[Bay] Indomitable 07

The world spins madly on.

Time passes, Megatron reflects, faster than it ought, but slower than he needs it to. More Cybertronians return to the fold, but few, far too few. They return bedraggled and worn, broken and hurting, grief-stricken and thunderstruck by the idea of a lasting peace.

There are incidents. There are always incidents. Mechs who lost their mind sometime during the war and haven’t found their way back to it yet. Those with grudges, memorized names and faces of opponents who had killed someone they loved. Autobots are angry, and Decepticons feel beaten, and Neutrals are annoyed by it all.

They get by. It gets easier. Protocols are developed. Bonds are made. Friendships are forged. Cities are rebuilt, inch by inch. There’s talk of sending out ships, search parties, to find lost Cybertronians and bring them back home.

Predators and vultures lurk like an ever-present danger, well aware of how easy it would be to invade Cybertron and plunder the riches that remain. They’ll have a fight on their hands, those who survived the massive civil war survived for a reason, but it’ll still be catastrophic to the Cybertronians.

They are so few now. That is the issue which troubles Megatron the most. Optimus had made the decision to pitch the Allspark into the universe, to save it from Megatron’s use. Optimus had been the one to destroy the Allspark. And now, without it, Cybertron has no future.

Sometimes, he wonders the point.

Time passes, and Ratchet stays.

Sometimes, Megatron wonders if he really did survive the battle in Chicago, all those decades ago. He wonders if Optimus really offered him mercy, if he’d truly been given a chance, because this has to be a dream. Maybe he’s actually dead, and this is the afterlife, the Well of Allsparks, the Pit or Purgatory.

Maybe it’s a dream. If it is, he doesn’t want to wake.

Though he could do without the meetings. Necessary, they are, but boring and irritating besides.

Megatron doodles in his datapad, ostensibly taking notes but not actually listening. He trusts Dreadwing will fill him in on the important details later. Or perhaps Deathsaurus, who takes a keen interest in these administrative matters. It seems incongruous, for the playful beast-former to be so fascinated by the day to day minutiae of running the military side of an empire, but such is the way of things.

Megatron’s already given a summary of his part in matters. Their defense force is well-trained, well-staffed, and he has no complaints. At the moment, they have no immediate concerns to contend with. There is a distant threat of some civilization thinking the Cybertronians an easy target. Someone else proposes that the Quintessons might return, to reclaim their escaped slaves, but otherwise, they are in no danger.

All that remains is the lengthier and more boring portion of the monthly assembly: the civilian side of matters. Optimus’ purview. Megatron’s only contribution to this is his oversight of the police and enforcer department, hardly necessary at this point.

He zones out sometime around the discussion of how to mine for the materials needed, but something catches his attention when the word ‘repopulate’ is brought into the conversation.

“We are dying,” Prowl says in that tight, joyless tone of his. Jaw set, he clutches a datapad as if it were a lifeline. How Thundercracker finds such tedium attractive, Megatron will never understand.

“Without the capability to grow our population, even we will become extinct with time and there will be nothing left to show we were here, but the echoes of our war across the universe.”

It’s almost poetic. For Prowl.

“We know that,” Dreadwing growls, not entertained by Prowl’s conversational cadence. His chair creaks as he shifts. “Unless you’ve got a solution, you don’t need to keep reminding us.”

Prowl frowns. His sensory panels flick, like Starscream’s wings used to do when he was annoyed.

“I have a theory.”

Megatron cycles his optics. Even Prowl looks startled. Every mech at the large table turns to look at Cyclonus, whose dour voice had cut through the tension. Cyclonus had returned some years past, leader of a faction of Neutrals, devoutly religious and often one to cut his optics at Megatron, mouth down-turned in sharp disapproval.

Cyclonus had been one of the ones most outspoken to Megatron’s ascension. He’d been so fond of Galvatron. As if it were Megatron’s fault his predecessor had extinguished.

“Please, Cyclonus, do share,” Optimus encourages with patience bred of necessity. Only Megatron could see the irritation beneath his placid smile.

He’d always been able to see through his brother’s masks.

“There is a story,” Cyclonus begins, his grave tone nearly enough to send Megatron into a light doze, and he idly doodles as he listens, “regarding the origins of our sparks, that while many ascribe to Primus as our lifegiver, there is another who breathed life into Primus Himself.”

Something twitches at the back of Megatron’s processor.

“And not the Quintessons,” Dreadwing surmises.

“Precisely.” Cyclonus rests his hands on the tabletop, clawed fingers making a light staccato against the scratched surface. “Legend speaks of a primordial pool, a birthing place, from which the Allspark and the multiple matrixes were formed. There’s another being, an omniscient and omnipresent being, who resides over it, granting life to the entirety of the universe.”

Deathsaurus snorts. Megatron resists the urge to echo him, though something in his spark squeezes a bit together.

“That sounds ridiculous,” Dreadwing says.

“We never were able to determine precisely how the Allspark formed or the materials from which it was made,” Quark offers, a light behind his optics as he sits up straight. Their Chief Scientist, Quark’s intellect puts even Shockwave’s to shame. “The brightest minds in Cybertron consistently failed to understand even a tenth of the Allspark’s mysteries.”

“So you are saying there may be truth to the legend,” Optimus suggests.

Quark steeples his fingers together. “I’m saying that while the religious implications are likely ridiculous, there is scientific evidence to suggest the Allspark was created somewhere other than Cybertron.”

“Just what are you implying?” Prowl demands, sounding both bewildered and outraged, mindlessly shuffling his datapads as though they are the only thing that makes sense.

“That it wouldn’t hurt to look.” Quark shrugs as if dismissive, his amber optics cutting to Cyclonus behind his narrow secondary lenses. “I presume your legends speak of a path? A route? A set of coordinates?”

“There are glyphs,” Cyclonus allows with a dip of his head. “Riddles. But yes, a wise mech could follow the clues to the edge of the universe and beyond.”

“I think the word you’re looking for is foolish,” Dreadwing replies with a roll of his optics and an outraged huff. He shifts about in his creaky chair. “We haven’t anyone to spare on a fool’s errand like this. Give me something concrete. Something that makes sense. Not… not sparkling tales and puzzles.”

Quark’s steepled fingers tap together. “It is merely a theory,” he says, his tone too even and calm. “Feel free to dismiss it. Though I don’t suppose I need to remind you we are facing a population crisis.”

“There’s not a mech on this planet who would volunteer for such a stupid mission,” Dreadwing snarls.

That presence within Megatron stirs even further, until he feels as though he is going to suffocate on it. The nudge is consuming and he knows, without having to ask, what it means.

“Then allow me,” he says, his voice cutting through the rising tension, surprising even himself with the offer. He rises to his feet as everyone’s gaze turns toward him. “If this is indeed a fool’s errand, than let me be that fool.”

He could not have caused greater shock than if he’d stood and announced his decision to return them to war. Even Optimus looks surprised, but it’s the wild hurt in Ratchet’s optics which cuts Megatron to the struts.

Ratchet will understand. He has to.

Megatron works his intake, the pressure on his spark easing as he continues, “I have done untold damage to this planet and it’s people. Without me, we would not be in this position. I have much to make up for. Let me take this quest.”

It is dangerous, for all that it is the journey of a fool. Cybertronians are not liked. There are many perils, many planets which consider them wanted criminals. Not every galaxy is kind to metallic beings. The Quintessons lurk in the shadows, waiting to reclaim their lost prizes.

It is a suicide mission. But an important one.

Optimus is the first to speak. “Megatron, I do not think–”

“For once,” Megatron quietly cuts him off, because he doesn’t want to hear whatever protest Optimus has to give, “Will you trust me, brother? Will you let me fix what I have broken?”

Silence reigns as their optics meet, a wealth of conversations passing between them. If only they could have spoken like this back then, perhaps they could have averted war.

Optimus’ head dips. A nod. Assent.

“Cybertron would be better off without me at any rate,” Megatron says, tearing his gaze from his brother and pointedly skipping over Ratchet, whose glare he can feel burrowing at him. “Perhaps more of our people will return if I am not here to give them pause. Thundercracker, Dreadwing, and Deathsaurus are all far more loved and would lead well in my place.”

Deathsaurus shifts, his multiple optics blinking in odd succession. “Not that I’m doubting your intentions, sir,” he begins cautiously, “but do you think it’s a good idea?”

“I think it is necessary,” Megatron replies. The tight bands around his spark feel less like an impetus now, and more like approval. “I’ll take a small team with me. Volunteers especially. There is a chance we might not return. I don’t want anyone to take that risk who isn’t fully committed.”

Optimus frowns. “I do not like the idea of you journeying to your death.”

“Then think of it as a beginning.” Megatron smiles, crooked though it is. To think, there was once a time Optimus would have been relieved to hear of his demise. “I’ll return with hope for our species, brother. Or I’ll not return at all.”

There are more debates, more arguments, more reasons why it’s a terrible idea and why they really have little choice otherwise. Something must be done, and this is the most concrete, if not foolhardy, avenue available to them.

By the time the meeting adjourns, the protestors have fallen silent and Megatron is left with a mission. Arrangements will need to be made, but Megatron is certain that before the solar year’s end, he’ll be on his way, back out among the stars.

The real battle, he knows, has yet to begin.

The various members of Cybertron’s command staff filter in all directions, back to their duties. Megatron is one of the last to leave the meeting hall, after exchanging a few short words with his brother, and the broil of discontent waiting for him is more than enough to give Megatron pause.

There is a moment where he thinks to escape out the back entrance – he can shimmy down the emergency exit if he must. But no. There is no fleeing this confrontation.

Ratchet’s field is a storm of anger, one belied by the flat expression on his face. Megatron is no fool. He knows that a calm Ratchet is a furious Ratchet, and one to be feared.

“I am so happy to see that we’ve reached the point in our relationship where I assume you can read my mind,” Ratchet starts with a tart tone, just shy of a snarl. “Since you decided without me you were going to do this.”

Megatron’s hands curl into fists. He won’t patronize Ratchet by pulling his partner into his arms, despite how much he wants to. “I had no idea I was going to volunteer until I’d spoken,” he replies honestly. “But this is something I must do. I can’t explain how I know this, only that I do.”

Ratchet scoffs, and his optics flash, bright with hurt. “Right,” he sneers. “Because Primus told you to.” Plating creaks as his armor draws taut against his frame. “If you think I’m going to wait for you, then you’re an even bigger idiot than I thought. I’m done waiting for mechs to come back from the battlefield.”

Megatron’s spark starts to hammer in his chassis. A ripple of anxiety tears through his field, but it’s too late, the request tumbles out of his mouth before he can stop it.

“Come with me.”

Ratchet visibly staggers. “W-what?” he splutters.

His vents catch in his intake. Megatron drops to a knee and reaches for Ratchet’s hand, pleased when the medic allows him to take it. He presses his lips to Ratchet’s fingers, these miracle-working hands.

“Come with me,” he asks again, ex-venting warm over Ratchet’s fingers, the hope rising inside of him like a tide. “Into the unknown. Take this quest with me. Please.”

Ratchet’s fingers shake. “I… Megatron, I can’t,” he protests, but it sounds weak, like he’s considering the frantic request. “I have too much to do.”

Megatron shutters his optics, focuses on the wavering in Ratchet’s field, the press of his lips against Ratchet’s fingers. “You don’t. First Aid is more than capable of taking over. And you said you want to retire.”

“This doesn’t count as retiring!”

“It is. Only it’s not lazing around in the berth on a weekend morning. It’s adventure and hope.” He presses his cheek into Ratchet’s palm, projecting affection and promise into his field. “You have fire in your spark, Ratchet. You’d never settle for a future of peace and quiet.”

Ratchet’s fingers curl against his cheek. “If I say no, you’ll go without me, won’t you?” he asks quietly, on the end of an ex-vent.

“Yes.” Megatron’s voice crackles with the admission. “If I were to explain it, you wouldn’t understand. But I must do this because I know I’ll succeed.”

“Then who am I to argue with a god?”

Megatron’s surprise is etched on his face as he looks up at Ratchet, reading his shaky smile for assent. “I’m no deity.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Ratchet’s thumb strokes over the bridge of Megatron’s nasal structure, an unexpectedly endearing touch. “I’ll go.”

“You’re certain?” Megatron dares rise to his feet, and is relieved when Ratchet’s field reaches for him.

“Yes. Primus, save me, but I’ll go.” Ratchet slides into Megatron’s embrace, holding him tight. “I love you, foolish spark and all. I don’t intend to be some pining wife sitting at home waiting for her husband to come back from the war either.”

Megatron laughs, as shaky and uneven as it sounds. “You spent too much time on Earth.”

“So you keep telling me.” Ratchet’s head rests on Megatron’s chestplate, over the frenetic beat of his spark. “I’m proud of you, Megatron. For doing this. The kids aren’t going to like it, but they’ll get over it. I think it’s time we leave Cybertron for the new generation.”

Megatron strokes his fingers down Ratchet’s back, tracing seams and juts of kibble he’s come to learn all too well. “As do I. We’ll return victorious with a future for them. I believe it.”

It’s about time he believed in something.

~

Opinions are torn across the planet.

Some think Megatron is on a fool’s errand, fleeing from the consequences of his actions because he can’t face the ruin he’s wrought. Others are hopeful, proud he’s taken the initiative to solve one of his greatest mistakes.

Megatron ignores the commentary.

A ship is chosen from the fleet of dilapidated space-faring vessels parked in an abandoned lot outside the main city. It is repaired, outfitted with the most advanced technology their species has to offer, and stocked as much as it is capable of carrying with energon, ammunition, and other necessary supplies.

Megatron even has a crew, entirely made of volunteers. He’d been surprised by how many had offered to go on the quest, and had to narrow it down to a half-dozen mechs, not including himself and Ratchet.

A departure date is set, and as it grows closer, Megatron feels an excitement and an energy building inside of him like nothing else. He can’t explain why he believes he’ll succeed, he just knows it.

In the end, he leaves Deathsaurus in charge, with Dreadwing and Thundercracker to assist. At least Thundercracker won’t have to badger Deathsaurus to finish his reports on time, and Prowl seems to like Deathsaurus a fraction of an inch more than he ever approved of Megatron.

He feels as though he’s leaving his planet in good hands. He’s still the Lord High Protector, at least in name, but there’s been talk of making both Prime and Lord High Protector elected positions rather than inherited or appointed. Megatron’s behind that particular idea one-hundred percent and made it a point to say so.

Maybe he’ll still be Lord High Protector when he comes back. Maybe he won’t. Somehow, it’s not as important to him as it used to be. It no longer defines him, not in his entirety at any rate.

In the end, there’s nothing left but to actually go. Megatron feels an excitement like he hasn’t in a long, long time. He wishes he could explain the feeling in his spark, the one which makes him certain he’s going to succeed, but he can’t.

This is it, he tells himself. This will be my legacy.

