[Crown the Empire] Reign 18

Cyclonus walked into the command center, and straight into a maelstrom of anger, one strong enough that it smacked him like a physical blow.

This was the first time Cyclonus had ever seen Grimlock so angry. The ire in his leader’s energy field prickled at Cyclonus’ own, making his armor clamp down defensively. He half-expected to find they were about to return to war, and one hand went to the sword he no longer carried before he caught himself.

His leader’s voice poured into the command center, rattled into every nook and cranny, forcing those who listened to stand at attention, whether they were supposed to or not.

“This is unacceptable, Prime!” Grimlock growled, his hands firmly clamped on the railing around the command dais.

Grimlock glared at the main screen, upon which Optimus Prime could be seen. He was seated behind a desk, perhaps in his office, his hands folded in front of him. The Autobot Leader looked far healthier than the last time Cyclonus had seen him. Clearly, that week of rest and recovery had done him a fair bit of good.

Or perhaps it was Soundwave’s tender care. Cyclonus had been hearing some interesting rumors, courtesy of Tailgate, who somehow managed to know everything despite being a maintenance bot and former Neutral.

Optimus audibly cycled a ventilation. “You agreed to this, Grimlock. You signed the petition.” His tone was steady, unbothered. At least on the outside.

Cyclonus looked closer, however, and saw the tiniest of tremors in Optimus’ fingers.

“To have him arrested,” Grimlock snarled. His armor fluffed out aggressively. “To have him pay for his actions. Not to see him give a speech of pretty lies and walk away a free mech.”

Oh.

Cyclonus understood immediately. This was about Metalhawk. The chatter was everywhere, mechs muttering about Metalhawk’s arrest, his trial, and his punishment. If one could even call it that.

On the outside, it looked as though Metalhawk had pretty much gotten away with murder. Except he hadn’t managed to succeed in assassinating anyone.

“He has been stripped of his rank, and forced to publicly acknowledge the treaty,” Optimus replied, sounding strained.

Cyclonus wondered how long they had been having this discussion. Though he also doubted discussion was a proper word. It looked as though Grimlock ranted while Optimus bore it with a patience he had always carried.

“That punishment was decided by trial, and fits within the parameters of what we have established are suitable actions to take,” Optimus countered.

“It is a farce.” The railing rattled beneath Lord Grimlock’s grip. “He tried to kill Starscream. I should have his helm as a trophy in my quarters!”

Optimus sighed, and one hand rubbed at his forehelm. “The key word in your statement is ‘tried.’ We cannot punish him for a murder that was prevented.”

“I see no difference,” Grimlock snapped. “This is not justice.” Beside him, Starscream was unusually silent, standing with thinned lips, and his arms crossed over his cockpit.

Cyclonus was actually surprised to see their commander present. Last he heard, Starscream was restricted to berth rest, and duty so light it didn’t count as duty at all.

“It is. Within the terms of a treaty that you signed,” the Prime insisted. “Ask any one of your officers if you do not believe me.”

Grimlock shoved back from the railing, leaving little impressions in the metal. “It is not a matter of trust, Prime,” he spat, and began to pace, back and forth in the small space, though his visor never left the screen. “He almost killed your third. Does that mean nothing to you?”

Optimus flinched, and looked more tired than before. The glow of good health seemed to fade away. He rubbed harder at his forehelm before lowering his hand.

“What would you have me do?” he asked, softer this time. “Exile him? Imprison him indefinitely? Execute him?” He shook his helm, his optics dimming. “You know why we cannot.”

Grimlock’s field seethed, filling the entire room, leaving no few of the remaining Decepticons to flinch. “Ever the politician, aren’t you, Optimus? Hiding behind your laws while the rest of us suffer.”

“That is not what is happening here, and you know it, Grimlock,” Optimus snapped, and then blanched as though realizing he’d been driven to an emotional response. He sat back in his chair, his shoulders slumped. “His punishment is the most we can within the boundaries of the treaty.”

“Then that treaty is useless,” Grimlock hissed.

A rush of silence swept through the command center. Cyclonus’ own hackles raised. He took a step forward. It was not his place to denounce his leader publicly, especially in front of the leader of another faction. But he was tempted.

He did not want to see another war, no matter how much he loathed Metalhawk.

Optimus stared into the camera, stared at Grimlock, his gaze going nowhere else. He cycled a ventilation, his optics dimming to pale pools of blue.

“Do you wish to break the treaty?” he asked. It was so quiet Cyclonus was surprised the microphone even picked up his voice.

