to judge others for their determination to fight.

“You think because we are Neutral, we are weak,” Sky-Byte said, straightening. He was taller than Starscream, but only just. He definitely outmassed Starscream. “You think we don’t know how to fight, and that we won’t defend ourselves.”

“When did I ever say that?”

“You didn’t have to.” Sky-Byte chuffed a ventilation. “Cybertron is our home, too, and we’ll fight for the right to live here. Even if it means taking on you and your kind.”

Starscream had the feeling he didn’t mean the Decepticons alone.

Sky-Byte took a step closer, until his field crowded along the edge of Starscream’s own. “Metalhawk intends to ensure that Cybertron is safe for everyone.”

“Good for him,” Starscream said. “Though I’d like to see what he thinks he can do differently.”

“Are you worried?” Sky-Byte asked with a tilt of his helm and a slow, lazy grin that displayed a mouthful of sharpened denta. “You should be. Decepticon and Autobot alike. Do you even know how many of us there are?”

Starscream popped an orbital ridge. “Us?” He folded his arms over his cockpit and cocked a hip. “I didn’t realize the Neutrals were so organized.”

Sky-Byte chuckled. “There’s a lot about us you don’t know. You spent so much time shooting at each other and trying to kill one another, you never stopped to consider the collateral damage.”

Irritation flicked through Starscream’s processor. He fought it back. Sky-Byte was trying to get a rise out of him, and he wouldn’t give the discount Sharkticon the pleasure of a reaction. Starscream was Air Commander of the Decepticons. He’d put up with Megatron for millennia.

He could keep his cool around some useless layabout of a Neutral.

“You’re not so pure yourself,” Starscream retorted. “You can scrub off your badge, but you can’t hide the fact you used to be one of us. You’re just as guilty.”

Sky-Byte rested a clawed hand over his chestplate, where an empty plate of armor gave testament to the brand which had once been present. “I have repented. I am fighting to right the wrongs. What have you done?”

“Ended the war for one thing.” Starscream snorted and stared at Sky-Byte. “Did you come here to warn me or threaten me? Because I have little time for the former, and I welcome the challenge of the latter.”

Please. He survived Megatron. If a Neutral thought they could send a shiver down Starscream’s backstrut, they grossly overestimated their importance. Starscream did not fear anyone or anything.

Sky-Byte chuckled. “None of the above,” he said. “I thought we were having a friendly conversation.”

“Friendly my aft.” Starscream angled toward the former Decepticon, letting the overhead light catch a gleam on his null rays. “If you’re going to threaten me, you might as well do it properly. Just what should we be afraid of, pray tell?”

“Numbers.”

Starscream arched an orbital ridge. “I may not be Perceptor, but I can calculate.”

“Good.” Sky-Byte’s smirk widened. “Then when the Neutrals return, outnumbering both Autobots and Decepticons four to one I might add, you can count all the ways you and your kind are fragged to the Pit.”

Four to one? Even if Sky-Byte wasn’t exaggerating, Starscream knew damn well that more Cybertronians had attempted to flee the war rather than take part in it. Especially once the city-wide bombings started.

He also knew that over the millennia, both Autobots and Decepticons lost soldiers to going AWOL. He thought four to one was an overestimate, but then, given the increased rate of fatalities just in the past year alone, maybe Sky-Byte underestimated.

Didn’t mean Starscream was afraid though. The Neutrals were even more factionalized than the Autobots and Decepticons. They didn’t have a single unifying goal or a leader to keep them focused.

For now.

Starscream’s wings flicked. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he said dryly. “Now don’t you have work to do? Nova Cronum isn’t going to rebuild itself.”

“No, it isn’t. And you lot have left us a lot of work to do.” Sky-Byte straightened, not at all cowed. He waved a hand of dismissal and turned on a heelstrut. “See you at the next meeting, Air Commander.”

Starscream didn’t respond and watched Sky-Byte go with narrowed optics. The fingers of one hand drummed against his opposite arm.

It was unsettling. Not so much that Starscream was afraid, but that he was wary. Why would Sky-Byte warn him? Granted, it had come across as a threat, but really. All it did was encourage them to make preparations.

Starscream cycled a ventilation and shook his helm. He did have work to do. He would worry about Sky-Byte later. Though he did make a mental note to speak with both Optimus and Grimlock about the potential danger Metalhawk might become.

It seemed the Neutrals weren’t as willing to share Cybertron as they claimed.

****

[JL] Say Something

Wally is a flirt. Always has been. This is nothing new, is so normal as to be unnoticeable.

Bruce stops paying attention after the first freely given compliment. He knows his worth in Wally’s life. He has no reason to be uncertain.

Reality, however, is not so black and white.

Bruce gets older. Grayer. Slower.

Wally remains as bright as ever. Vivacious. Irresistible. A glowing star hanging in the night. Impossible to restrain, not that Bruce would ever try.

He realizes his time is growing short. He already knows that the years creep closer to when he’ll have to hang his cape. He suspects he’s in danger of losing Wally before that.

He tries harder, but he hesitates – torn between his duty and his heart. For they are not the same.

Bruce takes Wally into his arms, kisses him fiercely. He loses himself in quiet gasps, soft moans, warm skin, and a bedmate who takes up most of his massive bed and snores like a go-cart.

Bruce wakes alone later and tells himself an excuse that is partially a lie. Because Wally is a hero, too. Even if he usually never leaves without waking Bruce first.

It’s long past dawn. Too early even for Bruce Wayne actually.

He rises anyway. He puts on a robe, pads silently over chilly tile, and stands on the balcony.

It’s a crisp and cold morning. The sky smells of rain. Alfred is down below, cutting blooms for the brunch table. He, too, is getting slow and grey.

All good things must come to an end.

Bruce goes back inside, resolve strengthening the walls of his heart. He has nothing to do but wait.

Bruce never gives up without a fight. But there are some battles that can’t be won. Time is the cruelest villain.

One month later, Wally comes to him, wrapped in his costume but his cowl pushed back. His hair is a ruffled mess. His smile cracks around the edges. Lightning crackles from his fingertips, before it wisps away.

“Bruce,” he says, direct. “We need to talk.”

He’s grown so much. There’s no hint of a blush, no ounce of hesitation. There is nothing save determination in his eyes.

Batman breathes deeply. His fingers pause on the keys. He knows he should remove his cowl, but he needs the protection now more than ever.

“I know,” he replies with all the control he has mastered over the years. “But you owe me nothing. Not explanation or apology.”

Wally stares at him. There’s hurt in his eyes.

“No,” he says, tight, a leashed anger. “I guess not.”

There is a lump in Batman’s throat. He speaks past it. “Goodbye, Wally.” He begins typing again, and is proud that the words are not gibberish.

A shiver ripples over Wally, charged, like a thunderstorm. He opens his mouth as if to speak before he shakes his head. His hands close into creaking leather fists. He’s gone in a blink, a rush of air, taking it all with him.

Batman pushes back his cowl, and Bruce bows his head. He braces his weight on the edge of the console. He closes the heat of his eyes.

“Master Bruce.”

He is not surprised Alfred is here in the aftermath. He would’ve been the first to know.

“He wanted you to fight for him.”

Bruce swallows over the lump. “I know,” he says, and opens his eyes. He straightens.

“Then perhaps it is for the best.”

Alfred’s words are not a comfort. They are not meant to be.

“It is an unfortunate circumstance,” Alfred continues with a soft sigh. He turns and leaves. “I quite liked Master West.”

Bruce’s fingers return to the keys. What he types is gibberish, but he doesn’t stop.

“So did I.”

The reply is lost to the shadows. Like so many other things.

[Crown the Empire] Salvage 04

Optimus considered himself to be a mech of patience and understanding. He was not prone to disliking other mecha, nor was he prone to a foul disposition.

Metalhawk, however, tried his patience like no other individual Optimus had ever met. Including Megatron. At least Megatron had been obvious in his intention to destroy everything he touched, and it was never difficult to guess what Megatron would do next.

Not only was Metalhawk the perfect example of a politician, but it was impossible to read his intentions. It was clear that he hated Autobots and Decepticons both. He considered himself superior because he hadn’t engaged in the ugliness of war, and his hands weren’t nearly as stained as those sharing a table with him.

A sentence from Metalhawk could send Starscream from calm to outrage in the blink of an optic. If not for Grimlock’s steadying presence, Starscream would have had his hands around Metalhawk’s intake more than a few times.

Optimus was hard pressed not to launch himself across the table.

He was having a difficult time being polite to Metalhawk, much less liking him. Metalhawk’s subordinates, at least, were a tad more tolerable. By a few measurable degrees.

Every meeting had become an exercise in diplomacy. If Megatron were here, he would have already blown Metalhawk’s helm away.

Neutral or not, Metalhawk was everything the Decepticons had initially banded together to destroy. He represented Cybertron of old. He was a noble, he was a politician, and he thought he knew what was better for everyone.

Optimus did not hate or loathe Metalhawk. That honor was reserved for a mech gone and melted down into slag.

But he was having a very, very difficult time remaining civil.

“Unacceptable,” Metalhawk said as he crossed his arms, the long spars on his elbows nearly smacking Skids seated next to him. “I will not have my people barred from using a commodity that should be available to everyone.”

Optimus sighed and rubbed his forehelm. “It is not only the Neutrals, Metalhawk. We are simply suggesting that use of the space bridge be restricted only to those who are assigned energon production and refinement.”

“Who I am certain will be Autobots and Decepticons alone.” Metalhawk’s vents huffed disdainfully.

“If you have any citizens who are willing to work on an organic planet, they are more than welcome to join the workcrews,” Starscream hissed out through gritted denta. His optics darkened to fiery embers, and only Grimlock’s hand on the back of his chair seemed to keep him calm.

Optimus wasn’t sure why or what for and was afraid to ask and find out. At least for now. It seemed to be working for the Decepticon command so it was a matter for another day.

“I do not understand why any of the Neutrals would want to go to Earth to begin with,” Optimus added, glad for the mask to hide his frown. “There is nothing there of worth but our energon facilities. And it would be offensive to treat Earth as a tourist attraction.”

“It is not about Earth. It is the principle of the matter.” Metalhawk’s yellow optics were harsh and cold. “The space bridge should be free for all to use.”

“When we have a stable economy, we can allow that,” Starscream said, vocals approaching a growl. “For now, it is reserved for energon production alone.”

“Scientists propose search for construction materials,” Soundwave offered, his monotone cutting through the rising tension. He and Ultra Magnus both were the most calm influences in the room. “Earth’s resources many.”

Optimus cut Soundwave a look. “Not until we are certain that no humans remain. I won’t plunder their planet any more than is necessary.”

“Oh, Primus. Not this again,” Starscream muttered, rubbing at his forehelm. “Yes, yes. We’ve already figured that out, Prime. I think what your emotionless partner is saying is that we can use the spacebridge to search, dare I say it, space for the materials we need.”

“That would require constant recalibration and a heavier energon use,” Ultra Magnus intoned. “We needed to stabilize all of our energon manufacturing facilities first.”

“Of course,” Starscream said with a roll of his optics. “I only meant in the future.”

Thin fingers rapped on the table. “You are all circling around the discussion at hand. I will not abide by having only Autobots and Decepticons in charge of the space bridge,” Metalhawk insisted, his voice ringing loudly through the room.

Oh, dear Primus.

Optimus’ helm started to ache. It had nothing to do with his fatigue, he knew. But Metalhawk’s vocals had a tone that grated on his audials. He didn’t know his patience was so thin.

“The Neutrals are not known for having a trained fighting force,” Ultra Magnus said, carefully picking his words. “You are not familiar with Earth, and as far as I am aware, only one of your numbers is a skilled engineer. Why do you insist on this?”

“Because I know how it is going to go.” Metalhawk’s optics narrowed. “You will form your little alliance, and before we realize what is happening, you will evict us from this planet, this home, that is rightfully ours.”

Optimus offlined his optics and hid behind his palm for a few ventilation cycles.

“Fine,” Starscream growled as he sat back in his chair, close enough that Grimlock’s thumb could brush the back of his right wing. Which, oddly, Starscream did not object to. “What would make you happy? Since you’re the only one who’s being difficult.”

Metalhawk tilted his helm up. “I am only fighting for what we deserve,” he insisted. “But if you insist on having a guard around the space bridge, then I insist that we share the duty equally among the three factions.”

It would have been a reasonable request if the Neutrals weren’t all, as a rule, as snobbish and self-important as Metalhawk. Optimus had heard more than one comment from Autobots and Decepticons that if anything started the war up again, it would be one more snide mumble from a Neutral claiming how much better they were for not fighting because they’d managed to be peaceful.

“And this would mollify you?” Ultra Magnus asked with a sideways look to Optimus, perhaps seeking his agreement.

Optimus’ frown deepened. It seemed like a simple request, but he suspected that Metalhawk had a second motive. Sabotage, perhaps? Something he could blame on one faction or the other? Perhaps he intended to start the war again and hoped the Autobots and the Decepticons would wipe each other out?

It was kind of curious how quickly Metalhawk had arrived in the wake of Megatron’s death and the rescue of the enslaved Autobots. Conveniently quickly, as a matter of fact. As if he had been lingering somewhere, watching and waiting for his opportunity.

Hmm. Something to bring up with Jazz perhaps.

“Yes,” Metalhawk said after a moment of silence. “It would. I even have an idea of which of my citizens would be best suited to the task.”

Optimus leaned back in his chair and rested his hands on the table. “Very well,” he said. “Then in the interest of cooperation, we shall all contribute guards to the protection and maintenance of the space bridges. Two per faction to be divided into two teams, one on each side of the bridge. Does that seem fair?”

“More like a recipe for disaster,” Starscream muttered subvocally, but he shrugged. “Sure. Whatever. So long as I don’t have to listen to you whining anymore.”

Metalhawk’s optics narrowed. His armor fluffed out as he bristled.

“Starscream,” Grimlock said, and it was apparently all he need say because Starscream huffed and sat back in his chair.

“We concur,” Starscream said.

“Then we do as well,” Ultra Magnus said, inclining his helm. He pulled a datapad from his subspace, his fingers flicking across the screen. “I will set up the schedule. Send me the designations of your mecha, and I will work them into the rotation.”

Metalhawk opened his mouth, perhaps to argue, but Optimus was quick to cut him off. There was only so much of Metalhawk’s posturing that Optimus could take.

“Magnus is best suited for organizing,” Optimus said as he rapped his fingers on the tabletop. “He will work out the best rotation so that everyone is treated fairly. I trust that there is no one in this room who believes he would do otherwise?”

Ultra Magnus had a reputation for his impeccable sense of right and wrong. He lived by a strict moral code and there were many who believed he wrote the book on the Autobot Guidelines. The Galactic Council regarded him highly. Even the Decepticons respected him, which spoke a lot. Though that didn’t stop them from trying to kill him or calling him weak-sparked.

No one argued.

Thank Primus.

“Good,” Optimus said. “Now if there aren’t any further matters to discuss, we can consider this meeting adjourned.”

No one brought up anything further. Metalhawk and his subordinate did not look the least bit cowed or defeated, but they didn’t revel in victory either. Metalhawk grudgingly rose from his chair, his second beside him, and the two strode from the room, leaving Autobots and Decepticons behind.

In their absence, Starscream growled and jerked up from his stool, pacing back and forth. His wings hiked upward, also betraying his agitation.

“I do not like that mech,” he hissed.

Ultra Magnus set down his datapad with a defining click. “For once, Starscream, I am in agreement with you. And I never thought I’d ever hear myself say that.”

The ache in Optimus’ helm continued to build. Lack of recharge, Ratchet would probably call it. The perils of leadership, Optimus would retort.

“He is determined to make every step of this process as difficult as possible,” Starscream continued with a broad gesture. His pedes clipped louder across the floor. “Are you sure we can’t just boot him off and be done with him?”

“He would only return,” Optimus replied with a heavy sigh. “And he is right in that there are more Neutrals than any other faction. If we were to evict Metalhawk, I am quite certain he would return with an army.”

It didn’t matter that the Neutrals were not as skilled at war as the Autobots and Decepticons. They had the sheer advantage of numbers, outnumbering the Autobots and Deepticons combined nearly four to one. While the Neutrals had fled and hid, their numbers stabilized. Unlike the warring factions, whose numbers dwindled steadily with each passing decade.

“It was a rhetorical question anyway,” Starscream snipped.

How on Cybertron did Grimlock put up with that? Or maybe Optimus didn’t want to know.

“Was there anything you two felt we needed to discuss without Metalhawk’s presence?” Optimus asked, though he looked, also, to Ultra Magnus for guidance.

Starscream shook his helm. Grimlock sat up on his stool. He had a habit of barely speaking in these command meetings. Whether because he wanted Metalhawk to believe him a dumb brute or he trusted Starscream, Optimus didn’t know. Another mystery. Sometimes, he wondered if he ever knew Grimlock at all.

“No.” Starscream glanced at Soundwave. “If we did, I’d just bring it up to Soundwave. He seems to be making it a habit of becoming a go-between.”

Oh? This was news to Optimus. He cycled his optics and looked at the mech who had become both his shadow and his assistant.

Soundwave inclined his helm. “Diplomacy a habit,” he said.

Starscream laughed. “Sure. Let’s call it that. A habit.” He leaned forward on the table, hands flat against the top of it.

They stared at each other.

“Am I missing something?” Optimus asked.

“Nope,” Starscream chirped and winked an optic. “Not at all. Just a little joke between former friends.” He pushed himself off the table and whirled away, striding toward the door. “Now, I have work to do and I’m sure you do, too. So off I go.” He flicked his fingers over his shoulders in what Optimus assumed was a parting gesture.

“Call me if something important comes up,” Starscream said as the door slid shut behind him.

Optimus sighed and shifted his gaze to Grimlock. “Shouldn’t you go after him?”

“Does he need a babysitter?” Grimlock asked, thankfully dropping the mask he had put on for Metalhawk.

“He’s Starscream. He needs a leash,” Ultra Magnus muttered.

Optimus cycled his optics. He stared at his second in command, who seemed to realize that he’d spoken aloud and perhaps hadn’t meant to because his faceplate colored. He hastily gathered up his datapads and rose to his pedes.

“I meant,” Ultra Magnus said with an askance look at Grimlock, “that he has a history of making poor choices.”

The light behind Grimlock’s visor flattened. “Starscream is my second,” he said in a slow, measured tone. “If I didn’t trust him, he wouldn’t occupy that position.”

“My apologies.” Ultra Magnus dipped his helm, visibly and honestly contrite. “I didn’t intend to imply otherwise.” His gaze shifted to Optimus. “Prime, if you’ll excuse me.”

It was the closest thing to fleeing a room Optimus had ever seen Ultra Magnus do. Granted, it was probably equal parts embarrassment and irritation. Magnus did not like being called out. But he hated even more losing control.

Grimlock chuckled and chose to leave as well. “Your second is interesting, Optimus,” he said with a glint to his visor that suggested he was more than a little amused. “Your other one suits you better.”

Optimus raised an orbital ridge. “I think Jazz would argue with you on that one.”

“I wasn’t talking about your spy.” Grimlock laughed again, but he left before Optimus could form a response to that.

What was with everyone and being mysterious today?

Optimus sighed and rubbed his forehelm. Soundwave shifted beside him, pulling out a datapad and flicking through the information on it. Optimus, honestly, still wasn’t sure what Soundwave did when he wasn’t following Optimus around. Starscream’s words struck a chord with him.

“Have you made yourself into a negotiator?” Optimus asked.

“Definition varies,” Soundwave answered without looking up, most of his attention focused on the work in front of him. “Soundwave, trusted by Starscream. Respected by Metalhawk.” He paused and lifted his gaze. “Friend of Optimus Prime?”