Departure day dawns, and there’s one more task left. Megatron excuses himself from the flurry of last-minute preparations – always a flurry, like they haven’t known this is coming for months – and makes straight for the memorial.

It’s so large now they’ve built up and around and behind and under it. The building barely resembles the one he’d crafted by hand anymore, but the main entrance still leads straight into the original structure. The spark of the building, so to speak.

His feet take him on a familiar path. He doesn’t have to count rows. He doesn’t have to count steps. His frame knows where to go. His spark always pulls him back here, to his first real love, and maybe, his only.

He cares for Ratchet. He does. If pressed, he would say he loves Ratchet. There’s a comfort there. A familiarity. He might not burn for Ratchet the way he’s always burned for Sunstreaker, but then, you never forget your first love.

Megatron finds Sunstreaker’s plaque with ease, still as shiny as the day he first set it into the burnished metal. Someone else will have to keep up the maintenance on it, Sideswipe perhaps.

He rests his palm over the plaque, fingers splayed, feels the chill of the metal against his derma. He offlines his optics, cycles a ventilation in and out, feels his spark spin into a tight ball within his chassis. It shouldn’t be so hard. He hasn’t held Sunstreaker in centuries, millennia even.

He still feels as though he’s saying goodbye all over again, standing over Sunstreaker’s gray frame in the silence of the battle’s aftermath, the weight of his choices sitting like a burden across his shoulders. He still remembers the stench of it, the cut of each wound, the splashes of energon. His spark aches as though it were yesterday, though that ache has dulled a little, except the moments where it rises up to swallow him, there in the dead of night.

He worries he’s going to forget. He worries the dullness of that ache means he might someday forget how he felt about Sunstreaker.

Frantically, he clings to it, that agony. He doesn’t want to lose Sunstreaker, Not this piece of him. It’s all he has left, the pain.

He’s always with me, Ratchet had said, with a soft, sad smile, a grieving one, but a hopeful one as well. Even without him, I’m never alone.

Megatron’s vents turn shuddery. He cycles them in and out, his fingers curling against the cold metal of Sunstreaker’s plaque. The pain only leads to bitterness, he tells himself. It’ll fester.

He has to let it heal. He must.

Sunstreaker will always be with him. He won’t forget. It’s impossible. Sunstreaker is written on his spark, down to the very core of it.

Slowly, achingly slowly, Megatron loosens his grip. He tells himself it’s not Primus urging him toward the fringes of the universe, it’s Sunstreaker, giving him one last chance at hope.

And it’s enough to convince him to surrender the rest, to withdraw with a parting burst of love in his spark.

Megatron turns to go, his fingers lingering, only to startle when he realizes he’s not alone. Sideswipe stands at the end of the corridor, his expression unreadable, but his posture non-threatening. Not that he could be, considering how much he’d gone civilian since the war’s end.

He’s not fully silver anymore. He’s a shade of red that perfectly complements the red in Optimus’ paint with silver only there for accents. And, if Megatron looks close enough, some hints of gold. A shout out to his brother perhaps.

“You really did love him,” Sideswipe says quietly.

Megatron works his intake. “Yes.” He withdraws his hand, fingers curling into fists.

Sideswipe’s gaze flicks past him, to his brother’s plaque. Something in his expression softens. “I’m glad,” he says. “Sunny deserved love.” Emotion flickers into his optics: grief and sadness, the first Megatron’s seen of it.

If there’s regret, Megatron can’t tell. But maybe that’s just because he’s still so very bitter.

For some reason, he feels compelled to soothe Sideswipe. For his own sake, maybe. “He didn’t hate you,” Megatron replies, because he knows it to be true. Sunstreaker had never hated Sideswipe, not like Megatron had hated Optimus.

Sideswipe laughs, but it’s not amused. “Oh, I doubt that very much.”

“Love and hate, they are two sides of the same coin,” Megatron replies as he moves away from Sunstreaker’s plaque, toward the end of the corridor. He feels too vulnerable here, as though he’s laid bare his spark and let someone intrude on it. “Believe me, I know.”

“Yeah, I guess you do.” Sideswipe frowns, contemplative rather than angry. He tilts his head. “Is that why you’re leaving?”

Megatron shakes his head. “This decision has nothing to do with my brother. It is something that must be done.” He cycles a ventilation. “Look after Optimus for me. He needs it more than you think.”

Sideswipe snorts, armor creaking as he crosses his arms over his chassis. “You don’t even have to ask. He’s mine now. You can’t have him back.”

“Keep him. You’re the one he loves. And vice versa, I’m quite sure.” Megatron tilts his head, that sharp knot in his spark throbbing.

Love. He’d never held it for Optimus. He knows it was bright and fierce for Sunstreaker, but this feeling inside him now, warm and content, he thinks it’s love, too. Just another shade of it.

Sideswipe grins and tilts his chin. “You just make sure you take care of my favorite medic. I’ll be very put out if he doesn’t come back, preferably alive.”

It’s Megatron’s turn to snort. Sideswipe is nothing like his twin. There’s no chance in the universe he can actually follow through with that threat.

“Rest assured, if Ratchet does not return, then neither do I,” he says as he slides past Sideswipe, dismissing the mech from his presence. “I will fight to the last beat of my spark to protect him.”

He leaves Sideswipe on that note. He has nothing left to say to the mech. If Sideswipe knows what’s good for him, he’ll keep Optimus safe as well. He’ll do for his mate what he couldn’t do for his twin.

He’ll love Optimus and care for him and ensure he is happy.

Outside, Ratchet waits for him, his back to the mausoleum, his face turned toward the ship in the distance, ready to set sail into the universe. He turns as he hears Megatron approach, a smile on his face.

“Ready?” he asks.

“Yes.” Megatron slides an arm around Ratchet, soaking in the comforting press of Ratchet’s field. “Do you need a moment?”

Ratchet chuckles and tilts his head against Megatron’s chassis. “No. I’ve said all I need to say. Hide knows my spark.”

‘Knows’ he says. Ratchet tends to speak of Ironhide as though his departed mate is around the corner, watching him with a smile. It’s a cute quirk of his, and one that doesn’t bother Megatron at all.

Sometimes, in his more optimistic moments, he likes to think of Sunstreaker watching from a happier place, a soft smile on his face. Approving.

“So long as you are sure.”

“I am.” Ratchet slides free, but only so he can take Megatron’s hand and tangle their fingers together. He gives him a gentle tug, away from the mausoleum and toward the waiting ship. “Come on. We’ve got work to do.”

Megatron resists. “One moment,” he says, and with a tug, pulls Ratchet back into his arms.

He cups the medic’s face with his hand, presses their foreheads together. He ex-vents slowly, in and out, as Ratchet goes warm and soft against him, a flutter of joy in his field.

“I love you,” Megatron says without ceremony. “Thank you for taking this journey with me.”

Ratchet’s head turns into his palm, nuzzles it. “Home is where you are,” he says quietly, his lips a brush over the soft dermal metal.

Megatron’s spark unfurls within him, the last clench of madness losing its grip on him. He doesn’t know what the future is going to bring, but he knows there’s hope in it, something of which he once could have never dreamed.

Even knowing he’s about to leave Cybertron, undertaking a perilous journey into a great unknown, Megatron knows one thing for certain.

He’s home at last.

****

Advertisements

[Bay] Indomitable 06

Ratchet has never been one to bother much with tact or subtlety. He’s too old and lived through too much to care much for other’s sensibilities. If people have a problem with him, they are welcome to say so to his face. It’s not his issue, it’s theirs.

Even so, his choice to engage in a relationship with Megatron is something both fragile and precious. It’s not a secret. He doesn’t attempt to hide it. But he doesn’t flaunt it either. Not this delicate thing which much be protected.

Megatron, for all his bale and bluster, is easily startled. He’s too quick to back down when he should straighten his spinal strut. He lets the others shame him for things he shouldn’t feel guilty about.

Meanwhile, Ratchet decks the first mech who dares ask him what Ironhide would think about it.

It’s none of their damn business.

Cybertronians gossip. Ratchet thinks it’s a law of the universe, that any collection of peoples living close together, have to spend half their time talking about one another, both publicly and in private.

So he’s not surprised when word gets out. He’s even less surprised when it causes something of an uproar. When former Autobots start screeching about Decepticons corrupting their heroes. When Decepticons start snarling back that badges are gone and the only abettors around here are the soft-sparked Autobots. When the Neutrals shake their heads and mutter that some mechs have no taste.

It’s all Ratchet can do to swallow his fury, his sharp retorts. Some know better, and he informs them thusly.

He has only to knock out the one outright crude commenter before the rest get the picture. Ironhide is off limits and by the way, whomever Ratchet chooses to spend his time and attention with is his own fragging business and no one else’s.

Yes, that means you, Optimus fragging Prime.

Prowl might have had something to say about it. But once Ratchet remarks on the suspicious blue streak of paint on Prowl’s right thigh panel, the tactician snaps his jaw shut and concedes defeat.

Hypocrite. As if half the planet doesn’t already know he and Thundercracker have christened every closet and storage room between here and Lunabase. Clearly Prowl hadn’t learned anything from Jazz’s various lessons in being stealthy.

But thoughts of Jazz bring a pang to Ratchet’s spark. A pang of loss, of grief, and regrettably, guilt. Because Megatron had been the one to rip Jazz in half. He’d been the one to end the life of such a bright spark.

It had been war. Megatron had killed a lot of mechs. Ratchet had, too. And arguably, Jazz had probably gone after Megatron with suicidal intent in the first place. He’d never quite gotten over losing Bluestreak, and Ratchet couldn’t blame him for that.

But every time Megatron smiles at him and Ratchet’s spark flutters, he wonders if he’s making the right choice. If it’s alright for him to forgive, or if he should continue to be bitter and angry like everyone else. Is it selfish of him to reach for this? Is he betraying the memories of everyone who fell to Megatron’s madness?

Ratchet doesn’t know. He’s not a philosopher. He’s a medic, one who’s watched far too many mechs die, who’s felt their sparks flicker and fade under his hands, who saw friends go to the battlefield and never return. He’s bathed in grief and the gloom, he’s felt the weight of hopelessness drag him down.

Anger can only carry you so far.

There’s a point where you have to stop, say enough is enough, and learn the fight toward forgiveness. It’s the only way to ease the burden, to lighten the weight on your spark. Ratchet’s too old to let himself be buried in the dregs of bitterness and resentment.

Besides, Megatron makes him happy. And that’s really all that matters.

Half a year after he and Megatron take their tentative steps into a deeper relationship, when Ratchet’s learned to ignore or handle all but he most stubborn of detractors, his resolve is tested.

Of all the opinions Ratchet’s brushed aside, however easily, he doesn’t expect to have to deal with this one.

This one being the rattling clunker that touches down with a loud harrumph and a belch of smoke in the middle of the main landing pad. It looks like it’s held together with wishes and dreams and miles and miles of duct-tape. The cargo bay door opens, unveiling a ramp that promptly falls off.

And leaping out of the cargo bay, straight to the ground now that a casual disembark is no longer possible, is Hot Spot. Behind him, his four brothers, every last one of them.

They survived, just as Megatron had surmised they did.

They hadn’t known who was on the ship when it broadcast it’s arrival. They’d been unable to establish communication and had been prepared for anything. Ratchet and Optimus, Megatron and Thundercracker, a team of medics and a team of soldiers for security, all swarming the landing site.

Of all the mechs in the universe, Ratchet had no idea it would be his younglings, the combiner team he and Ironhide had helped design, program, and raise. They are the closest things to sparklings he and Ironhide ever cared for.

His spark simultaneously warms and squeezes tight. He’s so happy to see them that he’s struck dumb, wondering if he’s wandered into a dream.

Except that if it was a dream, Ironhide would be beside him instead of Megatron. He’d He’d be whooping with joy, lurching forward to sweep Groove into a big embrace – always the hugger that one – while Hot Spot clapped them both on the shoulders.

“Ratchet!”

First Aid notices him first, visor bright with relief, and he’s the one who throws himself at Ratchet, still too short, but taller now. Reframed obviously, and his paint’s seen better days, but he’s alive. Primus, they’re all alive, and Ratchet’s processor keeps short-circuiting.

More frames crowd around him, and he feels hands, arms, sweeping him up. There’s chatter and laughing and maybe a little vent-snuffling.

“We found you!” Streetwise says, a touch too loud, always trying too hard to be heard. “I told Hot Spot we would.”

“He did,” Hot Spot agrees, the tallest of them, taller even than Ratchet, embracing Ratchet from behind, nearly big enough to pick up the lot of them.

Groove hugs Ratchet’s left side, barely cresting Ratchet’s hip, but his field is the strongest, the warmest and it wraps around them all like a heavy blanket. “Told you we’d be fine,” he says with a little laugh, because Ironhide had been so worried, so angry, when the orders came down for them to escort a medical transport off-planet and to a distant galaxy.

But that is what Protectobots do. Ratchet and Ironhide couldn’t leave Optimus, it was their duty. And it was the duty of Hot Spot’s team to watch over those who needed it most.

Ratchet doesn’t ask what happened to the medical transport. Logic answers that question for him. He can tell, in the dark echoes of their fields, the sense of tragedy buried in the unasked question.

Blades is silent compared to his brothers. He stands apart, armor jittering, his expression serious and narrow. Ratchet doesn’t take offense. That’s how Blades has always been. He’s always preferred his shows of affection to be sincere and private.

But his inability to control his emotion hasn’t much changed for the centuries.

“Where’s Ironhide?” he demands, his visor tracking the gathered faces, his HUD no doubt already updating with Cybertron’s current census and finding his adoptive-genitor’s designation nowhere in the list.

Ratchet’s spark squeezes like a punch to the midsection. Ironhide’s loss hits him all over again, his optics sparking and his vents stuttering. His mate should be here, welcoming their younglings back to Cybertron. He should be congratulating Hot Spot, and talking to Blades in that way he always had to calm the erratic heli down.

But Ironhide isn’t here. Because Sentinel Prime killed him.

“He’s gone, Blades,” Ratchet replies, the words tasting like ash on his glossa. No, like rust. The rust in the air, lingering after Sentinel shot Ironhide in the back. “He… Sentinel… He’s gone.”

Hot Spot’s arms tighten around him. First Aid presses his face to Ratchet’s chestplate. Blades’ rotors jitter in familiar patterns even as Streetwise moves closer to him, reaching up to rest a hand on his brother’s shoulder.

Blades frowns, and then his gaze shifts, ever so slowly, to Megatron nearby, watching but not interfering. Wisely removed to Optimus’ side as he keeps his silence.

Ratchet only notices because he’s watching. He sees the shift, the dawning realization come over Blades’ face. The way his lip curls back, his denta clench, his hands form fists. There must be a flash of warning through their gestalt bond, because First Aid stiffens and Hot Spot growls a single “don’t” before Blades snarls and chaos reigns.

It takes the combined might of all four of his brothers to pull Blades off from Megatron, who had only defended himself and hadn’t returned a single blow. It takes Ratchet wading into the fray, sedating the angry rotary, who’s howling curses and screaming, “Your fault, your fault, your fault!” and Ratchet can’t blame him.

