[IDW] A Ghost Between Us

The moment the name left his lips, Drift knew it was the wrong one.

He cringed, the last echoes of overload feeling stale and hollow, leaving him cold in their wake, rather than warm and satisfied.

Rodimus stared up at him, his face and optics abruptly bleached of color. His mouth opened as though he wanted to ask a question, but feared the answer. His hands tightened on Drift’s upper arms, his thighs loosening around Drift’s waist.

An apology stuttered to life at the back of Drift’s processor, but it died before it reached his lips. It seemed a pale, useless thing at the moment. An apology could not begin to make up for that look on Rodimus’ face, one of devastation and indignation.

“Rodimus, I–”

“Oh, so you do remember my name,” Rodimus hissed. His hand slammed against Drift’s chestplace, shoving him back. “Get off me. Now!”

Drift obeyed, scrambling backward, his spike popping free in the process. Rodimus’ panel snapped shut instantly, and Drift cringed.

Again the apology rose on his glossa, but he couldn’t seem to force it past his lips. “Roddy, I–”

“Save it,” Rodimus said, but it lacked heat. The anger withered away, leaving hurt in its wake. “I can’t believe you’re thinking about him when you’re with me.”

“It’s not like that.” He didn’t know what it was, just that Rodimus’ assumption was wrong. The lubricant on his thighs and pelvis suddenly felt cold and tacky.

“Then tell me what it is,” Rodimus said. He drew further away from Drift, pressing against the wall, his armor clamped tight. His field retreated, until Drift could feel nothing of him.

Drift scrubbed a hand over his face. He slid back, offering Rodimus the distance he so clearly wanted, until Drift stepped fully off the berth.

“It’s… it’s complicated,” he said, and immediately winced. Was there anything worse he could say?

He should be apologizing, not defending himself and sounding defensive. Not, for instance, speaking in a garbled rush of words.

“I just… lately I’ve been thinking about things,” Drift found himself saying, and felt as though he watched from a distance, watched himself make mistake after mistake. “Thinking about myself, the choices I’ve made, where I am now and–”

“And, what, you’re regretting it?” Rodimus demanded. His optics were dim, and his lips pressed together, a thin line of despair.

Drift shook his head. “That’s not what I’m saying.” Frag, he didn’t really know what he was saying. He was panicking, that’s what he was doing.

“No, but it’s what you meant,” Rodimus snapped.

Drift sighed before he could stop himself. He knew that tone, that posture, and he knew exactly what would come next. “Please don’t make this a big issue.”

Rodimus stared at him. Stared at Drift as though he’d never seen Drift before. “How can I not?” he asked, and hurt edged back in to his tone. “All I’ve ever heard from you is Wing this and Wing that. Wing’s so perfect. Wing’s so beautiful. Wing’s so smart. Wing always does the right thing.”

Drift’s mouth opened. Closed.

What?

Rodimus shook his helm, his expression twisting into one of loathing. “I guess capturing people and imprisoning them until they change their minds is what I should have done. It’s the right thing to do. Who knew?”

Drift narrowed his optics. “It wasn’t like that.”

“Of course it wasn’t!” Rodimus threw up his arms, and his field flashed through the room like a sharp smack to the face. “Because Wing is perfect and nothing he did could ever be wrong. Meanwhile, here I am, the one who manages to frag up and fail at everything. Of course I’m wrong.”

Drift folded his arms. “Now you’re being ridiculous.”

“What else is new? Everything I am is ridiculous!” Rodimus snarled and his optics flared. He groped at the berth, and Drift didn’t know why, until one of their pillows came whipping through the air, aimed at Drift’s head.

He ducked to avoid it, heard the soft cushion hit something behind them, an ineffective attack, but Rodimus didn’t need a weapon to hurt.

“Well, I’m sorry your precious Wing is dead,” Rodimus hissed, and the hurt in his voice made Drift ache, too. “And I’m sorry that I’m what you’re stuck with.”

Drift ground his denta. “Will you stop putting words into my mouth? I never said any of that. I don’t even talk about Wing!”

“You don’t have to. Not when you’re calling for him in the middle of being with me on our fragging date night, you selfish aft!” Rodimus snarled, and he lurched across the berth, though he didn’t slide free of it. His field lashed out with fear and panic. “You think he fragging saved you, and made you better, and put you on a right path. You worship him for that. You’d probably be with him now if he hadn’t died, don’t think I don’t know that.”

Drift shook his head. “Roddy–”

“I get it.” Rodimus’ lips pulled back over his denta. “I fragging get it, okay? I’m second best. I’ll always be second best. But Primus Drift, do you have to shove it in my face?”

“I didn’t do it on purpose!” Drift snapped, just shy of a shout, and he couldn’t seem to hold on to his calm. It slipped through his fingers, his engine revving, his field lashing out against the onslaught of Rodimus’.

“You don’t accidentally think about your dead ex when you’re fragging your endura,” Rodimus snarled, his hands curled into fists, his plating rattling. “And especially not enough to end up calling his name instead of mine!”

“Stop talking about him like that. Frag it, Rodimus. Have some damn respect!”

Rodimus’ hands threw into the air. “Now I’m the one being disrespectful. Of course I am. It always comes back to me. Because I’m immature and irresponsible, right?” His vents hissed, his faceplate flushing with heat. “Well at least I know your fragging name.”

Drift worked his jaw. “I never said any of that.” His spark palpitated. His lines ran cold. Everything spiraled out of control, and he had no way to get it back.

“You don’t have to.” Rodimus jabbed a finger toward him, rising up on his knees, his spoiler quivering. “I know what everyone else on this ship thinks of me, Drift. But I thought you were different. I should’ve known better.”

Confusion replaced indignation. He felt lost, adrift, like he didn’t have a place for solid footing. He had no grasp on this conversation anymore.

“What are you even talking about?”

Rodimus’ optics flickered, and his engine breached a higher pitch. “Megatron is a better captain,” he recited, his vocals devoid of inflection. “They actually respect him. Him. A fragging genocidal murderer.” His engine revved faster. “Ratchet’s a better friend to you. Perceptor is a better caregiver to my own hatchlings. He at least knows what he’s doing. He’s never lost one of them.”

Rodimus’s hands formed fists at his side, pain leaking into his voice, and still he kept going. “There’s nothing Thunderclash can’t do. Everything he does is a thousand times better than my best effort. And there are still at least eighty-nine mechs on this ship who are watching, waiting for me to fail. Again. Like I always do.”

Drift shook his head. He didn’t even know where to begin. “That’s… that’s just ridiculous Rodimus. No one is thinking that.”

Or if they were, they had better not be saying it to his face. Drift knew there were members of the crew dissatisfied with Rodimus’ leadership. He couldn’t blame them either. But Rodimus had changed and was changing, and that was what mattered.

Rodimus’ lower lip wobbled. “Ridiculous,” he repeated, and his armor shuffled. “Because that’s what I am.” He repeated the word again, though not aloud, shaping it with his lips.

Oh, Primus. Drift’s processor ached. He rubbed at his forehead. There was no calm here, he began to realize. There was no way to save this.