Grimlock stopped pacing. “What?”

Optimus leaned forward and steepled his fingers. His tone remained calm and soft, though again, his fingers trembled. “You may demand a re-trial. You may demand compensation. Anything else is beyond the reach of the treaty. So I ask you again, Lord Grimlock, do you wish to break the treaty and return us to war?”

Silence.

Cyclonus held his ventilations. Both of them had a point. Having seen the treaty himself, he knew how Optimus’ hands were tied. But he also knew that Metalhawk was a disease, an infection, a symptom of what caused the war, and mechs like Metalhawk needed to be eradicated.

But then… what would exiling or executing Metalhawk solve? What would it prove? Nothing save that the Decepticons were as violent and unforgiving as the Neutrals assumed them to be.

“No,” Starscream said finally. “We do not.”

Grimlock’s gaze whipped toward his second. He hissed a wordless admonition. But Starscream did not flinch.

Instead, he stepped forward, meeting Optimus Prime’s gaze directly. “It was my spark he threatened,” Starscream continued, his wings arched and still. “Let him lose the one thing he values. Let him fade into nothing. That is enough for me.” He smirked. “And be sure he knows it was me who offered him mercy.”

Optimus inclined his helm, gaze shifting to their leader. “Lord Grimlock?”

“I will not discard the treaty,” Grimlock gritted out, his arms folding over his chestplate. “And it would be better to end this call before I change my mind.”

Optimus leaned back once more, a small sigh escaping his vents. “I understand. If you wish, we can speak again later.”

“Don’t wait for my ping.” Grimlock tilted his helm toward the Decepticon on his left, signaling him to cut the feed.

Optimus’ face vanished, replaced with a split-screen image of multiple locations around Iacon – notably those where paroled Decepticons were doing their duties.

“You do realize that if you had discarded the treaty and opted for war, you would have given Metalhawk exactly what he wanted,” Cyclonus pointed out, the first to dare break the silence as even Starscream had not said anything.

Though he was sure Starscream only bided his time. There was a calculated look on their Air Commander’s face, and he gave Grimlock a shrewd glance.

Lord Grimlock turned to face him, his visor stormy. “I am aware of that,” he said testily. “That does not mean I have to like it, however.”

“The treaty is not a failure,” Starscream added, shifting to lean back against the console, his frame language speaking of relaxation, but not the tight clamp of his armor. “The same terms that protect me from facing prosecution for my actions during the war, are the very same reason we cannot seek anything worse for Metalhawk.”

Grimlock gave him a harsh look. “I know that as well. I am not stupid, Starscream. I understand the terms of the contract.”

“Then act like you do,” Starscream retorted, just short of a snap. His wings twitched. “Don’t throw a tantrum on the command bridge because Optimus did everything he could do within the bounds of an agreement we all made.”

Silence.

Cyclonus worked his intake, his gaze shifting to all of the Decepticons in the command center who were suddenly not paying a bit of attention to the interplay between their leaders. They were all working very hard, gazes focused on their consoles, but some of them, Cyclonus saw, looked as though they were ready to bolt.

How many of them had lived under the rule of Megatron and Starscream? How many of them had sat through arguments that turned to violence in the space of a sparkbeat? How many times had they turned off their audials so they didn’t have to hear the sounds of metal against metal, or refused to turn so they wouldn’t have to see it? How many of them despaired that the cycle was about to repeat itself?

“It is not a tantrum,” Grimlock finally gritted out, though some of the frenetic whirl of fury seeped out of his field. “It was a statement. We agreed to peace, and we’ll defend it, but we’ll not let ourselves be bullied until we end up back where we started.”

“We.” Starscream echoed the word as though tasting it. “Have you assimilated that much? Truly become one of us, have you?” His gaze dropped pointedly to Grimlock’s chestplate, the new brand affixed on it.

Primus. If Cyclonus hadn’t known that they were lovers, he wouldn’t have believed it.

Grimlock tilted his chin. “I may not have begun a Decepticon, but I’ve had my fair share of discrimination. I made an oath when I took this throne, and I intend to keep it.”

One wing twitched and then another. Starscream inclined his helm. “Fair enough.” He paused, looking around the command center, his gaze briefly passing over Cyclonus. “For now, I believe your shift is over, is it not, Cyclonus?”

Cyclonus stepped forward now that he’d been acknowledged. “It is,” he said, capturing Grimlock’s attention in that moment. “There is also the matter of Acid Storm.”

Starscream cycled his optics and pushed to his pedes. “What of him?”

