[Crown the Empire] Salvage 11

Soundwave was there when he woke. He was there until it was time for Optimus to sleep. He was there as often as Optimus asked for him, and never failed to make certain his presence was welcome. He didn’t presume. He waited for an invitation.

Laserbeak, also, never left Optimus side. Since Ratchet never minded her presence, she never felt the need to leave. Optimus was grateful for it. He couldn’t bear to be alone, but he also couldn’t tolerate too much company. For some reason, Laserbeak’s quiet presence was enough to satisfy both.

During the day, his conscious hours, Optimus welcomed Soundwave’s company, the quiet conversation, his soft humor, his gentle presence. It was easy to forget that Soundwave once bore the Decepticon badge, especially when he disengaged his battle mask and looked even less like the symbol.

They talked. A lot. More so than anyone would have believed Soundwave were capable. There were moments of silence, too. But being as they were virtual strangers to each other, despite this almost inexplicable attraction, a lot of talking was involved.

Optimus found he didn’t mind too much. He used to think he wanted silence, to wallow in his own pain, but Soundwave’s quiet conversation was better than the void. It was better than letting the nightmares drag him down.

There were some topics they avoided or skirted around, such as their occupations before the war. Optimus had no problems admitting who he was – Orion Pax, discovered by Alpha Trion, and who had a Matrix thrust upon him when he wasn’t looking. But Soundwave grew silent and uncomfortable, and Optimus learned to drop the line of conversation quickly.

He suspected, based on previous hints, that Soundwave’s past was murky and terrible, like many Decepticons, and Optimus was willing to wait until Soundwave was ready to share. And if his suspicions proved true – that Soundwave had been a slave until Megatron freed him – then Optimus resolved even more to wait. He had somehow earned Soundwave’s trust. He did not want to throw that away as Megatron had.

Which left them with the silly questions, but important nonetheless.

“You don’t like sweets?” Optimus stared at the communications mech, unable to hide his astonishment. “Surely there’s some type of goodie you find palatable.”

Soundwave shook his helm, lifting his datapad a bit higher as though attempting to hide behind it. The pad itself was ostensibly there because Soundwave was still working, but he hadn’t spared it a glance since coming into Optimus’ prison.

“None,” Soundwave answered, his vocals lacking the monotone, though he still preferred to be concise in his word choice. “Preference of functionality rather than taste.”

Optimus grimaced. “That does not sound appealing. What on Cybertron do you do to spoil yourself then, if not unhealthy treats?”

Soundwave’s visor glinted. “Peace and quiet,” he answered, a note of humor entering his tone.

Optimus’ lips curved into a smile. On the headboard behind him, Laserbeak chortled, shifting across the back.

“One wonders why,” Optimus replied with no small amount of humor of his own. “But you must also have other interests. Music? Reading? Games?”

“Yes.” Soundwave inclined his helm. “All of the above, more so the last.”

Optimus shifted on the berth, trying to ease the cramp in his right thigh. He wanted to get up and move and if Ratchet didn’t let him up to walk around soon, Optimus intended to sneak out. He had wheels for a reason. Movement was necessary.

“What sort of games?” Optimus asked, but before Soundwave could answer, the sound of knocking interrupted the moment.

He looked up and past Soundwave’s left shoulder to see Jazz standing in the doorway, his fingers rapping over the frame.

“Hate ta interrupt,” the Spec Ops commander said with a grin. “But needs must ‘nd all.”

Optimus never knew that one day he would welcome the idea of work. Soundwave’s visits were the highlight of his day, but the hours between were dull and tiresome. Ratchet had taken to confiscating his work datapads because he’d reached his “maximum daily quota of work,” and Optimus was bored out of his processor.

Soundwave stood, perhaps faster than seemed necessary. “Duty comes first,” he said, though his tone carried reluctance. He looked at Optimus. “I will return tomorrow?”

“Or tonight,” Optimus suggested. Or hoped rather.

Soundwave’s field rippled, his armor echoing the motion. “I will be here,” he said, and made a beeline for the door where he nearly collided with Jazz, though Jazz’s little pirouette at the last moment saved him from getting a faceful of carrier dock.

Jazz laughed it off, and Optimus didn’t miss the almost abashed cant to Soundwave’s field as he dipped his helm in apology and then scurried away.

Embarrassment. He never thought he’d see the day when he caught Soundwave in a moment of imbalance.

“Why is it that every time I run into ‘im, he runs away?” Jazz asked with a grin as he strutted into the room and snagged the stool Soundwave had abandoned. “Hey, Beak. How’s it going?”

