[FoF] Topsy-Turvy 02

Starscream settled in as well as any others who had joined Megatron’s flock. Newcomers were always anxious at first, afraid to rattle cages or break some unstated rule. Every other flock on Cybertron had their own ways, their own standards, but not Megatron’s.

He only required they treat each other with respect and contribute to the flock in whatever meaningful manner they could. Anyone was allowed to mate with another, so long as it was consensual on both parts. Anyone could choose to learn a trade or skill, no matter if they were bara or smol.

Given what Soundwave had discovered of Starscream – a smol from Vos who had fled his flock because he despised his assigned partner – Megatron felt the newcomer would fit in well here. No one would force Starscream to mate, though there were already several interested baras circling Starscream’s chosen nest, and Starscream would be free to pursue his scientific interests. The latter was also something Vos would not allow Starscream.

Smols were not meant to be learned. They were meant to mate, bear fledglings, and raise them. They were meant to manage nests and decorate the arms of their baras. They were meant to be quiet and soft-spoken and respectful.

Observing Starscream for a few mere hours only proved why he had not fit in among the Vos flock. Starscream was characteristically a bara, if not for his size and coloration. He was brash, dominant, and knew nothing of meekness. He was a leader, not a follower; a fighter, rather than a harpy of pacifism.

Megatron was confident Starscream would find a home here in Kaon. Even if he hadn’t gotten along well with Sunstorm. Neither friendship nor hatred had spawned between them, just a respectful distance.

Oh, well. At least, Starscream had made friends with others in the flock. He was not a harpy alone, which had been Megatron’s largest concern for the new arrival. Starscream was making himself at home, growing comfortable, and all was well.

Until a week after his arrival, Starscream abruptly disappeared, turning Megatron’s flock upside down. Orion fretted and Sunstorm started muttering about human harpy traffickers and both refused to rest until Starscream was found.

Megatron arranged a search party. There were many volunteers, including Hot Rod. Small though the Kaon flock was, they were close knit. They looked after one another. They wouldn’t be able to survive otherwise.

Of the friendships Starscream had begun to cultivate, he’d built a unique one with Perceptor and Drift. It was Perceptor who suggested Starscream might have gone to visit the humans, especially given Starscream’s vocal fascination with them.

“So why don’t you refrain from sweeping across the land like winged death and consider contacting Professor Shin first.” Perceptor tone was perfectly even, betraying none of the anxiety the rest of the flock seemed to harbor.

Perceptor’s logic proved to be the winner.

It was a sheepish Starscream who returned to the aerie, damp from a late afternoon rainstorm, and chirping apologetically at Megatron, who greeted him with folded arms and a stern expression.

“I do not object to your curiosity with the humans,” Megatron said as Starscream stood in front of him, a properly contrite smol whose behavior smacked of his raising in Vos. It made Megatron ill to see it. “I only ask that you inform someone before you depart and your intended time of return. We are friendly with the university, but not all humans are as kind.”

“I understand.” Starscream’s plumage drifted further down. “Thank you, my liege. I will accept whatever punishment you deem necessary.”

Megatron shook his head. “There is no punishment, Starscream. You are new and still learning our rules. Apologize and that will be enough. Along with a promise that in the future, you will keep us informed so that this doesn’t happen again.” One crisis a month was all Megatron could handle.

Surprise reflected in Starscream’s eyes, but he dipped his head again, another show of deference. “I promise, my liege.”

Megatron lifted the corners of his lips toward a smile and patted Starscream on the shoulder. “That is good to know. Now, avail yourself of the springs and get to nest before you catch sick. I understand you haven’t met our chief physician yet?”

“No, my liege.”

Megatron chuckled. “Then be sure and do so tomorrow. He’ll be in a much finer mood if you’re not already ill when you come to him. Understand?”

Starscream nodded and eased out from under his hand, discomfort evident in the lay of his feathers. Megatron retracted his hand and made a mental note – traditional body language would not work with Starscream. Good to know.

“Yes, my liege. Have a good eve.” Starscream ducked his head in a show of respect and scuttled into the aerie proper, casting one last look over his shoulder.

It would have been amusing, if Starscream’s behavior wasn’t indicative of abuse. Megatron had heard stories of Vos. He held two other refugees from the Vosian flock. Their strict rules suited few harpies, but even fewer chose to risk their cores and leave.

In any case, with Starscream returned safe and sound, Orion could stop fretting and Megatron could return to his nest for much needed sleep. But not before he delivered a message to Perceptor, who had insisted he be informed the moment Starscream safely returned. He and Drift had… adopted, one could say, the newly joined smol.

Megatron suspected Perceptor was relieved to have an intellectual equal within the aerie. Despite living within sight-distance of a human university and despite the eclectic nature of Megatron’s flock, he had few scientists and even fewer of those interested in human studies. There was Brainstorm, of course, but he and Perceptor did not get along.

More on Perceptor’s end than Brainstorm’s. The latter’s blatant enthusiasm for all things explosive and his lack of interest in safety measures grated on Perceptor’s patience. Brainstorm was one of the few harpies in Megatron’s flock who was officially banned from having direct contact with the humans and visiting Kaon University without a chaperone. The trouble he could get into was not worth it.

Perceptor and Drift lived on one of the highest platforms in the aerie. Years before Megatron’s arrival, Perceptor had been gifted a telescope by Professor Shin, and it was best placed at the highest elevation. Drift, also, had a preference for residing as far from the ground as possible.

That Brainstorm preferred to reside on the ground level might have also had something to do with their choice of nest location.

Presently, the mated pair had their door pulled open, welcoming all inside. The lightning balls that served as lanterns gave off a soft and inviting blue glow. The low murmur of conversation drifted out, reassuring Megatron that they weren’t intimately occupied. Though Perceptor and Drift had often invited a voyeur or several, Megatron was not one who had taken them up on their offer.

He rapped his knuckles against the frame to announce his presence and stepped into the nest, as always, first taken by the lattice of branches which formed their ceiling. Drift had taken days to strip the leaves and weave the thin, supple twigs into a beautiful, geometric design. Little chains hung from the ceiling as well, cheap and colorful baubles dangling from the ends in random placement.

The ceiling resembled the night sky, if one knew how to look. The balcony might house their telescope, but from anywhere in the nest, they could peer upward and see an approximation of the sky.

The ceiling art had been Drift’s claiming gift to Perceptor, though one had not been needed. Drift was determined to prove his devotion.

Perceptor and Drift were currently curled around each other in their nest, a construction of pillows and bamboo matting and woven willow-bark – all Drift’s doing. He had the nimble fingers of an artisan, and while he was a smol, the almost dull nature of his coloring and the fact that he favored being a warrior, was what made him something of an outcast, and brought him here, to Megatron’s aerie.

Drift and Perceptor were twined together, a mix of gold-white-red feathers and crimson-black. Perceptor was the first to notice Megatron, and he nudged Drift out of a doze.

“No, don’t get up,” Megatron said. He lifted a hand, his belly clenched with both jealousy and longing.

Like so many in his flock, Perceptor and Drift had a love story for the ages. Megatron couldn’t deny he was envious of their connection. His nest would be forever empty and seeing happily mated pairs was a constant reminder of that.

Jealousy, however, did not become a Liege. So he swallowed it down.

“Starscream safely returned of his own accord,” Megatron informed them as Drift settled back into Perceptor’s arms, purring a quiet song as Perceptor stroked his back. “Given the weather, I sent him to the springs, but perhaps he might benefit from some assistance.”

Drift chuckled, though he neither had his eyes open nor was he looking at Megatron. “Are you ordering us to groom him, sir?”

“Merely making a gentle suggestion. A nudge if you will.” Megatron let the corners of his mouth curve toward a smile. “It is evident to me Starscream could use as many friends as are willing to accept the role. And it seems to me that he is too used to berthing alone.”

Perceptor laughed. “I can think of one other who has the same problem.” He gave Megatron a pointed look.

“I don’t know what you mean.” Megatron waved him off and turned back toward the door. “In any case, I’ve done my duty. Kindly refrain from calling me out in front of the flock in the morn.”

It happened so frequently, Megatron often wondered if he was less Liege of his flock, and more shepherd of a clowder of unruly cats. A fair percentage of his flock was outspoken, and had no compunctions about raising their voices to him.

“I make no promises.” Perceptor’s attention returned to Drift, and he nuzzled his mate’s forehead. “Come along, buttercup. I hear there is a scientist in need of grooming in the springs.”

Drift’s back plumage raised and rustled. “Mmm. Are we getting a private pool?” His chest rumbled invitingly.

Time to go.

If they were going to flirt, it was Megatron’s cue to leave. Sadly, they didn’t notice his departure, even with him being kind enough to tug the tie keeping their curtain open. If they started rutting, Megatron didn’t want someone wandering in on them without warning or invitation.

He stepped back into the main hallway and the still silence of a late evening. It was comforting to know his flock was settling down to sleep, cozy and safe.

Megatron ruffled his feathers and headed toward his own nest, though lonely and empty it might be. It was past time that he got some sleep of his own.

~

Megatron woke to bright slats of sunlight streaming across his eyes. He resisted the urge to pull a pillow over his face, as childish as it would be. After all, he had given Soundwave this task a long time ago.

His Speaker was not to blame for Megatron’s own unwillingness to rise early.

“Appointment with Ratchet today,” Soundwave informed him as he stepped away from the window and the curtain he’d drawn. On his shoulder, Laserbeak twittered agreement. “Lateness not advised.”

“I remember,” Megatron grumbled. He hauled himself out of the twist of light blankets and pillows he called a nest and rose to his full height, stretching out his arms. It was starting to get warm as spring headed into summer, however, which meant he’d be discarding the blankets entirely soon.

“Anything happen I should know about?”

“Negative.” Soundwave slipped a talon under the edge of his mask, adjusting it and giving Megatron a brief glimpse of the scars striking across his jaw.

“Breakfast?”

Soundwave’s plumage ruffled. “On the table.”

Megatron grinned. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Soundwave.” He snagged two oranges from the bowl of assorted fruits and nuts on the table – all his favorites and none of his dislikes. “And after Ratchet?”

“Promised visit to Cradle.”

Megatron tried not to tense as he peeled the orange, his talon easily slicing through the rind. “Yes, I remember now.” He loved the fledglings, honestly he did.

But they were also a painful reminder of what he could not have.

“Anything else?”

Soundwave shook his head and patted Laserbeak’s crown. His smallest sibling purred as she knocked her head against his. “Liege’s choice,” he said, with a hint of humor.

Megatron tilted his chin in acknowledgment. “Understood. Thank you, Soundwave.”

His Speaker dipped his head in a nod and took his leave. He had his own duties to attend, though he’d adopted waking Megatron as one of them. It was in Soundwave’s blood to be a caretaker. He’d taken on the task of raising his siblings – related and adopted – when no one else would.

Megatron finished off his breakfast, trying to ignore the niggle of disquiet in his belly. It had no true origin, just a sense of restlessness as of late. He chalked it up to his instincts, making their presence known again.

He should have mated years ago.

Stretching and fluffing his feathers, Megatron left his nest and headed for the medical center that his chief physician, a strong-willed bara named Ratchet, called his domain. Ratchet was unmated and divided his time between running the medical center and volunteering in the Cradle.

He was even older than Megatron. Why Ratchet had yet to take a mate, Megatron did not know. And it was not his place to ask. Unless Ratchet became visibly depressed or unhappy, his choices were his own to make.

Though if Ratchet continued to overwork himself, Megatron might force the healer into a sabbatical leave. There were others who could temporarily assume Ratchet’s duties. Yes, Megatron’s flock was small. But each and every member of it was important to him. He would not see anyone strain themselves.

Megatron stepped through the open doorway of the medical center and peered into the reception area. There was no one in sight, and all of the privacy curtains had been drawn.

So Ratchet had no patients. Could it be? Was the healer taking a moment to rest?

But, no. There he was, emerging from behind the thick curtain that separated his private nest from the medical center. Ratchet could not be convinced to nest elsewhere. Work was his life, he claimed. He needed nothing else.

As far as Megatron knew, he never even used the secondary door that opened to the hallway.

“There you are,” the old medic rasped as he swept a talon across his reddish plumage. He was a massive bara, only a little smaller than Megatron himself, and having seen Ratchet spar with the warriors, Megatron knew he could put up a suitable challenge, if he so desired. “Didn’t Soundwave wake you up in time?”

Megatron’s inability to wake himself was something of a running joke amongst those he considered his command team. As chief healer, Ratchet was included in that group. As were Soundwave, Shockwave, and Orion.

“Our missing smol returned last night, making for a long evening.” Megatron rubbed at his forehead and eyed Ratchet. “Speaking of whom, I trust Starscream made his way in to see you?”

Ratchet waved him toward an examination hammock and snorted. “Of course not. But never you mind. I’ll track him down myself.”

“I do not envy you that task.”

“You shouldn’t envy Starscream forcing me to do so.” Ratchet planted his hands on his hips, giving Megatron a quick once-over. “Well, any complaints I should know about before I get started? Aches? Pains? Unusual morning expulsions?”

Megatron blinked as he made himself comfortable. “I take it the last was a joke.”

“What? You don’t recognize humor when you see it?” Ratchet smirked. My, he was in a fine mood this morning. Perhaps he’d finally taken Perceptor and Drift up on their offer. A little rutting could only help Ratchet’s often irascible temper.

“As near as I can tell, I am in perfect health,” Megatron said.

Ratchet circled around him. “Mm. I’ll be the judge of that. You haven’t rutted as long as I’ve known you, my liege. And that is not healthy.”

“Yes, but–”

“Ep-ep-ep. Don’t give me the same tired excuses you always give me.” Ratchet paused behind Megatron and leaned down, examining his wing joints. “You know what my answer is gonna be.”

Megatron bit back a sigh and tried not to flinch as Ratchet’s primary claw dug into his joint, just beneath a tight cluster of feathers. “I’ll take your medical advice into consideration.”

“No, you won’t.” Ratchet snorted and removed his talon, circling back around. “Just like the rest of the molters in here, you aren’t going to listen to me until it’s too late.”

Megatron’s lip curled toward a smirk. “One could say the same about you, Ratchet. When was the last time your nest was occupied?”

“Two weeks ago, I’ll have you know.” Ratchet grinned, and his eyes sparkled with a sharp humor. “One can rut without mating, you know.”

“I’m aware.”

“Sometimes, I’m not so sure.” Ratchet gave him a stern glare. “You’re also not properly groomed. Am I going to have to tell Orion on you or will you be a good little fledgeling and ask for help?”

He gritted his teeth. “You do not have to report on me like a carrier I don’t need, medic. I will approach Orion and Shockwave on my own.” Or he would make a request of Soundwave, though it was always harder to catch his Speaker in a free moment. Wrangling five younger brothers was a job into itself.

“You had better. I’ll be asking them in a week just to make sure,” Ratchet said.

There were times Megatron regretted appointing Ratchet as the chief physician for his flock. Ratchet was talented, intelligent, and his strength commanded respect. There were few baras as singularly powerful or intimidating, and he kept Megatron’s flock in perfect health.

But his casual disrespect was aggravating on occasion.

It made Megatron wonder what had driven Ratchet to Kaon in the first place, and whether he was perhaps an ousted Liege of his own. Soundwave’s research had not turned up much in the way of information, save that Ratchet was from the Protihex flock, which came as no surprise. Most healers were born, raised, and educated in Protihex.

Megatron meant it, however. He did not care what had driven a harpy to the Kaon flock, so long as they weren’t a danger.

Their secrets were their own to keep. Even if Ratchet was formerly a liege, it was no business of Megatron’s, unless Ratchet felt keen on sharing it. For now, Megatron would handle the disrespect the same way he handled everything else – with patience and dignity.

An hour of snarking later, Megatron was freed from the confines of Ratchet’s territory, with yet another admonishment and recommendation. It wasn’t healthy, Ratchet said. He needed to give in to his instincts before they took him over. Harpies weren’t meant to be alone. They needed intimacy, even if it wasn’t that of a mate.

Megatron had no family. The closest he considered were Orion and Soundwave, and both had their own nests to consider.

Lucky that he was Liege. He could consider the entire flock his family, and more often than not, that was enough to satisfy his instincts.

Until he visited the Cradle.

There were only six fledglings right now. There would be more, but Soundwave preferred to keep his siblings with him at all times. He was never seen without at least one hanging from his feathers.

The oldest of the current fledges was bright yellow and white. Sunspot was Sunstorm’s, and as to who had sired the fledgling, Sunstorm would not admit. He had come to Kaon already heavy with egg and in desperate need of medical attention. He wouldn’t even say which flock had been his home.

Megatron suspected that Sunstorm, like so many of the harpies in his flock, was running from both someone and something. Perhaps even the sire. There were many flocks like Vos who were strict with their smols, possessive even, and paid little attention to how their smols were treated by their bara mates. It would surprise Megatron very little if Sunstorm had escaped from an abusive mate.

Still, like all else, it did not matter. Sunstorm was an exceptional member of Megatron’s flock. He was a fine addition. And he had risen to become their spiritual leader in short time – despite Megatron’s own atheism.

Megatron would fight to protect him as would many other members of his flock.

Heatwave and Chase were the next eldest fledglings, brothers but not twins, with Heatwave a full year older than Chase. Bright red and blue respectively, they were Mirage and Tracks’ fledglings, both of whom hailed from Crystal City. Mirage had come to Kaon to keep an eye on Orion as a favor to his mentor, but had opted to stay once he realized how much his mate flourished in Kaon.

Boulder was the next eldest, a bright green fledgling who could charm even the surliest of harpies in the flock. He was an orphan, left abandoned for reasons unknown, but he’d been adopted by Mirage and Tracks, and they considered him as blood. He was the friendliest youngling Megatron had ever met and could often be found snoozing in the lap of whomever was on duty.

He and Ratchet got along well. Something in Boulder’s spirit seemed to tame Ratchet’s grumpy core.

The youngest fledgling had only hatched just prior to his carrier’s arrival. He was a dark grey and red hatchling by the name of Skydive. He was quiet, patient, and right now, he was Megatron’s favorite. His carrier was Whirl, another of Megatron’s guard and occasional artisan, and of the fledgling’s sire, Megatron did not know. Whirl often joked Skydive was the result of an immaculate conception.

There was sadness in the joke, however, and Whirl’s eyes often darkened if one knew how to look. His eyes – or eye rather – wasn’t the one of a harpy who’d gladly fled an abusive mate, but one who’d left because he’d had no other choice.

Such stories were also common in Kaon. While many came here seeking harbor, others came here because they had little choice. Foisted from their own flocks for the audacity of being different, Kaon was their only refuge. Megatron suspected Whirl’s arrival had something to do with the fact he’d been a carrying bara.

Shockwave was the caretaker on duty today. He usually only took one shift every couple of weeks, his research eating up the majority of his time. As Megatron arrived, he found the fledgelings were down for their midday nap, and Shockwave was curled on the observation hammock, nose buried in a book.

He smiled when he noticed Megatron, however, and marked his place, putting down what looked to be a fantasy novel of some kind. It was too small for his hands, which meant he had probably borrowed it from the humans. He and Perceptor, prior to Starscream’s arrival, had the most contact with their non-feathered allies.

“Hello, Megatron.” Shockwave eased out of the hammock and pulled his arms into a long stretch, the scars along the limbs more obvious as he did so. “I hear Starscream returned last night.”

“And of his own accord,” Megatron replied with a smile. He peered over the small rail into the large cradle, where six fledglings curled together in a pool of colorful feathers. One could hardly tell where the first began and the last ended. “He was at the university.”

“So Perceptor was right?”

“Yes. And he intends to never let me forget either.”

Shockwave chuckled, though he kept it soft so as not to disturb the sleeping little ones. “That does sound like Percy. You read him the riot act?”

Megatron arched an eyebrow. “You think I’m that cruel? I only informed him of the rules.”

“You’ve a core of fluff, my liege,” Shockwave teased.

It was a miracle Shockwave had maintained his humor. If one were to look at him, they’d wonder why. A laboratory accident – one he admitted was his own fault – had taken an eye from him and left his face scarred. He was missing a couple fingers on his left hand and some of the feathers on his chest and wings had never grown back. Worse was that he’d lost his entire right wing from the elbow down.

He now used a prosthetic, one made for him by Perceptor working in concert with the humans at Kaon University. He’d had the prosthetic as long as Megatron had known him, and he could use it almost as nimbly as original limb. It enabled him to fly, albeit short distances.

Megatron made a noncommittal noise and leaned against the railing, looking down at the sleeping fledgelings. Heatwave twitched in his sleep and kicked Sunspot in the shoulder. The yellow fledgeling made a noise of disapproval and rolled over, cuddling closer to Skydive.

Shockwave leaned on the rail next to him. “Have you plans after supper?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” Megatron said as he shifted his gaze to the other bara. “Why?”

“Orion and I have something we wish to ask you.” Shockwave looked away, as though he were uncertain, though the only time Megatron had ever seen him less than confident was when he admitted he wished to ask Orion to mate with him and feared the answer.

Megatron managed a grin. “Well, Ratchet has been getting on to me about my scapulae.” He tilted his head. “Even exchange?”

Shockwave chuckled. “It is doctor’s orders. I’m sure Orion will agree, too. He did mention you looked in need of a good grooming session.”

“He would notice.”

“Mm.”

The light click of footsteps announced the arrival of another harpy. Megatron and Shockwave both looked up to find Hot Rod easing his way into the nap room, first peering around the corner and then inching inside.

Ah. Megatron did remember Hot Rod mentioning he’d been given a few shifts in the Cradle. Megatron was supposed to have spoken to Soundwave about that. Hot Rod wasn’t a terrible caretaker, but it was still not a task that suited him.

“Am I interrupting?” Hot Rod asked, wise enough to keep his voice low. There was a tangible droop to his feathers this morning, as though he’d lost some of the energy he usually carried in abundance.

Shockwave shook his head, feathers rustling. “Not at all. Our liege was just stopping by for his weekly visit.”

“An ill-timed one, apparently.” Megatron straightened. “I happened to catch the bitlets during their afternoon nap and not even I’m brave enough to interrupt that.”

Hot Rod chuckled quietly. “How wise of you.” He moved closer, peering into the cradle. “They look so peaceful.”

“For now. It is all a lie, however, for when they wake, they will continue to be tyrants.” Shockwave lightly rapped the pads of his fingers on the railing. “Are you here to assist me, Hot Rod?”

Hot Rod beamed, some of the glow returning to his face. “Yep. I’m assigned to the Cradle for the rest of the week.”

“An assignment I intend to have changed for the next cycle,” Megatron said. He folded his arms over his chest, refusing to look into the basket like a lovelorn carrier. “I’m sure we have other tasks that are better suited for you.”

Hot Rod’s face colored. His smile wiped away. “I told you, I’m happy to help wherever I’m needed.”

“And I told you that such sacrifices weren’t necessary,” Megatron reiterated, with perhaps a touch more firmness than was necessary. But by Adaptus could Hot Rod be stubborn.

The smol’s jaw set. His eyes narrowed.

Shockwave coughed softly. “I will appreciate Hot Rod’s assistance today and any other day,” he said, drawing Megatron’s attention back toward him. “The hatchlings, from what I’ve seen, seem to adore him.”

Probably because they were, on some level, of equal maturity.

Megatron rubbed his palm down his face. “Whichever makes you happy.” He waved a hand, dismissing the discussion. There were more important matters to debate then whether or not a harpy wanted a specific duty. “I’ll leave you to it then. I don’t wish to be in the way.”

“Or perhaps you want to make yourself scarce before they wake.” Shockwave grinned, his eye sparkling with humor. “I’ll see you later tonight, my liege.”

“I promise not to be late for once.” Megatron nodded to Hot Rod. “Speak with Soundwave. He’ll have a better assignment for you. I’ll ensure it.” He left no room for argument in his tone.

Hot Rod huffed and folded his arms, flame-colored feathers forming a sheild around his body. “Yes, my liege,” he bit out, though his feathers twitched with annoyance.

Megatron looked at him. He fought for something to say, and settled on nothing. Instead, he spun on a tarsal and took his leave. He pretended he did not feel the weight of Hot Rod’s gaze following him out.

It was a constant thing as of late, Hot Rod watching him, often from afar. He knew the smol’s attraction was not dissuaded by the lack of Megatron returning his interest. Which was, in a way, a lie.

Any other time, any other situation, any other life perhaps, Megatron would have gladly taken Hot Rod to nest. He simply couldn’t, in good conscience, do so now.

Megatron rubbed at his face with a sigh. Complications, he did not need them. Instead, he sought out a distraction.

There were many duties for a Liege in his aerie. Becoming familiar with his flock and their interests was one of the most important ones, in Megatron’s opinion. He had so few, under a hundred, that he knew them all personally.

Mid-morning was the daily training session for the guard, led by his fencemaster. Drift had been delighted that more were willing to study the art of swordplay, though most still preferred to rely on fangs and talons if it came down to a fight.

Barring that, Megatron could visit Perceptor in his laboratory, or see if he was getting along any better with Brainstorm. He needed to check in at the supply cavern and ensure they were not low on anything. He could also stand to hunt down Starscream and make sure he hadn’t caught ill after his evening spent in the rain.

Ruffling his feathers, Megatron headed for central column, preparing to glide down to the bottom floor. He might as well observe the training first. He could even learn a thing or two.

There was no rest for the liege of a flock. Fortunately, Megatron preferred it that way.

***

Advertisements

[FoF] Topsy-Turvy 01

It was the increasingly loud accumulation of noise and shouting and clicking that roused Megatron from his scrolls and away from his desk. He stood, rolling his shoulders and fluffing his feather-mane as the noise not only grew louder, but also closer.

He frowned, flipped a sheet over the stacks of private documents and stepped out of his office, ducking under the low-hanging tapestry that served as his door. Here in Kaon, the temperatures remained steady and balmy, except for a single month in the worst of winter. They didn’t need anything heavier.

A crowd had gathered outside his door, an easy feat considering he kept his office on the lowest level. Megatron’s frown deepened as said gathering had formed a circle with some unfortunate harpy in the middle. He could see nothing yet but flashes of crimson feathers. He was a smol. A single smol and not one Megatron recognized as belonging to his flock.

