[G1] White Lies

There are no lies between them.

They’ve been partners, all but bonded, for vorns. Long before they crashed on this backwater planet in the middle of nowhere. Spark bonding, it’s something they’ve both agreed they don’t want or need. The lack of it doesn’t lessen the depth of their relationship; it doesn’t immediately negate their emotions.

They are happy as they are, energy fields knitting together and familiar and aligned. Prowl can find Ratchet anywhere, anytime. He always knows his lover is approaching, even in the dark with all of his sensors disengaged. He can sense Ratchet’s emotions from a distance.

They don’t have to share each passing thought. Every flicker of energy or circuit twitch. Each shift of gears or electrical charge. They don’t need a spark bond to make it legitimate.

They already are.

There are no secrets between them because Ratchet reads like an open datapad. Prowl feels no need to hide what Ratchet already knows.

The humans have an interesting concept when it comes to medicine. Doctor-patient confidentiality, they call it. A way to keep a human’s medical background personal and private. Cybertronians don’t much have much in the way of privacy. It’s never been needed, as connected to a network as they were.

Of course, Megatron’s war has obliterated that as well, but the fact of the matter remains, true privacy is rare amongst them. It’s always been reserved for the elite, the Towers-class, who had strange notions about what was decorous and what wasn’t.

Which explains a great deal about Mirage.

If Huffer has squeaky joints, Prowl knows within joors. If Hound has Earth plants in unfortunate places, Prowl soon learns of that, too. If Sideswipe’s panel needs a replacement because he’s a hedonist who goes after pleasure like it’s going to leave him the click his backplate is turned, Prowl eventually finds out.

Ratchet tells him. Ratchet always tells him.

Of course, Sideswipe is most likely to brag about it himself, but that’s not the point.

And if Trailbreaker has gotten mud in his joints again, Prowl finds out about it. Listens to Ratchet rant about it, truth be told. Although he can admittedly hear the affection in his partner’s vocals. Ratchet doesn’t truly mind underneath, actually rather pleased that in their ramshackle collection of Autobot survivors, at least a handful of them have made Earth their home.

Whenever Ironhide shows up with that creaky shoulder of his, Prowl gets to hear it from his partner. Of course, Ratchet likes to curse when the old mech can’t hear him, and he can’t quite hide the concern in his optics either.

Prowl’s often heard Smokescreen lament that he seems to know everything. Worse than Jazz, who has his digits in every energon stash.

Prowl supposes Smokescreen isn’t wrong. If only because Ratchet tells him it all and the medic hears everything that Prowl doesn’t. It’s a nice system they have.

Ratchet gets to rant, get the pain and the disappointment and the anxiety off his chassis, and Prowl learns all the tips and tricks and inner cogs of the great Autobot machine.

He knows all there is to know about Ratchet as well. How the medic was raised by a single caretaker in Iacon, and he attended the medical university on scholarship. That Ratchet went through an array of paint schemes before deciding on the red and white scheme he’s most recognized for today. Once, he’d even tried an optic-blinding chartreuse, Prowl’s been told.

He knows that Wheeljack is Ratchet’s closest friend, that they were raised all but next door to each other, and wanting to keep his oldest companion in one piece is part of the reason Ratchet became a medic. He wanted to be certain that if Wheeljack ever had an accident, Ratchet could fix him. Could keep him alive.

Ratchet’s favorite energon is low-grade spiced with sulfur filings. He’d once been the life of the party until the war and the dying mechs and the broken frames. High grade is only a temporary balm to the weight of all those lost, and Prowl doesn’t like him to drown his sorrows. Interfacing is usually a better distraction. Ratchet is much like Sideswipe in that regard, an utter sensualist.

His servos are sensitive, carefully calibrated instruments of a medic’s profession. Prowl has to be careful not to damage either; what is pleasure can quickly turn to pain. And Ratchet is not particularly fond of pain. Bondage, yes. A bit of roleplaying, certainly. But pain is not part of the equation and never has been.

Ratchet likes the humans, finds them interesting. His friendship with Sparkplug Witwicky is no fabricated thing. Prowl’s even caught him studying human medicine, though Ratchet’s servos are too large to be of much use.

He loves music but hates to dance because he has no rhythm. He doesn’t have a favorite color, but if pressed will admit to a fondness for shades of red.

He looks upon First Aid as not only a student but a creation as well. In fact, Ratchet treats a lot of the Autobots as though they were errant younglings in need a good, firm swatting. Optimus Prime included. Though Ratchet would never admit so aloud. It would infringe upon his reputation as a cold-sparked terror.

Ratchet hates the war, is terrified with every battle that he’s going to lose a member of their family, and it’s only afterward that he lets himself break down. He’s confessed his fears to Prowl, but the lieutenant has watched. He knows that Ratchet’s servos never shake. That he’s confident and determined and dedicated while in the medbay.

He’s watched Ratchet drag more sparks from the arms of Primus than he’s seen the Decepticons succeed in taking. He’s seen Ratchet at his highest and his lowest and at every stage in between. So it’s safe to say that he’s familiar with the medic in all the ways that truly matter.

And Ratchet knows Prowl. The real Prowl.

Well, at least he thinks he does.

He knows the mech beneath the faceplate, the spark that spins in his chassis, the feel and weight of his energy field.

But he doesn’t know Prowl. Not really.

After all, Prowl died so many vorns ago. Long before the Decepticons ever rose up. Long before Megatron even had a thought about seizing power for himself. Long before Orion Pax became Optimus Prime. Primus, probably even long before Orion Pax was sparked.

It’s not all a lie.

Prowl had been an enforcer before the war. He was a boring mech with a boring life and very few if any friends. He lived orn to orn, performing his duties, filling out his paperwork, and returning to his apartment alone. He wasn’t unhappy. He didn’t think about it enough to be unhappy.

He was content perhaps. Even fulfilled. But he’d never been more than that.

And then, one joor, Prowl had responded to a riot down in old Praxus, a derelict and rundown ghetto that had been long abandoned by the elite. It was the gutter, a place where nobodies and empties and the trash were left to rust.

It was where the current Prowl lived. He’s not the original one, of course. But sometimes, he couldn’t remember who he had once been. What was his former designation again? Timestamp? Burnout? Dent? He supposed it didn’t matter anymore.

So the mech who would be Prowl lived in the gutters. He was there the orn of the riot. The day the enforcers were called to quash said disorder before the stench of it could even waft to the high and mighty upper caste.

Sometimes, the nobodies liked to rise up, usually fighting each other over some scrap of energon or modification or really because they had nothing better to do. Sometimes, they were too nutrient-starved to be logical about it. Sometimes, they fought each other just because they couldn’t do anything else.

And sometimes, the enforcers came, wiped out half of the nobodies and ignored the survivors who slunked back to the shadows to be forgotten.

Prowl offlined that day. A stray shot or a lucky one or, Pit, maybe it was even friendly fire. He doesn’t remember which. Energon starvation will do that to a mech. Make it harder to access memories or record them properly.

He’d poked and prodded at the fallen enforcer. He’d initially just decided to just take what he could, energon and supplies and whatever else the mech carried. After all, Prowl wasn’t going to need them anymore.

But then, he’d gotten an idea. It had struck him out of nowhere.

The mech was offline. His spark had guttered and extinguished.

