[Crown the Empire] Reign 13

“It it just me, or is everyone tense?” Tailgate asked. He leaned closer to Cyclonus, his vocals barely above a whisper.

“You are not mistaken.” Cyclonus leaned down to rest a gentle hand on the minibot’s shoulder. “Our second-in-command, Starscream, has been injured and is in critical condition. It has left many of us on edge.”

“What happened to him?”

Cyclonus drew to a halt and lowered himself to a nearby bench, relieved when Tailgate joined him with a little hop. The minibot’s legs swung with an almost innocent air.

“One of our own infected him with a virus,” Cyclonus said. He wasn’t sure how much of it was classified, however, so he tried to keep to the basics. “I feel there are deeper issues regarding the matter, however. In any case, it has concerned many of our residents.”

Tailgate leaned closer, his field pressing comfortingly against Cyclonus’. “Did you catch whoever did it?”

“We did not. He sought refuge in Nova Cronum.”

Tailgate’s visor flashed. One hand reached for Cyclonus’, his fingers tangling with Cyclonus’ own. “And Metalhawk refuses to send him back, I guess.”

Somewhat naive Tailgate might be, but he was not stupid. There was a reason he left the Neutrals, and Cyclonus was not so vain to think it was only for himself.

“We have not asked for his return,” Cyclonus corrected. “Though I suspect if we did, it would matter little.”

Tailgate made a noncommittal noise. He leaned against Cyclonus’ side, his gaze focused in the direction of the rebuilding across the street from them.

They were just south of the command center, across from a building that would soon become a storage depot. It was intended to distribute supplies and facilitate trade with whatever nearby planets and species were willing to do business with Cybertronians. It was the first step toward building a stable economy, and would help manage their internal resources as well.

Swindle had volunteered his advice, Cyclonus knew. There was still some debate as to whether they should accept his aid. Swindle tended to only serve his own interests, though if there were credits involved, he became remarkably more open.

“Metalhawk is not interested in peace,” Tailgate said after a moment, his voice soft and sad. “And by that I mean, he’s not interested in a peace that he’s not in charge of. He’s pretty convinced he’s the only one who knows what’s best for Cybertron.”

“And what do you think?”

Tailgate squeezed Cyclonus’ hand. “I think that to have one person, no matter who they are, in charge of everyone is a bad idea. And I think Metalhawk trying to bring back all the old things that led to the war is a worse idea.”

“Well, you are not wrong,” Cyclonus agreed.

It was kind of nice, he reflected, to do nothing but sit here in relative quiet. It was noisy across from them, with the probationed Constructicons shouting to each other, the sound of welding and metal bars clanking, and drilling. But here, between he and Tailgate, it was a comfortable quiet.

“I’m still glad I came here,” Tailgate said after a long moment. He leaned in against Cyclonus’ side, the warmth of his plating and his field a welcome thing. “The Decepticons are not as terrible as Metalhawk claims.”

Cyclonus hesitated for all of a second before he lay an arm around and behind Tailgate, allowing the closeness. “There was a time when Metalhawk was not entirely wrong,” he admitted. “We were misled, as a whole, by Megatron’s intentions. That which originally drove us was lost to his thirst for power. What we are now is wholly different.”

A rattling clatter of some dropped equipment punctuated his words. That it was immediately followed by loud cursing and the beginnings of an argument was not surprising. Across from them, two of the Constructicons – Long Haul and Bonecrusher – were snarling at each other, but a sharp word from Scrapper had them huffing and getting back to work. There was one other who was on work release – Scavenger, whom Cyclonus privately thought was most likely to earn his freedom before the others. The rest, however, remained in the brig.

It was part of their parole. All six Constructions could not be permitted their freedom at once. Even with inhibitor claws – which Hook was trained enough to remove – the risk of them transforming and combining was too great. Today, it was Hook and Mixmaster who were stuck in their cells.

“Maybe that’s true, but he’s definitely wrong now,” Tailgate said with a shrug. “And I hate that he’s trying to ruin what we’re all working hard to fix.”

“As do I.” Cyclonus brushed his fingers over Tailgate’s shoulder, the tips of them bouncing against the minibot’s tires.

A minibot grounder and a warrior flyer. They were an unlikely combination that would have never been approved on Cybertron of old, not even for something as chaste as friendship.

Given that they could sit together now without anyone arresting them for doing so, Cyclonus was grateful for what it had taken to get here. He did not agree with Megatron’s more recent methods, but he couldn’t argue with this result.

Cybertron’s destruction, yes.

This moment with Tailgate? He was glad he could have it.