Optimus smiled behind his mask. “Yes, I think that is a fair assumption. But why was Starscream so bothered by it?”

Soundwave hesitated. His systems audibly reset, and he cycled a long ventilation. He shifted position on the chair, hydraulics creaking.

“Our interaction complicated,” he admitted. He drummed his fingers on the edge of the datapad. “Starscream, observant. Implications many. All personal.”

“I see.”

Decepticon politics had always been far more convoluted than Autobot politics. Optimus did not even pretend to understand them. So long as it did not affect the truce, he would not delve too deeply.

“Further work today?” Soundwave asked.

Optimus shook his helm. It was getting late and he’d hit the ground running from the moment he onlined this morning. He would have never guessed how much busier a time of relative peace would be compared to war. In many ways, the endless battle was simpler.

Ratchet had also told him, in no uncertain terms, that if he didn’t get an appropriate amount of rest, Ratchet would relieve him of duty. So long as Ultra Magnus and Jazz supported him, Optimus would have to comply. He could think of little more loathsome at the moment. Long hours of rest and quiet would allow his mind to wander to places he did not want to venture.

Optimus would heed his medical officer’s advice. Perhaps in doing so, he might set an example for the rest of his subordinates as well. There were many who needed to rest and recover.

“No. I believe I will retire for the evening.” Fatigue gnawed at his backstrut, his knees, his entire frame.

He was fully healed, but for some reason, Optimus couldn’t shake this endless exhaustion. Not even the lack of recharge made sense. He had, at times, gotten much less during the war. Yet, a prevailing fog of weariness had eclipsed him.

“You are more than welcome to do so yourself,” Optimus added. He pushed to his pedes and stretched his arms over his helm to ease the kink in his backstrut. “You work as hard as anyone, Soundwave.”

The communications mech ducked his helm. Were he anyone else, Optimus would accuse him of being modest, almost embarrassed.

“Hard work familiar,” Soundwave replied as he shifted in his chair, his vents loosing a small cough. “Offer noted, however.”

“Good.” Optimus gathered up his own work, an uncomfortably large amount of datapads, and shoved them into his subspace. “Recharge well, Soundwave,” he said as he made his way to the door.

“Pleasant dreams, Optimus.”

It was an exchange that Optimus dared call normal. And with the former third in command of the Decepticon army no less.

Would wonders never cease?

0o0o0

Bumblebee ached. Exhaustion tugged at every cable and strut. How was it that peace-time drained him more than war? He felt he could recharge for a week, save that he knew he would have to get up tomorrow and do it all over again.

There was far too much work for far too few hands. Autobots were outnumbered by the Decepticons. As more Neutrals arrived, it wouldn’t be long before they outnumbered both Bots and Cons, too. By the numbers, the Autobots had come out the worst by the end.

The reports were sobering. Bumblebee hadn’t realized how many Autobots Megatron had killed before they ever reached the surface. Most, he’d chosen to destroy mid-air. He hadn’t bothered to see if they were worth using. He’d had them targeted and killed without a second thought.

Most hadn’t sent identifiers. They would probably never know all the designations of the Autobots Megatron had murdered. Then again, the missing list was staggering.

“Here.”

Bumblebee groaned as he forced himself to lift a hand and accept the cube Rumble offered. It was a light mid-grade and judging by the scent, subtly flavored. Rumble had never forgotten, apparently, Bee’s favorite accents.

“Thanks,” Bumblebee murmured as he curled his fingers around the cube. His energy levels weren’t terrible. He didn’t really need the cube.

Walking around with a full tank was a luxury. It was one of the few they had right now. He could top himself off without feeling guilty. Energon was the one thing they did not have in short supply, even if Megatron had to raze Earth to make that possible.

Bumblebee looked at the glittering pink energon, and all he could see was the blood of the humans in it. His tanks churned. He wondered if Spike and Sparkplug and Carly and Chip had made it out all right.

Megatron had probably aimed for them first.

Rumble sat down beside him with a wince and a slow ex-vent. He ached as much as Bumblebee did. For every task that Bumblebee attended this week, Rumble had been right beside him, offering to help without hesitation.

“Primus,” Rumble said as he stretched out his legs. “Who woulda guessed that Blaster’d be a worst taskmaster than the boss?”

Bumblebee’s lips curled toward a smile. “He’s passionate.”

Today, he and Rumble had volunteered to help Blaster and his cassettes repair and reboot their communication systems. The more Autobots who returned to Cybertron the better. But the only way to contact them was to get a better communications array because their current one was slag and didn’t transmit any further than a dozen miles from Cybertron’s surface. They needed to transmit across galaxies.

Rumble was the actual technician. Bumblebee had made himself the official retriever of needed tools and extra pair of hands. Sadly, the war had not given him much practical skills beyond sneaking, spying, and killing.

By comparison, the Decepticons seemed more civilized.

Rumble sipped at his cube. “Yeah, I mean, I get it. We need to get that array up. But mech, I am aching.” He rubbed at his opposite shoulder, fingers digging up under an armor panel.

Bee chuckled and rolled his neck. His own cables were kinking up.

He glanced at Rumble. They were sitting close, not enough that they touched, but enough to be in each other’s space. He could feel the outer edges of Rumble’s field, politely held close to his frame. Rumble hadn’t pushed for anything. He was content to let Bumblebee set the pace.

He looked back at his cube before pulling a sealer from his thigh compartment and slapping it over the top. He would drink it later.

“Not hungry?”

Hungry. A human term. They’d spent so long there.

Bumblebee shook his helm and stowed the cube into his subspace. “I’m fueled enough,” he said and draped his arms over his pulled up knees. He looked over at Rumble. “On Earth… how much warning did the humans have?”

Rumble froze. What little Bee could sense of his field flattened. His fingers flexed around his cube and then he slumped.

“Not much,” he admitted, and scraped his free hand down his face. “We had their leaders locked, thanks to Bombshell. He kept ’em tractable while Megatron waited to blindside the Autobots on Cybertron.” Another sigh slipped free. “Once we had you contained, Megatron went back to Earth and just set the Seekers free.”

“On everything?”

Rumble shook his helm. “No. He had them avoid the power plants and energy farms and nuclear reactors. Places we could modify for our use. The less populated areas were ignored, too. But anyone in a big city or close to a military installation was gone in the first few hours.”

The queasiness returned. Bumblebee was glad he’d chosen not to drink the energon. His shoulders slumped as he stared out at the glimmer of starlight on Polyhex, and the flickering multitude of streetlights, interspersed with the occasional headlight. Finding a sun for a stable orbit was one of their priorities.

“You thinkin’ about your human friends?” Rumble asked.

Bumblebee didn’t dare allow himself to hope. “Do you know anything about them?”

Rumble sighed. “No,” he said, and then added, “Sorry.”

“It wasn’t your fault.” Bumblebee cycled a ventilation. They’d all done things to survive. Sometimes, that even meant following a vicious tyrant like Megatron.

After all, the Decepticons were the ones who had found their victory. Technically, they were the winning team.

“If I had never left, I might have joined the Autobots with you,” Rumble said.

Bumblebee looked at him, taking in the contours of Rumble’s face and frame. He was a curious mix of familiarity and stranger. His paint scheme was the same, but he was smaller than Bee remembered, perhaps due to the fact he’d downsized to fit into Soundwave’s dock. He’d also been modified extensively, with upgraded weapons and heavier armor, everything needed to survive a planet-wide civil war.

But his face was familiar. He’d changed nothing about it.

How many times had they lain together, recharging or chatting, and Bumblebee had looked into his visor and asked himself how lucky he was?

“If we’d never argued, I might have joined the Decepticons with you,” Bumblebee said. “Frag, I might have become one of Soundwave’s cassettes.”

Rumble outright laughed and leaned toward him, bumping their shoulders together. “Sorry. But ya don’t have the right spark for it, Bee. It’s not about size, it’s about culture, remember? Me’n Frenzy were always searching for a host spark.”

Yeah. Bumblebee remembered. That had been the catalyst of one of their frequent fights. Bumblebee had not liked Frenzy and Rumble’s first or second choice for host.

He wished he’d been there when they met Soundwave. Bumblebee wasn’t that familiar with Soundwave now, but from what he’d observed over the course of the war, Soundwave wasn’t a bad mech. He treated his cassettes well, and Rumble and Frenzy obviously loved him.

“Are you going to stay with Soundwave?” Bee asked.

Rumble rolled his shoulders. “There aren’t many choices left for us. I mean, I could upframe again, me and Frenzy both. But you know what that means if we do.”

Yes, he did.

“And I made you a promise,” he added.

Bumblebee reached for Rumble’s free hand, relieved when his former lover allowed their fingers to tangle together. Primus, he’d missed Rumble so much for so long. He’d buried it deep and pushed it down and reminded himself only of the terrible times to make it easier. But he’d never forgotten all of the good times.

“You did,” Bumblebee replied. He leaned in and lay his helm on Rumble’s shoulder. It was a bit of an awkward fit now that Rumble was smaller than him, but he enjoyed the way their field edges crackled and slid together.

“Does that mean ya forgive me?”

“Honestly, we’re both to blame,” Bumblebee replied. “But right now, I need one less thing to worry about, and I want to stop pretending I haven’t been dreaming about this, right here, for the entirety of the war.”

Rumble’s field rippled with relief and happiness. “Ya want to try again?” he asked with a tight squeeze to Bumblebee’s hand.

“Yeah. If you want to.”

“I do.” Rumble’s helm tilted, resting against Bumblebee’s.

“It’s not going to be the same, you know,” Bumblebee murmured as he listened to the unfamiliar sounds of Rumble’s frame. His ventilations, his hydraulics, all of it was different.

The only familiar song was the pulse of Rumble’s spark.

“We’re different. We’ve changed,” Bumblebee continued. His spark throbbed heavily. He knew he had changed from the sharp-tongued but cheerful mech he’d been when they met. “We may not even like each other anymore.”

“Maybe,” Rumble agreed. “But we’ll never know if we don’t try, right?”

Bumblebee’s lips curved upward. “When did you become the optimistic one?”

“I’m trying something new.”

Bee laughed, unable to help himself. Trying something new, hm? Maybe Rumble had the right idea.

o0o0o

There weren’t many mecha who could sneak up on Hound. In fact, he was pretty sure that no one alive could do so. He had the most finely tuned sensors of anyone he had ever met. It was why Mirage could never hide from him.

As such, Hound could always find Ravage, and always knew when she was nearby.

A smile curled his lips as listened. In the dark, with only the light of the stars and his biolights to brighten the landscape around him, Hound heard nothing. But he knew he wasn’t alone. His sensors told him so.

Still, he pretended. He gazed up into the night sky, the one thing about Earth that hadn’t changed, and waited until Ravage got within a few steps of him.

“Miss me?” he asked.

There was a playful nudge to his back before Ravage slinked around his right side, her sleek curves gliding against his arm. “Someday I will learn to get around those sensors of yours,” she said, her optics a barely noticeable glow.

“Let me have my one defense again you, sweetspark,” Hound replied with a warm grin.

Ravage scoffed and draped herself over his lap, her frame purring, her field a welcome push against his own. “I was trained to be the best. I won’t rest until I am.”

Hound rested a hand on her back, feeling the pulse of her spark through the layers of her battle armor. “You never answered my question.”

Ravage arched her spine, head swiveling up to look at him, optics half-shuttered. “Miss is not an accurate term. I am unused to sleeping alone.”

“You could have cuddled with Trailbreaker.”

She made a face, and Hound laughed.

“While your friend is charming, he is not the mech I wish to share a berth with.” Ravage pushed to her feet again, whirling around in the blink of an optic and rising up, her forepaws landing on his chestplate. “Or haven’t I made myself clear?”

One push and Hound tipped backward. His pose made it so he could have remained upright, but he didn’t want to. So he fell back and allowed Ravage to sprawl on his chestplate, warm and enticing.

“Mmm, now this is familiar. I approve,” Ravage purred. Her field slid against his, pulsing with affection and yes, lust.

Two days of freely sharing affection was not enough, apparently. Then again, Hound was reveling in the fact they no longer had to hide their relationship.

Her forepaws crossed, neatly concealing his Autobot badge.

“I’m sure you do,” Hound murmured. Both hands stroked down her spinal strut and caused her to arch into his touches. His engine purred, vibrating up into her frame. “But fair is fair, and we can’t have Trailbreaker take watch every night so we can canoodle.”

Ravage blinked at him and burst into laughter. “Canoodle?” she repeated, her audials raised in amusement. “You’ve been spending too much time in Mirage’s company. Where did you pick up such a word?”

“I read!” Hound retorted, but his hackles didn’t last long. He knew Ravage was only teasing him. He stroked a hand down her back again, feeling the tangible shift of plating beneath his fingertips. He could feel the heat beneath her armor, the weight of a repressed need.

His hand drifted further down, toward her aft, but her claws kneaded against his chestplate. A warning growl rose in her chassis.

“Hound.”

His hand returned to her mid spinal strut, fingers sliding into seams and stroking the tense cables beneath.

“I don’t know why you are so resistant,” he said. “I want to do this for you.”

Ravage rested her helm on her paws and started at him, her field stroking against his with affection and comfort. “I am not some beast who needs completion or I’ll go feral. I can wait until I can return the favor.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I know.” She sniffed as if offended. “But I want to make it clear to you. I can wait. And I will continue to wait. I don’t need physical gratification to survive.”

Hound’s lips twitched toward a smile. “Very well. As you insist.” He flexed his field against hers, letting her sense his apology, before he replaced it with affection. “Thank you for coming to alleviate my loneliness.”

“You know me. Self-sacrificing to the end.”

Hound laughed and let it drift into silence. Ravage nestled in closer, making herself quite comfortable. Her frame continued to purr, her spark pulsing strong enough that Hound could feel it through their armor.

Hound listened to Ravage’s vents as they cycled steadily before he ventured his question into the quiet night. “Have you decided?”

Ravage stirred, obviously already slipping back toward recharge. “Hm?”

“If you’re going to stay with Soundwave,” Hound clarified, his spark pulsing in his chamber. He wanted to know the answer, and he dreaded it as well.

“Oh.” Ravage paused, her eyes slitting open as she arched her spinal strut and looked down at him. “Yes, I am. For now. Until you’re ready.”

Hound cycled his optics. “Ready?”

Ravage nodded. “To consider bonding.”

He stared at her. He reset his audials, because he wasn’t sure he heard her correctly. “You… you would have me?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

Hound pressed his lips together before he answered with words he couldn’t take back. He didn’t want to talk about all the ways he was damaged and broken and unrepairable, no matter that Ratchet had given him clearance.

He didn’t want to talk about how he might never want to face again. Or how much the idea of anyone touching his equipment repulsed him. As much as he loved Ravage, he couldn’t even handle her glossa on him. The idea of baring himself sent him into waves of panic.

Touch meant pain. His valve meant pain. His spike, now that it was replaced, meant pain. Interface meant pain.

In his short of time in custody of the Coneheads, Hound had learned that lesson.

He couldn’t seem to shake it free. It was as if they’d managed to somehow rewrite his coding. He didn’t know if he was repairable.

Hound couldn’t condemn Ravage to a lifetime of celibacy. Not if she refused to accept his touches in return.

Oddly enough, he had no problems touching her. He had no problems giving her pleasure or cuddling with her and feeling the lust in her field. But the minute her attention turned toward his own equipment, he balked.

He didn’t know if that would ever change.

“Hound.”

His gaze slid toward her, his frame stilling under her intent gaze.

“I love you,” Ravage said. “I loved you even when you became an Autobot. I have waited for you since before this foolish war began. I will continue to wait for however long it takes.”

His spark throbbed. His fingers pressed harder against her back, almost squeezing her against his chassis. “I do not deserve you,” he said as he shuttered his optics and tilted on his side, curling around her.

Her glossa nipped at the bottom of his jaw. “Well, fortunately for you, that is not your decision to make. Unless, of course, you’ve decided you no longer hold any affection for me.”

“No!” His optics snapped online, though her field pulsed with affectionate amusement. “That’s far from the case, Rav. I just don’t want to burden you.”

She hummed and stretched her frame, sliding it along his. “What are partners for it not to ease the burdens of one another? Now you hush. It is my turn to recharge.”

“I am supposed to be on watch you know.”

Ravage shuttered her optics, putting her head up under his. “There’s nothing around for miles. I’d know if there were. There’s nothing to watch for.”

“I’m still not going to recharge.”

Her paw flexed against his chestplate. “Suit yourself.” Her power plant slowed into idle, her paw remaining hooked on an armor plate.

She was honestly going into recharge.

Hound chuckled to himself and wrapped his arm a little tighter around her. A quick sweep of his scanners found Trailbreaker nearby, still snoozing away. Their bodyguard, so to speak, or just another comforting presence for Hound who was recovering but hadn’t wanted to do so on Cybertron.

He wanted to be on Earth instead, as ravaged and painful as it was. He still hoped to find the humans. He still hoped some had survived. They deserved to have their planet back.

For now, though, he would settle for cuddling with his partner, and staying online until the end of his shift, watching the stars to keep himself awake.

0o0o0

Frenzy was not often left alone.

If not Soundwave, then he always had Rumble, or one of his other siblings. But now he found himself in the unusual position of being alone.

Ravage was off on Earth with her one true love, and Buzzsaw was with the boss, and Laserbeak was cozying up with Optimus Prime, and Rumble was with his one true love, and they had requested some alone time.

Frenzy, who had been tasked with keeping an optic on his twin in case things with Bee went sour, was left all by his lonesome.

Frag if he knew what to do with himself.

So he wandered around Polyhex, pretty fragging glad that he’d scrubbed off his Decepticon badge. No one gave him more than a second glance. They probably thought he was one of Blaster’s cassettes. Stupid Autobots. Thinking all cassettes looked alike.

To be fair, Frenzy did look like his brother. But he didn’t look anything like Blaster’s cassettes.

For one, he was actually armed. And he had armor. And he was trained. Blaster’s cassettes were practically sparklings. They were useless. All cheerful and full of stupid facts.

Che.

Bored, Frenzy wandered into Autobot headquarters and continued wandering. Should he call it Autobot headquarters or just headquarters? The boss hadn’t started wearing the badge yet, but he hadn’t said they were Neutral either. Neutral meant they’d have to go live with Metalhawk in Nova Cronum.

Like frag.

Frenzy might not be a Decepticon anymore, but he slag sure wasn’t going to be a Neutral. He had too much pride for that.

He passed the conference room, but it was empty. The meeting about the space bridge must be over then. He checked the bond and found Soundwave had retreated to their new quarters down the hall from Optimus. He sent a querying ping, but Frenzy waved him off.

No need to worry, boss. All’s well. Your kiddies are all off cuddling and it’s just Frenzy, wandering around headquarters alone.

Soundwave returned with a pulse of affection and a warning to be careful. He was getting ready to recharge and had ‘Beak and ‘Saw with him. Good.

Rumble and Bee were still cuddling after a hard day’s work with Blaster. Seriously, mech was more of a taskmaster than Soundwave ever was. Ravage was too far to get more of a faint sense of her across the bond. Frenzy could tell she was happy and content, but that was it.

Happy and content were good enough for him.

Frenzy wandered past the medbay, but all was quiet. He knew the Autobots’ own twins were in there, left in a messed up state by Shockwave. Frenzy shuddered. He didn’t know what Shockwave did, but he was glad Soundwave made sure he and Rumble stayed out of old one optic’s greedy hand.

Jazz was on duty in the command center when Frenzy took a peek. While Jazz was fun to rile on a good day, the way he paced back and forth in there suggested today was not that day. Best to keep his distance.

