[Crown the Empire] Salvage 16

Gathering all of the command staff to an emergency meeting would take longer than expected. Soundwave told Optimus to go ahead of him while he made a detour to a nearby office, one that was unused and as such, dusty and unfurnished. But it was private, which was what he intended.

Before he so much as keyed the override into the door, Laserbeak was jittering to be deployed. She knew why they were here and excitement was enough to override the agitation she felt at mere thought of the DJD.

“Be calm,” Soundwave said as the last key was inputted.

His actions belied his words; however, as the moment the door opened, Soundwave released her from his dock. She took the air with a happy chirp, and then dove toward her fellow cassette, nearly hitting Rumble in the face.

He squawked with surprise and hurried to catch her, a light-hearted laugh escaping him. “Yeah, yeah. I missed ya, too feather-brain,” he said as they bopped helms, and she chirped at him.

Buzzsaw was already present, roosting on a dusty, but empty shelf in a high corner. Ravage was here, too, though Soundwave had not sent for her. She sat in the middle of the room, her gaze focused on Soundwave. Frenzy had taken the sole chair and was, at the moment, spinning aimlessly around in it.

“And the gang’s all here,” Frenzy sang with a happy giggle. “It’s about time we got the band back together.”

“What band?” Ravage asked dryly, but the bond still thrummed with affection. “It is a temporary reunion at that, brat.”

Frenzy’s pedes hit the ground, skidding him to a stop. “What? No, no. You’re here. No way you’re going back to that dirtball.”

“Frenzy,” Soundwave said, a warning.

Frenzy’s lower lip jutted out in a pout. “It ain’t fair, boss. Everyone’s off doin’ their thing. Where’s that leave me?”

Ravage arched a brow. “Spending a lot of time in Blaster’s company, as I understand it.”

Soundwave cycled a ventilation. He had not been monitoring his cassettes and their off-cycle activities because he trusted them. This, however, was news.

Had he neglected Frenzy so much that he would court another carrier?

Frenzy’s faceplate heated. “It’s not like that, boss!” he said, his tone earnest and truthful. “Ain’t no way I’m hookin’ up with a stiff like Blaster. It’s just, you know, Eject is kind of fun to be around.” He scratched at his chin, gaze shifting away. “Especially since my stupid twin is too busy making goo-goo optics at Bee now.”

“I am not!” Rumble retorted, folding his arms over his chestplate. “Ya coulda came with us, ya know.”

“Yeah. That’s exactly where I want to be. The Frenzy-shaped spike-block in the middle.” Frenzy huffed a ventilation. “No, thank you.”

Laserbeak chirped loudly. Buzzsaw rustled his feathers.

–Off-track we are getting,– Laserbeak sent to all of them, her tone as stern as the one Soundwave was preparing to use. –Important matters right now, yes?–

“Yes,” Soundwave confirmed. He looked at each one of his cassettes and tried not to imagine the many ways in which the DJD could slaughter them. “There is danger here.”

“The DJD,” Ravage confirmed quietly. “Yes, I know. It is one of the reasons I chose to return. Though I cannot stay.” She gave Frenzy an apologetic glance.

“I guess there is one downside to joining the Autobots,” Rumble said with a sigh. “So what’s the plan, boss? We ain’t runnin,’ are we?”

Soundwave shook his helm. “Negative. We stand and fight.”

“Suicide mission,” Buzzsaw squawked, as verbose as always.

“Not so,” Soundwave said. “We will provide support to the Autobots.” He shifted his gaze to Ravage. “Comfortable monitoring Iacon?”

She dipped her helm. “You wish me to be the advance warning.”

“Affirmative.”

“If it means protecting Hound and my family, then yes, I am comfortable.” Her optics glittered with menace.

All of Soundwave’s cassettes were capable in their own right. But Ravage was his best spy for a reason. He trusted that she would not be spotted or risk herself.

Soundwave inclined his helm. “Buzzsaw to provide support.”

Buzzsaw squawked his outrage, wings lifting and feather-plating ruffling to double his size.

Ravage cast him an amused look. “Don’t worry. I’ll protect you.”

Buzzsaw huffed a ventilation. “Boss?”

“Would you rather she go alone?”

“Laserbeak…?”

“Will be watching Optimus Prime, per her request,” Soundwave said, perhaps a touch sharper than he meant.

He knew Buzzsaw wasn’t a coward. While he feared the DJD – anyone in their right processor held a healthy respect for Megatron’s killing team – Buzzsaw was not trying to weasel out of a task. He simply preferred to stay close to Soundwave.

Buzzsaw huffed again and settled down harder onto the shelf. “Fine.”

“What about us, boss?” Rumble asked, bouncing up and down on his heels. “We can’t sneak like Rav can.”