Tailgate slid out from Cyclonus’ arm and bounced to his pedes, his optical band alight with mischief. “Enough resting. I believe you still owe me a tour.” He held out his hands, offering them to Cyclonus without fear or hesitation.

Cyclonus felt a smile tug at his lips. He accepted Tailgate’s hands but instead of standing, he drew them forward, tugging Tailgate closer by the length of a step.

“That I do,” he murmured, and bent his helm, pressing a chaste kiss to the knuckles of each hand. “Thank you, Tailgate.”

The minibot’s field flushed with warm delight. His fingers curled against Cyclonus’ as he shifted his weight.

“Um, okay,” he said with a little laugh. “I’m not sure what for, but I’ll be happy to do it again if that’s what it earns me.”

“Simply continue being you, and that will suffice,” Cyclonus said, and finally stood, though he transferred his hand to Tailgate’s shoulder. “Shall we proceed?”

Tailgate reached up and lay his hands over Cyclonus’. “Yes! Wherever you want to go, I don’t mind.” He beamed, visor bright and delighted.

The sight of it warmed the very core of Cyclonus’ spark. He couldn’t help but smile down at the minibot, before he gestured Tailgate back onto the main road. There were plenty more reconstructive efforts to see, perhaps even a visit to the local energon bar that an enterprising Decepticon had devised.

Wherever, he supposed, it did not matter. He was content to spend time with Tailgate whatever they did.

And that, right there, was the greatest surprise of all.

~

Grimlock surfaced from recharge slowly, feeling as though he’d been buried deep underground, lost beneath swaths of fabric, and the dark press of soil above him. It was not as unsettling a feeling as some might think, but it did make finding consciousness that much more difficult.

There was a relentless pinging at the back of his processor. It nagged for his attention, demanding it before he could so much as online his visual or audio center. So Grimlock floated in the dark and answered the ping.

“Yes?”

“Grimlock, it’s Ratchet.” His creator sounded impatient, but also cautious. There was something in his tone, some edge, that pushed Grimlock further toward wakefulness. “I hate to make you online, kid, but I need you to come to the medbay.”

Grimlock’s visor snapped online as his spark ran cold. “Is Starscream…?”

“He’s fine. What kind of crock of a medic do you think I am?” Ratchet huffed, but it was half-sparked. “We have news, and I’d rather tell you in person.”

The rest of Grimlock’s sensory suites onlined. He counted two other sets of ventilations – and the room was dim, save for the illumination provided by biolights.

“I’ll be there shortly.”

Grimlock ended the comm before he could let himself read too deeply into Ratchet’s vocal tones. He tried to sit up, but there was a heavy weight on one arm, and a heavier weight sprawled across his lower limbs.

He’d crawled into berth with Swoop, who’d all but insisted on it. Claiming that Grimlock would not recharge properly if he was alone, and Swoop had to look after him because no one else could right now.

Grimlock had been too tired to argue. He’d let Swoop shove energon into him, tug him through the washracks for a quick rinse, and then push him into a berth. He hadn’t even complained when Swoop crawled in beside him, the comforting sweep of his sibling’s energy field enough to soothe the tension from his lines long enough for him to fall into recharge.

He only remembered Swoop. Whoever was on his legs was a mystery.

Grimlock propped himself up with his elbow and looked down, bright yellow and red biolights along with a familiar field helping identify a Dinobot. It wasn’t until he saw the long horn projections that he realized it was Slag. Not usually a cuddler, that one. He must have showed up in the middle of the night and decided it was time for a Dino-pile.

He’d only said it half in jest when he mentioned such a thing to Starscream. They didn’t always recharge in a pile, but sometimes, it was the only way they felt safe back in the Ark.

As nice as it was, Grimlock did have somewhere to be. He twitched his legs to wake up Slag, and tapped Swoop on the shoulder.

“Oy! Me Grimlock need go to medbay!” he growled, hoping there was just enough command in his tone that both of them would online.

Swoop was the first to stir, rolling over and stretching out with a satisfied noise. “You Grimlock recharge better?” he asked.

“Yes. Thank you.” He poked Swoop in the shoulder. “You Swoop move. Me Grimlock need get up.”

Swoop’s lips curved in a grin. “Tell him Slag that. He’s heavier than me Swoop.” He chortled as he looked down at the Triceratops laying across both of their legs.

Slag had come in and plopped down on both of them without so much as a question. Which begged the question as to how deeply Grimlock had been recharging to not notice the weight of his sibling.