He’d spent far too long himself, shouting ‘your fault’ at Megatron, if only in his own head.

Blades slumps into Hot Spot’s arms, his field full of frenetic energy, and the silence afterward is ripe with whirring vents and startled looks.

“It’s a long story,” First Aid murmurs with a sideways glance at Megatron, who hadn’t reacted beyond backing further away. “It’s been a long journey home.”

“As it has for everyone,” Optimus says, stepping forward, reaching out with arms and a field that has always served as a source of comfort, helping to ease the thick tension of the moment. “Come. We’ll get you fuel, rest, treatment if needed. There are many changes now, but we can talk about it after you’ve rested.”

Optimus’ quiet, firm command takes charge of the situation, setting the tension to a low simmer. The Protectobots look to Hot Spot, who looks to Optimus with relief and agreement in his optics. He nods, murmurs a quiet thank you, and hefts Blades up into his arms.

“Lead the way, sir,” he says, the rest of his brothers falling in beside him.

All save for First Aid, who lingers, his gaze more sharply knowing than it had been before leaving Cybertron all those eons ago. Ratchet doesn’t know what they’ve been through out in the universe, but it’s matured his young protege. Perhaps even changed him.

“He’ll be okay,” First Aid says as he watches Optimus lead his team away, and Hot Spot shift Blades’ weight in his arms. “Eventually, I mean. We all will.” He leans in against Ratchet. “I’m sorry about Ironhide.”

Ratchet sighs. “Me, too.” He slips an arm over First Aid’s shoulders, tucking his protege against his side. He chances a glance at Megatron who had lingered, and their optics meet.

Megatron nods once before he turns to leave, opposite where Optimus had taken the Protectobots, Thundercracker leaving with him. No charges will be filed against Blades. Ratchet knows Megatron won’t bother.

The guilt still rages within Megatron. Honestly, without it, Ratchet doesn’t know if he can even look at Megatron. Not when those words echo in his audials.

“Your fault! Your fault!” Because Blades is wrong, and he isn’t, and the world is not simple. Not anymore.

He’ll catch up with Megatron later. He has a feeling he knows what’s going through Megatron’s processor at the moment and like frag is Ratchet going to let Megatron run away from this. It isn’t going to be easy, but nothing worth having ever is.

Ratchet pats First Aid on his opposite shoulder. “Come on. Optimus is right. You all could use some rest.”

First Aid lets Ratchet lead him away, relief thick in his field as he leans hard against Ratchet’s side. Behind them, the rickety spacecraft groans its final death throes and collapses with a clatter.

~

Later, far later than Ratchet is used to functioning these days, the Protectobots are snuggled away in a suite large enough to suit all five of them and their unique situation. They’re clean, as fueled as their starved tanks can manage, mended, and deep in recharge.

Ratchet’s spark had ached as he looked at them, as he assessed their hurts and their scars, recognizing far too many types of damage. What horrors they survived, he doesn’t even want to know. There’s a haunted shadow in the back of their gazes. Ironhide would’ve been furious.

Perhaps it’s better he’s not here to see.

Ratchet intends to trudge home, but he detours. He drags himself to Megatron’s suite instead, knowing the Lord High Protector has yet to recharge, and it’s come to this, that he doesn’t even have to knock for an invitation. He has the code, so he lets himself inside, to quarters that are dim and quiet, but occupied.

He finds Megatron on the balcony, hands clasped behind his back as he looks out over Cybertron in the middle of night-cycle, though leaning more toward early morning. There’s a heavy tension to Megatron’s shoulders, a resigned set to the way he holds himself, as if braced for bad news.

“How is Blades?” he asks before Ratchet can even get in field-sense range.

Ratchet blasts Megatron with a quick, sweeping scan. But there’s no lingering damage from Blades’ attack. Megatron’s nanites have already tended to the dents and bruises.

“He and Ironhide were close,” Ratchet replies, which isn’t precisely an answer. He moves next to Megatron, within touching range, but doesn’t reach out, except with his field. “Fortunately, he has his brothers still. He’ll be fine.” He pauses, and amends with, “Eventually.”

Megatron doesn’t look at him, his gaze fixed outward. “That is good to hear.” He sounds carefully neutral, carefully braced. “I am glad they found their way back to you.”

“Me, too. And here I was thinking the universe was all out of miracles for me.” Ratchet chuckles, but he knows it sounds forced and nervous.

Megatron shifts and audibly cycles a ventilation. “Ratchet,” he begins, only to pause, his armor creaking as it tightens over his frame. He adds, much more quietly, “You don’t have to pretend on my account. They are your younglings. They will always come first.”

“They are adults now. The war’s made them that much. Their opinions are noted, but don’t matter,” Ratchet retorts, anger flashing through him before he realizes the true fear behind Megatron’s actions. Leave before being left, it’s a matter of self-preservation.

Because yes, he’d told them. He hadn’t wanted rumors to color their opinions. He hadn’t wanted the gossip to set in, poisoning their memories or their relationship.

Yes, Ratchet and Megatron are romantically involved. It’s a long story. They don’t have to accept it. They don’t have to understand it. But they do have to respect Ratchet’s choice. He’d been quite firm.

Their reactions left much to be desired. Hot Spot had been respectful, but his gaze haunted, no doubt thinking more of Ironhide, who had been both mentor and creator to him. Streetwise had said nothing. Groove had, of all things, congratulated Ratchet with an embrace and a murmured ‘be happy, yeah?’.

Blades had been silent because Blades was still sedated. Hot Spot promised to tell him first thing after he woke. Ratchet doesn’t envy anyone that task. He’s made a mental note to keep an optic out for Blades. They don’t need any incidents.

First Aid had given Ratchet a long, incisive look. He’d known, he claimed as he walked Ratchet to the door and was out of immediate hearing range of his brothers. He’d seen the way Megatron looked at Ratchet. He’d seen how Megatron lingered. How he hadn’t even fought back, and it wasn’t just the treaty and personal guilt that kept his hands at his sides, not even formed into fists.

“I trust you,” First Aid had said, only to sigh heavily. “But I don’t trust him. Ironhide’s not here anymore. So if he hurts you, Defensor is more than happy to step up in his place.”

Ratchet had appreciated the sentiment, but not the insinuation behind it. The way his younglings-adopted look at him as though he’s lost his processor, his senses, with Ironhide and all that remains is a series of terrible choices.

There are other mechs on the planet, he imagines them trying to plead. Couldn’t you have found one even three-fourths as controversial as Megatron?

Pah.

Ratchet shakes his head, shakes out the memories and the assumptions. Left behind is frustration and irritation, and both he directs at Megatron, if only so he can make the foolish Lord High Protector understand.

“I don’t know when you think I became the sort of mech who lets others decide things for me, but that’s not who I am. That’s never who I’ve been,” Ratchet says with a fierceness that surprises him.

He steps in front of Megatron, blocking his view of the city, forcing Megatron to look at him. “I’m with you because I want to be. I’m here because this is where I chose to go. If you don’t want me, fine, I can take a hint. But don’t push me away because you think it’s what’s best for me. I can decide that for myself, thank you very much.”

Megatron looks at him, optics wide and startled, his expression betraying the conflict of emotion in his spark. Like he wants to believe Ratchet, but doesn’t trust that belief. His intake visibly works until the tension in his posture loosens enough for him to uncross his arms, to rest his hands carefully on Ratchet’s shoulders. His coalfire optics are warm, because yes, Megatron had not swapped his optical lenses for Autobot blue.

No one insisted.

“I don’t think there is anything I have done to deserve you,” he says quietly, his voice like tires over gravel. His hands slide inward until they gently cup the bottom of Ratchet’s face, thumbs sweeping over the spurs of his cheeks. “If there is justice meant for me, it would be a broken spark as you walk away.”

Megatron audibly ex-vents and leans forward, until his forehead presses to Ratchet’s, and the contact of plating against plating relents his energy field as well. Ratchet senses the broil of turmoil inside of him, the fight between what he wants, and what he thinks he can have.

Ratchet snorts, aiming for irreverent if only to cover up the way his spark throbs at the overtly gentle touch. “I’m not a prize or anything. Besides, I’m done letting the universe decide what I deserve. You should be, too. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it takes a special kind of courage to look at the destruction you’ve caused and try to change. That’s the courage I fell in love with.”

The words leave his mouth before he realizes the confession they are. Ratchet’s jaw snaps shut in surprise at himself, and he shutters his optics with a quiet sigh. The words are out there, he’s not taking them back because they are true, if not a little premature in being offered.

He’s more worried they’ll spook Megatron.

Ratchet swallows over a lump in his intake and gently rests his hands over Megatron’s wrists. The hold on his face has gone still. Even Megatron’s field paused, as though his entirety has been frozen with shock.

Ratchet looks up at him, and his spark throbs at Megatron’s expression. It’s almost physically painful, to see the mix of wonder and hope and anxiety flashing over the elegant dermal plates.

“I’m sorry,” Ratchet says, quietly. “I babble. It’s what I do when I’m tired, and it’s been a long day. I still meant what I said, and it was freely offered. You don’t owe me anything in return.”

Megatron cycles a ventilation, one ragged and rough, before his thumbs sweep over Ratchet’s cheek once more. “I don’t… I can’t…” He pauses to compose himself and his field rises up, wrapping warm and tender around Ratchet’s frame. “I’m not worthy of such a gift,” he finally says. “But I cherish it. And someday, I might even be brave enough to offer one of my own.”

“I can wait,” Ratchet says.

Because something like this, it shouldn’t be rushed or demanded. He’ll wait forever if that’s what it takes. Words are just words.

The look in Megatron’s optics, the gentle way he pulls Ratchet into his arms, an embrace near-crushing for the desperation in it, they speak all Ratchet needs to know.

****

[Bay] Indomitable 05

If anyone asks, Megatron is not eying his chronometer as he works on a never-ending stack of datapads. Some of which he’s quite certain Prowl is pulling out of a secret subspace as some form of passive-aggressive payback for the war. He could have sworn he’d already filled out this munitions requisition.

Twice.

Megatron’s attention flicks to his chronometer again.

Technically, he is Lord High Protector. He makes his own schedule. No one forces him to keep to a set hour of availability. He chooses to do so. If he wants to leave early, he damn well can.

Leaving early, however, is not going to make the appointed time come any faster. So while he’s waiting, he might as well get some work done. Or pretend to at any rate.

He checks his chronometer again.

Ratchet’s invitation lingers at the back of his mind. To say he’s delighted would be an understatement. He’s no fool. He knows exactly what Ratchet’s invite implies. He knows what he’s agreed to.

He doesn’t know if he’s ready for it.

The uncertainty doesn’t keep him from watching time tick onward. The choice has been made. All that remains is to show up on time and see what the evening – and Ratchet – have in store for him.

Is he nervous?

Pah. The Lord High Protector, former Decepticon Supreme Commander, does not know the meaning of the word. He fears nothing!

Except this.

This he fears. It’s about trust, he reasons, and abandons his efforts to look over datawork. He’s not paying attention anymore.

It’s about putting his trust, this fragile thing he’s carefully acquired, into someone else’s hands. It’s believing he can, for lack of a better word, have something close to a happy ending. It’s trusting he’s allowed to have this thing.

He doesn’t think he is.

Megatron cycles a ventilation and rubs a hand down his face. Deserving and earning, those are complicated concepts. He certainly doesn’t deserve this opportunity, but he wants it. Primus, does he want it.

He’s not so much of a coward to run away from it. That doesn’t change the fact it fragging terrifies him.

His chronometer chimes. It’s officially the end of his non-official shift. He’s got a… a date, for lack of a better word.

Megatron saves his work, shuts down his console, and stands. He takes his time – no need to look like a mech in an eager rush – and casually exits his office, the door closing and locking behind him.

The command center is quiet. This time of the evening, it runs on a skeleton crew, the bare minimum to ensure Cybertron is operating at peak efficiency. Everyone works their hardest, but also, by law they aren’t to overwork themselves. Health comes first.

Ratchet had won that battle. No one contested him. No one dared.

Megatron grins as he remembers Ratchet striding into the meeting, one he hadn’t been invited to at that, and slamming a datapad on the table.

Optimus had blinked. Prowl had flinched.

“Yes, Ratchet?” Optimus had asked, recovering before anyone else, eying the datapad as though it would rise up and bite him. “Is there something we can help you with?”

“This,” Ratchet had said, a single finger on the datapad as he slid it ever so slowly toward his Prime, “is a list of every standard frame type we currently have occupying Cybertron.”

Prowl had coughed politely. “I do have that very same list in my–”

“It also,” Ratchet had interrupted loudly, with a cut of his optics that made Prowl’s lips draw into a thin line, “lists their standard functioning time, their peak efficiency, and the necessary amount of energon, recharge, and leisure time they require to ensure they are healthy and happy citizens.”

Optimus had nodded and accepted the datapad once it was firmly in front of him, one palm resting over the darkened screen. “Thank you, Ratchet. We shall certainly–”

“You will read this carefully,” Ratchet had said, daring to interrupt Prime and that had caused Megatron to smother a snicker whilst Thundercracker looked on with increasingly wide optics. “And you will abide by it. Because the first mech who shows up in my medbay having worked beyond the tolerances of his frame will cause me to be angry, and I don’t care which faction he once claimed. Do you want to see me angry?”

By the last, Ratchet’s voice had gotten sharp and sturdy, something one couldn’t ignore or argue with.

Prowl recovered quietly. “Of course not, Ratchet. Like you, we consider the health and safety of our people of utmost importance.”

Ratchet had tapped the screen with loud snaps of finger against metal. “Good,” he’d said, and finally withdrew his hand, straightening slowly. “Glad we had this talk then.” He’d pulled back from the table and grinned. “I’ll just be on my way then. Don’t think I’m supposed to be here after all.”

Optimus had made a strangled sound in his intake, one that had covered up Megatron’s muffled, amused snort. “Thank you, Ratchet. Your research will be most helpful.”

Ratchet’s rakish smirk had done things to Megatron. Had made him realize, back then, that he was falling for the brash medic. He’d always appreciated those with backstruts of duryllium, who barged into situations no matter the consequences. He appreciated strength in all its forms.

It was why he’d fallen for Sunstreaker so easily, even if he didn’t take into account their similar histories.

And now, here Megatron is.

After a brief stopover in the public washracks for a rinse, he stands outside of Ratchet’s habsuite, precisely on time. He hadn’t shined himself up, that would have been too obvious, but he is clean.

All he has to do is press the button.

He tells himself he’s not afraid, and then he raises a hand. If his fingers are trembling a little, he pretends not to notice. He waits as the door buzzes and then opens to reveal Ratchet, grinning at him.

“About time you got here,” he says, without an ounce of hesitation or self-consciousness. He steps aside, gesturing for Megatron to join him. “My tanks have been grumbling for hours.”

Megatron stills.