“Per the terms of Metalhawk’s punishment, he was surrendered to us,” Cyclonus answered. He felt, in that moment, the tension creeping out of the room as the surrounding Decepticons relaxed. “He is in the brig as we speak.”

“Then the treaty was not so useless after all,” Grimlock said, something of triumph gleaming in his visor. He tossed a glance to Starscream. “Should we have a talk with him?”

Cyclonus stepped up between them, logging into the command console and registering himself as on-duty. “Sunstorm is there now, but otherwise, he’s not going anywhere.”

“Good to know.” Starscream pushed off the console, the picture of ease. “Thank you, Cyclonus. Let us know if you need anything?”

“Will do.”

He pretended not to watch as his two leaders left the room, though his exterior sensors were trained on them. He suspected there would be another discussion, beyond the optics and audials of the rank and file. Cyclonus had no wish to be a spy on that wall.

Still.

Perhaps the cycle had been broken after all.

~

“You are still angry,” Starscream said, quietly, as they walked down the hall, heading for the brig. Fatigue tugged at him, but he refused to remain confined to his habsuite.

He was mobile. He could do datawork. He could oversee. He simply couldn’t do any of the heavy lifting. Which was fine. Grimlock hovered over his shoulder so much that he could do anything heavy.

Grimlock rumbled at him, his gaze focused on the corridor ahead of them. Yet, he didn’t seem to notice the soldiers that scurried out of their path. Starscream wouldn’t call it fear in their fields, but it was a near thing.

Megatron had often taken his anger out on the nearest soldier, whether that soldier had been the one to cause his fury or not. Decepticons had long ago learned to be wary of the anger belonging to any leader.

“Not at you,” Grimlock replied, terse.

Starscream folded his arms over his cockpit. “You owe Optimus an apology.”

Grimlock slammed to a halt and whirled to face him, looming without trying. Starscream would be lying if he said he didn’t flinch. That for a moment, his spark rippled with unease. All he saw was a shadow, a darkness, falling over him, and his first instinct was to drop to his knees and beg. He didn’t even know what he’d done, but the words were there, on the tip of his glossa.

Until he remembered this was Grimlock, and not Megatron, and Grimlock had never hurt him.

Then again….

Megatron had never hurt him up until a certain point.

“For what?” Grimlock demanded.

Starscream held his ground, staring up at his leader, and his lover. He had not let Megatron cow him, at least not until the end. He would not let Grimlock bully him either. He could still walk away.

“You are lucky that argument was over a vid-call and not in person. Think for a moment how that would have been from Optimus’ point of view.”

Or mine, he almost added, but held back at the last moment.

A large mech. A dangerous mech. Growling and fierce. Decepticon brand so bright on the chestplate. Angry and determined. Unwilling to take ‘no’ for an answer. Threatening violence and retribution.

Grimlock ex-vented harshly. He leaned back. “I am not Megatron,” he said, proving that he was no idiot.

He’d connected the dots quickly enough.

“I know that.” Starscream gave him a sidelong look. “Optimus knows that. But there are moments where it is easy to forget.”

For himself, who had suffered for millennia. And for Optimus, who had spent weeks in Megatron’s control, reduced to nothing but a toy for Megatron’s pleasure.

Grimlock’s shoulders slumped. He reached up and rubbed at his forehelm, above his visor. “You’re right.”

“I know I am.” Starscream glanced around them, saw they were alone, and stepped forward, grabbing Grimlock’s free hand. He gave it a squeeze. “It is nothing a private apology won’t fix.”

Grimlock squeezed his hand in return. “I will contact him later.” He peered down at Starscream. “Do I ever frighten you?”

“No.” Starscream shook his helm. Little white lies never hurt anyone. “At least, not on purpose. There are some things that take time. It’s not your fault.”

“Perhaps. But I don’t intend to make it worse.” Grimlock tugged Starscream into a brief embrace before releasing him. “At least Acid Storm’s punishment is something I do have a say in.”

Starscream nodded and moved past Grimlock, taking the lead as they continued toward the brig. “Yes, but I’d suggest holding judgment until we hear his motives. Perhaps it is all a misunderstanding.”

“You don’t accidentally pass someone a deadly virus, Starscream.”

His reply was a non-committal noise. He didn’t want to pass judgment on Acid Storm until he’d learned all the facts. Seekers were rare as it was, and Starscream did not want to lose another. Nor did he want to appear a bloodthirsty leader bent on vengeance.

Vengeance, after all, was what had taken their war so far.