Megatron rose to his full height. He was not the largest of his flock, that honor was reserved for Maximus and Roadbuster, but his authority carried a weight of its own. Those closest to him immediately lapsed into silence, and recognition spread quickly.

“What is going on here?” Megatron demanded as he cut through the crowd. They parted to make way for him, as they were expected to do.

“There is a newcomer, my liege.”

The answer came from his right, the voice belonging to his most-trusted Speaker. Megatron turned as the dark blue harpy slinked up to him, one of his younger siblings clinging to the thick floof at his midsection. Soundwave was never seen without at least one.

Laserbeak, like her twin Buzzsaw, was usually content to perch upon Soundwave’s shoulders, nearly lost to the ring of feathers, but Frenzy and Rumble clung to his midsection while Ravage enjoyed taking position upon Soundwave’s tail. Ravage did have impeccable balance.

Today, it was Frenzy who had a tight grip on Soundwave’s belly.

“From where?” Megatron demanded as together, they moved through the rest of the crowd to the center and the half-kneeling, half-collapsed smol being guarded by one of Megatron’s best warriors and also his fencemaster. Drift might have been a smol himself, but he was one of the fiercest fighters Megatron had ever met.

“The Vosian flock,” Soundwave replied as Frenzy made some kind of chattering noise, his eyes narrowed at the newly arrived smol.

Megatron made a noncommittal noise and looked down at the crimson harpy. He was of a size with Drift, but only just. His flame-colored feathers certainly marked him as other. Megatron had few harpies in his flock who sported such brilliant shades, even among his smols. There were wounds as well. Blood speckled his feathers and some had been torn away. The blood was old, rust-colored and flaking away, barely visible against the crimson of his feathers.

“Have you seen battle?” Megatron asked, careful to keep his tone gentle. He suspected this was another refugee smol, one who had fought for his freedom from a restrictive society.

The smol kept his head bowed, his feathers slicked. He had been taught manners, proper to some cities, offensive to others. Clearly, this one was from a society of the former, places where smols were meant to be seen and not heard.

“No, Liege Megatron,” he replied, his voice a grating rasp that made Megatron grimace after listening to Soundwave’s more dulcet tones. “But I have been on my own for some time and the world is not welcoming to a flockless harpy.” A small sound rose in his throat, one of loneliness and loss.

Megatron’s core ached to hear it. His instincts fluffed up his feathering. He sank to one knee, all the better to see the smol, and all the better to soothe his instincts, which demanded he comfort the poor harpy. Some of the nearest baras around him, especially those unmated, responded as well. Many with interest.

It had been some time since they welcomed a refugee. Recurve had been the last, and a bara much to the disappointment of many of the unmated.

Megatron offered a hand to the poor smol, talons curled inward, a show of trust. “Why are you alone, little smol? Where is your flock?”

There was silence. The smol shivered, his feathers rustling. He did not look up, the feathers upon his crown drooping. Yes, an abused one indeed. Megatron had welcomed many such harpies to his flock.

“My liege–”

Megatron lifted a wing, silencing Soundwave before he could speak again. He wanted to hear the answer from the smol. He would rely on Soundwave’s information later. He wanted to hear what truth the crimson one would offer him.

“I am willing to offer you a home, little one,” Megatron continued, hand waiting patiently. “We are a flock of misfits, after all. And as far as I know, I am the only flock willing to accept outsiders. But I must know what has caused you to be outcast. I must know if I am welcoming danger to my flock.”

The smol’s clawed hands rested on the woven branches of the aerie floor. His fingers drew tight, talons scraping lines into the wood.

“I am no danger, my liege,” he rasped and finally lifted his head, his eyes as red as his feathers. Truly, a unique harpy. “And my only crime is one of curiosity.”

“Curiosity.” Megatron tilted his head. He could think of only one curiosity that would be frowned upon by the more traditional flocks. “You are interested in humans.”

The smol ducked his head, but his gaze did not leave Megatron’s. “They are fascinating. They are not as cruel as the stories would have us believe. Their ways are different, but not wrong. I only wanted to study, to learn…” he paused, tongue flicking over his bottom lip. A crust of blood had formed at the corner of his mouth. “But it’s not proper, for a smol, to be so curious.”

Not in Vos. Megatron had been there once upon a time. Vos had strict conventions regarding the behavior of their flock. Smols and baras were expected to obey these rules, and they were not allowed to stray. Misbehavior was said to invite chaos into their nests, into their flock, and into their aerie.

Leadership claimed that the commandments were crafted for the good of the flock. In reality, they were for the good of the few, and they made Vos a rigid, unwelcoming place.

This smol would not be the first harpy Megatron had welcomed from Vos.

“Things are different here,” Megatron said with a wry tone. “If you want to study the humans, that is your right, only know that you may still be viewed as an oddity.”

“I can handle being considered unusual,” the smol replied, with something like relief shuddering through his body. His feathers eased, loosening from their tight clamp. “What I cannot live with is being stifled and shoved into a cage that does not fit.”

Megatron pushed his offered hand a little closer. “Then you are welcome here, little smol, provided my Speaker’s research does not prove you to be a danger. What are you called?”

The smol’s eyes flicked from Megatron’s face to his offered hand and back again. “Your Speaker will find nothing.” He lifted a hand, turning his palm upward and laying the back of it against Megatron’s curled fingers. “I am Starscream.”

“Very well, Starscream.” Megatron rose to his full height, drawing up Starscream as well, who was tall for a smol, but very lithe. “Welcome to Kaon.”

His flock cheered, a welcome change from the hiss and clicking of uncertainty and agitation. Megatron’s flock was not unused to newcomers as he hadn’t lied. They were a flock of misfits, gathered from flocks all across Cybertron. But they’d had their share of monsters, and they were right to be cautious.

Starscream ducked his head, his crown feathers lifting as some of his confidence returned. “I am grateful for your hospitality, my liege.”

“Here in Kaon, we welcome all who are willing to put in the effort to improve the flock,” Megatron said as he returned the dip with a lift of his chin. He dropped his hand so that Starscream might reclaim his own. “You are unmated?”

“I am,” Starscream answered and his tail feathers spread as he was quick to add, “And I am not seeking.”

Megatron lifted a hand, forestalling the fear he could see gathering in the smol’s eyes. “It is not a requirement. I merely asked to know if we should keep our eyes on the horizon for someone to follow after you.”

Starscream shook his head, a wealth of sadness darkening his eyes. “There is no one.”

What a lonely life he must have led, Megatron realized and sympathized. Harpies were not made to be alone. Even the unmated sought comfort and connection with family members and other unmated. As a newcomer, Starscream would have no friends or family to share a nest.

“I am sorry to hear that.” Megatron rose to his full height and looked at the gathered crowd.

Much of it had dispersed once his flock had seen their Liege attending to the matter. Many lingered, most of them in Megatron’s inner circle. Soundwave, of course, but also Shockwave and Sunstorm, one of whom was was mated and always willing to take in new additions to the flock.

Shockwave’s mate, another bara named Orion, would likely insist upon it. Not for himself, but because Orion had a core of spun platinum. He refused to see any smol sleep alone if he could help it. He was a nurturer at core, like Soundwave, a smol’s core in a bara’s body.

Megatron’s flock continued to be that of misfits. But he found he preferred it that way.

He gestured Shockwave and Sunstorm closer. The scarred bara was the first to approach, the largest of those present save for Megatron himself. He dipped his head in a bow to Starscream. Sunstorm, meanwhile, smiled, his muted gold shades and slighter frame marking him as a smol, like Starscream. Perhaps even from the same flock.

Both carried the telltale recoil of a smol raised in Vos.

“You are without a family unit,” Megatron continued as he spoke to Starscream. “Both Shockwave and Sunstorm are open to supporting unmated smols. As Liege, my nest is also open to you.” Privately, he hoped Starscream would decline.

Megatron was willing to support any smol in his nest with no questions asked. But he still preferred his privacy. He was as much a nontraditional Liege as the rest of his flock were nontraditional harpies. Once upon a time, his nest might have been shared by another, but Megatron had let him slip through his talons. In the end, that might have been better. Megatron had no business being another’s mate.

Not that he would ever tell anyone why. Soundwave knew as a matter of necessity, but it was no one else’s concern. Megatron was a fitting Liege for his size, skill, and intelligence. There need be no other qualification.

Starscream offered both a tentative smile, though his body language suggested he was uncomfortable. “I am not used to sharing nests…” he began as though carefully choosing his words.

“If you prefer solitude, that is fine as well,” Sunstorm said with a cheerful chirp and twitch of his long tail. “But at least allow me to show you around and get you settled.” He winked as he bounced toward Starscream and linked their elbows. “Though don’t be surprised if Orion tracks you down later to ensure you are comfortable.”

Starscream’s smile grew a little more strained. “I see. I thank you for your hospitality.”

“Oh, it’s no trouble,” Sunstorm all but sang with a ruffle of his feathers. “Come on, Shockwave. Let’s show our new addition around.”

Shockwave heaved a heavy breath and cast Megatron an amused look. “I trust you have no need of me, my liege?”

“None.” Megatron dismissed him with a flick of his hand, half-turning back toward his workroom. “Unless, of course, you wish to fill this paperwork for me.”

Shockwave laughed and fell into step after Starscream and Sunstorm, the latter of whom was already chattering away. If he noticed that Starscream looked as though he wanted to escape, Sunstorm gave no sign of it.

Megatron had the feeling they would be the best of friends by the end of it. Or the worst of enemies. One could never tell with Sunstorm.

“As for the rest of you,” Megatron said, addressing the dozen or so harpies who lingered, some of the baras looking after Starscream with approving speculation, “back to your duties and your families. The show’s over.”

“I dunno, my Liege,” one of his warriors commented with a waggle of his eyebrows and a smirk. “Looks to me like the show’s just beginning. He’s a fiery one.”

Megatron gave Lockdown an unimpressed look. “We’ll see. For now, talons off. He’s not looking.”

“And what a shame that is.” Lockdown winked and turned away with a flicker of his dark feathers, a black so dark they carried an olive sheen.

He would bear watching. Not that Megatron hadn’t noticed it before. Lockdown set off warning bells to Megatron’s instincts, though Soundwave’s careful research had discovered nothing dangerous in the bara’s past. Still, best to be watchful.

“Soundwave.”

His Speaker stepped up beside him, absently petting Frenzy as he cheeped at him for attention. Frenzy could speak just fine, but he and his brothers seemed to have developed some kind of private language among them, one Megatron was not privy to.

“I want a full report on Starscream,” Megatron murmured, careful to keep his tone low so his lingering flock could not overhear. “And find me someone to watch Lockdown. His recent behavior is troublesome.”

Lockdown’s comment had not been the first he’d made. He had a… history of offering unwanted attention to the unmated in Kaon – bara and smol alike, though he favored the smaller baras and the prettier smols.

Kaon’s flock accepted all outliers and oddities. But Megatron did not tolerate criminals or those exhibiting disrespectful behavior. Lockdown seemed perfectly content to be heading toward both.

Soundwave dipped his head, his eyeshield catching a glint from the sun. His sensitive vision demanded the device, created by one of Megatron’s top scientists, a large bara named Perceptor.

“It will be done, my Liege.”

“Good.” Megatron smiled and patted Soundwave on the shoulder opposite of where Frenzy had clambered up to perch. “Find me when you have something to report.”

Soundwave departed, and Megatron returned to his work room and the stack of paperwork waiting for him. He slid onto his stool, flicking his dark gray tail out of the way, but before he could return to the supply report, he pulled out his ledger. Megatron was always careful to keep track of every member of his flock.

Not all who came to Kaon chose to stay, but Megatron still liked to keep record. Especially since there were rumors of harpies disappearing from other flocks, almost as though they had been taken. Whether Starscream chose to stay or not, Megatron wanted to have record of his arrival.

He pulled the heavy tome off the woven shelf to his left and slid it atop his paperwork stack. It was half-full at this point, each page filled with neat, dark lines, some more extensive than others.

The large book, with its thick paper and durable binding, had been a gift from the dean of Kaon University once the agreement had been made for Megatron’s newly forming flock to settle here. It had come with an entire box of fountain pens, available in four different colors. While Megatron found them a little tricky to hold, they required far less effort than a quill.

He opened to the most recent entries and started to fill in Starscream’s information, though some he would have to leave blank until Soundwave reported back. Place of origin and class were easy enough, but as for mated status, family to contact, and other interests… all of that would come with research.

He caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and Megatron froze. There was a flash of something crimson and orange, and he had a moment to be alarmed, before his brain put two and two together. Alarm shifted to irritation.

“How long have you been here?” Megatron asked as he put down his quill and rubbed his face, pinching the bridge of his nose above the hard ridge of visible bone.

“Awwww.” Behind him, Hot Rod swished fully into view, a large grin on his face, and lucent feathers fluttering where they framed his cheeks. “How did you see me?”

“The fact that you are brightly colored might have something to do with it,” Megatron replied with a soft sigh. He turned to face the flame-colored smol, though he remained seated on his stool. This way, they were almost of a height, and he didn’t have to loom over the smaller harpy.

“Can I help you?”

Hot Rod grinned, locking his talons behind his back as he stepped closer, his collar feathers swaying with the motion. “You could start by looking happier to see me.”

Megatron rolled his eyes and turned back around. “You are persistent, I’ll give you that much.” He picked up his quill and continued inking Starscream’s information. Perhaps if he ignored Hot Rod long enough, the vain smol would give up and go bother someone else.

That tactic hadn’t worked yet, but there was always the chance it might.

Except not this time because Megatron felt Hot Rod’s long, elegant talons rest on his shoulders, a light touch that sent a shiver down Megatron’s spine. The heat of the smol was tangible, as was the scent of him, ever so enticing to Megatron’s instincts. Hot Rod’s body heat always seemed to be several degrees higher than the other smols, as though the color of his feathers reflected the fire burning within.

His feathers brushed against Megatron’s own as Hot Rod leaned closer, his voice turning into a soft, rolling purr. “I know what I want,” Hot Rod murmured. “Perhaps you are not used to that. Your nest is empty, my liege. It’s not right for a leader to be alone. Things must come in balance.”

The last sounded like something Hot Rod had plucked out of a textbook. It certainly wasn’t like the smol’s usual manner of speaking.

“Be that as it may, it is empty by choice, Hot Rod.” Megatron ruffled his feathers and shrugged his shoulders free of Hot Rod’s gentle hold, despite how much he craved to turn and take the eager smol.

Hot Rod refused to be dissuaded.

He did pout so very enticingly. Megatron caught sight of Hot Rod’s face in the reflection on his metal-plated ink pot. His blue eyes were shimmering with happiness, though his plump lips pulled downward with disappointment.

Megatron banished thoughts of kissing away Hot Rod’s pout. Of drawing that lower lip between his teeth and applying the gentlest of pressures, just to hear the pretty smol moan and see him arch his back.

“There are at least a dozen unmated baras in my flock, or another smol if you are so inclined,” Megatron continued, making it a point not to turn and look at Hot Rod. Too much temptation lingered in a mere glance. “You are welcome to display for any of them.”

Megatron even promised he wouldn’t be jealous of whosoever else Hot Rod chose.

Much.

Hot Rod swished to Megatron’s right side and braced his weight upon the desk, planting his right hand in the middle of Megatron’s book as he leaned in closer. “I don’t want them. I want you.” It was all but a purr, a rolling warmth that drizzled down Megatron’s spine and set his senses ablaze.

Megatron turned his head to look up at the smol, who was nibbling on his bottom lip. There was a tremble to his body that suggested he was fighting against his instincts. Hot Rod was one of the most natural smols Megatron had ever met, yet in the past two years of his residence here, he still refused to take a mate. Surely, it pained him.

Still, he claimed he would have Megatron or none at all. He hopped nests as well, often sleeping with Shockwave and Orion or Perceptor and Drift, but never staying in one nest for too long. Megatron had, on numerous occasions, caught him feigning illness to stay in Ratchet’s medical center.

The one place he had not asked for a berth was Megatron’s nest, despite that being his right as an unmated to ask of his Liege. There were some lines even someone as impetuous as Hot Rod would not cross apparently. He could have his own nest, if he so desired, but Hot Rod had not requested one. He seemed to prefer to drift from nest to nest as if none other would suit permanently but that of his mate’s.

It was behavior Megatron had seen before, usually in smols whose instincts were so attuned to their class they couldn’t fathom owning something that didn’t also belong to their mate.

Megatron sighed and turned toward Hot Rod again, a motion which put their bodies in closer proximity. His nostrils flared as the smol’s unique scent flooded his senses, and Megatron’s body rumbled, dangerously close to a mating purr. Sweet and sultry, raspberries and sweet cream, the spicier tang of almonds underlying it all.

Damn it.

“I intend to remain unmated, Hot Rod,” Megatron said, quite sure he’d explained this before and hoping that perhaps this time, he would get through to Hot Rod. “I have no interest in mates or… or fledglings.” The last hurt to say because it was largely untrue, but he could not admit such to Hot Rod.

It was a lie, but it was also truth. Megatron had no interest in fledglings because they were not in his future. He would have to content himself with protecting the fledglings of his flock alone.

“Aside from that, the life of a liege leaves little room for the satisfaction of a mate, much less a smol such as yourself who commands attention.” He curled his forefinger under Hot Rod’s chin, an act of affection between a liege and his flockmember. “I would ask that you seek the interest of another for your own sake.”

Hot Rod’s breathing audibly quickened. He tilted his head down toward Megatron’s finger even as his feathers rustled. His eyes, bright and blue, grew larger, pupils dilating.

“You say you have no interest in anyone else, but I saw the way you looked at that Vosian,” he murmured, envy so heavy in his tone that Megatron could almost taste it.

Megatron blinked. He had few Vosians in his flock, it was a long and difficult journey between there and Kaon, one few survived. Of those Vosian refugees, Megatron had spared none so much as a second glance. Did Hot Rod mean the new arrival?

“Starscream?”

“Yes. Him.” Hot Rod frowned, but didn’t withdraw. If anything, he leaned into Megatron’s touch, as though he craved it. His instincts begged for the strong hand of a mate. He was only hurting himself with his stubbornness that said hand be Megatron’s.

Megatron tried not to laugh, but all he managed to do was reduce it to a light chuckle. “If you saw anything in my look, it was suspicion. It is difficult to leave the Vosian flock. I am impressed Starscream survived it. There was no further interest, other than that of a liege for his flock members.”

“It was more than that,” Hot Rod insisted.

Megatron sighed and dropped his hand, ignoring the disappointed shade to Hot Rod’s eyes. “Jealousy is unbecoming on you, Hot Rod. Especially when there is nothing to cause your envy. Now do you not have responsibilities in my flock or shall I get Soundwave to assign you some?”

It was chastisement and reminder. He was Liege and Hot Rod was overstepping. A certain degree of spirit in a member of his flock and a pretty smol was acceptable. But Hot Rod’s insistence bordered on disrespectful at times and dangerously close to a vie for leadership.

Hot Rod stepped back, removing his talons from Megatron’s desk. His disappointment was palpable as his plumage settled, and his feathers slicked down against his body, making himself appear smaller. Megatron’s insides quivered, longing to comfort the saddened smol. But Hot Rod would only take it as encouragement.

Besides, Megatron knew he would go to Orion. Of all the mated baras, Hot Rod preferred Orion for comfort and protection. At least he had chosen well.

“I am due a shift in the cradle,” Hot Rod admitted, though it was with a wince.

Megatron frowned.

Hot Rod was ill-suited to caring for the fledglings. He was too brash, too easily excitable. He needed something a bit more stimulating. Besides, it was supposed to be mated smols who tended to the fledglings. They were the ones whose coddling instincts had activated.

“Who gave you such an assignment? I will speak with them to put you somewhere better suited,” Megatron said, thoughts shifting toward the duties of a liege, rather than the duties of an unmated bara. The distraction was very welcome.

“No, no. It’s fine.” Hot Rod backed away, his tail nearly causing a small stand and vase to topple. “I’m happy to help where I’m needed. Really.”

Megatron eyebrows drew down. “If you insist. But it’s no trouble. I do want you to be happy here, Hot Rod. I just want you to realize that happiness isn’t going to involve a relationship with me.”

Flame-colored feathers drooped further. “Yeah.” Hot Rod’s smile fell flat on the edges. “I’m coming to understand that.” He dipped his head, plumage slicked tight to his crown. “I’ll see you at supper.”

He left before Megatron could find another word.

Megatron’s frown deepened.

Hot Rod was an odd one. But then, there wasn’t a single member of Megatron’s flock who was not unusual in some way. It was a point of pride for him.

Outliers and outcasts. Those who broke the mold and those who never fit in them. They even had a treaty with the humans, a feat no other flock in all of Cybertron could boast.

Megatron’s flock was small, and it would never be a powerhouse like Iacon or Vos’ flocks, but he preferred it this way. His flock was loyal. His flock was determined to protect itself.

His flock was home.

[RB] Ticket to Ride

It was a quiet, calm night. A thin sheet of clouds streamed over the stars, covering the moon, but the sea was still. It was a good night for relaxing.

Which was why High Tide quite clearly picked out the sound of an approaching engine, the distinct click-click-tsche of a transformation, a muttered curse, and the thump-thump-thunk of someone climbing the ladder to get onto his deck.

As he rose from his chamber, High Tide ran through a quick list of everyone his visitor could possibly be, and came up with only one designation that made sense. Optimus, after all, would’ve called first. Primes were polite like that.

A shadow moved about on his deck, a half-afted attempt to creep around. High Tide snorted quietly and flicked on the flood light, illuminating the deck, and catching the bright red miscreant in his tracks.

“Something tells me I’m only gonna need one guess as to why you’re sneaking aboard my ship at this time of night,” High Tide said. “Because I know it isn’t for more lessons.”

Below, Heatwave froze like a cassetticon caught in a spotlight. He scowled, his default expression, but it didn’t hide the spots of warmth in his cheeks.

“Being stealthy isn’t my area of expertise,” he replied, gathering up that attitude High Tide had come to expect from him.

“No, it isn’t.” High Tide snorted and jumped down, landing on the deck with a loud thump. Good thing Servo was with the Blip. “That team of yours, they’re a good bunch.”

Heatwave’s optics narrowed. “Yeah, but–”

“Bunch of sparklings,” High Tide finished, because the kid had a habit of interrupting. Poor manners, that one.

Heatwave’s scowl deepened. “They’re fully capable–”

“Didn’t say they weren’t competent, hotshot,” High Tide interrupted, because Heatwave needed to be knocked down a little. “Just calling it as I see it.” He had an inkling, after all, of what Heatwave wanted. And it had a lot to do with the obvious maturity gap between Heatwave and his younger teammates.

“None of them are adults yet,” Heatwave admitted on the tail end of a sigh.

Ah. That was what High Tide thought.

He barked a laugh. “Hotshot, you barely count as one if you ask me.”

Heatwave’s hands formed fists, his optics narrowing behind his visor. It must have been a habit for him to keep it up, since he obviously didn’t need it at the moment. “If you’re going to mock me, I’m going to leave.”

High Tide tilted his head, looking Heatwave up and down. “You came here, pretty boy,” he pointed out.

“Yeah. And that was a mistake,” the kid growled. His armor flared and ruffled as though he intended to turn around and storm off, yet his feet stayed planted in place.

Wanted it more than his pride could stand apparently. Interesting.

“That temper of yours is going to get you in a heap of trouble someday,” High Tide drawled as he slipped closer to the Rescue Bot. He couldn’t help but admire the planes and angles of the kid’s frame.

He always did like red. Heatwave was brighter than Optimus, maybe a bit too garish for some optics, but High Tide liked it just fine.

Heatwave tracked him, shoulders straight. “Maybe I like trouble,” he said, in that rough-rumble voice of his.

Tasty.

“Hah.” High Tide was close enough to touch now, so he did, gently taking Heatwave’s chin in his fingers and tilting the bot’s head up. “You don’t have any stowaways, do you?”

That Blip had a habit of ending up places he shouldn’t be, entirely by accident of course, but still. High Tide didn’t want any human surprises.

Heatwave vented loudly, but he thumped his windshield pointedly, making a hollow sound. “I’m empty.”

“Good.” High Tide swept a thumb over Heatwave’s lips before he made himself let the kid go. He turned away, heading for the main door. “Come on inside then. Unless you want to finish storming off in a huff. Your choice, tugboat.”

“Don’t call me that,” Heatwave growled.

Stomp, stomp, stomp.

High Tide smirked. Protest loudly the kid might, but he was still following High Tide, which meant his need was outweighing his pride.

High Tide flicked the switch to douse the floodlight as Heatwave joined him in the lift, and it drew them up a level, toward the room High Tide used as his personal quarters. It had all the trappings of home, it did. Big berth, bigger recharge station, a personal console, shelves filled with datapads and vids, a few trophies, a couch, a table and chairs. Wasn’t a bad place to spend one’s time.

“Berth or couch?” High Tide asked as he flicked on the overhead lights, setting them to a level that wasn’t obnoxious, but would still let him admire his potential berthmate.

Heatwave had paused in the middle of the room, looking around like he hadn’t seen a personal hab before. He blinked. “What?”

“I’m giving you a choice, rookie. Since you look so nervous.”

“I’m not–!” Heatwave cut off mid-sentence and looked away, not that it hid the heat glowing in his face. “It’s your room.” His hands formed loose fists again, as though he struggled to hold himself back.

“Couch it is,” High Tide decided. It wasn’t in him to be cruel, but frag if it wasn’t entertaining to to needle the kid.

He flopped onto the couch, settling into it with a hissing vent of relief. Nothing like good old Cybertronian furniture, built for the average mech’s comfort. Beat sitting around in alt-mode like some human’s pet any orn of the cycle.

Heatwave hadn’t moved. Wouldn’t even look at High Tide, despite him patting the couch with obvious invitation. Still a bit indecisive, eh? High Tide supposed he couldn’t blame the kid. They didn’t get along on the best of days, and High Tide wasn’t so vain to think that Heatwave was here because he actually had some attraction. He just didn’t have many other options.