Oh, Primus. He’d forgotten the energon. After all the trouble he’d gone through, he’d left it in his office. His face flushes with heat, embarrassment filling him down to the core.

He coughs to hide the humiliation. “Speaking of which, I seem to have misplaced it.”

“You forgot it, you mean.” Ratchet laughs and all but yanks Megatron inside anyway, the door slamming shut behind him. “Oh, well. Drinking citystock isn’t going to kill either of us.”

“Though it’s far from palatable,” Megatron replies with a little sigh. “I apologize, Ratchet.”

The medic shrugs and moves into the main room, leaving Megatron to follow. “It’s not the end of the world, kid. It just means you’ll owe me double for next time.”

Kid? Megatron frowns but shakes it off. “That I can do,” he says. He eyes the seating options and chooses the sturdiest chair available as Ratchet draws them two cubes from the dispensers available in every habsuite.

Ratchet joins him at the chair across from the low, narrow table and hands Megatron his cube. “I’m just glad you showed up.”

“You didn’t think I would?” Megatron asks as he accepts the cube with a dip of his head for gratitude. His internals are a squirmy mess. He fears he’s going to misstep at any moment, as he’s so guilty of when it comes to social situations.

Ratchet leans back in his chair, totally relaxed, one hand toying with his cube but not drinking it. His gaze turns distant, tilted away from Megatron. “I have a little experience with skittish warriors,” he says, and then his lips curve in a crooked smile before he looks at Megatron. “But it’s new territory to me, too.”

Skittish warriors. Pah.

Megatron snorts and hides behind his cube. His face feels hot, or maybe that’s his frame, pushing and pulling toward Ratchet while rationality holds him back. He’s yearning, and he’s not even entirely sure what for, he just knows he wants.

He wonders if Sunstreaker would approve. And then he pushes that wonder way down deep because he already knows the answer to that.

“I didn’t think there was anything that intimidated you,” Megatron comments.

Ratchet’s right heel kicks at the floor. He fiddles with his cube again before he abruptly tosses the whole thing back and sits forward, planting it on the table.

“You’d be surprised,” he says, and the weight of his gaze on Megatron feels full of heat and promise. The air crackles between them.

Megatron works his intake. His own optics drop to his barely touched energon. He doesn’t actually need to refuel.

“Ratchet, I–”

“Come to berth with me.”

Megatron blinks, his optics lifting to Ratchet, whose interruption had cut through Megatron’s babble and straight to the spark of the matter. His gaze is earnest, his field genuine, but there’s something in his haste that doesn’t sit right with Megatron.

He searches for something appropriate to say, and falls short. Apparently, he takes too long because Ratchet barrels forward, shaking his head with a wry grin.

“And I don’t mean to recharge,” he clarifies, his optics brighter, his field more insistent now, stroking as it is along the edges of Megatron’s own.

He’s beautiful. Megatron would be lucky to have him, to hold him, to take him to berth. Yet, he still hesitates.

“I understood your meaning,” Megatron says quietly. “I’ve understood since the moment you appeared in my office this afternoon. You leave little room for confusion.”

“Well, that’s only because I’m too old and too tired to bother with tact.” Ratchet sits forward, on the very edge of the chair, his hands clasped and his elbows on his knees. “If friendship is all you want, that’s fine with me. But if you’re interested in more, so am I.”

Megatron works his intake. He sets his untouched energon on the table. “You’re certain?” he asks, and hates himself for how quiet the query, how it betrays his unease.

Ratchet scowls. “How many times are you going to ask me that?”

“Perhaps because the one truly uncertain here is me,” Megatron replies, making himself meet Ratchet’s optics. He’s not a coward. He’s not.

Ratchet’s optics darken. His field turns baleful. “I’m that unappealing, am I?” he demands, and his armor jitters, a rustle crawling across the yellow-green plates.

Megatron shakes his head. “That is far from the truth and not what I meant.” His glossa sweeps over his lips.

“Why hesitate then?”

“Why rush?” Megatron counters, like a cornered animal, lashing out at the source of his fear, and instantly regrets it.

Especially when Ratchet’s scowl deepens. “I don’t see a point in waiting. I’m not getting any newer, and my feelings aren’t changing. You still haven’t answered the real question though. You keep avoiding it.” His hands unfold, scrubbing down his thighs. “Though maybe the lack of answer is one in itself.”

Megatron shakes his head. There’s something here, something in Ratchet’s urgency, the sudden way he appeared in Megatron’s office, the almost desperate cant to his optics. He’s a brash mech, yes, but never without purpose.

But this… this feels almost frantic. As if there’s a death sentence hanging over his head or he’s reacting to something.

Megatron stills as realization washes over him.

Not something, he thinks. But someone.

Megatron sighs and scrapes a hand down his face and he vows to Primus or Unicron or whomever will accept his vow, that as much as he respects Optimus, he really loathes his brother and quite often.

“Optimus spoke with you, didn’t he?” Megatron asks, already knowing the answer.

It’s confirmed when Ratchet rears up, backstrut straight, his field full of defensive energy. “I talk to Optimus all the time,” he snaps. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

The anger sparks, bright and quick, but Megatron swallows it down. Now is not the time for his ire. Now is the time to mend what Optimus might have broken before it is too late for either of them.

“Everything,” Megatron says, his tone softer than he knows himself capable. He rises to his feet and slides around the table, noticing that Ratchet tenses, but doesn’t protest when Megatron sits next to him, close enough their hips and thighs nearly touch. “You don’t have anything to prove, Ratchet. To me or my meddlesome brother.”

Ratchet snorts. “Never said that I did.” But his gaze skitters away and his armor hunches.

Megatron takes a risk. He reaches for Ratchet’s hand. Something a lot like relief unfurls inside of him when Ratchet allows their fingers to tangle, and Megatron’s thumb can gently rub over Ratchet’s palm.

“If you truly want a relationship with me, I’d be both delighted and honored,” Megatron murmurs, his thumb sweep-sweeping over Ratchet’s palm in gentle strokes. “I just don’t want it because you want to prove a point.”

Ratchet’s vents splutter. His engine revs and then peters into an idle. He moves, ever so minutely closer, until their armor does touch, and Megatron feels the warmth of him. His fingers twitch before they tighten into the briefest of squeezes.

“When did you get so reasonable?” he grumbles, but it’s affectionate, as is the way he tilts until he rests against Megatron’s side, head on Megatron’s shoulder.

Megatron works his intake, well aware of the gift he’s been given. “The moment I stared into my brother’s optics and found mercy.”

“Poetic.”

“And true.” Megatron cycles a ventilation and continues the chaste, delicate stroking.

Inch by inch, he can sense Ratchet relaxing. The conflict in the medic’s field wisps away, leaving contentment in its wake.

Megatron waits for the next abrupt invitation. He wonders how to delicately turn it down. Not because he’s not interested – far from it. But because he wants to do this right.

Ratchet sighs a ventilation and leans harder against him. “Maybe moving slow is not as unreasonable as I first thought.”

Megatron chuckles softly at Ratchet’s tone – half-surrender, half-grumble. “I’m still keen on sharing a berth if you are.” Platonically, of course, as they have often done before.

“Throw in a massage and it’s a deal.”

One Megatron is happy to make.

They move to Ratchet’s berth, a familiar place for them, the energon left behind and forgotten. Only this time there’s no faint whiff of overcharge to dull the sensation of Ratchet’s frame curled next to and around him. There’s no hesitation in the way their fields knit together, and it’s too easy to match ventilations.

It feels right. Like Megatron hasn’t felt in centuries or longer. He relaxes like he hasn’t since long before the war. And it’s easy enough to slide into recharge.

But he doesn’t forget his brother’s hand in this. He’s not eager to forgive the anxiety Optimus had caused Ratchet.

It must be addressed.

So when morning comes and he and Ratchet go their separate ways with lingering nuzzles and soft, fragile smiles, Megatron doesn’t go to his office. He heads straight to the civilian command center, the top floor, and Optimus’ office. It’s early, but he knows his brother is already hard at work.

Optimus thinks he, too, has something to prove.

Megatron doesn’t wait to be invited. Optimus’ receptionist hasn’t even arrived yet anyway. There’s no one to stop Megatron from barging into Optimus’ office, fixing his brother with a glare, and growling.

Optimus gives him a look and sighs. He puts down his stylus and leans back in his chair, folding his hands over his belly.

“Have I done something to offend you, Megatron?” he asks, his tone perfectly even, his expression devoid of guilt, though his field twitches with exasperation.

Megatron barely keeps from snarling. “Don’t play dumb. You never were very good at it.”

Optimus tilts his head. “Alright. Then which of my actions have you in here brimming with anger?”

“Ratchet,” Megatron grounds out, and then forces himself to cycle a ventilation, to unclench his hands. “What did you say to him?”

Guile has never been Optimus’ strong suit. Megatron doesn’t miss the subtle flash to Optimus’ optics. “Only what needed to be said,” he replies, his tone carefully measured, but his frame beginning to brace.

For what? Does the fool honestly think Megatron will strike him? That is the past. Does he not trust Megatron? Is that why he felt the need to confront Ratchet?

It hurts. Far more than Megatron thought it would.

So. They have come this far, but not far enough. Perhaps they never would. Perhaps some things, once broken, can never be mended.

Anger deflates, leaving defeat in its wake. “You’ll never trust me again, will you?” Megatron asks, and hates himself for the softness of his voice.

Optimus cycles a ventilation, something in his expression softening. “It’s not a matter of trust.”

“Like frag it isn’t!” Megatron snaps.

Optimus flinches. It’s barely visible, but Megatron sees it nonetheless. He’s thrown back in that moment, to the last time they truly argued, before Cybertron went to the Pit. When Megatron had spat angry words at his brother and stormed out, convinced he had no other recourse but violence left to him.

Megatron drags in a shaky ventilation and lets it out again, still shaky. “Whatever we do is our business,” he says, and marvels at his control, how he tones it down from a yell to conversational volume. “And I don’t need you sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. So stay out of it.”

For a long moment, there’s silence.

And then Optimus does the strangest thing. He unfolds his hands and he straightens. He’s smiling, genuine and not strained. Amusement flickers in his field, strong enough for Megatron to sense it.

He feels as though he’s being mocked.

“What’s so damn funny?” Megatron demands.

Optimus braces his elbows on the desk and steeples his fingers together. “Ratchet said the same thing.”

Megatron blinks. Something inside of him goes warm and tingly all at once. He doesn’t find it hard to believe. Ratchet is one of the few who can tell Optimus to ‘frag off’ and get away with it.

But that he’d defend himself – and whatever he shares with Megatron – to one of his oldest and dearest friends, well, that says something. Even if it had resulted in him defensively making a speedy pass at Megatron.

“It’s not my intention to keep you two apart,” Optimus continues as his optics glitter with amusement and affection both. “I know what a foolish venture that would be. But I do want you both to be aware of what it means.”

Megatron folds his arms over his chassis. “I’m not a newspark, Optimus.”

“I didn’t say that you were, only that you should be prepared. I am not the only one who will have something to say, and others won’t be as… polite.”

Optimus sighs and rubs a hand down his face. “The truth is, I am happy for the both of you. Happy that you are daring to seek your own happiness, and happy that Ratchet is willing to look for a future again. For what it’s worth, I’m on your side.”

It means a lot. More than Megatron is willing to admit. To look in his brother’s optics and see support, where there had once been such anger and pity – it’s a powerful thing.

“Whatever happens, we’re going to deal with it,” Megatron says and lowers his arms. There’s no need to be defensive. Not anymore. “Together.”

It’s oddly freeing to say it. Megatron has spent far too long thinking he needs to fight his battles alone. To realize he can walk this road with another, rely on their strength, it’s a strange and wonderful thought.

One he is all too willing to embrace.

“I am glad to hear it.” Optimus straightens and picks up his stylus, gaze dropping back down to the stacks of datawork on his desk. “Now if you don’t mind, I have work to do, as I’m sure you do as well.”

“Indeed.” Megatron clamps down on the instinctive urge to apologize.

They are equals now. They are not Prime with his slightly deferent Lord High Protector. Not anymore. That little construct had been tossed aside when they agreed to co-rule.

He spins back toward the door, only to pause in the opening, rapping his fingers on the jamb. “We should spar,” Megatron suggests, without turning around, because he doesn’t want to see indecision written all over the Prime’s face. “Cybertron doesn’t need you getting soft because the war is over.”

There are always other threats. Cybertron has made many, many enemies.

There’s a moment of silence. Optimus audibly cycles a ventilation. “I’d hate to interrupt your evening meals with Ratchet,” he says slowly, carefully. “I’ll be on my honeymoon, to so speak, all next week. But after… I’ll make time.”

Megatron grunts, to cover up the way his spark soars with relief. “Good.” He raps his fingers on the jamb again. “Enjoy your honeymoon.”

“Thank you.”

He leaves, spark unexpectedly light, passing by Optimus’ receptionist as the mech stumbles in, clutching a cube of warmed energon as though morning is a greater enemy than any he’s ever faced.

Sunstreaker would have approved, Megatron thinks.

He would have even been proud.

****

[Bay] Indomitable 04

It’s a terrible idea.

In the history of awful ideas, this is certainly one that tops the list. Starting something with Megatron of all mechs. Sure the field is limited at the moment. There are, what, a thousand mechs on Cybertron all together? The sea is empty of fish at the moment.

That doesn’t mean, however, he has to choose Megatron.

And yet, he’s woken twice in a berth with Megatron, his emotions a nauseating mix of satisfaction and shame. Not guilt, because he already knows what Ironhide would have said. Ironhide had loved Megatron, even in the end. And he certainly loved Ratchet.

His love for Ironhide is not the problem.

Platonic though his berth-sharing with Megatron might be, Ratchet knows it won’t remain that way. At least, provided Megatron shares the same feelings raging a storm in Ratchet’s spark right now. Unexpected though they might be.

Friendship with Megatron had been a surprise. A wonderful surprise, full of companionship, and laughter, verbal banter, and long nights spent reminiscing. It is a comfortable thing, easier than Ratchet would have thought, as though all the anger and hate he carried, died with Ironhide.

He’s too tired to hate.

There is comfort, in his friendship with Megatron. Comfort and familiarity, an unexpected trust, a kinship. They share a similar grief, a similar sense of loneliness. There is a yearning within Megatron, echoes of the mech he’d been before betrayal, before war, before sparkache.

The problem, Ratchet knows, is everyone else. Even if it is none of their business. Still, he’s not surprised when he feels a presence lurking on the edge of his sensors, watching and waiting. Biding his time, perhaps. Preparing a speech even.

Ratchet doesn’t have time for such nonsense. He’s too old for drama.

“Shouldn’t you be on your honeymoon?” he asks as he wipes the assignment board with a touch of his finger and glares at the now empty grid. Who to assign what tasks, he ponders.

Ambulon for basin cleaning for sure. He still has to pay a price for ratting Ratchet out to Megatron.