“Security check of Polyhex,” Soundwave stated. “Duty shared between Rumble and Frenzy. Examine for points of entry.”

–Soundwave really is becoming Director of Security,– Laserbeak transmitted with a note of humor and affection. It was a narrow-band send, he noticed. He sent her a long look, but she preened at him.

“Check for places the DJD might sneak by, huh? Will do!” Rumble snapped off a salute. “Just so I’m clear, though, are we workin’ with Jazz’s team on this?”

Soundwave shook his helm. “Jazz unavailable. Mirage unreceptive to our assistance.”

“Some mechs can really hold a grudge,” Frenzy commented.

He was referring, of course, to the fact Mirage could not sneak around half as well as he claimed without the invisibility cloak he relied upon far too much. Which meant, more often than not, Ravage could sniff him out, or Buzzsaw could see right through the cloak.

Mirage never quite got over the indignity of being captured and released from the Nemesis by Soundwave and his team. They had not reported the incursion to Megatron, as it was pointless, Mirage had learned nothing.

Well, nothing except not to underestimate Soundwave and the cassettes despite their origins.

“How long do you think we have?” Ravage asked.

“Peaceful Tyranny landed ten minutes ago,” Soundwave replied, his backplating shuffling without his consent. “Tarn likely biding his time for full effect.”

“He always did love to put on a show,” Frenzy muttered and hopped to his pedes, stretching his arms over his helm. “Let’s get this over with then. I don’t wanna wait around for my death.”

“No one is dyin’!” Rumble snapped, punching his brother in the shoulder.

Frenzy growled at him, rubbing the scuffed plating. “I’m just sayin’. We oughta be realistic.”

“Enough you two,” Ravage hissed, bearing her fangs, something that tended to be enough to end their bickering. “Soundwave, is there anything else we need to know?”

“Negative.” Soundwave’s gaze landed on each of them in turn, conveying his affection across their shared bond. That and his hope that they keep themselves safe. “Mission given. Cassettes dismissed.”

Ravage, however, flicked her audials. “Soundwave, a word?”

He inclined his helm. “Of course. Buzzsaw, wait in the hall. The rest–”

“Yeah, yeah. We know our duties.” Rumble grinned and bopped his brother on the shoulder. “Come on, Frenzy. Tell me about Eject before we have to go our separate ways.”

Frenzy coughed a ventilation.

They all filed out, leaving Soundwave and Ravage alone. She was serene as she sat there, and Soundwave lowered himself to a knee so that he could be on an even ground with her. He suspected he knew what this was about. He had feared this for many months now, as much as he expected it.

“What is it?”

“You already know.” Ravage rose up and moved closer, into his personal space, so that their energy fields meshed. “This is my final mission, Soundwave. After this, I plan to return to Earth. To Hound.”

Yes. It was exactly as he’d feared.

Soundwave dipped his helm. “Understood.” He gathered himself, forced out the words. “Ravage wishes to break to the bond.”

Her optics fluttered. Her gaze dropped. “Yes.” Her claws kneaded an anxious pattern on the floor. “I made him that promise centuries ago, Soundwave. He has the mods for this very reason, and I let the war be an excuse to delay it. I don’t want to wait anymore.”

“Ravage will be missed.”

“I know.” She stepped even closer, allowing him to embrace her, as he hadn’t done in years. “If you have need of me, I will be there. You and the others will always be my family. Even Frenzy.”

A short laugh escaped Soundwave before he could stop it. Frenzy had made it a personal mission to antagonize Ravage at every opportunity. It had become something of a game between them over the years.

“Likewise,” Soundwave said. “Ravage always welcome. Slot always available.”

Something not unlike a feline purr rippled through Ravage’s frame. “Of course.” She bopped him with the top of her helm and then sat back on her haunches. “I will spare you the pain and tell the others.”

Soundwave nodded. “Thank you.”

He could not say that he was glad she was leaving. But he was glad she had found happiness. It was all he could have hoped for.

Ravage pushed to her pedes with all the grace her frame provided. “And don’t worry. I’m pretty sure Rumble’s going to be sticking around for a longer while yet. He’s not ready to leave the nest.”

Whereas Ravage, his oldest and most faithful cassette, had been ready to fly for ages. Not because she despised him, but because her spark called for another. Soundwave had known, even millennia ago when he’d asked the feline cassette to be his first, that someday, he would be wishing her farewell.

“Ravage is loved.”

Her tail flicked, her optics bright with affection. “Soundwave is loved, too,” she said, and headed for the door. “Now let’s show these DJD not everyone is afraid of them.”