None of the other enforcers had realized this yet. The riot was enormous, easily several hundred or so nobodies against half as many enforcers. The half-sparked uprising would be quelled, and there would be devastation in its wake, and it always took at least a decaorn to put things to right.

It wasn’t uncommon for mechs to go missing.

But what if one didn’t? What if one showed up later, disorientated and injured but alive?

What if an enforcer didn’t die?

It was brilliant. His processor chomped on the idea, and the more he thought about it, the more plausible it seemed.

Hacking a dead mech’s processor and memory banks before the war, especially one whose frame hadn’t yet cooled, was no harder than plugging into a computer terminal.

Prowl was a loner. He had no lovers or close friends, and his caretakers had offlined some time ago. Prowl actually was kind of an aft.

No one would miss him. No one would care. No one would notice if he acted a little… different.

He had creds though. Lots of them. He’d never had any reason to spend them. And now, he had more than enough to start a new life elsewhere, to leave the enforcers there in Praxus and move to Iacon. Or Polyhex. Or anywhere really.

The possibilities were endless.

Morals and ethics were and still very much are a fluid, flexible idea in his opinion. Prowl was offline; his spark had extinguished. He didn’t need his frame or his functioning. His creds. His life.

But the mech who would become him did.

He wasn’t a nobody yet. He wasn’t an empty. He was forgotten, but he wasn’t energon-crazed.

The decision was made, and he didn’t take long debating it either.

That orn, one bot had been extinguished.

Less than a decaorn later, another Prowl stumbled in from the gutters of Praxus, reported to his commanding officer, and was sent to his apartment for some much needed recovery time. No one noticed any difference. No one particularly cared. They’d barely lifted a faceplate at his reappearance or damage or confusion. They glanced at him for an astrosecond and then immediately turned away.

It had been perfect. He was – is – perfect. The perfect Prowl.

Frag, he is a better Prowl than the original had ever been.

Prowl had been intelligent, detail-oriented, and an utter bore. A decent enforcer, efficient but uninspired. Unimaginative. Robotic. Doing everything to the letter and never more. Never thinking around or outside or beyond.

But the new Prowl is even better. Just as efficient but more fluid. Crafty as only those who have had to struggle can be. Inventive. Resourceful. He has a better talent for marksmanship and tactics. So better in fact, that it isn’t even two vorns after his move to Iacon that he is noticed by the office of the Prime.

He’s finally clawed out of the gutters, and he had a dead mech to thank for that.

It’s too easy to be Prowl. It feels like he was created to be this mech, this once-enforcer now tactician to the Prime and second-in-command of the Autobots.

Sometimes, he forgets he’s not always been Prowl.

After all, what truly defines a mech? He is Prowl in appearance, in the design of his frame, and the life he has taken.

But the first Prowl would never have befriended Jazz. He had no need for companionship. Would’ve never tolerated such a vibrant personality.

He never would’ve devised tactics that save so many lives. He couldn’t think laterally. He couldn’t put himself in his enemy’s place or feel their weakness as his own.

He wouldn’t have become mentor to a devastated Bluestreak. He lack the empathy. The ability to feel true concern, to connect with others.

And he certainly wouldn’t have met Ratchet. Or fallen so desperately for him.

He’s living a lie, but really, should he call this Prowl’s life? If Prowl would’ve never done any of these things?

He can only wonder. Sometimes as he slips into recharge. Others as he sits amongst his colleagues and friends.

Occasionally, there’s amusement. A secret thrill that he’s perpetuated this falsehood for so long and no one has noticed. No one even suspects. No one has guessed that their second-in-command is not Prowl of Praxus, raised by two wealthy but extinguished caretakers. That Prowl is truly some forgotten mech from the gutters who had an opportunity and snagged it with both hands.

Other times, there is guilt.

For lying to his best friend, the brother he never had. For keeping the truth of his spark from his lover, his partner in everything.

He wonders how Ratchet would react if he knew. If it would be the end of all things or if Ratchet would be as pragmatic as Prowl himself is. Sometimes, he just wants to shout it to everyone, send out a mass communication, just to get the lie out of his processor.

The fear of losing everything he’s fought for, everything that means anything, holds him back. He cannot give up his friend, his lover, his family. He can’t afford to lose the Autobots their chief tactician, Prime his main confidante. He can’t bear to see the disappointment or betrayal in Bluestreak’s optics.

And really, it’s a good thing that Ratchet doesn’t want to spark-bond. Prowl cannot turn him down without giving a good reason why. The truth would come out, and he cannot say what the end result would be. Better all around if he keeps it to himself. Better he keep this lie that isn’t a lie at all.

Ratchet always greets him when he returns to their shared quarters. Between the two of them, it’s hard to say who works the latest or the longest. Despite the fatigue, Ratchet always has a smile for him. Prowl always has a caress to offer.

He lives for the quiet moments. Curling together on the large couch as Ratchet gripes about the twins or groans about Gears’ hypochondria or exclaims over Wheeljack’s latest escapade or mutters about Red Alert overexerting himself or laments about Prime’s lack of decent recharge.

Ratchet knows all the sensitive places to touch on Prowl’s frame. He’s learned them over the vorn, and never comments over the fact Prowl’s doorwings aren’t as responsive as they usually are for all Praxians.

He could model his frame after them after all, but he couldn’t mimic all of the delicate circuitry. Not on the funds he’d had available. After time, he could have fixed that lack, but he’d gotten so used to it, that he hasn’t bothered.

Ratchet never seems to mind anyway. He seems to have a fascination for Prowl’s pelvic array, for dipping his digits into the seams and stroking thick cables beneath. He likes the press of a heavy energy field, the sensation of their fields knitting together, pulsing between them.

Sometimes, three little words slip out. Prowl means them, and he knows that Ratchet does, too. But every time he hears them, the guilt doubles in on itself. How can Ratchet love a mech he doesn’t really know?

Prowl cannot bear to lose his partner, his life. He knows this for certain. Perhaps it is better in the end for everyone involved.

After all, there are no lies between them.

Except for the one truth Prowl will never tell.

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[RB] Family Matters

The signal came in to the console from a long distance, so quiet Chase almost didn’t catch it, but when he did and replayed it for himself, an overhearing Blades gave a little squeal of happiness.

“Really?” he said, bouncing up and down on his feet, rotors juttering on his back. “They’re coming? They’re really coming?”

“It is a short visit, Blades,” Chase tried to remind him in a stern tone, despite his own growing happiness. “Optimus has far more important things for them to do than stay in Griffin Rock.”

“But they’re coming!” Blades said with a big smile. He bounced forward and threw his arms around Chase’s neck. “I can’t wait. Ohhhh. I better go tell Heatwave and Boulder!”

He ran off, shouting for the rest of their team as he did so. Excitement danced in his energy field. He was lucky that they didn’t have a rescue at the moment.

Chase shook his helm. Restraint was not one of Blades’ strong points. Still, he had reason to be excited. Their caretakers were not only in the same galaxy, but in the same solar system, and their message indicated they would swing by for a visit.

Boulder should be happy. Heatwave… probably wasn’t. Chase didn’t blame him one bit. And yet, the best part would be telling their human counterparts.

Chase expected fireworks.

He was not disappointed.

There was not a lot of space down in the bunker for a little under a dozen Cybertronians. High Tide offered his ship instead, and it was there that they gathered, human and Cybertronian alike.

