[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.

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