~

“All non-essential personnel and anyone who doesn’t wish to fight is to depart for Earth via the space bridge,” Optimus said as he met the optics of every one of his commanders and leadership team. “No one has to justify their desire to leave. It is not cowardice.”

“I doubt there are many who would,” Ultra Magnus said, his usual grave tone decidedly more dark in this moment.

“Unless we have a transport capable of life support, I can’t move my patients,” Ratchet said as he rubbed at his chevron. “Well, theoretically I could, but I don’t know how that travel will affect them. Especially Red Alert.”

Optimus inclined his helm. “The Xantium is fully-equipped, Ratchet. Make what arrangements you need.”

“Are we really going to run from a bunch of Cons?” Springer asked as he folded his arms over his chest. Every inch of him bristled with outrage. “I don’t see what there is to be afraid of.”

“Springer blind,” Soundwave said, his tone so frosty Optimus felt as though he should brush ice from his armor.

Springer’s optics narrowed. He straightened in his chair, armor quivering. “Or maybe you are a coward,” he hissed.

Optimus raised a hand as Laserbeak squawked her outrage. “Enough,” he said, tone sharp, cutting through the tension. “We accomplish nothing by arguing amongst ourselves, save creating division at a time when unity is needed most. Am I clear?”

“Affirmative,” Soundwave said, though his gaze did not leave Springer’s. “Apologies offered.”

“And accepted.” Optimus turned his attention to Springer, who cut his optics toward Optimus before slouching a bit in his chair.

“Sorry,” he bit out, though it sounded insincere. “But I still say we should stand and fight.”

“Which is our intention,” Ultra Magnus pointed out, shooting his former second a chastising look which did more to guilt Springer than Optimus’ own. “We will be the last line of defense for those on Earth. Even destroying the space bridge if we must.”

Optimus shook his helm. “Let us hope it does not come to that. Right now, we are merely formulating contingency plans. We don’t want to be caught ill-prepared.”

“Besides all of that, we are grossly understaffed,” Mirage pointed out, present against Optimus’ better judgment, but having no one else to stand in for Jazz. “Ultra Magnus’ unit is the only fully-functional team we have, and even so, half of it is staffed by mechs lacking in experience.”

“They are fully trained,” Springer said with a narrowing of his optics.

“Against the might of someone such as the DJD, I would hesitate to put them on the front lines however,” Ultra Magnus said as he rested a calming hand on Springer’s shoulder. “Mirage is correct. Less than half of my unit are suitable, and I have been informed putting Drift against the DJD is tantamount to murder.”

Yes. Rumor had it that there was little Tarn and his unit despised more than traitors, especially those who had been highly-ranked once upon a time. Drift certainly fit that bill. And now, so would Soundwave.

“Then lucky he is safe on Earth,” Ratchet said. “Which means Mirage is right. While it may seem cowardly to flee, I am of the mind that we save as many sparks as possible.”

“I don’t think there is anyone here would disagree with that,” Optimus said gently.

This meeting had already drawn on longer than anyone was comfortable with, and tensions and tempers were high. Knowing a threat was so close made them all antsy.

But Optimus dared not risk any misunderstandings. In this, communication was critical. It could be the difference between survival and a torturous end.

Soundwave stirred and rose to his pedes, attracting everyone’s attention. His visor turned in the direction of Iacon as Laserbeak startled on Optimus’ shoulder. Both of their fields pulsed in sync, though Optimus was unable to immediately identify it.

He put down his datapad. “What is it?”

“It would appear we took precautions for nothing,” Ultra Magnus said with a sigh. “Am I correct, Soundwave?”

“Affirmative.” Some of the tension eased out of Soundwave’s frame. “Ravage confirms Tarn’s deactivation.”

Optimus cycled his optics. “Grimlock defeated him?”

Soundwave’s visor flashed, a glint of brighter red through the crimson transsteel. “Grimlock and Starscream. Other surviving members surrendered. Prisoners taken.”

Air rushed out of the room, taking the anxiety and tension with it. Optimus audibly heard several defensive protocols stall and disable.

“Thank Primus.” Ratchet sank low into his chair. “Not that I ever doubted Grimlock’s ability.”

“If anything, this at least gave us practice for potential future disasters,” Ultra Magnus commented as he made a notation on his datapad. The relief in his field, however, was proof of his prior concern.

Springer swept a hand over his helm. “We worried for nothing,” he said, with a crooked grin. “Kinda sad I missed the chance to try my blade against theirs, though.”

“Be grateful that you did,” Ultra Magnus said.

“Perhaps if you’re nice, Starscream will let you spar against the survivors,” Ratchet said with a roll of his optics. He rose to his pedes. “Permission to go to Iacon and offer medical aid if needed?”

Optimus inclined his helm. “So long as Jazz is stable, yes. Starscream should have been berthbound.”