Frenzy wasn’t ready for recharge so he wandered back out of headquarters and paused on the main steps, pondering where to go next.

That was when something splattered against the side of his helm. What the frag?

“You look lost, Decepticon!”

Frenzy rubbed at his helm, coming away with a splatter of paint. The Pit? He looked up, searching the exterior of the building until he caught a small mech on top of the entrance overhang.

Not just a small mech. A cassette. One of Blaster’s.

“Look again, Autobot!” he shouted, and shoved a thumb toward his empty chestplate. “Or maybe your optics ain’t workin’, cause I’m not a Decepticon.”

“Could have fooled me!” the cassette yelled and bounced something in his hand, something brightly colored.

A balloon?

Frenzy planted his hands on his hips. “Why don’t ya come down here and talk, Autobrat? Or are ya scared?”

Laughter echoed through the air. The mech juggled the bright ball again, and then chucked it downward at Frenzy, who covered his helm and dodged. He wasn’t taking any chances.

The ball splatted on the ground a few feet from his pedes, splashing purple goo in all directions. So. It was paint after all.

Frenzy scowled and glared back at the overhang, but the cassette was gone. Where…? He spun, searching all around him, but not fast enough to avoid another splash of color to his right shoulder panel.

“Hey!” he shouted as he stared at the green spot on his arm. “That crap doesn’t come off easy, ya know.”

“I know.” There was another chuckle, closer this time, and the sound of pedesteps as the other cassette stepped into view, spinning three more colored balls in his fingers. “That’s part of the fun.”

Frenzy glared in the mech’s direction. He was blue and white, and Frenzy was sure he was Blaster’s, but he couldn’t remember the Autobrat’s name.

“Fun?” Frenzy repeated.

The Autobrat grinned and tilted his helm. “You’ve been wandering around Polyhex like you’re lost or something. Thought you could use a distraction since your brother is nomming all over Bee.”

“And this is how ya decided to introduce yourself?”

The Autobrat tossed a ball his direction and Frenzy caught it, giving the rubbery sphere a light squeeze. It had give to it and the contents sloshed around.

“I’m Eject,” he said with a wink. “You’re Frenzy. There. Now you know. So do you wanna play a game or would you rather stay bored?”

Frenzy spun the ball off the tip of his finger. “You tryin’ to be nice or somethin’, kid?”

Eject snorted. “I’m older than you are, Decepti-dork.” He smirked and juggled his two paint balls. “Make up your mind. Clock’s ticking. We just hit the two minute warning.”

Well, Frenzy thought as he eyed Eject and the potential for causing mayhem to his paintjob, it was better than wandering around Polyhex.

Besides, the boss said they were supposed to be making nice with the Autobots.

This’d be a good place to start.

[TFP] Entitled

“This thing’s a heap of scrap.”

Breakdown grabbed hold of the crumpled bay door and ripped it from the hinges, tossing the mangled panel of metal over his shoulder.

“I’d be surprised if anything survived,” he added, peering into the dark of the battered spacecraft, dimly lit by emergency lights.

Breakdown had a point. The spacecraft hadn’t survived atmospheric entry, bits and pieces of it breaking off and landing all over the area. It was still smoking; the air stank heavily of scorched metal and also, scorched organic material as it had created quite the landing zone. The humans would be here soon enough to investigate, which would draw the Autobots as well.

Megatron planned to be gone long before then.

He turned toward Soundwave.

His third in command inclined his helm, sensors performing a quick sweep, the results of which showed on his faceplate. One life sign, weak but holding steady. A survivor.

“Someone is inside,” Megatron said.

Breakdown shrugged, hefting up his hammer arm. “Must be a Pit of a mech.”

Megatron took it upon himself to enter first. Soundwave brought up the rear, disengaging Laserbeak to scout the area and warn them in advance of arriving Autobots. It wouldn’t take long for Prime to notice the crashing of a Cybertronian spacecraft, even if it was Decepticon in origin.

The spacecraft looked no better inside than it did on the outside. Energy scores on the walls, ceiling, and floors were testament to a furious battle at some point. Hallways were dark, some blocked off completely. The whole craft stank of isolation and abandonment. Even if it hadn’t crashed, Megatron suspected that it did not utilize much, if any of its lighting or atmospheric controls.

They passed a few empty rooms, the silence broken only by the barely perceptible noise of Soundwave’s constant scanning. The craft was deserted, without even the empty frames of offline mechs who might have made the shuttle their home.

They found the pilot on the bridge, a cramped area with only two large chairs and a compact console. Emergency lights glowed weakly, all of the monitors dark and lifeless. The viewing screen had crumpled, one of the spiked protrusions of the ship curving back from the force of the crash and splintering the thick glass.

The mech himself was slumped in the pilot’s seat, hands fallen from the controls though one cable remained connected to the console. He was pinned to the chair by a thick piece of metal, energon dribbling around the wound and pooling on the floor with a quiet drip.

Breakdown made a whistling noise. “He survived that? The thing’s microns from his spark chamber!”

Megatron made a noncommittal noise and circled to the left of the unidentified mech, optics narrowing.

This was no Decepticon.

Golden armor, a warrior’s sleek build, sharp talons meant to gouge and rend. Some kind of energy blade strapped to his back. And slapped on his shoulders were the bright red decals of an Autobot.

Megatron snarled, lipplates pulled back over his denta.

Soundwave sent him a file in a databurst, for identification, but Megatron hadn’t needed it. He would know this mech even if a thousand vorns had passed.

Megatron had a list, a string of designations in the forefront of his processor of mechs and femmes that he had vowed to personally offline. Optimus Prime – Orion Pax – was at the top of this list. There were also several traitors, pompous mechs of high standing, and a couple of defectors who had made him look like a fool.

Sunstreaker was one of those defectors.

“He’s not a Decepticon,” Breakdown said, lifting one of Sunstreaker’s arms and letting it fall, hitting the side of the chair with a dull clang.

“Not anymore,” Megatron replied, spark swirling with fury.

Breakdown looked up at him, single optic dim with confusion. “Ya know him?”

“We’ve been acquainted.” Megatron turned away from the battered frame of the former gladiator, his processor spinning with thoughts. Plans. Ideas. “Bring him along, Breakdown. We should show him the hospitality of the Decepticons.”

“Yes, sir.” Breakdown sounded more than a little gleeful.

Megatron approved.

He would make Sunstreaker suffer. Would tear him to pieces. Slowly. Methodically. Spill energon from the traitor drop by precious drop. Rip out every circuit. Pull off every armor panel. Sunstreaker would die slowly, every last second filled with agony.

The screech of metal against metal echoed in the bridge as Breakdown yanked Sunstreaker free from the pilot’s chair without an ounce of gentleness. If Sunstreaker had been online, the pain would have been excruciating. Pity he wasn’t aware enough to appreciate it.

Soundwave walked alongside Megatron and he knew, without having to ask, that his third in command had many questions.

“The Autobots don’t know he’s here,” Megatron said. “Let’s keep it that way, shall we?”

Soundwave nodded, his facescreen flickering before he began to replay a voice clip. Of Megatron’s own words at that.

“Death will be given to anyone who betrays the Decepticon cause.”

Megatron chuckled darkly. “All in due time, Soundwave. He had potential once. He may still be of some use to us.”

And if not, Megatron would dispose of the traitor personally. Just as he intended to do to Optimus Prime.

~

Sunstreaker onlined to pain. Systems errors streaked across his HUD, letting him know that he was low on energon and coolant, with critical errors stacking up in his processor.

He onlined his optics, rebooted them twice, but the dark remained. He ran diagnostics. They worked, but wherever he was, there was no light. Which meant he wasn’t on the Nightwing anymore. Even after a crash like that, he’d still have reserves or emergency power to draw from.

His ventilations were ragged. He could feel himself spraying fluids with each ex-vent out. Not good. Pain radiated from his helm to his pedes. A strut in his leg was shattered. He couldn’t put much weight on it. Frag.

He was standing.

Sunstreaker twitched, heard the rattling of chains. He jerked his wrists, but they were pinned to the wall above his helm with less than a foot of slack. His pedes were given a similar treatment. He couldn’t move, couldn’t see.

What happened?

He remembered roaming the universe, trying to find signs of any Cybertronians. It had been so long he’d even settle for a Decepticon, if only to end the perpetual monotony.

He couldn’t find the Ark, couldn’t find the Autobots, and most of all, he couldn’t find Sideswipe.

And then?

Sunstreaker groaned, thoughts bouncing messily inside his processor. It was hard to concentrate, hard to connect one line to another. What was wrong with him? Battle damage?

He gritted his denta.

Wandering the universe. And then?

The wormhole. He remembered that. It grabbed the Nightwing, dragged him in, and Sunstreaker didn’t have the talent needed to pilot himself free. The wormhole spat him out somewhere his navs couldn’t immediately identify. Then there was an asteroid or something. It clipped his hull.

He lost an engine.

It became a blur after that.

He remembered hurtling without control. Remembered seeing a planet or two, and then another one, bright in the darkness. He remembered thinking that he was never going to survive planet-fall. There was heat and then… darkness. Here. Wherever here was.

A ping to his fuel tank finally came back. Seventeen percent, barely above minimum. No surprise there. He hadn’t had much to begin with, and if the state of his frame was an indication, he’d been leaking for some time.

He tried to access his comm. Nothing. Either it was broken or had been removed. Judging by his chains, Sunstreaker suspected it was the latter. Not that it mattered. He had no one to contact.

The silence in his spark was even more telling.

Where was he? Surely not among Autobots. Soft-sparked mechs they were, they would have put him in some brightly-lit medbay, attached to monitoring systems, with a medic hovering nearby.

He checked his chronometer. It didn’t help. He had no frame of reference.

Somewhere, in the distance, a door slid open with a hydraulic hiss. Sunstreaker’s helm snapped up, optics swiveling in the direction of the sound.

He heard pedesteps and felt the distant edges of a powerful energy field. Small lights popped on, piercing the gloom.

A tall, spiky frame came into view. Crimson optics set against gunmetal grey plating. A large cannon was strapped to his right forearm.

Megatron.

Sunstreaker stilled.

Any Cybertronian contact would have been preferable to this.

“Are you enjoying your accommodations?” Megatron asked, his voice a fakely pleasant hiss in the heavy silence.

A growl crawled it’s way out of Sunsteaker’s vocalizer. “Eat slag!”

Megatron chuckled, though it lacked amusement. “As polite as ever I see.”

“What do you want, Megatron?”

The Decepticon lord tilted his helm, optics burning brighter. “Considering what happened on our last encounter, it should be fairly obvious.”

His unwavering stare sent a ripple of unease through Sunstreaker’s spark. There was something in Megatron’s gaze, some dark fury, that Sunstreaker had no desire to experience.

Sunstreaker snarled, trying to swallow down rising disquiet. “I should have ripped out your spark when I had the chance.”

Megatron’s talons curled into fists with a quiet creak of tightened hydraulic lines. “Such a mistake won’t be made again, rest assured. Enjoy your stay.”

He said nothing more, turning on a pede and striding from the cell. As he left, so did all of the lights, leaving Sunstreaker trapped in dim and silence.

Except for the drip. The steady drip of his energon trickling from his lines, over his plating, and on to the floor.

~

Knock Out stared into the mirror, watching the unsightly mark on his thigh armor fade away as he rubbed the cloth in careful circles. Over and over, making the plating gleam. The rich silver glistened in the wake of the polish.

His engine gave a little rev of appreciation. Yes, indeed.

Heat pulsed a slow path across his circuits. Knock Out’s lips curled into a smirk, talons of one hand lazily exploring the gap in his pelvic plating. Tracing around the edge of his interface panel. A shiver danced down his backstrut.

His door slid open, Breakdown bursting inside without so much as a request or invitation.
“Knock Out!”

He snarled, grabbing the nearest object that wasn’t tied down, and whirled, hurling it at his so-called partner.

Breakdown ducked, the tin of wax hitting the wall above his head and leaving a dent behind, one to match several others already present.

“Oaf!” Knock Out seethed, all effort made toward arousal swiftly abandoned. “What the frag do you want!”

“Nice to see you, too,” Breakdown said sourly, and invited himself to flop down on Knock Out’s berth. “Aren’t you at all curious about what we found?”

“Found?” He turned back toward the mirror, plating lifted out of irritation. He wasn’t done inspecting himself.

“On the Decepticon shuttle.”

Oh, yes. Knock Out seemed to recall something about Soundwave detecting an incoming spacecraft and its subsequent crash. But as Megatron hadn’t called for Knock Out’s medical expertise, he assumed they’d found no survivors. It wasn’t important.

Was that a scratch on his right forearm?

Knock Out leaned closer to the mirror, optics cycling down. Where in the pit had that come from?

“Well, it wasn’t a Decepticon,” Breakdown continued, apparently needing no invitation. “It was an Autobot.”

Knock Out was having difficulty determining why he should care about this tidbit of information. If Breakdown wanted to gossip, he’d have better luck seeking out his sycophantic gaggle of vehicons.

“Did it survive?”

He did. Lord Megatron seemed to know him. He looked seriously fragged off.”

Scratch eradicated, Knock Out scrutinized himself in the mirror. Perfect. He turned back toward his assistant. “That’s hardly new. Lord Megatron is always torqued.”

“This one looked personal though. He usually reserves that kind of fury for Prime.”

Hmm. That was a bit curious. Still, whatever ground their leader’s gears was hardly Knock Out’s concern. So long as Lord Megatron wasn’t aiming his anger at Knock Out, he was content to live and let live.

“And you’re telling me this because…?”

Breakdown shrugged. “I was bored. Thought you would be, too.” He then smirked. “I pulled up the mech’s designation from the database. Former gladiator. Goes by Sunstreaker. Sound familiar to you?”

Knock Out’s gaze jerked sharply toward his assistant. “Gold paint?”

“Thought you’d recognize ‘im.” Breakdown leered and leaned forward, single optic blazing. “He’s down in the brig. Chained up. Helpless.”

The arousal returned. Knock Out ventilated sharply.

“Probably injured. In need of a medic,” Knock Out said with a sly look at his assistant. “It’s my duty to check on his welfare.”

Breakdown barked a laugh. “Yeah. Figured you might say that. Can I watch?”

“On a first date?” Knock Out flicked a hand at Breakdown. “Sir, I’ll have you know I’m a gentlemech.” He winked an optic and headed for the door. “But I’ll take a vid for you.”

~

Time passed.

His self-repair worked fervently. Leaks were patched up so he no longer bled energon everywhere. But his reserves were dry; he was down to thirteen percent.

Thoughts were hazy.

He’d tugged on his chains to no avail. They were strong and he was weak. It had to be more than the energon loss. Megatron must have done something to him. Or more likely, had his pet spy do it. Infected him with some kind of virus. Or sedation program. On top of the stasis cuffs.

Sunstreaker sagged.

He had one consolation. If Megatron was here, then Prime had to be somewhere nearby. If he even cared.

He’d care if it was Sideswipe.

Sunstreaker made a noise of derision.

It didn’t matter. He’d been in a Decepticon spacecraft. The Autobots wouldn’t have known him to be inside it.

There was no rescue.

He was on his own. But how was that any different from the usual? The Autobots seemed content to let him wreak havoc on his own, too.

A sound pierced the silence. Someone was coming. Megatron again?

Sunstreaker lifted his helm, staring as the lights flicked on. Not just emergency lights this time, but the whole cell lighting up. His optics cycled down at the sudden influx of brightness.

“Well, well. If it isn’t my favorite gladiator.”

That was definitely not Megatron.

A red and silver mech cut off the energy bars to the cell and stepped inside. He was smaller than Sunstreaker, and tires indicated a vehicle mode. Sunstreaker didn’t recognize him and couldn’t see a Decepticon symbol anywhere on the mech.

“Who the frag are you?” Sunstreaker demanded, entire frame tensing with unease. He was overly aware of his current vulnerability.

“There’s no need to be afraid, Sunstreaker,” the mech said, coming close enough that Sunstreaker’s olfactory sensor picked up the sweet scent of his expensive wax. “I’m a medic.”

His words were careful, soothing, but his tone was smarmy. Sunstreaker’s plating crawled.

“Hmm, this field patch looks like Breakdown’s work.” The self-proclaimed medic shook his helm, examining the half-sparked weld. “Sloppy as always.”

Sunstreaker jerked in his chains, not that it helped. He was thoroughly fastened to the wall, and he didn’t have the energy to spare. “You didn’t answer my question.”

The medic looked up at him, red optics gleaming with less than reassuring intent. “You’re hardly in a position to be making demands, Sunstreaker,” he all-but-purred. “But I am a mech of impeccable manners.”

He took a step back, gesturing grandly to his own expertly polished chassis. “I am Knock Out, Lord Megatron’s personal medic.”

“Never heard of you,” Sunstreaker said.

The mech didn’t so much as skip a pulse. “No, you wouldn’t have. I don’t have quite the same reputation as a mech of your stature.”

“What the frag do you want?”

Knock Out grinned, the lecherous look spreading across his facial features. “To take advantage of an opportunity that has presented itself. One that was stolen from me so many vorns ago.”

Sunstreaker’s optics spiraled down. “What?”

Knock Out moved closer. One hand pressed to Sunstreaker’s chassis, and a single taloned digit tapped over the coarse weld. “You once had the gall to deny me. Me. A member of Cybertron’s elite and you, a lowly gladiator. I never forgot that humiliation.”

Sunstreaker shuddered, each light tap causing a spark of pain to trickle across his sensornet. “So you’re going to what? Talk me to termination?”

Knock Out laughed, his talon dragging down with an audial-cringing shriek of metal on metal. “Not quite.”

Sunstreaker pressed against the wall, but there was nowhere to go. He glared down at the Decepticon. “Is that supposed to scare me?”

“I don’t want your fear.” Knock Out’s talon scraped through dried energon, making it fleck to the floor. His hand then splayed across Sunstreaker’s ventral plating, tapping a nonsense rhythm. “I want your humiliation. So let me tell you a story.”

Sunstreaker’s HUD flashed with warning. His energon levels reached a critical point. He would need to refuel soon or he’d slip into stasis lock. The last thing he wanted was to be offline around this glitch.

“I don’t want to hear it,” Sunstreaker growled, tugging at his bonds. They rattled, but didn’t budge, firmly latched to the wall.

Knock Out ignored him, pressing closer, but not enough for their plating to make contact. In fact, the only part of him that touched Sunstreaker was the one hand. Taloned fingers continued downward, ghosting over the armor at the apex of Sunstreaker’s thighs before finally cupping his pelvic array.

“Once upon an orn there was a gladiator named Spinout. And not a very good one either,” Knock Out said, his optics burning bright and crimson as he watched Sunstreaker, the sound of a high-performance engine revving loud in the silence. “He won a few battles, but he lost many, many more.”

Sunstreaker’s ventilations hitched. How had Knock Out known his previous designation? No one alive knew that designation anymore!

Knock Out grinned, cocking his helm to the side. “How many times did they get you on your knees? How many times did they pin you down and take you?”

His hand dipped lower, bypassing the panel concealing Sunstreaker’s spike and tapping the one over his port. “How many times did you need your valve replaced, I wonder?” Knock Out asked, tracing the rim of the valve over and over with the tip of his talon. “How many seals did they break?”

Sunstreaker’s tank rolled. “You’re sick!” he spat, dread curdling inside of him.

Those memories were vorns and a lifetime ago. He had no interest in dredging them up, and was certainly not going to confirm Knock Out’s accusations.

Knock Out ignored him, his voice growing eager and thick with arousal. His energy field pulsed with it, rising up and falling over Sunstreaker in a heavy wave.

“The last one,” Knock Out continued, cooling fans kicking on with a loud whirr. “Let’s see. His designation was Double Punch, I believe. He tore Spinout to pieces and still took the time to enjoy his reward.”