Laserbeak warbled a greeting in return, lifting one wing. Optimus found it amusing that all of his Autobots had gotten so used to the sight of her that no one so much as batted an optic.

“But yeah,” Jazz continued as he spun the chair around in a circle before slinging himself into it with all the grace he’d shown earlier. “Is it somethin’ I said?”

Optimus, despite himself, chuckled. “I’m quite sure it was. You do have a habit of intimidating other mechs.”

“Who? Me? Well, I never.” Jazz effected an air of offense, though the grin belied it. “I’ll have ya know, Optimus, that I’ve been the epitome of politeness and welcome to old Sounders. Mebbe he still thinks I’m crouchin’ on his territory.”

Optimus arched an orbital ridge. “His territory,” he repeated, amusement rich in his vocals. “And by that you mean…?”

“His presence at your side ‘o course.” Jazz tilted forward, planting his elbows on the edge of Optimus’ berth and his chin on his palms. He looked up at Optimus, all coquettish charm and flashing visor. “Poor old Sounders don’t even realize he doesn’t have anythin’ to worry about. You ‘n me, it ain’t like that.”

Optimus’ lips curved further. “No, it isn’t,” he agreed, warmth suffusing his spark. “What we have defies explanation, yes, but it is nothing Soundwave need compete against.” That he didn’t quail at Jazz’s proximity was testament enough.

Jazz grinned. “Exactly. Though I have to tell ya, OP, I haven’t seen anythin’ cuter than the two of you since I caught Bumblebee and Rumble canoodlin’ in a storage closet last week.” His shoulder tires wiggled suggestively.

“Yes, well, they have a history,” Optimus demurred, though he was happy to know Bumblebee and Rumble seemed to be determined to rekindle their old flames. “I don’t think you came to visit simply to tease me about my romantic endeavors.”

Jazz made a face of playful disgust. “Ya know, it’s that constant need to be workin’ that landed ya in this berth in the first place.”

“There is much work to be done,” Optimus said by form of protest. “How can I tumble it into the hands of others and wash my own of it?”

“Because we told ya to,” Jazz said, pointing a finger at him, toward his spark. “Yer so busy takin’ care of everyone else that ya didn’t pay a bit of attention to yourself.”

Optimus worked his intake, cycling a slow ventilation. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard something similar, and he knew it wouldn’t be the last. He knew very well that he’d been letting his personal health slide. He knew why he’d done so.

He didn’t much enjoy confronting his own behavior, but he also knew it was necessary.

“Then consider this easing my peace of mind,” Optimus replied, and before Jazz could protest, he held up a hand and continued, “I promise not to fill out any paperwork or make any command decisions. I simply want to know what’s going on.”

Jazz tilted his helm, giving him a scrutinizing look. “Okay,” he said. “Fair enough. What do ya wanna know first?”

“Anything that’s relevant.”

Jazz laughed and stretched his arms over his helm with a creak of taut cables. “All right. Well. Hound thinks he might have found the humans. I sent Bee and Rumble to help make contact.”

Optimus cycled his optics. “Wait. You found the humans? That’s great!”

Jazz waggled a finger at him. “We only think we do,” he corrected. “We haven’t made visual contact yet. When they do, they’re gonna let me know.”

“Still… it gives us hope.” Optimus sank back against the head of the berth. It was a relief to know they hadn’t led to the utter annihilation of the natives of Earth. “What else?”

“Onslaught meets with Metalhawk today. Hopefully, we’ll get some answers soon about what he’s planning.”

“Ah.” Optimus inclined his helm. His gaze drifted to the table set up in the corner of the room, where well-meaning Autobots had sent him get-well gifts, mostly small things like cards, hand-made objects, even a small crystal or two. Someone, Optimus suspected Springer, had sent him a fragmentation grenade.

Why?

Optimus had no idea. Perhaps it was a joke? Perhaps it was meant to comfort him by offering a means to protect himself? Either way, Optimus suspected the next time he fell into recharge, Ratchet would make the grenade vanish. It was almost a pity. The grenade would come in handy, should the worst happen.

Metalhawk, however, had seen fit to send what looked to be a vintage bottle of Praxian engex, complete with ribboned bow. Optimus didn’t dare try it and not even Ratchet – self-proclaimed fan of Praxian high grade – had any interest in popping the cork. He assumed it would continue to be a very fancy room decoration, one Optimus didn’t dare throw out on the off-chance Metalhawk asked about it.

Praxian high grade bottles were supposed to be collectables, empty or full, though that was the sort of useless way of thinking that only the elite and high class indulged in.