“That’s not what I meant,” he said with a sigh.

“How should I know? You never mean what you say.”

“That’s not true either.”

“Isn’t it?” Rodimus’ voice was eerily calm, for all that he leaned forward, his optics harsh and unrelenting. “Then tell me you don’t love Wing. Tell me you don’t wish you had him back. Tell me you don’t think about him every fragging day.”

Drift stared.

His mouth was dry. He couldn’t form the words. He knew what Rodimus asked of him, and he couldn’t form the lies.

“You can’t, can you?” Rodimus persisted, in a tone near-earnest, for all that it pleaded with Drift, begging him to prove Rodimus otherwise. “Because the truth, Drift, is that I’m what you’re stuck with because you can’t have who you really love.”

Drift had no words.

He pressed his lips together, and he stared at his best friend, his captain, his mate, the carrier of his hatchlings. He didn’t know how to deal with this. He didn’t know how to answer this without making things worse.

He didn’t know if he could manage to get through to Rodimus. Not with the hurt and the fear turning into a congealed mass in what little of Rodimus’ field Drift could sense.

He didn’t have the words to fix this. So Drift just… didn’t.

Instead, he spun on a heelstrut and headed toward the door.

“Where are you going?” Rodimus demanded. Drift heard the sound of him scrambling free of the berth, feet hitting the floor.

“I can’t talk to you like this.” Drift ground his denta, his spark squeezing.

It hurt to walk away, but he also knew that if he kept on like this, he was only going to say more things he didn’t mean, and hurt Rodimus further. And there was no telling what Rodimus would say in return.

Drift needed to get his thoughts in order so he could explain himself properly. The situation was too charged to do so now.

“I’ll come back when I’m calm.”

“Why? I’m obviously not the one you want!” Rodimus shouted from the doorway to their berthroom.

Drift paused by the main door, stopping to grab his Great Sword. That, too, he realized was a mistake, but only belatedly. It was habit. He never left their quarters without it. He didn’t think twice, until his fingers wrapped around the hilt, and he heard Rodimus hiss.

“Oh, yeah. Better make sure you take Wing with you,” Rodimus spat, his engine growling. “He’ll be great at keeping you company.”

Drift didn’t turn. He cycled a ventilation as he calmly attached the blade with trembling fingers. “I’ll be back later.” He keyed their door open.

Don’t react. Don’t provoke. Be calm. Wing’s voice purred at the back of his mind.

“Don’t bother!” Rodimus snarled, the words following Drift out into the hallway and if Rodimus said anything else, Drift did not hear it.

The door shut and locked behind him, leaving him in the silence of the corridor. Or not so silent. If Drift listened, he could hear the rattle of his cooling fans, the clatter of his armor, the rumbling of his engine, the rapid ventilations.

He paused and shuttered his optics. He leaned against the wall beside the door, trying to find a calm center. His spark churned; his field surged and sank. His hands balled into fists, and he ground his denta so hard he tasted sparks on his glossa.

Rodimus’ face floated at the back of his mind. Hurt and anger, fear and panic. His optics were wide, filled with dismay. He looked alone and abandoned.

Drift’s spark constricted.

He had no idea what to do. So he checked the duty log, and found Ratchet was off-shift. Thank Primus. Drift could really use a voice of reason right now.

Drift pushed off the wall and headed for Ratchet’s. He half-expected Rodimus to start pinging him at some point, and was a little hurt when Rodimus didn’t.

Luckily, the corridors were deserted, and there was no one to bear witness to Drift’s jittery, twitching frame. The wrong word, and Drift honestly didn’t know what he’d do.

At Ratchet’s hab-suite, which the medic finally started to use rather then the spare room at the back of the medbay, Drift buzzed the door. He probably should have commed Ratchet ahead of time, but it hadn’t occurred to him. His thoughts were in too much disorder.

He crossed his arms, and he waited. And waited. Until the door finally opened, Ratchet peering out into the hall, his confusion turning to surprise.

“Drift?” He cycled his optics and tilted his head. “I thought it was date night.”

“It was.” Drift gnawed on his bottom lip, shifting restlessly. “Are you busy?”

Ratchet squinted at him before he audibly ex-vented. “Yeah, kid. Come on in.” He stepped back and gestured Drift inside. “Had a fight, I take it?”

Drift nodded and obeyed Ratchet, a soft sigh of relief escaping him, only to go rigid the moment his optics registered the interior of Ratchet’s hab.

Ratchet had not been alone. Megatron himself was stepping out of Ratchet’s berthroom, a cleaning cloth clutched in his fingers, his optics finding Drift as quickly as Drift had seen him.

Why did he have a cleaning cloth?

No. No, Drift was not going to ask that question because he was not an idiot, and he knew exactly why Megatron had a cleaning cloth, and he did not want to go there.

“Y-yes,” Drift stammered in response to Ratchet’s question. His processor stalled on everything else. How could he have forgotten that Megatron and Ratchet were quote-unquote seeing each other?

“I thought so,” Ratchet said from behind Drift. He sounded long-suffering. “Megatron, would you?”

Drift’s former commander and leader inclined his head. “On it,” he said, and moved toward the door, Drift scrambling out of the way in the process. The clothing cloth vanished into an arm panel.

“Thank you, sir,” Drift blurted out, like an idiot.

Megatron gave him an odd look, a narrowing of his optics. “I’ve told you that is not necessary,” he said, vocals soft, before he was gone.

Drift sagged, cycling a vent of relief.

“You know, every time you call him sir, it makes him uncomfortable,” Ratchet said as he moved past Drift and made a beeline for one of the plush chairs in the main room. Those, too, were new.

Ratchet usually didn’t bother with soft things or indulgences.

“He’s not the only one,” Drift muttered.

Ratchet plopped down into the chair. “You two need to talk.”

“We will. Eventually.” He’d been saying that for months. Ever since he came back. And he and Megatron had talked. Just… not about the things that mattered.

“You can’t keep running away from it.”

“I’m not!” Drift winced. Even he could see how defensive that sounded. Also, a touch shrill.

Ratchet stared at him. “You are, Drift. It’s what you do. Run away from a problem if you’re not ready to face it.”

“It’s not a problem,” Drift said with a huff.

“Not yet. Until it becomes one.” Ratchet pointed to the chair across from him. “Sit.”

It was less invitation and more command. Drift sat, adjusting the Great Sword at the last second, and sat back. He stared at Ratchet, who stared back at him, expression unreadable.

“Now,” Ratchet said as he leaned back and folded his hands in his lap. “Want to tell me what’s causing the drama this time?”

Drift’s finials heated, as did his faceplate. He ducked his head. “It’s my fault,” he muttered, though to be fair, Rodimus exacerbated the situation.

“Surprise, surprise,” Ratchet drawled. “What did you do?”

“Hey!”

“Don’t sound so indignant, brat. I had a fifty-fifty chance of guessing.” Ratchet tilted his head, giving Drift an assessing look. “So?”

He fidgeted.

“Drift.”