When they arrived, Scourge was on duty. He nodded a greeting to them. “I suspect you’re here for Acid Storm?” he asked.

Starscream cycled a ventilation, bracing himself. There was a niggle in his tank, one he didn’t want to name anxiety, but perhaps that is what it was. “Yes. Is Sunstorm with him?”

“Just got here. They’re in Interrogation Two. Want me to ping him?”

“No,” Grimlock said. “Let them finish. We’ll wait.”

“Yes, sir.” Scourge settled back behind the monitoring station, his optics drifting over the various displays. “Do you wish to see anyone else?”

“Just Acid Storm for now. Are any of the others kicking up a fuss?” Grimlock replied.

Starscream didn’t linger. He’d let Grimlock handle the minutiae. For now, he wanted to see what Acid Storm had to say when he thought only Sunstorm was listening.

He left them to their discussion of the remaining brigged Decepticons. Less than Starscream had hoped, but still too many mechs loyal to Megatron. A blind loyalty, he snorted. What was Megatron doing for them now?

Starscream found the appropriate room and peered in through the two-way mirror. Only Acid Storm and Sunstorm were within, the former shackled to the table. He looked in remarkable health, even polished to a gleaming shine. Apparently, he’d been doing very well for himself in Nova Cronum.

Starscream keyed his code into the surveillance system and activated the microphone. Perhaps not the most ethical thing to do, but he suspected Acid Storm would not talk to him where he might be willing to talk to his trinemate.

“Misfire is here,” Sunstorm was saying, his voice gentle. Starscream often found Sunstorm a cold mech, but here, his vocals were warm. Affectionate. “I’ve been courting him.”

Acid Storm snorted and shifted on his chair. “That idiot?” He shook his helm, disdain set into his features. “I’d rather have no trine then settle for whatever scrap your lord and master managed to dig out of the morass.”

“That’s unfair, Acid Storm.”

“A lot of things are,” Acid Storm gritted out, and fixed his former trinemate with a glare. “You may be willing to bow and pay lip service to that beast who leads us, but I’m not. He’s an Autobot in disguise.”

Sunstorm leaned forward, his wings flicking. From this position, Starscream could not see his face unfortunately.

“Perhaps we could use a little Autobot sentiment,” Sunstorm said. “It is better than Megatron sending us into the slaughter as though we are nothing but drones.”

“Which would not have happened if our Air Commander had protected us, as he was meant to do!” Acid Storm snapped.

Starscream’s spark clenched. He folded his arms, his gaze focused on Acid Storm, for this here, was the spark of the matter. This much he knew. It was not about Megatron or Grimlock. It was personal.

“It is not that simple,” Sunstorm said, quietly.

“It is,” Acid Storm insisted, and his hands clenched into fists. “It always has been. I do not understand how you can follow him when he has done nothing but lead us into one disaster after another!”

Sunstorm leaned forward, his palms flat on the table. “I follow him because I believe that despite it all, he has always wanted what was best for us.”

“Then you are a fool.” Acid Storm snorted, his face twisted with disgust. “Starscream cares for nothing but himself.”

“One might argue that you do the same, considering how you tried to murder him, and then fled rather than face the consequences of your actions,” Sunstorm retorted, and his voice was cold. Gone from it was the affection that lingered for his trinemate.

Acid Storm sneered. “I did what I thought was necessary for all of us. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make.”

“Yet, not enough of one to remain behind and fight for what you felt we deserved or needed. You could have been a voice for change, Acid Storm. You could have helped me.” Sunstorm shook his helm and leaned back, his voice dropping into something pained. “We could have done this together.”

“Not with Starscream in charge,” Acid Storm insisted, venom in his tone. “I don’t trust him. I never will. He turned on us when he made us bow to Megatron, and then he turned on Megatron, too. He’s turned on everyone who ever trusted him. Eventually, he’ll turn on you, too.”

Starscream worked his intake, unable to swallow over the lump in his intake. There was nothing but truth in Acid Storm’s words. He couldn’t hear whatever Sunstorm said in reply, not over the rush in his audials, the truth so blatant and terrible in front of him.

Starscream was no idiot, neither was he naive. He had known for quite some time that despite his efforts, few respected him and even fewer trusted him. He often wondered if he would drown under the weight of his failures, until he dragged himself back into the light, refusing to keep to the shadows where they placed him.

Still. It never became easier to hear the truth. He told himself it did not hurt. He was used to it. He still believed if he repeated himself often enough, the lie would become truth.