“Metalhawk sends his wishes for a speedy recovery,” Optimus said, unable to hide the disbelief in his tone. “Are you interested in giving it a taste?”

Jazz spun in his chair to stare at the bottle. A shudder raced across his armor before he spun back around. “There’s not enough credits on the planet, Boss Bot. And what kinda mech sends engex to a patient on strict medical grade anyway?”

“The oblivious kind.” Optimus grimaced and scrubbed his hands down his thighs. “Is Onslaught going alone?”

Jazz shook his helm. “Nah. He’s taking Blast Off. Says there’s another shuttle in the Neutrals, and you know, Blast Off used to be a noble. That oughta win him some points. He’s takin’ Swindle, too, which is a gamble if ya ask me.”

“Not necessarily. Swindle’s motivations are largely monetary.” Optimus cycled a ventilation. “All we can do from here is hope that they are capable of pulling this off.”

Jazz leaned back, folding his arms behind his helm. “I’ve the utmost faith in my temporary team, O.P.”

“I’m relieved that you do.” Though that did bring up another point, encouraging Optimus to shift to another topic. “And what of your actual team?”

Jazz sighed, some of the joie de vivre vanishing from his frame language. “Mirage ain’t asked to come back, and even if he did, I’d say no. He’s in no condition, boss. I’m tryin’ to find somethin’ else for him to do, maybe help Magnus in accounting.”

Optimus glanced past Jazz, but could see no sign of Ratchet through the window. He dared swing his legs toward the edge of the bed.

“And Bumblebee? Hound? Trailbreaker?” Optimus asked.

“Bee’s fine. He’s lettin’ Rumble court ‘im the right way. Breaker’s happy to play bodyguard for Hound and Rav, you know how he is.” Jazz gave him a curious look as Optimus’ pedes hit the floor. “Uh, Optimus. Don’t think yer supposed to be standin’.”

Optimus gingerly rose to his pedes, feeling at once exhausted and relieved. It was a mercy to be off that berth, but he had to admit, his legs felt wobbly and uncertain beneath him. Was he that tired? Had he truly drained himself that much?

“I’m not going anywhere, Jazz. I only needed off that berth for a moment.” He held onto the backboard with one hand and rubbed at the base of his backstrut with the other. “Unless you plan on telling Ratchet on me.”

Jazz coughed into his hand. “I won’t if you won’t. But if he catches ya, I’m goin’ to swear on your spark that I tried to stop ya.”

Optimus chuckled. “I’ll hold you to it.”

Please be careful, Laserbeak said, her words laced with concern. She scuttled closer across the back of the headboard, her optics focused on him. Optimus had nearly forgotten about her, so involved in Jazz’s information had he been.

“I will,” Optimus promised and returned his attention to Jazz. “What of Smokescreen?”

Jazz rebooted his vocalizer, relaxing back into his chair. “He’s the only able-bodied mech I got. He has his hands full. And no, before ya ask, I’m not goin’ to go recruitin’. Not yet. Not until I know what I need.”

“I trust your judgment.” Optimus dared take his hand off the backboard, finding that he could at least stand, and tried a couple careful steps. It felt immeasurably good to be moving again. He waved toward Jazz. “Continue, please. I want to know everything.”

“Everything, huh? That could take awhile.”

Optimus cast him a fond look. “If Ratchet has anything to say about it, time is something I have plenty of right now.”

Jazz chuckled and leaned back in his chair, though his posture remained tense and his visor tracked Optimus’ movements, as if he expected Optimus to topple over at any moment.

“All right,” he said. “But don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”

~

“Are you certain we are choosing the right side?”

Onslaught stared out through Blast Off’s windshield as the landing site for shuttles in Nova Cronum came into view. A small group of mechs already waited, their gazes locked in Blast Off’s direction.

“We are Neutral,” Onslaught said as he kept a hand on the back of the pilot’s chair to hold his balance. “We have no sides.”

“Pfft.” Swindle smirked as he leaned his helm against his fist, his arm balanced on the chair he occupied. “You’re a terrible liar, Ons. Maybe I ought to do the talking before Metalhawk chases us out of here with guns ablaze.”

“That won’t happen.” Onslaught cast him a long look, but as always, it did not faze Swindle. There was little that did. “And yes, Blast Off, I am certain. While I care little for Starscream and only vaguely trust Optimus Prime, a Cybertron under the control of one such as Metalhawk is not a Cybertron I wish to call home. He is old guard.”

Blast Off’s voice echoed around them. “He claims otherwise.”