“I said Wing’s name,” Drift blurted out, the shame of it making his vocalizer fill with static. “During overload,” he clarified, in case that wasn’t clear.

“Oh.”

Drift’s orbital ridges drew down. “That’s all you have to say?” His spark hammered in his chassis, and his vents stuttered, and Ratchet only said ‘oh’?

“It’s a pretty common mistake,” Ratchet said, only to cycle a ventilation. “But then, this is Rodimus we’re talking about here, and I can see that not going well.”

Drift gnawed on the inside of his cheek. “Especially if you said some things that probably didn’t help your case after he started yelling.”

“That’s what I thought.” Ratchet gave him a look. He didn’t even need to speak. Drift knew exactly what that look meant.

Drift fidgeted again. He scrubbed his palms down his thighs. He knew he fragged up, damn it. He didn’t need to be told that. He needed answers for how to fix it.

“Well?” Ratchet prompted. “What are you going to do about it?”

“I’ve already apologized. I don’t know what else I can do.” Drift folded his arms against his chestplate again, his shoulders hunching.

“Did you explain yourself?”

“He didn’t give me a chance to.” No Rodimus had leapt right into accusations and self-flagellation. Drift cycled a ventilation. “I do miss him, Ratch. But that doesn’t mean I’m not happy with Rodimus. Because I am. I love him! What Wing and I were, I just, I dunno. It was different, you know?”

Ratchet inclined his head. “I do, but does Rodimus?”

Drift opened his mouth. Closed it. “We don’t… talk about Wing much,” he admitted. He knew he’d mentioned Wing in passing a few times, but he still found it hard to talk about Wing. Especially to Rodimus who he knew would react badly.

“I see.”

Drift stared at Ratchet. Those two words were an accusation into themselves. “Don’t,” Drift warned.

Ratchet lifted his orbital ridges. “Don’t what?”

“Don’t use that tone. The one that says you think I’m an idiot.”

“Well, at least I don’t have to pretend then.” Ratchet leaned forward and braced his elbows on his knees. He laced his fingers together. “You should understand Rodimus by now, Drift. He’s painfully insecure.”

“I do know that. I’m not stupid,” Drift muttered. “He thinks everyone disapproves of him. That no one likes him. That even I’m just tolerating him because I have to.”

“In some ways, he’s not wrong.”

Drift’s jaw dropped. “Ratchet!”

The medic shrugged, though it was far from dismissive. “It’s true.” He gave Drift a sidelong look. “I voted against him, you know.”

“Yeah, I remember. And I get why you did.” Drift’s lips pulled into a frown. He fidgeted as he chewed on Ratchet’s comment. “Do people really think Megatron’s a better leader?”

“Do you want me to answer that?”

Drift’s optics rounded.

Ratchet audibly sighed and flexed his fingers. “In terms of competence, yes, there are a few who would say that. But it’s not as many as Rodimus thinks. Kid carries more guilt than I do, and that’s saying something.”

Drift nibbled on his bottom lip again. It began to feel sore. “He only lost Flashfire the once,” he admitted. “And I don’t even blame him for that. Flash is a menace.” More than that, Flashfire thought it was hilarious to hide from Rodimus. He’d gotten himself lost on purpose, the little hellion.

“That he is.” Ratchet rubbed at his chevron. “But perception is often worse than reality.”

Drift twisted his jaw. He didn’t even know how Perceptor did it. Something about him kept the hatchlings in line. They didn’t like to listen to Rodimus at all, for some reason, and especially not Flashfire. Drift could usually get their first-hatched to obey, but he always snubbed Rodimus. Arclight and Wander, at least, hesitated.

Primus, no wonder Rodimus felt like slag. But why hadn’t he said anything?

No, that was a stupid question. This was Rodimus.

Drift sighed. “I fragged up.”

“Yes, you did.”

Drift snorted. “Thanks for the sympathy.”

“If you wanted a shoulder to cry on, you’d have gone elsewhere.” Ratchet loudly cycled a ventilation and leaned back. “Look, Drift. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to exorcise that ghost between you two. You can’t pretend he isn’t there. You may not talk about Wing, but everything you are, everything you do, that fragging sword you can’t leave behind – it all speaks more than enough. Rodimus is not stupid. And he will figure it out.”

Drift bowed his helm and clasped his hands. He stared at his interlaced fingers. “The truth will only hurt him.”

“Worse than a lie?”

Drift shuttered his optics. “I don’t know.” He cycled several ventilations, his processor churning.

“Then you’d best figure it out,” Ratchet advised. “And soon. Because what you’re doing right now is unfair to both of you.”

Drift gnawed on the inside of his cheek. The Great Sword pulsed warmly across his backplate.

Ratchet was right, of course. Then again, Ratchet was always right.

Rodimus deserved an answer. He deserved a truth.

Drift simply had to figure out which one.

~

Somehow, in the course of slowly and carefully building a relationship with Ratchet, Megatron had come to learn that there were certain duties involved. Ratchet had deemed himself Drift’s closest confidante, and along the way, Rodimus had latched onto Megatron, and now, they both found themselves as advice-givers when the two high-strung lovers butted heads and were at odds.

Megatron had an internal bet with himself as to what had caused the strife this time. Honestly, it could be any number of things. He was inclined to believe it was Drift’s fault, however, given the shivery-disquiet in his former Decepticon’s field.

He had no idea what he would find when he arrived at Drift and Rodimus’ shared suite. He was not surprised no one answered the ping. So he used his command override to gain access to the suite, and nearly tripped over a few pillows in the process.

Yes. Definitely Drift’s fault.

Rodimus was nowhere immediately in sight, but as Megatron moved toward the berthroom, he could see a lump of red armor, pillows, and blankets on the berth itself. Little pitiful sounds emerged from the lump.

Megatron approached the berth and sat on the edge of it.

“I’m not talking to you,” the lump said in a petulant tone.

“Are you so angry you can’t even bear to read his field?” Megatron asked, careful to keep his tone mild.

The lump rustled. Blankets were tossed backward, and the next thing Megatron knew, he had a lapful of trembling Rodimus, his co-captain clinging to him desperately.

“Drift hates me!” Rodimus wailed, the static in his vocals clear indication he had been weeping. That and the optical cleanser dripping down his cheeks. “I screwed up everything.”

Primus save him. This was the most sodden mess Megatron had ever been sent to clean.

“I’m quite certain that’s not true,” Megatron replied as he awkwardly tried to get Rodimus into a more comfortable position. He patted Rodimus on the back.

“It is!” Rodimus insisted fiercely and rubbed his face on Megatron’s chest, smearing optical cleanser everywhere. “He’d rather be with Wing, but he’s stuck me with me, and all I am is a mess. A mess he keeps having to clean up.”

Well. To be fair, Rodimus was making a mess right now. Megatron wisely kept the thought to himself however.

He patted Rodimus again and struggled to think of something encouraging to say. His comm pinged him while Rodimus clutched at his frame, and Megatron recognized Ratchet’s ident code.

“Well?”

“There is a weeping Rodimus in my lap,” Megatron informed him. He made it clear he felt this was Ratchet’s fault.