“Well, if Shockwave was worth half of what he claimed, then his anti-virus would have worked like he said it would.” Ratchet shrugged, but it was far from dismissive. “And yeah, Jazz is stable. Aid and Percy can keep an optic with him. Was hopin’ to take Jack with me. He misses the kids.”

“Not to put a damper on your familial ties, Ratchet, but are we certain allowing this is politically sound?” Ultra Magnus asked, shooting a gaze to Optimus. “It is not that I think we should be concerned about Grimlock, but there is the matter of Metalhawk.”

Optimus cycled a ventilation. “You do have a point.” He looked at Ratchet. “Put in a request for a leave of absence for yourself and Wheeljack as before.”

“Politically set aside Autobot ties for a vacation to Iacon to hang out with the sparklings. Got it.” Ratchet smirked. “And don’t worry, Magnus. I wasn’t offended. Good thing is, medical ethics means I can render aid to anyone in need of it regardless of faction ties.”

That, at least, had been written into the treaty. Any medical officer could offer aid to any mech needing it, and said mech was allowed to accept it without fearing political repercussions. That was, only if said medical officer had accidentally stumbled upon the injured mech. Requests for medical aid had to come through political lines.

It was a somewhat hazy distinction, but very important.

“Exactly. Feel free to leave whenever you are ready, Ratchet. I’ll have your request set to auto-approve,” Optimus said.

“Thanks, Optimus.” Ratchet tipped his helm in a nod to the other members of command and took his leave.

“I guess that means I should go, too,” Springer said as he stood, armor clanking as it shuffled and resettled around him, no doubt shifting from standby defensive to a more normal configuration. “I’ll inform everyone we are no longer in a state of emergency and rearrange the shift schedules.”

“We should all probably disperse in order to restore order to what had become a moment of fear for many of our residents,” Ultra Magnus stated. “Unless there is another more pressing matter we should handle first.”

Optimus shook his helm. “No. Everything else can wait.” He set down his datapad. “I’ll contact Grimlock once the dust settles and see if there is anything he needs. In the meantime, everyone rest, relax, and continue working to improve our living situation on Cybertron.”

No one disagreed thankfully. Optimus could see the strain in everyone, even Soundwave, and was relieved all they’d had to deal with was a brief scare.

Ultra Magnus scooted closer to Optimus as Springer and a noticeably-silent Mirage filed out. Soundwave lingered in the doorway, but a single nod from Optimus apparently spoke a wealth of words as he, too, departed.

“Something on your processor, Magnus?” Optimus asked.

His second’s expression was earnest, and beneath it all, almost gleeful. “I believe I have found the solution for our Metalhawk problem.”

Optimus cycled his optics. “Please, share.”

Ultra Magnus held out a datapad to him and Optimus powered it on. A single document lit the screen, which he recognized as a formal copy of the treaty they had all signed. Every last page of it, which was extensive.

Cooperation and concession meant the treaty had gone through several revisions. Not even Optimus was sure he knew every last detail. Ultra Magnus, of course, had made it his business to memorize every line and mark of punctuation.

“I don’t follow,” Optimus said.

Ultra Magnus reached over the edge of the datapad, tapping several icons before he brought up another screen, this one with sections of the treaty copy and pasted. Portions of those sections had been highlighted.

“We have the proof, with Chromedome’s testimony, that Metalhawk has violated terms of the treaty,” Ultra Magnus said. “It should be enough to remove him from office at the very least.”

“You are certain?”

Ultra Magnus inclined his helm. “When we discussed how to punish offenders of local law, we also discussed jurisdiction regarding other factions. If wrongdoing is suspected in terms of violating the treaty, we are within our rights to demand Metalhawk answer our grievances.”

Optimus skimmed over the text. “Who would preside?”

“We would have to reach out to the Galactic Counsel. Or, barring that, a jury of peers selected from each of the three factions at random,” Ultra Magnus answered. “It is an attempt to avoid partiality.”

“Is Chromedome’s testimony enough?”

Ultra Magnus cycled a ventilation and rubbed at his forehelm. “That part is unclear. The treaty only refers to ‘sufficient proof to support accusations’ but doesn’t clarify what qualifies.” His engine rumbled a dissatisfied note. “I apologize Optimus. This is something I should have noticed in the negotiations.”

Optimus shook his helm. “It is all right, Ultra Magnus. We are none of us perfect, and we could not have anticipated this. We spent many an hour on the treaty. I am not surprised it is still imperfect.”

Sadly, his words did little to reassure the stoic commander.

“I appreciate your saying so.” Ultra Magnus straightened. “If we can get Lord Grimlock to register with us, our complaint will have more bearing. Especially if he has proof Metalhawk was responsible for Starscream’s injury.”