“He also claims to only want peace, but given the way he’s sneaking around more than that pet spy of Prime’s, he’s a worse liar than Onslaught.” Swindle’s visor flashed. “He wants Cybertron for himself, and he thinks he can scare the rest of us off it.”

“He is wrong.” Onslaught’s hand tightened on the back of the chair as Blast Off gracefully landed without so much as jostling his passengers. “Come. We have work to do.”

Swindle leveraged himself out of the chair, stretching his arms over his helm. “Work,” he repeated, effecting a yawn. “Did they happen to mention how much we’re getting paid for this work?”

“It will be worth it. That’s all you need to know,” Onslaught said as he headed toward the loading ramp which Blast Off had already begun to lower.

“See, when you put it that way, it kind of sounds like you’re saying we’re not getting paid at all,” Swindle muttered, but it was quiet enough that only Onslaught caught it. The words did not carry to the trio of mechs awaiting them just outside of Blast Off’s landing zone.

“Combaticon Commander Onslaught.” Metalhawk stepped forward, his hands clasped behind his back, his gait as graceful and regal as a mech born and raised in the Towers. “Welcome to Nova Cronum.”

Onslaught dipped his helm in a respectful nod as behind him, Blast Off shifted to root mode, subspacing much of his mass in the process. “Thank you, Metalhawk… or do you have a title you prefer?”

“Metalhawk is acceptable.” The Neutral leader’s upper lip curled. “I am not so proud that I need to be a Lord or a Prime, unlike others.”

“I see. You need not use my title either as I carry no rank here.” Onslaught gestured to his left, where Swindle had taken a lazy, non-military stance. “This is Swindle and behind me is Blast Off.”

Metalhawk cycled his gold optics. “You appear understaffed, Commander. I was under the impression there were five of you.”

“Vortex remained in Polyhex.” Onslaught projected disapproval into his tone. “Brawl had another duty.”

Swindle coughed into his hand. “Tex is infatuated with an Autobot. Thinks he found a new toy.” He rolled a shoulder, setting one of his tires into spinning. “It’ll never last. He’ll be back with us soon enough.”

“I see.” Metalhawk’s tone remained perfectly neutral. He gestured to the blue mech at his left, Praxian if Onslaught had to guess. “This is Skids, my second, a former Autobot if you must know.” He then lifted a hand to the mech on his right. “This is Sky-Byte, a former Decepticon.”

Onslaught nodded at each in turn. “Then it is true, what they say, that you welcome all with open arms, so long as they are willing to look toward peace.”

Metalhawk’s lips curved. “Is that why you are here? Are you interested in peace?”

“Among other things.” There was something in Metalhawk’s tone that Onslaught despised. Perhaps because he came across as smarmy. “I would like to thank you for accepting this meeting.”

Metalhawk inclined his helm. “I’ll admit, curiosity compelled me. You are infamous, you and your team, especially your interrogator. Pacifism does not seem to suit you.”

“People change. Priorities change.” Onslaught shifted his weight, clasping his hands behind his back in mimicry of Metalhawk. “There is a difference between deeds done by choice, and those done because of the bonds of slavery.”

Metalhawk made a noncommittal noise. “You wish to petition to join us? All… five of you?”

“Perhaps. You are Neutral, yes? We’d still like the ability to move freely,” Onslaught replied, glancing at Sky-Byte behind his visor. The former Decepticon frowned, his optics narrowed in disapproval. Skids, however, looked bored.

Swindle crossed his arms over his hood. “Some of us have business opportunities that require it,” he added and ignored Onslaught’s engine growl of disapproval.

The Neutral’s didn’t have to know it was planned. Let them think some of the Combaticons could be swayed. Let them think there was a rift.

Metalhawk nodded. “That can certainly be arranged. Come. Let us talk more inside. One never knows when the shadows are listening.”

Onslaught was grateful he did not have a mouth so Metalhawk could not see him smirk. If Metalhawk was suspicious of the Combaticons, it did not show. He was too concerned with Optimus’ band of spies to think that perhaps they stood on his doorstep.

“Metalhawk, if I may, I was told that Octane and Sandstorm were among your crew?” Blast Off said, speaking up for the first time.

Sky-Byte looked up at him, optics narrowed. “Yes, they are,” he said. “Why?”

“They are old friends.” Blast Off did haughty dismissal very well. “Unless they are somehow prohibited from such, I would like to contact them.”

Metalhawk unclasped his arms, one of them raising to gesture at Sky-Byte, who immediately clamped down on a protest. “I don’t see why not.” He smiled up at Blast Off. “I’ll have Skids take you to them.”

Skids grinned at that and planted his hands on his hips. “If you save me a walk, I won’t even complain about it. You’ve got thrusters, right?”