Though the idea of Heatwave approaching Oppie with this kind of proposal put steam in High Tide’s vents. The two of them together? Now that was a pretty picture.

Ah well. That policebot would probably hit maturity before all the others. Maybe then Heatwave could enjoy the one he actually wanted. Until then, nothing wrong with a little charge-venting between allies.

High Tide leaned back into the couch. “Door’s right behind you, if you’ve changed your mind.”

Heatwave’s visor snapped open and he finally looked at High Tide. “What?” He rolled his shoulders, trying to force calm probably. “Can’t you work up a charge anymore, you old rustbucket?”

High Tide smirked. Ah. There was the fire he recognized. Suited Big Red much better than the uncertainty.

“Get over here, and I’ll show you just what this rustbucket can do,” he offered, patting his lap invitingly.

Heatwave stared at him, a cough spilling from his vents. He seemed frozen in place, that confidence gone back behind a shell of indecision. Like dealing with a skittish dweller, he was.

It occurred to High Tide then, that the kid was, well, a kid. And even though he was mature enough for his interface protocols to be giving him several irritating nudges, maybe he’d never had occasion to do anything with them before the war broke out, and he and his crew ended up drifting in stasis.

He peered at Heatwave, eying Big Red up and down as though he could tell from that alone. “You’ve done this before, right?”

Heatwave scowled, an expression better suiting him. “Of course I have,” he growled, and suddenly seemed capable of movement, though it only managed him a few steps closer to High Tide. In tasting range of his field at least. “It’s just… been awhile.”

“Then lucky for you we’re in the same boat.”

A quick how-do-you-do tumble with Optimus didn’t count. Mechs didn’t interface with Primes. They held on for the ride and tried not to drown in the charge.

High Tide patted his lap again. “Come on.”

“Seriously?” Heatwave’s lip curled.

“Well, I could sit on you if that makes you feel better.” High Tide laughed at the absurd mental image. He had more than a few heads on Heatwave, and he subbed a lot more mass than the firebot, too.

Heatwave scowled. He stomped across the room like it was a punishment, and climbed into High Tide’s lap with all the seduction of a malfunctioning dispenser drone.

“There,” he said as he tucked his knees against the cushions of the couch, his aft planted on High Tide’s thighs. “Happy?”

High Tide couldn’t help chuckling. The kid’s attitude was more endearing than it should be.

He rested his hands on Heatwave’s knees and slid his palms slowly up, careful to keep a pace that wouldn’t alarm the kid. The way Heatwave trembled beneath him, he wondered if the firebot would bolt at any moment.

“I’m about to be,” High Tide replied. “And so are you.” He tilted his head and slid his hands up further, thumbs seeking out the panel concealing Heatwave’s array. “Hm, you aren’t standard issue, are you?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Heatwave said.

Well, he was probably sparked right before the war no doubt. Matured in the thick of it. Got his first post right when Orion Pax became Optimus Prime and Megatron’s rage reached no bounds. He was part of the second, maybe third wave before the batch dried up. High Tide reckoned it meant his team was probably part of the last wave ever sparked on Cybertron.

Adorable.

“Then you want to tell me where your cables are, hot shot?” High Tide asked. “I mean, I could go looking for ‘em, but something tells me you don’t want me randomly rooting around in your undercarriage.”

Heatwave rumbled low in his chassis, but he patted his midsection. His front grill split down the middle, and a panel behind it spiraled open. Cables, connectors, and ports came into view, practically shiny new.

High Tide appreciated the view, and let his fingers do a little exploring. He traced the length of a cable, still stiff and smooth from lack of use. Heatwave shivered, a groan rising in his intake, his chassis arching toward High Tide.

“Look at you,” High Tide rumbled. “Barely touched.”

“So?”

“Wasn’t an insult, kid.”

A flush of heat rushed through High Tide’s frame. Anticipation coiled hotly inside of him. His pelvic armor folded back and down, revealing his own array, and Heatwave’s gaze dropped down to it.

He blinked. And blinked again. “What is all that?” he asked, optics wide and bright.

“Live as long as me, hot shot, and you’ll need a few adapters, too.” High Tide chuckled.

What?”

He wasn’t at all surprised that Heatwave was confused. Compared to the firebot’s two sets of port and connector cables, High Tide’s tangle of nearly a dozen different cables probably seemed obscene. Lewd even. But if a mech wanted to ‘face with all kinds, it took all types of lines and all types of wires and all kinds of conductors.

Point of fact, Optimus alone accounted for half of ‘em.

“The more things change, the more things stay the same,” High Tide said. “Don’t worry. You’ll understand when you’re older.” Or maybe he wouldn’t, if Cybertron’s population was as diminished as Oppie feared. “Let’s see what you got.”

High Tide drew out the thickest of Heatwave’s two cables, and Big Red shivered a bit, his field going flush and warm. So cute.

“Oh, a three-pin coaxial, hmm?” High Tide rubbed the conductor between his fingers, and a spark of charge nipped at his fingertips. “Lucky for you, I’ve got a port to match.”

A shudder ran across Heatwave’s armor. “Are you going to start making sense anytime soon, rustbucket?”

High Tide rifled through his own mass of cables until he found the one that would match Heatwave’s. Ironically, it was as shiny new as Heatwave’s.

“Don’t even think it’s been used yet,” he mused aloud.

Heatwave growled. “Are you done playing around?”

“Aren’t you the impatient one?” High Tide said. He fondled the end of Heatwave’s cable and was rewarded with a bright flare of Heatwave’s optics.

And a rather noisy rev of his engine. “I didn’t come here to be mocked!” His field flared as he shifted, as though intending to get up and stomp out.

High Tide tightened his free hand on Heatwave’s thigh. “Sit down, kid. No one’s mocking you and especially not me.”

He rubbed his thumb over Heatwave’s connector cable, teasing into it to brush over the sensitive pins. Charge nipped at the tip of his finger, and Heatwave squirmed in his lip. A shudder ruffled Heatwave’s armor, his field going liquid.

“As I understand it, you came here because you’ve got an itch needs scratching,” High Tide continued as he caught and held Heatwave’s gaze. “And no one on your team can do it for you.”

The firebot’s intake visibly bobbed. His hands lifted, like he didn’t know where to put them, before he finally clutched at High Tide’s side. He made a strangled noise.

“Now, I’m being nice and volunteering.” High Tide pinched Heatwave’s connector and soaked up the quiet moan that escaped him. “So we’re gonna do it my way. Unless you’ve decided you don’t want it anymore. Understand?”

Heatwave rocked in his lap, scooting closer until there were a scant few meters between their frames. His fingers tickled into High Tide’s seams, holding tight, as he vented heat into the air around them.

“Yeah, yeah. I get it,” Heatwave said, and his glossa flicked across his lips. “Just plug in already. I don’t have all night.”

No doubt he didn’t. The way Griffin Rock found itself in all kinds of messes, Heatwave could be called into action at any moment. And then his human would be wondering where his firebot could have gone in the wee hours of the night.

Too amused to be annoyed, High Tide teased Heatwave’s array with his free hand, fingertips brushing over the other ports and cables. He rubbed Heatwave’s coaxial connector between his fingertips, drawing another shiver from Heatwave. Blue optics kept darkening with desire, Heatwave’s field becoming an unrelenting wave of desperation.

Absolutely intoxicating.

High Tide’s fingers shook as he drew his own cable and connected it to Heatwave’s, pins slotting into place with a quiet click. He groaned as Heatwave’s need bowled him over, storming into his system like a hurricane of acid rain.

Primus, but the kid burned hot. He was aptly named.

Heatwave vented orally, and his shoulders hunched forward. He started to rock against High Tide, his hips following the same rhythm as the eager energy pulses across their connection.

“Slow down, kid.” High Tide held Heatwave’s hips, and all he succeeded in doing was tugging the firebot even closer. “Try and enjoy the ride.”

Heatwave panted, and his fingers dug in deeper, pressing against High Tide’s cables. “Slow later.” He shuddered and a wave of charge crackled over his armor. “Need this now.”

He pawed at High Tide’s chassis, one hand hooking on the top of High Tide’s cockpit as if trying to drag him closer. His thighs dug in on the outside of High Tide’s. The pulsing heat came faster and faster across the cables, flooding High Tide’s systems with an unrelenting assault of desire.

“Alright then, tugboat. Take what you need.”

High Tide growled and tightened his grip, almost enough to dent, if Heatwave weren’t so sturdy. He bundled up the charge, and sent it right back across the line. He grinned with satisfaction as Heatwave roared and his backstrut arched, fingers pulling a skreel across High Tide’s armor.

“More,” Heatwave panted. His vents roared, his lips parted, shutters falling over his optics as they squeezed shut.

His cable yanked on High Tide’s charge like he was desperate for it. Like it was an energon infusion for a starved spark. High Tide fed him more, no frills, no coy teasing, just a surge of charge, pulse after pulse.

Heatwave moaned and hunched forward. “S–sorry,” he growled as his thighs trembled and his cables pulled. “I– hnnnn.”

Cascading fire soared through High Tide’s lines. Heatwave writhed on his lap, making quite the pretty picture as his engine thundered. It was all High Tide could do just to hold on, let the poor kid have his first taste of overload in centuries.

Heatwave hooked his hands on High Tide’s coils, gripping them tight enough that his fingers creaked. He buried his face against High Tide’s canopy, ex-vents fogging up the glass.

“That’s it, kid,” High Tide encouraged, tension gripping his frame as he struggled to keep himself under control. “Take it all.”

Heatwave growled and bucked against him. He slurped on High Tide’s charge like it was the sweetest high grade as electric fire erupted over his armor and crackled through their connection, tasting like an enormous fire storm.

It pulled High Tide over, and he shouted his surprise. He crushed Heatwave against his chest as the pleasure wracked his frame, doubling back into the connection he shared with the firebot. Little zaps of electric heat pulsed through High Tide’s lines, his fans whirring madly to dispel heat.

Heatwave slumped against him, venting loudly, his frame trembling. High Tide stroked down his back, the cable swaying between them, charge lightly crackling over their connection.

Until the kid seemed to get some of his attitude back. He pushed himself off High Tide’s chassis and leaned back, flicking his fingers over High Tide’s chassis with a chime of metal on glass.

“Well, would you look at that,” Heatwave drawled with a smug little smirk that had no business turning High Tide’s internals into a knot of need. “I took you with me.”

“I’m not ashamed to say you did.” High Tide was too old to be embarrassed. He slid a hand over Heatwave’s belly, fingers teasing along the edge of his array panel. “Now how about we do this slow and proper? Unless you got somewhere to be?”

Heatwave responded by sending a slow, steady pulse across their connected cables. “Unless there’s an emergency, I got all night.” He leaned forward, challenge in his optics. “If you think you can keep up.”

High Tide chuckled and dragged his fingers down the length of Heatwave’s cable. “I guess we’ll just have to see.”

It was time to learn this tugboat a thing or two. The kind of lesson High Tide was more than happy to give.

***

[TFP] Taking Chances

Knock Out stomped into the communal washroom hoping that the force of his footsteps and the fury in his field would ensure everyone left him the frag alone. He wasn’t in a mood for conversation, for pointed looks from the other self-righteous Autobots, or for another lecture from Ultra Magnus on proper Autobot behavior.

He wanted to be left alone, to clean himself in peace, and grumble if he felt like it, because this aggravation wasn’t going away anytime soon. And frag Ratchet to the Pit and back. Rusted old scrapheap of a medic! Just who did he think he was?

Knock Out muttered subvocally and trudged to the nearest open rack. He slammed a hand on the switch to activate it and ducked under the resulting spray. Peripherally, he noticed that the room was empty, save for one other rack in use. He glanced behind him, just to see who it was – another newly returned Autobot with groping fingers, perhaps?

No, it was just Bumblebee. The yellow scout either hadn’t noticed Knock Out’s arrival or hadn’t cared, because he wasn’t even looking in Knock Out’s direction. Well good. Knock Out didn’t want company anyway.

He snatched one of the communal scrubbers off the hook and glared at the awful state of it. What he wouldn’t give for a private rack and private supplies instead of making do with these… these substandard tools. And standard, bulk solvent?

Knock Out shuddered. It ruined his paint, but he wasn’t afforded the luxury of a purchasing account with the humans yet. Not until he was more trustworthy or some slag. He couldn’t buy his better cleanser on his own until he had those Earth funds.

Frag them all.

“You scrub any harder and you’ll do more harm than good.”

Knock Out whipped a glare over his shoulder. “Yes, I’m aware,” he said, his tone tight as he stared down Bumblebee.

The scout blinked, his optics cycling in and out. “So do I dare offer help or are you gonna bite my head off?” He held up his hands and backed up a step, eying the door.

Knock Out clenched his jaw, debating. Of all the Autobots, Bumblebee was the most tolerable and the closest to what Knock Out could consider a friend. They’d shared meals a few times and carried on pleasant conversation. He was, at least, polite, and didn’t act like Knock Out was going to stab him in the back at any moment or give him a terrible disease.

Wordlessly, Knock Out handed over the scrubber.

Bumblebee grinned and accepted it. “Wanna talk about it?” he asked as he twirled a finger, gesturing for Knock Out to turn back toward the spray.

He did, tires twitching at the idea of baring his back to an Autobot. But if he couldn’t trust Bumblebee, what was the point of defecting?

“… Your Chief Medic is an aft well past his expiration date,” Knock Out gritted out.

The scrubber swept against his back with perfect pressure, scouring away any dirt that might be lingering in the nooks and crannies of Knock Out’s armor.

Bumblebee chuckled. “Chewed you out, huh?”

“He refuses to let me do anything but the most tedious tasks,” Knock Out grumbled and snatched up a meshcloth, swiping it over his arms and chestplate. There was far too much grime here for his comfort.

Ratchet had him cleaning and disinfecting scavenged parts for hours. And then, after that, he’d had to sweep and mop the floor! Dust the cabinets! Alphabetize the outdated textbooks! And, worst of all, empty the waste tanks.

“I’m a fully qualified medic, you know!” Knock Out declared, as if Bumblebee didn’t know. He waved his mesh cloth, spattering soap everywhere. “I am capable of more than just cleaning and organizing.”

“Yeah…” Bumblebee started focusing on Knock Out’s tires, though he was careful with them, probably because he knew how sensitive they could be. “Ratchet’s always been a bit of a control-freak, as Raf would say.”

Knock Out snorted. “Humans.”

“That attitude probably doesn’t help.”

Knock Out spun around and snatched the scrubber from Bumblebee’s hand. “What about his attitude?” he snapped. “How am I the only one at fault here?”

Again, Bumblebee lifted his hands. “I’m just saying, I think you both need to be more patient with each other.”

Knock Out harrumphed and spun back to the spray. He dropped both scrubber and cloth in the bins and switched to rinse. He didn’t feel clean, but it was better than nothing. He couldn’t take care of himself like he used to here. Cybertron was too much of a mess. The grit got everywhere and rust cloaked everything and every once in a while, it rained acid. Honestly, how was a decent mech supposed to keep himself in shape?

“Look, Doc’s hurting, and he’s taking it out on you,” Bumblebee said, because apparently he wasn’t getting Knock Out’s signals to go away. “No, it’s not fair, but just so you know, that’s where he’s coming from.”

Knock Out twisted under the spray, trying to get every bit of suds down the drain. “If he’s in pain, he should do the right thing and repair himself.”

Bumblebee leaned against the wall, out of reach of the mist. “Can’t fix a broken spark,” he said as he folded his arms. “And not even Ratchet can bring back the dead.”

Knock Out snapped off the rinse and stood there dripping, giving Bumblebee a confused look. “We’ve all lost someone. It was war. He needs to get over it.” He snagged a towel and started wiping down his armor.

“This isn’t the kind of loss you get over.” Bumblebee sighed and scrubbed at the floor with the tip of his foot. He watched the water swirl down the drain. “Optimus and Ratchet were close, you know? I’m pretty sure Ratchet loved him.”

Knock Out stared. “They were together?”

“No. Nothing like that. Doesn’t mean Ratch loved him any less though.” Bumblebee dragged a hand down his face, and the first taste of his field was thick with grief. “In another life, maybe they could’ve actually had something, who knows?” He shrugged, but it wasn’t as dismissive as Knock Out suspected he wanted it to be.

Knock Out frowned. He focused on drying his armor, disliking the way his spark shrank and contracted in his chassis. It wasn’t an excuse, and it didn’t forgive Ratchet his ill manner but…

He did remember the despair in Ratchet’s voice. He remembered how Ratchet had argued the longest, how his gaze had turned hollow the moment he realized what Optimus intended to do. Ratchet had been something of a ghost for a time after Optimus’ sacrifice, even temporarily returning to Earth.

When he came back, he was twice as rude as usual, snappish, and short of temper. Everything was a problem, no one could do anything right, least of all Knock Out, and he spent more time on shift than off. Once, Knock Out swore he caught a whiff of high grade as Ratchet passed, but he’d dismissed it.

Surely Ratchet knew better than to participate in patient care while inebriated. Surely.

“So yeah, I’m not saying you should just take the abuse, but maybe if you understand where he’s coming from, you can figure out how to change his mind.”

Knock Out sighed and bent at the waist to dry the last drips from his legs. “Something tells me Ratchet is not one to change his mind lightly. And I am tired of begging for a chance to prove myself.”

“Then stop begging.”

Knock Out straightened and pivoted to face Bumblebee. “What?”

The scout grinned, sly and rakish. “Better to ask forgiveness then wait for permission. Especially when it comes to Ratchet.”

Knock Out found himself grinning, too. “Bumblebee.” He planted his hands on his hips. “Are you telling me to disobey?”

“No, no. Of course not.” Bumblebee leaned forward, his doors canting forward with him, in a cute display of eagerness. “I wouldn’t do that at all. But if I were, it would be because I’m inviting you to play hookey for the rest of the day and come have some fun.”

“Hookey?” Knock Out repeated. He shook his head. “You spent too much time with the humans.” He tossed the towel into the laundry basket. “But what the Pit. Ratchet can’t get any madder at me than he already is. What did you have in mind?”

Bumblebee pushed off the wall and grinned. “Oh, you know. The usual.” He shadowboxed in place, bouncing back and forth on his feet. “Get our rations then go for a drive. A race if you’re up to it. Maybe even check out Illumination.”

“That new bar outside the reach of the command center?” Knock Out rubbed his chin and tilted his head. “Isn’t that being run by the Vehicons?”

“Last I heard. Doesn’t mean it won’t be fun. Who knows? It’s worth a shot, right?” Bumblebee bounced to a stop and folded his arms, his optics cycling wide and bright. He tilted his head, his expression unexpectedly charming. “So. You interested?”

Knock Out debated for all of a few seconds. Honestly, the alternatives were to either return to Ratchet, the medbay, and his list of cleaning responsibilities. Or play ‘hookey’ as Bumblebee said, by hiding out in his room and sulking as he consumed unhealthy amounts of rust sticks while watching imported movies.

“Let’s go,” Knock Out said, and spun toward the door, flicking his upper tires to get the last of the moisture from them. “I deserve to have some fun.”

Bumblebee jogged to catch up with him, and together, they left the washroom. “That’s the spirit.” He fell in step with Knock Out, matching his pace, which was admittedly a bit rapid, betraying his lingering agitation. “Everything else going okay though? Aside from Ratchet, I mean.”

Knock Out shrugged. “As good as it gets, I suppose.”

They passed a handful of Autobots passing in the other direction. Actual Autobots, not former Decepticons or Neutrals. Their badges had the distinct red that identified them as “true” Autobots or whatever. Not like the newly enacted who had a paler, more pink shade to their badges.

Knock Out didn’t wear a badge. It clashed horribly with his paint scheme. He didn’t care how much Ultra Magnus glared at him about it.

The passing Autobots stared. Knock Out ignored them, though the intensity of their stare made his armor itch. He still wasn’t used to the way everyone watched him. He’d never minded the attention when it was appreciation for a sweet alt-mode or a fine paint job. But this kind of attention made him feel dirty.

He didn’t recognize them, but Knock Out knew, they recognized him. There weren’t many defectors running around the city. And as the only place close to habitable on Cybertron, here was where everyone gathered.

Knock Out swallowed a sigh. “And maybe someday, I won’t get glared at just for walking down the hallway like any other mech.”

“No one’s giving you a hard time are they?” Bumblebee asked.

Knock Out just gave him a look, arching an orbital ridge. Really?

Bumblebee chuckled and waved a hand. “Aside from Ratchet, I mean.”

They turned a corner, heading toward the general mess, the scent of different energon blends floating down the hall. They didn’t have a huge variety, what with energon still being so scarce and all, but they made do with what they could. Additives and flavorings helped a lot.

“If you’re asking if someone is bullying me, I wouldn’t know how to answer that.” Knock Out frowned. Oh, sure, there was the usual.

Graffiti occasionally on his door or the wall outside his room. His schedule being changed without informing him otherwise. Anonymous messages sent to his public contact accounts and mails. Once, someone had even rigged a bucket of tacky orange paint outside his room, so that it drenched him the moment he left for his shift.

He’d had to wash it off first, which took ages and left him scraping his undercoat raw in several places. He’d been late to his shift, which had of course prompted a Ratchet lecture, and Ratchet didn’t have time for explanations or excuses.

Other than that, no. There was a distinct lack of direct attacks and violent reactions to him. Nothing went beyond a sneer or a muttered comment or a glare.

Ironically, it wasn’t much different than living with the Decepticons. Though there were times their form of bullying was a lot more… violent.

“Ultra Magnus will listen,” Bumblebee said, and was that concern Knock Out detected in his voice? For a former Decepticon? “He’s strict, but he’s fair. If someone is harassing you, he’d like to know.”

Knock Out shook his head. “It’s nothing I can’t handle.” And Primus forbid he go running to their interim-probably-permanent security officer like a weakling. If he couldn’t handle a little teasing, he’d have never survived in the Decepticons.

Bumblebee frowned. “The point is that you shouldn’t have to.”

“Clearly, you’ve never spent any time in a Decepticon base,” Knock Out muttered as they turned into the mess, and his comment was swallowed up by the noise and bustle of a packed dining hall.

Seriously, every mech not on duty right now had to be in here. Knock Out hadn’t even realized this many had returned to the planet. They were all Autobot in some shape or form, as every Decepticon had been scooped up and summarily imprisoned as a precautionary measure. To the point most Decepticons didn’t dare land.

Unless they were willing to defect, of course. Knock Out supposed he were lucky. He defected before the Autobots started requiring the humiliating ceremonies where former ‘Cons had to publicly denounce Megatron, the Decepticons, and anything else the current Autobot leadership decided was necessary. They had to cast off their brands, either with paint thinner or tossing the physical brand into a smelter.

Publicly.

No wonder so few were willing to defect. If the Autobots were trying to win wayward Cybertronians to their side, they were certainly going about it the wrong way.

Knock Out had caught a few transmissions, warnings to other ‘Cons, telling them to go elsewhere. There were stirrings of resentment, anger. Another war was brewing out there in the starry black, if the Autobots didn’t get their judgmental afts in gear and start realizing the planet wasn’t theirs alone to keep. There wasn’t anywhere else for the Decepticons to go.

Eventually, they’d come back here. En masse, no doubt. Megatron might be gone, but his legacy lived. There would be another.

A few near the door noticed Knock Out. He was treated to the Autobot Trademark Sneer before they returned to their conversation with one another.

For a moment, Knock Out hesitated. But then Bumblebee brushed his arm as he stepped up beside Knock Out, as if offering comfort and solidarity.

“Come on,” he said, gently taking Knock Out’s elbow. “I see a spot in the back. We can grab that table.”

“You sure you don’t mind being seen with me?” Knock Out asked, and sincerely hoped his tone was more snide than pitying. The last thing he needed was Bumblebee only spending time with him out of some idea of charity.

Bumblebee snorted. “I know my own worth. Everyone else can go frag themselves if they want to make a big deal about it.”

The latter he said quite loudly, almost pointedly, and more than a few Autobots hurriedly looked away, ducking their heads, like Bumblebee had chastised them directly. It was kind of nice, Knock Out had to admit. He didn’t need or want a champion, but it never hurt to have someone on his side either.

“Really?” Knock Out smirked. Down, but not out. That was his motto. “That doesn’t sound like a very Optimus Prime thing to say.”

Bumblebee barked a laugh. “Mm. Probably not,” he agreed. “But there was a lot more to Optimus then he realized. If he were here today, he’d probably be appalled by a lot of things we’re doing.”

They arrived at the table, and Knock Out took the seat tucked into the corner, all the better to see a problem and avoid a potential knife in the back. Maybe it wouldn’t happen, but Knock Out hadn’t survived by being reckless.

“Get comfy.” Bumblebee patted the table with another trademark grin. “I’ll get us a drink.”

He was gone before Knock Out could protest, weaving into a crowd that parted ways to welcome him. Knock Out watched him go, not failing to notice that faces were much friendlier to him without his former Decepticon shadow.

Not that Bumblebee seemed perfectly comfortable at the attention. He kept waving off invitations, holding up a hand and shaking his head. Someone patted him on the shoulder, and he smoothly stepped out from under the touch.

Knock Out knew Bumblebee was considered something of a hero to the Autobots at large. Frag, all of the Bots who’d been there for that final battle were revered in some shape or form. They’d practically turned Optimus Prime into the second coming of Primus! It wouldn’t be long now before the statues would start going up, with numerous of Optimus’ more famous speeches etched into plaques at their bases.

Pathetic.

Knock Out pulled out his datapad for something else to look at. He ignored the alert in the corner, informing him he still needed to review the Autobot Charter and take the exam. He’d been ignoring that particular requirement for months now. The damned thing was a thousand pages long.

In fine print.

Knock Out snorted and swept the screen to his sketching app. It had been ages since he’d drawn something, ages still since he had anything worth displaying. But war didn’t make time for pleasantries or creativity. All of his previous works had been destroyed when Crystal City fell.