“And other things,” Optimus murmured. He was sure Metalhawk was guilty of a lot more than a few conspiracies. Given the guilt he’d seen in Chromedome’s visor, Optimus wasn’t sure he wanted to know. He feared the list of transgressions was more than he could bear.

“I will speak with Grimlock,” Optimus said, adding it to the list of items he would need to address with the Decepticon leader. “Do you suggest we spend time building a case or would it be more prudent to confront him as soon as possible.”

Ultra Magnus cycled a long ventilation. “I hesitate to face him with so little physical evidence, but I fear what else he might have planned. We already have one casualty in the medbay. I daren’t risk more.”

Optimus handed him back the datapad and frowned. “What are the repercussions if the accusations prove unsubstantiated?”

“We’ll owe reparations to be decided by the offended party.” Ultra Magnus folded his arms across his chestplate. “No legal concessions thankfully. For instance, he cannot demand you step down. But he can ask for energon, credits, supplies, the return of prisoners, et cetera.”

Optimus gnawed on the inside of his cheek, processor spinning. “Is there anything he can ask which we cannot afford to lose?”

“We are sharing resources among the three factions as it is. I cannot imagine a concession Metalhawk would want that we would be happy to part with,” Ultra Magnus admitted. “But he is crafty and sly, not unlike Starscream actually. I wager that there is much we can’t afford to lose, but we won’t know what it is until he asks for it.”

A conundrum of the highest degree then.

Optimus, however, trusted Ultra Magnus. The only mech who possibly understood more about Cybertronian law and contract law in general was Prowl, and that worthy was no longer here to offer advice. Ultra Magnus had studied under the great Tyrest prior to offering his conscription to Optimus.

“Then we move forward,” Optimus said with a decisive nod, praying he was not making another ill-fated decision. “The threat of the unknown means I would rather be forced to concede some special item, rather than risk harm to any of my Autobots while playing political games.”

Ultra Magnus’ engine rumbled. “Understood.” He unfolded his arms. “For what it is worth, I am in agreement with you. I can guarantee that Springer would be as well. Though I wager he will be disappointed to know we won’t defeat Metalhawk in some grand battle.”

The corner of Optimus’ lips curved. Springer was so very much like a young Ironhide that it often pained Optimus to see him.

“With any luck, it will not come to that,” Optimus said. “I will seek the counsel of others, but I suspect everyone else will agree that this is the best course of action.”

Optimus rubbed at his forehelm. “Also, Metalhawk made an attempt to contact me only hours ago. Of course, I was too busy with the potential DJD attack, and I put him off. Perhaps I should contact him and agree to that meeting now.”

“Are you suggesting an ambush of sorts?”

“Not by such a term, but yes.”

Ultra Magnus’ field glimmered with approval. “You have changed, Optimus.”

He startled, looking up at one of his oldest and dearest friends. “When mechs say such, it is generally an insult.”

“In this case, it is not.” Ultra Magnus’ field reached out, a gentle wave of comfort. “I have always admired your willingness to cling to a moral center, and I now admire that you are willing to do what is necessary to protect your people. It means that we were all right.”

Optimus tilted his helm. “Right about what?”

“Electing you to the position of Prime, of course.” Ultra Magnus smiled, and that in itself was reward enough, for he so rarely did so. “Did you know there were other candidates?”

“No. I didn’t.” To be fair, he had spent many days after Jazz’s successful coup in the medbay, in and out of stasis. He still wasn’t fully capable by the time he barged in on the meeting with Grimlock and Metalhawk.

“There were three,” Ultra Magnus replied, his field lingering against Optimus’ in subtle comfort. “Metalhawk insisted upon it. He stated that an election wasn’t much of one without other candidates. Three others were nominated, myself included.”

“And Jazz, I suspect,” Optimus said. He tapped his chin, trying to consider who they could have put forth for a third. Kup perhaps? He was popular.

But no, Kup had been on Earth during the entirety of that decision. Certainly not Ratchet, he would have cursed them all for suggesting such a thing.

Did it matter? Perhaps not. Optimus had won the vote, despite having equally qualified candidates in the race against him.

“Yes,” Ultra Magnus said. “Never doubt that we believe in you, Optimus. The Matrix made you Prime, but it is not why we followed you.”

Warmth flickered through Optimus’ spark. “Thank you, Magnus. Your support is greatly appreciated.”

“Anytime, sir.” Ultra Magnus dipped his helm in a nod. “Now, might I suggest we confront Metalhawk as soon as possible?”

“Better sooner rather than later.”

“I agree. I will gather all evidence and inform Chromedome we will require him shortly.” Ultra Magnus dipped his helm again. “Rest well, Optimus.”