“Then comfort him.”

“He is inconsolable.”

“Try listening, dumbaft.”

Ratchet, never one to mince words, promptly closed the comm. Yes, thank you ever so much for the advice, chief medical officer. It certainly helped.

Not.

Megatron awkwardly patted Rodimus on the back again. The clattering of his co-captain’s armor was pitiful and nearly enough to tug at what little softness remained in Megatron’s spark.

“I am sure that is not true,” Megatron said, trying again. “You have three hatchlings together. You are endura at the very least. Drift loves you.” Drift. It still felt an odd name to say.

“He loves a lot of people,” Rodimus bit out, his vocals as bitter as the buzzing rasp in his field. “He stays with people even when he shouldn’t. When he knows better. He probably only feels obligated.”

“Has he said that?”

“No. Not that he would.”

Well, Rodimus did have a point, Megatron mused. Drift was patently incapable of telling someone ‘no’ if he cared for them. Especially if there were expectations involved. Drift was the sort to ignore his own wants and needs for the sake of someone else.

“What did he do?”

Rodimus went still. His vents snuffled.

“Rodimus?”

“He said Wing’s name,” Rodimus burbled.

Wing. Megatron had heard of this mech, mostly from Ratchet. Apparently, he was the one responsible for fully turning Drift into an Autobot. Megatron also blamed Lockdown and Turmoil for that. Both had failed, and Megatron lost the opportunity to address Deadlock’s concerns himself.

Though Megatron had been under the impression Drift and Wing’s relationship had been purely platonic. Clearly, he was mistaken.

“I take it an inopportune time?” Megatron asked.

“Yeah.”

“Is that all?”

Rodimus braced his hands on Megatron’s chestplate and looked up at him, betrayal etched into his pretty features. “What?”

“All of this drama is because of a misspoken name?”

Primus save him. Megatron felt like shaking Rodimus. And then shaking Drift. And then shaking the two of them together.

Rodimus squirmed and tried to wriggle his way free. “I knew you wouldn’t get it.”

Megatron clamped his hands on Rodimus’ thighs. “Sit down, you noisy thing,” he said, and gripped Rodimus’ chin with one hand, forcing his co-captain to look up at him. “I do understand, contrary to your reaction.” Over-dramatic reaction, but then, this was Rodimus.

Rodimus’ lips formed a pout. “No, you don’t,” he muttered. “You’re Megatron. People have fantasies about you, not about others while they’re with you.”

Again, he had a point. But therein lay the crux of the matter. It boiled down to Rodimus’ insecurities.

“There are many reasons why Drift inadvertently spoke the wrong name,” Megatron said, choosing to ignore the ‘fantasies’ remark. “Yes, the obvious explanation is that he was fantasizing about another mech. Or it could have been that his subcortex connected the way he feels about you to the way he felt about Wing and some wires were crossed. Perhaps he suffered a glitch. Did you ask him?”

Rodimus’ optics shifted away. Guilt wrote into his field.

“You didn’t ask,” Megatron surmised.

“What was the point?” Rodimus grumbled, lips still curved in that adorable pout. “No matter what the reason was, the truth is, he doesn’t want me. He’s just stuck with me now.”

“That is patently untrue.” He tapped Rodimus’ thigh to get his co-captain’s full attention, and Rodimus’ gaze shifted back to him. “He did not have to return to the Lost Light. He did not have to rekindle his relationship with you. He chose to do both of those things.”

Rodimus’ engine revved weakly. “Yeah. After Ratchet convinced him.” That lower lip wobbled. His optics dimmed.

“To be fair, you did not seek out Drift on your own either.”

“I remember.” The bitterness in Rodimus’ tone was cloying. His ventilations hitched. “I should have. I know I should have. I was too scared to do what was right,” he bit out, only for his optics to widen. “And don’t you tell anyone I said I was scared!”

“Your secret is safe with me,” Megatron said dryly. He cycled a ventilation. “The point, Rodimus, is that right now, you have to make a choice.”

Rodimus gave him a wary look. “What do you mean?”

“Do you love Drift?”

“Of course I do!” Indignation seeped into Rodimus’ field.

“Do you love him for who he is, or who you want him to be?”

Rodimus squinted at him, his spoiler flattening against his back. “What kind of question is that?”

“A relevant one.”

Rodimus squirmed. “I would’ve loved him as Deadlock, which is better than Wing ever managed,” he said, and the bitterness in his tone was almost toxic.

Rodimus really loathed this Wing. Or perhaps it was the jealousy talking.

“You sound so sure of that,” Megatron said with a tilt of his head. “You didn’t even know him as Deadlock.”

“Yeah. Well. I never had the chance to.”

Megatron dropped his hand from Rodimus’ chin. “Be glad you did not.” Deadlock would not have liked Rodimus. Deadlock would have killed him. “You are, however, missing the point.”

“That’s because you keep going around it in circles!” Rodimus exclaimed as he threw up his hands. It was that very impatience which made him exhausting to work with at times.

A processor-ache began to form. It was getting common place around all of these Autobots. “If you love Drift, truly love him, then you have to accept the part of him that doesn’t belong to you.”

Rodimus stared at him. “You’re telling me that the reasonable thing to do is lay there and take it when he’s fragging me and thinking about someone else?”

Primus save him from sparklings.

“Not a single one of those words came out of my mouth. Were you even listening to me?”

“I heard you.” Rodimus huffed. “Once again, the fault is all mine. I guess I don’t have any right to be upset. I knew what I was getting into.” Indignation tried to rise in his field, but genuine hurt left it empty. “If I want to be with Drift, I have to settle for being what I’ve always been – second best.”

Megatron shook his head. “I don’t think it’s that simple.”

“Of course it is.”

“No, it is not.” He tapped Rodimus on the head, gaining his co-captain’s attention once more. “You can either choose to accept Drift as he is, lingering grief and all, or you can choose to leave him.”

Rodimus trembled, his lip wobbling. “I don’t want to leave him.”

“Then you must accept him, both his flaws and that there are times his spark will not belong wholly to you,” Megatron said.

“That’s not fair.”

“Nothing ever is,” Megatron replied with an audible ex-vent. He should know. His existence was a series of unfair, unfortunate events.

Rodimus sagged. His forehead tipped against Megatron’s chestplate. “You’re not fair,” he muttered. “You know everything.”

“I have lived significantly longer than you.”

“Age isn’t everything.” Rodimus ex-vented noisily. “You really are the better captain.”

Megatron pressed his lips together. “That is not true either.” Or at least, not entirely.

Rodimus didn’t reply. Perhaps that was the best. Such was a topic they would have to address at a later time. Megatron was more concerned now with repairing Drift and Rodimus’ relationship.

Everything else could wait.

~

Drift wanted to think he wasn’t nervous, but anxiety rippled through his spark as he made the trek back to his shared hab-suite with Rodimus. He knew what he needed to do, and to say, but what he lacked was the courage.

He had to do this. He just hoped he could.

He let himself into the hab-suite, and braced himself for anything.