Knock Out paused, fingers searching. His optics lit up when he found the manual override, forcing Sunstreaker’s panel to slide aside with a click that was ominously loud in the quiet of the brig. Apparently, the self-proclaimed medic actually did have some medical training.

“I remember watching,” Knock Out said, one talon dipping slowly into Sunstreaker’s valve, as though taking care not to damage, but still interested in exploring. “Watching as Double Punch twisted Spinout’s remaining arm behind his back and pressed him to the ground, right into a puddle of his own spilled energon.”

Warnings flashed again. Sunstreaker ruthlessly overrode them, refusing to let himself fall offline. He could feel the weakness in his limbs, however, the way the majority of his systems refused to respond. He felt numb in most places.

But his valve felt as though it were on fire.

Knock Out’s digits were skilled, knowledgeable, finding and manipulating every sensor in Sunstreaker’s valve. Rubbing them just gently enough to trick Sunstreaker’s frame into thinking this was a good thing and producing a thin trickle of lubricant to ease the way.

Knock Out added a second digit, continuing his disturbing narrative.

“Double Punch didn’t bother with preparation. He just tore off Spinout’s panel, flinging it into the crowd. Crazy mechs they were, fought over it as a souvenir.” Knock Out chuckled, dark and sly. “Spinout was too far gone to even yelp when Double Punch thrust into him. As big as Double Punch was, I’m surprised Spinout survived.”

Three fingers pushed into Sunstreaker’s valve, activating sensors, gliding smoothly in and out thanks to the addition of lubrication. Sunstreaker groaned, trying to resist the steady coil of heat in his systems.

“But he did survive,” Knock Out purred, leaning closer, his energy field buzzing against Sunstreaker’s own weak ripple, pulsing with desire and satisfaction. “And the next time he showed up in the ring, he wasn’t Spinout anymore, he was Sunstreaker.”

Knock Out’s fingers stroked in and out, putting pressure on the anterior node, making Sunstreaker’s hips jerk as the pleasure sent a jolt through his systems. He seeped lubrication, felt it dribbling down his thighs, heard it drip to the floor. His ventilations were hot and heavy, his spike thumping at its panel.

“Sunstreaker was larger, faster, stronger, and he fought with a cruelty that completely belied his earlier matches as Spinout,” Knock Out said, almost conversational were it not for the subject matter. “He was beautiful, broken like everyone else, but beautiful. He won, again and again. Like he finally understood what he’d been built for. What he was worth.”

Energy levels dipped toward stasis. Sunstreaker hung his helm, unable to spare the effort to keep it up, his systems cycling higher and higher toward overload. How he had the energy to spare, he didn’t know.

“Glitch,” Sunstreaker gritted out, his hips lifting to meet each one of Knock Out’s thrusts. His frame, betraying him, eager for that overload dancing just out of reach. “I’m going to—nngh!” He arched as far as the chains would let him, Knock Out’s fingers pressing against a sensor node and sending a sharp burst of charge along it.

“That’s better,” Knock Out murmured. “There’s no need to fight it, Sunstreaker. This is, after all, what you were made to do.”

Sunstreaker groaned, ventilations sharp and staggered. He wanted to fight, hated that he was helpless. Knock Out’s voice echoed in his audials, hypnotizing him.

Knock Out continued, curling his digits, rubbing incessantly over Sunstreaker’s sensors, lubrication dribbling down his hand.

“You were made to serve. To submit. To entertain. So do it.” Knock Out leaned forward, licking a wet stripe up Sunstreaker’s right cheek. “Overload.”

Sunstreaker’s engine revved weakly, whining in the midst of overheat. Resistance shattered in the wake of his overload, his valve cinching down, tightening around Knock Out’s fingers, milking them.

He gritted his denta, locking down his vocalizer, refusing to give Knock Out the pleasure of hearing him shout. His frame betrayed him nonetheless, writhing against the wall, rattling the chains.

“Perfect,” Knock Out said, and the click of an interface hatch opening was too loud in the brig.

Sunstreaker rebooted his optics, looking down to find that Knock Out’s spike had pressurized, seeping a pale transfluid.

Knock Out pulled his fingers from Sunstreaker’s valve with a wet noise, lubricant glistening on his talons. He curled said fingers around his own spike, a visible shudder dancing over his plating.

A hands planted on Sunstreaker’s chestplate, inches from the poorly-welded wound. Knock Out braced himself on Sunstreaker, ex-venting heavily, his taloned fingers stroking his spike, slick with Sunstreaker’s own lubrication. Judging by the sound of his engine, the swamping nature of his energy field, the Decepticon was already close to his own overload.

“Next time,” Knock Out said, his vocals spitting static, “I’ll bring my energon prod.” His optics darkened to a rust red, digits drawing inward on Sunstreaker’s chestplate, scraping off thin curls off paint and metal.

“I’ll put you on your knees,” he added, his optics spiraling in and out, as though he wasn’t quite focused on the here and now but completely absorbed in his fantasy. “Where you belong.”

Sunstreaker growled, but it lacked force. He felt weak as he hung from the chains, memory core pinging him, exhausted processor trying to tag today with images of the past.

Knock Out chuckled darkly, glossa flicking out over his lips, fingers working faster and faster over his spike. Charge crackled along his talons, the heavy tang of lubricant and transfluid thick in the air.

“You’ll probably try to fight me,” Knock Out said, talons kneading constantly on Sunstreaker’s chestplate. “And I’ll enjoy putting you back in your place.”

He leaned closer, near enough that Sunstreaker could feel the Decepticon’s ex-vents against his battered plating.

“Where you were meant to be. At my pedes.”

Knock Out’s talons snapped, piercing the outer layer of Sunstreaker’s chestplate, one gouging a sensor beneath and making Sunstreaker jerk.

“Because – nngh – you’re mine now.”

Knock Out groaned and twitched, digits squeezing down on his spike as he overloaded, transfluid spurting against Sunstreaker’s plating. It dribbled on his pelvic array and seeped into tiny gaps in his plating, dampening the circuits beneath.

Disgust coiled in Sunstreaker’s tank.

“Mmm. That was good.”

Knock Out unlatched his talons and drew back, only to lift his dripping hand and stare at it with a frown. He slapped his hand against Sunstreaker’s chestplate, smearing most of the transfluid across Sunstreaker’s chassis.

“Hmm. You’ve made a mess.”

Sunstreaker’s optics spiraled outward. He yanked at the last vestiges of energy in his frame.

“You sick fragger!” he howled, ignoring the red flashing warnings in his HUD, reminding him of imminent shutdown. “I’m going to rip out your spark!”

“An empty threat if I ever heard one.” Knock Out stepped back, his optics lingering on Sunstreaker’s frame. “You should clean up nicely. Once you earn it.”

Sunstreaker growled, digits curling into angry fists. His processor spun, circuits misfiring. He watched as a countdown popped up in the corner of his HUD, giving him thirty kliks with no possibility of override.

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” Knock Out said, interface panel sliding shut with a loud snick. “Try not to miss me.”

The last thing Sunstreaker saw was Knock Out’s smirk before his system crashed and the world went completely dark.

~

“Wakey, wakey.”

The voice filtered through to Sunstreaker’s audials. He onlined with a startled huff of his vents, cold water streaking down his armor and into the gaps of his plating. His circuits cringed at the abrupt temperature change. His systems pinged his status automatically: fuel levels at 20%.

The Decepticon had refueled him, but only to just above the minimum.

Sunstreaker fought back a groan, wrists twitching but getting nowhere, still chained to the wall as they were. The same for his pedes. He onlined his audials, and snarled when the fuzzy shape in front of him clarified into the grinning visage of Knock Out.

“Recharge well?” Knock Out asked, all fake-cheer as his palm landed on Sunstreaker’s chestplate, energy field a burr of eager anticipation.

“Rust in the Pit,” Sunstreaker snarled, though it was half-sparked at best. His joints ached, the water caused his sensors to go haywire in an unpleasant manner, and his tanks gurgled at him.

Knock Out chuckled. “There’s so much fire left in you. Good. I like that.”

Sunstreaker’s optics cycled down, but he said nothing, the anger festering inside of him like a bad case of cosmic rust.

“Since you enjoyed our last encounter so much, I thought it only polite to offer my services again.” Knock Out gestured with one hand, fingers curved in a come-hither motion. “I do so despise a flashier paint job than mine. Lucky for you, this is no longer a problem.”

Sunstreaker’s engine revved. He kept his silence. His yelling only seemed to goad the sadistic medic on.

“What? You have nothing to say?” A mock pout curled the Decepticon’s lips. “You were so much more interesting yesterday.”

His digits curled into fists. The trickle of the water was maddening.

Knock Out shook his helm, one hand sliding down Sunstreaker’s chestplate, warm compared to the chill of the water. “Oh, well. I suppose I’ll simply have to make do.”

The hand continued to roam, trekking over Sunstreaker’s plating, dipping into joints and seams, as if taking the Autobot’s measure.

“Whoever designed your rebuild did an excellent job,” the Decepticon purred, optics brightening as his fingers swept over dented and scored armor. “Redundant systems. Double plating. Reinforced joints. You can take a hit and keep on coming. I like that.”

Sunstreaker pushed back against the wall, though it did little to put any distance between himself and his tormentor. “Are you that hard up for an interface?” he snarled as charge crackled from his plating and seeped out from between his seams. “Or is it that not even your fellow ‘Cons want you?”

Knock Out laughed, not a trace of offense in his rippling energy field. “If you were trying to insult me, you’ll have to try harder.” One hand dipped lower, cupping Sunstreaker’s pelvic array. “I seem to remember you enjoying my advances just yesterday.”

“Enjoy is not the term I’d use.”

“Mmm. Now there’s the resistance I was looking for.” Knock Out’s optics brightened as he pressed closer, hot ventilations wafting over Sunstreaker’s plating. Heat emanated from the Decepticon, the low pitch of an idling engine filling the brig.

His fingers found Sunstreaker’s interface, tracing the panels that protected his spike and valve. The fine-tipped digits circled the delicate seams, stimulating the sensors ringing the release mechanism.

Sunstreaker ground his denta, refusing to respond. It felt good, but only in the sense that any sort of proper stimulation would alight his sensors. It didn’t mean he wanted Knock Out anywhere close to his valve.

“You heat up so quickly,” Knock Out murmured, continuing the slow, methodical stroking, enough to cause heat to pool in Sunstreaker’s interface. “Proof positive that this is your primary function. To satisfy your betters. A berth toy for our pleasure.”

Sunstreaker’s engine clunked to life, not out of pleasure, but out of anger. Yet, he kept his silence, letting that speak for himself.

“Don’t you agree?”

Sunstreaker glared, putting as much hatred and loathing behind the brightness of his optics as he was capable.

Knock Out didn’t so much as cycle his optics. “Of course you don’t,” the so-called medic simpered. “But you will soon enough.” He undulated against Sunstreaker, their plating brushing lightly enough to draw charge but not streak paint.

“And as for this…” Knock Out’s fingers curved around the leading edge of Sunstreaker’s interface panel. “Well, you won’t be needing this anymore.”

Sunstreaker’s optics rounded. He sucked in a ventilation, but before he could so much as work up proper vitriol, Knock Out gave a sharp yank, pulling off his panel. Sunstreaker shouted, hips arching away from the wall as pain radiated outward from his pelvic array. Knock Out tossed the panel over his shoulder where it clattered away in the dark.

“Oh. Did that hurt?”

Sunstreaker worked his jaw and mustered up a glare. “Tickled,” he gritted out, the hydraulics in his legs trembling as he unconsciously tried to protect his sensitive components, but the shackles prevented him.

“Then you won’t mind if I take the other one as well.”

A growl rattled in Sunstreaker’s chassis. It did nothing to stop the Decepticon from hooking his digits in the panel protecting his spike and ripping it away. Tepid air wafted over his naked components, doing little to ease the acid-like sting.

“Hmm. I am curious as to what design you carry,” Knock Out said. The pad of his thumb brushed over the head of Sunstreaker’s recessed spike. “No doubt it is as wonderfully crafted as the rest of your frame.”

Sunstreaker shuddered. His hips pushed toward Knock Out’s touch without his permission. Stimulation was stimulation, but it didn’t stop his frame from crawling.

“Flatter me all you want,” he spat, tanks churning in their barely fueled state. “I’m still going to rip your helm off when I get free.”

Knock Out chuckled and stepped back, putting a mere pace between them. “Mmm. Now won’t that be interesting to watch you try.” He put his hands to his chin, optics flicking up and down Sunstreaker’s frame. “Until then, however, we should try and have a little fun, don’t you think?”

He reached for his hip, disengaging a weapon that Sunstreaker cursed himself for not having noticed before. It was, for the most part, innocuous in appearance. A slim metal rod, barely the length of Knock Out’s forearm. But with a flick of his wrist and a touch of his finger, the rod extended until it was Knock Out’s height, electricity crackling from the two-pronged tip.

An energon prod. Wonderful. The fragged sadist had an energon prod.

“I am sure you know what one of these are. They make for decent weapons, if you know how to wield them properly.” Knock Out smirked, casually flicking the prod from hand to hand. “Which of course I do.”

Sunstreaker’s optics cycled down. “Is that supposed to scare me?”

“I suspect you’re too stupid to fear much of anything. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep trying. I have a kink for lost causes.” Electricity sparked and spat at the tip of the prod, activated by a flick of Knock Out’s wrists. “Have I mentioned how strongly built your frame is?”

Sunstreaker ex-vented. This was not going to be pleasant. Torture was nothing new to him. If Knock Out thought a little shock and some rape was going to break him, then obviously he didn’t remember as much of Sunstreaker’s gladiating past as he thought. He’d survived it then and he would survive it now.

The teasing glint left Knock Out’s optics as he twirled the energon prod again before facing Sunstreaker.

“I know you can take some damage,” he said, vocals huskier than before, his energy field radiating eager anticipation. “Let’s see how long it takes before you scream.”

“Never.” Sunstreaker would cut off his vocalizer before he’d allow Knock Out to see him squirm.

Knock Out smirked. “We’ll see.”

He thrust his arm forward, the crackling energy coming into direct contact with Sunstreaker’s chestplate.

It was normally one of his better armored sections. Sunstreaker gritted his denta as searing charge lit across his sensory net. Knock Out had aimed for the weld lines in his chassis, which were a direct course to his substructure.

Sunstreaker grunted, writhing in his chains. His plating scraped against the wall behind him. The odor of scorched circuitry filled the air.

Knock Out laughed and withdrew the prod.

“Now that was enlightening.”

He paced back and forth in front of Sunstreaker as though searching for the best place to attack next.

Sunstreaker’s chassis heaved, ventilations coming in short bursts. It would have been easier to bear if he’d been fully fueled, completely repaired, entirely rested. But the dizziness in his processor seemed to make the pain sharper, the overcharge more intense.

Frag the Decepticon to the Pit and back!

Static crackled and hissed from the prod as Knock Out waved it through the air, a hypnotizing pattern in front of Sunstreaker’s optics.

The prod came close again, charge lessened but still dangerous. The very tip caressed the distant edge of Sunstreaker’s armor, and then dragged down his side, catching on the edge of a lateral seam and leaving scores in his plating. He went rigid, bracing himself against the crackle of electricity as it tunneled under his armor, lighting across his circuits.

Pain. Everything devolved to pain. Sunstreaker couldn’t think about anything else. Systems redlining, HUD screaming warnings at him, the searing agony of circuits overblown and smoking.

Knock Out drew back, and Sunstreaker sagged from sheer relief.

A relief that was very short-lived. The narrow gaps in his pelvic armor, designed to give him better freedom of movement for his legs, were much too tempting. Knock Out struck first one and then the other, ramping up the voltage. Sunstreaker’s lower extremities jerked a strange contortion.

Pain. Nothing but pain. And the sound of Knock Out’s labored ventilations, brought upon by his arousal. The overwhelming push of Knock Out’s energy field battered at Sunstreaker’s own weakened state.

The prod continued its swath of pain, sweeping over Sunstreaker’s pelvic array, snaps of charge tunneling into his interface. His entire frame arched, desperate to get away from the weapon and helpless in the wake of it.

Electricity snapped over Sunstreaker’s armor. The prod poked at his knees, down toward his pedes, seeping into the intricate mechanisms of his ankles.

Arousal pulsed heavily in Knock Out’s energy field. His optics were a bright crimson, his glossa slipping out over his lipplates. Fragging sadist.

The energon prod wandered over Sunstreaker’s armor, causing both damage and agony. Sunstreaker gritted his denta, grunts escaping him. He refused to cry out, to give Knock Out the scream he wanted.

“I honestly can’t decide which is more intoxicating,” Knock Out said, his vocalizer laced with static. “The way you silently resist me, or the challenge of making you scream.”

Knock Out’s interface panel snapped open. He reached down with his free hand, curling his digits around his spike, a shudder visibly wracking his frame. Transfluid seeped from the tip.

“Perhaps it’s both.” Knock Out stroked his spike with measured pulls of his hand.

Sunstreaker cycled his vocalizer, engine revving a distressed rumble. “Do you brag just to hear yourself talk?”

Knock Out’s response was to drag the energon prod over Sunstreaker’s right leg, where a hastily done weld gave way to a special kind of agony. Sunstreaker’s entire frame went rigid as he struggled to keep his response in check, refusing to give Knock Out the pleasure. His systems redlined, warnings popping up left, right, and center.

His leg spasmed, circuits giving out with a smoke-spewing pop. His paint bubbled up and peeled away as Knock Out turned the current up to its maximum potential. Sunstreaker groaned, long and low, an ill sound, spark spinning faster and faster in his chassis.

Knock Out jerked back suddenly. Sunstreaker lost the battle with his hydraulics, every cable going limp, leaving him hanging from the chains in such a way that his shoulders were stressed by the additional weight. Strength bled out of him as his optics flickered, and his systems tried to reset. The scent of charred lines and scorched circuits burnt his nasal ridge, and the disgusting odor of boiled energon joined the stench. He was never going to be pristine again.

“Well.” Knock Out flicked off the energon prod and tossing it aside. “That wasn’t a scream but it’ll do for now.” He stroked his spike again, taking a step closer to Sunstreaker.

His free hand lifted, fingers dragging down Sunstreaker’s faceplate in a parody of a lover’s caress.

It was hard to think, harder to focus, and Sunstreaker couldn’t muster up the energy to jerk his helm from Knock Out’s unwelcome touch. He was exhausted, and his tanks kept pinging back a reading of fifteen percent, barely above functional.

“I did have plans for your valve,” Knock Out said, his hand wandering down and pushing a single digit up into Sunstreaker’s dry valve. “But I’m a bit too impatient for that today, I’m afraid. I’ll have to settle for a substitute.”

What the frag was that supposed to mean?

“Don’t worry,” Knock Out’s touches withdrew as he stepped away. “We’ll get to that soon enough.”

Knock Out headed for the mechanism that controlled Sunstreaker’s restraints. He highly doubted the Decepticon planned on freeing him, a doubt that was proven when whatever Knock Out did loosened the chains but didn’t release the manacles. Slack was given to the restraints on Sunstreaker’s arms, but his legs couldn’t support his weight. He dropped to his knees, biting his glossa on the cry of pain that attempted to break free.

“There. That’s better.” Knock Out’s smug tone filtered through to Sunstreaker’s audials.

It took effort to lift his helm, unsurprised to find the Decepticon standing right in front of him. On his knees, Sunstreaker found himself staring at Knock Out’s spike, transfluid seeping from the tip in eager dribbles.

Sunstreaker growled. “You can’t seriously think I’m going to cooperate.”