“I do.” Blast Off could not have sounded less thrilled.

Onslaught left them to it while he and Swindle joined Metalhawk and Sky-Byte.

“I have the feeling this is going to be beneficial for both of us,” Metalhawk said as he took the lead, guiding them into the command center of Nova Cronum.

“As do I,” Onslaught said, and before they entered the privacy shield – a curious thing for a group of pacifist Neutrals to have – he sent a ping on a private, guarded channel.

We’re in.

~

A couple months since they officially split from the Decepticons and joined in with the Autobots, and Polyhex still didn’t feel like home. Not that Iacon did either, what with the way Soundwave got all twitchy and wouldn’t let ’em wander around as much.

It still felt weird to look in the mirror and see an Auto-brand. But then, it had felt weird all those millennia ago to see a Decepti-brand, too. Frenzy wasn’t used to being claimed like that. Back on the streets, it hadn’t been wise to announce your affiliations unless your friends were big and bad.

Back then, Frenzy’s friends had been neither big nor bad. They’d consisted of Rumble and Bumblebee and while they were sly, they weren’t intimidating. Finally hooking up with Soundwave was one of the best decisions they ever made.

Well. Rumble might not see it that way. Between that and leaning toward the Cons, he’d lost Bumblebee. But Frenzy supposed it all worked out in the end. Cause there they were, together at last, off canoodling on Earth under the guise of doing some work, and here Frenzy was, stuck on Cybertron.

Alone.

He wasn’t used to that. Being alone. He didn’t know how to be alone. He’s always had his brother, his twin, his best friend.

Frenzy knew Rumble didn’t mean to leave him behind. He knew, like he knew his own spark, that they’d always be brothers, and Rumble loved him and all that slag. But he also knew Rumble had missed Bee with every wire of his being, and Frenzy wasn’t about to complain now that they were tentatively working toward something special.

He didn’t want to get in the way of that.

He just… he just didn’t want to be alone. He wasn’t used to it. If there wasn’t Rumble, then there was the boss and their new siblings. There was Ravage and the bird twins and now, there wasn’t even them.

Ravage was off with her own Autobot toy, and Laserbeak watched over Optimus for the boss and Buzzsaw, little carrier’s mech that he was, was never far from Soundwave’s shoulder.

Which left Frenzy here. All alone.

Alone except for the door he was standing in front of. Passing Autobots were giving him strange looks, but no one was yelling at him or trying to toss him out. He supposed they’d gotten used to seeing former Decepticons wandering the hallways of their pseudo-base.

Anyway. The door. He was standing here, debating whether or not he ought to press the call button. Maybe the Autobrat was messing with him. Maybe that day of fun had been just that, a single day.

Maybe he was standing here for no reason.

And maybe, just maybe, he’d found a friend, one that the boss grudgingly approved of. Not even changing factions could make that old rivalry die quickly. Blaster and Soundwave worked together civilly, but friendly was out of the question.

Frenzy sighed. Nothing to do but try, he guessed. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

He pressed the call button and waited. He knew someone had to be inside. No one was on shift today, and there wasn’t that much in the way of entertainment around Protihex.

The door opened, Blaster standing in the frame. He looked down at Frenzy, the ghost of a frown on his lips. “Can I help you?”

Frenzy put on his biggest, friendliest grin. “I was lookin’ for Eject. He around?”

Blaster’s optics narrowed. He stared at Frenzy for the longest moment before he sighed and stepped back. “Yeah, he’s here. Come on in.”

Frenzy rebooted his visor. “Ya don’t sound so sure about that invitation.”

Blaster pinched the bridge of his olfactory sensor. “It’s going to take me awhile to get used to this, Frenzy. It’s taking all I have not to point my gun at you.”

“Oh.” Frenzy edged through the doorway, trying to look as nonthreatening as possible. “If it makes ya feel better, I had to disable my threat protocols just to walk down here.”

“It doesn’t. But nice try.” The door slid shut behind Frenzy, trapping him in an apartment that looked pretty cozy.

It was filled with warm and inviting tones, and compared to the one Frenzy shared with the boss and his siblings, it was a mess. Organized chaos maybe. Stuff was piled everywhere. There was a huge vidscreen on the wall, currently playing some noisy movie, and Steeljaw and Ramhorn were gathered in front of it.

“He’s in that room,” Blaster said, gesturing to one of the three doorways connected to the main room. “And please remember that there are other audials in the building.”

Frenzy grimaced. “It ain’t like that.”