Well, anything except the sight of the former Decepticon Lord striding out of the berthroom, idly wiping at his chestplate. They froze upon sight of each other, and Megatron was the first to stir into motion again.

“You’ll behave,” Megatron asked, tossing the question over his shoulder.

Rodimus nodded behind him. “Yeah.”

“Good.” Megatron tucked the cloth into his subspace, held his head high, and strode past Drift as though the air between them didn’t sizzle of unresolved tension. “Good luck.”

“Thank you, s– Captain,” Drift said, adjusting at the last minute. He didn’t want to keep making Megatron uncomfortable.

“Co-captain!” Rodimus piped up from the berthroom.

Drift inclined his head. “Co-Captain,” he amended.

Megatron’s lips twitched toward a half-smile. “You’re welcome,” he said, and dipped his head again before he left. The door locked shut behind him, leaving Drift and Rodimus alone.

Nothing to it then.

Drift cycled a ventilation and looked at his endura. Rodimus still perched on the berth, only now he was gripping a blanket, twisting the soft fabric in his fingers.

“I’m sorry,” Drift said, a mere half-second before Rodimus spat out the words as well, their apologies overlapping.

Well, that made things easier.

Drift’s lips curled upward. He rubbed the back of his head. “Can I go first or…?”

Rodimus nodded, though he nibbled on his bottom lip.

Good.

Drift cycled a ventilation and moved into the berth room, just outside the range of Rodimus’ field-sense. “All right,” he said, and gathered his courage. “Rodimus, I love you.”

He moved another step, until his field reached out for Rodimus’ tentatively. The other mech’s plating was clamped so tightly it made him look small. Lesser somehow. Rodimus was supposed to be bright and animated, not withdrawn and uncertain.

“I love you not because I don’t have any other choice, and not just because we have three amazing hatchlings together, but because I want to be with you,” Drift continued, moving close enough that their knees finally touched, and he had to look down at his endura.

That wouldn’t do.

So Drift dropped to a single knee, angling his frame so that the blade of the Great Sword wouldn’t scrape the floor. He looked up at Rodimus, meeting the deep blue of Rodimus’ optics.

“I love you for who you are, flaws attached,” Drift finished.

Rodimus’ lip wobbled. “I love you, too,” he said, so quietly, as though it was a fragile admission. “And I’m sorry I said what I did. About Wing, I mean.”

“I know.” Drift reached for Rodimus’ hand and was so relieved when Rodimus reached back. Their fingers tangled. “I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately.”

Rodimus’ fingers shook, but he didn’t take his hand back.

“Thinking that I’m glad he helped me change, that it led me to what you and I have now. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I’m not sure I ever made a choice on my own, at least, not until I chose to come back to you.”

Rodimus’ optics widened, but Drift didn’t give him a chance to speak.

“I wondered if he’d be proud, if he’d think I was wrong for joining the Autobots, and then I wondered if I should stop thinking about what he thinks, and start wondering about what I think.” Drift sighed a ventilation.

“Sometimes, when I’m happiest, that’s when the doubt creeps in. It gets tangled in my head, separating him from who I am, from what Megatron helped make me, and the war. I get confused…” He shook his head. “Anyway, that’s no excuse. But I promise, I wasn’t fantasizing about Wing. I don’t know what happened, but I swear, I’ve never wished you were Wing, or more like him, or that he was here instead of you. I’m happy that I’m with you.”

It was truth. But also… not truth. He had often wished that Wing were still alive. But Drift was happy with Rodimus, and he was happy to be with Rodimus. Roddy was not second-best, no matter what he thought.

Drift still missed Wing, however. And he thought it would be a long while before those feelings faded.

Rodimus sucked on his bottom lip. “I believe you,” he murmured.

There was hesitation in his voice. Drift swallowed thickly. “But…?”

The sucking turned to gnawing. Rodimus’ hand shook harder. “Do you still love him?” he blurted out and then looked horrified, as though he hadn’t expected to ask the question.

Damn it.

Drift couldn’t lie, but he also couldn’t tell the truth. He’d already hurt Rodimus so much, and Rodimus would only take it the wrong way.

Because yes, Drift still loved Wing. Yes, he’d be thrilled if Wing were still alive. Yes, if Wing showed up out of the blue because of some miracle, Drift didn’t know if he could choose.

He couldn’t tell Rodimus any of that.

“I–”

“No. Never mind. Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.” Rodimus looked both sad and resigned and Drift hated that he couldn’t repair that. “Sometimes, it’s better not to know the truth.”

Drift reached up and gently touched Rodimus’ face. “Whatever my feelings for Wing are, that doesn’t make what I feel for you, or what we have together any less valid.”

“My processor understands that but my spark…” Rodimus ex-vented audibly. “My spark will take a little longer.”

“I know.” Drift stroked Rodimus’ cheek. “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

“I’ve hurt you worse.” Rodimus’ smile wavered. “I guess that makes us even.”

It was a joke, a pitiful attempt at one, but Drift’s lips curved anyway. He leaned up to embrace Rodimus, to press their plating together.

Rodimus, however, tipped his chin and caught Drift’s mouth with his. They kissed, slow and sweet, so chaste that not even their glossas got involved. It was an exchange of vents, a press of their lips, so soft and loving.

Rodimus leaned his forehead against Drift’s, his optics dim. “What to go ahead and try this again?” he asked. “We don’t have much longer before Perceptor comes back.”

“I always want you,” Drift said honestly.

“Then come up on here, babe,” Rodimus replied and tugged on Drift, pulling him toward the berth.

Drift grinned as he rose to his pedes. He stripped himself of the Great Sword, leaning it against the wall near the berth, before he crawled onto the berth after Rodimus. Rodimus opened his arms invitingly, and Drift crawled into them, blanketing Rodimus with his frame. Their limbs tangled as their lips came together again, in another soft and sweet kiss.

Rodimus was warm and pliant beneath him, engine softly humming, his hands grasping as his arms wrapped around Drift’s frame. Drift gently ground down against him, their armor rasping together, their interfacing arrays coming into dizzying contact. Heat built between them oh-so-slow, as Drift soaked in the feeling of Rodimus’ field, and focused on Rodimus and Rodimus alone.

He refused to make the same mistake again.

He kissed his way to Rodimus’ intake, nibbling and sucking at the delicate cables there. He heard Rodimus’ vents quicken, even as heat built faster between them. Hands grasped at his back, his sides. Rodimus moved beneath him, a slow and sinuous wave of his frame.

Drift kissed him again, deeply, wetly, before he broke away. Such a treasure deserved to be treated as such, he thought. He kissed his way down Rodimus’ frame, over the slope of his chestplate, down to the slight swell of Rodimus’ abdominal plating. He had a little bump still, and Drift nuzzled it with his cheek. He knew Rodimus was self-conscious of it, and so made a point to offer it love.

He heard Rodimus’ ventilations hitch. Hands landed on Drift’s shoulders, neither encouraging or discouraging, just resting there. Rodimus’ field pulsed against his, thick with need and want. Hope even.

