[Crown the Empire] Reign 16

Starscream hovered between elation and despair, and frankly, couldn’t decide which of the two he preferred.

Knock Out had finally agreed that Starscream could be released from the medbay, albeit with a terrifying list of restrictions. Starscream hadn’t cared that he was only allowed to lay in his berth or sit on his couch and he couldn’t even do paperwork. He was too pleased to no longer be caged in the medbay.

The downside was when it came time for his release. Grimlock could not be present, as his frequent absences prior to the DJD’s arrival meant he had many, many shifts to cover and would for quite some time. Thundercracker was still in a medberth of his own, with Skywarp all but waiting on him hand and pede.

This left the Dinobots.

The Dinobots and Ratchet and Wheeljack.

Starscream was surrounded by Autobots, and he didn’t like it one bit. Not even if Ratchet had been the one to finally convince Knock Out to release Starscream.

It was tempting to turn down the release and stay in his medberth. So very tempting. If he went back to his apartment, he would technically be transferred to Ratchet’s supervision. He would have to obey, for lack of a better word, Ratchet’s advice regarding his health.

Decisions, decisions.

In the end, some freedom was better than none at all.

“Be careful,” Starscream huffed as Ratchet nearly dropped him. “I don’t want to end up back in the medbay.”

“Yes, your majesty,” Ratchet retorted with a roll of his optics. He adjusted his grip on Starscream, carrying him with an arm braced under Starscream’s knees and upper back. “However might I plant thine royal aft?”

Starscream gestured to the main room. “On the futon is fine. I don’t want to be trapped in a berth with so many Autobots in my suite.”

“You know, you’re practically dating an Autobot,” Wheeljack pointed out ever so helpfully. One would think he’d be better at crisis intervention, given his mate, but no. He was as much instigator as he was peace-maker.

“Grimlock is a Decepticon,” Starscream informed him in a tone that was slightly less than scathing.

“Whatever helps you recharge at night, kid,” Ratchet said and promptly dumped him on the couch.

‘Dump’ was perhaps a strong word, but it felt appropriate given the way Starscream’s aft bounced on the cushions. It hadn’t jarred any of his repairs, but it did leave his processor spinning.

“You have a terrible berthside manner, doctor,” Starscream muttered.

“That’s because you are a terrible patient,” Ratchet retorted.

Swoop bounced into view, carefully carrying a cube of flyer-grade energon spiced with Starscream’s favorite additive.

That was why Swoop was Starscream’s favorite.

“Ignore him Starscream,” Snarl insisted as he snagged Wheeljack’s arm, attempting to tug him toward the doorway and into the refueling room. “Me Snarl want tell you Wheejack about things me Snarl fixed.”

Wheeljack chuckled and let himself be dragged. “Is that so? Then I want to hear all about it. I knew one of you had to get my tinkering.”

Snarl’s faceplate all but glowed. “Me Snarl work in medbay with him Knock Out,” he said as Wheeljack went along with him gamely.

“Knock Out, hm?” Wheeljack repeated and paused in the doorway, tossing a look over his shoulder at Ratchet. “That wouldn’t happen to be the very shiny, very pretty, and very bright red medic, would it?”

“You forgot arrogant and irritating,” Ratchet muttered as a scan washed over Starscream, prickling his exterior sensors with the force of it.

Slag stomped after the exiting engineer and his brother. “You no hog him Wheeljack! Me Slag want turn, too!”

There was a rather large yelp, followed by a laugh, which Starscream could only assume meant Wheeljack had been treated to an obscenely strong hug. Sometimes, the Dinobots forgot their own strength. Grimlock was exceedingly careful of his, often to the point of irritating Starscream. Though he appreciated it as well.

There was something incredibly charming in the care Grimlock extended toward him. It never failed to warm Starscream’s spark and make him feel genuinely cherished. Though he would never admit that aloud.

“You’re healing nicely, Starscream. Another few days or so and you should be able to return to light duty, at least,” Ratchet said as his internal scanners beeped aloud and the ticklish sensation of his scans vanished.

Starscream ex-vented lightly. “That’s a relief. All of this inaction is worse than the injury itself.”

“Grimlock might argue otherwise,” Ratchet said, his lips curved. “He was very worried about you.”

Starscream squirmed on the futon and focused on consuming the energon Swoop had brought for him. “Metalhawk is to blame for that. Or so I hear.”

“That and many other things. Fortunately, I am told that Optimus and Ultra Magnus have been devising a plan.” Ratchet’s joints audibly creaked as he lowered himself to the opposite end of the futon from Starscream.