“And you as well.”

They left the conference room. Optimus didn’t expect anyone to be out there, but he should have known Soundwave would linger, with Laserbeak on his shoulder. Optimus gave them both a smile, nodding his goodbye to Ultra Magnus.

“You didn’t have to wait for me,” Optimus said, though he couldn’t help the flutter of warmth that thrummed through his spark.

–We wanted to,– Laserbeak transmitted as she rose from Soundwave’s shoulder to land on Optimus’. Her helm butted against his, a gesture of affection Optimus had come to learn.

“Then I appreciate it.” Optimus lifted a hand and dragged a finger down her spinal strut. She purred beneath his touch.

“Purpose of discussion?” Soundwave asked with a helm tilt toward the retreating back of Ultra Magnus.

“We’ve come to a decision on how to deal with Metalhawk,” Optimus replied. He fell into step beside Soundwave, leading him toward Optimus’ private hab. “But we don’t have to talk business tonight. We do enough of that already.”

“Fair enough,” Soundwave said. His field reached out, gently stroking against Optimus’.

It was a light, barely tangible touch, one Optimus had found was more and more welcome as of late. He didn’t flinch in Soundwave’s presence, which was a victory in itself.

“How is Optimus feeling?”

“Absolutely fine.” Optimus offered Soundwave a gentle smile. “You can cease worrying over me, I promise. I’m sure even Ratchet would attest I’m on the way to a full recovery.”

“Soundwave happy to hear that.”

Optimus hummed his approval. They walked the rest of the way in a comfortable silence, until Optimus found himself outside the door to his hab-suite. While he didn’t feel the exhausting pull of fatigue, it felt almost a luxury to know he would be recharging on time and hopefully, without night purges.

Optimus keyed in his passcode and stepped inside as the door opened. He paused, however, when he noticed Soundwave didn’t immediately follow him.

“Are you coming?”

Soundwave stirred. “If I am welcome?”

“Of course you are.” Optimus fully entered, expecting Soundwave to take the invitation. “Why wouldn’t you be?”

“Soundwave would never assume.”

“Mm. And I appreciate that.”

The door slid closed behind Soundwave, locking with a cheerful chime. Laserbeak bumped her helm against Optimus’ before flitting off his shoulder, choosing to fly directly into the berthroom.

“Someone’s tired,” Optimus remarked. “Want a cube? I suspect I will be faced with an angry medic, a sulky cassette, and a quiet guardian if I miss my nightly serving.”

Humor rumbled in Soundwave’s chassis. “Energon welcome. Thank you.”

“Have a seat.”

While Soundwave picked one of the chairs in the modest sized living area, Optimus fetched them both some energon. Mid-medical grade for himself, much to his disappointment, and a tastier mid-grade for Soundwave. He took the seat across from Soundwave, a small table separating them, and downed his own energon as fast as possible.

Flavorings could only mask the taste so far. He wondered if it was a universal constant for medical things to be foul.

Soundwave, he noticed, didn’t drink his, but fiddled with it. One hand toyed with the cube as he stared at it, not upset Optimus realized, but merely pensive.

“Are your cassettes relieved?” Optimus asked.

Soundwave inclined his helm. “Affirmative. Buzzsaw, especially, concerned.”

“Any particular reason why?”

“Buzzsaw worries. Frenzy disappointed like Springer.”

Optimus grinned. “Why am I not surprised?” There was a reason, he gathered, the cassette had been named Frenzy.

Relief was universal, Optimus thought. They had avoided something terrible, and while they had Grimlock and the Deceptions to thank for being the first line of defense in this instance, Optimus could not help but think they had dodged a bullet. They had been far too close to something Optimus had hoped to never face again – battle.

He knew there were dangers out in the universe, and he should not be afraid to face them. He wasn’t, for the most part. It wasn’t his own safety he feared. He’d endured everything a mech could never wish to endure under Megatron. Death did not frighten Optimus, even though he no longer had the comfort and wisdom of the Matrix to rely upon.

Losing his friends, his loved ones, the mecha he cherished – that did frighten Optimus.

While one could argue that the close call barely counted as one, it did to Optimus. It made him realize how much the ghost of Megatron haunted him still, and how said ghost held him back.

Soundwave was very patient, and Optimus adored him for it, but it still felt as though Optimus could be moving faster.

He was struck with a sudden impatience for himself. If recent events had shown him anything, it was that the future wasn’t promised. Only the now.

Time to take a risk. Time to test himself. Time, Optimus realized, for a change.

“Soundwave?”

“Yes?”

Optimus gathered his courage and ignored the squirming in his tanks. “I would like to try something, if you’ll allow me.”

“For Optimus, anything.”