“You’re so beautiful,” Drift murmured as he ex-vented over Rodimus’ belly and laved the curve of it with kisses.

Rodimus sighed a soft sound. A low murmur rose in his intake, as though he wanted to protest, but the noise was lost to another quiet moan as Drift shimmied lower, his mouth finding and tasting Rodimus’ closed array.

Both panels snapped open after a single kiss. Rodimus’ spike jutted free, pre-fluid leaking from the tip, calling to Drift’s glossa. He in-vented, dragging in the scent of Rodimus’ arousal, before he took Rodimus’ spike into his mouth. His glossa stroked the decorative whorls as Rodimus throbbed in his mouth, making more hitched noises.

Rodimus’ thighs pushed further open, inviting Drift between them. He shivered, his field throbbing with warmth as it drizzled against Drift’s. His spinal strut arched, thighs trembling. His hands clenched and unclenched rhythmically.

Drift took him deeper, until the head of Rodimus’ spike bumped the back of Drift’s intake. He stroked his glossa along the length, as pre-fluid slicked his intake. He felt Rodimus tremble harder beneath him, felt the push and pull of desperation in Rodimus’ field.

Drift’s own array snapped open. He rolled his hips, spikehead rubbing against the berth cover, valve pulsing. He didn’t know which he wanted more, to slide into Rodimus’ valve, wafting heat and damp toward him, or to feel Rodimus’ spike moving deep within him. Both options were equally appealing.

Rodimus pawed at Drift’s tires as though trying to tug him upward. “Drift,” he moaned, need leaking into his vocals. “Wait. Oh, Primus. Hold on.”

“Wait.” Drift blinked and looked up, Rodmus’ spike slipping from his mouth. “Why?”

“I want you to ride me.” Something flashed in Rodimus’ optics, predatory and possessive. “Wanna see you on top of me.”

Drift’s valve clenched. He recognized in Rodimus’ gaze something that was desperate to stake a claim, and he wasn’t at all opposed. If this helped Rodimus, then all the better.

“That I can do.”

He gave Rodimus’ spike a parting kiss before he dragged himself back upright, straddling Rodimus’ hips. He felt the head of Rodimus’ spike drag over his inner thighs and bump against the rim of his valve. He shivered, valve squeezing out a pearl of lubricant. He knew exactly how Rodimus felt within him.

“Yeah, that’s better,” Rodimus said, his hands finding Drift’s hips and clamping down, adjusting Drift exactly where he wanted him.

Drift leaned forward so he could grab Rodimus’ spike and guide it to his valve. He shivered as he rubbed the head of it against his rim and node. Charge drizzled down his backstrut, his exterior node throbbing. More lubricant welled in his valve, quickly slicking his inner thighs and dripping down on Rodimus’ spike.

He frotted against the spike, letting it rub over and over his rim and inner thighs. His calipers fluttered as though demanding he get on with it.

So did Rodimus.

He shifted restlessly, hips rocking up, trying to urge his spike toward Drift’s valve, but he rose up on his knees.

“Drift, come on,” Rodimus whined, vents blasting heat into the air. His optics were bright with need, his field a flood of arousal. “Why are you torturing me?”

Drift laughed. “It’s called being patient,” he said, but he guided Rodimus’ spike to his valve anyway.

He hummed as the spikehead breached his rim and effortlessly slid into his valve, lubricant slicking the way. His calipers fluttered, dancing around the gold and grey length, drawing it deeper.

Sensor nodes and receptor nodes snapped together. Charge danced between them, lighting up Drift’s haptic net. He shivered and planted his hands to either side of Rodimus’ shoulders, bracing himself. He ground down, forcing Rodimus deep, swiveling his hips in little, narrow circles.

Rodimus groaned, his head tossing back. His hands tightened on Drift’s hips as he drew up his knees and planted his feet on the berth. He thrust up as Drift dropped down. They moaned in unison, Rodimus’ spike grinding against Drift’s ceiling node.

Drift shuttered his optics, giving himself to the sensation. Rodimus’ spike stirred pleasure through all of his receptor nodes. He twitched, valve cycling faster and over. His hands kneaded at the berth covers as he rose and fell, riding Rodimus’ spike. He drew in air though his mouth, his engine purring.

“Primus, you’re gorgeous,” Rodimus murmured, and his hands squeezed Drift’s waist. He matched Drift’s rhythm, rolling his hips and grinding his spike against Drift’s node.

Drift’s glossa swept over his lips. He half-unshuttered his optics, giving Rodimus a lopsided grin. “You’re not so bad yourself.” Arousal hummed in his array and peppered down his backstrut in little nips of charge.

Rodimus made a noncommittal noise. His right hand loosed its hold and swept inward. His fingers danced over Drift’s spike before wandering lower, one flittering over Drift’s anterior node.

He bucked his hips, a zap of need jolting into his array. Drift hummed, slamming his hips down and grinding Rodimus deep.

“Ooo, you like that.” Rodimus pulled his hand away and licked his thumb, only to return it to Drift’s nub and give it a firm rub.

Drift’s hips jerked. His knees dug into the berth as he panted air through his mouth, restlessly rutting on Rodimus’ spike. Lubricant splashed out of his valve as he ground down harder and harder, his interior sensors snapping with charge.

He groaned through gritted denta, pleasure crawling down his backstrut, pooling in his groin, and throbbing through his array.

“Overload for me, Drift,” Rodimus whispered, his optics alight with delight. “Come on, my knight. Overload all over my spike.” His thumb pressed harder, sending a shock through Drift’s systems.

He slammed down on Rodimus’ spike and overloaded, valve squeezing down tight, and pleasure burning like a flash-fire through his array. His calipers fluttered madly, rippling up and down around Rodimus’ spike.

His hips jerked in little movements, Rodimus’ thumb easing to gently stroke him through the tremors. Drift’s cooling fans roared to life as he rocked and rolled his hips gently, extending the pleasure.

He perched there, panting air through his intake, arms wobbling. It took him several moments to realize that the buzz in his audials was Rodimus talking.

“Oh, frag that was so hot,” Rodimus babbled, his hands clutching at Drift’s hips now and tugging on them. “Come on, baby. Come up here. I gotta taste you. Come on.”

Drift groaned and tried to stir, feeling sluggish. “Too heavy,” he slurred, forcing his optics back online. The world clarified into Rodimus’ eager face. His spike throbbed in Drift’s valve. “You need to overload.”

“I will. Later. First, I want you up here. Now,” Rodimus said with another tug, his glossa sweeping over his lips.

“Too heavy,” Drift repeated, yet he found himself moving anyway, sliding off Rodimus’ spike, feeling mingled fluids drip from his valve.

“I’m not that delicate,” Rodimus said, and started scooting further down the berth, wriggling his way down as he urged Drift up. “Come on. Sit on my face. Wanna lick you.”

The part of Drift concerned only with gratification perked up. He thought of all the times Rodimus had licked him to overload and that got him moving, albeit carefully. He spread his thighs, his back tires balanced on Rodimus’ shoulders, his valve positioned over Rodimus’ face.