One hand wrapped around his spike, Knock Out smirked. “I know you’ll cooperate,” he said, and he leaned closer, free hand grasping Sunstreaker’s face firmly. “If those denta so much as scrape my spike, I’m going to rip yours off. Understood?”

His optics cycled down, glare firming. Cooperate or lose his spike? For all he knew, the Decepticon would yank it off anyway.

Knock Out’s grip tightened, stressing the dermal metal of Sunstreaker’s face. “The chronometer is running, my pretty toy. Do we have an understanding?”

The shudder that rippled across Sunstreaker’s plating was spark deep.

Knock Out inclined his helm. “Good boy,” he said, and caressed Sunstreaker’s face before letting it go. “Now say ahhhh.”

He might not bite the fragger’s spike off, but like the Pit he’d make it easy!

Sunstreaker clamped his mouth shut, the overwhelming scent of transfluid filling his olfactory sensors.

“You’re going to be stubborn about it?” Knock Out grabbed Sunstreaker’s helm. “Have it your way.”

He thrust his hips forward, the head of his spike nudging at Sunstreaker’s mouth, smearing transfluid over his lips. One hand grasped Sunstreaker’s chin again, pushing his thumb up toward Sunstreaker’s mouth, narrow talon slipping between his lip. The dermal lining tore and energon welled free.

Frag, no, he wasn’t going to make it easy.

Knock Out pushed his spike against Sunstreaker’s mouth, pried his lips apart with two sharp talons, and thrust inside with a self-satisfied burst of his energy field.

Sunstreaker’s tanks rolled, his hands pulling into fists. Knock Out didn’t bother with a slow acclimation. He shoved deep, the head of his spike knocking against Sunstreaker’s intake. His olfactory sensors were overladen with the scent of expensive polish, transfluid, and heated metal.

“Yessss,” the Decepticon hissed, fingers flexing on Sunstreaker’s helm as he unhooked a talon from Sunstreaker’s lip. “Not as good as a valve but a decent substitute.”

Did he ever stop talking?

An aroused shiver danced over Knock Out’s plating, which lifted to expel some of the heat emanating from his frame. It wafted over Sunstreaker’s over-sensitized armor, battering against fried sensors and circuits.

Sunstreaker’s glossa was jammed at the base of his mouth. He couldn’t do much more than twitch it against the Decepticon’s spike. Not that he wanted to cooperate, but the sooner he got the Decepticon off, the faster Knock Out would leave him in peace.

He shuttered his optics. He might have to suffer the fragger’s spike in his mouth, but that didn’t mean he had to look at him.

Knock Out grasped his helm in both hands, a huffy ventilation expelling from his frame. “Very nice indeed,” he murmured, and moved his hips in tiny circles, as if trying to paint the inside of Sunstreaker’s mouth with his spike.

A growl of disgust vibrated through Sunstreaker’s chassis.

Amusement rose in the Decepticon’s energy field. His fingers stroked Sunstreaker’s helm, a mockery of a lover’s encouragement.

Knock Out’s laughter burbled up, though it was rasped with static. “Don’t worry. You’ll get to taste your master soon enough.”

Disgust welled up in Sunstreaker’s energy field, which rose up in fits and spurts, heavily dampened by his lack of energy.

Knock Out started to move, sliding out of Sunstreaker’s mouth before pumping his hips forward again. It was a slow, measured rhythm that nonetheless had the Decepticon’s ventilations quickening. Every so often, Knock Out’s spike would bump the back of Sunstreaker’s intake, making his tanks churn.

Sunstreaker felt Knock Out shiver. The way the spike subtly swelled in his mouth, pre-overload transfluid trickled down his intake. The urge to clamp down with his denta came and went, the threat of a rather painful mutilation lingering at the back of his processor.

Knock Out’s thrusts picked up in pace, his fingers clamping down as opposed to stroking, ventilations coming faster and faster. Heat poured off of him, blasting Sunstreaker’s faceplate. He was close, had to be–

He stopped. His engine whined, systems stalled.

“Frag it all to the Pit!” Knock Out snarled and went still, one hand rising to his helm. “This is Knock Out, sir.”

Knock Out huffed a ragged ventilation as he took the call, no doubt responding internally. Sunstreaker could only wait as the spike throbbed in his mouth, and Knock Out’s talons dug deep.

Knock Out’s thrusts returned in earnest.

“He has the absolute worst timing,” Knock Out muttered and pumped his spike in Sunstreaker’s mouth several more times before he stiffened from helm to pede, pushing his spike to the back of Sunstreaker’s intake.

He braced himself as several spurts of hot transfluid hit the softer metal in his intake, the hot metal scent of it filling his olfactory sensors. Knock Out groaned a long and low note, only to suddenly withdraw, the last few spurts streaking across Sunstreaker’s faceplate.

He coughed before he could stop himself, trying to dislodge the cloying globs of transfluid clogging his intake.

“You look better this way. Transfluid suits you,” Knock Out said, giving Sunstreaker’s helm a light pat.

Sunstreaker jerked away, engine churning as it struggled to online. He spat up another clump of transfluid, but it failed to meet the mark, falling short of landing on Knock Out’s pedes. He turned his helm, wiping his face against his arm, but it did him no good. He could still feel the transfluid, tacky on his plating.

“How rude of me, to have to leave you unsatisfied.” Knock Out rooted around in his subspace and produced a rather intimidating object. “This should suffice in my absence.”

Sunstreaker snarled, pushing back against the wall, but his legs refused to respond. The motor cables had been thoroughly fried by the Decepticon’s prod, frag it! “Keep that thing away from me!”

“My, aren’t you ungrateful.” Knock Out’s smirk widened as he crouched in front of Sunstreaker, unceremoniously sticking his hand between Sunstreaker’s legs.

He twitched his hips, trying to avoid the Decepticon, but it was pointless. The false spike shoved into his valve without any preparation, too thick to be comfortable, and ridged with thick nubs that prodded at the walls of Sunstreaker’s valve. He stifled a grunt.

“Hmm. I suppose I shouldn’t have torn off your panel,” Knock Out murmured, tapping his chin. Another push shoved the toy further, the head of it knocking against a ceiling node. “No matter. Easily fixed.”

Knock Out rose to his pedes, searched the floor, and returned with Sunstreaker’s dented panel in hand. Sunstreaker read his intentions even before Knock Out’s free hand shifted into a micro-welder. Sunstreaker tried to angle his hips away, an impossible venture without use of his legs.

“Ah, ah,” Knock Out said, shaking a finger at him. He crouched once again, reaching for Sunstreaker’s interface. “You want I should miss? Weld something that shouldn’t be welded?”

It wasn’t like he had a choice.

Sunstreaker had thought himself numb. He was quickly proven wrong when Knock Out started to weld, without bothering to sedate him or turn off his pain receptors. Sharp agony coursed through Sunstreaker’s interface, like someone had poured acid over his lines, and a pitiful whine escaped him before he could stop it.

Chains rattled as Sunstreaker yanked on them, helm lolling backward against the wall. He couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t stop the pathetic churning of his engine.

“There,” Knock Out said, a self-satisfied purr to his energy field. “Good as new. Or close enough.”

Sunstreaker’s processor spun. He couldn’t form words, much less dredge up the energy for a glare. Knock Out’s vocals floated in and out of his audials.

He shifted as much as he was able, and the toy within him shifted as well. The thickness of it rubbed against the lining of his valve, scraping the dry walls.

Knock Out half-turned, optics gleaming with malice. “Oh. Before I forget…”

Sunstreaker’s ventilations gasped, his entire frame bucking as the device in his valve suddenly buzzed to life. Vibrations pulsed across his sensitive components, stimulating the sensors lining his valve. No node was left untouched, burying him in wave after wave of circuit-sizzling charge.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be back soon enough.”

Sunstreaker’s servos clenched into fists. He barely noticed when Knock Out left the cell, abandoning him to the onslaught of the device.

~

Knock Out fought off a shiver of unease as he stepped onto the bridge, still smelling of transfluid and overloads. Lord Megatron’s summons had left him no time to clean up. A few stray streaks of gold had unfortunately wandered to his paint. It was a sight most unseemly.

Midday, the bridge was quiet. Then again, it usually was. The Vehicons weren’t one for chatter, at least not where commanding officers could overhear, and Soundwave wasn’t particularly garrulous either. Breakdown was off energon searching planet-side, no one had seen Starscream in quite some time, and Airachnid, well, the less said of her the better.

Which left Lord Megatron, whose very presence was imposing enough, and he wasn’t one for idle conversation either.

At present, he stood with his arms clasped behind his back, energy field a quiescent blanket around his frame. Knock Out was not fooled, however. Lord Megatron could shift from stillness to violence in the space of a sparkbeat.

Better to be on his best behavior.

“You summoned, Lord Megatron?”

The massive bulk of the Decepticon leader turned to acknowledge Knock Out’s arrival. “Do not think that because I haven’t punished you, I do not know about your extracurricular activities in the brig.”

Knock Out pulled up short. Was that warning or chastisement? Just what was he supposed to say to that?

“That being said,” Lord Megatron continued, “what is the status of our guest?”

Somehow, the way he parsed the term ‘guest’ made shivers crawl down Knock Out’s backstrut. “Unsurprisingly uncooperative.”

Lips pulled back into a smirk, revealing the intimidating fangs of Lord Megatron’s denta. “That one will not break so easily.”

Break? Knock Out scoffed internally. He didn’t want Sunstreaker to break. That would take all the fun out of it. Half the entertainment came from watching Sunstreaker resist.

Lord Megatron shifted again, and Knock Out’s optics widened. Previously, his bulk had hidden a smaller monitor on the main console, but now Knock Out could see it in full. The screen was displaying footage of the brig, and the cell containing Sunstreaker. Lord Megatron hadn’t been kidding when he’d said he’d been watching!

“I’ve given you free rein because I don’t care for that mech’s comfort,” Lord Megatron said, his optics falling to the screen. “But rest assured, Knock Out, that if there is nothing left for me to break, I’ll be most displeased.”

Knock Out’s optics trained on the monitor, watching as a silent Sunstreaker twitched and writhed, arms pulling at the chains. His hips jerked back and forth, entire frame trembling, the toy relentless. Heat shot straight to Knock Out’s interface array. Say what he would about Autobots, but their prisoner was certainly a sight for sore optics. Too many flyers on this vessel!

“Knock Out!”

He startled at the near-snarl and hastily executed a bow. “Of course, Lord Megatron. He will not be damaged beyond repair.” He paused, considering. “Incidentally, have you decided the fate of our guest?”

Knock Out really, really hoped that his leader would lose interest and he could keep the Autobot for himself.

A grating laugh resonated in Lord Megatron’s chassis. “All in due time, Knock Out. I am content, for now, watching him squirm.”

Glancing once more at the screen, Knock Out’s lips curved into a smirk. That sentiment he could appreciate for himself.

~

His energy levels were at eleven percent. The taste of transfluid was sticky on his glossa. He couldn’t move his lower extremities, but his frame shifted nonetheless, back and forth, responding to the buzzing device in his valve.

He’d lost count of the number of overloads it had wrung from him. Each more painful than the last, to the point it was no longer pleasure, just agony. A few of the sensors in his valve had long since burned out.

He couldn’t cycle down into recharge. Every time he got close, the toy jerked him out of the sequence, dragging him back to consciousness.

Sunstreaker floated, delirious, trapped between reality and the memory purges cropping up. The roar of the crowd. The feel of the arena beneath his pedes. The thrum of the clapping and stomping. The scent of fresh-spilled energon. The cheering. The taunting.

His pedes hitting scuffed metal. The pain of his missing arm, wires spitting sparks into the open air.

His opponent shoving him down, kicking his legs apart. The humiliation burned through his spark. Hands grasping his thighs, spreading him wide. The blinding pain of the victor slamming into him, punching through his interface panel, spearing his valve.

The contractions as his valve tried to resist the intruder, shoving something too-large into a space too-small.

The humiliation. It burned more than anything, like acid in his spark.

Another overload fizzled and popped through Sunstreaker’s valve. He shuddered, feeling the lubricant dripping from his valve, sliding down his thighs. His vocalizer emitted static, not a scream, but dangerously close to it.

A sound in the silence. Pedesteps.

Sunstreaker’s optics flickered on. Hazy shapes in the shadows coalesced to several mech forms, one he recognized, the rest indistinguishable from each other.

Knock Out grabbed his chin. Sunstreaker didn’t have the wherewithal to resist. His tanks churned on empty.

The Decepticon pried his mouth open and poured a rather generous portion of energon down Sunstreaker’s intake. It was thick and oily, the worst sludge that Sunstreaker wouldn’t even put in a shuttle much less a sapient being. It slunk down his intake and left a gritty aftertaste.

The energon seeped to his tanks, not so much giving him a burst of energy as slowly filtering it to his frame. His levels grew to a paltry thirteen percent, and continued to climb, albeit at a crawl.

Someone spoke. The words were garbled, static to Sunstreaker’s audials. The ground shifted. No. Wait. He was moving.

Hands on his plating. Chains loosened.

Now was the time!

His legs weren’t working.

A pained groan escaped Sunstreaker as his arms fell limp, wrists still encircled but no longer bound above him. His legs wouldn’t obey his commands. His HUD returned error messages. The motor relays had been fried, frag it!

The world spun. His hands slammed against the floor, knees clattering on lubricant-slicked metal. The toy buzzed away, battering his overwrought sensors. Someone manually manipulated his legs, forcing his knees to bend, forcing him to hand and knees. His engine gave a half-sparked rev.

His energy levels stalled at twenty percent.

Sunstreaker rebooted his input systems, audials, optics, everything. When everything came into focus, he wished he hadn’t.

Sunstreaker was surrounded by no less than six Decepticon drones. Standing in front of him was Knock Out, looking thoroughly amused, his energy field buzzing hunger.

“I see that you enjoyed my toy,” Knock Out said and a hand grasped Sunstreaker’s aft. “I brought some others for you to play with.” He made a vague gesture to the drones surrounding them.

Sunstreaker’s fingers dragged scratches into the metal floor beneath him. He tried to speak, but all that emerged was a humiliating burst of static. Frag Knock Out to the Pit!

One of the drones behind him peeled off the sloppily welded plate covering Sunstreaker’s valve. The pain was a nuisance compared to everything else. Sunstreaker barely twitched when a taloned digit probed into his valve, extricating the buzzing device.

The calipers in his valve cycled down, too used to the sensation of being filled, clenching on empty air. More lubricant gushed forth, spilling out of his valve and dribbling to the floor in a noisy squelch.

Sunstreaker felt filthy.

The device was gone, but the fingers returned, two plunging into his valve and pumping in and out, sliding easily thanks to the overflow of lubricant.

“As it turns out,” Knock Out said, shifting aside so that one of the drones could take his place directly in front of Sunstreaker. “I’m not the only one interested in the show you’re about to give us.”

Sunstreaker’s helm whipped up, glaring at the Decepticon.

Knock Out cocked a hip and gestured to the corner, where the light of a camera blinked at them. “You have an admirer.”

The sound of an interface panel snicking open echoed like a gunshot to Sunstreaker’s audials. But it hadn’t come from Knock Out.

He whipped a glance over his shoulder. The drone behind him had unsheathed his spike and guided his unadorned tool to Sunstreaker’s valve.

Sunstreaker wanted to move, screamed the commands to his processor, but again and again, his HUD relayed errors. It was one thing to play shareware to the Decepticon medic. Quite another to be a berthtoy for a drone. Why were they equipped with spikes anyway?

The drone pushed into him, slow and methodical, a slick slide that was careful to alight several sensors around the rim, untouched by the glitched toy. Sunstreaker swallowed down a pathetic moan, his helm hanging.

A hand grasped his chin, lifting his helm again. Sunstreaker’s optics flickered, looking up into the blank band of another drone. Without a faceplate, with only the barest nudge of an energy field, it was like staring at a machine.

The grip was firm, unyielding. Another panel snicked aside, a spike jutting toward Sunstreaker’s mouth.

“Don’t make me remind you of the rules,” Knock Out said from somewhere beyond Sunstreaker’s sight. “So much as dent his spike, and I’ll yank yours off.”

As if to prove his point, one of the drones grabbed Sunstreaker’s spike, squeezing it. His hips jerked at the unexpected stimulation.

They crowded around him.

The one in his valve started a measured rhythm, in and out, pushing hard against the deepest wall of Sunstreaker’s valve.

The other probed at his face, digits forcing Sunstreaker’s mouth open, pushing his spike inside. The drone’s tool was cool on Sunstreaker’s glossa, so different from a fully-sparked mech. His spike was also unadorned, a smooth slide into Sunstreaker’s mouth, pushing toward his intake.

Behind him, the drone withdrew.

In front of him, the drone thrust.

Behind him, the drone shoved.

In front of him, the drone receded.

He felt suspended between them, aching arms trembling, numb legs locked into place. His spark was leaden in his chassis, his tanks ticking toward twenty-two percent. Whatever sludge Knock Out fed him refueled him at an agonizing pace.

The hand on his spike started to stroke and arouse Sunstreaker’s systems. He’d thought himself numb to it, but only his valve seemed uninterested. His spike, however, was pressurized and eager.

“I think I’ll keep you,” Knock Out said, again from beyond Sunstreaker’s direct sight. “I could use a new berth toy.”

Sunstreaker’s engine revved angrily.

Knock Out laughed. “If you’d prefer, I could let Lord Megatron have you. But he has a nasty habit of breaking his toys, and that would be such a waste of good shareware.”

The drone overloaded into Sunstreaker’s valve, a weak blast of transfluid that mingled with the lubricant coating his lining. The spike withdrew, air wafting across Sunstreaker’s exposed valve, the mix of sticky liquids oozing out of his valve with wet plops to the floor.

One of the drones jostled his frame. Sunstreaker growled around the spike in his mouth, heard the scrape of metal against metal before hands landed on his hips. Ex-vents ghosted across his ventral armor before the hands pulled him down, splaying his thighs further, the head of a spike nudging the rim of his valve.

Sunstreaker’s elbows wobbled. He drooped, spike sliding out of his mouth, smearing across his cheekplate. His helm dipped, his optics meeting the narrow band of another drone. The cool spike pushed up, sliding into him, quick to replace the one who had already overloaded.

Sunstreaker snapped his optics shut, not that it made a difference. Hands grasped his helm, jerking it up, a spike pushing back into his mouth. It struck the back of his intake with each thrust, jabbing into his mouth with a mindless pursuit toward overload.

Desire slapped Sunstreaker like a physical blow. It couldn’t have come from the drones. He could hear pedesteps pacing around him and he onlined his optics, catching a glimpse of Knock Out, the fragger circling Sunstreaker with measured steps. He was staring, smirking, watching with darkened optics as the drones pounded into Sunstreaker.

“Do you understand yet?” the so-called medic purred, his vocals a throaty hum. “You were built for this, Sunstreaker. And you perform so beautifully.”

Hands once again landed on his aft, smoothing over the thick plating. Fingers dragged down, tracing the rim of his valve. The drone beneath Sunstreaker stilled in his thrusts, shuddering as the finger stroked both the base of the drone’s spike and Sunstreaker’s rim.

Unease filtered into Sunstreaker’s spark. He didn’t have to see the mech behind him to read the intent of that finger. Or the mech it belonged to.

“You’re so slick,” Knock Out commented, vocalizer edging toward static, the lust in his energy field a hot pulse against Sunstreaker’s own. “Dripping, really. I’d wager that this drone’s spike isn’t enough for you.”

Sunstreaker’s engine rumbled, resonating through his chassis.

Knock Out chuckled. “Oh, you’ll get what you want soon enough.”