Their caretakers arrived in a garish shuttle that made Heatwave groan and hide behind his hand. Chase suspected his primary caretaker was to blame.

“Are you excited, Chase?” Chief Burns asked as he looked up.

“I have not seen my mentors in quite some time,” Chase admitted. “I am glad that they survived.”

“I’m excited!” Blades gushed with a little bounce. “Fire’s going to be so happy that I’m a flyer and Red’s going to pitch a fit.”

“Wow. And you’re still afraid of flying?” Dani asked. “Even with one for a parent or… what did you call them?”

“Caretakers,” Chase supplied and held up a finger. “Or mentors in some instances. Usually bonded couples, romantically or platonically, take on the burden of preparing a newly emerged mech for the trials of their function.”

“Parents then,” Dani said. “Pretty much the same thing.”

“What about you, Boulder?” Graham asked.

Boulder’s field was a happy, bubbling burst. “Mentors,” he said. “But parent is an apt term. My mentors are very nice, Graham. They are scientists, too. I wonder how long they will stay.”

“Not too long,” Kade said with his arms folded over his chest. “We have work to do.”

“I assure you, Kade, we will not let this interfere with our main duty as Rescue Bots,” Chase said even as Dani elbowed her brother in the side.

“It’s their family, Kade. Show a little respect.”

“They’d better not stay long,” Heatwave said, however, cutting into Dani’s point. “Otherwise, I don’t think my patience will last.”

Cody bounced on his feet, as excited Blades. “I can’t wait to meet your guys’ parents. This is so awesome!” He was probably the happiest of everyone present.

The shuttle hissed as the ramp extended and all of them fell silent as they waited for their respective caretakers to emerge. Heatwave’s primary was the first to stride off the ramp, his secondary a massive shadow behind him.

“Heatwave!” Rodimus Prime exclaimed as he threw his hands into the air. “You look great! Look, Magnus! He’s red!”

Heatwave groaned as though he knew what was coming and stood there, like a statue, as Rodimus threw his arms around Heatwave and hugged him. Or tried, to. Rodimus was two-thirds Heatwave’s size.

“He is,” Ultra Magnus said, following on the heels of his amica. He opted for a more dignified handshake. The resemblance was uncanny. They must have modeled some of Heatwave’s frame design on Magnus.

The pounding of feet made Chase look away from the reunion to see a red and white mech – jet possibly, given the wings – come running off the ramp and launch himself toward Blades with a gleeful cry of “my dearspark!” And Blades’ happy shriek of “Daddy!”

They collided with a crash and collapsed into a giggling, happy pile of tangled limbs and babbling that Chase could not make sense of. Thank Primus Boulder had the good sense to pull Graham and Cody out of the way at the last second.

That, Chase assumed, was Fireflight. Because surely well-known Director of Security Red Alert would not behave in such a bold manner.

“Well, I see where he gets it from,” Chief Burns said. But he was smiling and he looked happy about it. “What about you, Chase?”

Chase looked back toward the ramp and his spark did indeed give a little pulse of happiness. There was his secondary right now, descending the ramp with dignity and poise, a gentle smile on his lips.

“My secondary, my father, is coming right now, Chief. I will introduce you,” Chase said and he moved to intercept, taking Mirage’s hands as they were offered to him.

Mirage squeezed his fingers, his field full of the warmth that Chase remembered. “I am so happy to find you in good health, Chase,” Mirage said. “We were so worried when we received the report that the Sigma was missing.”

“I am sorry to have worried you. Where is Prowl?”

Mirage lifted his shoulders in a genteel shrug. “Someone had to stay behind and keep the order. You know how he is.” Mirage’s conjunx, Prowl, was Optimus Prime’s second in command. It made sense.

Though Chase was a little disappointed. As much as he loved Mirage, he’d always been a bit closer to Prowl.

“He’d be so proud to see you,” Mirage added though. “Look at you, symbols of the law on this planet, I take it?”

“Yes.” Chase smiled, unable to help himself. He squeezed his secondary’s hands again and then let go to gesture down to his human partner. “This is Chief Charlie Burns, Mirage. He is my assigned partner and a very good friend. Chief, this is Mirage.”

Mirage pressed a palm to his chestplate, over his Autobrand, and bowed his helm. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Chief Burns. Thank you for taking such good care of my ward.”

“You’re welcome. It is nice to meet you, too.” Chief reached up and shook the finger Mirage offered him. “Chase is the best partner I could have asked for. His dedication to his work is remarkable.”

“He gets that from Prowl, I must say. My conjunx is devoted to his work.”

Chief and Mirage continued to chat, giving Chase a moment to look up and check on his teammates. Heatwave was deep in conversation with Ultra Magnus while Rodimus and Kade were crowded around some kind of portable video device with Cody offering up commentary.

Blades and Fireflight extricated themselves from the ground, but Blades was now wrapped around a long-suffering Red Alert while Dani chatted with Fireflight. Probably asking if she could fly him.

Boulder’s mentors had been the last to disembark and the three mechs were currently sitting on the deck in a cuddling circle with Graham perched on Boulder’s knee. Boulder was sharing a holo-cube with them, pictures of the many things he’d found about Earth flashing to view. Hound and Beachcomber were discussing them with visible excitement.

All in all, it was wonderful to see. Especially given how badly the war had decimated their population.

“Chase.” Mirage’s smooth vocals drew his attention back as Mirage slid his hand into Chase’s and squeezed. “Chief was telling me about some of the cases you’ve worked on together. Care to share a few of your favorites?”

Chase offered Mirage a smile. “Certainly. I’ve even prepared a report. You can take it back to Prowl.”

“I’m sure he’ll love that.”

Chase couldn’t keep his own grin off his face. “I’m sure he will, too.”

[RB] Left Behind

It isn’t Optimus or Bumblebee who comes to them. But Ratchet is a legend unto himself. And Boulder is perhaps the most excited to meet him in person. That is, until he gets a full taste of the grief in Ratchet’s field.

It stuns him into silence and he hangs back as Blades bounces in place, excited by seeing another war hero, his sensors not quite as attuned to the underlying ripples in a mech’s field.

Chase pulls up a manual to figure out the proper way to address someone of Ratchet’s position.

Heatwave shatters the surprise and excitement with a single question. “Where’s Optimus?”

And Ratchet is silent.

An answer into itself.

Blades shrinks back, rotors going still, his fingers twisting together.

Chase draws inward, optics dimming.

Boulder can feel the tension in the air now and he is so, so glad their partners are upstairs, enjoying a family dinner. He doesn’t think he can explain any of this right now, not with the Burns habit of bombarding them with questions.

“The war is over,” Ratchet says, which doesn’t answer Heatwave’s question at all. “The Decepticons are disbanded and with the return of the Allspark, we’ve reclaimed Cybertron.”

Heatwave’s hands close into fists and Boulder wants to move closer to him, but he’s afraid of snapping the tension and only making things worse.

“Why didn’t Optimus come tell us himself?” Heatwave demands.

Ratchet flinches. It’s subtle but Boulder catches it, along with the swelling ripple of grief that rocks Ratchet to his core.

Ratchet draws himself upward and says, “Optimus gave his spark to reignite the Well. He…” Ratchet lifts a hand, shielding his face. “He did what he had to do for all of us.”

And there it is.

Blades’ cry of dismay is drowned by the sound of Heatwave’s engine snarling.