Rodimus wrapped his arms around Drift’s hips and yanked him down, ignoring all of Drift’s attempts to be careful.

Drift yelped and toppled forward, catching his upper torso on the wall. He braced himself to keep from placing his full weight on Rodimus’ face. That was of course when Rodimus’ mouth latched onto his anterior node and started to suck.

“Roddy!”

Drift’s hips bucked. He shuddered, knees digging into the berth, lightning shooting up his spinal strut.

The noises Rodimus made were nothing short of lewd. He slurped and suckled, licked and nipped, lapping up all the fluids dribbling from Drift’s valve, and shoving his glossa deep in search of more. A happy hum rose in Rodimus’ intake as he buried his face in Drift’s array as though it were the sweetest treat.

Drift’s array surged back toward his peak before he could entirely cycle down. His fingers kneaded at the wall as he tried to rise on his hips, but Rodimus kept yanking him back down. Lips and glossa and denta wreaked havoc on Drift’s valve, on his rim, his nodes. Rodimus ex-vented heat, suckled on his nub, and fragged him with his glossa.

Drift’s engine whined. His thighs trembled. Charge danced out from his substructure, lighting up the room, and still Rodimus persisted. He hummed with delight and licked deep, slurping up every dribble of lubricant. His denta scraped over Drift’s nub again and that was all it took.

Drift panted and dropped, grinding hard against Rodimus’ face as overload stripped him of rational thought. He groaned, gritting his denta, trying not to thrash atop Rodimus as the charge erupted from his frame. His cooling fans screeched from over-exertion. His engine rumbled.

Rodimus’ lips lingered around his rim, leaving little kisses to the swollen mesh. “One more?” he said, nasal ridge teasing the plating around Drift’s swollen node.

Drift panted, trying to drag himself back up on shaking knees, but Rodimus’ hold on his hips and thighs was firm.

“Roddy, I can’t…”

“Oh, yes you can,” Rodimus purred, the vibrations echoing over Drift’s rim and making him shiver. “One more it is.” He made a happy noise and latched onto Drift’s nub, mouth forming suction and glossa lashing over the pulsing node.

Drift all but shrieked, helm tossing back, as the lingering tremors of overload roared him back into full arousal. His hips danced, try as he might to take care. He clawed at the air before his palms smacked against the wall.

Rodimus’ glossa lashed over his anterior node, again and again. Only to draw back as he licked a long line up Drift’s valve, lapping at the swollen mesh of his rim, before returning to the pulsing node. The brief breaks only served to ramp up Drift’s arousal and left him clawing at the wall, panting for ventilations.

His spark throbbed, his calipers clicking in restless abandon. A fire grew in his array, centering around his node, and every scrape of Rodimus’ denta sent jagged spikes of need all throughout his frame.

Drift’s hips rocked before he could stop himself. He gasped aloud, fingers screeching against the wall, as overload slammed into him. His forehead hit the wall, his thighs drawing taut as he shook, pleasure shooting through every line in his frame. Lubricant all but gushed from his valve, but that didn’t stop Rodimus from licking him and purring with delight.

Sound roared through his audials. His vision whited out. For a moment, he hung in the air, alight with pleasure, until he came tumbling back into his frame. His over-heated, desperately revving frame. His cooling fans roared and rattled, his vents came in sharp gasps.

Drift moaned.

His helm spun. No, that was the room. It spun around him as Rodimus wriggled out from beneath him and climbed up his frame. He tugged and pulled until he got Drift where he wanted him, and pressed against Drift’s front, throwing a leg over Drift’s knees.

“I’m so lucky. You’re the sexiest thing ever,” Rodimus panted as he buried his face in Drift’s intake and rolled his hips.

His spike rubbed against Drift’s abdomen and pelvic array, leaving streaks of pre-fluid behind.

Rodimus clutched at Drift’s lower back and yanked their frames together, Drift’s groin cradling the insistent push of Rodimus’ spike. Rodimus rutted against him frantically, vents gasping air, and his mouth attached to Drift’s neck cables.

Drift struggled to find coherency in the ebbs of overload that seemed to strip it all away. He pawed at Rodimus, tried to untangle their limbs. He wanted… he wanted…

He got hold of Rodimus and rolled them just enough. He worked a leg free, draped it over Rodimus’ hip, and shuddered as Rodimus’ spike nudged against his sensitive nub.

Rodimus moaned. “Can I…?” He rolled his hips, spike rubbing on Drift’s valve rim.

Drift grabbed Rodimus’ aft and yanked him forward, shuddering as Rodimus’ spike slid into his valve. At this angle, Rodimus could only thrust into him shallowly, but it seemed to be enough.

“Say my name,” Rodimus panted as he rutted against Drift’s valve.

Head still spinning, Drift blinked. “What?”

Rodimus nuzzled into Drift’s intake. “Say my name,” he said. “Please, Drift.”

Oh.

Drift curled an around Rodimus, stroking his back. “Rodimus,” he murmured.

Rodimus shuddered, rolling his hips harder and faster, his hands clutching at Drift.
“My Rodimus,” Drift said again, nuzzling the top of Rodimus’ head.

A low whine rose in Rodimus’ intake.

“I love you,” Drift whispered, his hands stroking, his field pulsing against Rodimus’.

“Drift,” Rodimus moaned, his hands clutching hard enough to sink into seams. He ground against Drift, faster and faster. His denta grazed Drift’s intake. “I… I…”

Whatever he planned to say was lost to a moan as he shuddered. He overloaded, his spike spilling several thick spurts into Drift’s array. He moaned, long and low, entire frame shuddering.

Drift held him close as their fields pulsed in sync, thick with satisfaction, affection, and fatigue.

“Frag,” Rodimus panted, his lips leaving little kisses over Drift’s intake. “Oh, frag that was good. I love you so much.”

Drift stroked a hand down Rodimus’ back, briefly toying with Rodimus’ spoiler hinges. He could feel Rodimus’ spark thumping through their armor, even as their fields intertwined.

“I love you, too,” Drift murmured.

Rodimus nuzzled into him. Their frames twitched and ticked in the simmering heat, until the cooling fans slowly whisked it away.

This was so much better than arguing.

Drift shifted to his side, trying to get them into a more comfortable position. Rodimus’ softening spike slipped from his valve, lubricant seeping free in its wake. They were both a mess, actually. They’d have to clean up before Perceptor arrived, but Drift was in no hurry to move.

Until he caught sight of the Great Sword in his peripheral vision. A pulse of something emanated from it, as though tugging on Drift’s attention. He hadn’t been the only one to feel it, he surmised, given how Rodimus stilled, his head turning toward the blade.

They couldn’t avoid this conversation forever.

Drift leaned over Rodimus, reaching for the sword.

Rodimus made a small noise of dismay. “Do you have to?”

“I think so, yes,” Drift replied, and his fingers caught the hilt, pulling it closer. His other hand wrapped around Rodimus’ wrist, tugging Rodimus toward the blade.

Rodimus, however, curled his fingers in, away from the jewel. “Drift–”

“Please.” He kept his voice gentle, pleading. “I think you’ll understand better if you do.”