Grimlock jostled him again, a bit harder this time. But all Slag did was snore louder – because yes, he did snore – and wriggle harder against Grimlock’s legs. Which made him think that Slag wasn’t really in recharge.

“You Slag wake up!” Swoop said, though he was giggling too hard to be taken seriously.

“You Swoop and you Grimlock be quiet. Me Slag recharging,” came the grumbling reply as one optic lit, glaring at them both.

Grimlock growled down at him. “You Slag get up! Me Grimlock need check on him Starscream!” His field flared, rasping against Slag’s.

Never had he seen a Dinobot move so slowly as when Slag laboriously pushed himself up and shifted off of their legs. He slumped to the floor and stretched, tail flicking about.

“You two are no fun,” Slag grumbled.

Grimlock ignored him and slid off the berth, surprised that he did actually feel well rested. The ache at the back of his processor was gone, and while the fog of recharge lingered, it was no longer the fog of fatigue.

“You Grimlock want company?” Swoop asked as he slid off the berth as well, wings flicking in a motion he had to have learned from the Seekers.

Grimlock shook his helm. “No. Me Grimlock be fine. You Swoop worry about lazy aft.” He jerked a thumb toward Slag who yawned at him.

Swoop laughed. “Yes, sir.” He snapped off a salute.

It was so very good to see him like this, smiling and happy, rather than the mess Shockwave had made him. Grimlock’s visor brightened as he pulled Swoop into a quick hug that made the flyer squawk. Swoop patted him on the back, giving in to the embrace.

“It okay,” he said. “It okay.”

Grimlock wanted to believe him.

He left a few minutes later after one more quick rinse and a gulped down cube. It was early morning yet, so early that the daylights had not yet come on. A quick check of the schedule informed him he was supposed to be in the command center in a few hours to relieve Scourge. He couldn’t believe how long he’d recharged.

He would have to make this quick.

Grimlock made a beeline for the medical center, passing few Decepticons. They kept to an almost Earth-like schedule for sake of simplicity, and even Cyclonus’ mechs had adapted to it fairly quickly. Earth-like days meant more frequent rest periods, and there were few mechs who wanted to argue with that.

No one waited for Grimlock in the reception area. He hurried through it and into the medbay proper. The nurse’s desk – Breakdown’s position as of late – was empty, as was Snarl’s newly claimed workstation. But Ratchet stepped out of the main hallway and gestured to him.

“Good. You’re here,” he said. “Follow me. We have what I’d like to think is good news.”

“You found a way to repair Starscream?” Grimlock asked as he fell into step behind his creator.

“Yes and no.” Ratchet rubbed at his chevron with one hand while the other wriggled a datapad in plain view. “Shockwave wrote an anti-virus. It has a ninety-nine percent success rate of every single drone we’ve tested it on.”

Grimlock inclined his helm. “Then what’s the problem?”

Ratchet glanced over his shoulder. “We haven’t tested it on a sentient mech. We don’t know what it’ll do to a mech in Starscream’s advanced state. Risk algorithms indicate the possibility of failure is low but…” Here he trailed off and cycled a ventilation. “It is not our call to make.”

“Then who’s is it?”

Ratchet drew to a halt in front of Starscream’s room. The guard was no longer present, given that the perpetrator had been identified, but peering in through the viewing window, Grimlock saw a lot of equipment had been moved aside. Knock Out and Glit fiddled with those that remained.

“Thundercracker and Skywarp are technically his next-of-kin,” Ratchet said as Grimlock’s attention shifted back toward him. “Starscream updated his file recently, however.” He stepped closer, resting his hand on Grimlock’s arm. “As his Intended, you have the right to speak on his behalf as well.”

Grimlock stared at his creator, unable to hide the surprise in his field. “I…” he trailed off, attention whipping back toward Starscream.

He couldn’t imagine Starscream ever entrusting such a decision to Megatron. To anyone, truth be told. But he’d handed that over to Grimlock, he believed Grimlock would do what was best…

His spark constricted, affection threatening to swallow him whole. He’d been worried, all along, he was pushing Starscream too far. That he’d invested more in this than Starscream, and perhaps the Air Commander only tolerated him out of a lack of other options. He’d wanted to believe otherwise, of course, who wouldn’t.

There was yet a nagging concern that if anyone was going to walk away from this relationship, it would be Starscream. Grimlock knew what he wanted, but he also knew Starscream was both unfamiliar and uncertain about the level of commitment Grimlock desired. He constantly feared scaring Starscream away.

But this…?

He worked his intake, free hand gripping the ledge of the viewing window. “What have Thundercracker and Skywarp said?”