“But– but he’s Optimus!” Blades says, his rotors quivering as he searches Ratchet’s face for any sign that he’d been mistaken. “He can’t die!”

Chase is rigid. “It is a noble sacrifice he has made for us all,” he says, but his tone is as robotic as they pretend to be and his optics are dim. “I am honored I was ever allowed to fight beside him.”

“I mean, are you sure?” Blades pushes. “Did you check? Maybe you just need someone to fly down there and look? I could leave now if you want…?”

Boulder puts a hand on Blades’ shoulder, feeling his teammate shaking beneath his hand. His own spark aches and he wishes he knew what to say.

Ratchet, for his part, looks as though he’d rather be anywhere else and Boulder can’t blame him. For as much as the Rescue Bots admired and loved Optimus Prime, Optimus’ own team had been much, much closer.

“I could look,” Blades murmurs miserably.

“We should have been there!” Heatwave growls, hands clenched at his sides as he stares at the ground. “If we had–”

“There’s nothing you could have done,” Ratchet says.

It’s not a comfort. Not to Heatwave. He punches the wall, creating a shower of rock dust that rains over them before he shoves passed Blades.

“Heatwave,” Chase calls after him, but their leader is gone, disappearing down one of the tunnels deep under Griffin Rock.

Boulder sighs, not at all surprised.

Blades twists his fingers tighter. “But… what do we do now?” he asks. “Do we have to leave?”

Ratchet sighs and shakes his head. “You can stay. Or you can return to Cybertron. The choice is yours.”

“Are we required to make that decision immediately?” Chase asks.

“No. Take your time. You know how to contact us.” Ratchet waves at their console.

“Us?” Blades looks anxious, straining forward before settling back on his feet. “Is, um, is Bumblebee…?”

“Fine. He’s fine.”

There’s relief, but it’s only a faint edge to the sadness. How hard had it been, Boulder wonders, for Ratchet to come here, relaying what must be painful, because someone had to do it?

Terrible, he decides, because Ratchet is standing there, awkward and shifting with discomfort, his field leaking a desperation to leave but duty dictating that he ought to remain.

“If you need anything, don’t hesitate to contact me,” Ratchet says.

Boulder’s hand tightens on Blades’ shoulder, offering comfort as he can. “Thank you.”

“We appreciate you informing us of the change in circumstances,” Chase adds.

Ratchet nods, looking as though he might say something further, but then changing his mind. He leaves the number to his personal comm before he vanishes into the swirling vortex of a groundbridge, taking with him that spark-numbing grief. Silence settles in his wake.

“I…” Chase turns and resets his vocalizer audibly. “I will go check on Heatwave.” He doesn’t wait to be acknowledged before he disappears down the tunnel.

Blades ventilations click through an extended cycle. “I think I need to go flying,” he says, full of misery. “Do you think Dani would mind?”

“No. I’m sure she wouldn’t.” Boulder pats him on the shoulder, dredging up a smile he doesn’t feel. “Why don’t you ask her?”

Blades, however, doesn’t move except to slump further into himself. “I think he’s really gone, Boulder.”

He hates that he can’t say otherwise. Words are no consolation so Boulder does the only thing he can think to do. He hugs Blades so that they can share their grief. And he hopes that once Heatwave calms down, Chase can bring him back.

Because there is only one way to get through this, and that’s together.

[RB] Echoes

“Doing all right up there?”

Blades rolls his optics and leans back in his chair, crossing his arms behind his helm. He almost props his feet up on the console but catches himself in time.

“You ask me that every time we do this, Hot Spot. I’m fine.”

Their leader chuckles, his deep bass rolling across the comm. “I know. Just wanted to make sure you weren’t feeling lonely or anything.”

“Never.” Blades glances at the console, all systems showing green and steady. How can he be lonely? His team mates are only a comm call away and he has this for a view?

Out the windscreen is Cybertron in all its glory, spiraling towers that gleam in the waning light-cycle. A secondary monitor shows his team working below, practicing maneuver gamma while Blades hovers in their shuttle above. He’s prepped for immediate evac per standard protocol.

It’s a maneuver they’ve performed over a dozen times. But this one’s special. This one’s the final trial run before the exam. Hot Spot expects they’ll ace it. They’re the Protectobots, Rescue Force Alpha-5, the best junior rescue team this side of Iacon.

The shuttle lurches.

Blades straightens, snapping upright in his chair. What in the world is that? He scans the console, something flashing a warning orange at him from the stabilizers.

“Blades?” Hot Spot’s voice pours into the comm.

His hands fly over the console, internally sending a ping to First Aid about potential issues. First Aid’s in the medbay, prepping to receive their fake-injured victims. He pings an acknowledgment back, adding that he’d felt the ship judder, too.

“Something’s wrong,” Blades replies, his spark pulsing faster.

Another tangible shudder races through the shuttle. It tilts every so slowly. Blades grabs the wheel, trying to stabilize it, his other hand flicking madly over the switches. Even so, his tanks lurch as he feels the shuttle dip, suddenly losing altitude. The nose tilts forward; Cybertron blurs through the windscreen.

“What is it?” Hot Spot demands.

“What’s going on?” Streetwise asks, sounding just as alarmed as Hot Spot.

Alarms flash. There’s a low, droning beep. The image through the windscreen swirls, splashes of color in a dizzy array before Blades’ optics. They’re going down and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. The ground rushes up to meet them, faster and faster, but that’s not right. His team is down there. His team is just below him.

He can’t let it crash. They’re down there!

“Blades!”

He jerks out of recharge, throwing himself to the side, and that’s when he tumbles to the floor with an audible clatter. He almost bends a rotor in the process, a slice of pain zinging through his sensory net as his rotors complain at him.

Blades groans as he lies there, his optics snapping online. His spark races, his pump throbbing. It’s dark around him but if he focuses, he can hear the others recharging: Boulder’s low snuffle and Heatwave’s quiet rumble.

He’s not back on Cybertron. He’s not falling out of the sky.

He’s not alone.

Blades cycles a ventilation and drags his hand down his face. He’s shaking, he realizes. The dream had felt too real, as if he were there all over again.

He forces himself to sit up, rustling his rotors to shift them out of the way. A quick pat down and he is relieved to find that he hadn’t hurt himself. No dents, no damage, not even a bent tail rotor. Lucky.

He knows he needs to go back to recharge, but the echoes of his former teammates’ voices keep pinging back and forth inside his head.

Primus but he misses them.

“Blades?” A hand settles on his shoulder.

Blades startles, scrambling backward in surprise and nearly slamming into the wall. He looks up to see Heatwave gazing down at him, his hand still outstretched.

“Oh.” Blades ducks his head, embarrassed. “Sorry, Heatwave. I bet I woke you up, didn’t I?”

“You did.” Heatwave looks at him and Blades knows he’s probably giving away a lot more than he wants to. His field is all over the place. “Nightmares again?”

Blades shakes his head and the lie slips out a lot easier than the truth, “What nightmares? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just fell out the bed.” He chuckles. “Clumsy me.”

Heatwave’s optics narrow, but he grunts and backs away. “Fine. Whatever. Just go back to sleep, Blades. You have first patrol tomorrow.”

He watches Heatwave turn and climb back into his berth, between Boulder and Blades. Chase is on the furthest side, closest to the console. Or at least he would be if he wasn’t with the Chief right now.