In the other room, Snarl and Slag chattered at Wheeljack, though it was too much babble for Starscream to make out the words. He picked out a few names – Brawl, Breakdown, and Knock Out. The Dinobots were quickly making themselves at home and friends in New Iacon.

“Optimus is still too soft,” Starscream commented as he leaned back into the soft embrace of the futon. “Nothing will cure Metalhawk’s mindset save a blaster shot to the spark.”

Ratchet made a non-committal noise. “Surely you understand the political ramifications.”

“Spare me.” Starscream dragged a hand across his forehelm. “I know them. That doesn’t mean I like them.”

“Then it’s a good thing you are not the only one making the decision for the Decepticons, else you’d have us back at war.” Ratchet huffed at him, only to cycle a ventilation and lean back. “Speaking of, how is it going with you and Grimlock?”

Starscream side-opticked him. “I am not discussing my romantic life with you, especially since you consider yourself his creator.” It came out more snappy than he intended, but damn it, was a little peace and quiet too much to ask for?

“Fair enough,” Ratchet said, and shifted gears. “What about you, Swoop? How have you been? Any luck with that mech you had your optic on?”

Swoop grinned, his field peppering the room with bright bursts of delight. “Me Swoop very lucky. Caught two mechs.”

“Oh? Is that so?” Ratchet’s grin was soft and affectionate and to Starscream, eerie for its gentleness. “Are you still playing mysterious with their identity?”

Swoop chortled, his wing plates shuffling. “Him Skywarp and him Thundercracker shy,” he said. “Especially him Thundercracker.”

“Wait.” Starscream jerked upright so fast that his back cables screeched in protest. “Did you say my trinemates?” He’d thought that was a fling. A flirtation Thundercracker and Skywarp were both meant to ignore. He’d thought they’d taken care of it.

Ratchet outright laughed.

Swoop had the audacity to look smug. “Me Swoop close with him Sky and him Thunder.” His optics darkened as his armor ruffled again. “Very close.”

Close. Very close. Starscream wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that at all.

Starscream’s optics rounded, his engine revving, his vocals approaching the near-shriek that had earned him far too many unflattering nicknames. “What?”

~

Boredom set in far too quickly.

Grimlock started to pace, long loops around the command center, a slow and steady gait that may have unnerved his subordinates as they kept giving him offhand looks. After so many weeks of tension and high alert, stillness was more off-putting than stress.

More than that, however, was that he didn’t want to be here at the moment. He wanted to be with Starscream. His Intended was getting released from the medbay today, and Grimlock knew he would need assistance. Yes, his creators would be there, and his brothers, too. But it wasn’t the same.

Plus, he had to admit, he honestly didn’t know which was going to murder the other first: Ratchet or Starscream. They butted helms and spat fire at each other on an hourly basis. Poor Wheeljack had given up trying to be the peacemaker and just left them to it. Swoop found it hilarious.

Privately, Grimlock did as well. He tried not to take sides. How could he? Ratchet was his creator, and Starscream was his Intended. It wasn’t as though they argued over something serious. It was mostly snark-filled banter. He half-expected Starscream was even having fun.

Which meant all of the entertainment was currently in Starscream’s quarters, and none of it was here in the command center.

All was quiet in New Iacon. Not even the prisoners caused a racket, which surprised Grimlock.

He would have expected the surviving members of the Decepticon Justice Division to make more of a fuss, especially the mouthy minibot. Nickel, however, had gone silent the moment she was placed in her cell. She drank the energon she was offered, but she hadn’t spoken since being put behind bars. Not even when Glit had informed them all, with genuine regret, that despite their best efforts, Vos had not survived.

Kaon had been the only one to speak, sitting ramrod straight on his bunk, his hands on his knees. His empty optical sockets had unerringly focused on the bars, strangely, and at Glit himself.

“No ceremony,” he answered when Glit asked if they had anything specific in mind for both Vos and Tarn.

“Are you certain?”

“No ceremony,” Kaon repeated, quieter this time.

It had given Glit the chills, enough so he’d come straight to Grimlock afterward. There wasn’t much that ruffled the feline medic. He’d had to put up with a lot of slag over the millennia for his size, his frame, his choice of occupations. There was very little that ruffled him.

And yet, he’d requested that Knock Out tend to the wishes of the DJD from henceforth.