A panel snicked, overbearingly loud to Sunstreaker’s audials. The finger disappeared but a hand returned to his aft, stroking over to his hip, holding him in place. Beneath him, the drone shuddered, struggling to stay still though the urge to thrust must have been pinging his systems desperately.

The blunt head of a spike pressed against the rim of Sunstreaker’s valve, sliding slickly over the transfluid and lubricant both. Sunstreaker cringed, spark spinning wildly in his chassis, fingers scraping against the floor.

He was trapped, helpless, with no way to stop what was coming next.

Sunstreaker groaned, the vibrations traveling over the spike in his mouth. The drone above him grunted, pumping harder.

The second spike at his valve pushed, prodding insistently, forcing its way inch by terrible inch. Sunstreaker’s frame arched, and he lurched forward, unsteady, servos wildly grasping at the drone in front of him.

He tried to force out the spike with his glossa, throwing his weight forward as much as he was capable, though his legs still refused to obey. His energy levels hovered around twenty-seven percent and that was enough in Sunstreaker’s opinion.

Someone shouted. Hands grasped at him from all directions. More than one battle system hummed to life, the sound of weapons charging a welcome relief from the rhythmic ventilations of an aroused mech.

Two sets of hands grabbed his arms, yanking them back, straining the mechanisms in his shoulder with a painful screech of metal on metal. He gasped a ventilation, the sharp pain rippling through him.

They jerked him backward, nearly upright on his knees, deepening the one spike still settled in his valve.

One of the drones snapped a pair of cuffs around Sunstreaker’s arms just above his elbows, clasping them together behind his back and putting undue pressure on his shoulder joints. He winced, chassis thrust forward, as though offering his spark.

“Ah, ah,” Knock Out chastised with a burr of gears grinding together as he circled around to Sunstreaker’s optical view. “Don’t make me sever all your motor relays now. It’s much better when you can squirm.”

Sunstreaker gathered up his strength for the fiercest glare he could muster, even as the hands returned to his hips, the second spike pressing against his strained valve.

“Frag you!” he snarled, and a pained cry escaped him as the spike pushed through the resistance, forcing into his valve alongside the other.

Knock Out’s optics brightened with lust, his glossa snaking out over his lips. “Mmm. That was a good sound. Got any more for me?”

Static erupted from Sunstreaker’s vocalizer. His helm hung, his valve spasming, clenching tightly on the impossible width shoved into it. There was plenty of lubricant, but the walls of his valve were stretched to the max. Capacity warnings flashed on his HUD, but it wasn’t as though he could do anything about it.

He tensed from helm to pede, couldn’t force himself to relax, and the hands grasping his hips trembled. The drone let out a heavy and hot ventilation. Beneath him, the drone shuddered, a binary click of need falling from its vocalizer.

Two pairs of hands grasped Sunstreaker’s hips. Beneath him, the drone gave a tentative push, shifting the pressure of the spikes within Sunstreaker’s valve. His ventilations hitched. It was too much, far too much!

“If you’d give in, you might even enjoy yourself,” Knock Out crooned, stepping forward and caressing Sunstreaker’s faceplate with his digits.

Sunstreaker jerked his helm away. It was all the freedom of movement he had left.

Knock Out laughed. “Suit yourself.”

From his peripheral vision, Sunstreaker watched the medic step back and gesture openly at Sunstreaker. “He’s all yours, boys. Make it a good show.”

Permission given, the drones wasted no time in taking advantage.

The two spikes in his valve started to move, counterpoint, one thrusting, the other withdrawing. Sunstreaker clamped his mouth shut, ground his denta together, swallowing down every pained sound that tried to escape. Half-numb sensors responded to the onslaught, some of them sparking to life.

His entire frame pitched and heaved at the force of their thrusts, but the two pairs of hands kept him in place.

A hand grasped his face, forcing his helm to turn, forcing him to face another spike, which pushed into his mouth with no prelude.

Sunstreaker felt Knock Out watching him, the lust in the Decepticon’s energy field a heavy blanket in the room. Hatred boiled up in Sunstreaker’s spark, his frame trembling from the force of it.

Pain and fury and disgust, it all churned nastily inside of him. He could feel every minute shift of the spikes in his valve, the tepid huffs of every drone’s ventilation. The splatter of transfluid on his plating as one of the drones overloaded over his chassis, globs clinging to his chestplate.

Sunstreaker’s hands formed fists, the sharpened tips digging into his own plating, haptic sensors screaming their anger.

The drone overloaded into his mouth, transfluid pouring down his intake.

One of the drones spilled transfluid into his valve. Sunstreaker didn’t have so much as a klik for respite before another drone was there, filling him again, two spikes pushing and shoving and filling his valve.

Knock Out watched, engine revving, hand on his own spike, delighting in the show.

Sunstreaker growled internally.

The Decepticon would make a mistake. And when he did, Sunstreaker would get free, and then he’d rip the slagging sadist’s spark from his chassis. Feed him his own spike first, maybe. Whatever it took to make the rage feel satisfied.

He was not going to break. Sunstreaker would slag well prove it.

Knock Out’s days were numbered.

[TCL] Bludfire

No matter how many times Megatronus had attended one of these… orgies, to put it plainly, he never quite gets used to it. You’d think a bunch of gladiators, half of them slaves, the other half on the edge of death, would have better things to do with their time.

But no.

They suck down the lies the establishment tells them, and consume the distractions as they come. Music and high grade, the kind that has no nutrient value whatsoever, so poorly graded that it is gritty and contains pockets of energon crystals still. They melt in your tanks and give you outrageous bursts of charge at intermittent bursts.

It’s nauseating.

Yet, the cubes vanish from the bar faster than the server can keep them stocked. Dozens upon hundreds of gladiators and groupies consume, consume, consume, and then make their way to the dance floor where they gyrate like there is no tomorrow.

For many of them, post-match, there won’t be.

Right now, however, none of them care about that. They are too busy. Celebrating. Enjoying. Indulging. Whatever their vice might be.

Megatronus frowns and clutches his second cube of high grade all the harder. He’d sucked down the first one outrageously fast, if only to dull how much he detests being here. He should leave, but he feels as though he can’t.

Not with his gaze focused on the middle of the dance floor.

He wishes he were more surprised that Sunstreaker is out in the thick of it. But he’s not. If there’s one thing that Sunstreaker excels at it, it’s indulging in praise. In the middle of the dance floor, under the spiraling lights, he’s matching the beat with ease. Grabby hands can’t help but touch the gleaming gold armor and for once, Sunstreaker isn’t snarling at them or giving them a peek at the steel of his blade.

He’s inviting. He’s taunting. He’s welcoming.

Sunstreaker has a reputation for being easy. Picky, but easy. Seeing him out there, writhing with all the rest of the slop, Megatronus can see why.

It’s ridiculous.

It reeks in here, too. Like purge and high grade and spent energon and scorched circuits and heated metal and weldfire. It’s a cacophony of noise and scent. Megatronus’ processor pounds. He crunches down on another sliver of energon in his high grade and tips back the cube again.

It’s empty.

Frag it.

He twists at the waist, snags another one, and promises himself that this one’s for show. He won’t drink it. His tanks are already performing backflips. There’s a heat in his frame, flushing to every extremity. His spark whirls, thumping to the same frantic beat of the music blasting through the speakers and thrumming through the floor.

He shouldn’t have let Sunstreaker talk him into coming this time. He should have spun on a heelstrut and walked away, the same way he did all the other times Sunstreaker invited him. One peek into the debauchery had always sent him scurrying for the solitude and quiet. He could only see this madness as a means to keep them chained.

If they are overcharged, pleasure high, and lost to the music, they aren’t thinking about their own misery.

“You’ll have more fun if ya get out here and dance,” Sunstreaker had said with a wink and a smirk. Three quickly gulped cubes of that slop had made him even more bold, and far more salacious.

His smirk made Megatronus’ tanks twist into a knot.

“No,” Megatronus had replied.

Sunstreaker glossa had flicked over his lips, his fans spinning so loud and fast that Megatronus could hear them even over the beat of the bass. “Suit yourself.”

He’d spun and twisted himself into the crowd, moving with the flow until he found himself in the center, grabbing a slightly taller mech in for a heated grind. He’d cast a look back at Megatronus as though to ensure Megatronus was watching before he’d twisted into the next beat.

Even now, Sunstreaker is within Megatronus’ line of sight. He’s in the middle of the crowd, surrounded by gladiator large and small, but Megatronus easily picks him out of the masses.

Sunstreaker flares his armor, giving tantalizing peeks at the cables and protoform beneath. It allows for better heat distribution, Megatronus acknowledges clinically, but also serves as tempting bait. One no few gladiators resist.

Megatronus grinds his denta, tasting sparks. His fingers tighten around his cube. His spark throbs.

It is a taunt. A tease. A reminder of what Megatronus could have if only he would plunge into that crowd and take what is his.

Sunstreaker’s hips swivel into reach of a smaller mech who takes the invitation eagerly. The mech smirks and pulls Sunstreaker toward him, one hand sliding up Sunstreaker’s side, long fingers slipping into the visible gaps. Sunstreaker says something that Megatronus can’t hear, and his dance partner laughs.

Another mech comes up behind Sunstreaker, larger than Megatronus even. He loops an arm around Sunstreaker’s waist and grinds against his back. His battle mask rubs the top of Sunstreaker’s helm before splitting down a central seam to reveal his lips.

Sunstreaker grins, one hand rising and clutching the head of the taller mech. He says something, and the smaller mech leans closer, probably with the intent to claim those tempting lips. But the larger mech is faster. His free hand cups Sunstreaker’s jaw and turns his helm so that he can steal Sunstreaker’s lips instead.

The cube in Megatronus’ hand crumples.

He drops it, letting it join the rest of the mess crunching beneath his feet, and shoves his way into the crowd. His processor spins, his spark flutters. Heat builds beneath his armor, threatening to erupt into view.

That slagger. Megatronus knows he’s being played, but he’s helpless to the envy and possessiveness that grips his spark.

Gladiators of all shapes and sizes close in around him. Megatronus bats away groping hands, twists out of the reach of a mech with more claws than sense, and makes his way through the crowd. He has to twist between two large mechs and shake off the clinging arms of a smaller one before he finally gets within arm’s reach of Sunstreaker.

“Megatronus!” Over-bright optics lock onto him as a sizzling energy field clashes against his own. “Finally grow some bearings and decide to join me?” Sunstreaker leans back onto his dance partner, arching his backstrut and highlighting the curve of his waist.

Megatronus works his intake. “No. I’m leaving.”

Sunstreaker’s glossa flicks over his lips. “One dance.” He shimmies free of his dance partner, who has the audacity to glare at Megatronus as though it’s his fault. Even though it is.

Mine, Megatronus wants to snarl. He only manages to bare his denta, presenting a challenge, but the mech opts to grab another shiny frame and dance away.

Sunstreaker wobbles a bit, clearly overcharged but no more so than usual, and all but throws himself at Megatronus. He’s heavier, less so than Megatronus, but is still a force to be reckoned with as he plasters himself against Megatronus’ front. His arms drape over Megatronus’ shoulders.

“I think you owe me that much,” Sunstreaker says, his frame burning hot and brimming with charge, tickling where it bites and snaps against Megatronus’ own armor.

“I don’t dance,” Megatronus retorts, yet his hands find their way to Sunstreaker’s waist, where rolling charge nips at his fingertips. Touching Sunstreaker is quickly becoming the easiest part.

Sunstreaker grinds against him, their armor sliding together. “One song,” he purrs and leans closer, lips caressing Megatronus’ audial. “Come on, Megatronus. Celebrate with me.”

His engine revs, the heat in his tanks building to an inferno. Sunstreaker smells of hot metal and weldfire and heat. His field clashes against Megatronus’, ripe with arousal and charge.

His will crumbles.

“This is a bad idea,” Megatronus says with a shiver, though there’s no chill left in his frame. It’s all consuming heat.

“Everything we are is a bad idea,” Sunstreaker murmurs and kisses him, his glossa plunging into Megatronus’ mouth as though laying claim. He grinds against Megatronus’ ventrum, hand pressed to the back of Megatronus’ helm.

He shivers, knowing he should pull away, but his processor spins. His entire frame is wrapped in heat and charge, and Sunstreaker’s frame against his is a fantasy come to life, a public claim no one can deny. The other dancers press in around them. Megatronus could force it, could pull away and never look back, with the taste of Sunstreaker lingering on his lips.

He doesn’t want to.

His hands tighten around Sunstreaker’s waist. Megatronus pulls his mentor against him, the clash of their armor inaudible over the music. He swears that the beat pulses through his frame, his lines, his spark.

Sunstreaker bites at his mouth, denta leaving stinging nips on his glossa, his lips. Sunstreaker is a creature of motion, rolling against Megatronus’ front. Charge skitters out from beneath his armor, surging over Megatronus and burrowing against his protoform.

He moans, stumbles backward, collides with another dancer. But the larger gladiator just shoves him back, no anger in the motion.

Sunstreaker chuckles. “Do I make your knees weak?”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Megatronus retorts.

“I’m only as vain as I need to be,” Sunstreaker purrs and shifts his weight. He lifts one leg and drapes it over Megatronus’ hip, the heat of his pelvic array pressing to Megatronus’.

His panel’s closed, but that doesn’t stop pearls of lubricant from seeping around it. Megatronus feels the wet heat of it against his plating, and the arousal in Sunstreaker’s field intensifies.

“That’s better,” Sunstreaker says and grinds against him, a shiver rustling across his plating. His fingers flex where they grip Megatronus’ shoulders and press against the back of his helm.

Megatronus’ ventilations hitch. “We’re in public!” he hisses, but his grip only tightens, one hand sliding down to Sunstreaker’s aft. He cups it, keeping Sunstreaker pinned against him. Arousal throbs through his lines, his spike swelling in its sheath, his valve twitching and lubricating.

It’s all he can do to keep his panels closed.

“This barely counts as public,” Sunstreaker teases.

The damp at Megatronus’ pelvis becomes more pronounced. He doesn’t have to look down to know Sunstreaker’s popped his panels. He can feel the hot press of Sunstreaker’s valve against his armor, and more than that, the length of Sunstreaker’s spike slides against his plating.

“Come on. Live a little,” Sunstreaker says, and steals Megatronus’ lips for another deep kiss, sucking Megatronus’ lower lip into his mouth and giving it a nip. “Stop thinking so much.”

Megatronus groans. It feels like a furnace has taken place of his frame, the heat swallowing him whole. He knows he’s in the middle of the crowd, can feel other mechs bumping against his back and aft, but somehow, there’s just he and Sunstreaker.

“This isn’t dancing,” Megatronus growls as he grips Sunstreaker’s aft and grinds harder against him. He’s sure to leave streaks of his paint behind. A shudder trips down his backstrut, arousal thundering in his lines at the thought.

Sunstreaker smirks. “How would you know? You don’t know how to dance.” He nips at Megatronus’ lips, his optics so bright with arousal they are nearly white. “If you’d rather walk away though, just say it. I’ll let you go. You can go back to the suite. I’m sure someone here is willing to show me a good time in your absence.”

No.

Not even.

How many times? How many times has he sat in the suite and waited for Sunstreaker to come back? How many times has Sunstreaker stumbled in, reeking of interface and high grade, with paint transfers Megatronus can’t recognize and Sunstreaker bitches about in the morning.

How many times has Megatronus cursed himself for not having the courage to demand exclusivity? How many times has he stroked himself to overload, thinking of his attractive mentor and craving that warm frame next to his in the berth?

“No,” Megatronus growls. His hands clamp down on Sunstreaker’s hip and thigh, as much a denial as his words. “Not this time. I’m staying.”

Sunstreaker stares at him before his lips curl, like a predator having caught his prey. “Then you’d better hold tight,” he says.

Megatronus has half a second to ponder what Sunstreaker means by that before Sunstreaker grips his shoulders and hauls himself up. His thighs clamp around Megatronus’ waist, the scorching damp of his valve pressing against his panel.

Megatronus shifts his grip to Sunstreaker’s thighs, holding the smaller mech in place. He plants his pedes, staggering back only a pace, but there’s little room to move. The crowd presses in around them, bracing as much as invading. Megatronus moans.

“Open up,” Sunstreaker demands, rocking incrementally, his spike leaving streaks of pre-fluid on Megatronus’ ventrum. “Open up or so help me–”

Megatronus cuts off his threat with a kiss, plunging his glossa into Sunstreaker’s mouth. The other mech shudders, a low moan of static in his vocalizer. Megatronus’ panel pops, his spike bumping up against Sunstreaker’s inner thighs and grazing his valve. Lubricant sizzles as it lands on his armor, and drips on Megatronus’ spike.

Sunstreaker’s valve rim twitches against the head of Megatronus’ spike, as demanding as its owner.

Sunstreaker’s arms tighten over Megatronus’ shoulders. His thighs quiver and then he rocks down, as Megatronus rocks up, his spike sliding into the clenching, dripping heat of Sunstreaker’s valve.

Primus.

Megatronus whines against Sunstreaker’s lips. Pleasure peppers him from all directions. His spark throbs to the same beat of his spike, pulsing as Sunstreaker’s rippling calipers draw him deeper. Charge immediately exchanges between their nodes, a frantic, rapid pace. Static leaps between their frames, nipping at Megatronus’ protoform.

Sunstreaker’s heelstruts kick at the back of his thighs. He breaks away from the kiss and buries his face in Megatronus’ intake, his sharpened denta nicking at Megatronus’ cables. He shivers, grinding his denta to keep from moaning aloud. No one can hear him over the music, but that’s not the point.

His knees wobble. Sunstreaker rolls his hips, rocking down against him, until Megatronus’ so deep he’s grinding against Sunstreaker’s ceiling node. His mentor pants against his intake, denta grazing, leaving dents behind and drawing energon. His talons prick where they grip the back of Megatronus’ neck and his shoulders. Each sting of pain only serves to ground Megatronus, to remind him where he is, what he’s doing, and who his dance partner is.

Sunstreaker.

Sunstreaker who’s riding him like they aren’t in the middle of the dance floor. Who’s spike throbs between their frames, leaving Megatronus’ belly a mess of pre-fluid. Who’s valve grips Megatronus in a rippling vise, pulling him toward an embarrassingly quick overload.

Megatronus can do nothing but hold on and struggle to ventilate. Especially when Sunstreaker’s mouth returns to his, biting and sucking at his lips.

The music throbs through them. Their armor vibrates.

Pleasure pulses through Megatronus’ lines. His lines sing with it. His spark throbs to the beat, swelling in his chassis. He groans, ventilations quickening, cooling fans running at maximum. He’s swallowed by the moment, by the pleasure, and the tide swamps over him, dragging him under.

He pulls Sunstreaker down, grinds against his mentor’s ceiling node, and overloads. His knees shake, his legs tremble, he staggers, but the crowd keeps him upright. It’s dizzying, the pleasure that eclipses all else, and only Sunstreaker’s talons against his cables keeps him away from the pull of reset.

“We’re not done yet,” Sunstreaker hisses and grinds harder against him. He presses their forehelms together, their lips inches apart, oral ventilations exchanging. “I want another.”

Megatronus groans. “You’re going to offline me.”

“You’ll live,” Sunstreaker retorts and clamps his thighs tighter around Megatronus’ waist. “Tonight, you’re mine. Understand?”

Always. Always yours.

He swallows down the promise.

He can only say yes. He can only hold on as Sunstreaker grinds and gyrates against him, panting through one overload after another, transfluid splattering Megatronus’ belly and lubricant staining his thighs. What else can he do but moan as Sunstreaker works another overload out of him?

He feels he should be embarrassed. Ashamed. But it’s a blur. He doesn’t notice the crowd, only tangentially notices the music. His focus is Sunstreaker, his gold armor, the clamp of Sunstreaker’s valve, and the throb of Sunstreaker’s spike against his belly.