“I remember.” Blades climbs back into his berth and lays back down, though the shiver in his rotors isn’t so easily dismissed. Sometimes, it is more comfortable to sleep as a helicopter except right now, he really doesn’t want to be a helicopter.

That was always supposed to be Groove.

“Good night, Heatwave.”

Heatwave doesn’t answer, already curled up on his side with his arm tucked under his helm. They all tease him mercilessly for it, because Kade sleeps like that, too. The thought makes Blades smile a bit before he settles down and offlines his optics.

He tries to return to sleep, but that dream hovers on the edge of his thoughts. He can’t chase it away. And he shouldn’t either. He shouldn’t ever forget what he’s done. The mistakes he’s made. The family he’s lost.

It’s his fault. Blades has always known that and he’s carried the guilt with him. But that doesn’t make it any easier. If he’d been paying better attention, if he hadn’t been so confident, if he’d responded faster.

If, if, if.

If he’d been doing his job, they wouldn’t have died. He’d be with them now and so much would be different. He wouldn’t have onlined to silence, crumpled and damaged and alone and lucky to be alive, they’d said. He hadn’t felt so lucky back then. He doesn’t feel lucky now.

Blades’ ventilations hitch and he curls into himself. His field is out of control again. He has to be quiet. He can’t wake the others, especially not Heatwave, not again. He always gets so cranky.

He locks the memory down. He can’t view it again tonight. Heatwave is right. He has to be up early, and Dani doesn’t like to have to come down and fetch him when they have the morning shift. She says that if she has to drag herself out of bed in the morning then does he. And she’s not gentle when she wakes him up either.

Blades sighs and forces himself into manual recharge. It won’t be as restful, but at least it’ll keep him from dreaming.

It’s better than nothing. Maybe tomorrow will be better.
0o0o0

Spoiler alert, it’s not.

Blades wakes up sluggish and exhausted, feeling like someone made him run a marathon. Heatwave’s already up; Blades can hear him practicing against his wooden dummy outside. Boulder’s up, too, probably trying to cook breakfast for the Burnses again, no matter how many times they kick him out of the kitchen.

Chase is the only one here, snoring away on his berth after a whole night spent patrolling with the chief. Hopefully, there won’t be any emergencies requiring the whole team today. Not that Blades thinks anything happened last night. Chase and Chief probably spent the whole night talking.

“Wake up, partner! We got the whole day ahead of us!”

Dani’s cheerful voice breaks through Blades’ thoughts. Normally, he’d be glad to hear her in a chipper mood, but today, it’s just not enough to buoy his own.

“Roger. I’ll be up in a second,” Blades replies and hauls himself off his berth.

Every bit of him feels heavy. Even his rotors are limp. Forced recharge might not have been the better idea.

Blades drags himself out of their shared recharge room and into the open space of the bunker. He tosses a greeting to both Heatwave and Boulder, the former who grunts at him and the latter who waves his paint-splattered hand. The elevator chimes as Dani comes down from the Burns residence above, a smile on her lips and a touch of color to her cheeks.

“Is that make up?” Blades asks, shocked. He’s heard of this human thing before. It’s kind of like paint only it’s temporary. Dani professes to rarely wear it.

Dani gives him an innocent look. “I thought about trying something new. Why? Does it look bad?”

Honestly, Blades wouldn’t know if it looked good, much less bad. But it’s a lot less than what the other females on television wear. In fact, it’s barely noticeable.

“You look great, Dani!” Boulder says.

Heatwave makes some untranslatable noise and goes back to beating up the practice column. Anyway, who cares about his opinion?

“Thank you, Boulder,” Dani replies with a big grin. She looks back up at Blades and adjusts her harness. It’s nice to see her bright and alert. “You ready to go?”

His energy levels are fine, even if he feels like he’s sloughing through mud. No need to delay their patrol. Especially if he drifts and lets Dani take control for awhile.

“Sure,” Blades replies. “I’m ready to get this show on the road.” He’d picked that phrase up from the television, too. Humans have such interesting entertainment programming!

Dani gives him a long look but gestures toward their roof-lift. “After you.”

Up top, it takes him longer than usual to transform. A few error messages pop up, prompting him for an immediate need to defrag. He’ll have to add it to the queue for tonight. He aches from his head to his rotors and as he takes to the air, he feels like he’s flying through a fog.

It doesn’t help that it’s a dreary, gray day. Dark clouds on the horizon suggest an oncoming rain storm and the water around the island is white-capped and choppy. More than a few gusts of wind grab at him, trying to toss him into the currents.

Blades settles into their usual pattern, which is a quick circuit around the island border before several crisscrossing paths over the island interior. They tend to fly closer to the ground, all the better to keep an eye out for potential trouble. Patrols are the best, in Blades’ opinion. They are predictable, except for the occasional emergency, and it’s quiet time.

He doesn’t like night patrols though. Those are creepy. Fog tends to roll in over Griffin Rock, obscuring everything. Moonlight makes for weird shadows. And strange animals make strange noises.

Blades tries not to look down either. Usually, he likes to look at Griffin Rock below him. Especially when it’s close enough that gravity’s not tugging too hard. But right now, the blur of green and gray and so many colors is making his tank lurch. It’s too much.

“Blades?”

His avatar pops up on his internal screen. “Yes?”

Dani’s frowning at him, but it’s not her usual angry frown, but something else. This is her concerned frown. “Are you okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You’re not your usual chatty self.”

“Oh. That.” He gives her an awkward laugh and dances a little in the sky, just enough to shake it off. “Maybe I’m tired. I didn’t sleep well last night. Did you know that Boulder snores?”

Dani chuckles. “I didn’t know that, but I’m not surprised. I think you guys take on our habits too much. Graham snores, too.”

Blades manages another laugh. It’s a funny image to think about, but it’s hard to hold on to his amusement. The sluggishness is seeping into every nook and cranny and all he can see beneath him is the swirling colors, so much like the blur through the windscreen right before the crash….

“Did he just start?”

“Huh?” Blades blinks and looks at her again, her eyes flicking between him and the scenery below.

“Boulder.” Dani prompts and she’s getting that concerned look on her face again. “Did he just start snoring? Is that why you can’t sleep?”

Blades stares at her. She’s being unusually tenacious about the little things today. He doesn’t want to outright lie to her, but he doesn’t want to talk about the truth either.

“Um.” Blades casts around for an out. “Oh. Is that Mr. Pettypaws stuck in a tree again?”

He swoops down for a closer look, moving too fast even for his own comfort. It makes Dani squeak and grab onto the throttle with a bit more force than is necessary.

“Slow down!”

“Sorry.” His tone is sheepish as he draws them back up, the backwash from his rotors making the leaves swish below him. They are hovering over a residential section of Griffin Rock, several blocks away from Mrs. Neederlander’s house.

“That’s not even Mr. Pettypaws,” Dani scolds, easing her grip. “What is with you today?”

“Seeing things, I guess.” Blades reluctantly climbs a bit higher. This low, there’s danger of catching his landing skids on the power lines.

He’d done that once before and Mayor Luskey had not been amused, nor had the eastern half of Griffin Rock. Graham and Boulder had to come help him fix things and Dani had scolded him, too. That had not been a very good day.

“Hmm.” Dani’s eyes narrow at him and then she jerks him around, back toward the firehouse.

“What are you doing?”

“Taking you home. I think you’re sick and not telling me.”