Movement from his peripheral vision alerted him to Grimlock’s presence. Starscream did not know how long he’d been standing there, but knowing his luck, probably long enough.

Starscream cycled a ventilation and hunched his shoulders. “Well,” he said as he muted the conversation. “He’s not wrong.”

Grimlock stepped closer, until their armor brushed. “He is. He’s a child who knows nothing of the sacrifices you’ve made.”

“Because I made it a point not to show them.” Starscream’s gaze remained on the two in the room, Acid Storm full of righteous fury. Sunstorm, wings tilted with disappointment and regret.

“And it doesn’t matter what I sacrificed, because he’s right. I led my Seekers to the slaughter, and I left them here to be Shockwave’s toys.”

Grimlock’s field buzzed against his, warm with comfort. “That was not your intention.”

“Do the humans not have a saying? The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” Starscream quoted, and shook his helm. “No. Acid Storm has every right to despise me, to wish me dead. I can’t blame him. I wouldn’t trust me either.”

“I trust you.”

He said it so easily. Of course he would. Grimlock had no idea.

Starscream gave him a long, sardonic look. “And you’re a fool for it.”

Grimlock turned toward him, one hand reaching toward Starscream’s face. He cupped it so gently, tilting Starscream up to look at him. There was nothing in his visor but determination.

“I trust you,” he repeated, slowly. Carefully. “Because you trust me. Because we are two mechs society has consistently told would be worth nothing. And yet, here we are, kings on a throne. Rebuilding our planet. Together.”

We. Us. Together.

Words Megatron never seemed to know.

Starscream worked his intake. He searched for words, but had none to offer in the face of that genuine honesty. Nothing he could say here in public. Nothing he dared yet admit.

The door to the interrogation room opened. Grimlock’s hand fell away from his face, and Starscream instantly mourned the loss of warmth. Yet they both turned to greet Sunstorm, who didn’t look surprised to see him.

“Did you come to interrogate him?” Sunstorm asked, his face carefully schooled of expression.

“The thought had crossed my mind,” Starscream admitted, finding his poise and draping it over himself. He gestured to the window. “However, judging by what little of that I caught, it won’t do any good.”

Sunstorm inclined his helm. “Yes. He despises you, Starscream. I do not think that is going to change.”

“I thought as much.”

Sunstorm’s gaze shifted to Grimlock. “What will you do with him, sir?” He moved toward the window, looking in at his former trinemate. “An assassination attempt on Megatron would have been met with public execution.”

“I am not Megatron,” Grimlock rumbled. “And as my second reminds me, my spark was not the one threatened.”

Starscream shook his helm. “I cannot deny that Acid Storm’s distaste for me is justified. More than that, I know that there are those who share his opinion. They just haven’t spoken up.”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Sunstorm said.

Starscream glanced into the room. Acid Storm stared boldly at the window, as though he knew they stood there, debating his fate.

“Was he happy in Nova Cronum?” Starscream asked.

“You cannot be serious,” Grimlock growled.

Sunstorm sighed and scrubbed a hand down his face. “He was courting two Neutral Seekers. He would have a trine if you sent him there.”

“You seek to reward him?” Grimlock demanded.

“No.” Starscream shook his helm. “A reward would have been to surrender my title to Acid Storm and exile myself. That would have been a victory to Acid Storm.”

“You are within your rights to execute him,” Sunstorm pointed out, though it must have pained him to do so. “If he had challenged you directly, it would be a different story.”

Starscream knew all this. Internally, he raged and boiled. There was a part of him that wanted nothing more than to storm into that room and put two blaster shots into Acid Storm. Helm and spark.

He would take great satisfaction in watching Acid Storm turn grey. It would certainly send a strong message to his opponents. Starscream would not take attempts on his life lightly. He was their Air Commander for a reason.

If they were still at war, Starscream might not have even hesitated.

Times were different now. They labored under peace. He needed his Seekers. He needed their loyalty. He needed to be a different Starscream than the one who had bowed and scraped to Megatron. He needed to change, and he couldn’t do that if he kept falling back into the same old patterns.

“Let him stew for now,” Starscream said. Because when he looked through that mirror, at a mech bitter and afraid, he felt only pity. “Let him believe all kinds of ill things about me. Let him think he is going to die.”

“And then?”

Starscream cycled a ventilation. “And then send him back to Nova Cronum. He can be the Neutrals’ mess. Put a No Travel glyph on his designation. He can never come back.”

“It is to be exile then,” Sunstorm said, his tone perfectly neutral.