“They defer to you,” Ratchet answered quietly, squeezing Grimlock’s arm in support. “Skywarp insists Starscream would rather take a chance than remain in stasis forever. Thundercracker believes that while Starscream loathed Shockwave, he did admit that Shockwave is brilliant. He trusted Shockwave’s loyalty to science, more than he did Shockwave’s loyalty to the Decepticons.”

Grimlock cycled a ventilation. “It works?”

“As far as I can tell.”

“What would you recommend?” He trusted his creator’s judgment in all things. Because all Grimlock could think of right now was how much he wanted Starscream aware and online. But more than that, he didn’t want to lose Starscream.

Ratchet squeezed his arm again. “I agree with Starscream. Shockwave is a fragger and a half, but his loyalty is to science first. I trust that Perceptor has sent his approval of the code, and Wheeljack has given it one as well. I trust that we have tested it as much as possible to ensure that it is successful. All we have left is hope.”

“Hope.” Grimlock’s helm dipped. He offlined his visor, thoughts drawing inward.

Hope, and perhaps a touch of faith as well.

Like it or not, Starscream would not survive forever. Did they have enough time to continue testing this anti-virus? Did they have any other options? Starscream was running out of time. If he waited, if he hesitated, perhaps it would be too late. Maybe it was too late now.

Grimlock didn’t know. He only knew he couldn’t miss this chance.

He lifted his helm and onlined his visor again. “Do it,” he said, and prayed to Primus, that he listen for once, that it worked. “Bring him back to me, Ratchet.”

“Of course I will.” Ratchet leaned in close, arm briefly encircling Grimlock in an embrace. “I’ll do the best I can, kid. Promise.”

And then he was gone, taking the warmth of his embrace with him. Grimlock could only watch as Ratchet vanished into Starscream’s private room. He couldn’t hear what his creator said, but Knock Out and Glit snapped to attention.

~

There wasn’t anything he could do for Grimlock, Swoop realized. The eldest Dinobot was a firestorm of worry that wouldn’t be calmed until Starscream was repaired and awake. Grimlock had fallen hard for the querulous Seeker, and there was no comforting him, not while Starscream’s future was up in the air.

But Swoop wasn’t entirely useless. He couldn’t do anything for Grimlock right now, but there were two others who could use a warm frame and a gentle embrace. So that was where he found himself, buried beneath the weight of two Seekers in an over-large berth.

To be fair, he was mostly buried under Skywarp, who stretched out on top of him as though he thought Swoop was going to skitter away and go pelting off the balcony. Thundercracker lay next to them, his optics quietly assessing.

Skywarp had been the one to make all the first moves, the tentative steps. He’d been the one to flirt and yes, Swoop knew he sometimes looked and acted stupid. He couldn’t help it. His processor was wired wrong – not Wheeljack’s fault, he only had substandard parts to work with.

But Swoop was neither stupid nor blind. He knew flirting when he saw it. At first, he’d been charmed and flattered. Then he’d been worried. He thought Skywarp and Thundercracker were a couple, a mated pair, like Mama Ratchet and Papa Wheeljack. He feared something had happened between them, and Skywarp was being an aft to put Swoop in the middle.

Thundercracker was the one who cleared the air.

“You can tell him to stop, you know,” he said one day when it was just the two of them flying because Skywarp was off in the energon manufactory. “Flirting, I mean. You don’t have to put up with it because we’re Starscream’s trinemates.”

Swoop had been so startled he’d missed a curve and lost concentration. He’d had to scramble to regain his balance before he plummeted from the sky.

Again.

It was embarrassing enough the first six times Thundercracker caught him.

“You Thundercracker okay with it?” he asked.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Thundercracker’s wingflaps twitched. He sounded honestly surprised, as though it hadn’t occurred to him to be jealous.

“You him Skywarp’s mate,” Swoop said, letting his own confusion bleed through into his field. He hoped the Seeker could read it. Sometimes, Swoop had trouble deciphering Thundercracker and Skywarp’s field, and he knew it wasn’t because of Shockwave.

The Dinobots were just different. Always had been. Their sparks spun to a different rhythm, and their fields vibrated at a different frequency.

Thundercracker barked a laugh. “Mate? Oh, Primus, no. We’re friends. Lovers occasionally, yes. I do love him, but not the way you think.”

Swoop pointed his nose toward the horizon and regained his balance. “Me Swoop not understand.”

“It’s complicated.” Thundercracker pushed himself through a few lazy loops before returning to Swoop’s side. “Seekers are compelled to be near each other. In groups of three, at the very least. For balance. A trine, you know?”