That was when he’d seen the writing on the wall. When the Decepticons attacked and the Autobots had been helpless to it. He’d known then which side he’d have to join if he wanted to survive. He’d learned what it would, what would be necessary, but survival… that had always been key.

There was nothing he wouldn’t do to survive.

Bumblebee returned, a cube in each hand, and dropped into the booth beside Knock Out, forcing Knock Out to slide over a bit to make room. “We’ve got windfarm-filtered today,” the scout said as he slid the cube over. “Hope you don’t mind a few bugs.”

Knock Out grimaced and peered into his cube. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

“I am.” Bumblebee laughed and leaned forward, cupping his hands around the cube. “No insects – or Insecticons – were harmed in the making of this energon.”

Knock Out shuddered. “Don’t remind me of those awful beasts.” He’d had quite enough of Insecticons, thank you very much. They’d always skulked around the Nemesis, and he swore half the time they were stalking him as if they longed to crunch on his struts.

“You don’t have to worry about them. Last I heard, they were still trapped on Earth’s moon with Airachnid, and she’s not capable of interstellar flight.” Bumblebee grinned a very beguiling grin.

Knock Out snorted. “Who says I’m worried?” He arched an orbital ridge and sipped at his cube, which was barely palatable, but better than nothing. Work needed to be done on that synethetic energon post-haste. Their other options weren’t appealing, and they could only mine so much from Earth and other seeded locations.

Of course, it would help if Megatron hadn’t gone off the deep end and destroyed so much of it…

“No one.” Bumblebee winked playfully and tipped his cube back, drinking deeply of it. His doors fluttered as he did so.

If he noticed the way other mechs stared at them, he didn’t act like it. Maybe he was used to the staring, given how Bumblebee was something of a legend among the Autobots. Even before he helped win the war. Rumors of the way he’d stood up to Megatron, at the cost of his vocalizer no less, were always running rampant.

There was no doubt Bumblebee was as brave as they come. Foolish, too. He completely acted against his own self-interest. How could he expect to survive that way? How had he survived?

Then again, Knock Out knew there was a time Bumblebee did not. Where only a fall into the Omega Lock matter had saved his spark.

Yet, he still treated Knock Out to a smile. Kindly. With respect. Given how much the Decepticons had brought him harm, how could he do it?

“Why are you being so nice to me?” Knock Out asked, or blurted rather. His attempt to stay calm and disconnected swirled right down the drain like a clump of grass once stuck in his rims.

And it wasn’t just today either. This wasn’t the first time Bumblebee had invited Knock Out somewhere, or escorted him. This wouldn’t be their first shared meal or friendly conversation.

This wouldn’t be the first time Knock Out had looked at him and wondered ‘what if’?”

Bumblebee cycled his optics. “What?”

“I’m not stupid.” Knock Out frowned and rested his elbows on the table, leaning forward. “Most other people act like I’ve got the cybonic plague. But you don’t. Why?”

“Oh.” Bumblebee shrugged. “It’s what Optimus would’ve done.”

Knock Out refused to allow himself to be disappointed. He didn’t know what else he expected. Of course Bumblebee worshiped Optimus like everyone else around here.

“Ah, so I’m your good deed for now.” Knock Out rolled his optics and sat back, snatching up the energon.

“My very own charity case.” Bumblebee grinned, but there was an edge to it, like he was teasing. Blue optics sparkled in Knock Out’s direction.

Knock Out snorted. He hid behind his cube.

“Or,” Bumblebee continued, and he started fiddling with his own cube, fingers spinning it around and around the table. “Maybe even a friend, if you want one.”

“And here I was thinking we were already,” Knock Out drawled, praying his tone was dismissive, even as his spark gave an odd flutter in his chassis. Had he actually hoped Bumblebee considered him more…?

Impossible.

The cube stopped with a thump and Bumblebee brought it to his lips. “Well, didn’t want to assume.” He tossed his head and the cube back, finishing it in one good gulp. “Would you rather I wasn’t nice?”

Knock Out snorted again. “No, thanks. I get enough of that as it is.” He sipped on his cube and glanced away, almost immediately catching a glare focused his direction.

Was it because he dared to exist? Because he consumed their energon? Because he betrayed the Decepticons or used to be one? Or maybe, just maybe, it was because he was sharing a table with one of the Autobot’s heroes and that just wouldn’t do.

Knock Out almost sent a coarse gesture the mech’s direction, but decided against it at the last moment. With his luck, he’d start some kind of mess hall riot and be blamed for it entirely. Plus, thrown energon and candies and furniture would absolutely ruin his paint job.

A black blur waved in front of his face. Knock Out cycled his optics and looked at Bumblebee again, shaking his head.

“There you are.” Bumblebee chuckled as Knock Out sipped the last of his cube and set the empty container on the table.

“Here I am,” Knock Out agreed. “Unfortunately.”

“Am I such bad company?”

“Not at all. I just dread the thought of going back to the medbay right now.” Knock Out tried and failed to conceal a scowl. He wasn’t in the habit of changing his mind again, but sometimes, Ratchet made things difficult.

Bumblebee leaned into his field of vision. “Then don’t.” His doors waggled. “I was serious when I said let’s go do something fun.”

“Won’t that violate my parole?”

“Parole?” Bumblebee’s orbital ridges lifted. He slid out of the seat and bounced on his heels. “Come on. No one really takes that seriously. Besides, what kind of trouble can you get into if you’re with me?”

“Quite a lot, I’m sure,” Knock Out drawled. He slid out of the booth on the other side, though with less bounce in his step. “I may be persona non grata around here, as they say, but I still get the gossip.”

“Oh? Do they talk about how handsome and charming I am?” Bumblebee’s doors waggled as he moved closer, nudging Knock Out with his elbow. “Or maybe they’re in awe of my speed. I know I can beat you.”

Knock Out reared back, looking down his nose at Bumblebee, though they were of a height. “Oh, that I highly doubt.”

“Wanna bet?”

Knock Out couldn’t ignore a challenge like that. The confidence in Bumblebee’s field was begging to be knocked down several pegs.

“Let’s go,” he said, and spun toward the exit, pushing through the crowd, or maybe it parted for him. Either way, getting out was a lot easier than getting in. “We’ll see who’s faster.”

Bumblebee jogged to catch up, chuckling at Knock Out as he did. “What’re the stakes?”

“You presented the challenge. It’s up to you to offer the stakes,” Knock Out informed him.

“Fair enough.” Bumblebee tapped his chin. “Fine. Loser buys the first round at Illumination.”

Knock Out arched an orbital ridge. “First round?”

“We’re supposed to be having fun, remember?” Bumblebee waggled his orbital ridges which made him look ridiculous, frankly, but somehow, it amused Knock Out anyway.

Knock Out’s tires twitched. “Alright. Loser buys the first round.” He poked Bumblebee in the middle of his chestplate. “Hope you’re ready to shell out the creds.”

~

It didn’t turn out as well as Knock Out could have hoped.

Oh, he gave it his all. He put pedal to the metal and his engine roared and his tires spun across the ground so fast he could have sworn he were flying rather than on solid ground.

But Bumblebee had spent a lot more time out on patrols than Knock Out, and he knew the landscape a dozen times better. He knew how to avoid the potholes and pitfalls and he was far less studious about his paint.

Knock Out didn’t lose entirely.

But he wasn’t the one currently waggling his aft and pumping his fists in the air in complete victory either. Three laps out of five and Bumblebee had left Knock Out in the dust. He must have gotten some kind of modification because his specs certainly didn’t match the speeds he’d displayed.

Or maybe that dip in the Omega Lock material had done more than just bring him back.

Either way, Knock Out tried not to sulk. “It’s unseemly to brag,” he said, failing in his endeavor to be unbothered by his loss.

“Says you.” Bumblebee snorted and clasped his hands behind his back, sauntering closer. “And I believe you owe us a drink.”

“Do you have to look so smug about it?” Despite himself, Knock Out was grinning. He’d had fun and sometimes, he forgot what that felt like.

It had felt so freeing, too. Just driving. Racing. Speeding across the ground. He was not caged, he’s as free as a reformed Decepticon could be, but Knock Out’s actions were always under constant scrutiny. He’d never admit aloud that he felt uneasy on his own at times. Last thing he wanted to do was wander into the wilds for a quick drive. Alone. Without any backup.

He could take care of himself. But there were a lot more Autobots than there were mechs who cared whether Knock Out lived or died. So he’d missed this simple pleasure, of the wind over his armor, and the road beneath his tires, and the roaring-purr of an engine pushed to the limits and more.

“This is not smug.” Bumblebee pointed at his own face and shook his head. “This is pride! And success!”

“It’s smug. You’re smug.” Knock Out palmed Bumblebee’s face and gave him a playful shove away. “Besides, you get out a lot more than I do. It was hardly a fair race. You just wait, next time you’ll be eating my grit.”

Bumblebee laughed and bounced back. “It’s a date then,” he said, without a moment’s hesitation. He brushed dirt from Knock Out’s shoulder, and for some odd reason, that moment of contact sent a wave of warmth up Knock Out’s spinal strut. “But first, I’m thirsty.”

Knock Out swallowed over a lump in his intake. “Thirsty,” he echoed, and tried for a disdainful look. “You spend far too much time on Earth.”

“I’ll take you with me next time. At least then you can’t blame the state of the roads for why you lost to me.” Bumblebee winked, and another jolt of something went straight to Knock Out’s spark. “Besides, if you actually talked to some humans, you might actually like them.”

“I doubt it.” He still remembered their squishy, sweaty bodies inside his trunk, and how they’d sniped at each other.

Primus.

Knock Out shuddered. No, thank you. Humans smelled and excreted and they talked far too much. He preferred the company of other Cybertronians, thank you very much.

Bumblebee chuckled. “There’s still time to change your mind.” He patted Knock Out on the shoulder. “Come on. Let’s get that drink.”

He felt enraptured by Bumblebee’s pace, and Knock Out couldn’t put a finger on why. He felt swept along, unable to do more than grumble as they slipped into altmode and headed back into the city proper. Or, the outskirts at least.

Illumination had been cobbled together from the remains of several destroyed buildings rather than waste new materials needed for more important ventures. As a result, the entire outside of it was mismatched in terms of both color and composition. The neon sign had been snatched from Earth and flickered in and out as it buzzed noisily. Music floated from the open windows, along with the distinct undertone of chatter.

Two Vehicons stood at the double-doors in the front, probably bouncers of some kind. They’d lost their Decepticon badges, and had repainted themselves, but there was no mistaking that distinct frame-build.

Knock Out couldn’t blame them. Megatron had used the cold-constructed mechs like cannon fodder, treating them as little more than drones. They looked alike because they were sparked that way, made to be interchangeable and Megatron treated them as such.

So maybe they weren’t the brightest bulbs in the bunch, but they were individuals. Knock Out supposed in this post-war world, they now had a chance to show it off.

Still, he wrinkled his nasal structure. “Are they playing human music?” he asked as words in English finally caught up his audials.

“Yep.” Bumblebee’s doors did that adorable wiggle-twitch thing again. He bounced on his heels, optics brighter.

Oh, Primus.

Knock Out steeled himself for what was quite possibly going to be a terrible time. The music was almost obnoxious, and the smell of too many alt-modes venting in too small of an area struck him in the face before they even stepped through the doors.

“Hey, Silverspot, Runner.” Bumblebee greeted the two Vehicons at the door with a fistbump. Their visors flashed at him – a shade Knock Out had never seen before. “Sounds like some good beats tonight.”

“Got a new DJ,” the pale Vehicon on the left said.

“The crowds have been bigger and better than ever,” the one with racing stripes on the right added, their voices almost identical.

“Sweet.” Bumblebee grinned and reached back, grabbing Knock Out’s hand firmly. “He’s with me, okay?”

And just like that, Knock Out was the sole recipient of their attention, and he wondered just then, if he’d ever repaired these two mechs. He’d only known the Vehicons by their serial numbers – Megatron had wanted it that way. Knock Out knew the Vehicons had more personal names to each other, but he’d never bothered to learn them.

It hadn’t been important.

Knock Out spent most of his time bearing the scrutiny of his fellow Autobots. He’d never once thought about the opinions of those who had been Decepticons beside him. After all, they were dead now. Starscream, Soundwave, Shockwave, Breakdown, Dreadwing, Airachnid – all of them gone, in one way or another. Who was there left to face?

No one but Megatron’s nameless, faceless, interchangeable army of not-drones.

“If you say so, Bee,” the pale Vehicon – Silverspot, Knock Out assumed – said, but his voice projected disapproval and distaste.

“Only because it’s you,” the striped one purred and tilted his head toward the door. “You better keep an optic on him, though. We don’t want no trouble.”

“Aw, Runner, now would I do anything dangerous?” Bumblebee tightened his fingers around Knock Out’s and gave him a tug toward the door. “Later!”

“Have fun!”

Knock Out didn’t make optic contact as he passed. Not because he was afraid, but because he didn’t know what he’d find. Contempt, perhaps. He was no better than Megatron, treating them as disposable, but it hadn’t fit with his credo either. He had to look after himself first.

He had to survive.

The doors slammed shut behind them, and a wash of heat attacked immediately after. Knock Out’s vents seized, his optics spiraling in and out, struggling to focus. It was dim in here, well dim in terms of overhead lighting. But there were flashing lights, spinning lights, streams of bright color spilling all over a central dance floor. Bars along the walls were backlit by lamps, and the glow of dozens of biolights added to the dim.

The floor was a bit tacky beneath his feet. The place was packed with mechs of all shapes and sizes – soldiers, workers, a few civilians who had managed to come back, some of the newsparks who were ready for the world. There were Vehicons and Eradicons, too, recognizable by their frames, but not their colors.

Primus, it was loud.

Bumblebee squeezed his hand and leaned in close. “Drink first!” he hollered to be heard over the music. “Then we dance.”

“I don’t remember agreeing to a dance,” Knock Out said.

Bumblebee ignored him. Or maybe Knock Out hadn’t been loud enough. Either way, he found himself being towed through the crowd, Bumblebee easily clearing a path for them. More than a few mechs called out greetings to him, clapping him on the shoulder, acting all too familiar. Just like those guards.

Knock Out only recognized one face in the crowd– Smokescreen, near the furthest wall, shaking his aft without paying heed to the rhythm of the music. He seemed to be having fun, so Knock Out supposed that was all that mattered.

Bumblebee got them to the nearest bar and Knock Out up next to him, squeezing them both into a space between two clusters of mechs. He signaled for the bartender and flashed Knock Out a grin.

“Time to pay up, doc,” he said.

Knock Out rolled his optics. “Brag a little louder. I don’t think the rest of the bar can hear you yet.”

Bumblebee laughed. “Just pick your poison.”

Knock Out glanced at the menu scratched on a board above the wall. This establishment seemed to serve a little bit of everything, from regular energon to high grade to engexes. It even had an approximation of Iacon wine.

It also only accepted Earth dollars.

Of all the humiliations…

Bumblebee pressed against his side, no doubt accidentally since the crowd was so thick that it soaked up any inch of available space. “What’ll it be?”

Knock Out gnawed on his bottom lip. “I changed my mind,” he said and shook his head. He turned, trying to spot an escape through the crowd. “I should go back to Ratchet after all.”

“Hey.” Bumblebee’s hand grabbed his again, like he had no trouble touching Knock Out when everyone else considered him a plague. “What’s wrong?” All teasing was gone from his voice now.

Knock Out growled at his own behavior. Of course an Autobot couldn’t let things lie. No, he had to be concerned and interested, and he couldn’t just let Knock Out go sulk in a corner, brooding about the unfairness of the universe.

No, Bumblebee was too persistent for that. He wouldn’t shrug and ignore things if Knock Out walked away.

Knock Out sighed a vent. “They only take Earth funds.”

Bumblebee cycled his optics and looked confused. “Yeah, most of the new places around here do. Because we don’t have a cred system yet.”

Earth funds were for luxuries and treats. Right now, Cybertron didn’t need creds because every resident was provided the necessary energon, coolant, and shelter without having to “earn it” so to speak. Earth funds, on the other hand, had to be gained.

Which didn’t mean Knock Out wasn’t earning any. He was quite sure he had a bit of a stockpile. The problem was that he didn’t have access to it at the moment.

“That’s all well and good, but since I still don’t have access to mine, I can’t fill my half of the bet, now can I?” Knock Out demanded. He gave a token tug to his arm. “Now, if you’re done humiliating me for the day, I’d like to go.”

“Is that all?” Bumblebee rolled his optics and pulled Knock Out back toward the bar. “Come on then. It’ll be my treat this time, and as soon as they unlock your accounts, you can treat me twice over. Sound fair?”

Knock Out stared at him. “Why are you being so generous?”

“Because I want to.” Bumblebee gave his arm a little squeeze and then let him go, as though leaving it up to Knock Out’s decision. “Because I want to have a drink and a dance with you, and I don’t want you to leave because high command are taking their sweet time accepting what I already know.”

Knock Out tilted his head. “And that would be…?”

“That you’re one of us,” Bumblebee said as though it were the easiest thing in the world. He then turned to address the bartender – an Eradicon whose narrow-visored gaze was cutting between them. “Hey, Razorwire. Can me and my buddy here get a shot of Toxic Turnover each?”

“Sure thing, Bee.” Razorwire glanced at Knock Out, the light behind his visor flashing briefly, before he turned to fill their order.

Bumblebee flashed a grin over his shoulder, his door tilting down so he could see Knock Out over it. “See? Easy as cake.”

Knock Out sighed and closed the distance between them, the press of the crowd making him collide with Bumblebee’s side. “Come here often, do you?” he drawled, disliking the sudden run of jealousy through his spark.

Bumblebee laughed. “I’m not just a stuffy old Autobot. I know how to have fun.” He rolled his shoulders in a playful shrug. “I’m surprised you haven’t.”

“Places like this usually aren’t my first choice,” Knock Out replied. Not that he had the time to waste on having fun. Ratchet usually kept him busy with the scut work, and Ultra Magnus had him studying to pass his Autobot Code exam.

“Why not?”

Knock Out shrugged. He didn’t have a good answer.

Luckily, Razorwire returned with two shot-sized glasses of something glowing a dangerous, bright green. He set it down in front of Bumblebee, and though he didn’t have a mouth, something in his manner suggested a smirk.

“You two enjoy,” he said.

“Thanks, Razor.” Bumblebee picked up the shots and turned back toward Knock Out, offering him one. “Well? You want it? Or is my charity too much for you?”

Knock Out snorted and accepted the drink. “I suppose that depends on what it’s going to cost me.” He gave the drink a tentative sniff, surprised to find it had a sharp, sweet aroma.

“Hmm.” Bumblebee’s finger rubbed along the tiny cube’s outer edge. “How about a dance then?” He lifted his orbital ridges.

Knock Out laughed before he could stop himself. “It’s cheap enough I suppose. A dance it is.”

Bumblebee lifted his cube and gestured to Knock Out with it. “Bottoms up.” He winked.

Knock Out tapped his cube against Bumblebee’s and together, they tossed the small shot of Toxic Turnover back in one fell swoop. It went down smooth, sweet where it barely splashed over Knock Out’s glossa, and sent a wave of warmth through his tanks.

“Good stuff.” Bumblebee smacked his lips, grabbed the empty cube from Knock Out, and set both on the counter behind him, upside down. He clapped his hands together. “Ready for that dance?”

Knock Out glanced behind him, at the seething crowd, frames twisting and churning to a quick, throbbing beat, words indistinguishable above the bass. He cringed imagining how many mechs would brush against him, scrape his paint, leave him scuffed.

But a deal was a deal…

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” he said.

Bumblebee laughed, suddenly right next to Knock Out, pressed up against him, hand sliding down to tangle their fingers together. “Good. Then let’s go.”

He didn’t wait for an answer. Had a bad habit of not waiting, that one did. Before Knock Out could second guess himself, Bumblebee’s hand tightened around his, and they plunged into the crowd, Bumblebee paving the way. Knock Out stumbled and fought to catch up, drafted along in Bumblebee’s wake, as the scout seemed to be heading straight for the middle of the dance floor.

Only then did Bumblebee let Knock Out go and spin to face him. His doors did a quick up and down motion before he started to move in time to the beat, displaying an amount of grace that was not at all surprising. Knock Out had seen him on the battlefield.

“Don’t just stand there!” Bumblebee shouted, because how else were they going to be heard over the music and the crowd and the multitude of revving engines. “Move!”

Knock Out rolled his optics, but move he did. He listened to the beat for a moment, let it soak in through the floor, rattle through his struts and his hydraulics, thud in time with his spark. He danced, letting the harsh throb of the beat chase away everything else, the anger he felt at Ratchet, at himself, at high command. The irritation he still carried everywhere he went. The indecision.

He offered it all to the music – crass and human in nature though it was – and purged it from his field. Bumblebee was right. He was here to have fun, a concept Knock Out had almost forgotten.

Surviving was not enough. One had to live. And living meant having fun.

Knock Out grinned and threw himself into the music, twisting and writhing, occasionally bumping into other dancers, but it was all right. Everyone out here was bumping into everyone else, and no one seemed bothered by it.

Bumblebee moved closer to him, until they were dancing together, and Knock Out didn’t mind one bit. Dancing with a partner was always better, and my but Bumblebee could move. Could shake his hips, add in some fancy footwork, and Knock Out swore Bumblebee was flirting with him. Casual brushes of his fingertips, the brief press of their frames together – hot and vibrating.

The music shifted, turning less frantic and bouncy, to something energetic and sultry, something that called for a closer encounter.

Knock Out grinned and let himself indulge. When Bumblebee spun closer, Knock Out twisted into his path, let their frames collide. He caught Bumblebee’s gaze and smirked, as black hands found his hips and gave them a tug.

Armor connected, heat to heat, and Knock Out felt the rush of hot vents over his frame. He rolled his hips, grinding against Bumblebee, their frames moving in perfect sync.

Knock Out licked his lips as his engine purred. He dipped, letting Bumblebee’s hands on his hips carry his weight as he leaned back, intending to tease. It worked, if the flash of heat in Bumblebee’s optics was any indication.

It worked on someone else, too.

Thick fingers wrapped around one of Knock Out’s outflung wrists. A strong tug and he stumbled backward, out of Bumblebee’s grip and against a much taller, much broader frame. A whiff of road grit, asphalt, and heavy-duty exhaust identified a construction mech of some kind, and Knock Out shuddered at the mental image of what tacky residue must have streaked up his backside.

“A pretty thing like you needs a bigger dance partner,” someone growled down at him, venting hot and greasy, his massive hand pawing down Knock Out’s front.

Of all the–

Knock Out whipped around, but didn’t get very far with his wrist caught by that claw the mech called a hand. If he’d had his electro prod, this conversation would go very differently.

“Hands off!” he snarled and tried to wrench his wrist free without snapping it in the process.

A black and yellow blur slipped between them, and with a single blow to the construction mech’s inner elbow, Knock Out’s hand was freed from confinement. The mech bellowed and pinned Bumblebee with a glare, and Bumblebee revved his engine.

“The mech said ‘hands off’,” Bumblebee growled, his doors high and rigid, threatening if Knock Out had to guess. “He’s with me.”

Pale yellow optics flicked from Bumblebee to Knock Out and back again. He clutched at his elbow, arm dangling limply. One blow and Bumblebee had either numbed or shattered a hydraulic joint. Impressive.

“Fine,” the brute spat. “Don’t want used goods anyway.” He spun around and stomped into the crowd, which cleared a path for him as though eager to get the negative vibes out of the fun.

“Aft,” Bumblebee muttered, just loud enough for Knock Out to catch before he turned to face Knock Out once more. “You’re not hurt are you?”

Knock Out held up the hand big bruiser had grabbed. “Dented, but nothing I can’t fix myself,” he said as Bumblebee gently took his arm and inspected his wrist as though he were the medic here and not the other way around. “Thanks for the save, hero.”

Bumblebee flashed him a grin. “What? Did you actually want to dance with him?” He threw a thumb over his shoulder, half-turning. “Because I’m sure he didn’t get far. I can call him back.”

Knock Out snorted. “You know that’s not what I meant.” He looked at Bumblebee’s hold on his arm, surprisingly gentle for all the violence he’d implied just moments before. “Besides, you weren’t wrong. Tonight I am yours.”

“Really?” Bumblebee’s hand slid up Knock Out’s arm until it curved around his frame, tugging him close. “Then I guess that makes me the luckiest mech in here,” he purred as their chassis bumped.

Knock Out laughed as Bumblebee’s other hand slid around his waist, not that Knock Out minded. “You’ve had too much to drink.”

“Pfft. My tolerance is better than that. One drink doesn’t even get me buzzed.” He waggled his orbital ridges and spun Knock Out to the beat. “I think it’s just your company that’s got me high.”

Knock Out’s mouth worked for several seconds before he decided laughter was the best response again. “You’re ridiculous.”

“Mm hmm.” Bumblebee leaned in closer, his lips curved in a devilish grin that made Knock Out’s internals squirm. “I don’t need high grade to see how gorgeous you are and that’s the truth.”

Heat stole into Knock Out’s face. He blinked, not expecting the direct compliment, and sort of chuckled, trying to laugh it away. Surely, Bumblebee didn’t mean it. He was just that friendly. Look, he even befriended Decepticons.

“Well, that’s because it’s fairly obvious,” Knock Out drawled, falling back on old habits – overconfidence and conceit.

“That, too.” Bumblebee swayed to the beat, hips twisting, encouraging Knock Out to do the same as the distance between them steadily decreased. “So how long do I get you for then?”

Knock Out made a show of sliding his arms over Bumblebee’s shoulders. He toyed with the mount of one of Bumblebee’s doors. “Hm. Two more drinks and a song, I’d say. Can’t offer myself cheap after all.”

Bumblebee chuckled. “Deal.”

His hands squeezed on Knock Out’s hips before he pulled back from the half-embrace. Knock Out swallowed down the strange jolt of disappointment. But then Bumblebee grabbed his hand, as he seemed so fond of doing, and started towing Knock Out off the dance floor, back to the bar where a gap in the crowd allowed for two empty stools.