“If you say so.” Blaster’s upper lip curled toward a smirk. “Just remember that there’s a disapproving carrier sitting right outside the door.”

Frenzy sighed. “I’ll remember.” He headed toward the door Blaster had indicated, probably one Eject shared with his twin.

He hoped Rewind wasn’t here. He was probably in the medbay, come to think of it. Frenzy heard rumors he was getting awfully cozy with one of the visiting Neutrals. He wondered if Blaster disapproved of that, too. Or was his disapproval saved for bots attached to Soundwave?

Engex for thought.

The door was open. Frenzy hung around the edge and peered inside. No Rewind. Just Eject, sitting cross-legged on the floor with a controller in his lap and a small vidscreen blinking in front of him. He was playing one of Earth’s consoles and some kind of sports game.

Hah. Frenzy should have known.

“Not down for family bonding time?” Frenzy asked as he stepped fully into the doorway and leaned against the frame.

The game paused as Eject swiveled toward the door, his visor brightening. “Hey, Deceptidork!” he greeted with a bright grin. “What brings you to our neck of the city?”

“Boredom. Whatcha playin’?”

“Madden NFL 12.”

Frenzy cycled his visor. “What? Really? Ya don’t have anythin’ better?” He pushed off the frame and invited himself inside, since Eject didn’t seem keen on marching him out at gunpoint.

“I did,” Eject replied as he swung his attention back to the game. “It’s back at the Ark, rusting with everything else.”

Oh.

Frenzy tried not to squirm. “Um, my bro’s on Earth now. Want me to have him find ya somethin’ else to play?”

“Ohhh, so that’s why you’re here.” Eject laughed and unpaused his game, his thumbs flying across the controls. “You were lonely.”

“Was not!”

Eject flicked a gaze over his shoulder. “Wanna bet?”

Frenzy squinted at him. “I don’t think ya know how that phrase works.” He laughed and plopped down on the ground next to the other cassette. “Do ya have another controller?”

“I thought you said this game was stupid.”

“Not in so many words.” Frenzy nudged him with a shoulder. “Well. Do ya?”

Eject stared at him for a long moment and then leaned over, pulling a box out from under the berth and rummaging inside it. He produced a wireless controller, which he handed over.

Frenzy reached for it, only for Eject to pull it away at the last second.

“Only,” he said in a playful tone, “if ya get Rumble to bring back some games.”

Frenzy winked his visor and snatched the controller away. “Deal,” he said. “Now come on, unpause so we can play this stupid thing.”

“Ooo. Ya make it sound like so much fun when ya say it that way.” Eject snickered. “All right. Get ready to have your aft whipped.”

“You’re on!”

~

Soundwave returned, technically after visiting hours, but Optimus figured he either was allowed inside, or put his skills to the test and managed to sneak around Ratchet. He came into the room as quietly as his eldest cassette, with not so much as a whisper of sound to indicate movement.

Optimus, fortunately, had not even begun to head toward recharge. Had he been staying awake in hopes that Soundwave would return? He refused to answer that question.

“Welcome back,” he said.

“Apologies for delay,” Soundwave said as he lowered himself to the stool he had claimed for himself. “A matter needed my attention.”

Laserbeak chirped a greeting as well, prompting Soundwave to reply with his field, the warm touch of it briefly brushing Optimus’ own.

Soundwave reached for the nearest of Optimus’ hands, fingers gently curling around Optimus’ own. Optimus’ ventilations hitched as Soundwave brought Optimus’ hand to his mouth. The guard slid aside in enough time for Soundwave to press his lips to Optimus’ knuckles, a surprising warmth spreading through Optimus’ hand in the aftermath.

It was an action as chaste as they come, but something about the simple touch, the gentle sweep of Soundwave’s thumb over his palm as he lowered Optimus’ hand back down, sent an echoing warmth through Optimus’ frame.

“A matter?” Optimus repeated, once his processor rebooted into something a little more workable than mush. He tried to focus. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

Soundwave shook his helm, lowering Optimus’ hand into his lap. Optimus found he had no inclination to request it back. Two points of contact and suddenly, it was a world of intimacy he craved.

“Verbal altercation between two mechs, one Autobot, one Decepticon,” Soundwave answered though nothing in his field suggested Optimus should be concerned. “Disagreement was small, petty, and appropriately, handled.”

“But as with all things that cause a cross-factional disturbance, had to be overseen by a member of high command,” Optimus murmured. He cycled a sigh. “Well, it was too much to hope for no issues whatsoever. At least it was minor. What was the topic?”

“So petty as to be irrelevant.” Soundwave rolled one shoulder in a shrug. “Peace makes everyone uneasy. We are too used to conflict.”