“I’m not sick!” Panicking, Blades fights against her grip and all he accomplishes is a mid-air stall. He’s going nowhere. “We have to finish our patrol, Dani. It’s important.”

“Someone else can do it. Like Kade. Get his lazy self out of bed for once.”

“Awwwww.” Blades tries, once again, to return them to their route.

If Dani takes him back then Heatwave will look disappointed and the last thing Blades wants to do is disappoint Heatwave. Again. Because it seems like this is a constant thing and Heatwave doesn’t need the reminder that Blades wasn’t ever his first choice.

But Dani ignores him and instead taps her communicator. “Hey, Cody, is Dad up yet?”

“Not yet.” Cody’s friendly voice bubbles into Blade’s cockpit. “Why? Is there an emergency?”

“Everything’s great!” Blades is quick to say, but Dani overrides him with a calm, “Blades isn’t feeling well so I’m bringing him back. Tell Kade to get ready for me?”

“Oh, no.” Cody’s concern makes Blades want to shrink in on himself. He doesn’t want to make Cody worry either. “What’s wrong, Blades?”

“It’s nothing!” he says, a bit sharper this time. “Dani just worries too much. I’m fine.” Why does she have to be such a worry wart sometimes?

Dani gives him a frustrated look, exhaling loudly. “You’re not fine, Blades. You’re spacing out and you’re actually letting me steer you and–”

“Hold that thought, Dani,” Cody interjects and he’s serious-voice now. “I’ve got an Emergency Call coming in. It looks like that storm’s hit faster than Doc Greene thought it would. We’ve got two capsized boats off the east shore.”

Blades turns to the east and is relieved when Dani doesn’t fight him. “See? We’re needed. I can’t go take a break now.”

“I’m calling the others, Dani. They’ll get in the Darby Ava and meet you over there,” Cody says through the comm. “Be careful, Blades. We don’t want you to get hurt either.”

Blades’ spark warms. Cody’s always so nice and caring. “I’ll be careful,” he says.

“Roger, Cody,” Dani agrees with a sigh. She pats the throttle and gives him a soft smile. “All right, partner. Let’s save those people. But don’t think this conversation is over.”

Blades’ tail rotors quiver.
0o0o0

The wind is kicking up to a fierce bellow by the time they arrive a mere five minutes later. Rain comes down in a steady patter against Blades’ windshield and his wipers struggle to keep up. Luckily, his instruments are working just fine, as are his sensors, but it’s hard to see the capsized boats through the sheet of wind and water. Little dots of orange indicate people in life vests.

“The Darby Ava‘s still five minutes out, if they can even make it through the storm,” Dani says as they circle the downed boats. “We’ll have to do what we can until then. Lower your tow line.”

Blades cringes. The wind’s going to make it impossible to be accurate. He worries the hook might hit someone in the head. That wouldn’t be good at all.

“Shouldn’t I lower you on it? In a harness?” he asks.

“It’s too dangerous,” Dani says. “Try to hook one of the boats, tip it back over. Then we at least have somewhere stable to put everybody.”

His engine whines, struggling against the buffeting blasts of wind, but he listens to Dani. Surely she has more experience with water rescues than he does.

It’s a challenge, one that makes him cringe and pray to Primus that he does this right. It takes two tries to hook his tow line on one boat’s rails and he has to heave with all his might to get it to right itself, spilling seawater over the sides. The exhaustion gets worse, between battling the winds and the waves and the rain. He keeps dipping and only Dani’s steady hand keeps him in the air.

The lights from the Darby Ava finally sweep into view, though it struggles against the high waves. If they aren’t careful, they’ll capsize, too.

“Be careful, Dad,” Dani says into her communicator. “From where I am, it looks very rough down there.”

“It’s not much prettier up here,” Blades reminds her, his voice thick with uncertainty. He suddenly wishes he’d listened to her and gone back to the firehouse.

“Both of you be careful,” Chief Burns replies, static filling the airwaves, probably thanks to the storm.

Blades circles everyone again and just as he’s orienting himself, a great gust of wind slams into him. Dani cries out in tandem with him as he’s thrown to the side, his dangling towline whipping through the air. It’s a struggle to right himself, his rotors spinning and spinning, the rain slapping against him and confusing his sensors.

“Wind that thing up, Blades!” Heatwave shouts into the comms. “You nearly took out Mr. Huffle’s mast!”

Blades goes cold. He can’t believe he forgot to retract his cable! He hurriedly flicks the switch, but another gust of wind barrels into him and he drops. His cable waves wildly and suddenly, Blades is drawn up short. He’s caught on something!

“Blades?”

“I’m stuck!” He cries and no, no, he’s not panicking. But it’s a near thing.

Blades pulls against it, straining to break free of whatever’s caught him. Through the wind and rain, he can’t tell. One of the boats maybe?

“Help!” he babbles. “I’m stuck.”

The tow line creaks. He’s spinning in the air again. The wind up here is vicious. He can’t see through the rain. All he can hear is some kind of buzzing, buzzing and he’s so tired. He yanks again and again.

“Blades, stop! You’re going to break something!”

The tow line snaps at the worst possible moment and the momentum flings Blades into the air, spinning and spinning. Urgh. His tanks lurch. Dani’s hands are on the throttle, trying to regain control and it’s both painful and necessary. He feels her being tossed around inside the harness and thank Primus, for seatbelts.

By the time Blades manages to right himself, his spark is palpitating and he’s far from the rescue site and there’s so much noise he can’t make sense of it all. His tattered tow line hangs beneath him, the cable frayed. He cycles several ventilations, his internal screen covered in static.

“Blades!”

Dani shouts at him and he reboots his internal screen. She looks frazzled, her face white behind the mask of her helmet. She’s gripping the throttle, too and he must have scared her. Guilt crashes down on Blades.

“I’m okay,” Blades says with a soft vent. “I’m okay.”

“Dani, take Blades back to the Firehouse.” The chief’s voice crackles through the communication system and Blades droops.

“I’m okay,” Blades is quick to say. “I’m fine. I promise. I can still help.”

“No,” Heatwave takes over, and he sounds mad. Mad and frustrated. Blades droops a bit further. “Get out of the air before you fall out. Understand me?”

Blades’ spark shrinks inward. “Yes, Heatwave.”

Dani taps her comm. “Copy that, Dad. Are you sure?”

“We’ve got this under control,” the Chief answers and he, at least, doesn’t sound as angry as Heatwave does. “It’s worse for you up there than it is for us down here.”

“You’ve got that right. All right, Dad. Be careful.”

Blades turns back toward home, a sense of failure hanging over him thicker and darker than the rainstorm pounding at him. He lets Dani take the lead because the exhaustion keeps clawing at him and he’s finding it harder to stay in the air. His processor isn’t firing on all cylinders.

“It’s okay, partner,” Dani says at one point, her voice softer than he remembers it ever being. She pats his console. “We’ll get that tow line fixed.”

Blades looks away from her. “I’m sorry.”

“You going to tell me what’s wrong now?”

Blades sighs. He doesn’t answer her. They both need to focus on flying right now and he’s already not looking forward to the chastising he’s going to get both from the Chief and Heatwave.

Luckily, Dani doesn’t push it. She just gives him a long look, presses her lips together, and concentrates on returning to the firehouse. Behind them, the storm looks dark and menacing and the rest of the team are bright spots in that gray.