For now, Grimlock had both Tarn’s and Vos’ frames set aside, access restricted only to the medical team and members of high command. If Kaon and the others ever changed their mind, the option would be there. Grimlock might have had no love for the DJD, but he would respect their dead.

It was one of many things that separated him from Megatron.

The surviving members had made no demands. Helex and Tesaurus often talked to each other, usually about nonsensical things. Cyclonus had idly hypothesized that perhaps it was a code of some sort, but he didn’t know how to begin deciphering it. So they let the two large mechs be.

Kaon seemed to be the voice for the DJD in Tarn’s absence. He made a request to speak with Grimlock regarding the future. The datapad currently sat on Grimlock’s desk, waiting his attention. He had yet to decide how he wished to handle them, and wanted a clearer idea before he presented it to his command team.

They weren’t being harmed in the brig, and were treated fairly. They could wait a while yet. Just like all the other mechs Grimlock had in his brig.

The Peaceful Tyranny had been confiscated, and Cyclonus assigned a team to scour the ship for useful supplies. They’d sent the closest thing they had to Spec Ops along with the team, something that proved to be wise as there had been more than a few security measures to override.

Said team had also discovered what amounted to a trophy room. Bits and pieces of every mech the DJD had ever disciplined, all partnered with a plaque that boldly stated their “offense”. It was disturbing and chilling and made Grimlock even less inclined to free the DJD members still living.

Like maker, like pet, Grimlock supposed. Megatron had kept his own trophies as well. He must have taught Tarn to do the same.

Grimlock ordered the “trophies” be collected and given a proper burial. The names were recorded and added to an ever-growing census of those lost to the war. It was something he hoped to eventually do in conjunction with the Autobots and the Neutrals. They might not remember every mech who was killed, but they could try.

It was important. To recover. To learn from their mistakes. To make Cybertron better than it ever was. They couldn’t linger in the past, but neither could they forget it either.

That was something Grimlock had actually learned from watching the humans.

His comm beeped, a private line, but also a business line. Only a few mechs had this frequency.

“What can I do for you, Optimus?” Grimlock answered as he ceased his unending circuit around the command center on the deck.

“First of all, let me congratulate you on your swift victory over the Decepticon Justice Division,” his old commander stated, and for once, he sounded much less worn down and beaten. Apparently, Soundwave was giving him very good care.

Grimlock scoffed across the line. “You don’t have to bother with pleasantries, Optimus. I know where we both stand. What do you need?” He slipped into a ready stance, his hands clasped behind his back.

To any onlooker, he was deep in thought, and not deep in a private conversation with the leader of the Autobots. His Decepticons could not know how friendly he was with Optimus. Otherwise they might think him too soft, or he faced manipulation from his former leader.

Optimus loosed a slow, rolling chuckle across the comm. “Very well. I wish to make a move on Metalhawk very soon. Ultra Magnus has discovered a way for us to go after him legally. In order to give it full weight, however, I need your signature of approval.”

“Mmm.” Grimlock really did not have to think about it. He’d been saving the issue of Metalhawk until after the DJD were dealt with. All the better to leave it in Optimus’ hands.

He liked political sparring far more than Grimlock did.

“You have it,” Grimlock said, shifting to cross his arms over his chestplate. “Transmit the files my way, and I’ll stamp them with my glyph. Will you need Starscream’s as well?”

“No. Yours is enough. Thank you, Grimlock.”

Had he a mouth, he would have grinned. “Let Metalhawk know I owe him one, only not in so many words. I know he’s responsible for what Acid Storm did to Starscream.”

Optimus transmitted a non-committal noise. “Unfortunately, the political balances are too unstable right now for that particular brand of justice. We must abide by the law of the treaty.”

Except that the law of the treaty did give room for a demand of personal redress in the case of a personal attack. Grimlock, however, would wait until later to remind Optimus of it. He didn’t want the Prime having second thoughts about going after Methalhawk now.

“So you say,” Grimlock demurred. “By the way, Ratchet and Wheeljack are here.”

Optimus’ tone turned amused. “Yes, I am aware. Should anyone ask, they are on personal leave and are therefore free to wander wherever they please. Though I doubt one will find them in Nova Cronum.”

“Starscream may send you a scathing message later,” Grimlock said, resisting the urge to chuckle aloud, and carefully reining in his energy field. “He and Ratchet are having something of a battle.”

This time, Optimus barked a laugh, sounding genuinely amused. “I am sorry that I am missing it.” He paused, the line going silent, until he continued with, “But I’ll not keep you. I wish you and yours a speedy recovery, and if there is anything you need of us, do not hesitate to drop me a line.”