Optimus cycled a ventilation. “That is very true,” he admitted. It would take time and patience to fix what millennia at war had broken. He was under no illusions it would happen quickly and without issues.

“Only need time.” Soundwave rubbed his thumb over Optimus’ palm. “There is nothing that can’t be solved through time.”

His field reached out, entreating, and Optimus allowed it. There was something in the soft patience of Soundwave’s actions that helped him relax, made him feel unpressured.

“Of course.” Optimus worked his intake. “Thank you, Soundwave, for handling the duties I am unable to take. I regret that I am unable to assist you, but I am very grateful that the Autobots have such capable leaders in my absence.”

An absence he began to worry might last longer than Ratchet’s restrictions. There were times, especially now, he wondered if he was still suited for this role. True his Autobots had voted for him, but Ultra Magnus had confided in him that the vote had not been unanimous. He suspected that it was because some of his Autobots worried for Optimus’ health, but Optimus wasn’t sure.

He would not be surprised if any of his soldiers had lost their faith in him. There were days he struggled to find it in himself.

The days where the empty Matrix connectors ached were the worst. So much for being the chosen one.

“Gratitude unnecessary,” Soundwave insisted. He leaned forward, still cradling Optimus’ hand, rubbing soothing patterns in the dermal metal. “Concern is only for your health.”

Optimus gave him a wan smile. “I wish I could say that was a reassurance. It only makes me more determined to get out of this berth as fast as possible.”

“Then luckily Ratchet will say otherwise,” Soundwave said, with something that Optimus dared call a twinkle in his visor. “He will ensure you are fully healed.”

“He can be something of a tyrant, I agree,” Optimus replied.

Soundwave chuckled, though it carried a raspy edge. He bowed his head, brushing another kiss to Optimus’ knuckles, the gentle press of his lips sending a shock through Optimus’ systems.

Optimus’ spark throbbed in his chassis. He gnawed on his bottom lip, suddenly feeling as if there was a great chasm opening in front of him, and he was going to fall into it if he wasn’t careful.

He didn’t want to hurt Soundwave. And he didn’t want to hurt himself. He needed to speak up before it became too late.

“Soundwave, I….” He worked his intake, feeling as though there was a glitch in his emotional circuit. “I apologize, but I am still… I do not know that I will ever…” This was frustratingly difficult to put into words.

Soundwave shook his helm, pressing another kiss to Optimus’ fingers, the warmth of his ex-vents making Optimus’ hand tingle. “I am patient. I will wait. If never, I am content in this.”

Optimus gnawed on his bottom lip. “I cannot ask that of you. Surely you’d rather someone else? Someone less…”

Broken.

He didn’t want to say the word aloud again, but it had been circulating inside his processor for hours, days even. Long before he collapsed in the courtyard, prompting his current state of enforced berth rest.

He felt broken, and he didn’t know if there was a way to repair what Megatron had shattered within him.

“You are who I chose,” Soundwave murmured, his field gently nudging Optimus’ like the warmth of a hug that felt even stronger when Laserbeak reached out as well. “Just as you are. Damaged, yes. But not broken.”

Of course Soundwave wouldn’t have to ask. Optimus had been all but screaming it mentally. Surely his emotional state had to be grating to the touch-telepath. But Soundwave never once complained.

How this quiet, dignified mech had lasted so long in the Decepticons, Optimus felt he would never understand. How Megatron had first proven himself worthy of Soundwave’s loyalty was also a mystery.

He means it, Laserbeak offered. If that reassures you at all, Optimus.

It did, to a certain extent.

Optimus cycled a ventilation. “Then if you’ll have me, partners we are,” he said with a wan smile.

Soundwave’s field rippled with delight. He squeezed Optimus’ hand. “I–”

Commotion beyond Optimus’ room captured his attention. It jerked him from the moment, and he startled on his berth. Soundwave, too, tensed, and they both swung their gazes toward the window.

Lights sprang to life in the hallway. Optimus heard rushed conversation, a sense of tension rising in the air.

By unspoken request, Soundwave released Optimus’ hand and rose, going to the doorway. He keyed it open, peering into the corridor, just as Wheeljack came into view.

“Oh, Soundwave. You’re here,” the engineer said, indicators flashing in quick flickers of color.

“Danger?” Soundwave asked.

Wheeljack shook his helm. “No. I mean, yes. I mean, well, we don’t know. Something’s happened is all we know.”

Optimus frowned and threw back the berth cover. “What do you mean, Wheeljack?” he demanded as he made to swing his legs over the side of the berth.