“Exile or execution,” Starscream said. “I am not about to let him wander freely around Iacon holding such hatred in his spark. And it is not logical to keep him locked up for long. It is tantamount to torture.”

Grimlock shifted his weight. “That would be fair to you?”

Starscream inclined his helm. “It is the best possible solution to be found right now. Anything else might alienate the rest of the Seekers toward my leadership.”

“You have a point.” Sunstorm’s wings flicked, first one and then the other. “Thank you, Starscream. He’s a fool and an idiot besides, but he was once my trinemate. I flew beside him for centuries.”

Starscream tilted his helm in a nod. “There is that factor to consider as well. Are you truly courting Misfire?”

“Yes. I had hoped to do so with Acid Storm at my side, but clearly that avenue is lost to me.” Sunstorm folded his arms over his chestplate. “If Misfire agrees, then we’ll have to continue the search for a third together.”

“I wish you luck,” Starscream said. “Hopefully, our people will begin responding to the beacons and return. Surely, there is someone for you out there.”

“One can only hope.” Sunstorm dipped his helm toward Grimlock. “Sir. If you’ll both excuse me, I am going to go share this information with those who are willing to listen.”

“Dismissed,” Grimlock replied.

They watched Sunstorm go, resignation the strongest of emotions in the yellow Seeker’s field. But he was a strong Seeker, strong enough to succeed Starscream some day. Sunstorm would be fine.

As for Acid Storm… Starscream glanced in at the querulous Seeker once more, but Acid Storm’s expression had not changed. He still looked as if he wished he could shoot lasers from his optics.

They would leave him alone for now then.

“That’s twice today you’ve offered someone mercy,” Grimlock commented.

Starscream straightened his shoulders and fell in step beside his Intended. “Maybe some of the Autobot in you rubbed off on me.”

Grimlock barked a laugh. “Must’ve been all of it. I never had much to begin with.”

“Perhaps.” Starscream’s lips twitched. “You’re off shift now, and so am I. What say you we return to my habsuite.” He paused and amended it with, “Our habsuite.”

“Ours, hm?” Grimlock took Starscream’s nearest hand and gave it a squeeze. “I like the sound of that. Though of course–”

Starscream held up a hand. “There will be days you bunk with your brothers, yes, I know. Just as there will be days I will share a berth with Skywarp and Thundercracker, though platonically.”

“Right.” Grimlock pulled his hand up and pressed Starscream’s knuckles to his mouthplate, the warmth of his frame tangible through it. “Then shall we return to our suite?”

Starscream worked his intake, warmth filtering through his spark. “Yes.”

~

Knock Out stood up from his chair and stretched his arms over his helm, trying to ignore the ache in his backstrut and in his helm. He’d not been built for crouching over a datapad, trying to cram as much information into his processor as possible. But if Breakdown wanted to learn, Knock Out intended to teach him. And Knock Out couldn’t teach if he didn’t know himself.

Thus the refresher course. Thus the wobble in his optics. Thus the desperate need for energon, coolant, and – Knock Out looked down at himself, at the drab state of his armor – and definitely a wash and polish.

Perhaps not even in that order. There was a scratch on his right thigh, and he could not, for the spark of him, remember how it had gotten there. It was unacceptable.

Knock Out circled around his desk in an office that could use more than a little organizing, and palmed open his door, fighting off a wave of fatigue. As the door opened, two containers full of liquid appeared in front of optics: one blue, one pink.

He blinked.

One was coolant, one was energon. Little flakes of his favorite flavor bobbed in the energon. The coolant blend was one specifically for racing frames.

He blinked again.

Each container was held aloft by a different hand. Breakdown held the energon; Snarl held the coolant.

“Him Knock Out hiding in office forever,” Snarl said, urging the coolant closer to him, looming without trying as he was both taller and heavier than both grounders.

“You work too hard,” Breakdown agreed with a smile, nudging the energon closer as well.

Knock Out felt compelled to take both, too flummoxed to do otherwise. “You are off shift,” he informed Snarl. “And you are supposed to be scrubbing the surgery ward,” he said to Breakdown.

“Don’t have shifts,” Snarl retorted.

“I finished already,” Breakdown said.

“Well then, why are you here?” Knock Out asked, the scent of both fluids calling to him. He didn’t know which he wanted to indulge in first, and had to admit, he was touched that both were looking out for him.

The two mechs exchanged glances, which Knock Out was not sure he appreciated. It seemed conspiratorial. Had they been making friends when he wasn’t looking?