“I will keep that in mind.”

The line clicked off, leaving Grimlock to his thoughts. He gave a pointed look around, but none of his subordinates paid him any attention. Nor was there any threat to be found on any of the monitors.

He eyed his chronometer. Only half a double-shift left to go before he could return to Starscream’s apartment and check on his Intended and hope that neither Starscream nor Ratchet had killed one another.

It couldn’t come fast enough.

~

Cyclonus had one last meeting before he could call it a day and return to his habsuite. He wasn’t exhausted, not as much as he had been during the days spent covering for Lord Grimlock, but he had gotten used to rest and recovery. It was all too easy to fall into the lull of pseudo-peace, and now he craved that quiet.

“Sir!” Scourge’s salute was a lot less rigid than it used to be. There was a time Cyclonus would have given him a mild rebuke for that.

Now, he barely noticed it. He considered it a sign, proof that his second was not only learning to enjoy this new peace, but fully indulge in it. Cyclonus dared dream that at some point in the future, he may not even have to be a soldier. He didn’t know what else he could be, because war was all he knew even before there was a war.

But that didn’t mean he couldn’t explore his options and try.

“Let’s make this brief, shall we? I’m sure you are as eager to be off-shift as I am,” Cyclonus said as they stepped into Cyclonus’ office.

“Though I suspect it is for different reasons, sir,” Scourge said with a sidelong look Cyclonus’ direction.

He ignored the implication, and sat behind his desk, purposefully ignoring the small stack of datapads on the corner. They were not so urgent they could not wait until the next shift.

“Before we get started, I want to thank you for your level-headedness during the most recent threat,” Cyclonus said, his tone far serious than he meant it to be given the levity they had just shared. “Your patience and trust ensured we did not needlessly release a power we may not be able to fully control.”

Scourge shifted in his chair, and by all accounts, looked both pleased and flattered. “Thank you, sir. I had a good teacher.”

Cyclonus chuckled, despite himself. “Yes, I’m sure you did,” he said, amused. “Do you have some reports for me then?”

“Unfortunately, yes.” Scourge’s disposition soured as he set a datapad on the desk and pushed it toward Cyclonus. “It is ironic that those who wail the loudest about their rights and how much they deserve freedom, were those all too willing to take them from others.”

Cyclonus made a noncommittal sound of agreement and thumbed the datapad on. It contained a list of every current prisoner who had officially requested an examination of their incarceration and petitioned for parole or release. For most of them, it would be a long time before they saw anything like freedom.

Cyclonus did not trust Barricade any further than he could throw the mech. Barricade was smart, manipulative, and charming. More than that, he’d been in Spec Ops throughout the entirety of the war and could act like the best of them. He claimed he was willing to support Grimlock’s leadership, but Cyclonus did not believe him.

No one currently in Decepticon Command was foolish enough to do so.

Cyclonus only regretted that they currently had no one capable of seeing through Barricade’s deceptions. Unless, of course, they borrowed Soundwave and requested he take a peek at Barricade’s true intentions. That, however, was a last resort and would only be requested if necessary.

Prisoner Barricade might be, one who had done heinous things without a smidgen of regret even, but yes. He did have some rights. Just not as many as he thought he did.

Yet, he never stopped ranting about how his rights were being ‘trampled.’

Scourge had scribbled a comment in his observation notes. “Who does he think we are, Autobots?”

Cyclonus snickered quietly to himself. Scourge had a point. Under Megatron’s leadership, Barricade would have never seen a cell. Imprisoning those who insulted him wasn’t Megatron’s style. He preferred to dole out punishment with his fists. Grimlock, however, had seemed to mix and match his own rules.

He had carried some of his Autobot ways with him, but mingled them well with Decepticon matters as well. Freedom was a right, yes, he agreed. But not if he couldn’t guarantee that Barricade wouldn’t harm others. So in prison Barricade would stay. For now.

There were others. The two remaining Stunticons, for example.

Dragstrip’s behavior had been on the lower end of ‘good’ ever since Breakdown was released. Less than good was startlingly decent considering the behavior of his other brother. Cyclonus suspected that he’d been closest to Breakdown of all of his siblings and perhaps attempted to behave in order to facilitate his release for that purpose.

Motormaster, however, seemed to have grown only more belligerent. Perhaps more time would calm him. Though Cyclonus suspected, given what he’d learned of their origins, he might need medical attention as well. They were so very young. Was it any surprise Megatron had wooed them and bent them to his will so easily?