Such a brief answer, but it meant a wealth of things.

Optimus set aside his mostly empty cube and stood. “Yes, well, I’d hope that if I ever made you uncomfortable, you’d tell me so.”

He stepped around the small table between them and approached Soundwave, who had selected the most uncomfortable chair Optimus owned.

“Offense impossible,” Soundwave said, though his visor tracked Optimus’ every move. “Trust given.”

“And what a valuable thing it is,” Optimus murmured.

He cycled a ventilation. He felt the buzz of something, potential perhaps, and decided he would no longer let his own insecurities dictate his future.

Optimus rested his hands on Soundwave’s shoulders and lowered himself onto Soundwave’s lap, his thighs bracketing Soundwave’s hips. They’d only been this close in recharge, and while that had felt intimate, this seemed ten times so.

He was simultaneously nervous and excited and knew his energy field had to be betraying the conflicted emotions.

“Would you retract your battle mask?” Optimus asked.

Soundwave’s vents audibly hitched, but he did as Optimus requested. The battle mask slid aside slowly as Soundwave’s hands found their way to Optimus’ hips and ever so cautiously rested there, his hold barely carrying any weight behind it.

He treated Optimus as though something fragile, and while once upon a time, that would have angered Optimus, he was grateful for it now. He felt fragile. Soundwave’s lack of presumption, however, was reassuring.

Optimus leaned closer, aware of Soundwave’s intent stare. “Stop me if I’m presuming,” he murmured.

Soundwave’s fingers flexed on his hips. “Optimus welcome,” he said.

Optimus closed the distance between them. He pressed his lips to Soundwave’s, his hands shaking where they rested on Soundwave’s shoulders.

The kiss was brief. A hint of warmth. A brush of soft, dermal metal. A shiver through Optimus’ spark.

Optimus drew back, but he didn’t go far. There was a heat there, it was in his spark, flooding out, suffusing his entire frame.

Soundwave didn’t immediately press for more. He waited, and the trust was in the waiting. But he did cycle a ventilation, his glossa sweeping briefly over his lips.

“Why?” Soundwave asked.

Optimus cycled a ventilation. “Because I want to. Because we are courting. Because I do not wish to be hampered by the shadows over my spark.”

Soundwave’s fingers stroked a soothing pattern on the armor at Optimus’ hip. “Then I am not opposed.”

“Good,” Optimus murmured and closed the distance between them again, sealing his mouth over Soundwave’s for a longer, firmer kiss.

He pressed closer to Soundwave, windshield to dock, until he could feel the thrum of the other mech’s frame against his own. He shared in Soundwave’s warmth as their lips moved together, a series of small, dry kisses that sent little shocks straight to Optimus’ spark.

He worked his intake and dared part his lips, introduce his glossa to the occasion. He teased at the seam of Soundwave’s lips and made a delighted noise as Soundwave’s mouth opened to his. He moved closer, vents quickening, as their glossae touched, warm and damp.

Optimus’ engine purred. His fingers kneaded patterns on Soundwave’s shoulders, and Soundwave’s hold tightened, though his hands did not stray. His entire frame vibrated beneath Optimus as heat wafted out from beneath his plating, mingling with the warmth Optimus surrendered.

Optimus had missed this, such a simple intimacy, the joining of mouth and glossa, the unhurried press of lips. He deepened the kiss and met Soundwave’s mouth with more force. He pressed closer, until he swore he could feel the hum of Soundwave’s spark through their armor.

He shuttered his optics, surrendering himself to sensation. Heat and intimacy, warmth and pleasure. He relaxed in Soundwave’s embrace, enjoying the kisses for what they were, an expression of affection.

Heat built between them; Optimus’ cooling fans switched on. Each touch of Soundwave’s glossa to his own sent the tiniest of jolts through his frame. Soundwave kissed like he did everything: slowly, methodically, as though tasting and savoring each motion. Optimus imagined he gave that same dedication to everything else… including interfacing perhaps?

A light moan bubbled up from Optimus’ vocalizer. He pressed harder to Soundwave, an unexpected heat gathering in his groin. His hips seemed to move of their own accord, rocking against Soundwave’s groin and abdomen. He shifted on Soundwave’s lap restlessly, the slide of metal on metal sending a tingle through his dermal plating.

Soundwave’s grip tightened. He moved beneath Optimus, the tiniest of motions, only to abruptly still. His vents whooshed loudly.

Soundwave drew back, pressing his forehelm to Optimus. It was then Optimus noticed Soundwave’s fans spun and little tremors wrecked his plating.

“What’s wrong?”

“Unless Optimus wishes to continue, we must stop,” Soundwave said with a tiny rumble of his engine.

The heat beneath his aft had a new meaning.