“Me Swoop know about trines.” Swoop loosed a small chuckle. “Him Grimlock read about trines a lot back in Ark.”

“I’ll bet he did.” Thundercracker’s field hummed with amusement. He dipped, spun underneath Swoop, and came up on his other side. “Skywarp and I get along. We adore each other. And we’ll always be together. It’s just–”

“Complicated,” Swoop repeated, rolling the word around his glossa, pleased that he’d been able to speak it without stuttering. Yet another tick on the road to improvement.

“Yes.” Thundercracker’s wingflap twitched. “So in answer to your question, no it does not bother me. He can flirt as much as he likes, and you can answer that flirting if you wish.”

“That good to know.” Swoop tilted a little, brushing his wing-hand against the distant edge of Thundercracker’s wing. “Me Swoop like you Thundercracker.”

“Mmm. I like you, too.”

Swoop laughed. “You Thundercracker not get my meaning,” he teased.

“I understand you just fine, Swoop.”

“Me no think you do.” Swoop laughed again and put on a burst of speed. He would never outfly Thundercracker, and didn’t even think to try.

But that didn’t mean they couldn’t play a little game of chase.

Now here they were. Thundercracker was still more reserved than Skywarp. Less outwardly affectionate, in comparison to Skywarp’s enthusiastic glomping. Swoop never believed that he didn’t care, however. He simply had other ways of showing it.

“Mmm.” Skywarp burrowed harder against Swoop’s chest, one wing lazily flicking behind his right shoulder. “Don’t ya wish we could just stay like this for hours? It’s perfect.”

Thundercracker snorted a ventilation. “You would, lazy aft that you are.”

“I just like to be comfortable.” Skywarp curled his hands under Swoop’s shoulders and held on tight. “Dinobot’s make good pillows. No wonder Star’s smitten.”

“Smitten?” Thundercracker chuckled. “You better hope he never hears that you accused him of being smitten.”

“Is true,” Swoop had to agree with a little laugh. “But him Grimlock smitten, too.”

Skywarp’s wings flicked, betraying his delight. “They’re so cute.”

“That’s one word you could use,” Thundercracker drawled and drew himself upright, easing his frame from their entwined tangle. “But as much fun as this is, I have to go.”

“Where?” Swoop asked.

Thundercracker tapped his comm as he eased off the berth. “Cyclonus just pinged. Lord Grimlock is remaining in the medbay with Starscream, and Scourge doesn’t want to work a triple-shift.”

“I don’t blame him,” Skywarp said and snuggled harder against Swoop’s front, as though he feared Thundercracker was going to drag him away, too. “I can’t wait until Star’s fixed so we can all get back to normal.”

“Whatever that even means anymore,” Thundercracker said. He stretched, lengthening the gaps in his armor and offering tantalizing peeks at the cabling beneath. “I’m taking a double so I won’t be back until the morning.”

Skywarp huffed a ventilation. “Well, at least I won’t be lonely without you then.”

Thundercracker rolled his optics. “You know I’m immune to your guilt trips by now, Warp. Besides, I’m leaving you in good hands.”

Swoop barked a laugh. “Me Swoop got best hands.”

“That, too.” Thundercracker twitched his wings, stretching first one joint and then the other. “I’m going now. I’ll see you two later.”

He left, the door to the berthroom sliding back shut behind him.

“Is it just me or is he always leavin’ us?” Skywarp asked with a little laugh. He wriggled atop Swoop as though he couldn’t get comfortable.

Swoop patted the nearest wing, finger dragging along the edge of it. “Him Thundercracker have responsibilities. What you Skywarp have?”

Skywarp lifted his helm and gave a cheesy grin. “All the alone time with you.”

Swoop chuckled and slid his arms around Skywarp, his hands resting on the Seeker’s back below his wing hinges. “That not too bad then.”

“It’s really not.” Skywarp straightened, and his optics suddenly brightened. His glossa flicked over his lips before he started to wriggle, scooting down Swoop’s frame.

Amused, Swoop watched him. He had no idea of Skywarp’s intentions until the Seeker planted his aft on Swoop’s hips and gave his own a little roll.

“So,” Skywarp purred as his hands planted on Swoop’s ventral armor. “We could recharge or…” He trailed off, letting the silence speak for itself.

Swoop’s hands drifted to Skywarp’s hips, his thumbs sweeping inward, to the join of hip and thigh where a hint of cabling peeked between Skywarp’s armor plates. “What about him Thundercracker?”

Skywarp’s wings flicked. “Hey, I don’t need him to interface with someone,” he retorted with a roll of his optics.