Cyclonus had high hopes that someday, Scourge would be in charge of an empty brig. Or perhaps that was too optimistic. After all, the DJD were here.

So was Shockwave.

He was the only one, of all the current inmates, who submitted a petition every day. It was unfailingly polite and reasoned, but that didn’t make it any less aggravating. Shockwave continued to believe he had done nothing wrong; he did not understand the reasoning behind his incarceration. He had no problems serving under Lord Grimlock’s command. All he wished to do was continue his research.

Intelligence didn’t necessarily make someone smart, Cyclonus thought with a sigh. For it was, in part, Shockwave’s research that Grimlock found abhorrent. Or at least the methods by which Shockwave chose to enact his research. Given what Shockwave had done to Grimlock’s brother, the scientist should consider himself lucky he hadn’t been executed.

However, a promise had been made. To save Starscream’s spark, Shockwave was owed leniency. His latest petition had been a demand for a private meeting with Lord Grimlock to discuss the terms of their agreement.

As much as Cyclonus did not like Shockwave, the deal had been struck. He would pass this request onto Lord Grimlock.

“So nothing new then,” Cyclonus observed as he made a few notes himself, composed a quick report to Lord Grimlock, and then powered down the datapad.

Scourge shook his helm. “Not yet. I’m half-surprised that we haven’t had an attempted break yet.”

“Mmm. You may have a point. Do you think there is a need for increased guard?” There were a few mechs Cyclonus could reassign, especially since they were now imprisoning three-fifths of the DJD.

Scourge tapped his chin. “Another guard couldn’t hurt. A show of force, perhaps, to convince them they are better off not trying.”

“Done.” Cyclonus made a note to himself. It would be the first thing he arranged when he came back on-shift. “Anything else?”

“No. You’re free to go.” Scourge’s lips curved with amusement. “As I’m sure you’ve been eager to do for the past ten minutes.”

Cyclonus cycled his vocalizer. “I don’t know what you mean.” He pushed to his pedes and pretended he did not feel the glimmer of excitement in his spark.

“Of course you don’t. I’m sure it has nothing to do with your cute minibot friend,” Scourge said, ever professional, ever stoic.

Cyclonus gave him a long look before he let a small smile tug at his lips. “It has everything to do with him,” he said as he gestured Scourge ahead of him, indicating his second could step out of the office.

Scourge cycled his optics and stared at Cyclonus as though he had never seen him before. “Well,” he said after a long moment. “I’m happy to hear it, sir.”

Cyclonus pulled the door shut behind him, the lock engaging with a quick click. “It is unexpected,” he said. “But very welcome.”

“You deserve it.”

Warmth flooded Cyclonus’ spark. “I thank you for saying so.” He dipped his helm in a nod. “Good shift, Scourge. Comm me if you need me.”

“And interrupt? No, thank you.”

Cyclonus chuckled. “If you insist.”

He left his second behind, Scourge staring thoughtfully after him. Cyclonus was well-aware of how odd his friendship with Tailgate appeared, and no one had been more surprised than himself when it blossomed beyond casual acquaintances. He was grateful for it, however, and would continue to be so.

It finally felt like moving on, learning to embrace peace, and while Cyclonus had been a soldier all his life, he was beginning to think that civilian life was not so bad after all.

~

The relentless ping stirred Skywarp from his doze, forcing him to sit up and rub at his optics. It was annoying, and Skywarp was half-attempted to ignore the ping, save that it was coming from Starscream.

It was never wise to ignore Starscream.

“What is it?” Thundercracker asked, lowering his datapad and peering at Skywarp.

He sat up and leaned back, stretching his arms over his helm. His lower back cables were in knots. He should have recharged in a berth, but he’d thought a little nap here in the medbay wouldn’t hurt.

He’d been wrong. Ow.

“It’s Star.” Skywarp tapped his comm pointedly. “He’s not pinging you?”

Thundercracker tilted his helm and then shook it. “No. Perhaps he thinks I am in recharge.”

Skywarp laughed. “Because you should be.” He poked Thundercracker in the knee to prove his point. “We need you back on your pedes sooner rather than later.”

“There’s no rush,” Thundercracker said with a shrug before turning his attention back to his datapad and the collection of ancient theatrical plays he’d found fascinating as of late. “What does Star want?”

Oh, right. The persistent pinging/nagging at his comms. He’d almost gotten used to it, to the point of ignoring it.