Back at home, Blades transforms to root mode and examines his torn cable mournfully. The whole thing will have to be restrung. Or maybe he can get Doc to replace it with something better, some kind of unbreakable metal.

Dani goes upstairs to shower and change, leaving Blades in the silence of the bunker. He tries to watch television, but he can’t concentrate on it. Not even a rerun of Cupcake Wars is enough to keep his attention.

All he can think about is that moment of endless spinning, trapped by whatever had caught his line, no escape, only the inevitable crash into the churning ocean.

Blades shivers and draws up his legs, wrapping his arms around them. His rotors tremble.

Dani comes back downstairs but instead of trying to coax him into another discussion, she just sits next to him. She even watches the television though Blades knows she has zero interest in Cupcake Wars. It’s nice. It’s almost enough to chase away the dread settling in his tanks.

Maybe thirty minutes later the rest of the team comes back, dripping and smelling of seawater. Boulder has kelp stuck in his gears and Chase remarks that they could all use some water rescue training and Heatwave seems to zero in on Blades as though he’s broadcasting a homing beacon. He plants himself between Blades and the television and crosses his arms.

Dani quietly excuses herself and while it’s the polite thing to do, Blades is suddenly aware of how alone he is.

Blades gives him a meek look. “Was anyone hurt?”

“Thankfully, no. But that doesn’t make it all right, Blades. Your head wasn’t in the game today. You weren’t focused.”

He ducks his head. “I know. I’m sorry. I promise. It won’t happen again.”

“It had better not,” Heatwave states, his engine close to a growl. “If there’s something wrong, you need to tell us, otherwise we’re compromised. Do you understand?”

It’s not possible to get any smaller, but Blades tries. “I do. I’m sorry.”

Heatwave gives him one of those long stares again, and he looks like he’s going to say something else, but the chief calls for him. So instead he sighs, mutters something about talking more later, and then he leaves. It’s suddenly quiet in the bunker because everyone’s gone to go do something important and here Blades is, still on the couch, pretending to watch TV. He doesn’t even know what’s on right now.

The couch dips.

“You know, he’s just upset that you could have gotten hurt,” Dani points out. “He’s worried about you. And I am, too.” Her hand rests on his arm, a soft and warm weight. “What’s going on, Blades?”

He sighs and scrubs at his face. The truth is eating him up, inside and out, and maybe it’s better he just gets it out into the open? That way he doesn’t have to worry about it anymore and everyone can get their reactions out of the way and they’ll realize how much of a hero Blades is not.

“Sigma-17 isn’t my original team,” Blades says and he cringes, staring dully at the ground. “I was first assigned to Rescue Force Alpha-5. I’ve been dreaming about them a lot lately, you know, that’s why I couldn’t sleep. My team, they were my family.”

He manages a small smile, thinking about his old team. They’d nicknamed themselves the Protectobots because Hot Spot was determined to protect everyone. It was in their sparks. They enjoyed it, when so many of their compatriots grumbled about their assignments.

“Hot Spot, our leader, was fire rescue like Heatwave,” Blades continues and it’s easier to talk about them like this. To think of the happier times. “No one was nicer than him. I don’t think he ever got mad. About anything. And Streetwise was the smartest of all of us. He knew all this useless trivia. First Aid could fix anything. He’d actually studied under Ratchet, the Ratchet. And Groove, he was always calm. He never freaked out over anything.”

Blades slants Dani a look and then tilts his head toward his rotors. “Groove was a helicopter. I was actually a motorcycle.”

“No wonder you didn’t want to be one at first.”

Blades nods. Part of him still wants to trade in his rotors for wheels. But, also, being a helicopter makes him feel like he’s paying tribute to Groove. It leaves him feeling torn. He’s not sure he’ll ever be comfortable as a helicopter. It’s one of the reasons he’s thankful, quietly and to himself, to have a partner who is also a pilot.

Dani’s hand stays on his arm and now she’s rubbing his dermal plate with a gentleness she doesn’t often display. “What happened to them?”

Blades hunches and looks away from her. “They died.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It’s my fault, too,” Blades blurts out, all in a rush. His hands clench on his knees. “I was piloting the Alpha. I was supposed to pay attention and I didn’t notice that there was a problem with one of the engines until it was too late. And then, I couldn’t stop the ship from crashing, I couldn’t steer it away from crushing them, I couldn’t land safely enough to keep First Aid from being smashed. I couldn’t do anything.”

The last approaches a wail and Blades bites back a sob as he buries his face in his knees because he can’t face Dani. Not like this. He’s ashamed of himself, of his failure. He’s the only one who survived that crash and he’s the one to blame and it’s not fair. None of it is.

If not for Heatwave, he might not have ever gotten on another rescue team. He owes Heatwave so much and how does he repay him? By messing up all the time!

The couch springs squeak as Dani shifts and then he feels her hand on his, her fingers wrapping around one of his.

“I know you, Blades. I’m sure you did everything you could. Didn’t they tell you it wasn’t your fault?”

Blades ex-vents slowly.

It depends on who he asked, he remembers. Some of their supervisors had glared at him. One would have kicked him out of the Rescue Corp immediately. He had the transfer request drawn up and everything. But others were nicer about it. The engineers said that there was a defect in one of the shuttle’s engines, that it would have gone down no matter what. It still sounds like an excuse.

“No one could agree,” he finally answers. “I told them all it was my fault though. Because it was. I’m a rescuer. I should have done something.”

“Are you an engineer?”

Blades scoffs. “No. I barely understand any of that stuff Boulder talks about all the time. And I’m not even sure Graham’s speaking English when he talks about it.”

“Then you’re a mechanic.”

Blades looks at her and she’s giving him that stern look, the one she gets when she wants him to understand something he’s not getting. Or when she’s trying to reassure him. Like the time with the forest fire and the ash cloud and Blades was frightened because he couldn’t see anything and the ash was stalling his rotors.

“You know that I’m not,” he says.

“Yes, but I don’t know that you know that.” She lifts her eyebrows at him.

Blades blinks. “What do you mean?”

“I wasn’t there so I can only guess,” Dani says and she shifts so she can look him in the eye. “But I’m willing to bet that you didn’t know anything was wrong with the shuttle until the alarms went off. And whatever was wrong, wasn’t something you could fix and you weren’t fully trained to handle it either.”

Blades stares at her, some of the tight grip around his spark easing.

“And,” she continues, her words more urgent this time as though she’s eager to make him understand, “even if you weren’t paying one-hundred percent attention, I doubt that would have made a difference. You still couldn’t have fixed the shuttle or stopped it from crashing all by yourself. Maybe you made a mistake. Maybe you didn’t react fast enough, but it’s not your fault, Blades. You didn’t kill them. And do you know how I know that?”

He shakes his head, his spark feeling warm and swollen and fit to burst with emotion. He’s never heard Dani so earnest before and it’s getting through to him. He’s realizing, all over again, why Optimus Prime wants them here.

“Because you never give up, Blades.” She squeezes his finger. “Even when you’re afraid, you keep trying. You might panic. You might mess up a little, but when we need you, you’re there. We can count on you. And that’s what matters.”

Blades blinks at her for several seconds until he leaps to his feet and sweeps her up in a hug. “Thank you, Dani!” he says, despite her squeaking in surprise. “I really needed to hear that.”

“You should have heard it from me, too.”