Bumblebee wriggled between them and slapped a hand on the bar as if trying to get Razorwire’s attention, while he tugged Knock Out to join him. They squeezed between the stools, their legs tangled, frames pressed tight, and heat made a quick flush through Knock Out’s frame. He didn’t know if the vibrations he felt were from the rumbles of Bumblebee’s engine, or the rapid pulse of the music.

“Another round, Razor!” Bumblebee called as his doors twitched up and down, up and down, not unlike a Seeker’s wings, point of fact.

“You know a lot of Vehicons,” Knock Out commented as he leaned against the bar next to Bumblebee, head tilted so he could keep one optic on the room behind them. He didn’t want to get grabbed like that again.

Bumblebee shrugged. “They’re good bots.”

“Is it because it’s what Optimus would’ve told you to do?” Knock Out asked. Partly because he was curious, and partly because he still wondered if Bumblebee only spent time with him because he thought he was doing the right thing.

Bumblebee arched an orbital ridge. “I don’t mindlessly obey, you know. I can make my own decisions. And that includes spending time with a whole group of mechs who got the slag end of life for reasons that aren’t their fault.”

Razor appeared then, sliding two Toxic Turnovers across the bar to them. “I made it extra spicy,” he said with a flutter of his optical band.

If Knock Out didn’t know better, he’d say the Eradicon was flirtingwith Bumblebee. Who, by the way, only snorted and scooped up the two shots.

“If I fall out again, don’t expect me to pay the towing fee,” he retorted and returned his attention to Knock Out, offering up the shot. “For you.”

Knock Out’s gaze flicked from the shot to Razorwire and back again. Extra spicy? What the frag did that mean?

“It’s not poisoned.” Bumblebee chuckled. “He only meant he added an extra shot of engex for me. Since he knows my tolerance is higher than most.” His free hand patted his abdomen as he gave his engine a rev. “High performance vehicle, you know.” He winked.

Knock Out snorted and accepted the shot. “Oh, I know. Since I am one.” He swirled the concoction around the cube, the bright green shade almost nauseating.

“Yes, you are.” Bumblebee grinned and lifted his cube. “Hmm. To a pair of sexy speedsters on the dance floor.”

Ridiculous.

Knock Out raised his cube anyway. “That no one else can touch,” he added and knocked his cube against Bumblebee’s. “Cheers.”

The second Toxic Turnover went down even easier, like liquid candy, flowing thick and sweet over his glossa. Knock Out couldn’t even taste the extra shot of engex in it, but he definitely felt the buzzy burn as it hit his tanks and sent a rev of energy through his frame. He shivered, tires twitching, heat flushing to his face.

Together, he and Bumblebee set the empty cube upside-down on the bar with a near-synchronized tap.

“Another one, my mechs?” Razorwire asked.

Knock Out startled. He hadn’t realized Razorwire never left. Instead, the Eradicon had lingered and watched them, and now there was an odd cant to the way he held himself.

“I do believe he promised me one more,” Bumblebee said as he playfully flicked one of Knock Out’s tires, setting it into a lazy spin.

The tiny action sent a much larger thrill through Knock Out’s lines. “That I did,” Knock Out replied, sweeping his glossa over his lips. “But just one.”

Bumblebee leaned in close, until Knock Out could taste the Toxic Turnovers on his ex-vents. “Hit your tolerance level, doctor?” he asked. A flick of his finger over the inner rim of Knock Out’s tire set it spinning again.

Knock Out locked optics with Bumblebee, leaning in close enough their lips could brush if only he’d close the distance. “Not a chance,” he purred and drew back before temptation could lead him down a dangerous path.

Bumblebee chuckled. “Good.”

Two more Toxic Turnovers plunked down on the bar counter and nudged their way. Razorwire didn’t stay to chat this time though. Instead, he vanished toward another portion of the bar, where a rowdy trio of mechs were loudly demanding drafts of the cheapest whatever was on tap.

Hmph. Some people had no sense of taste.

Knock Out scooped up his own shot before Bumblebee could hand it to him. It seemed even darker, more turbulent this time. Perhaps it had yet another boost of engex in it.

“Hmm.” Bumblebee held up the cube and admired it in the flashing multicolored lights. “This time I think we should toast to… building bridges.” He grinned as he met Knock Out’s gaze, something pointed in it.

Knock Out worked his intake, spark pounding faster in his chassis. “And making it easier to cross them,” he agreed.

Bumblebee’s optics spiraled wider, the blue brightening in hue. He didn’t look away, not even as they blindly tapped their cubes together and sucked down the shots as quick as possible. Sweet and syrupy, heat in his tank, and Knock Out shivered, the world a swirl of color and noise around him.

“Come on.” Bumblebee discarded the cube behind him, his hand clasping warm around Knock Out’s. “I get one more dance.”

They returned to the dance floor, to the fast beat throbbing all around them, up through the floor and into Knock Out’s frame. He felt warm and relaxed, like he hadn’t in a long time, and even better when Bumblebee didn’t let him go.

They danced together, closer and closer, frames brushing, armor coming into electric contact. It felt like taunt and tease. And Knock Out didn’t fail to notice that others watched them, but it didn’t feel like the judgment of the refueling station. It was appreciation and jealousy.

That’s right, Knock Out wanted to say, smug and proud, he’s here with me.

As if hearing his thoughts, Bumblebee pulled Knock Out in close, spinning him so they were back to front, Bumblebee notching himself between Knock Out’s tires. He nuzzled the back of Knock Out’s neck, his arms sliding loose around Knock Out’s waist.

A thrill ran up Knock Out’s spinal strut.

“This okay?” Bumblebee asked, his ex-vents like teasing puffs over Knock Out’s cables.

Knock Out’s spark pulsed, one that seemed to echo much, much lower. To his poor, neglected interface array, which hadn’t seen any action but his own two hands since his defection.

“If it wasn’t, I’d have said so.” Knock Out punctuated his point with a grind backward, rubbing his aft into the cradle of Bumblebee’s hips.

Bumblebee chuckled, his hands skimming over Knock Out’s abdomen. “You know, you can tell me ‘no’, right?”

“What?” That was kind of a weird segue.

“You don’t have to agree if you’re not interested,” Bumblebee said as his hands returned to the relatively safe area of Knock Out’s hips.

Knock Out’s engine growled. “Of course I know that!” Just what was Bumblebee trying to imply? That Knock Out thought he was some kind of prisoner without a choice?

“So you are interested?” Bumblebee purred, right against his audial, otherwise no way would Knock Out have heard it.

He shivered and slid his hands down Bumblebee’s arms, still grinding against Bumblebee to the beat of the music. “Obviously,” Knock Out drawled and pointedly rubbed his aft against the curve of Bumblebee’s groin. Was it just his imagination or was there definitely a tangible heat?

“Good,” Bumblebee murmured with a hot ex-vent. His hands skimmed back over Knock Out’s abdomen. “Because right now, we’re just two Autobots having a good time.”

Knock Out grinned at the confirmation. He squirmed in Bumblebee’s arms, managing to turn around so that they were face to face, and Bumblebee’s hands were on his hips. Though he nearly smacked Bumblebee with a tire. Ah, the perils of protruding kibble.

“A great time, you mean,” he corrected.

Bumblebee chuckled. “Yeah.” He took one of Knock Out’s hands, tangling their fingers together, as he moved them into a few dance steps Knock Out could easily follow. “Though it’d be a shame if it was only tonight.”

“Wouldn’t it?” Knock Out smirked and moved in step with Bumblebee. He was a fast learner. “I guess we’ll have to see if you earn another.”

Bumblebee’s free hand slid back around his waist, thumb sweeping over a transformation seam and making Knock Out shiver. “Awwww,” he said. “And here I thought I was already putting my best foot forward.”

Bumblebee spun, twirling Knock Out with him, and at the last moment, caught his balance and tilted Knock Out into a dip, all to the rhythm of the music. One foot braced against the floor, the other found its way to sliding alongside Bumblebee’s stabilizing foot. Their faces were inches apart, and Knock Out had a moment where he wanted to be bold.

Bold like he hadn’t been since before his defection.

Knock Out swallowed over a lump in his intake. His vents fluttered. He curled a single hand around the back of Bumblebee’s head, and closed the distance between them, bringing their lips together for an electric kiss. He meant it to be brief, not wanting to pressure, but Bumblebee made a small sound, his fingers pressing in on Knock Out’s back plating, before he pressed onward, and returned the kiss.

His glossa slipped out, tasting the seam of Knock Out’s lips, and he opened to Bumblebee, their glossa meeting in a hot, slick tangle. Knock Out clutched Bumblebee’s shoulder, his knees wobbling. A sharp pant burst from his vents, and his engine kicked into a higher gear. He felt the vibration of Bumblebee’s engine matching his.

And then it was over, far too quickly. Bumblebee drew back, pulling Knock Out completely upright, but he didn’t pull away. His hands lingered on Knock Out’s hips, sweeping up and down, their frames in delicious near-contact. His optics were bright, so very blue, and his glossa ran over his lips like he was savoring their kiss.

“Should I apologize?” Knock Out asked because sometimes, returning a kiss didn’t mean it was wanted in the first place.

“Only for not doing that sooner,” Bumblebee replied with a grin. He gestured out of the crowd with a tilt of his head. “Want to get out of here?”

Knock Out brushed his fingertips over the side of Bumblebee’s intake. “You read my mind.”

It felt natural, this time, for Bumblebee’s hand to slide into his, and for Bumblebee to lead him off the dance floor. Just a small point of contact, and Knock Out’s spark did a foolish triple-pulse. He stared at Bumblebee’s back, at the little upward twitches of his doors – happiness, if Knock Out had to guess.

They didn’t stop by the bar on the way out. Knock Out could only assume Bumblebee had some kind of tab here. They didn’t exit by the front door, either, but by a side door that functioned as a one-way exit.

There was another Eradicon here, probably a door guard, to make sure no one tried to sneak in through the side. His optical band brightened when he saw Bumblebee.

“Hey, Buzzy,” the bright-pink Eradicon with horrible taste in paint said. “Leaving so soon?”

Bumblebee chuckled. “Can you blame me?” He held up his hand, his fingers still interlaced with Knock Out’s as though showing him off.

The Eradicon tilted to the side, looking Knock Out up and down. “Well, you’ve got good taste at least. Have fun, you two.”

“Thanks. I’ll try.” Bumblebee winked and tucked Knock Out against his side.

“Which of us was he even talking to?” Knock Out muttered as he looked over his shoulder. The pink Eradicon was still watching them, though now he leaned against the wall with his arms crossed.

“Probably me. Baron’s got a weird sense of humor.”

Knock Out snorted. Did Bumblebee know every Eradicon and Vehicon in the city by their newly chosen names? Did he only spend time with former Cons? What was his deal?

Out of the club, it was easier to walk side by side. Bumblebee still held his hand; Knock Out had no interest in retrieving it. This felt more like a date now, and a part of him wondered if it hadn’t been Bumblebee’s intention all along. Beyond the press of so many mechs, Knock Out could finally pick out Bumblebee’s field, and the miasma of emotions buried inside of it.

“So,” he started, to break the quiet, not uncomfortable, but definitely taut with the expectation of something. “Do you just have a kink for ex-cons or what?”

Bumblebee’s head turned toward him, and he cycled his optics in and out before he snickered. “I know it seems that way, but no.” He grinned and bumped shoulders with Knock Out. “Got a kink for you though.”

Heat flooded Knock Out’s cheeks, and he couldn’t even blame the engex. He’d long since burned it off. “I’m flattered,” he drawled, trying to grasp onto his composure with increasingly shaky fingers.

“Is that your way of letting me down gently?” Bumblebee asked, his tone light, but the heaviness in his field betrayed his disappointment. There was longing, too. Like he’d just let something he always wanted slip through his fingers.

The rest of the puzzle clicked into place.

Knock Out drew to a halt, tugging on Bumblebee’s hand in the process. The scout turned to look at him, expression blank, but his doors canted upward. Expectant.

He met Bumblebee’s gaze, and tried to search for answers in it, but Bumblebee was too good at keeping secrets. Knock Out would have to ask.

“How long?”

Bumblebee’s weight shifted. “Long enough.”

Knock Out looked at their joined hands, fingers knitted together. Bumblebee had been holding him one way or another all night. He should have realized sooner. Primus, he was an idiot.

“You could’ve said something.”

“Point of fact… not as easy as it sounds.” Bumblebee sighed and scratched at his nose. “You’re not exactly…. Uh….”

“–friendly?” Knock Out supplied. Though he didn’t think that was it. He could be friendly when he wanted!

“I was going with approachable.” Bumblebee chuckled, and his thumb swept over the side of Knock Out’s palm. “But yeah. So you can tell me no, and I swear I’ll walk away. I know how to take rejection gracefully.”

Knock Out’s glossa swept over his lips. “Really?” he asked. “Because that’s not the answer I had in mind.”

Bumblebee’s gaze jerked toward him, optics cycling wide and bright. “Oh?”

Knock Out cycled a vent, steadying himself, and stepped closer. Into Bumblebee’s field and his personal space, until their frames were close enough to sense one another’s heat without touching.

“My hab is only a block from here.” Knock Out squeezed Bumblebee’s hand, praying to whoever would listen he wasn’t making a huge mistake. Loneliness clawed so hard around his spark, a slim trail of hope was all he had left. “Interested?”

Bumblebee’s field flushed with heat, and sent tingles racing across Knock Out’s receptors. “Oh, I’m interested. But–”

“I’m not even tipsy, you’re not my commanding officer, and I know I don’t owe you anything,” Knock Out interrupted, able to guess Bumblebee’s hesitation. He was an Autobot after all.

Knock Out moved closer, until their chestplates brushed, and he dragged his fingers over Bumblebee’s headlights. “Though maybe you owe me a thing or two.”

Bumblebee’s free hand closed around his wrist and pulled it toward his mouth. “Or three,” he murmured as he brushed his lips over the inside of Knock Out’s wrist, holding Knock Out’s gaze the whole time. “Or four.”

Knock Out shivered and worked his intake. They were all but in the middle of the sidewalk. Anyone passing by could see them. Drivers in the street were getting an optic-full. Yes, it was chaste, but Knock Out was a known former Con and Bumblebee was a famous hero. Anonymity didn’t exist for either of them.

“However many you want to owe me,” Knock Out said, and surprised himself with the hitch in his vents. “But in the privacy of my hab.”

Bumblebee chuckled and skimmed his lips over Knock Out’s fingertips. “Exhibition not one of your kinks?”

“Not this kind.” He squeezed Bumblebee’s hand, dropping his voice into a lower register. “I’ll be happy to introduce you to some others though.”

“I’ll hold you to that promise,” Bumblebee purred. “Lead the way, doc.”

No doubt Bumblebee knew the way to Knock Out’s hab. But it was nice of him to pretend otherwise. Or maybe it was yet another way for him to be certain that Knock Out wanted this, wanted him. Either way, Knock Out appreciated the consideration.

His hab wasn’t much to brag about, but at least he could be comforted in knowing no one on Cybertron right now lived in luxury. Habitable buildings were hard to come by, so they squeezed as many mechs into each one as they possibly could. Knock Out had a small loft, composed of a tiny, one-stall washrack, a closet with a berth in it, and a larger main room for any other need he might have.

Like the couch, for instance.

The moment Knock Out let the field-reader identify him and give him access to his own hab, Knock Out intended to head right for the couch. But Bumblebee’s arms wrapped around him, and he found himself pressed against the wall instead, the door closing shut behind them and sealing them away from prying optics.

“You can tell me to stop,” Bumblebee said as he nipped at Knock Out’s jaw, his engine revving, and his frame venting heat in hot waves against Knock Out’s chassis.

Knock Out growled and cupped Bumblebee’s head, pulling the scout toward him for a kiss. A serious one. He tasted Bumblebee’s lips with his glossa before he plunged it into Bumblebee’s mouth, catching hints of their earlier drinks. His own engine revved as Bumblebee pressed harder against him, his tires squishing against the wall, another wave of heat running through his lines.

Courtesy was one thing. Delay was quite another. Knock Out had spent far too long alone. He wanted Bumblebee beneath him now.

He pushed forward, making Bumblebee stumble back. Their lips parted, and Knock Out slid off the wall, toward the main room. Bumblebee followed, like predator stalking prey, his optics darkening from arousal, the heat of it tangible in his field.

A thrill ran through Knock Out’s lines. “Right now, all I want to say is yes,” he said as he backed further and further into the main room, Bumblebee following every step of the way. “Maybe even repeatedly, if you think you can manage it.”

Bumblebee chuckled. “I guess we’ll have to see.”

He caught up to Knock Out, arms going around Knock Out’s waist as he slanted their lips together again. This time, the kiss was more hungry, more forceful, and Knock Out moaned into it. His hands slid over Bumblebee’s shoulders, trapping the yellow mech against him. Scorching heat slithered into his array, spike and valve surging online with a pulse of need through his sensory net.

They stumbled together, the couch right behind Knock Out. He bit at Bumblebee’s lips and felt the Autobot shiver against him, his engine revving louder.

Knock Out smirked and spun, setting Bumblebee off balance. Teetering, all it took was a little push for Bumblebee to fall backward, landing on his aft on the couch. He looked up at Knock Out, startled, and his optics cycled even wider when Knock Out followed him, straddling Bumbleee’s lap.

“You seem to be under the impression that I’m some dainty minibot who needs careful handling.” Knock Out rocked against Bumblebee’s groin, his hands slipping over Bumblebee’s shoulders to tease his door hinges. “That is far from the truth, Autobot.”

Bumblebee groaned. “Careful handling, yes. Dainty, not a chance.” He grasped Knock Out’s hips, pulling Knock Out tighter against him. He braced his feet on the floor and thrust up, their armor sliding together. “Though you are gorgeous.”

“Mm. Flattery will get you everywhere.” Knock Out leaned down, brushing his lips over Bumblebee’s. “And you’re not so bad yourself.” He sealed their mouths together, glossa plunging inside, the tip of it tracing Bumblebee’s denta before Bumblebee’s glossa rose up to meet his.

The couch creaked. It was an old thing, salvaged from the ruins of the city. Knock Out had dragged it here himself, cleaning and scrubbing until it was almost new. Maybe it could handle the weight of two frames, maybe it couldn’t.

Right now, Knock Out was willing to sacrifice it to this very necessary cause.

He ground down harder against Bumblebee, knees digging into the couch. He bit at Bumblebee’s mouth, exventing quick, hot puffs of air. Need coiled inside of him, and it tightened into a hot mass as Bumblebee’s hands slid up his back and pinched at his back tire mounts.

Knock Out shuddered, a bloom of charge tearing across his sensory net. He rolled his hips again, purposefully.

“Are you going to open up, or am I going to have to do this by myself?” Knock Out asked as he nibbled his way down to Bumblebee’s intake, lips and denta tasting an arrangement of delicate cables.

Bumblebee stroked his mounts, making a hot fire dance up Knock Out’s spinal strut. “I dunno. I think you’d put on a pretty sexy show if you did all the work.”

Knock Out bit him.

Bumblebee arched beneath him and laughed, his hands sliding back down to Knock Out’s hips and holding tight. “So that’s a no on the show, then? I can take a hint.”

“Bumblebee, open your panel or so help me Primus I will climb off you and go find my energon prod,” Knock Out hissed against Bumblebee’s cables. His own panel jittered, threatening to open, lubricant welling in his valve and pooling against it.

“Mmm. Love it when you use that tone.” Bumblebee cupped his aft, squeezing tight.

But more than that, the distinct sound of a panel opening echoed from below, and Knock Out felt the wet brush of a spike head against his inner thigh. Finally. So he popped his own panel and lubricant dribbled free.

“Remind me to use it later,” Knock Out said as he dragged his lips back to Bumblebee’s, his mouth brushing over his. “Maybe with some rope and a whip. You could stand to learn some manners.”

Bumblebee groaned and bucked his hips, the head of his spike nudging against Knock Out’s valve rim, exciting the ring of sensors.

Oh. Liked that, did he?

Knock Out smirked and purred into Bumblebee’s audial. “I should pin you down,” he said as he rolled his hips, teasing himself with the slick head of Bumblebee’s spike. “Ride you all night. Make you put on a spike ring so you can’t overload. Until you’re drenched in condensation and desperate for it.”

Bumblebee breathed a curse and clutched at Knock Out’s hips, trying to pull him down. Knock Out relented and sank down enough that Bumblebee’s spike pierced the rim of his valve, but only just.

“You’re killing me here, doc,” Bumblebee groaned and his head tilted back against the top of the couch, his optics bright and hungry.

“That’s what you get, for teasing me all night,” Knock Out retorted, though honestly, he felt like he was teasing himself right now. His calipers were cycling down on nothing, and his nodes kept pinging him with urgency.

His fans spun faster, and his thighs shook from the effort of holding himself up. He nudged closer, until his chestplate pinged against Bumblebee’s.

“I’m sorry then,” Bumblebee murmured and nuzzled Knock Out’s face, his hands sweeping up and down, tracing Knock Out’s seams, mapping out his armor. “Really I am. Won’t you have mercy?”

Knock Out chuckled. “I think I like it when you beg.” He could have teased Bumblebee like this all night, if the need wasn’t clawing at him.

Bumblebee groaned, and his field poured over Knock Out like a boiling oil bath. He all but trembled with his own desire, but he restrained himself. He didn’t push. He didn’t demand. He meant it when he offered Knock Out control.

“You’re so mean.” He nibbled his way to Knock Out’s intake, glossa and denta making hot presses against Knock Out’s cables.

Knock Out shivered, his tires twitching. “But I also know how to be nice,” he murmured and he finally, finally sank down, his valve swallowing up Bumblebee’s spike inch by inch, gliding over every internal node until Bumblebee was fully notched inside of him.

Knock Out sucked in a ventilation, charge leaping out from his nodes and sinking into Bumblebee’s sensors. He trembled as pleasure washed through his frame and sensory net, his valve cycling down tight. Primus, he’d missed this. Such a simple thing, the connection of two mechs together, real charge and not false vibrations or the strained curl of his own fingers.

He rocked his hips, stirring Bumblebee inside of him, until he hit an angle just right and Bumblebee’s spike head ground against his ceiling node. Knock Out gasped and did it again, and again, ecstasy radiating up his spinal strut.

Bumblebee groaned and clutched at Knock Out’s tires, his spike throbbing against Knock Out’s nodes. “Frag,” he breathed against Knock Out’s intake, his ex-vents wet and scorching. “You’re right. I think this is the nicest you’ve ever been to me.”

Knock Out barked out a laugh, despite the arousal building in his lines and sending lighting bursts of pleasure through his net. “You’re ridiculous.” But that didn’t stop him from rocking his hips, harder and faster, riding Bumblebee’s spike for every zap of pleasure it could give him.

His knees dug harder into the couch. It creaked ominously. Bumblebee’s hands tugged at his tire connectors, sending more shocks of need through Knock Out’s system. He shuddered, thighs pressing in on Bumblebee’s, his valve cycling faster and harder. Heat burst in his belly.

He slid his arms over Bumblebee’s shoulders and found his door hinges. His palms skated over the interior of Bumblebee’s door, tracing the far too organic lining and the window controls and the cupholders that were surprisingly free of sticky residue.

Bumblebee sucked in a sharp vent and bucked up against him, curling his arms tighter around Knock Out and pressing their frames together.

“Oh, did I find a sensitive spot?” Knock Out teased as he mapped out the contours of Bumblebee’s doors again. He needed the distraction.

Pleasure was sparking through his array at a fiery pace, and it tangled inside him, like a coil ready to burst. No way would he overload this quickly. It would be just another thing for Bumblebee to be smug about. He had some self-control. Time to use it!

“Maybe I can find another,” Knock Out purred and slanted his lips over Bumblebee’s, eagerly sinking into the kiss.

Bumblebee made a muffled moan against his mouth, but opened to Knock Out, his glossa eagerly joining in. There was a fierceness to it, a desperation, and it made Knock Out’s spark throb and his valve ripple with need.

He rocked faster and faster, grinding down and against Bumblebee, his nodes singing with delight. His vents came in sharp pants, even more so when Bumblebee slipped a hand between their frames and his thumb brushed over the swollen jut of Knock Out’s external sensor cluster.

A jolt ripped up Knock Out’s spinal strut. He gasped into the kiss, grinding down hard, the flare of Bumblebee’s spike head catching on his ceiling node over and over again, to the same rhythm of Bumblebee’s thumb on his node cluster.

“Looks like… I found one,” Bumblebee said into the kiss, his tone smug, but his fans spinning too fast and too loud for him to be anything else but on the edge.

Knock Out moaned and tilted his forehead against Bumblebee’s, knees digging harder into the couch as he lifted and dropped himself. Bumblebee’s spike was hitting all the right places, and pleasure tightened inside of him like an overenergized heating coil.

“S-shut up,” Knock Out panted and moaned when Bumblebee’s free hand moved to his back, sliding up to stroke his secondary vents. His rhythm stuttered, and his valve clenched down hard, locking down on Bumblebee’s spike. Charge snap-crackled through his array.

Knock Out’s fingers clenched on Bumblebee’s doors as he slammed down, grinding his ceiling node on the head of Bumblebee’s spike. Ecstasy coursed through him like a lightning bolt, and he overloaded, hips rocking in arrhythmic glee as his valve rippled and clamped.

Yes. This. This was what he’d been missing. And next time, he’d free his spike, too. He’d grind it against the hot planes of Bumblebee’s abdomen, he’d overload and mark Bumblebee with his spill, claiming the scout for his own.

Knock Out shuddered at the mental image, another wave of pleasure shooting through his sensory net.

Bumblebee groaned and his hands snatched at Knock Out’s hips, holding tight. He bucked up, feet planted against the floor, nearly unseating Knock Out from the force of the thrust. His valve throbbed, still sensitive from overload.

There was a ferocity in Bumblebee’s field now, a hunger in the way it wrapped around Knock Out, holding him tight, pulsing waves of heat. His engine growled, vibrating both of their frames, and his hands gripped Knock Out’s hips like a lifeline. He bucked up again, harder and faster, and Knock Out rode the motion, pleasure rebounding inside of him as he geared up for another overload.