“Not that.” Swoop’s hands slid up Skywarp’s sides and down again, intending to be soothing, but eliciting something else when Skywarp shivered and kneaded at his belly. “Only meant – is him Thundercracker okay with it?”

“Oh. Yeah, sure.” Skywarp rolled his shoulders dismissively. “I mean, ya can ask him if you want. He’ll be sorry he missed out, but he won’t be jealous or anything.”

Jealous?

Swoop’s lips curved.

“What him Thundercracker going to miss?” he asked with a soft purr as he let his thumbs sweep inward, the tips of them brushing the edges of Skywarp’s spike panel.

Another shiver wracked the Seeker’s frame. His hips did a dance atop Swoop’s groin. “I don’t know,” Skywarp said playfully, his hands smoothing up Swoop’s belly, sliding over his chestplate, and then hitting the berth to either side of Swoop’s helm. He ground down. “Why don’t you open up and show me?”

Swoop laughed. “You Skywarp silly.”

“I know.” Skywarp leaned down, his lips brushing over Swoop’s. “Indulge me?”

Swoop closed the last inch between them and captured Skywarp’s lips, the kiss turning urgent rather quickly. The Seeker made a low noise of need in his intake, his hips dancing atop Swoop’s. Heat wound slowly through Swoop’s frame, always easy to incite when it came to his Seeker lovers.

It helped that Skywarp was so eager, that he’d abandoned his hesitation after the first time they’d kissed. His interest and attraction was genuine. It may have confused him, but it was still real.

He wanted Swoop, and he made no attempts to hide it.

His hips ground down again. “Come on, Swoop,” Skywarp said against his mouth, panting a warm ventilation over him. “You gonna tease me or do something about this, huh?”

‘This’ being the wet streak he was now leaving on Swoop’s panel, his valve dripping as it rubbed over Swoop’s armor. Each forward roll of his hips offered Swoop a tantalizing pink of the bright glow of Skywarp’s anterior node.

Call him a tease, would he?

Swoop’s engine rumbled. He tightened his grip on Skywarp’s hip, braced himself, and then surged upward. There was a moment where Skywarp flailed, loosing a startled yelp, before his wings flattened against the berth, and Swoop perched over him. He was larger than Skywarp, easily casting a shadow down on the Seeker.

Skywarp’s legs closed around his waist, tugging him closer. “Yeah, that’s better,” he said, hands clutching at Swoop, trying to drag him down, drag him closer. “Knew you couldn’t resist.”

Swoop rocked against Skywarp’s open panel, teasing himself by refusing to free his spike just yet. “You Skywarp funny.” One hand kept a grip on the Seeker’s hips while the other braced against the berth.

“Mmm. I know I am.” Skywarp wriggled and arched up against him, his lips drawing into an adorably enticing pout. “Guess you better find a way to shut me up.”

Silly and predictable both.

Swoop grinned and leaned down, capturing Skywarp’s lips again. Skywarp made a happy noise in his intake, his field rising warmly against Swoop’s.

Distraction or not. Casual or not.

Swoop was happy to have this, Skywarp in his arms now, and Thundercracker later. He didn’t know what the future would bring, but this here and now, was good enough for him.

~

Grimlock paced for several hours. He’d called Cyclonus and requested the third-in-command to take his shift in the command center. He promised that once he knew of Starscream’s fate, he would relieve Cyclonus.

Surprisingly, Cyclonus neither sounded angry, nor irritated. Only saying that there was more at stake in Starscream’s recovery than Grimlock’s relationship with him. For the time being, he would be willing to assist in whatever way possible.

Perhaps his little minibot friend had been helping him.

Though now, without the distraction, all Grimlock could do was pace. He’d had visitors, those who came by to check on Starscream’s progress, but no one lingered. Perhaps his erratic energy field had driven them away.

Swoop. Thundercracker. Skywarp. Sunstorm. Even some of Cyclonus’ soldiers had wandered in to check on Starscream. Their concern was touching. Grimlock made a mental note of it. Starscream would want to know who had cared.

Sometimes, he still labored under the misconception no one did.

Grimlock spun on a heelstrut. He’d stopped peering in through the window an hour ago. Watching without understanding only made him more anxious. Glit popped out earlier to give him an update before the feline medic made himself scarce again.

The anti-virus had been transmitted. The rest was a waiting game. Results on the drones tended to be immediate as they hadn’t been infected as long. Results on a living mech who had been under the virus’ thumb for nearly two weeks? It was too soon to tell.

That was two hours ago.