Rodimus chewed on his bottom lip before he cycled a ventilation and straightened his fingers. The tip of his index finger touched the gem in the hilt, and Drift felt a surge of energy ripple through the room, even as the gem flashed. The surge had been warm. Loving. Welcoming.

Approving.

Rodimus gasped. “That’s–”

“What’s left of Wing,” Drift finished for him. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense, I know. But some of his spark energy is still in the sword.” In a way, that meant Wing was always with him. And perhaps that was to blame for his faux pas.

Rodimus sighed. “You still love him.”

“Rodimus–”

Yellow fingers retracted. Rodimus shook his head and wrapped his hand around Drift’s instead, pulling it back tight against his frame. No. Against Rodimus’ abdomen, still a little rounded. Several months after laying the eggs, and Rodimus’ belly had yet to completely flatten.

It had to be intentional. As though a reminder.

“I love you,” Rodimus said, and squeezed Drift’s hand.

Drift worked his jaw, but leaned forward and kissed the back of Rodimus’ head. He stroked his fingers over Rodimus’ belly. “Does that mean we’re okay?”

“No,” Rodimus said, and some of the tension in his frame eased. “But we will be.”

Drift understood. Some things couldn’t be solved in a day. But as long as they worked on it, if they talked instead of letting worries fester, they would be all right.

“Fair enough. Do you think we have time for a nap?”

Rodimus laughed softly. “Oh, the exciting life we lead.”

“Well, we are parents now.”

“Parents to three rambunctious hatchlings who will be back, well, any second now if my chronometer is to be believed.”

Drift groaned. “Then we need to get out of the berth and get cleaned up.”

“Nope. Can’t move.”

Drift chuckled and nipped at Rodimus’ spur. “Yes, you can,” he said with a pat to Rodimus’ aft. “Come on. I’ll help.”

Rodimus groaned, but leveraged himself out of the berth. He stared mournfully down at his frame, liberally spattered with transfluid and lubricant alike, even as Drift clambered out after him. He’d checked his chronometer, and Rodimus was right.

Perceptor would be here any moment now. They’d wasted a lot of time arguing, but then, those were things which needed to be said. Better to have it out now than when the sparklings were around.

They cleaned up as quickly as possible. Sadly, there wasn’t even enough time to play around in the washracks. They rinsed, wiped down their frames, and tidied up. Drift fetched the pillows from the main room as Rodimus changed the sheets on the berth, and just in time.

No sooner had Drift tossed the pillows onto the berth than their door chimed.

Drift moved to answer it and was immediately was mobbed by two hatchlings, and only saved from the third because Perceptor had Flashfire tucked under an arm.

Drift had no doubt it was because the little menace had tried to run off. Even now, bright orange arms and legs squirmed incessantly, trying to work their way free.

“Daddy!” Three hatchlings chirped in unison.

Rodimus had taught them that. Drift had patiently said “sire” over and over, but they weren’t having any of it. Human terms were better they said.

At least Rodimus didn’t mind being called Mommy.

“Did they behave?” Drift asked as he bent down to scoop up Arclight and Wander. The former all white with bits of red, just like his sire, and the latter a bright yellow with highlights in white and orange. They were a colorful mess, honestly.

“Did you?” Perceptor asked with that dry humor he often blessed them with.

“Ha ha.” Drift rolled his optics and stepped aside, inviting Perceptor inside with Flashfire still tightly in his grip.

“Mommy!”

Flashfire started squirming uncontrollably as Rodimus appeared, and Perceptor stooped, letting Flashfire squirm free of his arm. He ran helter-skelter for Rodimus, who scooped him up with a laugh, rubbing their nasal ridges together. The two of them – for all that Flashfire rarely obeyed Rodimus – were utterly adorable together.

“Like a little mini-me, isn’t he?” Perceptor remarked.

He had a point. Flashfire was nearly an exact replica of Rodimus, down to the head spurs, spoiler-nubs, and flame motif.

“Behaves as well as his carrier, too,” Drift said.

Perceptor chuckled.

“But that’s okay, because I’ve got two very well-behaved little bitlets here, don’t I?” Drift said as he lifted up Arclight and Wander, nuzzling each of them in turn. They giggled and grabbed at his face to give him messy kisses.

Drift grinned. “Thanks for watching them, Perceptor. We appreciate it.”

“Anytime.” Some of the severity in Perceptor’s expression eased. “I mean that, Drift. If you two need help, don’t hesitate to ask.”

“We won’t,” Rodimus said as he joined Drift, having tucked Flashfire under an arm in much the same way Perceptor had. Flash giggled and wriggled. “Thanks for the offer.”

Perceptor dipped his head. “You are very welcome.” He excused himself, leaving the family alone in their suite.

Rodimus leaned in and kissed Arclight and Wander each on the forehead. “Hey, kiddos. Ready for bed?”

“Awwwwwwww.”

And that, dear friends, was the sound of three hatchlings whining in unison.

“We wanna play,” Flashfire said, kicking his arms and legs. Rodimus had quite the firm grip on him however.

“Well, we can’t always get what we want,” Rodimus said with a laugh. His free hand wriggled toward Flash, squirming into the mechlet’s seams and tickling him.

Rodimus looked up at Drift, winking. His field reached out with warmth and affection, no trace of the disquiet from earlier in it.

Drift couldn’t help himself. He leaned into Rodimus’ space and brushed their lips together. “Maybe just this once?” he asked.

“You spoil them,” Rodimus murmured.

“So do you.”

Rodimus huffed a laugh. He rubbed their nasal ridges together. “Guilty as charged.”

Arclight and Wander started to squirm. “Wanna play. Wanna play,” they chanted, little hands tugging at Drift’s fingers as though trying to uncouple his grip.

They looked down in unison, at three tiny faces, three pleading expressions, three pairs of big blue optics, and tiny nasal ridges. Their bitlets, their hatchlings. So hard to resist. Drift found he didn’t even want to.

“Oh, all right,” Rodimus finally said and rolled his optics. He leaned down to free Flashfire, as Drift did the same for Arclight and Wander.

“Go play,” Rodimus said, shooing them in the direction of the nursery-slash-playroom the entire Lost Light had helped them assemble. “But bedtime for real in twenty minutes!”

“Okay!”

They scrammed, nearly tangling each other up in their haste, though Flashfire quickly rose to the head of the stampede.

Rodimus laughed, but the sound became muffled as Drift pulled him into a kiss. He loved the taste of joy on Rodimus’ lips, and the feel of it in Rodimus’ field. He loved how Rodimus melted into him, their frames sliding together.

He loved everything.

“I love you,” Drift murmured as he met Rodimus’ gaze.

Rodimus smiled and kissed him back. “I know.”

In the distance, something crashed and thumped. And then there was silence.

Silence. Never a good sound when one had three hatchlings.

Drift sighed.

Rodimus rolled his optics.

“Flashfire,” they guessed in unison, and laughed. It was, if anyone asked Drift, a nearly perfect life.

He couldn’t ask for more.

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