“That’s it,” Knock Out panted, hands curling into Bumblebee’s shoulders, hooked on a transformation seam, holding on for the ride. “Give me more.”

Bumblebee’s engine growled. He tossed his head back, doors flicking hard and sharp against the back of the couch. His spike throbbed, hard and fast, and then Bumblebee groaned, low and deep, rattling right to Knock Out’s core.

His shoulders hunched as another overload struck. His valve rippled and he felt the telltale hot of spurt of transfluid, washing over his nodes. Knock Out shivered as it sent more charge racing through his sensornet, extending the overload.

It was perfect. It was so, so good. It was even better when Bumblebee took hold of his chin and pulled him down into a kiss, sloppy and wet, hot puffs of ex-vents teasing over his dermal net.

Knock Out panted into the kiss, his hips twitching in little rocks, his valve cycling around Bumblebee’s spike. His armor had flared, venting heat, and Bumblebee’s had as well, the air almost steaming around them.

“Did I pass the test?” Bumblebee asked around nipping kisses to Knock Out’s mouth and jaw.

Knock Out managed a staticky chuckle. “I’m not sure. I might need a couple more examples. For the sake of comparison.”

Bumblebee laughed. “Do you have a berth?”

“I have a closet. Same as anyone else.” Knock Out rolled his hips in a little circle, making Bumblebee gasp. “Care to join me in it?”

Bumblebee’s hands curled around his aft, scooping him up with seemingly little effort. Knock Out made an embarrassing noise and tightened his thighs around Bumblebee’s waist as the yellow mech stood up.

“Are you inviting me to stay the night?” Bumblebee asked with a ridiculous waggle of his orbital ridges.

Knock Out crossed his ankles behind Bumblebee’s thighs, his engine giving a quiet rev. Bumblebee’s spike shifted within him, and even half-pressurized, it rubbed over his sensitized nodes in enticing ways.

“Tonight, tomorrow, however long it takes if it means you’ll keep doing that,” Knock Out said as he rocked against Bumblebee’s front, holding on to keep from falling.

Bumblebee groaned and staggered away from the couch. “You’re killing me, doc.”

Knock Out leaned in and nibbled at Bumblebee’s intake. “Mmm. But what a way to go.”

They stumbled into the berth room, which literally only had room for the narrow berth and a small end table with a lamp. Knock Out’s back hit the surface, as plush as he could make it, and he purred as he arched up against Bumblebee, ankles urging Bumblebee to take him again.

“You’re insatiable,” Bumblebee said as he blanketed Knock Out’s frame with his own, knees spreading Knock Out’s thighs wide, his spike firming quickly.

“Like you’ve any room to talk.” Knock Out slid his palms over Bumblebee’s belly, chuckling to himself as he grazed over the erotically placed Autobot badge. “Again,” he demanded.

Bumblebee shivered, his optics blue and bright and hungry. “Whatever you want,” he murmured as he slanted their lips together, mouth hot and sweet.

Knock Out melted into it, vents roaring and engine purring, heat a rapid pulse through his lines.

A part of him hoped it never ended. The other, more rational side to him knew that it couldn’t possibly last. The newly growing Autobot side of him wanted to be optimistic, while his lingering Decepticon tendencies reminded him what he used to be.

He threw it all aside and focused on Bumblebee. Even if this was all he had, he was going to enjoy it while it lasted.

Knock Out lost count of the overloads. One blurred into another. He vaguely remembered the berth protesting beneath them – it was barely large enough for one as it was. He remembered a lot of teasing, a lot of laughing, more pleasure than he could measure.

By the time they collapsed together, vents gasping for relief, their frames a sticky mess, Knock Out’s head spun with the whirlwind his day had taken. Or longer, actually, because he glanced at his chronometer and it was stupidly late.

“Don’t you… have patrol in the morning?” Knock Out managed as he sank into the berth, buried beneath a surprisingly cuddly Bumblebee.

The other mech made a muffled sound from where he’d buried his face in Knock Out’s intake. “I’m going to call out sick.”

“Something tells me Ratchet won’t believe you,” Knock Out drawled. He petted Bumblebee’s back, trying to ignore how the smallness of his closet made the heat they vented nearly unbearable.

“I’ll get a doctor’s note from you.”

Knock Out snorted. “He probably won’t trust that either. No one does.” Did he sound bitter? It was only the truth.

Bumblebee lifted his head, something soft in his gaze. “I do.”

Knock Out worked his intake and looked away, feeling more vulnerable than when he’d been letting Bumblebee frag him all over this berth. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“It doesn’t have to.” Bumblebee shrugged and rested his head on Knock Out’s bumper. “Look. It takes a lot of bearings to do what you did, turning your back on the Cons and coming over to our side. Takes even more to stick with it when everyone around you is being a jerk. So yeah. I trust you.”

Knock Out’s spark hammered a faster beat. “Oh. I… thank you.”

“And I promise,” Bumblebee continued with a little wriggle of his doors. “I meant what I said earlier, too. I like you, and I enjoyed tonight, and I’d like to do it again. But I understand if this is all you want, too.”

Silly mech.

Knock Out stroked down Bumblebee’s spinal strut. “You’re not worried about what everyone will say about you?”

Bumblebee snorted. “Nope. If someone’s got a problem with it or you or me, they can come talk to me about it. I have no issues with teaching them a thing or two.” He squirmed and shifted, crossing his arms under his chin so he could look up at Knock Out. “We’re supposed to be different after the war. I want to follow Optimus’ example. And I’m gonna stand up for what’s important.”

Implying that he found Knock Out something important.

Oh, Primus.

Heat colored Knock Out’s cheeks. He didn’t know what to do with that kind of blunt honesty. It was both refreshing and awkward to him.

“But like I said, it’s up to you,” Bumblebee added with a little smile, one that shot straight to Knock Out’s spark. “If you’d rather not deal with the hassle, I understand. You got enough slag on your plate.”

Knock Out worked his intake. “I seem to remember you owe me a rematch,” he said lightly, unwilling yet to admit how badly he wanted this to work. “We can start there.”

Joy soared through Bumblebee’s field before he reined it in. “And dancing afterward?”

Knock Out chuckled. “Yes, that. And hmm, you passed tonight’s test, but a couple more couldn’t hurt.”

Bumblebee unfolded his arms and pushed himself upright, looking down at Knock Out with something like appreciation in his gaze. “I’ll have you know I’ve always been a good student,” he said. “And I plan on finding every last one of your sensitive spots.”

He leaned down, lips tracing the curve of Knock Out’s jaw.

Knock Out shivered. “That sounds like a good goal to me.”

“Me, too,” Bumblebee murmured as his lips found Knock Out’s in a kiss, this time slow and savoring, like he wanted to memorize Knock Out’s taste.

Knock Out wrapped his arms over Bumblebee’s shoulders and surrendered to it. For a day that had started with so much irritation and anger, having it end like this was a miracle. A gift he didn’t think he’d receive.

Maybe there were good points to becoming an Autobot after all.

The future looked brighter already.

***

[IDW] Tyrannosaurus Wrecked

The calm after the storm is almost as tense as the frenzy leading up to it. Post-battle, Grimlock still feels as if he needs to move. Defensive protocols shift and lurch inside of him; his offensive code claws for attention. The urge to destroy something, anything, nestles in his internals and takes up residence.

There’s nothing and no one left to fight.

The air tastes of ash and ordinance. It’s humid and heavy on his glossa. There’s no wind. Not that there ever is.

Grimlock vents, in and out, frame tense, his gaze locked on the horizon, a hazy shade of noxious gray where the aftermath of spent ammunition clogs the air. Below him, the battlefield is littered with the fallen neither side has the time or resources to reclaim. Behind him, the rest of his team takes what rest they can, preparing for the next battle.

Because there is always going to be another one.

Debris skitters down the incline behind him. Someone curses and grunts, muttering to themselves in an annoyed tone.

Amusement floods Grimlock’s processor. He doesn’t have to look to identify his visitor. There’s only one mech in the battle group with such a naive and innocent field, though perhaps a little less of both after today.

“Why in the world would someone climb all the way up here, Primus,” Hot Rod mutters as he hauls himself up into view, vents heaving from exertion. His optics are pale, though whether from fatigue or because he’s short on energon, Grimlock isn’t sure.

Grimlock stares at him. “It’s usually a sign they want to be alone, kid.”

Hot Rod doesn’t sound the least bit chastened. “Not a good hiding place, if you ask me.” He comes up even with Grimlock and leans over, hands braced on his thighs, spoiler halves limp against his back. “Kind of wish I had wings right now.”

“It’s different when it’s not a simulation, isn’t it?”

Hot Rod snorts. “I’m not that inexperienced. Geez.” He sucks in a huge ventilation and straightens, planting his hands on his hips. He looks around, surveying the landscape below. “Phew. Good view though. If you ignore the death and destruction, I mean.”

“It’s a good reminder.” Grimlock’s smile lingers behind his mask. There’s something charming about Hot Rod, and there shouldn’t be. He’s just another recent graduate, another newbie with grand ideas and grand beliefs about what war should be.

In the beginning, Hot Rod had irritated the slag out of him. Fresh-faced, full of ideals because the war hasn’t stripped them from him, he’d seemed ignorant of the realities of what they faced. Had probably fancied himself a hero, too. But there’s a darkness inside him, a fire and fury Grimlock can recognize. He feels it, too. Familiar and encroaching, threaten to swallow you whole, if you’re not careful.

Hot Rod is not so irritating now. Exasperating perhaps, but Grimlock doesn’t have the urge to punch him on sight anymore, so he supposes that’s progress.

“Reminder, huh? I really don’t think I’m ever gonna forget this.” Hot Rod scrubs the back of his head, his optics dimming. “Just another mental image to add to the album, I guess.”

Grimlock grunts. The kid’ll get used to it. After a while, it all blurs together. Battle and death and scorched energon and exhaustion so heavy it leaves you energized.

“So…” Hot Rod’s hands tuck behind his back as he bounces on his heelstruts. “Do I have your respect now?” He peers up at Grimlock, bright and earnest, and everything fresh-faced recruits are when they first graduate.

“Heh.” Grimlock chuckles, amusement fluttering through his spark all over again. “You’re getting there, but don’t get too cocky.”

“Awww, come on.” Hot Rod grins and rocks on his heelstruts, back and forth and back and forth, his spoiler halves twitching up and down in barely restrained delight. “I fought good, didn’t I?”

“Pah. You’re still green. Nothing but experience will change that.”

Hot Rod sidles closer, his field rubbing up against Grimlock’s in a warm ripple. “Who says I’m not experienced?”

Grimlock barks a laugh and looks down at the charming speedster, who doesn’t seem to fear anything. “I ain’t talking about the berth, kid.”

“Now that’s a shame,” Hot Rod purrs, his engine revving audibly, purring like a finely tuned work of art. His glossa sweeps over his lips, making them glisten.

Kid really isn’t one for subtlety, is he? Grimlock gives him an appraising look because maybe Hot Rod’s not that green after all. There’s a tension in the way he holds himself. His armor keeps fluttering, alternately clamping tight and flaring loose. He’s shivering, too, but absently.

“It’s a post-battle high,” Grimlock says, recognizing in Hot Rod the same uneasy storm racing through his own spark. “It’ll pass.”

Hot Rod’s aft gives a wiggle, and now he’s close enough for their armor to brush together, a spark of charge flicking between them. “More fun to enjoy it though. I mean, we shouldn’t waste it.”

Kid does have a nice aft. Would fit right nicely in Grimlock’s palms.

Grimlock tilts his head. “Bit pushy, aren’t you?”

Hot Rod laughs, wild and free. He has a pleasant laugh. “I like big mechs, not gonna lie.” He waggles his optical ridges, blue optics bright and earnest.

Grimlock shakes his head, laughter rumbling in his chassis. He can’t help it. He likes the cheeky speedster. Sure, he’s not a powerhouse soldier, and he has the kind of confidence only a trainee could have, but he’s determined. And he doesn’t back down.

“I don’t know.” Grimlock eyes Hot Rod top to bottom, tracing the bright colors of his frame, and the curve of his thighs. “You’re pretty small. I’d hate to break you.”

Hot Rod cocks a hip and plants his hand on it. “I’m a lot tougher than I look.”

“I’m starting to realize that.” Grimlock curves a hand around Hot Rod’s head, nearly engulfing his face. Their size difference is almost ridiculous.

Grimlock is tempted. Heat broils off Hot Rod in tantalizing waves. His field is an electric flicker, and the taste of arousal in his field is enough to seduce Grimlock into making what is quite possibly a very dumb mistake.

“All right.” Grimlock’s thumb strokes over Hot Rod’s lips, and the newbie’s glossa flicks over it, wet and enticing. “Since you think you can handle it and all. Don’t got a berth for you though.”

“Don’t need one anyway.” Hot Rod captures his thumb, pins it between his denta, his optics flashing with desire.

Grimlock growls, his engine rumbling. Well, then.

He drags his thumb free and scoops Hot Rod up, easily lifting the slim speedster in one hand. Hot Rod gives an adorable little squeak of surprise, squirming in Grimlock’s grip, before Grimlock sits and gently sets Hot Rod in his lap, thighs splayed wide.

Hot Rod’s elbows swing back and hook over Grimlock’s knees, his lips twisting into a smirk. “You could have said this was where you wanted me,” he purrs as he arches his spinal strut. His heels dig into the ground to either side of Grimlock’s aft.

“Actions are a hell of a lot louder,” Grimlock grunts.

He leans back against the jut of rock behind him, debris pinging down on his shoulders, but it’s a good enough perch for now. Means he can balance the pretty speedster on his lap and still have both hands for touching.

“Course you could always change your mind,” Grimlock adds. Gotta give the kid plenty of outs. The last thing Grimlock needs is some newbie screeching that the big, bad pred tried to eat him.

“No way,” Hot Rod says with a lick of his lips. He tosses his head back, baring the length of his intake. It’s soft and pretty, all but demanding a nibble. “Give me all you got.”

Grimlock drags his palm down Hot Rod’s chassis. Primus, the kid’s so small. He could curve his hand around Hot Rod’s waist. His palm flattens over Hot Rod’s groin, where true to his designation, the full broil of arousal rises from the speedster’s panel.

“Hot little thing, aren’t you?” Grimlock says.

Hot Rod squirms enticingly, his thighs splaying further apart. “Be even hotter if you actually did something about it.”

A quiet snick signals his panel sliding aside, and Grimlock’s mouth waters at the sight of the newbie’s plush, swollen valve. Puffy red pleats are striped with gold, and the sensor cluster at the apex of his folds is a bright, throbbing yellow. Lubricant has already gathered in the depths, glistening dewy and sweet.

Grimlock drags his forefinger through the wetness, teasing the tip of it against Hot Rod’s hot little button. Hot Rod hisses out a vent and arches his back, hands clenching around Grimlock’s knees.

“Tease,” he breathes, his optics bright and hungry. More lubricant drips out of his valve, painting Grimlock’s finger with slick.

“Gotta check and see if I’ll even fit,” Grimlock grunts, refusing to admit that the rising wave of desire in him is more like a flood.

He slips a finger into Hot Rod’s valve, curving it to taste all those inner nodes. Hot Rod moans and rocks against him, thighs squeezing inward, trapping his hand. He rolls his hips, riding Grimlock’s finger, calipers rippling in a restless wave. Primus, he’s so hot, so wet.

Grimlock adds another finger without a hint of struggle. Hot Rod opens up for him, two of Grimlock’s fingers as thick as the spike pressurizing free of Hot Rod’s now open panel. It’s a gaudy thing, as flashy as its owner, with flames painted up the side of it. There’s a spiral of tiny nubby nodes around the length of it though, and Grimlock thinks he might want to explore them later. Specifically with his glossa.

“You’ll fit,” Hot Rod breathes. His fingers rhythmically grip Grimlock’s knees, optics half-slitting.

His lips part, glossa dancing across them, making them slick. Like an invitation. One Grimlock wants to accept.

His engine rumbles. His mouthguard parts before he thinks twice about it, and Grimlock curves forward, capturing Hot Rod’s mouth with his.

Hot Rod gasps into the kiss. His glossa flicks against Grimlock’s, hot and quick, before retreating. Grimlock chases it, demanding more of the newbie’s mouth, as Hot Rod grasps his chestplate, hauling himself closer. He’s riding Grimlock’s fingers eagerly now, his mouth equally hungry.

Primus.

Grimlock eases in a third finger, because he can’t stomach the thought of hurting the kid, and his spike gives a sharp throb as wet heat ripples around his fingers as if trying to drag him deeper. Hot Rod keens deep in his intake, and he nips at Grimlock’s lips, denta blunt compared to the edge of Grimlock’s.

“More,” Hot Rod gasps out, against Grimlock’s lips, his field a blazing frenzy crashing against Grimlock’s.

He nudges his fingers deeper, the longest of them brushing over Hot Rod’s ceiling node, and Hot Rod cracks like a whip against him. The speedster writhes, electric fire dancing over his frame, his valve clamping down hard on Grimlock’s finger. The sharp ozone scent of overload hangs tangy in the air as Hot Rod whimpers and bucks.

Grimlock’s spike spills pre-fluid as lubricant soaks his fingers, getting into his joints, so hot and slippery. Hot Rod rides all three of them, hips working in little rolls, making such delicious sounds that Grimlock’s mouth waters.

He has to taste him. See if his valve is as sweet as his mouth.

A growl rises in Grimlock’s engine as he withdraws his fingers, ignoring Hot Rod’s whimper of disappointment, and grasps those slim hips in his hands. Hot Rod’s so tiny that it takes nothing to lift his lower half up, to bring him close enough for Grimlock to bury his face between Hot Rod’s thighs.

He drags in a ventilation, tastes the sharpness of Hot Rod’s overload with his olfactory sensors, before his glossa drags a wet swipe up the soaking folds of Hot Rod’s valve. Hot Rod gasps and bucks up against him.

“Oh, Primus, more!” Hot Rod babbles, his hands scrabbling at Grimlock’s head and armor and hands, whatever he can reach. His feet drum a nonsense rhythm on the back of Grimlock’s shoulders. “Yes, more, more, more.”

Grimlock growls, the vibrations spilling from his mouth against Hot Rod’s valve. That bright and swollen node cluster throbs against his lips. He dives into Hot Rod’s valve, laps up dribbles of lubricant – sweet indeed, like an energon candy. But still only half as sweet as the way Hot Rod squirms and begs for more.

“Ah, ah, ah, please,” Hot Rod whines, his engine revving to a sharper pitch, vents roaring and fans sputtering. “More.” Without shame, he rocks his hips, riding Grimlock’s mouth, and it’s the sexiest thing Grimlock’s seen in ages.

He grins and grabs Hot Rod’s node cluster with his denta, pins it gently, flicks his glossa across it. Hot Rod’s head tosses, backstrut curving, heels slamming against the back of Grimlock’s shoulders. He gasps, and his valve throbs against Grimlock’s lips, his node so swollen and bright it deserves several sucks. So Grimlock does, locking his lips around it, suctioning pull after pull after pull until Hot Rod shrieks in his grip and overloads again.

He comes undone, uninhibited, babbling praises, his fingers digging tight against Grimlock’s seams. Lubricant dribbles from his valve, and his vents roar. Damn, but he’s a hot little thing, and he’s so open now, so loose.

Grimlock might even fit.

He grins as he gives Hot Rod a delicate lick and then lowers the panting wreck of a speedster back into his lap. He can’t help but touch Hot Rod’s armor, hot to his derma, plating agape to allow for rapid cooling, cables beneath still shiny and new.

Hot Rod splays across his lap, squirming a little, and one hand drags down his frame, fingers curling into his own valve. “Primus, that was good,” he breathes, and bright blue optics look up at Grimlock imploringly. “Gonna frag me now?”

Grimlock blinks. “You just got two overloads, brat,” he growls. He has to resist the urge to palm himself at the sight.

Unashamed, Hot Rod continues to finger himself, little gold digits getting liberally coated in lubricant, glistening. Grimlock wants to lick them clean, because every careful touch of Hot Rod’s fingers makes him gasp and quiver. His thighs splay wider as if demanding Grimlock enter him.

“So?” Hot Rod licks his lips. “I want more. And it looks like you could use a couple, too.” He drags his heels, slides down a bit, until his thighs and the heat of his valve bracket Grimlock’s rigid spike. “Come on. I can take it.”

Grimlock curves a hand around Hot Rod’s waist, pulls him a few inches down, until the head of his spike can paint itself in all that copious lubricant.

“Are you sure?” he rumbles, grinding the thick head against Hot Rod’s valve, lubricant and pre-fluid mingling together.

Hot Rod’s rim flutters against his spike, providing the barest resistance. If anything, it seems to be inviting him inside.

Hot Rod grins and grabs onto Grimlock’s wrist, trying to shove his frame downward. “Positive.”

Grimlock groans as Hot Rod’s valve slides along his spike, slick and plump. He bucks his hips, spikehead grinding on Hot Rod’s rim.

“You say stop, I stop,” Grimlock manages to get out, even as his processor spins with need, and his fans cycle faster.

“Won’t need it. But I got it.” Hot Rod squirms, making an urgent noise in his intake. “Now come on, Grim. I can take you. Do it. Frag me now, frag me hard, like I know you can.”

The kid’s going to be the death of him.

Grimlock grinds his denta, curving forward as he tightens his grip on Hot Rod’s waist and pulls Hot Rod’s hips down, easing his spike into that tight, welcoming heat. Hot Rod moans, his entire frame arching, splaying, guiding Grimlock onward. He starts and there’s no way he can stop, the girth of his spike slowly swallowed by rippling calipers, tugging him deeper.

Lubricant squelches out around his spike. Hot Rod’s field flares, bright and hungry, not a bit of discomfort to be found. Hot Rod tosses his head back and keens, fingers tight around Grimlock’s arm, his valve squeezing before relenting and leaving plenty of room for Grimlock to bury himself to the hilt, to grind against Hot Rod’s ceiling node.

“Yessssssss,” Hot Rod hisses and starts rocking his hips madly, riding Grimlock’s spike like he hasn’t overloaded twice already.

Grimlock groans, his spike throbbing as Hot Rod’s valve feeds him bright bursts of charge with every thrust. Hot Rod’s thighs tremble around his hips, his biolights pulsing in a quick pattern.

“You’re… a menace,” Grimlock grits out.

Heat floods his frame, pulsing through him in ever-increasing waves. His array tingles, fire coiling in his groin. He pulls Hot Rod hard against him, grinding deep against the furthest inset clusters of nodes.

Hot Rod manages a sloppy grin. “Have I… impressed you… yet?” He gasps out before his hips start rocking madly, and his valve ripples in a telltale rhythm.

Of all the – he’s actually overloading again, Grimlock realizes. Hot Rod moans, sucking his bottom lip into his mouth, his fingers gripping tight. His valve spirals down, milking Grimlock’s spike, feeding him such hot bursts of charge that Grimlock is helpless to it.

He tries to hold back, to cling to some semblance of control, but it’s impossible. It’s like Hot Rod is pulling the overload out of him, and he stripes Hot Rod’s valve with his transfluid, washing hot bursts of it over Hot Rod’s charged nodes.

Grimlock’s hips jerk as the tremors of pleasure leave him shaky, but not entirely satisfied. His spike is still firm, sensitive now, to the quivers of Hot Rod’s loosened calipers, clicking gently around his derma.

Hot Rod starts squirming again, like his frame can’t seem to cycle down from the pleasure high. He licks his lips, his hands sliding up Grimlock’s arms, leaving prickles of charge in their wake.

“Hope that’s not all you got for me,” he says with a hint of wickedness. His aft rocks against Grimlock’s thighs, his spike jutting proudly from his groin, still liberally weeping slick.

Grimlock’s hands slide down Hot Rod’s thighs, thumbs sweeping inward, caressing Hot Rod’s spike housing. “What kind of batteries do you run on, kid?”

Hot Rod barks out a laugh. “Aw, is the old mech getting worn out?” His spoiler moves up and down in cute little flicks, betraying his restless energy.

Grimlock’s visor flattens. He’s not about to let himself get goaded by some freshly graduated upstart, but there’s challenge in Hot Rod’s tone, and Grimlock’s never let a berthmate walk away unsatisfied.

He slides a hand down to Hot Rod’s spike, curling his fingers around the hot length. Hot Rod hisses a ventilation and rolls up into his fist, which is so large it swallows Hot Rod’s spike. It throbs in his grip, spilling pre-fluid on his derma.

“Hardly.” Grimlock sweeps his thumb over the head of Hot Rod’s spike, the high-pitched whine in Hot Rod’s intake making his own spike throb with want. “Just making sure you can take more of me.”

Hot Rod hums a nonsense note. “I can take anything you think you have left.”

Cheeky brat.

Grimlock’s engine rumbles. He leans forward, so he can ex-vent over those damp, tempting lips. “We’ll see,” he growls.

He takes Hot Rod’s mouth, glossa plunging inside, denta leaving nips behind. Hot Rod’s fingers tickle at his chestplate, gripping onto seams. He pushes his spike into Grimlock’s fingers, fragging his fist as he chases another overload. His energy field flexes and tugs, charged as it batters against Grimlock’s, hot like fire.

Hot Rod’s glossa lashes back at him, turning the kiss into an erotic battle Grimlock had not foreseen. He growls, senses set ablaze by the unexpected spirit, his spike giving another throb in Hot Rod’s valve. His free hand slides to Hot Rod’s aft, cupping the red armor easily, pulling Hot Rod tighter against him.

Hot Rod squirms deliciously, and the smell of his arousal is dizzying. Grimlock groans into the kiss and bites his way to Hot Rod’s intake, feeling the vibrations of Hot Rod’s moans against his lips. His denta leaves little nips behind and Hot Rod makes the most intoxicating noises, his valve clamping down rhythmically and demanding more.

More is what he’s going to get.

Grimlock forces his attention away from the delectable cables of Hot Rod’s intake and grips the speedster’s hips.

“No, don’t stop,” Hot Rod pleads, his frame writhing in Grimlock’s lap, his face flushed and his field coiling playfully against Grimlock’s.