“A Prime doesn’t have the luxury of such things,” Optimus replies as he steps out from where he’d been lurking behind one of the CR chambers. He doesn’t look the least bit contrite about skulking.

He does, however, look like he’s got something on his mind.

Ratchet snorts. “Tell that to Sentinel Prime.” He taps the end of the stylus on the board as he considers who to give the graveyard shift. Maybe the new mech? What’s his name? Medix? “I recall he was off planet for several months on his.”

Optimus frowns. “I am not my predecessor.”

“I didn’t mean to imply you were.” Ratchet scribbles Hoist’s name into an open slot. Morning shifts are perfect for Hoist. He’s perpetually sunny after a night of recharge.

Optimus sighs and shifts his weight. “Ratchet–”

“It’s not time for your monthly maintenance, and I’ll hazard a guess this isn’t a social call either.” Ratchet tosses a look over his shoulder, making it pointed and stern. “Bet I need only one guess why you’re here.”

My but the rumor mill churns ever so quickly on Cybertron. Ratchet supposes it helps their population is so low. You’d think everyone would be too busy with the rebuilding efforts to worry about other mech’s romantic entanglements, but no. He wonders who’d seen Megatron creeping out of his hab at aft’o clock in the morning.

Who had made it their business? Who had gone, from there, to running to Optimus as though there is treachery in the ranks, betrayal in the wings. Or perhaps they think Ratchet so weak he can’t possibly defend himself.

The war is over, but resentment lingers. There’s a reason Megatron still recharges with a weapon within reach. Assassination attempts have been fewer and further between as the peace reigns supreme, but as Jazz would say, it only takes a single moment of complacency and ill-attention for a saboteur to find success.

Oh, yes. There is only one reason Optimus is here.

Optimus’ optics flicker, and he begins in a grave, pontificating tone, “My brother–”

“–is precisely the mech I think he is,” Ratchet interrupts, because he has a feeling he’s heard this speech before. He returns his attention to the board, frowning at his lack of coverage.

Double-shifts it is then. Per the usual.

“Or do you think I can’t handle myself?” Ratchet adds as he scribbles his name in more than a few slots. Days off? What are those? Mystery ideas, they are.

Optimus’ field flashes, tainted with annoyance. “It’s not a question of your capability.”

“My sanity then. Or perhaps his.” Ratchet growls a little before he can rein it in. He focuses on his board. He feels as though he’s missing someone. “I know what I’m doing, youngling. But I appreciate your concern.”

Youngling. That’s it!

Ratchet scribbles Spinister’s glyphs into several shifts, including some of the more challenging ones. More neutral than Decepticon, the former “Scavenger,” to hear Spinister say it, is constantly on the lookout for more experience. Better to dive in headfirst, Ratchet says.

“It is serious then?” Optimus asks, his tone very solemn, as though Ratchet is about to admit to a felony or worse.

Ratchet sighs and caps the stylus. “I don’t know.” He turns to face Optimus, putting all of the authority he carries into his expression. “But whatever it is, it’s no business of yours, and you’d do well to remember that.”

Commanding officer Optimus might be. Oldest and cherished friend, also. But Optimus has no control over Ratchet’s personal life. If he’s making a mistake, so be it. It’s his mistake to make. And he won’t have Optimus, who could learn a thing or two about trust and Megatron besides, dissuade him.

“Fair enough.” Optimus audibly cycles a ventilation and raps his fingers over a thigh panel, a nervous tic he never managed to abandon. The calculating press of his field retreats back into his frame. Naughty, naughty Prime, prying without permission.

“I only mean to look out for you, old friend. Megatron has taken too many from me already.”

Ratchet eyes Optimus. “You still don’t trust him.” It’s a statement of fact, not a question.

Optimus shakes his head, his optics dimming with that same, grave sadness. “No. But perhaps with even more time. Until then–”

“–until then,” Ratchet echoes. He holds up a hand before Optimus can offer any further protest. “Until then, you can keep your opinions to yourself. Whatever Megatron and I become, it’s up to us. No one else.”

Optimus nods and holds himself straight, more leader than friend in the moment. “Don’t think me displeased. You two truly deserve happiness. I merely wish for you to be cautious.”

Ratchet snorts and uncaps his stylus, returning to his careful consideration of the duty board. Perhaps best not to assign Hoist to inventory. He’s not got the best mind for arithmetic. Primus below but he wishes First Aid were here. No one could count like his ward.

“I don’t need you to tell me that.” Ratchet scribbles his own designation down.

Inventory is best done by the chief anyway. And maybe his name is on the board more than it should be, but how can he, in good conscience, lay the burden on his subordinates? They are stretched thin as it is.

“I appreciate you worrying about me, Optimus,” he adds, because worrying is not just a Prime thing, it’s an Optimus thing. “Now don’t you have a new mate to go snuggle?”

Tension snaps, petering out of the space between them in an instant. Optimus Prime returns to Optimus, one of Ratchet’s oldest friends. A light chuckle spills out of his mouth, his armor loosening to unveil the cables beneath, shiny in the wake of a recent polish.

“Very well,” Optimus concedes, his voice warm and his field light as it touches on Ratchet’s. “I can see where I’m not wanted.” He retreats several paces, but pauses next to the chamber which had been hiding him in the first place. “For what it’s worth, I do hope my worries are for naught.”

And just like the aft he can be sometimes, Optimus leaves on that parting comment, his words echoing around Ratchet’s head. Always has to get in the last word. Always. Never quite grew out of that. It had always frustrated Megatron back then. Probably frustrates him still.

Ratchet tries to focus on his board, tries to make the proper assignments as any chief medic should. He can’t quite decide which emotion troubles him the most: outrage or pride or anger.

Maybe a mixture of all three.

It bothers him. It nags at the back of his mind, like a rustmite infection. His scribbling becomes even more illegible. He starts miscalculating shift times.

Ratchet growls, caps his stylus, and shoves it into the magnetic holder. He spins on a heelstrut and stomps out of the medbay with a snarled “be back in a minute” to his on-duty technician.

If he passes any familiar faces, Ratchet doesn’t know it. He’s too busy replaying Optimus’ words in his head, and thinking about what they mean. His spark is whirling and twirling, reminding him of things he’d rather not think about.

He’s too old to worry about everyone else. But it still affects him, and he hates that.

His rapid pace carries him into the Cybertronian Defense command center, formerly the Decepticon headquarters, now nominally the main office for Megatron and his chain of command. It’s a wide, squat building, vaguely pentagonal, with a large courtyard in the center for training exercises and the like. And like every other bureau on Cybertron, there are plenty of openings that need filling.

Ratchet doesn’t storm into Megatron’s office, but it’s a near thing. Breakdown doesn’t even try to stop him. The poor sports car huddles behind his desk, hidden behind stacks of datapads that would make Prowl proud.

The door springs open, as though it knows not to cross Ratchet in his current mood, and he strides inside as if he owns this office as well as his own. Megatron is perched behind his desk, hunched over a Very Official datapad. He doesn’t look up to greet Ratchet, but clearly, he knows Ratchet is there.

“I’m refueling as we speak, medic,” Megatron says, holding up a cube for emphasis and giving it a wiggle. “So you can spare me the lectures.”

Ratchet draws up short. Amusement filters in. The very idea of Megatron being so quick to defend himself just because Ratchet has come to call makes something roil with laughter inside of him.

This, right here, is why, Optimus. This casual camaraderie, this understanding. How can Optimus not see it?

Ratchet grins, suddenly at ease when he had been a bundle of agitation before. Unstoppable force of unrest meets unmovable object of unexpected equanimity, and it all grinds to a halt.

Optimus who?

“Well, aren’t you an obedient little leader?” Ratchet chuckles. This is why his friendship with Megatron is so important. Frag everyone else. “But that’s not why I’m here.”

“Oh.” Megatron sets the cube down and arches an orbital ridge. He looks so much better now than he had months ago, when the weight of the past and his own fatigue had hunched his shoulders like an ancient being. “What can I do for you then?”

Ratchet’s smile lingers, but there’s less tease in it now. Maybe it’s a bit puerile to storm in here simply because Optimus told him not to. But maybe he also needed that kick in the aft to boot him out of complacency. He’s had enough of letting sleeping mechs lie.

He’s lucky he’s lived this long. If he waits too much longer, opportunity will pass him by.

“It’s about tonight,” Ratchet says.

Megatron blinks. “… What about it?” His optics drop back down to his paperwork, picking up his stylus with a free hand. “I’ve already acquired the good fuel, as you so elegantly put it.”

“No, not that.” Ratchet works his intake and steadies himself. There’s a tremble in his knees that has no business being there. “You should come to my hab instead.”

Because drinking together and chatting belongs in Megatron’s hab. But this innocent sharing of berths, of spaces, of fields, has always been Ratchet’s. He’s breaking the status quo, he knows, and he hopes Megatron understands why. And wants the same thing.

Megatron’s stylus stills. His gaze slowly lifts. “You’re certain?”

Oh, he definitely understands. He’s not ignorant, our Megatron. He’s read the undercurrents as easily as Ratchet has. This undefinable thing between them, he knows where it stands.

Ratchet twists his jaw. “Do I seem like someone who’s prone to making decisions that aren’t?” he demands. He’s already sat through Optimus questioning his choices. He’s not going to have Megatron question them either.

The stylus is placed on the desktop with a quiet click. “People will talk,” Megatron says, tone hushed as though there are audials already eavesdropping on them.

Ratchet rolls his optics. “I’ve never cared what people say or think about me, I’m not going to start now.”

Megatron’s expression twitches before he can steel himself. He tips back in his chair, still careful in his motions. “Just for a meal?”

“I think you know better than that,” Ratchet drawls and leans forward, bracing his hands on the edge of the desk, putting himself into the furthest flex of Megatron’s field. He can taste the heat in it. The desire.

Megatron’s optics widen, fractionally but not so much a medic could miss it. “There are… better choices,” he says, each word sounding as though it has been carefully chosen.

“Feh.” Ratchet snorts. “And if I wanted to make them, I wouldn’t be here right now. So are you accepting or declining?”

Megatron visibly hesitates before he runs a hand over his head. “Accepting,” he says, in a grave tone, as though he’s heading off to a battle he might not return from.

Oh, well. Ratchet’s sure he can turn that frown upside down later. They don’t call him ‘magic hands’ just because he’s good at putting fractured mechs back together.

“Good.” Ratchet turns to leave, but pauses just inside the door, fingers tapping a nonsense rhythm on the jamb. “You know, for the record, it takes a special kind of mech to do what you did.”

It is Megatron’s turn to snort. “Start a war resulting in the extermination of over 99% of the population of my planet?” he asks without an ounce of humor. “I think the word you’re looking for is ‘mad.’”

“No.” Ratchet shakes his head and looks at Megatron, taking in the harsh lines of the Lord High Protector’s face, and the guilt clinging to him like a miasma. “To go that far into the Pit, only to turn around and realize the harm you’ve done, and face it without flinching. That’s what I mean.”

“I’ve flinched,” Megatron replies quietly, his gaze dropping.

Ratchet smiles gently. “Yeah, but you keep moving forward anyway. You’re stronger than you give yourself credit. Braver, too.”

A hint of heat steals into Megatron’s face, visible to Ratchet’s highly sensitive optics.

“You don’t have to tell me pretty lies, medic,” Megatron finally says with a grumble. “I’ve already accepted your invitation.”

Despite himself, Ratchet laughs. “They aren’t lies, Megatron. And I promise, if I’m actually flirting with you, you’ll know.” He offers an exaggerated wink and purrs, “See you tonight.”

He leaves before Megatron can say anything in return, content to have gotten the last word. Breakdown squeaks out a goodbye to him, and Ratchet treats the nervous mech to a smile that only makes Breakdown squeak louder and duck behind his desk.

Cute youngling. Wherever had Megatron scooped him up?

Well, questions for later.

Ratchet grins and struts back toward the medbay. This is what it is to move forward, he decides. And he thinks Ironhide would approve, too. He’d always said he just wanted Ratchet to be happy, whatever that meant.

Surely he wouldn’t mind this.

***

[Bay] Indomitable 03

As happy as Megatron is for his brother, he can’t help the tangled envy and spite.

It had been painful to stand there as Optimus pledged his spark to another, a mech he truly loved, like he hadn’t Megatron. It had been agonizing knowing he would never have that for himself. His own love is gone, lost to the war, ages upon ages ago.

That agony is what draws Megatron away from the after-bond celebration. He stays as long as politics demand, and then he makes his excuses, in no mood to spend the night drinking and reveling, politely engaging in small-talk while everyone pretends to tolerate his presence.

He feels Optimus’ gaze on him as he goes, but fortunately, his brother is then distracted by his new mate, and all that remains is the weight of the look. Half-warning, half-sympathy, all pity. Megatron wants none of it.

He escapes into the dark night, all quiet and still the further he gets from the celebration hall. Work has paused for the entirety of the ceremony, to allow everyone to attend the festivities. Their limited population makes such a stipulation possible.

Megatron doesn’t have a destination in mind when he sets off, but his feet carry him to the mausoleum. To the one place in all of Cybertron he can see his beloved, who would have stood beside him tonight, if not for the vagaries of fate.

It’s not fair, he finds himself thinking, like a new hatchling yet to understand the world. If not for Sideswipe, Sunstreaker could have lived. If Sideswipe had loved his twin just an ounce more, he would have stayed his hand. They could have fought, endlessly, neither gaining ground, until the war came to an end, leaving both of them alive.

It is not logical to blame Sideswipe. Yet, Megatron persists. Sideswipe had struck the final blow, but the war had been Megatron’s from the start. Tracing the cause to the root of it means Megatron should only blame himself.

Such thoughts cause a pang of agony to ripple through his spark.

The mausoleum is dim and empty. Most of the lights have been shut down for the evening, leaving only emergency runners and the occasional showcase. It makes for awkward shadows and pools of light, the quiet hum of a cooling system the only noise to break the silence.

Megatron walks down the central hall, passing row after row of shelves and drawers, their nameplates glinting in the showcase lights, some bigger than others. Some don’t even open, are only present because all that remains is a designation.

Every day, they add new names. Every day, someone lost is remembered. Every day, Megatron is reminded of the destruction he’s wrought.

Soon they’ll have to build another wing – the third – to hold all of the grief, the sparks lost, the lives destroyed. There are already plans in place to start another floor underground, and add another floor above. Megatron knows, deep in the core of his guilty spark, that such additions still won’t be enough.

There is so much energon on his hands.

He finds Sunstreaker’s plaque with ease. Like so many others, it stands empty, little more than a nameplate against a metal setting. The drawer behind it is slim, holding the few precious memories Megatron was able to surrender. But not the piece of Sunstreaker’s spark chamber, nestled so warmly against his own.

Megatron shudders, his spark squeezing into a tight ball at the carefully engraved glyphs depicting Sunstreaker’s designation. It holds only the date he died, because Megatron never knew his spark date. It speaks nothing of his relationship to Megatron, but that is a precious, precious detail he doesn’t wish to share.