“Oh.” The tips of Optimus’ finials heated. His glossa flicked over his lips. “Then I should stop.” He leaned back, putting distance between their frames, for his comfort and Soundwave’s.

Some soft touches and kisses shared were miles from interfacing, and Optimus wasn’t sure if he was ready to take that step. His frame had other ideas, given the way it hummed and heat gathered behind his panels. Optimus didn’t want to push himself.

The last thing he wanted was to frighten himself or Soundwave by taking on something he could not handle.

“Let me just…” Optimus, rather awkwardly he had to admit, eased himself from Soundwave’s lap.

He preened a little on the inside as Soundwave bowed his helm and cycled a ventilation as though gathering his restraint. Some of his plating had flared, allowing extra heat to disperse.

“I don’t mean to tease,” Optimus said.

Soundwave looked up, his visor burning brightly. “It was not interpreted as such,” he said, and finally rose to his pedes, one hand gently cupping Optimus’ helm. “Haste not needed, only Optimus’ comfort.”

It was that regard for Optimus’ comfort which made it so easy to lean into Soundwave’s touch and pull him down for another kiss. A gentle slide of their lips, and the taste of Soundwave on his glossa again.

Optimus hummed approvingly in the back of his intake. He heard Soundwave echo him, heard the rumble of Soundwave’s engine, before the former Decepticon pulled back again. His vents were whirring, his visor bright.

“Recharge now?” Optimus proposed.

A low laugh rattled in Soundwave’s chassis. “Moment needed,” he replied, a hint of static on the edge of his vocals. “Request use of private washracks?”

Optimus’ lips curved in a genuine in smile. “Of course. Help yourself.” That he’d driven the Decepticons’ most reserved mech into the washracks with a few minutes of kissing had to be worth some kind of award.

“Much appreciated.” Soundwave’s thumb stroked Optimus’ cheek one last time before he turned away, reluctance writ into the lingering caress of his energy field.

Optimus watched him enter the washracks with affection and amusement both tugging at his lips. He had to admit, a heat had stirred within his own frame. He thrummed for want of it, though unlike Soundwave, he was certain his would go away on its own. He remained uncomfortable with self-service as it was.

He tried not to think about Soundwave doing just that in the heat and steam of the washracks. Or to imagine the dark blue plating streaked with solvent, venting heat in bursts of billowing steam. Or strong fingers wrapping around what had to be a beautiful spike, or perhaps pushing into the clenching heat of a welcoming valve.

Optimus’ engine revved. His face heated.

He wasn’t doing a good job not thinking about it at all.

He shook his helm and busied himself with tidying up his suite. He gathered their half-finished energon and put it back into temporary storage. He dragged out some covers and pillows for the berth – indulging in a little comfort seemed appropriate. Laserbeak, he noticed, was dozing on the head of the berth, her beak tucked under one wing and her optics shuttered. She made little snuffling sounds as she recharged, noises Optimus found adorable and not distracting.

In that moment, he realized how genuinely domestic this entire moment felt. And how it didn’t bother him. How instead, it filled him with a quiet warmth he dared call happiness.

Given the stress and strain of the day, from the moment he’d heard about the DJD’s arrival and the threat of imminent death and torture, it felt odd to suddenly shift gears to comfort and relaxation. Yet, it also felt nice. Felt… wanted.

Optimus paused, clutching a pillow in one hand, as something inside him quietly clicked, like a transmission shifting to a different gear. He wasn’t poetic enough to say his entire world changed in that moment. He decided he himself had been changing little by little the entire time, and was only now looking back to see how far he’d come.

Living for war and living for peace were two entirely separate things. He used to wonder he wouldn’t know how to survive once the war was won, that he’d been functioning under the stress of life or death for so long, he’d forgotten what it meant to live.

It seemed, without him knowing, he’d already begun to remember.

The door to the washracks clicked open, freeing a soft burst of cleanser-scented steam. “Optimus?”

Soundwave had probably detected the conflicting emotions in Optimus’ field.

Optimus tossed the pillow onto the berth and offered Soundwave a smile. “It is nothing. Ready for recharge?” he asked, and then, with a deviousness he hadn’t felt since Orion Pax died ages upon ages ago, he continued with, “Or are you still too tense?”

Soundwave stared at him before amusement burst out of him in a rolling, deep chuckle. “Tension relieved,” he said, with a note of humor. He approached Optimus, smelling strongly of the cleanser that Optimus favored. “Recharge welcome.”

Optimus stepped into Soundwave’s space, wrapping his arms around the mech in an embrace, reading the surprise but then delight in Soundwave’s field. “It is indeed,” Optimus murmured.

Recharge very welcome, especially if it included the quiet warmth of Soundwave beside him.

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