Blades startles and almost squishes Dani as he whirls around to see Heatwave standing behind the couch, practically fidgeting. He rubs the back of his helm, a touch of embarrassment in his field.

“I forget sometimes,” Heatwave continues, shuffling his feet, “that you weren’t always ours because we’ve never seen you as anyone different.”

Blades lowers Dani back to the ground, his faceplate heating.

“What happened back then, I never held that against you,” Heatwave adds and his optics are everywhere but on Blades, as though he’s embarrassed. “If I had, I would have rejected your application no matter what high command told me to do. But I always knew it wasn’t your fault.”

Blades’ optics widen. “Really?”

Heatwave nods and his gaze drags back toward Blades. “A Rescue Team has to depend on each other and trust one other. That kind of bond can’t be forced. So if I thought I couldn’t do either of those two things, you wouldn’t have stayed on my team.”

Blades’ spark throbs with warmth.

Dani’s knuckles rap against the side of his leg. “See, partner? That’s what I was trying to tell you.”

Blades taps his fingers together. “But today–”

“Will not be repeated,” Heatwave says, trying to sound stern, but there’s something so very relieved in his tone that Blades almost giggles. “I mean it, Blades. If you’re upset about something, tell me. We’re a team, remember?”

“All of us,” Dani adds. She grins up at him and winks. “All of my family and yours, we’re one huge family.”

Family. Blades likes the sound of that.

It doesn’t mean he’s going to forget about the Protectobots, about his first team. But he’s pretty sure there’s room in his spark for his new team, too.

So Blades leaps over the back of the couch and hugs Heatwave who catches him with a startled sound and gripes about attacks of affection. But his field is loose and relieved and he rubs his hand over Blades’ helm in a way Blades has often caught Kade comforting Cody. Like human, like Rescue Bot.

Blades throws gratitude over his shoulder and goes to find the others. He locates Chase first, cooped up in their command center and updating the Sigma’s work logs. Blades doesn’t give him any warning before swooping Chase into a tight embrace.

Chase gives a grunt of surprise, but he pats Blades on the arm. “You’re… welcome?”

Blades lets him go. His befuddlement is so cute. “You didn’t let me say thank you first.”

“I assumed that was what the embrace was meant to indicate.”

Blades giggles. “You assume correctly.”

Chase finally looks away from the console and tilts his head. “You are uninjured, I hope?”

“Except my towline,” Blades chirps. “But that can be fixed. Have you seen Boulder?”

“Last I saw, he was heading for the backyard.”

“Thanks!” Blades’ rotors jiggle as he bounces for the doorway, only to pause when he hears Chase call his name. The blue mech manages a small smile, which is a reward in unto itself.

“I am relieved you are well,” Chase says. “Please don’t scare us like that again.”

Blades beams and excuses himself, Chase’s concern like a warmth against his plating. Like flying on a sunny day with no breeze and a view that goes for miles.

Boulder is exactly where Chase said he would be, in the backyard. He’s perched on one of the benches by the training track, head tilted back to enjoy the heavy rain. Blades likes it, too, so long as he doesn’t have to fly in it.

Boulder can’t see him so Blades takes the opportunity to hop into his lap and throw his arms over Boulder’s shoulders. Which is a feat considering he has to flick his rotors out of the way at the last moment.

Boulder releases a little ‘oof’ but returns the hug anyway. His field is warm and fuzzy and content and Blades indulges in it, the comfort enough to chase away the last lingering traces of his earlier distress. Boulder always knows the right things to say and do to make Blades feel better.

“I don’t know what that was for, but thank you,” Boulder says, blinking with confusion. He smiles though and continues with, “I hope that means you’re feeling better.”

“I am now,” Blades replies. “I have a pretty good team.”

“Yeah?” Boulder says and he smiles, resting his hand over Blades’ and giving it a comforting squeeze. “Well, we have a pretty good helicopter, too.”

[RB] Not the T-Rex You’re Looking For

Of all the places his return to Earth would take him, Bumblebee did not expect one of them to be Griffin Rock. The Rescue Bot team had been named the official Earth liaison and were left behind to safeguard Earth. Bumblebee always thought Optimus would have preferred that since he’d had such a soft spot for the rookie team.

Not so much a rookie team now though.

But of all the members of his team Bumblebee thought he’d be taking with him, Grimlock was the last he’d expect. But Strongarm and Sideswipe were trying to corral a minicon somewhere south of Detroit and Grimlock’s somewhat conspicuous alt-mode meant there were few places Bumblebee could take him.

Fortunately, Griffin Rock was a place where a giant metal dinosaur didn’t look out of place. The Bots had long since come out to the residents of their small town, though they kept their secret from the world at large.

Bumblebee had contacted the team ahead of time, let them know he was coming. He hadn’t thought to warn them about Grimlock. After all, here in Griffin Rock, there wasn’t much the Rescue Bots hadn’t seen.

It wasn’t until he saw Blades’ bright smile and rotor wriggle that he thought, maybe, a warning would have been appropriate.

“Optimus!” Blades shouted, to Bumblebee’s horror. “You’re back!” And he sprinted toward Grimlock – who defaulted to dinosaur mode because he could, the fragging idiot – with his arms outstretched.

Because Blades was a hugger and the years had only made him more bold, not less, and he’d missed them and Bumblebee couldn’t blame him. He was kind of an aft for keeping out of contact for so long, but there Blades was, sprinting toward a very confused, very green Grimlock and, and–

Bumblebee should probably do something.

“No, wait!” he yelled and scrambled to put himself between copter and dinosaur. “He’s not Optimus!”

And Blades screeched to a halt as Grimlock transformed to root mode but it was too late because Blades skidded right into Grimlock, who saw something bright and cheerful and scooped Blades up into a big hug. He laughed, swinging the copter bot around in a circle.

Blades squawked. His arms flailed.

“Nice to meet you!” Grimlock said with a cackle before setting Blades back down on his pedes.

“I’m so confused.” Blades stumbled, more than a little dizzy. A Grimlock hug was a powerful thing. “He isn’t Optimus?”

“No,” Bumblebee said. He sighed. “This is Grimlock. He’s kind of my teammate?”

“You have no right!” Heatwave roared, stomping up toward them, one hand pulling Blades by the shoulder, out of the way like the big brother he was. “Hands off! Who do you think you are?”

Grimlock blinked.

Bumblebee winced.

“He’s Grimlock,” Blades helpfully supplied.

Heatwave pointed a finger up at the Dinobot, who almost crossed his optics trying to look at it. “That’s Optimus’ dino form!” he snarled, and ah, that explained it. “Why did you copy him, Decepticon?” Ah. So he’d noticed the Deceptibrand, did he?

“I had it first,” Grimlock argued, helm rearing back, indignant. “Maybe Optimus copied me.” And he grinned, baring his denta.

Heatwave puffed up. His optics narrowed.

Bumblebee buried his faceplate in his palm. It kept him from watching the moment when Heatwave yelled and Grimlock laughed and they collided in a crash of metal on metal that Bumblebee should have anticipated. Heatwave was more than a little, um, protective of Optimus?

They’ll probably end up best friends after this is over.

Blades inched closer. “Do you want to call Chase and Boulder or should I?”

Bumblebee sighed. He’d better put a call in to Strongarm and Sideswipe, too. Maybe try to get Fix-It away from base, too. Might as well introduce the whole crew.