Grimlock’s early morning arrival had now stretched through the afternoon and into evening. His missed shift came and went. Grimlock would owe Cyclonus whatever gift of appreciation his third-in-command preferred.

The only one to enter and exit the little room frequently was Breakdown, who brought energon to the medics swarming Starscream, and carried out dirtied equipment. He kept tossing Grimlock sympathetic looks, but didn’t linger, which was a relief. He fidgeted and Grimlock was having enough trouble keeping under control without getting aggravated by someone who couldn’t be still.

Evening crawled toward night. Grimlock drank the energon Snarl brought him, and remotely did some of his paperwork so he could at least say he’d accomplished something. That, and it kept him from storming into the room.

He spun on another heel-strut. He folded his arms behind his back, clasping his hands. His thoughts spun in a thousand directions. Not one to doubt himself, he still worried he’d made the right choice. What if he was wrong? What if he caused Starscream’s death?

What if…?

The anxiety gnawed at him. A part of Grimlock was furious. When had he allowed himself this weakness, this distraction? Yet, he couldn’t imagine turning away from Starscream either.

Was it love? He wasn’t sure he could say that either. He wasn’t sure he knew what it was enough to identify it. He knew he held a deep affection for Starscream. He knew Starscream’s absence left him feeling lost.

But was it love?

The door opened. Grimlock spun toward it, spark surging toward his intake when he realized it wasn’t Glit or Breakdown this time, but his creator.

“Ratchet…?”

“He’s fine,” Ratchet said with a small smile. “It worked. The virus has been eradicated from his system.”

Tension left Grimlock in a whoosh, so fast dizziness rose in its wake. He stumbled, and Ratchet was quickly there, grabbing his elbow and steadying him.

“Easy,” he said gruffly, urging Grimlock toward the windowed wall where he could brace himself against the ledge. “You stood out here the whole time, didn’t you?”

He nodded. “If anything happened, I didn’t want to be far.”

“Primus save me from partners,” Ratchet sighed and patted his other arm. “Well, you can be reassured he’s going to recover now. It’s going to take some time for his self-repair to reactivate and for us to undo all the damage the virus caused, but he’ll live.”

Grimlock hooked an arm around his creator and crushed Ratchet against him, leaning his helm against the medic’s. Ratchet made a sound not unlike a squawk, but returned the embrace, patting him gently on the back.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Sadly, you owe some of that thanks to Shockwave, too. But don’t tell him I said that,” Ratchet replied, his vocals muffled.

He twitched, and Grimlock released him, letting Ratchet step out of his embrace. He made a show of brushing at his armor, but his field echoed nothing but amused affection.

“But yes, you are welcome.” Ratchet’s lips curved toward a smile. “It’s my duty, but more than that, I couldn’t let my kid’s Intended die. What kind of slag-poor parent would that make me?”

Intended. A part of Grimlock squirmed with delight every time he heard someone else acknowledge the path Starscream allowed them to venture.

He turned toward the window, looking in on Knock Out and Glit, who were disconnecting Starscream from most of the machines. A few remained, such as those offering him much needed fluids. But the main ones – those Grimlock recognized as urgent life support – were being removed.

“Can I see him?”

“As soon as they are done, yes. There should be more room now,” Ratchet replied with a small, self-deprecating chuckle. “If all goes well, he should be awake in a day or two, and able to leave the berth in a little under a week.”

Grimlock cycled a ventilation. “You know the moment he’s conscious, he won’t stay in that berth.”

“Then I guess you’re going to have to find a way to keep him there, aren’t you?” Ratchet retorted with a smirk he had to have borrowed from Wheeljack.

Grimlock’s engine rumbled with amusement, and he admitted, relief. His creator had come so far from the flinching, agitated way he’d been when first rescued from Constructicon custody. He’d remembered how to smile again.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Grimlock said with a small laugh. “In the meantime, what do you need?”

“Me? I’m fine. I’ve certainly worked longer hours than this. I–” Ratchet paused, drawing up short. He lifted a hand to his comm. “Ratchet here.”

Grimlock waited with him, and nearly recoiled at the sudden blast of outrage and worry in Ratchet’s field. Ratchet startled and then started moving before he finished his conversation, his field a broil of emotion.

Girmlock followed.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can, Aid. Just keep him alive until I can get there.” Ratchet paused, and his free hand formed a fist. “I know you can do it. My comms open. Just shout if you have a question.”

He dropped his hand and whirled, almost surprised to see Grimlock right behind him. “I have to go,” he said in a rush. “There’s an emergency in Iacon. Jazz has been shot.”