He doesn’t need some mech with a grudge to ruin Sunstreaker’s memory out of vengeance alone.

The silence wraps around him.

Megatron stands before Sunstreaker’s plaque and feels his spark shrink smaller and smaller. His hand trembles as he rests his fingertips over Sunstreaker’s glyphs. He ex-vents, in and out, feels it rattle out of him.

His optics shutter. He tips forward, resting his head against the plaque, glad that he had thought to put Sunstreaker’s name at level height.

It hurts.

After so long, the pain should have dulled to an ache, but this night, it feels as raw as the moment he found Sunstreaker’s battered frame on the battlefield. When he’d knelt in the spilled energon and grime, scooping his beloved’s frame into his arms. Sunstreaker had felt so light, so limp, smaller than Megatron remembered him being.

He hadn’t known how much he loved Sunstreaker until that moment. He’d mourned the emotion he’d never been able to speak.

The grief now is as raw as it had been then. It feels fresh, all over again. Optimus is making a new life with a mech he truly loves, and once more, Megatron is alone. Abandoned. Left with nothing.

We will be free, Sunstreaker had whispered to him, moaned to him, murmured over him, hands stroking Megatron’s head as they curled together.

Only, Sunstreaker is the one free and here Megatron remains, chained by his responsibilities, by his burdens, by a grief that won’t leave him be.

He’s alone, inside and out, left behind by the only one who could have understood.

Megatron works his intake and forces himself to draw back. He brushes his fingers over Sunstreaker’s glyph in a soft farewell – he’ll return he always does – and then he makes himself turn away. He cannot spend the night here. He cannot wallow in his grief. The burdens of leadership are still his to bear.

He must take his punishment as is due.

The quiet wraps around him like a cloak. Megatron’s spark is heavy as he makes his way toward the exit.

His audials catch a whisper of sound, and Megatron pauses mid-step. He dials his sensors up higher, picking up what is certainly a voice. Laughter.

Who else would be here on a night of celebration?

Curiosity compels him. He follows the echoes of the voice, words clarifying out of the murmur, until he recognizes both their owner and the recipient of the conversation.

“–so proud of him, ‘Hide. Don’t think I’ve ever seen him so happy.”

Megatron pauses, in the shadows of a shelf, and peers down one of the aisles, already knowing what he’ll find. It still doesn’t prepare him for the sight of Ratchet sitting on the floor in front of the plaque bearing his mate’s designation – Ironhide’s plaque a bit larger than the others as he had more remains to claim.

He was also a war hero. Like Jazz. Like Shockwave and Soundwave. Equal Autobot and Decepticon heroes. That had been Megatron’s stipulation as he constructed this mausoleum. There are two sides to every war, no matter the victor, no matter the villain. Each side convinced they are in the right.

Starscream and the rest of Megatron’s command team are no less heroes for being Decepticons. They died for what they believed in. They are due their just recognition.

“I missed you tonight,” Ratchet continues, voice soft and somber. There’s a flagon in front of him, a cube in his hands, the bright glow suggesting high grade or a potent engex. “I missed you grumbling about the noise, the colors. I missed you teasing me onto the dance floor and me ending up with bruised feet. I missed… you.”

Ratchet sighs, and Megatron’s spark clenches in sympathy. He knows the tune of that sigh. He knows the grief of it. He feels it himself tonight.

“You should have been here,” Ratchet says and takes a sip of his energon, optics half-shuttered and downcast, his armor clamped tight. “I wish you were.”

This is quite clearly a private conversation. Megatron chastises himself for eavesdropping. He takes a quiet step backward, intending to slip into the dark and make his way from the mausoleum.

“I can feel you lurking, Megatron. Might as well come out.”

Caught, Megatron debates for a moment. Feign ignorance or admit spying. Better one than the other. He steps out from behind the shelf.

“I apologize.” He dips his head, lowering his gaze in a show of remorse. “I came here for my own memories and accidentally overheard.”

“Only we would choose grief over celebration, eh?” Ratchet chuckles, dry and humorless. He lifts a hand, beckoning. “Care to join me?”

Megatron’s gaze flicks to Ironhide’s plaque. “I do not want to intrude on a private moment.” Any more than he already has at any rate.

“It’s fine.” Ratchet waves off his protest. “He’s always known the important things. The rest is just companionship.” He takes a long sip of his energon and then pours more into his cube. “Come on. Sit.”

Megatron obeys, lowering himself down next to the medic, wincing as his hydraulics hiss, and his cables creak, and his frame groans. He’s as well-maintained as his frame can be, but the weight of war is a heavy burden.

“I envy you,” Megatron says as Ratchet pulls another cube from nowhere and hands it to Megatron, but not before liberally splashing some energon into it.

Megatron gives it a sniff. Engex, and potent at that. The sort that burns down your intake, into your tanks, and settles there, simmering.

“Is that so?” Ratchet sets the decanter back on the floor in front of him, the liquid sloshing around inside. “Can’t imagine why.”

Megatron stares into his cube, admiring the speckling sparkle of some kind of additive. “I can’t speak to Sunstreaker. Words are difficult. Even now, I’m afraid he never knew how much he meant to me.” He sips the engex and shivers as it indeed sears down his intake.

Ratchet makes a noncommittal noise before replying, “He knew.” He takes a long drink of his engex. “Sunny never understood words anyway. Actions made a lot more sense to him.”

“You knew him well?”

“Hide and I… we looked after the twins for a bit.” Ratchet sighs, his gaze dropping to his engex, which he swishes around the inside of the cube. “Before the war, before they went their separate ways.”

Megatron shifts his weight to get more comfortable, though the harsh metal floor remains unyielding. “Do you know what happened between them?”

“No. Sideswipe wouldn’t tell me.”

“Neither would Sunstreaker.”

Ratchet shrugs. “Some secrets are meant to be kept I suppose.”

“Mm.” Megatron agrees.

It is sometimes difficult to put such things into words. The chasm that built between he and Optimus, is a multi-layered thing. There is no one cause to define it, but multiple failings on both of their parts. They had always been an ill-fitting bond.

Megatron consumes more of the engex, enjoying the burn, the flavor of it. Like memories of a time forgotten. It’s an old recipe, Primus only knows how Ratchet came across it. It doesn’t taste aged, but freshly mixed. Perhaps purchased from one of the newly opened bars then.

It is a pauper’s drink, as the Senate would say. Cheap but quick to burn, with a flavor that doesn’t linger, and masks the overall dull charge. One cube is not enough to intoxicate, not for a mech of Megatron’s size, but it is enough to eat the grief until it is tolerable.

“… I envy them,” Megatron finally admits, as the silence wraps around him, and Ratchet silently refills his cube.

Perhaps he intends to finish off the decanter tonight. Megatron cannot think of a reason why that would be a bad thing. They’ve shared many a flagon of energon between them over the past several months. Granted it’s been mid-grade but still…

“I know,” Ratchet says, equally quiet, his field flowing over Megatron’s with a wealth of understanding. “But maybe there’s some luck out there for you.”

“Luck,” Megatron echoes with a snort. “Right.” He holds his cube out, and Ratchet knocks the two together – a cheer. “I’m lucky to be alive.”

Ratchet’s grin is wry. “Aren’t we all?” Sorrow glimmers in his optics, and the rest of his expression is hidden behind his cube.

Megatron squirms, guilt his discomfort. There is not much he can offer to assuage Ratchet’s many losses but perhaps a small hope is better than none.

“About your creations…” Megatron begins, only to hesitate. Is it better if he doesn’t speak?

But then, looking at the light in Ratchet’s optics, the way he perks at the mere mention of the younglings he and Ironhide had sponsored, Megatron receives his answer.

“Hm?”

Megatron cycles a ventilation. “For what it’s worth, I never received notice of a confirmed kill. There is a high possibility they are still out there somewhere. It could only be a matter of time before they pick up the transmission.”

“Hah. You should hope not.” Ratchet smirks behind his cube, tension bleeding out of his frame, replaced with amusement. “They aren’t too fond of you.”

Megatron snorts. “Few are.”

“Well, you’ve at least got one sitting next to you,” Ratchet drawls and lifts the decanter of high grade, giving it a waggle. “So you better help me finish this whole bottle.”

Megatron blinks. A flush spreads over his protoform, heating his facial armor. He stares at Ratchet, the words echoing in his audials. It’s been a long time since anyone has wanted to claim Megatron as a friend, and certainly not an Autobot.

“I… yes, of course.” Megatron holds out his cube, though it’s only half-empty, for lack of a better response. “It is a day of celebration after all.”

“That it is.” Ratchet grins and salutes him with the cube. “Drink up.”

Their cubes knock together without spilling a drop. Ratchet’s easygoing field is infectious, and the welcome in it all too easy to embrace. Megatron relaxes, as he hasn’t in centuries, shoulder to shoulder with his brother’s chief medic, in front of the grave of his former general.

Later, after they’ve finished the bottle of engex and the small flask of high grade Ratchet summoned from somewhere mysterious, Megatron walks Ratchet back to his habsuite. He’s not sure, however, who’s truly walking whom. Or propping up whom. They list together, a pair of ships bobbing on an uncertain tide.

Ratchet giggles. It is not a sound Megatron has ever heard from the stern medic before. Yet, he finds it enchanting.

The world is a fuzzy, warm place, full of acceptance, the likes of which he believed he’d never experience again. They arrive at Ratchet’s hab, and Ratchet has a hand hooked on Megatron’s arm, and he invites Megatron inside.

There are dozens of reasons he should decline.

But Megatron doesn’t want to be alone. Grief and envy riot inside of him, and the raw ache of both make him hesitate. There is acceptance in Ratchet’s field. Honesty, too. Trust, even more weightier, and hunger. For the same as Megatron, he thinks. That painful desire to ease loneliness. The realization that there are few who understand how long and loud loss can echo.

Megatron knows that he should shake his head. He should politely decline and return to the cold, barren, sterility of his own quarters, large and fit for a Lord High Protector.

Instead, he accepts.

No cables cross, but their fields intertwine, warm and with an echo of familiarity, of trust. Ratchet’s berth is too small for two, especially when one of them is Megatron’s size, and it’s a bit dusty besides. They manage to fit, two soldiers in a foxhole.

Ratchet snores in his recharge, vents snuffling and flapping, like a mech who hasn’t seen to his own maintenance in centuries. It occurs to Megatron that while Ratchet is skilled at bullying others into getting the proper medical care, there is no one around to ensure Ratchet sees to his own. Megatron makes a mental note to do so. Surely Ambulon is more than capable of tending to Ratchet’s dirty filters and creaky joints.

Their fields mesh and tangle. Megatron can count Ratchet’s very ventilations. He thinks, if he focuses, he can even measure the beat of Ratchet’s spark. It is surprisingly comfortable, soothing even, despite being crammed into a space far too small.

He wants to blame this on a moment of whimsy, but Megatron knows very well what it is. There are few mechs who can stand his presence without flinching or with barely concealed loathing. There are even fewer who can match Megatron in wit and strength.

He wonders if he started falling for Ratchet long ago, or if it’s a new thing. And then the tug of recharge pulls too strongly, more than it has in years, and Megatron tumbles into it, wrapped in warmth and content.

He later onlines beneath a frame that matches him in mass though not height, the snuffling ventilations puffing over his armor. Still snoring, Ratchet is. A six-fingered hand is hooked on a gap in his chest plating as though ensuring Megatron cannot leave without waking his berthmate. Megatron’s own hand has found its way to lay possessively over a yellow-plated aft.

He wonders if he can convince Ratchet into a repaint.

And then he wonders how much of a bad idea this could be.

He can already hear the protests. The accusations. Best, he thinks, to keep this platonic. Two friends comforting one another, two friends who share a similar grief.

Two friends.

Friendship is something Megatron thought he’d never have again, much less anything further. Friendship is more than enough, is more than he deserves. He daren’t ask for more.

He lays there in silence, waiting for Ratchet to waken, unwilling to disturb the medic who quite clearly needs all the rest he can muster.

This is enough, Megatron thinks. It can be enough.

[Bay] Indomitable 02

It’s a curious mixture of emotions that crest in Ratchet’s spark as he stands outside the main door to Megatron’s quarters, fingers poised over the call bell. The door, he knows, only leads to the reception room for the Lord High Protector, and not the private hab Megatron actually calls home. Yet, there is still something in the invitation.

Something Ratchet had been surprised to find himself not just willing, but eager to accept. Like calls to like, he supposes. While he should despise Megatron, should blame the former Decepticon warlord for many things, Ratchet can’t.

Ironhide lingers at the back of his spark, belief in his once-commander unyielding despite the weight of war.

He’ll come back to us someday, Ratch. I know he will.

Ironhide’s faith hadn’t stopped him from stepping between Megatron and Optimus far too many times. Hadn’t kept him from firing back at his once-commander or doing what was necessary to protect his Prime. And he’d never stopped hoping, always remaining on the precipice of forgiveness, if only Megatron would return to his senses.

Now that Megatron has, it’s a shame Ironhide is not alive to see it.

Nevertheless, Ratchet is here. He’s accepted the invitation, and nothing remains but to press the button. He’s due rest and energon, according to his traitorous subordinate, and Megatron has kindly offered to supply at least one of those needs.

Ratchet may not know Megatron’s intentions, but now is the perfect time to ask.

Ratchet is not timid by nature. So he presses the button before he can do the sensible thing and talk himself out of it.

The speed at which the door opens amuses Ratchet as much as it surprises him. So. Megatron is as anxious for this dinner as Ratchet is.

“You’re here,” Megatron says by way of greeting, not quite in control of himself enough to hide the relief in his voice.

Ratchet supposes if he were in Megatron’s place, he’d be relieved someone accepted his invitation as well.

“I was invited,” Ratchet says with a snort. “Can I come in?”

“Of course.” Megatron steps aside, gesturing for Ratchet to enter. “I’d tell you to excuse the mess, but I’m not here often enough for there to be one.”

“Meanwhile, I’m rarely in my room to clean it up. You should be thankful I didn’t insist on meeting there,” Ratchet drawls as he passes through the door, getting his first good look at the suite of rooms re-purposed to house the Lord High Protector.

It is not at all what he expected. But then, he supposes he should have known better. Grandeur has never been Megatron’s style. Nor Optimus’ either. Both of them had been culled from humble beginnings, thrust into the role the council and Senate divined for them. They’d never forgotten their roots.

“Well, this is… modest,” Ratchet compliments as he takes in the bare minimum decorations, the token seating and cozy lighting. “I’d expect more from someone rumored to be selfish.”

Selfishness, Ratchet supposes, is all based on one’s point of view.

Megatron shrugs. “I am a soldier. What use have I for glamor and opulence? This suits my purposes well enough.”

“That must have been another argument Prowl lost,” Ratchet muses as he makes his way to the clearly defined sitting area, where a tray sits on a table in the midst of comfortable lounges, already stocked with energon. “He seems to have it in his processor that those of us in leadership positions need to act like it.”