Mine.

He’s as claimed now as he was the moment Sunstreaker volunteered as his mentor, bringing the newbie gladiator into his sphere of protection.

With the music in his spark, the beat in his lines, the charge under his armor, the pleasure eclipsing his thoughts – Megatronus can’t imagine anything else he’d rather be.
0o0o0

Alarms force Megatronus out of a sound recharge. He has seconds to dislodge the heavy, hot weight from his frame and throw himself off the berth, before his tanks ripple. His thoughts spin, his processor struggles to function.

He purges, half-processed high grade splattering to the floor in front of him. It is a sickly green sludge, bits of unprocessed raw ore floating in the mess.

The dark chuckle of his mentor slithers into the dim of their suite behind him. “Lightweight,” Sunstreaker teases.

Megatronus throws a dirty rag over the purge and falls back on his aft. He swipes the back of his hand over his mouth, the other hand pressing against his helm. He aches, helm to pede.

He feels the weight of Sunstreaker’s gaze on him, even as he looks down and sees the mess of his lower half. Dried transfluid and lubricant along with paint transfers make for a lurid mess.

So. It hadn’t been a dream. He really had interfaced with Sunstreaker in front of all and sundry.

“How are you fine? You outdrank me,” Megatronus says, alarmed by the static in his vocals. There’s a reason he drinks so little of that sludge they call engex.

“Practice.”

Megatronus grunts at him. He rubs at his helm harder. Memories trickle in around the fog. He’d thought it a dream – the dancing, the kissing, the facing. There in the middle of the dance floor no less. He can’t remember a time he’d been so shameless. Probably because he never has.

His face heats. He prays to Primus no one had recorded them.

The berth creaks. Megatronus’ berth. They’d interfaced on the dance floor, stumbled back to their suite, wriggled their way into Megatronus’ berth, and interfaced more, Megatronus remembers.

That explains the sweet ache in his valve. He distinctly remembers Sunstreaker smirking down at him, a sheen of condensation glinting on gold armor, the prick of Sunstreaker’s talons on his cables.

He looks up. Sunstreaker has worked himself upright and now sits on the edge of the berth. He, too, is a mess of dried fluids and paint transfers, though Megatronus’ familiar grey and red aren’t the only colors present.

A shock of envy squeezes Megatronus’ spark. He bats it away.

“So,” Sunstreaker says, and trails off. His gaze skitters away and a light color enters his face.

Megatronus stares.

Is Sunstreaker blushing?

“So that happened,” Sunstreaker finally finishes. His fingers flex on the edge of the berth.

“Yeah,” Megatronus replies. He drops his hands, lets his arms drape over his knees. “Now what?”

Sunstreaker’s optics cycle. “Now nothing,” he says with a roll of his neck and a shrug. “Unless what you’re wanting is an apology.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.” Megatronus cycles a ventilation. “I want you.”

Sunstreaker spreads his hands. “You have me.” His lips curl in a smirk, and one hand drifts to his groin. “As I recall, you had me many times.”

Megatron’s optics narrow. “I also know I’m not the only one.”

“Ah.” Sunstreaker works his jaw before he hops off the berth, dropping seamlessly into a crouch near Megatronus. His gaze is unreadable, as it so often is, and his field is quietly contained. “I’m not one to settle.”

Megatronus stares at the floor, trying to ignore the stench of his own purge. “Then I guess I’ve answered my own question.”

It doesn’t hurt. He knew this would happen. He can’t blame the throbbing in his processor. He knew what he was doing. He’d do it again. At least, now he knows.

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Sunstreaker loudly cycles a ventilation and scrubs a hand down his face. “I don’t settle, but then, I don’t go hauling newbie gladiators with me wherever I go either. Time was, I would’ve dropped you and never looked back.”

He doesn’t dare tug on that thread of hope.

“And now?” Megatronus asks as he untangles his limbs and pushes himself to his pedes. Sunstreaker rises to fully stand as well.

Sunstreaker’s lips twitch, though Megatronus’ not sure he can call it a smile. “Now, I guess, you’’re stuck with me. And everyone else is just going to have to settle for a grope in the ring. Sound fair?”

“It won’t bother you?” He can’t hide the suspicion in his tone. Sunstreaker loves his freedom, and sees any restriction on it as a chain he can’t abide.

Sunstreaker shrugs. “Not as much as you’d think it does.” He cups Megatronus’ jaw in something oddly gentle. “You’ve never asked me for anything. I suppose I can keep myself to one berth in return.”

Megatronus can’t help but lean into Sunstreaker’s palm, to the warmth of his hand. “It won’t upset me if you can’t.”

“Liar,” Sunstreaker says. He rises up on his pedes and presses a quick kiss to the corner of Megatronus’ mouth before he draws back. “Now come on. I’m a mess. You’re a mess. And I’ve still got some overcharge to burn.”

Megatronus, however, hesitates. “There were a lot of mechs at the celebration last night,” he says, and his face heats. He thinks of the show they put on, how shameless they both had been.

Sunstreaker snickers. “What happens on the dance floor, stays on the dance floor. Trust me, by the end of the night, we weren’t the only ones. No one was paying you that much attention.”

Megatronus scrubs a hand down his face. “You’re corrupting me.”

“Only in the best ways.” Sunstreaker’s smirk broadens. “Now let’s go.”

And like he’s done from the moment he first met Sunstreaker, what else can Megatronus do but follow? His spark won’t settle for anything less.

[Crown the Empire] Salvage 03

Of all mechs to find on guard duty, Optimus was not surprised to see Smokescreen here. He was their self-proclaimed psychologist, though he had no formal training. Jazz had, in all likelihood, assigned him shifts here as Hound was now on Earth (with Trailbreaker to serve as his nannybot) and Jazz only needed himself to look after Mirage.

Smokescreen looked up from his datapad as Optimus rounded the corner. He smiled, and even managed to hold on to his smile when Soundwave appeared behind Optimus. Smokescreen was nothing if not well-trained. He knew how to hide his dislike.

“Come to see Cliffjumper?” Smokescreen asked as he sat upright in his chair, the two legs hitting the ground with a dull thunk.

“Yes. Is he online?”

Smokescreen’s optics flicked to a viewing monitor that he turned in Optimus’ direction. “I don’t think he recharges, to be honest, Prime. He does if First Aid comes down and gives him a sedative, but he won’t initiate recharge on his own.”

Optimus frowned behind his mask. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why. Optimus himself had trouble recharging.

“I see. Will he talk?”

Smokescreen sat back in his chair, picking up his datapad again. “He’ll talk to you.” He sounded certain of it.

Optimus cycled a ventilation. He was honored by Cliffjumper’s faith in him, even if he had so thoroughly failed his soldiers. He did not deserve their loyalty.

“I understand.” Optimus turned toward Soundwave. “You’ll wait here, please. I don’t know how he’ll react to your presence. You can keep Smokescreen company.”

Oh, to be a turbofly on the wall for that conversation. Optimus did not know if the two of them ever faced each other directly during the war, but he trusted Soundwave not to incite anything. And he trusted that Smokescreen would play his mind games and get nowhere.

“Understood,” Soundwave said.

“And here I thought this shift was going to be boring.” Smokescreen’s grin broadened, though it didn’t reach his optics.

Optimus didn’t feel a second warning was necessary, though he gave them both a look before edging past the desk and stepping down the hall. It was brightly light and almost cheerful, which contradicted the miasma of misery that lingered in the air. There were several cells here, but only one was occupied.

It was the first on the right and Optimus stood outside of it, staring in at the figure seated on the berth. Cliffjumper leaned forward on his knees, his hands clasped in front of him, his gaze focused on the floor. His armor was scuffed, paint missing in huge splotches, and there were multiple, visible small dents. The kind of damage that self-repair took care of once major issues were finished.

The kind of repairs that would have been completed as an outpatient or even in medbay, if Cliffjumper hadn’t found some way to escape, steal a weapon, sneak into the Decepticon brig, and assassinate Blitzwing. It was still a marvel that he’d managed to do so.

Through the crackling of the energon bars, Cliffjumper seemed smaller. Optimus’ spark ached at the sight of him. Cliffjumper had always been the type who came across larger than life, his shorter stature never holding him back from being a danger or a threat. Not to mention the inexplicable amounts of weaponry always stashed on his frame.

“Cliffjumper?”

The minibot raised his helm slowly. His optics were dim at first, but they brightened the moment he spotted Optimus. He went still before curling into himself and turning away from Optimus as though ashamed.

“Prime,” he said, his vocals riddled with static. “I’m sorry, Prime. I had to do it. I just couldn’t… I had to do it.” His fingers tangled together, knotting until Optimus heard the knuckle joints creak from the pressure.

Optimus lowered himself to a crouch. It still left him taller than Cliffjumper, but he felt less like he loomed over the poor minibot.

“I know,” he said gently, careful to keep his tone neutral. “I understand, Cliffjumper.”

Silence. Cliffjumper’s hands wrung together further. Optimus couldn’t feel his field through the negation barrier set up by the cell, but he could only imagine how tortured it was.

Optimus didn’t need further convincing.

Cliffjumper needed help, not punishment.

“I want to release you back to the medbay, Cliffjumper,” Optimus said. “But I need to know you won’t try to escape again. Do you understand me?”

Red plating shuffled with discomfort. Cliffjumper was shaking, Optimus realized. His vents hitched as well, little snuffling sounds echoing in the cell.

“I had to do it,” Cliffjumper repeated, his vocals riddled with static. He looked up, and his optics were so bright, they were nearly bleached of color. “I couldn’t function knowing that monster lived.”

Optimus worked his intake. He, too, had born the brunt of Astrotrain and Blitzwing’s attention. But Optimus was almost of a size with them. He’d survived the encounter, albeit with more than a few joints misaligned, his lining torn, and his valve aching. He couldn’t imagine what Cliffjumper had suffered.

“And anyone else?”

Cliffjumper’s fingers untangled. He looked down at them and squeezed them in and out of fists. “Do you know what they did to me, Prime?” he asked, his vocals perfectly clear all of the sudden, though there was no emotion in them.

They were so dead they sent a shiver of dread down Optimus’ backstrut.

“Every day,” he said. “Every night. Every second they didn’t leave me tied up in some corner, starving and broken.” His fingers trembled. His ventilations grew more rapid. “And if they weren’t fragging me, then they were renting me out to Decepticons who didn’t want to bother taking care of their own pet.”

Optimus’ tank churned. “Do you–”

“Remember who they were?” Cliffjumper’s engine growled. His hands balled into fists. “I remember every last fragging one, Prime. And you can bet your aft that if I see them again, and I’m armed, the last thing I’ll be is in a forgiving mood. So maybe it’s better you leave me here to rot. Because I’m not going to work with a Decepticon, no matter how nice they think they are now.”

Optimus’ spark ached. The connectors where the Matrix had once been reminded him of their emptiness as though the old Primes called to him, telling him to fix what had been broken.

“Is that what you want?” Optimus asked. He still believed Cliffjumper needed help, not prison.

But he couldn’t condone outright murder the likes of which Cliffjumper spoke. Because such a thing would catapult them right back into war. Decepticons still outnumbered Autobots, and were Grimlock and Starscream to be killed, Optimus did not know who would take their place. Nor did he know whether that new leader would care for the details of the truce. They could find themselves right back where they started, and he doubted Metalhawk would care enough to provide the Autobots aid.

Optimus couldn’t take that risk.

Cliffjumper’s intake bobbed. He stared at Optimus without really seeing him, his optics bright, but blank of emotion.

“I want to be free,” Cliffjumper hissed out, his vocals torn from his intake like a wounded animal. Optimus was glad, in that moment, that he could not sense Cliffjumper’s field. “But whether it’s these walls or the memories I can’t forget, I won’t be. Not ever again. I’m done, Prime. I’m done.”

He looked away, such a sharp turn of his neck that Optimus heard the grind of his gears. His jaw clenched.

“There are ten names on my list,” Cliffjumper gritted out, and his engine became a grinding pitch. “No one will tell me if they live or not. If you let me out, I guarantee you, I will hunt every last one of them down, Prime. And nothing will stop me.”

There was a finality in his tone that Optimus knew could not be reasoned with. Nor was he sure he wanted to. How could he convince Cliffjumper to lay aside his anger? He had every right to be this furious, this vengeful. He had every right to hate the mechs who had used and abused him.

It wasn’t healthy, but Optimus couldn’t blame him. If Grimlock had not killed Megatron, Optimus was not so sure he wouldn’t have done so himself. The opportunity had been stolen from him, and perhaps it was better that way, but Optimus understood.

It was frightening how well he understood.

Optimus pushed himself to his full height. “I will discuss with Ratchet and Jazz and Ultra Magnus what we can do for you, Cliffjumper. In the meantime, is there anything that you need? I would like to send someone down here to take a look at your injuries, if you’d like.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Cliffjumper’s tone returned to that dull, dead pitch. The vibrancy present in his death threats had abandoned him. “I’m broken, Prime. There ain’t no fixing me.”

Optimus’ hands curled into fists. Apologies bubbled to his lips, but he swallowed them down. He couldn’t ask for Cliffjumper to forgive him. He had failed his soldiers. He deserved every ounce of his guilt. He deserved Cliffjumper’s hatred and blame.

“Even so,” Optimus murmured. “I will do what I can.”

Cliffjumper said nothing further. He only drew into himself, until he was a tiny, huddled frame on the berth, his red paint dulled. He did not at all resemble the brash soldier Optimus remembered. He was but a shadow of the mech he used to be.

Truthfully, they all were.

Optimus excused himself, his spark heavy and unable to hold his helm up high. If he ever needed a reminder about how much he did not deserve this title of Prime his soldiers had given back to him, Cliffjumper would serve as a poignant example. He had failed to protect Cybertron, he had failed to protect his soldiers, and he had failed to stop Megatron.

“Optimus?”

Smokescreen cut through his thoughts and Optimus paused as he stepped back into the main room. Smokescreen was still behind the desk, visibly relaxed though there was a tension beneath his armor that belied it. Soundwave remained near the corridor entrance. He hadn’t moved since Optimus left them alone.

Optimus shook his helm to shake off the melancholy. For right now, he would have to be Prime. He could chastise himself later.

“Has any medic been to see him? Other than First Aid to offer sedatives, that is,” Optimus asked.

Smokescreen sighed and scrubbed his face. “He refused further treatment. Unless you want to legally declare him incompetent, we can’t force it on him.”

Which would enter all kinds of ethical and moral discussions. Optimus did not want to force anything on Cliffjumper he didn’t want. It would be assault of a different kind, no matter how well-meaning.

“And his list?”

Here Smokescreen sighed again, fatigue suddenly etching itself into his faceplate. “Half of them are confirmed dead,” he said, his vocals soft enough not to carry to Cliffjumper’s audials. “Two are in the Decepticon prison with no possibility for parole or release. Two more have petitioned for temporary release and are under consideration. One is already out on probation.”

“You have the names?” Optimus asked.

Smokescreen nodded, pulling one of the datapads out of the desk and sliding it across the top to Optimus. He reached for it, and raised an orbital ridge when Smokescreen didn’t immediately let the datapad go.

Smokescreen looked at him, holding his gaze. “In my not accredited professional opinion, Prime, he’s competent. He’s hurting, and his anger is justified, but that doesn’t make him, for lack of a better word, crazy. If you take that choice from him, you’ll be doing more harm than good.”

“I know. I had already discerned that much.”

Smokescreen released the datapad, and Optimus tucked it into his subspace for later perusal. He would ask Soundwave about the relevant Decepticons and Starscream if necessary, especially if it prevented someone likely to repeat offend from being released.

“Do you think we can help him?” Optimus asked, casting another glance toward the hallway and the branching cells.

Smokescreen rubbed at his chevron. “There’s only so much you can do for someone who doesn’t want help, Optimus. If he is willing, if he accepts treatment, if he talks… yes. Theoretically, it’s possible. But until he makes that choice for himself, no. There’s nothing we can do.”

It was a sobering conclusion. He would, of course, seek a second opinion, but Smokescreen had always been skilled at reading mecha and their intentions. He was probably right.

“I see.” Optimus bit back a sigh. “Thank you, Smokescreen. Please let me know if there is anything Cliffjumper asks for. Within reason.”

Smokescreen nodded and made himself comfortable again. “Will do, Prime.” He tilted his helm toward Soundwave in acknowledgment and picked up his datapad again.

Optimus gestured for Soundwave to follow him and together, they left the makeshift brig. Fatigue made itself known, though Optimus had done very little since returning to Cybertron. He knew he should go directly to the medcenter and ask Ratchet about Cliffjumper, but considering that Wheeljack had returned, he doubted Ratchet was there.

“Destination?” Soundwave asked as Optimus drew to a halt in the command center lobby.

Optimus paused to consider. Perhaps it would be better to send a comm. Ratchet could redirect him or maybe First Aid was available.

“One moment,” Optimus said, and accessed his comm.

He dialed Ratchet first, but received the chief medic’s busy message. He skipped over Wheeljack’s comm on assumption and dialed First Aid instead. The junior medic answered, but his voice lacked the usual good-natured cheer Optimus had come to recognize in him. It was understandable, given his loss, but it still made Optimus ache to hear.

“I hope I am not interrupting anything,” Optimus said, careful to modulate his vocals to sound as soothing as possible. “Is Ratchet otherwise occupied?”

A hint of humor graced First Aid’s words. “Yes, sir. He and Wheeljack are in their quarters. Should I interrupt…?”

“No, that’s all right, First Aid. This is nothing that can’t wait. I only wished to discuss Cliffjumper with him.”

“Ah.” There was a wealth of understanding in First Aid’s voice. “Do you need me to come down and see him? Is he finally consenting to medical care?”

Optimus sighed and rubbed his faceplate. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately. “It is my dearest wish that he does eventually, but at this time, he is still refusing it.”

A light of an idea suddenly lit through Optimus.

“But perhaps there is someone else I can send to convince him,” Optimus said, shifting gears. “I will let you know. In the meantime, if you could give Ratchet a message when he’s free. Let him know I want to discuss Cliffjumper’s treatment.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll do that. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

Optimus cycled a ventilation. “You can take care of yourself, First Aid.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, sir.”

The comm ended and Optimus rolled his helm, his shoulders feeling an intangible weight. So many of his Autobots grieving and hurt. It was worse than the war had ever been. Frag Megatron to the Pit and back.

“Query?” Soundwave asked.

Optimus startled, forgetting that Soundwave had been beside him. He shook his helm and turned toward his makeshift office, which they’d put on the same hall as their makeshift command center and conference room. It was ridiculous to hope for speedy stability, but nevertheless, Optimus longed for a fully-functional base of operations, something they could all comfortably call home.

Currently, he didn’t require that all of his Autobots reside within arm’s reach of the command center, but no one seemed eager to branch out on their own. He suspected that would change with time, but for now, everyone appeared content to bunk nearby.

“Cliffjumper’s not talking to Ratchet, First Aid, or Smokescreen. I know better to think he will seek counsel from me,” Optimus explained as Soundwave fell into step beside him. “The minibots have always been a close-knit group which is probably what’s contributing to his grief. He and Bumblebee are the only two who survived.”

He pinged Bumblebee, but received another busy message. Either he was occupied with Rumble or he was busy with one of a thousand tasks that the mobile Autobots were struggling to accomplish. They had a third the soldiers of the Decepticons and had to start their rebuilding from scratch. They were all scrambling to catch up, even with Grimlock offering support.

Optimus didn’t think he would ever be comfortable with looking out his window and seeing a guarded Constructicon at work.