“Shot?” Grimlock’s engine growled. “On purpose?”

“That would be my guess.” Ratchet scraped a hand down his face, his armor clamped tight to his frame. “This is all we need, so soon after Starscream. Metalhawk’s trying his damndest to thrust us back toward war, isn’t he?”

Grimlock rested his hands on his creator’s shoulders. “He may try, but rest assured, he will fail.” He squeezed briefly before stepping back. “Go, Ratchet. There’s nothing more you need do here. I’m sure Knock Out is adequate at this stage.”

“That he is. I’ll be back if you need me.”

“I know. You always do.”

Ratchet’s lips twitched toward a fond smile, and then he was gone, twisting into alt-mode and careening down the halls with a screech of his tires. He would probably cause a ruckus ahead of him, so Grimlock sent a quick warning to the gate guards and Cyclonus both, though it was Thundercracker who answered him.

Jazz had been attacked. It smacked of Metalhawk’s meddling, Grimlock was certain. But outwardly, he knew how it appeared. For the most part, Jazz was responsible for ensuring Megatron’s defeat and that of many Decepticons. Every Megatron-loyal Decepticon in Grimlock’s brig certainly blamed him. There was much loathing present.

It wasn’t a stretch for many to jump to the conclusion that Jazz’s condition was retaliation. Not just for Megatron’s death, but also for the attack on Starscream. If Grimlock hadn’t known Optimus – and Jazz better – that would have been his assumption as well.

Grimlock gave Metalhawk only the dimmest credit. He knew enough of how both Autobots and Decepticons functioned to plot something like this, but missed the mark in understanding Grimlock.

This plot would have worked were Megatron still in charge. Fortunately for everyone but Metalhawk, Megatron was dead, and Grimlock was too smart to fall for it.

He made a mental note to contact Optimus once the initial chaos had passed. He doubted Optimus would blame the Decepticons for a single second, but it never hurt to be cautious. Beside that, Grimlock hoped Jazz would recover.

Then again, Grimlock had yet to meet anything that could put Jazz down.

Grimlock turned back toward Starscream’s private room. The door opened as he approached, Glit appearing first.

“Good eve, my lord,” the feline medic greeted with a dip of his head. “Ratchet shared the good news?”

“He did,” Grimlock replied. “I trust all is well?”

“As much as it can be.” Glit’s small talons clicked on the floor. “It is my professional opinion that Commander Starscream will make a full recovery. I am on duty for the remainder of the evening if you have any questions.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you.”

Glit dipped his head again and dismissed himself, just as Knock Out emerged behind him, grumbling something subvocally. Where Glit had been almost scarily polite, the fatigue in Knock Out’s field gave excuse to his foul mood.

“Lord Grimlock,” he greeted, a touch tersely. “You’ll be happy to know that Commander Starscream is on the mend. Right now, we’ve given him several batches of neutral nanites to speed the repair progress, and he’s resting comfortably.”

“Thank you, Knock Out. I am sure he’s in capable hands,” Grimlock replied.

Knock Out paused and cycled his optics. His field spiked before he reined it in. “I… of course, my lord. Whatever my failings, I am a medic.” His face heated, and he took a sudden step backward. “I mean, forgive me, I’ve been working non-stop on Commander Starscream, and I think it’s time that I get some recharge so if you’ll excuse me…?”

The look in Knock Out’s optics all but begged for dismissal.

Grimlock waved him off. “Go. Rest. I’ll ask Glit if I need something.”

Honest gratitude glimmered briefly in Knock Out’s field before he was gone, barely an echo of his presence left in the medbay. That was… unusual. Perhaps something to attend at a later date. Or maybe he’d ask Snarl.

Grimlock cycled a ventilation and turned back to Starscream’s private room. He stepped inside without fanfare, his gaze falling on the berth and its sole occupant. Much of the equipment had been moved aside, with less cabling to coil around Starscream like a hungry serpent.

It was easier to move, to make his way to Starscream’s berthside, where one of the medics had been thoughtful enough to return Grimlock’s stool to its rightful position. He lowered himself down into it, taking Starscream’s nearest hand with his own.

Warm. Starscream’s hand was warm.

The last time he’d sat here, Starscream had felt uncomfortably cool, as though the heat of his spark could go no further than the protection of its casing. He was ventilating on his own as well, and he now had a tangible field, muted though it was.

He would be all right.

Grimlock braced his elbows on the edge of the berth, Starscream’s hand clasped between his own. Relief shuddered through him, his vents pitching a whine in complaint. And yet, he couldn’t be happier.

Starscream would live.

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