Skywarp tapped his comm, activating it. “Hey, Star. What do you–”

“I need to speak with you and Thundercracker,” his trine leader and Air Commander said in an imperious tone, without giving Skywarp the chance to finish greeting him. “Immediately.”

Skywarp blinked his optical shutters. “Thundercracker is still confined to the berth. Damaged thrusters, remember?”

“He is mobile. I asked,” Starscream retorted crisply. “This can’t wait, and I refuse to have this discussion with you two over a comm line.”

Discussion.

Skywarp glanced at Thundercracker, but his partner wasn’t paying him a bit of attention. “What’s this about?” Skywarp asked.

“You’ll find out when you get here.” With an imperious click, the line went silent.

Hmmm. Skywarp dropped his hand from his comm and ex-vented noisily. “Well, that happened,” he said.

Thundercracker lowered his datapad again. “What did Starscream want?”

“To talk to us. Now. It can’t wait.” Skywarp rose to his pedes, rolling his helm to ease the crick in his neck cables. “He sounded serious.”

“Starscream is always serious,” Thundercracker replied. He powered down his datapad, and it vanished into his subspace pocket. “Let’s go then.”

“Are you sure?” Skywarp looked pointedly at Thundercracker’s thrusters, which were disengaged as they continued to heal.

“I can walk,” Thundercracker said wryly. “I just can’t fly or transform.”

“Walking sucks.” Skywarp grinned and offered his wingmate a hand. “Wanna bet that he’s just having a conniption being surrounded by so many Autobots?”

Thundercracker snickered and eased off the berth. “I don’t think the Dinobots count as Autobots anymore.”

“I suppose that depends on your point of view.” Skywarp laughed.

He tried not to worry. Starscream hadn’t used that tone on them in quite a while. Not since they’d stopped pseudo-hating each other, and actually learned what it meant to be trinemates again. Starscream hadn’t sounded worried, but he’d definitely been upset about something.

“He didn’t give you any clue what the problem was?” Thundercracker asked as they left the medroom and snuck out the back, before Breakdown could see them.

They’d be back soon enough. Or maybe they wouldn’t. If Thundercracker could walk around, then he could recover well enough in their own quarters. Preferably with Swoop snuggled around them.

Yes, that sounded perfect to Skywarp. His two favorite mechs in the same berth with him, all warm and cuddly. Swoop put off a lot of heat, and his energy field was so soothing. Then it would be ten times better with Thundercracker willing to snuggle, too.

“Warp?”

He blinked out of his thoughts and peered at Thundercracker, whose lips were curled with amusement. “Hmm?”

“I asked you a question.” Thundercracker bumped their shoulders. “You were off in a daydream though.”

“Oh.” Skywarp scratched his nasal ridge. “It, uh, wasn’t important.” His cheeks heated, and his gaze slid away. “What did you ask?”

Thundercracker shook his helm. “Did Starscream give any clue what the big emergency was?”

“No. You know how he is.” Skywarp shrugged. “You doing okay?”

Thundercracker’s field was calm, as it usually was, but there was an edge of discomfort surrounded it. “I’ll survive. I’ve dealt with worse.”

“Yeah, but we’re not in war anymore. You shouldn’t have to.” Skywarp huffed, his wings twitching. “This better be important.”

Thundercracker bumped shoulders with him again, something like indulgence in his expression. “I’m sure it is.”

And well, as it turned out, Thundercracker was only half-right. When they arrived at Starscream’s habsuite, Wheeljack opened the door for them and let them inside. There was little space to be had, what with four Dinobots, two Autobots, and Starscream sitting upon the main futon like a lounging king upon a throne – all crowded into the main receiving room.

Starscream had his arms folded over his cockpit, his narrowed optics focused on the doorway so they found Skywarp and Thundercracker the minute they appeared. But even more unsettling was that Ratchet sat next to him, his face a perfect mask, and somehow, that was more worrisome.

“I didn’t do it,” Skywarp said, immediately hanging behind Thundercracker’s right shoulder. They wouldn’t hurt an invalid, right? “Whatever it was.”

Ratchet snorted.

Starscream’s stare intensified. “Oh, yes you most certainly did,” he said, and his gaze slid ever so slowly to the right, where Swoop was perched on a stool, a wide grin on his face.

Oh.

Oh.

Thundercracker folded his arms and cocked a hip as Wheeljack blocked the door behind them. Or well, tried to at any rate. He was currently the smallest person in the room, but if it bothered him, it didn’t show.

Skywarp decided the safest place was still behind Thundercracker. “To be fair,” he said. “Swoop started it.”