Megatron chuckles as he follows, choosing to sit across from Ratchet rather than right beside him. “If he’s so determined, he’s welcome to come here himself and redecorate. I won’t stop him.”

Ratchet snorts. He doubts Prowl will ever find himself here, unless it’s for an official function that requires the presence of every member of Cybertronian’s leadership team above a certain rank. Prowl might be willing to work alongside Megatron, Thundercracker, and the rest of the former Decepticon command structure. But he doesn’t like it, and he still does not trust them.

Ratchet can’t blame him.

“Be grateful that he hasn’t,” Ratchet warns. “His taste is Praxian by nature.”

Megatron groans, the disdain of someone who’d once walked the opulent and glittering streets of Praxus and was nearly blinded by the glitz of it. “I consider myself lucky then.” He gestures to the table. “Help yourself. That is the point of this after all. I’m supposed to be ensuring you’ve refueled.”

“Yes, I’m aware.” Ratchet rolls his optics, even as he leans forward to browse the selection offered. The decanter holds basic solar-filtered energon, but Megatron has provided several flavorings to enhance the taste.

“There used to be a time my subordinates feared me,” Ratchet grumbles as he selects a few of the sweeter flavorings and sprinkles them into his cube. “I must be getting soft in my old age.”

Megatron barks a laugh. “I doubt there is anything soft about you, medic.” He waits until Ratchet has served himself before pouring a cube, though it goes unflavored, Ratchet notices. “No mech with a soft spark could have survived this long.”

“Mmm.” Ratchet sits back, his spark giving a sudden pang of grief, reminding him of all the soft and hard sparks he’s watched slip away.

Megatron must have realized his foible, because his armor clamps, and he visibly works his intake. “Forgive me,” he says behind the protection of his energon. “I am… no longer as skilled in social interaction as I used to be.”

“You never were,” Ratchet says with a sigh. He dismisses the apology, wholly unnecessary as it is. “That was always Optimus. He was the talker. Not that you didn’t have a certain charm of your own but–”

“My brother has the silver tongue,” Megatron finishes with a soft ex-vent, his fingers trembling around the cube before he masters himself. “Fortunately, one needn’t have pretty words to inspire.”

How very true.

Ratchet sips at his cube, taking in Megatron’s expression, the careful way he holds himself, how he sinks into the couch as though it is armor. His plating doesn’t loosen. He seems poised to bolt at any moment, despite this being his quarters, and he appears the one uneasy, a bull in a china shop, as the humans might say.

“Megatron, why did you invite me?”

“Why did you say yes?” Megatron rebuts with an answering sip of his energon. His free hand rests along the length of the back of the couch.

Tense does not begin to describe Megatron’s field. What of it Ratchet can sense at any rate. Whereas Optimus has always been the sort to wear his spark in his field, at least around those he trusts, Megatron has always been closed off. Then and now. Ratchet remembers this all too well.

He’s like a duryllium cage, Ratch, Ironhide had commented with a thoughtful look as he fiddled with his arm cannon mount. Emotions go in and nothin’ comes out. Like he can’t dare to let himself feel. The damndest thing.

Ratchet waggles a finger at the Lord High Protector. Maybe he can draw something from that cage. “Uh uh. My question first.”

Megatron ex-vents, wobbly though it sounds and thankfully, without the wheeze now that Ratchet’s finally managed his maintenance. “There are few Cybertronians who do not fear or openly despise me,” he finally says.

“True,” Ratchet replies. “But I don’t think that’s the only reason.”

Megatron chuckles, but it’s not an amused sound, it’s a resigned, self-deprecating sound. “And you would be right.”

He doesn’t elaborate, however. He looks into his cube of energon as though it holds all the secrets. Which is pretty annoying. Optimus is the one who’s supposed to be cryptic, not Megatron. The Lord High Protector is blunt and honest and completely lacking in tact, to point to previous conversations.

“Well?” Ratchet prompts. He’d like to know why he’s here, thank you very much. Well, other than his own moments of weakness which had carried him right to the door, searching for some unnameable thing he thought he might find here.

Maybe Megatron is a drifting ship, too.

Megatron doesn’t answer, not immediately at least. Instead, he drinks his mid-grade solar-filtered as though wishing it were the most potent engex. He ex-vents, a rattling sound that makes Ratchet’s optics narrow.

“Difficult as it may be to believe, even I desire companionship,” Megatron finally admits.

“Then that makes you just like the rest of us,” Ratchet replies, though he’s aware why Megatron finds it hard to admit such a weakness. “You’re lonely.”

“Yes.”

Ratchet sinks back into the couch, enjoying the comfort it has to offer. Why doesn’t he have furniture like this in his quarters?

Oh, right. Because he’s hardly ever there.

Then again, this couch feels unused. There’s no dip of a constant weight. The cushion has little give to it. It’s a decoration, for lack of a better word. Has Megatron ever had visitors here?

“Then lucky for you, so am I. To answer your question.” Ratchet takes a hearty drink of his cube, the light flavor of it slick across his glossa and pooling warm in his tanks. It’s sweet, almost sickly so to hear Wheeljack tease him years upon years ago, but it’s the way Ratchet has always preferred his midgrade to taste.

He takes another long gulp, almost finishing the cube, his tanks pinging him for more. Primus, he hadn’t realized he was so low. No wonder Ambulon had been so insistent. He must have resembled a walking drone.

A burst of shock in Megatron’s field drags Ratchet’s attention back to the former warlord. Megatron’s optics are wide as they look at Ratchet, and it’s a visible fight to rein in his field, dialing it back down to the poise he’s cultivated since the end of the war.

Never bothered, that one. At least, not on the outside.

“You look surprised,” Ratchet observes.

Megatron ex-vents and leans forward, placing his empty cube on the tray next to the decanter. “Because you are loved, Ratchet. By everyone.”

“You should know it’s not the same thing.” Ratchet’s retort is quiet, he’s not even sure he meant for Megatron to hear it.

But hear it Megatron does. Understanding washes over his face. “Indeed.”

“My mate is dead,” Ratchet says, though the reminder spoken aloud is not something he enjoys. “My best friend is as well. My creations are missing, presumed lost to the stars, and everyone else is re-discovering how to move on.”

Meanwhile, Ratchet doesn’t know what that means anymore. Post-war future had always included Ironhide. They’d had so many plans. Logically, they’d known, there was a chance they wouldn’t survive to peace. But they’d never planned for it, because they had wanted the hopeful future. There was also a part of them which assumed when they went, they’d go together.

Now, Ratchet flounders.

What is his future without ‘Hide? Without Jazz? Without friends and family, without his creations? Without Wheeljack? On a ruined planet, surrounded by tentative allies, as an ancient, rusting medic, well past his prime?

So yes.

Ratchet can sympathize.

Megatron refills his cube, again with that mournful look which suggests it ought to have the decency to be high grade. “I understand.”

“I know you do.” Ratchet sips the rest of his cube and holds it out, giving it a shake, one Megatron must recognize because he fills it. “So let’s make a deal.”

“A… what?” The decanter clatters as it returns to the table.

Ratchet tips his cube in thanks. “A deal,” he repeats. “We don’t drown in our work, our grief or our guilt. We meet, as often as we can, to make sure we’re both still in good health.”

If someone were to ask him later, why he decided to make a friend of Megatron, Ratchet wouldn’t have an explanation. Not with words. But Ironhide had loved Megatron, and Ratchet had been there when Megatron first onlined, and Ratchet had loved Megatron in much the same way as his mate.

Optimus doesn’t need Ratchet anymore. He’s doing just fine. Megatron probably doesn’t need him either. But he does need a friend, and that Ratchet can do.

“As friends?” Megatron asks

Ratchet nods. “If you need a definition.” He grins behind the safety of his cube. “And in return, we each vow to refuel and recharge properly whenever possible. For the sake of Cybertron if nothing else.”

“For the sake of the planet,” Megatron echoes, and snorts a laugh. “Sure. That can be our excuse. I suppose I’ll be in charge of supplying the energon then?”

“Well, you are the Lord High Protector…” Ratchet trails off with a shrug. “If you really want to split the duties, I could always bring medical grade when it’s my turn.”

Megatron makes a face that takes a million years off his age. The disgust in the wrinkle of his nasal ridge is more cute than Ratchet can take. It reminds him of a different time, before the war, before two ill-fitting puzzle pieces had been jammed together to make a painful whole.

“Spare us both the disgust. I’ll take charge of the energon,” Megatron says. He shakes his head with a little sigh and leans back into the comfort of his couch. “Our subordinates will be pleased, I think.”

“Oh, they’ll still find some way to nag.” Ratchet crosses one ankle over the other. Maybe given enough time, his aft will make a mark on this too firm couch. “Frankly if they have the time to worry about a little under-charge, that means we’re doing all right. Better than fretting over a list of patients, trying to decide who deserves the one part you managed to scrounge more than the other.”

Megatron’s amusement turns somber, and the guilt, Ratchet knows, is a heavy thing, a weighty burden. The Lord High Protector’s optics drop, his fingers twitching where they hold his cube, pausing on its way to his mouth. Perhaps as though wondering if he deserves the next sip.

Ratchet cycles a ventilation.

Perhaps that had been a little rude of him. A little too cutting when he’s supposed to be building tentative bridges.

“Sorry,” he says, and offers a wry grin. “Looks like I’m not as talented in social interaction as I used to be either.”

“You speak only truth,” Megatron replies, his words soft, and his expression distant.

Ratchet could have kicked himself for the painful reminder, as if Megatron doesn’t know of his own actions. “Truth or not, there is always plenty of blame to go around. Don’t forget that.”

“I assure you, medic, I am incapable of forgetting anything of the war.” Megatron works his jaw and finally finishes his drink of the energon, though it is long and extended as he drains the cube dry. “Truth is a matter of perception, and the truth is, my hands are stained, and my spark is darkened. Nothing can change either of those truths.”

“You underestimate yourself. There aren’t many who can look at the things they’ve done, recognize their faults, and try to make amends,” Ratchet says.

Megatron snorts, more dismissive than annoyed. “Apologies mean nothing in the sparks of the family, friends, and loved ones I have led to slaughter. I can build a thousand cities, and history will still remember me as the one who tore them down.” He shakes his head and sets the empty cube on the tray. “No, my legacy will always be one of death. I live but by the grace of my brother and that, I can never forget.”

Ratchet wants to argue otherwise. But it is true, all of it. There is no history that will paint Megatron as a hero, as a visionary, except perhaps the most fanatic of Decepticons – those still living on the fringes of the universe, believing their faction will rise again. There are Autobots who still dream of vengeance, only restrained by their faith in Optimus’ leadership.

Megatron is a mech alone in so many ways. His closest friends have all been killed. His most-trusted subordinates are gone, lost to the final battle. Sunstreaker, too, is only a memory in his spark. His brother has clearly moved on, though it’s hardly a loss for either of them as they had both not loved as they should have.

Ratchet knows, tangentially, that he should hate this mech sitting in front of him. He should want for Megatron’s death. He shouldn’t feel sorry for Megatron. He shouldn’t pity him, shouldn’t reach out a hand in friendship. Megatron deserves all this and more.

He’s just lost his way, Ratch. Maybe someday he’ll find it again. Even if it ends up being at the end of my cannon.

Ratchet sighs a ventilation.

Damn you, Ironhide. Years gone, and he’s still there, a voice in the back of Ratchet’s head, unexpected reason to turbulent emotion.

“Megatron–”

“I apologize,” Megatron says, in a voice tired and worn, giving truth to his age. “I meant for this to be a night of relaxation, not one of melancholy. I did not intend to unload my burdens on you.” He presses his lips together tightly before he shifts as though to rise. “Perhaps there are things I’m not suited for after all.”

Ratchet holds out his cube. “You seem to be pretty talented at refilling when I need more.” He gives said cube an expectant wiggle.

Megatron blinks at him. Confusion writes itself across his face, and he looks so flummoxed, that for a moment, Ratchet wants to laugh. Megatron reaches for the flagon on energon as though on auto-pilot, splashing the rest of it into Ratchet’s cube.

“Perhaps I should have arranged for more,” Megatron says, with the mournful tone of a sparkling who’d emptied his rust stick cache.

Ratchet chuckles. “Next time, you’ll be better prepared.”

Megatron’s optics snap up toward him as though the words ‘next time’ are ringing around his audials. The empty flagon returns to the tray with an audible clatter.

“Sit,” Ratchet says, gesturing toward the couch. “I want to hear about how well the rebuilding is doing. I don’t get out much, you know. I’m missing all the good gossip.”

Megatron sits, and Ratchet prides himself that he can still make mechs obey without realizing it. “I’m afraid I don’t know the good gossip,” he says.

“Well, you could always make some up. Proper gossip is supposed to be a little untrue.” Ratchet wriggles around in his chair, making a show of getting comfortable, proof he intends to stay.

Megatron snorts. “You do have a point.” He relaxes into the couch, some of the tension easing away from his frame. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Ratchet grins and sips at his cube. He doesn’t really need it, but the gesture had been important.

Megatron isn’t the only one around here who needs a friend.

I’m trying, Ironhide. Primus beneath us, but I’m trying. I’ll find the Megatron you loved once. I swear it. 

I’ll find him. And I’ll bring him home. 

****

[Bay] Indomitable 01

Optimism aside, integration is still an exercise in patience and flexibility. The war had been long and painful, seeding grudges and building resentment. It is easy enough to tell everyone to lay down their arms and get along. It is not so easy to put it into practice.

Megatron, Lord High Protector and military leader of Cybertron, spends his days breaking up petty fights. And not all of them are “interfactional” though Optimus likes to claim that the faction lines don’t exist anymore.

They may not be wearing their brands, but it’s easy to look and know. And when the Neutrals return, that only complicates matters. Though to be fair the Autobots and Decepticons loathe the Neutrals and vice versa. It’s the first thing that’s truly united the disparate factions.

Most of his Decepticons had been warriors or soldiers before the war. After, Megatron has turned them into builders and construction-workers. A few, those better disciplined, he keeps for a home guard. They are trying to rebuild Cybertron, and there are many species out there who would only think of them as an easy target.

The few that choose to do otherwise Megatron sends to Optimus. Surely Prowl can think of some use for them.

Governance is left to the Autobots for the most part, though once a week, he and Optimus meet to discuss administrative matters. Unsurprisingly, Prowl is deeply involved in this. His survival must have been a boon for Optimus. Megatron tends to toss Thundercracker in Prowl’s direction and let the two debate particulars.

They often argue long past Optimus has called an end to the meeting and everyone has vacated the room. There are bets going around the command staff over how long it will take before the two start fragging. At least it’s a step in the right direction in terms of integration.

Ratchet has completely taken over all matters involving what few medics have survived. He’s evaluated all the medics, declared their training woefully inadequate, and works more hours than anyone as he trains those with talent or experience or both. He struggles to build a functional medical team capable of dealing with all manner of injuries.