“No, no, no. Stay put!” Wheeljack said as he rushed into the room, waving his hands. Only to pause, his indicators flushing pink. “I mean, please, sir. Stay on the berth. It’s nothing you need to handle.”

Optimus’ frown deepened. “Are we under attack?”

“No,” Soundwave answered before Wheeljack could, one hand lifted to his comm system. “Polyhex is secure. There is no attack within our boundaries.”

“It’s not us,” Wheeljack said with another shake to his head, and gestured at Optimus again. “It’s the Cons. Something happened to Starscream. Grimlock called Ratch, private channel, not faction-related, asking for help. He’s gone to Iacon now.”

Optimus’ spark lurched. “What?” he made another effort to get off the berth, but it was Laserbeak this time who stopped him.

She launched off the head of the berth and flew in front of him. You need rest, she insisted, something of fear in her optics.

“I don’t know the details. Ratchet’s gonna let me know when he actually knows something.” Wheeljack sighed and rubbed at his helm. “But if Grimlock’s asking for help, I’m guessing Starscream’s hurt badly.”

“They were not attacked,” Soundwave said as he stepped from the door. “I have received no alerts.”

“Which means whatever happened was internal or…”

“Sabotage,” Soundwave finished, and his visor dimmed. He pressed the manual release for his dock, and one of his cassettes emerged, transforming into Buzzsaw. “Iacon. Investigate Starscream’s condition.”

Buzzsaw dipped his helm in midair and took off before anyone could protest, flying out the door above Wheeljack’s helm.

Buzzsaw will get information, Laserbeak said as she flew toward Optimus, as if nudging him back toward the berth. Please, Prime, rest?

Optimus sighed and pinched his olfactory sensor. “Politically, I should at least make an effort to contact Grimlock.”

“Decepticon Lord made private request of creator,” Soundwave said, finally moving away from the door to approach Optimus’ side. “Politically, no response on Prime’s part required.”

Wheeljack nodded in agreement. “Soundwave’s right, Optimus. For now, Mum’s the word until Grimlock makes a public statement.”

It still didn’t sit right with Optimus, but he understood their position. No doubt Ultra Magnus would advise the same.

“Very well.” He lowered himself back to the berth, not failing to notice that Laserbeak’s field went flush with relief, and some of the tension eased out of Soundwave’s posture as well. “But I expect to be kept informed. Political tensions are high as is, I cannot have them worsened by rude behavior.”

“Of course.” Wheeljack nodded vigorously and slid a pace toward the door. “Now I gotta go inform First Aid he just got a temporary promotion. Soundwave, stay as long as you want.” He paused in the doorway and winked an optic. “Especially if it keeps Optimus in that berth.”

Wheeljack vanished out the door, hitting the panel so it would close behind him, before Optimus could muster up any kind of protest. Heat gathered in his faceplate and to his amazement, Soundwave looked a little discomfited himself.

“Autobots nosy,” he said.

“It is one of their more endearing traits.” Optimus quirked a grin and patted the berth beside him. “Sit,” he offered, only to amend. “I mean, please. If you want. I don’t think I’ll be able to recharge anytime soon.”

“Worried?” Soundwave visibly hesitated before taking the offered seat, the heat of his hip pressed to the side of Optimus’ knee.

“Yes.” Optimus rubbed at his forehelm, hoping to stave off the inevitable ache behind his optics, a clear sign of tension. “Our peace is so tenuous. The slightest mistake could catapult us back into war, and I fear the consequences of such would be dire.”

Soundwave’s weight shifted. Peripheral sensors pinged a warning before Optimus felt the careful touch to his fingers where his hand rested on the berth. He turned his wrist, offering his hand to Soundwave who accepted the invitation. He curled their fingers together, his field reaching out for Optimus’.

“It will not happen,” Soundwave said quietly. “We are stronger than any machinations Metalhawk or whoever else has in store.”

“I certainly hope that is true,” Optimus murmured as he lowered his hand, and happened to catch Soundwave’s gaze.

The crimson visor gleamed at him, the intent in Soundwave’s expression making Optimus’ spark skip a beat. He worked his intake, intensely aware of the points of contact between them, and what the clamor in the hallway had interrupted.

Optimus opened his mouth to speak and had to reboot his vocalizer when nothing came out but static. He coughed into his free hand, feeling heat steal into his faceplate once more.

“Thank you,” he said. “For the reassurance.”

Soundwave rubbed his thumb over Optimus’ knuckles. “It is what partners do,” he said.

Optimus’ spark throbbed with warmth.

Partners.

He liked the sound of that.

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