“You,” they answered, in tandem.

Knock Out’s mouth opened and then shut. He honestly wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say to that. “You need tasks?” he asked. “Cause I can certainly find some. There’s a whole storage bin full of broken tech, and plenty of scavenged parts to scrub.”

“Or we could help you,” Breakdown suggested instead. “I’m pretty handy with a buffer.”

“Me Snarl have good wax,” the Dinobot added, digging something out of his subspace and showing it to Knock Out. It was indeed a tin of wax, high quality stuff no less.

Knock Out arched an orbital ridge. “And you are both offering to… assist me?”

They nodded in unison. How peculiar. Still, the offer of two sets of hands was one Knock Out would not take lightly. Many hands made for light work, after all, and there were spots on his back he still could not reach properly.

“Very well,” Knock Out said. “When my shift is over, I will accept your offer. Until then…” He made shooing motions with his occupied hands. “Breakdown, give me an inventory of the supplies in the operating theater. Snarl, fix something.”

“Whatever you say, sir,” Breakdown said with a beaming smile.

“Me Snarl fix broken capacitor,” Snarl added with a toothy grin.

The two idiots shared another glance, bumped fists, and turned to amble off. Leaving Knock Out to blink at their afts, still holding a container of energon in one hand and a flagon of coolant in the other.

Odd. Just plain odd.

He shook his helm and returned to his office. The sooner he got his work done, the sooner he could jet out the door when Spinister showed up for a shift he had assured Knock Out he could cover. After which Knock Out would allow himself to be pampered in the washracks.

All in all, not too bad of an afternoon.

~

“You know what this place needs?” Brawl asked as he leaned back in the chair, wriggling his aft to make himself comfortable.

Why did the Dinobots have all the best slag? Where did it all come from? And why wasn’t Swin acquiring this stuff for the Combaticons? He was seriously slacking in his acquiring duties.

“No? What?” Slag asked as he reached across the table between them so that they could tap their energon cubes together.

Weird Earth custom. Brawl had grown to like it. Sometimes, it was fun to slam their cubes together as hard as they could to see if they would break. Made a mess. Onslaught bitched. Swoop squawked at them. Fun times.

“A bar.” Brawl settled back into the chair and fished around in the cushion for the remote he knew was stashed here. Unless Slag had it. “Y’know. A good selection of engex. Some tunes. A beat to dance to maybe. A place to hang out. That kind of thing.”

“Ohhhh.” Slag nodded slowly and pulled out the remote, giving Brawl a toothy grin.

Damn it. He who had the remote picked the movie. It was the rule they had both decided on. Oh well, at least Slag had good taste. Well, when he wasn’t in a random romantic mood.

“That nice. Good idea,” Slag said, clicking the vidscreen on.

Brawl pulled out his auto-injector and plunked it into the cube. He envied Slag his mouth in that moment. He bet this stuff tasted good. This was supposed to be some quality high grade. Not the best, but better than the swill Astrotrain used to brew in the Victory’s basement.

“Yep. Maybe I can poke Swin.” He shrugged, rattling his treads. “See if he can sponsor someone to get one going.”

Slag clicked through the options and settled on an action movie from Earth – something with lots of explosion and death and a rocking soundtrack. Good choice.

“It good plan,” Slag said, slurping down more of his energon.

“Yup.” Brawl wriggled his aft, propped one pede on the table and made himself comfortable. “Sure is. Wanna spar later?”

Slag snorted a laugh. “So you Brawl lose again?”

“Hey, I’ve won at least half the time!”

“Lost other half.” Slag sounded smug as he gave Brawl another one of those toothy grins. “Me Slag kick you Brawl’s aft after movie.”

Brawl grumbled subvocally. “We’ll see about that.”

Slag’s grin only widened

~

Grimlock knew, from the moment Starscream climbed into his lap, that recharge was not what his Intended had in mind. Which was fortunate, because Grimlock didn’t want to recharge either. He had things he wanted to say, and now was as good a time as any to say them.

“Mm, that’s better,” Starscream said, his thighs bracketing Grimlock’s waist, his aft nestled quite firmly on Grimlock’s pelvis, directly above his quickly heating panel.

“Is it now?” Amusement leeched into Grimlock’s tone. He cupped Starscream’s aft with one hand, and let the other curve around his Intended’s waist. He tugged Starscream even closer. “I’m still not sure this is medically advisable.”

“Pah. I’m fine.” Starscream’s glossa flicked over his lips. “A little pleasure won’t hurt me.”