Swoop squawked a laugh. “Is true. Me Swoop did start it.”

“I don’t care who is to blame,” Ratchet said, he and Starscream presenting an oddly united front. “I just want to know that it’s not a game and what your intentions are.”

Especially,” Starscream added in that haughty tone which always made Skywarp cringe, “Since I seem to recall telling you not to pursue him as a romantic partner.”

“Yeah,” Slag said, and Snarl echoed him.

“You treat him Swoop good!” Slag said with a shake of his fist, ex-venting smoky air from his nasal ridge.

“Him Swoop the best,” Snarl added, nodding his helm. He gave the winged Dinobot a big smile. “You no hurt him Swoop.”

“He is not a sparkling,” Thundercracker said, his wings giving a nearly aggressive flick. “He should be able to decide for himself who he does and does not want to see.”

Skywarp peered around Thundercracker’s wing. “I like him,” he said, his face heating at the frank admission. “I’m sure TC does, too.” He squared his shoulders, wings echoing Thudnercracker. “Besides, Star. You’re our Air Commander, but you can’t tell us who we can be with.”

“Me Swoop like him Skywarp,” Swoop said with a little wiggle on top of his stool. It looked like he had to invoke every ounce of self-control to keep from leaping off it. “Even him Thundercracker.”

“Their affection for me is overwhelming,” Thundercracker said dryly.

Starscream snorted. “Why am I not surprised?” he said and arched an orbital ridge. “I look away for two seconds, and you two decide you need a Dinobot of your own, heedless of what I think.”

“Actually, me Swoop wanted Seeker of my own,” Swoop corrected cheerfully, finger scratching at the side of his nasal ridge.

Laughter bubbled up behind Skywarp, and it was genuine enough to make him feel less threatened. “I blame that on you, Ratch.”

“You be quiet,” the Autobot medic snapped, though there didn’t seem to be any heat behind it.

In fact, the whole stare down seemed to feel a lot less accusatory, with humor lurking behind everyone’s expression and vocal tone. Swoop didn’t seem concerned, and while Slag and Snarl loomed like two very angry Dinobots to the side, there was a distinct lack of aggressive energy.

Skywarp dared ease out behind Thundercracker, choosing instead to sling an arm around his trinemate’s waist. “So are you guys here to disapprove and tell us to stay away? Cause unless it’s coming from Swoop, I’m not gonna do that.”

“Then you’re serious about him?” Starscream asked, his tone mild rather than accusatory or dismissive.

Skywarp cycled a ventilation and looked at the winged Dinobot. “I’m as serious as I can be,” he admitted truthfully. It was weird though because the minute he said it, all of his embarrassment vanished. “I like you, Swoop. A lot. I don’t know what that means for the future except that I’m willing to find out.”

He couldn’t promise anything. Right now, he couldn’t even say he wanted to officially court Swoop. They weren’t at that point, and Skywarp was not Grimlock, who apparently had been lusting after Starscream for quite some time. Aside of that, Starscream needed that official kind of statement. He needed those rules because he needed to know he was valued.

Skywarp didn’t, and he suspected Swoop didn’t either. Swoop, for all that he had been through, knew exactly what he wanted, and never held himself back.

Plus, Skywarp’s relationship with Thundercracker was complicated. It always had been. Whatever the three of them decided would take time and multiple conversations.

Preferably without nosy creators, trinemates, and Dino brothers peering at them as though they were all three a new species of predacon.

Swoop grinned and this time, he did leap off the stool, sweeping Skywarp up in an embrace and lifting him off the ground as a result. Skywarp all but squawked. Sometimes, he forgot how very big Swoop was.

“Me Swoop like you Skywarp, too,” Swoop murmured, his vocals buzzing against Skywarp’s audial.

“That’s so adorable,” someone said behind them, though Skywarp could scarcely make out who given that he was surrounded by all that was Swoop.

Which wasn’t, in retrospect, a bad place to be. Swoop’s field was as warm and inviting as his frame, and his energy field stroked over Skywarp’s affectionately.

“Well, I guess that’s settled,” a cranky voice added, and Skywarp didn’t have to look to know it was Ratchet. “Thundercracker, you’re supposed to be in a berth. Come over here and let me look you over.”

Skywarp chuckled and pressed his forehelm to Swoop’s. “We can work on Thundercracker together. He needs a lot more cuddling then he’ll admit to.”

“I do not,” Thundercracker retorted, having caught the murmured aside. He had no problems reporting to Ratchet for an examination though.