“Just aiming for a change in scenery,” Grimlock says.

Hot Rod blinks up at him, cutely confused. Grimlock grins and easily lifts the smaller mech, guiding him to hands and knees instead, giving Grimlock a nice view of that handsome aft. He can’t help but put his hands all over it, even though Hot Rod’s so small and his aft vanishes behind Grimlock’s palms.

Hot Rod moans and curves his backstrut, rocking his aft back toward Grimlock, his knees sliding across the rough ground. Every motions screams of invitation, especially as Grimlock’s thumbs dip down and taste the swollen pleats of Hot Rod’s valve. He’s still so slick, so open, his anterior cluster a plump little nub of need, and his biolights blinking in fitful intervals.

Transfluid trickles loose, mingled with lubricant, and Grimlock swears he can see up into the depth of Hot Rod’s valve. Biolights blink like running lights, coaxing him inside.

“Are you just gonna look or actually do something with it?” Hot Rod demands as he peers over his shoulder, his optics bright and needy.

Grimlock chuckles and rises up on his knees, looming over the much smaller mech, which gives him a little thrill. “I was admiring,” he rumbles as he slides his hands up Hot Rod’s back and hooks his fingers over that very mobile spoiler. “But point taken.”

He curves over Hot Rod, nudges his spike at that welcoming valve, grinding the head of it against the gathered moisture. Hot Rod’s head dips, fingers digging into the ground as he pushes his aft back.

“Hurry up and frag me then!” he demands, breathless and hungry. “I don’t have all night.”

Mouthy little thing, isn’t he?

Good thing Grimlock likes it.

“Guess you’re too much of a rookie to understand the value of patience,” Grimlock teases, but lust surges in his lines, and he’s equally impatient.

He rolls his hips forward, sinking slowly into the welcoming clutch of Hot Rod’s valve. He likes the way Hot Rod’s back arches, his fingers curl, a low and long moan spills out of his mouth to match the pace of Grimlock thrusting into him. Hot Rod’s field goes all shivery, and his spoiler twitches madly.

Grimlock wants to taste it.

He curves over Hot Rod, bracing his weight on one hand, keeping a firm grip on Hot Rod’s hip with the other. His mouth finds the top edge of the spoiler, lips dragging along it. Hot Rod shivers beneath him, loosing a soft moan. His valve quivers around Grimlock’s spike. His arms tremble.

“Good?” Grimlock asks as he sets his denta upon the edge of the spoiler as well, dragging along the sensitive edge toward the center mount.

Hot Rod garbles an unintelligible noise. His backstrut arches, aft pushing back against Grimlock’s spike, urging him deeper.

Grimlock chuckles and pins the spoiler edge between his denta, giving it a light bite. Hot Rod shudders and charge crackles over his armor.

“Good,” he gasps, words starting to slur together. “So, so good.” Lubricant leaks steadily from his valve, making for a frictionless thrust, and light explodes behind Grimlock’s visor as he starts to move into Hot Rod again.

The change in position adjusts the angle, making him rake across previously untouched inner nodes. It feels like he can go even deeper like this, take every inch of Hot Rod, and the speedster must think the same because he starts making helpless, breathy whimpers.

“Primus, you’re a hot little thing, aren’t you?” Grimlock growls against Hot Rod’s audial as the smaller mech’s aft rocks against him. “Can’t believe how sexy you are.”

“I’m… irresistible,” Hot Rod pants.

Grimlock chuckles. “Mmm. Yes, you are.” He quickens his pace a little, adding more force behind each thrust, driving Hot Rod forward.

Hot Rod gasps and his spoiler quivers, calling for Grimlock’s mouth again. He gives it a taste, glossa lingering on the sweet charge dancing over Hot Rod’s armor. He bites, firm enough to leave a mark. Hot Rod whimpers, his valve spiraling tight around Grimlock’s spike.

Mmm. That’s a nice reaction.

“Pretty thing, too,” Grimlock rumbles, his vocals spilling into Hot Rod’s nearest audial and making the speedster shiver. “Liked watching you on the battlefield. You’re fearless.”

Hot Rod audibly pants. He pushes into the cradle of Grimlock’s hips, pushing his spike so deep, his spoiler twitching against Grimlock’s mouth.

“Did I… impress?” Hot Rod asks, his field spilling desperation and need. More lubricant wells up around Grimlock’s spike, and all he can imagine is pulling Hot Rod up to his mouth and licking him clean.

Grimlock quickens his pace, feels Hot Rod squirm and writhe beneath him, little mewls coming from his intake. Each one was a ping to Grimlock’s spike, throbbing in bare restraint, raking across every sensor he could find.

Grimlock’s fans spin faster. The heat in his groin is an inferno now, and his spark tries to pound out of his chassis. He’s so close. But there’s no way he’ll let himself fall over the edge without taking Hot Rod with him.

He tightens his grip on Hot Rod’s hip and purrs into the speedster’s audial, “Then and now, kid.” He thrusts faster, deeper, grinds on all the nodes, driving Hot Rod into the ground and firmly into his grip. “You’ve got the kind of fire I like.”

Hot Rod moans, long and low, his valve rippling around Grimlock, like the praise was only turning him on more. Charge nips at Grimlock’s spike, and he grunts, a jolt of ecstasy nearly driving him to overload until he reins it in.

“Next time,” Grimlock continues, keeping his voice low, deep, certain to rattle through the rookie’s sensory suites, “You’re gonna ride me. Move those hips and let me see that pretty face of yours.”

Hot Rod makes a choked sound. His head dips forward, and Grimlock can’t resist the call of the back of his neck, bared and trusting. He drags the flat of his glossa up it, feels Hot Rod quiver around him.

“You’re mine now.” Grimlock plunges into Hot Rod, pleasure cresting with every thrust, fans spinning so hard they’re rattling his frame.

He’s close; Hot Rod is, too. Not much longer now. It’s taking all he has not to spill, mark Hot Rod from the inside out.

He closes his denta on the back of Hot Rod’s neck, bites lightly enough to leave a mark but not cause damage. Feels Hot Rod stiffen and jerk beneath him. Hears Hot Rod suddenly wail as his backstrut arches, and his valve spirals into a tight clutch around Grimlock’s spike.

He’s overloading, electric fire dancing over his armor in a yellow-bright wave, arms going limp until Grimlock has to curl an arm around his abdomen, hold Hot Rod tight against his frame. Hot Rod’s overload smells sweet and fiery all at once, tingling as it rushes over Grimlock’s olfactory sensors.

“Primus, kid,” he grunts, burying his face against Hot Rod’s back, against his spoiler hinges.

It takes only a handful of thrusts before he lets himself loose, holds Hot Rod down on his spike, and overloads. Transfluid bursts out of him, painting Hot Rod’s valve in hot spill, and the overload seems to drag into infinity.

Grimlock sits back on his heels, hips making tiny pushes into Hot Rod’s valve, both arms wrapped around the speedster, keeping him in place. He grips Hot Rod’s jaw with one hand, pressing Hot Rod back against him, until his mouth can latch onto the side of Hot Rod’s neck. His denta scrape over sensitive cables, and it takes all he has not to bite down.

Grimlock’s spike throbs, pushing spurt after spurt, ecstasy coursing through him in waves until its spent, and Grimlock sags. He pants for a cool ventilation, Hot Rod limp and venting heat in his arms. He licks the side of Hot Rod’s neck and slides his hand from Hot Rod’s jaw back to his hip.

Hot Rod moans, flopping back against Grimlock’s chest, his fans spinning madly. “Primus,” he pants, hands weakly patting at the arm Grimlock has wrapped around his waist. “That’s… that’s good.”

Grimlock grunts. “Glad you approve.” His free hand slides down Hot Rod’s thigh, but wanders back up again, finger nudging at the swollen, slick rim still wrapped around his half-pressurized spike.

Hot Rod laughs, and his valve ripples. “Hope you got more in you.” He sounds both hopeful and hungry as his hips give a weak, but interested rock.

Grimlock shivers, heat already starting to wind in his internals, but seriously? “Frag, kid, what kind of interface drive they giving newsparks these days?” he asks, mostly rhetorical. He has to admit, the little twitches of Hot Rod’s valve are delicious.

Hot Rod hums and pushes back against Grimlock’s chest, his fingers tight around Grimlock’s arms. “What? Can’t you keep up?”

“I didn’t say that.” Grimlock grabs Hot Rod by the hips, lifts him up, spins him around, plants the cute speedster back in his lap, but this time face to face. “Guess I gotta keep going if I want to find your off switch.”

Hot Rod laughs, and it’s a good look for him, so bright and carefree, like the world is a cheerful place and not one that reeks of ordinance and spilled energon. “Maybe I don’t have one,” he says, mischievous and teasing.

Hot Rod slides a hand down his frame, and he cups his own spike, giving it a squeeze. “Or maybe you’re not looking in the right places.”

Grimlock barks a laugh at the brat’s brashness. It’s amusing as the Pit, and he can’t believe how quickly Hot Rod has clawed under his plating.

“Well then.” Grimlock drags his palm down Hot Rod’s frame, flicking Hot Rod’s hand and replacing it with his own, giving that brightly-colored spike a squeeze. “Guess I’d better get more hands on.”

Looks like he’s going to get his mouth all over Hot Rod after all.

It’s enough to make him forget about the storm, the calm after it, and the jitteriness in his lines. Instead, it’s all pleasure and teasing, and overload after overload, Hot Rod living up to his designation and then some, until Grimlock forgets he’s supposed to be brooding, and remembers what it feels like to live.

~

Morning afters are always hit or miss.

Sometimes, Hot Rod wakes up feeling ashamed and guilty, and all he wants to do is creep out of whatever berth he found himself in and hope that the mech forgets his name, comm code, and his face.

Sometimes, he wakes up and his partner the night before is already going down on him, slurping him back to full staff and full slick and all Hot Rod can do is hang on and enjoy the ride. He’s no idea why his interface drive is powered by an unending energy source, and half the time, his berthpartners are annoyed by it. But sometimes, ahhh, sometimes there are the good mornings that continue into afternoons.

Hot Rod usually ends up stumbling home, satisfied and worn out, with a comm code tucked into his subspace. For a good time call… the next time he’s around anyway.

This morning, Hot Rod onlines feeling warm and sated and not sure what kind of ‘after’ it’s going to be. His berthpartner’s proclivities are a mystery to him, and while Grimlock had kept up the pace last night, maybe he feels differently this morning. Maybe he’s ready to tumble the energy-battery of a speedster off his lap and out of his life.

Hot Rod comes to life slowly and onlines his optics a little at a time. He’s splayed in Grimlock’s lap. The fierce warrior is tucked up against the overhang they’d used a few times yesterday as a wall. He’s got his back against it, frame tilted a little and one of his hands is on Hot Rod’s belly, warm and big, like he just wants to make sure Hot Rod is still there.

It’s kind of nice.

Hot Rod looks up, finds Grimlock staring into the distance, toward the now empty battlefield, his visor half-lit as though his thoughts are elsewhere. If he’s recharged, Hot Rod can’t tell. He’s got to admit he’s pretty comfortable in Grimlock’s lap like this. It really highlights how much bigger Grimlock is.

Mmm. Big.

He’s always had a taste for the big ones. And Primus Below, Grimlock is the perfect size. Fierce and gentle, rough and sweet, all the best qualities in a lover actually.

A shiver runs through Hot Rod at the memory of it. His array gives a little ping, and Hot Rod’s face heats. Damn it. Sure, Grimlock had been all for it last night, but what’ll he say if Hot Rod wakes up hot and ready all over again?

“I know you’re awake.”

Hot Rod startles and looks up at Grimlock. That amber visor is turned toward him, and a smile graces Grimlock’s lips – scarred, Hot Rod realizes, all around his mouth and lips.

Hot Rod wants to lick those scars. He loves scars.

“Didn’t you recharge at all?” Hot Rod asks with a lazy stretch of his arms over his head. He splays over Grimlock’s lap because he can, and Grimlock hasn’t shoved him off yet.

“Enough.” Grimlock’s thumb strokes a small circle over Hot Rod’s belly. “Kid, I gotta hand it to you. I didn’t think it was possible for someone to go that much.” He doesn’t sound annoyed at least.

Hot Rod laughs. He rolls his hips, hoping to encourage Grimlock’s hand to go lower. “It’s a special gift.” He preens. “Do I have your respect now?”

Grimlock chuckles and his hand slides down, obeying the unspoken request. “Anyone that can do what you do definitely deserves it,” he says, in that rough gravel voice. He palms Hot Rod’s array, fingers finding the head of Hot Rod’s spike, peeking into view. “You wake up hot and ready, don’t you?”

“All the time,” Hot Rod says, singsong. He gives a little laugh and hopes his self-consciousness doesn’t show. “I mean, I can dial it down. I’m not crazed for it or anything. You don’t have to–”

Grimlock’s thumb rubs over the head of his spike, and Hot Rod shivers. “We’ve got time,” he rumbles, and his visor both brightens and darkens, lust spilling into his field. “Though I can’t promise we won’t be interrupted.”

Hot Rod licks his lips. “I don’t mind if you don’t.”

Another laughs rumbles in Grimlock’s chassis, vibrating through his frame and into Hot Rod’s. There’s so much power in him, contained and controlled, it makes Hot Rod shiver. He squirms in Grimlock’s lap, his array eagerly cycling to life.

“I like your flavor, Hot Rod,” he says as Hot Rod parts his thighs, and Grimlock takes the invitation, dipping a finger between them. “You’re gonna be a great warrior someday.”

Hot Rod hums in his intake. “You can tell all that from the way I overload?”

“Something like that.”

The world shifts beneath Hot Rod. He finds himself splayed out over Grimlock’s chest, looking down into the warrior’s face, his lips inches from Hot Rod’s own. There’s a heavy hand on his aft, a wrist over his thigh, fingers dipping between them. Oh, and the hard column of a spike poking at his belly. He can’t forget that important detail either.

“Well, well, someone else woke up ready for more.” Hot Rod squirms, the slick head of Grimlock’s spike leaving a streak of pre-fluid against his belly.

A finger traces the rim of his valve, stirring the lubricant already gathered there. “Let’s just see how many times I can make you moan before someone comes looking for us.”

Hot Rod shivers and buries his face in Grimlock’s intake, mouth tasting those strong, thick cables. “Sounds good to me.”

This morning after, he decides, is definitely going in his top three.

[CtE] Bears and Bunnies

“You like him, don’t you?”

Snarl looked up from the circuit board he was welding and blinked at the mech leaning into his personal space. Small blue grounder, with a visor, somewhat defensive posture and a field Snarl had made himself memorize.

“What you Breakdown say?” It came across more aggressive than he intended, but Snarl hadn’t managed to find that nice middle ground between hostility and calm.

Breakdown’s faceplate visibly flushed, the natural red darkening in hue. “Knock Out,” he clarified, and his engine gave a little rev. “You like him.”

“Me Snarl think that obvious.” Snarl snorted and returned his focus to the circuitboard. He’d promised he’d have it done before he left for the day. “Of course me like him Knock Out.”

“No. I mean…” Breakdown cycled a vent and scratched his chin, like he found words difficult. “You want to… to partner him. Right?” He leaned closer, energy field all scratchy and anxious, and this was probably the closest he’d dare get to Snarl.

Breakdown was like a little rabbit, Snarl thought with an internal laugh. He frightened easily, and he ran when startled, and his visor got big and hopeful when he was trying to be earnest. Adorable. Snarl wanted to pet him.

With permission, of course. Grimlock had sat down and very painstakingly gone over what consent meant and how to obtain it and what Snarl was and wasn’t allowed to do. Grimlock had also admitted, with a flush of shame, that a lot of what they’d figured out for themselves was wrong. Snarl suspected Grimlock had learned that lesson the hard way.

Perhaps by sharp and angry Seeker talons.

Snarl carefully finished soldering the circuit before he set down the iron. This was going to be a delicate conversation. Maybe uncomfortable. He’d seen the way Breakdown looked at Knock Out, and he knew how other Cybertronians tended to view relationships.

The solution was obvious, but some people were oblivious. Sometimes, it took a Dinobot to see what everyone else had missed.

“Him Knock Out smart and pretty. Me Snarl like him,” Snarl confirmed as he swiveled to face Breakdown, trying not to loom and scare the bunny.

“That’s what I thought.” Breakdown slumped like he’d just been rejected by Knock Out himself. He tapped his fingers together. “It’s just–”

“You Breakdown like him Knock Out, too,” Snarl supplied. He figured if he left it up to Breakdown, they might be sitting here all night while Breakdown said everything but what he’d come to say.

Breakdown’s head snapped up and his visor flushed a rosy pink. “Yeah, but…” He shrugged helplessly, trailing off, his field buzzing with assumed rejection.

Time to be obvious.

“Me Snarl like him Knock Out,” Snarl said as he rapped his fingers over his thighs. “But like you Breakdown, too.” He paused and gave Breakdown a pointed look, gaze flicking up and down the little speedster’s frame. “You cute.”

Breakdown squeaked, like the cute bunny he was. “I am?”

“Me Snarl no lie.” He grinned, maybe a bit too big because it showed off his denta, but funny how that never seemed to bother Breakdown. Well, once he realized Snarl wasn’t going to bite and/or eat him.

Though if this whole relationship worked out, biting might come back into the picture. Just a little nibble. Here and there. Breakdown’s fingers demanded small kisses, and Snarl really wanted to get a taste of his intake.

Breakdown, however, sagged and slumped into the empty seat at Snarl’s side, the one Knock Out occasionally used when he came by to watch Snarl work. “Dinobots are weird,” he said as he rubbed at his forehead.

Snarl snorted. “Me Snarl think everyone else weird.” Dinobots were the only sane ones. It took Grimlock to take down Megatron, and he’d been the one saying how off the whole situation with the humans was to begin with.

Cybertronians could be so blind sometimes. So wrapped up in their past and their heads that they couldn’t look past it. They needed the Dinobots, if you asked Snarl. Someone needed to make sense around here.

“Of course you do.” Breakdown chuckled and leaned against the desk, propping his head on his fist and his elbow on the edge. “So. Sharing, huh? Just how do you think that’s gonna work anyway?”

“Patience. Talking. Agreement.” Snarl grabbed his soldering iron again and bent over the delicate circuit. He still had a lot of work to do before Knock Out returned. “You Breakdown no want?”

“I didn’t say that.” Breakdown whooshed a vent, and his field tentatively reached for Snarl’s. “It’s just weird. Never thought about you like that.”

He sounded preoccupied, but Snarl noticed he was inching closer. Like he was considering touching Snarl. But he was also Breakdown, a scared little rabbit, and he wasn’t one to make the first of any kind of move. He must have been gathering the courage for this little conversation for weeks. Maybe even months.

Snarl attached another important bit and vented over it, blowing the thin curl of smoke away. It looked perfect, so he set the solder aside and returned his attention to Breakdown, who had inched even closer, until their arms brushed. The electric contact of their fields sent a wave of heat up Snarl’s spinal strut.

Brave little bunny.

Snarl turned toward Breakdown and scooped the smaller mech up with barely any effort. Breakdown squeaked in surprise, his visor flaring brightly, even more so when Snarl plopped the part-combiner in his lap. Breakdown went still, his mouth dropping open in surprise.

Snarl really wanted to kiss him.

“There,” Snarl said as he cupped Breakdown’s face with both hands. Gently, of course, because his hands were big and strong enough to crush Breakdown’s head if he weren’t careful. “Now you say if okay.”

Breakdown visibly swallowed, and his energy field went all liquid and warm against Snarl’s. “Okay,” he said. He darkened his visor and pursed his lips in what Snarl assumed was an invitation for a kiss.

Snarl chuckled quietly. Breakdown was adorable and no one could convince him otherwise.

He brushed his lips over Breakdown’s, catching a hint of those sour-sweet candies he was often nibbling on. He flicked his glossa out, getting a deeper taste of the rich treat. Mmm. As sweet as Breakdown himself.

Breakdown’s vents audibly caught and then suddenly, he threw his arms over Snarl’s shoulders and leaned into the kiss, returning it with a ferocity that surprised Snarl. His glossa plunged into Snarl’s mouth, aggressively sweeping around, albeit a bit unskilled. But Snarl liked his determination!

He swept his hands down to Breakdown’s hips, cupping the small aft, tugging Breakdown a little closer to him. Their armor came into delicious contact, Breakdown’s field sliding shivery and hot against Snarl’s.

Breakdown’s engine gave a little rev and he pulled back from the kiss, though reluctance flicked through his field. “Okay,” he said, visor bright as his glossa swept over his lips. “I think I can get used to this.” He grinned.

Snarl bounced the speedster in his lap, making Breakdown squeak and clutch him harder. “Good,” he said. “Now we convince him Knock Out.”

“He can’t ignore both of us.” Breakdown giggled.

Snarl was charmed. Most Cybertronians didn’t giggle. It was unseemly or something. But Breakdown had gone from half-afraid to completely at ease, and he was so relaxed in Snarl’s lap. Maybe that meant he wasn’t afraid to be himself.

Adorable.

“Nope!” Snarl enunciated the word with a pop of his lips. “But now me Snarl finish circuit board,” he said with a squeeze to Breakdown’s aft, preparing to lift the speedster back to his abandoned chair. “We tackle him Knock Out later.”

“Okay.” Breakdown nibbled on his bottom lip, and his fingers tickled at the back of Snarl’s neck. “One more kiss though? For, you know, practice.” He grinned, and there was in it, the sly edge of a Decepticon.

Snarl rumbled a laugh and sealed his lips over Breakdown’s, indulging in the sweet taste of him. Though if he wasn’t careful, he’d let his indulgence carry on for too long, and Dinobots weren’t really that great at avoiding temptation.

Snarl had only to look at his other brothers for proof.

It was okay. Phase one of his plan to acquire a pretty speedster on each arm was now complete. Next, he just had to convince Knock Out. Should be easy. Everyone knew that Dinobots were irresistible. Besides, Knock Out needed someone looking after him just like Breakdown did.

Honestly.

It was win-win-win.

[IDW] Get Around This

The meditative lessons start out as an innocent, inoffensive hobby. A way to present himself as harmless to his new crew. He doesn’t expect much from it, and is pleasantly surprised when more than a handful show up to his first class.

Most don’t even snicker. Much.

Drift guides them through the easier of the poses, the moments of silence, and the meditative exercises. He hands out sample bags of incense and energy crystals and copies of his future schedule in case anyone wants to attend further lessons.

After a few months, someone asks him about instructional videos, for the busy mech who misses a lesson or two, or just wants to try it on his own. Drift figures it can’t hurt and tapes a few of the basics, plus a couple routines depending on the desired effect. He sells them, not that he needs the creds, and makes a tidy sum. He tucks his earnings away because he learned that lesson the hard way.

Then Huffer asks if Drift has any alternative remedies for his achy joints, and Drift teaches him a few things the residents of Crystal City taught him. Huffer blabs, as Huffer does, and the next thing Drift knows, he’s got a client list longer than his Great Sword. Every last one of them are interested in methods to treat their aches, pains, and maladies without relying on script chips or welds or replacements.

Or Ratchet’s scathing criticisms.

Ratchet doesn’t seem to mind that some of his patients have hared off to Drift’s unlicensed, alternative practice. Especially when all the whining, hungover mechs start banging on Drift’s door first thing in the morning instead of his.

Drift still refers the serious cases to Ratchet, an actual medic, but if someone wants to treat their rustmite infection with electrolysis instead of a stasis bath complete with Ratchet Lecture™, well, Drift lets them. It helps that they have no problem shoving handfuls of creds into his hands.

He hadn’t set out to be some kind of alternative solutions guru, but that’s what he’s become. His crew likes him better for it, and Drift admits he likes feeling less like the odd mech out, the once-Decepticon just waiting to snap.

The downside is time, or rather, his increased lack of it. With his duties as third in command, his burgeoning relationship with Rodimus, and now this unexpected business, something has to give. He’s taken on far more than he can fit into a schedule already packed to the brim.

It isn’t until Rodimus starts pouting that Drift realizes which of the three obligations he’s unconsciously deemed the ‘least important.’ And by then, he wonders if it might be too late.

~

It’s supposed to be a hobby. Something to pass the time and keep him from thinking about the past so much. Drift slides from one obsession to the next. It’s a thing that Drift does. Rodimus knows this.

He doesn’t expect Drift’s hobby to be anything more than that.

Until it suddenly becomes a Thing™. A Thing that takes Drift’s time and attention away from Rodimus, has him giving both to other members of the crew who aren’t Rodimus. Crew members who wouldn’t have given a damn about Drift before, and still wouldn’t now, except that Drift is suddenly useful and non-threatening.

Rodimus has spent so long urging Drift to put his past behind him, and now he’s having a hard time convincing Drift to even look at the future.

Or at least, a future that seems to have Rodimus in it.

There are only so many missed dates, forgotten moments, promises to return calls that aren’t actually returned, before a mech starts to get desperate.

And sitting here, blowing out candles as the special energon congeals into a sticky, unappetizing clump, Rodimus starts to feel desperate. This is the third time in a row Drift has stood him up, without so much as a comm or a message.

He’s not on shift, Rodimus checked. Which means someone has come to him with their idea of an emergency, and Drift hasn’t learned the meaning of the word ‘no’. Not when he’s trying so hard to get people to like him.

Rodimus growls out a sigh and shoves to his feet, denta grinding so hard he can taste the sparks on his glossa. He misses his lover. He misses laughing. He misses Drift, frag it.

He activates his comm, the anger broiling inside of him, and waits for Drift to pick up. He taps his feet, and switches his weight from one hip to the other, and gets sent to voicemail twice before Drift actually picks up. The gall!

“Rodimus, what’s wrong? Is it an emergency?”

Rodimus grinds his denta again. “Do you have any idea what time it is?” he demands and is proud of himself for managing not to snarl or hiss.

Drift chuckles, like Rodimus is calling to tease him or make a joke. “Of course I do. Why? Is your chronometer broken?”

“No, but yours must be!” Rodimus snaps, and throws his arms into the air, even though Drift can’t see it. “Dinner. Tonight. My place. Does that ring a fragging bell?”