Psychology, he admits at one such weekly meeting, is sadly on the backburner. Right now, he’s barely staffed enough to handle the physical.

And it doesn’t help when Megatron keeps dragging idiots to the medcenter to get patched up for their own foolishness. Though he admits it is with a certain wolfish glee he gets to turn them over to Ratchet’s tender mercies.

Or in this case Ambulon’s, because Ratchet takes one look at Decepticon#1 and Decepticon#2 and declares he doesn’t have time to deal with Damage by Stupidity. He shoves both injured mechs in his trainee’s direction and washes his hands of them, though then that leaves him plenty opportunity to look Megatron over with a critical optic.

“You’re still not recharging properly.” Ratchet places his hands on his hips, optics cycled down and feet planted as though he’s gearing up to physically enforce his will.

Megatron lifts his orbital ridges. “Speak for yourself, medic.” The fatigue in Ratchet’s field is almost dizzying enough to affect Megatron’s own. “When was the last time you took a break?”

Ratchet snorts and drops his hands. “What’s a break? And shouldn’t you be doing something elsewhere, like babysitting those morons you have working on the communications array?”

Megatron winces. It is times like these that he sorely misses Soundwave. Misses most of the mechs closest to him in fact. Their expertise is greatly needed. He can’t help feeling like a castaway Decepticon amid a sea of Autobots.

Sunstreaker would have understood.

“Skyquake is there,” he says, and he gives Ratchet a considering glance. Has Prime even looked twice at his medic? It’s clear that Ratchet’s about two cycles from crashing. Has no one tried to get him to rest?

Ratchet rolls his optics and reaches for a stack of datapads. “Well, then, there’s nothing to worry about. On your way now.” He waves a shooing hand at Megatron.

He insinuates himself between medic and the ridiculously tall stack of datapads, presenting quite the formidable barrier. “Don’t you have an intern that can take care of paperwork?”

“Not one that will do it properly. In case you haven’t noticed, we are all understaffed.” Ratchet shifts, tries to reach around him.

Megatron twists his frame and leans, blocking Ratchet with both his size and his arm. “And will anyone offline if you don’t take care of these?”

Ratchet takes a step back, optics narrowed in suspicion. “What are you doing?”

“My job.” He folds his arms over his chest, staring Ratchet down. “You are officially off duty as of right now.”

Ratchet’s jaw drops, and then he splutters. “You can’t… you have no authority… just who the frag do you think you are?”

“The Lord High Protector of Cybertron. And yes, I do have the authority. You can thank Prowl for losing that particular argument.”

Thundercracker has been gloating about that victory for the past month.

Ratchet points at him, bristling from helm to pede with outrage. “You can’t do that.”

“I just did.” Megatron dares lean closer, right into that prickly field. “You’re welcome to challenge and comm Optimus, but not only will he choose to agree with me, he is required by law to do so.”

Ratchet glares at him. The silence in the medbay is almost deadly. Megatron can feel every optic watching them, even the two idiots he’d brought in for minor repairs.

“Fine,” Ratchet says with such a venomous tone that Megatron half-feels his paint has blistered away. “Your wish is my command, my lord.”

He whirls on a heel and stalks from the medcenter with all the grace of a rampaging Devastator. That he is wobbling is further proof that Megatron had done the right thing. Though he doesn’t ventilate a sigh of relief until Ratchet is out of sight and hearing range.

~

Vengeance, however, is Ratchet’s to dispense.

Because it’s a week later when Megatron is sitting at his desk, barely visible behind his own pile of unnecessarily large stack of datapads. Administration is supposed to be Optimus’ problem, but apparently, Prowl is as vindictive as he is clever because his form of revenge is called paperwork.

Megatron’s in the middle of a complicated proposal involving currency or their lack thereof when a whirlwind storms into his office and smacks him in the face with a self-righteous energy field.

“I have it on good authority that you haven’t left this office in a week,” Ratchet snarls.

Megatron blinks at him and sits back in his chair. “Good afternoon, Ratchet. So nice of you to stop by. It’s always a pleasure to see you. Having a good day are we?”

The frothing volcano that is the Prime’s Chief Medical Officer doesn’t so much as blink at him. But he does whip out a scanner that gives off a very negative series of tones.

“You haven’t defragged in twice as long,” Ratchet continues, and there’s almost delight on his face. “And when was the last time you initiated a full recharge? You’ve ignored all of my summons for system maintenance and yesterday, you were limping.”

“I was not,” Megatron retorts. He folds his arms over his chest. “I do not limp. I walk in a stately manner as befitting my position in Cybertron’s new government.”

Ratchet’s scanner all but honks at him, as if refuting his statement, much to the medic’s visible glee. “You,” he says with an almost scary light in his optics, “were limping. Getting too old to shake off those battle wounds, aren’t you?”

Megatron bristles at first, before he recognizes the tease in Ratchet’s voice, buried under the layers of concern. “You know as well as I do that there are only so many repairs that a joint will absorb before it needs replacement.”

“Oh, I do. Which is why I expect you in my medbay first thing tomorrow morning for that maintenance.” Ratchet peers at at the scanner, and his fingers flick across the screen, making notations. “We’ll schedule your surgery after I get a good look at that joint.”

“Sur– Ratchet, I cannot take the time for surgery!” Megatron splutters as he leans forward, hands landing on his desk in a more violent motion than he intends.

Ratchet, thankfully, is not perturbed. Doesn’t so much as cycle his optics, point of fact. “You can if I say you can.”

“I have far too much work to do!” Megatron insists, and wonders why he’s bothering to argue with a medic. He’s the Lord High Protector! He answers to no one! And yet… “You can see the data that needs my attention, can you not?”

He gestures to the piles of datapads in front of him, ones brought by the armful from mechs under Prowl’s jubilant direction. If there was ever a mech whose function revels in the bureaucracies and irritating minutiae of day to day life, it is Prowl.

Ratchet waves his scanner, which spits out a series of blats and honks and beeps as if to back up its owner. “It can wait.”

Wait!? Has the medic never crossed paths with Prowl? The term late is not in the mech’s vocabulary. Not that Megatron is at all afraid of his brother’s second-in-command, but the last thing he needs is for Optimus to give him his trademark Disappointed Look.

“Then I trust you will inform Prowl why this work is not completed,” Megatron declares, and snatches up a stylus, convinced that his argument is unbeatable. No one crosses Prowl.

“Sure I will,” Ratchet says, and smirks of all things, as though he knows some secret to which Megatron is not privy. “That’s the battle he lost.”

The arguments between Prowl and Thundercracker have become something of a running joke between the two former factions. They are almost, dare he say, more vicious than the physical alterations once so common between Megatron and Optimus on the battlefield. Neither mech gives ground easily.

Despite himself, Megatron feels amusement bubble up inside his spark, warring with the outrage.

“Oh, Thundercracker must have been thrilled,” Megatron drawls, and his armor slicks back down, away from the battle protocols he’d inadvertently activated. Perhaps there is truth to Ratchet’s insistence he take a break, if he’s responding to a little verbal sparring by assessing a potential threat level.

It is Ratchet’s turn to smirk, though there is something positively evil about it. “Three times, from what I hear,” he says with a leer.

Megatron stares at the chief medic, his chief medic he supposes since factional lines no longer divide them. “You lie.”

If Ratchet’s smirk widens any further, it’ll be manic. “Just repeating the rumors that float to my audials, my lord. And they say that Prowl and Thundercracker have started taking their policy disagreements to the berth.”

Megatron shakes his head. Building bridges between factions, he supposes. Though he’s not quite sure this is what his brother had in mind. He doubts Optimus would disapprove however, soft spark that he is. Romantic to the core of his being, Optimus will probably be the first to congratulate them.

Fool.

“Incredible,” Megatron murmurs and rubs at his forehead, wondering how this will affect the balance of power in their already unstable political landmass.

“I know. I keep asking for video. They are surprisingly uncooperative.” Ratchet’s scanner vanishes into subspace as he taps his chin with a contemplative finger.

Megatron snorts. “I imagine so.” He cocks his head, giving Ratchet another look. “You are quite the rogue, Ratchet. I never knew this side of you existed.”

“Best kept secret in all of Iacon,” Ratchet declares and abruptly leans forward, bracing his weight on the edge of the desk with his hands. He’s in Megatron’s space, his field as oppressive as his expression.

“And if you don’t want to find out how much, you’ll get your aft out of that chair, take a rest, and refuel,” Ratchet continues with an echo of command in his tone. “Then I will see you first thing tomorrow for your maintenance appointment. I took the liberty of adding it to your calendar.”

And so he has. Megatron’s internal system is already pinging him a reminder. There’s a request to confirm the appointment as well, but he suspects it is little more than a formality. He doesn’t have the option of declining.

Megatron cycles a ventilation and lowers his head in defeat. “Very well,” he says. “I concede to the respected opinion of my chief medical officer and will retire to my quarters at once.”

Ratchet’s glee at winning is almost suffocating. “Good to know you are capable of seeing reason.” He leans back, dusting his hands. “Enjoy your break, my lord.” His bow is just shy of mocking. “And I’ll see you in the morning.”

Megatron glares at the stacks of paperwork he’ll now have to leave behind as Ratchet sashays out of his office, the scent of victory clinging to him like a fresh coat of paint. It must have felt like revenge also, considering Megatron had thrown his own weight around to get Ratchet to rest.

Well played, medic. Well played.

Megatron chuckles and taps a quick save onto his datapads. Prowl’s wrath will be Ratchet’s to defuse now, a problem not on Megatron’s shoulders. It’s almost a bit freeing.

Megatron might as well enjoy the rest of his night. Tomorrow, he supposes, will be another match.

~

After that, it becomes something of a game between them.

Megatron learns Ratchet is overworking himself and confronts the medic, bullying him into rest and recovery and refueling, often after one of Ratchet’s subordinates have tattled on their boss’ bad habits. Megatron only needs pull rank twice before Ratchet tries to hide from him, and Megatron must learn to chase.

It should be annoying, but it becomes amusing.

In turn, Megatron’s own subordinates have found the chink in his armor, so to speak. Whenever they think he works too hard, or becomes too irritable, they contact Ratchet. The next thing Megatron knows, an irascible medic storms to wherever Megatron is currently working, demanding he take time for himself.

Megatron offers token resistance, if only because seeing the fire of determination in Ratchet’s optics secretly delights him. The world is not sane, not right, if Ratchet is not his strict, protective self.

Several months into the familiar dance, Megatron responds to a curt message from the medbay and strides into the adjoining storage room, where he’s been told he’ll find Ratchet. Sure enough, the chief medical officer is standing in front of the shelves, datapad and stylus in hand, surrounded by boxes and crates, performing a task that any intern or nurse could accomplish easily enough.

Ratchet doesn’t even look to guess who has disturbed his counting. “Who tattled this time?” he asks as he marks a tally off on his sheet.

“Ambulon.”

“I knew it.” Ratchet shakes his head and makes another mark, nothing of irritation in his field, but resignation instead. “That solves the issue of who has to scrub the recycler this weekend.” He chuckles, dark and evil.

Megatron leans against the wall. “Then you’ll spare me the trouble of pulling rank on you?”

Ratchet shoots him a sidelong look. “Oh, come on. I can’t let you off that easily. Where’s the fun in that?” He turns around and starts documenting the items on the shelf behind him, though Megatron can’t help but notice his accounting is idle at best.

“Fun,” Megatron echoes, and he laughs a little to himself because Ratchet is right. But while it has become something of a fun past time, it still concerns him that Ratchet continues to overextend himself. It doesn’t speak well to his mental health.

Megatron is all too familiar with the desire to bury the pain of grief behind exhaustion and work. Anything to keep the mind occupied and the spark distracted. Ratchet must be suffering the same. His loss is even fresher than Megatron’s own.

“I missed the part where you overworking yourself is something to be taken lightly,” Megatron adds.

Ratchet chuffs a ventilation, his field one of dismissal. “As I’ve told you before, I know my limits,” he says, a touch cross, though that seems to be his standard emotional state lately.

“I’m not certain you do.”

Ratchet eyes him. “As if you’re one to talk.”

He has a point.

“Granted.”

Megatron cycles a ventilation and pushes off the wall, daring to move closer to Ratchet, though he distracts himself by pretending to take stock of the items on the shelves. It is good to see the main medbay is not lacking for necessary supplies.

Ratchet doesn’t flinch. His ease in Megatron’s presence feels like a gift. Where so many still cringe around Megatron, cast their optics away, move off in a hurry, Ratchet is stalwart and certain. He is comfortable enough to tease, to joke, to throw around his rank if need be.

It makes what comes next easier, though certainly not without anxiety. It is something Megatron has considered for some time now, only hesitating for uncertainty about how he might be received.

“Though…” Megatron pauses, gathers himself, and barrels forward, “Perhaps if you won’t refuel on your own, you’ll be willing to do so with company.”

Ratchet’s stylus goes still. He looks up at Megatron, optical ridges raised. “Is that an order, my lord?” His tone is even, without a single inflection of emotion, making it impossible for Megatron to divine how he’s taken the offer.

“Merely an invitation,” Megatron is quick to clarify. He doesn’t want this to be taken as an obligation, but rather an offer for friendship. “One you are free to decline. After all, it would solve the issue of both of us overworking ourselves into near stasis.”

Ratchet snorts a ventilation. “Point taken.” He makes another tic mark. “I accept then.” His lips curve into a smirk, his field flitting out almost playful in nature. “But you better offer the good stuff.”

“Only the best solar-refined we have on tap,” Megatron promises. While mined, naturally-occurring energon is the tastiest, it is quite rare. Cybertron has suffered far too much, and without the Allspark, natural crystal growth may never occur again.

Ratchet chuckles. “It’ll do.” He shifts his attention back to the shelving, but his posture remains at ease. “Your suite, I presume?”

“Unless you’d be more comfortable elsewhere?”

“Oh, I can take care of myself.” Amusement trickles around the edges of Ratchet’s field. “But I’m going to finish this shift first, regardless of what Ambulon says.” His optics twinkle with malevolent glee. “Someone needs to be informed of their newly assigned task.”

Megatron laughs aloud before he can stop himself, losing sight of the regal poise he’s supposed to bear at all times.

“I would say I pity him, but I have given similar punishments to Skyquake after he’s gone to you.”

Megatron chuckles and turns for the door, content by Ratchet’s agreement and willing to let the medic finish his task. Counting, after all, should not strain Ratchet’s systems all too much.

“I’ll see you after shift, Megatron,” Ratchet calls after him.

“And I will have refreshments waiting,” Megatron says before he sees himself out, unable to deny the quiver of excitement in his spark.

He tells himself that it is only relief at the possibility of gaining a friend. Or that he is doing his duty as Lord High Protector by ensuring his citizens are rested and refueled and happy.

He doesn’t examine too closely the delight flirting around the edges of his spark. It’s far too soon for such a thing.

Friendship, Megatron decides, is worth everything.

***