Guarded for their safety, not an Autobot’s, because while the Constructicons behaved themselves and meekly built as they were told, no formerly enslaved Autobot could forget what they had done. The Autobots were particularly angry because of Ratchet, and Optimus couldn’t blame them. He didn’t need another incident like Cliffjumper’s.

It made him wonder if that was a good reason why Soundwave remained in his proximity. While Soundwave had owned no slave, and the worst he’d done was obey Megatron’s commands, he was still Megatron’s favored and a high-ranking Decepticon. Brand aside, his defection would not be easily received by the rank and file.

Truth be told, Optimus sometimes startled to look up or look behind him and see Soundwave standing there. Soundwave’s very image was so synonymous with the Decepticon cause that even without the brand, Optimus’ danger-alerts still triggered. He had to tell himself not to cycle up his weaponry or engage his self-defense protocols.

So it was understandable.

Optimus left Bumblebee a message. There was little more he could do for Cliffjumper at the moment, which meant he had nothing left to use as an excuse to not do his paperwork.

“Nothing left but to go to my office,” Optimus said, barely refraining from sighing. “Paperwork waits for no mech.” He gave Soundwave a sidelong glance. “Are you coming with me?”

“Affirmative.”

This was quickly becoming a habit, not that Optimus was at all opposed.

One floor down and a few hallways over deposited Optimus into his sparsely furnished office, but whoever constructed it had left a spare chair. One appropriately sized for a mech of Soundwave’s size, interesting enough. Optimus wasn’t going to complain, but he did find it curious.

He sat down, staring with dismay at the stack of datapads that waited for him. His only consolation was that they didn’t contain reports concerning the direction of the war. They only contained information regarding rebuilding and recovery, which apparently was a lot more complicated.

Soundwave sat in his own chair, pulling out the datapad Ultra Magnus had given him. Laserbeak tilted her head against his, nuzzling him for a moment, before taking flight and choosing Optimus’ shoulder instead.

He smiled and tickled under her chin, a gesture he had learned she found comforting. Laserbeak butted her helm against his, a show of affection.

–Mind if I borrow your shoulder?– she asked with a hint of mischief.

“Depends on what you need it for?” Optimus replied with a soft chuckle.

Soundwave made a noise that could have been chastisement, and Laserbeak ducked her helm. Her claws shuffled on Optimus’ shoulder as though she intended to alight again.

“It’s all right,” Optimus reassured with a glance toward Soundwave. “She’s welcome to sit here if she likes.”

“Laserbeak: intends to recharge.”

Optimus’ fingers stroked over the crown of her helm, her softer energy field butting against his own with pleasure. “If that would make her comfortable, I am not opposed.”

Laserbeak chirped and settled herself more firmly. Her feet clamped down with – Optimus noticed – a small magnetic burst that would keep her from slipping free. It was kind of nice to serve as a sleeping perch.

Optimus patted her helm indulgently and returned his attention to his paperwork. He felt the weight of Soundwave’s gaze on him, but when he looked up, Soundwave was focused on his datapad.

He probably wasn’t used to seeing others treat his cassettes with kindness. Something Optimus was sure was lacking in the Decepticons.

They settled into a comfortable silence. Optimus’ first datapad was a summary of injuries and recovery rates, courtesy of Ratchet, and it was mostly good news. Though Red Alert’s prognosis was despairing without Metalhawk’s help, and Ratchet was unsure about Sunstreaker and Sideswipe’s condition. Everyone else would be released soon, until all that remained were maintenance checks.

The next datapad was a summary of all the reconstruction completed in Optimus’ absence, which included this shiny new office and the medbay Ratchet had made his own. They would be focusing on barracks next and had already picked out two apartment complexes that would be rebuilt.

There was a petition to allow the Constructicons a continued presence in Polyhex for faster construction. Optimus frowned, stared at it for several minutes, and then set it aside. He didn’t know if it would be worth the discomfort their presence would cause multiple Autobots.

He would have to ask first.

At least one datapad didn’t have bad news. Energon production was not only steady, it increased, even given their greater consumption. Earth was invaluable because of this. Optimus feared that if they did manage to find the humans, he wouldn’t be able to convince his fellow Cybertronians to return the planet to its rightful owners.

Even his own Autobots would be reluctant, especially considering that it was human betrayal which was partly to blame for their loss to the Decepticons, and wholly to blame for Prowl’s death. If they hadn’t given him that infected datapad….

Optimus cycled a ventilation.

Losing Prowl was the first tragedy.

Optimus knew now that the humans responsible had been controlled by Bombshell under Megatron’s orders and because of Starscream’s plan, but that did not make the anger any less. Despite Starscream’s aid in deposing Megatron, it was still difficult to look upon him with favor, no matter how helpful he had become.

A lot of Autobots had died. Too many Autobots. Too many humans. Megatron had effectively wiped the human race from existence, unless Hound’s team was successful in locating them.

Another datapad was an updated roster and list of all the Autobots currently present and accounted for, their current status, and their current assignments. Optimus was rather pleased to note that there were approximately forty Autobot survivors so far. With any luck, there might be more in the cosmos, hearing the call to return home.

That they were still outnumbered by the Decepticons was disappointing, but at least for now, both Autobots and Decepticons outnumbered the Neutrals.

Soundwave stirred, his visor flickering. He tilted his helm in a way that suggested he was receiving a comm. Optimus waited for him to speak, welcoming the distraction.

“Received notice regarding call for action concerning space bridge,” Soundwave said, a touch of testiness to his vocals, despite the modulation.

Optimus only needed one guess. “Metalhawk is being pushy again?” Because while Starscream could and would be pushy on occasion, Grimlock was doing a fair job of reining him in to what was socially acceptable.

Metalhawk had no such compunctions.

“Affirmative.”

Optimus sighed and rubbed his hand down his faceplate. “When?”

“In two hours. Unless there is protest, in which case sarcastic suggestion to reschedule has been offered,” Soundwave replied, audibly losing a touch of his calm. Frustration wrote itself into his frame language.

Metalhawk made all of them tense.

“Fine,” Optimus said, and swallowed down any complaint he might have had about being exhausted or done with politics for the day. “Tell him we’ll be there.”

“Understood.”

Optimus watched as Soundwave did as he asked. He waited for Soundwave to finish and composed his own quick note to send to Ultra Magnus. His second responded within seconds with an affirmative which made Optimus wonder if Ultra Magnus had even taken the rest he asked for.

And speaking of overworked subordinates…

Optimus leaned forward on the edge of the desk. “You don’t have to be my secretary, Soundwave. Aren’t there other tasks that are better suited to you?”

Soundwave audibly cycled a ventilation. “Prefer this,” he said, at length.

“Why?”

“Duties similar,” Soundwave answered and shifted his weight, setting his datapad down across his folded leg. “Starscream refused. Shockwave on Cybertron. No one else patient enough. Often performed same duties for Megatron.”

Optimus tilted his helm. “You were not only his communications officer, but Megatron’s assistant as well,” he said. “Just how much of the Decepticons were truly under your command?”

It made sense. Megatron seemed to type to give orders, but then not pay attention to how they were carried out.

Meanwhile, there was Starscream who, recent events aside, always looked for a way to backstab Megatron or sabotage Megatron’s efforts. Shockwave on Cybertron was no help. Megatron had gone recruiting for the biggest and the baddest, but the fact remained, most of the civilians had gone Autobot, and when it came to organization and leadership, if you weren’t a military commander, you wanted a civilian manager.

How much of the Decepticon command structure was done from the shadows?

“More than acknowledged,” Soundwave answered.

“Why were you his third then? We never understood that.”

“Command position never sought.” Soundwave lifted a hand, touching the clear glass of his dock. “Leadership unappealing.” He paused, his visor flickering, a flash of his field indicating a level of discomfort. “Core coding incompatible.”

Optimus inclined his helm. “You mentioned it once,” he said quietly. “That you despised slavery.” He rested a hand on the desk. “Were you a slave, Soundwave?”

Core coding was a tricky thing. Slave coding was even trickier. If Soundwave had been created with it, no amount of stripping and re-wiring could completely remove it. There would always be an unconscious urge to support and serve. Even if he could choose his master, the fact remained, it was written into his very being to serve.

Silence slipped into Optimus’ office, not that either he or Soundwave were loud mechs to begin with. Soundwave’s helm dipped. His visor darkened.

“Soundwave was–” He paused, shook his helm, and leaned forward. Optimus heard a faint click as Soundwave’s pedes flattened on the floor and he braced his elbows on his knees.

“I was one of many,” Soundwave continued, and Optimus realized that the click must have been him disengaging his vocal modulator. “Megatron was recruiting. He needed soldiers. He found us, the slaves, the oppressed, the broken, the beaten. He told us he wanted nothing in return, but when you have nothing, it’s easier to throw it all away for a chance to be free.”

Optimus nodded and shifted his weight, reaching to adjust Laserbeak, but the cassette hadn’t moved. She was firmly in place, and still recharging.

“So you joined him?”

Soundwave tapped his fingers on the arm of the chair. “The other options were unpalatable. Back then, he was someone to admire. His goals would have meant an end to what I had escaped.”

Admire. Optimus repeated the word to himself. Soundwave had always been touted as Megatron’s most loyal supporter. While everyone else had been called into question at one point, Soundwave had never been one of them. There was a dedication there which had always spoken of something deeper than that of leader and supporter.

Optimus folded his hands on the table.

“There was a time when Megatron was charismatic. He was a mech worth following, I don’t doubt that,” Optimus said, recalling the broadcasts, Megatron’s speeches, the way he had so easily worked the crowds into a frenzy. “He would not have been able to keep leadership so long without it.”

Soundwave made a noncommittal noise. “Megatron’s ideals were not wrong,” he said. “It was only when his goals changed from revolution to domination, that I began to get uncomfortable. Especially when he made pets of the Autobots, despite knowing how a good many of us despised slavery. After that, my faith in him whittled away.”

Optimus looked at Soundwave, trying not to squirm outwardly as much as he was squirming inwardly. He recognized this was none of his business, but he couldn’t help his concern.

“Were you and Megatron ever…” He trailed off, trying and failing to find the proper term that didn’t come across as juvenile.

“No,” Soundwave answered before Optimus could finish, and the finality in his tone left no room for confusion. “Megatron had favorites, those who bowed, and those he could force. I was, thankfully, not among them.”

Optimus burned to ask why not, but this was already a sensitive subject. He trod the lines of propriety as it was.

“And no one else?” Optimus asked before he could stop himself. “On the Nemesis, I mean. You left no one in the Decepticons behind?”

Soundwave shook his helm. “No. Solitude, I found, was best.”

Optimus frowned.

If Soundwave was a slave before Megatron found him, and he joined the Decepticons after, and had no lover amid the Decepticons, did that mean…?

“I can understand that,” Optimus said carefully. “Forgive me if I overstep but have you ever–”

“Yes,” Soundwave answered, again before Optimus could finish. He shifted his weight in the chair, his battlemask immediately snapping shut.

Conversation concluded.

Optimus leaned back and dipped his helm. “Thank you for soothing my concerns. You were under no obligation to answer those questions.”

“No apology necessary,” Soundwave replied, though the return to his monotone suggested an undercurrent of discomfort. “Optimus’ concern for all is boundless.”

Optimus managed a thin smile. “It is one of my more annoying traits, I’m afraid.” He cycled a ventilation. “That being said, Soundwave, I do hope you understand that you’re not required to work with me. You can do anything else for the Autobots that you wish.”

“Prefer this,” Soundwave said with a flash of his visor.

“You’re certain?”

“Without doubt.” Soundwave inclined his helm. “If subordination required, then I would rather serve a mech worthy of my talents.”

There was compliment in there. Optimus smiled, his spark stuttering an unexpected warmth.

“I am honored to be worthy of your trust,” he said and cycled his vocalizer, forcing his attention to the datapads stacked on his desk. “I don’t suppose that extends to finishing my paperwork for me, does it?”

An echoing rasp that could only be a chuckle rose from Soundwave’s chassis. “Negative. Optimus’ paperwork his own.”

“Can’t blame me for trying,” Optimus said as he reluctantly dragged the first of the stack closer.

His only consolation was that in two hours he would have to meet with Metalhawk and the Decepticons regarding use of the space bridge.

Compared to that, he almost preferred the paperwork.

0o0o0

Ratchet startled online with the unmistakable realization that he wasn’t alone. He tensed, respiration quickening as a quick scan flashed through the room, demanding the identity of the intruder. His spark pulsed in the next second, offering reassurance, just as his scan pinged back a familiar, and welcome presence.

It was Wheeljack.

Ratchet sighed and sagged. He onlined his optics, still feeling groggy from his impromptu nap, one First Aid insisted he take.

“If you can insist that I get some rest then I can do the same for you,” First Aid said with that stubborn look of his, only to tack on a belated ‘sir’ as if that made up for him all but bullying Ratchet into some much needed rest.

He would make a fine CMO someday.

Ratchet hadn’t told anyone yet, but he was already considering replacements. He didn’t want to be Chief Medic until he offlined. At some point, he wanted to hand the reins over to a younger generation. Hopefully, First Aid wanted the task. If not, Ratchet would have to wait a while longer yet.

Possibly forever, if they couldn’t figure out how to repopulate Cybertron.

“Jack?” Ratchet called out as he turned onto his side, searching with his optics this time. Their shared quarters, just off the medbay, were still dim.

Wheeljack shuffled into view, rubbing the back of his helm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you. I only wanted to grab a datapad.”

Fatigue clawed at Ratchet, but he shook his helm anyway. “I don’t mind that. Come here. You just get back?”

“Yeah. Space bridge is up and running.” Wheeljack’s indicators lit up, perhaps in attempt to show his excitement, but his field didn’t quite match it. Wheeljack was as exhausted as Ratchet, and the soot and dirt clinging to his armor only highlighted that.

Ratchet forced himself upright, every joint and hydraulic creaking noisily. Primus, he felt old. “That’s good news, I guess.” He squinted at his conjunx, who stayed well out of reach.

Granted, that was partly Ratchet’s fault. Most days, he didn’t want to be touched. Most days, the feel of another mech’s field was enough to send him spiraling downward. Most days, he was a poor excuse for a conjunx. He couldn’t blame Wheeljack for keeping a safe distance.

“Are you expected anywhere?” Ratchet asked.

Wheeljack shook his helm. “No, but you should get some rest. If Aid sent you here, I’m sure it’s for good reason, Ratch.”

He beckoned Wheeljack closer. “I’d get better rest if you were here. You were gone for two weeks, ‘Jack. I missed you.” Romantic words, suddenly much easier to say now than they had been months and months before, when the Autobots were still on Earth and the war was still going strong, but so many of their friends were still alive.

Back then, Ratchet had taken so much for granted. He’d taken Wheeljack for granted. He didn’t want to make that mistake again.

Wheeljack’s indicators flashed a muted blue, an indication of his happiness. He came further into the room, finally letting the door shut behind him.

“Missed you, too, Ratch. Earth, it… it ain’t the same. The ‘Cons really did a number on it.” Wheeljack set an armful of stuff down on already overloaded table and came closer, daring to sit on the edge of the berth.

Ratchet did him one better; he pulled Wheeljack into his arms – dirt and all – as Wheeljack squawked in surprise. Their fields smacked together, jarring at first. It was taking them a while to find their rhythm again, but soon enough, their fields knitted at the edges.

“I’m glad I didn’t have to see it. And sorry you had to,” Ratchet said as he fell backward and dragged Wheeljack with him, his smaller conjunx falling over him in a sprawl.

“Ratch!” Wheeljack spluttered, flailing to find a more comfortable angle.

It was amusing enough that Ratchet cracked a smile. Relief struck him when Wheeljack didn’t squirm free, but instead shifted to lay in Ratchet’s arms, their plating notched together in the perfect configuration they’d discovered over the centuries.

“I was trying to give ya space,” Wheeljack said.

“I know. And I appreciate that.” Ratchet tilted his helm, resting it against Wheeljack’s. “But right now, I don’t want space. I just want you.”

Wheeljack audibly cycled a ventilation. “Whatever ya want, Ratch. I hate that I wasn’t there for you.” A small shudder raced through his frame. “Every time I remember that we got separated, that I shoulda been there, it makes me so angry.”

Ratchet stroked a hand down Wheeljack’s back, fingers briefly flirting with his winglets. “It’s not your fault, Wheeljack.”

“I know that. I still wish it could have been different.” Wheeljack curled an arm around him, his hand resting against Ratchet’s side as though with caution. “I should have killed every last one of them,” he added with a quiet fury.

Ratchet gnawed on his bottom lip. “I know.”

Silence fell between them, their fields mingling such that Ratchet couldn’t tell where his own ended and Wheeljack’s began. Wheeljack was warm against him, his frame softly thrumming, and the sense of his mass was a welcome one.

Ratchet had often recharged with a Constructicon on top of him or around him, but they were so massive he felt smothered and trapped. Wheeljack was smaller, lighter, and he was comfort, like a familiar blanket. His field pulsed nothing but love and calm, rather than lust and possession.

He never pushed; he always asked.

Ratchet stroked Wheeljack’s back, tracing the path of his spinal strut. “Tell me about Earth?” he asked, careful to keep his vocals soft. He didn’t want to spoil the moment.

“It’s a ruin.” Wheeljack’s reply was bleak and despairing. “Megatron destroyed every sign of civilization, save that which he could use. If there are any human survivors, Hound hadn’t found them by the time I left. There’s nothing green anymore. It’s as dead as Cybertron is, Ratchet.” He buried his face against Ratchet’s intake. “I hope I never have to go back.”

“You shouldn’t have to,” Ratchet said. “But if you do, I’ll go with you next time. I’ll have to face it eventually. Better to do it together.”

Wheeljack made a noncommittal noise. His engine purred. “I hear we have a new roommate.” He lifted his helm, optics bright with humor. “Empty nest syndrome, Ratch?”

“Pah. Enough of that!” He idly swatted Wheeljack’s aft, though it was nothing more than a light tap. “Kid needs someone to look after him. He’ll work himself into stasis if not.”

“I know.” Wheeljack folded his arms under his chin so that he could better see Ratchet. “But meanwhile, our other children are all grown up and ruling the Decepticons.”

Ratchet snorted. “Our children,” he repeated. It wasn’t exactly true, but the Dinobots had always treated the two of them as their parents.

“Yep. Ours.” Wheeljack beamed at him and where their chestplates notched, Ratchet could feel their sparks pulsing in sync. “We did good, Ratch. Aren’t you proud of them?”

“I am.” He curled around his conjunx, stroking Wheeljack’s back. He tried – and failed – to dredge up any arousal. He would have to settle for this closeness for now.

Wheeljack understood. But Ratchet hated that he’d allowed the Constructicons to damage him so much. He felt he should be stronger than this.

“When all this settles, we should go see them,” Wheeljack murmured. “Let ’em know how proud we are.”

“We will,” Ratchet said and dimmed his optics, soaking in the moment, taking comfort in Wheeljack’s presence.

Wheeljack’s engine purred. His systems started to settle. He shifted to make himself comfortable. Ratchet knew if they lingered much longer, the both of them would succumb to the pull of recharge. But Wheeljack was a mess, and Ratchet didn’t feel like scrubbing the berth later.

“Come on.” Ratchet gently patted Wheeljack’s aft again and nudged him with his other hand. “You need a wash, and I need to get up out of this berth. So how about I help you with one to encourage the other.”

Wheeljack laughed, his optics sparkling. “Fine by me, Ratch.” He leaned up, pressing their forehelms together. “You know I’d do anythin’ for ya, right?”

“I know.” Ratchet pressed a kiss to Wheeljack’s blast mask. “Come on. Up and at ’em.”

It didn’t take much more convincing than that.