Great. He’s already yelling. There goes his intention to address this in a calm, rational manner. Hah. Who’s he kidding? He’s past the point of being calm.

There’s a moment of silence before Drift hisses a ventilation. “Oh, frag. That was tonight? I’m sorry, Roddy. I had a late appointment and–”

“Save it,” Rodimus bites out, because he’s tired of this. Tired of the excuses and the apologies and the explanations.

Late appointments. It’s always a late appointment. Maybe one he shouldn’t have made in the first place given that they had a date!? One they set a week ago, no less, when Drift’s schedule finally had some room in it for Rodimus.

Drift sighs, sounds faintly irritated. “Look. I’m sorry, okay. I’ll make it up to you. Dinner tomorrow?”

This is starting to sound familiar. Rodimus feels like he can quote Drift’s answers by now, they’re so common. It’s always “I’ll make it up to you” until he forgets that date, too. And the one after that.

Rodimus can’t remember the last time he actually spent extended time with his so-called lover, time that wasn’t interrupted or longer than a stolen frag in a storage closet. It’s always one thing or another, and that one thing is never as important as Rodimus.

Hurt twinges in his spark. He shoves it down and buries it with anger.

“Don’t bother,” Rodimus snaps, and there goes the rest of his patience. “You won’t show up for that either.”

He ends the comm in the middle of Drift’s reply, his spark pounding in his chassis. Rodimus sends any further calls to his voicemail and slumps back into a chair, burying his face in his hands. What the frag is he supposed to do now?

How is he supposed to spend any time with Drift if Drift is always working? Rodimus gets it, he does. Drift is glad people aren’t cringing when he comes near now, and he’s glad they’re actually listening to him, and maybe people are still whispering, but it’s not half as bad as it used to be.

Rodimus gets it.

He’s still not happy about it.

He just wishes Drift would make a little time for Rodimus in his busy schedule.

Wait. Schedule.

Rodimus sits up straight. Maybe it’s time for something non-conventional, a little drastic even.

If Drift doesn’t have time for Rodimus because he’s so busy with his clients, Rodimus will just have to become a client, too. Drift will have to pay attention to him then.

Rodimus scurries over to his console, drops down in the chair, and powers up the main intranet. He spends a few minutes searching for Drift’s Alternative Medicine page, and finds the self-scheduler. He picks the first available slot tomorrow – Hound won’t mind covering for him, right? This is important.

Appointment set, Rodimus flops onto his berth. He might as well recharge since there’s no point in staying awake. Drift’s not coming tonight, and his dinner is ruined.

Tomorrow had better be a better day.

~

Tomorrow is not a better day.

Rodimus shows up for his appointment bright and early. Ultra Magnus would admire his timeliness, that’s how on-time he is. He sits in the chair placed outside the door of the room Drift had appropriated for his office and he waits, optics on his chronometer.

He grins and waves as a few mechs pass him in the hall, giving him confused, startled looks. Frag them. So what if Rodimus has to make an appointment to see his lover? Doesn’t everyone?

The door opens, and Huffer emerges, peering carefully at some instructions printed on plastifilm. He’s muttering to himself and doesn’t even notice Rodimus, too busy scowling at the small print.

“Next!”

Rodimus leaps up from the chair and strolls into Drift’s office, his spoiler at a jaunty tilt on his back. “Good morning!” he chirps.

Drift looks up from his datapad with a frown. “Rodimus, I have a client right now.”

“Yeah. I know. You’re looking at him.” Rodimus flops down on the ridiculously comfy sofa Drift had dragged in here, wriggling to get comfortable. Damn, he needs one of these for his quarters. Seriously.

Drift’s optics narrow. “You made an appointment?”

“How else am I going to see you?” Rodimus lounges across the sofa, stretching his arms over his head, trying to catch the angles of the light to highlight his newly waxed armor. “How does it go?”

He widens his grin and puts on his best, theatrical performance. “Doc, you gotta help me,” he pleads with a wink at Drift. “I’m feeling oh so lonely lately, and I just don’t know what to do.” He slides one hand down his frame and cups his array for emphasis.

He waits for Drift to laugh.

Drift doesn’t.

If anything, he glares at Rodimus, and there’s just a bit of Deadlock behind that glare. “What the frag do you think you’re doing?”

“Whining to you about my troubles. Isn’t that what everyone else does?” Rodimus sits up and slouches in the sofa, slinging his arms across the back of it and spreading his thighs. Can’t help but show off the goods, maybe that’ll entice his lover back.

A low growl emerges from Drift’s engine. “Everyone else has a legitimate reason for being here,” he bites out. “So why are you wasting my time?”

Wasting.

Rodimus mouths the words. Wasting.

He grinds his denta and grips the back of the sofa, feeling the plush fabric beneath his fingertips. “Wasting,” he repeats aloud. “I scheduled this time, you fragger. How can I be wasting it when I went through all the proper avenues and everything!?”

“Someone who actually needs to see me could have used this time, Roddy,” Drift retorts, sounding exasperated and irritated. His finials twitch, optics flashing, and yeah, he’s definitely edging toward Deadlock territory there.

Pfft. Rodimus isn’t afraid of that anymore. Especially not now. He’s too angry to be afraid. No, he’s past angry. He’s furious.

He loses the humor. The act. He frowns.

“Maybe if you actually showed up for a date once in a while, I wouldn’t have to resort to this,” Rodimus snaps.

Drift pinches the bridge of his nasal ridge. “I apologized for that.”

“I’m tired of apologies. They don’t mean anything anymore.” Rodimus chews on his bottom lip, aware that the last came out more of a whine. He hadn’t wanted to sound like a spoiled sparkling, but there he goes anyway.

Frag it.

“I just… damn it. What’s wrong with wanting to see you?” Rodimus demands. He snaps his knees back together and lowers his arms, drawing into himself. “You don’t have time for me anymore.”

Drift leans back in his chair, looking tired and old, like he’s Ratchet or something. He’s been playing this game so long, he’s even fooling himself, isn’t he?

“I have responsibilities,” Drift says. “You should understand that. You’re captain of this ship. You should be just as busy.”

Rodimus’ mouth drops open. Did Drift just… chastise him? For not doing his job?

For a moment, Rodimus has no words. All he can do is splutter, outrage mixing with anger and hurt cresting all of it, until the first thing he spits are words he shouldn’t have.

“Your real job is being third in command of this ship!” Rodimus jumps to his feet, agitation making his plating clamp and flare intermittently. “This stupid stuff is just a hobby! And these mechs you’re so dedicated to? They don’t care about you! All they care about is what you can do for them. They don’t even like you!”

He knows he shouldn’t have said it the moment the words leave his lips. The way the color drains from Drift’s face tells him that. As does the thin line of his mouth as his lips press together. Hurt flares in Drift’s field, before the rest of his emotions are dropped down behind a Decepticon-thick iron wall.

It’s all true. But he shouldn’t have said it. Not that way at least.

“Please leave,” Drift says, his tone tight, his fingers creaking where they grip a stylus. “I have another client soon, and I have to prepare for them.”

“Fine,” Rodimus says, because he’s in too deep so he might as well keep going. His optics are hot, and he simultaneously wants to spill apologies and scream that it’s not his fault, that if Drift only paid him some attention, they wouldn’t be here. “I won’t come back either.”

He storms out, the door rattling open and shut as if obeying his sudden urgency to be far away from Drift. He’s in such a hurry, he nearly collides with Recurve, who’s loitering in the hallway for some reason. It’s not like he has an appointment. Recurve’s not one to believe in that alternative stuff.

“Whoa there,” Recurve says with a laugh as Rodimus brushes past him and stomps down the hall. “What’s the matter with you? Usually mechs walk out of Drift’s office looking like they just won the lottery.”

“Frag off!” Rodimus snarls. And then he can hear Ultra Magnus’ chastisement at the back of his processor.

Captains are polite, Rodimus. Captains respect their crew, Rodimus. Captains don’t use vulgar language, Rodimus. Captains don’t storm down the halls, Rodimus.

Argh.

Rodimus heads straight for Swerve’s. This time of the shift, it’s probably deserted, but it’s not like he wants company. He just wants to drink and bleed off his misery into some high grade.

He grabs the first available seat at the bar, and Swerve wordlessly puts his preferred drink in front of him, maybe scared off by the fury in Rodimus’ field. Usually the little chatterbox has something to say, but not this time. Instead he flounces down to the other end of the bar to flirt (hopelessly) with Skids.

Rodimus sucks down his first drink faster than is wise. Swerve refills it without a word and leaves him to his misery. This one, Rodimus drinks a little slower, the heat in his belly practically ice compared to the heat of anger in his lines. Drift’s words keep echoing in his head, and every time the shame of snapping at Drift crops up, he viciously shoots it down with hurt.

Behind him, the group of mechs at a table laugh. They’re getting louder and louder, and Rodimus has been mostly ignoring them, until he catches a bit of their conversation.

“–seen the way he can bend? Now that’s a racecar I want to ride,” one of them says.

Rodimus’ optics narrow. He half-turns, just enough to see over his shoulder, trying to match face to name.

“Ought to be a law against looking that good,” another one says with a coarse laugh. “Though I hear part of that’s his rebuild in Crystal City. They make ‘em pretty there.”

“You’d have to be pretty, I guess, to survive in the Decepticons,” Idiot Number One comments with a leer. He licks his lips.

Rodimus stiffens. He knows exactly who they’re talking about. Drift, of course. He’s sexy, Rodimus knows that. He’s got a pretty build and a reputation for being easy, not that he is, but rumors like that die hard.

“I spent nearly all my money buying a copy of every volume of those vids,” Idiot Number Two says. He smirks and waggles his orbital ridges. “Best inspirational creds ever.”

“You gotta let me borrow them.”

“Get your own service mags!”

“Well, they’re not wrong,” Swerve says from behind Rodimus, sweeping up his second empty cup with a little laugh. “Get you another, captain? Or maybe you’re after one of those vids they’re talking about, eh? Or aren’t you getting the private show?”

Rodimus snarls and shoots to his feet, the stool clattering as it tips over behind him. “That’s none of your business,” he snaps. “And Drift’s not some… some… some buymech you can all ogle as you please. So just stop it!”

He whirls on a heelstrut and stomps out of Swerve’s. The light buzz from his high grade is gone, burned from his outrage, and what little solace he’d found is gone, too. He’s still angry, now at Drift, now at his crew, now at everything. He doesn’t want to go back to his quarters to sulk, but he doesn’t know what else to do?

How is he supposed to fix things?

This is all Drift’s fault. Drift and his stupid Alternative Medicine nonsense, which is, by the way, illegal and unlicensed. How the frag hasn’t Ultra Magnus shut it down already? Why hasn’t Ratchet?

Wait.

Rodimus skids to a halt in the middle of the corridor and changes direction. Ratchet. If there’s anyone who can get Drift to see reason, it’s Ratchet. Drift’s got a weird deference to Ratchet sometimes, like he thinks of Ratchet as some kind of mentor he doesn’t want to disappoint.

Rodimus doesn’t know the full story behind that. There are still some parts of himself that Drift likes to keep, well, to himself. He’s so close-mouthed! It makes it hard to figure out what he’s thinking. He keeps laughing things off with a smile, like Rodimus can’t tell how much he’s hurting behind it all.

Fragger.

Rodimus seethes as he stomps toward the medbay, ignoring others in the hallway as he passes them. Ultra Magnus would probably chastise him for that, too. He should be friendlier. He should keep his emotions in check. He should be polite. Captain’s don’t stomp, Rodimus.

Nag, nag, nag.

The main entrance to the medbay gives a cheerful chime as Rodimus steps through it. He doesn’t see First Aid anywhere, but he spies Ratchet in his office, perched behind his desk and looking, for all the universe, as though he’s napping. Must be a slow day. No idiots Lobbing in the halls or playing catch with live grenades.

Not that, you know, Rodimus is guilty of either of those or anything.

Rodimus charges through the open door without so much as a by your leave and drops down in the empty chair across from Ratchet’s desk. He makes a very loud huff, stomping his feet on the floor as he does so.

One of Ratchet’s optics online, the other remains dim. It’s kind of creepy. “Strange. You don’t look injured or bleeding,” he says.

Rodimus snorts. “Not on the outside.” He jabs an elbow on the arm of the chair and sets his chin on his knuckles.

Both of Ratchet’s optics online, and he straightens with a languid, creaky stretch. “Trouble in paradise, I presume?”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Rodimus mutters and kicks out petulantly. “Do me a favor and exert your authority as Chief Medical Officer. Make Drift shut down his little alternative medicine business.”

Ratchet arches his orbital ridge. “And why would I want to do that?”

“Because I’m the captain, and I told you to.”

It’s Ratchet’s turn to snort. “Right. Because I’m known for obeying your commands without question.” He sags back into his chair with the sort of tired slump of the old and rusting. One hand gives an arrhythmic rap of his fingers. “Besides, what makes you think he’s going to listen to me anyway?”

“He looks up to you,” Rodimus says. “He’ll listen to you.”

Ratchet gives him a long look. “Right.” He rolls his optics and his shoulders both. “We both know that isn’t going to happen. Tough break, kid. It just isn’t up to me.”

“But–”

“Nope!” Ratchet holds up both his hands in a gesture of full-stop. “I’m staying out of this. You want his attention, then talk to him. Don’t come to me.”

Rodimus’ engine revs. “I did talk to him.”

“Actual talking, Rodimus.”

“I used words!” Sure, they were angry words, but they were still words. It’s not his fault Drift doesn’t want to listen to him or pay him any attention.

Ratchet groans and scrubs a palm down his face. He’s got the look he gets when handfuls of the crew show up in his office, hungover and begging for a cure. “Look, Rodimus, I have work to do.”

Rodimus scoffs. “Like what? Another nap?”

Ratchet glares at him through his fingers. “Don’t you have some meteor surfing to do?”

Ah. Point taken. As angry as Rodimus is, it won’t do any good to take it out on Ratchet. If the medic doesn’t want to help, Rodimus can’t make him. Best to retreat while he still can.

“Fine.” Rodimus lurches to his feet and sets his jaw. “I’m going.” He whirls around and stalks out, feeling no more enlightened then when he’d first arrived looking for answers.

There’s no help to be found anywhere.

Rodimus sighs and cycles several ventilations. He doesn’t want to go back to his empty quarters, where the echoes of another failed date still hang in the air. He’s not going to try and comm Drift, that’s pointless. He’s not really interested in company either.

He’s just… just.

Might as well go relieve Hound and finish the rest of his shift. He doesn’t have anything better to do other than his job, and if Drift is going to chastise him about his responsibilities, Rodimus can at least prove that he knows how important they are.

Spoiler drooping, Rodimus trudges toward the bridge.

What a slag-poor excuse for a day.

~

Anger does not make for a calm state of mind. And someone in an aggravated state does not tend to offer intelligent and useful advice.

Drift uses the last of the time from Rodimus’ appointment to meditate, cycling through multiple ventilations, all in an attempt to clear his processor. His irritation with Rodimus is like a horde of miniscraplets nesting under his armor. He wants to shout about it, or pace, but he can’t, because he has another client with another issue to be solved.

This is important, Drift tells himself as he gestures Sidestep inside and tells him to take a seat. The crew doesn’t flinch at him anymore. They actually obey his instructions because he asked and not because they’re too scared not to. This is as important to them as it’s important to him.

Frag Rodimus if he doesn’t understand that.

Except, well, Rodimus has a bit of a point. Yes, Drift has missed a few dates. Not as many as Rodimus claims, but Drift does realize that his relationship with Rodimus has been set on the backburner. There’s only so much time in a day. Drift can only stretch himself so far.

Rodimus has no right to intrude on his time like that!

Drift seethes throughout his entire appointment with Sidestep, and it takes all he has to show Sidestep a friendly, calm face. He ends the meeting early because he can’t concentrate and promptly sends to a message to the next client on his list to reschedule for another time. He’s no good to anyone like this, especially not himself.

He sits behind his desk and rubs his forehead, feeling an ache building behind his optics. Fighting with Rodimus is nothing new. He can be quite temperamental sometimes. Bossy and pushy, too. But this is different.

Maybe because he feels a little bit guilty.

Drift sighs and leans back in the chair.

His comm chirps. He expects it to be Rodimus, but the ident tag reads Ratchet. Which probably means it’s about Rodimus. Because of course.

Drift pinches the bridge of his nose. “What did he do now?” he asks in lieu of a greeting. No need to make small talk. They’re both too busy for that.

“Asked me for something he’s not going to get,” Ratchet replies, sounding tired and craggy, like he’s not getting enough recharge again. “Though I’m thinking you’re not completely innocent here, Dr. Drift.”

Drift twitches. He’s not called himself a medic by any means. He hasn’t earned that title, but some of his clients have been using it as a joke. “Ratchet…”

“So you haven’t missed any dates with Rodimus?”

Ah. Well, he should have known Rodimus would tattle. But come on. He’d apologized for that! What more does Rodimus want?

Ratchet sighs into the comm. “That’s what I thought,” he grumbles, and Drift can practically see the scowl on his face. “Look, kid–”

“I’m older than you,” Drift reminds him.

“Shut up and listen,” Ratchet retorts, which is his way of saying ‘don’t remind me!’. “If you don’t want to be with Rodimus, you need to tell him.”

Drift flinches. His spark squeezes into a tight ball at the mere thought of it. Rodimus gone? That’s not what he wants at all.

“That’s not it,” Drift protests, and tries to tack on an answer, too. But he can’t figure out the proper words. It’s hard to explain.

Ratchet snorts. “Well, from where I’m standing, I can’t tell. Neither can he. So either make some time for him or cut him loose.”

Drift scrubs harder at his forehead. “Ratchet, I’m busy. You know that. You should understand it. I can’t just–”

“Yes, you can, and you know it,” Ratchet cuts him off, his tone heavy with reproach. Drift flinches like he’s been chastised. “Find time for Rodimus or end it, because right now, it’s not working. You need to remember what’s actually important.”

Drift sighs and sags in his chair, half-wishing he could dissolve straight through to the floor and down to the other side. “I don’t want to end it,” he mutters.

“Then find a way to prove otherwise.”

Ratchet ends the call with as much audible irritation as one can manage over a comm. Drift’s processor rings as he shuts off the line. He scrubs a hand down his face, considering Ratchet’s words.

He knows the medic is right. As much as he hadn’t wanted to admit it himself. He can’t keep dropping Rodimus to the bottom of his priority list. Or he’ll lose the one thing he can’t be happy without.

Drift scrubs his face with his hands. He has to do something.

He taps into his online schedule and blocks off the appointments for the rest of the day, and for tomorrow as well. This, right now, is far more important.

~

Hound had been delighted to return to his off-shift. So Rodimus works and tries not to think about everything else. He turns his attention to the ridiculously long list of tasks Ultra Magnus has for him, and attends to quite a few of them: inspections, paperwork, performance evaluations, stock capacity, everything the captain of a vessel should be responsible for.

His shift ends, Ultra Magnus takes over and smiles big and broad when Rodimus hands him a list of all the things he actually did today. If Ultra Magnus could swoon, he’s certainly doing it now, his entire energy field alight from happiness.

He’s so weird sometimes.

Uninterested in returning to his quarters just yet, Rodimus detours to his office and starts to tackle the stack of datapads on his desk. Maybe he’ll earn himself another Ultra Magnus Smile of Appreciation™ for his efforts.

That makes it worth it a little. At least he can do this right.

It’s late when he finally decides to go back to his habsuite. He’s tired, but at least his anger has burnt out into a dull ache of disappointment. There’s no point in getting angry, he realizes. It’s not going to get him anywhere.

Drift is probably right anyway. Rodimus has no business demanding Drift’s time like that. If Drift doesn’t want to make time for him, well, maybe that’s a sign. Maybe Rodimus is the only one invested in this. Maybe this is Drift’s way of letting Rodimus know that it’s over.

A sharp pang rips through Rodimus’ spark. His spoiler droops. He hopes he’s wrong, but given the way Drift has been lately, he dreads that he’s right.

Rodimus sighs and keys himself into his habsuite, lacking a distinct pep in his step. He slips inside, the door sliding shut behind him, and a smoky, tangy scent floats to his olfactory sensors. Rodimus blinks and looks up.

His habsuite is dimly lit, the lights at maybe twenty percent. But there are candles everywhere, their pretend flames flickering in the still air. There’s a light, smoky haze – like that caused by incense, and music is playing from his sound system. Soft music, something without words, and not something Rodimus would have in his own collection.

What in Primus’ name…?

Rodimus eases further into the room and spies a tray of goodies sitting on the desk of his workstation. There are all his favorites, and piles of them, too. His mouth lubricates.

“Welcome home.”

Rodimus startles and slowly turns to see Drift sliding off the bed, a small smile on his lips, empty sheaths clanking at his side. He has his hands clasped behind his back, his head dipped a little.

“This is the part where I say I’m sorry,” Drift continues as Rodimus stares at him, unsure if he’s believing his optics, or if he’s fallen asleep at his desk again, dreaming about the things he misses. “You don’t belong at the bottom of my priority list. You should be at the top. I let myself forget that.”

Rodimus works his intake. He turns in a slow circle, taking in the beautiful set-up all over again. It’s like a date. A really romantic date.

“This is… for me?” he asks, his spark doing that pulse again, and this time, it’s more like hope.

Drift chuckles. “Yeah. It’s for you.” His optics soften as he looks at Rodimus, and there it is, what Rodimus has been missing. “I missed so many dates. So I figured I should start making up for it now.”

Rodimus stares at him for a long moment, emotion bursting in his spark, before his feet carrying him to Drift without conscious decision. He throws his arms over Drift’s shoulders, slamming their mouths together, a soft sigh escaping him as Drift’s arms return the embrace, holding him close.

Their nasal ridges bump, but it takes only a few seconds to find the familiar rhythm, and their mouths slot together. Drift tastes sweet, like he sampled the treats he brought, and his frame is so warm against Rodimus’. His field flirts against Rodimus’ own like a secondary embrace.

Damn, but Rodimus missed this.

“This is good,” Rodimus says as he breaks away from the kiss, pressing his forehead to Drift’s. “It’s a good start, I mean. You owe me a lot more.”

“I know.” Drift’s arms tighten around him, their chestplates pressed so close Rodimus can feel the twirl and dance of Drift’s spark. “And I’m sorry.”

Rodimus rests his head on Drift’s shoulder, soaking in their proximity. “Yeah, I’m sorry, too. I shouldn’t have said that.” Even if it is true.

“Well, you weren’t wrong.” Drift pulls back, one arm sliding free so that his hand cups Rodimus’ face. “So I thought I might spoil you. As an apology.”

“Really?” Rodimus’ spoiler flicks up. “What kind of spoiling?”

“The best kind.” Drift brushes their noses together before he draws back and tangles their hands together, towing Rodimus toward the couch. “We can watch a movie together. And you get to pick.”

Rodimus laughs as he bounces on the sofa after a gentle push from Drift. Armfuls of pillows have been gathered here, and Rodimus sinks into them with a happy wiggle. Drift joins him after grabbing the tray of treats and the remote for the entertainment console.

“How about a romantic comedy?” Rodimus asks as he snuggles into Drift’s side.

“I knew it.” Drift curls an arm over Rodimus’ shoulder, tucking him close.

Okay, so he’s predictable. So what. He’s supposed to be getting spoiled, right? And this right here is pretty close to perfect. He’s got Drift all to himself, and the room is all dim and cozy, and Drift picks one of his favorite movies without even asking.

Drift sets the remote aside and balances the tray between them, propped up on one of the pillows. He selects one of the glazed cakes from the stack and holds it up against Rodimus’ lips.

“Try this one first,” he says, and Rodimus opens his mouth, lets Drift feed him the sweet treat. His lips linger on Drift’s fingers, glossa swiping away the crumbs and sticky residue of glaze.

The treat is delicious, but better is that Drift continues to feed him, all during the movie. One hand guides treat after treat to Rodimus’ lips, while the other strokes his shoulder and his arm and the edges of his spoiler, anything within reach really. Rodimus’ engine purrs with satisfaction.

The rest of his anger vanishes under a tide of gentle touches and delicious candies. Drift’s field is so firmly wrapped around his, he can’t remember he ever felt abandoned.

He laughs when Drift misses his mouth, getting some of the magnesium powder on his nose.

“Oops.” Drift doesn’t sound very apologetic, not as he leans in and licks the dab of powder away. “My mistake.”

Rodimus chuckles and surges up, stealing Drift’s lips, tasting the sweets on his glossa. He forgets about the movie as he deepens the kiss, his engine purring and heat seeping into his lines. It’s not so much arousal as it is… comfort. Affection. He wants to lie here and enjoy this, closeness and kissing.

It’s different. It’s kind of nice. It doesn’t always have to be about interfacing. That’s just a charming bonus.

“Don’t ignore me again, okay?” Rodimus asks as he nuzzles Drift, his spark warm and full to bursting. He snuggles in against Drift, barely noticing that the movie’s end credits have started to play.

Drift sinks into the couch, dragging Rodimus with him. His hands stroke long patterns down Rodimus’ back and over his shoulder, and Rodimus’ frame relaxes into the gentle touches. It feels so good.

“I won’t,” Drift replies, tilting his head back against Rodimus’ with a soft sigh. “But Roddy, I’m not going to close down either. I like what I’m doing and–”

“I don’t want you to.” Rodimus offlines his optics and rests his head on Drift’s chestplate, listening to the pulse of his spark. It’s easier to be honest when he doesn’t have to look into Drift’s optics. “It’s okay. Really. I understand why you’re doing it. I just want you to make time for me, too.”

“I can do that,” Drift murmurs, his fingers tracking a slow, careful path down Rodimus’ spinal strut, like he’s trying to memorize every ridge and seam.

Rodimus hums his approval. He wriggles, notching himself even more firmly on top of Drift. He counts the beats of Drift’s spark, and listens as the movie’s end credits fade into nothing. He might fall into recharge just like this, his tank full, his frame relaxed, his field embraced.

It’s perfect.