Swoop laughed and squeezed Skywarp tighter.

“Fine,” Starscream said with a huff. “But you three still need to tell Grimlock.”

“Oh, Primus,” Skywarp moaned, burying his face in Swoop’s intake.

Swoop pressed a kiss to the crown of his helm. “It be fine. Him Grimlock nice.”

Starscream laughed so hard Ratchet had to give him a quick systems scan, too.

~

Despite the terrifying battle against the Decepticon Justice Division, Knock Out currently had no patients. To be fair, he should have had at least one, but when he looked in on the Seekers, both Thundercracker and Skywarp were gone. Knock Out didn’t have the energy to go shouting after them, so he let them be. If Thundercracker collapsed, it would be his own fault.

Starscream had been released. Cyclonus’ repairs had been minor especially given that he hadn’t wanted to seal the scars on his face. Grimlock had gone to his creator for repairs, and all the other cuts, scrapes, and dents had been fixed.

Even Snarl had gone, off to Commander Starscream’s suite with the rest of his brothers. He’d all but jittered with excitement when Ratchet and Wheeljack had appeared, his optics lighting up especially at the sight of the engineer.

He technically didn’t have an official shift in the medbay. Nonetheless, he’d politely, as much as he could manage, asked to be dismissed.

Knock Out didn’t see any reason not to let him go. So with him gone, and Breakdown also dismissed, Knock Out was left alone.

The silence was not as appealing as he thought it would be. He hadn’t realized how much he’d grown used to the company of others. Especially since he had always preferred solitude before.

He started to roam. Might as well check the medbay, make sure all the rooms were clean and well-stocked, perhaps get something like an inventory ready for Lord Grimlock. They would need to purchase new materials eventually.

Knock Out rubbed at his forehelm, fighting back a yawn. Only a few more hours and he could leave the medbay in Glit’s hands. Errr, paws. He briefly wondered if there was any chance of the DJD medic being released. They could always use more help.

He paused mid-step as he passed by a room, glancing in as he always did. Processor belatedly registering the image, Knock Out backed up a few paces and peered inside.

Sure enough, there was Breakdown, his back to the door, his frame hunched over a desk. The overhead light was off, though the desk lamp had been activated. The glow of a datapad reflected on his faceplate.

“What are you doing?”

Breakdown startled, one hand smacking the lamp, and the chair squeaking as he whirled around. His optics were wide, bright.

Knock Out folded his arms and leaned against the door jamb. “You’re off-shift. Why aren’t you resting or out doing something fun?” He made a vague gesture to New Iacon at large.

Granted the terms of Breakdown’s parole meant there were few places he was allowed to be, but still. He could have visited the local refueling station, or taken a stroll around the construction, or even returned to his quarters and played games on his private console.

“I’m, um, I’m studying.” Breakdown held his datapad in front of him as though it were a shield.

Knock Out lowered his orbital ridge. “Wouldn’t you rather be doing something fun?”

Breakdown shrugged, his tires bouncing when he did so. “Right now, this is all I can do.” He paused, his optics dimming. “I’m not a medic. It’s hard to learn this stuff.”

Oh, but that was familiar. Knock Out’s spark twanged at the look on Breakdown’s face. Painfully familiar.

And he didn’t have any patients.

“Do you want some help?” he offered. He would hear it if the main doors beeped. He could be available if someone needed him.

This, however, was far better than roaming the halls and counting down the minutes.

Breakdown’s face flared with heat. “If you have the time,” he said, and ducked his helm, half-spinning back toward his desk.

“As it just so happens, I do.” Knock Out pushed off the jamb and strode into the room. “Those things were written by gatekeeping mechs who thought if you didn’t immediately understand it, you didn’t deserve to know it. How about we prove them wrong?”

He slid in at Breakdown’s left hand side, bracing his elbows on the desk top as Breakdown swiveled back to face it again. “You really want to be a medic, huh?”

Breakdown stared hard at his datapad. “I want to be something,” he said, his fingers tightening around the device. His field shivered where it pressed against Knock Out’s own, for once not immediately shying away.

“Then I’ll help you,” Knock Out said and peered at the datapad. “What are you having the most trouble with?”

Breakdown’s field softened around the edges, tension bleeding from his frame. “Right now, this section here,” he said, and pointed to a particularly dense passage.

“Luckily, this is one of my specialties.” Knock Out smiled.

It was nice, for once, to be teaching instead of being taught. And he had to agree with Breakdown.

Sometimes, you just wanted to be something.

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