Grimlock rolled his hips, grinding his panel against Starscream’s aft. “There’s nothing little about this.”

The Seeker burst into laughter. “I wasn’t referring to the size of your equipment.” He draped his arms over Grimlock’s shoulders. “Though I do appreciate your girth.”

“I appreciate your appreciation.” Grimlock’s engine rumbled. He pressed his forehelm to Starscream’s, loosing his field so that it wrapped around them both. “But first, can we talk?”

Starscream’s field chilled. He leaned back, his optics searching Grimlock’s visor. “That is never a good sign,” he said, his armor clamping tight. “Is this the part where we continue to argue over my decision not to rain fire and brimstone on Metalhawk and Acid Storm?”

Grimlock shook his helm, projecting as much calm and affection into his field as he possibly could. “No. It has nothing to do with either of those decisions. I get that they were the better choices.”

“Good.” Starscream gave him a wary glance, his field drawing even further inward. “Then it must be about us.”

“It is.”

Starscream frowned, his hands sliding away from where they’d joined behind Grimlock’s neck to rest on his shoulders. “Do I want distance for this?”

“No, not at all.” He hated the quiver in Starscream’s field. It made him loathe Megatron all over again. “In fact, I’d prefer as much closeness as possible.”

Grimlock tugged him closer, until their chestplates pressed together, and he could feel the distant thrum of Starscream’s spark. The hand curved around Starscream’s waist moved until it cupped the back of Starscream’s helm. He pressed their forehelms together so Starscream could look nowhere but into his visor.

“I adore you,” Grimlock said.

Starscream worked his intake. “I gathered as much,” he said dryly, some of the tension sifting out of his field, though his armor remained clamped. “It does, however, sound like there is a ‘but’ somewhere in there.”

“Stop putting words into my mouth,” Grimlock said. “Just listen to what I’m trying to say before you make any negative assumptions.”

Starscream’s optics briefly shuttered. He cycled a ventilation, in and out. “All right,” he said, and his optics unshuttered.

Grimlock performed a systems check and brushed his thumb over Starscream’s cheek. “I adore you,” he repeated, because it was the truth. “Right now we are courting, and if that’s all there ever is to it, I will be content. But I want you to know, if you’ll let me, I’ll have you as my conjunx someday.”

Starscream’s optics widened. His mouth opened, but no words emerged. His hands twitched where they rested on Grimlock’s shoulders.

“How can you know that?” he finally asked. “How can you possibly know that. You barely know me.”

“I know enough. I know that there’s nothing in your spark that will surprise me.” He leaned back so that he could look into Starscream’s optics, letting his fingers stroke around Starscream’s face. “It doesn’t have to be now. It doesn’t have to be soon. It doesn’t have to be ever. I’m willing to wait until you’re ready.”

Starscream’s helm tilted into his hold. “That could be a very long time, Grimlock. I’m not… well, I’m pretty damaged.”

“Aren’t we all.” Grimlock pressed his mouthplate to Starscream’s forehelm, projecting as much affection into his field as he could. “I want you as you are, not as you will be. I noticed you before you changed, Star. I noticed you a long time ago.”

Starscream’s hands slid down, curving around Grimlock’s torso as he leaned forward, tucking his helm under Grimlock’s jaw. “The things you say,” he murmured, but given the shiver of warmth in his field, it was not borne of anger.

“I mean them.”

“I think I’m starting to believe that you do.” Starscream pressed close, their chestplates in contact, until Grimlock could count each of his sparkpulses. “If you’re willing to wait, then I’m willing to see where we go.”

Grimlock’s hand slid back around Starscream’s frame, gently stroking beneath his wing hinges. “I’m willing.”

“Good.” Starscream shifted, rising up on his knees to press a brief kiss to Grimlock’s mouthplate, his optics dark with need. “Until then…” He paused to roll his hips, grinding his panel against Grimlock’s armor. “I believe you interrupted me earlier.”

Grimlock chuckled. “Indeed I did.” The hand cupping Starscream’s aft slid around to cup Starscream’s array, rubbing gently over his protective panel. “Any requests, my Intended?”

“Make me scream,” Starscream purred.

“Mmm.” Grimlock’s engine rumbled as Starscream’s field finally slid against his, buzzing and hot. “Gladly.”

He held Starscream tightly and bore him down to the berth, his hands roaming wherever they could reach. It may indeed be centuries before he and Starscream would ever officially be mates, but Grimlock was willing to wait. He had all he ever wanted here and now.

A little waiting never hurt anyone.

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